A Profound Simplicity

A journey. A random sighting. Questions.Blindness-1

Spit. Mud. Water. Sight.

So much had happened so fast. He had been sitting near the roadside when a Man saw him. Most people didn’t see him. Or if they did, they pretended he wasn’t there. Because he was always there. What else could he do? Being blind, he was at the mercy of those who passed by to provide him with a few coins or some bread for the day. So when this Man saw him, he figured it would be just the same.

Blindness had sharpened his other senses. He was an expert at hearing footsteps. He knew when it was a child skipping along or an old person with a limp. He could tell from the voices and language whether it was a neighbor or a foreigner walking by. He could hear the negative whispers about him. But this time he heard a different conversation.

Parents. Sin. God. Light.

He heard some strange sounds.

Spitting. Digging. Squishing.

Then he was shocked to feel a thick wet substance being pressed over his eyes. The Man’s voice told him to go wash it off in a nearby pool. Desiring to remove the now-drying mud, he groped his way down the familiar path to the pool and quickly rinsed it off.

Light! Color! Beauty!

Shock. Awe. Stumbling home.

Those same neighbors who had seen him every day on the path to town, who had ignored him or whispered about him– these same people were now unsure it was him. He looked familiar and sounded the same. But how could he see? The healed man kept repeating, “It’s me! I am the person you know! I am the man!”

Sometimes we get so used to a person being blind, or broken, or abusive, that we don’t know how to accept them when they change. As hard as it has been, we just got used to it “that way”. Used to the heartache or the anger or the absence. Used to the pain of the disease or loss. At least we knew what to expect and could be prepared.

But when change comes, even good change, chaos follows. How did this happen? How do I respond? I’ve lived so long without this good in my life – how do I make room for it now? Naturally, the blind man’s friends wanted answers about how this had happened. Much debate followed. But the now-former-blind man had the greatest insight of all, helping them to see what really mattered.

I was blind. Now I see.

The mud, the love, the miracle – Jesus changed this man’s life. And no one could argue with that. Sometimes God makes it so simple and we make it so complicated.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever       believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

Simply the most profound message ever given. Perhaps you have lived a long time without God in your life. You are used to it that way. It seems too complicated to change. But it isn’t, really. Just like the mud on the blind man’s eyes, Jesus has done all the work. You just need to believe He is who He says He is and accept what He has done for you. The words of this well-known hymn state it so well:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

 

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A First-day-of-school Meditation

School started without me today. For the first time in 26 years, I did not pack a school lunch and send someone off with a kiss and a prayer.  There were no bookbags to check, no last minute questions like, “Don’t you need a coat? It’s raining out.” No rushed breakfasts. No August school shopping for new crayons or a cool lunchbox. Just a quiet morning, giving my husband a kiss as he left for work and enjoying a toasted English muffin with some homemade jam.

Does it feel good? Does it feel sad? To be honest, I don’t know yet. Those of you who sent your firstborn – or lastborn – to kindergarten today may have found that send-off difficult. I was not that mom. My kids tease me for not being the mom who cried when they left for school, not being the mom who arranged cool “first day of 5th grade” pictures with neat signs. We were lucky if we got a picture of each kid at all – and it was usually taken at the front door seconds before they left, with typical dim entryway lighting, shoes piled up in the corner and a bunch of random coats hanging on hooks nearby. Don’t ask me why we have winter coats hanging by the door in August…

I was always excited for my children each time they started school. I knew they were expanding their horizons beyond what I could give them. Plus, I loved it when they came home and told me about their day and we laughed or cried or complained together at the breakfast bar with an after-school snack. I also secretly (or not so secretly) enjoyed the less hectic schedule at home when my kids were in school. And I loved back-to-school shopping…especially new crayons!

Now my children are all grown. We took our daughter to a college 3 hours away this past weekend, where she started classes yesterday. All three of my children are on their own, continuing to become more responsible adults who are learning to contribute to society and make a difference in the lives of others.

So, does it feel good? Or sad? It is both. Deep down inside, I know what all parents know…we are preparing our children for this. We work hard to teach them life skills so that someday they can be successful adults who no longer need us in the same way they did at home. We appropriately push them towards independence, deeper thinking and skillful decision making. We encourage them to get along well with others and extend a hand to those in need. And then, at a time that comes faster than we expect, they are ready. No, they don’t have it all figured out – to be honest, we don’t either, right?  But they have enough figured out to try flying on their own. And with our prayers supporting them and the grace of God guiding them, they will make it.

So, in spite of the twinges of sadness and the occasional tears when I walk by an empty bedroom, I am happy. Happy for them and all that life is bringing them that I could not provide. I am still that excited mom who can’t wait to hear how life is going for my kids. I still love the conversations at the breakfast bar-whenever they happen, and the text updates-whenever they come. And I am learning to be content in my new job of supporting from a distance and praying for them daily.  Parenting isn’t easy at the start line, and it is not easy at the finish line either. But we can all press on,  being present in each new day and new phase of life, always grateful to have the opportunity to be called “Mom”.

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Off the Shelf: The Little Book of Hygge

The Little Book of Hygge-002In recent months, though I have enjoyed the writing process for years, it seems I lost my writing voice. I missed making a blank page come to life with words yet found words did not come freely or frequently. Finally, I determined to revive good reading habits, hoping that as I took in the words of  great writers, I might find my own writing voice again. My 2019 goal is simply to keep a journal of books I read and the quotes I value from each book. It has been a rewarding process so far. Perhaps this and future “Off the Shelf” posts will provide resources for your own reading pleasure as well.

In search of some casual summer reading, I recently picked up a book from the library, The Little Book of Hygge, written by Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, Copenhagen; published in 2017. While I had heard the term “hygge” and knew of its increasing popularity, I was unaware of its meaning. Mr. Wiking does an impressive job of not only explaining the meaning of the word but making his reader feel the meaning of the word…which, in fact, is exactly what hygge represents – a feeling or sense of well-being as a result of life choices and experiences.

The Danish people are among the happiest people on earth. Meik Wiking has made it his calling to discover the reasons why and pass this along. A Dane himself, he has a solid grasp on the resources that contribute to Danish happiness alongside the reality that happiness in and of itself does not come from possessions. In his refreshing writing style, he gently takes his readers on a journey that includes an imagined walk through a Danish neighborhood and an evening as a guest at a small dinner with friends in a Danish apartment. I found myself first wanting to eat some Danish sweets and eventually wanting to visit Denmark!

The simplicity that hygge represents is beautifully illustrated in the simple layout of this book, its convenient size, its short chapters, and its clean yet simple artwork. Even the writing is simple, with concise sentence structure, easy explanations and randomly inserted humorous but kind jabs at the Danes themselves. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the quirks of hygge, all while wishing I could go to Hobby Lobby right that minute and buy some yarn to learn how to knit.

With chapters on Light, Togetherness, Home, Christmas, Summer, and more, everyone can find something to embrace about hygge. This book made me feel so comfortable and carefree that I ended up taking two quick and cozy naps while reading this short and happy text – my way of enjoying my own hygge. Grab this book for your beach bag or a lazy Saturday afternoon, and enjoy a little bit of Danish hygge yourself this summer!

Florida sunrise 2019

 

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Lessons from a Boeing 737

The tragic news of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 this past Sunday left us all wondering again about the safety of flight.  We routinely purchase plane tickets, pack our suitcases and plod through airport security lines,  thankful we don’t have to drive the whatever-hundred miles it is to our out-of-town business meeting. We leave safely and we return home safely.  And then we are jolted back to reality by a news story such as what occurred over the past weekend.

The aftermath of this tragedy brought a storm of controversy over the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max airplanes due to a similar disaster last year with the same model plane.  Finally, it seems, agreement has been reached between the government and Boeing to take all 737 Max aircraft out of service until a full investigation can be conducted. We can all seemingly sigh a collective sense-of-relief at this decision.

Sara Nelson, who is the head of the flight attendants union at United Airlines, posted an insightful statement about this decision.  In part, she expressed these words:

“Lives must come first always. But a brand is at stake as well. And that brand is not just Boeing.  It’s America. What America means in international aviation and by extension in the larger world more generally-that we set the standard for safety, competence, and honesty in the governance of aviation.”

I first read her words-in this article written by Bill Murphy, Jr.–out of my interest in the aviation safety issue. But her words struck a deep chord in my soul. Why? Because these same words, written by Sara Nelson, carry profound meaning if applied to the abortion issue that has been cast into a catastrophic tailspin by recent state legislation making late-term abortion legal. An article published in The Atlantic on February 4, 2019, describes the nature of this moral tailspin:

“These bills represent some of the most lenient abortion policies in the country. Tran said her bill would allow a woman to receive an abortion at term, while in labor, and she offered no explanation of what potential maternal or fetal health complications would necessitate it.”

Allowing a physician to perform an abortion at term or while a woman is in labor solely on the assumption that life does not yet exist – when there is no conclusive scientific evidence to prove this – is the same thing as continuing to fly Boeing 737 Max planes, filled with innocent passengers, when there is no conclusive scientific evidence to prove  the planes are safe.  If, collectively, we will demand the grounding of all planes until evidence proves their safety for all humans, why will we not demand the ceasing of all abortions until evidence proves that life does not exist in the womb?

Ms. Nelson’s words ring true:  Lives must come first. And America’s reputation is at stake in something even more important than aviation.  May we be brave enough to “set the standard for safety, competence, and honesty in the governance” of our laws to protect the value and sanctity of all human life – before, during and after birth.

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Where Were You When–

TERRORIST ATTACKSSeveral years ago, as a young pastor’s wife, I sat around a breakfast table with several of the older ladies in our church. They gathered once a month for a time of prayer and I enjoyed getting to know them better in this way. On this November morning, the ladies began reminiscing about where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot. Many had been home with their children and heard it on the TV. Some received phone calls from a neighbor or family member. As they circled around the table, I was contemplating my answer – I was 9 months old at the time and didn’t remember a thing. But something interrupted the circuit around the table and the subject changed to an even more somber one—where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor? Now I was really in a pickle. Not only was I not alive when Pearl Harbor took place, my mother would not be born until two years after the events of Pearl Harbor! I didn’t even feel like a young pastor’s wife anymore. I felt more like a toddler who had accidentally wandered into the Adult Sunday School class – bewildered and trying to find my way home!

I have a new appreciation for that conversation those women shared on that November morning. Today, September 11th, this question has gone around again: Where were you when you heard about the 9-11 attacks? And this time, I remember exactly where I was. I had been trying to get on our dial-up Internet service for several minutes, without success. Finally, I decided something must be slowing things down. So I decided to wait a bit and turned on the TV to watch a bit of news instead. To my utter shock and amazement, the screen was filled with images of the World Trade Towers on fire, the Pentagon burning. Within about 10 minutes of turning on the TV, the first tower fell; then the second. I sat in stunned silence, tears flowing down my face, hugging my 6-month old daughter as I tried to grasp the reality of all the children whose parents would not come home that night. Like so many, I sat in silence for several hours, watching the catastrophic events unfold and the rescue efforts begin. My older boys came home from school, and we watched some more. No one had to say it – we all knew we were witnessing a defining moment in history, one that would change the world forever.

My daughter, six months old at the time, is part of the generation that does not remember the events of September 11th. She knows of them from the pictures she has seen and the history lessons she has heard. But it is not personal to her. No doubt she will experience a defining moment of history in her lifetime. My wish is that she will witness a historic moment that brings out the best in people. A moment that is defined by peace, not war; love, not hatred; compassion, not violence. September 11, 2001 may have been one of the worst days in our country’s history. But as someone today said, September 12, 2001, was one of our best.

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Minimalism: Painting 101

paint brushAs I shared in a previous post, I have been on a journey toward finding minimalism in my life. While minimalism often brings with it some challenging concepts – such as reducing possessions and evaluating priorities – I believe we can also experience some fun on this new journey. One example for me is a current painting project I have taken on. This project will refresh some key space, save the cost of replacement, and help me reduce the amount of items I have stored. All of these are positive steps toward minimalism. Project pictures likely to come later! For now, here are some timely tips I learned from the amateur painting-slash-minimalism project I am currently tackling. You will never hear these tips from a professional, but I thought they might come in handy if you are a painter like me.

Tip #1: If you own a pet with hair of any kind, you will get pet hair imbedded in paint on the object you are painting. In spite of your best efforts, that pet hair -long or short, light or dark – will get stuck to something, and you won’t be able to get it off. Ever. But don’t worry – only you will know where that pet hair is stuck. It can be your little secret – unless, of course, you decide to point it out to your family or visiting relatives, in which case they will remind you about it for generations to come.

Tip #2: If you don’t take your Instant Pot out of the cupboard, you will get paint on it. I know you won’t PLAN to get paint on your Instant Pot. I know it seems like there is plenty of space between your paint brush and your favorite appliance. But trust me on this one. Take your Instant Pot out of the cupboard. Now.

Tip #3: If you get a fuzzy on your paint brush, it will never go away. You may think you got rid of it after you scraped the brush on the edge of the paint can ten times or wiped the paint brush clean with a wet paper towel. But no, it is still there – hiding between the soft bristles of your brush, waiting to pop out at just the right moment when you are painting that big space everyone will see. And after it jumps out and plants itself on this focal point, you will spend the next 15 minutes trying to pick it off, at which point you will have messed up your paint job so badly you will have to start that section over.

Tip #4: If you hit a slump in the middle of your painting project, don’t despair. There is hope. It is found in your freezer. It looks like an ice cream container and it is labeled with the words “Chocolate Peanut Butter Supreme.” Take it out of the freezer – you need it. Then grab a spoon – a large spoon – out of the drawer and go sit on the couch for twenty minutes. Take the lid off the container and proceed to scoop out the ice cream. Keep eating it until you find your way to the peanut butter swirls buried deep in the middle. Peanut butter is protein. Protein is energy. You need energy – in large quantities. After you have smoothed over the edges so no one will notice how much you ate, return it to the freezer. Now you are ready to tackle the rest of your painting job!

I hope these tips are as helpful to you as they have been to me. And here’s to more fun on the journey toward finding minimalism!

 

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The Perfect Purse

For mosKate Spade purset of my girl-and-woman life, I have been searching for the perfect purse. Not too big, not too small. Some pockets, but not too many. Deep enough that my wallet sits in there securely, but not so deep that I can’t find my keys in that dark chasm of leather and fabric. Stylish but not too patterned, as I am not one to switch purses to match an outfit. A handle long enough that the purse is not in my armpit but not so long that it feels like I have a pet on a leash. And generally under $25 (yes, I have pre-determined price limits on what I will spend on certain items). Just this week I bought a cute blue paisley canvas bag – on sale and with a coupon – for $8.95 out the door…not too bad! But have I found the perfect purse? Not yet…

I think there is something inside each of us that longs for something perfect. We don’t expect life to be perfect – we have been around too long to set our sights on that. But can’t something be perfect? After all, we have the science, the technology, the strength to accomplish that, don’t we?

Kate Spade may have created the perfect purse. Anthony Bourdain may have created the perfect recipe. Successful careers and lifestyles at this level can lead us to put these individuals in a different category than ourselves – not perfect, but closer to perfection than the average. Sadly, as we have learned in the past 48 hours, this is not true. For reasons that are not yet entirely clear, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain each experienced great distress to the point that, for each of them personally, life no longer seemed worth living.

So the reminders in this tragic story include these: Let me be the first to stop assuming that those around me who seem to be living the idyllic life are indeed trouble-free. Rather than comparing, may I develop a greater awareness and a deeper compassion. May I listen more intently. May I understand others better. May I ask more questions and offer more help.

Furthermore, let me be the first to stop the comparison game, always measuring my life situation against someone else’s. Instead of wishing for the perfect home, job, marriage or body that someone else has, may I instead develop a spirit of contentment, embracing what is not perfect and then sharing that contentment with others. In the spirit of the above illustration, let’s stop looking for the perfect purse and appreciate the one we have.

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Finding Minimalism

Minimalism: the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it.”  — Joshua Becker

My journey toward minimalism began – quite by accident – on a spring day nine years ago. At that time the term “minimalism” had not entered our mainstream vocabulary like it has today. So I did not set out to become a minimalist. I simply had a sudden burst of energy and decided to deep-clean my bedroom. Plus I had read an inspiring article about how any room could be cleaned efficiently in 30 minutes if you had all the right supplies (arranged in a cute and tidy cleaning bucket, of course). So after a trip to Target to get just such a cute and tidy cleaning bucket -and a few fun cleaning tools – I was ready to tackle the job. Or so I thought.

Having written down the basic instructions on a 3×5  card, I read Step 1:  Remove knickknacks from all surfaces. Are you kidding me? As I glanced around the room, I suddenly saw all my stuff- pictures in frames,  souvenirs, clay candle holders made by my children in first grade – in a whole new light. Determined to push through, I piled all the knickknacks on my bed, ready for Step 2: dust all surfaces, top to bottom and left to right.

Step 2 proved as daunting as Step 1. Who knew that much dust could fit on top of a ceiling fan blade? And of course the ceiling fan is directly over the bed, so all the dust fell on top of the knickknacks I had just placed there. Needless to say, things continued to go downhill as my dream of an efficient 30-minute cleaning plan disappeared. Three hours later, I was finally done – and done in.

I had known for years that I was an inefficient house cleaner. I could make the surface look good, but I knew what was hiding everywhere. What I didn’t know was WHY I was such a bad house cleaner. I had attributed it to lack of a plan, lack of self-discipline, a too-busy schedule, not making my kids help enough…all kinds of reasons. But on that particular day, I saw my house – and myself – in a new light.  My not-so-clean house wasn’t entirely due to lack of discipline. It was due to too much stuff. I had to clean before I cleaned. I couldn’t dust until I moved stuff. I couldn’t vacuum until I had picked up stuff. It was exhausting.

On that first day of my journey toward minimalism, I took my initial step to freedom:  I looked long and hard at my knickknacks, kept a few significant pictures to put on my dresser, and got rid of the rest. In fact, I took down two shelves on the wall that held those knickknacks so I wouldn’t have to dust those anymore. By the end of the afternoon, my room looked bigger, brighter and more organized. And I felt a greater sense of accomplishment than any dusting job could have given me.  I had truly made a difference- small though it seemed at the time – in my room and in my life.

Since that day I have maintained a slow but steady determination to understand and embrace a perspective of minimalism. I continue to learn more about myself and my relationship to things. Some of it has been easy, some of it has been hard. Sometimes I  laugh, sometimes I cry. Sometimes I have a plan and sometimes I am caught by surprise, unsure of the right thing to do. But still I press on.

Joshua Becker, on his blog Becoming Minimalist, once shared this quote from Henry David Thoreau: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”  Now when I face a decision related to the more-or-less of my life, this quote reminds me there is more to consider than just the actual price tag.

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A Tale of Three Cities

On Saturday, April 28th, in Washington, DC, the White House correspondents’ dinner became the talk of the town after comedian Michelle Wolf’s jaw-dropping diatribe left even the most desensitized media members in the room squirming in their seats. In attendance was Chris Cillizza, CNN’s editor-at-large, who recorded his personal real-time responses to the scenario in his Sunday article. One of his takeaways regarded Wolf’s blast of Vice President Pence’s stance on abortion, in which she stated, “He thinks abortion is murder which, first of all, don’t knock it ’til you try it — and when you do try it, really knock it. You know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there.”  Cillizza responds in his article, “You can hate abortion and think it is murder. You can feel as though it’s not the government’s business what you do with your body and how you handle your own life. But, does anyone celebrate abortion — even jokingly?”  Cillizza’s rhetorical question can have only one answer: No.  Respect life.

On this same Saturday, April 28th, in Liverpool, England, a 23-month old boy named Alfie breathed his last breath, his parents by his side. A chest infection brought Alfie to the hospital in December of 2016. Further medical complications followed, leading to a diagnosis of a degenerative brain condition which was considered incurable. Much controversy surrounded this situation as Alfie’s parents first sought permission to take him to another hospital for treatment and then sought permission to take him home. Both requests were denied. As reported by the Washington Post, Alfie’s father appealed to Pope Francis for assistance, which was granted by the Pope but denied by the British court system. Pope Francis responded with these words: “Let us pray that every sick person might always be respected in their dignity and cared for in a manner adapted to their condition, with the concordant input of their families and loved ones, of the doctors and of other health care workers, with great respect for life.” Later, the Pope shared these comments to a general audience: “The only author of life, from its beginning to its natural end, is God,” he said. “It is our duty to do all that is possible to safeguard life.”  Safeguard life.

On March 4th, in Cleveland, Ohio, a disaster occurred at a renown medical facility. A storage tank at a fertility clinic malfunctioned, causing 4,000 frozen embryos from 950 patients to be no longer viable. This disaster created heartbreak for so many who had hopes of one day bringing their children into the world. It is not surprising that multiple lawsuits have followed, resulting in a judge ordering the cases be consolidated to expedite the process. One case has been granted an exception from the consolidation because it is an action for “declaratory judgment”.  In other words, this couple is not seeking any award for damages.

An April 24th article posted on cleveland.com explains: “Bruce Taubman, the Pennimans’ lawyer, filed a separate lawsuit with a different judge asking the court to determine whether their embryos were human lives. The Pennimans maintain that UH treated their embryos as chattel, or property, and has only offered to reimburse them for the production of the embryos, not for the loss of a potential son or daughter. The Pennimans ‘view the embryos as patients of UH who should have been protected as such,’ their lawsuit says. ‘They contend that life begins at conception, meaning the embryos have the legal status of a person,’ according to the lawsuit.”  The Pennimans have asked the judge to define life. The Ohio State Supreme Court ruled in a 1985 case that a viable fetus is a person and that a fetus begins at conception.  It seems that, at least in Ohio, the beginning of life has already been defined, and, as such, provides the underlying argument for the Penniman case. Protect Life.

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision may have been a benchmark moment in the cultural landscape of this century, but the issues go much deeper than that. If anything, the 1973 US Supreme Court decision moved us out of the relatively calm waters of casual considerations regarding life and catapulted us over a cavernous waterfall into a whirlpool of chaos with its rippling repercussions. And I think we are drowning. Only when we renew our commitment to protect life from conception to death, only when we choose to respect life and to safeguard life, will we find the anchor we need to survive this cultural storm.

 

 

 

 

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My Hobbit Hole

I have a little hobbit hole at my house. It is quite a nice hobbit hole, if I do say so myself. It is cozy and quiet, with just enough room for one person – me. Now this is not your average hobbit hole, for no one can see it but me. It might look like I am taking a nap under a warm blanket – but I am actually in my hobbit hole. Or you might find me sitting in a comfy chair in a room by myself, with a half-gallon of ice cream and a spoon in my hand — yep, in my hobbit hole again!

Bilbo Baggins lived alone in his neat and tidy hobbit hole, complete with pretty dishes and doilies. He enjoyed his quiet mornings sipping his tea and reading his books. Life was organized, ordinary and pleasant. No guests, no risks, no trouble – until the day the dwarves invaded and Gandolf challenged him to an adventure. Bilbo Baggins reluctantly accepted Gandolf’s challenge, left his hobbit hole behind and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

Sometimes adventure calls my way and I run after it. Other times, I run away from it – right back into my hobbit hole. This has been true of my attempts to venture into the world of publishing. On brave days, I embrace the challenge of writing a story or article in response to a submission call posted on a website. I love the exhilaration of seeing words come together to create something new. But there are other days when it seems the words do not fall on the page with ease or a rejection of my submitted writing comes in an email. On those days, instead of running towards adventure, I retreat into my hobbit hole where it is safe and solitary. Sometimes I even grab a half-gallon of ice cream and a spoon on my way.

Now there is nothing wrong with having a hobbit hole, or spending a little time in it, for that matter.  The real challenge is this:  I can’t stay there. The next adventure is awaiting, the next challenge is around the corner. If I do not embrace it, I will not learn, I will not grow, I will not succeed. I will just spend the rest of my life arranging dishes and doilies in my hobbit hole.

So I have written this post as my own personal challenge to try again. To embrace another opportunity. To learn more. To pursue success.  Bilbo Baggins, I am right behind you, ready for another adventure!

 

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