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Savoring Brings Grace for the Present Moment

Unless we come as a child…….

There’s a quote from Bob Holmes I read on Face Book that recently helped me regain my sense of God’s presence in my life and the healing grace of feeling God’s unconditional Love. I used it along with something I wrote for a devotional for our First Presbyterian women’s group yesterday.

“Today’s devotional is about the Love of God for us, his children. Everyone is a child of God, but not all of us have experienced that unconditional Love of God. We know we are loved, because Jesus told us so and fleshed out that Love. It’s been a long time since we’ve been children, but compared to God, we are barely babes in arms. We are toddlers in God’s eyes. And it is healing and empowering to recapture that feeling of being loved like a child. Here are some of my thoughts on the Love of God.

The Love of God is so incredibly different from any other love we have known, that it boggles our ability to believe it enough to accept and experience it. No matter how much any of us have been loved by family and friends, or even if we are famous and wildly adored by multitudes, none of this is ever more than a barely glimpsed shadow of the Love of God. The Love of God is the only thing that is necessary. Jesus was the the Love of God fleshed out. We need nothing more than to open our heart to experience it, until our spirit is so filled with it that it will simply overflow to others.

Once experienced, our minds remember it, but our fickle feelings let the challenges of life steal the grace of it away.

So according to Bob Holmes in Savoring,
“Here’s the deal: What you do not savor, you will not remember. It’s a neurological fact. Our brain immediately bonds with everything negative. (It’s how our survival brain works and why depression can win so easily.) Anything good and positive that we want to remember needs to be savored. It brings our heart into the equation. This is the heartbeat of Contemplation, to savor the warm loving embrace of God’s Love. If you want to recapture the feeling of any good thing, love, joy, peace..it has to be savored. So, linger in those moments, allowing them to expand your heart. Intentionally take the time to savor all the good things in your life, because remembering them will bring them into the present, and you can experience them as gifts of God’s Love even in the hard times.”

Here is our closing prayer: “Lord, give us God eyes. Help us to see you and experience your love in the beauty of nature, in simple things like daffodils. Let us hear you in the laughter of children and in music. Help our mind recognize your love in the coincidences that help us. Open our hearts to accept your love in the kindness of others and to pass it on. Remind us to savor these as hugs from you. Thank you for loving us, your children and for Jesus, who is your love for us fleshed out, Amen  

These pictures help me remember that love.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Jesus with a child and Daffodils, which were                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     my sign of hope from God when Tommy,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   our youngest child, was desperately ill as a toddler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy

The most infallible sign of the presence of God is joy.  Joy is not pleasure or excitement or even happiness. True joy fills us so full that somehow we must let it overflow or we feel that we would burst.

Sorrow stretches our capacity for joy. True sorrow is not sadness or discouragement or even depression. It is heartbreak.

We expend much energy avoiding heart break by choosing sadness or depression and we settle for pleasure or excitement in place of costly joy.

Joy comes from the deepest part of us where God resides. The path there is through fearful darkness, but once you have found it, perfect Love casts out fear and you know it’s safe to return

Never Wanted to Go to Heaven

I never really wanted to go to heaven; just wanted to make sure I avoided going to hell, if there was one.  The problem was that my personality likes diversity and change.  I just couldn’t imagine any kind of heaven I would enjoy for eternity.  (Eternity sounds like a very very long time.)

After a conversion from agnosticism complete with an experience of the unlimited, no conditions love expressed in Jesus, I felt pretty sure there was a heaven that would work for everyone, even me.  But I still couldn’t imagine it.

Some years into my spiritual journey I had an experience of such intense and enormous joy, that from then on I was much more excited about going to heaven and not so concerned with the details.

My brother and I were traveling together and the experience was so overwhelming that we each simultaneously asked God to stop it for fear we would actually explode.  I won’t go into much detail, because I think these experiences come about differently for everyone.  We both experienced a moment of great clarity in which we felt, saw, heard  and were a part of a crowd around Jesus singing praise in the presence of God.  After sharing with one another, we decided that what we had each experienced was very similar, but also realized that there was no way to measure or compare.  We both experienced as much joy as we were each able to bear at that point in our lives. So, whether it was an ocean of joy or a cup of joy simply didn’t matter.

Over the forty plus years since then, I have come to believe that the capacity for experiencing joy and the capacity for accepting suffering are linked. I don’t know if there is a cause and effect relationship or just some sort of spiritual law of balance.  My instinct says that joy is the grace that gives us the freedom to accept heart break without dulling the pain through anger or depression or an addiction (even one to doing good or working constantly.)  But my experience also has been that in accepting the painful darkness of sorrow, I find the peace that passes understanding. And that peace is quiet joy.

As the psalm says, “But then comes the morning, yesterdays sorrows behind.”

The Trap of Depression

I need to start with a disclaimer. My struggle with depression and the things that have helped me may not help anyone else. And there may be things that would have helped me more. I also believe that we are born with different chemical balances and that stages of life like puberty, pregnancy, and change of life can cause balances to get more out of whack for some people.(How’s that for medical terminology.)
Also, when the chips are down, I do believe deeply that I am loved, just as I am, by the only One who actually makes much difference at my stage of life and that means I know I am not alone when down in the pit of despair.

Depression is the emotional equivalent of an abscessed tooth. Self-hatred is a judgement and judgment is like cement that sets emotion into stone.The one thing about emotions is they are normally changeable, but self-hatred for being depressed locks us into the depression.

Those of us who have high, possibly unrealistic, expectations of ourselves and of life are vulnerable not only to depression, but particularly to a sense of failure and inadequacy that triggers self-hatred.

Depression is painful. And pain of any kind both saps our energy and centers us in on ourselves. (Remember the abscessed tooth.)

My first step for getting out of the mire of depression is to accept it. That doesn’t mean wallowing or giving up hope. It means accepting the reality of it, like we would an excruciating toothache, and cutting ourselves some slack by prioritizing and minimizing our obligations to the world. When we first experience the darkness of despair, we may need to stop our everyday world and get off for a time, but as we learn coping skills
we can lower our expectations and at least continue functioning in areas of our strengths. Eventually, if we get smart enough, we quit trying to give 120 % in our up times, so in the down times we can just slow down the pace a little and cope.

I’m convinced some of the problem is cultural, patriarchal, in fact. In the old hunter/warrior society emotions were considered weakness. We have to shut out empathy to kill a deer or a person. When we have to do these things to keep our family, village or tribe alive, we learn to compartmentalize our feelings. I’ve noticed that generally men handle women’s anger much better than our tears. I’ve known husbands that told their wives to stay in the bathroom to cry. I knew a seasoned Army Staff Sergeant, a veteran of two wars, who asked to be transferred from a safe cushy posting to a dangerous no frills one, because all his officers were women and they cried at Staff meetings. I could understand his reaction, but couldn’t help but wonder if all the officers in the various armies sat around crying would it cut down on wars?

I’m personally convinced that tears are a healthy release for tension and possibly one of the reasons women outlive men.

However, life goes on even when our every movement is like wading through quick sand and having to make even the smallest decision sets off panic. If we had an actual abscessed tooth, we would cut ourselves some slack and so would the world. But at this point in our culture, unless we are hospitalized, we and the world expect us to continue just as we usually do.

Some of us seem to be born with personalities that see possibilities, usually ideal scenarios, not necessarily based on life’s realities. We are not always easily identifiable, we may take on disguises such as Goth attire or metal appendages and flaunt the dark side to hide our fragile dreams of being heroes and our inner fear that there are no heroes.

Sometimes, we hide behind sarcasm or cynicism.

But, the truth is almost all humans are ordinary. We aren’t qualified to be extraordinary or called to save the world.

We are called to give a cup of water to the thirsty, a smile of welcome to the outcast, a hug to the discouraged, a piece of art to call attention to the beauty of the world, or a poem to remind us of others’ suffering, a song to soften hearts, laughter to lighten heavy hearts, even the gift of our honesty about our own failures to share our freedom to be a fallible human with others.

The list goes on and on and doesn’t require heroic measure or extraordinary talent.

I seem to have been born one of those with big dreams, high hopes, and many ideas. Unfortunately, I am lousy at detail and loathe the boredom of repetition, so my dreams and ideas remain just that, dreams and ideas. I’ve always hurt for others, worried about the whole world, and still sometimes have to work through the paralysis of depression when I can’t fix life for those I love who are in pain. It has taken me a long time to admit that it was hubris to think I could save the world or anyone in it. And that struggling with that delusion kept me from doing what I actually can do.

I used to not go to funerals because I couldn’t think of anything miraculously healing to say and feeling others’ sadness sent me into depression. Then, when my own father died, I realized that each person there represented someone that cared enough to come and that it truly helped me to know that his life mattered to others. They didn’t need to say anything.

My son, Tommy, when he was about three, taught me that you don’t have to say anything to help people feel loved. He would be doing his little boy thing and would suddenly stop and come over smiling to pat my hand or shoulder and then just go right back to what he was doing.
I called them “Tommy pats” and eventually when I saw a rainbow or caught all the green lights when running late, I called those, “God’s Tommy pats.” And even now, Julian and I will often stop and give each other a smile and a “Tommy pat.”

Once, when I was overwhelmed by fear of the lifelong consequences of a bad decision by one of my children, I poured out my heartbreak to my friend Paige. She simply wept with me. It’s hard to describe how much that helped me. Someone cared enough to feel my pain with me. I wasn’t alone inside it.

So, what I finally know now, is that when I am depressed because I am not extraordinary or heroic and even perhaps have lost it and made life darker for someone else, I can humbly do the ordinary. And if we all do these little things, no one will go thirsty, or be alone in their sorrow, or feel unloved. And we all, even the depressed, will experience the reality of the Psalm that says, “But then comes the morning, yesterdays sorrows behind.”

Guest Post: Breaking The Low Mood Cycle

Loved this because, “Been there; done that.” It sounds simplistic, but actually is a good tool to break habitual cycles. Also, something a depressed teen-ager can relate to well enough to use it.

When I used to get trapped in a bad cycle of “I hate my boring life and I hate my selfish boring self,” I put slips of paper in three glasses. One glass labeled, Boring Necessary Tasks. The second labeled, Kindnesses to Others. And the third named, Attempts at Creativity or Totally Worthless Fun.

I drew randomly from first BNT and when that suggestion was accomplished, I drew and accomplished one from KTO, and then finally from the third, my reward group. Often accomplishing the first two unblocked my creativity.

I had two sets of these groups: Level One involved only a tiny bit of energy and time for each suggestion. Level Two took a larger investment of both.

On struggling through mud swamp days, I started with Level One and then moved on to Level Two. (Or not.)

Captain Awkward

Image: a cheerful orange blob monster is chatting to a friend using a speech bubble containing a question mark and exclamation mark. The friend is a grumpy grey blob monster who looks away expressing grumpiness. Its speech bubble contains a grey scribble.

Hello friends! It’s Elodie Under Glass here with a guest post on Low Moods.

I particularly want to thank Quisty, Kellis Amberlee and TheOtherAlice  for their kindly help in reading and editing this piece. It would not have existed without their care, support, compassion, and wonderful editorial abilities. They are truly remarkable humans! (edited: And thanks to the radiant and patient NessieMonster, who let me come to her city and follow her around, burbling insensibly about this post, for far longer than most people would have.)

So recently, I went on a Stress and Mood Management course, and I thought that you all might enjoy sharing what I’ve learned.

This post is something of a correction/update to Adulthood is a Scary Horse, a post for the Captain which I was never quite satisfied with. It really crystallized for me on this course, in our…

View original post 3,458 more words

Hitting Bottom and Finding Gold

Religion begins with personal spirituality. Spirituality begins with the question: Is there meaning to life? If so, what is it? How does that play out in my own life? And is this life all there is? In seeking meaning in life, inevitably we come to the question of the reason for suffering. No religion seems to have come up with an easy answer to that, but many including Buddhism and Christianity have come up with similar ways for dealing with suffering. The core spiritual response to personal suffering seems to be acceptance in the sense of embracing it. Much of the time we are unable to bail out of the actual situation that causes us pain, but we can and often do seek the means to dull the pain or at least pass it on to those around us. A few of these escape attempts are emotional denial, depression, addictions, self-pity, resentment, anger, or the delusion that if we can somehow overcome a particular difficult situation, then our troubles will be over. Unfortunately, these responses to suffering will eventually cripple us physically, emotionally and spiritually. Acceptance/embracing is scary. It means going down into the snake pit of our feelings, into the black bog of our fears and sorrows and actually experiencing them, even feeling the overwhelming pain of them. But at that point, we find solid ground, the fire tested gold at the core of our being. And while we may go through the pain of this process many times in our life, it is no longer a terrifying free fall into the unknown. In letting go of our own will by embracing reality, we find God, grace, strength, peace, even joy, within.
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Life is Hard

But it is hard in different ways for each of us, because we are different from one another. Ask any mother of more than

one child. They will tell you we are all born different. Some babies are quiet and placid, but solemn.  Some are quiet

and calm, but smile and laugh easily.  Some are hyper-active even as infants lying on their backs in a bassinet.  Some

are hyper-sensitive to sounds, startle easily, and react to change. Some are tuned in to their inner world,

reacting very little  to their environment. Some are quite independent, while others need more cuddling, attention

and support. Some are excitable, with an inborn tendency to over react to both positive and negative experiences.

Many children as early as two or three have vivid imaginations. Some both empathize and identify with story book

characters,  often later believing themselves stalked by the story book monsters.  Others are thrilled by the vicarious

terror, but don’t identify with it.

When my father read me stories about children being lost or animals being hurt, it would upset me so much that a

happy ending didn’t make it all right.

Watch how differently children and adults react to shows like America’s Funniest Videos.  Some wince or even cry, as

if everything is happening to them; others are detached and amused, whether the event is real and painful for

someone else or not.

Each personality trait has an upside and a downside, each dominant trait we have gives us both

strengths and weaknesses.  I’ve worked with  tools for measuring and illustrating this, such as the Meyers-Briggs Type

Indicator and the  Enneagram, but for this short article it is simpler to use more life experience descriptions.

A person who is very aware of and sensitive to their own feelings may empathize with others, championing the

underdog or the vulnerable, but will tend to over-react to slights or criticism, real or imagined.

As a child I was equally excitable and responsive to happy and sad things .  When I

was three, I was so excited about Christmas that when I finally was taken in to see my toys under the

tree, I threw up on them before I could even play with them.

In my anxiety filled teen years, my stomach rebelled to even mild stress and I learned to not eat all day before just

going out on dates. Unfortunately for my dates, once I was out, I calmed down and got voraciously hungry.  I was

not a cheap date.

As an adult I often experience  sheer joy over  even small things such as the beauty of nature,  children’s laughter,

my grandchildren’s curiosity about the world, but I also experience extremely dark times over my own failures or

the people I love’s pain.

Even traits we consider wonderful have a down side.  People with high IQ’s tend to assume they are right and often

are not open to other’s opinions, but the reality is that no one is right all the time.

Years ago, I attended a workshop where slogan and affirmations were posted on the walls.  One that simply jumped

out at me was, “I am competent and loveable.”

 My immediate reaction was, “No. You can’t be both.”

In my experience the really efficient people are task oriented.  They are both competent and persevering.   They

focus on the goal, prioritize the details, and plow ahead,  often over people who unwittingly get in their way.  Many

things would not get accomplished without this type of person, but they may alienate so many people along the way

that in the long run their effectiveness will be diminished.

Personally, my greatest value has been ideas that help people in general and my focus has been on relationships.

Physical details, particularly about machines, don’t show up on my radar most of the time.

I once had a secretarial job that involved a lot of detail and working with elaborate and expensive office machines.

I was a total disaster.  Luckily, I realized this and left after three months. I am sure everyone there breathed a sigh of

relief.

But later I had a much higher paying job as a director that involved recruiting volunteers and bringing in training

programs for them, creating and organizing new programs, and doing publicity for these.  I was successful at this in

spite of it involving a lot of detail, because I was good at recognizing, recruiting, and supporting people with the skills

that I don’t have.

I wasted a lot of angst in my early life expecting to be equally good at everything.  I taught first grade and one sweet

little girl simply would not do her math homework. When I finally confronted her over this, she looked at me with her

big brown eyes and said sadly, “Oh Miz Norman, I’m good at reading.  Do I have to be good at everything?”  My gut

level response was, “Of course.”  Luckily, I stopped and thought about it.  Finally, I said, “No, you don’t have to be

equally good at everything.  But you need to at least learn survival skills in math. If you don’t know basic math, how

will you be able to shop?”  She thought about that for a minute and decided I was right.

I’m pretty sure she didn’t go on to become a mathematician, but hopefully she is out there somewhere shopping and

keeping her checkbook balanced.

She actually freed me of the belief that I was stupid, if I couldn’t easily excel in everything, and to accept that I had to

work harder at some things just to survive.  I now try to do the things I want to avoid first, but in spurts, followed by

shorter breaks  doing things I enjoy or find easy. This is  a method of motivating myself with a reward and

encouraging myself by doing something I can do easily.

I tend to envy people who live in the present moment. They seem so carefree, since they are not over-burdened by

 past mistakes or wounds and don’t worry much about the future. In fact they hardly think about the future at all.

They are happy, optimistic and fun, but the downside is that they are often oblivious to possible consequences of

their choices in the moment.

I have always tended to focus on the future, imagining its wonderful possibilities. Sometimes this has helped me be an

agent for change and to plan ahead for a lot of eventualities.  But I also end up living in a picture perfect world in my

head.  Then when reality doesn’t measure up, I don’t persevere if I see that I can’t achieve the ideal I have

pictured.   I think that a  lot of my life has been lived by the motto, “If at first you don’t succeed, don’t make a

fool of yourself, try something else.”  Now in my later years my life challenge is to learn to persevere even through

failures and to accept that nothing is perfect.  At seventy-six I still haven’t quite gotten there , but I have made a lot

of progress.

I am emotionally volatile. In the early years of our fifty-six years of marriage, my husband said I could go from

bubbling with joy to total despondency faster than a speeding bullet. And sometimes when I fell into one of my

feeling pits that make doing anything seem like struggling through quicksand, I would become almost paralyzed. But

along the way I discovered that I can continue to function even when depressed, if I cut myself some slack by

prioritizing and only doing what is completely necessary. And, if I don’t waste time and energy by beating myself up

over this trait, I pull out fairly quickly and can go longer periods without becoming a bottomless pit of wants and

needs.

People like me should be assigned a counselor at birth.  At several crisis points in my life I have gotten counseling,

some good, some not so much.  But good or not, because I’m all about evolution, on the grand scale and the

personal,  once I recognize that I’ve bogged down, I persevere at finding what I need to work through it.

  And I’ve come to see that we all evolve in different patterns of stages and in a circle.  For instance at a different

time in life, I and others like me, begin to focus temporarily on being more task oriented people. And the task

oriented people will at some point do just the opposite, thus developing skills in our weaker traits.

The good news is that in our later years we find it easier to become reasonably competent in our weakest

areas. (Easi er, not easy, because in order to do this we must let go of our strength, a kind of dying to self.)

And for me that means being able to accept imperfect reality and to be willing to persevere in inching toward

becoming the unique, though imperfect, person I was created to be.  And along the way are times of  lovely peace,

great joy,  unmeasurable love, and sneak peaks at what the journey is all about.

bloggers-for-peace-badge                              Peace Begins Within

Conflict is not the same as hatred. Differences of opinion, conflicting needs, and misunderstandings are part of the human condition. But hatred is a whole other ballgame. And where there is hatred, there will be no peace.

Most, if not all, hatred and prejudice are rooted in a sort of primal human fear of being the least, of being at the bottom of our world’s value ranking.  Being at the bottom means being helpless and vulnerable to the ill will of others.

One way we assure ourselves that we are not the least valuable is finding others to consider inferior to us in some obvious way, perhaps morally.

Another way is to focus all our personal or group resources on developing a particular competitive talent or skill, so we can feel safely superior in that area and trust society to overlook our disdain for or even violence toward others.

Or, if intimidated by another person or group’s abilities, like the childhood bully, we can try to cut them down to our size with ridicule, or like Hitler, make them the scapegoat for everyone’s woes.

Hatred is a fear based response. It depends on denying our shared humanity with the “other.”
It allows us to demonize those we choose or are taught to hate, to project on them all the evil that we struggle to repress within ourselves.

I believe the increased incidence of suicide among our soldiers comes from wars that now involve being up close and personal with those in the invaded countries, who turn out to be just ordinary people like ourselves.  Then our shared humanity and helplessness expose wars of today as being murder.  And while fighting for our survival might be noble, fighting for our lifestyle is not.

Scripture says that faith casts out fear. Faith in what? Not faith that we are the chosen and somehow better than others, but rather it is faith that we are all loved by our creator.   In the hymn Amazing Grace, ‘without one plea’ means we are loved for no reason other than being God’s creations, God’s children, not for being good, or right, or a certain religion, or nationality.

Jesus says such extreme things as, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.’ Does that mean that Jesus literally is in those we consider the lowest, those we ignore and avoid, treat condescendingly, or even hate and persecute?

He goes on to say that ‘in the kingdom of heaven, those that were last on earth will be first and those that were first will be last.’ Friends, I’m pretty sure the kingdom of heaven lasts a lot longer than our days on earth. It’s something to keep in mind when evaluating our priorities, particularly those that grow out of a need to not be the least or last in this world.

Paul’s treatise on love in First Corinthians 13 insists in no uncertain terms that without love, we are nothing. If we give everything to charity, if we become the poorest of the poor, but have not love, we are nothing. If we have great spiritual or intellectual gifts, but have not love, we are nothing.

Love is kind. Love is not arrogant, envious, boastful, rude, or resentful. Love does not insist on having its own way.
Wow.
When my need to be “somebody” raises its ugly head, I reread these words, and  I have to  quickly go mentally to the back of the line.

So who are the least of God’s brethren? Those that know that without God, they are nothing. Those that walk humbly with  God.

Mother Teresa was able to undertake and persevere in her calling because she experienced both the unconditional love of God and even His discernable presence in her life before she ever began her mission and also during the times of struggle with church authorities to be allowed to do what she knew God had called her to do. Toward the end of her life, Mother Teresa went through a terrible dark depression. She had succeeded in doing what God called her to do and she had even received worldly honors and fame. But at the last, she no longer experienced God’s presence. And compared to that, nothing else mattered, not success in her mission, nor worldly acclaim.  She felt bereft.

The least are those that know that without God, who is love, we are and have nothing of eternal value. But that with God, we need nothing else.  Only then do we not suffer from the illusion that we are, or need to be, better than anyone else.

Peace begins within each of us as we grow in faith in a God who is love.

Related Article: Bloggers for Peace

Hopes, Dreams, and Breadcrumbs

I’ve always struggled with unrealistic expectations and the depression that follows when I’m forced to face the realities of our human imperfections (including mine) and a seemingly hopelessly imperfect world.
One of my many disillusionments has been how imperceptible are the differences even the greatest of us makes. For every plague we cure, another one is born. From every war we win, the seeds of the next are sown. For every race or nation emancipated, we project our inner evil on another one. For every answer we discover, a new question arises.
I cling to the hope, that in the overall picture of eons of evolution, that there is progress imperceptible to us in humanity’s short history, but recognizable to God.
Sometimes in the crucible of my own struggle to become the person God created me to be, no matter how humiliatingly limited that potential may be, I get a glimpse of a tiny, almost imperceptible new strength, understanding, and freedom in my willingness to love. If I can resist being overwhelmed by the multitude of areas where I still fall short, I can focus on the next breadcrumb in the spiritual trail God has scattered for me in my daily life.
The key word for me is ‘tiny.’ My illusions are large with fairy tale size expectations.
My husband is a realist, who lives in the moment, and is able to focus on just the next task. I once had a dream in which we were at dinner on a river cruise. The waiters kept bringing small appetizer like courses, one after the other. My husband happily ate each one as it came, while I refrained, waiting for the main course. At some point I realized that there was no main course.
I cannot lie, it’s still frustrating. Sometimes, I have overwhelming dark days of discouragement. But they aren’t frequent, they don’t last long, and usually I can follow God’s bread crumbs out into the light again, feeling a tiny bit stronger and wiser and a tiny bit more able to love. Grace can turn dark times into what stretches us and increases our capacity not only for persevering, but for joy and love.
Some of those bread crumbs are found in blogs I follow. Among them (but not limited to these) are: Unshakeable Hope; Make Believe Boutique; Notes from the Bluegrass; Doctor Dad; Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Staying Sane; Morning Story and Dilbert; Mridula; Dark Matter.
The many sources of bread crumbs vary greatly from Scripture, nature, friends, books, movies, TV, dreams, memories, and even the comic strips. When we look for God’s breadcrumbs, they are everywhere.