Anxious Thoughts

It is interesting that the beginning of a new year now excites me. It never used to. It is interesting that I now anticipate potential as a new year unfolds instead of fear. I don’t know why I have had time to think about it this year, but I have. Perhaps it is because this year my anticipation and excitement is so great!

Yet, I remember the mixed emotions of Christmas when we were first married and when the children were small. They were lovely Christmases full of beautiful moments and memories, but in the background sat a slither of darkness for me and this year I have remembered it. I used to dread stepping over the threshold leaving an old year behind and entering into the new. Those were the days when irrational fear was such a familiar part of my life that it didn’t take much for my emotions to be erratic. It was residue from childhood; a childhood with an outlook that dreaded the future. My childhood was wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, but a wonderful childhood doesn’t mean being exempt from ghosts and we all have our own battles to fight. One of mine was with irrational fear. I have had years of learning to identify the roots of it and I won’t bore you with those details. Suffice to say fears wouldn’t let me sleep at night and would have me paralysed and shivering in the dark. Irrational? Yes. I am not talking about the anxious worries that make me cranky, although there were, have been and still can be plenty of those too. But the sort of fear that affected everything, my feelings and my body. This sense that began with a thought and crept over the back of my head. It would make me freeze and shiver. It absorbed me completely. I had no control over it except to avoid triggers for certain thoughts. Those were the days when global and national news would dramatically affect my mental and emotional sense of well-being, so I never engaged with the news. I didn’t listen to it. I didn’t read it. I didn’t watch it. Those were the days when anxiety would cloud my perception; the days when a racing heart would wake me in the night with a fear of something undone or something about to happen; or the days when a sense of impending doom would hang over me for no reason.

Thankfully I have always been surrounded by good people who would never let me wallow in self pity or give in. While they understood, they have always encouraged me to overcome. They have encouraged me to fight back and not allow irrational fear to be something that is just managed but ever present in my life, nor have they ever let me use it as an excuse. That attitude was one that boosted me in actively going to God and seeking His answers, His deliverance. It has been a journey. The attitude of those around me is one that has tenaciously helped me fight and overcome. When first married, and annoyed by how battle weary I was, I asked God ‘why’. Why do I have to fight with this? I feel so vulnerable and I hate the conflict. I found my answer in Judges 3:1-3.

 These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath.

I understood that He was teaching me to fight. Now this year, I suddenly realise that that battle is won. Yes, it has taken time. There have been marked moments of deliverance that I can recall along the way. I live today in complete liberty and actually have done for years now,  (except, of course, when I try to diagnose a mysterious malady using Google!) but for some reason as we have crossed into a new year I have remembered how it once was. Today, that irrational fear so familiar in my childhood is nowhere near my heart. As I remember, I can cite several moments of conflict where, with God’s Spirit, we cut the ties that gave fear a right to be in my life. We reclaimed specific territories where fear had been king, such as by welcoming the light of Jesus into my life, the obedience of being baptised, learning to worship God first, learning to stand firm (Luke 21:19), learning to take the offensive in prayer instead of just the defensive by taking hold of the authority we are given (Luke 10:19). There have also been other people who have come alongside or moments of realisation that have helped me uproot and throw out the identifiable weeds that choked me. Then on the toughest of days simple practical wisdom was enough; such as during post-natal days – days in which I would be grasping for strength just to get through – I was told sleep and reading my Bible was my best remedy. And it was. Together these moments contributed to wholeness.

Learning to overcome…always learning a pattern of life that changed me, learning to live with the presence of God as my constant, not my ‘go-to’ in emergencies. I am still learning. There are new territories to overcome.

When I stop and think about it now, I find this liberation is, in truth, quite amazing. I am so excited (genuinely excited, not a talking-myself-into-a-positive-mindset excited) for the year ahead. I can look ahead without fear. Once upon a time I could not, without shivering!

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Here Endeth the Lesson that was 2016

What an exciting, intense and joy-filled year it’s been. When I stand still and look back, my view now, in comparison to the beginning of the year, is very different to where we began the year.

These are some significant moments that come to mind, in no particular order. There will be plenty of significant moments I have forgotten to document too, as my boys like to remind me, I can be very absent minded!

Incredible spring flowers came out all at once and we had a stunning, colourful and fruitful autmun.

In parallel we saw the lives of those around us flourish, blossom and produce fruit. Nothing delights me more!

Our Chester church refurbishment completed and, with a team of fabulous, servant-hearted folk, the coffee shop opened. Also the church celebrated its 40th birthday and continues to go from strength to strength.

Longshanks had to brave the sitting-in-rows-with-unkown-people experience at a tertiary college while having exam papers thrust or whipped from under his nose. He sat his first ever academic exams. No mocks prepared him.

Tim commented that one of the highlights of the year for him was the beautiful family walks we did in the summer, exploring more of this stunning country. They were very special. There was one occasion where I encouraged an off-the-beaten-track exploration which everyone complained was boring, until we came around the corner to the open-mouthed wonder of an enormous cave. None of us had ever seen anything like it!

Tim helped in another successful Welsh Assembly election campaign that meant by the time the Brexit referrendum reared its ugly head his campaign battery was dead. We watched from a distance and were saddened and surprised by the unwise commentary and fierce disagreement of friends, whether they were loathers or remoaners.

After 14 years of being home educated, Boffin started a traditional school education, in September, and entered into a new world. The initial month was a culture shock but he has found himself doing very well academically. Now more acclimatised, he is loving it as we hoped he would and is thriving. His Head singled him and his friend out for their outstanding drama performance at the school carol service.

Meanwhile Longshanks, once exams were over, spent the summer flexing his wings, travelling great distances, and – through the kindness of others – has been working mainly on the ground with teams of horses and ponies, learning lots. He has now begun an equine apprenticeship down in south Wales. It was something he was very ready for and we’re excited to see him enjoying a new way of life. This has been so significant to our family dynamic as he is the first to fly. It has made me reflect a lot on nostalgia, family, the exciting adventure of growing up and very grateful for the choice we made to home educate.

We took some time out to go and do the tourist thing as a family. At the end of October we explored London together,  including the London Eye, Charlie and Chocolate Factory in the Theatre Royal and the Tower of London. Apparently this was another of Tim’s extra special moments of the year.

In August we had taken time to enjoy being with extended family and 29 of us took over the beautiful Pentrenant Hall in mid-Wales.

I had the opportunity and privilege of playing at the launch of the AOG Worship Album in May, which was amazing. I also, just this last term, began teaching peripatetically in a local school. This has been possible with only the girls continuing their home education.

Miss Friendship amazes me! She is so diligent and approaches everything with meekness. I think that is the right word to describe it. She has this remarkable trait of tenacity and determination to overcome any obstacle in life, yet she is always gentle and kind. She’s ended the year by passing her music theory with a distinction which was the result of cycling over to the next valley regularly for her lessons in music theory and violin. She also bravely preached her first sermon to 300 young people at the beginning of the year.

She and Miss Puddleduck loved the BDS junior camp in the grounds of an amazing manor house in Herefordshire. It was a summer camp with sunshine filled days. The girls learnt lots especially Miss Puddleduck, for whom lots of things suddenly fell into place and really made sense. Miss Friendship worked hard to get our Little-Legs McDuff driving during the summer months, too, and finally succeeded.

Miss Puddleduck’s specific language impairment is obviously here to stay but we felt we had a bit of a break-through with her therapist finally tailoring her therapy to fit specifically both Miss Puddleduck and our education objectives – this after I had explained how much her speech and language difficulties affect her literacy. Miss Puddleduck’s speech has blossomed and she really blessed me by opening a recent church service in prayer. I thought of Moses and was reminded how sometimes the bigger the obstacle to overcome the more evidence of God at work.

Other moments of significance were an educational trip to Israel, for Tim which he found amazing and really stirring. And of course my first novel was published in 2016, Elin’s Air, written under the pen name of  Emily Stanford.

We also attended four weddings this year. Each was very different. I had the scary responsibility of being the official photographer at one of them. This turned out to be a real joy and such fun to capture. Another wedding was filmed by the BBC and an amazing day in every way possible. Another was so uniquely true in character, essence and quality it epitomised the bride and groom themselves. But at the last one, which was a beautiful winter wedding and outstanding in so many ways as well, a gentleman I chatted to for a while commented. He said, “If you don’t mind me saying, your lives seem to be very full and selfless.” I am not sure about the selfless bit but they are certainly full of adventure and excitement! 

Tim caught me smiling to myself the other morning. “What are you smiling about?”he asked, so I explained that I was looking forward to more adventures in 2017. But within the hour I had realised that 2017 isn’t going to be about adventures. They’re sure to happen however that’s not the focus. I know 2017 is a year full of promise and amazing things. I also know it is going to be a year of tumultuous challenges. I know that global politics will continue to rock the boat and surprise our sense of security. I know that the philosophy of human nature, as told by social media and reactionary journalism, will continue to annoy me. I know I will see my children grow up, become wiser and more fruitful. I know we will see the church grow and get stronger too. But overall, I know that 2017 is going to be a year about dying to self and seeing more of Christ’s life in us, through us and expressed into the world around us. That will be the greatest adventure!

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A Dish of Vegetables

 

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Confession time! I remember a short period of time when mine and my brother’s bedroom was divided by this strange wooden divider. The layout of our room was regularly changed. It was my spontaneous mother’s way. She often refreshed our home by changing the position of furniture in a room, however this divider came and went rather rapidly. I remember standing on my bed during our regimented afternoon rest time and spitting, sniper-style, at my brother in his bed over the top of the divider. Disgusting child! It was a game, and he retaliated back with sniping spit. How else did one occupy yourself for half an hour every day when you had to stay on your bed and rest? The divider soon disappeared!

Families! There is nothing quite like them; a sanctified institute. I have found myself internally celebrating the beauty of ‘family’ in recent weeks and I know it is because we are heading rather rapidly towards Junction All Change for us as a family. Longshanks is taking significant steps in flying the nest with the privilege of being offered an apprenticeship, approximately four hours away. One of the joys of home educating him has been that he can walk an unorthodox path and pursue his passion as part of his education; a naturally kinaesthetic learner his education has centred a lot on practical activity and he is still most contented when he has things to do.  That this has led to him pretty much leaving home at 16 might seem unusual yet I have had a number of conversations with secure and successful friends who when they think about it say, “Well, I left home when I was 16”. And our young man is ready to do just that. He is unique and true to himself, meaning we’re all confident these are the right steps for him to take.

However, I can sense a little uncertainty in the air that approaching Junction All Change brings and no number of bags of confidence can annihilate. Identifying with whom the uncertainty begins is tricky and my guess it is with both him and me – the first born stepping into the unknown and his anticipation of starting a new season of life. I am excited for him and enjoy seeing his excitement. I also trust his judgement entirely, in that I trust the decisions he will make for himself will be wise ones. But this uncertainty has led to us saying odd and unnecessary things – almost a bit like spitting. There’s no unkindness in it. It’s just a little uncertainty makes us snipe at one another. And that is part of the joy of being family. Family is where we can be ourselves and vent our uncertain emotions yet still be accepted and respected for who we are – at least that is how it should be!

See, there goes pride, arm in arm with ambition and trepidation, closely followed by gratitude and contentment. Behind them come nostalgia and significance. Looking through some old videos the other day, I encountered a 4 year old Longshanks independently fending off any help from grown-ups as he led a 16 hand thoroughbred out of the stable, insisting he could do it on his own. I thought it was a good summary of his spirit of independence and his love of working with horses.

I have been noticing how much I value the contentment of being family. I think it possibly has far greater impact on our well-being than I realised. When external circumstances unsettle us, having contentment weighs down and secures our otherwise ‘might-be-volatile’ moments.

The other evening our ongoing unresolved car saga was being discussed with the family. A vehicle suitable as a run-around was located, within our budget but way over-priced for what it is (hence not purchasing it), meanwhile our faithful mechanic offers us a great car that we can’t afford. There was a bit of discontent and disagreement (a little bit of spitting on my part) but the content came in the humour used to discuss how we might raise some money to purchase the unaffordable. When various bodily organs were being proposed as possible sale-able items by family members, I realised that the conversation had tipped over the edge into the realm of the ridiculous. Our car saga remains unresolved but the contentment of being family is untouched.

Contentment lives where there is love. The truth of this verse stands out, and I really value the contentment of being family. No matter what we can or can’t afford, the value of love and contentment is priceless.

Proverbs 15:17

Better a dish of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.

I hope that as Longshanks gets off at Junction All Change, he will have plenty of love and contentment packed in his bags to help anchor him through anything that might unsettle him!

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A Month Assessment

We’re now calling him ‘Boffin’ instead of Rich Tea Boy!

A month into his school experience and it was time to assess, as I had said we would, whether we have made the right decision or not to put him in school. I reiterate that we have put him in school because we felt it was the right decision for him as an individual. No pattern of education is perfect but with each of our children, we are looking to educate them in a way that best suits them as individuals. For this particular child of ours we felt that now was the time he should go to school for the sake of his unique future.

So he and I sat down with his learning manager and head of year, last week, to discuss how he was settling in. It has been a huge culture shock for him and it has been the shock waves of that, that has made me question our decision. As he was immersed in a completely different culture, it has felt on numerous occasions that he was only just keeping his head above the surface. He was coming home very exhausted, processing the experience and I was processing his perception of the new culture he was getting used to. However, by small increments which we didn’t always see, he was slowly gaining muscle to keep swimming. He was surviving but more than that he was becoming stronger. I then noticed he was coming home with a vibrancy about him and I knew he was winning within himself, until a cold knocked him out for a bit. This vibrancy and flourishing was more what I had hoped we would see when we made the decision to put him in school. It was what I was looking for. He has gained confidence, he is happy and is enjoying his experience now he has got used to whole culture of school. There are things he doesn’t like but he is very philosophical and, let’s face it, there’s always stuff we don’t like. No model of education is perfect, but we are looking for a ‘best fit’.

His learning manager and head of year were very complimentary and encouraging saying he was a credit to us and himself. I think this is a credit to the model of home education, too. Academically, he is swimming ahead of his peers in many subjects (apart from Welsh) and has been tested in recent weeks to be reset for sciences. I have always said that Boffin has a huge number of character traits like my father, who was a chemistry teacher in a fancy-pants boarding school in the south of England. I grew up in this environment where education and academia were worshipped. Understandably, this upbringing has fuelled my passion for excellence in education but also helped me be quite realistic in assessing what and what-not is valuable.

As Boffin came top of his set for Chemistry, top of his year for Science and is also excelling in theatre studies (another of my father’s great strengths), I emailed my mother to say how proud my father would have been and how sad I am that he doesn’t know he has a grandson who takes after him, in so many ways. She messaged back in agreement, but also said how proud I should be for teaching him everything so far.

Let me let you in to a little secret! I haven’t taught him any chemistry, except what related to daily life. I haven’t taught him facts and figures. I haven’t filled him with knowledge. When I break down the essence of what I have taught him, two things stand out most: (a)I have taught him to be himself and to be confident therefore in the uniqueness of who he is; and (b)I have taught him to love learning and therein how to learn well. He has learnt to learn on his own. His motivation is his own desire for knowledge. The rest is what naturally grows from that. His success comes from a sense of security within himself and his own self motivation. I think this is a real testament to the effectiveness of the home-ed. model of education, but I must remind myself that this particular child of ours is a visual, words learner who learns well with traditional methods of teaching. I only have to look at some of my other children to remember that that is not true of all learners, which is why I continue to focus on teaching my children to be confident in their uniqueness and to love learning.

I’m not naive. I know there are many challenges ahead and Boffin needs to work hard, but I am encouraged by the first month assessment and the positive report I hear coming from many lips. I have also been enormously encouraged by the endorsement of successful home education that should encourage parents who are home educating. When I weigh home education, as a model, against the school system it still comes up trumps as valid and effective! My advice to any home educator is to capatalise and invest heavily in what comes naturally to your child. Help them excel in the things they are good at and let the harder things they learn be over-shadowed by their strengths. Don’t weary yourself worrying over their weaknesses. Yes, work on them in comfortable, bite-sized chunks but remember that the school system measures so much by results in academic success and there is no need to compare yourselves with them. This is only a small part of a much bigger picture of life as a whole. You don’t have to use the same measures on your child if that doesn’t suit your child. Success in life is not measured by academic success, thankfully, or many of us would be disqualified. It is only a small part.

We are choosing to measure Boffin’s success by these measures because he is a natural academic, but many are not. However, above all, my greatest joy is seeing his character develop and flourish. That’s what his education is primarily about!

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Horizons

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All I want to do today is walk and think. We will be going out later to find some acorns for Miss Puddleduck’s autumn project. We might collect some crab apples too, as I intend to make crab apple jelly. I noticed blossoms, in the spring, where I had never seen apple blossoms before and now there is lots of fruit. But I want to get out to have some natural thinking time.

Our family is growing up. Our horizons are changing like in the beautiful sunset above that Longshanks captured on camera from our field, the other evening. In a short space of time the sky changed from being a stunning sunset to an even more outstanding sunset! It kept getting more and more breath taking as the sun sank lower.

Rich Tea Boy seems to be settling and we had a very grown-up conversation, on the way to school this morning, trying to ascertain whether attending school is the way that he should continue to walk in or not. I have been trying to get an appointment with his learning manager to hear how his teachers think he is doing. One thing that has surprised me about school is how little they actually get to do for the length of time that they are there. We were always told that, as home educators, 2-3 hours of concentrated learning was the equivalent of what was done in school. Should I be surprised to discover that that’s true? Rich Tea Boy tells me that it is a lot easier to learn at home and he’s already weary of the onslaught of distractions he has to fend off in order to get things learnt at school. But on the positive side, he is able to learn and has enjoyed meeting new people. He finds the immaturity of his peers amusing and, he said this morning, quite refreshing. He said he has had a number of people ask him if he should actually be in the year above, because he seems older. I was asking him questions this morning that related to how he felt his faith and character were growing. His answers were very mature and reflective of the discipleship input of Tim and his youth leader. To date, he hasn’t found school easy, which doesn’t mean it is necessarily the wrong decision for him. He prefers being home educated to school educated, he says, but has found school interesting. As we approach the one-month-in assessment of his schooling my thoughts are very absorbed in thinking about this.

My thoughts are also very absorbed by thinking about Longshanks’ future as, last weekend, he was offered an opportunity that is very true to who he is and completely fits him. I have felt myself being prepared for the changes this will bring but there is still a lot I have to process, as expectation becomes reality. He was focussing on re-sitting one of his exams with no real clarity about what he would do after. He knew what he would like to do, but wasn’t sure how he could do it. However, a door has opened for him at just the right moment and suddenly there is a clear way ahead for him after he has re-sat his exam. As we discussed this opportunity that has been offered to him, I expressed my conviction of it being right for him but explained that conviction didn’t prevent me being woken in the middle of night by what about this or what if that questions. He very philosophically responded by saying, “But any decision in life is accompanied by what ifs“. How true! It is so lovely to see him so excited. He mentally prepares me by joking that he might be driving home for Christmas 2017 with a girlfriend and a beard!

Every morning, as I drive the stunning country lanes that are now my daily school run I’m thinking how our horizons are changing as our family grows up, and my thoughts are echoed by outstanding Welsh vistas. Since our big “Blue” – as Miss Puddleduck named the Vauxhall -died, Tim’s little red car has been doing all the donkey work of fetching and carrying. It is old and tiny but bearing up well and we have to be very adaptable and clever in our logistics, as we can’t all fit in it. I feel that I have unwittingly become a taxi driver like the other day, I took Rich Tea Boy to school and returned home to immediately give Tim a lift down to work. A dance remix of Crowder’s version of “Because He lives” was blasting out of the speakers in the living room before we left. After laughing with Tim about the arrangement, I listened to the words and realised that Tim was purposefully strengthening himself – “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow”. After I had dropped him at work I returned home to find Miss Puddleduck dancing to the Chariots of Fire film theme. There is no significance in that!

Our horizons have got broader, over the summer, as we have taken on the responsibility of leading two churches. Right now, new structures and procedures are being put in place in the one church and it feels like we are spread quite thin. We have gone from overseeing the discipleship of approximately 100 people to 200 people and are rapidly trying to build apostolic structures that ensure both communities flourish in their location. Right now, the implication of this is that we feel less able to give quality time to individuals, but that will return as other people are released to meet discipleship needs and as structures are formed. This feeling of being spread thin is temporary and life is full those moments of transition, where everything changes gear.

When I stand back and look, I see so much that encourages me. I see fruit. I see people flourishing. I see young people growing. I see new life emerging. I see purpose. I see character developing. I see maturity blossoming. I see a beautiful horizon. I’m so grateful.

I quote Tim’s favourite verse: Proverbs 4:18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining brighter til the full light of dawn.

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Elin’s Air

img_4739Rehearsals are under way, although the costumes are only partial, the props temporary and the stage still full of instruments. But, it’s happening!! We’re getting ready for the big official launch of Elin’s Air.

 

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By Conviction or Convention?

A lot of people have asked me, of late, why we have chosen to put our second son into school. It’s a valid question and I shall answer it shortly. When also asked by one person “What has happened?” my answer was, “Nothing”. No great cataclysmic event has happened to cause this. I remain the passionate educationist I have always been who believes wholeheartedly in the effectiveness of home education – and loves it as a valid mode of education. In fact, through the beginning of this new and fresh season of school experience, I feel even more strongly about its effectiveness. I am processing a lot of thoughts on it all right now. My mind is constantly chuntering away, philosophically.

I believe that the primary purpose of education is to develop our character, in a way that does not undermine our self-worth, to make us successful contributors to society. What that actually looks like will vary according to the uniqueness of each individual.

This approach produces some interesting results in the small community if our own household. Our eldest is a ‘doer’ with a healthy work ethic. Our approach to his education has already helped him make contributions in a unusual field which, I hope, have been good contributions. I have seen his character develop and I am confident that he is able to conduct himself as a contributor to society not just a consumer. I know too that his nature lends him towards following a more apprenticeship style of education and that he is happiest and most effective when applying himself in a practical way.

In son no. 2 we have an observer and an analyst who is a sponge to knowledge and very perceptive about people. His learning style fits perfectly into the traditional academic modes of learning and I would not be surprised if, in time, he contributes to society through the field of academic research. However, this suitability is not our reason for putting him into school. The main reason we have embarked on this new adventure is that we want to see his character grow and we feel that, for the sort of person that he is, he has reached a stage in life where he needs more challenges to grow him. The school environment, we concluded, would provide this. If, however, his character is not enhanced in a positive way we will return to home education for him.

Of our other youngsters, one is very clear on what she believes is a vocation for her life and we are tailoring her education towards that, while developing her character and confidence. Her sense of vocation and learning style (again more traditionally academic) makes our objectives, in educating her, quite clear and straightforward. Our youngest, meanwhile, presents the biggest challenge. The beauty of her having a specific language impairment makes traditional learning difficult, keeps me humble and real. I reassess again and again what our objectives are. What am I trying to achieve through educating her at home? I conclude, with gratitude that she is not being taught for the purpose of jumping through hoops and tests but to enhance her own unique character and gifts. I conclude, with gratitude that her self-confidence, worth and social skills are not being undermined by her language impairment and preference for spending time with those younger than herself (as would not be the case in a school environment). I conclude, with gratitude, that she is flourishing by being able to learn at her own pace without external pressures or consciousness of limitations, when measured by traditional measures. I am educating her with the objective that one day she can manage her own finances, run a home, relate well to other people and contribute to society in a beautiful way.

So why have we chosen to put our second son into school? Well, we live by conviction not convention. This means that we make educational choices based on our conviction of what is right for each child of ours. Right now, we believe it is the right choice for him, as an individual, to bring the best out of him.

As with all these things, “Time will tell!”. The proof will be in the pudding! Whatever our choices they are made in hope and faith that it is the ‘BEST’ decision.

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