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Monthly Archives: May 2017

Happy Anniversary!

Two years.

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Launch day, 5/31/2015

Two years ago today, Frank and I left everything behind and drove away from our apartment in Charleston, SC.  I was despondent, wracked with anxiety, and totally unsure as to how long it would be before I would give up and chuck this life into the ocean off Big Sur.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect what what was going to happen next! What has happened.

Since putting Charleston in our rear-view mirror, here’s what’s happened to my Chief Navigator and me – we have:

  • Stayed at 43 campgrounds in 18 states
  • Visited a total of 24 states
  • Put a total of about 34,000 miles on the car
  • Lost two tents to storms
  • Acquired the Nutshell, the teardrop trailer that’s our current home on the road
  • Visited three emergency rooms for diverticulitis, a leg infection, and a crushed finger
  • Returned to Texas for what was feared to be a heart problem and got a clean bill of health
  • Dealt with extreme weather conditions from oppressive heat to freezing cold to floods, thunder, lightning, hail, tornadoes, and hurricane-force winds
  • Had memorable encounters with deer, squirrel, rabbits, ducks, a bobcat, owls, hair-stealing birds, lizards, snakes, armadillo, and an East Texas toad
  • Been mistaken for Santa Claus and a biker named Danny Hoffler
  • Witnessed an untold number of people helping out their fellow man

(Our second tent  in the process of being damaged, December 2015)

Frank had his little escapade as well. While I was in a hospital having a test, he decided he was going to go looking for me and did his best MacGyver impersonation to escape his kennel. He somehow unlocked his crate, climbed a chair and a couple of boxes, pushed out a piece of plywood next to a window air conditioning unit, and escaped through a hole in a fence that none of the other dogs would normally be able to get to. Nearly two days later, he and I were reunited when he miraculously stepped out of some scrub brush and sat down on the side of the road like he was waiting for a bus … just as I happened to be driving down that road, heading back to camp after giving up searching for him that day. Oh yeah, over 12 miles away from the kennel … in the opposite direction from our camp site.  That was just one of the more memorable experiences over the past two years. But that’s not the only miracle we were blessed with.

Along the way, I was also able to shed a lifetime of depression and anxiety. It took a whole lot of writing therapy, prayer, meditation, encouragement and support from friends … and a little sign that stayed on my dashboard for about six months that read simply, “It’s all worked out before. Trust it to work out again.”  I’ve written about a good portion of the process involved in my healing.

Through the blog, we’ve shared each of these experiences with you all, pretty much in real time as they were happening.

We’ve also included a bit of travelog; campground reviews;  and stories about some of the people we’ve encountered, ranging from funny to poignant to downright spiritual! And I’ve appreciated your forbearance as I’ve reflected on a few current events while trying to put them into the perspective of our travels.

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You’re spending  too much time on my laptop, Frank!

Frank’s been a big part of this, too. If you’ve been here from the beginning, then you’re familiar with our daily fights over sleeping accommodations. You know about his penchant for picnic tables, his love for Blood Sweat and Tears and his hatred of emergency sirens (funny how he expresses both love and hate the same way: howling). And you’ve seen the degree of sneakiness he can muster when it comes to grabbing $7 chicken breasts off the camp table when I’m not looking. You even know his picks in the last three NCAA basketball tourneys.

This Vagabond Journey would not be even remotely enjoyable if Frank hadn’t come along for the ride. It wouldn’t have been possible without the loving support of dear friends all along the way, too. And it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fulfilling if it wasn’t for the folks that have been reading along on the blog and sharing their comments with us. I’m so very grateful that we have touched some of your lives in a meaningful way.

It’s nowhere near done, by the way. The road trip, I mean. Any thought of driving off a cliff at Big Sur has long since gone. We haven’t even seen half the country yet! Hell, even after we finish up our planned travels along the west coast next year, there’s still the northern Rockies, the Plains states, and the Great Lakes region that we haven’t come anywhere near. So I hope you continue to follow along on the continuing Adventures of Frank and Jeff.

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Keep on Smilin’

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As mentioned in our last post, Frank and I are staying at Timothy Lake North Campground, right next to the Delaware Water Gap, on the Pennsylvania side. We’ve been here about a week and a half now, and have another week to go before we continue to head north.

It was a little bit crazy over Memorial Day weekend, with a lot of rowdy neighbors. To be honest, I’m proud of myself that I was able to refrain from approaching a couple of them about some of their late night partying. But I was able to let it go.

Frank had a good time. There was a family from New York that camped next to us, with two boys age 9 and 14. Chris and Greg spent almost all their time over here playing with Frank. And he loved every minute of it! They left early Sunday afternoon and Frank spent the next three hours lying under the Nutshell, staring wistfully at the place where their tent had been.

We had a chance to visit with old friends in the area, too. We spent last Thursday morning and afternoon in Pompton Lakes, having lunch with some dear classmates from long ago. We have more visits on tap between now and when we leave next Wednesday.

About the only downside has been the weather. It just isn’t cooperating! Today is the first day since shortly after we arrived that we haven’t had to deal with rain and cold temps. I sort of thought by now that we’d at least be out of the cold. I know from our experiences over the last 2 years that we’re not going to escape rain. But the cold? Give me a freakin’ break! I’m close to becoming a climate change denier. Where’s this global warming everyone keeps talking about?  : o)

That’s it for now. Frank and I will touch back in before we head out to Lake George, NY, our next stop. I cannot pbelieve how fast this year has gone by.

 

And I’ve come to roam the forest past the village
With a dozen lazy horses and my cart
I’ve come here to get high
To do more than just get by
I’ve come to test the timbre of my heart
Oh, I’ve come to test the timber of my heart

And I’ve come to be untroubled in my seeking
And I’ve come to see that nothin is for naught
I’ve come to reach out blind
To reach forward and behind
For the more I seek, the more I’m sought
Yeah, the more I seek, the more I’m sought

Joe Pugg, Hymn 101

 

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Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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Pennsylvania, Round Two

When we made our last post, Frank and I were about to head into Pennsylvania. We’ve actually moved on to our second campground in the Keystone State. We are now at the Timothy Lake North RV campground, on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Water Gap.

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Our setup at Timothy Lake North RV Campground

This wasn’t quite where we intended to be. We had reservations at the other Thousand Trails campground on Timothy Lake. But when we got there, it seemed that none of the sites were really going to work for our little setup. They were more geared towards bigger RVs, long and narrow. They were so narrow in fact,  that we would have had a hard time setting up the canopy while leaving enough room to walk around it without stepping out into bushes in overgrowth. Fortunately, the staff was really cool and when I told them about my concern, they suggested I try the other campground located just a mile or so up the road.  if we found a site up there that we liked,  we could simply switch her reservation without any impact on our departure date.

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Our view of the sunset through the woods

Sure enough, we found a great site at the top of a hill … a corner site where two roads intersect. We’ve got plenty of room here and we were able to set things up where, instead of looking at other RVs, we’re looking at woods.

Woods. I love them! And I’m not talking about forestland. Unless you have spent time in the Northeast, you and I probably have a different idea of what that word represents. There’s something different about the woods where I grew up compared to other places I’ve lived like Texas, Colorado, or California.

There aren’t a lot of pine trees like in the west, nor is there a lot of scrub like what you see in the south. It was a conglomeration of oak and tulip trees, maple and birch.  You can pick your way through the woods without feeling pressed in, like I sometimes felt walking through coastal redwood forests where I used to camp in California or the pine forests in Colorado. There’s an open canopy that lets light through, but it’s more dense and higher than woodlands I’ve seen in the Texas.

When I was growing up in New Jersey, I lived in two towns that had woods. In Waldwick, where we lived until I was halfway through second grade, our house was surrounded by them until builders started to develop the neighborhood. And in Pompton Lakes, the whole southern edge of town was woods until developers came in and tore them down, too.

I used to enjoy them quite a bit as a kid. They provided an escape. I could walk back in the woods and before you knew it, it was if I had left everything behind. In Waldwick, I could take 100 steps out my backdoor and I wouldn’t even be able to see our house! In retrospect, everything seems bigger when you’re a kid, so going “deep into the woods” was probably the equivalent of walking a couple of blocks. But that didn’t matter. Perspective, right?

In Pompton Lakes, there were woods a half block away from the house. All you had to do was walk to the end of the block, cut through the side yards of a couple of neighbors and there you were. They stretched all the way along the river and ended across the street from my elementary school.

There was a path ride along the river that we sometimes took as a shortcut to school, but I used to like to get off the path and head into the trees. When I was nine or ten, I built a fort back in there. Nothing fancy – I had found a place where there was a stand of trees real close together with a single opening. I found some big limbs that still had leaves on them and propped them up to form a sort of door. And once I got in there, people could … and did … walk right by me and without knowing I was there.

I used that fort many times as an escape. Especially when my father was on one of his whiskey binges, or just in one of his moods, where I knew that if I hung around, it would just be a matter of time before I did something to piss him off and I’d get beaten. I’d take comics or Hardy Boy books in there and spend entire afternoons reading. When I wasn’t reading, I would imagine that I was a pioneer and this was my fortress from the Indians. I made a chair out of an old stump and fixed up a table using fallen branches I had gathered.

So I guess I have some romantic attachment to woods. And the couple of times we’ve come to Pennsylvania on this vagabond journey, I think I felt that same sense of familiarity. Of security. Funny how it was last year, sitting riverside at the campground in Lancaster, looking out into the woods across the water, that I finally found a sense of peace.

I think Frank likes it here, too. Whereas most days he spends his time sleeping in the Nutshell, he’s been outside every afternoon since we arrived, even when it’s been sprinkling a bit. His nose is always going. Plus, instead of just sitting in front of me doing his watchguard thing, he’ll test the limit of his lead when it’s not been raining. Sometimes he’s oblivious to me watching him … he’ll go as far as he can, walk around to the other side of the canopy, sit down, and then just start turning his head in all directions. His nose will be up in the air and it’s just going a mile a minute! I’ve taken him on a couple of walks since we arrived … between raindrops. It doesn’t matter where we are, we just don’t seem to be able to escape rain!

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Gettysburg Farm RV Campground

Frank had a closing counter with nature at our last stop, Gettysburg Farm RV campground in Dover, PA, about 25 minutes north of the battlefield. We were only there for 5 days – it was a timing thing in order to set our reservations up for the summer holidays. Long story – suffice it to say that Thousand Trails has some restrictions on the number of your open holiday reservations at any one time, and the 5-day stopover solved a problem I thought I was going to have between Memorial Day and the 4th of July. As it turns out, the problem went away when I accepted an invitation from Michael, another Thousand Trails camper who we met in Florida. I’ve mentioned before. He spends his summers in New Hampshire and we’ll be staying with him for a few days over the 4th of July holiday.

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Gettysburg Farm, where city kids can spend Summer vacationworking their asses off! LOL

Nevertheless, I’m glad we stopped at Gettysburg Farm. It’s an actual farm, where kids get to work with animals during the summer. We had a really nice campsite there, too. It was more open than where we’re at now, but we still had plenty of trees around us. Plus we had some really great neighbors. There were some nice visits with a number of folks that would stop by. I’m not sure if the draw is the Nutshell, which stands out as being unique amongst all the big RVs; Frank, who charms everyone wherever he goes; or the sight of the old guy with the beard relaxing in his camp chair with his four-legged companion sitting on his lap. The beard is gone by the way. I had it shaved at a barber shop while I was there. I have to admit that I’m not wild about how I look clean shaven. But I’m pretty sure it’s the right thing to do going into the Summer heat and humidity. Besides, it’ll be back at full length by the time Fall rolls around.

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Yep … sans my beard of 2 1/2 years

Anyhow, back to Frank and his Close Encounter of the Nature Kind …

The Nutshell was set up right underneath a tree at Gettysburg Farm. And an owl decided that tree was an ideal place from which to signal his friends. And with his first screech, around 8 pm on our second night there, Frank lunged out of the Nutshell’s cabin and with one bound was at the end of his lead, looking all around. It was the exact same reaction he had to the emergency signals we heard from NAS Oceana while at First Landing State Park in Virginia. Only this time, the screech had stopped by the time he was out there to look.

I have to say it’s the best 4-legged Vincent LaGuardia Gambini impersonation I have ever seen! Frank came back and jumped up on my lap with a look that screamed, “What the f**k was THAT!?!?!?” The only things that were missing was a woof with a Brooklyn accent and a pistol in his right paw!

Then the owl went off again. And Frank nearly did a somersault trying to vault off my lap. He couldn’t get out there fast enough! And it went on two more times. It was almost as if the owl was telling his buddies, “Hey, watch what I can do to this four-legged thing on the ground!”

Frank finally camped out under the tree, realizing that the sound was coming from somewhere above him. And as soon as he heard it … and saw where it was coming from … he started howling!

We didn’t hear the owl after that. I hollered out to Frank, “Way to go, buddy! You scared that thing off. Good dog!”

And with that, Frank came running back and jumped up on my lap, grinning and feeling like he was every bit the hot shit he thinks he is. I couldn’t help but laugh and every time I did, Frank would turn around and start licking my face. Pretty funny. I think that’s the happiest I’ve seen him since that day at Flagler Beach when he had such a good time playing in the surf.

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Flagler Beach, FL back in March …  I love this photo of French so much that I had to share it again!

I take that back. Frank had a really good time a couple of nights later. I got a call from Rena, a friend we made through the Teardrop Camper Group on Facebook. She lives in Delaware and came out to visit us last year when we were camped in Lancaster. Anyhow, the Tearjerker chapters from Pennsylvania and Maryland were holding a joint get together at a state park about 30 minutes away from where we were camping. Rena was attending and invited the two of us over for the Saturday evening potluck. It was our chance to meet the new addition to her family – Tucker, a cute little 1 year old puppy.

Frank and Tucker got along great! Tucker would stand on his back legs and put his front paws on Frank’s shoulders. Frank would then get down on his belly and do a quick roll to throw Tucker off. And they did that over and over. He loves being around dogs that are close to his size. There were two other beagles at the potluck, too, so Frank had quite the little get together. And I had a chance to visit with Rena again while making some new friends. Good times, all around.

Up here it Timothy Lake, I had my own close encounter with nature. Well, not quite so close, but it was close enough as far as I was concerned. I’ve gotten up a little earlier than usual the last two mornings – about 4:30, where I normally get up between 5:00 and 5:15. And this whippoorwill was going at it non-stop. I mean he was making what seemed like 50 calls a minute, nonstop for over an hour and a half. I had to delay my meditation time both mornings because he was so intrusive. Being one with nature is one thing. But this? I posted on my Facebook wall …

“I’m pretty close to finding out what Whippoorwill stew taste like!”

Imagine 5,000 of these calls in a row. I kid you not!

That’s it for now. Later this morning, we’re driving into Pompton Lakes to have lunch with a few old friends from high school, before which I’ll stop by the school and make a small cast donation to a scholarship fund that was set up in the name of one of our classmates, who passed away suddenly a few months ago. Sam returned to Pompton after graduating from college and became a beloved English teacher. He was one of the good guys. And while I don’t have a lot, I want to at least give something of what I do have as a way of remembering him.


One last thing – you all have touched me very deeply over the last week or so. We received an outpouring of comments, private messages, and Facebook posts, expressing appreciation for the last blog entry “The Prison Sentence.” I am so very grateful to have been able to share something that was so well-received. I know you all have been entertained by our stories from the road, and that gladdens me to no end. But they’re just stories …  it’s an entirely different thing to have offered something that helped others as they bring themselves back from the pit of depression and guilt. It means that something good came out of the suffering that I’ve had to endure during my lifetime. That’s a blessing I wasn’t expecting. And it means more than I can adequately express in words. Thank you for that.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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The Prison Sentence

It’s been a long while since I’ve specifically talked about why Frank and I live the vagabond lifestyle today. I had a recent conversation with someone though, and felt it might be good to talk about it. Besides, I’ve been tagging my blog posts with phrases like “depression”, “anxiety”, “PTSD”, and the like. And continue to do so despite the fact that a lot of recent posts either don’t address those subjects anymore or only address them in passing.  

I’ve pictured some people who come to the blog via one of those particular tags and start thinking, “What the hell?”

Sure, they could go to the original “About” page and learn about the symptoms I had when I started this blog, and some of what was going on back then. But unless they were to go back and read through earlier posts, there hasn’t been much here lately to directly address those subjects.

I have been a long time sufferer from what was diagnosed as complex-PTSD, the result of more than a decade of horrible physical and mental abuse as a child. The primary symptoms I experienced were depression and anxiety. They manifested themselves in many ways, such as: low self-esteem; overeating; an inability to open up and trust others, especially in relationships; a belief that I was an imposter at work, combined with a fear of failure; OCD things, like having to go back and check lights to make sure they were turned off (sometimes locking and unlocking my office door as many as 10 times before I could leave); the need for the more than occasional thrill, whether it was speeding, unnecessary risk taking, or cocaine abuse; nightmares and night-time sweats; and suicide ideation. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I probably spent 4-5 years where I woke up every day wondering if that was the day I was going to “do it”.

The one symptom that I’d like to address, though, is guilt. It’s not one of the things you necessarily think about when it comes to PTSD, but if you’re like me, it manifests itself in a significant way.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life feeling overwhelming guilt. I think it comes about because when you’re abused as a kid, you tend to think of it as being your fault. I know I did. I’m a pretty smart guy, and I was a pretty smart kid, too. So when one gets beaten for something they did, you would think the intelligent thing to do when facing the same situation again, is to do exactly the opposite, right? Well, that’s what I’d do. The problem though, was that it didn’t work!

Here’s a tiny example. You start getting yelled at, so you try to explain yourself. What happens? You get beaten for talking back.  So the next time you’re getting yelled at, you logically think that the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut. Only this time, you get hit because you were supposed to reply.

If that happens enough times, it can pull a real mind fuck on you! After a while, when you start feeling like it doesn’t matter what you do. You start to believe that it’s your fault. You shut down. And when there is no positive reinforcement to counter the negative, you begin to feel worthless.

It’s one thing to feel that as a kid, but it reinforces the same thinking as an adult, with dire results. Your first reactions to bad situations are affected. You stay in bad relationships longer than you should. You stay at bad jobs long after other people would quit. You question your own  decisions  constantly. And you live under constant stress because whenever something goes wrong, your first reaction is to feel responsible. Whether you are or not!

That’s not to say I don’t have things I’ve done for which I should feel guilt or responsibility. Everybody does. But when you feel that way about everything, it’s hard to separate out the justifiable ones from the noise. And you carry the burden with you much longer than you should, justified or not.

Anyhow, guilt was probably the hardest thing for me to overcome. It was certainly the last major symptom I had to deal with to get to where I’m at today.

It was something I used to talk about a lot with my buddy Larry. He would do his damnedest to get me to see that I needed to let go of things. And that was regardless of whether the “thing” was or wasn’t my fault, or perhaps was only partially my responsibility. And I spent the vast majority of those conversations arguing against myself.

We were in another of those discussions early last spring. It was about something that is very personal to me. When I started the blog. I made the decision that I wouldn’t talk about it. Maybe someday, but not now. But it’s something for which I have felt almost unbearable guilt for a long time. I’ll just say it involves a family relationship with an extremely bad outcome, and leave it at that.

For whatever reason, Larry took a different tact during this particular conversation.

“Okay. Let’s say that it’s your responsibility. What type of sentence do you want to give yourself?” I didn’t understand what he meant, so he went on.

“People commit crimes, they get sentenced to jail. But when a court hands down a sentence, that’s it. They serve their time and are then released. They are considered to have ‘served their debt to society’.

Sometimes they get out early for good behavior, sometimes they’re placed on parole. But there’s an end to it. It doesn’t change what they did. It doesn’t change the past. But they get to move on with their life. Their life changes as a result of what happened, obviously. But they get to move on the best that they can.

Now I know that you believe in justice, Jeff. You care about people not being treated harshly. You believe In fairness. You’ve been the judge, jury, and prosecutor here. So what type of sentence do you want to give yourself? Be fair now. And after that, are you willing to accept that once it’s over, you can let yourself out of the prison that you’ve put yourself in?”

You know, that reached me! For the first time in my adult life, I had something to consider that took the emphasis away from guilt and put it on something else. I don’t remember what I said to Larry at that point, except that I would consider what he said. But this was a way I hadn’t looked at things before and I needed to think about it more.

That little talk occupied my thoughts for at least the next couple of weeks. To be honest, a part of me did everything it could to tear that argument apart. But it couldn’t. The simple fact is that it just made sense no matter how I looked at.

It no longer mattered whether I was guilty or not. My conscience was the jury and had already convicted me. Whether it was fair … or not … was also no longer an issue.  The verdict had been rendered and was in. But now, the Court was back in session – this time to deliberate on the sentence.

How much longer was I going to hold myself in jail? My self-imposed guilt had lasted for almost 20 years. Murderers had been released in less time! So with that in mind, the Court came to a decision. The sentence would be … time served.

Nothing really changed. Like I said before, the past is the past. What happened, happened. But in the mind of “the Court”, I could now go on. I’m still living the consequences of my sentence, of course. While I was in “jail”, I lost a relationship that meant the world to me. I lost a job. And all of the property and material things I had accumulated were gone.

But I was free to move on. And make the best out of the life I have remaining.

The conversation stayed with me. Over the next couple of months, I thought about it less and less. But it  was definitely still in the back of my mind as I went on and made plans for the rest of 2016.

In late May, Frank and I were camped next to a river in Lancaster, PA.  Since that conversation with Larry and the ensuing two weeks, we had gone through a whirlwind of activity. We had travelled from Texas to California and back, picking up the Nutshell. Spent a month visiting friends in Dallas. Gone up to Colorado to see more friends and then back across more than half the country to Lancaster. And it was the first time in a long while where we really had time to stop and relax.

Anyhow, I was up early doing my morning meditation and prayer as usual. I typically get up before dawn. I like to watch the beginnings of the day – how the world gradually comes alive as the sun rises. And sitting there looking at that slowly flowing river as first light appeared, I realized that I was at peace. Letting it sink in for a while, it “dawned” on me that I hadn’t felt that way in my entire adult life. But there was no mistaking it. I felt totally at peace.

The thought then came about how  I almost served a death sentence.  How  I was ready to do myself in before starting out a year earlier.  Hell,  I was still looking at eventual suicide as  the likely outcome  when I drove away from Charleston in May 2015. But that expectation had totally left me now. And I broke down in tears.

In the year that’s gone by since that morning, I can honestly say that peace has never left me. Sure there have been some things I’ve had to deal with that have caused anxiety. But the anxiety has been event-specific, and that sense of peace has remained throughout … as each of those anxiety-provoking things were handled, the peace returned.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had a conversation that spurred me to write about this. When I was at the Tearjerkers event at First Landing State Park the weekend after Easter, I met a fellow named Kenny.  He had arrived in a 50 year old camper that he had restored and stopped by to visit a few times over the weekend.

Kenny is a substance abuse counselor at a VA Hospital in West Virginia. He had shared a little about his life before embarking on that career, and how it had helped him in dealing with some of the vets he was now working with. And for whatever reason, I felt moved to share my “courtroom” story with him.

It moved Kenny, too. He said it was something he had never heard put quite that way, and that he knew of guys he’d seen who would definitely benefit from that perspective. He then said that if I didn’t mind, he wanted to borrow it to use in his counseling. He even said he intended to share it with other counselors, he liked it so much!

Of course I told him that he was free to use it! After all, it wasn’t mine to begin with, that it came from a friend. Kenny, if you happen to be reading this, I hope that the analogy has been put to good use since we last saw each other a few weeks ago.

Some people believe that you’re here on Earth for one particular purpose. I remember seeing a friend in Dallas last April. I had worked for her husband at a gas station while in high school. She said something along those lines to me one morning when Frank and I were visiting their home … that I had been kept from suicide because I hadn’t yet done what God had put me on Earth to do.

I don’t know that I believe that. That we’re here for a specific purpose, other than just working out our individual lives. But if that’s the case, a part of me would like to think that my purpose was served by giving Kenny something that he and his fellow counselors will put to good use helping others. Finding peace is something that everybody should do!

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Frank and I head out tomorrow to Pennsylvania. I should put the following in a macro, so I don’t have to keep typing it : “it’s hard to believe it’s already time for us to leave this place.”

Bad weather’s kept us from doing all the sightseeing we wanted to while staying in Williamsburg. We did get to drive down to Jamestown and to Yorktown, but didn’t get to do a lot of exploring because of the rain. Nevertheless, we had a great time here. On to Pennsylvania!

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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