Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween

Vince and Alicia 1990

My Grandma was born on October 31st.  I grew up knowing Halloween as the candy holiday where I got dress up and then go to my grandma’s for her birthday.  A strict Catholic, she loved the holiday but always got up first thing the next morning to go to mass for All Saints Day.

My happy childhood memories of Halloween blossomed into terrible experiences with the holiday, later seeing it as a time where everyone around me got drunk and dressed like vixens with their boobies hanging out.  They smoked funny things and lost themselves in a holiday that seemed designed for kids...and I felt left behind.

Actually, in those days I felt left behind in general.  I eventually found peace and satisfaction in the identity that was mine and always had been: as a daughter of God, saved by grace and loved by the greatest savior imaginable.  I was in love with Jesus, and finally my life made sense.

It wasn’t until later that I was forced to learn about the hideous awfulness of Halloween.  I was a 911 dispatcher and on that evening there was more vandalisms and fire crimes than any other night of the year, even New Years Eve.  We had to watch training tapes about Satanists and they made me aware of the rituals that were held on this night.  I’d have rather remained ignorant.  I couldn’t imagine subjecting my own tender children to going out on this night, and so I did what any reasonable, threatened mother would do: I took the holiday away from them.

I wish I could say it was the first time I overreacted.  It wasn’t.  I was a classic overreactor, and the memories of me losing it over this pitiful day make me wince in embarrassment.

As a Christian, I also was thinking that if October 31st was the devil’s holiday, how could we celebrate it?  In our social circles the day was kind of a taboo subject,  seen as Satan’s High Holy Day when all demons were unleashed into the air to wreak havoc on our unsuspecting children. 

Handing out candy at Grandma's
1994
Back in real life, my kids just wanted to trick-or-treat.  All of their other friends were doing it and they wanted to dress up, go to houses and get candy.  Looking back, I see that they were waiting for me to say “I’ll go with you we can go to a few houses in your costume.”  They also loved me.  When I posed the “reality of what trick-or-treating really was”, they decided it was easier to acquiesce than to argue with me.  Even my kids didn’t have the vocabulary to say “I don’t want to worship Satan, I just want candy, mom.”  
I look back on all of this and think that I failed my kids. 

I failed them for outlawing the holiday instead of remembering that there was a genuine fun-ness about it.  I failed them for forbidding trick-or-treating;  for teaching them (prematurely) about the wicked origins of the day and all that I saw happening at the 911 center.  Most of all, I failed my kids because I caved to peer pressure.  It was really my Christian circle that made me feel as if there was only one choice- becoming an opponent of the holiday and all it stood for.  I had no middle ground and my decision to ban the holiday was final.  I had not been given divine wisdom after I prayed;  this was my own idea, not God’s.

Today, I apologize to my kids.  They really have a lot of grace for me and they forgive me readily.  But they can remember my fanaticism and I don’t think they got through it unscathed.  So when they tell me about the ways they are planning to celebrate, I am happy and I say go for it.  

After all, God redeems everything.

Happy Halloween.

Alicia - Mountain Playschool
1991

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

conversation



Photo Credit: Mayo Clinic
But I added the thought bubble
I looked at my reflection tonight as I washed the dishes and I saw my mom.  The problem is, I look like my mom, but I don’t have her personality.  I can’t be there for myself like she is for me.  My reflection was false advertising.  

It took me about one minute of missing her before I snapped into a vain response of “I’m not that old, am I??”

This is just one way that aging is unpredictable.

Actually, I don’t mind aging at all, I kind of like it and I have Mario.  There are some things I miss about being young – like those “pig-out” days where I ate grilled cheese sandwiches and cookies all day like I was getting ready to run a marathon.  I can’t do those days anymore.  Those days (if I ever try them) suspend the functions of my liver and kidneys and I end up cursing grilled cheese sandwiches like they were a shameful binge that I just took part in.  I rarely find myself in that predicament these days.

Tonight was a night where I decided to make chicken strips (dipped in egg and fried with bread crumbs) and French fries.... both of which (for anyone who knows me) used to be staples in my diet.  I just don’t eat them together anymore because I go around complaining the next day that I can’t sit properly or that my weight went up three kg’s in one day.  

So tonight I threw caution into the wind and poured a great deal of sunflower oil into a pan and got ready to fry. What the hell... I haven’t had fried food in (what...?) a week.

Everything came out stunning perfect and the best news about being almost 50 is that my cooking is great every single time.  I couldn’t finish either the French fries or the chicken strips because they (wait for it...) disagreed with me.  I started to feel my liver talking to me.  “You’re not serious!” it said from  the right upper-quadrant of my abdominal cavity.  “You want me to process that?”

“Give me a flippin break, liver,” I answered.  “Shut up while I’m pigging out.”

I am not afraid to talk to my second largest organ because it is supposed to obey me, right?  I finally gave up eating when I started feeling  unsatisfied and bloated.  I had eaten about 15 french fries and three chicken strips.  I’m becoming a lightweight.

The truth of the matter is that aging is not for the faint of heart.  I work out every day and my poor body has started to demand more rest, more health, more manners from me.  I have to listen to it because I want to be healthy for as long as I can be, which basically I am.

I miss my mom.  Tonight as I finished washing the dishes I cried for her.  Of course my liver told me I was crying because I ate fried food and I wasn't getting my proper intake of valuable nutrients.  

Shut up, liver.  

Shut up while I’m crying.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

water


I want to tell you a story of water.  It is a simple story, one that I could add a bunch of application and wisdom to, but I don’t want to. 

Yesterday was my weekly date with Bessie, my friend who I have had weekly dates with for a few years.  
When I called her she told me that she had no water – Diepsloot extension 1 had no running water at the community tap.  Instead of lunch she asked if I could take her to fill buckets at a local tap.  Of course I agreed.

After hanging up with her I phoned Petros, our friend who runs a pre-school just outside of Diepsloot in a place called Plot 1.

“Hello, Janet!” he greeted me, answering his phone. 

“Hello, Petros how are you?”

“I am fine,” he said.  Niceties exchanged; let’s talk.

“Petros, do you have water?” I asked.  This was a measure of how far water interruption stretched. 

“Yes, we have,” he answered.  I could hear him smiling.  “People are coming.”  Petros knew that I was going to ask him if people were walking with their buckets to his place to fill up with water.  He preempted my question. 

“Which extensions are out?” I asked him, trying to get a feel of which areas of Diepsloot had been affected by water loss. 

“I think all of them,” he said.

“Can I bring people to fill their buckets?” I asked boldly.  I knew he was probably already overwhelmed. 
“Yes,” he said, gracious as always.  “Please come.”

I drove into Diepsloot through extension 9 where Portia lives, knowing she would be at work but her neighbors would be home.  Right away her close friend saw me driving up and greeted me. 

“Portia is not here,” she said, and I tried like crazy to remember her name.  It had flown out of my head.

“I know,” I said, smiling and shaking her hand.  “Do you have water?”

“No,” she replied.  “Since yesterday it has been off.”

“Can I fill your buckets?” I asked.  Community in Diepsloot means community.  If I filled her buckets then she would share with Portia and the boys and everyone would have water that night. 

“Yes,” she said, already walking toward the emergency tubs. “Let’s go.”

We loaded three 25 liter tubs and four 5 liter jugs into my car and I told her I’d be back.  From there I drove into extension 1, taking note of the long lines of people at the water tanks, big green things filled once a day by Johannesburg Water during periods of “interruption”. 
Bessie and her neighbor bring buckets and tablecloths.


I called Bessie from the end of her street to tell her that I was there.  She and her neighbor met me, carrying 25 liter jugs and the basket of tablecloths Bessie had washed for the church.  Hmmmm...I guess we’re going to Junction to fill the buckets and return the tablecloths, I thought. 

Bessie got in to the car, greeting me with a long sigh.  She asked me to pray for her neighbor, who was already sick and getting sicker because of the lack of water.  Johannesburg Water, Diepsloot’s provider,  usually gives residents a heads-up when there is going to be an interruption unless there is an emergency or a breakage...or they mess something up.

“So, let’s go,” she said. 

At the church we saw Bright and Tumi, who also said they had no water (extension 4) and Lucky who said he was also out (extension 6).  Keep in mind that Diepsloot’s last census said that there was 150,000 people living in the close spaces that are mostly shacks –factor in that many of the residents are children and elderly. 
I was literally making a drop in the bucket for all that were without water.  My friends seemed grateful, but I was ashamed that I could not do more.

Charles and a young customer.
After about an hour of filling buckets and containers Bessie and I made the trek back in my overloaded Toyota, whose rear end was nearly touching my tires.  Bessie and I joked that we should lay off of fried foods (we both are slightly doughy).


So we made deliveries- first in extension 6 where Lucky and Charles live.  We saw Charles at his table spaza, selling chips, snacks and airtime.  One of his customers came over and asked if he could have one of the buckets I filled.

“Why?” I asked, smiling.  “They aren’t my buckets, they are my friends’.”

“Well, you can go buy another one for fifty rand,” he suggested.  I laughed.

“Okay,” I said. “Give me fifty rand and I’ll go buy another.”

"Give me one of those..."
He smiled suspiciously, realizing I wasn't buying it.  “You have a car, I am poor.”

“You’re wearing Nike's,” I laughed.  “Look at my shoes, Pic and Pay specials.”  Charles was laughing, knowing that his customer didn’t realize I was used to Diepsloot and all of its residents asking me for things only because they have been trained to believe that we have everything.

“You are white,” he said, finally.  It was his ace he was waiting to play.

“I am Hispanic,” I said, acting offended. “Do you hear this, Charles?  He’s calling me white!”

Lucky's friend helps us deliver.
Charles and Bessie were laughing, and the man sat down on a stool by Charles’ table.  He asked me for a job, since I wasn't budging about the water I was carrying for friends. 

“I honestly know of nothing right now,” I said, switching into a serious tone.  “But if I did, I would most likely give a job to someone who was trying to find one.  Why aren’t you out looking?”  He shook his head and I could tell he was discouraged.  I felt bad for him... but there were so many like him here.  Young, discouraged, a little bit drunk and looking for a hand out.

Further into extension 6 we met Richman, who was also in need of new spectacles, which I actually remembered to bring.  He asked after Mario and we made polite conversation, then he told me something interesting. 

“Extension 5 just got water,” he said.

“When?” I asked.

“Earlier today,” Richman answered.  “I think it’s coming down to us.” Richman motioned with his hand, illustrating that the southern extension 5 would trickle forth water once JW opened the main ducts from there.

We said goodbye- back to extension 1.

I decided to back the heavy buckets down Bessie's "street" - a dirt road that is more the size of an alley - and I'm not so good in reverse.  I nearly hit the post of a shack while I was backing in but everyone was forgiving because I was bringing water. 

Not angry at me, the crazy driver.
“I’m so sorry,” I said to the owners of the home, who had tapped the back of my car in a warning.  They were laughing and didn’t seem upset.  I asked to take their picture and they posed, graciously. 

“Goodbye, my Spiritual sister,” Bessie said, removing the last of the 25 liter buckets.  “Now I am going to bathe.” 

She hugged me and we laughed.  Bessie always looked nice; always smelled fresh.  She lived in a place with no running water inside of her home.  Could I do it?

I drove back through Diepsloot, passing line after line of people waiting to fill their buckets by tanks that were either drying up or empty.  I wove my way back to Portia’s and her beautiful friend whose name I could not remember. 

“You are back!” she beamed, happily.  “You were not overburdened with the task?”

“Not at all,” I said.  She thought I had only fetched water for her and she could see I only had a small car. 
“I will tell Portia you came by,” she said, after I had offloaded the last bucket.  My car’s suspension returned to normal. 

“Tell her to sms me when the water comes on,” I said.

“Thank you,” she waved as I drove off.  As I left to drive back to my house with electricity and running water, I thought of my friends.  We are so alike in so many ways, but so different in others. 
Last night, before a meeting, I called Portia. 

“I am still on my way home,” she said.  “I worked after-care today.”

“So you don’t know if the water is turned on yet?” I asked.  I could hear the din of taxi noise in the background. 

“I’ll call you when I get home,” she said.  Later that night she called and we made arrangements for the next day.  Portia and the boys spend the night at least once a month where we catch up and have extended time together, so we made a plan that if the water was not on by the morning I would pick her up for our visit very early so she could do the washing at our house. 

 When I woke up this morning I poured myself a cup of coffee and did the dishes.  How much I take for granted!  Clean water, delicious and nourishing, is not a right of mine, but a privilege.

I thought of Portia and decided to call her. 

Just then I got an sms from her, as if she were reading my mind: “Hi Janet u cn pick us @3 the water is back on & am doing the washing now thanx.”

YEEEE-hhhhhaaaaaaWWW!!!

I sms’d back: “Yea for water! See you at 3.”

Yea for water... yea for water.




Tuesday, October 16, 2012

believe



Looking Up....  
Big Trees State Park, Northern California 2011



So brothers and sisters, your faith has encouraged us in all our distress and trouble. Now we can go on living as long as you keep your relationship with the Lord firm. We can never thank God enough for all the joy you give us as we rejoice in God's presence. We pray very hard night and day that we may see you again so that we can supply whatever you still need for your faith. We pray that God our Father and the Lord Jesus will guide us to you. We also pray that the Lord will greatly increase your love for each other and for everyone else, just as we love you. Then he will strengthen you to be holy. Then you will be blameless in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all God's holy people. (1 Thessalonians 3:7-13)

The greatest reward in full time ministry is seeing people believe God. 

Before you think that’s simple, look at where we are – we live in the City of Gold, Johannesburg, where the Golden Rule is practiced every day.  Whoever has the gold makes the rules.

In Jozi, more people worry about finances than anywhere else we’ve lived (which is saying a lot).  We have friends who are wealthy; friends who are poor but  they all are really cool people we enjoy hanging out with.  The coolest thing is when we hear how God is making Himself real to them.  It may be in the mercy and love He makes real and abundant during a trial, it may be a great blessing that was unexpected.  Most of the time I am encouraged by my friends praising God despite their circumstances, not because of them.

God is real.  He is very personal and cares about the details of our life.  Still, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by our circumstances and wonder where He is.  The things that are beautiful to me are when someone says that they shifted their eyes to Him and believed that He is who He says He is. 

Today as I read this passage in 1 Thessalonians made me sit and remember the days in the USA after we had been exposed to our relationships with people here in Africa.  It made me remember all of the times we have left for holiday and prayed that God would “watch over things” while we were gone.  It’s okay if you laugh here...we can start to feel like we’re the answer to people’s needs rather than God ....

So when someone tells us of looking around, seeing desperation and then remembering they are really taken care of by a Father who loves them it is wonderful.  When they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that His Holy Spirit is directing their steps it feeds us, excites us, and rejuvenates us. 

Today as I read this, I prayed for so many here... but I prayed for my family back in the States.  How much we pray for them!!  We pray very hard night and day that when we see them again we can have a conversation about the deep things of God – the greatest conversation we can have.  If they need us to, we pray to God that He empowers us to supply whatever they need for their faith.  We trust God that He will be the solid rock for them – just as He is ours. 

After all, our answers are found in Him, the Father who loves us. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

read



The first book I ever read all the way through by my own free will was one called “The Gift of Magic” by a young adult author, Lois Duncan.  I was twelve years old and we were about to make a trip across country to Boston, the land of my father,  in our yellow station wagon with my parents and four siblings.  The thought of me reading anything in a car (my parents referred to me when talking about the trip as “the one who gets carsick”) surprised everyone, even me.  But I was determined and bought the book myself with money I had saved myself.  I carefully removed the order form from a Scholastic book flier with a pair of scissors I found in our kitchen.  The book arrived at school and had a shiny, attractive cover with a young girl day dreaming and pouring forth painted thoughts.  It was one of two books I read that summer and then I was known as “the one who likes to read”.

Two summers later, just to prove I was smarter than everyone around me (I wasn’t, by the way) I read “Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. My father was proud, remarking that it was time I started reading “authors that are important”.  The book was remarkably English (a foreign language for Americans) and harder to read.  My thoughts would drift as I read the pages, its characters a little to veiled for me to understand.  It wasn't until much later that I would read it again and appreciate it, like all of Dickens' books.

Years past and reading became more necessary than pleasurable.  I read cookbooks to master the ways of my mother and mother-in-law in the kitchen; the Bible to reprogram my mind as I started a new life; Shape magazine to survive being married to a jock husband who looked good all of the time.  I also read a lot – a LOT – of Christian self-help books.  My favorite author was a man by the name of Mike Wells, who wrote two standards I always return to: Sidetracked in the Wilderness and Problems, God’s Presence and Prayer. 

One day I saw the movie “Sense and Sensibility”, so beautiful in conversation that I knew I would have to get the book.  We marched to the used book store I haunted and picked up a hard-copy while my kids chose a few themselves. 

Sense and Sensibility did not require concentration.  It was brilliant and juicy and I loved Jane Austen for writing it.  Written in a post-Victorian era, there was no reason I should have related so well to Marianne, the tragic sister who lives a life with her heart attached squarely on her sleeve.  I finished the book slowly but enjoyed every page.

I later returned to the same bookstore (my haunt while in Sacramento) to buy the greatest literary purchase I would ever make: Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  If I could read War and Peace, I could read anything.  The book store owner recommended the Penguin Classic, which she told me was translated from the original Russian and French by a master: Rosemary Edmonds.  In her opinion it was the best translation available- she couldn't believe no one had bought it off of her shelf yet -but it was a new copy, not used.  The price tag was a whopping nine dollars, but I bought it.  Thank God.

War and Peace took me a year to read, three months to become interested in.  Want a heads up?  Leo Tolstoy plays around for the first third of his books like an old uncle who is going to tell you a story but spends too much time talking about nothing.  BUT once the old uncle entered the second third of the story I was thrown to the ground with events that couldn't possibly have happened (did I read that right?) and was wide awake for the last two thirds of the novel.  After finishing War and Peace, I realized I had unintentionally learned about the Napoleonic Wars and how the world (and war itself) would never be the same after them.  How did Uncle Leo do that?

After War and Peace I ran a marathon.  It inspired me to take on things that took time to acheive.

Many books followed.  Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Charles Dickens David Copperfield (my son read it before I did), Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (a book that nearly sent me into depression),  Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy; James Joyce's Dubliners; and then a sneaky girl named Amy Tan (who was still alive!) made her way into my heart (past the dead legends) with Joy Luck Club and The Hundred Secret Senses.  

They lived at my bedside, reminding me that words were beautiful and made pain understandable and life translatable if you could swallow the words and felt them deep inside. Their characters were all people I had met before in my life and I loved and hated them and cried out for justice in the pages where they lived.  Inside of their pages was beauty - words twisted into patterns that evoked deep emotions, calling forth my interest like all good authors do.

At the airport last week I perused the novels section, the popular fiction that is selling right now.  Having just finished my first novel, I am encouraged by everyone I know in the publishing industry to take a look at what is “selling”.  

I looked at a stacked tower in the middle of the bookstore entryway where I saw the pesky 50 Shades of Grey. The tower was stacked and already half gone.  I had heard about this novel, the one that aspiring authors (and established ones) love to hate.  Sir Salman Rushdie (author of The Satanic Verses) admitted last week that one of his least favorite books is 'Fifty Shades of Grey', saying that it makes the Twilight series look "look like 'War and Peace'." Ha!  I looked inside of its pages for beauty, a colorful scene or conversation that would drag me in.  Instead I found words pieced together like an essay from a high-schooler - something I would read at a bargain table two years after the store had tried to sell all of its copies.  I was bored leafing through it.  

After I put it down I noticed a new novel- The Light Between Oceans  by M.L. Stedman, mainly because its cover (a nautical script watermarked behind jagged rocks) caught my eye.  I picked it up and couldn't put it down.  I read the first pages and delighted in the sounds and smells it painted.  Inside of the front flap I saw it was the author's forst novel and would soon be made into a motion picture.  I sighed, glad for her - it looked like a really good story. 

This world loves really good stories.

I left the airport bookstore and returned to Mario, who was waiting for our flight in a long line of people.  There had been a delay and everyone was camping out in the few remaining chairs.  “Can I borrow the computer?” I asked him.  He was busy on his ipad and instead of getting out our laptop, handed the tablet  to me. 

“You should have wi-fi,” he said.  Instead of feeling guilty for hijacking his ipad from him, I worked fast.  The Light Between Oceans was available from amazon for a much reduced price, but I decided I'd rather buy it from an indie book store once I got home.  It also was available on kindle (I adore my kindle) but I never buy a book that I know I want to hug when I’m finished as an e-book - and I suspected this would be one of them.

Good reads, like easy reads have a place in my heart.  There is much to be learned from the classics but I am learning to enjoy the moderns.  I have recently bought several books from people who are still alive.  People who (like Amy Tan) can tell a riveting story that leaves you loving the characters and loving them like brothers and sisters. There is something of light and promise inside of a story.  Barbara Kingsolver says "Give me ten hours and I'll give you a reason to turn every page."

Whether its Dickens or Dostoevsky; Austen or James; Tan or Paton...I love them all. 

I love them for telling me a story before bed, just like my mom used to do.  A story that sets me free and makes me question and causes me to be more tender to people I don't understand.  A story that tells me that people are worth it, families are complicated and God is there, in all of the twenty six characters that breathe out beauty inside of white pages that used to be empty.  

Sigh....














Monday, October 8, 2012

Shep




Some people in our lives get us more than others. 

Do you know the feeling of having a friend who understands you so well that you don’t have to explain your little annoying habits or insecurities?  Do you know the feeling of being liked by someone?  Really liked, not just accepted or admired or even tolerated?

That’s how we felt about Shepherd and Eve when we first met them.  We didn’t have to explain away things we said and for some reason they thought our jokes were funny. 

It wasn’t until later that we realized that our friend, Shep, had a heart for teens – a people group that we seem to struggle with more than any other.  Shep loved kids and he loved hanging out with them.  He seemed to have instant rapport with most of them  - and his way was infectious.  It took awhile but we got into the groove of hanging out with teens the way Shep does.

In a way, all of Shep’s strengths and spiritual giftings come second place to one most people don’t see: he is a friend to Mario.  My husband is literally the best person I have ever met in my life.  His heart is solid gold and he has a wealth of love and service and joy that oozes from his heart.  Many people see him as a spiritual man, a giant almost, and they either love him for that or they rely on him as an elder.  Mario’s faithful and true personality sometimes gets weary. 

That’s when Shep comes in, usually unannounced and revives him.

“Hey, my brother,” Shep will yell, pretty obvious that he’s ready to joke around.  “I don’t mean to humiliate you, but I’d like to wrestle.”

“Don’t even try,” Mario will smile. “You’ll embarrass yourself.”

Shep will now and then joke about wrestling Mario because he was an All-American and is still impressive.  Also, they’re the same height and they are both the type to let off steam by throwing someone around.  Still, at their ages it’s mostly a bit of lions roaring... just to show they still can.  One day I came to the main auditorium at the Junxion Center to find them wrestling on the gymnastics mats.  It was scary to watch, but Bright and Norman (the Center’s main workers) were looking on, entertained. 

“Bright, how could you allow this to happen?” I shrieked.  “Mario’s gonna hurt him!”  Bright wore the smile of a man – one that loves and understands this stuff. 

“Leave them alone, Ma,” he said, watching the brothers throw each other around like violent Sumo warriors, the mats beneath them squeaking.  I left the scene, shaking my head and rolling my eyes, knowing I would be massaging my husband’s sore muscles later.

This was all Shep’s fault.  Mario would never normally wrestle unless provoked seriously. 

“Man,” Mario cooed as we drove home later.  “I needed that.”

Mario needed to get bruised and bloodied that day, working out his frustrations after a particularly difficult meeting.  Battling for position of Alpha male with Shep gave him a chance to blow off steam and brought peace and a smile to his face.  I, in turn, rode home with my arms crossed and silent, like that was constructive. 

Later, after slathering Neosporin on Mario’s knee and ears, it hit me: Shep and Mario were playing.  They found a place to fling each other about like two teenagers – Varsity students wrangling and walking home after, satisfied. 

It still makes me smile.

Mario needs to play.  He needs to be goofy and smack people around.  I think he did it much more in the States where he had more close friends.  Here, as a respected leader, he can lose the chance to be goofy and boyish.  Until Shep comes around.

Shep understands and  loves Mario, trusting him with his heart.  They have heart-to-hearts and hang out like old college buddies.  They swagger around like two guys who've known each other forever.  After hanging out, they are refreshed.

So when people talk about Shep and how great he is with youth and how much of a heart he has for living on the edge I agree.  It’s part of why I like him.  He’s also a good husband and father.  But I love him for being a friend to my husband.  That is solid gold to me.

Happy Birthday, Shep.  You’re one in a million. 

Literally.

Shep's way of livening up a great photo.... EISH!