Second Sunday of Advent Reflection: Lonely vs Lowly

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Last night I went to the Saturday Vigil Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent. A part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist really struck me. I actually misheard our priest who has a Nigerian accent and that mishearing really hit me. During the anaphora, or Eucharistic Prayer, there is a portion in the preface that says, “For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh…” I actually heard it as “he assumed the loneliness of human flesh”. This mistake got me thinking.

All human beings experience loneliness. It can be loneliness because we are physically alone and have no one to turn to, it can be psychological because of mental illness or other struggles, or it can be a sense of abandonment during a difficult time. This abandonment creates a loneliness and a feeling of isolation from God. So I heard the priest wrong, but perhaps I didn’t. Perhaps I needed to think about the Incarnation in a new way.

Christ came and assumed our weak, human form, including our loneliness. He was completely alone and uttered his abandonment from the Cross. While he was God, he also felt our desolation. He knows what it is to be alone, and perhaps in my own struggles, I have forgotten that Christ truly understands my sufferings.

This is a difficult time of year for a lot of people. I think that we forget that fact in the busyness of the season. Many people struggle with depression, myself included, or are lonely this time of year, many are mourning the loss of loved ones. It is the darkest part of the year. It reminds us that we are truly alone in the final analysis. We have to make the final journey alone. Christ, while He was God, went to the Cross alone to show us the way.

It is important that we reach out to our brothers and sisters this time of year and all year long. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta warned us that there is a great loneliness and feeling of being unloved in the West. We must encourage and lift up those around us who struggle and who are alone. We are the Mystical Body of Christ, we are a community, we are an organism. When one part suffers the whole body suffers.

Do you pray for the lonely, depressed, mourning,, or struggling? Do you reach out to the people in your community who are mentally ill? Do you suffer from depression yourself? Consider Christ on the Cross. He knows your loneliness and pain. Meditate on how Christ took on our lowliness, but he too understands our loneliness.

There is something of this loneliness as we wait for Our Lord to come both at Christmas and in the Second Coming. We long for Him. ‘Our souls pine for him like a deer longs for streams of water’, to paraphrase the Psalmist. Advent reminds us that we are not home. We are not reunited with the one who created us. We must always keep in mind that we wait in “joyful hope” even in our struggles. So as we wait for brighter days and lighter burdens, remember that all things pass away, and Our Lord has come to save us. I pray Our Lord blesses you during this Advent season. St. Dymphna, pray for us.

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Some Honesty About NFP

Okay, I am just going to  be honest here, sometimes having to use NFP sucks.  I don’t mean because I want to use contraception.  Quite the opposite.  I know how contraception has hurt marriages, our culture, women, pretty much everybody.  Our culture just cannot see it, but the Church has predicted the disastrous results we see before us, for decades.  My husband and I do not want any part in the contraceptive culture.  So don’t misunderstanding my venting.

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This year we have had to use Creighton Method of Natural Family Planning (NFP) because I have had 3 miscarriages, and some pretty serious periods of post-partum depression and anxiety.  Using Creighton helped my NaPro doctor (Natural Procreative Technologies see Pope Paul VI Institute for more info) figure out that I have serious estrogen and progesterone deficiencies, which has led to me giving myself 4 shots of HCG each month.  NFP was essential, and has been a God send for us, as has my doctor, a fellow (soon-to-be for me) Lay Dominican.
We have had to use NFP for 7 months.  I know, there are some couples who have to do it for years, but this is my experience.  There are times when NFP is just plain hard.  My husband and I went through the NFP classes with the videos of the smiling couples telling us how great their marriages were thanks to NFP.  I know intellectually how NFP works within God’s plan for human sexuality.  It keeps us from using our partner as an object (which is what contraception does), and it forces couples to communicate about the possibility of children, struggles they are having, especially medical or financial, and to be open to God’s plan in their marriage.  It keeps the marital act free from barriers, but also follows the natural cycle of a woman’s body to decide if a married couple has discerned trying to have a child on a month-to-month basis.  Non-Catholics you must keep in mind that marriage vows in a Catholic wedding (the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony) promise to be open to children.
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My husband and I always planned to just be open to however many children God gave us.  Well, that was before I lost 3 babies and discovered some serious hormone issues.  NFP came into our marriage because of those medical issues and it has been a blessing to be sure.  To be honest, though, it gets tiresome to be denied the unitive act with one’s spouse, except for a week out of the month.  Some women’s cycles allow for more time, but mine don’t.  The gift of human sexuality is both unitive and procreative.  They cannot be separated, hence the Church’s position on contraception.   NFP does not deny either, but it is sacrifice.
Having to abstain while married is a sacrifice and that is a part of the spiritual dimension of NFP.  We sacrifice for the greater good of our family or spouse’s health.  It’s kind of like fasting.  Given what we have been through in the last 3 years, I just wanted to say that NFP is a gift, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that it is always great.  I know that the Church is fighting a battle against a culture that has swallowed, quite literally, the contraception lie, but can we at least be honest with people.  NFP strengthens marriage because of the selfless sacrifices that are required, but it is a struggle and sometimes you will say the heck with it and decide to be open to whatever happens.  No one is required to ever use NFP anyway.  So there really are no mistakes.  And if people say that NFP does not work, or that you are bad at NFP, tell them that you are good at it, but you decided to trust in God’s will this month and be with your spouse.  Perhaps you need that unitive act to bring you closer together during difficult times, or you just want to be with your spouse.  Come on!  Sex is holy.  It is a gift.  It is meant to be enjoyed with our spouse.  So, we are not bad at NFP, we just got tired of using NFP this month…lol.
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I saw a great article by a man describing his experiences with NFP.  For half the month the wife is telling her husband to keep away, and then all of a sudden she is open, and then she isn’t.  Now to our culture this sounds absurd, but the Christian life is full of sacrifice.  It is in that sacrifice that we are made selfless, as Christ was selfless.  We are to love our spouse as Christ loves us.  A very tall order that we will all fail at daily.
How about the woman’s perspective?  Well, I can only give you mine.  I have to battle my own hormones and love of my husband for half of the month, repeatedly tell him “no”, and then finally after I am completely sure based on my Creighton chart, I can say “yes”, after my body has gotten done saying “yes” for two weeks and is now in its default apathy because ovulation has occurred.  So I get to be open when my body couldn’t care less because there is no risk of pregnancy.
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Non-Catholics may be reading this wondering what I am talking about, but Catholics who have been through this will get it.  I think it is time that we are honest.  NFP is great because it allows us to naturally space children, it also helps couples conceive, and it helps women learn about their bodies.  And I would tell every single woman to throw out her pills, IUD (especially since these can cause abortions), shot, or whatever else you are doing to yourself and embrace Natural Family Planning.  Really learn about the gift that is your body and femininity.  Let’s just keep in mind that couples who love one another in marriage do not want to have to schedule out the times they come together every month.  It is okay to admit that it is hard.  That is a part of the Christian journey.  We are not breaking some rule by admitting to people that NFP is great, but hard.
I know Simcha Fisher wrote a new book on NFP that I want to read.  You can find it here.  Jennifer Fulwiler has also written about NFP.  And here is the article from a man’s perspective on NFP.
*Say a prayer for me.  I have had to add estrogen to my hormone treatments because while the HCG has fixed my progesterone deficiency, it has not fixed the estrogen deficiency.

Small Success Thursday November 14, 2013

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It is really easy to get to this point on Thursday and wonder if I have any small successes this week.  They are there I just have to find them through my own critic.

First, Monday was Veteran’s Day.  I am a US Navy Veteran and I decided to enjoy the day.  I went out to lunch at Applebee’s, for my free meal, with a friend of mine.  Instead of rushing home to do dishes, we decided to go to the mall.  You would have to know me to realize just how much of a rarity this is for me.  I am not a shopper, in fact there I times I loathe shopping.  That evening I went out to dinner, for another free meal, with a good friend of mine.  We had a great dinner and she embarassed me exceedingly by showing the waiter my picture on my DD-214. I could not find my VA ID, so I took my DD-214 with me instead.  I can’t believe I joined the Navy 14 years ago.

I have mixed emotions about my military service.  I am proud of serving my country, but I am heart-broken about what this country is becoming.  I was a Russian linguist and I am not happy with what my previous employer  is doing to violate everyone’s privacy.  It pains me to have been a part of that power grab, even though my work was “lawful”.  I am thankful that I was able to be a 9-11 relief worker, so it is a mixed bag.  My success was to embrace and celebrate my service.  While it is nice to hear “thank you for your service” most of us Vets don’t know what to say.  We were just doing our jobs.

Second, I have written quite a bit on my blog this week.  It is always a step in the right direction when I write regularly.  I figure I will keep writing and see what happens.  I do need to get back to writing my novel.  The solid idea is there, now to get it fully to the page.  It is a Catholic thriller, I guess would be what you would call it.

Third, I am remembering to be thankful for the life I have been given.  This year has been insane for us.  I have had to call two ambulances for my husband because of his debilitating migraines, I had emergency surgery for a miscarriage and lost our 3rd baby, our daughter was in the hospital for 3 days with a staph infection, a friend nearly died of eclampsia, a good friend from the Navy died suddenly in July, we moved into our new house, and we have been fixing problems in the house. It is one of those years you just want too see end.  Strangely, I have a deeper faith and gratitude for life.  I have never understood the adage that suffering makes us stronger.  It’s like I woke up one day and  it all made sense.  I could see God working in my life. Even though this year has been difficult, I have a greater faith and prayer life.  I am beginning to understand how He is refining me in the furnace.

What about you?  What are your small successes for the week?

Joy in Motherhood on Hallowe’en

Motherhood continues to amaze me in wonderful new ways.  Yesterday was Hallowe’en.  My husband and I had found a bee costume at a local consignment shop.  I put it on her in the early evening last night, and my heart melted.  She was adorable!  I am sure she will be embarrassed by this in the years to come, but right now I get to enjoy her cuteness in all of its glory.

We went over to a friends’ house to have dinner and then go trick-or-treating together in their neighborhood.  Their neighborhood is perfect for trick-or-treating; safe with minimal traffic.  There were a lot of kids out.  We started off with a pizza party.  My husband met us at their house.  He came dressed as a farmer, even wearing his straw hat.  He had put our wheelbarrow in the back of his pick-up.  He was going to wheel our daughter around the neighborhood.  That is a lot of walking for a 2 year old.  My husband is awesome!

At first, Michaela was shy.  She would go up to the door with the other girls and just stand there.  At each house my husband would tip over the wheelbarrow so that she could jump out.  As the night went on, she got more and more confident.  She would say “thank you”, even if she did not master “trick-or-treat”.  She had so much confidence that she would grab multiple items out of the bowl, when people would offer her a choice.  Each time she would climb into the wheelbarrow, she would say, “more candy”.  We could not stop laughing.  The neighborhood loved that my husband pushed her around in a wheelbarrow.  I think that she was the youngest kid out.  Our friends’ daughter would help her up the steps when she wanted to go up without me, which became more frequent as she got the hang of it.

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As I stood at the curb with the other moms who were trick-or-treating with us, I felt the tremendous joy of motherhood.  I had so much fun.  Sure I have fond memories of trick-or-treating in 6 inches of snow, I am from Montana, but watching my daughter gave me such profound joy.  I had the most fun that I have had in a while.  She brought joy to the people handing out candy too.  I could tell as they interacted with her.

Holidays like Hallowe’en, which for us Catholics is not over yet, can be stressful.  The costumes, pumpkins, candy, and all of the preparation can take away from the fun.  As parents, we get to experience the fun and wonder that our child experiences each year, if we allow ourselves too.  Every year holidays take on a new dimension.  This year, our daughter really experienced Hallowe’en.  Last year, we took her to our neighbors’ houses, but it was bitter cold and she was only one.  This year she could figure it out from the older girls.  It is a strange and wonderful feeling to watch my 2 year old to bravely go up to a stranger’s door without me.  The one night a year they take candy from a stranger!  I also started to understand why some parents dress up with their kids.  It is a family night.  My husband got fully involved, after joking with me that he was going to stay at our friends’ house, hand out candy and drink a beer.  Of course I gave him the wife look.  It made me wish that I had thought of something to wear.  I went as a mom.

The longer I am a mother, the more I realize that I am fully alive in this wonderful, painful, challenging, joy-filled, amazing, vocation.  Seeing my daughter grow fills me with bittersweet joy.  It is wonderful to see her develop and learn, but at the same time it pulls at my heart.  I want to hold her tight and keep her as she is, but that is not how life works.  Motherhood is a constant lesson in letting go.  Isn’t that a part of love?  Allowing someone to blossom in their own way, of their own free will.  It is deeply challenging for a mom.  So last night I stood in the dark watching my child filled with peace and joy, while experience the cut that is letting her go.  That is why marriage is a vocation, it prunes away at us.  It teaches us to see joy, which only comes from God.  I am deeply thankful for last night and I look forward to the joyous occasions that are in store for my family and me.  Happy Feast of All Saints!  Get to Mass. :o)

Thanks Be to God

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It is easy for me to get worked up about the evil going on in the world, or about how I fail often at being the mother and wife God wants me to be.  By becoming distracted by all of the darkness, or by allowing a self-loathing dialogue to run rampant in my mind, I am allowing the Enemy to win in my heart.  He wants me to despair.  He wants me to think that he has won and that there is no point in fighting back, in serving others, or focusing on my family.  That is his creed: despair.  But, the truth is that Jesus Christ won the battle for us all by dying for our sins and showing us the hope of Eternal life.  That does not mean that this life is easy, but it does mean that love and hope always will conquer over evil.  It just may be that we will not fully understand until we are with Him.

When my husband I were dating he would tell me to write down 10 things that i am grateful for that day.  Our engagement was full of stress, family medical issues, and change.  When I would allow my job, family, or the world to get to me, he would tell me to focus on what I am thankful for in each moment.  I have had gratitude journals off and on for about five years, but I have not done a great job of keeping up with it.  Then, when I was sick as a dog while pregnant with my daughter, I discovered the blog, A Holy Experience, http://www.aholyexperience.com, through my friend Dana’s Facebook posts.
Her blog is beautiful.  Her words are like poetry and speak deep truth that bring me peace and reminds me that I am not alone.  Sometimes I read her writing and think we were separated at birth.  Like me, she has struggled through periods of loss and anxiety.  She knows what it is to live on auto-pilot.  One day she woke up from a nightmare and realized that she truly wanted to live and she discovered that gratitude was the way to accomplish living a Christ-centered life.  Even though we differ theologically, her message is one that all of us need to take in. It is the same message that my husband has been trying to get across to me.
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What happens to me when I start being grateful for all I have and truly pay attention to what is going on in my life?  I start to notice the way the sunlight falls across the room early in the morning.  I can see the way the breeze rustles my daughter’s golden hair.  I see her long eyelashes and her beautiful, radiant eyes.  I see my husband’s smile.  I am touched by the joy he brings Michaela when he gets home from work.  I savor the smell of soup cooking in the Crockpot.  I laugh at the squirrels trying to steal our sunflower seeds.  I start to see Christ in the people around me.  I have more strength when bad news comes, as it will in this life.  I pray more because I know that joy and pain are joined together.  I am more generous.  A full heart wants to share its blessings.
A lot of us are frustrated, or downright disgusted, with our government right now.  Many of us worry about the state of the world: poverty, hunger, disease, terrorism, worldwide Christian persecution, abortion, attacks on marriage, attacks on the Church, the hurt our children experience, the suffering of the ones we love.  The truth of the matter is that suffering is a part of life here.  It is how God refines us in the Divine Furnace, as our recently retired priest told me in Confession, as I cried about my most recent miscarriage.  We are guaranteed to suffer in this lifetime, but we also experience tremendous glimpses of joy.  I never realized how blown away I could be by the golden sunlight illuminating my daughter’s face.  I only had to pay attention and offer my thanks to God.
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When I close my heart off to Him.  When I focus on the darkness, then I cannot find my way.  If I focus on what God is doing in my life and throughout the world, then all I see is Him.  He is who I must focus on if I am going to keep up the good fight.  He is who is going to guide my husband and me in protecting our daughter and bringing her up in the Faith.  He will be the one who will show us the way through health problems and grief.  Sometimes he has to carry us for a while before we realize He has been there all along.  As human beings, we get lost in ourselves.  Instead we must step outside of our own inner dialogue, our own pain, even our own families, and listen for the sweet whisper of Our Lord.
Have you tried writing down things that make you thankful each day?  I have a journal that I use to write down my gratitude.  Even just taking five minutes to write down a couple of things can change the course of my entire day.  Give it a try.  Offer up your thanksgiving and see how the abundant blessings flow.

Forgiveness and Abundant Blessings

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A couple of weeks ago one of my junior high students in my religious education class at church asked me an interesting question.  She wanted to know if God sometimes does not give us what we want.  I told her that sometimes he does not give us what we want because it is not what we need and sometimes gives us what we want either because it is what we need, or we may need to learn a lesson.  Yesterday, this question was answered for me.

In my previous post, I wrote about how I needed to forgive someone whom I loved long ago.  I felt God call me to write to him after four years of no communication and nearly 12 years since we last saw one another.  It is complicated story that a lot of military folks would understand, but that is neither here nor there.  I did not actually expect him to respond to my email, but he did, rather quickly, I might add.
His response taught me a few very important things.  First, it unleashed the power of forgiveness and healing across time and distance.  It showed me that in my honesty and vulnerability were both able to say what was needed.  Second, it showed me that our perceptions are not necessarily  reality.  We may not realize that people do not mean to hurt us and if we do not tell them, there can never be reconciliation.  He did not realize fully how much he had hurt me.  Third, we can love people deeply, but that does not necessarily mean that they are the right one God wants for us in the Sacrament of Marriage.  God wants us to become saints and not every person is right for fulfilling our vocations.  And we are not necessarily right for that person either.
I think that a lot of us have cared for or loved someone who did not turn out to be who we married or will marry.  Many of us, myself included, pray for things to work out with that person, but it doesn’t.  It may take some time, even decades to finally see why it did not work out.  To see that choices we made at that point, set in motion our future path.  This man and I both made that choice when he chose an overseas duty station.  It took longer for me to understand that that particular choice would impact both of us over the long term and eventually lead us to each find our proper paths in life.  His in the  military and mine with my husband and daughter.
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Even though I supported him in pursuing his dream of living in Europe, it broke my heart when he left.  I did not fully recover for a long time, even though I dated.  I wanted God to make things better, to re-unite us, but it never happened.  Some of it was pure circumstance, we just never could get to the same place, and some of it was God’s intervention.  I am sure of it.  That’s the point.  Sometimes unanswered prayers are God showing us an even greater love and path.  Sure it hurts in the process.  But, what a gift this guy was to me in those moments we had together.  He was the first to truly teach me sacrificial love.  When we are young, we tend to be impatient.  We also tend to think in the short term.  I wanted him to be the right guy, not looking at how my life would play out, or how his would either.
After I received his email.  I cried tears of joy for about an hour.  I was relieved and filled with such a deep gratitude.  I knew Our Lord was the one who had a hand in our reconciliation.  We were finally honest with one another and in doing so, we are both able to think fondly of one another and be grateful for the paths we have been given.  I was also able to apologize to him for all of my mistakes.   I had a deeper sense of love and awe for my husband.  I could see how God’s hand guided me over the last 12 years, even though it came with deep pain.  I saw how God wanted me to find my husband and He wanted to give me the tremendous gift of our daughter.  He wanted me to truly begin to understand joy and I can only do that with the right vocation.  My husband is my vocation.  So I found the right path and this man who I loved so long ago, also found his path.  It gave me great joy to know that he was safe and that he, like me, was finding his way.
Today at Mass I offered up my Mass for him.  I know that he struggles with faith and I prayed hard that he may find Christ.  I also offered up the Mass in deep gratitude for the peace and joy that came with our reconciliation.  My husband was very supportive.  Once I told him what happened he was glad that I was able to be set free and begin to understand the abundant graces that flow from forgiveness.  It is when we love as Christ loves that we are truly alive.  There are other deeper hurts that I need to forgive and this experience has revealed the graces that flow from choosing forgiveness, which is what He did on the Cross.  It is what He offers us every single time we sin.  We only have to ask for it.
So, what would I tell my student now?  It probably would not matter, because she, like I did, will want to make the mistakes and take the paths of youth.   I do not consider this man a mistake, rather a part of the journey.  Sometimes we love the wrong people and sometimes we love people who are only a stepping stone on the journey to holiness.  It is hard to let go of someone we love.  We were made for and by Love, but let go we must.  We never know what greater things God has in store for us until we let go.  I pray that, like me, you can receive and offer forgiveness and that Our Lord will give you abundant blessings in the process.
And Happy Feast of the Archangels!  It is my daughter’s big feast day.
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Forgiveness, Even Years Later

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This morning I felt called to write a letter, really an email, that I have wanted to write for about 10 years.  This person was on my mind recently because they are forever linked to my 9-11 relief work days and September can sometimes remind me of him.  I don’t mean in a longing or sinful way.  I am happily married and I have an amazing daughter.  I would not have it any other way and I no longer harbor romantic love for this person.  He just hurt me really deeply on multiple occasions over a 7 year period.  Much of that time separated by two different branches, continents, and jobs in the military.

 
Throughout my lifetime many people will hurt me.  Their impact will not be lasting and I will forget it quickly.  There are others who for whatever reason will stay with me and I must consciously choose to forgive them.  For that reason, I felt like God called me to actually write to this person and forgive them even though I have not had any contact with him in four years.
 
I know him.  He is a rather selfish person and I know that he may have never heard that he is forgiven before.  I know he has not heard it from me because we cut ties when he hurt me, yet again, a few years ago.  But, that does not change that I cared for him and it does not change the hurt I felt.  He comes to mind rarely these days, but occasionally he will in September.  I realized today that I needed to write to him and tell him what I never was able to say and to say that I forgive him.  I told him that I pray that he is happy, as happy and blessed as I am.  Really, besides saying that we forgive or choose to forgive, even if we don’t tell the person, all we can do is pray for these people.  Even in hurt, when we loved someone, we always desire the best for them.  It may take years to heal.  It is a journey.
 
I told my husband about it.  He didn’t quite understand, but we are different.  He wasn’t upset, he just moves on and would not need to write this type of email to anyone.  Don’t get me wrong, I have long moved on.  I felt called to write it for two reasons.  First, so that I can continue on my own journey of learning to forgive.  I have some other deep hurts that I need to work on that are much harder to tackle than this one.  This is a first step for me.  Second, I hope and pray that my forgiveness and honesty will help him to Christ.  He struggled a lot with faith.  I was trying to witness to the power of forgiveness and Love.
 
The thing about technology is that it keeps us in contact with people who would normally be long gone.  I am not friends on Facebook with this person, as I do not think it is appropriate for married people to be friends with previous romantic interests.  As Christians, I do think it is necessary for us to actually tell certain people that we forgive them.  Not only for their sakes, but for our own.  There is a great healing in uttering the words “I forgive you”, which is precisely why Our Lord calls us to forgive and to seek forgiveness in the Confessional.  It heals broken relationships, even if that relationship will only remain in the past.
 
Some people might think my choice strange.  But abundant blessings flowed into my heart when I hit send.  This is something that I have thought of writing for about 10 years, but never had the courage.  Perhaps because this person kept on hurting me over a 7 year period, because I let them.  It took that long for me to just completely walk away.  It was the best decision and I found the right man because of that choice.  I finally stopped comparing the men I dated to him.
 
Forgiveness is a conscious choice that we must each make in every moment of hurt.  Some things are easier to forgive than others, but forgive we must.  Is there someone or some people who you need to forgive?  Perhaps you could sit down and write them a letter.  If you cannot send it, then write it and throw it away.  The act of writing down your thoughts and feelings can set you free.  To forgive, the other person does not necessarily need to know they have been forgiven.  I have lived all over, and I do not have the contact information for every single person I have known.  Family may be harder to forgive.  The point is that we work towards that forgiveness.  Christ died on the Cross for each one of us, when we sin each and every day.  Unleash the freedom and peace of forgiveness into your own life.  Have a very blessed weekend!