Song of the Seas

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Then he said to me:
Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.
They have been saying,
“Our bones are dried up,
our hope is lost, and we are cut off.”
Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD:
O my people, I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and have you rise from them,
O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live,
and I will settle you upon your land;
thus you shall know that I am the LORD.
I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.   ~  Ezekiel 37: 11 – 14

          Almost three weeks ago, bound by illness and fear, I searched desperately for hope, but none was to be found – only because I was searching in the wrong places. The medications which normally worked didn’t seem to be working. We have always been a family that recovered speedily from illnesses, but it wasn’t the case at that time. And never before had we all be ill at the same time.

          I was sick with fear. What if we needed to go into hospital? The pathetic excuse of a hospital we have in our town and the even worse medical personnel working there, charading as doctors and nurses, ruled out going there for treatment. Our next option was a reputable private medical centre but it was almost two hours away and despite being the strongest of the lot, I didn’t think I could drive the family there.

          What illness was this that we were having?

          Oh, the fear was deep indeed.

          In that state, hunting high and low for hope and not finding it, I suddenly quit searching. If there was to be no escape from this sickening fear, no respite from our illness, it dawned on me then that it was God’s will that we suffered this. Although no part of me embraced this suffering, a gentle visit from an old friend a few days later brought me to a door I didn’t want to open: the door to humble acceptance of suffering.

          Then, through the powerful intercession of St John of the Cross, my prayer changed to,

Help me to suffer this for Thy glory

          From then the mists lifted slightly from the path. Each time the fear came, each time I felt I could not go on, each time I struggled to rise and to walk and to work, I prayed in desperation,

Help me to suffer this for Thy glory

Help me to suffer this for Thy glory

Help me to suffer this for Thy glory

         Still, I struggled mightily, for to love my cross is my greatest cross. There is nothing I want less. It is my personal Calvary, the path along which I fall and fall and fall.

          And so, even as I prayed to accept my sufferings so that God be glorified, I could not find the love with which to embrace the prayer. Yet again, God showed me He never leaves us to suffer alone. He sent His beloved Mary to me. The Mother of God took pity on me and deigned to gather me into Her arms and to whisper to me Her words from that old day in September, fourteen years gone,

Sorrow before joy

          Upon hearing Her words once more, an odd strength began to flow into me, to ask in sincerity for the grace to suffer my then afflictions for the glory of God. One day wove its tendrils into the next, and into the next, and the next. When all of us felt dizzy and weak, when I felt I just could not cope with work, when the high fevers returned undeterred to all of us despite the meds, over and over, I prayed with all my heart and soul now,

Help me to suffer this for Thy glory

          Still, I puzzled at this change even as I welcomed it. How did this happen, I questioned as I peered through the remaining mists. I sure wasn’t praying better now because I felt good things were coming and that this was just a phase to get through – long years of suffering certainly put paid to that kind of hope even if it were true. I neither longed nor sought for joy as a respite from suffering. In fact, in a sudden turn of the seas, I seemed to have instead found an odd, indescribable vigour for suffering.

          Then, days later, without warning, the seas turned a second time.

My spirit began to sing through suffering!

          It was a full-bodied song which I have never, ever in my life heard. It began swelling and pouring through my dried out spirit, in silence and in gentleness and also in soaring power. Granted, each one of us in the family had begun to slowly recover from the flames of illness but the recovery this time was like climbing out of a grave after being buried alive. We were all still within the shadows of horrors of that pit. Thus, despite knowing we were getting better, our hearts could not quite sink into relief and happiness yet.

          But that strange, new song continued to pour its many cadences into my spirit. And I knew then, with an unshakeable conviction, that the raised skies of my heart was not due to relief nor simple happiness. It was something else. It was a secret, hidden joy, flowing and flowing through me each time I cowered before a cross and then, chose to pray in truth and sincerity, Help me to suffer this for Thy glory.

          Today, as the sun curls gold lights through me, heaven finally whispers the secret to me, of where this song of the seas comes from.

I will open your graves
and have you rise from them,
Then,
I will put my spirit in you

that you may live.

Sorrow Before Joy

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          Today, for the first time in a pretty long while, I found the time to sit in the corner of our little garden in the afternoon and let the Mother of God take care of me. This was the first Saturday of shiny, new August, a day when Catholics like me venerate Mother Mary in a special way through the 1st Saturday devotions. This is also the first Saturday we were home to enjoy all the beauty of a lovely and quietly cheery weekend after so many weeks of sacrifice, of travelling to the city, spending hours and hours there till night. Our weekend busyness had wound to an end last Sunday with our daughter’s Confirmation ceremony, a happy and satisfying day that nonetheless, ended unexpectedly with me and another daughter falling ill by evening, followed by all the rest in the family over the course of the week.

          It made for an exceedingly tough week.

You may think you suffer much but there is someone whose name I cannot reveal to you who suffers far more.   ~  St Paul of the Cross

          Have you no mercy for me, St Paul? I asked, more than a tad annoyed with the saint who’s always there for me with words I least want to hear. But the quote did its trick. We had all come down with a bad clot of flu; yet, miserable as it was, it was nothing compared to what the mystery person alluded to by St Paul and others had to endure with far worse illnesses.

          But I also knew my God would not want me to aspire to be strong by ignoring our own illness and struggles nor making light of them. He had a better way and He showed me.

Help me to suffer this and to bring glory to You, O Lord.

          Over and over, I prayed this entreaty. Slowly, the strength to cook and clean came. The hours and days passed, and one by one, the family began the slow trek to recovery.

          On Friday, another saint, one whom I love with all my heart, came to sit by my window. As always, he stayed only long enough to leave me a gentle invite, wraithing into unseen-ess before I could hold on to him. I looked down into what he had left for me, saint who had saved my life.

Novena to St John of the Cross

Novena to love our crosses

          I jumped back and away like one scalded. No, no, no, Lord, I moaned. I’ve had it with these crosses. I’ve had it with being put through fire. No more crosses, Lord, please.

          Still, when a dear~heart friend invites you to his precious abode of light, despite the reluctance that roosts strong within you, you go. As I did. Running my heart along words of the novena,

…intercede for me and obtain from God for me

a love of suffering,

together with strength and grace

to bear with firmness of mind

all the trials and adversities

which are the sure means

to the happy attainment of all that awaits me in heaven…

the words were like thorns, drawing pain because I had not healed yet from the suddenness of this recent test, all of us being ill at the same time. The fear, the worry. Will we make it? Why were we so ill after all the good home care? Will the children make it if they are away from us?

          When afternoon came today, I felt an unusual call in my heart from the garden. There, in its sunny peace, as the breezes wreathed their hymns in ribbons around me, I knew the Mother of God was bidding me to pause and rest in Her maternal heart, to let Her care for me in the way no one else on earth could.

          As the winds gently danced around me, Our Lady turned my gaze over this old garden I’ve come to love so much, its beds of bachelor’s buttons, zinnias and chrysanthemums which the children have coaxed the earth to love and yield. The flowers I’ve grown myself – the gardenias, jasmines and old fashioned roses, the starflowers, periwinkles and celosia, each one with their own story of teetering at the cliff edge of life, then, somehow having the tide turn in their favour.

          I suddenly saw something countless gardeners must have long known, that our gardens often reflect our own paths through life, from strife and drought and fear to joy and peace and glory. And that our life journeys are often cyclical rather than falling along linear paths.

          You need to encounter pain over and over in order to meet with joy over and over as well, said Mother to me. Sorrow before Joy.

          And with that, I saw once more Her old words to me, that dark, breezy dawn 14 years ago when I didn’t believe joy would ever be possible again.

          Yes, sorrow must come before joy. Each time. Over and over.

Only in Dying

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In dying that we are born to eternal life.   

~   from Make Me A Channel of Your Peace, St. Francis Prayer

          I asked my angel for a prayer for today. It didn’t come immediately but a few minutes later, when I had forgotten about my asking. I heard the strains of an old hymn from the deepest part of me. Although the hymn was very familiar, I had to lean in and listen closely in order to identify it.

          As always, with anything long, I asked for the part God meant for my heart.

          In immediate gentleness, the light was shone,

In dying that we are born to eternal life

          Then, I saw what I had never seen before. That in every act that we choose God over the world, no matter how small that act is, we die to all that is wrong. We die to all the world sets out before us in allure.

          Yet, despite the seeming smallness of that death, we make another step towards the only Life that matters, towards Light eternal.

Take Time For Yourself

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          God must have known this was coming. In the short days since He sent his messenger, St. Paul of the Cross to tell me to

Leave your soul free to take her flight to the Sovereign Good as God shall guide her

I have been a bit more mindful of not raking in dust and dirt into my soul lest I render myself deaf to the soft voice from heaven. Still, there’s only so much one can do to remember to close the door each time to some of the stuff the winds of life can blow into us.

          Late in the afternoon today, tired from work and the never ending deadlines, I told God once more that I’d really, really like to hear from Him, to be moved by His voice in my heart. It was a very hot afternoon, the winds were blowing about. While that did little for the heat, with the swish of the winds through the tree leaves, an unexpected hush stole into my heart.

          The later hours of the day came with the humid promise of rain. Alas, aside from a few drops, the silver rains took their blessings elsewhere. But I had scant time to sulk, for there was dinner to see to and some more work to be done before I turned in for the day.

          After I was done, I remembered I had not had the time to complete my reading of Susan Branch’s latest post, so to it I went and absorbed myself for a time in patches of poetry, quotes and verses, photos and gorgeous illustrations, all quilted together in a lovely celebration of life and living. Although it left me longing for the beauty and quiet of serene places, a languid gentleness nonetheless pooled into my heart.

          Then came 4 little words, and Someone pressed my spirit to alertness,

Take Time For Yourself

In this life, where the world owns so much of me – and is yet far from satiated, I must somehow find a way to cast out into deep, go to where the voices of life will dull and fall into quiet, till they are unheard.

For only when I take time for myself, will I hear Him.

          What a sweetly delicious way to enter the Heart of God.

That You May Hear Him

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Leave your soul free to take her flight to the Sovereign Good as God shall guide her.   ~  St. Paul of the Cross

          Sometime last week, there was a day when I told Jesus I’d like to hear Him speak directly to me. Shortly after came the verse,

Thus says the LORD:
I will allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak to her heart.~  Hosea 2:16

Right after, came the news of my colleague’s promotion, followed by the huge rainbow signifying hope the next day, and on the third day, came the Miracle. Later, pondering the verse from Hosea, I wondered if the “wilderness” mentioned there pertained to those 3 days.

          Still something else from Hosea 2:16 remained with me, like the soft, fleeting evening fragrance of roses seeing the last of the waning sunshine,

I will speak to her heart…

          Today, the quote of the day for me was from a saint I’m not particularly fond of: St Paul of the Cross. In the past, whenever he has spoken to me, he has told me things I didn’t like hearing. He bursts my bubble on days when I feel light and happy. In some ways, he’s like the string on my kite, constantly tugging me down to earth when I’d rather soar high up in the gold~tossed skies.

          But today, he had something different for me.

Leave your soul free to take her flight to the Sovereign Good as God shall guide her. 

          On a day when I’ve been so happy at home, cooking, gardening, studying, writing and just enjoying my husband and children, St. Paul of the Cross comes by to tell me not to clutter up my soul but to leave it free to soar. With his words, come others, familiar little feathers floating in on the quiet sunset breezes,

Keep away from toxic people

Do not waver

Take back your rest

Each one a tender nugget tucked into my heart by those who love me, on this earth as well as beyond earthly shores.

          This is the way, they say.

          To stay free.

          That you may hear Him.

The Seas Turn

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          Two days ago, I received some upsetting news. A colleague who has made life hell for me for some years now had been appointed to a senior position. Even being just one of us, the poison of jealousy she carried within her has wounded me and many others too. Now, with the promotion given to her, it was as if a fully loaded gun had been put into her hands, and we had become sitting ducks, with no one to speak up for us, to protect us from further unfairness and even worse bullying.

          I felt betrayed. Even though there is no such thing as being deceived by God, it was impossible not to feel let down by heaven. I felt as if all the messages and words from heaven given to me were a sham. Yet, knowing that could not be true even if it sure felt that way, I went before God and bared my heart to Him.

          Why did You give me hope if it was going to come to this? I asked. Why tell me a new life was coming if that new life was just another hell?

          Just then, my husband needed to go to the store to pick up something and I decided to go with him to clear my mind; but not done with God, I remained in the car as my husband ran into the store.

I need your suffering. Would you deny Me this, asked Jesus, just as I was about to get started again.

          I groaned. I felt God was asking just too much. Still, I tried to pray. As I was about to search for a prayer, someone slipped a line into my mind.

Thy will be done

          Not in a million years, and with the news I had just received about my colleague, would I have sought that prayer. But someone clearly felt it was the prayer for my moment.

          Thy will be done, I prayed numbly and resignedly, for nothing in me wanted this Cross.

          My husband was taking longer than expected. Staring out of the windscreen at the dark skies, a distant memory came to me – a journey God had taken me on some years ago with the Bible verse,

Let the prisoners’ sighing come before You,

with Your great power free those doomed to death. ~ Psalm 79:11

          At that time, God had let me see that a bully from work was actually a prisoner. Slowly, He had moved me to pray for this person. Although it was so hard, solely by the grace of heaven, I somehow managed to.

          More shoppers were arriving now, parking their cars in the lots around me. Vehicle doors were being slammed shut, trolleys were being pushed across the road. But inside the car, I was on a journey. Today, I am that prisoner, Lord, I whispered in my heart. I am trapped in a place I cannot leave, with no option to resign because we need the money. People were getting into their cars and driving away. Mothers, fathers, children. Let my sighing come before You. I am doomed to death, so free me.

          Just then, it struck me that July was the month of the Precious Blood of Christ. Years before, in a mystical moment in church, God had taught me a powerful prayer,

Replace my blood with Yours

In the ensuing years, I’ve prayed that conversion prayer many, many times – for those who have hurt me – and for myself as well, because in times of anger and suffering, pride can sometimes blind you to the truth of who you truly are, making you believe that your sins are not as bad as the sins of those who are hurting you.

          So, in the car, I reached for that prayer once more.

Replace her blood with Yours, I prayed for my colleague.

Replace my blood with Yours, I prayed for myself.

          But, oddly, this time the prayers didn’t sit right. And immediately, I knew why: I was not being open and honest with God. I was praying – but from behind the wall of my hurt and fear.

          So, I lunged out into the open fields before God’s eyes, and prayed a prayer  wrenched from the depths of my pain.

I bind her to Thy Precious Blood!

Bind her so she can do no harm to anyone any more!

          Suddenly, something shifted. I felt the prayer shoot upwards like a fire arrow and pierce its heavenly mark. At the same time, I myself was pierced by a sudden and heartfelt humility, that as much as my colleague could wound and maim others, so could I, so both she and I needed His Precious Blood.

I bind myself to Thy Precious Blood. Bind me so I can harm no one.

          That night, I slept deeply and beautifully. Rising the next day, no burden remained inside me. None of the fear or anger. None of the immense hurt this colleague has knifed into me. My inner house had been cleared.

          The next day, I reached for the same prayer again. But the power was gone. Where before I had felt the prayer was received by heaven, this time, all was still and quiet. Interiorly, I sensed that the time for this particular prayer had passed. In peace, I surrendered my seeking, knowing that if there was another prayer to be prayed from the heart, God would send it to me.

          That evening, a massive rainbow arc formed across the eastern skies and my heart thrilled to its moving luminosity.

Hope on, the skies seemed to call out.

          Today, at my altar at dawn, on Illumination Thursday, I prayed for a miracle as I always do. Except that this time, I was not specific. I realised that I didn’t know what exact miracle to pray for. Nevertheless, I looked up at the Crucifix on the wall.

Give us the miracle we need, I prayed and left.

          Just before 12pm, the earth shifted. This colleague came up to my table, the first time in 4 years. With a gentleness not seen in 4 years, she placed some documents before me. In an unbelievably gentle voice, she told me what she needed from me and that I could see her whenever I needed.

          When I am stunned, I either lose my ability to speak or I do something stupid and clumsy. But this time, something took over, coming over me and and leading my voice out. I quietly congratulated my colleague on her promotion. At this, tears came to her eyes and her voice caught in her throat as she gave a small laugh at what she had received unasked. We both knew that promotion or not, it was a job she did not want and which she possibly hated but that she had no choice.

          I will likely never know why the seas shifted within her, why now and not before. But I do know that just when it seemed all was lost and that life was set to plunge into darker depths, through a massive and unbelievable Thursday miracle, the Precious Blood of Jesus has set us both free to start over.

          I will never be the friend and kindred spirit I was to her before. Even with complete forgiveness, I have seen and felt the side to her which seals any door to real friendship. That time in the past when we were closest friends and laughing mates has passed and we have both moved on. Some things lost can never be regained – and should not be sought.

        Yet, it was a miracle that turned the seas today and freed us both.

        A miracle wrought by the Precious and miraculous Blood of Jesus who died so that sinners might be saved.

Take Back Your Rest

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Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush alive with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes.   ~  Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

          A conversation I had with a friend from work today lit a flame of thoughts in my head. We had been talking about how work could intrude so insidiously into our home and personal lives when I felt called to share with her an unpleasant experience of being pushed to the very edge of sanity by excessive work demands and no effective outlet to vent off that pressure. Imagine my pained surprise when my friend narrated a similar experience. It underscored just how much we were having to endure at our workplace. We talked some more. Soon, I had to leave her company to attend to some tasks.

          But something from our shared experiences followed me home.

          In the evening, for the first time in more than 2 weeks, I found the heart to go into my garden, even if it was for scant minutes. Work having been so incredibly intense in June took so much out of me. These past weeks, I woke up in the dark of dawn and went to bed each night with lists in my head that left little room for anything else. But the work crush ended for a bit today, and knowing that gave me no small measure of relief and delight. Hence, the late evening scurry into the garden to check on some plants.

          As I wet the sun scorched earth to ease the night time sleep of my valiant plants, the smell of awakened soil went deep into me, and I realised how much I needed this aspect of healing and rejuvenation. How much of it work takes from me, from us all. It also took me back to the conversation earlier in the day, and the final words I had shared with my agonized friend,

Take back your rest

          Take it back from those who know nothing of the need and beauty of cutting out work after office hours. Take it back from those who think that just because they pay our salaries, that they own us as well.

Take it back from those who know well that rest is important yet grant themselves that gift by denying us ours.

          And with that, I gazed up at the evening sky, blue and orange sweeps lingering in the west, reluctant to let go of the day whose hours were close to ending. With June gone to its eternal sleep, I had been wondering about July and what it might hold. A month of memories of loss and grief, it is a month I endure more than I live it.

          But now I wonder if my angel has come, as he always does, quietly hidden in the breaths of peaceful breezes and fading sunset flowers. Come to tell me that July is the month of journeying into meadows which offer repose, to intentionally seek the quiet deeps where heaven rests, lying in wait for searching hearts.

          Because to find those pockets of heaven and to sink my heart into them is to take back my rightful rest.

 

 

Last of June

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          On this last day of June, month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the winds lift and fall from the break of dawn, blowing secrets among them, marking the last of what has been a very hectic month. Still, even as I’m glad it has come to an end, a quiet awe sits stronger within me. Awe at all God has done and eased for us this entire month. Awe at how, for once, I managed to face the innumerable twists and hurdles relatively calmly and with fewer stumbles.

          But I also know that it wasn’t me going out to meet each deadline and obstacle; each day, it felt as if someone or something within me was already in charge and leading the way. A still and quiet power beyond what I’ve ever experienced. A power so strong yet so exquisitely gentle, unperturbed at my occasional shenanigans and general inability to read things right. A power at peace even when I often tried to do things my way.

          Today, on this last day of blessed June, looking back, thanksgiving and gratitude breathes strong in my heart. I know well many hearts have helped me get through all the hard days of June, for very few journeys of this life can be undertaken safely and successfully without the love of those who pray and guide us all onwards and upwards. Most of all, without a doubt, we have journeyed through June, as a family, bound tightly to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

          As the winds raise their softly golden voices higher in the late morning sky, I can’t help but ponder what July holds for us. I can sense something is ahead, for some endeavours have ended even as we hoped to go on.

It is as if an invisible gate is slowly being shut on some journeys, why I do not know.

          But fear finds no living within me today.

          Today, I am at peace, content to let the Spirit lead.

          And He will, Father of the Poor He is.

Periwinkle Memories

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          Yesterday, our family made a trip into the city for some much needed shopping. As always, I made a list and hoped we’d get all we wanted and that the day would go well. I had concerns because while shopping is always fun for us when it is being planned, it quickly becomes tiring when we’ve been on our feet for too long and more so if we run into problems over the stuff we planned to get. Plus, the travelling to and from the city taking close to 4 hours both ways is enough to blunt at least some of the fun.

          Still, I knew that it is often the choices we make and the way we react to life that actually decides the outcome of any endeavour. With the right choices, choosing roads that lead to life, no matter how much the path twists and bends, life will sort itself out in the end. And even if things don’t go as planned, we always have the option of choosing how we react to it – we could either seek to find silver linings and thus save the day or get snarky and irritable and make things worse.

          Hence, in the serene quiet of the morning, I decided even before we piled into the car that I was going to keep my heart on my husband and kids and focus on enjoying my day with them whatever shopping potholes we hit along the way. Our second child was due to leave home for college in a few short months and with two of our children – our great joy~gifters – embarking on the next phase of their lives, I knew that an aching quiet would soon find its way into our hearts. No matter how important and necessary the shopping was, making sweet memories was by far the greater call.

          And what a day it turned out to be. Quietly and gently, the angels went about tucking little blooms into our hours. We didn’t get quite a few of the things we really needed and everything was so costly. But we had cheerful and kind sales assistants who made the shopping pleasant. The roads we traveled along were mostly traffic free and we easily found good places to park our car wherever we stopped. While we experienced a brief moment of disappointment when one favourite restaurant was found to have shuttered, we went to another and enjoyed the most amazing lunch.

          The last thing on our list before we ended the day with sunset Mass at church was a quick stop at a garden centre. I was looking to add some colour to my garden, but with my gardening success rate being about 20 per cent, it had to be plants which could take my mostly erratic and sometimes over-enthusiastic bouts of gardening.

          I had daisies in mind but the angels had set aside something else for me. Carefully making my way down the aisles at the garden centre, I suddenly spied pots of happily-coloured periwinkles. I already had a wee purple~pink plant which I had sent to the cliff’s edge of life and then thankfully saved. Having forgiven me now, it was growing by our fence, getting stronger by the day. But now here was a new baby, a pot of the sweetest reddish pink blooms, smiling up at me beguilingly.

          So, of course that pot came home with us, its blooms with their girlish blush brightening its wee spot under our bedroom window. Later, reading up on this latest addition to our family, sunshine and song spilled into my heart. I discovered that the periwinkle is also known to be a miracle plant due to medicinal extracts from the plant being used in the successful treatment of cancers, especially childhood cancers, and other illnesses. It’s always a joy to have colourful flowers to brighten the garden but if the plants yield cures for our deeper sufferings, the power of strength and hope are added to their colourful blessings.

          I do hope this new periwinkle puts down strong roots into our garden so that I can always gaze at them and remember a day embroidered with little miracles, a day that went so well because we placed our plans in God’s hands and kept our eyes on what mattered the most: time with family. Paul Bowles wrote these lines in his book, The Sheltering Sky,

…Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your life like this, some afternoon that’s so deeply part of your being that you can’t ever consider your life without it, perhaps four or five time more, perhaps not even that? How many more times will you watch the full moon rises? Perhaps twenty, and yet it all seems limitless…   ~

          But it isn’t limitless. There is a time and a place and a manner in which the petals of our life will close back in and the passing over to the next life will begin. We could live one day today and in the next find life has changed unalterably, that it’s no longer possible to go back into time and retrieve what has been taken away, what we have consciously given up or even what we have let slip from us. A great many of us have known this grief, the grief that comes when the path shifts and bends sharply. There is no going back, only forwards…

          But as I learned yet again on this gentle day of the softest sunshine, that in choosing to focus on what really yields true life, we open our hearts to the gift of miracles. No matter how hard the roads of life can become, along the right way, there will always be the sweetest periwinkles, the kind we can pick and tuck into our hearts and take with us, henceforth moving forwards and onwards with renewed hope and joy.