1330. Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light. ~John Milton

In a futile attempt to erase our past,
we deprive the community of our healing gift.
If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame,
our inner darkness can neither be illuminated
nor become a light for others.
~Brennan Manning

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Everyone has a story no matter what their age. We who are older however are actually made up of a series of stories, and in each of them tides turned along the way or remained static because of the choices we made and/or the chances we took. And one of the most critical choices each one of us has to make is whether or not to be authentically who God intended us to be. Most of us have somewhat of a grasp of that early on, but adolescence is and was a game changer. Living through those years is like what Virginia Woolf once said, “the eyes of others are our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” During the formative, teen years rather than remaining true to oneself, many try to be what the eyes of others think they should be and to think thoughts and to have ideas that this body of “they” believe to be “cool.” Because teens, like everyone else, want to be liked and accepted, their innocence and naïveté prompts many of them to succumb partially or wholly to the standards and choices of others in order to remain “free” from the prisons and cages of their peers, the intimidating, corporate “they.” And I was just as guilty of that as anyone else until one night, years and years later, in the middle of a very emotionally and physically painful night, it dawned on me that though there was no one there in the darkness to help me cope, to soothe me, or to stop the pain. And that was the mid-life game changer that motivated me to walk back far enough through time to remember who Natalie genuinely was, to embrace her, and to walk into the future as the Natalie I was meant to be. A subsequent choice I made was not to let what had broken me define who Natalie was and is but instead with God’s grace to find my inner light and let it shine even if at times it yet has to break forth through tears.

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. ~Brené Brown

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden…” ~Matthew 5:14  ✝

**Collage of developing ages in Natalie’s life gathered and put in chronological order by Natalie

1314. Learn to use the lightening (in the storms of life) as fiery fuel to further propel you to all that encourages your own aliveness. ~Victoria Erickson

Use your internal strength and willpower
to rise above the thoughts pulling you down
and watch your world rise alongside you…
~Victoria Erickson

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I crave the ones who’ve seen confusion and known struggle; who have pulled themselves up from the shackles of heartache and strife, disappointment and darkness, exhaustion and drain, and have risen with a heart as open and unwaveringly wide as the ocean itself. Give me those people. The brave, the vulnerable, the wise, the ones who care for a world, and how to better it along with themselves. To know their ability in making waves, in shifting patterns with tides and in creating change. Let us become that open ocean. And make it rise. ~Victoria Erickson

Tonight, you may be empty, silent, sorrowful or alone,
but you have the moon and you have your breath,
and in inhaling the wonder of those alone, may you
be wrapped in the soft shawl of gentle relief that this
moment is beautiful and more than worthy…
~Victoria Erickson

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief. ~Ecclesiastes 1:18  ✝

**Image found on Pinterest

1289. There is a purifying power in laughter. It is truth in palatable form. ~Eugene P. Bertin

At the height of laughter, the universe is flung
into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.
~Jean Houston

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Heavy
That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying
I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had his hand in this,
as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,
was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?
Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?
How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe
also troubled –
roses in the rain,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?
~Adapted poem by Mary Oliver

He(God) will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. ~Job 8:21  ✝

**Photo by Natalie

1045. No matter how much we try to run away from this thirst for the answer to life, for the meaning of life, the intensity only gets stronger and stronger. We cannot escape these spiritual hungers. ~Ravi Zacharias

Imagine, for example, birds.
When they look out at the world,
they have a sense that they are alive.
If they are in pain, they can do something about it.
If they have hunger or thirst, they can satisfy that.
It’s this basic feeling that there is
life ticking away inside of you.
~Antonio Damasio,
Professor of Neuroscience at UCLA

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I had such a longing for virtue, for company.
I wanted Christ to be as close as the cross I wear.
I wanted to read and serve, to touch the altar linen.
Instead I went back to the woods where
not a single tree turns its face away.

Instead I prayed, oh Lord, let me be
something useful and unpretentious.
Even the chimney swift sings.
Even the cobblestones have a task to do, and do it well.
Lord, let me be a flower, even a tare; or a sparrow.
Or the smallest bright stone in a ring worn by someone
brave and kind, whose name I will never know.
~Mary Oliver

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ~Matthew 5:6  ✝

**Images via Pinterest; collage by Natalie

814. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and that can grow brave by reflection. ~Thomas Paine

Refuse to fall down
If you cannot refuse to fall down, refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down, lift your heart toward heaven,
and like a hungry beggar, ask that it be filled.
The one who says nothing good comes of such as this,
is not yet listening.
~Edited excerpt
by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

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Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. ~Marianne Williamson

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So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ~Isaiah 41:10  ✝

**Photos I took in Paris when we went to see Napoleon’s Tomb at Les Invaides…

716. Beauty deprived of its proper foils and adjuncts ceases to be enjoyed as beauty, just as light deprived of all shadows ceases to be enjoyed as light. ~John Ruskin

The peonies bloom, white and pink.
And inside each, as in a fragrant bowl,
A swarm of tiny beetles have their conversation,
For the flower is given to them as their home.
~Czeslaw Milosz

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This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly, 
and there it is again —
beauty, the brave, the exemplary, 
blazing open.
~Excerpt from Mary Oliver’s
peom about peonies

My mother and her sister, my Aunt Johnnie, had a knack with peonies.  Theirs always bloomed year after year, even when they moved them around the yard even though the experts say they need to be put in the ground and left alone.  I, on the other hand, have done exactly that and yet mine only seem to bloom when that have a mind too.  And I was thrilled to see that this was the year for two of them to actually have a few blooms.  But all the rains and storms we’ve had have taken a toll on their beautiful blooms, and so I was able to get only a few pictures as you can see in my collage above.  The lighter one has the most heavenly fragrance, and it’s such a delight to go out in the morning or the late afternoon and be greeted by its sweet aroma.  Sadly it suffered more from the rain and storms, and so I blurred the outer edges a bit to cover up some of its browning spots.

Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread everywhere. Let my beloved come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. ~Song of Songs 4:16 ✝

633. Red is the great clarifier – bright and revealing. ~Diana Vreeland

 Red is the first color of spring.
It’s the color of rebirth,
Of beginning.
~Ally Condie
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WHAT IS RED?
Red is a sunset
Blazing and bright.
Red is feeling brave
With all your might.
Red is a sunburn
A spot on your nose.
Sometimes red, is a red red rose.
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Red squiggles out
When you cut your hand.
Red is a brick
And the sounds of a band.
Red is a hotness you get inside
When you’re embarrassed
And want to hide.
~Mary O’Neill
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. ~Psalm 106:9-10   ✝
**Images via Pinterest and Natalie; the collages were created by Natalie