Finding Joy

Last night, I said bedtime prayers with Charlie and when I gave her a hug, she didn’t let go. Next thing I knew, my eyes were filling with tears and I had no clue as to why. I just held her close.
I decided it was because I had a really stressful spring break and wasn’t feeling good, and her sweet hug just got to me.
After we said goodnight, I walked into the living room and curled up in my favorite corner of the couch. I glanced at Facebook on my phone and saw 2 “On This Day” photos that suddenly gave new meaning to the hug and the tears.
The first one was of a friend holding Charlie in the hospital just hours after a traumatic experience.
The day before the picture, Charlie had undergone an open lung biopsy and bronchoscopy. She had been poked and prodded in the hospital for 5 days and still no answers on what was going on with her lungs. When I left the night before to spend time with the other two girls and get some sleep, she was resting and her Daddy was right next to her the whole night. I had breathed a sigh of relief when I got there Saturday morning and saw she was happily playing with ice chips while sitting in her crib.
She had a chest tube in and it was connected to a pump to make sure there was no fluid in her chest cavity. I had been there about an hour and the playing with ice chips graduated to wanting to stand, walk, get down, etc.
This chick was beginning to show us just how strong she was.
As I was trying to get her to sit and find a different toy to distract, she jumped up, squealed and stepped on her chest tube that was draped through the bars of the crib.
The next few seconds felt like a lifetime.
The tube disconnected from the piece that was surgically attached to her.
She took 2 gasping breaths and I reached over and covered the one inch plastic hole sticking out of her side, while the other hand hit the nurse call button.
Thankfully they answered immediately and 2 nurses came running in, grabbing sterile instruments that unbeknownst to me had been taped to the end of her crib.
Within seconds, the tube was clamped, vitals were checked, and emergency X-ray was on their way.
Once they gave the all clear, I held Charlie close and I cried. I couldn’t stop shaking. Fear was suffocating me as my sweet girl listened to Sesame Street songs over and over on my phone.
My friend Tamy came up to just be with me. At one point, she demanded that I let her hold Charlie and that I just go walk it off.
I think I maybe walked the floor a time or two, and when I returned I captured the picture that showed up on my Facebook yesterday.
6 years ago to the day was the beginning of what would be a very difficult road. While Charlie was sleeping peacefully in my friends arms, somewhere in the hospital a piece of her lung was being examined by a pathologist who would ultimately type with words Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis.
We didn’t get the diagnosis for 2 more weeks following her hospital discharge. The clinic forgot to call and to be honest I had always heard “no news is good news”!?? Every other test they ran the 7 days she was inpatient was negative. I thought this would be the same. Maybe an infection gone wild that was now cleared up? We had no idea.:…
The next several months I hid anxiety the best I could, put on a brave face because “I had no time to break down”. When I wasn’t physically caring for her, I was tending to our other 2 darlings who were oh so full of energy!
I found over the next few years that it’s was my health that ended up taking the biggest toll from the stress, worry and lack of sleep.
So back to last night. I think somewhere in the depths of a tired Momma brain, I connected those dates last night. Just like that day six years ago, I held her and I cried. But these were not sad and anxious tears this time. They were like my heart is bursting with a crazy amount of love for this child tears!
I have a stone that a chaplain gave me a few weeks into her treatment. It was smooth and round and had one simple word. Joy.
After hearing our family and Charlie’s initial story, he pulled the stone out of his pocket and said he usually had the patient pick which word stone but he wanted me to have this one.
He then quoted these verses…
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:2-4

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
Psalm 30:5
The second post that popped up yesterday was a video of Charlie playing a xylophone with all the happiness and crazy cuteness one could imagine. This was exactly 4 years ago to the day, and the eve of her last dose of chemo through her port.
Joy. Hers was the contagious type.
Although she relapsed within a year, and endured an additional year of lots of yucky shots full of chemo in her leg, the joy remained. You can ask anyone who was around her in those days.
So last night I was reminded of the sad.
I was reminded of the worry.
I was reminded of the pain.
But most of all, I was reminded of the joy.
If you are in a season of night in your life, I hope and pray that hearing a bit of Charlie’s story will give you hope.
Look for joy. It may not look like what you think joy or happiness or an answered prayer looks like.
But I promise you it’s there.
It may even find you at the end of a rough week, in tears with tiny arms wrapped around your neck. IMG_3170

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His Last Mile

His Last Mile

It was a day that began like all of the others, for my Grandpa. I imagine he turned back the covers, and slowly put his feet to the floor. Without thinking, he put one step in front of the other…. down the short hall to the kitchen. He may have checked on a load of laundry he accidentally left in the dryer. Grandma would never go for that! He had better turn it back on to fluff the clothes again.

Taking a few more steps, he is in the kitchen where so many memories come to mind. He can almost hear the laughter of the grandkids at Christmas as they run through, on their way out the door for some football in the snow. He smiles as he looks at the table and remembers it set for the perfect breakfast.

For some reason, everything seems nostalgic today. Then he looks at the clock and realizes, he had better hurry and get ready. He wants to pick Grandma up at the nursing home a few minutes early today.

You see, today is a bit special because he has been asked to speak at church. He makes sure his notes are in his Bible. A few minutes later, he is out the door, and starting the van. He stops by his favorite donut shop, and says hi to everyone there, and as he leaves, says a prayer under his breath for the man sitting alone at the counter, and for the weary cashier who is learning to be a single mom.

He arrives to pick up my Grandma and she gives him a kiss on the cheek while patting his other cheek and somehow today….it reminds him of the first time she kissed him. She asked him to check the back of her hair, and he fumbles around with the pins and the flower, and puts everything in its place. There, pretty as a picture!

He places his weary hands on the wheelchair, and with one foot in front of the other…he pushes his wife of almost 60 years down the long hall. He says Good Morning to a few people…asks them how they are doing. He smiles at the nurse behind the desk and says “I am going to take Betty out for lunch today, so we’ll be back later this afternoon.” With a quick wave, he rolls my Grandma out the door and onto the waiting lift to put her in the van.

On the way to church, they talk a little bit, but he is already thinking about how he is going to say some of the things that God has put on his heart to talk about. Just a simple life testimony, which is what he has decided to do. But, he wants to make it count. It has to touch someone…that is his prayer.

They turn in to the parking lot, he shuts off the engine and gets Grandma, and begins his walk up the ramp….one foot in front of the other, he prays as he walks…wondering who will be there today that needs to hear his testimony?

The door opens, and his friend of many years is there to welcome them in. He finds his way to their seat, gets settled in and then takes a seat, just to rest and think for a few minutes before church starts. He looks around and his mind wanders. He can recall like it was yesterday…laying the carpet in this beloved church. His eyes look up and he wishes he could maybe pull his banjo out today. So many good time were had, playing his banjo with the worship band.

The church starts to fill up, the service begins. He is soon lost in the words to one of his favorite songs. Today is a good day. He can feel it from somewhere deep inside. After a few more songs, it’s time for him to speak. The Pastor calls his name.

He takes a deep breath, grabs his notes and puts one foot in front of the other…and makes his way to the front. As he rests his hands on the pulpit, it’s like he felt God’s hands resting on his shoulders. He begins to speak, and Oh, does he speak. Gentle, with love, with humor, he tells his story.

About half way through, the Hands he felt on his shoulders, now are taking his own hands, and are leading him one foot in front of the other….. to a place that he has dreamed of for so long. Wasn’t he just singing “Oh, I Want To See Him?”

He wishes he could tell his family and friends goodbye, but then he smiles and remembers…his notes. They will tell everyone goodbye….they will finish his story.

And so….he takes the Hand of His Maker, and puts one foot in front of the other…..he is home.

A week or so later, his pastor read the rest of Grandpas notes at his homecoming service. It was one of my most cherished times in God’s presence. One of my Grandpa’s favorite songs was The Last Mile, and I have often thought of his last mile…and decided to share how I imagine his day went. It makes me realize that every day, every decision, every word, and every step we take should be for the good of others.

We often let the cares, stresses or even busyness of life take over, and we forget just why we are here. It may be to fluff some clothes in a dryer, it may be cooking dinner, it may be saying hello to the clerk at the dry cleaners, it may be punching a clock, it may be dispensing medicine, it may be sending the kids off to school in time.

When your feet hit the floor tomorrow, and you put one foot in front of the other, and are off to your busy day…may you touch the lives of all those whose paths you cross.

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It’s Going to be OK

A post from 2011. I wrote this just 2 months before Charlie’s unexpected diagnosis. I had no idea that I was preparing myself for hearing the worst news since our little family became a unit.

You know that feeling when you get the wind knocked out of you? It’s scary and painful and often laced with moments of panic. Maybe you remember a time as a child when you were injured. I grew up in with a houseful of brothers, so most of our ER visits were for one of them! A phrase we often hear in times like these is “It’s going to be okay”. Very simple words, yet for some reason they bring comfort.

A few weeks ago, I gracefully missed a step, and tripped. Ok, so I clumsily fell off the platform at church. Yes, you read that correctly. Thankfully, it was after church. 🙂

When I felt the crunch in my foot, and was suddenly sitting on the floor with pain shooting up my foot and leg, I probably would not have appreciated a quotation from a famous philosopher. A simple question from my 2 year old daughter was all I needed. With a frown and a worried look, she asked me “Mommy, you ok”? It made me relax, take a deep breath, smile at her and say “Yes, baby, I’m going to be ok”. And you know what? It was ok. Not right away, not while I was immobilized for the next few days, and losing sleep because of the pain at night. Little by little, day by day, it’s gotten better. Sometimes I feel a little twinge, a reminder that my foot was broken, but for the most part…..it’s ok.

There are several people in my life who as of late have had the emotional wind knocked out of them. It breaks my heart. I want to be strong and courageous for them and impart words of wisdom and direction and comfort into their life, but instead this one little phrase keeps popping back up in my mind. “Tell them it’s going to be ok”.

You may have lost a job, a loved one, a friend, a baby, your faith, and even the last ounce of hope you had. You may be scared and in pain, and have moments of panic. You may be immobilized, losing sleep, or your house is just too quiet.

There is One who never leaves us or forsakes us. His hand is on your brow and He whispers words that heal. Whatever you are facing, know that “It’s going to be ok”.

Just wait and see….little by little, day by day, you will get your breath back. 🙂

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Farewell To Fear

I was 4 years old. I remember waking with a strange sensation in my chest. It was as if someone had reached inside and squeezed my heart and lungs.

I stumbled out of bed and made a beeline for my parents room, did a flying leap on their bed, all the while screaming.

I was scared to death.

This wasn’t my first brush with the monster called fear, but it was the first one memory painted on the walls of my mind.

Throughout life, I would do battle with fear. Sometimes I won, but most of the time I lost. Miserably.

There are too many instances to tell of the times fear snuck back in and attempted to set up camp.

The most recent was a few years back on a hot April day. Our youngest daughter Charlie had her port placed and received her first dose of chemo 2 days prior.

I had gone to bed the night before in a daze….numb from a rare cancer diagnosis I didn’t understand.

Exhausted from taking care of 3 kids all age 2 and under.

Wishing to be a good role model, friend, and pastors wife when all I felt was inadequate.

Missing my family desperately.

Guilt-ridden at what we had involuntarily signed our baby up for….liquid poison to be put in her veins while I held her close and whispered it will be ok.

Trying to stay healthy but frustrated because my body was betraying me.

Sleep deprived from all the “what ifs” that made my heart race when night fell.

Yet, if you asked me, I would say that I was fine and truly didn’t feel anxiety or fear about it all. Yet.

I had no idea what the next day, months and years would hold.

Early in the day, around 5:25 we were wakened by a horrible howling screeching sound. I jumped up to look outside, just before straight line winds and tornadoes ripped through our side of town. My phone had a power surge and died. Darkness engulfed our home and my heart.

This was just the beginning of what would be one of the largest super tornado outbreaks in the history of Central Alabama.

The worst if it would arrive about 12 hours later.

Entire neighborhoods were flattened in less than a minute.

People were talking to those they love on the phone one minute, and were forever silenced the next.

From that day forward, I downward spiraled straight into the clutches of fears tight grip.

He had me.

Or so he thought.

The next 3 years would be a time of valleys and mountain tops but through it all, healing…..both for our baby girl, and for me.

Fast forward to January 2014, Charlie was due for scans. She arrived ready to be sedated for an MRI of her brain.

She had relapsed a few months prior so this was a crucial test to make sure the new chemo was working.

The nurse anesthetist was getting her all hooked up and checking vitals when I noticed “the look”.

She asked if Charlie was taking medicine for her heart, because her heart rate was extremely low for someone her age.

After much discussion with the anesthesia team they switched meds used to sedate her and assured me she would be fine.
(Just not with the drug they had planned on using 5 minutes prior.)

I felt the familiar pangs of worry, fear and dread as I waited.

By the way, Web MD is not your friend at a time like this!
Just. Say. No.

Then I kinda got mad. Okay, I was furious. I wanted to run through the halls of the UIHC screaming “Enough!!!!!”

Since that would have landed me on a couch or wandering gated gardens with limited blinking reflexes, I just said it under my breath.

Later, I prayed over my sleeping girl and then I had something to say to the enemy.

I told him he had NO authority over this precious baby.

He had NO authority in our home.

He had NO authority to bring confusion, doubt, guilt or fear to my mind.

I put this prayer on repeat over the next year or so.

Then came then fateful family outing to the ice rink…..but that’s another story for another day. 🙂

Last week, Charlie had scans again. She can now do them without sedation but she has become fearful of the IV needle.

We had 3 nurses and Child Life in the room for an IV stick and Charlie cried. Really cried. But she held still and let them do it and it was easily placed on the first try!

We all cheered for her and told her how brave she was and she got to pick out a prize.

This was our conversation on the way home:

Me: You were SO brave today!!

Charlie: No…not really. I cried. I was scared, Mommy.

Me: But you did it!! Do you know that’s what being brave is? Doing something even when you are scared! You were amazing!

Charlie smiles, takes a deep breath and begins to hum. 🙂

Moments of unhealthy fear will happen from time to time. For all of us.

It may manifest in classic anxiety, panic or worry.

It may cause you to get angry or short with your words.

It may cause you to withdraw from relationships, from God, from peace.

It may put you into overdrive and you may become a workaholic or obsess over seemingly harmless goals.

At the end of the day, I hope you know that as the popular song says, He is a Good Good Father!

He saw every moment, knows every concern, sees every tear and every trembling hand, and hears every word.

I hope in the midst of it all you can hear Him say…..

“You were SO brave today!”

And I hope you smile, take a deep breath and maybe even hum.

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Always Hope

As you have probably seen on Facebook, September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Those of us affected by this monster try to find different ways raise awareness, increase federal funding, and just tell our story. Sometimes hurting parents and family members share memories of the brave ones who fought hard and won by reaching Heavens gates earlier that anyone ever expected.

About a year ago, I started scratching some thoughts down on paper that expressed some of the deepest feelings that I went through in those few years of Charlies cancer journey. It was a time of intense anxiety, lonliness, and heartbreak. Yet it was also a time of peace, comfort and healing.

Since those days, I have come to realize that pain is pain. Even if childhood cancer has never darkened the door of your home, if you are like most people I have met, you probably have experienced times of worry, anxiety, loneliness, heartbreak, been misunderstood, felt low self worth, and through it all have questioned…Where are you, God??!

Maybe today the message of this song will bring you Hope. Its a powerful force. It can steady shaking hands, it can calm a racing heart, and it can dry tears. Never listen to the lies that say you are alone. You are not.

You may not always “see” God in the events of a day, but never doubt…..He is there.

He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Psalm 91:4Charlie Grace

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. Psalm 57:1

This a rough mix of the song inspired by sweet Charlie, her courage and her God! Final mix will be available for download in a few weeks.

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Crossing Oceans

A few weeks ago, after a particularly frustrating day and situation, I ran across this quote.
“There comes a time when you have to stop crossing oceans for people who won’t jump puddles for you.”

Immediately I had this momentary desire to post this on Facebook. In perfect passive aggressive vague-booking style. 🙂
Then I hit “discard post”.

I understand and am sympathetic to the meaning behind this quote, but for some reason, I decided not to post it.
A few days later I would begin to see why.

This past Sunday during church I saw my phone light up with a call from my brother.
He was calling to let me know that our childhood friend Mike has suddenly passed away.

I felt like I was hit in the gut.

I still had his text messages on my phone from a few days earlier. This can’t be real. Please God….

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Over the next few days the memories of all the years spun round and round in my head. I re-read our conversations, I hummed the first song I ever remembered him writing, I prayed for his sweet Momma, who I have always called my second Mom, for his Dad, his fiancé Alli, and his brothers who adore and love him like crazy!
Within a day or so, I began to see this huge outpouring of love to Mikes family. I mean huge.

People were calling, texting, opening their homes, traveling, taking off work and school, volunteering, saying “I love you”, and sharing memory after memory via social media, phone calls and texts.

It was during one of my trips down memory lane that I thought to myself…if only Mike could see how loved he is.

Did he even realize how much he influenced people?

Did he know that hearts would physically ache because he wasn’t sitting across the table?

Did he know ears would try their best to remember the last time they heard the strings of his new Martin being played by his hands?

Did he know when we said we were proud of him, we really meant it?

Did he know that we would cross oceans for one more conversation, one more laugh, one more hug?

Did he know that last night there would be standing room only as we said farewell?

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I realized last night that it matters not what someone will do or not do for me. Its true, they may never even jump a puddle.

That’s ok.

I decided I will do my best to always cross the ocean.

It may be an ocean of unforgiveness.

It may be an ocean of pain and regret.

It may be an ocean of low self worth.

It may be an ocean of selfishness.

It may be an ocean of loneliness.

Why will I cross it?

Because of love.

Because of a perfect love that crossed a great divide for me and for you.

Because of love that promises to never fail. Even when we do.

Because of the love I saw last night in a little white country church that sat on top of a hill.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
1 Corinthians 13:7-8

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Why I Didn’t Cry

Why I Didn’t Cry

imageToday I saw excited little learners make their way through the school doors. For some it was their first First Day, for others, it was a day to see some old friends in a new classroom.

I noticed refreshed teachers, full of smiles, welcoming the kiddos and ready to hear tales of summer fun!

I couldn’t help but notice the brave faces of some of the Mommas. They were trying so hard not to cry in front of the ones they cherish.

You want them to grow and learn and explore and love life, but a part of you wants to snuggle up on the couch and watch another Shaun the Sheep or go to the park or story time at the library.

I can’t believe 2 of mine started 1st grade and my littlest started kindergarten today. It’s unreal.

I remember as if it were yesterday the exact moment I first saw them, held them, kissed them, and promised to love them forever!

I cried lots of tears last year and always thought I would be even worse when this day came. But I wasn’t.

I thought about this a lot today and realized why, for me, there were no tears today.

Over the last 4 years since Charlie was first diagnosed with a rare cancer, I have learned so much from her.

That first week in the hospital while they were frantically trying to find a diagnosis, they poked and prodded her daily.
I wanted to yell at someone and sit on the floor and cry, but she would give the nurses a smile, even say thank you and then want to play.

I took my cues from her.

The first day of chemo, I was so worried about her port placement surgery and thinking she would be scared. She went right to the nurse and waved to me over her shoulder as they took her to surgery. She was telling me it was ok. I walked to the waiting room, grabbed a coffee and settled in.

I took my cues from her.

There were many many nights after she had drifted off to sleep, I would cry. Not just a few tears, but the ones where your chest hurts. I saw this beautiful girl so full of love and like and kindness and I wanted to take all the pain and struggles from her.
Then she would wake with a big smile, a “good morning Mommy”, and be ready to face the day! I hugged her close and peace settled in.

I took my cues from her.

Over the next 3 years, through countless tests, scans, port access, fevers, hospitalizations, 3 chemos, steroids, distressed liver, blot clot, relapse and shots for a year, this girl shined!

She beat the odds.

She laughed when most would cry.

She beat up cancer. (Her words!) 🙂

Today when Charlie boldly walked into school on her first day of kindergarten, she was beaming from ear to ear.

I insisted on at least walking her to her class.

So…for a day I had long anticipated to be filled with tears and separation anxiety, there could only be a big smile on my face as she waved goodbye over her shoulder and I left her class room.

I walked down the hall thinking…..we made it baby girl. I pulled out my keys, put my sunglasses on and not a tear was shed.

Once again….I took my cues from her.

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When There Are No Blossoms

I love mornings. Really. The birds chatting with each other, sounds of a tired city just waking, a gentle and slightly cool breeze……and a quiet house.
Ok, so now you know the real reason I like mornings. 🙂

This morning I stepped outside for just a minute and was admiring many of beautiful flowers, plants and trees along our street. The aroma was divine. Then I looked at my sad rose bush and 2 other plants of unknown origin and made a mental note to get a green thumb over here to help a girl out!

The past few weeks have been a lesson in faith and patience. Some things, trivial but constant, and other things, potentially life changing. I have always felt that when going through tough times, the Lord wants me to rest, trust, hope, receive and extend grace, and just keep walking.

I wrote a blog a few years ago about digging deep into the soil of Gods love. Today I thought of that scripture again.

I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people over the past few years who have done just that. Their roots went deep, their tears watered the dry ground, their situation was covered in Gods love, and yet they waited. For just a blossom. A sprig of hope. A blade of green.

A few weeks after we first received the news of Charlie’s diagnosis, the results came in that it was also in her bone marrow. I remember crying in a parking lot and texting a few people with the news. A mom whose child had the same disease replied with this scripture…

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:17-18

This was the sprig of hope I needed. Just rejoice…

Rejoice when you are worried.
Rejoice when you just received bad news.
Rejoice when the heavens are silent.
Rejoice when your heart feels like it’s been stepped on.
Rejoice when the miracle is elusive.
Rejoice when words have hurt.
Rejoice as you pack up your things due to company downsizing.
Rejoice while you wait.
Rejoice when the answer is far from what you had expected.

I wish I had answers for the many questions of life.
I don’t.
I don’t understand the why’s, but I know the One who does.
I know that rejoicing in Him, even if it accompanied with many shouts and tears is nurturing the soil of my heart.

The wonderful promise we have is this….

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3

He is tending to you.
He steps out and checks on you each morning.
He carefully prunes.
He knows about the drought.
He sends rain to your soul.
He sees beauty.
He sees a garden full of life and green.

He loves His time with you.
He loves caring for you.
Really.

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Beautiful America

Beautiful America

A few days ago, while at the grocery store, these 3 little firecrackers broke out in a random full version of the Pledge Of Allegiance.
They were loud.
Unashamed.
Beautifully unaware of the pride in their voices and their posture. But it was there.

Today I am thankful for our America. The one my sweet girls call home.
The America that gives them the freedom to sing out loud in public.
The freedom to read their Bible in the morning with a biscuit.
The freedom to jump up at the crack of dawn on Sunday’s, put on their best dress and ask every 10 minutes if it’s time to go to church.
The freedom to disagree. The freedom to lock arms on a bridge in solidarity to silently say we love you.
The freedom to stand tall against injustice.
The freedom to say bedtime prayers.
Thankful that God is still blessing America.
Sometimes when the news is dreary and hearts are worried, all it takes is to look into the eyes of little ones belting out the pledge to see how beautiful America still is. image

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