When Holidays Hurt

I’ve been feeling it in the air for awhile now… Days are shorter, nights are longer. Skies are darker and breezes are colder. Changing seasons and impending holidays are often harsh, stinging reminders of loss and loneliness.

roomThe evening grows long as I look out across the waiting room and see the many sad or sick faces waiting patiently…or not. Some fidget, sigh, and look at invisible watches on their wrists. Some stare blankly into the unreachable distance or at the monotonous pattern of the enclosing four walls, perhaps replaying old scenes or longed-for visions. Some stare absently into their phones for distraction, relief, or escape. Still they wait. I know many of their stories before they utter a word. I know their history or I read their eyes. I watch their shoulders slump, their hands fidget, their lips frown or faintly quiver. I feel the weight and the want and the weariness.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” plays through christmasalonethe overhead speaker, piped in like a merry elf entertaining ideas of fun, frivolity, and lightheartedness, in denial of the pain, the longing, and the loss that the season brings to so many people.

The door opens and closes. Another name, another face, another story. There’s the familiar cloak of usual sickness: flu, sore throat, bumps, and bruises. Those are easy. Passing pain, sickness, or inconvenience that at least offers the hope of speedy relief and healing. But hanging heavy on the heads and shoulders of many are weightier garments: coverings made of death, disease, dysfunction. There’s divorce, abandonment, rejection, loss of dreams and other not-so-merry reminders in every piped in song, well-placed decoration, and carefully thought out department store diorama.

His wife was just found dead. Her husband lost a long battle with cancer. Children’s Services is involved. Her dad kicked her and told her not to tell. Her daughter has run away. Her son is in jail. It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving. He just lost his job. Their house burned to the ground. The Alzheimer’s is so much worse. Hospice has been called in.Third DUI. Arrested for heroin. Suicide. It’s almost Christmas.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Matt 11:28

I’ve been told it’s like a walking a treadmill…walking and climbing and struggling but never getting anywhere. Three steps forward and two steps back.alone1 But still they put one foot in front of the other. Some days are harder. Holidays are harder: days meant to gather and celebrate with people you love and people who love you. A time to reflect on blessings and health, the past and the future. So much to celebrate and be thankful for. But there are some who sit in quiet rooms all alone. There are some who sit in loud, clamorous rooms with many others, but are still alone. There are some who sit facing those who have mistreated, rejected, abused, or betrayed them. There are some who sit facing empty chairs of those who have left them through death or abandonment.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36

What does it look like to offer hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, compassion for the hurting,church1 and comfort for the grieving? Is there ministry in hearing, caring, and simply being present? What do you do when there’s no written prescription to ease the pain of heartbreak and loss and devastation? No first aid kit to stop the bleeding or cover the wound? No tender kiss to make it all better?

From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and weak; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2

It has been a slow, humbling process…the realization that I don’t have all the answers. The fixer in me can’t fix all the hurt, restore all the loss, patch all the holes, or fill the empty seats.  I can’t and I’m not meant to. And with that, another realization… that it’s okay. I don’t have to be the great fixer, the final answer, a redemptive savior. I can’t be.

But what can I do? What can anyone do to make a difference in stara world with so much hurt and loss and fear and hopelessness and uncertainty? Is it enough to have eyes that see and ears that hear? To give a gift that is both free and priceless: to be seen and heard, recognized, and acknowledged? Validated and assured that they matter, that their struggles are real, that their hearts and lives are important, that someone cares, and more importantly, that there is hope?  Yes, it matters. It all matters. I can be a hand to hold. I can choose to extend a hand that reaches, lifts, holds, supports, gives. A hand to guide, to direct, to point to the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a God that loves them and wants to fill the empty places and the empty seats. I can be a voice. A voice that speaks truth and dispels lies and speaks words of encouragement and validation. And I can just be. I can sit in the ashes, care in the silence, be light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold season of the soul. I can offer hope in the simple ministry of being present and attentive. I can care.

I can love. ❤

IMG_5426

 

Books and Bombs

I like to read. And I like to write. IMG_7565So when I was offered an opportunity to read and review Elisa Pulliam’s soon to be released book, Meet the New You, I jumped on board expectantly and wholeheartedly.

But this is not a review. I actually haven’t started it yet…at least not on a page one, left to right continuum like a compliant, conformist reader. I did, however, skim the chapter titles, speed read the planner, and glance over pertinent quotes.

By ” pertinent quotes” I actually mean words that pierced the heart, stung the conscience, opened the eyes, and fell in my face like a cold, drenching rain. Why did I read those particular words on that specific day at the precise hard place I had just found myself sitting in anger and frustration? I don’t believe in coincidence, happenstance, or luck. I choose to see “coincidences” as divine appointments, purposeful encounters, connecting crossroads, or meaningful words and events in due season.

“Forgiveness Frees Us from the Chains of Pain”   -Elisa Pulliam

That was the first quotation from the book that jumped off the page and into my conscience. A few months ago I wrote a blog post about forgiveness…about turning the other cheek and going the extra mile. Back then it was merely a little obstacle, a tiny bump in the road, but the struggle this week had been chain2very different: deeper, more hurtful, less easily released. Okay…not released at all, but held firmly between fingers clinched so tightly, for so long, that I couldn’t remember how to open them. Just as old friends, old songs, and old photos often bring back the warmest feelings and happiest memories, old hurts and offenses are often embedded in the deepest, darkest places and forge the most pain, anger, and confusion. They inflict invisible wounds to the heart and soul.

This isn’t about confession. Or scandal. Or grungy details of sin or hurt or loss or betrayal. It’s just about humanity. About feeling. About living, loving, hating, and believing. It’s about guilt and regret and confusion and trying and succeeding and failing. About falling down and getting back up. It’s about emotion and expression and repression…and sometimes even a little regression. At its core, it’s about struggle and chains and wires and bombs…and freedom.

“Unforgiveness wires our soul to the past yet causes explosions in the present.”    -Elisa Pulliam

That was it! That one sentence explained the pressure that had been building in my mind and body until I thought I might explode. It was linked and wired and crisscrossed like a complex circuit board. Or maybe it was more like a pile of dynamite. I’ve heard that one potential sign of harboring unhealed hurts or unforgiveness is having an unusally tender spot that we hide and cover and push people away from. I’ve also heard it compared to a thorn that we adapt to, wrap scar tissue around, and sometimes forget it’s there…until someone or something touches it and then we recoil in pain, confusion, or shame. So…unforgiveness may manifest as a tender, unhealed wound? Makes sense. But a bomb?

This really isn’t all about me. I talk to lots of people. It’s what I do and I love it. But I frequently witness the consequences of unhealed hurts, repressed feelings, and unforgiveness. I counsel people who are confused about seemingly unexplainable anger, frustration, depression, anxiety, tension, and lashing out: “I just snap.” “I can’t control it.” “Something just comes over me.” Sometimes there really is no obvious present-day trigger. Sometimes it’s not situational or chemical or hormonal. Sometimes it seems as if a hidden remote control or detonator button is pushed and they have very little control.

But what is about me is this: I had a bad day. I snapped IMG_7563at someone for no legitimate reason. Snapped? Okay…I exploded all over someone. Not just any someone, but someone I have a long, deep, hard history with. I said very hurtful things…words and expressions and tones that I didn’t like and don’t typically use. It was hurtful. It was hateful. There was no love, no grace, no mercy. Truthfully, the worst was not even said to the person directly, but to the four walls of the room I retreated to as a private sanctuary…an asylum. But I heard my tone, my words, my intent, my heart. Who walked away with the greatest pain and regret? I have no doubt that I did. I was the bomb. Unresolved conflict was the detonator. Unforgiveness was the catalyst. Explosion was inevitable.

“It is only through forgiving others that we become unchained and able to really move on.”    -Elisa Pulliam

Does knowing that there’s a distant, remote trigger for what we say, do, or feel today make all the hurt, struggle, and guilt disappear? Probably not, but it does give IMG_7561more focus, direction and new weapons to engage in the battle. It’s difficult to fight an unknown, unnamed enemy. What will you call it? Anger? Hurt? Bitterness? Unforgiveness? By naming it, we see the potential battle lines, mine fields, and obstacles and will be better equipped to grab hold of a live wire and trace it back its point of origin and unplug it. Diffuse it. Disconnect it. Purposefully. Prayerfully. Vigilantly. Is it easy? No, but we walk it out one step, one breath at a time. Pray for wisdom, patience, guidance, discernment, and willingness. Pray, cry, talk to someone, learn and speak truth. Fall and then get back up. And be willing. Willing to love, willing to share, willing to forgive or at least willing to be willing to forgive. And then forgive. And forgive. And forgive. Forgive those who hurt you and forgive yourself. In doing these things, we snuff out one fuse, one fire at a time; and we snip one link in the chain….and then another, and another, until the chain snaps and falls and we are finally loosed.

                                          chains

“Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. Forgiving is about remembering and releasing.”   -Elisa Pulliam

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  -Jesus, John 8:36

For more information and encouragement, please visit  http://www.thenewyou.elisapulliam.com  #theNEWyou

Swords, Shields, and Stretchers

It’s Thankful Thursday…actually it’s slow-down Sunday. 😉 There’s always so much to be thankful for… including the job, family, bible study, and busyness that demanded my time and attention on Thursday; so I’m taking the time today to be thankful and to reflect on a retreat I attended  a few weeks ago.

I don’t usually like women’s retreats. They can feel heavy, IMG_7279weighted, sad… Rehearsed or complicated. I’m not sure why, but I imagine drama, complaining, comparison, and superficial conversation. I expect everyone to smile and say they’re fine. I project answers assuring that their faith is strong, their walks are straight, their thoughts are pure, their pasts are blameless, and their kids don’t talk back.

But what happens when the masks come off, the pretense falls away, and the reality of struggle and pain and loss and abuse and addiction and lack of faith surge to the surface to gasp a drowning breath of air and hope?

“…we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.”  Heb 6:18

The evening started with anonymous hand-written words, two words, to describe the condition of our hearts as we pried ourselves away from routine, repetition, and responsibility to participate in a group that had the potential to be threatening and exposing, or accepting and healing. Some words were expected and encouraging: hopeful, excited, needs refreshing. Others were raw and revealing: sad, guarded, uncertain, unknown, vulnerable, needy, weary.


weary

[weer-ee] adjective

  1. physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.; fatigued; tired
  2. impatient or dissatisfied with something.

“Weary” seemed to be the condition of most hearts. What an unexpected, yet IMG_7037eye-opening introduction to the weekend and to dozens of women I had never met. The honesty and admission of brokenness and need seemed to “level the playing field” and put us all on the same team. The theme of the weekend was hope: hope in the struggle and brokenness, hope in the shattered dreams and unmet expectations.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Heb 6:19

As the weekend unfolded, there were cleansing tears, IMG_7034joyous laughter, and reverent quiet; but also the realization and revelation of unmet expectations, hidden pain, and unresolved grief. There were testimonies of loneliness, sickness, struggle, and darkness, but ultimate victory and healing…at least the promise of ultimate victory and healing. There was hope, like an anchor…not preventing raging storms or rushing waters, but holding firm, steady, and secure in the midst of struggle, shattered dreams, grief, and unmet needs.

So why the title? What do swords, shields, and stretchers have to do with hope? A sword is a tool, a weapon…a symbol of power, justice, and authority. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God. The Truth. Is it possible to cling to hope in the midst of tragedy, brokenness, and unfulfilled longing if your life and beliefs are built on untruths and unknowns? Or do we construct a house of cards or a wobbly shack on shifting sands and live in fear of strong winds, unforeseen storms, and uncertainty? A question was offered to weary hearts late that evening: “Where does hope begin?” Two suggested answers:

  • Knowing we are loved and pursued
  • Confessing, coming before God in humility and naming what is true

“The truest thing about you is not your pain or your disappointment. The truest thing about you is who you are in relationship with Christ.”  Beth Wayland

IMG_7036Ultimately truth was proclaimed, eyes and ears were opened, and light was shed on who we are in Christ and in relation to one another. Honesty and transparency were modeled and encouraged. Walking and sharing and struggling together in community were presented as healthy and expected privileges and responsibilities of Christian life and sisterhood.

“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Eph 6:16

Not sure how many times I heard the phrase “lock shields with one another.” It painted a picture of unity, of protection, of warfare, of standing side by side and fighting our battles together. Stories of deep roots, strong bonds, and unconditional love and support made me painfully aware of gaping holes in my self-built defenses and weak spots in relationships where I had failed to unite, to stand side by side, and to know and be known. I knew there was something missing and it left me recognizably hurt and grieving.

“Find people willing to walk in the darkness with you. Choose community. Break your independent spirit and make your needs known. Find people to lock shields and walk with you.”  Jenny Rone

When you intentionally seek to know and are willingly, freely known, you make yourself available to both give and to receive love, care, assistance, and presence. In the story from Luke 5, the paralytic was unable to stand, to walk, to get to Jesus. His companions lifted him and bore his stretcher, his load, his weight, and brought him, weak and helpless, to Jesus. He may have had good intentions. He may have had great self-discipline and solid determination, but in his own power he was simply unable to bear his own weight, make his own path, see above the crowd and confusion, and find his healing.

Again, what do swords, shields, and stretchers have to do with hope? What exactly IMG_7033is hope? Is it simply a feeling? Is it crossing fingers and wishing for the best? Or is it more? Could it be steadfast confidence that is anchored in the Truth of God’s word, his character, and his promises? Might it also be a refuge, a place of calm security, knowledge, and peace that is fostered, encouraged, and protected in a community of warriors that will not only stand and fight, but will also kneel in quiet strength and humility in the midst of sickness, helplessness, or pain.

As the retreat drew to a close, I recalled a question the speaker had asked earlier in the weekend: “Will you turn your chair to another?”  

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matt 18:20

It wasn’t a question of position or convenience. It was a picture of a willful, voluntary choice to see and be seen, to hear and be heard, to know and be known. It represented a meeting of souls: “an intentional intersection of who I am with who someone else is…at the level of the soul.” (Beth Wayland)  While I can’t honestly say that I’m comfortable with the idea of complete transparency and vulnerability, I did walk away with questions, longings, empty places, a new awareness of needs and vulnerabilities, and, more importantly, a recognition and desire to fill the empty spaces.

I continue to see images of swords and battles, of standing together, of linking shields IMG_7263and bearing stretchers. I can even imagine myself on a stretcher, being humble and receptive to being lifted or lowered. I also walked away realizing that maybe I do like women’s retreats…even with the uncomfortable closeness and the inevitable messiness.  Next time I wont imagine, expect, or project anything.  Next time I will just hope…and maybe even turn my chair to face another.

Paws and Purpose

The question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.”  C.S. Lewis

I was deep in the midst of a hectic day at work when the phone in my pocket announced the arrival of a new picture message… IMG_6701Sneaking a quick peek, I glimpsed an image that was instantly familiar, but definitely out of place. There in the midst of wrinkled sheets and crumpled pillows lay a warmly familiar fuzzy bear. Face down, paws outstretched, in comfort or in reverence, I don’t know. Relaxed. At home. Comfortable.

A thousand images of dimpled cheeks, chubby fingers, and cozy bear hugs flashed through my mind and heart. It was my son’s bear. Was. Years ago. He had long left behind his fuzzy friend for the world of video games, high school, and cars. He no longer needed the presence, friendship, or comfort of Little Bear. Bittersweet, it took me a moment to fully recognize the importance of the candid photo my daughter had just snapped. Little Bear left us several months ago. My daughter works at an assisted living facility and had recently devised a creative, thoughtful idea: outgrown childhood stuffed animals may find new purpose in the faithful, tired arms of her elderly residents. It had been less traumatic for me to release Little Bear knowing that he would find a new home, a fresh start, and a renewed purpose. This was my first glimpse into his new life.

IMG_6695The following day I received a second Little Bear photo with the caption: “He got the place of honor today.”  There he lay atop the pillow of a worn soul, young yet old, offering comfort and companionship, love and acceptance.

I doubt Little Bear is really aware that he is loved and wanted and fulfilling his purpose… Walking out his calling as a companion and a comfort. He wasn’t knit together with a heart and soul longing for acceptance and communion. A place to belong and a purpose to fulfill. A calling. A knowing of who he is, why he is here, and how he can make a difference. A need to love and be loved. To comfort and be comforted.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

Is everyone created with a need to feel that they belong and are loved? That they have a purpose? An inner knowing that they can make a difference?

I started a new bible study this week. The promise and chosenencouragement for today: Philippians 1:6 says “…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Okay, so maybe the verse doesn’t exactly reference teddy bears or life goals and purpose but it does point back to a past, a beginning, as well as project forward to a process, and finally to an end. A completion. A purpose. It’s a promise. It doesn’t guarantee an easy journey and doesn’t say we won’t be repurposed along the way. But it says He knows, He plans, He gives, He completes. When there is confusion, loss, or lack of direction along the way, there is promise of presence, purpose and completion. And for that I am thankful.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from     beginning to end.   Ecc 3:11

Rescue

rescue

  • [res-kyoo]   verb  
  • to free or deliver from confinement, violence, danger, or evil.

“All I want for my birthday is a cat.”  That’s how it all started. So simple, yet so complicated.

We spent the weeks leading up to his birthday visiting pet stores, animal shelters and various rescue sites. He wanted them all. He loved them all.IMG_6368 He explored aisle after aisle, inspecting cage after cage with mixed emotions: excitement to find the perfect companion, mixed with the weighty sadness of looking into the eyes of caged, abandoned animals. Some knew no other life. They had been born into bondage. Others had been helpless victims of life situations they didn’t understand: health crisis, death, family move, divorce, new relationship, tiredness, or simply inconvenience and lack of commitment.

Then he saw her.

 She was a skinny, sad looking ball of uneven, not-sure-what-color fur. The hand-scribbled tag attached to her cage listed her color as “diluted” but I thought she just looked tired and faded..worn and sad, maybe even hopeless; but he reached down and chose her, lifting her out of her caged despair, abandonment, and neglect and into a new world of light and love and life. She leaned into his chest and enfolded herself in his arms and held on. Very close. Very still. She could hear his heartbeat and he could hear the revving of her hope and contentment as she purred like the sound of a thousand well-tuned engines. That’s all it took: leaning in, hearing his heartbeat, trusting his hold and his love for her.

Why did he choose her? Nothing special, she did nothing to earn his love. There were more attractive, well-groomed cats. Cats who jumped, played, made noise, and vied for attention. She was sick, imperfect: fleas, watery eyes, and a little off balance…not very pretty or desired by most standards, but he loved her. He reached in and pulled her close. He wiped her eyes, held her tight, and took her home. She was perfect.

I won’t suggest that animal neglect or abandonment should be weighed on the same scale as human suffering.  There are greater, more urgent crises: orphans, slavery, addiction, oppression, starvation, victimization.  I won’t offer suggestions or supposed remedies. I will just simply reflect on how one small act can make a difference in a very small corner of a great big world. One choice, one rescue at a time.

IMG_6370 I will also remember what it means to be chosen: to be set free, to be held, nurtured, and loved. To be fed, provided for, trained. I will remember that regardless of the situation, the bondage, or the cage,  I can lean in, be still, and be rescued.   And for that, I am thankful.

Broken Pieces

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in         despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.               2 Cor 4:8-9

Hmm… This makes three consecutive weeks that the title of my Thankful Thursday post Marsha's Musingsmight seem a little unconventional…out of the box…maybe not what you would expect from a thankful heart and a pondering mind.

My son accidentally broke one of my small decorative plates this week. It wasn’t an IMG_6233expensive relic and it didn’t hold any special sentimental value, but I cringed when I heard it hit the floor. A small thing really, but I had bought it as a little token of encouragement and remembrance. As I held the broken pieces, contemplating whether to glue it back together or to discard it, it mysteriously seemed both strong and fragile at the same time. There was one clean, well-defined break when it could have shattered into a hundred pieces. For a brief moment that humble little plate reflected the lives, circumstances, and expressions etched on a dozen different faces.

I recently sat in a circle with a dozen godly women who introduced themselves and then proceeded to lay their hearts and their hurts open and vulnerable within the confines and security of the huddled group. Each described various losses she had recently sustained. IMG_6238Through tears, sighs, clinched fists, shallow breaths, and faithful prayers came testimonies of devastating losses: loss of home, loss of spouse, loss of security, dream, or direction, loss of job…and then what I initially thought was the ultimate loss: the loss of a child. They were each walking through various stages of loss, grief, healing, and restoration.  Today as my hands held the broken pieces of plate and my mind rehearsed the broken pieces and echoes of so many lives, I realized none of my precious friends had really suffered the ultimate loss: the loss of hope. Even through pain, lack of understanding, or brokenness, each faithful friend expressed faith in a God who sees and hope of complete healing, restoration, and purpose.

A bruised reed He will not break,
    and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.
       In faithfulness He will bring forth justice..  Is 42:3

My broken plate has found its new home on my foyer table: a reminder that we all have broken pieces and broken places, but also strength, beauty, and purpose. So today I am thankful that my life has intersected with others and, in our losses and brokenness, we have found common ground, connection, faith, and hope.

IMG_5426My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.  Ps 51:17

The Other Cheek and an Extra Mile

But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.   Matt 5:39-41

A paradox really… Those don’t seem to be especially cheerful, Marsha's Musingsencouraging words, and it’s definitely an awkward introduction to a Thankful Thursday post; but with the right word in due season comes peace and burdens are lifted. For that I am thankful.

In many ways this feels like an extension of the “Friends in Low Places” piece I wrote a few weeks ago. Like so many others, I recently walked through a shadowed valley, a weary season, a time of struggle; and just as “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,”  out of the pen, or keyboard, the soul speaks, crafting words of hurt and offense or of hope and reconciliation.

“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”  Corrie Ten Boom

I recently found myself rehearsing offenses, IMG_6190playing back hurtful tapes, and blatantly vowing to disconnect or to payback hurt for hurt. Is it human nature to respond defensively when we’ve been hurt, rejected, misunderstood, or subtly “victimized”?  Is it a natural reflex to lash out or, conversely, to withdraw? Who then do we really hurt? Is it a shallow, veiled attempt at self-protection or is it actually a catalyst for isolation and self-condemnation? Who feels the heaviest, constraining weight of the chains? The claustrophobic, choking effects as the feelings of anger and injustice close in like a vice? In my futile attempt to protect my own feelings or perceived “rights”, I found myself feeling imprisoned behind iron bars and dark clouds.

That’s when I finally heard the words, roaring like a drenching rain from a darkened sky blowing against my face.  Should I lean into it turn away? It has been said in so many different ways: Forgive, let it go, turn the other cheek. That’s what I heard: turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Consider the consequences: a chainssore cheek, no coat, sore feet, humility, and quiet strength. Or…binding chains, clinched fists, heavy heart, frown lines, dark thoughts, sleepless nights, and slow steady poison coursing through every cell, every vein, every tissue, every thought, every plan.

Well…maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but it still wasn’t very pleasant, life-giving, or peace-making. Simply put: I chose forgiveness. I let it go. I turned the other cheek and vowed to walk the extra mile. And then…the sun shone brighter, the fog lifted, and my heart was no longer heavy. So I am thankful for ancient words of advice, for freedom, and also thankful that at some point someone turned the other cheek and walked the extra mile for me.