Sharp Things

I am most certainly blessed in the kitchen lately – blessed with new sharp things.

It started with the apple cutter. I helped with kid’s snacks one afternoon at church and got familiar with that little tool. It worked so great I had to go to the cooking store in town and get one for myself. The store is called Hayward Mercantile and it’s kind of high end, with appeal for shoppers from the “big city” who don’t go to Walmart. That’s not usually me, but it’s such a lovely store. Their apple cutter was heavy stainless steel and came with a plastic guard. That should have been my first clue that it was really sharp. I cut myself the first time just putting it away in the drawer.

Later, we were having a rare meal of steak or some other meat, I can’t remember which tough thing it was, and the husband was having trouble cutting it up. He wondered why we didn’t have steak knives on the table. I reminded him that our two sets of steak knives were in North Carolina living in storage. Knowing that he would appreciate it, I secretly bought six lovely Cutco table knives for his birthday. Tough meat has met its match.

The reason I bought Cutco, which is probably one of the more expensive brands of cutlery, is because a young relative has gone into business selling it. He wanted to practice his sales pitch in front of a friendly audience. I felt it was only friendly to buy something, so there, I did it. The demonstration was remarkable. He had a pair of Cutco scissors that cut through a copper penny. Wouldn’t that open up a whole new world of cooking options? (A literal 50 cent meal!)

A couple of weeks later he practiced in front of Mom, who was also very friendly to him. She bought some knives AND the penny cutting scissors. What I didn’t know was that she intended to give them to the husband and me for an anniversary gift! They now reside in the drawer with the sharp apple cutter. Several times I have accidentally brushed the cutting edge with a hand – a touch that would have accomplished nothing with my usual knives – and come away bleeding. It is a fact that I almost always have two or three cuts on my hands, in various stages of healing. The kitchen has become a dangerous place.

As if this was not enough, one day we visited some friends who had a very nice cheese cutter. I hate the kinds with the wire, but this one had a shape like a server with a knife blade in the middle. You just drag it across the cheese and a cute little slice of just the right thickness appears. Again, it was the husband who wished for a cutter like that, because he is always snacking on his special cheese. Back to the Mercantile. They had one, only one, made of heavy stainless steel and costing more than a meal for two at Perkins, but I bought it anyway. It will last forever if I don’t lose it. And who ever loses their cheese cutter?

As I said, the kitchen is a whole different place now that I can cut things. And I do a lot of cutting. My sharp tools save me time and money too. Just this week I quick cooked a nice roast, well,… actually I burned it onto the bottom of the pan. But it turned out to be juicy and tender after I surgically removed the char. I couldn’t have done it without my new knives, just sayin’…

December Reads

What I’m reading:

Do you ever find a certain topic coming up again and again in your reading and discussions with other people? I could call it accidental but it almost seems like God is sending me messages. It started this month when my brothers wanted to share “Waking Up White, and finding myself in the story of race” by Debby Irving. They wanted us to have family discussion about the topic.

Shortly after, the husband and I met an author, Ray Drake, at the hospital where we exercise. We started reading his book, “Dancing With the Fat Lady”, which has a lot to do with race and our local Native American population.

There’s even more. I’m in a small group book study starting in January and to get ready I’m almost through with the book we’ll be doing. It’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero and I’m getting a lot from it. It also has sections that deal with the things we learn from our family of origin concerning race and culture.

And now it gets a little spooky. On top of the kitchen cabinets, where I was cleaning during an insane moment, I found “The Grass Dancer” by Susan Power, a Native American. Her novel is full of Native American lore and story. I can’t wait to put this all together and see where it leads.

It was so much fun to trade books with Hope*Writer Sara Stevens. We missed out on the official book exchange so partnered with each other. She sent me “The Road Back to You” by Cron and Stabile. I want to see what this enneagram thing is all about.

Last, not least, I’m planning on finishing “The Next Right Thing” by Emily Freeman, because it will be the next right thing to do. She, and Hope*Writers are my encouragers when it comes to the art and craft of writing with purpose.

They say(and I’m sure they are right) that to be a good writer, you must also be a good reader. I’m planning on ramping up my reading program over these long winter months ahead. I could use suggestions too. What have you read lately that you loved?

Wesley and Buttercup kissing, eeww!

Movies

This re-post from June 2012 is especially appropriate since I just watched “Princess Bride” again last week. It’s all part of reviewing past writings looking for that elusive book that might be in there somewhere…

The truth is, I don’t really remember lines from movies the way I sometimes pretend to do.

I remember one quote from “Star Wars”, “the Force be with you”, or at least I think that was said there.

I remember several things I loved from “Princess Bride” but I can’t quote them exactly, something about a peanut, and something about the RUS’s.

I remember the shrubbery in “Monte Python’s Holy Grail” and the blood spurting hand (which I’ve tried to forget and can’t).

“UHF” is responsible for my love of enterociters (spelling?).

 Lastly, I remember laughing till my sides hurt during “Three Amigos” but I’ve watched it since and couldn’t quite relive the experience. I sort of remember being sick and having a fever while watching it the first time and that may have accounted for it seeming so funny.

That’s it for movies. That’s all I remember. Not impressive.

But I do enjoy a good movie and can get caught up in a thought provoking plot, if it’s not too weird and unbelievable, and if the characters are compelling.  I also have an emotional memory of how I was affected by most movies, even when I don’t remember the plot.

I rarely choose to watch a movie a second time though (exception – Princess Bride). I guess I just don’t want to clog my neuron pathways with most movie content when I have trouble remembering my own life that I’m actually living.

And then there’s the actors … I put them in the same boat with sports figures. They simply get paid too much for what they do, even when they do it well. If they’re a high salaried actor it should be part of their job to go feed starving people in Africa with a lot of their money. It’s ridiculous, and no wonder so many of them end up getting disillusioned with life in general. That being said, you must be aware that this is an opinion and you are entitled to feel differently. 

Yep, here it is.

You Are Special

To all my readers:

I’ve been to a writing conference this week and it’s made me examine why I write. I have to conclude that it’s not just for myself. I want it to be for you too. I’ve been cheered by the compassion expressed after my latest painful posts (and painful pictures). It’s made me thankful for you. I feel like you are all kind of “my people”.

I feel like I should attempt to tell you why I write here. But first,

The NOT WHYS – I’m not:

trying to make you feel sorry for me

trying to present life as only full of hard things

trying to be sounding hopeless or bitter

trying to compare my life with anyone else’s

Really, I’m not.

THE WHYS

What I want to do is offer the events of my life as an example of the hope that a very average person can have. We all have seasons when life is hard, and seasons when it is not so hard, maybe even joyful and fulfilling and interesting. Life is given to us as a learning experience and I love the ability to share the ordinary things that happen to me with you. I feel a responsibility to be fully aware of what can be learned from the ordinary and to think deeply on what might be of value to you as you read.

I love to show you the beauty of our physical spaces like my northern forests and wetlands. I share with you the fear of doctor’s visits and threats to physical health because we can learn that we are not alone. I tell you about the crazy stuff because I know we all need to laugh at the things we (I) do. I love to tell you about people like yourselves that are precious to me.

For me, my hopeful outlook is bound up in my faith. I believe in a God more loving than can be imagined and I should probably be telling you more often how I feel his love applied to me personally. I believe all of us “ordinaries” are unique and specially loved by God. Whether you believe as I do or not, doesn’t it comfort you, encourage, you to know that another person respects and values you because of their belief? Doesn’t it make you curious how that can be? I want to include that kind of conversation in my stories. I hope that in some way you can feel God’s love applied to you through what I write.

I have more to say about the writing conference but I needed to start with this, tonight. Thank you for being there and for reading.

Writing and Discouragement

I love writing. It’s like talking to people, except I don’t have to find someone who has time to listen to me. Much easier. I enjoy being a blogger.

Last winter and spring, my writing path led me to join a community of writers for encouragement, support, direction, all that good stuff.  I had no clarity about what might be next.  I wasn’t sure being a personal blogger was the endpoint for me. It sounded like hope*writers could help me sort that out. I got pretty excited about moving ahead – enough that I made a commitment to attend a conference. I actually bought the ticket and made a hotel reservation months in advance. Did I do this just to make sure I would go?  Not consciously.

And then life happened. Summer took some unusual turns. For weeks my husband struggled with his diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. The anxieties and fears he battled had us moving from place to place. I didn’t stop blogging, but I did stop listening to the podcasts, doing the writing exercises, connecting with my support group. There wasn’t a lot of time for that and, honestly, I just lost heart. It’s been hard.

As summer faded off, I found I was having a lot of pain in my hands, especially the left thumb joint. Arthritis had been coming at me for a while, but now it was time to stop living with the pain and regain use of my hand. I had surgery a week ago and have at least six weeks of recovery, in a cast, before I can start therapy.

Back to the writing conference, which is now only two weeks away. The deadline for selling my ticket to someone else has passed. I’m now contemplating whether it is even possible for me to get to Charlotte, NC to attend. The expense of travel, my impaired condition, my husband’s need for help, all seem like hurdles, like roadblocks. Will it be worth the effort to make this happen? I don’t know. It’s not like me to throw away an expensive ticket for an event  I was once pretty excited about.

Believe it or not, i can still type with a few of these fingers.

So, my hand is starting to hurt again as I peck away with two fingers on my computer. I’m feeling a little teary, but I know I have to write in order to think things through. That’s what writing does for me, and that’s why I love to write. Does anyone out there understand this?

Being Independent on Independence Day

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It was Independence Day, a holiday, and somehow I had forgotten to plan any memorable activity. Everyone I encountered was meeting up with family, going to the beach, cooking summer food – they had a plan. I didn’t, which was very unlike me. I’ve just had other things on my mind and well, I forgot.

Fortunately I did find someone else with no plan. My mom was sitting in her living room trying to feel good about a day in front of the TV or reading her book. She claimed not to mind, but I knew differently. Being in the same predicament, we decided to do as all strong, independent women do – we made our own plan for our memorable 4th of July.

This is a hotdog to die for, so good.

Since food is a prime feature of all our fun, memorable times, we started with food. Hot dogs. We both love a good hot dog and Mom, especially, has to have some texture and crunch in hers. We made some coleslaw and loaded the dog up real good. And watermelon, the perfect summer food. I always remember the gorilla who could sign words and decided to call watermelon “candy water”, which is so true.

We wanted something a little more active than eating to balance out our day and, you’re not going to believe this, we decided to go up to Lake Namekagon, a picturesque place with a favorite resort and restaurant that we like to visit – called Garmisch.

We go several times a year to the restaurant but I had never been out on the water there, so we decided that would be an appropriately adventurous thing to do, maybe a jaunt on a wave runner or kayak? You would be surprised at what my mom will do given the right amount of encouragement.

Wave runners are machines – the kind that I would normally avoid because they malfunction regularly. But they can be rented and presumed to be reliable. They can actually be rented at a marina fairly close to our location. They even can be rented with a trailer and transported to the lake of your choice. Let’s just say we did that.

Did you know that there are police on lakes, especially on holidays like the 4th of July? There are also rules about which lakes allow different kinds of boating and which do not. These rules are good things to know. We know them now.

I hitched up the trailer to my truck and we made the half hour trip to Lake Namekagon without incident. There is always a bit of a rush when I’m doing something I haven’t done before, something adventurous that I’m hoping will go off without a hitch. I was definitely feeling it.

Unloading a wave runner into the water is really simple. I’ve watched it done several times and had no trouble with it. Getting on is not too hard. Even operating it is fairly intuitive, especially for people who don’t want to go fast or do tricks. That describes me and mom perfectly. We like to stay close to shore and look at houses and people. Maybe that’s what made us look peculiar to the water police, I don’t know.

So, I will always be thankful that we did this before having dinner at Garmisch restaurant because there was not a trace of alcohol anywhere on us. There are also rules about that. We were just two white haired ladies trolling the lakeshore on a lake where power boats are prohibited, a fairly minor offense to my way of thinking. And the man questioning us kind of thought so too, as his warning was given gently and his fine was small (in comparison to other fines, I guess…).

We had enough of our adventure at that point anyway. After loading up the wave runner and taking it back to the marina, we went home and pretended we’d been doing jigsaw puzzle and watching TV all afternoon. Nobody had to know. Just sayin’…

I’m thinking about and practicing writing fiction these days. There might be some parts of this story which are fictionalized.

Thoughts on Extended Winter

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I am thumbing through the photos on my phone – the ones taken out the living room window.  They are mostly black and white because those are the only hues out there most days, snow and not-snow.  The “Charley Brown” pine tree, sorry little thing, is my yardstick on which the snow level creeps up and up, storm after storm.  We have lost all sight of the shrubs planted around the condos. Everyone’s attention is being drawn to the heavy snow loads on their buildings, and guessing how many warm days it will take to melt the huge snowbanks. It is snowing again today.

And so goes the winter in Wisconsin. It is much as I imagined it would be. I am amazed that people lived here for ages without modern heat and shelter, and I suppose some still do. I have my own childhood memories of our family around the oil stove in the living room, and ice building up on the insides of the windows. How different it is now. Our two-bedroom condo is often too warm. We walk around inside in our bare feet, and even our car is warm and ready to go in the attached, heated garage.

It’s been a winter of doctor’s appointments. I think that’s what we did in January, although my memory doesn’t serve me well when the days and weeks are all so similar. February was marked by the big international ski race held in our area, followed by my aunt’s health crisis and several days in the hospital with her, followed by my own winter cold/flu and ensuing isolation. March has brought a return to the time change – we “sprang ahead” an hour this morning. When it stops snowing we will have a couple hours of playing in the snow, plowing out and shoveling.

While we are experiencing winter, the larger experience has been learning to live with “our” changing health status.  Because of this diagnosis the husband has received, Lewy body dementia, we are constantly surrounded by the fight to understand and reverse the disease. No detail of his bodily condition has gone unexamined, and since his way of processing his thoughts is to talk about them, we are all kept aware of each day’s change or lack thereof. He is very aggressive, or proactive about his condition and spends much of his time looking up research papers and discussing them with his brother. We discuss how it wears on us and colors our days, but there is very little else for him to put his thoughts on. I have some understanding of his preoccupation and can’t say that I wouldn’t be searching the same way if I were the one with LBD.

I am trying hard to save some attention for the many blessings that come along with winter isolation. There have been good conversations with Mom and my Uncle Wendell and Aunt Lois. They are my elders who hold much of the family history in their memories and are happy to discuss it.  I’m also very thankful for the many faceted relationship with my youngest brother and his family. They are my closest friends who share activities and meals, joys and sorrows, concerns and silly moments. I am often comforted with their words and aware of us having thrown our “soul anchors” in the same deep waters.

It helps me to write about my new life, and although the words don’t often appear here in my blog, they are being written. There will be a time and a place for them.  I have much encouragement in my writing life, having joined a group of writers whose theme is hope, always hope. The snowbanks are high and it may be June before they are completely gone, but spring is coming. Change is the unchangeable characteristic of the future and keeps me curious and ready to experience more. Bring it on, just sayin’…

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Mystery in the Meadow, conclusion

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The response to her brother’s note, left at the door of the fort, came two days later. It didn’t quite match any of the compelling situations she had imagined, but Shirley was okay with that.  It was a relief to know that there was no criminal in hiding, no homeless desperado, no Bigfoot out in her meadow. It was still a safe place to walk. And it turned out that the real situation was as interesting to her as the imaginary one.

It was a survival class being taught at the charter school whose property bordered the wetlands and meadow. The teacher called to remind Dennis that he had contacted him months ago about permission to use the property. He had been taking small groups of students there frequently to practice skills like finding shelter, finding food, and starting fire.  No one had noticed them out there.

The fort had been his idea. He had led the others out to the meadow to construct it. They had made fire probably four times for a simple meal, maybe six more times for keeping warm, preserving the fire bed for the next time. They were kids, but someone had to help them know that campfires were for more than roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Shelter and fire could mean their survival. It had been a fun class.

——————————————————

It didn’t take her long to find him on Facebook and ask for a meeting. Sitting in the local coffee shop with their hot drinks, Shirley got whole story from the teacher himself.  He was clearly passionate about the outdoors, about survival in a myriad of environments, and about teaching basic skills to anyone who needed to learn them. He had stories…

Survival was a recurring theme in his life and was extremely important. He learned that at an early age growing up in Alaska.  He learned it in the military. He learned it traveling to foreign countries. There were countless experiences that reinforced that lesson.

He would present scenarios to his students. What if the plane they were on crashed in the middle of an uninhabited area and there were 50 survivors, or 100? What would be the best course of action to save lives, to survive? What would you do for the wounded? Where might you find food and shelter until help arrived? What resources might be right there in front of you but go unnoticed? He believed everyone should have a chance to think about those things. Those were the kinds of things they talked about out in the meadow, as they built the fort.

Not everyone responded warmly to the experiences he offered, at least not at first. There were the silent ones, the thinkers, the watchers. Some had been fearful and guarded all their lives. But as young people they were flexible, they learned what he was teaching and it gave them confidence, allowed them to trust and work cooperatively. It was life changing for them and rewarding for him.

“So what comes next?” she asked him as they finished their lattes and prepared to leave the shop.

“Maybe, if the fort is still there for the next class, we’ll figure out how to keep it warm. I want to see if the kids can figure out something solar, although you would be surprised how warm it gets with a dozen kids in there…”

Thanks to John (or Scott or whoever you really are) and  Angela for the latte and a great conversation. Hope to hear more of your adventures in the future.

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The meadow and surrounding wetlands.

 

Mystery in the Meadow, cont.

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Sunrise “up north” when we’re lucky…

Shirley gave up trying to sleep, swung her legs over the side of the bed and cautiously made her way out of the room, in the dark. It was kind of early to be getting up, but that was happening a lot lately, and not just to her.

She found her glasses in the bathroom, wandered out to the kitchen and punched the button on the coffeemaker until the red light popped on and the noises started. She checked the digital thermometer, the third step in her routine, then opened the blinds on the kitchen window. Thirty-five degrees, and everything outside had that dark, wet look. Something was falling out of the sky. She could see it reflecting light from the string of Christmas lights she’d arranged on the patio, but it was hard to tell if it was rain or snow. Probably rain, but the temperature was dropping. They wouldn’t be seeing a sunrise today.

She and her husband had recently moved “up north” to the family farm in Wisconsin. Her mom was not liking being alone since dad had died. Her brother Dennis and his wife lived close but they were in a different stage of life, with younger children and an expanding business to deal with. It made sense for them to pack up and go help. It made more sense in the summer than in the winter, but oh well…

She and her mom, more often than not, found each other about this time in the morning and had the first cup of coffee of the day while watching the sun come up. Mom, especially, had a fascination with the sky and clouds and would raise the blinds on the east windows, wanting to see what would happen out there that day. They would talk, solve world problems as they jokingly called it. Shirley also had the sky watching disease and usually jumped up three or four times to step outside and snap pictures.

That’s why the photo gallery on her phone was predominately orange, red, pink, purple, with sunrises and sunsets. They were all amazing pictures, but how could they not be? It wasn’t her talent that made them amazing. She was not yet a photographer. She was also not yet an author. She was not yet a grandmother. “Not yet” was kind of like her title of nobility. She was not yet a lot of things, but most importantly she was not yet dead. She was going to make the most of that one.

A while later, breakfast out of the way, she was over at her brother’s place of business. Her brother was an entrepreneur and owned a small awards and recognition company, doing most of their business online out of a neat, up to date building only a short walk away from her mom’s condo.  The prospect of getting some employment there was part of the reason she had made the move north from Florida to live with mom.

She was in the learning phase of making plaques for a sports team. Being “not yet” a proficient worker and having just made some wrong cuts, necessitating a complete do over on a print job, she was glad to stop when her sister in law came in the shop.

“Are there some packages here for us? Dennis said they were here but I don’t see them in his office.” M.P. said as she took off her gloves and outer layer of winter armor. She fished her cell phone out of her pocket and started flipping through photos.

“Claire flew back from Duluth last night, in a small plane. A friend of hers rented the plane for a week and he needed to get in some hours for his next level. She took some great pics from the air of the Christmas lights in Bentleyville. Oh, and did you see what Dennis found back in the meadow yesterday?” She stopped her searching and held out her phone.

On it was a picture of the meadow behind the barn and the large brush pile that had been growing there for over a year. There was a rather large, rounded out hole showing in the pile.

“You wouldn’t believe,” she went on “someone made some kind of fort there. It looks like they’ve been making a fire outside too. Dennis can’t figure it out. No one has seen anyone out there. He was thinking of burning the pile, and what if someone had been hiding in there?”

Shirley Not Yet looked at the photo. “I was just out there a day ago. I didn’t see anything like that.”

“That’s what Dennis said too. It’s really hard to see if you stay on the path. The entrance is on the other side.”

“Did it look like anyone was staying there?”

“No, nothing was in it except a cup. But there had been a campfire outside, so someone had to have been there for a while.”

Shirley had made a few forts as a kid, but not usually in winter and she certainly never thought of starting fires and hanging out. It sounded like more of an adult thing. The thought of an unknown adult spending time in the meadow where she frequently walked was… unsettling, maybe.  Likely not dangerous though. She decided to go out and have a look.

——————————————————————

Incognito, that was the focus. If you blend in, don’t get noticed, make use of what’s around you, but be careful, you’ll be safer. It had only taken about three hours to build the shelter. After pulling out a bunch of debris from the pile, he had found the pallets and even a sheet of old plywood. He’d made four “lean tos” and put them together with the plywood over the top. Water would run off and it would stay dry inside. Piling the brush around the outside hid everything. It was perfect. Done close to dusk, no one had noticed. The fire was kept small and smokeless.

All of his life he’d had opportunities to practice survival. It was kind of a passion with him. Well, who wouldn’t want to survive?

 

 

 

I Sang in a Chorale

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I am small, but I am there. Second row from the top, just to the right of the soloist’s head.

It’s the kind of song that sticks in my head once I start singing it, so much so, that it’s in the background as I fall asleep at night, and it’s still there when I wake up.  It was complicated to learn, but after much repetition, I’ve fallen in love with it.  It’s a chorale experience I won’t forget. The last performance was this afternoon and I’m sad because I don’t want the song to go away. I guess it’s one that’s been around for a while but this was my first meeting with it.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

My life flows on in endless song above Earth’s lamentation.

I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing.

It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?

 

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Love is lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?

 

Although the tempest round me roars, I hear the truth. It liveth,

And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth.

 

My life flows on in endless song above Earth’s lamentation.

I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Love is lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?

 

Singing these words, I realize how closely they express my feelings about life’s storms, about truth, about hope for the future. I do hear that “far off hymn” that says everything is going to be made new and good. I don’t believe that we are going to figure out how to do it ourselves. Don’t get me wrong – I am amazed at what we have discovered, what we can do, what we call science. But amazing as it is, the things we discover always seem to end in a question, not an answer.  We discover things that have already been put in place. Science doesn’t tell me who put things in place. My faith tells me that.

God can be mysterious, hard to understand, and his sense of timing can be annoying to me because I am a limited, fairly clueless being when it comes to knowing what time is really right.  But I am won over, just by looking at the choices in front of me. I choose God because he is a communicator – through what he’s created, the historical record of what he’s done, and the experiences he takes me through. He is all about communication when I see it for what it is.

That’s a good question – how can I keep from singing? It’s very much like the question “how can I keep from writing?” I can’t, at least not for long.  I have to respond in hope to the future as God lays it out, as he promises. My everyday life goes down in writing in these posts, mostly because of this hope. I am loved, relevant, made on purpose and designed to know God and love him back. Like a witness in a courtroom, I tell my story, usually in 600 words at a time, right here. I can’t help it.

He who was on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  The Revelation from Jesus Christ to John, chapter 21, verse 5.