Category Archives: Writing

One Night Away

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I asked my husband for one night away. Not together, not for an event, not with friends. One night, by myself, to be completely alone. No kids, no husband, no obligations, no noise. Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my family. I love the noise and the chaos and the constant chatter, driving, and planning that go along with raising three gifts. But ever since our youngest came on the scene, I’ve realized how desperately the introvert in me needs space. Quiet. And sleep.

For Christmas, he presented me with a gift certificate to the Ritz, just 3 miles from home. Our family knows this hotel well; my parents, sisters, husband and I have all used it for various get-aways and business meetings. To me it is comfort and escape, at an arm’s reach. No, I didn’t need to travel far, but I did need to find an evening I felt comfortable to retreat alone. The real value in the gift was not the money, but my husband’s offer to stay home alone with all the kids, doing all the parenting things that at times take a village, and freely say “Go.” This husband of mine? He is the gift.

So, here I sit in a quiet, peaceful room, overlooking the buzz of the evening commute 15 floors down and writing for the first time in months. My daughter asked “What do you write.” Not much anymore. I need to get out of my head and onto paper. My goals for this solo retreat are to write, to sit quietly, to pray, to sleep (I hope), and to return to my family ready to refill. But that’s tomorrow. For now, it’s just me.

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31-day Writing Rendezvous

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My mom and I love to write. And we love to talk about writing. Especially with one another.

We edit one another’s work. Sometimes we argue about and reject those edits because that’s what a writer can do when her editor is her mother (or daughter).  When one of us is in a slump, we encourage the other to just. keep. writing.

My mom also reads. A lot. I am still in the business of raising little people, so I let her tell me about all the great books she has devoured. (I would be envious of this time she has to read, but I know my own day is coming and then I’ll be envious of my daughters’ childrearing years.)

So, for the month of January, my mom and I are following prompts she discovered in a gem of a book. “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves. (For a review of the book, see previous paragraph then go ask my mom.) It’s our little Writing Rendezvous. A way to write together even though we don’t live close to one another and don’t talk often (again, see previous paragraph).

I’ll try to keep up with the dailies and link back here to give Ms. Reeves full credit for the very creative prompts. It’s been fun so far (4 days into the challenge) to use each prompt as either a unique topic or to fold it into a topic I’m already writing.

In the meantime, my mom is stuck in a noise-filled rut. She hasn’t had time to put pen to paper for days. And, if I know anything about my mom, it’s driving her batty. When she does get the opportunity to craft her words, you’ll want to spend time exploring her blog. Her writing is poetic, powerful, graceful, and every bit the grown-up lady she is but her youngest daughter isn’t. Go visit her at meredithbunting.com. You’ll be glad you did!

Writing Prompts from “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves:

  1. Things that enter by way of silence
  2. Ashes
  3. Into the courtyard
  4. Walls the color of tears
  5. Someone cheated
  6. The passing of hours
  7. Where the road leads
  8. On the horizon
  9. The sound of silence
  10. Shapes like stars

 

 

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These Walls Between Us

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The slight slump of her shoulders, the downcast eyes averting my questioning look, the pasted-on-smile for benefit of her schoolmates. As soon as she stepped off the school bus, I knew something was wrong. But she held it together as well as a 7-year old could. We talked casually on the way home, skirting anything that would sprout a tear, but as we entered the front door, cracks began to show.

She dropped her backpack to the ground, snapped at her little sister, and plopped on the couch. Although these behaviors needed to be addressed, my daughter needed more than disciplined parenting. I sat down beside her and pulled her to me; her shoulders began to relax into the nurturing embrace of her mother. Her warm tears trickled down her cheeks as she opened her heart.

That boy picked on her at school, again. He laughed at her artwork. A mean, purposeful laugh. Again. I tried to find the balance between sympathy, empathy, and just listening, all the while teaching my daughter the hardest lesson: to love her enemies. This job of parenting a child’s broken heart is sometimes too much to bear.

As we talked, I could tell there was something more, something she wasn’t sharing. I had to dig, ask more questions than I used to. At 7 1/2, she is beginning to put walls between us. Walls of independence. Walls the color of tears. Translucent enough that I can still see through them and find my way to her soft, squishy heart. But will these walls become more opaque over time? It’s inevitable she will grow into her own young woman, but the distance is already breaking me. The tiny baby I held in my arms, to whom I whispered my deepest secrets in the quiet hours of those early, sleepless nights is building her own spaces without me. How do I earn her trust for the longterm, an open door inside those walls? Will she believe I will always knock on that door to offer a listening ear, without judgment, without retribution? I am here, precious daughter. My embrace is always here for you.

 

 

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When Silence Enters

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Just down the hall in our small home, my daughters are drifting off to sleep. It’s the same most evenings. We put the toddler to bed, followed shortly by the 7-year old. Some nights it takes longer for them to settle, but most of the time, quiet follows me up the hall until I sit in the living room in silence. The house breathes a sigh of relief. We made it through another day in the noise, this parenting of young children. Never a pause in sound. Until this hour, when silence enters in.

The gentle tick-tock of my grandmother’s cuckoo clock lowers my heart rate and brings me into rhythm with the countless other women who are just now taking a breath for the first time in the day. Tick-tock, tick-tock. I am reminded of generations before me, my mother, my grandmothers. Did they crave quiet, like me, waiting for their hour each evening? Or were their days less busy, less loud? I am left to wonder how they spent their evenings. Beside their husbands, enjoying drinks together. Reading, sewing, or watching tv. Reviewing the events of the day, the children’s successes and adventures.

Did they lament mistakes they made themselves, where they failed as mothers, as I do? Wishing I could change my reaction, my tone, my quick temper, I am left to worry and feel guilty for my shortcomings.

When the silence falls around me, my mind doesn’t benefit from the quiet. Sometimes I long for the din of the day to fill my thoughts and my ears, blocking out any room for misgivings. But tonight, this night, I breathe my own sigh of relief. I look back on a day filled with love, laughter, and patience for one another, a successful day. And that old German clocks lulls me to peace with tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock …


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And then there is BRAVE

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Learning to be brave can take many forms. For some, it goes so far to as find a newly brave soul jumping from an airplane; others test their taste buds with strange foods in strange lands. Many people consider stepping in front of an audience to be a bravery make-it-or-breaker. In my own quest, I am testing my limits and finding my courage by sharing my heart via this blog and offering it for others to read.

To that end, I recently submitted an entry to be published in an online publication. While my piece was not chosen, the act of editing it to conform to the publication’s standards (and limit of 450 words!), then sending out to be judged took as much gusto as that first time I stood behind a podium to address hundreds of people. And, maybe, just maybe, when the task was complete, I put on my well-worn SuperGirl tee shirt!

The following is a consolidated story from my mission adventures in Honduras


And then there is Brave

I thought I was so brave when I left my children. I filled their arms with stuffed animals to cuddle and their hearts with promises to love them forever. I arranged for babysitters, church friends, my mother to comfort them in my absence. My MOPS Mentor mom suggested I leave love notes and Bible verses to read if they felt sad. I packed my bags, I kissed my babies, and then I left them.

As the plane took off and my home receded farther into the distance, I recited the verse I had left with my daughters, my mantra of bravery.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9

Several hours later, our plane touched down in the third world country I was to spend the next two weeks. My mission team and I wound our way through customs, hoping our bags would not be confiscated. We traveled through checkpoints of armed teenaged military personnel and were awoken at night by nearby gunshots. I was often frightened, but not afraid. This was an adventure, an opportunity to see another side of life, to bring God’s love and hope to hurting, abandoned children. I would return home and tell my daughters I had left them to spread goodness in the world. It was hard being away from them, but I would show them I am brave.

And then I met bravery face-to-face, looked into eyes of true courage. She arrived at the orphanage with her five young children, then the young woman signed paperwork, handed over her babies, and walked away.

The native language being foreign to me, I gleaned only a little of the conversation but words were unnecessary. Grief has a language all its own, a non-verbal way of taking over one’s posture, gaze of the eyes, strength of hand, to expose the deepest heartbreak. I saw the vacant look in her eyes as she left her babies; the orphanage would provide a safer home than the one she offered full of sickness and abuse.

What love and wisdom – bravery she probably didn’t know she possessed – it must have taken to leave her children, giving them their best chance at survival. In weakness, my heart crumbled as I recognized the strength she possessed was something I do not, with my clean, secure home and healthy, well-fed children. Choosing to separate herself from her children in order to save them, she revealed to them – and me – what true bravery is: a sacrifice of love.

15 Minutes a Day

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A friend and I were talking about ourselves. Well really, she was talking about me. Very kindly. Very very kindly. What started as a passing comment about my lack of self confidence in middle school, she quickly turned into an opportunity to make sure I understand how beautiful I am, internally and externally.

(Don’t worry, this post isn’t only about how awesome I am, though according to my friends, I am quite the catch!)

From there, we wandered into conversation about what fulfills us, inspires us so much that we no longer see the world through the filters of “I am not enough,” but finally begin to understand what we put out there is real and beautiful and a product of our souls, something so perfectly us, it’s selfish to hold onto it. You know the thing. Your thoughts, your sewing, your amazing, lilting voice. The meals you bake for your family, your business sense, your ability to make others feel encouraged and worthy.

For my friend, it is her art. The world comes to life when she draws. She didn’t set out to become an artist, didn’t study art in college because, practically speaking, she needed a career that paid money. It wasn’t until she was firmly established that she recognized her ability and started dabbling in it. More and more and more. Then she had children. Ya know, those darling little never-stop-talkers, the need-to-be-fed-everydayers, the can-they-even-do-one-thing-without-making-a-messers. And her time was gone.

Enter Jerry Seinfeld.

Ah, wouldn’t that be a gas! But, I’m not budgeted for the big guns, so in his absence we have his advice. Apparently, when he understood his own talent and wanted to really get his career off the ground, he committed to 15 minutes a day. Fifteen minutes of writing, practicing, or whatever a genius like J.S. needed to craft his perfect humor. And guess what happened? Of course I wouldn’t have brought this up if he got bored and quit. His career took off is what happened. And the world is still laughing!

I don’t know details beyond that because, honestly, I was so captivated by my friend’s own beauty and gift, we moved on to more important topics, like ourselves. And her 15 minutes a day. She finds time to quiet the kids, quiet the house, quiet her mind, and she draws. She improves. She creates her art to be shared with the world. Because what good is that gift if it’s bottled up inside her head, no matter how pretty her hair is?

I’ve spent all summer chasing my never-stop-movers, driving my we-need-another-activitiers, and cleaning after my own can-they-even-do-one-thing-without-making-a-messers, but NOT writing. So this fall, with my friends’ encouragement and Jerry’s advice, I’m going to commit (a.k.a. try my best) to 15 minutes a day. Because I believe that for this season of my life, God has given me a talent, a gift, a “thing,” just as I’ve been asking Him to do since I was a talks-too-much with a bad-perm-despite-the-Aquanet middle schooler. It’s only as an adult I see the inherent beauty in it, in myself, and have the courage to share both my writing and myself.

What is your talent, strength, gift to the world? What can you spend 15 minutes a day creating to bring beauty to those you encounter? No matter how tangible, artistic, or earth-shattering, you are here and you have a purpose. Don’t keep it inside; share it!

Between Mary and Martha

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There is a story in the Bible about two sisters: Martha and Mary. We hear about them often: Jesus and friends came to visit their home. Martha worked like crazy, cleaning, cooking, playing hostess. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to her teacher. Martha complained to Jesus about Mary’s unwillingness to help. Jesus chided Martha, encouraging her to be with Him while she could.

This story is often retold with a measure of guilt, reminding us to give God our quiet time and not rush about, worrying over trivial matters. Fair enough. I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner today and have a laundry list of tasks to complete, not to mention the mound of laundry waiting to be folded. I need to channel my inner Martha, indeed. But I’m not. I’m also not really following Mary’s example, either.

This past year has left me sitting somewhere between the listening, receiving Mary and the diligent homemaker, Martha. I stopped working when my daughter was born a year a half ago and was thrilled to step into a new role as a stay-at-homer. Then I tore my ACL and had knee surgery while my baby was learning to sit. My little family and I sat at home on Thanksgiving and ordered Chinese take-out. In the midst of my recovery, I repeatedly dislocated my shoulder; that surgery was scheduled a week after my daughters’ spring birthdays. Another six months later, I packed up, traveled to an orphanage in Honduras, and returned home broken on the inside.

Now here I sit, day after day, needing to either hop up and Martha my way through the day or open my heart and listen like Mary. I do neither. I am numb. These difficulties have left me broken and poured out. Pretty tough to be filled up when the vessel is in fractured pieces and impossible to pour out when it’s bone dry. Yet, my family, community, Bible study, church, and this Thanksgiving meal need my jar to be whole, in constant filling up and pouring out.

I don’t believe God causes or wants bad things to happen. He didn’t allow my knee to buckle or shoulder to fall out. He certainly doesn’t want those children to be orphaned. God doesn’t desire my vessel, my heart, to be in shattered pieces. He wants to put it all together. Just as I want to help my daughters avoid getting hurt, find solutions, and learn how to make their world better, isn’t that what my Father would want for me? He wants to piece this broken vessel back together, me holding the jagged edges and allowing Him to be the glue. Then, only with my God holding me together, will I be able to be filled up and poured out again.

Mary and Martha, I am your sister in between. As we race into the holiday season, may Jesus wrap His own broken hands around my heart and hold me together. May I be open to all He has to teach and ready to pour out His love to everyone in my path.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” Martha replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
John 11:25-27

Names, Relevance, and Celebrity Status

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My oldest daughter loves her name. And with good reason. It is also my mother’s name. A lady who plants miniature gardens for fairies, exudes the love of God in every breath, and goes by the self-proclaimed nickname “The Present Lady.” Yep, around here, it’s good to be a Meredith.

Coincidentally, our daughter’s kindergarten teacher also shares the same name. With long beautiful hair, a radiant smile, and overflowing joy that finds her skipping through fields with her class, this teacher wove her love into our hearts. At the end of the school year, she promised my daughter they could get together during the summer. A promise of which my daughter has sternly reminded me.

Tonight’s the night. Mrs. C and her husband are coming for dinner. My Meredith suggested the teacher might not want to wear her “dressy dressy dressy dressiest clothes” because they could impede her ability to get on the floor and play. My daughter is also hoping the teacher will suddenly remember she needs to go to the grocery store, invite my daughter to go along, then keep driving a few more miles directly to the school playground where they will play games together. These comments, along with a hundred other this week, let me know how firmly our daughter planted this teacher on a pedestal. She is nothing short of a celebrity.

Those who know me well know I have very little patience or respect for superstar celebrities and the attention they garner. I don’t care about red carpets, who is dating whom, or what restaurants someone favors. The money spent to style, promote, and entertain people based on their social status frustrates me, particularly in a world where children are uneducated and starving. Show me a person who is making a difference in the world, a real “celebrity,” and I’ll give them my respect. Mrs. C is doing just that: teaching, nurturing, and loving our children. She taught my daughter grace, respect, and kindness. She has worked with schools in Africa, coaches fourth-grade girls track, and is married to a fireman. This woman certainly didn’t sign up to be a celebrity! But through her own goodness, she is relevant.

According to Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman, being a relevant writer takes salesmanship. Unless one is powerful or famous, simply being interesting will not to encourage readers. Fine. Probably good advice. (If you’ve read this far, you’re either doing so out of kindness or boredom. Obviously, I’m no salesperson.) This article was sent to me at a time I was already questioning my own relevance: as one person wanting to change the world for good, as the only daughter of three who doesn’t live close enough to help if our parents needed it, as a homemaker who can’t seem to clean or keep things organized, as… Well, you get my point. I feel ineffective and irrelevant. Now I hear my writing also lacks relevance because it doesn’t have a “hook.”

Am I okay with that? I admit, I loved the buzz when a few hundred people read one of my posts. I started off sharing my heart and ended up blessing people I’ve never met. But I didn’t set out to become a famous writer. I just wanted to write for the pleasure of it. If one person walks away from a moment with me and feels uplifted, I’ve done something. Something relevant, perhaps?

With a new school year approaching, my daughter has been expressing concerns. She worries that people will make fun of her for a myriad of tiny concerns: there is a dancer on her shirt, she doesn’t run the fastest, she might have an “accident,” someone will know she sleeps with stuffed animals (coming from a girl whose mom still sleeps with a baby blanket, this is hardly a concern!). We spend a lot of time encouraging Meredith to ignore what people think, that what matters at the end of the day is that people remember Meredith is kind, she does nice things for others, and sticks up for anyone being picked on. Perhaps I need to swallow a bit of my own advice. I don’t need to be famous, Mr. Krugman. My blog simply needs to bless others.

My Sermon

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I preached it, Sister! I brought it! Okay, really, I just shared the message at my church’s services while our pastoral staff was away. This was no fire-and-brimstone, but a responsibility to share with my church family what was on my heart. Given the spirit-filled pastors I have known in my life, this was a big role to fill. What I shared is far more humble. The opportunity was a treat for me, combining two things I love: writing and public speaking. (Kudos to my high school English and Speech teachers for the gift of both.)

Since preparing for the sermons consumed most of my recent blog-writing time, it seems only fair for me to post it here. My sermon notes, if you will. (Heeheehee – I still can’t believe I got to be the preacher.) Although this was initially for my church family, I humbly submit it to you, my blog family…

Sincerity of Faith

Good morning! My name is Leslie Vorndran. I am one of your lay leaders. I’m a mother of two, a wife. I’m currently a stay-at-home-mother. I’m an avid book reader, an art lover, an amateur cook, a dog owner, a terrible gardener, a blogger. Oh yeah … I’m a Christian.

Recently, I was making plans with a friend of many years. We met long ago during college, ended up on beach vacations and at late night parties together. As life moved on, we celebrated at one another’s weddings, baby showers, and housewarmings. But on a recent weekend, she mentioned our plans might be interrupted because she would be at church. Church? All these years, we have been “friends” through life’s biggest events, never suspecting we shared the same faith, the same core values, the same belief in our redeeming Savior. But why didn’t we know this crucial detail about one another? I suspect that’s because neither of us had been brave enough to name-drop the very Name of God. Without realizing, we had not been sincere to our friendship or ourselves.

Looking around, and in the mirror, I see people who are very, very blessed. We live in beautiful homes in close-knit communities. We cheer loudly for our local sports icons, from the Little League to the professional baseball team.
Don’t even get us started on our favored political groups. Left vs. right, red states vs. blue states, the elephant vs. a donkey (?). We love to speak out, argue vehemently, and cast votes for our sides.
We are so passionate about our careers that discussing what we “do” becomes what we talk about, how we introduce ourselves. If someone asks a prodding question, we happily delve deep, talking on and on about the work we do and who we know.
Talk and talk and talk. We create opportunities for talking: get togethers for coffee, girls’ night out, book clubs, conference calls, networking events. When the spoken word fails us, we email, text, tweet, status-update and, in the all too rare case, write letters. We love to communicate, to talk about issues, resolve conflicts, catch up, encourage one another, complain.

I’m right there with you. But what are we talking about? How much of ourselves are we actually sharing with one another?

This blog is just another opportunity to “talk” more if you will, though I started it to get some thoughts out of my head and challenge myself to be more forthright. One of my blog posts ended up touching a chord with a lot of folks. I shared a personal story of a new friend I met at the pool. She and I have spent the past few summers exchanging pleasantries, chatting without ever really talking. This year, when I was stuck in a sling following shoulder surgery, she shared the truth behind some health issues she was facing. It wasn’t until she and I broke down the nice-to-meet-you barrier of our homes, jobs, and children’s activities that we found a deeper connection. A sincerity of friendship.

The response to that posting got me thinking more about it. I have found that what we don’t usually talk about in our community is our faith. The very part of us that brings us hope, that which carries us through the hardest times and binds us together in the good. Like the old children’s song, we hide our little light under a bush. Those who enter our homes, who have a place in our hearts, may get to learn about our spiritual selves, but how many of our neighbors know upon Whom we built our faith? They see us leaving the house Sunday mornings, so we assume they know where we’re headed. We certainly don’t discuss God at work, where we might lose hard-earned respect, position, even the opportunity for upward mobility. Then there’s the social networking. Do we use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the blog-osphere, even Email to promote the Kingdom of God? For me, Facebook is a tool for connecting with others, be it my family, friends from grade school, or even the new friend I met last week. I used it to plan my high school reunion, announce the birth of our daughter, and RSVP to a wedding. I share pictures of my kids via Instagram; my husband filters his news through Twitter. Social networking. More talking. And another place to talk about everything, except our faith.

A couple of years ago, I went out on a limb and mentioned on Facebook something about my faith. This was a big deal to me, since many of my “friends” were work colleagues from whom I hid my faith, connections from a time of my life I had very little faith, and new friends who I knew held very different views from me. I risked ruining a lot of relationships in making myself known. But the opposite happened. Once I shared a little, I was encouraged by others holding the same beliefs, other followers of Christ. With this new confidence, I shared a little more and more over time. Here’s what happened. I didn’t lose out on any relationships, but rather I was given new relationships, deeper relationships. People I had known for years now felt comfortable expressing their faith with me. I have been blessed to watch their faith journeys, to grow along with them, to be challenged by their walks with Christ. Built on the sincerity of our faith, on our unity in Christ, my relationships have grown from acquaintances and social connections to friendships of the heart, a family with whom I pray.

In Galatians 3:23-28, Paul talks about this unity in Christ, calling us “children of God.” We no longer need to identify that which separates us from one another: religious background, social status, or gender. We are one in our faith. We need only to reach out and talk about it. But here’s the cool part. It wasn’t only Paul who spoke of our unity. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus actually prayed for us, for all believers, that we would be unified. And through that unity, that the world would know His Love.

Paraphrasing John 17:20-23 a bit, we are told Jesus said, “My prayer is not for the disciples alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You … so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.”

So, let me ask you a question: How do you define your community? In and around our town, across the country, on social networks, at work, in Honduras or Ethiopia, in your own home, or is your community in this church sanctuary? When you are surrounded by your community, do you catch yourself being reserved, hiding your faith “under a bush,” or do you speak out, share with others what God has done in your life, offer encouragement or prayer, and share His love so that others might see Christ in you? I am the first to say, I do not do this enough. Not even in my own family. I privately pray for extended family members, that they may come to know Christ, that He will soften their hearts to the freedom and joy that comes from knowing Him, but I choke with fear and timidity before I can talk of spiritual matters with them. And these are people I love; imagine how terrified I am of sharing my heart with colleagues or strangers!

But how can we ever be unified if we don’t know one another, truly know one another?

I challenge you, me, all of us in this together. Let’s speak out. Be unified in God’s love, His amazing grace. Let’s call on His strength and boldness to share His love, His name with our community: our town, our mission field (wherever that may be), our families, and one another right here in this church. Let’s pray with one another, encourage each other in Christ, and live our faith so others might see and believe the gift we have already recieved. My guess is that as you – as we – begin to live faith more boldly, more sincerely, we will find our relationships are unified in a Love deeper than we ever imagined.