Starting Over

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We are in our 4th month of being “back” in the US. When we were just visitors I often wondered what it would be like when we finally moved here for good (or until we get further orders, nothing is really for “good” is it?) And I have to say I’m not sure this is what I pictured. It’s neither good, nor bad, it simply is what it is. Repatriation and all the joys that go with it when you left as one person and have returned another. Sort of like the Hobbits at the beginning of LOTR, compared to the Hobbits at the end of the novel. They felt different and processed life in a new way after their journey was over. They were braver, wiser, a bit beaten up, but better for the journey. I so get this.

And really, nothing can prepare you for starting over at almost-40 in a town that you haven’t lived in since 2001 as a single girl. Pretty much nothing. When you leave as a young woman and return with a head full of gray hair (colored blonde, of course) and have added 6 more people to your entourage than you had when you started out. Life is simply different now. I knew this ahead of time, that this would be weird/hard/challenging/emotional, but still, knowing and living in it are two different things entirely.

I’ve heard stories from other who have gone overseas for a significant amount of time– some are well-cared for in their new places when they return; some enter quietly and try to manage as best they can, staring American apathy well in the face most days and trying to move on in spite of it. God gives grace in both instances, I believe. As for us, we’ve had a bit of both. So perhaps it evens out in the end. Perhaps.

There has been much processing going on in these few months and I have to tell you… there are some things about my passport culture that are infuriating and heart-breaking and completely discouraging. Instead of battling mosquitoes, I’m battling technology and the hold it has on our entire society and now my children in school; instead of inappropriate attention every time I’d walk to the market, it’s apathy and entitlement all around me that get my blood boiling. Again, I knew that I’d feel this way and I’m working through it… but still.

Of course I know there is no perfect country or culture, but somehow when the problems are in your own backyard it’s hard to shrug it off. It feels personal. And yet, these feelings, this sensitivity, is not new– I felt it for weeks every time we came back here for a visit. Anyone who leaves a place and comes back after a while can see the holes that went unnoticed before. But what to do with all this information and emotion right now when everything else is so raw? Still so many more questions than answers right now.

So we are here, but we are moving within the space of uncertainty and full into the “Now what?” Of course I have AshaBelle (changes coming there too!), but Jon… well, we are still sorting that out and would love any prayers you have for us in the area of clarity.

Moving to India was hard. Traveling back and forth was hard. And repatriating is also hard. I know we will survive and have stories to tell of God’s faithfulness in the midst, but sitting in the questions makes me wiggle and squirm. I want to know the whole story. I want to catch a glimpse of the next five years and what they will look like. It’s a pretty big five that will involved kids becoming teenagers and last babies entering into school.

I’m moving in all this with some excitement, some joy, some anxiety and some doubts. The usual blend. I’m sure many women who’ve traveled this road before can relate. I still wake up in the morning in disbelief we are in the US and not living out of suitcases and that I don’t have to rush around making 20 Target runs to get what we need before we head back. And when I do get it, if it will in fact fit in my allotted space.

God has given us some sweet time as a family and has given us a certain measure of rest amidst the chaos. We are grateful. We know he will provide what we need, it’s the patience part that gets me.

So here we are. We’re back. No more indoor camping for a while. And hopefully more writing and making space for myself, which is so hard to do with 5 kids in a cozy farmhouse and a baby who wakes up all the time and is still in our room. Still.

But if you drop by this space I hope you will be encouraged. I’m still on a journey, even if we are no longer in India. I’m on a journey towards owning my gifts and to stop hiding behind my insecurities. It’s hard for me. Probably harder than living in India. But it’s the movement that I need to make. So let’s see where this adventure goes.

And let’s see if I can learn how to end a blog post. Seriously. I’m the worst.

A Word for the New Year: Write

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The post appeared first on IndiAanya.

A new year is here, and if you are like me, I am clinging to the hope that 2016 will be quite different than 2015. You made it out, but just barely. And you’d love to find yourself in the midst of a season of still waters for a while. If this is you, let me say from the beginning, I hear you, me too!

For some of you it was a year of adventure, wonderful new beginnings and peace. For others, pruning, hard-fought growth and heartache. Some of you imagine, “how can 2016 top this?” and others lament, “it can only get better from here, right?” Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. Regardless of where our hearts fall at this moment, the truth is we all find ourselves at the beginning of another January with fresh hope for the days to come. At least that’s how I feel at the beginning of every year.

And like last year, I decided to ask the Lord to lay on my heart a word that would be my focus throughout. Last year “Rejoice” was it, and how little did I know that word would be a challenge from January 1st until December 31st. And I’d love to say that I rose to the occasion at every opportunity—that I rejoiced in the myriad of challenges 2015 held, but let me assure you, I did not. Sometimes that little word stared at me, wondering if I would choose it or fall into despair. Many times the former was closer to the truth when my heart would ask, “How can I rejoice in THIS?”

There were weeks where rejoice didn’t even register on my radar. But even still, I don’t think last year’s word was a failure. There were many times I felt like God was using this word to remind me to focus on Him and not the circumstances swirling around me. Life wasn’t perfect, but there it was, an invitation to find joy in the midst of trials. To choose to delight in Him and the truth that Jesus really is enough even when it’s hard.

In thinking about a new year and a new word a few weeks ago I began thinking about 2016’s word, ready to lay 2015 quietly to rest and get on with things. Don’t get me wrong, there was so much about this year that was wonderful… our fifth child was born healthy and happy, God healed broken relationships and He provided for us in amazing ways. But there was also loss, heartache, brokenness and a huge transition that uprooted us from India back to the States.

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Naturally, it seemed like my word should be “Transition” because that’s going to be our reality for some time to come. But that didn’t seem to be exactly what fit. I kept pondering on it, and the word “WRITE” popped in my head a few weeks back. Nothing new there. I love to write, but had put it on the back burner for most of the year while I tended to needs of my family, our business and the move. But writing is and has been one thing that has always given me life, but had been much-neglected because everything else was so much more urgent.

Yes, WRITE seemed almost too simple. But there it was. I let it sit on my brain for a few days and watched to see if anything else materialized. It didn’t. And I began to wonder if maybe this was one way in which God was going to begin to help me process the past seven years of my life—five years in Delhi and the two prior as we prepared to go. So much had happened quickly during that time that I felt like I hadn’t had the space to consider the all the ways in which my heart and life had changed; how the lives of my immediate family had changed and what that meant to us all moving forward.

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And I also decided it was the year of stepping out with my writing. There are some blogs and magazines I want to submit pieces to and see what happens. Probably nothing, but I’m tired of letting perfectionism and fear get the better of me. I’m not getting any younger and I firmly believe God is writing His story of our lives and maybe it’s time pieces of it should be shared—maybe it’s something someone else needs to hear. Maybe.

So perhaps instead of making a bunch of resolutions that are easily forgotten by springtime, simply pick one word and let it be your compass for the year.

And if you need some inspiration and accountability, you can check out sites like oneword365 where others are doing the same thing this year.

Indoor Camping, Coffee Pots and the State of Things

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We have all been sleeping in the same room. Seven of us. In the same room. Y’all. Our AC’s have all run out of gas except for two and because we know we are leaving we refuse to have them fixed for a few weeks. So, we either stay in the living room or the one bedroom that is cold and not 101 degrees, which is what it is right now. The coffee pot has also been claimed, so clearly it is time to move and it may be the longest week of our lives.

So we’re indoor camping… huddled up on beds and pallets and hoping Baby H sleeps through the night. He usually does unless I forget his mosquito net and they bite him. Which they did last night. Nope, not going to miss that. Or my daily ant battles. Let’s say I’m definitely looking forward to relinquishing my pest-control duties for a while.

Moving. It’s hard on everyone regardless of distance. Our distance just happens to be the other side of the world and there just happens to be seven people to relocate. Seven hearts all dealing with things in unique ways. Seven bodies doing and needing seven different things. On a normal day it’s exhausting. Add in itemizing ever piece to be shipped and cleaning out five-years worth of junk and you may have a very tired and somewhat irritable mom.

Like today. Feeling sluggish, and not rested at all I trudged out of bed and to my normal lunch-making duties. Kissed the boys as they left for school and sighed deeply as I had to enter one of our hot rooms to finish off my packing (it still didn’t get finished). Earlier in the week we found, in the midst of packing,  my long-lost iPod. I decided to charge it up and drown out the world while I sorted stacks of medical records, birthday cards and medicines and made a mental note to never let things get like this again. I also made another note about unrealistic expectations.

With everything going on, I’ve felt on edge for days. My soul has felt restless and exhausted from the continual loss. That’s what you don’t realize until you experience it. Everything we sell or donate is a loss. S is only two, but when someone came to take daddy’s desk he had a meltdown. He can’t understand why people are coming to take our things. He just thinks we are losing them to a bunch of random people. And it’s not just the loss of stuff. Next week is going to be hard. At two he can’t understand that the lady he hugs every day before she leaves to go home (our house-helper) won’t be part of his world anymore in a week’s time. There will be tears on that goodbye from both sides. Tissues ready.

I haven’t updated our music in so long, it’s embarrassing. But a song came on by Tenth Avenue North called By Your Side and as it played I was in tears. I have had so little space for thinking or processing…it’s been all doing and trying to check things off the list, collapsing in bed and getting up to do it again. I don’t do well like that for very long. I need quiet time to reflect, to listen and check my heart. And lately, my heart has been in a tough place. Running from thing to thing has worn me thin. Grieving losses both here and back in the US has taken it’s toll. But I was carrying it all and trying to plow forward because there are so many tasks to do, who has time to pause long enough to listen to the stirrings of their soul?

And the clutter. Oh my. There is stuff everywhere and getting everything into its proper stack in s a challenge. We have thrown out so much that I’m sure the trash walla is going to insist we give him a bonus, which he probably deserves.

But it’s not the clutter, or the losses, or the too-much-togetherness that’s the problem. The problem is my heart and how I try to carry it all on my own and I wasn’t made to do that.

And of course Jesus isn’t going to pack my suitcase, though I’d definitely love that at this point, but he does have a plan and he does care about the details. We had thrown it out there a few weeks ago about selling our car, and got far in the process with someone, but he couldn’t make it work in the end. So we were left with 10 days and a car to sell. We prayed with the kids before school and asked others to pray too. Tonight we have a family ready to buy it next week. Perfect timing.

There have been many such situations where God’s provision came at the right moment and it reminds me that I don’t look at things like that with the wonder I ought to. I don’t see all the little things God does on my behalf because I’m often too busy praying for the big things and how I want them to turn out. And after so many years you’d think I’d understand this dependence/faith thing a little bit better. But alas.

We have one week left in our apartment. This has been the perfect home for us, provided at the time we needed it. It is hard to imagine the next phase of life, truly. Every time we’ve gone to the US it was with the knowledge we were simply visitors– the shift in perspective is going to take some time. But with every new journey, there is also a hint of excitement at possibilities and the surprises that God has ahead. And it’s that feeling that I want my soul to sit and soak in right now.

 

Looking for Home

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What is home?

It’s a question at the forefront of my thought-life these days. As we prepare to make an unexpected move from India to the US in a matter of weeks, I ponder on the word home and what it’s come to mean not only to me, but to all the members of my immediate family.

There are seven of us. Baby H is too young to know anything about geography beyond mommy and Little S probably is too, though everyday for lunch he asks for “dal and rice” from our house-helper (I’m going to need to take some notes soon). My three oldest have lived here for five years and have varying degrees of connectedness based on age and temperament. Our oldest, J, doesn’t like change. And just yesterday declared he was staying here while the rest of us leave. Our second son broke into tears when we told him we were leaving, but hasn’t mentioned it much since, and our very social Princess is excited to be returning to school in the US (we pulled her out here) and to be near her cousins–no time for tears there.

As for me, well, it’s complicated. India and I have wrestled with each other for these past 5 years. I won’t sugar coat it– it’s been a hard place for me to live for much of the time. The isolation and loneliness and feeling like we are always under a microscope is hard. Cooking from scratch takes forever. And a million other things from mosquitoes to electricity add, um, variety to life. Still, when we return to the US we go from being interesting to many here because we are different to being very uninteresting to most. I know that sounds strange, but we are seen as different people here. Here we run a business and volunteer at the church and walk to our local market. There we are starting from scratch and appear to be like everyone else.

People, sweet, well-meaning people, will say, “Oh you’re in America now!” and what this means is “doesn’t that solve all your problems?!” Well, I suppose it means I can eat a burger and Blue Bell now; I can drive myself, thank you very much, now; and we will be closer to family assuming they want to be closer to us 🙂

But there are other problems that go along with being in America. Our home culture, beautiful and great as it is, has much to be desired in terms of how quickly kids seem to grow up there. We have a future middle-schooler who has a heart of gold and I’d like for him to remain that way. But I know this is going to be a struggle in our celebrity, social media culture. I also want our kids to remember what they’ve seen and experienced here so their hearts will always be champions of justice and of those who suffer greatly. I want their hearts to be tender towards outsiders as they have lived as outsiders and know what that feels like, both positively and negatively.

I could go on and on.

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Home is not something I can easily define these days as we begin the “fun” process of packing up 5 years of life. The giveaway/to-be-sold pile keeps growing as we weed out what we really need and what is of no consequence. We’ve moved four times in the past 11 years and lived countless months out of suitcases when visiting family and times of transition, slept a variety of beds and tried to manage the chaos of living in someone else’s house with 3, 4 and now 5 children. We are a big group. We would be weary if there was no home to run to in the future, but thankfully there is an oasis in the desert waiting on the other side and excited family waiting in the wings to welcome us home.

But even though we are going back to the place I called home for the first 23 years of my life, it doesn’t feel like home, really. The great irony is that all growing up all I could think about was leaving my small town where never felt like I quite belonged, and now I’m landing a mere five minutes from the very house I grew up in. My son will go to my middle school. It feels like I’ve entered the Twilight Zone.

And similarly, I struggle to know how I’m going to live there. What is it like for kids to go to school in America? How do kids dress? What will community look like for us? How do I begin to explain the past 11 years of my life to people I meet for the first time? Is there an expat support group in North Georgia to help me make sense of this place? Why do I suddenly want a cat (I’m horribly allergic) so I can name her Indira?

Perhaps because even though India and I have had a love/hate relationship at times, I don’t want to lose her and what she’s taught me.  I don’t want us to forget India.

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When people say we’re coming “home” I pause. I really don’t know where home is anymore, geographically speaking. Home is simply where my people are and where we can be “us” without care. In all this we do look forward to the journey ahead, but know that losing one home, even though gaining another, means we will grieve. And this is the part I don’t think you can understand unless you’ve lived it. There will be tears and pain and joy and the feeling that something has been lost in the gain. It’s simply the way it is.

So if you see us around later this fall and we still look like we’re trying to catch our breath, the truth is we probably are.

It Will Take Some Time

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So much on my mind lately. People, places, the church and the state of my soul in general. It’s felt like there’s been so little room in my brain to create freely, it’s been all production and deadlines and hard things. No time for wistful pondering, deep-breathing and savoring.

This is definitely not the season of savoring, but I hope it’s coming soon. And doesn’t it just feel like that? That no matter how much we tell ourselves to savor each moment, some moments we simply want to see move along. Quickly. The way you become weary of summer after so long and yearn for autumn. It’s only July, but by August we all start dreaming of cooler temperatures and pumpkin bread…and lattes.

But not now. There’s too much on the inside churning around and it’s still too hot to dream of sitting by a warm fire sipping lattes.

For example, one of our workers has an abusive husband and he keeps her from working sometimes because they have a huge fight and he hits her. There’s no calling the police; there’s no system by which I can waltz into the slum and give him a piece of my mind, not that there’s much left there anyway. But boy would I like to. I know. I have a temper when it comes to seeing women abused and treated badly when it’s not in their power to fight back. I start feeling all Maureen O’Hara in a John Wayne movie. Oh how I love her!

When women are afraid of what society will think of them for speaking out on their own behalf, this pricks my heart. And lights a fire in me, a sort of low smolder, if you will. And I’ve noticed that our smolders that come from deep within us usually rub up against the status quo. But if you’re like me, you like to chuck the status quo and go with your gut and let the chips fall where they may and think about it later. (Was that enough cliches for you? It’s late and it’s all I got).

As we come upon 5 years I would love to say I have more peace, more joy, more optimism. I do have more peace, but it’s not because things have gotten easier; I do have more joy, but not because circumstances have become lighter–in many ways they are as hard as ever; and as for optimism…well, I think that’s a lost cause, but I do have a deeper need to cling to hope than ever before.

And back to the smolder… I like to think change is waiting in the wings here for women. I know a bunch of great ladies here think it is, but as they say, let’s see because it will take some time (the ambiguous Indian response when no one wants to tell you how very looooong something will actually take). I love it.

Five years is a good chunk of time to stay somewhere, and I feel like I’ve learned so much…but I know I’ve barely scratched the surface. But India has left a scratch or two on me. And I never thought I’d be grateful, but I am.

And it only took 5 years.

 

A Look Back

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It’s been almost five years since we arrived here and I know as the anniversary of our arrival draws closer I’m going to be even more pensive than usual. Be forewarned.

Arriving late-July during the worst monsoon I’ve seen since we’ve been here, we were worn from eight months of living as nomads, a family of five going from house to house for weeks at a time. We landed in the middle of the most humid night ever and slept for half a day when we finally arrived at the hotel. We spent our first three weeks with friends who were also new, two families in two bedrooms, with seven kids between us. I’ll leave it at cozy and move on.

We have gone through so much as a family– our marriage has been tested, our kids have had the usual growing pains coupled with the fact that they have endured grief every time we come and go from one country to the other, and I have been stretched beyond what I would have ever imagined–the air feeling so thin sometimes that I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to breathe again.

There were things I could have done better and things I should have given myself grace about. There were times I should have asked for help and times I did ask and didn’t receive it. And certainly relationships that should have been cared for better, but there were so many days I only had energy for survival (some days this is still true and I’m finally okay with that).

But even in it all, God has been faithful. And he has given me strength when I thought I had nothing left to give to anyone. And he is making a way, his way, and restoring relationships that were broken and neglected. And miraculously, he is even using little me to do something dear to my heart that I could have never imagined five years ago– help other women.

And even in the hard, the brokenness I’ve felt at times, the struggles, the joys, some amazing things happened inside my heart and God allowed growth in spite of me. And that I would not trade for anything. 

So the next few weeks are going to be about looking back and remembering, because it’s good to do that from time to time. And I’ve been in the mood to write lately, so I’m going to go with it until it ends.

 

On Late Blooming

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I call this blog “life as a late bloomer” because I tend to learn things very slowly… like painfully slow. Like I’m well into mid-life and I’m still having “AHA” moments when I have insights into my personality or why something is the way it is in this world or why I react a certain way in a given situation. And how I can’t think of any examples of those things above even though I know they are true. But I digress.

I guess that’s why I never realized that when I said a timid “yes” to taking over the income generation project at our church that it would take so much of my time, sweat and heart to get it going. That taking something that is a good idea and turning it into a real business would require so much sacrifice for all of us. And tea. And coffee.

And that getting to know the lives of women who live in a completely different world would change our family and how we think life should be lived. And would forever put a dent in my heart for the voiceless and hurting and those who have very few choices in their lives.

And that sometimes God has to put us in our own dark places so we can understand the pain of others–though we don’t realize that’s what he’s up to, and definitely don’t care to linger in it, but sometimes that’s just what happens.

That’s a bunch of “ands” and I’m just going to go with it.

And I have a really hard time some days because I think I should have everything all together, but I seriously don’t in any way. In fact I’ve been known as “grumpy mommy” for the past few days. Over the past few weeks I’ve ignored myself and the subtle signs that I’m doing too much. That I’m not breathing enough or paying attention to life going on immediately around me. And as such I’ve gotten to the very end of my resources, but I’m still trying to scrape by.

I should know the signs by now, but, I’m a slow study when it comes to myself. Sigh.

So I pulled myself back today from the to-do list and sat on the floor and played legos with the cutest two-year-old I know. I had a long conversation of gurgles with Wonder Baby and enjoyed his abundance of smiles. I let the eight-year-old lay his head on my shoulder as he read. I listened with as much interest as I could muster to the plot synopsis of a Percy Jackson book with our oldest and did a little braid for our princess instead of just throwing her hair into a pony-tail.

All of that sounds so small, but I’m amazed at how many days can pass without feeling like I’ve had meaningful contact with the kids on an individual level. Too often I get into task-mode and just go… until I smack into a wall.

So I’m learning still how to live this life of mine. How to merge it all together and establish some sort of rhythm that makes sense and doesn’t have me working during every quite moment of the day. It’s so hard for me to stop and pay attention most days. And remember to breathe-in the life around me instead of just trying to race to get tummies fed and tucked into bed by 8:30, which is not happening at all around here since summer break started.

And right now at 10:00 there may still be a very cute two-year-old wiggling around as I try to get these thoughts out coherently and this post concluded nicely, so I think I’m just going to have to go with what we have because it’s too late to reason with a sleepy toddler and perhaps conclusions are highly overrated anyway.

Siren Songs

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Today I’m home with only a baby and a toddler and as crazy as it sounds, it feels like a break. The three older ones are out for a bit and I’m trying to take a couple of minutes to quiet my racing mind and clear out some of the fog.

It seems that no matter what I eat or how much sleep I get (and I’m actually getting some thanks to Wonder Baby), by mid-morning I have no energy and feel like my brain is covered in a Delhi-like haze. This goes on basically until the evening and I feel like I have to fight to keep moving. My tendency is to jump straight to vitamin deficiency as the culprit combined with a healthy dose of cross-cultural and life stress. But maybe this time it’s more and my Western mind forgets to take into consideration the other possibilities.

For the past two weeks I’ve had a mind battle going on. Voices telling me a variety of unhelpful things that are only meant to tear me down. And I’ve believed them. In part because these are my weak spots and partly because I’m so exhausted I haven’t paid proper attention to my spiritual well-being. There are no excuses, really, but I am a task-oriented person who wakes up with a thousand to-do’s and I jump right in after Cornflakes. But with all the head-haze I feel like I’m running in place most of the time– only accomplishing maybe two of the million things on my plate. Teeth-brushing has become optional.

Over eggs and toast last week I told my husband about my malaise and all the voices that were being unhelpful, but I believed them and it was putting me in a perpetual bad mood. He had noticed. He looked up over his coffee and called them my Siren Songs.

Now the literary geekiness in me was impressed he used this allusion. And the other part of me paused to consider how right he might be about this. About my Siren Songs– the songs that I hear playing in my head that draw me in and are difficult to resist, but ultimately lead to anxiety and discouragement in my heart.

So what are my Siren Songs? Well, as a well-established melancholy I have a tendency to think too much about things, to be highly sensitive (that’s my INFJ talking) about relationships and a huge desire to do things that make a difference in the world. I put so much on myself– expectations and responsibilities– that I get weary under my own self-made pressures. And when the unexpected occurs or things aren’t going as I planned I tend to doubt my own abilities or question everything.

In the midst of it all, I had the chance to speak to my life coach (yes, I love having a life coach, she’s amazing) who gently reminded me that I do live in a very spiritual part of the world and we are trying to serve Jesus and love others in a way that sheds light on him, and well, that’s not what the enemy of our hearts wants. He wants me to live defeated, in a daze and confused and defeated. So I began to pray more in earnest for God’s protection over my thoughts and help throughout the day. And really I’ve seen a huge difference since then.

It’s 113 degrees, so energy is difficult to come by anyway. But in this season of life, with all we have on the line and all that the Lord is trying to do in and through us, I have to cling to him and trust his plans even when the days are full and it feels like I’ve accomplished nothing and haven’t even left the apartment in three days. I have to speak the truth to myself, even when it’s hard and my heart struggles to believe it and I need to listen to others who speak it to me, too.

In mythology the Sirens would attack ships as they sailed along to their destinations. They were only defeated when sailors realized the threat and plugged their ears as they passed by. In my life I’ve so often struggled with my own thoughts and I’ve allowed them to pull me under. But I don’t have to. I have a choice–unless it really is vitamin D deficiency then I need both vitamins and truth to keep my heart in the right place.

 

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