Saturday Laundry

“What’s in the washing machine, Debbie?”

“Your dirty clothes, Dad.”

“Some I wash in cold water. They shrink.”

I pull all the clothes out and we separate them, leaving the non-shrinkables in the washer.

“Dad, why don’t you just wash them all in cold water?”

“I do.”

“Why did we separate them then?”

“I don’t know.”

I throw them all back in, “Well, that was fun!”

 

(This Facebook post memory from February 28, 2015 popped up on my phone this morning. I didn’t want to lose it. :))

Little Van

A lot of miles were put on Volkswagons in our family—from Bugs to Carmen Ghias to Westfalia Vans—Dad loved them. My parents made many trips to Tucson in their white Westfalila to visit my sister and her family. Dad, the Eagle Scout, liked to camp, Mom liked hotels. Dad liked to sail, Mom preferred B & B’s. He usually won because, well, because he was Bill. Once he had an idea, he was set on it. Mom was a trooper.

Dad loved road trips and could drive straight through from Milwaukee to Tucson with just a few hours’ rest while Mom took the wheel. He had a CB radio and worked his way into the truckers’ VIP circle with a little van as only Dad could. He would talk through the night to the truckers while Mom tried to sleep—like pilot to pilot, or sailor to sailor, only this was trucker to the guy in the VW van. He told me he’d have great conversations and would sometimes get help with directions. Halfway across the country one night, on wide open interstate, Dad heard, “Little Van, Little Van! Your turnoff is just ahead!”

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After that van was sold, Dad regretted it, and before long was on a search for a new one. When he found a used one in California, he talked Mom into flying out with him to pick it up. With a couple boxes of camping equipment in tow so they could take their time and enjoy the drive home together, they were off to California. They landed in pouring rain, loaded their equipment into a taxi and went in search of the van owner’s address. It was still pouring when the cab driver dropped them off with all their equipment, and it was still pouring when they discovered the van was filled with mildew. Mom said, “You can buy it if you want but I am not riding in that vehicle with you.” She called a Honda dealership and bought a little bronze CRV  which she loved and they had a great trip home staying in B & B’s and hotels.

It’s the same little Honda that arrived to pick me up every Sunday morning for church with Dad these past five years. It’s the same little Honda that would pull up our driveway to pick up Sam and me for trips with Dad to the Island. It’s the same little Honda that Todd and I drove  out to 80th and Capital this afternoon to have shipped to Tucson for my sister’s daughter, Kira.

And now it’s the little Honda named Billie Dee. I know Mom and Dad are smiling.

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Sunday with Dad

I was following behind Dad as he took charge of the walker that has lived for two years in the basement storeroom. Anytime we made the slightest suggestion to get it out for him, the answer was, “No”.

He’s good at getting around with it now though and with the wheels, I call him Billy Speedster. As he makes his way around the tight corner between the bed and the dresser I hear him muttering, “It says in the Bible, when you get old, you’ll need help.” These days are blending together and like Dad, I lose track which day is which. But there is some freedom in that, even joy.

I want to have the scriptures Dad treasures engraved in my heart and I spent yesterday morning reading through his favorites–the Book of John, Chapters 14-17. It begins with Jesus comforting his disciples and I love how, all these years later, the words sound as though they could be spoken directly to us. The first verse is one of Mom’s favorites, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” Jesus says he is going to prepare a place for them and will come back for them. When Thomas says that he doesn’t know the way, Jesus tells him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

These are the words Dad has lived his life by. Ask a cashier at his grocery store, a neighbor, my son or my husband, or even one of my best friends who might just happen to run into him at CVS, Dad will want to know how your faith is and isn’t afraid to ask if you know Jesus. Dad’s touched hearts and ticked others off.

“Love each other as I have loved you,” Jesus says in Chapter 15:12. I counted seven times that he says, “Remain in Me.” And three more times, “Remain in my love.”

I have the privilege of spending these holy days with Dad and I can’t help but want to share them. Dad is sleeping now so I can’t ask him but I would guess that if he wanted to share anything from his heart to yours today, it would be just that–remain in God’s Love.

“Debbie?” I hear Dad’s voice calling from his bedroom.

“I’m here, Dad,” I yell back as I run down the hall. He’s sitting up and turns his head. Out of the corner of his eye I catch the twinkle.

“I thought this was a Bed and Breakfast ”

“You ready for breakfast, Dad?”

“Yes!”

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The New Bed

 

It’s Saturday morning and the phone rings as I’m making coffee. “Debbie, I can’t find the mattress protector.” Dad bought a new bed this week.

“Didn’t you buy one?”

“I thought so.”

“I’m pretty sure John (my brother) said you did.”

“Louis (his friend) put the bed together for me so I’m not sure what he did and I don’t see it. I want to go over to the store and have them show me what it looks like.”

Pause. “Do you want me to go with you?”

Pause. “Well, that would be ideal. I’m just ready to eat my breakfast. I’ll call you back.”

Todd said to tell Dad to look around for it because It’s probably right there but I called Steinhafel’s instead to check out his order. I didn’t have any success and got totally frustrated with the salesperson. (I found out later he bought it at Mattress Firm.)

After a while, just as I was walking out the door to go to Dad’s, he called back to say he had talked to the store. It was on the bed and things were all straightened out. What he thought was the fitted sheet is also the protector.

“Oh, I was just on my way over,” I said.

“Well, I hate to ever tell you not to come over.”

“Okay, I’ll come over anyway.”

When I got there I had to check it out. All I found was a fitted sheet. “Dad, you were right the first time. It’s not here.” I hear the squeak of his boot as he makes his way down the hall.

“They said it looks like a fitted sheet. It’s there.”

“That is the fitted sheet. You have a mattress pad and a fitted sheet but no protector.” As he walks into the room I notice a small box sitting on his dresser. “What’s this?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t open it.”

I read the type across the front, “Mattress Protector”. We look at each other.

“I guess I should have opened the box.”

I love my dad.

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Smart Phone

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This past weekend, Dad and I commented on how grateful we were that we made it through the winter without either of us getting sick.  We’re both vulnerable to catching pneumonia, him more than me.

 

This past Thursday, the nonprofit that I work at was holding its first ever gala fundraiser.  It’s a long story but several months back the board had suggested we cancel it after a couple challenges came up at the office. But, undaunted, my new development director supported me and together, with the board, we forged on.

 

Well, Dad came down with pneumonia on Wednesday afternoon and I had to take him from urgent care then to ER on Wednesdsy night.

 

It all worked out. He came home from the hospital yesterday and the event was great.

 

I made his dinner tray tonight and knowing the bacon wrapped around the ham loaf may not be  the easiest to eat, I unwrapped it and set it on the side of the plate as a sort of garnish…well, more to fill out the plate because his servings are so small. He has no appetite. I told him he could eat the soft part. (More calories.)

 

“I hate bacon”, he said as I set the tray down on the foot rest in front of his favorite chair. Bacon removed from plate. I know someone who will like it. (My dog Sam)

 

Dad sits messing with his phone.
“Dad, your food is getting cold.”
He looks at me, “I can’t get the mute off.”
“Give it here, you’re too hard on the phone, gentle swipe, see there?”
He nods and smiles. “You’re so patient with me, Debbie.”

 

“I know…and that’s why there’s wine…”
“I still can’t get the mute off.” He continues fiddling with it and says, “It’s still there.”
“Where?”
“In the lower left.”
“I don’t see it.”
“There.”
“Where?”
“In the lower left.”
“I don’t see it, Dad.”
“Look on the TV.”
“The TV?” I close my book. “Oh, I see it there.

 

Dad…your phone is smart but not that smart. You need your remote.”
He picks up remote and turns off mute. Takes bite of ham loaf.
“Is it cold, Dad?”
“Uh-huh, it needs a minute or two.”
I carry my glass of wine with me to the kitchen, refill and heat meat.

 

Saturday night with Dad!

 

A Cat and a Career

Tomorrow morning I’ll sit in the chair looking out over the trees on the street below my bedroom window and think how I used to balance my books on its arms as I read and wrote because our cat would lay in my lap—stretched out, paws crossed, eyes closed and purring to the quiet sound of my prayers.

Rose is a stinker, feisty and free, able to outsmart the den of foxes that used to live next door. Undaunted by them, she’d lie sleekly across the sidewalk, flaunting her bravery. Bunnies, birds and mice her prey, without front claws she’d scale a tree if necessary.

But she didn’t come home this week. She may have been outsmarted.  I’m sure she put up a fight and if she went down it was on her own terms—free to roam, to explore, experience life’s beauty. It’s interesting that she chose this week to depart—the same time of year as my mom and brother. I’m conscious of my heart, its size, its weight. Our pets come in and go out like our accomplishments—a gift so present one day and suddenly gone the next.

Love your pets. Enjoy your accomplishments when they’re there. I’m working hard to replace the hole in my heart.  We’ll be looking at a couple cats this week that need a home.

I know this doesn’t sound related but stay with me. I’ve spent a couple years trying to preserve and document Dad’s life and accomplishments as a way to hold on to him if the time came when he, like Rose, would not be knocking, (or mewing) at the back door. And just when I thought we’d finished those stories, we were outsmarted, so to speak.

We were on Washington Island together recently when he told me this:

“Well, after fifty-five years as an architect, I’ve done some reflection.  When I graduated from college I thought I would design worship spaces that would help bring people to Jesus.  St. Edmund’s congregation has moved on and the building is for sale.  The Chrystal Cathedral in California, perhaps the grandest scale of church architecture stands empty and is also for sale.  Whereas, there are church ministries worshiping in remodeled warehouses all over, and are very effective. The conclusion I’ve reached therefore is, it’s not about architecture.  So what does that mean?  My life as a church architect was a waste?

“My journey as an architect taught me a lot and gave me many opportunities to witness for the Lord.  But did the spaces I create accomplish this?  No.  I believe the answer is no because that which I pursued could never be attained.  And yet perhaps, there were aspects of that journey that were beneficial to the purpose I pursued.  In the end, I realized that it can never be architecture that draws people to Jesus, it’s only the Word.”

I was moved.  I thought that was the end of the story. Then I got a call from Scott Sprout. He oversees missions at Crimson Way which is the new church, he said, inside the old St. Edmond’s which was just recently sold.  Scott didn’t know the architect was still living but found out he was when he came across Sundays with Dad. It looks like St. Edmond’s will once again be filled with music, and children and worship and, most importantly, the Word. You can imagine Dad’s joy when he heard.

They invited Dad to come and share the story of his design at the service tomorrow.  If you’re free, stop by at 10:30, 14625 Watertown Plank Road, Elm Grove. We’d love to see you.

So, just when I thought it was the end, I discovered it was only another new beginning.

God bless you Rosie.

Lunch at Dad’s

I called him this morning and his phone was turned off. I’ve told him a dozen times he doesn’t have to turn it off when it’s charging but he doesn’t listen. It makes me crazy when I can’t get through to him. He didn’t answer his landline either so I was heading for my shoes—he never leaves the house before 9:00 a.m. I called his neighbor to see if he’d mind checking on him as I was one half making the bed and brushing my teeth, and one half telling myself I was overreacting.

“No problem,” Terry said. “I have a key.”

The phone rang as I was grabbing for my coat. It was Terry. “Debbie, his car is gone.”

“Oh….(Car accident on the way home last night? I ponder.) “….maybe he had an appointment this morning….thanks for checking Terry, I really appreciate it.” I texted dad, Call me.

“Dad! ” I say twenty minutes later into my phone.

“Hi, sweetheart, I had an appointment with the foot doctor this morning, then I stopped at the grocery store.”

“……..” Gosh, thank goodness, phew. “Wow, well you were busy! Charlie and I wanted to take you out to lunch but we can come there if that’s easier.”

“Great, I have lots of food to eat up.” He hates having extra food in the house as much as having extra money. We hang up and the phone rings again before I can put it down. “Debbie, can you stop and pick up two buns? I have Sloppy Joes but only one bun.”

Charlie and I walk in with a bag of buns just as Dad is lifting a cookie sheet with three pottery bowls of soup out of the oven. Keeping the soup warm?

“I called Kay (his cook) to tell her I was having guests for lunch and asked her how to turn my icemaker back on. She was the one who turned it off. She didn’t remember and told me to serve cold water.”

Charlie opens the freezer door and pushes a button. “You gotta hit the ‘on’ button, Grandpa.”

The table was set at the little bistro table in the kitchen with a third chair pulled in from the dining room. “Look at my dining room table and you’ll see why we’re eating in the kitchen.”

I know why but look anyway—one half taxes, the other half stacks of donation requests which make me crazy. “Doing your taxes? “I ask ignoring the requests for money. ‘All these good causes, how can I say no?’ Always his answer.

Have a seat,” he says. “If I was organized like you, Charlie, everything would be ready.”

“We’re ten minutes early, Dad.” I watch him lift one hot bowl at a time with hot pads off the cookie sheet then precariously place each one unto a placemat.

“What else do we need..?”

“Butter, pickles?” I ask.

“Oh, right, butter and pickles. How’s the soup?”

“Cold,” I say giving it a taste.

“I was worried about that.”

We microwave the soup for exactly three minutes and after lunch divide a chocolate chip cookie three ways.

“Thanks for coming by.” He says giving my son a big hug. “It was so good to see you, Charlie. Give my love to Lauren. We have to get her up here.”

I look at the two of them and know I have just had a priceless lunch.

My dad and son

My Dad and Son

Charlie and I open the door to leave and see a seven inch stack of mail with a rubber band around it at our feet.

“That’s a lot of mail, Grandpa……you won’t get bored.”

“That’s right,” Dad says with a chuckle as he walks away. “I won’t get bored.”

Tater Tots on Tuesday

Anyone who’s lived in the Midwest knows how brutal the winters can be. Dad’s doctor started recommending he spend the cold months in Tucson with my sister. This is the second winter he’s gone and the trip was hard on him.

There are other things to consider besides cold weather and I was relieved when I heard he’d be coming home a week early. Two weeks ago, when I found out that he was in the hospital after his legs had given way and he’d fallen, I was afraid he wouldn’t make it home. I picked him up at Mitchell Field last Friday and the first thing he told me was how pleased he was with the airport wheelchair service. He thought he’d be able to travel anywhere in the world.

It’s good to have him back in his condo—just three blocks from my office and three miles from where my husband and I live. And it was special to be together again this past Sunday with Dad.

Today, when I was making his lunch, he was crushing his pills and said, “There will be no pills in heaven!”

“Or grief or anger,” I added as I put extra butter on the bread for his sandwich. He’s down to 130 pounds.

“I really don’t have any anger,” he said after a  moment’s thought. “When the Lord is ready to take me, I am ready to go.”

“What about patience?” I asked and he smiled. “You might want to focus on that or you’ll have to stick around until you get it right.” I smiled.

“You know, I’ve lost twenty pounds since my surgery in 2007.”

“You’ve also lost four inches of height, Dad.  You don’t need the weight.”

“Oh, right. I forgot about that. You always make me feel better.”

(No, Dad, you always make me feel better.)

I had called him on my way to work after a meeting this morning. He told me his congestion was back and had let his doctor know but they hadn’t yet called him back. “Are you taking your Mucinex?” I asked him.

“No, I stopped that.”

“Why?”

“Because I had put myself on it and then I took myself off it.”

“Well, put yourself back on it.”

“Can I talk to my doctor first?”

“Sure, if they call you back. If they don’t, take it.” He chuckled.

“Well…I left it in Tucson.

“I’ll pick some up.” Walgreen’s didn’t have any on the shelf so I went to CVS and picked up two bottles. I was leaving the store when I saw his text asking me if I could pick up his Warfarin prescription and turned around to head back to the pharmacy.

I get immense joy out of solving the little challenges my Dad faces these days. There is always an answer if you take the time to look—even if it might be that you’ve only found some distraction from the fact that you are facing your parent’s mortality. As with my mom, I try not to think about losing him.  He is full of life, in spite of the fact that he weighs 130 pounds, has no appetite, hobbles and coughs. He’s a fighter, a soldier, and carries around a copy of “Onward Christian Soldier” with him in his briefcase.

I love him.

Tonight after work I went by and made a Tater Tot casserole like my mom used to make for our family because he likes it. I made enough for our family because that’s the way Mom made it though it was just the two of us. I lit candles and he said the prayer. When we had finished and the dishes were done, the leftovers put away, he worked his way over to his chir with his new walking stick, slowly lowered himself into it and told me to sit down. “I have something serious to say to you.” I took a seat on the couch beside him. “I know I am getting weaker and won’t be able to stay here in the condo much longer.”

“Oh, I’ve thought about that, Dad. I think we can find someone to come in and help out a little more. They could prepare all your meals and just watch over things.”

“Well, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“One day at a time, Dad.”

“Okay. You always make me feel better.”

No, Dad, you always make me feel better.

My Baby’s Getting Married

We turned into a long drive with pasture on either side of us. A horse stood with her foul in the distance on one side of the road. A mother protecting her child, I thought to myself as the gravel spit out from under the back tires. Lush green grass and trees spread all around us.

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We passed a stately old farmhouse before veering right to be met by a romping Golden Retriever. Jackson, my son’s dog. Charlie’s home is on a horse farm in the rolling foothills of the Virginia Mountains.

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The front door was open giving it the feel of freedom. He walked through it then. I smiled. Thirty-one years ago he was born five pounds, six ounces. He stood there—six feet, three inches, about 195 pounds—and would be married in three days.

The breeze blew through the soft white curtains in the kitchen.

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The table was set with a small potted rose in the center—simplicity—a flower that would continue to bloom for as long as it was cared for. Like a marriage.

Charlie was making dinner. He walked out the back door to cut some fresh herbs from the pots that sat on the deck. Nothing artificial. Like him.

His artwork hung on the walls around us and this meal was being approached just like his art—a careful blend and balance of mediums, textures and colors. This was an artist’s home.

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As he stood on releve′ to reach for some spices, my mind flashed back to all the dance classes he had waited for me to finish.

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All the stage wings he had hung out in with stage managers. So much hadn’t gone according to plan. I didn’t give my child the life I had hoped I would. Can a mother’s love make up for all her mistakes?

Jackson led me out the door as Todd and Charlie talked. This was a setting not unlike the places Charlie had lived as a little boy. His father loved the Blueridge Mountains and took me there not long after we were married. That’s where Charlie was born.

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Jackson led me down the road, past the farmhouse that was semi abandoned now, and over to the horse and her foal. She let me feed her grass and pet her little one.

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Jackson did a couple laps around the farmhouse before we worked our way back.

“Did you see the flowers, Mom?” Charlie asked as I walked up the steps of the deck. White and purple irises had suddenly popped up days earlier. I had painted irises when I was pregnant with him. He had sat in a stroller beside me at a street fair as his father sold hotdogs with my paintings on display around us. We had made our grocery money that day.

“Yes, they’re beautiful,” was all I could manage to say as his bride to be drove up. White irises for Lauren I thought.

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The dusk light gave the setting a hue of lavender light. Lauren walked around the corner with a glass of wine and we clinked our glasses. “You have given me the best gift, loving my son,” I said hugging her. I gave her a kiss on the side of her head.

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“I’m marrying my best friend,” she responded with her smile.

“I married mine too,” I said.

We joined Todd and Charlie in the back yard. Todd was throwing the basketball for Jackson.

“So when are you going to have a baby?!” Todd chortled.

“Ha!” Charlie and Lauren both laughed. “We think it will be great when the time is right.”

“When the time is right?” I asked. “That doesn’t usually happen.”

“You didn’t want to have a baby when you had me, did you Mom?”

“Oh, I couldn’t wait to have a baby!” (Your dad and I had been hired by Steamboat Springs Repertory in Colorado. We had spent years in NYC and the mountain air did something to me. Suddenly I found myself picking up magazines with pictures of babies on the cover. All I could think about was having a baby. Towards the end of the season I was stopping at Wendy’s for Frosties on my way to and from rehearsal. I thought my costumes were tight because of the ice cream…you are right though, we hadn’t planned you. Get my point? Oh beloved child of mine.)

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My sketch of Charlie

We ate our salads on the deck as a light rain fell—the tomatoes tasting earthy and rich against the spicy Thai peanut dressing—then sat down at the table. Charlie presented plates of Mahi-Mahi—marinated in olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper—served with roasted asparagus and rice, slow simmered in a mushroom broth with herbs.

“Why can’t you make asparagus like this?” Todd asked. “I would eat it.”

My son is a chef.

The next day, Lauren drove to DC to pick up a friend. We took Charlie for a beard trim. We ate a late lunch—Charlie and I splitting guacamole and chips, crab cake bruschetta and a roasted veggie sandwich. Afterwards, we drove back to the farm and walked together to see more of the farm’s horses.

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We were in the car ready to leave for the night. “I miss Charlie,” I said before Todd had even started the engine.

“Well, go say good night again.”

My chest was tight, my throat thick, my eyes burned back tears as I jumped out of the car. “Charlie?” He met me at the walk.

“Mom?”

“I love you, sweetie. I’m so proud of you.” I held him in my arms then, all six feet, three inches of him and kissed the side of his head. I couldn’t let go of him as I thought how he had received the gift of my prayers—a wife to love and be loved by.

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Setting the Stage

A sliver of morning light appeared above the roof of the house across the street. I leaned forward in my chair, separated the filmy white curtains and squinting against the brilliance, watched the sun come up. I finished the last of my coffee, closed the books in my lap, stood up and stretched.

High above in the heavens, I wondered if the sun, in all its glory, is but a speck of glitter to God.

Absorbed in my thoughts, I had to dress quickly for work. Fortunately, jeans are fine for my job. I grabbed a black jacket, pulled on some boots, then adjusted the shoulder strap of my briefcase and hopped on my bike.

But as I passed the bluff overlooking the lake, I had to stop. I laid my bike on the curb and walked over to look more closely. Something was missing. A hazy white sheet, cascading like a curtain, appeared to have been thrown down from above, concealing the horizon. There was no visible division between water and sky.

What divides us from heaven, I wondered. What if it’s right here, separated only by a veil we can’t see beyond with our human eyes?

Just then, a string of shimmering light appeared on the water. Like glitter. I stood still, thinking of the words from my devotion that morning …. I am with you, I am with you, I am always with you…..
October 30, 2013

I came across this journal entry as I was preparing to write my next story, The Seven Days of Heaven. The day, October 30, was the day proceeding those seven days in Mom’s life in 2011.

Mom and I, as well as all the women in our family, had been reading the same devotion that year—Jesus Calling. It was a gift given to Mom by my sister-in-law, Georgine, after my brother Ed died. Reading it together, connected our hearts.

I didn’t realize at the time, that the book’s entry for October 30 referenced the first scripture Mom had ever memorized. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:14). It was the scripture her pastor, Reverend Bernwirth, had read to her on the Sunday she had been baptized.

As a brave ten-year-old, when the pastor had asked the congregation if there was anyone who wanted to come forward to be baptized that Sunday, without any cajoling from her Uncle Willard who she sat beside, she rose, and walked down to the water. She would step into it—wearing her best dress—and in front of all those present, surrender her heart to Jesus.

A lot happened on that Sunday before the seven days. I’ve already written about some of it in my post entitled Morning Buns. If you haven’t read it, you might want to as background for my post on Sunday, April 20, The Seven Days of Heaven.

Oh….and just one last thing for today, I can’t help but share what I read from that same little book this morning afterI finished writing……

If I pulled back the curtain to allow you to view heavenly realms, you would understand much more. However, I have designed you to live by faith, not by sight. I lovingly shield you from knowing the future or seeing into the spirit world. Acknowledge My sovereignty by giving thanks in all circumstances. April 16 entry from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

Dolores Rahn in her Sunday best

Dolores Rahn circa 1940