To round out our Tour of Horrors a la the Dentist was a scheduled surgery for Gemma.

Lord have mercy.

To say I was a nervous wreck was an understatement.  I was worried about her pain, her experience, a traumatic post op, recovery . . . and then I got a visit from the same day surgery center.

"Blah, blah, blaaaah . . . tube through her nose . .  . blah, blah, blah . . . heart monitor . . . Blaaah, blah-blah, blah . . . oxygen levels. . . risks."

That's when the fear began to gnaw.

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We woke up very early to get her and her empty belly to the appointment on time.  On went the Elsa dress and tights and high heels because it gives her courage and was familiar. I carried her through the doors and onto the pleather couch for check in, hyper aware of how tiny and light she felt in my arms.

Waiting in the pre-op room, we opened the crayons they had given her.  "Oh, Mama, look!  They're all my favorite colors!"  Clearly, she was oblivious to any stress.

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Her silliness seeped from her pores to such an extent that when they came in to check after they administered the first sleep-inducer, I wasn't sure what was her and what was the meds talking.

Then her eyes started to roll.  "I'm getting sleeeee-peeeee!" she giggled and tossed herself back in my arms.  I told her she could close her eyes and I rocked her.

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"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine . . . "

Her eyes opened and she attempted to sing along, "You make me blue, blue! Bluh, bluh, blue, bluuuee." She tried to talk, but only more of the same came out so she nestled into my arms.

I thought she was asleep when her eyes opened wide.  "The angels are going to fly, fly, fly me up to heaven to see Jesus!" Her arm fluttered up to the tiled ceiling.

No one should let a mama's heart hear such craziness at such an hour because, come on!

"Can you see the angels?" I asked her, her eyes intently focused above us.

"NO!" she looked at me as if I had lost my mind.  Then her eyes sparked with mischief.  "Not yet!" she sing-songed.

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After a few moments, she gathered herself to ask for 'Rolling in the Deep,' her long ago song.  But after just a few seconds, she sat back up.  "Actually, can you play me 'Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord?"

She doesn't remember the nurses carrying her back.

I attempted to read, but mainly watched the clock and tried to piece together prayer.

When the doctor came to tell me everything went great and they "wiggled the front teeth!" I kind of wanted to push her.  Wiggled? Really?  They had just stitched up holes in the perfect gums that we had kept watch over for weeks waiting for those very teeth to make their debut when she was a baby. But how do you explain mourning to a dentist?

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I met Gem as she was wheeled to her room.  Her cry was hoarse and so very sad, but not the ear piercing scream I had steeled myself against.  3 seconds later they told me I could hold her and as soon as I sat down, she quieted and stilled.  Her eyelids fluttered but didn't open and in a very slurred, very raspy voice she asked, "Can I play on your phone?" I suggested after a little nap and played her new song on repeat for thirty minutes instead.

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I dressed her groggy body, opting for the skid proof socks over the high heels and headed home.  It was a testament to the army of folks praying for us that she didn't scream or cry until she was safely tucked into our bed.  And - thank ya, Jesus! - there was no puking, either.

We miss her teeth but agree she's still just as cute.  And she's as spunky as ever, so there's that.  Fingers crossed, this is the last of the dentist for a really long time.  Please, Lord, make it so!

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We have a twelve-year-old.

Max is TWELVE.  Twelve!

Saying it out loud makes Jac and I feel it in our bones but it was Max who said to Lucy on the morning of his golden birthday,

"I'm an old man, Lu!"

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Then he starts saying things like,

"I can't believe I can drive in 2 years!"

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This afternoon he was itching to go to the bank to deposit some of his birthday cash and we were waiting for Lu to wake up.  I was folding laundry when we heard her stirring so he went to fetch her.  He came back to the living room with a diaper and wipes and changed a truly awful diaper (masterfully) with constant chatter and giggling aimed at his sister and nary a complaint.

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Last week, on the way to piano, he told me how he's taken to starting his mornings.  "I do like the bishop suggested.  I say what St. Joan of Arc said to God: I don't know if I'll be here in a year, so do with me as you will.  Then I pray the consecration prayer and just think about my day."

Really.

He's a keeper, that one! Pretty glad he's ours.

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Parenting, as it turns out, is a giant crap shoot.

The thing is, you pour your heart and soul and very life into your kids and then just hold your breath, hoping something, anything, sticks.  Results may vary.  And seeing how each person grows and develops at their own pace, it may take many, many decades to see how you did.

In the trenches, it can be overwhelming and, at times, discouraging.

A few weeks ago, after Jac and Max were away on camp out, they came back, took some showers and we prepared for Mass.  Lucy did her level best to let everyone in Cathedral know that she was being tortured.  Trying to stand, in heels, and keep a 25 pound willful toddler in my arms while she thrashed and pitched and bucked. . . it was exhausting.  Then we bolted from there to a holy hour out at Terra Sancta.  By that time, Lucy had perfected her escape tactics and Gemma had spent her patience.  I hustled them into the hallway.

I meant to just let them stretch their legs (and allow everyone else the chance to pray uninterrupted), but the Lord had other plans.  Following her sister down the hall, Gemma came upon the larger than life Pieta statue.  For a moment she stood transfixed, staring up, head back, onto the anguish of Mary cradling the body of Christ.

"Mama," Gemma breathed, tenderly reaching out to caress Our Lord's chest, "THIS is my favorite friend."

I had been standing back, watching her from the periphery, so I couldn't hear her well.

"What did you say, Gemma."

"I said this is my favorite friend." Her eyes studied his face, slowly moving down, taking it all in.  She traced his ribs with her tiny fingers and outlined the hole in his side, sticking her hand in like a little Thomas.  "Jesus is my favorite friend."

For 20 minutes she visited with Jesus.  She told me about him.  She talked about Mary. She asked countless questions.  She began by facing him, reaching up to 'soft' his beard, remarking how it was bigger than Daddy's and that she liked it.  She was sad he was so sad. . . She was praying for him. . . She tried to sit on his lap but found that sitting beside him, she could place her hand in his.  It was a good fit.  Why did they bam his hands. . .?  She could make him feel better. . .  When she was big, she would stop them so he wouldn't die. . .  She switched sides and gently pet his other hand.  She leaned down, resting her cheek on the cool plaster.  Jesus is big. . . Bigger than you, right mama . . .?  And his mama is, too. . .  She is sad that Jesus is dead. . .  I am sad, too. . .  Then she stood and reached up and up until I asked her what she needed.

"I can't reach Mary's tears and I need to."

I lifted her up and she felt each drop, outlining them softly and holding Mary's cheeks in her hands.

"Gemma, do you know why Jesus died?" I whispered into her ear.

She froze.

"Because he loves you so much and wants to be with you in heaven forever. Your his favorite friend."

Her head whipped around to look upon Jesus' face again.

"Yeah, I am.  And I love him, too. Do you, Mama? Even when you're big?"

She was assured that I did and dad did and all her siblings and Bridget and Elizabeth and Randy and Susan and . . . everyone she knows and loves, they all love Jesus. He's our favorite friend and we love him because he first loved us.

Before we headed back into the chapel, she lingered for a second before she announced, "Jesus isn't dead because he's my friend."  Then she skipped off and my heart skipped a beat.  Somewhere, she picked it up and it was sticking.  Yes, there are many years and choices to go, but right there, right then, it felt like we were winning.  With an abundance of grace, we are winning.

 

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Let's remember 2015 as the Seder That Nearly Wasn't.

About a week before Holy Thursday I had a moment where the bickering and whining and complaining and all around nastiness pushed me over the edge.  There was yelling.  Awkward sideways glances shot from kid to kid.  I announced I wasn't going to a Seder if they "kept it up." (Oh, hello dreaded words my parent's used that I said I never would!  Welcome back!) I threatened no Easter baskets.  I put the read aloud up. That got Philip's attention.

"What can we do to make sure we actually do those things?" he quietly asked.

Then there came the puking sickness.  Lucy being sick was rough and on Sunday when she refused to walk or hold up her head and cried the little she was awake and sweated through her sleep - well, that about did us all in.  Then Gemma was hit and had a hard time bouncing back (insert joke about food and bouncing here). But when Mama Syd came down with it, well, that was terrible.  EVERYTHING was suspended.

I thought long and hard about cancelling.

The thing about traditions, though, is that they don't care what is happening.  They will be observed! The kids wondered about the matza.  They asked over and over who was attending.  Why couldn't Susan come?  No, but why? Tentatively, I started to prepare.

Mama Syd took a turn for the worse. Guests backed out.  We had bought a roast instead of a brisket, for the love of Pete!

I thought back on years past and the prep work we did in the week leading up to the Seder as we began prep around 7 pm the night before.  Philip took care of the marinade.  Ellie trimmed parsley and Gemma and Lucy supervised the slicing of the radishes.  Papa Chris came up in time to peel and grate apples and help Tess put together the charoset.  Around the table, the girls chattered excitedly.

Remember this?  Remember that?  Mom, don't forget!  Oh, that year!  What about. . . ?

They were busy and intense and filled with excitement.

"I'm so excited, I don't think I'll be able to sleep!" Ellie giggled. My throat grew tight.  This was what it was about.

The next day brought frenzied cleaning, Max manning the mop and Tess ironing the linens.  While Jac and I Easter shopped (a luxury with the grandparents in house), the crew made name cards complete with drawings of the Ten Plagues. (Some were more impressed by this than others.)  They researched napkin folds and all tried to get some mandated rest.  We tested our new lamb cake pan (some adjustments need to be made but I didn't cry!) and rinsed goblets.  Soon, I looked over to see all busy at work setting the table and doing the real work required and it was beautiful.

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In the end, it was a calm and lovely Seder.  The roast was delicious.  Lucy sat in a big chair and participated like a big kid.  The eldest read scriptures and Ellie did a fantastic reprise of the question reading.  Gemma only asked once if we'd buy her some Frozen flip flops and we were done in time to clear the table and load the dishwasher before Mass.  It really was a beautiful night.

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Here's hoping the kids remember the Saving of the Seder over my tantrum and that I'll remember that it's never as hard as I make it out to be.

Next year in Jerusalem!

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Holy Week 2015 - The Year Mama Syd and Papa Chris Came and Lucy and Gemma and Mama Syd Had the Puking Sickness.

It's been nothing but fun up in here, I assure you!

There have been some bright spots (Gemma singing, "I have to goooo pooooooo!" as she skips to the bathroom instead of freezing in terror and crying is certainly high on my list). Among them for Ellie was the download of a new game on Mama Syd's iPad.  She came in to our room first thing Monday morning to tell me all about it.

". . . and I wish it had more doctor-y stuff, actually because even though the boys say they hate blood and guts and lampshades, I actually really like it because I want to be a doctor."

I searched her face for the joke and found none.

"What did you say?" I asked incredulously. She giggled.

"Um, 'blood and guts and lampshades'?"  Another giggle.  "Yeah, I don't know what it means either but that's what the boys say they hate about doctors so . . . " Smile, chuckle, and she was gone.

No, I haven't clarified anything for her or with the boys.  I've just giggled about it myself and enjoyed the mental picture it provides. It has almost made up for the sickness.  ALMOST.

 

It really does take a village, this raising a kid business.

Did I just reference a Hillary Clinton quote?  

Multiply that by the number of kids we've got and, well, we end up needing a healthy metropolis.  Good thing we seem to have one!

Elizabeth has faithfully come on the Sundays of Lent to bring gum to the girls who are fasting from it and to visit with them.  Luke and Randy and Michael and Kyle hold kids, wrestle kids and toss kids.  The Scout Master picks Max up and drops him off as if it's his job and Gail glides into the house like the sun beam that she is and takes the helm effortlessly.  Allie teaches new slang and (some might say annoying) phrases.  Bridget reads, Shawna screens, Susan quizes, Fr. Mark cheers, and on and on and on . . .

In short, we are abundantly blessed by our friends.

Even over miles and miles, we are blessed.

The first week of March, the mailman brought a small manila envelope addressed to the Daniel Kids.  Oh, the frothing!  Oh, the guessing!  The return address told me it was from Chrisa but the bulk and heft of the package added to the mystery. What could it be?!

An Epic Pi Day Family Fun Pack!

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It was as if they had won the lottery.  We quickly glanced at the contents but decided together that to put it away would make actual Pi Day that much more epic.

"I like how she always remembers us on Pi Day." Philip mused.  My homeschooling heart agreed.

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Now Chrisa is to her very fiber a teacher.  And how she can light up at a teachable moment is distilled joy. So I rejoiced with and for her forethought in utilizing the Epic Pi Day as one for us.  Lord knows (and Chrisa, too, evidently) that I would've mentioned it and moved on because math is not my strong suit.  I need that village!

We watched the clock and rang in March 14, 2015 at 9:26 and 53 seconds. 
Then it was on to the other fun activities!  Jac read the pi trivia sheet while the kids colored the symbol for pi (she sent new crayons=BEST. DAY. EVER.) Next came the beaded bracelets coordinating colors to numbers thereby creating a wearable symbol of the number.  This was great fun and Max and Ellie proved particularly adept at translating the given code.

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There was a challenge to measure circles and find pi.  Jac and Max worked hard to get exact measurements in an attempt to arrive at the tricky number.  Another challenge was given to see how many digits you could memorize.  Max took this seriously and is currently up to 15 (and continues to work on it).    Over lunch, we worked through the Pi quiz and followed that up with the procuring of actual pies because those were the instructions sent with a generous envelope.

Jac and I had a talk to give that evening so the pie and kids and remaining activities were left with 3 joyful villagers who came to watch the kids.  Josiah found the suggested video (and others!) on youtube and they all worked together to make a pi story. And by the ruins present when we got home, they enjoyed the delicious pies thoroughly.

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I could write to the many decimal points of pi thanking all of those who we love and love us well.  But for today, this meager offering must suffice.  And to Chrisa, math teacher and friend extraordinaire, our infinite thanks and appreciation are given.  You made our once in a lifetime Pi Day truly epic.  In the words of Tess, "If I live to see the next Epic Pi Day, I will still remember this one!"  Lots of love from our village to yours!

At the beginning of Lent, I told myself I'd write every day.  The quiet and time needed to do it?  Well, I'd figure that out.

Then I didn't.

And here we are, how many weeks in?, and I feel rusty.  Thoughts and stories and images swirl about but stay right out of my grasp. Where to begin plagues like a stubborn fly and I stare mute at the blinking cursor.

Baby steps.

To note, for this week:

Max spent the weekend away on a campout with his troop and Jac.  He said this week, "Mom, I think I'd like to be an Explorer.  I mean, I've made a lot of friends in the troop and stuff but I don't think their good for me."  Then 30 seconds later he yelled out "Bruiser Cruiser!" and punched me in the arm.  THIS is the land we are in right now, the straddling of boy and man.    Philip is devouring books.  Yes, he always is reading but lately he's been voracious.  300, 400, 500+ page books keep him occupied for a day and a half if we're lucky.  It's hard on him for Max to be away and he is anxious if left alone to stew.  Friday he served 5:30 mass solo, played with Tess and led Station of the Cross here at home.  He's adapting to the big brother role well.  

  Tess labors with growing pains.  She is so excited to FINALLY be a Timberwolf and have her own friends but is testy at the thought of Ellie joining a den of her age.  She is so upset that her brothers get to do anything that she can't but lords her age over her sisters. All of her shorts were put away in the fall and life in general is unfair because of this.  Pray for us!  

  Ellie has been to the dentist 7 times in the last 2 months. Two caps, three fillings, 1 abscess followed by an emergency extraction and a space maintainer.  It's been rough.  For 4 weeks she was an absolute bear and we felt awful after the tooth was pulled and her sweet self returned.  This left us feeling guilty and thankful all at once.  She's a writing and drawing machine at the moment, too. 

  Gemma.  Oh, Gemma.  Still with the Elsa high-heels.  And dress, of course.  But when she's worn it too many days in a row (4? 5? I'm still unsure where to draw the line), she refuses pants and most anything else I suggest.  Yesterday I asked her why she wouldn't wear the dress I suggested.  She sighed condescendingly and said, "It doesn't twirl."  Right.  

  Lucy is a spitfire.  Earlier this week she bustled down the hall and stumbled.  "I thought she was going to fall over," Max told me, "But instead she turned her wobble into a dance move!" That sums her up.  She's developed a scream to get attention and a smile to get her way, but still not a long list of words yet.  Tonight it was yelling "Dis!" for Philip and "Stop!" over and over at mass. 

  That feels better.  Onward and upward!   

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We have been discussing Mardi Gras themes for this year since before Mardi Gras last year.  Let's just say that 'Masquerade' didn't impress everyone.

You can't win 'em all.

Anyway, Philip just up and decided that Super Heroes would be the theme.  I lobbied for Black and White while Susan requested anything without masks.

It wasn't until the Friday before that we made the decision.  Going back and forth, I finally read ideas aloud from an online list.  When Time Traveler was said, Jac announced that was it and it was.

And, glory be!, wouldn't you know we had everything we needed right under our roof?  Actually, the eldest 4 kids largely decided and found their costumes on their own (Tess needed some help with the decision). I whipped up Lucy's get up around 2 pm on Tuesday and followed that up with my own garb.

We live on the edge, people.  ON THE EDGE.

Our crew ended up including Max the Ninja, Philip the Celtic Warrior, Tess the traditional Mexican, Ellie the Native American, Gemma the Norwegian Princess and Lu the pint-sized Puritan.

Okay, so Gemma actually wanted to be a cowgirl but we couldn't find her boots or a shirt and really, she was happier in her Elsa dress anyway.  Ellie was excited that she "went with" Lu AND Jac.

Oh, yes.  Jac was a Cowboy and I was a Viking woman.

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A Viking woman complete with a spoon on my belt because my ancestors were prepared.  I'm totally claiming it.

Our guests arrived in high style, too. We had a Thyme Traveler (who doesn't love punny friends?!), an 80's rocker, a 50's sock hopper, a 40's lady (and fedora), a classic Larry Byrd, and Marty, Jennifer, and the Flux Capacitor from Back to the Future.

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So great!

The Valle's brought Hurricanes for the adults and the whipped cream and syrup flowed. At one point Gemma requested straight Nutella smeared on her plate so she could eat it.  Being Fat Tuesday, who were we to deny her?

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After the kids were put to bed, we queued up Back to the Future because- brace yourself - Bridget had never seen it.

I know, I know. We rectified that right quick because, Hello, McFly!

"I'm so glad we did this!" Bridget said as she left.

I heartily agreed.  Here's looking forward to Mardi Gras 2016!

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We mardi gras-ed it up right last night.  Things were loud and sticky and just about perfect.

Yes, I thought, this Lent will be great!

Cue rueful laughter here . . .

Again we keep this solemn fast
A gift of faith from ages past,
This Lent which binds us lovingly
To faith and hope and charity.

New year resolutions?  All well and good and I appreciate the sentiment but for real, hard core change?  Serve me up a Lenten list any day.  It was with this attitude and so very many shiny, promising fasts and observances that I went to bed last night.

I awoke this morning to screaming. Screaming and a headache, to be exact, and within 30 seconds those high hopes were trashed.  Why, Lord? Why did I think that 10 hrs and a plan would somehow change who this family is?

Kids still fight.  Feelings still get hurt.  Insecurities still grow.

Let us avoid each harmful way
That lures the careless mind astray;
By watchful prayer our spirits free
From scheming of the Enemy.

I was ready to throw in the towel before I even rolled out of bed.  It's too hard, it isn't worth it, I don't want to! all played on repeat.  From somewhere God whispered, "My power is made perfect in your weakness."

Fine.

And so it begins.  The walls are bare, but our foreheads are not.  We are still working on our lists, remembering that this time is to strip away the things that distract and keep us from God.  It's bare-bones season, baby.  Let's not waste it!

We pray, O blessed Three in One,
Our God while endless ages run,
That this, our Lent of forty days,
May bring us growth and give you praise.

*Hymn: Again We Keep This Solemn Fast.  It was a fight, of course, this morning over which Lenten song would be sung for morning prayer as everyone has their favorite. (It's true.) Tess won out with this one which is darn close to the top of the list for me, too.  The text is ascribed to St. Gregory the Great - it makes my heart glad to sing these words of his.  There's a reason why he bears the distinction of "the Great"!

**Also, no photo today because the only picture I took was of a very full toilet.  It was that kind of day. You can thank me later for sparing you.

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Today was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  It rolled off of a night of fitful sleep full of teeth grinding which was proceeded by an argument with my beloved that had been rearing it's ugly head for days.  Before that was an evening that didn't go as planned on the heels of a week of much of the same.  In fact, trying to find the genesis of this particularly crummy date on the calendar had me traces it's start to some where in January.

Yuck.

Jac found me hiding at lunch time, meeting my crazy eyes with a smile.  "There's always tomorrow!" he reminded me.

I know.  Oh, I know.

I wish I could pin point the issue (Issues?  Lord, help us . . .) but I think it's a combination of things.  Too much to do and too little time to do it.  Too many nights spent scattered to the 4 winds.  Not enough reading.  Not enough praying.  Too much technology and not enough eye contact.  Plus, the weather has been lovely - most of the time - but we know in our heart of hearts that there is March to endure and so we can't revel.  Or at least I can't.

And really?  The devil is throwing punches and hitting us in the soft spots.  Because I'm tired, I stand there and take it, growing dizzy and sick at heart. I feel the strain of my back against the ropes and don't even flinch when the jabs come.

I hate that guy.

This afternoon, after a failed nap, I took Gemma to Boyd's. Jac had returned from the Chapel craving a Twix and caffeine so Gem and I went in search.  She chatted happily all the way there and stood in wonder before the shiny, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.  She was eager to help and carrying the wallet and king-sized candy bar filled her with importance.

I soaked it in.

I forget nearly every moment the gravitas of my role as wife and mother.  I mean, I know, but I don't KNOW know. I get bogged down in the have-tos and shoulds and ought-tos and pass right by the get-tos.  I let the Enemy in and hand over the joys then mope in the corner. For what?

We made our purchases and walked into the sunshine.

"Mama!" Gemma yelled.  "It is SO nice out here!  I like the sun even when it's bright.  I missed it when I was inside.  Because," here she clicked her tongue in this adorable way that she has while she wrinkled her nose and shook her head, "the sun is not inside.  No it is not.  It is out outside!" With that she ran to the car.

And I think that's it.  The answer to everything.  The going, the doing, the forfeitted joy, it's from dwelling too much on the inside.  Our eyes - all of us - have been focused in when they are meant for the LIght.  The Son is outside, in the other, far from selfishness and self-pity.

This evening was still hard.  But I watched the sun set and asked that the sun would shine again tomorrow.  That I wouldn't squander the light.  That we would celebrate every joy and look out instead of in.  Because that Gemma kid, well, she's onto something.

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