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Sailing

21 Sep

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We are drifting aimlessly on the sea. The water is so placid even our boat does not create a ripple. We stretch back and let the salty air wash over our sun-kissed faces. We are good.

And in an instant, the sky turns dark and stormy and our boat is upended. We are swallowing the sea water that protected us just seconds earlier. We are desperate to right our boat, to climb back into its safety, to escape this disastrous storm. But it takes time.

This is what it is like to live with a chronic illness. One minute you are navigating innocent waters and the next minute you are laying with your son on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, struggling to find stillness.

Last week, out of nowhere, our boat was toppled. My son experienced what can only be described as “labor pains” for nearly a week. He winced, he cried, he dug his nails into the flesh of his wrists to feel something other than agony. And with each tear that traveled down his cheek, the vise around my heart tightened its grip. I tried to act casual, I cried and told him I wish it was happening to me instead, I tried everything. There is literally nothing I could do to soothe my son, to make it better, to be his mommy.

“Can’t you just hug me and make it go away?” He cried.

Oh, how I wish.

On Friday morning, after a long and very sad week, my son woke up feeling no pain. He later called me from the nurse’s office at school:

“I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that my stomach feels fine. The bad news is that my wrist bent back in recess and then I fell on it and it hurts a lot.”

“So you have good news. I love you.”

Later that day, my son managed to take his iPhone for a night swim. He called me from his friend’s house in such distress that it was difficult to hear actual words.

“I’m an idiot. I did the dumbest thing. You’re going to kill me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Are you ok? How do you feel?”

“I feel fine.”

“So you’re ok.”

I told him I don’t care. I told him it’s just money. I told him I’m just happy he feels good. I told him to hang up with me and go be a kid.

When I picked him up that night, he again cried, saying he made a mistake.

“I’m glad you did. That’s how you learn. You will never go swimming with your phone again. I make mistakes, Dad makes mistakes, we all make mistakes. It is part of life and no one gets out of here without making some along the way. And by the way, you mean way more to me than a phone.”

The following day was spent going to Urgent Care and getting X-rays for his wrist. As we drove to the clinic, my son reflected on the broken phone and the possibly broken wrist.

“Yesterday was the worst day, Mom.”

“Yesterday was the best day.”

“No, I mean because of my phone and my wrist. So it was a really bad day.”

“Yes, but you woke up feeling fine and your stomach no longer bothers you. Your phone can be replaced. Your wrist, even if broken, will heal.  These are things that happen to everyone. But you feel good. So it was a great day.”

When the dark clouds gather and the storm rolls in, I worry that my son’s whole life will be like those moments on the bathroom floor: a tiny ship tossed around helplessly in a maelstrom. I remind myself of the things I must believe in: medicine, Hope, and my son. I remind myself that this disease should be the worst thing that ever happens to him. I remind myself of the serene seas in which we have been fortunate enough to sail. And then I look out for those starry nights, the traditional harbingers of the promise of beautiful weather ahead.

The phone was irretrievably broken.

The wrist was not.

And neither was my heart.

And our ship is again floating under a beautiful, cloudless sky, hoping for endless starry nights.

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The Luxury of Watching Our Kids Dream

27 Aug

 

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My son is curled up beside me. He cannot sleep. This is the second or third night in a row. Always the same. He cannot sleep. He nestles in next to me, his head fitting perfectly in the spot between my neck and my chest, his legs wound around mine so many times I wonder if they are boneless. Within minutes, his breath deepens and slows. He is asleep.

I wonder how much longer it will be that I can provide this instant consolation for him. How much longer that he will let me. How much more time do I have of the luxury of watching him dream.

My friends have children going off to college. They are decorating dorm rooms, setting up proper desks, buying school supplies and filling meal cards, all the while trying to forget that their kids are leaving the nest and learning to fly on their own. It is hopeful and heartbreaking and wondrous and devastating all at the same time. I have watched these kids grow up; they are not even mine and still, I am struggling with the passage of even their time. Because soon, it will be my kids. I know that that is years away for me but I also know the way time works and that I have seemingly months. It is like trying to reverse the mileage on your car but there is no such magical gear and it is inevitably impossible. And at the same time, it is Life. And it is good.

He grabs a lock of my hair and rolls to the right. He is content. And so am I. And again, I watch him dream. Because I still can.

Swinging the Bat

13 May

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I do not know how you measure success.

Is it wealth, fame, good health, love, all of them, none of them. I don’t know.

Maybe it’s just making an effort you thought you could never make.

My son is on his school’s baseball team. I am not betraying him when I tell you he is not the best athlete on the team. But he loves being on a team and part of a team. Recently, my mother told me she had a conversation with my son about his method of playing. In essence, his approach was to never swing with the hope of getting walked to first base. This was heartbreaking to me. I was also unaware of it because he instructed me not to attend any games because he was mainly in charge of keeping the bench very warm. Although I am not exactly athletic, I confronted him:

“You need to swing the bat. Even if you miss. You still have to try because you will miss 100% of the balls you don’t swing at.”

I am not sure if he was frightened of the speed of the ball, the shame of an earned strike, or just simply taking a chance. He promised he would try. And with that, he was able to allow someone else to keep that bench warm, at least some of the time.

Academically, my son is, for the most part, thriving. He has recently struggled, however, with a couple of subjects and was less than thrilled about grades he received. I’m not exactly sure, though, that he was swinging the bat at those plates either. We had multiple, similar conversations about the importance of making an effort, trying your best, aiming for a hit instead of a walk. I’m not sure how many of these talks sink in or how many translate to the Charlie Brown teacher language of “WOH WOH WOH WAH.” My expertise and life experience are not impressive to him. It seems not to matter that I have already lived all the days he is living. He probably just wants me to stop talking. Oh well, too bad. It’s my job.

This combination of some poor grades and baseball ineptitude was starting to wear on his confidence. I cannot blame him though, again, he wasn’t actively participating in his own life enough to change his situation. It is hard to watch your child struggle with self-doubt and think you can give them all the tools and praise needed to remedy it, but it is, ultimately, up to them to cure their problems themselves.

Yesterday, on one of spring’s most beautiful days, and with my son’s blessing, I finally attended a baseball game: my son’s team’s last home game of the season. My son was at bat. He swung a few times, accruing two strikes. His team and coach continued to call his name, encouraging him. On the final pitch, as the wind blew its warm, gentle breeze over the field, I sat in a lawn chair and watched my boy make his very first hit. It was solid. It went to third base, and he made it to first base safely with his team cheering him on. And later, during the last inning, and only minutes after my husband arrived, we both had the privilege of watching our son make his second hit, into the field, right over second base. Again, his team cheered. And so did we.

While I have been largely focusing on the importance of his school work, perhaps excelling here, on a baseball diamond with friends and teammates, is just as important. He needs to feel good about himself in all arenas, and those two hits, likely inconsequential to most kids on the team, were home runs for all of us.

Had my son not swung, he never would have hit those balls. He never would have known what the impact of the ball against the ash in his hands would feel like. He never would have known that he too could create that familiar “crack” symbolic of a hit. He never would have known the joy of hearing his friends and teammates root for him and the thrill of reaching first base because he proactively earned it as opposed to watching for the pitcher to err. He never would have known what it was like to cross home plate on that beautiful spring day, the completion of the story that began with his first hit. This type of knowledge he gained is every bit as useful and meaningful as the type learned from a textbook. If not more so.

Maybe success is just swinging the bat.

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With Thanks, To My Mother, On Her 70th Birthday

11 Apr

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Most children don’t want to see their parents get older. But I know firsthand what a privilege this is.

I know how to live my life, how to love my children, how to acknowledge an ordinary day as a good one, thanks to my mother.

I know how to be selfless, how to value health, how to enjoy the sunshine, thanks to my mother.

I know how to laugh, how to write, how to create, thanks to my mother.

I know how to be kind, how to do crosswords, how to be patient, thanks to my mother.

I know how to be a friend, how to be a wife, how to be a human being, thanks to my mother.

I learned how to light the shabbat candles, how to be a good daughter, how to be a good sister, thanks to my mother.

I learned how to be strong, how to be generous, how to forgive, thanks to my mother.

I learned, thanks to my mother.

Happy 70th birthday, Mom! Thank you for all the lessons. Thank you for making our lives better day in and day out. Thank you for sharing yourself so selflessly all these years. Thank you for the layers of love, richness, beauty, and depth you have added to our canvas with such deft brush strokes.

Our world is infinitely better with you in it.

With all my love,

Lisa

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An Open Letter To My Son

19 Mar

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My Sweet Son,

I know there are things you are anxious to try: things that your friends might be doing; things that are wrong. Please wait.

You may not realize it but you are still a child. You have your whole life ahead of you to do grown-up things. I know you may think you’re ready for these things. You are not. You only get one childhood. You should live it as a child.

I wonder if you also know how dangerous some seemingly innocuous things might be. Perhaps even lethal. There are multiple reasons why some activities have minimum legal age limits. One good reason is because your mind and body are not mature enough to handle them. You should respect that. And while we’re on the subject, you should respect girls too. Listen to what they say and remember to be kind always.

It is ok to say “no.” Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like you are lesser than they because you won’t try something stupid. If you say no and that person gives you a hard time, you should lose them as a friend because they are not your “friend.” A true friend would never do that.

I know you are bound to make mistakes in life and it is my job to let you fail and make them. It is the only way you can learn. But you are too young to make some mistakes you may be contemplating. You are too young to pay the price of such errors. You are too young to learn these lessons. Trust me. I am your mom.

Most important, if you do make some wrong decisions, or if your friends do, your father and I will always be here. We respect honesty and will always have your best interests at heart. If for any reason you feel you or a friend is in jeopardy, please call us at once, even if you are unsure. I am more concerned about the safety of you or a friend than lecturing you on a rule you may have broken. I promise.

I’m not going to tell you about the innocent days of my youth when none of this existed and everyone just rode their bikes around until they left for college. That did not happen. There were plenty of ways for kids to get into trouble, just like there are now. And I’m not going to tell you about the car accidents, hospital admissions, and deaths of people I knew who made such decisions. They speak for themselves.

I’m just going to tell you that I get it. That I’ve been there.

Life is full of crossroads. No matter which ones you may reach, I am always here to guide you and to love you, even if you make wrong turns along the way. But please, do not make those turns just yet.

Love always,
Mom

The Greatest Show on Earth

20 Jan

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I never liked the circus.

Even as a child, the format of three rings with three simultaneous acts made no sense to me. What was I supposed to be focusing on and regardless, all three acts were not entertaining. At all. I didn’t buy into the costumes, the acrobatics, the parades. I finally just started to beg my parents not to bring me anymore.

When I got around to having my own kids, I felt obliged to take them to the circus as a rite of passage. It was as awful as I remembered and my kids were not sold on it either. Thank goodness for good taste.

Last weekend I walked my own tightrope as my oldest son was in an emergency room in Massachusetts and my mother was in an emergency room in New York. I have been in this position so many times yet each time it happens it is a shock and I yearn for the luxury of a monotonous existence.

When my oldest son was a baby, he let us know he was ready for a bed by launching himself out of his crib. The next morning he was seemingly fine with the exception of a slight alteration to his usual routine: he danced to The Wiggles but he used only one arm. I could not fathom that he might have seriously injured himself. He was such a champ that we did not even know he had fractured his clavicle until a follow-up x-ray revealed a healing bone. On Sunday, this same son broke his clavicle in two.

Inhale.

When my oldest son was 4 years old, I went to Mexico with my family and my parents. While walking back to the room with my mom to call my aunt, my mother began to have a heart attack. We did not know what it was at the time, and it did not unfold in the typical way in which it is often depicted: a man with left arm pain grabbing at his chest and directing someone to call 911. Rather, it was as if she had a sudden and severe reaction to something she ate, vomiting until it was over. And then she was fine. Until we learned she wasn’t. On Sunday, my mom called me in the morning to tell me she did not know what came over her but she couldn’t stop vomiting. But once you have a history of something kind of terrible, you cannot just crawl back into bed and assume that you have a virus. Thankfully, after an EKG and blood work, she learned she had a virus.

Exhale.

On Sunday, as if not to be left out of the disastrous emerging trend, another son of mine injured his hand and wrist simply while walking in the hall of our home. Nuts. But no broken bones; just a sprain. You try leaving an orthopedist’s office with two wounded boys and not being  looked at suspiciously. I joked with the woman at the front desk, asking if she was going to contact CPS. She just eyed me and went back to questioning my children.

Repeat.

When I was pregnant with my twins, the sonogram technician advised that I was going to be having two more sons. Broken bones was in my future; it was a given. Although you never expect it when you get that call, when you see that dangling arm, when you hear that primal scream that alerts you that something is very wrong, you always know that these things are possible, that they happen all the time and you are not going to be excluded from this club. After all, if I got through this life with 3 sons and no broken bones, I would worry that I was somehow failing my boys.

Aren’t we all performing some kind of high wire act? Teetering between news–both dreadful and wonderful, striking the great balance of life and making careful–extra careful–to keep our balance and not succumb to a mere slip of the foot.  The more we love our people, the more we’re going to be walking that tightrope. Because we care. Because we are lucky.

Maybe the circus is our introduction to life. Maybe by throwing so many things at us at one time, we are learning how to focus, how to zero in on what makes us the happiest, and to filter out all those tricks we see right through. Life is both the Worst Show on Earth and the Greatest Show on Earth and I wouldn’t want to live it any other way.

 

Unplugged

3 Nov

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When my husband and I got engaged, he wanted to keep a kosher home. It was important to him and he had grown up that way and that was fine by me. We spent an inordinate time searching the inventories of several stores covering Manhattan and Long Island to find two sets of every day dishes and two sets of silverware. We finally settled on a white Wedgwood pattern that I have never liked and which I have also used as grounds to hurl empty threats of vegetarianism at my husband.  So imagine my surprise, when we set up our tiny New York City kitchen as newlyweds, my husband ordered Won Ton Soup and took out a “meat” bowl in which to eat it.

The pork dumpling in the designated kosher meat bowl event may likely have been the deciding factor upon which we practice Judaism. Kosher but with exceptions. We are spiritual yet lazy. Devoted yet lapsed. We are, regrettably, high holiday Jews.  Shabbat dinners fall by the wayside as takeout is ordered and everyone spends the night warmed by the glow of their Apple devices. Promises to do more and do better evolve into catching up on programs stored on our TiVo while my Shabbat candles remain sadly unlit. Again.

When I think of my mother, I often imagine her lighting the Friday night candles, a paper towel on her head as a makeshift act of respect, offering up a silent prayer to God. When I reflect on my grandfather, I picture him draped in his tallis, wearing tefillin, and dovening in a corner with his timeworn siddur.  Jewish holidays with my family and extended family permeate my entire childhood. Seders, break fasts, horas and menorahs create a vivid Judaic tapestry on which I was raised. While I emphasize the importance of Judaism to my sons — specifically, that they know where they come from and that they be proud Jews, and, importantly, that it be part of their fabric as well — I am not doing enough. I am failing my children as a parent and as a Jew.

Last weekend, my synagogue along with synagogues all over the world participated in the “Shabbat Project” in which Jews were encouraged to experience Shabbat in the traditional fashion that it so deserves: no electronics; no driving; no shopping; and most of all, no smartphones. I was committed from the start. I could not wait to unplug and refocus on what really matters: the people in my life, not the things we have.

While we did drive and use lights (because we live too far away from our temple to walk and because we ease into things slowly), we otherwise powered down as a family. The weekend began with a service and a Friday night dinner at my temple that hosted 600 people including my family, my parents, and many friends. The following day we spent in the park, talking to friends, watching the kids play, and looking at the faces of my sons. As we walked from the park back to temple, I listened to the animated stories told by my kids — really listened to them. There were no distractions other than the birds and a passing breeze. What a gift it was to concentrate on my own life rather than my battery’s life. It was nice to feel the sun on my face and linger in 1997 or 1979 or any year before the advent of  the oversaturated techonological market that is slowly killing necessary human interaction. A literal juice cleanse for my soul. We ended the day at a Havdalah service at my synagogue, as my sons battled to hold the candle and smell the spices.

As we drove home, I turned on my phone. Lo and behold, I missed 74 messages from retailers wanting to sell me goods at discounted prices. Delete. That  night we made a decision: we are going to celebrate Shabbat with a family dinner and the shutting down of all devices on Friday nights. On Saturdays we can return to being those high holy Jews we have mastered. Baby steps. But for now, we are concentrating on loving the things that can love us back.

Not Perfect, But All Right

30 Oct

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2014 has not been kind.

On a cold, snowy day in January, when my husband was in Tokyo, my 10 year old son received a lifelong sentence. It began with a sick visit to the pediatrician followed by another sick visit to a gastroenterologist. As I sat across from this woman, who I disliked as soon as she entered the room, I could not imagine that my son’s world was going to permanently change. After a brief examination and a denial of all symptoms from which she was sure he was suffering, she stoically pronounced “he has Crohn’s,” which only made me hate her more than I already did. She prescribed antibiotics and advised that he would need to be examined under general anesthesia.

That night, my son slept in my bed. I spent most of the night feeling his forehead, making sure he was still asleep, plotting the death of that emotionless doctor. By the time it was morning,  we were on our way to the emergency room. A morphine drip was administered and my son finally relaxed.

An MRI revealed that my son had an abscess which required draining. He remained on the morphine as well as IV antibiotics and by the time the surgery was performed, the abscess was already gone. We were there for several days, during which time every physician assured me that they did not think my son had Crohn’s. I assured myself of this as well, right up until the time we were leaving when the discharging doctor looked over his forms and said “I don’t see what else it could be aside from Crohn’s.” And just like that, the rug on which I was solidly standing, was pulled out from under me. Again.

A few weeks later a blood test revealed no inflammation. That horrible doctor was wrong. I knew it. A week after that my son started to complain of stomach pain. A week after that, a stool sample was three times the normal level and I had to offer some begrudging respect to this woman who so casually spoke the words that would change my son’s life. By April, a colonoscopy/endoscopy confirmed that she was, in fact, right. She was always right. My son had Crohn’s Disease and the tiny thread attached to my heart that came loose in January, started to fully unravel.

I did not want an education about fancy medication, about the physiology of the colon, about colostomies, about therapies offering ways my child can “live with Crohn’s.” I wanted him to be the person I thought he was, physically, on the morning of that snowy day in January. I wanted to circle the equator over and over like Superman until I reversed time enough to unearth Lois Lane from her car and free my son from a diagnosis I did not want attached to him. I wanted to find a new doctor, one that was a human being, one that would not tell me, when I asked if my child would be ok, that she “can’t predict the future.” I wanted someone to hold my hand and my heart.

I know that there are worse things in life than Crohn’s Disease and that my son will be all right. But we mothers don’t want our children to be just “all right.” We want them to be perfect. Being a parent is so hard. From skinned knees to bruised egos to diseases about which we want to know nothing. I would love it if I could just kiss this terrible boo boo or apply ice to it, or simply make a wish and watch it fade away until there is nothing left but the perfect body into which he was born. He’s learning too much too soon and I hate it. He has a sophisticated medical vocabulary, refers to his pills as “my meds” and is overly concerned about his height and weight. On the other hand, right before a second operation, he gamely dressed up in his gown, sterile shower cap, and held up a book, pretending to be the Statue of Liberty.

So maybe he’s doing all right already. And maybe 2014 has been kinder than I thought.

Keep Calm and Write On!

28 Sep

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I went back to college.

Not really.  I wish. But I visited Ann Arbor, where I spent four years studying the likes of Chaucer, Pope, Shakespeare. Immersing myself in literature so beautiful I cried. Reading book after book I never wanted to end. What a privilege those four years were. Rather than constructing dry essays on economics, statistics, or arcane psychology theories, I dissected Arthurian literature, found endless examples of Christ symbolism, and even flirted with the idea of becoming an English professor.

Instead, I went to law school. And then I litigated for years where I constructed dry memoranda of law and motions involving arcane issues of product liability law, lead paint poisoning litigation, medical malpractice defense and other exciting topics.

I still continued to study and write screenplays, sketches, articles, and, of course, countless tweets and status updates.

Missing the good stuff, however, the writing that weaves a story out of a tiny detail or sentence, the kind of prose that makes a reader feel something, the type of material that prompts your heart to literally beat, I started this here blog. And I love it.

I need to feel more of this. For my husband, my kids, and most of all, me. It makes me feel whole and multi-dimensional and, perhaps, younger.

I can’t return to college. Indeed, Michigan does seem like a dream to me now. So I am engineering a way for college to return to me.

As of now, I am privately tutoring those needing help with writing. Particularly, college entrance essays (!) Please contact me directly for further inquiries and/or appointments.

I will still be writing independent of this little gig, but I am really looking forward to this as a diversion that I have already started to enjoy.

I am genuinely excited to help others tell their stories. After all, each of us has one. We should revel in it.

Roots of Hatred and Prayers for Peace

23 Jul

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Day after day, we are bombarded with Anti-Israel, Anti-Semitic news. The latest is direct attacks on Jewish owned shops and synagogues in Paris.

This is Kristallnacht.

This is history repeating itself.

This is terrifying.

Whether or not you are Jewish, understand that this is wrong. That when there are rioters marching, armed with bombs and batons, destroying the property and livelihood of total strangers just because they are Jewish, that this is wrong. That when those rioters scream “Death to Jews” and “Slit Jews’ Throats,” that this is more than wrong. This is horrific.

This is also a story we have all heard so many times before: Anti-Semitism.

Throughout history, the Jews have been vilified. Whether it’s as seemingly innocuous as Shakespeare’s grotesque depiction of Shylock, or a Renaissance artist’s hyperbolic portrayal of the “big nosed Jew” or as heinous as the Holocaust or the kidnapping and murder of 3 innocent Jewish teenagers from a highway in Israel, it is the age old tale of Anti-Semitism.

Don’t be dissuaded by people who try to separate the issue by calling themselves the less inflammatory Anti-Zionist. That’s a euphemism for Anti-Semite and you know it. And I’m not going to debate the entire Middle East conflict but I will tell you that I support and love, 100%, Israel. Israel, where my oldest son was bar mitzvahed only 11 months ago at the Wall, a remnant of another attack on the Jews millenia ago. Israel, a living testament to the countless historical attempts to exterminate Jews over 1000s of years, and their incredible struggle to survive. Age. Old. Tale.

The other night I went to a concert at Jones Beach, New York. On a beautiful summer evening overlooking the bay, I watched a man wearing a yarmulke make his way through the aisle and take his seat with his wife. A month or so ago, I would not have given this a second thought. And yet now, at the James Taylor concert, in an arena full of aging hippies, I was frightened for this man’s safety. This was the first time in my life, in my home on the shores of the very Jewish Long Island, that I have ever felt this kind of fear.

How long until these acts of hatred arrive in America? Almost 13 years ago, my husband was working in the World Financial Center when a plane flew into the WTC, right across the footpath that connected his building to one of the towers. It was a devastating time engineered by Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization. Do not forget that Hamas, the government for the Palestinians, is also a terrorist organization, regardless of how you may feel about the Gazans and their plight. Hamas, whose very charter calls for the obliteration of Israel and the killing of the Jews. Hamas, who was responsible for time and again strapping bombs to their own people and dispatching them to Israel’s crowded public areas only to detonate themselves and kill as many civilians as possible in the process. Age. Old. Story.

How do I explain this to my sons? How do I prepare them for a world that largely hates them just because they are Jewish? How do I make sure that they are still proud of where they come from and who they are? How do I guarantee that they will stand up and make a difference? I wish I knew.

Hatred is a horrible vehicle. It seeps into cracks when you’re not looking and grows roots and limbs and buds until it evolves into an entire network of destruction. It may flourish and bloom and multiply and before you know it, it is a strong grove, a forest, an entire landscape. It may look good, but it is poison. And its enemy is peace. Rooting for the enemy. Praying for peace.

Amen.