“Squirrel!”… Life Lessons… And More New Friends

Anyone who has watched the movie “Up”, an animated children’s movie, will have a whole new appreciation for squirrels. And the expression. And then there’s Ice Age, Ice Age 2 and Over the Hedge, all of which portray squirrels as berserk little creatures. And they’re not so far off…

I don’t often see squirrels out in the wide open, when I walk the Mill Race. They’re much too nervous and jumpy. But this week, Tuesday, I came across one, eating the seeds someone had put on a tree stump.  He was immediately startled, upon seeing me.

 

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I dared to take another step. Slowly. Quietly. Instantly his body tensed, prepared to make a dash for it.  I paused. Nervously he started eating again.

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When he looked up and saw how near I was to the stump, which really wasn’t that close at all, he took off like a bullet, jumping from tree branch to tree branch. Suddenly he flew across the path in front of me and into a tree behind me.

There he sat, scolding as if I had come to do some great harm. I talked calmly to him, but he wasn’t about to hear a word I said. His world was just fine before I showed up, and he meant for me to leave again. So I did. But not before I added a large heap of seeds to the dwindling supply.

I met my usual friends. The cardinal seems to be warming up a bit, and overcoming it’s shy nature. While I still can’t get a very good picture, I’m definitely getting closer and better shots. One day… 
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Something I had never seen before, is this little fellow. A baby chipmunk, no bigger than a mouse–in fact, when I zoomed in for the picture I thought it was a mouse–crawled out of a hole in the pathway. And here I thought they were mouse tunnels.

 

 

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Whatever these birds are, they had been flirting quite openly just before this shot, but I missed it. Ah well…

Down by the river a lone goose honked mournfully. The rest of the flock  had somehow left this one behind, and it seemed quite distressed, as it swam about. I had seen the larger flock earlier and wondered if they might return for the stray goose. And to my amazement they did! And when they did, the honking stopped.

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There is something fascinating about the animal kingdom. So much to learn from them. So much I understand and identify with. The goose, feeling lost when separated from its flock. I get that. When I don’t connect with people who care for me, and for whom I care, there is an ‘aloneness’ in my heart.

And the squirrel? I learned something from him too…

When I came through, on my way back to my car, he was on a different stump, much closer to the ground.  For easy escape, I presume. But I didn’t let that detour me. I walked slowly. Only tiny steps at a time, and only a few. And then I stopped, a few feet away. He looked at me, still nervous and ‘at the ready’.

That’s when I talked quietly to it for a little while and watched as he visibly relaxed and kept eating. The tension, that had showed earlier in its fur, gradually went away. While the close up shots didn’t turn out well, I was amazed how differently he responded, and took a few more pictures.

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I remember that feeling of not trusting anyone. It’s a hard way to do life. Always on edge. Looking over the shoulder… wondering if someone is out to get you. That’s how I was for many years.

And then–God bless them–people who cared for me, and had the patience to show it , changed my life. I think about that often, how people helped me and changed my world. It is what my heart longs to give to others.

One would think that a squirrel, like that in the wild, hasn’t any hope of it learning to trust. Much like some people. But with patience I expect he would warm up even more.

And that’s how it is with  people who’ve had their trust broken. None of us are hopeless, or broken beyond healing. With patience, every one of us can be  ‘loved back to wholeness’.

***

Yesterday was no disappointment at the Mill Race either. I had not planned to go, but rather impulsively detoured that way, on my way home from St. Clements Heart & Home. It was just that ‘gut feeling’ that I needed to go. It was especially unusual because it was after 3:00pm and the critters are not really out and about that time of day.

But when I arrived, I found horses and buggies all tied up under the trees. It was gorgeous! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love horses! Always have, since childhood. They are such majestic creatures! And in this community, where there are horses, there are often buggies. And where there are buggies, there are most often people. A short walk later and, sure enough!

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I wasn’t there long before they packed up. I tried not to be too intrusive (thanks to my massive lens) but I fear I may have frightened them away… The Dave Martin Mennonites don’t much take to cameras and having their photos taken. Such a shame… they take nice pictures. And so do their horses.

Well, I had to be going as well, so I took a few parting shots, which turned out, in my opinion, to be the among the best of the day, if not my most favourite. And, having just discovered some of the editing options in my program, I had to play with that, just a little, and experiment.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn Old Order couple went by  in their horse and buggy, and an Old Colony Mennonite family found a quiet spot to go fishing. And I was left with the intrigue of how many ‘kinds’ of Mennonite we are, each with little (or big) differences and cultural traditions. Each with strengths, and each with weaknesses.

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***

It has been a beautiful week. I’ve had more fun than ever, taking pictures and the weather couldn’t be more perfect. On all fronts, today was my favourite day.

Last night I announced to Kordan, who had a PD day today, that he and I would go to the Mill Race together to feed the squirrels, chipmunks and birds, and hopefully get close enough for them to eat out of his hands.

He groaned, followed by a long, whiny, “No-o-o-o-o-o..”

“Oh yes!” I said. “You’re not going to sit at home on technology all day.” And, of course, I explained how much fun it was going to be. He didn’t believe me.

This morning the whining continued, though not as vehemently. Just gentle protests right up until the moment we walked out the door, which we did a bit later than I had intended, because of some business to tend to.

First things first, I surprised him with McDonald’s breakfast. An egg and bacon McMuffin, hashbrowns and hot chocolate. He wanted Root Beer. For breakfast…

“Umm… No!”

At the Mill Race, his first concern was how far we would go. We’d play it by ear, I told him, but our first mission was at the second bench, where the friendliest chipmunk comes to sit on the bench and eat out of our hands. And, earlier in the day, the chickadees also.

If I had any doubt he would be enthralled, those concerns faded quickly. The pictures tell it all, including two other little visitors who joined Kordan with the critters.


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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving made new friends, and each having had a turn to feed the chipmunks, we packed up to head back. We made it half way before we met some more friends. This time they were adults. I was proud of Kordan, who waited patiently as we chatted.

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It all started when she noticed I had a camera, “Oh…you have a camera!” she exclaimed.

“Yes,” I smiled, “would you like your picture taken?” I said it playfully, but in a way that, if that was what she hoped for, we could transition without the ‘awkward’.

Somehow we got it sorted out… they had seen a bird’s nest, back a few steps, and she thought maybe I’d want to take pictures of it. But, sure, they’d love to have some photos done. What they didn’t know (but will know when they see this blog) is that I had already taken a shot of them looking up into the tree.

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I followed them to the spot, and was able to capture the nest, with the mama bird’s tail peeking out. I returned, later, and she peeked over at me to investigate the intrusion. I was fairly certain it was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, but only when she left the nest for a few minutes was that confirmed.

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 I suggested we go to the Ice Cream Caboose, just across the parking lot. Kordan preferred a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We chatted about the many wonderful pictures, and for some reason I mentioned the excitement of the previous day, of being able to capture three different kinds of Mennonite cultures. The gentleman then asked if I knew how many different ones there are, whether it is three, or six…

I said probably closer to fifty. We talked quite a while about that, and I told them that I had been three different kinds myself, and knew many others.  About the Amish, I recommended they purchase Ira Wagler‘s book, “Growing Up Amish“–a delightful read that offers more than a casual glimpse into a beautiful and fascinating culture.

I took some gorgeous photographs, offered them my blog address–so they could contact me to get copies without my name, (and there’s many more!)–and then we bid them farewell, having made new friends.

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I suggested to Kordan that we visit the Ice Cream Caboose, but he preferred McDonald’s McFlurry. And that is what we did. No healthy lunch food. Just an ice cream McFlurry. I should have known better.

We took the ice cream to go, then drove back to the Dam end of the Mill Race to eat them. When we were all done, and ready to head home, I said we’d need to do this again sometime.  Kordan was quite agreeable.  We’ll go early next time, I said, when all the critters are hungry.

“Sure,” Kordan said, “How about next Wednesday when I am supposed to be in school?”

Haha! Nice try, little man!

“And next time we won’t get the McFlurry,” he said. “It wasn’t that good.”

I didn’t say it… But I’m thinking it will be the Ice Cream Caboose. At least it will be in a wafer cone, and make for some great pictures!

© Trudy Metzger

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An Unusual Friendship

I didn’t intend to do a blog so soon… and not a picture blog… But this morning I went for a walk while my family was still asleep. I thought about our walking path, right here in Elmira, but it is the trees and the river at the Mill Race in St. Jacobs that draws me back. So I packed my camera in my car and headed out to my favourite place.

When I first arrived, the trails were mostly empty. I met one or two in the first fifteen minutes or so. And that’s the way I like it, when I want to listen to the birds and watch the little creatures, scampering here and there.

I do like the people on the trail…  They are a very friendly bunch. I even observed a poster inviting ‘friends from the Mill Race’ to a memorial service for a gentleman who frequented the trails.  I’m not a ‘regular’ and didn’t know him. For me it is a sporadic thing, and mostly it’s in the spring when I find myself drawn there, with a camera. And I’m not really a photographer either, even as a hobby. That’s a bit of a spring thing too.

I love critters of almost every sort, and spring is the perfect time to capture them. The woods are not too overgrown with leaves, making them easy to spot. And at the Mill Race the critters are pretty friendly too, I discovered, first thing in the morning.

It took me off guard, at first, as I’ve seldom been out so early. First I spotted a cardinal. Unfortunately I couldn’t get close enough for a clear shot, but managed to get a reasonable one at a distance.

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I hadn’t wandered far, before I came upon a friendly little chipmunk. Of all the little creatures in the woods, they are my favourite. If it were an option, I would have one or two as pets. Or maybe a whole family of them. The one I met this morning was unusually friendly, almost as though it was pursuing me, rather than the other way around.

I spotted it first by a stump, as it scurried to the top, as if posing for a few shots, before scampering back down. I tiptoed closer, until I stood right in front of that stump. To my surprise it didn’t run away. It peeked around one side, then ran to the other, before disappearing behind the stump again, only to reappear at the top. It was a delightful little game of hide-and-seek, and I couldn’t tell who was having more fun. Little did I realize, as I would discover in moments, that he expected me to serve breakfast.

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I was leaning in for a nice close-up, when I was startled by a little bird, trying to land on my camera. I’ve never walked the Mill Race that early, as I said, but I have walked it many times and have never had little creatures try to befriend me. Thanks to the little bird, I missed that shot of the chipmunk, and focused on it instead.

A little chickadee. I’ve always loved them. They are such happy little birds and friendlier than almost any others. As a youngster I managed to catch one, and bring it home as a pet I put it in our basement for safe keeping but didn’t account for our one cat finding its way in. I watched in horror as the trapped bird became lunch. I took me a long time to forgive Tiger for that.  I’ve never held a chickadee again, since that day…. until this morning.

I couldn’t get a good picture of it, so I walked a bit further, to a bench, where I intended to sit a while, just to watch and listen. Before I got there, several chipmunks caught my attention.

Behind me, on the trail, two women walked slowly. I assumed they were trying to be polite, so as not to disturb whatever creature I was trying to photograph, so I motioned–without really looking at them–that they could continue walking. When they didn’t seem to move, I looked up to tell them not to worry about noise. Instead, I saw one woman holding out her hand, with a chickadee in it. They were still a distance away, so I zoomed in. 
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIntrigued, I walked closer and took another shot. We chatted for a few minutes and one of the women wondered if I would post the picture on the Mill Race. I told her I could do one better and share them on my blog–which is why I am blogging again so soon, about photos–and they could see them here. After I gave them my blog address, they posed for a picture then, offered me some of the bird seed, and with that we parted ways. (And, if you lovely ladies do stop by my blog, please drop me a line. I’d love to hear that you found your pics.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy pocket filled with bird seed, I returned to the bench. I perched my camera on my shoulder, zoomed in for some close shots, and then, with my hand stretched out and filled with bird seed, I waited. And I didn’t have long to wait.  The pictures tell all…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA jealous little chipmunk scurried up the bench beside me, and almost before I knew it was there, I had it eating out of my hands.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chickadee stayed in a tree, only a few feet away, while the greedy little chipmunk finished off the rest of the seeds, then ran off again. I reached in my pocket, filled my hand with seeds again, and soon two chipmunks peeked around corners again, as chickadees fluttered around me, each trying to work up the courage to come back for more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chickadees came first, and took turns eating. They were all quite polite about it, other than spitting out the corn. When they left, I filled my hand again, and the little chipmunk returned one more time to stuff its cheeks.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy battery, which lasts for days at a time, decided at just that moment to die. My back-up pack only lasts a few minutes, so the fun was over.

It is the beginning of an unusual friendship… one I intend to invest in, as I am able. In my pocket I had a few more seeds. I placed them on a stump and headed for my car.

As fate would have it, with a dead battery, I missed the best shot of the morning. I blue-jay landed not far from my car, perched on a branch out in the open. A perfect shot.  But before I could snap the picture, my back up batter pack died. I was bummed. Blue-jays are not much to speak of, when it comes to personality, but they are so beautiful! I replaced the dead back up pack with the main battery pack and noticed it has a bit of life again.  By this time the blue-jay had moved into a tree. Not as clear, but still decent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was nothing left to do but to head home and recharge. And, speaking of recharging… I needed a little energy myself, so I slipped over to Tim Hortons for a little recharging of my own…

© Trudy Metzger

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Dead for One Hour

Yesterday I received a most fascinating message from my friend Norma Blank, from Pennsylvania, after she read that I had died:

“O my word friend…the post that someone put on ur wall made me go absolutely crazy…Like u passed away….I’m just so relieved that u r still here!! What In the world…”

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About an hour earlier, another friend, who lost her daughter in March, had posted a note to my wall in memory of her daughter, and Norma saw it. Not knowing my family, she had no idea that the woman posting it was not my mother, or that the note was not intended as written to me.  What my friend saw, looked like this:

A note to my daughter

I close my eyes as I wipe a tear.
I just keep wishing you were still here.
I will hold all the memories deep in my heart.
Through these memories we will never part.

I close my eyes as I wipe a tear.
I just keep wishing this pain would disappear.
I didn’t get the chance to say my last good-bye.
I just didn’t think you could ever die.

I close my eyes as I wipe a tear.
All of your love I will always hold near.
In my heart and my mind I will never be alone.
When my time comes……
I will meet you in heaven!
(Unknown)

To be perfectly honest, I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to die, and watch people as they react to it. And I’ve even wondered if the spirits of the dead are aware of our goings on, as we try to reconcile our loss with all the other facts that play in. If the person has been ill for a long time, we are relieved that their suffering is over. If they died in a crash, instantly, we are thankful they did not suffer long, and yet the horror of it torments us. If they are elderly and all their friends have passed on, they may have longed for the day, and we are glad for them. But regardless the dynamics of the story, and ‘how’ or ‘why’ of death, we are left with grief and loss, and need to somehow reconcile that with every other aspect of these dynamics.

Do the spirits of the dead see this? Hear this? Who knows for certain. But it is a curious thought that has entered my mind, on occasion, since childhood. Having contemplated this in the past made it that much more intriguing to experience it in real life.

I read Norma’s message again, and that is when it struck me. She actually thought I was dead! I wonder how long she thought it… What did she feel… think… do?  I wrote her and asked her…

“Is it okay that I’ve had a good laugh about this? Too funny! Now I know what it feels like in real life, to have someone’s heart sink when you die. Sorry that I find that funny. I have to ask… how long did you think I was dead?  (and how did you figure out I’m still alive?)”

She wrote back: I thot u were dead for like an hr….so in the middle of not knowing I decided to wash my car and I was like goin in circles literally and wondering how in the world this all happened so fast ..and ur poor kids ..and husband ..and the funeral will prob b on Sunday and I’m just wondering why I was so crazy with it all!” Her next message was, “And then !!! U posted something!!!!’ and u were alive!!!!!!!”

I could see it all playing out in my imagination. The need to do something, to be busy, as the adrenaline of the shock runs its course. It’s distressing, that kind of thing. If not quite funny under the circumstances.

I responded with: “LOL!!!!! I’m so sorry for your loss! Your grief… whatever! But that just kills me laughing!”

I gave Tim a play by play, as I read the messages, and his very calm response was, “Maybe she could come any way, and wash our car for the funeral”.

Norma agreed. “Lol!! Yes I’m a pro car washer by now!! Went in like 35644749 circles today!!! It’s clean!!”

Then a few minutes later she wrote, “Hav I told u how glad I am that u r alive? Well I am.  so after I finally realized that u were still alive and kickn I pumped up my bike tires and went cruzin’ down the road for another hr! Not goin in circles lol! Just cruzin’ and feeling so relieved.” 

“That was a great way to celebrate,”  I wrote back,”I dream of owning a bike, one day, but as I get older, I dream less of it  So…. if ever I do slip into heaven… Go on a bike ride for me to celebrate my life.”

“awww yea”, Norma wrote back, “I’ll make a Tshirt just for u…cruzin’ for Trudy! Or make a shirt for when I go see Gods not dead….God’s not dead and neither is Trudy!! Lol'”

Now that I know what it’s like to die, and be missed and have my life grieved and celebrated by a friend, I can lay that question to rest. However, the mystery of what lies beyond that moment of exhaling here for the last time, and breathing eternal life for the first time, is left to my imagination, and I will have to wait for it.

I think of heaven often, these days…

This world is tired. The darkness that hovers all around has exhausted it. It groans, and I groan with it. I’m tired. My spirit is not at home here…. Never really was… Never really will be… Even as a child, before anyone taught me, I longed for another world and knew I was not made for this place…  And, even if I live to be 100–God helps us all if I do–that truth remains. This isn’t my home.

Don’t get me wrong. I love life. I love my family, my friends and I love what I do. And there is still so much I want to accomplish. I want to publish my first book, and a second, and a third and a fourth,… And maybe more. I want to travel to numerous countries to speak, not the least of which are plans-in-the-making for New Zealand and Australia. But the unrest, the tragedies all around, and the ‘dark side’ of my work with ongoing sexual abuse in Christian cultures… These are in desperate need of redemption.

While I wait, I will celebrate the life of One man who died for me… A God-man, who allowed Himself to be cast into the grave and hades, for my sin. Like my friend Norma, His friends rejoiced–and we still rejoice with them–because His soul was not left in hades, nor was His body left to decay in the grave. (Acts 2:31) After three days, He rose to life again to be my eternal hope.

Because of what He has done for me, I have no fear of death. What’s more, because of Him, I am offered full life, abundant life, while I here. So, because of Him, I will give the best that I have, and all that I am, to Him and His cause, and live life to the fullest, while I am here.

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Old Shoes & Bad Habits

Back in April Tim threw out a pair of Kordan’s old running shoes. They were in bad shape. The kind that make you wonder, ‘where are that child’s parents?’ when you see them on another child.

Kordan, not ready to part with his shoes, reclaimed them from the top of the garbage and continued to wear them. Almost daily they were his shoes of choice, even though he had better ones to choose from.

On Friday, after school was out for the summer, Tim informed Kordan that his shoes were going to be tossed and they were not coming back. It wasn’t up for discussion

Kordan studied them a bit, before trying to negotiate and convince his daddy that they still had some miles left in them.  They got tossed.

Old shoes, old t-shirts, old underwear…. There is something familiar and comfortable about clothes that know our body, clothes that fit. Even if they are worn out, ‘holey’ and less than attractive.

***

Habits we form can be like that. Sometimes they start out as good habits—or at least with good intentions—much like brand new shoes. Other times they’re not even good to start, more like a pair of used shoes we might find at a second-hand store.

With time we become familiar in our habits, oblivious to the fact that they no longer serve their purpose, if they ever had one. We don’t realize that we would be better to develop new ones to replace the old.

We all have blind spots, and the more our weaknesses  link to our habits, the less likely that we will recognize them on our own. Sometimes we need help to see through it.

***

Recently, while chatting with a group of wives, one of them commented how her husband and sons wear their underwear until there’s nothing left but threads. Is this a male thing? (I have a husband and three boys…)

That discussion reminded me of adjusting to this part of marriage…. and doing my husband’s laundry. Week after week, I would wash the same t-shirts and underwear, and week after week they became more threadbare. I washed, folded and popped them in Tim’s drawer, expecting that one day he would notice and throw them out. Since they were his clothes I thought it inappropriate for me to do it.  But he continued wearing them, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were wearing out.

When one pair of underwear was barely attached at the crotch—having almost turned into a mini-skirt—I decided to take matters into my own hands. I got a scissors and cut the final threads, then neatly folded them and slipped them into Tim’s drawer, expecting a good laugh in a few days.

I waited, thinking he would try them on one morning, only to discover a super-short skirt, and playfully scold me for my warped sense of humour. He never did.

I had waited patiently for a few days before I checked his drawer and the altered underwear were gone. That evening I asked Tim if he had found them.

Unfazed, he nodded with a chuckle and shrugged, “I just presumed they had worn through, so I threw them out.”

***

It’s much like that with bad habits. Even if we’re not aware that they’re not good for us, that something isn’t quite right, it’s easy to overlook how bad things are.

With old shoes, t-shirts and underwear, nothing too life-shattering will happen if they rip or tear. Our pride might be a bit bent out of shape, but that’s not the end of the world.

Our habits, on the other hand, impact us, and all those around us. They have the potential to destroy relationships, lives and leave us feeling exposed and naked, if they get out of control.

If we have friends in our lives who love us enough to help us see the truth, and protect us from ourselves, we are truly blessed. And if we’ll hear them, and take it to heart, we are wise, and better for it.

Overcoming bad habits takes time and dedication. Like Kordan and his old shoes, you may be tempted to go back to the trash, and reach for them. They’re comfortable. Each time you’re tempted, but choose instead to develop a new good habit, you will become stronger.

That said… it’s time for my walk. It’s a new habit I picked up a little while ago. Consistency and intentionality make all the difference in successfully adopting new good habits.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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