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Until very recently, worry and anxiety have not been challenges for me.  I have the kind of mind that just doesn’t hold on the those kinds of things.  Unlike my husband, who is consumed with worry pretty much all the time, making him miserable, I have always been able to put problems aside to deal with whatever is right in front of me.

Lately, I’ve suffered from anxiety of the free-floating variety.  Because it isn’t rational, it doesn’t respond to rational techniques.  I tend to treat it by whiffing essential oils or going outside to sit in the sun.  What’s worse is when it attaches itself to legitimate areas of worry that I would have been able to put out of my mind in the past.  When that happens, and chanting my usual mantra (Cast your cares on God; that anchor holds.) isn’t working, there is one Scripture passage I turn to.

You know the jokes about Catholics–we don’t read our Bibles and we can’t quote chapter and verse like our Protestant brethren.  Of course that’s not true of all Catholics, and the fact is that most of us are exposed to a lot of Scripture via the Mass readings.  According to this source, a Catholic who attends Mass on Sundays and major feasts will hear about 41% of the New Testament and 4% of the Old (that doesn’t count the Psalms), even if they never crack open a Bible at home or in a study group.

So I know lots of Scripture, even if I don’t always know exactly where to find it.  But I always remember that the passage about anxiety is in the book of Matthew, Chapter 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.

Even if I have trouble believing it right in the moment, I know that if Jesus said it, it must be true.  Even if I can’t see how, I know He is working all things out for my good.  Even though I can’t always manage it, I want to live as though I really, REALLY believe these words all the time.

And thanks to a new prayer practice I adopted this Lent, I am growing in this area.  More than once, after I have shared my anxieties with God in my prayer journal, insight, answers, and comfort have followed within days.  I find my thoughts turning toward journaling when I am facing a knotty problem in my life or when I am overcome with worries and anxiety.  I find myself really trusting that it is all in God’s hands.

 

This post is part of the Catholic Women’s Blogger Network Blog Hop.  For more articles on faith and worry, click below.

How My Faith Helps Me Worry Less

 

A Front Row Seat

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I’m blessed to still be a member of the very parish in which I was baptized as an infant.  Most of the past nearly 50 years of Sundays have found me sitting (standing and kneeling) in a pew at Immaculate Conception Church.  And like most Catholics, I’m usually in the same pew–or as close to the same pew as I can get.

Our church is an old one and when I was a little girl there were still some names written on the pew cards–names of folks already long gone by then.  We most often sat in the former pew of Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. O’Brien.  It was about two-thirds of the way back on the left side of the main aisle.

Today I still sit on the left side of the main aisle.  When some crowded event like First Communion or Christmas forces me over to the right side, everything looks new and strange and uncomfortable.  Even the people sitting around me aren’t the people I’m used to!  But I no longer sit two-thirds of the way back.  Instead, my family and I for years now have occupied the second or third pew when available.

You know why? Coats.

When I think back to the Sundays of my childhood, I don’t remember anything much about what was going on up on the altar.  It was too far away and my view was blocked by a bunch of grownups.  All I could see was the back of their coats, which no one took off during Mass during winter because the radiators we had then didn’t do the best job of keeping the church warm.  Sometimes (with permission) I would stand on the kneeler to try to get a better view, but mostly I looked at the people in the nearby pews and waited for Mass to end.

The Masses I do remember quite well were at Saint Joseph School, and I don’t think it’s just because we went daily.  No, I think it’s because we First Graders got to sit in the very first row, where we could hear and see everything Father Henkel was doing.  I can still recall his exact intonations, and I remember clearly the way he tidied up the altar after Communion.  I could see, and so I paid attention.

Nervous about public breastfeeding and a baby who might disturb people with her cries, John and I sat closer to the back on the side aisle when we were new parents.  Early on, though, having read that kids would behave better if they could see what was going on, we made the move the the front and that’s all my kids have ever known.

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Lorelei waiting for Christmas Eve Mass in one of the front pews

This Passion Sunday, we arrived on the hilltop right at 11:30 to see crowds milling about on the sidewalk where no crowd should still have been at that time.  Then I recognized the Bishop in the crowd and realized Confirmation was being celebrated.  The candidates would be in our favorite pew, and their parents and other relatives would have come early to grab the other choice seats.

Sure enough, we ended up (on the left side, thankfully!) in one of the very last pews.

It was a strange experience.  We couldn’t hear the Bishop (who is rather soft-spoken).  Lorelei couldn’t see at all.  William, at 6’2″, fared better, but still opined, “That was dreadful!” Both he and Lorelei said later that they couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to sit back there on purpose.

As for me, I spent most of the time watching the cute little kids around me, because apparently their parents keep them near the back in order to be able to escape with them quickly should they make noise.  And likely because they cannot see anything and are bored and tired, they do make noise.

Sitting so far back, I didn’t feel like a full participant in the Mass.  I felt like a spectator.  “It was like being at a concert,” I said later.  You know the kind–where the performer on stage could almost be anyone if there were no Jumbotron to display closeups.

Funnily enough, because it doesn’t happen often, I had tickets to an actual concert the following week.  Kenny Rogers is on his farewell tour, and my sister Betsy had given tickets to my mother, Anne, and I for Christmas so we could all experience The Gambler’s Last Deal together.

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It was an incredible evening.  Not only were we treated to a behind-the-scenes chat with Kenny’s tour manager (Gene Roy, who’s been with him for 38 years), we got to go up on stage and get our pictures taken in Kenny’s chair, and then later we each exchanged a few words with Kenny before posing for commemorative photos with him.

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And perhaps best of all, we were seated right in front of the stage for the performance.  It was intimate.  It was personal.  When Kenny wanted to make eye contact with his audience, he was looking right at us.  It wasn’t like being at a concert; it was almost like having a conversation.

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We were sitting in the third row.

My sister paid extra for those up-close-and-personal seats.  But you know what?  The front pews are free on Sunday.  They are free of charge, and most likely they are free of occupants.

Maybe sitting way in the back of church is your thing.  Maybe you feel connected and can participate and pray just fine back there.  I’m not here to tell you what to do.

But if you have little kids, I will GUARANTEE you that they don’t feel like a part of things when all they can see is the backs of grownups and while they are distracted by all the other kids in the last few pews doing what kids do when they are bored.

If you want your kids to be spectators at church, longing for Mass to be over so they can get their doughnuts, then stay in the back row.  If you want them to be engaged in a relationship, come on down to the front.

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PF41Pleasant Forest Cemetery is a hard one to miss.  It’s enormous, for one thing, and it’s on a well-traveled road. I’ve driven by it many times and it’s been on my list to visit for awhile.  Occasionally my graveyard trips are serendipitous and unplanned, but for a place this large, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to explore.

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I visited over a year ago, and maybe it’s because I’m expecting some unpleasantness that I’ve held off writing about it for so long.  But I’ll get to that.

First of all, the good stuff.  And it’s really, really good stuff.  The cemetery is immaculate, with obvious efforts to clean and repair stones.

This is an historic cemetery, established over 200 years ago, making it one of the oldest in the area.  And the people who run it are obviously cognizant of and proud of its rich history.  This cemetery even has its own website!  The history of the place is recorded there in great detail, as are the names of most of the folks buried there.  Here’s the earliest grave:

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And there are other graves just as primitive, the hand-carved names rendered illegible by time.

There are many that you can read, though, even some very old ones.

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If you read the inscriptions, you will have seen that some of the stones carry names important in Knoxville history.  One of the things I loved about this cemetery is how it appreciates and showcases history–even its own.

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But this is also very much a living cemetery, with an assortment of interesting and beautiful memorials to folks who died relatively recently, and whose families are still regularly visiting and decorating their graves.

Pleasant Forest is large, hilly, well-kept, and beautiful, as I’ve said.

But there’s another part of this cemetery’s story.  In fact, there’s another part of this cemetery.

The part I’ve been showing you is on the right side of Concord Road heading south.  It’s large, and bordered with a combination of wooden and wrought iron fencing and stone walls.

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But if you cross the busy road, you’ll see another side of this cemetery.

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Here’s what it looks like.

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The contrast to the pristine conditions on the other side of the road couldn’t be stronger.  As I walked the grounds I was unable to make sense of what I was seeing–the exposed red earth, the tumbling stones, the un-raked ground.  And as I read the names I began to get a sinking feeling.  Surely this couldn’t be what it was beginning to look like–an African-American section of Pleasant Forest looking for all the world like an ad for separate and unequal?

But that’s what it is.  Here’s what a little online research turned up:  “Pleasant Forest Cemetery is an old cemetery, founded in 1796. It lies on both sides of Concord Road about one-half mile south of Kingston Pike. Most of the cemetery receives some maintenance. I am told that State of Tennessee provides money for cutting the grass. The cemetery functions as two cemeteries. The portion east of Concord Road and the southeast corner of the portion west of Concord Road are a black cemetery. The white portion of the cemetery which receives state maintenance funds was fenced early in 1989. The black section was fenced out and appears [in 1989] to receive little to no maintenance.”

Now, the black section that’s physically part of the larger cemetery isn’t treated any differently from the rest of it.  I am at a loss to explain why no one is caring for the other section.  Look, I KNOW maintaining cemeteries is a labor of love and largely taken on, in the case of historic graveyards, by volunteers.  But this is part of the same cemetery, under the same ownership now, according to publicly available records, whatever the case may have been originally.  What excuse can there be for ignoring this part of it so completely (as of March 2016, when I was last there)?  If the excuse is that it doesn’t receive state maintenance funds and the other side does, that doesn’t comfort me much.

I expect publishing this post will lead to my enlightenment on these matters as it often has in the past.  I hope it will not also lead to unpleasantness.  As always in these pieces, I’m just describing what I see, and what I’m seeing looks bad.

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For more of my graveyard musings, click here.

 

Five years ago, I participated in an exercise in which bloggers were challenged to post a list of what they liked about themselves.  The premise was that most women are a lot better at self-criticism than self-praise, that we are always focused on the ways in which we don’t measure up rather than on how we excel.

The originator of that challenge, Elena Sonnino, decided that this year would be a good time to reboot it.  So I’ve had to come up with a new list to share.  I’ve decided five makes a nice round number that is manageable with today’s writing schedule, so without further ado:

  1.  I like the strength of my body.  I’ve given birth to five children, including my 13 pound 5 ounce son who was born vaginally after three C-sections (which is a major abdominal surgery, not a walk in the park).  I hiked all 40 miles of the Urban Wilderness trails.  I work in the garden, I lift weights, I can move heavy boxes.
  2. I am awesome legal assistant to my husband.  I write killer legal pleadings,  research law,  and run the office.  Other than the guidance I nave received from him by asking questions and reviewing the pleadings he had written in the past, I’m completely self-taught.
  3. I am fluent in computers and social media.  I may not be able to turn on the television, but even my adult kids have been known to ask me to figure out why their laptops aren’t running smoothly.  I am active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.  I even have a Snapchat but I may have hit a wall on that. 😉
  4. I am an excellent advocate for my children.  I am not afraid to be That Mom, in fact at this point I am used to it.  I go to every meeting and conference (and after 21 years of kids in school that adds up to a scary amount).  I have an intimidating binder to carry to IEP meetings.  I’m not afraid to ask pointed questions, send emails, go over people’s heads, and let school personnel know I’ve done my research–or to be completely honest, even when I am afraid I don’t let it stop me.
  5. I’m a good cook.  I enjoy preparing Blue Apron dinners but in everyday life I don’t need recipes.  I am a champion pie baker and my birthday cakes are legendary.  I have that natural ability to combine ingredients in my head to improvise meals–and John says those meals are the best ones.

Wow, that sounds like a lot of bragging! I think I will stop at five this go round.

Now, another thing I know is that YOU have gifts also.  Even if you aren’t used to thinking about them!  In fact, if it’s hard for you to come up with your own list, or if it makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s all the more reason you should do it.  Write your own list! Post it on your blog, or Facebook or Instagram if you aren’t a blogger.  And if you do it, link it up right here.

So today’s post is brought to you courtesy of the Catholic Women’s Blogger Network.  It’s part of our monthly blog hop and I totally would not be writing it if it weren’t.

Because here’s where I peek out from under my somewhat ill-fitting Catholic blogger hat and admit that my true feelings about Confession are a mixture of guilt and discomfort.  I hate that but it’s the truth.

I wrote the whole story here if you want to read it.  When did I write it?  A little over four years ago, which is the last time I went to Confession.

I can’t tell you how I long for the days when we were marched regularly into the cafeteria of St. Joseph School, with no advance warning or choice in the matter, and told that we were going to confession in the dark little closet where Father Henkel waited.  I’d stand in a red plaid line, leaning against the radiator for warmth and secretly wondering about how long certain people were taking.  Before I knew it I was all finished, back on the hard wooden kneeler saying two Our Fathers and one Hail Mary, and my soul was white as snow.

Clearly this is the Lent of hard things for me with lessons to be learned, and if I am really paying attention it would seem that this is one of them.  Will I go to our parish’s upcoming Lenten penance service and find a friendly priest in the basement to hear my uncomfortable and unprofessional recitation of sins? Only time will tell.

To read more reflections on the Sacrament of Confession, click the image below.

march blog hop

 

We didn’t go anywhere for Spring Break this year, except to the zoo.  Today’s planned trip to Dollywood was canceled due to illness.  So I got to feeling nostalgic about last year’s Spring Break trip, which I had never gotten around to sharing here.

Because I’ve waited a year to write about this, the details of the trip are less than clear.  So I’m going to dump a LOT of pictures here, with less explanation than usual.  But let me start by saying that if you live in Knoxville, and you’ve never taken a trip to Chattanooga, you are missing out.  If you live farther away, it’s still worth the drive.  We only did about half of what we wanted to do last year–the children’s museum, the nature center, the art museum, and more all await another visit.

So one year ago yesterday we packed up and drove 90 miles to Chattanooga, where our accommodations were cheap and convenient and that’s the best that could be said about them.

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Clearly, Echo was not in favor of our leaving!

Tickets to local attractions are available at reduced prices online, so we were ready to get started as soon as we arrived.  We began at the bottom of Lookout Mountain and rode the Incline Railway to the top.

I’ve ridden this thing before, years and years ago, but the cars were more enclosed than they are now and the . . . STEEPNESS . . . did not register with me.  It registered with poor William, though, and he was not a fan.

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Once at the top, the first thing to do is marvel at the beautiful views, which are not in short supply on Lookout Mountain.

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We also got a look at the machinery that runs the Incline Railway.

Our first stop was Battles for Chattanooga, right down the street.  On our way we enjoyed the beautiful homes and gardens we passed.  We browsed the gift shop which is replete with Civil War memorabilia while we waited for the show to start.

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The show itself is a combination of film and one of those models of all the battlefields that lights up to illustrate the various campaigns.  You may have seen something similar in Gettysburg or Atlanta if you’ve been there.  This was the first time I’d been to this attraction, and it was very instructive and provided context for Point Park, our next stop.

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History, rock formations, and views are plentiful in Point Park, which charges a small entry fee on the honor system.  There’s a little self-guided museum, and miles of walking trails which I am hoping to return to explore one day.  Seriously, it’s so beautiful and you could spend an entire day right here.

We had other places to go, though, so we rode the Incline back down (William had to be very brave!) and drove the car back up so we could SEE ROCK CITY, just like the barns say.

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Rock City is an attraction that is hard to categorize.  The brainchild of Mr. and Mrs. Carter above, what began as an extension of the garden around their home is now a network of trails, massive rock formation, nerve-wracking bridges, breathtaking views, and more.

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Above you see a nice solid rock bridge and a swinging bridge.  Can you guess which one I walked across?

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I bet you guessed right! 🙂

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Directly above you’ll see a shot of Lovers’ Leap (with the waterfall turned green in honor of Saint Patrick!) and then what Rock City is probably most famous for: the view of seven states which strikes me as totally possible on a clear day.

There are some rare white fallow deer housed at Rock City.  I didn’t get a picture but you can see Lorelei and William looking at them below!

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The white deer are part of the fairy tale motif for which Rock City is known.  Gnomes are plentiful, and there’s a whole gallery of nursery rhyme scenes.

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At the conclusion of our Rock City adventure, we found a family-friendly Asian restaurant nearby before retreating to our lodgings to rest up for the next day’s activities.

We started the second day of our trip with another iconic Chattanooga attraction:  Ruby Falls.

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All I can say is that it’s a good thing God chose Leo Lambert and not me to discover His handiwork and reveal it to the masses.  The story of his harrowing crawl through the pitch-dark and tiny passageways is terrifying. Luckily we can experience the beauty of the caverns without doing that.  I’m just sharing a few pictures because even with an iPhone (WAY better than the Kodak with flip-flash I had the first time I visited almost 40 years ago!) it’s just hard to capture good images in the low light.

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With Ruby Falls behind us, we headed down Lookout Mountain and into downtown Chattanooga with the Tennessee Aquarium next on our agenda.  They’d added a whole new building since our last visit.  One building showcases freshwater and the other seawater creatures.

I’d give more info on these creatures if I could, but it’s been a year and my memory of what things are is hazy.  William would be able to tell me if I asked him–it’s fun to hear him announce the names of obscure animals without reading the informational placards.

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These guys I recognize and you will too.  There are many of them in the bayou area and it was fun to watch them.

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I love all the beautiful colors and patterns–living art.

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Water creatures share the Aquarium with some other wild things.  This was taken in the butterfly room, where if you are lucky you may find yourself a perch for several butterflies!

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And while penguins seem a bit out of place to me I’m not going to complain because look how cute they are.  We had a hard time dragging the kids away.

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These guys though–they are creepy.

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The other-worldly, ethereal beauty of jellyfish is always fascinating to me.

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And there were more to come, as the Aquarium is currently hosting an art exhibit with jellyfish and art inspired by them.

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I’m pretty sure my kids would name the Aquarium if you asked them which part of our visit to Chattanooga they enjoyed most.

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We were there until closing time and then we hit downtown to search for a William-approved restaurant (Genghis Grill) before heading back to the motel.  We squeezed a lot of fun into two days and I was just talking to John today about how much more there is to see and do in Chattanooga.  We will be back!

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The Lent I Needed

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My plans for Lent were modest as such things go, but Ash Wednesday wasn’t even over before that old adage: “Man plans, God laughs,” came into my head.

Y’all, it’s hard not to feel you are failing at Lent when you can’t even make it to Ash Wednesday Mass to get ashes.  Here’s what happened.

Now logistics are always an issue in this house, so I checked the websites of every church in town to find the time that would work the best for us.  Our parish’s service is at 7:00 p.m., and it’s a 30-minute drive, so we decided to hit up the 5 p.m. Mass at the church five minutes away.

BUT . . . John woke up on Monday with a pain in his hip that escalated quickly.  By Wednesday he could barely walk and couldn’t drive, but the show must go on when you are a hard-working attorney with clients who depend on you.  Our oldest son drive him to the courthouse 45 minutes away, and then I had to pick him up.  We went straight from there to the chiropractor, who advised us to consult with our PCP, and without giving you a play-by-play for the whole day, by the time the ordeal of the doctor and the X rays and the pharmacy came to an end, we had missed every Mass there was.

I didn’t get to start a single one of my Lenten plans on Wednesday and as I fed people and did dishes and complained about all this my son said, “Maybe God has something different in mind.”

Wow.

Some years you pick the mortifications and some years they pick you.” The words I’d read that very day in another Catholic blogger‘s Facebook post suddenly came to mind and have stayed there ever since as I have continually put aside the Lent I wanted for the one God is sending me.

Of course poor John is the one who has bursitis and I know it’s quite mortifying for him as well, but I can’t really adequately express the effect approximately 2.5 extra hours (minimum) away from home each day has on my already overcrowded and overwhelming schedule and on my state of mind.  I’ve driven 700 miles in the past week–about seven times as much as a normal week.  Trying to accept this cheerfully and just feel grateful when there are a few stolen minutes to squeeze in one of the Lenten disciplines I had planned to pursue is taking a lot of prayer, patience, and perseverance.

Morning Mass is at 9 a.m. and I’m in the car heading home from Maryville then, so no.  It’s 10 a.m. before I’ve eaten and done the dishes and am ready to dive into my day.  There’s precious little time to get all the office work done, and certainly no extra for returning to the gym or devoting an hour a day every day to decluttering the house.

So I am trying to do what I can instead of focusing on what I can’t manage.  So far I have written in my prayer journal every day, posted a picture for a Lenten Instagram photo challenge, participated in an online book club, and made a start on my family’s Letters of Love notebook.

I’m a planner, a perfectionist, and an administrator.  I don’t like spontaneity and I don’t like change.  I still want the Lent I planned, but it’s clear that God is leading me in a different direction this year and since I do believe He knows what I need better than I do, I’m trying to be obedient to His will.

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