Screw ups, revisit

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On Monday, my post exposed the fact that we are all flawed — not one of us is perfect. This re-post (from September 2019) further explores that ideaand the benefit of being in community.

We’re pretty hard on ourselves, aren’t we?

Last week, when the phone rang at work, I answered and gave the answers the caller was looking for. I stumbled a little bit, because the call had interrupted me in the middle of another task, but I heard the mother’s heart of questions, and I gave her honest answers. However, I didn’t follow protocol and provide only the prescribed answers I was supposed to give on an initial phone call. Instead, I provided a few bits that are usually reserved for a lengthier conversation so that they can be provided in context. In carelessly oversharing, I might have said too much and gotten in the way of…

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Close Contact

Click the arrow to hear this post.

Last week I spent both of my posts on the positive impact that community can have on us — how choosing to spend time with others can provide an environment in which change can happen. When we feel loved and accepted, we can let down our guards, open our minds, and be open to new ways of thinking and being.

However, spending time in close proximity to others does come with risk. The moments we spend with others — our family, our community — are not often picture perfect; frequently they are characterized by friction, collision, and pain.

In fact, when I look back on the mental movie of my life, I can see the people I love most standing nearby as I have yelled, thrown things, and slammed doors; they’ve born witness as I’ve lain wounded, cried, and struggled to get back up. What impact must these moments have had on the bystanders? I am sure they left marks on the people I love most. And when I sit with that truth, my body aches.

But, here’s the thing: we can’t avoid leaving marks on the people we love the most.

We. are. broken.

All of us.

And when broken people come close to one another, we hurt one another.

Hurt people hurt people.

And all of us — from time to time — are hurting.

I remember one particularly difficult morning during the soldiering years when our whole family was headed to join a gathering of friends for a meal. Everyone else was ready and waiting, but I was upset about something — probably a larger internal issue — and I couldn’t get comfortable with the way I looked. I closed the bathroom door, tore everything out of the cabinets, and began violently cleaning and rearranging as I cried. I was hurting so badly, but I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how I could pull on a face that would not expose my pain for public viewing. My husband and my children — all in middle and high school by this time — could certainly hear me wailing and slamming as they watched the clock, knowing we were going to be late. When finally I emerged, tears wiped, make-up applied, and silent, they watched cautiously as I climbed in the car. We all rode quietly to the event, where I took a deep breath, got out of the car, and engaged appropriately (or at least more appropriately) with those who had gathered.

What impact did that make? How did I affect my children and my husband, all of whom were also hurting during this period, by processing in this way — behind closed doors — and then presenting a different face to those who were one step removed? What was I teaching them about pain? About emotion? About friendship? About community?

Of course many experience bigger hurts than my emotional melt down. When families and communities experience accidents, trauma, or disaster, all feel the blows and carry the resulting injuries. If one member of the family is injured in a car accident, everyone’s life gets bumped out of its rhythm — all those who care stop what they are doing, show up on the scene, rally to help, and adjust their schedules until further notice. When one person is the victim of a crime, all in the vicinity feel the violation — they experience fear, anger, grief, agony — sometimes for years after the fact. When someone in the family loses their house to fire or their livelihood is destroyed by hurricane, the impact can be felt by the children, the parents, and the whole community who might see the course of their lives redirected for decades in the wake of such devastation.

Not every hurt is remarkable, of course, some impacts go virtually unnoticed. Others are among the everyday bumps and bruises incurred with close contact.

The other morning, my husband of almost thirty years was driving me to work on one of the coldest mornings of the year. We were chatting matter-of-factly as he drove when something he said struck a cord and I felt defensive. I heard myself respond directly, and soon I knew my reply was sharper than I’d intended when I heard his tone change, too. Before we knew it, we were both feeling agitated and exchanging charged comments. We arrived at the office building where I work, said our goodbyes, and both tried to proceed into our days carrying the bumps and bruises from that conversation.

Now, because we’ve been married for almost thirty years and because we’ve done the heavy lifting that has taught us how to repair, he texted me within moments and I texted back. We both acknowledged our part in the conflict and agreed to table our discussion until later. We’d both felt the pain of contact, but we were willing to back up, reassess, and try a different approach that wouldn’t cause damage.

When you are willing, you can experience growth and change in your relationships with others. Over time, having experienced many collisions and close calls, you can learn how to navigate more safely, how to give each other a wide berth, how to forgive missteps and even outright hurtfulness.

In fact, if you are going to stay in relationships with people, you are going to have to learn how to consider one another, how to forgive one another, and how to give one another chance after chance after chance, because when we live in close proximity, we bump into each other, and sometimes it hurts.

It can be painful to think about the impact that our choices, patterns, and words have had on those closest to us. We want so badly to get it all right, but we never will. So, we trudge on, doing what we can.

We don’t have to — we don’t have to keep trying, keep trudging. We have options.

We could avoid this hurt altogether. We could choose to live as individuals — insulating ourselves from others so that we don’t hurt them and so that they don’t hurt us — but what would we lose in so doing?

We would lose the opportunity to love, to learn, to grow. We would lose the opportunity to forgive and be forgiven. We would lose the chance to laugh together, to share experiences, and to weep with one another.

This morning at church, right before I witnessed my friend and her husband give bread and wine to her aging father, right before I saw them, along with our pastor, envelop him in a hug and pray for him, I heard these words:

…what if our true selves are made from the materials of our communal life?

Where is there some “self” which has not been communally created? By cutting

back our attachments and commitments, the self shrinks rather than grows.”

Stanley Hauerwas

In my closest relationships I have experienced the deepest pain, and I have felt the fullest joy. Knowing I will continue to experience both the pain and the joy, I will not cut back my attachments; I will not shrink into myself. I will open my arms and embrace the brokenness that is inherent to all relationships, because our truest selves are indeed made from the materials of our communal life.

“Be kind to one another — tenderhearted, forgiving one another — even as God, for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:32

Choosing Community, a re-visit

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On Monday, I wrote about the ways I am witnessing change in Transformational Spaces. This post, written in March 2018 and dusted off for you here, recalls my journey into understanding the power of community.

I can spend days in solitude — reading, writing, working on puzzles, going for long walks. I love to be alone.

In my childhood, I would retreat to my room to listen to the same song over and over again on a record player, spend hours in the side yard of our house twirling my baton, read away a whole afternoon in the living room recliner, and take solo rides on my bike to the boundaries of the small town I grew up in.

As an adult,  I have looked forward to whatever private moments I have been able to carve out for myself — reading, writing, walking. Don’t get me wrong, I love my…

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Transformational Spaces

On an average day in the middle of last summer a soon-to-be fifth grader walked into our learning center. As is common among first day students, his eyes were down, his defenses were up, and he was palpably not happy to find himself in this situation. His parent said, “See you in a little while,” and left him in our care. We did our standard welcome activities — tour of the center including our prize area where students choose what they will earn for all their hard work, presentation of gifts including a t-shirt and a personalized water cup, and introductions to staff and students. Then, we took him to his instruction area to begin, and he bolted — took off running. He was getting out of there.

We don’t know why. We don’t know what this guy had faced in school settings over the past five or more years. We don’t know what kind of comments he’d heard from instructors — you’re not trying hard enough, this is an easy one, just look at the letters — or what teasing he’d received from other students — why can’t you read, everybody can read, I just read Harry Potter for the third time — or what pressure he was under at home. We just know that his experiences up until we met him had made him leery of entering into proximity with one more group of people who would likely have opinions about him, want him to try stuff, and eventually be disappointed in him.

Not too long ago I was stuck on my couch believing that I would be grieving forever. I didn’t have the strength to venture into new spaces where I might face judgment, misunderstanding, or possibly more pain. If people invited me to do things, I often found excuses — I was busy, tired, or not feeling well. I didn’t have the wherewithal to try — to have conversations, to meet new people, to share my story. If I did happen to agree to go to an event, I often grumbled my whole way there. Why did we agree to come here? It’s going to be terrible. I’m not talking to anyone. How soon can we leave?

It’s not easy to shift from that posture.

When you are convinced that all attempts will lead to failure, you can make failure happen. When you believe that everyone will disappoint you, you can ensure that they will. And when you experience what you expect, your beliefs about how broken, how stuck, how hurt you truly are become more and more etched on the fabric of your soul.

I think that a person needs support to shift away from a posture like that.

When I was feeling that I’d lost all hope, friends showed up. They knew I was on that damn couch, and they persisted. They invited. They texted. They picked me up. They dropped me off. They prayed with me. They cried with me. They cheered every win. They carried me into situations that I was afraid of, and they didn’t leave me alone.

When my student was bent on bolting, his parent sat in our lobby — he needed a partner in his investment, a cheerleader. We were, of course, ready to cheer him every step of the way, but he didn’t yet trust us. We worked hard to build that trust — we celebrated every win, and we were patient in his silences. Eventually, he didn’t need a parent to stay, but he was still reluctant to fully commit. What if it really wouldn’t work and these people, “the experts at teaching reading,” couldn’t help him? What would that mean? If we couldn’t teach him, certainly he was without hope.

A little over two years ago, my husband suggested that we join a small group of people — members of our church — and meet with them once every other week to share journeys, study the Bible, and pray. We’ve been part of many groups like this during our marriage, so I complied. We’ve often found good friendships and community in such groups.

But a couple months later, our lives fell into chaos. If we’d known we were broken before, we suddenly found ourselves face down among all the shattered pieces, grieving uncontrollably. I no longer felt safe going to our small group. I was grumpy and resistant. I went, doing my best to hold it together, but sometimes my snarling gave me away. If our group noticed, I don’t remember them calling me out; they just kept showing up.

Things got tough for my student, too. It wasn’t easy to work our program, hour after hour, day after day. Sometimes his snarling gave him away, too. He refused to work, hurled insults, and often — feeling frustrated — gave up. My staff hung in there, encouraging him, believing for him — You’re going to get this! — when he couldn’t believe for himself.

This past week, I was working with him on his goal of adding the 1000 most common English words to his sight word base when he looked at me with exasperation. “I’m never going to finish this list,” he said.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked. “You’re so close! You’re gonna finish it, trust me!”

Two days later, he took a break from instruction to come find me, “Kristin, I have something to show you.” He handed me the sight word list so that I could see that he was finished. The whole room — students and teachers — stopped what we were doing to applaud him. His face, which for the past six months had often been fixed in a scowl, was beaming. It continued to beam as he read his fifth grade level stories while I stood watching in awe.

Later that day, he took another student aside — a student who was coincidentally experiencing his first day at our learning center — “I know it seems a little hard today,” he said, “but you’re going to do great, just like I did.”

On that same night, exhausted from my day, I came home, swallowed food, and reluctantly got in our car to go to our community group. I literally said “grumble, grumble” as we drove through the freezing February night, but guess what I found when I got there?

I found people who had been consistently showing up, grumbling or not, for over two years. I found them sharing snacks, laughing, listening, asking questions, and leaning in to hear one another’s stories.

We heard about hurts from the past, challenges of the present, and stories of answered prayer.

I saw tears, I heard joy, I found love.

Sometimes, just when we believe that all hope is lost — we’ll never learn to read, we’ll never be finished grieving — we find ourselves in a community that is committed to showing up, waiting us out, cheering us on, and believing for us that hope is not gone. When we find ourselves in these spaces, we should expect transformation because this is where it happens.

Find yourself a way to be part of these transformational spaces.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

I Thessalonians 5:11

Of Easter and Sexual Assault, Re-visit

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On Monday I wrote about sexual assault; today I’m revisiting a post I wrote last Easter. Although the prevalence of sexual assault in our culture angers me, I believe that God is always working to restore us, and it is within our power to partner with Him in restoration work.

Is it weird that Easter falls in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month?

Is it strange that during Holy Week my husband and I joined a couple dozen students to watchI am Evidence, a film about sexual assault and the disturbing backlog of unprocessed rape kits in our country?

Is it inappropriate that on our drive home from our family celebration of Easter we discussed sexual assault and the impact it has had on our society in general and our family specifically?

No. Nope. Not at all.

It’s not even a juxtaposition. No amount…

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The Super Bowl, Sexual Assault, and Stepping into Uncomfortable Spaces

Click the arrow to hear me read this post.

As I write this, the Super Bowl hasn’t yet started. By the time you read it on Monday or Tuesday, it’ll be history. However, as I write, the sex trafficking industry which sees the Super Bowl and other major sporting events as lucrative sources of revenue, has set up shop in Miami and is selling the services of males and females who it has imprisoned, brutalized, held against their will, and frightened into submission. The Miami Herald this week suggested that one sex trafficker could net $50,000 this weekend alone by selling the services of just a few girls.

Oh, geez, is she going to spend a whole blog post talking about sex trafficking?

I don’t have to, I could branch out to sexual assault as a whole. I could write about Harvey Weinstein who just finished his second week of trial in New York after having been accused of sexual assault over the last couple of decades by dozens of women who either felt overpowered by his status and influence over their careers or were literally physically overpowered by him. Weinstein as much as admitted that many of these assaults occurred when he paid out over $25 million in a settlement in a civil case involving over 30 women in December 2019.

He’s an old rich guy, what does that have to do with me?

Ok, let’s forget about Weinstein. Let’s talk about the fact that “every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. Every 9 minutes that victim is a child, and only 5 out of 1000 perpetrators will end up in prison” (https://www.rainn.org/statistics).

Sexual crimes don’t happen just at major sporting events like the Super Bowl. Sexual assault is not only perpetrated by old rich white guys who have power and influence. Sexual assault impacts people you see every day and likely someone who is very close to you, even if you are not aware of it.

Come on, I thought this was a Christian blog. I read this for encouragement!

To be fair, I only promised that this blog would share my thoughts about life in this next chapter, but I hear you. So let’s find a way to encourage one another, shall we? Is it possible that though we live in a world where sex crimes are ubiquitous, we have an opportunity to effect change? Do we dare believe that we have opportunities to shift a culture?

Just this weekend, my husband and I were looking for a movie to watch. We clicked on a popular flick and watched for about 10 minutes before we found ourselves inside a strip club full of pole dancers. The scene ran for three to five minutes and the shots were up close and meant to serve as eye candy for this otherwise action/adventure movie. It’s not the first time such a scene has popped up in a movie that is targeted towards men — those that include crime, guns, high-speed chases, and gratuitous sex scenes.

What might happen if, when we are encountered by such scenes, we choose to interrogate them? Rather than flipping the channel or ignoring their existence, what might we shift if we actually asked some questions? What assumptions do these movies make about men? about women? How do these assumptions impact our thinking? How does that thinking impact what we do and what we say? How does our choice to pay money to watch a movie that promotes such assumptions compare to the choice of someone in Miami to pay for 30 minutes alone in a room with someone they believe to be a prostitute?

I would say there are fewer degrees of separation than we might like to tell ourselves.

I mean, come on, can’t I even watch a movie without dissecting it?

Of course you can, but what might change if you tried something different? What if we agreed to question these tropes, talk about them, reveal them for what they are? Can we ask out loud: Who among us would go to a strip club? What is alluring about it? What is dehumanizing? Who is being served? At what cost? What is being added to the movie with this scene? What purpose does it serve? How am I impacted by it?

Geez, that sounds like a real buzz-kill.

I can see how you’d feel that way. Maybe it’s too much to ask.

Maybe it would be more reasonable if we all just agreed to examine our language. How do we speak and think about men and women? Does our language promote stereotypical views of male and female? Do our words imply that men need to be strong, man-up, bite the bullet, or wear the pants? Do we unconsciously expect men to be strong, to dominate, to control their women? Do the ways we speak suggest that women be pretty, docile, sweet, and kind? Do we expect them to be agreeable, passive, nurturing, and to not bring up topics like sexual assault in their blogs?

Geez, Kristin, calm down. Why are you on this rant, anyway?

Good question. I didn’t start here. I was staring at a blank screen this morning when I started thinking about the Super Bowl, and once my fingers started flying, they just wouldn’t stop.

You know why this happens sometimes? Because it’s personal.

I know many of the “1 in 3 women” who have experienced unwanted sexual violence in the form of physical contact, and I am very close to some of the “1 in 5 women” who have experienced rape (CDC). These are not strangers without names. They are people that I love.

When I consider that right now young people are being forced to perform sexual acts with complete strangers, I feel angry. When I try to watch a movie and it — much to my surprise — depicts sexual assault, or even some kind of sexual manipulation, I feel ill. When I see a man in a position of power eyeball a subordinate from head to toe, I want to gouge his eyes out. When I hear someone comment inappropriately about someone else’s body — “We’ll, doesn’t that fit you in all the right places?” — I am instantly charged.

Sex, when enjoyed by two committed consenting partners, is one of the most beautiful unions we can enjoy. The fact that it is twisted and manipulated so that one person weaponizes it against another and sometimes a third party benefits financially, sickens me.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday and I can’t do anything about those who are being victimized as I write this post, but I can tell my small group of readers that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can do better. We can create shift toward a culture in which people are not afraid of being harmed in their bodies behind closed doors, in dirty alleys, or right in plain sight. We can ask hard questions, challenge the status quo, and refuse to be entertained by the objectification of human beings. We can work to protect the lives of those who are at risk. We can refuse to participate in activities that promote rape culture. We can hold perpetrators accountable.

We can do this. We can make these shifts. It might be uncomfortable, but the lives of those we love are at stake.

Will join me? Will you step into this space? Do you dare?

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

2 Cor 10:5

Sitting with it, Re-visit

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Click here for audio, or read on.

This week and last, I have shared posts that tell the story of my journey with autoimmunity. I have said in my posts that I am thankful for this journey. This post gets at the heart of why. Written in August of 2017, it conveys a critical part in my healing — the time I have spent sitting and considering the previous chapter of my life. Everyone doesn’t benefit from illness, but my physical illness has made way for a much deeper healing.

I literally have to sit here with it.

I would rather run, but I don’t have that option any more. I have to sit with it.

In my soldiering years, I was continually in motion. Dawn ’til dark. I was picking up, dropping off, buying, cooking, cleaning, planning, teaching, grading, and when I could squeeze it in, I was literally…

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Becoming Well(-er), a re-visit

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Last week, I shared two posts: the first, here, described autoimmune disease as I experience it now. The second, here, described autoimmune disease as I experienced it in the beginning. This post, another re-visit, was written in March 2019. It describes how I’ve come to view my journey with autoimmune disease. While at first I was overwhelmed, angry, and defeated by my symptoms, I now can see how learning to manage them and writing about the experience has opened a path to a new way of life.**This is not a how-to manual for those who are suffering; it is merely a narration of life in this chapter.

Five years ago, I was getting ready to transition away from a job I loved and a beautiful home in a community that had forever re-shaped us. One of several reasons…

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Invisibly Ill, and being still, a re-visit

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Click above if you’d like to hear my creaky morning voice read this post; otherwise, read on!

On Monday, I wrote about autoimmunity (full post here) and how I function daily in January 2020. Many of you wrote to thank me for sharing my journey. In light of that, I thought it might be useful for this week’s re-visit to be my very first post on autoimmune disease from way back in July 2014 — my second blog post ever. A lot has changed since then — my diagnosis, my symptoms, and my reality. Everyone’s struggle with illness is different, and many of those struggles we cannot see.Many more than I are invisibly ill.

In my first entry on this blog, I mentioned that my doctors had advised me to take some time off to rest. Some of you who know me might be thinking, “Well, shoot, you…

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I look just fine

Click the arrow to hear me read this post, or simply ignore and read on.

Friday afternoon, I sat at my desk grading some student work. I had untied the blanket scarf that I’d had wrapped around my neck and transitioned it from scarf to blanket so that I could wrap up as I worked. I was tired. And chilly.

Then, when my supervisor entered my office and shared some sadness with my coworker and I, I moved the blanket from my shoulders to up around my head, like a babuska. I huddled inside, rounded my shoulders, and audibly sighed.

Any stamina I had left after two forty-hour weeks was quickly dissipating. I didn’t have the bandwidth to take in sadness. I only had enough left to finish my tasks for the week so that I could stumble home.

Nevertheless, my coworkers and I paused for a minute and were sad together.

When the day was finally ended — most of the t’s crossed and most of the i’s dotted (I couldn’t be bothered to ensure all) — I tied the scarf around my neck, put on my coat, grabbed my backpack, and started the journey home.

I knew, as I walked out of the building, that I would spend most of the weekend in recovery, most of the next three days resting, hydrating, and giving my body time to heal.

I’m not sick. I am not injured. I have an autoimmune disease. And when your spoons are gone, they are gone, baby. After a couple long weeks — even a couple long hours — you can find yourself sitting at your desk wrapped up in a blanket, practically sucking your thumb.

I look just fine. You wouldn’t know that most of the past month I’ve been caring for a persistent case of iritis, which has involved — so far — two trips to the ophthalmologist and a course of steroid drops, OTC ibuprofen, and plenty of rest. You wouldn’t be able to see that for most of the week I’ve been trying to convince myself that I don’t have a urinary tract infection (sorry for the TMI) and that at this very moment, I’m contemplating a trip to the doctor to pee in a cup and find out if it is an infection or just inflammation.

I look just fine. In fact, I want to look just fine. I try very hard to look just fine.

Before I even walk out the door each morning, I do two HOURS of self care so that I can have the stamina to live my life — complete my job requirements, maintain my emotional health, and prevent myself from an autoimmune flare.

The alarm goes off at 5:30. I go to the bathroom and give the doggy the same opportunity. Then, I head to my home office, sit on the futon, read some Scripture, and write my three morning pages. Next I do yoga. (I am currently following a 30-day plan called “Home” by Yoga with Adriene.) By the time I’ve done all this, I am usually rushing to grab the clothes I’ve lain out the night before on my way to the shower. I wash with delicate soap and shampoo that won’t incite psoriasis, and I take time to apply carefully-selected moisturizers and cosmetics that do NOT annoy my skin. I dress in clothing that is comfortable and shoes that won’t irritate my feet. Finally, I make gluten-free oatmeal (yes, that’s a thing) and a cup of green tea, both of which I carry out the door with me so that I can make it to work by 8. I cherish this luxury of time to connect with God, connect with my mind, connect with my body, and prepare myself for the day.

In addition to my daily work, I also have other regular maintenance routines that I follow. I go to regular physical and dental check-ups like anyone else, but I do much more. Weekly, I see at least one member of my team — my chiropractor, my physical therapist, or my functional medicine practitioner. Once a month, I see a therapist, and twice a year I get an injection from a pain management specialist.

I love this routine. And, I have noticed, after having developed it over the past few years, that it makes me feel and look just fine — most of the time.

Even all this preventative practice can’t consistently keep autoimmune flares at bay.

It does a pretty good job, I must say. When I first started struggling with autoimmunity, I felt (and, quite frankly, looked) lousy most days. My eyes hurt, my skin was inflamed, my joints were stiff and sore, and I had zero stamina. I could barely keep my eyes open on my drive home after a typical day. I was convinced I’d landed in a new reality. I would never be able to hold a full-time job again. I would always be in pain. I would always feel (and look) miserable.

That was seven years ago this month.

Fortunately, the past seven years have led me to this place — a place that is full of hope. I have found a different way to have a career — where forty hour weeks are the exception not the rule, where I can occasionally sit at my desk wrapped in a blanket on a Friday afternoon, and where I can spend my weekend recovering instead of worrying about 75 AP essays that need to be scored and returned.

It would probably be a healthier rhythm even without autoimmune disease, but my dream was to teach in a high school or college where current systems don’t typically allow teachers to have a reasonable amount of work. High school and college English teachers work much more than 40 hours a week and have very little, if any, time for self-care or recovery — especially not teachers who have high expectations of themselves and their students and who are soldiering through their own personal crises.

Ironically, I was living my dream of speaking into the writing of people who were finding their way, when I realized I had lost my own way.

Autoimmunity has given me back my life — a better life than I could have imagined, even considering the frequent eye issues and other systemic flares. Because of the routines I have had to employ in order to function, I am much more aware of who I am and what my priorities are.

Because of autoimmunity, I look — and actually am — just fine.

I have spent most of the weekend recovering. I’ve stayed mostly in pajamas, wrapped in an afghan, eating foods that don’t contribute to inflammation, and using all the practices that restore me — Scripture, writing, yoga, crocheting, college basketball, and movies. I’m feeling a bit better. I may head to the doctor yet, but for right now, I’m going to crawl over to the couch, turn on a good flick, and continue to rest.

I’m sure I’ll look just fine in the morning.

My son, pay attention to what I say;

    turn your ear to my words…

 …for they are life to those who find them

    and health to one’s whole body.

Proverbs 4:20 and 22