Coming Change

It’s been a calm Saturday today. Spring has finally come to Indiana, at least it seems to have come. I cannot always tell how the weather will change or if there’s still a little bit of winter left to come. It’s not unheard of to have snow in April. However, today, spring is here. I opened up my balcony door, turned on my ceiling fan, and just enjoyed having the sounds of spring and fresh breezes waft through my small apartment.

I have had plenty to do today with empty boxes filling my living room which need to be filled to move soon. There’s a paper which needs to be written, homework to be done, exams to grade, wedding plans to work through, and I should maybe eat something soon. This week was so incredibly busy and overwhelming with so much due and so much going on. This afternoon, I decided to take some time to just sit and listen and be still for a little while. Deadlines are there, but I have found that I do much better if I also take breaks and take care to not overdo.

So much change is in the air beyond just the changing of the seasons. They’re good changes, yes, and I’m so excited about them, but with change comes a time of readjustment as well. Thinking back over the last five years of my life, change has been a constant. From moving across the country to start a graduate school program and later, moving across the world to teach for a year, to now preparing to get married and start a new life in another state, it’s been quite a beautiful adventure so far. Not to say, there haven’t been struggles and problems along the way because there definitely have been. I’ve loved how unpredictable it’s been in many ways, and how I never could have dreamed it up on my own how this story would unfold so far.

I remember in my childhood learning quite a few lessons about change. We moved from Georgia to Texas when I was young, and it took me a few years to fully adjust and start identifying as a “Texan”. {Come on, we’re talking about Texas here, y’all, it’s hard to live there and not just become a Texan.} Through it all, my parents taught me some valuable lessons about following God’s direction despite the changes it might involve. God knew us three younger kids would need that lesson as we’ve all experienced moves into areas which are unfamiliar through trying to follow His direction.

As I ponder all of the upcoming changes, I sometimes wonder what’s ahead in life. These thoughts bring a mix of emotions to my mind both of fear and of anticipation. A thousand “What ifs” cloud my mind sometimes. The more I experience changes, the more I am thankful for the Lord who is my firm foundation and who changes not. No matter the changing belief systems of our governments and cultures, He never changes and His Truth never changes. No matter what’s ahead and whether those “What ifs” come to pass, He is still good, He is my Rock.

One of my favorite hymns I learned while I was in France (pictured isn’t all of the hymn) is a prayer for God to teach His child no matter what comes. It asks that He might guard our hearts even in the midst of a storm and give us strength and comfort throughout life. “Teach me” the title says. This song touched me as I sang it with some of my dear Christian friends there.
100_4091.JPG

 

I’m thankful for His leading and His care over His children. I’m thankful we can trust in Him who changes not.

Enseigne-moi, Seigneur!

Advertisements

The Correspondence: A Prologue

A year ago today, I was busy getting through a long Wednesday of teaching at Université Grenoble-Alpes. They had at least lightened my load on Wednesdays after I just couldn’t handle the long nine hour teaching day anymore. It was a beautiful spring day! The Alps were still covered in snow but the grass was getting greener and the birds were cheerfully singing. Life in France at that time was full of strikes and drama in the school administration although I had not yet seen the worst of it. It was just a happy spring day, and I was in the middle of preparations for my return to the U.S. in the summer. Little did I know as I finished up my teaching day and went back to my apartment to fix supper that my life was about to change. As I slept that night, a certain someone sent me an FB message which simply read: “Salut, Stacey! Ça va? 🙂 ”

100_4069

Now, I’ll pause here a second and explain that I had my misgivings as this was not the first time a rather unfamiliar gentleman had sent a message. I really should write a book about some of my experiences on that score, but let’s just say some of the messages I received in the past were genuinely just friendly conversations while others were obviously sent by someone on a wife hunt. So, when I first saw I had a message from this particular gentleman when I got to school the next morning, I did hope this was not a repeat of some of what I’d already been through before. I quickly sent back a couple of lines in French and continued on with my day.

The response which followed included his phone number and a request to call him when I got a chance as he wanted to talk about a trip to France. My eyebrows went up as this was not exactly the response I had expected. My impression was he was looking for recommendations for places to visit in France of which I did have plenty of ideas. I couldn’t call the U.S. from my mini French phone, so I offered to Skype. I also threw out some suggestions of places to visit, asked more specifics on what he wanted to know about, and mentioned as an example that I was at that moment researching a trip up to the D-Day beaches for the week I had off at the end of April. I’d been unable to get that trip to work up to that point because to visit the Normandy beaches, one really needs a car, and I did not have that option at my disposal. I was still trying to work it out though. I wanted to go so badly since my grandfather had landed there. Turns out there was a reason that particular trip I was trying to work out just wasn’t working, a very good reason.

We set up a time to Skype that following Saturday. During the actual call, he was in his car in a grocery store parking lot which is partly why the conversation only lasted about 10 minutes. Those few minutes of our Skype conversation laid the foundation for a trip to Normandy. After we got off of Skype, I sat there on my bed staring out the window wondering if I were nuts….

A guy I barely met in Memphis several years ago is coming to France, and I’m meeting up with him to go on a trip? Maybe I better ask someone about what kind of a person he is. I need to pray about this too!

So, I did both. Thankfully, I have some friends who know him well and were able to give me a good report a couple of weeks later. I prayed too that God would help me guard my heart and to close the door if we were not meant to go on this trip. I wrote extensively in my journal at the time just trying so hard to keep myself from getting my hopes up and to be sure to keep the proper perspective. Jane Austen knew women quite well when she famously said in Pride and Prejudice: “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

Looking back over those couple of months before he came to France, I do have to smile. We messaged almost daily and often talked on Skype on the weekends. I remember one particular time when we talked for nearly three hours on Skype just because we lost track of time as we talked and talked. It was a blessing getting to know each other better as we started sharing prayer requests and stories while also working on trip details. It was exciting! We were both amazed as answer after answer came as we prayed and worked through the details of the trip.

I think what I loved most through all of our correspondence was that there was no pressure and no expectations other than friendship. I felt relaxed and free to change my mind about the trip if something didn’t feel right.There was also no manipulation whatsoever. He had become my friend, and I just couldn’t wait to meet him in person. I prayed that our first meeting would be relaxed and that we would feel comfortable. I’m so thankful to say that that’s exactly how our first meeting was! I prayed also that God’s will would be done and that whether we parted at the end of the trip as good friends or maybe something more, that we would be content to follow His leading.

The morning I boarded the train to go to the airport, I remember feeling so nervous because I both knew and didn’t know what was ahead. I sat in a rather open area on the train next to the baggage racks surrounded by a couple of French couples probably in their sixties who were quite amusing as they talked about this and that. I watched the French landscape rush by in the windows and just prayed and prayed and wondered. After I changed trains though for the last leg of the trip, I could barely sit still. I really felt for the man sitting next to me as I fidgeted quite a bit and got up a lot to walk around. As I got off, I looked for George on the platform, but he wasn’t there. I wondered if he were lost or what had happened. I pulled out my phone about to call him and then glanced up to see him standing up on a platform above the train station. I smiled and got onto the escalator to go up to meet him.

And then, a new page began in the prologue of a beautiful story….

Our Story: from the D-Day Beaches to Rainy Strolls along the Seine

Some stories have a starting point that you don’t even realize is a starting point for sometimes as long as 70 years after the fact.

Our story truly began in June of 1944.

My grandfather landed on Utah beach on June 6, 1944 and began the long struggle through to Munich and the end of the war in Europe. George’s grandfather was a pilot who was shot down a few days after D-Day who was saved by the French underground, particularly a family who put their lives on the line to hide him from the Germans. Both our grandfathers’ stories are much longer and amazing than I’ve mentioned here. However, George and I reconnected because of their stories. I wanted to see Utah beach and George wanted to visit some dear friends, the French family who saved his grandfather and had become like family.

Let me back up a little though.

George and I actually first met at a church meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, on New Year’s around 2009 or 2010, neither of us can remember the exact year. It was so very brief as he just sat down and started singing with some of us who were singing between services. I remember thinking when I first saw him, just how handsome I thought he was and loved how “professorly” he looked. However, we never talked beyond introducing ourselves, and though I saw him at the same meeting in years to follow, we still didn’t have much of an opportunity to interact. Fast forward to this past March when he sent me an inquiry about a trip to France and well, that’s when this whole love story with a French twist began.

It’s a long story full of answered prayers of exactly how we got from his inquiry about a trip to France to my boarding a train in Grenoble to meet up with him at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on May 27th, but for the sake of time, I think it would suffice to say that God worked in all those details. We both had a strong desire to conduct ourselves in a God honoring way, otherwise, I don’t think either of us would have been okay with this sort of a venture. We met up, and our adventure began as we made our way from the airport to Saint Lazare train station to catch our train to Lisieux.

dewey-and-stacey

At Normandy Cemetery the day after we met up

As we met up and stayed with the granddaughter of the man who saved George’s grandfather, that’s where our story really began to unfold. God knew George would need a translator and though I have no professional training as a translator beyond being able to speak French and English, I’m thankful I could be there to help. It was truly remarkable to me how the French family just took me in, a complete stranger, as family. It had been many years since they’d seen George, and they were overjoyed to have both of us over that weekend. We were able to attend a family celebration and eat one of those long traditional French all day meals with them. They told George and me over and over that we were always welcome and that the ties between their family and his were as strong as chains. They did all they could to help us, feed us, and make us comfortable while we were in the area. It was truly an experience I will never forget.

George and I grew closer as we drove through the French countryside and talked about the Lord, and I picked his brain on various Bible questions I had. He was so sweet and willing to answer my many questions. He gave me a much-needed hug when I felt overwhelmed at the Normandy cemetery. He was also there when I knelt down to put sand from Utah beach in a bottle to give to my mom who has always wanted to see where her father landed. I was able to be there when he again saw the field where his grandfather’s plane crashed as well as the stables and houses where he was hidden. God began weaving our love story as we sang a hymn in the car as we left that field. He brought us closer as we prayed for each other and yes, also did lots of laughing together.

He first offered me his arm as we were walking up to Mont Saint-Michel. We enjoyed stacey-and-dewey-mont-saint-michelwalking up to see the old Abbey and eating at a café there. I’d always wanted to see it, and it felt like a dream come true being there and getting to share the experience with him. The next day, we boarded another train and were back in Paris to spend a few days. I feel like things really started falling into place as we strolled along singing and walking arm and arm under an umbrella next to the Seine. Those moments were some of my favorites despite how unseasonably cold it was. So much of it seems like a dream or something out of a musical. We explored Paris together just enjoying being there without getting too mixed up in all the touristy stuff. We went to museums, sang some Sacred Harp with some of the French singers I befriended, had some amazing French cuisine, went up into some of the monuments, and tried to get more of the local feel of Paris. I practically floated down the Champs-Elysées when he offered me his arm and later took my hand. It was on a cloudy, bitterly cold night after standing in line for quite a while and waiting for the lights to come on at the top of the Eiffel Tower when we officially decided that we both felt that we wanted to pursue a relationship. I never knew what it meant exactly to feel like you’re the only two people on earth, but that night, I knew. We were surrounded by a huge crowd of people hurrying this way and that, but it all faded around me as he held my hand while we got onto the metro.

dewey-and-stacey-arc-de-triomphe

On top of the Arc de Triomphe after that unforgettable walk up the Champs-Elysées and just before eating wondrous goblets of ice cream.

The night before he left to return to the US, and as I sat there willing myself not to cry as he was getting ready to go, he told me to not feel sad because this was just the beginning of a beautiful story. I’ve never forgotten that. It helped us both through those weeks dealing with a seven hour time difference. We talked quite a bit over Skype and Facebook up until my return to the States. I bid farewell to France in July and was sad to go and to say goodbye to my friends there, and I did cry for part of that plane ride back.However, I arrived in the US and walked right into the arms of George at the airport. Life truly is filled with mixtures of joy and sorrow.

This beautiful love story has continued through a long distance relationship as we currently live about 400 miles apart. On our various visits together, we’ve enjoyed hikes, coffee chats, perusing art galleries, speaking in French together, talking for hours and hours and hours, sitting next to each other in church, singing together in the car, studying the Bible together, Skyping, laughing until we can’t breathe, visiting family, and most of all, learning the true meaning of what it means to love someone but love God more. The Lord has blessed us in so many ways and has been so good to us. In fact, we love to sing the hymn “The Lord Has Been So Good to Me” together.

The story that began way back in 1944 when both our grandfathers bravely went through unimaginable experiences still continues as we remember them and do our best to honor them and give thanks to God for sparing them both.

And…

Just a couple of weeks ago on a rainy, beautiful night on New Year’s Eve, George got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

deweystacey-9908

Copyright 2016 -Taken by Rebecca Grimmer Photography

I said yes!

deweystacey-9933-2

Copyright 2016 -Taken by Rebecca Grimmer Photography

He planned it all so well taking me to a botanical garden and proposing in an art gallery. He had our friend Rebecca Grimmer shadow us without my knowledge to capture the moment and take pictures afterwards. Though I know rain wasn’t in the plan, I don’t think it would have been right not to have rain since I started falling for him as we walked in the rain under an umbrella in Paris…

I know neither of us know what all is ahead as we soon begin our life together, but, oh, mon cher Georges, I look forward to being with you through all of it.

It’s only the beginning of a beautiful story…

deweystacey-9936

Copyright 2016- Taken by Rebecca Grimmer Photography

These Last Quiet French Days

I remember sitting in the airport crying and crying after having said goodbye to my mom and my younger brother. I’m not a big crier particularly in front of strangers, but let’s just say the floodgates opened as I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake. A year in France!? Was I crazy? How would I ever make it? My first instinct was to run back through the airport, chase after mom’s car, and run home to all that was familiar and comfortable. I realized then I would regret it for the rest of my life if I chickened out now. I dried my tears and prayed for God to give me grace and strength as I boarded the plane, and He did.

What a story has unfolded from day one.

{I mean, you can’t quite beat getting lost the first day trying to find your residence followed by tripping over your suitcase and falling into your room while trying to tell your landlady how much you love the purple walls. My landlady wasn’t entirely sure what to make of me really.}

French life has calmed down considerably in the weeks following the end of the semester. I believe this is one of the first times since I started graduate school five years ago when I’ve had time to just rest. I’m trying to take advantage of it as much as possible now because in the next few weeks, life is going to get crazy busy again, and it’s not going to let up for the foreseeable future.

So, how does one spend days like these among the French?

100_4114Well, let me tell you. You figure out what your favorite type of baguette is and pick up the French habit of keeping a ready bread supply on hand. You sit in the park with your journal and listen to some elderly French ladies argue about what kind of tree it is you’re sitting under (not sure they came to a conclusion on that one). You smile as little French kids run by chasing their siblings and screaming in delight. You pick up as much slang as you can on the tram and feel content and maybe slightly perplexed you can understand some of it even if you’d never repeat a lot of it yourself. You spend a quiet hour with a friend over a cup of tea. You laugh with friends over dinner. You take long walks around town and breathe in the scent of flowers, coffee, and bread and just soak up the sunshine. You answer countless questions about the American Presidential election because suddenly, several want to know who you’re voting for {In case you’re wondering, I don’t know yet}. You find people to speak French with to keep practicing with native speakers, and yes, some days you just stay home and read with the window open to let that Alpine mountain breeze in. You try to take mental pictures of these kinds of scenes because a camera just frankly can’t do justice to what the eye sees.

100_4306

No, life among the French has not always been enjoyable or easy. It’s often been, frankly, the opposite, but it has been worth it to come. The adventures are definitely not over yet, but I can see the curtain beginning to fall as this act reaches its conclusion and the next act prepares to begin. I both long for and dread the end and coinciding beginning.

However, I have learned a valuable lesson in these months of being far from home. That is, when you set all fears and doubting aside and trust God to write your story, the result will be far better than anything you could have imagined to pen yourself. That doesn’t mean everything will work out how you think it should or that you won’t suffer pain, loss, and disappointment, but it does mean you’re not alone. It means there’s a purpose and an unquenchable hope in how your story is unfolding. He also tucks in blessings that you might not be expecting along the way. He knows exactly what you need both of joy and sorrow as He molds you and helps you grow to be more like Himself.

I wish I could go back to the crying Stacey sitting in the airport and reassure her that she’d be just fine, that she’d make so many dear friends, that she’d have experiences beyond any she could have imagined, and that God was, is, and shall be with her every step of the way just as He is with each of His children. I think I knew even if my mind was flooded with fear of the unknown. I knew deep down this was going to be a journey of a lifetime even if I hadn’t quite reached Bilboesque excitement to yell “I’m going on adventure!” as I boarded that plane.

Next up on my blogging agenda {which does tend to change, so bear with me}: Paris and singing Sacred Harp with the French.

 

To My Sister

Today is my dear sis’s birthday! 

In our family, girls are in the minority. Not that we complain about this. I say if we are to be outnumbered, we’re blissfully so by some sweet albeit often mischievous boys.

My Pictures 036

We always did seem to have fun even if it did involve putting me in a grocery bag…

My sister held down the only girl status for a while until I came along. Some of my earliest childhood memories have her in them. I remember Eskimo kisses before going to sleep, her letting me brush her long, beautiful blonde hair after she’d dried it, falling asleep in her lap at church, hearing her read stories to me, her knowing how to make me smile when I was upset, going on little picnics, riding her horse, and following her everywhere wanting to grow up to be just like her.There were so many sweet moments like these which all define what comes to mind when I think of what it means to have a sister.

I was actually devastated to the point of tears when my hair started turning brown when I was around 7 because it wouldn’t be just like Julie’s. Mom reminded me then that both of her girls were unique and special in each her own way, and that in the grand scheme of things, one’s hair color doesn’t matter much. It’s true. Both of us are each are our own person and are more different from each other than, I think, we initially realized when we were both still at home.

It’s been a blessing to have a sister for many reasons beyond not having to stand alone with all those teasing brothers. 🙂

God created us with unique talents, and so far, it seems that He has been writing very different stories for us both. I have often been struck how all of us siblings were raised in the same loving Christian home, but look at all the different paths and fields we’ve gone into. Isn’t God good!? Not a one of us is exactly alike but we share that same sibling bond, those same inside jokes, and yes, you can tell beyond a doubt we all come from the same family.

IMG_0710But, we, my dear sis, share something special because of the simple fact that we are sisters. There is something that sisters share that isn’t quite the same as a sister-brother bond as special and unique as that relationship also is. There have been so many times I’ve shared a look with you and you just “got it.” Apparently, we even share a “look.” Your dear husband pointed it out one time when he walked in the room and said something mischievously funny interrupting our conversation as I was holding one of your little ones for the first time, and we both turned and gave him the same look. I chuckle now just thinking of it. I love those little moments when we’ve just quietly connected as sisters and shared a special smile.

I also find it funny how we do seem to confuse people due to looking alike. 😉 I once got asked how my chickens were doing upon arriving at a church meeting. At my confused look and response that I didn’t have any chickens, the deacon looking likewise confused asked “Aren’t you married to James T____?” We had a nice laugh when I cleared up the confusion which then followed with a statement about you and me looking so much alike. Though I have also had some of my own friends get confused when they’d never met Julie before and saw someone who looked so much like Stacey….but wasn’t?

Any time I see horses or a beautiful shade of green, I think of you, dear sis. I even had the opportunity to see a horse show in Paris not long ago, and all I could think about the entire time was how I wished you were there to share that moment with me. You would have loved it too! Those horses were majestic and incredibly well-trained to be able to handle riders fencing while on horseback.

Distance and how busy life has been over the last several years has often made it hard to keep in touch as I think both of us would like. However, I’m looking forward to the years to come and do hope our times of being together will be greater in number and hopefully more frequent.

I hope you have a pleasant birthday surrounded by your husband and children. I pray that you are able to rest, that the blessings you receive today and each day are more than you could possibly count, that each day gives you multiple reasons to smile and thank Him, and that you’ll always know how much I love you, dear sis!

Happy Birthday!

Dreaming of Home

It seems that although I feel like I’ve pretty well adjusted to everyday life in France with all its ups and downs, part of me never has. Any expat I’ve talked to relates. There’s a part of you that always misses home no matter how much you love your life abroad.

For me, it’s most apparent in my dreams. Almost every night, I dream of home. Sometimes I don’t remember the full dream, but I always have a feeling that my subconscious went home again and brought up happy scenes. Last night, I dreamed of my return to the church where I’m a member in Indiana. I saw their happy faces full of joy that I was safe and back to stay. I heard Brother Roger in his melodiously slow Kentucky accent tell me to come over and give him a hug. I heard the Forrests asking me if I could stay for lunch while Sister Suzy wanted to know all about where I’d traveled. But then, just as quickly, their faces faded from my view as I awoke to hear the early morning stirrings of my landlady’s young son.

I was still in France.

What a strange mix of emotions I felt both of joy that it wasn’t yet time to say goodbye to my dear friends here and sadness that it wasn’t time yet to return to those I love back home.

How similar this is to our Christian walk. A part of us always yearns for home, our eternal home. It doesn’t matter where our paths lead in this life, what trials we face, or burdens we bear, we’re continuing onward to that one goal: Home. We don’t fully understand what it will be like, but a love and yearning for something we haven’t fully experienced yet tugs on our souls and reminds us where our allegiance is.

“O could we make our doubts remove,
Those gloomy thoughts that rise,
And see the Canaan which we love
With unbeclouded eyes!

Could we but climb where Moses stood
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s streams, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.”
-Isaac Watts

I love how the last part of this hymn I grew up singing just came to mind. If you’d like to hear what it sounds like, I did manage to find the version my mom used to play on her stereo at home:

I’ve said over and over that I would know when it’s time to go back home to the U.S. I know it’s not time yet. I think it will be the same when it’s time to go Home too. This old world is getting increasingly dangerous and decayed, and it makes me wish even more fervently for home in both senses. However, my Captain has me here for now and as long as it’s His will for me to be here, I’ll press on and pray for the strength to be faithful to the end when He does call me Home.

It is sweet though that truly anywhere He sends us is home if only He is there with us. Just as another hymn says “I need not go abroad for joys, I have a feast at home…”

100_1939

A Special Friend

Several years ago over a cup of coffee at a Starbucks on the corner of two busy streets in West Texas, two girls sat down with full, steaming cups and started talking about life and began getting to know each other. Both had been through some tough stuff and had no idea that the other had been through similar things. As the coffee steam subsided and the cups emptied, a sweet friendship began. The two continued talking until it was closing time. They reluctantly parted but promised to meet up again for coffee soon.

In the weeks and months that followed a special bond developed between these two. So many dear memories were made involving movie nights, coffee chats (never going to forget the soapy coffee incident…wow!), game nights with friends, sleepovers, long phone chats and texts, long discussions about life and the future, and more laughs than one could count. These friends cheered each other on in the challenges and were there for each other in the hard times.

Then, change came.

The time came to part ways in the sense that life was leading these two in different directions. What exciting adventures lay ahead for both though tears were shed at the thought of parting. One friend moved several hours away down to Central Texas to be closer to her family. About a month aftLauren and Staceyer her move, the other found out that she was indeed moving to Indiana to continue pursuing her studies…

Oh, dear Lauren, I still remember that night I came to your almost packed up apartment to say goodbye before the moving truck came early the next morning to take you south. We hugged, cried a little, and promised to stay close friends no matter the distance. Just as Anne of Green Gables said “True friends are always together in spirit,” and so we were and continue to be no matter how many miles separate us. God blessed us during those two years that we lived in the same city. He had a plan. He knew we would need each other’s friendship in the years that would follow.

This week dear Lauren had a birthday. What a blessing you have been to me, Lauren, from that first moment when we discovered we were kindred spirits. We’ve both been blessed to see our friendship mature as we’ve prayed for and encouraged each other in the Lord. I’m thankful for our laughs and our many inside jokes.

Let me tell you a little about this dear friend. She’s a sweet one, this Lauren. You will almost never see her without a100_1304 book and consequently, she’s the perfect person to ask if you need book or author recommendations. Her ready smile will brighten your day and her hugs will cheer you no matter what you may be going through. She has a tender heart as is demonstrated in how she cares deeply about others and truly desires to bring comfort and light to those around her.

By the way, she has great taste in clothing and fashion. I still mention to her that a certain purple dress of hers might just mysteriously disappear some time when I’m visiting. Of course, I would have no clue how it disappeared but may coincidentally be found wearing a similarly styled dress later on. 😉 That aside though she’s the perfect one to take along if you need some help finding a new outfit.

God gives us friends for a reason. You see, God can see ahead to what the future holds. He knows the struggles, the joys, the changes, the trials, and everything that we will face, and He knows the friends we need at those specific times. Isn’t God good!?

I’m thankful for each one of my dear friends. Thank you, Lauren, for being such a bright light in my life, and a very happy birthday to you! 🙂