A Living Hope — Remembering Lucille Peterson Johnston

I had the privilege of giving the homily and pastoral prayer at the Witness to the Resurrection Service for one of my dearest friends, amazing Lucille.  A mentor to me for 43 years, she lived a full, rich life, fully using her gifts of leadership, hospitality, generosity, inclusion, encouragement, creativity and joie de vivre. I thank God for her. I am posting this short piece here for anyone who loved her and was unable to travel to Santa Barbara today for the service. I wish I could give you the entire time — the memories, the singing, the piano music, the laughter. Maybe this will give you a tiny piece of the whole.


They’re all gone now — all of my mothers. My own mom, the one who birthed and raised me, died last year at the age of 95. My husband’s mom, the one who welcomed and included me, died in 2014 at the age of 98.

And Lucille, the mom who mentored me, who saw gifts in me I didn’t see in myself; the one who challenged me to begin the slow, steady work of becoming a pastor — now she is gone, too, at the amazing age of 102.

And I feel each loss profoundly.There are no substitutes for any of these remarkable women. None. Each one was a gift of God in my life — planting seeds, modeling courage, living a life of faith and faithfulness, fully and well.

So I join with Cindy and Curt and Jim and their families in grieving today. There is a huge hole in the universe that opened last weekend, one that will never be filled in exactly the same way. And it’s important to say so, to acknowledge and make room for the tears, to pause and let it sink in that someone with a larger-than-life presence is no longer touchable, no longer filling that unique and particular space in our lives and hearts. And that is painful.

But here is something else that is true, perhaps even more true than the pain: even in death, we have a living hope. That is why, as I stand here and you sit there, we can all link arms and give testimony to this truth:

          our gratitude is wider, deeper and greater than our grief.

And if Lucille were here with us, I’d offer to help her design a needlepoint purse that says exactly that!

            Our gratitude is greater than our grief.

All week long, I have been overwhelmed with the depth of my gratitude — to God for the gift of this woman in my life, to Lucille, for being who she was, and to all of you for sharing her so generously with all of us. There is no one like her — never has been, never will be.

Now we all know, she wasn’t perfect. Not one of us is. But I gotta say this — she came really, really close, didn’t she? She had strong opinions and she shared them. She liked to be in charge and she was scarily good at it. She never garnered a long list of degrees after her name, but her intelligence was through the roof. And she adored her family — every single member of her family — the ones she bore and the ones some of them married, and the kids they bore and the kids they married, and now the kids the kids had!

And then, there were all those cousins and aunts, her amazing sisters, the two remarkable husbands and an entire step-family. All of you were shining stars in her universe and I hope you know that, way down deep inside you. Because to be loved by Lucille Peterson Johnston — that is a rich gift, one with lasting impact and importance, one that changes you from the inside out.

In the midst of my own remembering, and on the rising tide of my gratitude, I’ve reflected on why that last point is true. Why is it that the love of a person like Lucille has the power to change us?

I think it’s this: Lucille was the embodiment of what it means to live firmly situated in the ‘living hope’ that Peter talks about in the first chapter of his first epistle. Lucille walked the talk. She knew God, up close and personally. She radiated energy and life and hope, which, if you think about it, is a pretty risky thing to do. Because when we allow ourselves to hope, we open ourselves to the strong possibility — maybe even the likelihood — of massive disappointment. Sometimes, living in hope can feel tenuous, uncertain, even frightening.

But here’s the thing about the kind of hope that Peter is talking about here, — this living hope is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, “oh, I hope, I hope, I hope I get what I want” kinda deal. No. Peter’s kind of hope — God’s kind of hope, Lucille’s kind of hope — is alive — it has wings and a beating heart and it can move us to do remarkable and world-changing things.

“By his great mercy,” Peter wrote to the church, “God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (NRSV)

It begins with the mercy of God, and it continues through a life lived in hope, and is brought to completion when we reach the moment of our inheritance. And that is where our dear Lucille is right now, friends. She is experiencing the completion of the living hope that was her life on planet earth. She is enjoying the company of God in ways we can only imagine, and she is surrounded by nothing but love. Nothing.

Harold and Roy are there, of course. And her mom, whom she moved across the country to care for so many years ago. And sweet Drake, who left us way too soon. And her sisters, Doris and Betty, and so many friends, too many to count. And before we know it, we will be there, too — some of us sooner than others.

But between now and then, we have work to do, don’t we? We have the remarkable task of carrying on her legacy, of letting that living hope empower us to be the truest, fullest, richest persons we can be. Because here’s the wonderful truth — Lucille knew herself. She knew who she was, what her gifts were, whom she loved. And she was the very best Lucille she could be, wasn’t she?

That’s what the mercy of God can do, you see. That’s what living in hope births in us — a growing awareness of who God is, yes, indeed. But also a growing awareness of who WE are, and a deepening desire to live these lives we’ve been given fully aware and fully awake.

So thank you, Lucille, for being you. For showing us the way to the good life, for calling out the best in us, for reminding us, with that ever-present twinkle, that there is always more to come.

And thank you, God, for giving her to us and for giving us to one another.

 

Will you pray with me, please?

 

Loving God, Risen Savior, Gentle Spirit,

How we thank you for the gift of Lucille. For her grace and beauty, for her warm hospitality, for her generous and thoughtful gifts of love and inclusion to so many people. We miss her. And this family misses her most of all. Enliven us with your presence, even as we sit together in grief. Remind us of that hope with wings that Jesus makes possible.

We pray especially today for all these ones in the front rows, the family Lucille loved so dearly. Will you bring the healing balm of tears and of laughter, the soothing comfort of memories, of photographs and family history, of things shared only by them?

And will you bring to all of our hearts and minds our own special and sweet remembrances of Lucille’s endless gifts — rich gifts of creativity and hospitality and leadership. And empower each of us, by the work of your Spirit within us, to live our lives as fully as possible. To know ourselves, to deepen our walk with you, to reach out to others with the kind of welcome that Lucille modeled for all of us, the kind of welcome that she experienced because she knew you so very well.

No, there will never be another one like her, Lord. And that is exactly as it should be. Thank you for your loving design, O God, your careful and invigorating breath of life, that Spirit that is uniquely breathed into each and every one of your human creatures. Thank you especially that the Wind you breathed into Lucille blew our way for so many years.

It is all gift.

In the name of Jesus, the one who loves us and walks with us, we pray today. Amen.

 

 

 

 

4:38 p.m.

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They tell me there was snow on our mountains for about five minutes this morning. I never saw it, but I believe it was there.

I know in my head that my mother has been gone for exactly one year today, but my heart does not yet fully comprehend this truth.. It seems I am able to believe in the snow without ever seeing it, but unable to wrap my head around tangible things right in front of my face, like a clock or a calendar. 

Even though it is the way of things, even though death comes to every one of us at some point along the journey, even though my mother’s death was, in many ways, the very best way for death to happen, this losing a much-loved mother is hard and it is painful. At times, it still feels strange, unnatural and weirdly disorienting. Tears spring at the oddest times. Some small piece of decor or clothing will catch  my eye and I realize I am smiling sadly, even nodding slightly, as if offering a brief moment of homage to the force of nature who was my mom.

One year today.

We walked her last journey together, she and I, and it was not an easy one. I remember lovely sunlit moments along the way — sitting by the pool at her residential facility, each of us in a large sunhat, drinking in the ocean air, bird sound, and bright blooming vines that surrounded us. I remember laughter, her wonderful, rich laughter. I remember a smile as big as whatever room she was in, welcoming one and all. I remember how beautiful she was, even as age and disease slowly ravaged her.

I also remember deep confusion, the devastation when she no longer knew I was her daughter, her tears of frustration and of fear when she tried to make sense of something that was no longer within the sphere of her cognitive ability. I remember trips to the emergency room, her terror and embarrassment when strapped to a gurney she did not want or need. I remember deep bruises from falls, and the firm conviction that, ‘this is not my room, I’ve never been here before in my life.’ I remember a growing disconnection from things like seasons, days, time itself. 

I also remember her leading my Brownie meetings, teaching my 11th grade Sunday School class, bending over her beautiful stitcheries, and I remember with glee her bawdy sense of humor. I was deeply aware of how thirsty she was to learn, to read, to discuss, to ponder and wonder and observe. I remember how feisty she could be — and how volatile!

I remember how much she worried over me. Oh, my, how she could worry!

Now, at this late stage of my own life, I know all of that was because of her deep love and concern for me, but then? Then, it felt suffocating, limiting, inhibiting. She worried over my height, my weight, the way I walked, the fact that I might be “too smart to ever catch a good man.” She dragged me to multiple dermatology clinics because of my dry and sensitive skin,  she always wanted me to be ‘more social,’ and regularly encouraged me to invite classmates over to hang out. She also wanted me to enjoy athletics, something she was good at and I most definitely was not.

We found our way together, yes, we did. I was her first child — longed for and loved and cherished. As does every first-born, I bore the brunt of her inexperience and the leftover wounds of her own, sometimes chaotic, upbringing. But she was smart, my mom. And she was good. She learned from her mistakes, she apologized easily, she loved deeply and well. We found our way to one another during my adolescence by reading books together and writing each other notes about them. And we laughed. A lot. 

We also shared a deep love of beauty, in all its permutations. Today, on this anniversary, and as my computer clock tells me it is now exactly 4:38 — the moment of her death, one year ago — I want to remember and reflect on that most of all. She was the embodiment of beauty in so many ways — in her face, surely. But even more so, in her spirit. Yes, she could be ugly, too. Aren’t we all? But the beauty of her is what I cling to now.

Gasping at a glorious sunset, tenderly arranging flowers for the dinner table, creating a cake or a sketch, looking for and finding the beauty of others, even eventually encouraging me to reach out past the boundaries she herself had always drawn around me, as a female child. She didn’t fully understand my call to ministry at midlife, but she supported it. She wept when I told her — through my own tears — that I never could have considered going to seminary if my husband didn’t make enough money for its cost to have no impact on any other person in our family. She wept because she knew that wacky belief came directly from her own fears and prejudices, her own false picture of what it means to be female in this world. 

My mother learned. And she kept on learning, right up until dementia moved in to stay. And while she learned, she continued to love us all so very well. I thank God for her every day of my life. And I thank you, my dearest Mom. I miss you more than words can say.

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Walking in the Jesus Way: A Lenten Journey — Day Five, First Sunday in Lent

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1 Peter 3:18-22, The Message

That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.

He went and proclaimed God’s salvation to earlier generations who ended up in the prison of judgment because they wouldn’t listen. You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact—saved from the water by the water. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience.

Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes.

Here’s a powerful word:
baptism.
No, I’m not a Baptist,

but I am a big believer in
baptism.
For any age, stage, situation.

It is a picture for me,
a powerful,
tactile,
incarnational
picture.

When the babe is doused,
or the youth immersed,
or the old man sprinkled,
we are offering our
own bodies
to the story-telling
we do.

We tell our story with our bodies,
you see.
We eat and drink,
and we get wet.
We celebrate Truth
with all of who we are.
There is a dying,
and there is a rising.
There is darkness,
and there is light.
Thus, we keep
the story going;
we tell it in our way,
in our time,
in ourselves.

 

Please consider subscribing to this series by subscribing to the blog — the box is in the right sidebar. That way, these daily devotionals will show up in your inbox each day of Lent, right up until Easter.

Walking in the Jesus Way: A Lenten Journey — Day Three

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2 Timothy 4:1-5, The Message

I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple.

You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.

Just keep it simple,
you say.
It doesn’t get much more simple
than the story we celebrate,
does it?

That’s why it’s best to hear it
from the lips of children.
Because children get simple.
And too often,
we do not.

Lord, keep it simple
in me, okay?

Please consider subscribing to this series by subscribing to the blog — the box is in the right sidebar. That way, these daily devotionals will show up in  your inbox each day of Lent, right up until Easter.

Walking in the Jesus Way: A Lenten Journey — Day Two

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Psalm 25:1-10, The Living Bible

To you, O Lord, I pray.
Don’t fail me, Lord, for I am trusting you.
Don’t let my enemies succeed.
Don’t give them victory over me.

None of those who have faith in God will ever be disgraced for trusting him. But all who harm the innocent shall be defeated.

Show me the path where I should go, O Lord;
point out the right road for me to walk.

Lead me; teach me; for you are the God who gives me salvation.
I have no hope except in you.

Overlook my youthful sins, O Lord!
Look at me instead through eyes of mercy and forgiveness,
through eyes of everlasting love and kindness.

The Lord is good and glad to teach the proper path to all who go astray;
he will teach the ways that are right and best to those who humbly turn to him.
And when we obey him, every path he guides us on is fragrant with his loving-kindness and his truth.

 

It really is all about the path,
isn’t it?

Finding it,
choosing it,
following it
staying on it,
trusting it.
Thank you for showing
the way,
and inviting me
into it.
Thank you for being
the way,

and for leading
the way,
for providing
the way,
and paving
the way,
and loving me
in the way that you do.

 

Please consider subscribing to this series by subscribing to the blog — the box is in the right sidebar. That way, these daily devotionals will show up in  your inbox each day of Lent, right up until Easter.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Eight

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Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, The Message

God, you smiled on your good earth!

    You brought good times back to Jacob!
You lifted the cloud of guilt from your people,
    you put their sins far out of sight.
You took back your sin-provoked threats,
    you cooled your hot, righteous anger.

I can’t wait to hear what he’ll say.

  God’s about to pronounce his people well,
The holy people he loves so much,
    so they’ll never again live like fools.
See how close his salvation is to those who fear him?
    Our country is home base for Glory!

Love and Truth meet in the street,
    Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss!
Truth sprouts green from the ground,
    Right Living pours down from the skies!
Oh yes! God gives Goodness and Beauty;
    our land responds with Bounty and Blessing.
Right Living strides out before him,

I do so love to discover what Eugene Peterson does with familiar passages! This is a glorious psalm, one of my favorites. And I love this version from The Message. This is a song of deep hope, based on the promises of God. And it paints a picture of the future that is delightful — living right, living whole, love and truth — they meet up and embrace/kiss each other! We’re moving in that direction, friends. I know it doesn’t much look like it at times — maybe, especially true in the times that are NOW — but it’s coming. It is coming. And waiting for that time is a central part of this waiting we do during Advent — recognizing and celebrating that God isn’t done with the world yet. Not by a long shot! Were heading toward heaven — ‘the new heaven and the new earth’ — where all the promises of this lovely song will be fulfilled. Thanks be to God.

Help me to wait well, Lord. Give me patience, the patience that can only come when I allow YOU to be my peace. Help me to rest in Jesus, to trust that though the process seems slow and arduous to me, when looked at in the light of eternity, I am moving toward that wondrous place in the time it takes me to blink! 

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Seven

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Micah 5:1-5a, NLT

Mobilize! Marshal your troops!
    The enemy is laying siege to Jerusalem.
They will strike Israel’s leader
    in the face with a rod.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel,
    whose origins are in the distant past,
    will come from you on my behalf.
The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
    until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
    will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
    for he will be highly honored around the world.
And he will be the source of peace.

Such a lovely promise, made centuries before Jesus ever appeared on the scene. The early church poured over the scriptures we call the Old Testament, searching for connections to all that they had seen and heard when Jesus walked the earth. And this beautiful passage was tailor made! From the tiniest, most backwater town (population? about 300 souls at the turn of the 1st century), comes the promised leader of God’s people. Not at all the kind of leader that they thought they wanted. But oh! So much the one they — and we — needed. A Shepherd-Leader, one who tends and searches out the lost, who protects us from robbers and who brings us into abundant places of rest, relaxation and refreshment. Not all the time — we all know that! But maybe, in a certain way, it IS all the time . . . in our heart of hearts there are green pastures and flowing streams, always. No matter the chaos that surround us. Why? Because wherever the Shepherd is, we are safe. No matter what. No matter what.

Blessed Savior/Shepherd — thank you that you bring refreshment and nourishment with you. Thank you that we can find peace — your special peace — deep within us, even when everything around us is insane. Thank you that you came from ‘the past’ right into our present. And that you go before us into the future, too. Thank you.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Six

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Micah 4:6-13

“On that great day,” God says,
    “I will round up all the hurt and homeless,
    everyone I have bruised or banished.
I will transform the battered into a company of the elite.
    I will make a strong nation out of the long lost,
A showcase exhibit of God’s rule in action,
    as I rule from Mount Zion, from here to eternity.

“And you stragglers around Jerusalem,
    eking out a living in shantytowns:
The glory that once was will be again.
    Jerusalem’s daughter will be the kingdom center.”

So why the doomsday hysterics?
    You still have a king, don’t you?
But maybe he’s not doing his job
    and you’re panicked like a woman in labor.
Well, go ahead—twist and scream, Daughter Jerusalem.
    You are like a woman in childbirth.
You’ll soon be out of the city, on your way
    and camping in the open country.
And then you’ll arrive in Babylon.
    What you lost in Jerusalem will be found in Babylon.
God will give you new life again.
    He’ll redeem you from your enemies.

But for right now, they’re ganged up against you,
    many godless peoples, saying,
“Kick her when she’s down! Violate her!
    We want to see Zion grovel in the dirt.”
These blasphemers have no idea
    what God is thinking and doing in this.
They don’t know that this is the making of God’s people,
    that they are wheat being threshed, gold being refined.

On your feet, Daughter of Zion! Be threshed of chaff,
    be refined of dross.
I’m remaking you into a people invincible,
    into God’s juggernaut to crush the godless peoples.
You’ll bring their plunder as holy offerings to God,
    their wealth to the Master of the earth.

Yowza. These prophets don’t pussy-foot around, do they? They tell it like it is and like it will be and sometimes, it is hard to read. But here and there, like beautiful bread crumbs, there are phrases, ideas, hope. That was one of the jobs of the prophets, you know — to be harbingers of hope to God’s people in times of devastation and loss. Yes, they also brought plenty of bad news and the despair that accompanies such news. But woven throughout, there are words of life and of promise.

The truth is, we don’t know what God is up to when things are looking bleak. We cannot see the ways in which the painful circumstances of today will be redeemed as gifts tomorrow. And yet that is what happens. . . eventually. We may not live to see that redemption. I frequently need to remind myself that there is a 400+ year gap between the OT prophets and the great good-news-gift of the gospel. There IS a big picture, a very long through line. That’s what we need to grab hold of when times are tough. Look for the seeds. Look for the seeds.

Lord, make me a seed-finder, please? Some days, hanging onto hope is tougher than others. But hope is there. It is always there! Advent waiting reminds us of that powerful truth — so . . . help us to hang on.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Five

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Psalm 79, TLB

O God, your land has been conquered by the heathen nations. Your Temple is defiled, and Jerusalem is a heap of ruins. The bodies of your people lie exposed—food for birds and animals. The enemy has butchered the entire population of Jerusalem; blood has flowed like water. No one is left even to bury them. The nations all around us scoff. They heap contempt on us.

O Jehovah, how long will you be angry with us? Forever? Will your jealousy burn till every hope is gone? Pour out your wrath upon the godless nations—not on us—on kingdoms that refuse to pray, that will not call upon your name! For they have destroyed your people Israel, invading every home. Oh, do not hold us guilty for our former sins! Let your tenderhearted mercies meet our needs, for we are brought low to the dust. Help us, God of our salvation! Help us for the honor of your name. Oh, save us and forgive our sins. Why should the heathen nations be allowed to scoff, “Where is their God?” Publicly avenge this slaughter of your people! Listen to the sighing of the prisoners and those condemned to die. Demonstrate the greatness of your power by saving them. O Lord, take sevenfold vengeance on these nations scorning you.

Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and forever, praising your greatness from generation to generation.

These are hard words to read. As I get older and grow deeper in my own knowledge and experience of God’s goodness, I find these kinds of words increasingly difficult to reconcile with my understanding of who God is and how God operates in this world.

And yet . . . I immediately recognize the emotional turmoil behind them. Those strong feelings of betrayal, of loss, of confusion. We all want to think that because we love God, our lives will be . . . easier? Less marked by grief? And yet. . . every single person that I know can personally testify to the powerful presence of loss and grief and pain in their lives.

So . . . maybe these words are really less about God than they are about us? These wailing words somehow give us permission to rail at God once in a while — to take our angst right to the Source of Life. And then . . . to leave those feelings there, safely held by the God who is good, who is loving, who weeps with us when we suffer, the God who gets it.

Thank you, Lord, that you do get it. Thank you that Jesus came to us, lived among us, suffered as we do, died as we do. Thank you that you are the original empathizer . . . that you have been where we so often find ourselves to be. Help us to lean into you when the hard stuff happens — to know that we are safe with you, all of us is safe with you . . . even those strong, negative emotions. Thank  you.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Four, First Sunday of Advent

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1 Corinthians 1:3-9, NRSV

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

I gotta tell you — finding these lovely words in the middle of a lot of readings from the prophets is like stumbling over a diamond in the desert. Yes, we need the prophetic voice. Indeed, we do. But . . . we also need these kind words of grace. I want to pray these words over my family, over my friends at church, over my neighbors. I want to pray them over my husband and myself — and over you, too. Not one of us is lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the coming of the Lord. Not one. It is important, of course, to remember that every good gift comes to us ‘from the Father of Lights,’ as John’s epistle reminds us. But. . . they are given to US. God IS faithful, and we have exactly what we need to get us from one end of Advent to the other. And from one end of life to the other, too.

Oh, Lord, help me to remember this powerful truth. Especially on days when I don’t feel well, or when someone is angry at me about something, or when I’m unsure about what might be the next, best thing for me to do. Remind me that I have enough, that I am enough . . . because of you. Thank you.