Two Arms Full

This is when I annually observe “I’m not at Maryland Sheep and Wool weekend.” Gosh, that sounds petulant, probably because it is. The last time I went to MDS&W, my five year old was two months old. This year I’m again post-partum, with a two week old on my shoulder this time.

Post-partum is an interesting time for me. I have so much to be thankful for. My baby is healthy, my recovery has been fab, she sleeps as much as could be reasonably expected, I have supportive friends nearby, my spouse is a rockstar, and my in laws were just visiting for a week so I haven’t had to wash one dish.

Observing INAMDS&WW with the level of fibery engagement available to me: reading PLY Magazine during nap time!

Even this most optimal of circumstances is no good for making. Which may seem a silly complaint, but when I can’t keep my hands busy, I find my brain spinning its wheels. I’m sure it’s a combination of general discomfort and tiredness, plus a nervous anticipation of just how real everything is going to get now that my in laws are out of town and Jared is mostly going back to work. But with my hands still, my brain spins.

I usually have one hand free, one hand to hold a mobile device. I spent an embarrassing number of hours last week surfing back issues of Twist Collective and queuing patterns I’ll never get around to making. During feedings I’ll dream of all the things I could be doing. I know this about myself now, that this is how I deal with discomfort: shopping other lives.

I spent the first months of this year reading through Genesis and a commentary on it, and I finished the day before D was born. Juggling another huge book with a newborn seemed unwise, so on a whim, I snagged this book off the shelf so I could read something other than Instagram while I decide what book of the Bible to study next.

It was passed on to me by a friend. I haven’t read Ann Voskamp’s first book, though I’ve heard the cliff notes. I was concerned it might be trite. But about three pages in, I had picked up my baby and held her close, because the reality of temporality had cut right through all my avoidance. This woman gets it. Each chapter, a convenient fifteen minute read, has been a daily reminder to cut the crap, sit up, and figure out how to be present.

I deleted my ravelry queue.

My hands are empty because my arms are full. Can I focus on that? My house is a mess because children are playing in it. I’m doing laundry all the time because we have enough clothes to wear. I’m cooking more than ever because my family can afford to eat healthy home cooked meals and gee the kids actually eat the food sometimes.

I’ve been tempted by so many ways to serve myself. Plans for what I will buy and make for myself. Post-partum fitness plans to “get my body back.” Tracking my every calorie and movement so I am motivated to make the best choices for myself. Self-care is awesome, but my word, it balloons like my rav queue into self-obsession. Into fixation with my needs.

Every second spent staring at my phone, I am missing this face. But I do it anyway.

But I am not my own end. I am not going to live forever. The point of me – and this is the hardest thing to live out – is to glorify God, the God whose glory was a cross, whose cross is remembered in communion, in being with and loving others. The point of a strong healthy body is to be present with others. The point of a clean house is creative space for more messes. The point of a beautiful space is peace for my loved ones, and to invite others in. The point of good food is to share it around a table where we enjoy each other. The point of me being more fully alive is to be better poured out.

This is the hardest thing for me to live. I am not naturally generous, hospitable, or nurturing. I experience no need to be needed; I have little trouble saying no. I overcommit to my own desires first, and I burn out quickly on helping. I honestly envy those who struggle with the opposite; they seem much more suited to all my life choices.

But there’s no going back now. My arms are full and there’s no emptying them. I made these choices because I want to figure it out. I want to love well my own family and beyond. I want to press into the discomfort and find the cross there. Find the cross in my daily failures and live in grace. Give me too much comfort and I’ll escape that process as quick as I can. Throw in another baby and I’ll be forced back into the walk.

Baby D enjoys her first quilt by Mimi, my MIL. My Maryland-loving heart feels awfully sentimental about the blue crabs.

My arms are full. They almost weren’t. Three babies were lost seven years ago. I haven’t forgotten their names. There’s no replacing them, but there’s a certain completeness in having three healthy children I’ve gotten to hold in my arms. There’s no way not to be thankful if I can remember that.

My hands are empty, so I have to hold them out. My brain is spinning, with no work to latch onto, so it has to rest. I have to open my heart to feel his arms, Gods acceptance of who I am regardless of my failures, even my failure to engage the journey he has me on.

It’s all grace. Every day, every minute. Every snuggle, every smile, every hurt, every struggle. It’s all gift. I can find my way to accept them if I lean in, embrace the failure, give back, accept how small I am, how far I have to go, how loved I am regardless. Let the grace of a God who already died and rose for me do the work.

The generosity of others so far outstrips my own that I’m left speechless. The girls enjoy headbands from the care package all the way from British Columbia from online spinning friends I haven’t even met.

There’s no 12-week plan for that. No way to track my progress with selfies. No way to feel good about myself. But I would like, ten years from now, to look back and see that I’ve done the best I could to love the right things. Or even better, maybe I just won’t think about myself quite so much.

Fifteen Minutes

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. I am enough of a perfectionist, with enough experience of my own failure and unnecessary self-criticism, to recognize when I’m setting myself up for failure. But I have signed myself up for a sort of daily thing, sort of starting at the New Year, and I am determined to make it as helpful as it can be. It’s a hashtaggy thing, and it’s called #spin15aday.

It’s exactly what it sounds like. You commit to yourself to spin for fifteen minutes every day. The idea is, fifteen minutes isn’t that hard to carve out, and you’ll see more progress on your spinning if you work on it a little every day than if you wait and only spin when you have larger chunks of time.

I saw this idea at the same time I was reading Teaching Godly Play by Jerome Berryman. It’s a book about a Montessori-style religious education curriculum; I had been slightly exposed to it in seminary and was reading the book to see if it was something I could do at home with my kids. I did learn some things that will help me with at-home religious education, but I learned a lot more about interacting respectfully with children, entering and encouraging the creative cycle, and contemplating the presence of God.

Berryman recommends that the teachers spend some time after the class quietly cleaning up and setting things in order, then contemplating what happened in the class. This struck me as incredibly sensible, and something I could apply immediately. When I am at home with the kids, I usually get a short break in the afternoon when N is at preschool and M is playing quietly by herself. It’s often not more than an hour, and it’s been increasingly difficult for me to give up part of that time for quiet reflection. So often there’s chores to do, or I just want to escape and read a book or cruise Facebook for an hour. But I need that quiet reflection like I need oxygen.

How can I get myself to do it? By giving it fifteen minutes.

I still can’t believe how fast this stuff got carded once I got motivated.

This has evolved over the turning of the year into a daily practice that has been very centering. I clean up the living room and dining room from any major mess with the kids, reflecting on the activities we did that morning. I take fifteen minutes to spin, setting a timer once my wheel is oiled and new fiber attached. Then I spin. No other stimulation: no sounds, no sights. When the timer goes off, I finish my rolag and put the wheel away, the pull out the Bible and the commentary I’m reading. If I don’t have any time constraints, I’ll just read a large section, knitting away,* or I’ll take a break to journal any insights. If I have other pressing matters – bathrooms to clean, dinner to start – I’ll set another fifteen minute timer.

It usually happens in that afternoon space, though sometimes I wake up early and have it in the morning, and sometimes days explode or I’m working in the afternoons, and I do it in the evenings instead.

I started before the actual turning of the year, so it’s been almost two weeks now. And it’s been really nice.

I imagine I’ll reflect on this more as the year continues, but in the interest of completing the creative circle, I want to record my observations so far. Blasting out my thoughts on IG every day is cathartic, and scratches the social itch, but it doesn’t give me any closure on the ideas. So here we are. In no particular order:

  1. It makes me prep for myself. I’ve been doing a lot of prep lately,** but it’s mostly having activities ready for the kids. But when I only have fifteen minutes a day that I know I can spin or knit, I want to make sure those fifteen minutes are not wasted or delayed in winding off a bobbin, fussing around with a complicated part of a pattern, or something like that. I’ve become very conscious of when I’m at those transition points, and I find time the day before to set myself up for the next day’s time.
  2. The spinning time is not really reflective time. After sampling a good bit, the number of treadles I give each length of woollen spinning is 11. Meaning I am counting to 11 over and over again for fifteen minutes. This doesn’t leave room for a lot of reflection, or even prayer. It’s just counting. This is actually quite good, as other times that I am by myself without watching or listening to something, I tend to talk to myself, which helps me process, but doesn’t quiet my mind. Just counting helps by brain stop spinning (as it were), and the motion of supported long-draw feels a lot like slow breathing.
  3. This is the obvious thing that everyone in #spin15aday notices, but fifteen minutes a day is really enough to see progress. In fifteen minutes I can spin three rolags, and I’ve worked out that I can fit 30 rolags on a bobbin. That’s ten days to a bobbin! Normally I might go ten days in between spinning just because it takes that long to find a bigger chunk of time. That little bit of daily progress then further motivates me to find other times to spin, because I know how productive a whole half hour or hour really is.
  4. It’s the same thing in the scripture. I’m reading a commentary I really like, but I have to read a little bit of God’s Word every day. There’s something different about it, even in the weirder bits of the Old Testament. I spent the last year reading up to four chapters a day, and I got the big picture again that way. Now I’m reading maybe a chapter over two days, taking my time and really chewing on it. There really is grace in every story, though maybe you have to read it with eyes of faith to see it. (Some solid historical perspective helps too.)

I also got glitter gel pens for Christmas. Glitter gel pens were pretty much the best thing about being 14.

I’ve done everything I can to make this a positive, affirming practice, rather than a perfectionistic one. I made a habit tracker in my bullet journal, but I fill the squares with patterns instead of solid color, so that the inevitable blank skipped days don’t feel lonely. Failure should hold no threat in something like this. And perhaps because of that, I haven’t missed a day yet.

How about you? Have you found any ways to make a discipline more positive instead of threatening (if you struggle with that at all? Some people just don’t.)

First two bobbins complete. As of this writing, my total is at 3.5 bobbins, meaning I have crossed the halfway point for the singles on this project. I am very happy about that.

*Oh have I ever been knitting! I have a big project to show you, and hopefully I’ll get to that soon…

** Yeah so my new obsession is homeschooling. Not really homeschooling as my kids are 2 and 4 and the 4 yo is in half-day preschool, but more organized homeschool-type activities to give us something to do. I’ve been putting a LOT of time and effort into this, and I should really write about that too…

1000

This is the thousandth post on this blog, ever since I first started blogging about knitting in 2009. I’d blogged in fits and spurts before, about books and movies and whatever else was on my mind, but writing about what I was knitting was motivating and inspiring in a new way. It was a lonely, confused, transitional time in my life, but the combination of making and writing about it was a touch of order when not much else made sense.

This blog has followed my life ever since. From…
… those first posts on Xanga, whose pictures have been broken between blog migrations (though apparently you can still see some of them if you click the links!)
… to having my own dedicated site and wool business (I can’t find exactly where all that madness started, but here’s a good post)
… to learning about natural dyeing (fun fact: this is still my most visited post)
… to the first of the unspeakable sadnesses that changed my life
… to giving it all up to move to seminary,
… to the launch of my design career (such as it is),
… to starting a family,
… to a total obsession with food,
… to giving it all up again to move to a new life in the far north of Canada.

My life has changed so many times in those eight years. My calling has changed, and will go on shifting. My writing voice has changed, I’m sure. But I’ve always had this outlet: making and writing about it.

I just read a book called Me, Myself, and Bob, by Phil Vischer, creator of VeggieTales. I don’t remember the last time a non-fiction book gripped me like this. It’s a book about spectacular dreams and spectacular failures, and what God did with one ambitious, creative, gifted man.

The place God took Phil by the end of his tale was eye-opening for me. I’ve wondered for years what God is going to do with my creative side, with my need to write and make, with this space. I’ve tried executing big schemes and visions on my own, and they mostly left me tired and disappointed. I gave up trying to seize my own vision for the future a while ago. But I still find myself uncomfortable without a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) to sink my teeth into, and I keep wondering why God doesn’t drop one into my lap. And why not? Doesn’t God want me to be motivated and excited? Doesn’t he want me to use my gifts? Doesn’t he want me to have an impact? I have ideas – no less than four ideas for pattern books, for a start – but every time I consider pursuing one, I hear from on high a resounding “nope.”

Then Phil says, with the calm confidence of a lesson learned with unimaginable pain: Where I am five years from now is not my business. My business is to walk with God. Anything worth creating comes from waiting on him.

Those statements landed in my heart with a “thunk.” I’m waiting for something that may never come. God has me exactly where he wants me: waiting on him. Probably forever. And he’ll happily let me squirm until I learn to be content with that.

So there it is. This blog has meandered through one thousand posts of wildly varied seeking, to arrive at a point where I have no vision at all. I’ll keep making and writing about it, until the Holy Spirit says I shouldn’t. Things will happen, and they won’t. I have to learn to live with that, and pour my passion into the things that really matter: cherishing my family, being present for my friends, loving my neighbors, and sitting in the quiet heart-to-heart with God. You know, the things I’m naturally not much good at.

So thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for being with me on this journey. So many of you readers who have been with me the longest aren’t even crafters, but are open to learning just because we’re connected and you care. That means so much to me. Thank you also for enduring more of these naval-gazing posts over the past few years as I’ve come to terms with knowing less and less of my direction. There are a zillion things to do on the internet, and only so many minutes in your day, and you’re not obligated to spend any of them with me. So, thank you.

I’ll close with the words God said another favorite early-CGI children’s character: Wormie the common caterpillar. “I love you. But I’m not finished with you yet.”

Reflections in the Mirror of Galadriel

On a mid-December day in 2002, a few friends and I went to an opening-day showing of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. But we didn’t just go: we really went. We’d spent the previous several months deciding on characters, making costumes, buying accessories.

It was the first and almost-only time I cosplayed. We were homeschooled, we were nerds, we were glorious. And we were by no means the only ones who went all-out. I’ll never forget a middle-aged paunchy fellow who I think was supposed to be Aragorn, who approached me to show me his Nenya ring. I was mostly terrified of him; I don’t even remember if I said anything.

Illustration by Fabio Leone. Click for link to page.

For reasons I forget, I dressed up as Galadriel. Probably because the other two girls in our group wanted to be Arwen and Eowyn, and that was the extent of the female cast. One of them was the sort of ridiculously talented person who could measure me, freehand a dress pattern on some butcher paper, and produce something that would fit. Her mother donated lace she had used to make her wedding dress. The rest was down to me: I bought liner fabric, sewed the thing together, even hand-beaded the belt.

I had a really good go at unearthing the incriminating picture. I’m almost sad I failed.

2002 was the year I got into the Lord of the Rings. I saw the first film and read all the books before the second came out. As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the books, I can appreciate their maturity more and more, and the ways that the films’ attempts to make the characters more relatable made them profoundly less mature. But the experience of the books and the movies remains intertwined in my mind, and I will always look back at that December day as the moment when my devotion went over the top and never looked back.

Image from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings. Copyright New Line Cinema. Image taken from Lotr Wikia. Click for link.

Galadriel’s Mirror” is the penultimate pattern in my knit-through of Susan Pandorf’s Fellowship of the Ring series. I confess, I’ve really struggled with some of these knits. Usually because of my choices, many of them have come out wonky or unusable, and all of the best ones I’ve given away to some special people. I was determined that Galadriel’s Mirror would be different. It would be a wearable piece, and it would be for me.

I started it back at the beginning of Lent, in the fool’s dream of completing it by Easter. After a few weeks I realized I would not be able to continue knitting it at all. There is just no time in my life for this kind of intensely intricate knitting, requiring a chart and a couple hours of time to make any appreciable progress. I set it aside, and committed it to be my vacation knitting.

That was definitely the right decision. On vacation, I have one thing that I never have in the arctic: lots of time in the car. In airplanes and automobiles, I clocked in hour after hour of knitting time. On my solo trip to Yellowknife, I even had time in airplanes that didn’t involve entertaining a small person! I haven’t had that since 2009!

Just for this project, I developed the unusual habit of marking off my rows with a different color every time I sat down to work on it. You can see the sessions getting shorter and shorter as the shawl grew, then really take off again on Chart 3. That’s when vacation started! The really good day from Charts 3-4 was, I think, our five-hour drive to Pittsburgh. The last several rows are all different colors, because that was after we got home.

On the last flight, from Rankin Inlet to Iqaluit. Around 700 stitches per row.

By the time I landed back in Iqaluit, I had maybe a dozen rows left. That meant a dozen hours, but I was determined to fit that in. I even overcame running out of yarn twice, contacting Ravelers who had used the same yarn, and who sent me their leftovers for the cost of shipping.

On a chilly August day, probably not much warmer than that first day in December, I used nearly every straight pin I own (I had six left) so she could reach her final shape. It blocked to about six feet wide, though I didn’t measure.

Little pin-removing helpers. They haven’t graduated to putting the pins in yet, of course.

This is one of the most beautiful and taxing patterns I have ever tackled. Susan’s patterns are always lavish, intricate, original, and tasteful, and often quite hard. This one, with its combination of twisted stitches, bobbles (how I dreaded the bobble rows!), odd wrong-side things going on, wrapped stitches, and complex increasing areas, was intense. It wasn’t difficult to execute, per se, but it demanded attention. It took ’till chart 3 for me to even sort of memorize the main motif, and I was still checking the chart every row.

If this sounds like a criticism, it isn’t. Someone should be making things this amazing. I just have to accept that it isn’t usually going to be me anymore.

Water is everywhere in these stitch patterns. The main motif, in the sharp relief of twisted stitches, looks like sinuous ripples interrupting each other at the wrapped points. There are droplet bobbles.

The ripples eventually branch out and join together as the energy disperses.

Towards the border, the ripples deconstruct and re-form into leaves, maybe mallorn leaves that have fallen on the mirror’s edge.

And finally, additional in-repeat increases and merciless twisted-stitch openwork create dramatic undulations along the edge.

The way these complex patterns emerge from the center in a large triangle remind me of the endless complexity that can be created by a single disturbance at the edge of a quiet pool.

There is sharpness there, too – a reminder of the hidden strength Galadriel represents, and the fall that could have been if she had taken the ring.

The yarn I used was Araucania Huasco, also known as Botany Lace. Mum had bought it for me when I specifically asked for a blue fingering weight for Christmas, maybe four years ago, hoping for something to make this very shawl.

What made this yarn an excellent choice was its roundness. It’s a superfine Merino, spun into a three-ply light fingering, and it’s very bouncy. This would normally be a terrible choice for lace, as it would erase most of the openwork. But for this pattern, I was more interested in a round yarn that would make the texture stand out than a flat two-ply that would open up the yarn overs. I may even get the best of both worlds, as the yarn overs are quite visible after my severe blocking.

Naomi took this picture for me. I couldn’t wait for her daddy to get home. She always wants to play with my DSLR, and managed at least one with me in the frame! (I cropped it.)

Dressing up as Galadriel felt impossibly pretentious fifteen years ago. I was an insecure high school student pretending to be the last representative of the Noldor race of the Eldar on the eastern side of the sundering seas. One who had lived in the undying lands. I went with it, but I in no way inhabited that character.

In the intervening years I’ve read the books another half dozen times. I’ve tried to understand the Eldar as Tolkein wrote them. I’ve become convinced that their ancient mystery, which seems so glamorous onscreen, is not more important than their inherent playfulness. They were sometimes quite serious, but only the worst of them took themselves very seriously, and they don’t desire power like men do. As for Galadriel, what her agelessness gives her is an unconscious inner strength, a perspective and presence bordering on timelessness. What outsiders call “magic” is just the inherent power of her integrity.

I still can’t pretend to inhabit that kind of character. But wrapped up in intricate merino, which seems now too intricate to even be something I made myself, who knows. Maybe I will remember to lay aside the insecure sixteen-year-old, and inhabit instead the ageless future I look forward to in undying lands.

A Priest Crafts: Episode 4, How TDF Went

Slightly belatedly, here are my reflections on Tour de Fleece 2017 – my first time participating. I focused on one big (for me) spin, which challenged me in a couple of ways. I’m happy about how it went, and hope you’ll check out my thoughts about it, and that you share your thoughts as well!

Show Notes

These original three braids are all one-of-a-kind braids from Woolgatherings. For easy reference I call them “blue,” “orange,” and “pink.” They were purchased in May 2010, at the Cloverhill Yarn Shop booth at the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival. (OK true confessions: I think they were actually purchased at the shop, before the festival, when the box arrived and we started unpacking it.) I had actually always envisioned putting them together in some kind of massively multicolor gradient.

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Spreading out the top. Isn’t that floofy BFL crimp just gorgeous? I was actually surprised at the amount of VM still present. This was quite comforting; I hope this means it was processed in a relatively low-impact manner. The silk was, for the most part, well-blended in, though there were cut bits of silk I had to pull out at times. There were some nepps as well, but I blame that on how long I left these poor dears in my stash. Two thumbs up; I would definitely recommend woolgatherings! They’re still doing handpainted tops, but have branched out into some interesting color blends and breed specific rovings.

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Stripping away on a hot June day in Maryland, while getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.

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Top left: Ply #1: 4 bumps blue, 3 orange, 2 pink.
Top right: Ply #2: 3 blue, 3 orange, 3 pink.
Bottom: Ply #3: 2 blue, 3 orange, 4 pink.

I absolutely filled my instagram and ravelry accounts with bobbin shots of this spin, so I will not re-post them here. If you’re interested in more details, here’s the ravelry page for this spin.

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The Nerd Numbers:

  • Total yardage: 884 yards
  • Total weight: 11.7 oz
  • Grist: 1208 YPP
  • Finished by soaking and snapping
  • WPI (finished): 12 WPI, or about DK-weight
  • TPI (plied & finished): 3.5
  • Twist angle: ~35 degrees

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Thanks so much for watching and reading.

A Priest Crafts: Episode 1 – Intros and Corespinning

So after all my wailing and gnashing of teeth last week, I’ve decided to go ahead and do it. I used some of my birthday money to register Wondershare Filmora, and recorded my first video on my birthday. After I finished re-recording the last bit, I was immediately bulldozed by a headcold that has left me trapped on the couch. I hope this isn’t a sign. Anyway, this couch time gave me time to edit, but means that I am now missing the Palm Sunday service.

I hope you like the title I came up with at 6 am today. It’s nicely tongue-in-cheek, as “priestcraft” is generally a negative term according to google. Our beloved Mother Martha always used it to just describe what priests do. For me it captures an important reality that I am a priest first, a maker second. I make in the context of my priestly calling, not the other way around.

So, check it out! It was super fun to make, though also quite humbling. I apologize that the audio is kind of quiet. I think I know what went wrong, and hopefully I can fix it next month.

Here’s some links to what I talked about:

frostyarn’s etsy shop (Please note her shop is locked because she is prepping for a show in June, but if you don’t mind a little PG-13 rated language, follow her on Instagram. Her work is the bomb.)

Esther Rodger’s corespinning videos (1 of 5) And here is Esther’s website. I actually just remembered that I got to meet Esther once when we were both selling in the Cloverhill booth at Maryland Sheep & Wool, back in 2009 or something. She was wearing a giant circular sleeveless sweater just like the one I’m making, made entirely of artyarn, so I guess I was subconsciously copying her!

Here’s the ravelry page for this spin. You will find all the Nerd Numbers there, including grist for each skein.

Candy Clouds #1 and #2. 

What I didn’t mention in the video because of all my excitement were the aspects that didn’t work. I was happy for this yarn to be thick and thin, which is a good thing, because I’m not very practiced at drafting merino, so there was no way it was going to be even. The downside of this is that my wheel is not really built to handle this kind of artyarn spinning. The yarn liked to get stuck in the oriface at every thick point, and the bumps sometimes got stretched out in the squeeze through, or they caught on the guide hooks. If I try corespinning again on this wheel, I’ll do it with a fiber I feel more comfortable drafting evenly, and/or with a less fluffy, out of control core. I’m already pondering the possibility of someday investing in a portable wheel with large oriface and bobbins for easier artyarn spinning. I could suffer through these difficulties for one spin, but I would hate doing this all the time. Ya need the right tools for the job.

Stay tuned for the last stages of knitting the sweater; I have high hopes of wearing it for Easter morning and being able to write about it. Now I’m off to make some tea, read the Bible, and kick this cold, because I need to be on my feet by Tuesday for the last night of my Big Work Thing. God’s provided for every stage of the Thing so far, so I’m not even worried about it.

Have an amazing Holy Week, and may you see all your dreams surrendered to die with Christ rise again with him someday.