Happy National Coffee Day!

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“Buy one, get one free” brought a smile to my favorite man’s face and a put a twinkle in his eye today. This has brought me joy beyond all measure.

Today has been a foggy day. He has them once in a while. Coffee, a walk, leaf peeping, and a trip to the grocery store made my favorite man’s day. He is now peacefully napping and I hope that he is dreaming of LOVE. I pray that he feels the warm feeling of a family that insists on focusing on what he can do today, what he can remember in the moment, and that his heart and our hearts will forever be entwined.

Coffee is one thing that keeps him with us and makes all the difference. So from our family to yours, Happy National Coffee Day! May it be as good for you as it has been for us.

 

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What Keeps Me Awake At Night

I woke up early this morning. I didn’t need to, but after 8 days of school, my body has morphed into school time. School time means that no mater how hard I try, my body refuses to be fooled into going back to sleep.

This morning my mind was filled with goal setting: Marshall Goals, Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s) and what I should make for priorities this year. I don’t know why my brain decided that 6:30 am on a Saturday, was a great time to make such crucial decisions.

In case you have a burning desire to know, our district uses the Kim Marshall Plan which includes an evaluation system based on teacher performance. It is divided into six categories, or domains. The domains include (1) Planning and Preparation for Learning (2) Classroom Management (3) Delivery of Instruction/Monitoring (4) Assessment, and Follow-Up (5) Family and Community Outreach and (6) Professional Responsibilities. Each domain contains 10 standards, in which supervisors rate teachers as Highly Effective, Effective, Partially Effective, or Ineffective for a total of about 60 standards. In theory, each domain, gives teachers and supervisors an opportunity to look at performance and set goals to focus on. Marshall’s rubrics are meant to clearly define criteria to distinguish the Highly Effective teacher from the Ineffective one, and all points in-between. Administrators aim to do 10, 10-minute pop-ins, with a coinciding 10 minute post observation to document progress on a teacher’s chosen goal. Last year, I had 5 classroom observations totaling 50 minutes.

On top of the Marshall goal, teachers are also expected to choose 2 Student Learning Objectives (SLO’s) that are used to target growth and measure student effectiveness. Teachers are expected to make two SMART SLO goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time Bound) that can measured using data points that are proven reliable.

All lesson plans need to align to Common Core Standards and reporting is done on-line by individual standards. So, not only are teachers being evaluated on an insane amount of standards, but so are children. Most importantly, teacher evaluations are directly linked to the academic success of ALL students.

For both teacher’s and student’s alike, a 4 point scoring system is used. A 4, or Highly Effective status is reserved for truly outstanding performance that meets very demanding criteria very few ratings are in this area. A 3, or Effective status describes solid, expected, professional performance. A 2, or Improvement Necessary indicates that performance has real deficiencies. A 1, or Does Not Meet, is unacceptable and can lead to dismissal unless improved on immediately.

The Marshall Model in particular is not designed to be an “I got ya'” model. However, teachers are perfectionists. They want what constitutes and A and therefore, accept suggestions and generally respond to gentle correction. However, in the world of Marshall Goals, and SLO’s, with 100% of our students expected to meet high demands, many teachers are left feeling deflated.

Fear should not be consuming me at 6:30 am after the second week of school. I know what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are. I know that I am a Highly Effective teacher and nobody can convince me that less than 2 hours of cumulative observations gives my employers a clear picture of what is happening in my classroom and enough information to fairly score me on 60 standards. Although the rubric is designed to create self-reflection, supervisors make the final scoring decisions. This means that my self reflections can be trumped by their perception of what is happening in my classroom. I do have the right to challenge final decisions by showing data. However, they don’t have to provide data that supports their perception of my performance. That is hard for highly sensitive, Type A perfectionists like me.

It used to be that I would leave school for summer vacation feeling like my supervisors noticed and appreciated the dedication and student achievement that was attained. I don’t feel that way any more. Honestly, if I had known 30 years ago what I know now about the evaluation systems for both teachers and students, I think I would have chosen another profession, and that makes me sad, because I truly love what I do and I know in my heart of hearts that I am good at it.

People say that in educations, the pendulum swings from one extreme to another. I wonder when the pendulum is going to swing again, because things need to change. Teachers should not have sleepless nights worrying about end of year evaluation results after the first 2 weeks of school. I’m not sure how, but we need to stand up and demand change. It is time. edweek-pendulum

The Dementia World

I haven’t written about the world of Dementia for a while for a variety of reasons. One, is simply because there has been little to write about. Things have stayed rather stagnant for a while. Another, is because my children don’t like to read about it. It is our reality, but they try not have it be the focus of our existence, and I can appreciate that.

That being said, I share our story for two major purposes: to inform and to educate. I feel strongly that my responsibility is to be transparent in order to keep friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors updated so that they don’t have to ask. There are also followers who either have lived, are living, or will live through dementia in some capacity. The disease doesn’t show favoritism and you never know when it will come knocking at the door of a friend or family member.

A third reason, and the most important one for me, is for therapy. I process by communicating. When life’s circumstances bog me down, writing forces me to organize my thoughts. Strange as it might seem, it works as a sort of detox for my brain.

Today I wish to inform or educate, and at the very least, detox. So, here goes…

Five and a half years ago, I was angry. That was when my 47-year old husband was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia, most likely caused by too many blows to the head. But if it were possible to go back and console my younger self, these are some things that I might say:

Dear Younger Me,

I know that you are running around like an idiot trying to get those 25 things that the support group gave you, completed. They are right, you need to do them and many things are time sensitive. However, you need to know more than anything, that you will have plenty of time to regroup and reset. Time is on your side.

Medical challenges will erupt, and every person’s dementia story sounds different. However, there will be many similarities. Listen and learn from those who have gone before you. I know that makes you angry. You want to know the timetable. You want to know what to expect and when to brace for another pothole, but there is no way to plan. Everyone’s journey is unique. Stop planning.

View his time home as a sweet blessing and his lost job as a gift from above. Call it “Early Retirement” and learn to graciously accept gifts from friends and family. Do not deny them of the blessings that come from being a helpmate to a friend, family, coworker, or neighbor. Choke back your pride. There will be a day when finances will adjust to a “new normal” but it will take time and patience. You will not always live on bread and peanut butter.

Notice the blessings. God knew that your favorite man would need more projects than he could keep up with, That is why he supplied the house on the mountain three years in advance. He also knew that you would need help from well-trained children, who are natural caregivers. He supplied a home that was too big for two, and just right for six, and filled a need for two families. Enjoy the gift of family that provides help and grandchildren that fill you up.

Believe it or not, your relationship will become sweeter than it has ever been. You will feel needed and appreciated because he relies on you so thoroughly. Walks are precious. That is the time that he will open up to you and talk to you about changes that he notices and fears that he has about the future. It is a blessed time to reassure him and provide him with comfort. It is a beautiful gift of time that the Lord has provided.

He knew you needed a small support system that you could call on at any time, knowing that they would be there to hold you up when you won’t have the strength on your own. Don’t dwell on who isn’t there when you feel lonely. Instead, feel thankful for those who have stepped in to help and encourage you.

610546228-612x612The dementia progression will go in steps like a staircase. He will be on one stair for quite some time, before moving to the next landing. It gives you time to recalculate and regroup. Relax. You will catch up.

Some days will be cloudy and some days will be clear. Most days are just fine. He won’t be able to differentiate between a cloudy and clear day, so you will have to do it for him. He will be tired, confused, frustrated because he can’t do something he knows he should know how to do, or angry because he “did something stupid”. Just reassure him, and keep things light. You are his person and if he sees you upset, he won’t know what to do about it and his agitation will increase. Save it for the closet or the shower.

He will be quieter. Be prepared to do projects and errands alone. You will have to keep him safe, take over the driving, manage the finances, and monitor the medications. However, the good news is that he will still be an active participant in the family. He will still cook, mow the lawn, do laundry (after someone else separates it), clean, and make minor renovations 5 1/2 years after the diagnosis. Regression isn’t immediate, so relax. Just watch from afar to be sure that he stays safe.

He will be tired, have a headache nearly every day, and will be sore from a torn rotator cuff and an arthritis filled body. He will lose his desire to eat most meals. However, he will be drawn to sweets. Foods will taste bland to him, so they won’t be as enjoyable. He will be thrilled with Dunkin Donut’s coffee, soda, and sweet treats like ice cream, candy, and cookies. It will make you so happy to see him content.

You will have to worry about highly stimulating situations. He will no longer want to go to church, or crowded places, especially where people might know him, and he doesn’t know them. Even familiar places like the family farm will be a scary place. He will be happiest at home, riding in the car, or down by the water. The ocean brings him peace. He will love to watch the boats and the tide slapping on the rocks.

After 5 1/2 years, he will still be able to read, and retain what he reads if it is highly interesting. He will still be interested in politics, history, and the most recent election. It will bring him great joy to re-watch the surprise ending! He will enjoy watching Big Brother, Survivor, and 48 hours with your middle child via FaceTime and Messenger every Saturday night.

His children and grandchildren will continue to bring him the most joy. Although highly stimulating when all together, there will be nothing that makes him happier. Plan to have him respond much the way an autistic child would when he’s had enough. He will shake his hands, stare, shiver, rock, yell out, or bolt. Occasionally he might surprise you and rise to the occasion, and crash later. Most importantly, he will be looking for you. You are his person. Be there. Hold his hand, whisper in his ear, let him rub your arm raw, and take him for a walk. He needs you and it will make you feel so good to be his lifeline.

More than anything, live for the day. Stop planning. Don’t plan anything for more than 4-6 weeks out. Think back to when the children were little. Make tentative plans based on how he is doing at that moment on that particular day. Dementia makes no sense. Some days are good. Some days are not so good. Some things are forgotten forever. Some things come back after a period of time.

Celebrate each day as a gift. Stop worrying about the future. When it’s time, God will reveal what the next steps are. It sounds trite, but you really have to just live in the moment. Most importantly, stop holding your breath. Don’t waste one precious moment. You don’t want any regrets in the end.

Don’t doubt yourself. Your journey is your journey. It isn’t going to look like everyone else’s. You and the kids are going to be alright. He has taught you everything you need to know to keep going. When the time comes, and the Lord takes him home, be assured that you will one day be reunited. A physical death is not the end of your story. So relax. Enjoy the moment, seek joy, find strength and peace. You will be okay.

With love,

Older, Wiser Me.

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MYOB

As a child my mother would constantly remind us to MYOB (Mind Your Own Business). To be honest, it was often HER fault that I was, and continue to feel, in charge of everyone. As a young child, I had to watch over my siblings and our house pets. When we moved to the farm, I was in charge of animals- lots of them. We had huge responsibilities in the barn, at school, and at home. Then I married, had children of my own, tended to a classroom, gained in-laws, and grandchildren. Now, my aging parents and sick husband pull and tug at my heartstrings. It has always been my business to mind everyone else’s, and it has become my natural tendency to worry and to protect.

One of my coping mechanisms is to be a long-range planner. I look at the forest and then the trees. I am a big picture kind of gal, and some find that rather irritating- namely my husband. From the beginning, he would spontaneously decide to do something and go at things willy-nilly. Sometimes it worked out well, sometimes not so much.

Wisdom comes with age and many failures, and I am not lacking on those. However, I am trying to use my new-found knowledge to impart on the next generation without overstepping- a hard thing to do.

This summer, I have done two studies: Women Who Made A Difference, by Martha Tyler and How’s Your Attitude? by Juanita Purcell and it “shocks me” how the studies have aligned to much of what I needed to hear and to the summer services at church. So, I thought I’d share a few of my “Ah Ha’s”.

My mother, a very wise woman, always says that if I concentrate on doing the right thing, I don’t have to worry about doing the wrong thing. So, how do I know what is right?

My lessons have encouraged me to realize that I need to:

  • cling to my faith and to be desperate for a relationship with the Almighty.
  • sympathize with and comfort those that I love.
  • have power under control and to absorb adversity and criticism without lashing back.
  • seek God’s word so that I can have permanent joy that is not affected by life’s up’s and downs.
  • show mercy to those that hurt us and forgive them even if they don’t ask.
  • keep my mind pure and my heart uncontaminated.
  • be quick to listen, and slow to speak or get angry.

You may recognize these as the beatitudes: a list of Godly attitudes that lead to true happiness and right behavior. I have a choice every day regarding the attitude that I am going to embrace for the day. In order to stay sane, I need to focus on what I can do and stop worrying about what I have no control over. I can’t always control my circumstances, but I can control how I respond to them.

I think I can make a difference, just like some of the women that I have read about this summer. It has become clear that my job is to demonstrate a spirit of humility so that my heart attitude is right. What I do and what I say matters every minute of every day becasuse people are watching me.

As I re-read the stories about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as well as Daniel, I have been reminded that with God all things are possible. If I am truly putting my trust in Him, I can be fearless.

So today, I will MYOB and let God be God.

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All Is Well, Mostly

Every summer I make it a priority to get healthy mind, spirit, and body. My husband and children can attest to it. At the end of each school year, I am exhausted to the core, and it takes the better part of the summer to work up enough courage to go another round. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. It’s just hard on so many levels, and by mid-June there is legitimately nothing left to give.

The first thing I do is sleep. I sleep long and hard. I nap, go to bed early, lay out in the sun soaking up some vitamin D in the sleep zone. It takes me the better part of three weeks to feel human again. It is during this time that I concentrate on exercise, eating right, and doing my daily devotions. By the end of July, I generally start gaining courage. I begin looking at the “Back To School” sections of the department stores, thinking about how I am going to tweak my lesson plans, and what subtle changes I am going to make in my classroom so that I can still find things when I need them.

Some people change their rooms around yearly and I always marvel at that. I’d seriously never be able to find a thing! My room goes back up each year the way I had it the year before with few variations. In fact, I have a pretty good idea that the class I had 8 years ago could walk in my room and find everything that was needed. Actually this makes me smile and brings me comfort. I love my classroom. It is my home away from home.

Change. I hate change. But like all things in life, things move- sometimes backward, sometimes forward. This year will be no different. I am facing a new math program that I am not looking forward to implementing, but I am trying to keep an open mind. I’m going to work a little harder at diversifying, which I think is funny- because it’s just a fancy way of saying “tracking”, which was the practice when I was in school. Teaching has a way of coming around full circle. They just give it a new name.

Change is an ugly word. I know that some people think that it is progressive and healthy, but I hate it. If it were up to me, I’d never change a thing. But my fighting it, isn’t going to stop it. Relationships change, professions change, finances change, and health changes. Maybe change is so difficult because it is unpredictable, and risky: things could get better or they could get worse. For me- I like the conservative route.

Maybe that is why I cling to my faith so much. My belief system is the one thing that remains constant and the promises are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Sometimes I wonder, “What if I’m all wrong?” But the answer to myself is always, “In the end, I’ll have lost nothing but I have so much to gain.” If my faith has made me a more caring individual with high value systems and even higher standards for myself, then I have lost nothing.

This summer I have been fluctuating between two different studies: one about my attitude and one about important women in the bible who made a difference. I’ve come to a few conclusions. One, how successful the inevitable change is, depends on my attitude. I could go into it kicking and screaming, or I could embrace it as an opportunity to learn and grow- even if what I learn is what doesn’t work. Two, don’t be too critical of other people’s mistakes. Most likely you have or will make a similar one yourself and you don’t want others being too hard on you. Three, sometimes you need to hear that you do something right- even if it is your own self talk. I know where my shortcomings are. I don’t need anyone to point them out to me. What I do need is validation and encouragement. Four, I need to practice meekness. Meekness isn’t weakness. It is the use of controlled, well thought out responses full of wisdom.

So, as I amble on through the “stuff” of life, I am formulating a plan so that I can endure the race of the next year with stamina and class. I am going to gravitate toward those people who truly lift me up and encourage me to be the best me I can be. I am going to give change an honest chance and learn from it regardless of the outcome. I am going to encourage others, with the hope that they will reciprocate, and be okay if they do not. Finally, I am going to be slower to respond so that what comes out of my mouth is controlled and well thought out.

Ultimately, there are always going to be people out there who are going to criticise and notice all of the shortfalls. It is the way of the world. It is my job to keep looking up, keep thinking positively, and surround myself with positive influences. I will keep putting one foot in front of the other by the grace of God, trusting that He will hold me and my family firmly in the palm of HIs great hand.

In this life full of challenges and changes, I’ll take mostly all right.

The Biggest Jerk

I used to take life for granted. I said that I didn’t, but I did. Not any longer.

I have been married to my one and only for 31 years, and over time, we have suffered some agonizing times- ones that quite frankly, many could not hang on through. So, what has been the secret?

Faithfulness. I have been absolutely determined to carry through with a promise before God and our closest friends.

On May 23, 1987 we were joined together as one, promising that we would let any ONE or any THING separate us. We were determined to make a lifelong commitment. To be honest, there have many times when I have tried a lot harder than he has. There have been times when I have felt neglected and taken advantage of. Sometimes he hasn’t been very nice, and there have been times when I have felt like a single parent. There was even a time when I considered asking him to find somewhere else to stay. However, I was stubborn and determined not to give up on what God ordained. I knew that my husband was facing some difficult physical and psychological challenges, and that it was my duty to be his number one support system: to lift him up when he didn’t feel strong enough to lift himself up. I made it my mission to pray him through each day and to encourage him even when I was angry, frustrated, and disappointed.

I figured that if he wasn’t going to take care of himself on his own, I was going to help. One of the first things I did was to take over his medications. In his state of mind, he often didn’t know what day it was, and either forgot to take his meds or accidentally took them two or three times in a day. I started by encouraging him to eat more balanced meals, and drink less soda and coffee. I encouraged exercise by walking with him. Since he wasn’t reading his bible or attending church regularly, I upped the ante for myself and made it my mission to stay prayed up for the both of us. During our quiet walks, with nothing else to interrupt us, I shared what I was learning and what was on my heart. When he didn’t talk, I talked enough for the both of us.

Shockingly, what happened was that MY attitude started changing. What was once meant for HIS benefit, began to benefit ME. I wrote him encouraging notes and left them in his lunch bag. I met him for lunch during my time off, determined to shut my mouth and be a better listener. Gradually, I started to see a change in him, because I was so determined to pour myself and my time into him. I loved on him even when I got nothing in return. I made his favorite meals, watched his favorite movies, and listened to his favorite music. I involved him in decision-making for the children and family finances.

We sought counseling that sometimes made our situation worse. It brought up painful topics that had been suppressed for a long time. If he slipped back into bad practices, it was often with others from his support group. The situation did not repair itself quickly, and I would push through the discouragement, and up my game or continue making my husband’s health and our union my top priority. I was determined not to allow Satan any more opportunities to break down our marriage and our family.

I prayed over and anointed the windows and door jams in my house. We burned and prayed over materials from the Masons. I monitored music, movies, phone, and internet that came into our home closely. I regularly prayed over my sleeping husband and my babies.

Most importantly, I took care of ME, because I was determined to stay as healthy as I possibly could, so that I could take extra care of HIM. I walked, watched what I ate, read the Word, looked for encouragement and wisdom from friends and family, and I lived in secret Hell while I remained focused and faithful to my husband.

Just when things began to get better, our family took more hits. Satan continued to take his best shots. We dealt with deaths, rebellious teenagers, financial hardships, the loss of two jobs, and the challenge of a terminal illness that will eventually take my one and only.

Through it all, I continued to take my marriage vows seriously. I never left him. In my heart of hearts, I could not give up on him because I feared that he would then give up on himself and I couldn’t bear that. I knew that I was his lifeline and I was determined to reconstruct our family on a foundation of faith.

I believe with everything I have, that God will reward me for my faithfulness during a time when I had every reason to walk away. As I look at where we are now, I would not be the person that I am today had I done the easy thing. Instead, I remained faithful to my promises, and am so glad to say that I love my husband today more than ever.  The strange thing is that the tough times made my commitment even stronger.

Dementia may take my husband, but it has also provided me with the opportunity to show my faithfulness and not simply “talk the talk”. The disease that was meant for destruction, has taken my faith to a whole new level and I am a living testimony to all who watch.

My advice: don’t give up when the going get’s tough. Take it as an opportunity to practice “walking the walk” and show God, your family, and friends that you mean what you say. Practice what you preach when life seems impossible and there doesn’t seem to be a way out. It’s easy to be joy-filled when all is going well, but how about when the heat is turned up and you are dealing with great loss and destruction?

So what do you do in the meantime? Participate in intense practice sessions, because no one is exempt from the great manure pile of life. If you are lucky enough to be going through a time of smooth sailing, thank your lucky stars, because you will have your turn for turmoil. Get and stay healthy mind, spirit, and soul. Generate a list of reasons why you love your one and only, so that when the time comes, you can refer to it. Build a list of things that you enjoy doing and eating, because you will need to find your joy without becoming unhealthy when your loved one is. Surround yourself with a group of good friends who you are like, or who you want to be like. Determine yourself to be joy-filled and healthy, because you are the only one you have control over.

More than anything: don’t give up. It’s what Satan wants. Don’t let him find even a crack. He is a liar and a jerk and there is nothing that brings him more pleasure than to destroy marriages and families.

 

 

 

Poppins and a Servant’s Heart

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Ever feel like something exciting and terrifying is in the wind?

This year I have been challenging myself to live a “palms up”, take my hands off the wheel, and see where each day takes me kind of life. Those that know me intimately, know that this is a real challenge. I genuinely love to plan, organize, and sort. I’ve joked that in Heaven I’d like to have a label-maker at my disposal so that I can spend eternity helping my Maker to organize. If I were honest, it brings me more joy than it should.

For vacations, I research and schedule “must-do’s” and “must-sees”. I carry an agenda for my agenda. Honestly, two of my favorite times of the year are “nearly January” when I can start to plug-in important personal dates on the new calendar and “nearly the first day of school” when I get to plug-in important professional dates and events into my school planner. I brew a large pot of coffee, surround myself with snacks, and listen to my favorite musicals while I color code and break in my crisp new calendars. While you may be wondering what kind of medication I need to be prescribed, I sit here with a huge smile on my face. It’s true. All true.

However, as I anticipate the new planner in my mailbox for the fall, I have found myself wondering whether it was time for a CHANGE, which has been terrifying and exciting at the same time. It has dawned on me that I have about thirteen more years before I can dream of retirement. My children are all grown into independent young adults. My husband is stable and enjoying the sweet joys of summer weather and planting projects. Now just might be the time.

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It’s easy to become complacent and believe that life is what it is and that it’s too late to make a change. At 52, change is scary business. In my current profession, I can practically fly on autopilot. Most everything is familiar. I know the expectations and I feel like part of the furniture. But what if there is a blessing that is just waiting to happen if only I took a leap of faith? I have found myself wondering whether the Lord needs to see that I mean what I say?

Twenty years ago, I made a huge decision with my children as my main focus. This Spring I have been thinking that maybe it’s time to make a decision with ME being the priority.

Mary Poppins was originally released the year before I was born, and my mother, an avid Julie Andrews fan was just a year younger than the main character. Mom would serve us medicine singing, “just a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down!” and would occasionally tell us to head to our rooms, “spit spot” after watching the musical together on the VCR. I can safely say that we have grown up together.

bb5e255f0f9819a61245e3d859cfb120As a teacher, I have often compared myself to Mary Poppins. I teach with a whole lot of no-nonsense, but there is always an element of fun. I don’t always show all my emotions, but my students know that they are loved, and that together, we will accomplish great things. Over the last 28 years, I have taught over 800 children. That’s a whole lot of lives impacted by my influence and a whole lot of responsibility. I figure that if I teach another 13 years to retirement, I will have taught well over 1000 young people. I’m so glad that while I focus on what needs to be accomplished, I work some good times in.

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So, as I have contemplated the pro’ and con’s of a great change, truly living a “palms-up” life, I have wondered what is best for me, my family, and my future students. What if I close my eyes and jump? What if I walk away from all that I know, can plan on, and what is easy, and take a leap of faith that something might be even better? I would desperately miss those left behind: friendships, long-lasting relationships, familiar families, but as Mary reminds me, it shouldn’t muddle my thinking.

Overall, I know that “all things work together for good to them that love God, and are called according to his purpose” and in the end, I showed God faithfulness and He showed me that I am right where I need to be. Today I thank God for answered prayers and passing the test, because for the record, I would have jumped.