From Home to Tomorrow

Proper 24 ~ Year A

Isaiah 45:1-7 | Psalm 96:1-13 | 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 | Matthew 22:15-22


Where do you come from? From whence do you come? (for the grammarians out there) If we’re traveling, we’ll likely say we’re from Arkansas, and if others actually know anything about Arkansas, they might ask us where, to which we’d reply Bentonville, Rogers, Bella Vista, etc. Even if they don’t ask us which city, isn’t it funny when, let’s say you’re in Chicago, you tell someone you’re from Arkansas; they light up, saying they have a cousin so-in-so in Arkansas, and surely you know them, right? 😊 We try hard to establish connection, don’t we? To share what we know, especially what we love. Perhaps we’re even trying to establish that sense of belonging together.

This week while I was taking some time to rest and reflect, I did a lot of reading. In one of the books, the author wrote about coming home. While taking time away, I admit that when I thought about returning home, I started thinking about dishes and laundry, responsibilities, and obligations. But that’s not what she described. Instead, she described exactly what I was doing: enjoying a cup of coffee/wine, listening, praying, playing, taking a hike, resting, etc. She described being at peace in the moment, being who I am, nourishing myself in the ways I know I need to be nourished, recognized for who I am, and she called this “coming home.”

Now why on earth would someone from Bentonville “come home” to a cabin in the woods? I’ll tell you why: at that place, I have been nourished as a woman sensitive to the presence of Spirit. Since I was a child, I have loved being among the trees. As a quiet creative, I have a mind that needs silence to hear what’s being said in my conscious and subconscious. I need to hear the ocean through the leaves of the trees in the wind, the crackle of the fire, and the symphony of the birds and the bugs. As someone who has never lived alone, I need time to experience the holy solitude of being alone, which, the author points out, derives from “all one.” Whether we’re surrounded with family or living by ourselves, taking time to be all one means we take time to figure out what we need to feel and be whole. Coming home means to me, returning to the place—even if it’s a moment’s state of mind—where I am fed mind, body, and soul for who I am, for whom I’m created to be, not who I think I am or for what I’m expected to be.

 There’s a danger, isn’t there, in living too much into expectation? Those expectations stack up like precarious building blocks from childhood (and maybe that’s precisely when the expectations were given to us), and they can surround us, walling us in until they—or we—tumble and crumble into a mess. It’s okay to have expectations; roles and responsibilities are built with them, and they provide solid accountability when they are within reason, reality, and respect.

Paul, in his address to the churches, sounds like he is calling the people home to be the Church they were called to be, to be the Christians they truly are. We can read this epistle or any of the others with an anxiety of what a wreck the church has become and with a snicker of what a smooth talker Paul was. OR, we can read this with the compassion we would hope for ourselves, a summons to remember who we are and whose we are and by what power we are able to do what we do. Yes, we’ll get worried when our beliefs and aspirations don’t match our reality. (Christians are still prone to sin and make bad choices, and Jesus still hasn’t returned before faithful people have died. The problems of the Thessalonians aren’t all that different from ours today.) Still today, we make our choices, doing the best we can.

 I wrote but then erased “we cannot change our reality.” It is true that we cannot change what has been done. “It is what it is,” is a common phrase these days. I hear so many people so fed up with this present moment here in the States. It’s divided and hateful. It’s a cluster of epic proportions. The systems are unjust, and the people in power are more interested in keeping their power than in serving the people. Does this resonate with you? Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve also heard frustration about healthcare, employment, education, the cost of and access to food. The frustrations are institutional and personal—all-pervasive, affecting our waking and, unfortunately, our sleeping (or lack thereof).

I erased “we cannot change the reality” because in truth, we can change or shape the reality of our future. What can we do to be the change, as Gandhi would suggest? Do we take to the ballot or to the streets? Yes, and perhaps. But before we act, before we do anything, we must know where we’re coming from.

When’s the last time we came home to ourselves, were nurtured with the divine voice that assures us of our belovedness and worth, our gifts and our call? Not everyone is called to exhortation and prophecy, just as not everyone is called to teach and to heal. But we all need these in our lives, which is why we give thanks to the many member of the one Body. Can I get an “Amen!”?

Forgive me if this triggers unpleasant memories for you, but there’s a hymn from my Baptist upbringing that came to mind. “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” it’s called, and the refrain yearningly sings, “Come home . . . come home . . . Ye who are weary, come home . . .” There’s a bit about sinners, too, which made this particularly common at funerals and as an altar call, but Jesus calling the weary home is on point. We’re tired. We’re tired because we’ve been too far from home for too long. God’s Beloved Community, God’s dream for us isn’t this hot mess we’re in. God’s dream for us isn’t anything I could describe because it’s too great for me to understand.

What I believe with all my heart, however, is that if we’ve ever been home, been all one, then we have an inkling of what we need more of to change the reality of now to create a better tomorrow. Baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, gifted to persevere in faith, hope, and love, we don’t have an excuse. We may have sin—turning away from God—but we also have repentance, the constant invitation to turn or return to God.

I emphasize this coming home and knowing ourselves as God’s beloved because we need this solid footing in our lives, this firm foundation. When someone comes along, or sends someone along, to flatter and try to trick us in some snare, we need a pause, to take a moment. We don’t know how long Jesus took to look into the young eyes of the Pharisees’ disciples and the Herodians, people aspiring to the powers of the world in that moment. We don’t know how long it took for him to know their heart and their intent, to discern that they were too insensitive to subtleties and had to be told outright what hypocrites they were. Jesus called out the thing they were most concerned with: the coin, the money itself. The emperor could have the coins, but what should be given to God? His challengers were stunned, and why is that?

 What is God’s?

 If we’ve been too far from home for too long, we’re likely to have forgotten. Too far from home, we may have fortified those precarious, unrealistic expectations. Too far from home, we may think that alone means all on our own, and on our own we work within the powers and principalities that give us the materials and money to piece together the identity we think we need and some semblance of power in the reality of this moment. Too far from home for too long, we forget that in the beginning, there was a Word, spoken with a breath of love, in Spirit of Wisdom, and from there all came into being.

 What is God’s? Everything.

Before we make our next move, before we cast our vote, before we declare whose side we’re on, it’s worthwhile to pause, to take a moment or as long as we need, to come home a minute and remember whose child we are. Tell her our woes, our concerns. Share our fears and despair. Let her feed us and give us drink. Let her bathe us, washing away the grime and restore our radiance. Let her whisper, “There, there,” and then whisper the words we long to hear . . . and maybe even the words we didn’t want but needed to hear. We can take what we need from home, and stepping out the doors into the wide world around us, sure . . . we give to the emperor what’s due, but we mustn’t forget what is God’s.

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My Rule

It’s not a rule; it’s a way to measure how I’m doing in life.

I tell myself this so that I don’t panic with all the responsibility or rebel against the “requirements.” Knowing beforehand that I will be imperfect at this is being gracious with myself. Thomas Merton prayed something to this effect: we hope that the desire to please God does, in fact, please God. I believe this wholeheartedly, and I also believe that holding myself accountable is the responsible thing to do good for me. My resistance to post this, to hold it out in the light instead of tucked away in my journal speaks to how truthful this is, what power it can unleash.

I must be feeling brave today. Here goes…

For care of self

Daily: journal/read/write; eat well; sleep; honor healthy boundaries/limits

Weekly: exercise; spend quality time with husband; reflect on what I’m reading in a journal

Seasonally: take a personal retreat; clear clutter in at least one area of my life/home; reflect on new material to read/listen to

For Relationships with Others

Daily: pray; show love; smile; focus on the one I’m with without distraction

Weekly: give individual attention (preferably 30 min) to my family members; enjoy a game night/family activity; serve through outreach ministry

Seasonally: spend a weekend/time with friends/family

For Relationship with Creation

Daily: recycle; keep thermostats at reasonable temperatures; walk when possible; turn lights out (& lights off by 10pm); use washable items (especially water bottles) as much as possible

Weekly: tend a flower bed or place in the yard/garden; if eating at a restaurant, eat someplace environmentally and food-friendly

Seasonally: hike/camp/enjoy the natural environment

For Relationship with God

Daily: pray the Morning Office or participate in the Holy Eucharist; meditate/contemplate 20 minutes

Weekly: practice lectio divina with the lectionary; worship corporately

Seasonally: monthly spiritual direction; spiritual retreat; confession

This is not set in stone, and it will change with time. If the first step is the hardest, I’m on my way, but I’m sure taking the next gazillion steps will require perseverance and love, too.

I told my husband that I will share my rule with him tonight so he can be on board (he’s already been completely supportive with my self-care goals lately). He can’t wait to hear it, he says.

“Want to know my rule?” he asked.

On the phone? Really? I thought. “Sure,” I said out loud.

“It’s easy. Four words.”

I try to guess it before he says anything. He’s always making dramatic pauses. I’m thinking about love and family.

“Don’t be a d*ck,” he says. “It’s simple.” I can tell he’s smiling.

I laugh, because this is perfect for him. I told him I was going to include it in this post, and he said I should make sure to credit Will Wheaton. Thanks, Will, for sharing your Law.

Here’s to the next steps in our lives!

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Comfortable, Not Numb

At the end of the day–most days, actually–what I really want to do is put on my jammies (if I’m not in them already) and curl up on the sofa to watch a movie, preferably a good one with a happy ending. If I’m really tired, maybe just my p.j.’s and a mindless game on the iPad. (I’ve always been a Tetris kind of gal.) There are also nights when I make myself avoid the screen and pretend like I’ll read something (because the truth is I’ll read about a paragraph before falling asleep).

What does this say about the quality of my bedtime ritual? What does this say about my self-care? My life?

This Lent, I’ve been loosely following along with SSJE’s “Growing a Rule of Life.” I already have unwritten rules, but before Easter morning, I plan to have them written because like everyone else I need structure and guidelines specific to me and my life. These guides will help and encourage me to grow in the way I believe God would have me grow. Like the garden velcro I’ve used to stake small trees or unruly tomatoes, these rules will be strong but flexible, good for now and amendable for when I’ve grown into a new stage.

I will likely have more than one rule dedicated to my care of self. I need and deserve such attention and focus.

What struck me last night as I turned to my iPad for a game was that I was seeking a quick fix for my tired body, a distraction for my weary mind. The Pink Floyd song “Comfortably Numb” popped into my head. How would such distractions actually help me? What I really needed was rest, true rest, not some kind of numbing agent to take away my awareness of what is real. What is real is my need to be mindful of myself, to acknowledge that caring for others takes a toll on oneself emotionally if not physically.

I didn’t do it last night but on the night before, I gave myself a glimpse of what might work. Compline. No screen. Not too much reading or thought required. Gentle, soothing, rhythmic words to grant me rest and comfort. Afterward, I turned out the light and settled into my pillow beneath the cool sheet and blankets. A deep, content sigh is all I remember. I wasn’t numb or distracted. I ended my day in true comfort.

My Rule won’t be about making sure my day is all comfort and zero distraction; that’s not the way life works. My Rule will be the garden velcro to help keep me closer to God when I would rather fall away into numbness. Being numb is easy in the moment, but it does nothing but stunt our growth.

 

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All in a Word

Identity

Who are you at the deepest level? When Jesus looks at you and loves you, who does he see? What is it which truly makes you come alive? Is God inviting you to take a risk and to go deeper?

-Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

The church’s new year comes at the first of Advent. The calendrical new year comes January first, without fail. My bursts of energy and momentum to get going come in fits and starts like an old Model T; when I’m rearing to go, I’m full throttle, but when I’m not, there’s no end to the strain of getting motivated.

Except now.

At least, for these past few days or weeks.

Or has it been months already?

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I feel I’m awakening a bit more, becoming more fully who I truly am, realizing the amazing depth of growth. It’s not just about getting older, which I am, but it’s also about being more fully aware. One thing I find most interesting is that when I hear something–even if I’ve heard it before–there are implications and meaning. I am rarely dismissive. Our lives call for interaction, so I either act or not in any given circumstance, fully aware that my non-action has as much repercussion as any action I might take.

Awareness.

That’s a word.

But it’s not my word for this year, which I was trying so hard to have before January One. Like a child’s cooperation, though, I couldn’t force it and have it be authentic. I went through most of Advent following along with SSJE’s “Brother, Give Us a Word,” trying to increase my awareness and attention . . . and intention, probably. My motivation sputtered until it wasn’t even idling. I remained parked through Christmas.

A magical thing about the liturgical cycle is that it gets ingrained in us, and like any habitual practice, it can carry us, moving us onward even when it feels like we aren’t going anywhere. Along comes Epiphany, and maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking about Jesus’s work among the people with whom he lived and breathed that I’ve been thinking deeply about my own work–not as a comparison, mind you, but as a what-am-I-doing-if-I’m-living-into-who-I-truly-am kind of way.

For better or for worse, in our American culture, what we do, what our work is, can be a reflection of who we are, who we identify ourselves as. (Not always, of course, but sometimes.) I work as a priest, which means I have a varied list of tasks and responsibilities. Working at being a Christian is a huge (if not whole) part of who I am. If I whittle down through what I do and filter through my gifts, I remember that as a child, I was always writing stories. I was always listening. Imagining. Think what you will about all the associations of the inner child, but I hear her loudly and clearly calling out to me with every writing utensil and journal I receive or buy, “WRITE!”

And that scares the bejesus out of me. (Pardon the expression.)

Which probably means it is one of the truest things that I can do.

This comes to mind:

I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. ~ Romans 7:18b-20, NRSV

Writing scares me because in the process I tend to more clearly hear the voice of God, walk alongside Spirit, come face to face with Christ because it is right for me and probably right for others, too. Not doing it encourages me farther away from God, allows me to fill that energy with other, less life-giving things.

Writing scares me because in the sharing of my words, I open my heart even more than I already do (and I think I’m a pretty open-hearted person), making myself even more vulnerable. Vulnerable on many levels but especially the one where what I say might not please you, the reader.

So I’m reading Brené Brown after loving her TEDx talks but not reading the books lest they call me to actually do something daring. Obviously. I’m working on embracing my Wholeheartedness because that’s where I experience Joy. If I embrace the part of me who writes, then I can, perhaps, become even more Wholehearted which, in turn, means an even better Christian.

I accept the challenge. My word for 2016 is WRITE.

Doing that which is hard and scary is best not done alone. So I’m doing an even more ridiculous thing by asking for help. Dammit. <–Apparently my ego doesn’t like this.

  • Ask me how my writing is going, whether it be in my journal or blog or projects. (What writer doesn’t have multiple projects going?)
  • Share what your identity calls you to do.
  • Connect. If not with me, then with others. Find those who are trustworthy with your Wholehearted self, those who are there to help keep us focused when we slip and succumb to that which is not life-giving.

Giving full credit to Ciara Barsotti for the art and Brené Brown for the words, this sits as encouragement on my desk.

And I give myself a gold star today for writing.

 

 

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Looking Up

With the weather turning colder and with the sky staying gray more often than not, my eyes tend to chart the path of my feet.  On my way to class the other day, however, I happened to look up.

tree_with_red_top

I see a few leaves holding on with all their might, somehow holding onto the tip-top of the tree.  They are aflame like candlelight, burning brightly in the face of the wind.  What is it they reveal to me this day?  What do I need to know?  That I myself am out on limb, exposed for all to see and watch in my successes and failures?  That I am attached to things that eventually I will have to let go of?  That nature is amazing in its color palette, and I simply need to notice?  Maybe these leaves held on long enough to be seen.

Most of us are trying so hard to do what is right, to do well, and to make the world a little better for our being here.  Sometimes our presence is enough.  Persevere.  Shine brightly.  Know when to let go.

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Hello, Time.

Situation: my sense of time is skewed.

Solution: reacquaint myself with time.

It’s not that I don’t understand there are 24 hours in every day; I get this.  What I recognize is that something in my time management needs to be shifted.

As if my awareness of this early in the day were not enough, to further emphasize the point, I was late for an afternoon class.  It wasn’t intentional by any means–just a perfect cluster of events to keep my conscious awareness of the class out of focus or absent altogether.

Awareness and affirmation, check.

How might I “reacquaint myself with time,” if this is how I sense a solution to the perceived problem?  I am not venturing far in making some simple observations, nor am I exhaustive of all the issues at hand.  In creating perspective, however, I have to be realistic of my current needs and present situation as wife, mother, and student.

  • I need more sleep.
  • I must take care of my physical body.
  • Quality matters.

I realize that with these three simple statements, I can address a variety of aspects of my life.  Creating a few practical goals will, I hope, incorporate a better sense of my place in time.

  • Go to bed around 11pm.
  • Walk/Bike to school and local places.
  • Eat good-for-us foods.
  • Be present and aware in relationships and studies.

To achieve these seemingly simple goals, I will have to keep a detailed calendar.  (I am trying to use digital calendars, but I am still connected to my hand-held calendar book!)  I will have to insert travel time and continue to make menus that also account for snacks and easy-to-prepare healthy meals for a large family.  For me, prayer, listening, and writing encourage mindfulness, and as importantly for me right now, I will have to turn out the light before a new day begins.

As a friend pointed out in her sermon today, “God is before us, and friends are with us.”  I am not alone in any endeavor, but I do have to take initiative to “create the field for deep change,” as my spiritual director suggests.

Suggestions are appreciated, and I am more than willing to share my resources as well . . . as soon as I figure out what those are!

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”    ~ Mother Teresa

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Another Beginning

We give birth to so many things in our lives.  We create art.  We forge friendships.  We beget children.  These are no small things.

What I notice most about the most significant births is that they are born from a place of surrender.  My ego gives up, and I let what needs to be born come forth.  With each of my children, such is the nature of their birth.  In some of my better writing, the words seemed to form themselves.  My most sincere friendships found their own way to my heart and took root there.

This home, this school, this town we find ourselves in now, I imagine the same holds true.  In the stillness of the morning, I marvel at the sunlight falling down through the trees.  I wonder at the moisture, the thunderstorms, having come from a place not far away experiencing harsh drought.  (Believe me, I’m trying to send the rain back home!)  I am here for formation.  For a true birth to happen, I will have to let go.

That doesn’t mean I let go of all that was, of all who are a part of my life.  In as much as this is a community affair, this is mostly a time for me to grow, not away from who I am but more fully into who I am, who I am meant to be.  No one says a birth is easy, nor do I hear often that they’re beautiful affairs to observe (aside from those who hold the process near and dear to their hearts when a baby is being born). But I give thanks in advance for those who will serve as witnesses to my own birth, who will hold the space around me, love me unconditionally, and remind me that the ground is still there when I feel I’ve lost my way.

 

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About time

Yes, it’s about time.

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while,” says Jesus to his disciples.

That was in my daily reading this morning, and, oh, how I do long for a retreat.  I’ve been away from the family on weekends relatively recently, but it’s been a while since it was truly a retreat for retreat’s state.  At this point in my life, I need clarity, calm, and a solid sense of direction and purpose.  This is harder to maintain when one is frazzled, drowning in to-do’s, or just downright tired.

 

Jesus was speaking to his disciples.  I wonder who speaks to the women these days.  Who tells the overworked mother to rest a moment, take an hour between nursing, grab a pot of tea and go gaze out the window . . . or sleep a few minutes.  All will be well.  Who tells the outside-the-home-working-mothers that it’s okay to be away for another day or two from the family, not to feel guilty about the piling chores and pleading eyes?  I don’t think anyone speaks up because those around us aren’t sure that all will truly be well.  But, it’s better for a mom to take some time out than to walk around getting crazy eyes and becoming more and more like a woman on edge.  Maybe I project.

 

We have to take care of ourselves.  To nearly every mother I talk to, I ask if she’s taking care of herself.  I ask about her support system.  To the women I work with and for others I know, I try to set an example.  If I can get away from my household with four kids, surely they can, too.  It’s not perfect, but it’s OKAY.

 

I wonder about those who don’t need or take time-outs for themselves.  Are they being honest?  Have they fully shut down from their inner voices that guide and protect their best interests?  Because I think that’s where dreams and hopes exist.  If we shut out that voice, we risk losing sight of who we truly are and thus risk losing our sense of purpose in this world.  Yes, being a mother is a worthy purpose, but does it give you a sense of joy — mind, body, and soul?  If not, you’re not listening carefully enough to yourself.  If so, blessings, my Mother-friend; spread that love and joy!

 

I grant you permission to take a time-out.  Find a friend with a cabin for a night or a weekend.  Pack your favorite nourishing food and beverage.  Sleep in silence, all by yourself.  For you extroverts, take a gang of mothers with you and enjoy the party!  If a weekend doesn’t work, take at least 15 minutes a day for you, and only you.  I smile thinking of my friend who locks the bathroom door for her quiet time.  Take it where you can get it!

 

As the kids get older, it gets easier to find the time, but priorities will still have to be juggled.  Seeking out a deserted place, finding the time to listen to my still, small voice, I know more clearly what the priorities are.  It takes that leap of faith to put me first that ironically grants me insight as to what is best for all.

 

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What Do I Expect?

Supposedly, the less we expect, the less disappointed we will be.  But without expectation, what standard would I hold for my home, my kids, . . . myself?  Obviously I have relatively high standards, and I think the same is true for most in our society.

But why are so many depressed or anxious?  What isn’t working?

I think part of it is the thinking that follows the line of “if I’m doing my part, everything should be okay . . . especially for me.”  Or maybe the expectation that if I can’t do something directly to fix xyz, then someone else will fix it.

Maybe there is expectation that life shouldn’t be too hard, that one shouldn’t have to sacrifice too much.

Maybe if it’s someone else’s problem, it’s none of my business.

I don’t know how I would go about my life if these were my expectations.  I think I work from these basic principles and the resulting expectations.

  • Living includes suffering –> Life is going to be hard.
  • Love & compassion alleviate suffering –> To make a difference, be compassionate.
  • We ALL have a choice –> Not everyone will make the same choices, nor will the choices always be good.
  • I am human –> I will be imperfect, try as I might to prove otherwise.
  • There is God –> There is Light, even and especially in the heart of darkness.

These are bigger expectations, of course, that things like, “My kids are respectful –> They pick up their toys and will keep the bathroom clean.”  But if I can keep my baseline clear and even, then I can keep (or at least have a chance at keeping) perspective.

When it comes to expectations, perspective can make all the difference.

 

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Happy Place

It’s come to my attention that not just laboring mothers need a “happy place,” some place – real or imaginary – to escape mentally when what is real is overbearing. Sometimes what we have to deal with is too much, and we need an immediate OUT.

I remember guiding my childbirth classes through such exercises, hoping to give them another tool for pain management.  Labor is painful; use what you can, and the more options you have lined up, the better.  When the physical demands start to overwhelm, it’s okay to put mind over matter.

Close your eyes.

Visualize your most favorite place in the world, down to the smell . . . feel . . . taste . . . look . . . and sound of it.

Have your loved one whisper about it in your ears or just hold your hand and be with you.

Before you know it, a minute has passed.  The pain subsides.  You might even look forward to the next contraction so you can go back to that magical place.  Maybe not.

Yesterday, in the office, we took turns, the three of us present, to share where we would go given carte blanche.  Where would we go?  What would we do?  Apparently we would scatter across the states and the globe, doing something we’d love or have always wanted to do, being with whomever we chose.

“I’m happier just thinking about it,” one woman said.

Maybe that’s inevitable.  listen to what your heart wants, let the mind pay attention, feeding it a little detail, and see what happens.

Even today on Facebook during my lunchbreak, I saw a friend post about her happy place, and in the comments I read how other friends were joining her!  We are attracted to what is good, no?  Take an everyday, mundane chore, and let yourself use the time to take a vacation.  Take others with you.  Enjoy it for the moment it lasts, and be happy.

Escapist?  Yes.  But for me, a moment to dream is not a wasteful use of time.  I have dreams.  There is so much beauty in the world.  I need to remember this when life bogs me down, heart and soul.  There is so much more to life than what I can see or even imagine in any given moment, and most of that is good.

For a quick reminder, I have a postcard of a German castle surrounded by mountains and trees in autumn color.  It works.  🙂

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