Pep Talk for Myself (and maybe you)

Is something scaring you? Whenever I am threatened with something scary, and given time to think about it, it is a time of examination, a time of rehearsing what I have believed in less threatening days.

I think first of what I believe about God. I believe he exists and created everything out of nothing, can be everywhere, and knows all about everyone. As hard as that is to imagine, I have a harder time imagining him not existing – given all I see around me. I don’t understand how this works and I don’t have to explain it to anyone else, thankfully. I’ve never heard anything bad about God from anyone I thought credible.

Then I review what I’ve heard about me and God and our relationship – from an old and reputable source. The people who wrote down the information claim to have gotten it right from God. It’s mystical, but I don’t think that discredits it. Anyway, I believe that he wants me to be kind of like an adopted kid, one that he’s willing to devote himself to raising and loving no matter what.

He’s got this plan for a family that has a lot of complicating features, because everyone in it is different. It’s a lot like a super rich Dad who has decided to raise special needs kids, a whole bunch of them. One important difference is that he is incapable of making a bad parenting decision. His parenting style is “love them into loving back” and he doesn’t use guilting and shaming as tools. He has really wonderful plans for all his kids.

So what do I think about the scary situation? God might decide to yank me out of it – sometimes good parents do that. He might decide to hang on to me while we go through it together. It all depends on where he thinks I’m safest. See, I believe all this and have decided I’m in if he wants me.

Now I’m going to believe he hasn’t lost track of me. He hasn’t been distracted or forgotten about me. He has never made a bad, unloving decision. He has me in the best place, no matter what it looks like to me – and believe me, the way some things look do not make any sense. Except maybe after. Things don’t have to be good to turn out good.

Another thing to remember, (sigh) there’s an adversary, an antagonist, a bad guy, a predator who wants me to believe exactly the opposite of all this, and he wants to remain incognito himself. The minute I remember that he could be orchestrating things, I can just feel the power coming back to me. I get so mad I forget about being scared. I remember whose family I’m in and who is really in trouble. It’s not me.

This is the most simplistic way I can put how I’m feeling right now. I am so thankful for the peace and relief that comes in bad times when I remember these things. Oddly, sometimes it’s harder to watch someone else go through a crisis than it is to go through one myself. I just want to make all the bad stuff go away, right now!

Instead I have to know God isn’t just taking care of one kid. He’s looking out for every one of them, better than I could – although he might send me to do something for someone. Fortunately, I believe God wants everyone in his family and he tells his kids to treat everyone like they were a new brother or sister. There is no one more inclusive than God.

There is so much more to think about than there is time to think, and that is what makes life seem so interesting (and so short). Even in hard times, I’m glad to be here. Just sayin’…

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers how he made us. The Bible, book of Psalms 103:13-14

Forty-Seven

I am so glad I went through the exercise of writing this “sequel”. Anniversaries are for reminding us of truths that keep us going, just sayin…

Five years ago, on January 11, 2015, I sat writing as I am now, on the same subject – the anniversary coming up in a couple days. I took a picture of my diamond and thought about all it meant to me, being married for forty-two years.

The ring looks a lot different now. Since it no longer fit me, I had the diamond reset. My preference changed to white gold somewhere in the last thirty years, and I worried about the prongs wearing off and losing the stone. The price of the gold in the old ring wasn’t enough to pay for the new one, so it cost me. I could only afford to replace the engagement ring with the stone in a secure beveled setting, but it was good to be able to wear it again.

The new setting suits me. It is plain, safe. It doesn’t collect garden dirt or catch on my sweaters. It fits, although I don’t know for how long. My hands keep… growing.

Life has changed. We are changing with it. It’s been a little over a year ago that my husband got his diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. That day wasn’t when the problem started but it did mark the change in his focus. How does one think about anything else when faced with a prognosis like that? His world has gotten smaller in so many ways, limited in large part by his dependence on me. Today, at home, he was relatively quiet while we ate a meal with some friends and listened to a sermon on the internet. He spent most of the day in his recliner in the corner of the living room, looking very tired. He asked me once what I was doing. He went to bed early.

It means a lot to me that he is not ungrateful. He is not a big complainer. He puts up with me dusting him off all the time and fixing his clothing. He eats what I fix for meals and tells me when it is good. He willingly follows my suggestions. He sits still while I trim his beard. He doesn’t get mad when I easily do the things that are hard for him. He doesn’t criticize my decisions about money, or schedules. He is still here, a sweet person, a nice guy, thinking, trying to manage his daily existence as much as he can. But there is very little that he can contribute to us, to our marriage, to our future. His executive functioning is not working well.

Most of the time, I cannot imagine what he thinks about. I even have trouble describing my own feelings about what has happened to us. For our anniversary, should I not be able to put words to what’s meaningful for us?

It is for times like this that we make promises to each other. Our marriage vows had the old-fashioned words “in sickness and in health, till death parts us”. We had no idea who would be sick, no one does, usually. Few have the ability to think about what that means when the excitement of marriage and all it entails is new. But now, forty-seven years later, the promises have become meaningful. It means that we own these new circumstances together.

Now it makes sense to me what covenant marriage is. There were three of us making promises on the day Dennis and I married. God, who heard my promises, now helps me to keep them. God, who knows all about grief, loss, dread, panic, and everything else I experience finds ways to support me. He assures me that promises kept will be worth it, and that growing in personal integrity will be satisfying and rewarding. Our days now are part of something bigger, better and soon coming (relatively speaking). They are not the end!

So, on Tuesday the 14th, I will remind the husband that he is not alone. I am keeping him company as long as I am able, and I’m going to do my best to keep life from being dull (I guess he kind of does that for me too…) There are gifts all around us that we can point out to each other – maybe that’s how we’ll spend our “Happy Anniversary”.

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.

 

 

What Anxiety Feels Like to Me

Anxiety is real – be it mild and transitory or crippling and pervasive. I can no longer count the many sources of anxiety and depression in the world. They will touch everyone.

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It makes me feel frail. It’s as if my body knows some terrible thing that my mind doesn’t. My heartbeat feels irregular and fragile.  My gut is very tied to my emotions and hurts, cramps, rumbles. I don’t know whether I’m hungry or sick but I’m tempted to eat to fill the gnawing in my stomach. Often eating makes it feel worse. I’m restless and on the lookout for some kind of relief even though I don’t know if it should be physical, mental or spiritual.

It’s not knowing what to do. It’s having too many choices with no idea which is most important, or having only one choice but having to wait to do it. It’s the waiting. How can I make waiting tolerable? Indecision is exhausting. I default to easy, time wasting activity thinking that it will calm me and help me feel more control over life. In reality, I end up feeling powerless.  I accomplish nothing.

I become aware of my aloneness. No one knows I am feeling this way and I would not necessarily feel better telling of it. My situation is singular, and complex. I could not expect another person, with their different, singular and complex circumstances to understand mine. They are all busy.

If only I didn’t have to feel my heart pumping,  physically moving my body with each pulse. It goes on a rampage with a string of fast, strong jerks. I’m a nurse. I know they are PVC’s, but they are nothing new to me. I want to close my eyes and feel sick for a while. Just let me feel sick. And then I realize that the faint nausea is the beginning of an uncontrollable heat that spreads through my body like a hormonal wildfire. That is not new to me either, but I have been unable to learn to like it.  I endure it, thankful that it will pass.

What Helps Me Feel Better – Keeping Perspective

Sometimes I know the source of my anxiety. It’s a task that I just can’t seem to finish. I know I need to see it in a new way. Tackle it from a different direction. Or maybe just stop procrastinating. I pray for the clarity needed to deal with the troublesome matter. I pray for the strength needed to start working. Sometimes I decide to not “own” that task any longer. I decide it’s not worth it.

I often ask for some small reassurance that I am not alone. I review who I am, whose I am and that I do not have to have control over anything to be at peace. I remind myself that my body and mind will work together to care for themselves if I do what I can to not interfere with them. Whatever the root of my anxiety, I consider the “worst case scenario” and whether the outcome will matter in the long run. Often, when I have no choice in outcome, I have a choice in my own response to it. I can think about how to be consistent with my faith and my core principles.

Today I remembered exercise. It’s often the last, hardest thing I want to do, but the memory of feeling better afterwards draws me. When my body is moving, my mind orders itself more efficiently. Having a physical reason for being tired helps me relax. There is not as much pressure to decide what to do next. I’ve changed the mix of hormones and burned off some of the anxious feelings.

I practice gratitude.  I thank God for relative safety, food, shelter, clothing. I thank him for letting me know that this world and everything in it is a temporary environment. Everything changes, sooner or later. My circumstances change. My feelings change. That too is God’s doing, so I thank him for the passage of time.

It helps me understand myself  better to know that God made me able to feel anxiety, and he knew it would be my experience. That’s why he said that there is a way to “cast it” on him. The more I learn about him, the easier that becomes. (I Peter 5:7, the Holy Bible)

 

 

 

 

#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things S

Scripture

I love scripture. I am in awe of it. It is the lens through which I view the world. It is a gift.

Growing up, I was blessed with regular stories from the Bible, read to me by my mom, from what I have to say now was a good, engaging perspective. I don’t remember the publisher, but the facts were there in each story without a lot of extra interpretation. As soon as I could read, I wanted to read it myself. We went through the book many times, both the Old Testament and the New. I had the story down pretty solidly, but never knew what it meant. Not completely.

Through the years since, the stories have become more important, have taken on new meaning. They are not stories, they are one story.

The Old Testament tells me there is someone behind all that I see – a Creator. It tells me that a plan is in place to help me become something that I am not yet. From the record of people and their dreams and ambitions, I learn that I’m not going to get where I’m meant to be by my own efforts. People have tried and even at their best, it has not worked out too well. Just watch the news…

In the middle, kind of between the two “testaments”, is Jesus. He ties the stories of the Old to the stories of the New. He is all about new things because he is God. God is about making all things new again. He has been since the beginning because that was the plan even as far back as Adam and Eve. Jesus makes that possible. Without him, there will be no “new” anything.

In the New Testament I see the possibilities of how the “newness” might look. The people writing those stories were thinking a whole different way. They were still people with problems, weaknesses, bad stuff happening to them and around them, but now they understood what their true value was. They were not defined by their varying circumstances. They felt free in some very important ways. They were full of hope right to the end of their days because they knew the end was just the beginning.

Scripture has the ability to surprise. It can respond to my question of the day in a totally new and unexpected way. Something I’ve read dozens of times can suddenly contain wisdom I didn’t see before. It’s true that there are many wise writings that have this quality. I think it’s because all wisdom comes from one true source. You can find bits and pieces of it sprinkled in lots of places, but never quite complete. When I go to read scripture, I have an eerie feeling of expectancy, like I am approaching something alive and never know what it might do.

Through God’s message in scripture, I value the life he is putting me in/through. I value the lives of people around me. No one is insignificant. Through scripture I feel compassion for people, for nature, for the struggle we are all in. Scripture tells me who the real enemy is – the one who is behind everything that is not right. It tells me the enemy has already lost what he fights for, and that is the root of violence and anger in him. He tries very hard to transfer that to us.

So for now, the story continues. We are part of the story. There is hope and it ends well. Read it.

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What is a Church?

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I could also call these thoughts “My Struggle with the Bride of Christ”.

I would like to say that the church is a group of believers that show the world around them what God’s love is like. It’s a group of people doing loving things that people shouldn’t be able to do, in fact can’t do, without God doing those things through them. God’s true church is loved by each individual in it, and in turn, the church has a selfless love for each individual belonging to it. I’m wondering if that’s possible this side of heaven…

I’ve been thinking about heaven, and about the church, a lot lately. Tonight I couldn’t get to sleep for the thoughts that kept troubling me.  Heaven, I thought, will be a place where I won’t have to wonder if I’m in the right place.  All around me will be a community of believers with no doubt who they’re worshiping and no disconnect with those they’ve come to know and love.

I have been blessed with a pretty close family all my life. We have significant differences but we are bonded together, having the same parents, the same close proximity to each other during our formative years. We sat alongside each other at the table, in the car, at church. We did life together. It wasn’t necessarily our choice, but it made sense and it was good. We’re grown now and our lives are less connected, but in our heads and hearts, we are still family. We make efforts to spend time together. We have grown to love each other. Where else can we go for that sense of who we are and how we came to be?

I think I want my church to be like my family. I want my church to be the place I belong because people know me there.

I try to imagine the first Christian churches, like the one in Philippi. We’ve been hearing sermons about those people, the Philippians, in the church I attend. In Philippi, a city in biblical times, some very unlikely first converts were drawn together by a God, actually a spiritual parent, who suddenly gave them a chance to know their life’s purpose. A wealthy business woman (with a house big enough to share with other believers), a Roman policeman and his family, and a formerly demon possessed slave girl were suddenly bonded by love for that spiritual parent. They started spending time together as they learned. They probably ate together, went places together and came to know each other’s stories as they talked. They had to have had some pretty divergent viewpoints, but there wasn’t another church just a few miles away that was more “their kind of church”.  They were the only church, until such a time when church growth separated them into communities based on locale. Even then, they probably kept in touch.

So that’s what a community is really – people who live next to each other, doing and sharing life. I wonder if the reason Christian believers don’t always do church well is because they don’t do community well either. That’s what I’m struggling with. I don’t do community well, not even in my own physical community. I share a driveway with people living in five other houses and rarely do we connect over anything. I know their names, but I guarantee, if they moved away I wouldn’t know where or why, or even care. We haven’t spent time together and are only bonded by… a driveway, I guess. Our cars and our preferences allow us to shop in different places, work in different places, be entertained by different things.

And although some people try to make it different, our churches are very similar to our poorly connected communities. When I live half an hour’s drive from the church I attend, it’s pretty safe to say I’m not doing life next to anyone else from church.

It’s a struggle to know and be known. And I think God is going to get tired of me not doing it.

God can arrange times when transportation isn’t easy, when choices are few, when knowing and working with the neighbor next door is a matter of life or death for me. He will do that if that’s what it takes to teach me to love my neighbor.  It’s probably so important to learn to love and get along because I will have to do it, like forever.  “Like forever” is my description of eternity. And although, I’m not going to attempt to give a description of heaven, I think it will be a place where I don’t have to wonder if I belong and I probably won’t be driving 20 miles to church either.  Just sayin’…

 

Making Faith Common

I woke up this morning knowing that my plans were in jeopardy. I had the awareness that we should have been up and around, getting ready to travel the four hours to see the daughter whose birthday is tomorrow. That was still in my mind last night as I rounded things up and put them in the car for an early start. It was nearly 7, and we had meant to start at 8. I could tell already that wasn’t going to happen.

But don’t panic. Your plans may need to change, and that will be alright.

I checked my phone, as usual, and saw a couple text messages that had come since I had gone to bed the night before. My daughter was undecided about the weekend. She was going to have four days off and was wanting to make good use of it, maybe travel away from home to look for a new job. She was also concerned about her dad. He had hurt his back and she knew he wouldn’t want to sit in the car for hours and hours. Should she come home to us so he wouldn’t have to travel? The possibilities were confusing. I wanted to talk to her but she wasn’t answering the phone.

You’re right. Don’t rush around trying to get ready and don’t be upset or confused. I know what’s going to happen and you will know, trust me.

 My husband wasn’t even stirring yet. I knew he liked to go slowly in the morning even when he was feeling well. His painful back was going to make it even harder to get ready. It seemed okay to let him sleep since I wasn’t sure what we were going to do anyway. An hour later he came shuffling out of the bedroom, every step taking effort, and headed to his favorite chair – the one that made his back feel better. I told him the situation. “It would sure be easier if she could come here, but I’ll go up there if she can’t. I want to be there for her birthday.”

You know what you need to do – ask me for help and affirm your trust. I’ll take care of the plan.”

 We had been praying together in the mornings pretty regularly, so it wasn’t hard to decide to do it given this situation. We asked for peace for our daughter and for ourselves. We asked that she be blessed on her birthday and that she would know that she was valued and loved. We asked for the best plan to be clear and that we would not balk or feel inconvenienced. “We want what you want Lord, so we’ll wait until you let us know what it is.”

Soon after, my cell phone rang, and my daughter and I talked. “We should have thought more about this weekend, I guess.” She was subdued and sounded tired.

“Yes, Dad doesn’t look any better this morning. He’s not moving very well. It might not be the best thing for him to travel.”

“That’s why I asked if I should come down.  His bad back wouldn’t be comfortable sleeping in my accommodations either.  I want to get away from here anyway, stay somewhere a little nicer this weekend. Can I bring the cats?”

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The cats seem to have settled in already. It’s their specialty.

And so it happened that instead of going to Jacksonville for the weekend, Jacksonville came to us – the girl, the dog and two cats and that really does seem best to us all. I was consciously aware of and thankful for the fact that I did not waste energy worrying about how it would turn out. I did not struggle with the change of plans. There was no miracle here, no dramatic voice from above, just a quiet interchange of spiritual thought in a rather common type of situation. What makes it possible is the claim of God to be caring about the details of my life and the response to believe him. It is very freeing and my wish is to be able to apply it, practice it, until it is second nature in all situations. It is like having adventures with someone who has all the time in the world for me. And I thought I would say that I like that, very much.

 

Understanding 101

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not paraticularly inviting…

Depending on how you look at it, being at the end of a long, unpaved, often pothole filled, dead end road can be very comforting (like, what bad guys would even want to drive down this?) or really creepy (if they do come they are highly motivated and wanting to avoid witnesses). And isn’t that how life always is? We often get to choose a viewpoint.

I am coming to the end of a project, that of keeping house for Dr. Julia while she visited Cambodia and the children of Asia’s Hope. I find it interesting to step inside someone’s world and reflect on their experience. I’ve lived with her family of animals, sweated in her less than efficient air conditioning, traveled her frequented roads and busy city highways, walked in her pastures, waded through her mud, mowed her grass, eaten dinner with her friends and driven her vehicles.

I’ve gotten the flavor of north eastern Florida, from the hospitality and southern courtesy of its inhabitants, to the ever present matttresses, broken tv’s and toilet fixtures waiting on the side of the road for garbage pickup. What I will miss is the silence. I don’t know why I call it silence – it’s really the sound of a crew of frogs in the pond in the yard, and the wind in the trees, and the rain on the roof. But I can actually hear these things and it’s not hard to sleep peacefully with that kind of music in the background (if you’ve chosen not to worry about the bad guys…)

For me, coming away with a better understanding of another person’s joys and struggles is the bonus in this experience. Now, when Dr. Julia tries to explain the feelings of isolation in the evenings, coming home to a dark house, with only her cats and dog and her “friends” in the box (tv), I get it.  When she mentions her frustration with the rats getting into her horse feed again,  I get it. I saw those critters.  I hope there is some comfort for her in knowing that her experience is more known by another.

I am thankful for this season in my life. I am benefitting from these extended periods of time spent with family, sometimes in their homes, sometimes in mine. I marvel at how gently God is teaching me empathy, compassion, and how to discern other’s needs. I want to learn how to honestly express interest, and love. Often that class takes place at the end of a long, bumpy road. Just sayin’…

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recently graveled, but working on some new potholes

But you would have none of it…

Sometimes I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.  I wonder if the reason my life is filled with routine, sometimes mundane activity is because I’m not a good enough tool. Maybe I wasn’t listening when instructions were being given. Maybe I was playing spider solitaire or watching tv? Maybe I was over invested in my to do list for the day, or riding my bike to allay my worries about hypertension. Maybe I just didn’t want to sit and write about something I had learned or felt – something that might have brought hope to someone desperate for a word.
Okay, I’ve come to recognize this train of thought. Left unaddressed, it gathers force and eventually has me sort of despising myself for not being something greater than I am. I could wallow in it, but don’t have time. I could go talk to a counselor, but don’t have that kind of money. I could talk to God…, yeah, I actually do that. Today it went like this.

“Help me. This angst and unrest is insanely uncomfortable.  I know you wanted me to solve the world’s problems, lol, instead I’m not even solving my own.  Should I be able to do something more than this?”

It occurred to me in the middle of this that God is probably able to put me where he wants me. Indications are that he likes it when I give him credit for that. So I started thinking that way, and it felt right, good. Felt true.  I also read from him – it’s something he told someone else, but it’s a principle that shows how he does things.

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It also records the response he got which was not so great.

Whoa! Could I be doing that? I’m told to be quiet and trust and instead I’m having none of it and looking for some action?  I’m going to worry about it and figure out what to do? It’s pretty ridiculous, but it happens when I forget who God is and who I am and how different we are.

I thought about this, off and on today, and my conclusion is that I want all the quietness and rest God wants to give me. Bring it on.  I want to be alert and ready, but content, storing up that strength I’ll probably need later.  This is one of many answers to personal cries for help, from God’s word to my intellect, resulting in a kind of peace.

What does this mean in a world that doesn’t believe in a personal, relational spiritual Creator who works with people for their betterment?  God could easily say to this culture “but you would have none of it”. We fit the picture, just sayin’…

This Is Where I Start

“And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things.”

From “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth

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This is where I start to find a God I can love with my heart, my soul, my mind. A good place to start…