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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

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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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A Special Visit

My Mom came to visit me last night. I know you might be thinking “Awww, that’s sweet.” But you have to understand this, she died 18 years ago. She has only appeared in my dreams three times since she died.

It’s not like a scene from my childhood, or a specific memory of her. Not at all. I will be dreaming about something random and I will turn and she’s there, smiling, just as I remember her. No words. She always steps slowly forward and pulls me into a hug. I close my eyes and I feel the softness of her skin, the comfort of her arms around me, I breathe in deep, and even though I know I haven’t been able to smell anything for years, I breathe in her familiar perfume. My arms wrap tight around her waist as I bury my face in her neck and I am crying. That deep, painful kind of cry deep in your chest that makes it hard to breathe. I feel her kiss my hair as she rubs my back and smooths back my hair. I finally stop crying, but my chest aches and I know the tears will come again. She smiles at me and touches my face. No words. Just love. And then….I’m awake. My cheeks are wet from my tears. It had been so long since she came to visit me in my dreams. I needed one of her hugs. I needed to see her face, and there she was. So real. I hope she comes again soon. I miss her so much and want to sit next to her and be the daughter again and talk and laugh while she files my nails.

I am certain God sends these visits to me just when I need them most. He knows so well what we need and when we need it. I imagine (and this is just my imagination, because there is no theological or biblical support for this) that Jesus saw my heart, He knew what I needed before I did. He looked over at Mom and said, go on down there for just a moment, no words, just hug her and comfort her. Isn’t that just a sweet thought.

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Out of the Heart – Continued Encouragement

Today I was reading through a study I have been doing for some time in Ephesians, when I read something that I know I have read plenty of times, but it echoed over and over in my mind.  The text referred back to verse in Luke 6:45 “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”  Or basically the mouth speaks what the heart is full of…..I sat back against the couch and chewed on this thought.  A verse came to mind in Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?”    Our hearts are the epicenter of who we are.  We can change our looks, our location, and our language, but at some point the truth of who we are, which lies within our hearts will flow out of our mouths.  The truth will be known.

During this time in the world we live in, when we are quarantined, isolated, uncertain, the truth of who we are will be revealed in what flows out of our mouths.   Sometimes anxiousness will cause us to allow frustrations to escape through our words.  Sometimes we speak without thinking.  But it is then that the truth of what lies deep in our hearts will cause us to stop, ponder our words and realize we have spoken with harshness or anger.  It is then we step forward and apologize, ask forgiveness, and then ask God to forgive us and help us to think before we speak!  But I believe, also, that those that know of God, but don’t have a true relationship with Him, will be revealed by what proceeds from their mouths.  

It has taken me 59 years, but I am finally learning to “not” say what first comes to mind.  I haven’t perfected this skill yet, but I find myself thinking about what I am about to say, and deciding to just say nothing.   You may have already conquered this skill, but I have struggled with it my entire adult life.  I sometimes over share, I sometimes speak what comes to mind, and I sometimes say what truth is about a particular situation whether it is necessary or not.  And I confess I haven’t always asked God if I should say something before it is released from my mouth.  I have prayed and asked God to help me in this area and I realized a few months ago that I was thinking before I allowed something I was thinking to escape my lips.  I wanted to say “Hey, I was about to say something, but God said no and I didn’t!!!” But decided to keep it to myself! I want to walk in a way that honors God.  Whether in the middle of a pandemic or living in what used to be normal life.   I remember hearing a former music pastor tell the choir I was a part of, to ponder in our hearts our questions, as he was giving us instructions.  So I am trying to ponder my thoughts before I release them!  But I digress from the verse that I first shared.

During this time, when we have so much time, ponder what is in your heart.  Think about the words that flow from your mouth.  Do they honor God?  Are they uplifting?  Are they encouraging?  Are they loving?  Are they beneficial?  I want to encourage you to examine your heart. Determine whether He is the Lord of your heart, your thoughts, your life.  I am taking time to do the same.  We are spending time with family and possibly friends 24/7, which could be a stressful time, maybe we need to isolate to a quiet place (even if that means hiding in your closet) and allow Jesus to minister to our hearts and minds, and reveal what is in our hearts.

Love y’all.

 

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One Year Ago

One year ago. One year ago we were being hit by one storm after another. But the ultimate storm of cancer came and stayed….and now, on the other side of that storm looking back, I am once again reminded of God’s faithfulness, His provision, His comfort, His healing power. I read back over the blogs of the past year and I see a woman clinging desperately to the Savior. I am reminded of the woman who reached out to touch the hem of His garment and I understand her in a new way. I know myself, that I have tightly gripped the hem of His garment in my clinched fists refusing to let go. We have walked through this cancer journey saying over and over “I trust you” aloud for ourselves mostly, but also to our God, declaring that while we don’t understand, and while we know His plan is perfect, and while we were even fearful at times, we would TRUST HIM, no matter the outcome. Our faith is stronger, our family is stronger, our love is stronger and our compassion is stronger. Today, after a year of diagnosis, biopsies, surgeries, chemo, radiation, doctor appointments, uncertainties, waiting, frustrations and sometimes fear, we got the official words of cancer free. I hesitated to even post this because we have friends and family still doing battle with this evil disease. But I want those reading this who are in the battle to be encouraged, optimistic and strengthened. God is with you and you can trust Him with whatever the outcome of your journey may be. People have stated over and over that “God is good” and it is so true. But if we had gotten different news, and the battle with cancer had continued, the truth is that God is still good. He is good even when things are seemingly bad in our lives and life’s storms are coming at us so fast they are tearing us apart. When we feel like we can’t catch our breath between storms and we are staring death in the face, God is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. So wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever battle you are in, trust Him. “Be strong and courageous, do not be discouraged or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

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Cast Your Burdens

God is faithful. He is. Really. Even when I am not. I am not faithful to remember all He has done for me when I am in the midst of an overwhelming circumstance. It’s easy for me to say those words to someone else who is crumbling beneath a difficult situation or an overwhelming state of mind. But then just moments later, it seems, I am sitting here, throat constricted, my mind chaotic with possible answers to a problem, instead of taking a deep breath and releasing my burdens into His capable outstretched arms.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”. Matthew 11:29-30

It’s interesting to me, that given this word from the Lord, we still take our burdens to the feet of Jesus, lament and cry and beg for answers or resolutions or even for Him to take them from us, but then we promptly get up, pick up the burden and walk away. I want to learn from Him, I want to lay my burden at His feet and trust His hand. But I am a control freak. I am a dweller. I hold the situation or issue in my hand, study it, dwell on it and try to figure the best way to resolve it. I’m not so good at releasing my burdens into His hands. The crazy part is this: after I’ve struggled over it, lost sleep over it, tried my ideas on it, I finally come to His feet and just fall in a puddle of tears with my hands still clinching the burden. And, just as He promised in these verses, He pries my sweaty hands from the burden, brushes my hair back from my tear stained face as I relax and release it into His capable hands. He comforts me and calms my spirit and I finally rest. I wish that I could say I do not repeat this process very often, but it isn’t true. I am stubborn and willful. I am a child of God still learning that I am not in control. He is. Still learning that life is easier when a burden comes into my life if I instantly snatch it up and race to the feet of Jesus and quickly place it in His hands.

What burden is weighing you down today? Release it dear friend into the Savior’s hands and then pick up His yoke which is about peace and rest, and the. watch Him do His thing in that situation!

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Old Might Be Around the Corner

I’ve had some quite sobering moments this week. The realization that if I live as long as my grandmothers did, and if there is nothing unexpected in the near future health wise, I may only have 20-30 yrs left. Quite sobering when I know how quickly the last 30 flew by. The English ancestry in me leans toward the whole stiff upper lip attitude, while my Irish blood wants to put up a good fight, and with those two ancestory bloods coursing through me I stick out my chin and choose to press on. Mostly I just want to fall into the Father’s arms and beg for a do-over, or declare I’ll do better. I wish I had done more with this life He gave me….why do we realize this when we are older and the clock is tick tick ticking away? This week has been an emotional one in my head. I sat in my car and cried a few days ago. I know I’ve said this before but this year has been more difficult than I realized emotionally. So many layers to the life experiences that occurred in the last 14 months as I now understand the concept of PTSD to some degree. Delayed reaction is sometimes more painful than immediate reaction. It has time to swirl in the back of your mind, churning and building like some low category hurricane in the gulf until suddenly it gains unexpected strength and barrels into the coastline surprising everyone in it’s path. There were warning signs that were ignored or waved off as minimally important, but still the storm churns and builds. Then suddenly you’re in the middle of it struggling to contain the possible surge that threatens to burst forth. Out of nowhere there is a hand reaching towards you and you desperately grasp it, finally willing to listen to the wisdom that will follow. The answer to the storm was always there. Trust Him.

 

“Trust in Him with all your heart and lean not into your own understanding”.

 

I’m just going to let that sit there for a moment.

 

That verse has new meaning for me. Trust Him. Don’t try to figure out how you could have done it different or better or not at all. Don’t lean into my own understanding of what time is and how much or little I have left. But face forward. Remember the truth: I know that I am His child and He cares for me. He doesn’t see me with critical, judging human eyes, He sees the heart of me and He sees the plan He has for my life. His unconditional steadfast love wraps around me like a warm blanket calming the storm swirling inside and I rest peacefully. I will choose to walk closer with Him. I will choose to take joy in every day I have left with confident expectation of what He has planned for this mess of a human He created and loved enough to send His Son to die for in order that my eternity would be spent with Him. Yes…..I trust Him.

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Sweet Sam Moment

This morning I had a sweet moment. I snuggled with my grandson as I rubbed his little back and hummed the same tune I had sung to his mama as a baby. My grandson. Those two words still fall awkwardly from my lips. When I say them, I still feel as if I’m practicing words that are not yet real to me. He’s been here for over ten months and I’ve kept him three days a week since August and still I’m surprised that I am a grandmother. I often think of my Mamaw Bessie when I am holding him close. She had such a kind and gentle spirit. I remember the softness of her skin and the safeness I felt when she hugged me or I just sat next to her resting my face against her shoulder. As I held him and took in the sweetness of his eyelashes resting on his cheek, I continued to softly rub his back and pat his bottom. Without opening his eyes he slid his free arm up my arm and rubbed it slowly back and forth, then rested it there and slowly patted my arm. What a treasured moment of love. He is my grandson, my first precious grand baby and I love him so much.