Misc. Wednesday: Yikes, Change!

Placeholder Image(I wrote the article below for my Associate Pastor column in the church’s upcoming newsletter. As the start to the new Children’s Ministry and Youth Group year approaches (less than 2 weeks! Eekk!), I remind myself that change is good, all will be well, and not to panic. Plus, I know God has my back, as does my church. And let’s face it – All of us have been there and dealt with change. Whatever change it might be – new job, new home, divorce, loss of job, a birth, good news or bad news – we’ve all been there. Yet there is hope, is there not? Hope that all will be well, people will support, and for faith believers, that hope also comes with knowing God is guiding us. So, cheers to change and may all of us not panic too much in the face of that change.)

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12: 1

I often wonder how Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) felt when God told them to pack it up and go. Abram and Sarai had to deal with change in a short period of time. There was no debating about leaving, no finding the right apartment or home or job. Were they frightened? Were they scared God might be leading them astray? Abram and Sarai were human after all, so my guess is they were afraid. And yet they went, with all of their belongings on their back, family in tow, and a promise from God, a trust that hope is on the horizon.

Change is difficult. Don’t get me wrong, change can also be life-altering and amazing. It can lead to great experiences and wonderful hope. The kind of hope Abram and Sarai experienced. The kind that is mixed with doubt, fear and trust. In the end, this hopeful change allowed Abram and Sarai to become the founders of a great nation, establishing a relationship with God unlike anything the world had ever seen up to this point. The Bible tells the story about the outcome of God’s promise that began with Abram.

I love the story of Abram and Sarai, which is why I have been thinking about it as I work on the new faith formation program for the children. I can’t speak on behalf of the Children’s Ministry Team but I myself am nervous. I do not doubt the need for change to a different, more engaging faith formation program. I have fear over whether the children will like it, if leaders and assistants will step forward to cover all of the classes, if the change will in fact work and be worthwhile. I shouldn’t doubt or have this fear, but I do.

There is in fact a lot of positive excitement around the new program, format and name, which gives me hope. I trust that my church family will rally to support and embrace a new faith formation program. I trust that God will continue to guide this church and its ministries. I trust because there is hope, even amidst all of my anxiety, fear and doubt.. I suspect Abram and Sarai did the same thing as they trusted their gut and followed God without question.

Despite all of my fear and anxiety, I know this change is good. It’s hopefully going to bring new life into the church’s children’s ministry and allow the children and youth to grow in faith and fellowship.

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Sabbath Monday: “Be Who You Are”

wp-1472531361171.jpg(Grrr…apparently I didn’t hit publish late last night…So here’s Sabbath Monday on Tuesday).

As most of you may or may not know, I read a lot. Like 3 or more books at a time a lot.

This year I found a different book group on Goodreads via a friend called Book Riot. They do an annual book challenge. 24 books in 12 months, with different challenges, such as read a collection of essays or read a book where the main character has a mental illness or a food memoir…You get the idea.

I have read everything from Stephan Hawking to Amy Poehler. I dove into the world of Malala and her struggles overcoming of education for girls in the Middle East. I reread Charlotte’s Web and cried again with Wilbur. I’m currently trying not to freak out over Mr. King’s The Shining.

I currently finished a middle grade book called George by Alex Gino. It checks off my ‘Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender.’ The Book Riot discussion boards suggested this one. I read it in 2 days.

George is a 4th grader. She, yes she, is struggling to figure out who she is. George is technically by all biological accounts a boy. Yet she identifies with being a girl. She secretly reads Seventeen magazine and wonders what her hair would be like if she parted differently.

Her class, ironically enough, just finished reading Charlotte’s Web and are planning a play. George wants to be Charlotte, the caring spider who saves Wilbur from the typical fate of a pig. At auditions her teacher frowns and says, “No.” George tells her best friend Kelly that she thinks she’s a girl and Kelly’s reply is priceless: “If you think you’re a girl, then I think you’re a girl too!” Later Kelly helps George, now Melissa, try on some new girly clothes. Love!

I did struggle a bit with the George’s brother and mother sort of accepting this new reality. Acceptance doesn’t come that quickly usually in real life. Usually there’s more drama.

However, I also put myself in the shoes of that 4th grader who might be thinking he is a girl or she is a boy. The real life struggles might not be the same as the book. However, a book that contains some hope and some message about not being alone is huge for a child who is struggling.

The transgender issues have not been on the forefront of the news lately. However, it’s still there. For weeks earlier this year I saw a family members and friends post things on social media  about Target’s new bathroom policy, how “those people” should go back to the way God created them to be, trapped in their own skins. Blech…it made me sick to my stomach.

Perhaps transgender people are the way God created them to be. Perhaps all of us are created the way God created us to be – full of hang-ups and metal illness and issues over our sexuality. And perhaps God took a step back at each of our births and said, “It is good.”

I don’t believe God purposefully gave the struggles that come with gender identity or sexuality. God wouldn’t do that. I do think God might realize that there are moments when life messes up, when biology screws up an X-chromosome with  a Y or whatever. And still God stands back like an artist and pronounces it good.

For this cisgender (meaning I identify the gender I was born with) I am thankful for a book like George, for knowing I can hand it to a youth at church who might be struggling about who they are. I’m also thankful that my God declares all of creation good, whatever form that creation may be.

To those who are struggling: Know that God loves you and that you are not alone. Be proud of who you are and what God created you to be.

Sunday Round-Up: Youth Sunday

James Island and Charleston, South Carolina

James Island and Charleston, South Carolina

Today was youth Sunday at church. The youth led the service and shared their experience of the mission trip to Charleston, South Carolina from July.  They did everything, minus the welcome and announcements. That was me.

Worship is holy and sacred and important. There’s a sense of reverence and humility and respect that comes when entering into worship.  I’m all for laughing in worship, in fact I encourage it. However, there are certain times when it’s appropriate or not. Naturally, I get a bit nervous when the youth lead worship. Will they respect the prayer? Will they pay attention to what they are doing and reading? Will they take leading worship seriously?

I was worried during rehearsal Saturday when the group busted out into laughter during the Call to Worship that called us to be “salty Christians.” Ok, maybe I laughed too, though I was worried they would do it during the real worship the following morning.

I worried for nothing.

The youth knocked it out of the park. They were clear and articulate. They laughed at the right moments allowing others to join in. They took the responsibility of leading worship seriously and led it with grace. And I heard about it.

I usually hear from many about how they couldn’t hear the youth, they spoke to fast and weren’t loud enough. I did hear a few of those remarks but for the most part everyone who approached me after church said how wonderful the youth did, how their reflections about the trip were some of the best they have heard.

Many said a lot of that came from my leadership. Ok, maybe my ego went up a bit. However, I cannot take all the credit. It’s the youth. They did the work, they volunteered to lead certain parts in worship and write and give the reflections. At most I told them to slow down as they read, to speak up and where to stand. I can’t take all the credit for the youth service this morning.

Where was my God moment this week, in a week that was stressful and I really wasn’t in the mood to be back in the office?

My God moment was the youth this morning. The laughing, reliving memories of the mission trip to Charleston. That group of high school youth are a bunch of incredible young people who will do wonderful things in life. Those youth will be sharing God’s light in all that they do and for that, I give thanks to God.

 

Friday 5: Keep on Rockin’ 2

wp-1472144100182.jpgThere are 3 bands that I absolutely love: U2, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam. There are many more of course. Anyone who knows me know I have an extensive music collection and eclectic taste.

Pearl Jam and I have a history. When their first album, Ten, came out I snatched it up from the local record store and played it on rotation. I was about 11 or 12 and it was one of the first CDs I bought. Now, 25 years later, the adult me has been blessed to have seen PJ live and as of Monday evening, for the second time.

Because of the recent PJ concert, this edition of Friday 5 is in tribute to them. I give you my top 5 favorite PJ songs, the songs I crank up and try to sing with Eddie. Because let’s face it, as much as I love Eddie’s voice, I will never truly know the words to Even Flow.

In no particular order and recognizing that many others could be on this list, here goes nothing…

Number 1Hail, Hail from the album ‘No Code’: I love the beat of this song. It’s poppy and yet has an edge. I love the line that goes, “I get the words and then I get to thinkin’/I don’t want to think, I wanna feel/How do I feel?” And then, “Hail, hail, the lucky ones, I refer to those in love.” To me it’s a song of love, wondering if the person you fall in love with is or will be enough.

Number 2Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In A Small Town from the album ‘Vs.’: It’s slow, melodic and almost bluesy. I love the idea of meeting up with someone from long ago, how a place can shape us and over time memories fade and yet come back. There’s hope in the song, well to me there’s hope.

Number 3I Am Mine from the album ‘Riot Act’: PJ played it Monday evening and is a recent addition to my fave PJ list, mostly because of the verse: “The North is to South what the clock is to time/ There’s east and there’s west and there’s everywhere life/ I know I was born and I know that I’ll die/ The in between is mine/ I am mine” Need I explain more?

Number 4Alive from the album ‘Ten’: Alive is a personal song for Eddie, finding out his real father died before he even really knew him. Today fans have embraced the song as an anthem for any countless reasons. The song holds a place in my heart because it’s one of the first PJ songs I heard.

Number 5Release from the album ‘Ten’: Again, I believe this is a song about Eddie and his father. Not sure. The song is haunting. The lyrics and music with Eddie’s voice…goosebumps. The song has also become a prayer to me. This idea of God as the parent and me the child asking, “Oh dear dad/ Can you see me now/ I am myself/ Like you somehow.” Then the song crescendos into the lyrics “I’ll wait up in the dark/ For you to speak to me/ I’ll open up/ Release me.” Takes my breathe away! There’s some spiritualness hidden within the song that I haven’t been able to pinpoint and name, though I know it’s there.

Well, there you have it Readers.

As Pearl Jam reminds us (via Neil Young), “Keep on Rockin’!”

 

 

 

Misc. Wednesday: Keep on Rockin’

wp-1472056693246.jpgThis past Monday evening I was at Wrigley Field rocking out to one of my favorite bands, Pearl Jam. It was epic. I mean, Eddie stopped in the middle of a song to kick out a guy who was harassing a women! Just awesome. Plus, being the Cub fan that he is, Eddie toasted to Wrigley and the Cubs. Could not have gotten any better.

Anyhow, the whole show had a vibe, different from when I saw Foo Fighters or U2 or Nine Inch Nails or any of the other countless bands I’ve seen over the years. I rocked out, jammed, screamed and enjoyed seeing the band I’ve been following for the last 25 years. I had a smile on my face the entire 3 hours the band played. And yes, even after the lights came up announcing it was time to call it quits, Eddie, Stone, Jeff, Mike and Matt kept playing.

As I sat squished next to some idiot (he was being a jerk and a pompous you-know-what so idiot might not be the correct word actually) on the bus making my way to the blue line station, I thought, “Wow! What a night!” and “I can’t believe I just saw Pearl Jam again!” I also thought about how I couldn’t wait to get home, to eat something and drink some water as my headache was growing steadily after the show ended. I wasn’t willing to leave my seat during the show as I didn’t want to miss anything, so my thirst and hunger waited. Oh, the sacrifices one makes.

The bus pushed on, making stops and I sat and wondered, do we take moments like this for granted? Do we forget how lucky we are to go on vacations or attend concerts or movies or whatever it is we do for fun? I’m lucky to have do a lot of those things as I know many people do not have the opportunities. Also, do we forget that God takes pleasure when we, God’s creation, is having fun and enjoying this life that has been given to us?

I hope not.

I can’t recall if I’ve said this before or not but God, or at least the God I believe in, doesn’t like to see us in pain or hurting. God cries along with us and is angry when we are angry, depressed when we are depressed and so on. This incredible God also laughs, dances, and smiles when we are enjoying this beautiful life that was given to us. God is the ultimate parent and guardian, so naturally God would feel the same emotions as any parent or guardian would.

As I danced and sang, “Oh I, oh, I’m still alive/Hey, hey, I, oh, I’m still alive/Hey I, oh, I’m still alive” God smiled. I know God smiled. My faith tells me God smiled and maybe even sang along with me. Because God is loving and caring and takes joy in the things humanity does.

I hope we never forget that.

Sabbath Monday: Memorial

wp-1471879255483.jpgWell, vacation is sadly over. As I reflect back on my vacation, unpacking the things I bought or flipping through pictures, I can honestly say it was a good trip. I’m glad to be home and in my own bed. However, I had a great time. You’ve read about some of my adventures this last week and I leave you with one final one…Our final stop…

Fifteen years ago on September 11, I was in my college art class working on something when a fellow student walked in and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. It was early and at that point it only looked as if the plane crash was a fluke. When I got to the student union I watched in horror the things happening in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. I don’t remember what I wore that day or anything else but I do remember standing there watching the jumbo TV and thinking, “Oh my gosh. This can’t be happening.” For the rest of the day I watched the news, scanned the internet and prayed with friends. Life was never going to be the same.

On Saturday my parents and I stopped at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown, Pennsylvania, near Shanksville. I was a bit apprehensive about going to this. My sister, who had recently been there too, said I had go and my parents were adamant. But me, it’s far too real and tragic and I honestly didn’t want to go.

Remember, I’ve been to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields where men fought and died where I now stood. I’ve stood in cemeteries, young and old. Those places are hallowed grounds and even though I feel something sacred in those places, for whatever reason Flight 93 site just affected me differently.

The Visitors Center and the remaining memorial is meant to replicate the final path the plane took. From below near the wall of names, the Visitors Center looks ominous, though not in a bad way. The walls start high and as they reach the hillside facing the crash site they fade into smaller walls, again recognizing the descent of the plane. Then you have the wall of names, white marble pillars, one for each passenger. And finally, the boulder – the final resting place of those passengers. The grassy field is even cut to match the path that starts at the Visitors Center. I’m not explaining it properly and one really needs to see it to understand but the whole image of all of this from down at the crash site, well, it caught my breath.

I was pretty much silent during that time in the Visitors Center and down at the crash site. I don’t know why this affected me so much and I can only imagine what visiting the 9/11 Memorial in NYC will do to me. The Visitors Center has recordings of the final calls made to loved ones by the passengers you can listen to. I skipped it as it was a bit too real. The moment I saw the wall of pictures, well, Mom was crying and I was about there myself.

I don’t know if visiting the Flight 93 memorial site made 9/11 a bit more real for me and if that’s why I had a hard time with it. Or if it’s because it is still so real. I mean, 15 years ago this happened. Granted it’s not that recent but it’s something that unlike the first Iraq war or the Berlin wall, I remember vividly. I remember the Berlin wall coming down and the first Iraq war but 9/11 is different.

My God moment from the entire vacation was at the Flight 93 memorial. God was there at Gettysburg and other places obviously. I blogged about some of that. But walking that path of the crash site, the original markers of where the FBI had roped off, I felt God. Perhaps that is what I felt? Perhaps that’s why I felt the way I did that afternoon, quiet, somber and contemplative?

As I walked I prayed. I thought about the youth at church, how many will never know a pre-9/11 world. A world that didn’t include fear and hate and terror. Something changed that day in September 15 years ago and perhaps what I also felt at that memorial was a loss of innocence, a loss of what the world was at that moment.

Whatever it was that made me feel the way I did, I can honestly say God was there. Heck, I took offense to some people touching the memorials other visitors had left on the wall. This is a cemetery people, a memorial and final resting place for that flight. I took offense at the gift shop, pawning off this tragic event to make some money. And then I reminded myself I do the same thing at Gettysburg and Valley Forge and other places.

As we drove to lunch, I thought have we all become numb to 9/11? Have we forgotten and now it’s just tourist sites, just some other memorial or historical marker for a tragic event in our nation’s history? Have we forgotten to remember those people and recognize God in that place? I don’t have answers and I can only say that visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial will forever stay with me.

Dear God, may all of our fallen heroes – recent and in the past, from wars or tragedies, from a regular life to fighting back against evil and hate, whether still alive or resting with you – may they all find peace. Amen.

 

Friday 5: This Week

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Gettysburg National Cemetery

Vacation is coming to an end. Boo! However, it has been fun. So much fun in fact, I forgot to blog the other day. Ah, well…

Since it’s Friday and since I head back to the real world in a few short days, this week’s edition of the Friday 5 is Vacation – the sights and sounds and good times.

So, in no particular order…

God’s Awesomeness: On the way from Gettysburg to Virginia the other night we ran into some major storms. Rain was coming down in sheets and went sideways. Visibility was down to nothing but the flashing lights in front of us. I had never seen it rain like that. To top it off it was night on some back road of Virginia, windy and dark. Because of this, the lightening show was amazing. If there was ever a moment of being in awe of God’s awesome power, that was it.

Back in Time: I think by now we all know I love history. This week I have stepped back in time to colonial times with the men who drafted our country’s independence. Or where the army trained during the Revolution. Or walked up the same steps George Washington and used the same original hand rail! Or stepped onto hallowed ground where soldiers fought and died. Or walked into homes dating back to the beginning of our country. There is something sacred about history.

Monticello: The home of Thomas Jefferson is Monticello and means little mountain. And literally sits on a little mountain. The overlook is breathtaking. The grounds at Monticello are incredible full of gardens, trees, and is seriously a place stuck in time.  Because of Jefferson’s records, the folks at Monticello are preserving that little mountain as it once stood over 200 years ago.

Gettysburg: Our tour guide asked us why we decided to come to Gettysburg and I honestly didn’t have an answer. It’s my favorite battle of the Civil War. The town is old and has this juxtaposition of new amongst the old. We had dinner at a tavern in the basement of a house that dates back to the mid-1700s and by candlelight I sipped my Diet Coke. How’s that for mixing the old with the new? There’s something sacred about Gettysburg that I can’t quite put my finger on. Is it how it was a turning point in the Civil War or the massive amount of loss of life? Why do I keep coming back?

Cemeteries: This trip I have been to a few cemeteries. Our ghost walk in Philly took us into one and by a few. Then at Gettysburg I hiked up the temporary path into the national cemetery. It was hot and humid and I was adamant to see the cemetery again. The fallen at Gettysburg were all relocated to this place and then Lincoln gave his famous 2.5 minute speech that began with “Four score and seven years ago…” As I walked the path I listened to the quite, the sound of the cicadas. I prayed and took pictures. The whole town of Gettysburg is hallowed ground but this spot is even more sacred. I walked among the rows of tombstones and made my way over to the headstones, where some have names. Some say Unknown and a number. If there was ever a moment that I felt God’s presence the most on this trip, it was in that place. No words can describe my affection for Gettysburg.

There you have it. Friday 5 of vacation. It’s been real and going back to work is going to be difficult. But finding God in and amongst the tours and places I’ve visited this week has been incredible.

Sabbath Monday: Missed Call?

wp-1471311078374.jpgI’ve often wondered what life would have been like if I hadn’t gone into ministry.

Would I be the teacher I dreamed about as a child? Or that brief period of being a rock journalist after I saw Almost Famous. Oh to interview Bono or Eddie Vedder or Dave Grohl! Sigh…

Instead I graduated with a degree in history, with aspirations to possibly work at a National Park as a park ranger, specifically at a place like Gettysburg or Valley Forge. And then of course that changed and I went to seminary. Honestly, I haven’t looked back. I struggled with my call to ministry but I wouldn’t change the decision for the world.

However, when I come to places like Valley Forge or Gettysburg I wonder what might have been. Could I be that park ranger, spouting off historical facts during a tour? Yeah, probably since when I’m on a tour I can answer the question long before anyone else. Or perhaps I’m some other type of tour guide. Mom even said today that I missed my calling. Perhaps I did.

I do wish to do more with my history side. At this point I have no idea what that would mean. I would love to take on a family history and genealogy project but projects require time, which is limited for me if I wish to stay sane. Who knows? Perhaps one day.

Call is important and I don’t look back on my decision to go into ministry. I love what I do. I love going into the church office and coming home at night to read about history or travel to historical sites or whatever.

God calls each of us to use our gifts to the highest potential. Whether it’s ministry, nursing, teaching, journalism, or stay at home parent. Or singing or running or being creative. Whatever our gifts are my prayer is that all of us use those gifts and are affirmed by the things we do and the people around us.

Sunday Round-Up: A Mighty Wind

Independence Hall

Independence Hall

I did a lot today. Vacation will do that, if you’re one to do sightseeing instead of sitting on a beach. Give me a history tour over the beach any day and I’ll be the happiest of campers.

Remember my Dear Readers, I’m a history person. I’m a professed nerd and I proudly wear that badge like an athlete wears a gold medal. This vacation is all about the history and if there was ever such a thing as geek heaven, I’m currently in it.

First off this morning was Fort Mifflin, an old fort from the 1770s and used during the Revolutionary War. At one point we walked into a tunnel area, all brick and uneven pavement, that was soldier quarters or ammunition storage. I got a bit claustrophobic going in some of those darker places. Then I climbed the stairs up to stand on top of the wall, where soldiers and cannons once stood. And ok, I got a bit scared. Those stairs were steep and wood and moved. However, I did something I had never done before, which is all that matters. I stood on top of the wall of the fort and looked out at the Delaware River and it was amazing.

Then we did historic Philly with the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. I’ve done those before but this seemed different, or perhaps they seemed different because it’s been about 15 years since I was last here.  It’s amazing to stand in places historic important people once stood. To stand where the great thinkers of our nation brought together hope for a new country. And I got to see the actual chair George Washington sat in during the writing of the Constitution. Eekk!

Finally this evening was a ghost tour through parts of the historic Philly. We walked past historic churches and graveyards, hearing ghostly tales. Even though the sun went down it was still humid and hot. Then all of a sudden the wind came up, like major wind or a mighty wind, something that felt almost like Pentecost. The wind felt glorious. The lightening that was in the distance wasn’t all that great but for that moment, the wind rocked.

It’s amazing where we see God. Everyone experiences God in different ways and at different times. I see God in a lot of things I do, from daily things to time warping back in time. However, today I felt God again in the sweat that dripped down my back and gathered on my brow. However, I felt God the most standing in the park next to Independence Hall this evening and feeling that wind come up, sort of cooling off the night. In that moment, God was a bit closer amidst history, sightseeing and relaxation. And it was glorious.

 

 

 

 

Friday 5: Finally

National Parks here I come!

National Parks here I come!

This has been a long week. Between church stuff and random stuff that needed to get done, this week seemed to take the longest. Why? Because as of 15 minutes ago, I’m on vacation. Naturally my week would include drama of all sorts and also move like a snail.  But the week doesn’t matter…I’m headed out of town with no thought of work for the next week.

My week included:

Late nights – I know there’s an article floating around about a recent study that says night owls, the messy and those who swear a lot are more intelligent. I’m all 3 (and yes, I swear. Pastors can swear.) This week was no wonder. I was up late, cleaning, paying bills, or coloring. I had stuff to get done before vacation and the coloring came about because my foot was half way out the door all week. I needed a break.

Evening packing food – A church outing at Feed My Starving Children earlier this evening. An intergenerational outing to be exact. Granted my mind was on packing and all the clothes that had sprung loose on my bed, but there was something Godly the moment 3 older people, myself and 4 youth taking up a whole packing station. Everyone worked together and had fun.

Patience – It’s that moment when you’ve simply had enough of whatever – someone, something, I was to that point, probably went over the edge but it needed to be done and said.

Celebs – I finished reading Drew Barrymore’s book, Wildflower, earlier this week. It’s a series of stories, about her life, lessons she’s learned, experiences she’s had. There’s no holier than thou, I’m a celebrity act. It’s Drew and get this – she’s real. Like she’s struggled with the same things I have and probably you have. It’s lessons on friendship and love and children and growing up and crappy parents and etc… Ok, so maybe some of her experiences are not the same as mine, however, I see and share her humanness in those experiences. I love when celebrities do that – simply be real. Perhaps it’s because I’m a pastor that I get that. Pastors aren’t allowed to be human, make mistakes, swear. Celebs are like that too in a way. If they screw up, everyone hears about it. They aren’t allowed to go without makeup or see a therapist. Thank you Drew for being honest and real.

Vacation – Need I really explain any further? I’m headed to Pennsylvania and Virginia to some of my favorite places. It’s a history tour. And because I’m single and have yet to figure out who to travel alone that doesn’t involve visiting friends, I’m going with my parents, who allow me to go off on my own and who share this desire to enjoy house tours and the Gettysburg battlefield yet again.

Thank you Week for being good and yet bad and for finally bringing me to what I’ve been waiting for…Vacation!