Home Again

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“Texas” from Alpha Stock Images

We have moved back to Texas, and it’s good to be back. I truly didn’t know how I’d feel coming back to this state that holds one-third of my life’s history. Last year, when we were still in job limbo, I thought I wanted to go back to Minnesota—where I spent the bigger part of my history. But now Texas feels like the right decision. It feels like home.

As far as new starts go, this is a BIG one. When we left Texas 3 ½ years ago, we had one child: 11-month-old Sam. Buc worked an 8­–5 job in the finance industry. I wasn’t working in the traditional sense, but I was getting off the ground as a writer, developing this blog and the book that became Ending the Pain.

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 Now, we have returned with two children: 4-year-old Sam and 2-year-old Seth. Buc’s career in finance is at a pause after a merger of his two former companies, and I have been hired as a full-time English instructor for next year at Southwestern Adventist University. Starting next fall, I will “work” in the traditional sense, and Buc will stay home with the boys and begin his own business.

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A dad in his glory:) I am so blessed to be married to this man, and I don’t tell him enough. (I just prefer to embarrass him occasionally on this blog…he’s been suffering the side effects of marrying a writer since this blog’s beginning in 2013:) 

Am I excited for this new chapter? Oh, man. You don’t know the half of it! Not only does this new job feel right, but being back in our old home feels right. Yes, we were able to move back into our first house as a married couple—the house whose white walls I filled with color and whose big, empty rooms I filled with couches and friends and prayer groups. There are a lot of good memories, and good feelings, in this house.

Amanda and me

I am writing this post as if I’ve reached the mountain top after experiencing near death. I know that’s being a little dramatic, but it’s not dramatic to say that the last couple years in Missouri were hard.

I’m still kind of asking God, “What just happened, Lord?

 

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Sam (left) and Seth exploring the moving truck on March 27, the day we loaded it, a day before we moved our lives from Missouri to Texas.

I still don’t understand the emotional roller coaster we faced after baby #2. I don’t quite understand the anger. The anxiety. The marital strife. I don’t understand how moms of little children survive if they don’t have help (from family members, church family, a spouse). While in Missouri, I don’t feel like I ever figured out how to mother my two boys and keep my sanity on a regular basis—without regular breaks. I still don’t know.

All I can say is praise God those years are behind me; and praise God that He provided the help I needed to survive. Praise God for my husband who has never given up on me, even through the defects of character the last few years brought out it me.

Praise God for Janice, our babysitter/nanny/cleaning lady who helped me stay afloat and who invested so much love and energy into my kids several times a week. (Praise God for the fruitful job that allowed us to hire Janice for those years!)

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Janice went from being our cleaning lady in 2016 to our babysitter/nanny in 2017, to my friend. I didn’t know when I hired her what a godsend she would be to our family, and I really don’t know how I would have survived without her. (This is a story for the next book:) Thanks Janice (and Emily, pictured on the right). We miss you both already!

Praise God for the MOPS group I belonged to that gave me moral support and a break from the kids every other Thursday morning.

Praise God for the handful of mom friends I made at my Missouri church whom I didn’t spend nearly enough time with, but who still encouraged me through emails, texts, and phone prayers, and allowed me to do the same for them.

Church friends

No, we didn’t thrive in Missouri, but we survived. Maybe the lesson was this: No mom is an island. Before motherhood and Missouri, I was at a peak place in my life, feeling pretty good about myself and my abilities. Feeling, maybe, a little too self-sufficient. Well, that feeling is gone.

Maybe I needed that 3 ½ year lesson in seeing my need, so I could appreciate what I had, and have, here in Texas. Got it, Lord.

Today I am so thankful for new starts—the new starts God gives me daily, and other new starts, like this one, where my whole world kind of gets picked up, rattled around, and set back down. I may not understand the clunkiness of what happened in the past 3 ½ years, but I trust that God is working out those years for good—in our lives and in the lives of those we came into contact with in Missouri.

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Getting Refreshed, and Maneuvering Life’s Changes

I stole a few moments away to write this morning before Sam woke up. This is my corner of quiet space while we stay as guests in our Texas home.
I stole a few moments away to write this morning before Sam woke up. This is my corner of quiet space while we stay as guests in our Texas home.

My dad has a simple rule for determining whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert: extroverts draw energy from other people, introverts are drained by the same. There’s no doubt that Dad’s an extrovert. Or that I’m not.

During my past two weeks in Texas, I’ve enjoyed wonderful times with friends. I’ve had meals out with some of them, taken Sam to play with others, and prayed with yet a few more through difficult issues. I feel I have been available to these precious people to an extent I was not able before we moved away. I was even able to bless some of them with the work of my hands and my words of advice or prayers. And I’ve loved every minute of this time.

But last night at 10 p.m., when I realized I had not taken time in seven days to sit down and write, and when I could only gaze defeatedly at The Love Dare book, which has had a bookmark in day 20 for quite some time, I found myself moaning, “I’m not ready for another morning yet.” I knew it was time for this introvert to go “home” and get refreshed herself.

Life is an interesting journey. How did St. Louis become my “home” in just a few months? It’s not “home” in the sense that I have extended family or many friends there (about one friend so far). But it is becoming home in the sense that I have set up my own household, established some patterns, and can expect some routine in my week, more or less. While I love the excitement of our back-and-forth travels from Missouri to Texas, and the extra family time on travel days with “daddy,” I find comfort in routine. And quiet time. And my own space.

I am beginning to doubt this arrangement we have of visiting TX and staying in our old house with my in-laws every couple of months…for the long term (if you missed the details, see this post). Especially if we have another baby. Buc asked me last night, “If we end up getting pregnant, would you rather be based in Texas or in Missouri for the delivery and newborn period?” Good question. There’s no doubt where I would rather be for that early period. Near family and friends. But what about all the days after? As I’ve learned, motherhood gets easier as the first year goes on, but not much easier.

After our last visit, we talked of getting a house in Missouri at the end of this year, but what if there’s a new baby? And no family around to help? And travels back and forth with an infant and toddler?

There would be depression, I’m pretty sure. And maybe insanity.

If we get pregnant, I think we have to look at getting our own space in Texas again, somehow. Maybe it would mean seeing daddy less, as he travels back and forth on business without us in tow. That thought makes me sad, but the thought of toting two kids between two states every couple months, and having to reestablish family patterns, sleep patterns, meal patterns, ALL patterns, every couple of months makes me CRAZY.

For now, I am handling the mild damage control that travel requires when it comes to changes in Sam’s sleep, and changes to Buc’s and my routines. And I have been so blessed to get to see my friends without strings attached (strings such as having to hold offices at my church during this season of early motherhood). But I am relieved to know that this season is temporary–it has to be. At some point, things will change again, and we won’t be traveling so much. I don’t know when, or how, but if there’s anything predictable about life, it is that (as my dad also said), “Life is predictably unpredictable!”

Thanks for the wisdom, Dad.

Why This SAHM’s Getting Out

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The Sam in this picture is not a SAHM, but she is my best friend and baby Sam’s namesake. Her cutie, who is six months older than mine, is Alex. We’ve been reconnecting more since I joined the motherhood club.

There’s a reason stay-at-home moms (SAHMS) are advised to get out once every day. It’s the same reason why all my mommy friends complain that they need “adult” conversation: We SAHMS weren’t meant to stay at home with our children. Clarification: we weren’t meant to stay home alone with our children.

I’ve given this a lot of thought lately. At the risk of sounding like Hilary Clinton, it seems to me that babies are meant to be raised in community. But I’ll take it a step further. Adults, whether parents or not, are meant to live in community. Overall, it’s ideal for everyone to have family and friends around. But I don’t just mean in the next town over, or even around the block.

I am blessed to have many friends and relatives in nearby towns; I even have a couple friends down the block. Out of these, a good number have offered to babysit if I need help; a few have. Still (dare I admit it?), I sometimes wish for more help. An echo of offers, made from miles away, is not the same as having many hands, and many minds, in one house.

Pitfalls of a Single Family Home

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Look at this awesome family! This picture depicts the type of celebrations my in-laws are capable of. (Most of the credit goes to my wildly creative sister-in-law, Deborah.) Here, we are celebrating my father-in-law’s birthday, dressing to represent characters from his favorite crime shows.

After we brought Sam home, I never seemed to have enough hands. Merely trying to keep him fed was a fulltime job, not to mention the dishes, laundry, and unsent birth announcements that piled around me. Two weeks later my husband went back to work and I thought I might not survive! It was then that I decided it was not good for man and wife to live alone (with a baby). But upon more thought, I’ve decided the issue is even bigger than that. It’s about more than a new mom and dad having helping hands.

 Personal Struggles

At two months in, I’m starting to feel capable of caring for Sam by myself. But this has not ended my longing for more help. That’s because caring for Sam still takes most of my day. Even when he’s sleeping, I must attend to baby or household tasks: mixing bottles, washing dishes, making supper, or running errands. (Major plumbing issues in recent weeks, now requiring remodeling, hasn’t helped matters.)

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This picture, taken with our adorable godkids a couple years ago, could actually look like our family in a few years.

With life settling into a new normal, I am re-realizing what I’ve always known about myself: I want a career, or at least some “me” time, in addition to motherhood. Whether or not that desire comes from feminist grooming or God, I know I don’t feel fulfilled only tending to baby and house chores. I don’t know whether I should apologize for this.

What’s the Real Issue?

Having had plenty of quiet time (minus the baby’s crying) to think about all of this, I’m again questioning my true desire. Maybe I’m wrong about my innate desire to have a career, and what I really long for is regular, meaningful contact with other human beings who measure more than twenty-one inches long.

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No caption needed here.

Whatever the roots of my domestic discontent, I know that if my household makeup looked more like that of former, or foreign, societies, with several generations in one house and houses within walking distance from family, life would be better. Work could be distributed according to gifts or penchants. One person cooking, one cleaning, one doing the yardwork, one teaching the children. (Yes, I realize this is utopian thinking and possibly impossible.) And thus freed up from time-consuming duties I don’t like to do (such as cooking and cleaning), motherhood probably wouldn’t daunt me like it did in the beginning—and it wouldn’t frustrate me like it still sometimes does. It would be doable alongside my desires to tangle with ideas, words, other minds.

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Here’s one of my favorite SAHMS, my good friend Ashley from church, holding my favorite Sam, along with her delightful daughter.

My Conclusion

I don’t care what a woman’s ultimate desires are, be they to raise a family or have a career or do both. (I have girlfriends in all three camps, by the way.) Life is not meant to be lived in isolation. Maybe the non-mothers out there don’t “need” extra hands as much as the mothers do, but we all, no matter who we are, need other minds with which to exercise our own. There are other feeling elements I haven’t even touched on here, which are harder for many of us to admit, (such as love, compassion, sympathy, and empathy), and we all need those, too. Thankfully, these days I don’t feel a dearth of love, thanks to a wonderfully supportive husband, family, and church family. But what I do lack is adult conversation and adequate time and space in which to articulate my thoughts. Call me a successfully initiated SAHM. It’s beautiful and sad all at the same time.

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This SAHM is Julie, the friend I am reconnecting with since having Sam. Can you tell I am having fun with puns?

Epilogue

After wrestling with these ideas for several days, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and ask for the help and friendship that had been offered me. Asking for that help was hard for this “liberated” woman, but yesterday I lined up a sister-in-law who loves babies (that detail was key, so I knew she was benefiting, too) to watch Sam for four hours a week so I can get back to work on my book, and today I lined up a visit with another SAHM friend who became regrettably distant four years ago after the birth of her first child. I realized the desire I have to mix with other adults is a universal one, and there’s no reason we SAHMS should struggle on alone.

I am Weak (and Hormonal), but God Is Strong

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Making time for family photos is one of my weaknesses. In almost nine years of marriage, we have never had professional pictures made. Not even for our wedding.

This week has been a roller coaster. Imagine me moping because friends and family finally pushed me to choose a baby bedding set; yelling at my husband because he “can’t do anything right”; panicking because we have less than two months to paint the room; sobbing because I can’t get Target’s baby registry website to work; and generally freaking out because “I don’t know how I’m going to handle this all!”

Yeah. It’s finally sunk in. I’m gonna be a mom. And suddenly, all my shortcomings are hitting me, smack dab, in the face. The necessity of dealing with the baby room, especially, has slammed me with bad memories from my childhood, where I never knew how to decorate my bedroom and was always dissatisfied with my pathetic attempts. My mom tried her best to make our shabby houses nice, with inexpensive touch-ups like a coat of paint and tablecloths, but decorating wasn’t her strong point, either. To this day, she and I both freeze at the prospect of even hanging pictures.

I knew this would happen. I knew having a baby would call on me to face my weaknesses: decorating a room, learning to be a better homemaker, learning to depend on others, and setting aside my own goals in favor of the family. In short, Baby Sam is calling on me to be less selfish.

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David and Tasha, some of our good friends, offered to take semi-professional pictures of my husband and me about two years ago for Christmas. This last weekend, we finally took them up on the offer. Baby Sam made the difference.

But everyone knows that. It’s obvious that parents have to be less selfish. It’s also common knowledge that parenting calls forth people’s weaknesses. I knew this all along, and that’s why I put off children for my first eight years of marriage. I knew kids would test me, and until now, I wasn’t ready for that test. Instead, I subjected myself to lots of other tests, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, where all the questions were safely embedded in a two-dimensional world. There wasn’t much to mess up—at least, it would be hard to mess up someone else’s life. Now, the game has changed. Now, my decisions can make or break someone’s life.

Ironically, I know I’ve done some messing with my husband’s life by keeping too busy and being self- and career-absorbed over the years. It wasn’t really possible for me to live a self-contained life: our decisions always impact others. I just wasn’t ready for the mega impact of a parent-to-child relationship.

Good news, though. God is stepping in, like he always does. The verse I keep hearing this week is 2 Cor. 12:9-10. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Thank God for that!

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We were tempted to cancel our photo shoot, because it came after a long day of grocery shopping for me and outdoor work for hubby: my feet were swelling, and his whole body ached from putting up a greenhouse.

One practical demonstration of God’s sufficiency (“my God shall supply all your needs,” Paul writes) has been a new friend, who enthusiastically agreed to help me with the baby room. She came over on Tuesday and helped me order a bedding set. She talked me through using the breast pump my other friend gave me. She went shopping with me to choose paint and other baby supplies. And she’s coming again today to help make some decorations for the baby room. Maybe these things seem trite to you homemaker women out there, but to me, they have been a godsend.

I don’t think my new friend realizes why this stuff is so hard for me—it’s fun for her. But that’s because she’s a hands-on woman; I’m a hands-off type (read: I like to work with words, ideas—basically stuff I can’t break). Amidst my wallowing that “I suck” this week, God has turned my sorrow (and raging hormones) into joy.

The beginning of the week was hard, but the end is getting better. So I know that homemaking is not one of my strong points. So what? God’s power is made perfect through my weakness, and through friends and loved ones he sends to make up for what I lack. I feel so blessed this week to be surrounded by friends and family who can help me. Generally I don’t like to ask for help, but this lack of dependency is just another weakness God is helping me through. It’s a weakness I intend to ditch, because I know if I hope to get through parenthood, I’ll need some help. It sounds corny, but that old adage is really true: the first step to change is admitting we need help.

Thank you so much, Lord, for sending help just when I needed it.

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But we went to take pictures anyway, tired and grumpy. In the end we had a lot of fun, and now we will always have the memory of this moment. Thanks to Deborah, Tasha’s mom, for the great pictures!

Friends in High Places

I walked in the church, scanned the pews for a place to sit, and found tears in my eyes.

You know that story in the Bible where God opens the servant’s eyes to see the army of horses and flaming chariots surrounding him? His eyes were opened to see what had been all around him all the time—and suddenly he didn’t feel so alone anymore (2 Kings 6:14-17).

Well, God opened my eyes last weekend. For several months I’d been ruminating on how alone I felt. And it seems I never miss an opportunity to tell my readers that I’m 1,000 miles from home. Indeed, writing to my roots has revealed that I often feel displaced in my new home, and I feel even more that way when visiting my old home.

Being in a hiatus from work and school has also laid some things bare: I don’t know who I am without my work. Sometimes I don’t know how to relate to people outside of the most functional of activities: I can be a teacher, a sister-in-law, a communications secretary and music leader for church, a Bible study leader for friends.

But what about just a friend?

I can tell you right now, friendship—hanging out, relaxing, shooting the breeze—none of these have been my strengths.

Yet despite all the off-putting, prickly parts of me, God has drawn friends to me. And at the church that day, I saw them.

There was Tasha sitting in the back left pew of the church. Her friendship was a carryover from the small group Bible study my hubby and I had for a year and a half. We still get together often, for fun things like spa days, iced tea, and girl talk.

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Me and Tasha–on our cruise to Cozumel in December. The hubbies came, too.

Then, a few rows up, was Tammy, a new-ish fixture in our church, who responded to the call I made in October to start a choir. Now she has taken the reins, much relieving me, and also become a fun girlfriend.

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My friend Tammy directing a mean choir in December! They sounded great. I’m at the piano to the left (you can’t see me).

Across the aisle were Ashley and Christina, two young moms whom I’d only recently come to know from our Tuesday night prayer group. They’d been in the congregation for many months before their lovely personalities were uncovered for me. Both sincere and searching for the Lord, they responded to the opportunity to pray with Amanda and me, who had recently been trained in prayer ministry.

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Me and Ashley at my house for a late night Easter egg hunt. It was for the kids…really!
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Christina with her two strapping boys–also at my house for that late night Easter egg hunt.

And behind them was Amanda. I had known Amanda the longest of any of these ladies, yet until our prayer training, I’d hardly known her all–had not seen the beauty of her personality beneath her quiet exterior. Now we are prayer partners and buddies in ministry.

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That’s Amanda chuckling on the left–we had a great time at our 2012 New Year’s party. The life-sized Barbie was my husband’s surprise in our informal gift exchange.

How did it come to be that I was so blessed with all these friends?

Last summer when Amanda and I joined the prayer ministry Straight 2 the Heart to lay our hearts bare before God and our small group—I saw that we had a lot in common. A lot of hurt, a lot of self-protections, and a lot of desire to serve the Lord if we could only know how to channel our pain into something positive.

Looking back, I think it must have been the laying bare of my heart before God and a trusted small group that allowed me to be more authentic with these others that have decided they like my company. Sure, I’m still detail-oriented and serious when I talk church business. But over the past year, I’ve had more frank and open conversations with ladies in my church than I’ve had in eight years combined.

Sharing my heart in a prayerful, supportive environment has bound me together with Amanda, and now Ashley and Christina, in a way that mere biblical instruction can’t. And as a result, I have been able to relate more authentically to others like Tammy and Tasha, and even my music committee in meetings, where we have finally started talking openly and corporately about issues our church has had for a number of years.

Showing some vulnerability not only to my prayer partners but also to my acquaintances has opened the door for conversation that goes beyond surface level…and finally, friendship.

Since deciding to be more honest with others, it’s been a relief not to have to hide my feelings—to be able to speak up when something’s on my heart—to get it out in the open and deal with it sooner rather than later. And saying things that have gone unspoken before—such as on music committee—has actually gotten people thanking me for my honesty and openness.

Do people prefer pretenses, or plainness?

While being honest can open up some uncomfortable cans of worms, in my experience, that’s not any worse than tiptoeing through church—and through life—not knowing and not being known by anyone. Being honest is no worse than feeling alone—wondering if I’m the only one who ever suffers.

As I’ve learned, the sooner we share our stories with someone and listen to theirs in return, the sooner we are brought out of our self-centered misery. The sooner our eyes are opened to the fact that we are not alone.

I’m so thankful for my friends in high places, the old no less than the new (although this post just happened to be inspired by the new). Much love to all! Here’s to many more great memories!

 

Playing the Stranger

I found this old dress, a relic from high school senior pics, a few days before traveling to Minnesota for my cousin's wedding. Though more than ten years old, it seemed appropriate to wear. The posture of this photo is one I took at the wedding: background.
I found this old dress, a relic from high school senior pics, a few days before traveling to Minnesota for my cousin’s wedding. Though more than ten years old, it seemed appropriate to wear. The posture of this photo is one I feel I took at the wedding: a faceless photographer–capable of participating only as outside observer.

I should have brought Kleenex. I always cry at weddings; I knew this. But I was not prepared for the emotions unleashed at my cousin’s wedding Saturday.

Not only the customary tears for a budding union, but I cried regretful tears for all that I had missed over the years. You see, I moved 1,000 miles away from all of this, and all of them, eight years ago.

Faces from my past swarming around me, coming at me in waves, breaking through some icy barrier I’d built. There were old classmates, old classmates’ parents, and even a former teacher. I wanted to cry just for seeing them. I did.

In the past, what had I imagined of such a reunion? In my teen years I was very conscious of at first having to hide things. Later on, when it would have been okay to share, I still mostly hid, out of habit. To the point that I disappeared from people’s lives.

Standing with two former friends at the wedding and hearing them banter like they were not just past, but present, friends, hit me in the gut.

“Yeah, next time on the fishing trip you’ll have to come with–and bring your brother, too.”

“Billy* couldn’t come to the wedding—we’ll have to see him next weekend.”

“So, there’s no alcohol at this wedding? You must have a flask stashed in your tux, huh?”

Soon I wasn’t even standing there. And I realized I had done it. I had erased myself from memory.

I excused myself for the bathroom. But then, selfishly, wondered if maybe, just maybe, they were talking about me.

Sad to say, I’m just beginning to realize how self-centered I’ve been all these years. Always thinking about my feelings—protecting myself.

The fewer people I’m close to, the fewer who can hurt me—was my unwritten, unspoken motto.

What have I done?

As I see faces from my past swimming at me, I now feel it was all a lie.

The face of an old teacher’s aide—from my first grade classroom, nonetheless—exclaiming, “Is this Lindsey?! She’s turned into such a beautiful young woman!” A mother of a classmate, gasping, exclaiming my name, and enfolding me in a hug.

My sixth grade teacher’s face lighting up as she asks, “Are you writing?” Yes. “Oh good; I always thought you should!” An ex-boyfriend’s mom even engaging in friendly talk as she never did while I dated her son.

My cousin’s, the groom’s, exclamation: “Lindsey, what an awesome surprise!” My old friends, C and T, who married each other, taking time to talk with me over an hour as if they had nothing better to do. “It’s so good to see you!” they say (and mean it, I think). It has been about eight years.

Another old friend looking in my eyes and, to my small talk, saying, “Being away from home must be the hardest part.” Understanding for the words I could not speak.

What have I done?

Desperately I snap pictures of my young cousins and their spouses and children, laughing and talking at neighboring reception tables. They too are familiar, comfortable, with one another. And like my classmates, they have passed through many of the same coming-of-age events as I, only together.

There’s something comforting about a shared heritage.

But I have refused to be comforted.

This visit has once again touched me where it hurts…still, thankfully, it has been different. Like the Minnesota snow I left behind last night, something in me is thawing.

As much as is possible from 1,000 miles away, in the future I’ll try to be less of a stranger.