Beautiful Easter Eggs – Naturally

Happy Easter everyone and a very Happy Orthodox Easter too!  This year both Easters fall on the same day uniting all Christians. So Hristos Se Rodi (Срећан Ускрс) to all my Serbian relatives.  Christ is Risen indeed.

Today I just had to share how my very talented cousin Aleksandra, coloured her Easter eggs.  I think this is so incredibly beautiful.  She uses onion skins for the colour rather than food colouring and sprigs of herbs for the impressions.  Her technique is below.

 

 

 

To Make these beautiful Easter eggs:

Wrap the egg and herbs in stocking very tightly knotting the edge of each stocking.
Put a dozen eggs in cold water, with the outer peels of 8-10 onions.  Add 3 tablespoons white vinegar. Bring to boil, lower flame then cook about 15 mins. Turn off flame and let sit in pot until cool or take out earlier when you like the color.

Although Aleksandra used brown onion skins, she says red onions, beets or red cabbage can also be used for a more vibrant colour.  She also used a variety of herbs but thyme was her favourite.

Tip: If you re-use the liquid dye, the next batch of eggs will be darker.

Tip 2: When placing herbs on the eggs, wet them first with a bit of water to help them stick.

 

The Scene In Beauty And The Beast Which Reminds Me Of Easter

Photo by Walt Disney Studios

After a lot of deliberation, discussion and uncertainty, I finally decided to give the new Beauty and the Beast film a try.  I had watched the trailers unimpressed and felt quite dubious as to whether Emma Watson could do the role of Belle justice. Yet after hearing lots of good reviews, my husband,  daughter Brianna and I went to see it yesterday afternoon.

Despite the fact that we went on a Saturday afternoon during Easter weekend (what was I thinking?!), and despite the children sitting directly behind us banging our chairs occasionally, we absolutely loved it.  More than loved it–we were all very emotionally moved.

I hate to admit it but Emma Watson was great as Belle.  Emma’s Belle was young, sweet and fearless–a girl with hopes, dreams AND sense. The set, costumes and song numbers were dazzling….sometimes maybe a bit too dazzling. The acting of all the cast was superb.  Kevin Kline as Belle’s father was especially endearing. The CGI of the beast’s face and expressions were exceptionally well done.

I don’t want to give too much away, but for me one of the highlights is that it’s mainly a  live copy of the original but with added new songs and subtle twists.

This brings me to the one scene I want to share as it is Easter.

::::::::::::::::::Spoiler alert!  Stop reading if you haven’t seen the film!:::::::::::::::::::::::

In one scene of the film, Mrs Potts expresses to Belle that in her opinion they are all to blame for the Prince’s downfall.  She tells Belle that he had been a small boy when his mother died.  His father was not a noble character and he raised the boy to be just like him.  Mrs Potts regrets that she and the other servants allowed that to happen. This explains why the Enchantress chose to include them all in the curse.

Later, near the very end of the scene, the beast, having been shot by Gaston lies dying.  Unlike the animated version, the last petal falls and turns to ash before Belle declares her love. The inhabitants of the castle: Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts all become inanimate objects. The beast dies.  It looks as if Belle has declared her love for the beast too late to save him.  However, Agatha (the hag/enchantress) is there looking on and she has overheard Belle. She restores the rose and shows mercy by lifting the curse and restoring everyone to their former (but now redemptive selves) and allowing the beast to live again.

Perhaps the scene was never meant to be an allegorical message of atonement, salvation and unconditional love. It was probably just a coincidence that the movie came out a month before Easter and that the well-known scene had been subtly yet powerfully changed. Although I’d be interested to know why the change was made, at this moment it doesn’t matter.  For now, I want to just feel the magic.

On this Easter day, I want to embrace the deeper magic–the message that even onto death, God’s love and mercy is never too late.

Quote For Today: Hara Hachi Bu!

Okinawa is an island quite famous for its longevity. It has a higher rate than most of the world of people living till 100+.

“Hara hachi bu!” is what the older folk of Okinawa say before they eat.  It is a Confucius-inspired saying which means, “Eat till you are 80% full.”

Why?  Because it takes about twenty minutes for your stomach to receive the message from your brain that you are full.  For most of us, if we ate till we believed we are only 80% full, we would actually feel more full within the next twenty minutes.

So there you have it, wisdom from the Okinawans!

What Will You Bring To This New Year?

 

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In the past, whenever I have contemplated the concept of beginning anew, my thoughts and plans tended to centre on improving upon something. Whether it was the adamant self-declaration that I was finally going to eat healthy or the fierce determination that I would write more, beginning anew meant that something about me or my situation or environment had to change.

The start of a new year usually marks the moment for me (and for many of us) when contemplation and some sort of action finally meet up and a fair attempt to change something begins.  This is known popularly as a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ and it is often sparked by some sort of dissatisfaction.  We are either dissatisfied with ourselves or our lives or our level of happiness.  The sad thing is that we often fail to keep up with our resolutions and then we become disappointed in ourselves.

This year however, I had an inspiring thought.  It was one of those wonderfully strange occurrence when a quiet thought appears unsought while I was in busy activity. It entered my heart and began to gently engage me, saying, ‘Look at me!’ The thought was this: Practice being less selfish. Make a difference to the happiness level of others.

To which the conclusion I came to was that even if I become forgetful and manage only to practice non-selfishness sometimes, I would have still done so much good because of those other times. Let’s face it, we sometimes think we know what we want but we often don’t or at least don’t achieve it.  If we focus on others, we are at least achieving it for others.  Ann Frank wrote, ‘How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’

Of course, I am not suggesting that we sacrifice ourselves to the detriment of our health and well-being.  What I am suggesting is that small sacrifices for others can go a long way to making someone feel valued. To start with:

Turn off the TV to phone a friend or write a letter

Visit someone and surprise them with a service or small gift

Say, ‘Yes’ (when it feels like the right thing)

Listen without interrupting

Write a praise letter to a Manager of someone who gave you great customer service (Inspired by my husband who always does this–Thanks Dearheart)

Organize meals for someone who just had a baby or just came out of hospital

Accept every gift graciously (Inspired by a story author Susun Weed tells about accepting a salami sandwich from a stranger sitting next to her on the plane–even though she was a Vegetarian, she thanked her and ate it!)

Offer a cold drink to your neighbour who is outside doing some DIY on a summer day

Scrape the ice off your spouse’s car for them

Walk your neighbour’s dog when they are ill

Pay genuine honest compliments

My grandmother once saved all the colour by numbers pictures in the Sunday papers so when I visited, she had something for me to do.

My sister-in-law collected story books on CD from newspapers and gave them to my kids as a surprise gift.

These are just a few ideas.  If you have any good ideas of your own, please comment below.

Happy Belated New Year Everyone!

 

In the Still Hours of the Morning

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Thomas Kempis  1379 – 1471

If we live in peace ourselves, we in turn may bring peace to others.  A peaceable man does more good than a learned one.

In the still hours of the morning,  I had decided to hope. As I quietly got out of bed, I assured myself that peace can be found. I crept down the stairs with hope in my heart.  Stepping over my dog who laid sprawled on the mat, I opened my livingroom door.  By simply hoping, I was already beginning to perceive peace.

However, that was not the way my day ended last night.  Last night I was worrying.  Christmas will soon be here and I still had a lot to do.  I had been doing a lot of rushing around.  I upset a friend because I hadn’t rung her in two weeks.  My husband was sad that I hadn’t spent time with him in awhile.  I was conscious that I hadn’t phoned my mother in ages.  Even my teenage children commented that I was always disappearing after dinner.  I LOVE Christmas but I craved a ‘Silent night, Holy night’ leading up to Christmas.  I knew I had to stop and slow down.  God knew that too which is probably why he woke me up at 4:30 this morning. I needed time in silence.  When all around me is awake, the noise can be quite deafening to my spirit. Where did I go?  I lost myself because I lost my way.

In the still hours of the morning, I crept into my living room.  Turning on the Christmas tree and lighting a candle, I created the ambience to be a cosy haven. Propped against my cushions and covered in a fleecy throw, my heart was leading me back.  I discover that I am still here. My hand is being held in a loving grasp as I begin my day in prayer.  All is calm, all is bright.

As I contemplate the quote from Thomas Kempis, one thing comes to mind.  In order to ‘live in peace ourselves’, we must persue times of silence. Peace does not materialize out of chaos.  Peace is found from that wellspring within.

 

Christmas MUST Be Wonderful…

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My husband and I sometimes have discussions about ‘Christmas-time’.  We both have our opinions as to when it is. Jim is English and more of a traditionalist. For him, Christmas time begins on the 25th of December and last twelve days.  For me, partly because of my American upbringing, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas day – two days longer than the advent season.  He celebrates Christmas when it happens, while I celebrate it as something to look forward to. He enjoys meeting up with family and having the big Christmas feast(s).  I enjoy the preparations and evoking the ambiance of Christmas.  I love having my tree up, lighting my Christmas-y candles, going shopping and seeing the Christmas decorations and watching Christmas movies.

Of course, there is no right way or wrong way to celebrate Christmas.  I know of many different ways people celebrate Christmas.  I also know that for some, Christmas is a very difficult time of year.  Some choose not to celebrate it at all.  Strange as it may seem, I totally get it.  The problem is, we put way too much importance on the ‘how’ of Christmas.  I mean Christmas has to be wonderful right? We have to make sure everyone is happy.  So we negotiate with our spouses as to who we visit and when and who visits us.  We try desperately hard to get the right gifts for people otherwise misunderstandings happen.  (You thought I was a size 12?!) We bake till our backs break only to find out that Bree won’t eat cookies with oats in it, Jaz won’t eat anything with red food colouring (on the fact that she is a veggie) and Sara’s daughter has a nut allergy.  Not to mention all the dieters out there who won’t eat anything at all!

Then there are those who have Christmas memories where things went wrong.  A death. A break-up.  A vicious argument.  Which isn’t fair because like I said, we believe in the importance that Christmas must be wonderful.

We also believe that Christmas is about getting together with family.  However, many will be spending Christmas alone.  Some will not be doing this by choice.  There is a sad growing crisis in the UK of elderly people being abandoned by their family.  These people have grown-up children and grand-children who have cut them off.  Every Christmas, they sit alone at home; no visit, no phone call, not even a card.  As hard as it is to be abandoned, the feeling is compounded at Christmas.  They have many memories of Christmases past when they use to spend it with their family.  Christmas use to be wonderful.  Now they are alone.

Also, that first Christmas after a divorce…dismal!  There is a large family get together and everyone is either fussing over you because they feel sorry for you or they are avoiding talking about your ex altogether.  Then there is Auntie Jo, who perhaps is going a bit senile in her old age.  She keeps asking you where the no-good bum is.  Only she says, ‘Where is that lovely husband of yours?’

Christmas after divorce can be harder still if there are children involved. The anger and resentment may still be there.  Even if you and your ex have been able to work out Christmas arrangements with the kids amicably, the kids have voices of their own.  They may not want to spend it with you and visit Auntie Jo.  On the other hand, they may not be putting up a fuss at all, but you have placed all this pressure on yourself to buy them the best gifts and make it the best Christmas ever for them.  Why?  Because Christmas must be wonderful.

Many people take on a second job over Christmas to afford the gifts they must buy.  Many are in jobs which become more stressful around Christmas.  If you work for a delivery company or are in a retail related job then that usually means lots of late nights, over-time hours and angry customers.  After all, they are paying your wages by buying those special gifts which need to arrive in time otherwise Christmas won’t be wonderful.

Why do we do it?  Why do we put all this hard work and pressure on ourselves to make Christmas perfect?  Why are the gifts, the food and the festivities so important to get right?  Why does it have to be so wonderful?

Every year I find myself speculating on what I will and won’t do during the leading up to Christmas.  The truth is, I do want it to be wonderful for everyone.  I also want as little stress as possible.

How each of us celebrates Christmas is up to us.  However, if you have some concerns as to how Christmas will be this year.  If you are too busy and worried about stress or sinking into depression, then it is time to start planning.  What will bring you peace this Christmas? I’m not suggesting that you think only of yourself.  I am however, giving us all permission to give a bit of love to ourselves as well.

Christmas isn’t about an image.  It isn’t about outward perfection.  Christmas is the celebration of a mysterious, mystical and wonderful event.  As I ponder on that event, the imagery that it evokes isn’t garland, platefuls of food or presents wrapped in metallic paper.  There is no imagery but a starlit night which is sensed more than seen.

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It is a feeling of profound silence.  A silence which grows deep within and warms the heart. A silence which is reflective of that mysterious, mystical moment in history….the birth of Christ. That very first Christmas was wonderful.  I suppose every Christmas must be wonderful if we but allow it to reflect that first.

Well Meaning But Misunderstood

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If you are wondering what’s wrong with teenagers, adults, society or the world in general, you are not alone.  There are hundreds out there who ask those same questions and hundreds more who claim to know the reasons why.  Do some research and you can find all kinds of opinions, statistics and psychological reasons on the internet, tv, newspapers and books.  The problem is, the ones who claim to know the reasons why the world is a mess are also a part of …well, the same world.  Often when these questions are being asked, there is an added word at the end.  The word is ‘today’.  So you hear questions like,

“What’s wrong with the youth today?”

“What’s wrong with society today?”

“What’s wrong with the world today?”

Have you noticed the peculiarity?  These same questions, with the added word ‘today’, have been asked over and over again over scores of years.  Yet, the world has changed.  Society has changed in many ways and in many countries as well.  This begs the question, ‘What hasn’t changed?’

While there may be several answers to that question, there was one answer in particular that came to me this morning during my quiet time.  It is something that is one of the major causes of contention in any given relationship.  It is that human beings are not always good givers, receivers or conduits when it comes to communicating.  We are all constantly misinterpreting, miscommunicating and misrepresenting one another and what follows is sometimes the laughable statement we sometimes make such as,

“You don’t make any sense!” or “You’re talking in riddles.”

which is often answered in denial.

Jesus is probably one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted individual in history.  His words were misunderstood then and they are misunderstood now.  I can’t help thinking that perhaps when Jesus spoke plainly, his words led to confusion.  Maybe that is why he chose to speak in parables, not to confuse, but to help people to understand the deeper meaning of things.  This makes arguing about religion ridiculous.  None of us can say we know what Jesus was trying to say about everything.  The only clear thing for sure was his love.

I believe that most relationships can be transformed into peaceful, respectful relationships when we truly work hard and patiently at understanding each other.  Yes, there are things which can get in the way and reasons why you need to keep your distance from some individuals. However, there are some relationships which are unavoidable such as family members or those you work with.  There are other relationships which are worth salvaging because it normally works but something went temporarily awry during a conversation one day.  Then there are some relationships which are so great, they are worth nurturing.

In order to improve your relationship with someone, you need to keep the channels of communication open by relinquishing the belief that someone has to be right within a discussion.  The truth is, sometimes it is not possible to work out who is right and other times it’s just we’re not clearly understanding what the other person is saying.  It is better to honor their beliefs, listen with empathy and to have an open mind (you never know, you might learn something).  If it is a case that it is important to get your point across, due so with clarity and respect.  Don’t talk over them and give them the chance to respond.

After you have had ample time to practice respectful, open-minded communication, you might find that you have an all new appreciation for people’s uniqueness. You might even find that ‘loving your neighbour’ has become effortless.

 

Thought For Thursday: Curiosity

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“Never lose a Holy curiosity.”

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

                                                                                    —–Albert Einstein

Curiosity is the battery pack for the development of our species.  It is what fuels our ambitions and our tenacity of spirit. It motivates us in a surprising way–by exciting our thoughts of possibilities and giving us hope in our inventiveness.  Without our innate curiosity, we would give up without trying or even thinking of trying.  Without curiosity, there would be no wonderment; no exploration of anything new, perhaps not even love.

Although we are born with it, curiosity needs cultivating.  By fanning the flames of your curiousity, you bring to life more positivity and inspiration. Like yeast to dough,  curiosity has a way of increasing and expanding any element or concept which it is added to.  You want to increase in knowledge?  Begin with curiosity.  Are you unsure how to go about something?  Be curious.  Don’t know what your purpose in life is?  Follow your curiosity.  Try something.  Ponder.  Explore.  Poke about a bit and see what you find.

Now add Holiness into the mix.  Be still.  Be silent.  Pray.  Meditate. Pick up your tool of choice.  Your camera.  Your pen.  Paintbrush.  Keyboard. Use your hands to create.  Your feet to explore.  Your mind to think. Your heart to ponder.

Being Guided Part 2: Guts and Curiosity

I was on a small island in the Scottish inner hebrides looking for a holy well.  It was a combination of a small pilgrimage and a mystical spiritual quest.  Most of all, it was curiosity and a sense of being guided.  One of the things I had been learning was how important it is to have a sense of prayerful curiosity.  In order to be guided—in order to find your true purpose, you have to follow your curiosity.  When you have a surprising thought pop in your head, be curious about it, take time to consider it prayerfully.  You may then want to try it out, even if it is a bit tentatively at first. Anyway…

So there I was…looking for  the Well of the Holy Women or Tobar nan Ban Naoimh.

After my first failed attempt at finding this well, I did a bit of research online and found some helpful information although there wasn’t a lot of it. In fact in some places, the name is given as singular ‘Woman’ rather than ‘Women’.   I knew that the well was somewhere in Gruilin where an old abandoned village lied.  There is a website that gives suggested walks with pictures where I found directions to Grulin.  From this website I could tell that I had been going in the right direction.  I had also found a blog post of a woman who found it and gave some landmarks to look out for. I found another blogger who couldn’t find it at all but I wasn’t going to let that discouraged me.

I headed back down the path from Cleadale stopping occassional to wonder and take photos.

Path from Cleadale

Path from Cleadale

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I found this concrete stairs on a woodsy verge and wondered what the story was. I allowed what faeries there might be about to take control of my imagination.  Where would I find myself, if I climbed the stairs?  Would I be transported back in time like in Outlander?  Or to a mystical world?  Would I find there is a house that it leads to after all but one that is not visible unless you climb the stairs? Etc. etc.

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I also took a photo of this ruined building and then discovered a rather sad story behind it on the Isle of Eigg Facebook page.  ‘The story goes….
A boulder rolled down the cliff through the back of this in the 1950’s and as the couple weren’t married at the time (living in sin) it was thought the place was jinxed and has never been lived in since.’

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After an hour, I reached the pier where the small shop and cafe and toilets were (which was a good thing as I still had far to go).

Pier on Eigg

Then it was up the alternate path and through the forest …

 

Forest in Eigg

and accross the field and behind the farmhouse …

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and then a long, scenic walk to Grulin with the Sgurr keeping me company most of the way on my right and the sea on my left.

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Eventually, I saw a huge boulder in the distance.  I knew that one of the landmarks I had to look out for were two boulders so I knew I was getting close.

Boulders at Gruilin

Only problem was, there were more than one pair of boulders.

Gruilin Boulders

I spent the next couple of hours searching and searching for the well…and could’t find it.  In desperation I prayed and asked God to show me the way and at that very instant a fighter plane (or at least I think that’s what it was) flew toward the direction of the two biggest boulders.  I walked partly in that direction but as it appeared to be at the edge of the cliff,  I walked no further. If you read my last post, you know about me and my fear of cliffs and this looked like a sheer drop to me.

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I walked painfully back to my cabin.  I had been walking for about six hours and by my calculations just over 20 miles and the first time I have ever walked as long as that in my life.

Feeling somewhere between defeated and determined, I asked about the well on the Isle of Eigg facebook page:

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Arrgghhh! So close!

I decided to take a day of rest while I ponder whether it was worth spending another day on the same walk and try again.  Decision made, I headed back up the following day. I made it up to Gruilin and began to walk toward the boulders from the left side …extremely cautiously.  I was still worried about falling off that cliff.

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I came around the back of the boulders and discovered there was a gentle slope of several feet before you meet the cliff edge.

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I looked toward the right and spied a patch of watercress surrounded by rocks…

well of the holy women

…and there was the well.  The watercress was growing straight out of it! It was wonderfully quiet there.  The only sounds were the gurgling of the well, the distant waves crashing on the sea, the wind and the sheep nearby bleating.  I thought about the people who lived here long ago and the possibility that there was a ‘holy woman’ or nun or more than one.  I also pondered about its more ancient history as many holy wells have pagan origins before becoming ‘sainted’.  Perhaps, the holy woman was a deeply wise woman who planted the watercress nearby..

I read somewhere that when one finds a holy well, an offering should be left.  Usually, it’s something like a bouquet of flowers.  I had forgotten to bring something so I offered up a song of thanksgiving.  I then ate a raw food bar (and some watercress!) and drank from the well.

Curiosity, determination, guidance and some guts brought me to this place.  However, the purpose was in the journey itself.  I had my fears to face and I had to learn some lessons along the way.

Being Guided Part 1: Trust Over Fear

While on the Isle of Eigg, I had an eye-opening lesson on the rewards of faith.  Although many of us might profess a faith in God or a higher power, how many of us would be willing to act on it?  How many of us would truly pray, ‘Guide me Lord and I will follow’ and then do just that?

The Isle of Eigg is my personal choice as a place of restoration.  It is sublimely beautiful. It offers within nature what is most popular about Scotland.  You get thistle, heather, ferns and foliage which changes to beautiful autumnal colours in the fall.  You get the crags and huge rocks and lots of wild scenery.  There is hardly any light pollution so you get an abundance of stars at night and beautiful sunrises and sunsets and sometimes (if you’re lucky) the aroura borealis.  You also get migratory birds of various breeds and many sea animals.  You get all that and the sea as well with majestic views of other islands. It is truly paradise….

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sunset on Eigg

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Unfortunately, sometimes things can go wrong like the time a hiker broke her ankle while she was on the Sgurr and they had to get a helicopter to rescue her.  I can’t help thinking that it could have been worse.  I don’t know the full story but she was lucky.  Somehow, someone knew where she was and that she was hurt.  When I was there nearly three weeks ago, I was on my own during off-peak season.  Kids were in school so there were very few vacationers on the island.  Therefore, when I chose to do some hiking and broke my ankle, no one would know.  If I got lost, I would pretty much stay lost for some time…maybe having to spend the night on an area of grazing land…with cows and well…cow pats.  Not a pleasant thought but even more unpleasant is the possibility of falling off a cliff.  I don’t like heights much so it’s no surprise I guess that thoughts would run through my head such as, ‘If I fell off the cliff, how long would it take before they found my body?’  I am a bit embarass to admit this but I confess I thought of this a wee bit too much.  So much so, that even in the midsts of beautiful scenery, I felt a bit of tightness in my chest and I walked very very carefully in some places.  I didn’t want to fall knee deep in cow manure and break my ankle.  I especially did not want to fall off a cliff.

BUT…

I was on on a quest.  Ever since my first visit to Eigg, I had known about this Holy well.  It was on a map of Eigg which I saw on the wall in Tigh Eilidh.  Not many people on Eigg seem to know much about it or cared.  I had vowed that one day I would find it.

So one my second day on Eigg which was a Sunday, I thought it would be a good day to look for the well.  I knew which direction to head towards but didn’t have a route planned.  After about 5 or 6 miles walk, I lost confidence and assumed that I was going in the wrong direction so I decided to postpone looking for the well and just do some exploring.  My anxious thoughts were agitating just below the surface so I asked God to guide my steps.  All I meant was, ‘Please don’t let me get lost, hurt or step in any boggy, sh**-y mess.’ I just wanted to be safe and not have any mishaps.  The weather was beautiful and I was happy just to walk and explore a bit….safely.

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I came out from the woods, and down the path and had an instinct to go through a gate into an open safer looking area.  The weather app on my phone said I was at Galmisdale.  After walking only a short way, this was the view that met my eyes:

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I realized that God had something better in store than just keeping me safe.  He wanted to calm my spirit, to teach me to trust him more and simply to bless me with a gift of staggering beauty and wonder. He wanted to awe me.  I was.  His love never ceases to awe me.