Conversation Starters

A boy in Jesse’s class invited him to a birthday party recently. I bought a gift and marked the time/date on my phone calendar. The day of the party we arrived to find a few of his classmates in attendance, which I silently felt relieved that we would know at least a couple of the other party guests. Jesse immediately ran to a girl in his class, who is Hispanic. Like him, she is also autistic with low verbal skills. I had never met her parents before since she rides the bus. Other parents who pick up their children after school usually congregate outside the building under an awning. After almost a year, I became acquainted with a few of them.

I walked up to introduce myself to the girl’s parents and was surprised that they knew very little English. In fact, the mother could say maybe five words in English, leaving her husband to do most of the interpreting which was shaky at best. All I could think about was how this couple must have a hundred questions related to their daughter’s school. I could not imagine how lonely it must feel to live in a foreign country, not knowing the language, while navigating/advocating their child’s special needs education!

We attempted a couple of times to talk but the few Spanish classes I had in high school and college completely evaporated from my brain. Knowing how to count to 20 in Spanish or recite the months of the year was not very helpful in the moment. I wanted to communicate with the mother and by the expression on her face I think she did too. She showed me a picture of their other child and I smiled back. We were reduced to facial expressions and pictures. My heart hurt for her and their family.

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Then it occurred to me that Jesse might feel isolated in a similar way. I have wanted so desperately to communicate with him that it is easy to forget how he must feel too. A book I just read from an autistic boy’s perspective called The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida gave me a little more insight and sympathy on this. At thirteen, Naoki transcribed in Q&A form using an alphabet grid with the help of his mother and teacher. The book was later translated into English and has become a national bestseller. I definitely don’t agree with his New Age beliefs sprinkled throughout the pages but the core idea I took away from reading it was that we sometimes limit those who aren’t just like us. Whether it is a language barrier, intellectual, or physical, we often view them as less than the rest of us. Instead of learning what life is like in someone else’s shoes we are quick to treat the disabled or disadvantaged with less respect than someone we can relate to.

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I still do this on occasion to Jesse when I struggle to communicate with him or when he can’t calm down or because bath/bedtime makes him super hyper and giggly. The underlying fact is, when I don’t understand his speech or behavior I’m tempted to give up because we aren’t speaking the same language. It can be exhausting and frustrating. Yet I wonder how many times people with Autism or any other barrier are quickly dismissed because the ability to communicate easily is absent. We assume that there isn’t another way or that the case is hopeless. Reading this book gave me a different perspective, and for the first time, hope. Just because Jesse can’t speak in complete sentences like other children his age doesn’t mean he lacks intelligence or is less of a person. Naoki says,

 

“One of the biggest misunderstandings you have about us is your belief that our feelings aren’t us subtle and complex as yours. Because how we behave can appear so childish in your eyes, you tend to assume that we’re childish on the inside, too. But of course, we experience the same emotions that you do. And because people with autism aren’t skillful talkers, we may in fact be even more sensitive than you are. Stuck here inside these unresponsive bodies of ours, with feelings we can’t properly express, it’s always a struggle just to survive. And it’s this feeling of helplessness that sometimes drives us half crazy, and brings on a panic attack or meltdown.” (p. 109)

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I imagine it might be like someone in a coma who can’t respond verbally or physically but can hear everything going on around him perfectly. His senses are a little thrown off, but mentally the coma patient can comprehend his auditory surroundings. Often doctors, relatives, and visitors talk over the patient as if he isn’t even there.

I’m learning to slow down and intentionally communicate with Jesse – mostly to understand him but also to treat him like I would anyone else without a disability. He’s only six so there will still be wisdom needed (and grace) for training and discipline because I often don’t know exactly what his level of comprehension is. But I don’t want to limit his abilities either. Sometimes that means pushing him a little, to gain confidence. Other moments are more grace-filled and tender, realizing he doesn’t have that specific skill-set yet. But it’s a start in the right direction. Conversation can happen in many forms, not just verbally. For us it looks like a smattering of sign language, spelling words out, hand gestures, pictures and one to two word phrases. We get by. And I am learning that I can’t put him in a box, because he always surprises me by refusing to stay in the mold that society has placed on him.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

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Broken + Free

I woke up the next morning wondering if I had really hugged Ann Voskamp, shaken hands with Rebekah Lyons, and talked with Christy Nockels.

Surreal.

I can honestly say that these women have a contagious love for the Lord. You want what they have. And what they have is Jesus.

 

At their event, the Broken + Free Tour in Nashville, these 3 women received every single person who stood in line waiting for an opportunity to speak with them. They were generous, breaking their time and giving it away. They were living the messages they proclaimed on stage.

Of course as my turn drew nearer my hands became sweaty and all my insides started to melt. I was fighting extreme shyness, trying to find my tongue somewhere back inside my dry throat before Christy Nockels turned to my friend and me. I wanted to tell her what a gift she has been to me, a spiritual mentor through her podcast, Glorious in the Mundane. Christy has a great gift for storytelling, laced with truth and encouragement. Instead, for this event, she led the worship team, calling us all to delight in the Lord through music.

I didn’t know who Rebekah Lyons was until the afternoon of the event. I drove down I-65 listening to her interview on a podcast. I didn’t know she also has a special needs son. Rebekah is further along in this journey than I am, with her son being a teenager. I was instantly drawn to her after that, gleaning any wisdom she might have in special needs parenting. Something about finding someone who has a similar story to yours, like in the special needs community, forms an instant bond.

Rebekah also shared her personal story of fear, panic attacks and learning how to truly be free. After living with her husband and three kids in New York City for a couple of years and experiencing panic attacks for a year, God used these hard experiences to shape her story. In a desperate moment to be set free from her anxiety she cried out to the Lord. The Lord heard her cry and slowly began to help her see freedom through Jesus alone. Only He has the power to save, to heal all sorts of brokenness.

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“Live Cruciform” signed by Ann Voskamp in her new book The Broken Way

Coming face to face with Ann Voskamp was a joy and a privilege. Still in my introverted frame of mind, I stared down at the table, mumbling gratitude for her words and shoved my copy of her book under her nose. Classy. And yet, she embraced me with a hug, this woman who I’ve highlighted countless lines in her books and quoted numerous times. This woman who doesn’t know me from Adam, hugged my neck.

My shoulders relaxed a bit as I began to see that these women weren’t any different than me. They were seeking to bear fruit for God’s glory and look more like Him in the process. That is why we are drawn to those with a bigger platform for the Lord. It is usually because they look an awful lot like Him and we all desperately want to be seen and loved by Jesus.

 

I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to go to Nashville and attend the Broken + Free Tour. Singing songs of praise to the Lord, and listening to the Spirit speak through His own, reminded me to delight again in the God who saves, the God who heals our broken. A smile crept across my face in the midst of singing to Him. I’m delighting in You, Father, as You always delight in me, Your daughter, Your Beloved.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

The Life We Never Expected

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          The Life We Never Expected by Andrew and Rachel Wilson is an honest confession inside a home with two special needs children – both have different forms of autism. The Wilsons write about real life experiences mingled with sadness and hope. They taught me that it is okay to grieve the dreams I had envisioned for my son; the things all parents look forward to for their kids: little league sports, college, independent living, marriage and grandchildren. Some of those may eventually come true, but right now a typical life is not one of them.

Andrew, a pastor in the UK, is transparent with his own struggles, coming to terms with the life he never expected. All the “big” ministry opportunities he envisioned, traditional parenting, and a regular life, was thrown out the window. Rachel writes in a vulnerable voice, acknowledging that this is hard and messy; but they find moments of humor and sweetness too.

Having a child with any kind of disability is isolating. I feel like I’m in a foreign land most days, unable to relate to another parent’s struggles because we are on completely different plains. When I’m not in the right mindset seeing my son’s typical peers wrecks me. This book has been a lifeline to help me remember that I am not alone. Sleepless night after night? Yes. Multiple therapy appointments? Yes. Hyperactivity, missed social cues, and seizures? Yes, yes, yes. Sometimes it’s comforting to identify with someone else going through a similar situation. I highly recommend this book as an oasis for any parent with a special needs child. Furthermore, family, friends, and the church can glean a helpful inside look on what daily life is like in upside down parenting.

The hope Andrew and Rachel possess as believers is contagious. They live with a mindset focused on eternity – in a world free from autism, epilepsy, wheelchairs, tube feeding, or any kind of suffering. One day their precious children (and mine) will have fully functioning minds where normal conversation is possible. One day they will be finally and completely healed. The Wilsons have given me a breath of fresh air with their raw and truthful words. For that I am grateful.

Here is an excerpt from Rachel:

“We are, at best, sailing desperately into the fog, with ever-changing winds, choppy waters, blank maps, and no real idea what we’re doing.

But God is the Captain. He is the navigator, mapmaker, and expert […] as uncertain as our voyage is, there are solid landmarks ahead that are knowable and concrete because of the Captain.

[…] I know He will journey with us to the very end, at which point everything that is perishable and incomplete will be gloriously resurrected and healed.

So I fix my eyes, not on what is seen but on what is unseen. And I take a deep breath.” (p. 148)

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

May Mayhem: the 5 things I learned

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May was a little crazy wasn’t it? End of the year celebrations and preparations for the fall school year all clash in one month. I am ready for the rhythm of slow with no-where to be by 8am each day thank you very much. I could tell the teachers were drained too, all pushing toward that finish line. Well, summer is here. But before you start applying sunscreen and head to the pool, here are a few things I learned in the mayhem of May.

  1. Sugar makes me tired.

I took a three-month hiatus from coffee recently (who was that crazy person?) to taper off from caffeine. Well the problem it turns out wasn’t necessarily the caffeine as it was the sugar I put into my coffee. Sprite causes energy crashes too and that’s caffeine free, but loaded with sugar! So, I have acquired a taste for coffee without sugar and now all is right with the world.

 

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“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things.” -Philippians 4:8

  1. Memorizing Scripture can be easy!

Do you struggle to memorize Bible verses? Well, I did and one day I saw a picture on Instagram from Mary Kate Robertson who wrote a verse on her hand. I thought it was a great idea to have a daily reminder on something I see everyday – my hand or wrist. I wrote about how I try to do this and I hope you find it helpful.

 

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  1. Parents are usually the best advocates for their kids.

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called The United States of Autism. A concerned father who has an autistic son set out with a film crew driving all over the country interviewing other families living with the reality of autism.

Some of those parents are fierce, going toe-to-toe with state legislature and even Congress, petitioning for insurance coverage for therapies or investigating the Health Department in vaccine requirements for children. Some believe there is a correlation between the number of vaccinations a child receives at one time and autism. Others debunk this idea and conclude it is mostly genetic. Fascinating stuff. Meanwhile, the autism numbers continue to climb and it seems the parents are the only voices speaking up for these children.

 

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  1. Let’s address how Crazy Busy we are.

In the Western culture especially we are crazy busy. Kevin DeYoung, pastor, speaker and writer, struggles with juggling it all too, which is why he wrote Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About A (Really) Big Problem. We push ourselves beyond our limits and it is killing us.

DeYoung talks about stewarding our time and why saying ‘yes’ to more than we should is really a heart issue. That got my attention, especially when he concludes that a lot of our busyness stems from pride in various forms. It’s a short read and definitely something to think about.

 

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  1. This month marks the 1 year anniversary of Redeemed In Grace.

I cannot believe it has already been a year since I took a deep breath and hit publish on Redeemed In Grace for the very first time. I have loved doing this – the writing, connecting, learning, and even iPhone photography (no one was more surprised than me).

I am thankful to you, who have taken your valuable time to read what I write. Thank you!!

The Lord continues to teach me more about Him and myself. I realize I’ve only scratched the surface in understanding how great God is. He leaves me hungry for more of Him, so this blog is part of that journey – learning in knowledge, growing in grace; redeemed by Him and for Him.

However your summer looks I hope you find time to slow down a bit and:

eat watermelon,

(and ice cream),

walk barefoot,

go to the library,

grill out,

and watch the Summer Olympics of course!

Have a happy June 🙂

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

All About April

Happy April!

I realize the obnoxious use of self in the title however the post really is all about the month. It just also happens to be my name. Never pass up a good pun, friends.

This month’s finds are for the cook who would just like to press the ‘easy’ button every now and then, family celebrations, the lost art of penmanship and the best DIY show ever. Enjoy!

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  1. The Frugal Girls

It’s 3pm and you have no clue what you’re going to feed your tribe for dinner. Why do they need to eat every. single. day?…(half kidding). So your culinary skills are spent and you need an easy fix. Go to The Frugal Girls immediately and never worry about dinner problems ever again. (And all the moms rejoice!). The Frugal Girls offer tons of easy, affordable, crockpot recipes. Trust me, you’ll be a rock star and your family will thank you for feeding them tonight.

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  1. God Centered Mom Podcast

I’ve mentioned before how I love the Mom Struggling Well podcast. Well, Emily Thomas recently recommended another one on her show called the God Centered Mom. It has blessed me you guys. I think any mom, regardless of what season she is in can benefit from podcasts like these. I hope you give them both a try and that you are encouraged as well.

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  1. The Master Penman

Apparently the art of penmanship is a fading art due to the modern world of technology. Kids don’t learn to craft their writing when laptops are available in every classroom from a wee age. Jake Weidmann is one of twelve Master Penmen in the world and he is also the youngest by three decades.

Maybe it’s the writer in me that is so fascinated by this. I still write out my posts first with pen and paper. Take a look at this very skilled artist and how he wields a pen.

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  1. Autism Breakthrough by Raun Kaufman

I’m open on my blog about having a son on the autism spectrum. Since April is Autism Awareness month I thought I’d share a book I’ve just read. This book is an insightful read into the mind of an autistic child.

It’s a gem for parents or any friend or family member who has a loved one on the spectrum. Raun Kaufman established the Autism Treatment Center of America under The Son-Rise Program. He is witty and a great cheerleader for our kids! Kaufman recalls having autism as a child and how his parents helped him overcome his challenges – as in cured.

I promise this book isn’t hokey. He offers techniques and activities to help, but most importantly your attitude as the parent. Kaufman encourages parents to “[see] your child’s abilities rather than focusing on supposed deficiencies” (p. 268).

If you know someone who could use encouragement with an autistic child, maybe wrap this one up as a special gift just for them.

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  1. Surprises and celebrations

April is a big month of partying in my family. My grandfather, aunt, and dad all have birthdays this month crammed into one week. Squeeze into that Jason’s and my anniversary. Jesse’s birthday is about a week later.

What made this one special is my dad turning 60 and throwing him a surprise party at his favorite restaurant (Cracker Barrel anyone?). Mom managed to keep it a secret and got him there none the wiser. Family and friends came to help celebrate and the look on dad’s face was priceless when he walked in.

Another milestone was Jesse turning a whole hand. So we decided to go big this year. We haven’t done huge birthday parties in the past, because it’s been a mercurial thing for our little guy. He has had trouble in the past with hearing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song and any kind of cheering or candles. This year? This year a blessing happened. The party went off without a hitch and we. sang. to. him. We sang our sweet boy ‘Happy Birthday’ as he stood on a chair to see everyone, wearing his birthday crown (another miracle).

Celebrating life moments are important. It doesn’t always have to be flashy and spectacular. Sometimes it can be. What matters are the people we honor and how we make them feel on their special moments. Loving others well looks like keeping a surprise secret, showing up, birthday cake, balloons, hugs, the gift of laughter, and food of course.

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  1. Fixer Upper

I recently started watching this show and concluded one thing. I am definitely not a DIY girl, but sure enjoy sitting on my couch watching others transform something blah into spectacular. Chip and Joanna Gaines are so adorable with each other too. This show on HGTV (or Netflix, yay!) is worth watching just to hear Chip’s quirky quips and antics (one time he ate a cockroach) or see Joanna’s flawless taste in interior design.

 

What are things you’re into this month? Did you have things to celebrate or occasions to remember? Hopefully it was a good month for you as well. Looking forward to walking through May with you. What is the saying, “spring comes in like a lion and out like a lamb”? I think we’re at the lamb part you guys. Press on into May!

 

The Last Battle

471013925     There are some books that come at just the right time for me to read or re-read. They have great impact and staying power as I linger over the substance weeks after I’ve finished the book. Usually they are books of encouragement and inspiration. It is a bonus if the book is fiction filled to the brim with originality, imagination, and creativity. One such author who can do that is C.S. Lewis.

I am a C.S. Lewis fan, specifically for his beloved children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s more my speed and depth. Every year I pick up a few of the books to read through just for fun. There are seven total. This month I enjoyed reading “The Last Battle” that is the final installment in the series. Some argue book one, “The Magician’s Nephew” should be read last and not first but I prefer to stick to the sequential order (rule follower: guilty as charged). If you have never read The Chronicles of Narnia series I recommend starting at the beginning and work your way through.

Lewis provides so much symbolism packed in these books I become giddy with excitement fangirling over…..stories! I was a little surprised how much I loved this book since the last time I read it because it used to be my least favorite. Lewis beautifully parallels the Christian life to the world of Narnia. The Pevensie children, Digory, Polly, Eustace, and Jill lead similar adventures like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. Aslan, the Great Lion, serves as the Christ figure and he physically appears in and out of the books, as needed, but the belief in him always remains. Just like the fingerprints of God are revealed in our stories, so it is with Aslan over Narnia. His supernatural presence is always there even when he is not.

In “The Last Battle” the setting takes place during the last days of Narnia. Perhaps that is why I picked up this book in particular because it feels like we’re living in the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah right now. From chapter one we learn that a deceitful, wicked ape named Shift decides to create his own Aslan with the help of an ignorant easily deceived donkey called Puzzle. Puzzle becomes the puppet for Shift posing as the great lion himself. (False prophets anyone?)

The Narnians, who are mostly talking animals and mythical creatures, follow blindly out of fear or because they truly believe they are obeying Aslan’s orders. The majority of them do this despite the contradictions they see in Aslan’s character, what little they know of him or have been taught. Their hope, knowledge, and faith in the true Aslan is not firm, therefore the Narnians are easily swayed.

So I won’t give the whole book away, I’ll just hit the highlights of my favorite parts of the book. Namely, the last few chapters where Lewis opens the doors to the new Narnia are mesmerizing. It makes me think of heaven and I love it. Just even the teeniest tiniest insight to what that might be like is wonderful to meditate on. The last chapter of the last book of his series is by far the greatest masterpiece in children’s literature in my (very) humble opinion. Lewis brings a simple understanding to how this world is but a faint copy of what is to come. Heaven already exists even though we cannot physically see it yet, so this earth foreshadows something even greater.

One day our faith will be made sight and I believe our senses will not even be able to handle it as we all fall flat on our faces, so unworthy, but so accepted and loved by God. It will be unlike what we expected but so much better and glorious. The comforting theme I take away from “The Last Battle” is that this world is not our home and this is not the end, just the beginning. This is where our salvation and sanctification occur but the actual life we have belongs in heaven. The writer of Hebrews says the men and women of faith who have gone before us “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth […] Instead, they were longing for a better country- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (11:13d; 16).

When we become discouraged because the earth is so worn out, people revel in wickedness, and believers are left weary, take heart friend. The battle has already been won for us. This is how the narrator describes the ending to the story and coincidentally a summation of what believers can look forward to as we wait in eager expectation for what is to be:

“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” (228).

Grace upon grace,

April

What August has taught me

514412697My last post was about how the world seems to be spinning at rapid speed and how most of us do not take enough time to enjoy the present and slow down. So, in the spirit of that, I want to take time to reflect on the month of August and a few things I have learned and/or discovered. It ranges from the deeper things of life to the not so much.

#1 Jillian Michaels kicks my tail every.single.time.

  I have been doing her Yoga Meltdown dvd for a few years now….not consistently of course. Every time I think I got this, the woman yells at me from the t.v. and tells me “Do NOT phone this in!!!” Ugh. I believe she can see my half attempts from her studio. She knows. She always knows. And yet I’m thankful the next day feeling the soreness (which means I worked something, right?) and stiffness. I may not accomplish much during the day, but at least I finished a 30 minute workout video for what that’s worth.

#2 I am learning to be an advocate for my son even when it might annoy others. 

My son started a new school this year and because of his special needs I felt a huge amount of worry. I want his teachers and therapists to understand him, to know his strengths and weaknesses. They will over time, but I wanted it to happen right out of the gate. When it comes to someone else taking care of him, I am not relaxed about it. I need to know your credentials and experience, etc. So I emailed his teacher and did ask her those things in the most polite way I knew how. She was very nice about it and answered my questions. Communication is key, I realize. I have gathered his therapists emails and contacted them and I may ask a lot of questions but I figure we all need to be on the same page anyway. This shy girl who would prefer to “go with the flow” and keep her head down is learning to be a voice these days.

IMG_3825#3 Hannah More is an amazing woman that I wish more people knew about.

I recently finished reading Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior. It is a biography on Hannah More and it. is. incredible!!! There are few books in my life that are truly life changing and this is one of them. Hannah was the female counterpart to William Wilberforce during Great Britain’s abolition movement. While he focused on the political reform to end the slave trade, she worked the social and cultural scene to show how uncivilized trading humans like cattle was. One of my favorite quotes from her is: “It should be held as an eternal truth, that what is morally wrong can never be politically right” (136). I guess also because it draws for me such strong parallels to the cultural war we face today on abortion. One quote from the author in which I could not help but think about infanticide (i.e. abortion) is: “The social conscience had drawn a veil over the horrific business of trade in human flesh. The veil had to be lifted” (125).  It is an inspiring read, plus there are fancy sounding names like the Bluestocking Circle and the Clapham Sect that I want to resurrect somehow.

#4 It is okay to ask for prayer.

Recently I had a dear friend over and we visited for quite a while. As she was getting ready to go home, I felt a strong sense from the Spirit to ask for prayer. The kind of feeling that you know you need to obey. Here is a little of the inner dialogue that went on in my heart: Spirit: Ask for prayer. Me: What? I’ve got this. She has enough on her plate, I don’t need to bother her with my struggles. Spirit: Ask for prayer. Me: But she’s about to leave and its too much to explain and I’ll just wait for another time. Spirit: Ask for prayer.

So I actually had to swallow my (pride? fear?) and with a dose of courage ask her for prayer on a certain issue. Asking another brother or sister in Christ to pray for you or with you can sometimes be hard, especially if the request leaves you feeling very, very vulnerable. It is also humbling, which is apparently what I needed as well. But we share in each other’s burdens as well as each other’s joys, right? Not only are we blessed by their prayers, it allows them an opportunity to minister.

515831109#5 Celebrate Tuesdays.

This one comes from a book that I’m currently reading called Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman. I would also recommend this. I’m not done with it yet, but the idea is to celebrate our smallness and the small things that God has planned for us. She writes: “We don’t have to worry that embracing smallness will shrink our impact […] In all our small ways, it is Christ who makes it possible for us to move through our lives, believing and trusting he is establishing his kingdom-sized purposes within and around us” (37). Emily talks about how Tuesday seems to be the day that is just squished in the week without given much thought. It is just a Tuesday, not a weekend day, or a Friday, or the middle of the week, or the start of the work week. It’s just…..small, simple, little Tuesday. She encourages her readers to appreciate the ordinary times, especially in our fast moving world and live our lives for Jesus in those moments as well.

On an end note to celebrate more Tuesdays, I had breakfast at a cafe this past Tuesday by myself and thoroughly enjoyed it! I had a crepe for the first time, stuffed with blueberries, strawberries, and bananas with honey drizzled on the top and a side of whipped cream. My eyes were the size of Montana when I saw that thing! And it was heavenly of course. Top it off with a vanilla latte in a Friends-sized coffee cup and I could have floated to Paris.

And if we really want to get started about celebrating Tuesday, this one coming up just so happens to be this girl’s birthday. So, yeah, I’ll keep up the tradition, at least until next Tuesday.

Grace upon grace,

April