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The Hard Thing.

Doing the hard thing is never, hear me on this, it is never the easy thing. I know this from personal experience. Most recently I had to make a very, very hard decision. It cost me sleepless nights, lots of tears, distraction and a very reluctant step forward into what I believe God led me to do. It would have been easier to continue in what I had been doing for a long time. Because of my passion in this area, I had to wait for a “sign” on which direction to go. Sometimes, even in the things we love, the things we are committed to doing, the things we are called to do, we find ourselves in a place of having to step aside from that thing we love….maybe only for a time, but maybe forever. It’s not God’s sick joke of calling us, then snatching away that very thing he has called us to. It’s about obedience. Doing the hard thing, when we know it’s what we are supposed to do. For those 2 months I struggled, analyzed, and wavered, I was anxious and in turmoil over the right decision all the time. Then I told God to please let one of the people I trusted to say something that would be like a huge “ding” going off in my head when I heard it. And, so it happened, in an unexpected moment, over a casual lunch, someone I love spoke truth to me in a calm and loving manner. I remember staring at them at a loss for words. In that moment, I knew it was the sign I asked for, and clarity and peace filled my heart and mind. I was able to make the decision, clearly verbalize my thoughts and feelings to those involved, and step away in peace. Yes, my heart does still twinge when I think of how things will change. But now I am curious as to where God will lead me.

We humans are so fickle. We long for change or something new, then we struggle with everything in us when change occurs. We are distraught and afraid of what the change will bring in our lives. But once the change happens, we act like it was the best thing ever! I believe that God uses change in our lives, sometimes, to make us seek hard after Him, to learn about obedience, and to trust Him on another level.

So here I am. Finally at peace. No longer struggling. Curious as to what is next. Thankful He hears and sees me, and responds to me in all the details of my life. He has proven to me once again, He is faithful.

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Empty Nesters?

Empty Nesters.  People keep asking us how it’s going as new “empty nesters,” I say “great”, but inside my head I am thinking how much I don’t like the term “empty nesters.”  It implies that our home is empty….”containing nothing; not filled or occupied; lacking meaning or sincerity.”

It’s so…sad….and quiet.  For 30 years our home was filled with a lot of noise, a lot of laughter, a lot of activity, a lot of messiness, a lot of love.  There was school, sports, concerts, shopping, trips to the doctor or ER, broken bones, proms, college hunting, more shopping, camps, friends, wedding planning, the list goes on and on.  Then it was over. We’ve raised three strong-willed, beautiful, and active girls, who are now women, married to sweet young men, with families of their own. Thirty years, people.  That’s half our lives keeping our people alive.  Providing.  Nurturing.  Making things happen for them.  Thinking of them 24/7.  Never ceasing to look out for their needs or their safety.  Seeing and being with them most every day.  Then it was over.  It ceased. It stopped. And yes, it is empty.  You out there reading this understand. Suddenly, you find yourself in new territory.  You can’t be all up in their business anymore.  You can’t be included in every aspect of their lives…..that would just be weird.  As much as I want to still be included in every aspect, I know that is not how things go in life.  And I don’t want to appear pathetic, so I try to stand back and not annoy them to death!  But it’s hard.

Empty has such a negative connotation.  I realize people are simply referring to the fact that we are back down to just the two of us.  But it sounds so sad when you look at the meanings of the word empty, for example, “lacking meaning”….”containing nothing”.  Yes.  The house stays cleaner than it has in 30 years.  I have redone two of the extra bedrooms and now have a guest room and a play room for the grandchildren.  But they are also spotless.  I’ve started a few “hobby” projects, but haven’t finished.  That writing I always wanted to do hasn’t happened.  I find myself going to Target or some other store, walking around, seeing things that they might like, or the grands might love.  You just can’t break the habits of 30 years and go cold turkey “empty nester.”

So today, I decided to change that title that seems to be hanging around too much. 
Instead of calling ourselves “empty nesters”…I think I will call it “Season 2.”  Season 1 was filled with being newlyweds, becoming parents, raising babies, exhaustion, parenting, pinching every penny, praying for wisdom, investing and pouring into the daughters God gave us.  Season 2 is now just my husband and I, trying to figure out what we want to do, taking a deep breath and doing it without necessarily thinking about the girls first. (like that will actually happen!)  It won’t be easy, but I’m willing to give it a try. 

So, here’s to Season 2 for The Armstrongs!

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Finding Joy Again

It’s 11:15pm and I cannot sleep. I decided to get up and write down what is swirling around in my head.

Tonight I went to dress rehearsal for our Christmas at the Corner program at our church. Technically it is our second dress rehearsal, as last night we were joined by our children’s choirs, Surrender student choir and the Amazing Grey’s Senior adult choir. It’s been awhile since we’ve done this…..it seems like years. Last night and tonight, I felt joy swelling up in my heart as I listened and sang words celebrating Jesus and the reason for His coming to live with us, for the sacrifice He made for us on the cross, all because of God’s love for us. Joy. Everywhere I have turned in the last weeks, this word has resonated in the scriptures I have read and in the music I have listened to. But tonight I realized that the joy that was filling up that sanctuary was new. It was joy returning to our hearts and our lives. We were getting it…..we were feeling it.

A year and a half ago joy began to be sucked out of the world, and fear began filling the places in our hearts that were becoming void of joy. And we let it happen. Believers who knew what the joy of the Lord looked like, what it felt like and what it tasted like, began to allow fear to fill their minds and lives. No more smiling, no more touching, no more worshipping together. Slowly an ever present sense of fear began to fill all the places of our lives. It was being forced on us from every direction. It was mandated to us, along with masks and an endless flow of media. It divided us. And we let it happen. Churches became vacant and closed their doors. Yes, to follow the rules and to protect their people, but we also closed the doors to our homes. And we hid. Fearful. Joyless.

We unplugged from our faith families and we plugged into the world’s view of this new environment we lived it. We believed everything that was fed to us. We ended our relationship with gathering together. We stopped any kind of fellowshipping with other believers. And we waited for the new truth to tell us when we could be set free. And we continued to let it happen.

Christmas 2020 was dark. People still fearful. Masks still mandated. The world continued to yell at us. It was a joyless time that is normally a time of celebration for all believers to focus on the real reason for this season, the birth of the Messiah, our hope. We remembered the season, but we didn’t celebrate. We were still hiding. Joy seemed so far away.

But then something began to happen in 2021. We took off our masks. People began to turn off the continued rhetoric from the world, and we turned our minds to God. The almighty God, more powerful than any virus, stronger than any mask, more trustworthy than any government. We began to understand how to navigate through this time, respecting others and putting our faith and trust back where it belonged….in God.

But the effects of the last twenty-one months has taken it’s toll. People still struggle with fear. A fear they can’t shake. A fear that has now taken up residence in their hearts. People who once were faithful to church, now prefer streaming. People who once stood shoulder to shoulder with other believers lifting their voices in worship, now find themselves unable to return to their pre-pandemic way of life. For some, joy has left them.

But tonight, as I stood in the choir singing as loud as I could, I found great joy in singing about the birth of Jesus, about what He did for us on the cross, for the hope He gives us, for saving me and loving me that much! I looked at the faces around me and I saw the joy on their faces. Something warm and fuzzy was churning deep in my soul. Joy! I didn’t even know I missed it! I didn’t even realize that what the world had been trying to take away from us was the unexplainable, amazing inner joy that permeates the soul of a person when they understand who God is, what He did for them, how they can never do anything to be good enough to spend eternity with God except for asking for forgiveness and being completely forgiven. The joy of a Savior that gets us, and walks with us, and provides for us, and loves us unconditionally. Not happiness, people. But joy. Knowing He will never leave you or forsake you joy! Being made new and feeling it from the inside out kind of joy! The knowledge that God is in control kind of joy! Bigger than all the evil in this world kind of joy. Joy that can’t be adequately explained.

People. If you know Jesus as your personal Savior. If you have experienced that moment when you realized you were a sinner, and you confessed your sin and asked for forgiveness, then asked Jesus into your life forever and always. You know joy!

So I challenge all of you, break free, breathe in Jesus and experience the joy of this season! Our season. Our time to focus in on the reason for this season. Tell your children what real joy is. Tell your friends what real joy is. Tell your family what real joy is. Take yourselves to church this Sunday and surround yourself with other believers, sing as loud as you can, soak up the words the Lord gives your pastor, wear a mask if it makes you feel better, but find JOY once again.

“Weeping may spend the night (or 21 months) but there is joy in the morning.”

Psalm 30:5b

Continue reading “Finding Joy Again”
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I Choose Contentment

I deleted my Facebook from my phone this morning. Self-preservation, I guess. Why? Let me give you the scenerio. I woke up at 7:30am, and after slowly easing into another day, I reached for my phone. Quite honestly, I was checking to see if I had any text messages, which of course I didn’t. I quickly found the blue icon with the “f” in the center and proceeded to scroll. If we all were honest, most of us start our days this way. Maybe not lying in bed, but somewhere in your morning, or throughout your day, you find yourself scrolling. I looked at pictures of fun vacations, of dinners, of children, of parties, new babies and various memes. While I was happy to see all the pictures of people I know well, and loved seeing what is going on in other’s lives, I could feel my mood begin to change directions…..the direction of a pit that I often find myself standing over or swimming in. Unhealthy thoughts began to circle in my mind and within fifteen minutes or so, I was neck deep in the pit. I recognized the heaviness that was coming over my mindset and I tried to pull free from it. But instead, I chose to swim deeper in the pit. My thoughts took off in a direction that I know well, but try hard to stay clear of. “Why don’t I have friends? (I do have friends, this is obviously a lie from Satan) How come I am not included? What is wrong with me? Is there something about myself that I’m not realizing?” There are many more, but I will save you the agony of knowing the thoughts that hang out in my head! I spent the next hour allowing myself to begin to believe the lies of the enemy. Facebook enables this….really…..let’s be honest. It makes us think that we are not likable, or that our lives are boring or pointless. We feel excluded. We focus on what we don’t have. It’s all subconciously, at first, of course. But then it slowly eats away at our heart, and we pull away from people, becoming unhappy with everything in our lives. It creates discontentment in every area of our life. Or, maybe it’s just me that struggles with these thoughts. I don’t believe Facebook is of Satan, or was created by Satan. But I do believe he uses it in the lives of people to create discontentment. It allows us, and yes I am as guilty as anyone, to post pictures of perfect lives, surrounded by friends or family. When in truth, none of us are perfect, nor do we have perfect lives.

I got ready for the day, I ate breakfast and sat on the couch looking at my phone. Not scrolling. Just staring at the road to my pit. Then I heard a still small voice in my spirit, “Why do you return again and again to what causes you such discontent?” I sat there thinking, “I don’t know.” I put my phone down. And prayed. Then I picked up my Bible. The Lord led me to scripture that my mind and heart needed. Not that I didn’t know these scriptures. But I needed reminding.

2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Philippians 4:11 “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

As I read through these scriptures, my heart changed directions. This was truth. This is what I wanted more than anything. More than being included. More than having more friends. More than a perfect life. More than being thin. More than being beautiful. More than being liked by people, including family and friends. I want to be content in who I am….in my life….in my relationships. Who needs anything more than a relationship with Jesus. God hears me. He understands me. He loves me. He reminds me, when I have done a belly flop into my pit of discontentment, that He is all I need. His truth is all I need.

As a side note, let me tell you about a conversation that my husband and I had recently as we were on one of our rides around the area. I was telling him about someone, and I am ashamed to say I said this, but I said “they’re weird” to which he replied “We’re weird, Dana”. I was so offended! “We’re not weird! I’m not weird! Why are we weird?” I love this man…..he just puts things in perspective. He proceeded to tell me that yeah, we don’t have a lot of friends, we don’t hang out with people every week, and it’s probably because we are weird. He continued by letting me know that everyone is weird….to someone. I just stared at him….then I folded my arms and looked out my window…..then I said…..”I’m not weird.” He just laughed. But sadly, he’s right. We are all weird to someone. But I digress.

The point of this story is we must choose contentment…..that last verse says “for I have learned.” I have learned, according to my big guy, that we are weird. It was a little unnerving, a little disconcerting, but a little eye opening also. Weird is relative. Everyone’s definition of weird is different…..well mostly. I choose contentment. I will need to remind myself often that I am choosing contentment. There are so many good things in my life.

So, let me ask you, do you struggle with discontentment? Do you look at everyone else’s lives and think yours is boring, uneventful, missing something? Do you always long for something else? Make a healthy choice today, first to pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ, and second to find contentment in every situation. Do not let the posts of someone else be your gauge in your self worth. Find comfort in His grace, it is sufficient for you. Strive to be transformed, not to conform to what others have. And choose contentment in every situation in your life.

P.S. I added Facebook back on tonight. But I am going to limit my time spent in scrolling through the posts. It’s about discipline. It’s about making a wise choice. It’s also about seeing my grandbabies’ pictures!!

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Words of Encouragement Are Never Wasted Words

Today I attended the funeral of a sweet man. Every Sunday, without fail he would greet us at some point, whether it was as I entered church with my family, or scurried in late looking for a seat. He would walk up beside me, or one of my daughters, and give myself or them a side hug and then inconspicuously hand off a peppermint or pack of gum, then give us a wink as he moved on. He was faithful, he was enthusiastic and he was perceptive of who needed a little encouragement.

At the end of the service I was walking slowly up the aisle to leave and I spotted a precious lady in conversation who I love, respect and admire. She is a beautiful woman, full of energy and a zest for life. She is creative, and industrious and her home looks like a Southern Living Magazine. I saw her catch my eye as if she planned to say something, but finished her conversation. As I was about to pass her, she reached out and began to encourage me about something she read in my blog. I was caught off guard, forgetting that these things I write here are actually read by others…..not just me exercising my thoughts in life. She looked into my eyes and said “You are a writer, Dana. I love what you you said in your blog.”. My heart warmed. Just when I thought this silly writing dream was a waste of energy and time……that I really don’t have any talent…..or direction…..or validation for this thing I love to do. God tapped me on the shoulder and used someone I long to be like to whisper words of encouragement to this often melancholy heart. Writers are weird people who are constantly in a state of putting words and sentences together to create something that tells a story, or describes a moment or changes the heart of the reader. They long for validation, but struggle with creating something worthy to be read by others. The sad truth is the work of most writers will never see the light of day, much less make it to publication. But they keep on writing.

So today, I received a gift. Encouraging words from someone who read what I wrote and felt the emotion and meaning behind the words. Thank you sweet lady for blessing me. You are a jewel. God used you in my life today.

God is paying attention to us and He knows our hearts, our dreams, our hopes…..and He knows when we need to know that what we love to do isn’t a waste of time. He cares enough to encourage us through unexpected words from others. So don’t hesitate the next time you feel the need to inspire someone with supportive words…..God may be using you to tend a dream in someone’s life.

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This Mama’s Heart

Last night I sat in choir rehearsal, just as I have done for about a hundred years now. I sat in the back row of the altos, listening to people of God singing in four part harmony, happy that they all had conquered their Covid fear and chose to come out into public on a Wednesday night and sing. But beyond the joy of sitting among God’s people preparing for Sunday worship, I felt a warm joy swooshing around my heart because sitting next to me, making a joyful noise, were two of my daughters. Adult daughters. Married daughters with their own little families. Choosing to be there. Singing like angels. In another area of our church, two of my grands were in their own little classes learning scripture at their age level….preschool! As I sit here now, I feel tears stinging my eyes. Tears of joy. Because I know how hard I tried, how much I prayed, how many times I cried and even how endlessly I fretted over raising them in a way that they personally would experience the love and presence of Jesus and choose to live their lives in Him and for Him. I messed up…..a lot. I insisted they be at church every Sunday and Wednesday (unless you are Southern Baptist, you won’t understand this second day of worship!). How I made them try to see the importance of being a part of student ministry, service projects, student camp, student choir and Bible study. When they were little, I took advantage of every car ride to tell them the stories of Jonah, of David and the feeding of the five thousand. We often had family meetings that involved big decisions and prayer. As teenagers I constantly asked questions and listened as they told me of good days, relationship issues and even painful experiences. I would ask them what they think Jesus would have them do or say….or I would tell them what God had to say about things. Sometimes I would stop the car and pray…..and sometimes I even prayed with my eyes wide open while I drove. I am sure they can still hear me saying “Make wise choices” as they flew out the door. I encouraged them to journal their thoughts, their struggles and their questions to God. I shared scripture with them. We talked about hard subjects and hard decisions. Worship music was the genre of music that played in our car and our home. I am sure they thought we were the meanest parents ever because of the boundaries we set for them, and the things we said no to. I know I drove them crazy telling them to honor their commitments, to use their gifts for Him, to do the right thing even when it was hard. I prayed with them, for them and over them, and still do. I taught them the importance of church, gathering together as believers to worship and study God’s Word. I realize that trying so hard is never a guarantee that they will choose to live for Jesus. My three girls are strong, beautiful, loud, funny, loving, opinionated, young women. Yes, they are still young in their faith journey, they are beginning families of their own and I see them making their faith the center of their families. Not just their faith, but teaching their little ones (and little ones to come) that Jesus loves them and died for them and cares for them like no other. So sitting next to them in choir rehearsal last night as they chatted and sang made this Mama’s heart swell and melt all at the same time. I didn’t do everything right, I messed up so much, but somewhere along the way God’s grace and mercy covered my mistakes and they experienced His presence on their own and fell in love with the Savior. Now I am crying as I sit here, because that is all I ever wanted for them, for them to know Him, choose Him and live for Him.

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Please Pray for this Sister

I stood with a group of believers tonight, hands reaching out and wrapping around a sister who had just told us that the chemo wasn’t working and the tumors weren’t shrinking. I heard my name called out to lead in prayer. My throat constricted. I know the fear cancer stirs up. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wasn’t sure I could articulate what was in my heart. I am not very eloquent when I pray. But love won out and I opened my mouth and asked God to do something. We prayed for God to give her a miracle. She needs a miracle. She’s been battling cancer for months, in the middle of a pandemic, and there she was, defying the cancer by standing before us and saying she was ready, if this is what God has for her. She is brave…..and she loves Jesus. If she can do this, I can pray over her. We believed God for a miracle three years ago. We trusted God. We walked the road He was taking us down, not knowing the outcome, not knowing if it was even fair to ask for healing or a miracle when so many are taken by this ugly disease. We walked with Him and learned to trust Him no matter what was down that road. No matter how it turned out. She trusts Him, too. She knows that however this turns out, God gets the glory. Why? Because He is the Almighty God, creator of the universe. He is a God that loves us so much, He made a way for us to be able to spend eternity with Him. He gave part of Himself, His Son, for us. A sacrifice for our sins. To make us clean. To have the ability to stand in His presence. He is faithful to us. We call out to Him and He hears us. And when His plan for our lives is to find ourselves facing death through cancer, ALS or even old age…He is there. Holding us up, whispering our names, and wrapping us in His love. We can hold tight to His hand and trust Him, knowing that closing our eyes here one last time, means we open our eyes with Him on the other side. So while we have breath, let us be like my sister standing before us tonight, let us give Him glory for the good and the bad, for the planned and the unexpected, for the hard and the easy. Thank you, sister, for showing us in that moment what it looks like to be real about the hard, and to resolutely give God the glory either way. But most of all what it looks like to trust His hand. Please pray for this sister as she places her hand in the hand of Jesus and trusts where He is taking her.

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I’ve Been Vaxxed

I have just returned from getting my 2nd shot of the Moderna vaccination….so far so good. I received the first shot a month ago, at the continued, endless, urging of my big guy! I finally relented and agreed to give in to his constant vaccine topic of conversation. I walked into his home office and sat down in my chair and told him “I’ve officially been tagged.” No longer can I say that “when the apocalypse happens, I’ll be the only one who can buy food or run and not be found”. I know you are laughing at me right now, but I bet you’ve even had these same thoughts! I’m even a bit embarrassed because I was pretty vocal about NOT getting the vaccine. The things we do for the ones we love. He is relieved, I didn’t fall out or die, but I’m still not convinced I’m not tagged! I will say this, while I joke about just doing it to appease my big guy….it still was my decision to take the steps to do it. I encourage everyone to make the decision they are most comfortable with….this virus is here to stay…..like the flu….and we will be dealing with it for years to come, I am sure. The conspiracy theories are out there, and I’m not so sure I don’t think some of them are possibly true. For those that have underlying health issues, those who are elderly, those who are exposed to large groups of people on a regular basis, those who are anxious, those who are fearful, the vaccine may bring comfort. I also believe we need to be smart and take the suggested supplements of D3, Zinc and C to ward off Covid19 and build up your immune system. But, let me encourage you to not let fear and anxiousness control your life. The media, whether social or news, will cause you to live in a constant state of uneasiness. We have to keep living. Our children do not need to live in a world where fear is normal. Everyone has suffered emotionally and spiritually from the onslaught of information, and the unrest in the world. We need to wrap them in love and structure and stability. I will end with this….”For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7. So do not let the things of this world stir up fear in your hearts, your minds or soul…..we have something far stronger than fear, we have power and love. And, in power and love, we can walk through this season with or without a mask, with or without a vaccine, but WITH a sound mind that whatever we choose, we can trust Him above everything else.

P.S. Is it weird that the magnets on my frig keep jumping off and connecting to my arm??? Just kidding!

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What to Write?

Well. I’ve been sitting here staring at this computer for about 45 minutes….determined to make myself write something. But I haven’t written in so long, I can’t seem to muster up anything that is even remotely interesting, motivating or inspirational. This is painful. My whole life I have longed to be a writer. I was in my 40’s before I even took a deep breath and referred to myself as a writer…..even then afraid someone would ask “So what have you written.” So mostly, my brain is dreaming up stories to write, devotionals to encourage or blog posts that might inspire. Then nothing.

Former students who I have taught in Bible Study have asked me to write a devotional for seniors or college age, but when I sit to write, I choke. I have no college degree, I have no theology degree, I have no experience. I feel like I have let them down too.

I have written a children’s chapter book. It is a faith based book about a club that helps others during their summer break. I’ve sent endless queries to a long list of literary agents who politely rejected me or just ignored me. I’ve peeked at self-publishing, but something in me needs the validation of a literary agent taking me on for publication. So that story sits in a file on my laptop, and a hard copy in file on my desk, and they both taunt me.

I think the biggest hurdle is twofold: Making myself sit and write and finding someone who will help me get published. And, now I add to my long list of excuses….getting older.

So, if you are out there reading this blog thinking, “Man, she’s pathetic.” Yes, I know that. I think I have skills, and maybe a wee bit of talent…..but I think I lack drive. Respond and give me advice. Tell me where to start. Tell me how to start (and don’t say “Just start writing” please!). I need a direction. I need possibilities. I need advice.

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A Short Getaway

It was 11:45pm, I sat wrapped in a blanket to stay warm in the night air, as I and two old friends sat by the pool, in the dark, the night sounds echoing around us like a sweet, soft melody. The sound of fish jumping in the bay that lay just beyond the pool, echoed in the quiet night, the moonlight dancing on the water. One of the friends quietly talked of the struggles of the last three months dealing with her father’s death. We listened, whispering comfort to her wounded spirit. We understood. We all knew the sting of losing someone we love. We may not have been together in years, but the bond we shared was formed as young Mom’s trying to raise our babies, pay bills, live life, and walk out our faith everyday. Years have passed quickly. Thirty years to be exact. We laughed at old stories, cried about the struggles of parenting adult children, mused wistfully about dreams we still hoped for, and realized we were thirty year olds stuck in fifty and sixty year old bodies!

I was only with these sweet ladies for twenty four hours, but it was like being with sisters….or maybe cousins….family I haven’t seen in a long while, but because we all love Jesus and had shared life for a time, we were connected. I was encouraged. I realized that growing older has benefits. You have life experience. You don’t fret about things you used to stress about. Age makes you realize what is really important. And one of those really important, is taking time to drive almost three hours to visit with old friends, hear their stories, their struggles, their triumphs. It is one of life’s blessings that no one should take for granted.

So, sweet friends, you know who you are, thank you for a nice getaway. I enjoyed the hospitality, I enjoyed the long conversations and I enjoyed the reminder that friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them!!!