Category: Christian Community

First (The Christmas Card I Wanted To Write)

“[S]eek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

God reveals the beauty in us.

Pieta, The C.1498 Buonarroti, Michelangelo (1475-1564 Italian) Marble Sculpture St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

First, it hurts. Like warm water on frozen fingers. Like Michelangelo chipping away at a block of marble because he knows the Pieta or David is within. Chip. chip. Chip. God is plying his little hammer and chisel. First, it hurts.

Then I remember that first, my parents gave me to God in baptism and entrusted me to His care.

And first, I chose to risk my life on the belief that He really meant, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” If that promise is a lie, then all the other firsts are meaningless.

And first, He has always made it possible for me to withstand the chiseling and so I remain and let Him work. He loves me. I know that. There is no why. I’m not worthy. There is only love.

And first, there are my friends who share in community I hoped for but could never really imagine. They’re the biggest surprise. They wait with me as God warms my frozen flesh and brings me back to life. They wait as He chisels away. They wait in expectation even when I can’t turn my eyes in hope that there is something glorious in me that He is releasing. They wait even when I can’t find words to say “thank you” for loving me. So I will wait with them. I will have faith in their faith.

First, it’s a glorious new year.

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Risking Community

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; (Isaiah 61:1-2)

At coffee hour today, we discussed our goals for the New Years. I’ve long known to set goals for myself rather than make resolutions. Goals are what I seek to reach. Resolutions are what I expect to impose upon myself. The first contain a certain fluidity. Reaching them may take longer than I imagine. They will change if I discover they’re inappropriate. The latter seem to me more like an exam that I cannot miss and must pass with a minimum score: I must lose X amount, must learn Y, must somehow, some way do something and if I don’t, I will have failed at my New Year’s resolutions.

Discovering that others have similar perspectives on setting goals for the New Year was lovely. In surprise, I stammered out, “I want to supplement my income doing things I love and finish my book.” It’s true but I don’t usually tell the truth. Instead, I deflect the conversation or weave so many words around my answer the truth is hidden in a dense cloud. When asked what kinds of things I might do, I further surprised myself, “Sewing and teaching dance.” Then my best friend reminded me that I will be teaching him, and perhaps others, to sew. I amended my list of income enhancing activities.

Then the big surprise came. We actually discussed what I wanted and how I could accomplish it within the community. One new friend told me there’d probably be enough opportunity to do light tailoring within our parish. Another told me there was a market for teaching people to sew. Others have asked that I teach dance. I need not figure it all out on my own. This Christian community delights in encouraging each of us to be who God has created us to be. I find it baffling. They owe me nothing. They don’t even know me and might not like me very well if they did. Still, they open their arms and gather me in.

When we consider how selfish we are, any experience of community at all, particularly in the civilized West, is a miracle. Most of us can survive without each other even though we can’t thrive. With all the distractions in our lives, many of us don’t know what thriving is.

Christian community is an even greater miracle. The spontaneous gathering in of strangers who have no claim on us requires us to risk loving as Christ loves us. There are no guarantees. Love may never be returned. And we will simply not like some people; some will never like us. Still, there are those who choose to allow Christ to pour them out as He poured Himself into our world over 2000 years ago. They make miracles happen. They bind up the broken hearted, support captive making their way from cold, dark prisons into warm, blinding light. They confirm that the year of favour is indeed come. Christ is born. God is among us.

Grateful – Five Minute Friday

Today, the last Five Minute Friday post for 2015, I’m to choose my own word. Since I’ve had a sore throat since Tuesday night when I woke with a fever, and, a week before that had a sinus infection accompanied by sore throat, I think my word is grateful.

Before I moved to MD to share a house with one best friend and live across the street from my other, being sick meant being alone, struggling to the drug store or supermarket, and just making it through. Even as a child, I pretty much just made it through. Now, they actually take care of me, bring me cough drops, aspirin, and other goodies. It’s not something I’m used to yet. I’m like a deaf person who can hear for the first time: Overwhelmed and so grateful. (Except the deaf people all cry and I’m not there yet.)

Here’s the video of the deaf hearing for the first time. It’s really cool. May God break your hearts this Christmas so that you can be even more grateful (even if, like me, you don’t cry and get all gushy).

And here’s my favourite piece of Advent music. E’en So Lord Jesus Quickly Come:

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Weary: Five Minute Friday

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
yea, wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27: 13-14)

weary (1)Once upon a time, I read Psalm 27 many times each day. It calmed my weary soul until I reached verse 14. Then anxiety and desperation would flare up and weariness returned; I was weary of waiting. Eventually, I decided “wait” means ‘No.’ And though I was even more weary of facing ‘No’ after ‘No’ after ‘No,’ what does one do when god says, ‘No.’ He’s God after all. So I prayed to accept ‘No’; I was never very good at it and I was still so weary.

Then I met a friend who was as crazy as me. Then I met a whole slew of friends who cared for me as if I was a family member. And then I discovered my friends love me even when I’m cranky and silly and capricious. Finally, I realized I love them even when they fail to live up to my expectations. Now I’m no longer weary of waiting, weary of the hole in my heart. Now I not only believe but know that seeking first the Kingdom of God leads to all the other things being provided in surprising and unexpected ways. And God is so much more than I ever imagined because He knows better than I how to heal the holes and free me of being weary.

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Image source: http://dict.space.4goo.net/dict?q=weary

Alone – Five Minute Friday

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

aloneSome things are easier when I am alone. Singing is easier when there’s either no one to hear me or someone who sings along with me. (I’ve joined the choir at church.) Though I’ve trained to sing opera, worked with a vocal coach, and have a powerful voice, I actually sing off key in a soft breathy voice if I’m singing in the presence of someone who’s not singing and who’s not really an audience.

Writing is easier when I’m alone. So is speaking. Sewing and drawing and embroidery and all sorts of other accomplishments are also easier. If I’m working with others or alone, I excel at so many things. When I feel someone is watching, I choke, shy away, fumble; I naturally give way to others, do what they are doing, follow their lead.

Yet I’m in a time of learning to excel when I’m not alone, even if others are not participating. It’s part of denying myself that Jesus talks about. It’s scary. But since He has brought me this far, I’m convinced He will continue to take me where He wants me to go and, with His help, I’ll marshal through. Let’s see where He has taken me this time next year.

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On Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Image source: http://thespiritualsoldier.blogspot.com

Happy Again – Five Photos, Five Stories – 5

feast 2“Three pirouettes!” I cried out. “Three pirouettes! For the first time, God!” I took a series of quick steps and executed a grande jeté. My hand reached for the barre. A huge smile lit my face; my eyes sparkled. I took a deep breath, “That’s what it needed, three pirouettes!”

“Can you be happy without knowing everything?”

Time stopped. A rich, white noise masked the strong, driving beat of 38 Special’s “If I’d Been The One.” The question hung in the air. I blinked away the tears that suddenly pricked my eyes.

“Can you be happy without knowing everything?” The Voice spoke again.

“Y-yes,” I found myself responding. Tears surged past my attempts to blink them away. The mirrors reflected my crinkled forehead, of eyes sparkling with tears. I did not ask, Why are You asking me? What does it mean?

For much of my life, I have kept in check a very young part of myself who longs to squat keening in the marketplace, “Look at what they did to me! Look! Look!” as I toss dirt and ashes on my head. Her deepest desire is that my losses, my wounds, my pain be acknowledged. Beyond that, she doesn’t know what she wants. Some losses are so great, it’s impossible to imagine any recovery.

So when my dearest Friend asked if I could be happy without knowing everything, I could say, ‘Yes.’ Hadn’t I just turned three pirouettes when I’d never imagined myself turning more than two? Didn’t that make me happy? Didn’t singing, swimming make me happy? Hadn’t designing a pencil skirt that fit a narrow waist and wider hips made me happy? I didn’t know that I didn’t know what happiness was. I was willing to go along for the adventure.

But the keening child in me knows happiness. She remembers everything. She holds within her the absolutely delicious experience of belonging to specific people, of being loved by specific people, of being at home with them because they are hers and she is theirs. And through the adventure, she has often noted that this is all very nice but…

It’s grand that these people are accepting my invitation to dinner but they’re not my family. What a lovely time I had with my girlfriends but I don’t really belong to them. How grand that they threw me a surprise birthday party but they don’t really know me and so can’t really love about me. Then I unexpectedly found myself waiting five months for my insurance company to begin paying on my disability claim, wasn’t allowed access to my profit sharing account, and had already spent all my savings on being ill. Friends (and even strangers) swooped in and provided the funds I needed to pay my bills. At the same time, they continued to be my friends. The young, keening child in me was flabbergasted and dazzled. But she insisted there was at least one person my friends could never replace. She knows the place in my heart I never go, the place to which I never invite anyone.

I have no auditory memory of Marmar’s voice, no auditory memory of Portuguese. I do recall the sound of German, French, Italian, Spanish, and several other languages. Though I read Portuguese quite well, each time I hear it as it’s the first time. Each time I want to wail. Perhaps it is mercy that hinders my memory. Her loss is beyond telling, a pain I will carry to the grave. Perhaps my Friend has granted me the grace to forget because memory would bring more pain than joy.

“‘Helen was happy here,’ said Phronsie decidedly. ‘And she never–never would want to leave her mother alone, to go off to a nicer place. Never, Polly.’

“Polly drew a long breath, and shut her lips. ‘But, Phronsie, don’t you see,’ she cried presently, ‘it may be that Mrs. Fargo wouldn’t ever want to go to Heaven unless Helen was there to meet her? It may be, Phronsie; and that would be very dreadful, you know. And God loved Mrs. Fargo so that he took Helen, and he is going to keep her happy every single minute while she is waiting and getting ready for her mother.’”*

Fallen Sparrow learned to drive recently and set off on an adventurous motoring trip from Maryland to his home state of Minnesota. Some planned meet ups didn’t work out. I was concerned that he might be disappointed. When I gingerly inquired, he told me he wanted to let one of those he missed know, “I will always fail you and disappoint you, but Jesus never does.”* We cannot escape entropy. Life fails and disappoints but Jesus never does. Christ holds us together, holds all that we are. And just as He held my innocence until I could receive it again, He holds Marmar. And perhaps I long for heaven more than I would have had I never lost her. Though her voice remains just beyond my memory, the sight of her fills my heart. I see us in heaven some day. We will dance before God, her extremely long, dark hair flowing freely and my (not quite so) long, dark hair bouncing in the breeze.

In the meantime, I am happy again. The young child within me longs to keen on occasion but I know, friends love me; I belong to people who belong to me. There are feasts on earth even though there is also famine. While earth was never meant to be heaven neither is it hell. I can be happy and long at the same time. We’re not an either/or people; life is not a zero sum game. Christians are both/and people. Even as we wait, we know we are “heirs in hope of eternal life.” And “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

*Margaret Sydney, Five Little Peppers Grown Up: http://www.readprint.com/work-5664/Five-Little-Peppers-Grown-Up-Margaret-Sidney/contents

Image: An earthly feast – Grilled chicken breasts with a balsamic and garlic glaze; Baconated kumatoes with fresh basil, garlic, and spicy pepper oregano; Old Bay Shrimp (with butter for dipping).

Christian Community Is A Christian Thing

Years ago, at a time when I still had many acquaintances but few real friends, I had one very, very dear friend. She did her best to comfort me when I discovered my parents were, in fact, dead. She helped me understand the responsibility my therapist had towards me and I towards him. And, to celebrate my birthday, she even made frozen dinner (it was better she not attempt real cookery) and gave me the kind of toy I was never allowed to play with when I was a child. Once, she even saved my life.

But she wasn’t a friend I could keep and I knew it. Whenever I was discouraged about finding my family, worried about work, or indecisive about whether I should go to an audition, she’d offer to “do a reading” for me. I understood that she was offering me the best she had. And perhaps God had given her gifts of prophesy. But she saw the gifts she might have as hers to control. She believed she should peer into the future so that she and others might have an easier time traversing life.

Whenever she offered to “do a reading” for me, I’d demur. I didn’t want to hurt my friend but I knew divination to be, at the very least, an attempt to circumnavigate the limitations God has placed on us. He has given us this moment and asks us to trust Him. He has not given us permission to map the suffering and good things in the future and then plot an optimal course through. As time passed, I became more and more uncomfortable with my friend’s activities. Though she was wonderful, our ability to be in community was hindered because we walked very different paths. We couldn’t accompany one another because we didn’t share a common goal. Ultimately, I ended our friendship.

Christian community is a Christian thing because of the common goal we share: Christians are striving to follow and become like Christ and to get to heaven. We regularly fall and are oft times reduced to crawling yet as we travel together, one of the most important things we do is encourage one another. Just as CPT Sarah Cudd’s received support to cross the finish line and earn her EFMB in the video below, Christians support each other as we follow Christ. In fact, no matter how much we disagree, we can’t be Christians without each other. We are indispensable to one another.

Years ago, when my life felt like one overwhelming disappointment, I needed people who would remind me that God loved me and that I could trust Him even if my dreams of finding my family never came true. Invitations to peer into the future were a temptation that made living in the moment more excruciating. When all I longed to do was read the last page of the book and make sure it held the happy ending I envisioned, I needed to be reminded that God was calling me to crawl and trust. No matter how wonderful my friend was she couldn’t help me do that because paging ahead in the midst of suspense is the exact opposite of trust.

As long as non-Christians aren’t hindering our faith, they certainly ought to be our friends. We ought to invite non-Christians to participate in most community activities. And we must do so without an agenda. We must not invite people because we plan to convert them. Through loving friendship, we show Christ to those who don’t know Him. When friends ask questions, we must be honest and trust God will use us as He sees fit in their conversions.

Still, there will be times when following Christ will require relinquishing friendships with some non-Christians, often because of our own weakness. We are not to be unequally yoked and that can include friendships too. When following Christ takes us away from some relationships, we need to remember that He will bring us together in Christian community, in His Church. He will prepare us to present His Gospel to a world that is not starving for knowledge of what tomorrow may bring but for His love today.

Christian Community – Not Just A Catholic Thing

And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.'” (Luke 5:18-20)

Jan luyken's paralytic lowered by frinedsWere I limited to one depiction of Christian community, I’d choose the healing of the paralytic in the fifth chapter of Luke. Jesus sees not just the faith of the paralytic but their faith, the faith of the paralytic’s friends. They work to gain their friend’s healing. When the way is blocked they create a path. Mere building materials can’t interfere with their love. These friends are filled with solid faith which the paralytic needs to reach the One who has the power to heal.

I have not always experienced Christian community in the Catholic Church. Obviously, I believe Catholicism is true or I wouldn’t be Catholic. But Catholicism is as filled with selfish individuals as any other place where humans gather. (Too often, I’m one of them.) It’s so easy to become involved in the forms and forget the people. It’s so easy to write a cheque each week and contribute to parish charities but never get to know the other people in the pew. It’s so easy to be concerned with myself to the exclusion of others. The “Sign of Peace” during Mass can be the only expression of Christian community many Catholics experience.

Fortunately, some Catholics take Christian community seriously. They reach out to others, befriend them, and don’t give up until they have helped their friends reach the One who heals. And fortunately many Christians do the same in many, many churches throughout the world. Their arms are open, ready to embrace others. They carry each others’ burdens — carry each other, when necessary. They don’t give up even when the way is blocked.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

This is how the community of believers in Jesus Christ love one another, by daring to get our hands dirty in each others’ lives, by sacrificing for one another. When we are as concerned with our neighbour who sits next to us in church as we are with our own lives, we live the great commission to love one another. That is Christian community. It’s not an either/or proposition — the people and concerns in our lives matter. It’s a both/and experience, making space in our hearts and lives for one more person. Sometimes the tiles we must peel away are not on another person’s roof but in our attitudes and hearts. But because we are heirs through hope of Jesus Christ, every Christian has the ability to peel away those tiles with help from our friends and through the healing power of Christ, and love as Christ loves us.

Heart Of Stone

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.(Ezekiel 36:26)

I wish I could say my heart of stone came solely as a result of what happened to me. Certainly much has happened to me. The constant onslaught of death and abandonment and loss and assault and rape and neglect and isolation and illness were crushing. But I have a fighter’s spirit. I fought back with every talent God gave me. And I fought so well I began to delight in fighting not only to protect myself but sometimes to get back at those who hurt me. I’m not one who seeks simply to take the stick from an attacker. I want to ensure that the attacker will never harm anyone ever again. God has often held me back. Had He not, I would have produced much mayhem.

The vicious onslaught also left me fearing people. There were times when I lied or simply ended contact because I couldn’t be what I thought others expected me to be: because I didn’t have enough money to do all the things someone expected or couldn’t change my faith to please another person or couldn’t continue to expose myself to actions that scandalized me and sent me spinning into flashbacks and phantasms from my past, a past almost none of my friends knew about because I didn’t trust them. Being unable to trust coats the heart with layers of stone.

My pride added additional layers of rock. I knew what I needed and how I needed it. I even set the delivery schedule. Usually, the due date was right now. A dear friend used to tell the attorneys with whom he worked, “You can have it right or you can have it now but you can’t have it right now.” I demanded I be healed right and right now. After all, God can do anything. But He didn’t follow my scripts or my instructions. It baffled me.

heart of stone (1)Fortunately when I was lost God found me and has remained with me. So when I was old enough to hand Him my scripts I was also experienced enough to know that even though God wasn’t following my prescribed plan, I needed to stay with Him. Where else would I go? Chaos is the alternative to God. I knew chaos better than many. I’d lived in the midst of it for eleven years and could not go back. So I continued on but my heart of stone was a heavy ache within my chest.

It felt anger, desire, rage, pride, need, attraction, hunger, pain, and so much more. The dark feelings rumbled around, became fodder for ruminations that piled on more stone. Sometimes happiness touched the edges of my heart but it couldn’t nestle in and make a home. I loved with everything I had but love was always the gift of the moment. It wasn’t the constant I needed because no one really loved me. Most never tried. Those who did never knew me; I could not share my secrets with them. How can there be love without knowledge?

And all the while, God carried me as I kept revising those scripts and waving them before His face. Eventually, He pried the pages from my hands. Ill, frightened, alone, I moved in with a “friend” who told me that if I was really sick I must go because she wouldn’t care for me. Her words triggered my stubbornness and I pushed myself through demanding work while doctors unraveled the illness I suffered. At the same time, I had returned to the Catholic Church and found it different than when I left. People invited me into their lives, invited themselves into mine. Community surrounded me and gently but persistently pulled me in.

One day I awoke in hospital after undergoing major surgery. The smiling face of the woman who had voluntold* my home for a New Year’s Eve party three months before greeted me. Over the next few days, people I barely knew visited. Usually there was no one. And through more treatments and surgeries they continued to come. When I needed to be collected from hospital after an emergency, I was afraid they wouldn’t release me because I had no escort. The woman who voluntold my apartment had told me to call if I needed her. I risked rejection and called. Her bright voice assured me she would be there.

I wanted God to say the black and do the red. He was to just follow my instructions and all would be well. How God must have laughed at me. He knew I could have healing right or I could have it now but I couldn’t have it right now. And I couldn’t have it my way not because God sought to thwart me but because my way wouldn’t work. I needed the gentle sledge hammer of Christian community. It’s been at work on my heart of stone nearly as long as the entire time I spent with the minister and his family. My heart isn’t fully flesh yet and I don’t know when it will be. I do know I can feel it beating at this very moment. Happiness now has an abode in my heart. Others know and love me. I am the luckiest girl in the world because fortunately when I was lost God found me. He never wants me or anyone else to have a heart of stone. His heart was pierced and an ocean of mercy poured out so that our hearts might be made flesh.

* Voluntold is an accurate contraction of volunteer + told

Fear – Five Minute Friday

schnauze“Harry! Jack!” I called from the porch. Waiting for a response I really didn’t expect, I checked the soil in which the mint and herbs are growing to determine if they needed water.

“Huh!” I sighed. The schnauze obeyed me no more today than they had yesterday. I went back inside, grabbed a whistle (I’ve never been able to whistle properly) and blew a blast into the back yard. After a couple of minutes, I sighed again: I’ll have to find them, I mused to God. I can’t shower until they’re back inside. Thankful that I was already wearing shoes, I walked down the steps and began checking behind shrubs and garden furniture for the black and grey dogs. As I came round the corner of the deck, a wide open gate greeted me.

“How is that open?” I asked. “No one uses that gate.”

Quickly, I made my way back inside, snatched up my phone and pocketed my keys. I grabbed two leashes and a bag of treats and made my way out the front door. As my feet carried me down the steps, my fingers were searching for my house mate’s number. A thought breezed through my mind, What if she blames you? You let them out. I ignored it, let it continue on its way.

Living in Christian community is changing me. The monolithic ogre of fear has become like the hairy monster, Rudolph, in Looney Tunes, Water, Water Every Hare. It’s tiny. A good stare sends fear scurrying away.

Not so many weeks ago, I’d have been terrified to inform my friend that her dogs were off roaming the neighbourhood without an escort. Today, fear became concern. Fear lost its power to paralyze me. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll be paralyzed again. But today, the schnauze are home after their great adventure and what would have been overwhelming fear didn’t slow me one bit.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

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