Horrors and Sacred Cookies

I started to write the last night. I had thoughts in mind, things stirring in my heart, but no time to get them down on paper.

I planned to sit today and enjoy a cup of coffee, giving time and space to these thoughts and grabbing a chance to write here on the blog again.

Then I woke and heard the news this morning. 


Heartbreaking, overwhelming news
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 I thought about what had sparked my desire to return to writing.

A cookie. 

Yep.

And then I realized what I wanted to write last night was exactly what I needed to write this morning. 

That cookie, and my eating it, is a sacred act.

You see, I ate that cookie to hold a memory my mother cannot hold any more. The memory that she loved macadamia nut cookies. The memory of things that brought delight and a moment of splurge. I could do the same with a Payday candy bar. That cookie is sweet in a deep way…because it holds the reality of a broken world, of a woman who delighted in good things, and memories. 

That’s a lot for a cookie.

We need those sacred moments. Walking through the grocery store and catching sight of something which can bring you up short. Allowing the pain of what is lost, and the delight of what has been, to mingle in the act of eating a cookie. 

That is sacred.

So what does it have to do with today?

Mom’s Dementia, the horror of Las Vegas last night…they force our awareness of the broken state of our world. We know this, of course, but sometimes we are struck forcefully by how fragile we are, and how desperately in need of rescue.

We have to watch in the midst for grace, for humor and for rescue. We have to carry on. (Yes, I’m listening to Rich Mullins at the moment). There will be moments the brokenness is so raw it will break our hearts.

There will be moments we need to weep. Moments we need to see those around us and their pain…and in those moments we need to be so thankful for those we can turn to for comfort and grace.

“The mercy of the world is time. Time does not stop for love, but it does not stop for death and grief, either.” – Wendell Berry

There will be new memories, and there will be another sunrise and another sunset. I like very much, however, what Berry says here:

New grief, when it came, you could feel filling the air. It took up all the room there was. The place itself, the whole place, became a reminder of the absence of the hurt or the dead or the missing one. I don’t believe that grief passes away. It has its time and place forever. More time is added to it; it becomes a story within a story. But grief and grieve alike endure.”

Time helps. 

We carry on. The next sunrise helps us. But then we see something or hear something and our breath is taken away afresh. 

But we will dance again.

We will laugh again.

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” – Buechner

I know…probably the tenth time I have used that quote.  Maybe Buechner can say that because of this…

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be r I g, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev 21:4

So. A cookie and a tragedy and a mother who cannot remember. They are all tied together because of a God who sees, who knows and who will one day set things right. Today, let’s find the sacred around us, let’s comfort those who weep, and let’s carry on. Grace upon grace for those around us today.

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I do not understand…but I hope.

Indeed the Book of Job avowedly only answers mystery with mystery. Job is comforted with riddles; but he is comforted. Herein is indeed a type, in the sense of a prophecy, of things speaking with authority. For when he who doubts can only say, ‘I do not understand,’ it is true that he who knows can only reply or repeat ‘You do not understand.’ And under that rebuke there is always a sudden hope in the heart; and the sense of something that would be worth understanding.  — G.K. Chesterton

 

There has been so much dialog lately about strong women. Worthwhile dialog. Conversation happening between women I consider strong, and women I respect. Underlying all of it I cannot help but think of the woman who instantly comes to mind when I think of a strong woman.

 

Grant me a little grace on this post. I am not in the mood to define for you what strength in a woman should be, or how we should exercise our rights. In this moment, late at night on January 25, I am not interested in marches or or name calling. I am not interested in the vulgarity of a president, or the necessity of standing in solidarity.

 

Right now, I am thinking of a woman standing in her bathrobe just inside the the door of a bus. Remember the old buses with the door that had the handle the driver had to pull to close the door? She was standing just inside and the driver was pulling that handle for all she was worth, trying her best to slam that door on this woman. Didn’t work. Bathrobe. Coffee in hand, and rant about to begin.

 

I don’t remember what this substitute bus driver had done that so ticked off my mom, but it was a doozy. I remember coming home and telling her after the first day about our ride. I remember being upset, and I remember coming out that morning and watching my mother explain things in no uncertain terms. The bus rides were much better the rest of that week.

 

That was my mother. Strong woman.

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I remember so many situations when she walked in a room and filled it with her presence. She was elegant, intelligent and incredibly witty. She had a flair and charisma that drew people to her and a generosity of spirit and kindness which made her friendships last for years.

 

She had a wit and a humor that could absolutely leave you rolling on the floor laughing, or stop you in your tracks if you were out of line.

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Today was her 81st birthday.

 

So, why the Chesterton quotation? Because, I do not understand.

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It is not that I think we deserve any great grace or dispensation from a disease, or that because she was strong she should have been spared. It is simply that today is her birthday and it continues to break my heart that she is lost to us in her mind.

 

That the strong woman walks with a shuffle and hums her songs now without a tune, with lyrics made of words strung nonsensically together. She has not known us for some time. We have been on this journey of Dementia for nearly ten years. My brothers and my Dad walk it with an intimacy and strength I admire beyond words, while I watch more from a distance.

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I do not understand why we have to lose her to this dark place in her mind. I do not understand why she does not know her granddaughter carries not only her name, but the set of her jaw when she is determined, and the quickness of her mind and her wit.

 

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I do not understand, and God does not explain. He responds, “You are right, you do not understand.”

 

This is broken, and while it is broken there is still purpose. There is still wonder in the midst of the brokenness, and even here in the midst of this heartbreak, He is present and continues to work.

 

I don’t like it. I wish she could come to the phone and hear us wish her a happy birthday. I wish she could know. But still, I know that there is hope. I lean in on days like today and long for heaven. I long for the healing of the One who can make all things whole. The One who can make all things right, and Who can bring rest in the midst of all this chaos.

 

I remember late on Monday night I think it was, maybe Tuesday nights, listening to the tapping of the typewriter. Mom was the teacher for BibleStudy Fellowship in our city, and she would be typing her lecture.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap….and then that Whhhiiiirrr, SNAP! as she hit return.

 

Late at night, thoughts flowing. I inherited that from her, along with her strength and few other things. The setting of my jaw, for instance, when I’m really ticked off.

 

It’s almost midnight, but I will get this post in before your birthday is done. We need to hear about hope in these days. We need to be reminded…that even though we don’t understand, there is reason to trust and to hope. Not in man, but in God who has time and again proved Himself faithful. It is not easy, and some days we do it through tears, but we hope.

 

Happy 81st, Mom. I trust somehow you knew all the flowers that filled the house were for you.

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“”Let the sea roar, and all that fills it, let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy,”” says David (1 Chron.16:32-33). And shall is the verb of hope. Then death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying. Then shall my eyes behold him and not as a stranger. Then his Kingdom shall come at last and his will shall be done in us and through us and for us. Then the trees of the wood shall sing for joy as already they sing a little even now sometimes when the wind is in them and as underneath their singing our own hearts too already sing a little sometimes at this holy hope we have.

The past and the future. Memory and expectation. Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for him whose face we all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, whose life we all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived, have maybe even had moments of living it ourselves. Remember him who himself remembers us as he promised to remember the thief who died beside him. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping. Praise him.” -Buechner

Lessons Learned from Sending the Boy to Camp. Stop the Chatter.

“Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you . . . remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business . . . even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought . . . unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy . . . What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter . . . ”

Frederick Buechner

Last week the middle boy went to camp. The first time he has been away from us that long…five nights.

We immediately felt his absence when we drove away from the camp, leaving him in a cabin of rowdy boys and wondering what the week would hold.

I remember going to camp, I remember that uncertain feeling and also the excitement. The meals, the laughter, the games. The deep emotional talks.  What would his experience be?

The difference between when I went to camp and now is this: constant updates.

We watched the camp’s FaceBook page and Instagram religiously. They posted hundreds of pictures. Daily. 998 pictures by the end.

We saw our boy in 18 pictures. He is actually in 28 by the end…but that includes the cabin group photos and things from the last day.

18 pictures. 

He is smiling in exactly 4. 

Mostly he is standing with his arms folded and that look of concern. Instantly identifiable, and instantly bringing back all those moments I felt insecure in group situations. You know, like last month or last year or thirty years ago. We all know that feeling.

The husband and I were praying fervently. Speculating. Wondering if we should text and ask the youth leader if he was okay. Hoping for a picture of him with his arm around a buddy. Finally, the last night I had a headache and came downstairs at 1am. New pictures were loaded and there was one with him arms around his cabin mates at the worship time.

Thank you, Lord. He is not alone, he is not completely miserable.

I did text the youth leader who told me the boy had been quiet, but didn’t seem upset. Quiet is unusual for this one.

So, we continued to speculate. The brothers were pretty convinced along with us that the week had been a let down. We all wondered what we would hear when we went to pick him up.

Can you guess?

Yep, he had a great time. Not phenomenal, and there were moments of homesickness…but he wants to go back next year. I showed him the pictures and he laughed. He kept pointing out pictures of laughter and group activities where he was just out of the frame. We just couldn’t quite see the whole picture. Our vision was narrowed and limited and we ran with only what we could see.

We fervently wanted to protect and manage his life. We prayed, but we prayed with advice to God. We chattered continually about the situation, and our chatter went along the lines of all the things that could be wrong.

Did you read the quotation from Buechner above? Here, I’ll post it again:

“Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you . . . remember that the lives of others are not your business. They are their business. They are God’s business . . . even your own life is not your business. It also is God’s business. Leave it to God. It is an astonishing thought. It can become a life-transforming thought . . . unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy . . . What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter . . . ”

We have to remember that God sees the whole picture. He knows the whole story, and we can trust that. Our vision is limited, and it is not good to make continual judgments based on limited understanding.

Even of our own lives.

So, stop the chatter for awhile today. Stop running and questioning and determining the hundred outcomes you think will happen.

Be still and know that He is God.

It takes some time, it takes practice…discipline. Still ourselves and quiet our chatter. Realize the astonishing thought that our lives are God’s business. There is rest in that thought.

A Little Hard Work is Required.

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This is the face of a little girl in a little pain, and a little frustration. This is the face of a little girl after her first swim lesson.

 

The lesson ended in tears and the exclamation that she never wanted to swim again.

 

“They made me put my face in the water. I had water in my nose and I couldn’t keep it out.”

Despair.

 

And the toes. Do you remember when you were little and swam and scraped your toes on the bottom of the pool? Do you remember those little sores, the little raw circles on the bottom of your toes?

 

Yep. All ten toes now have waterproof bandaids.

 

As we walked away from the lesson, tears still dripping down her cheeks, I told her,

 

“Sometimes we have to do a little hard work and something not too fun so we can have lots of fun in the end.”

 

She’s almost four. She has no idea what I mean…not really.

 

I meant it, though, even in the simplicity of swimming lessons. This life of ours requires discipline, it requires sacrifice and it requires some not too fun things all done with the hope of success and growth.

 

Sometimes we have to set aside the fun activity to complete the necessary activity. In the end the things that are not as fun can give us room for other things: taking care of the household chores leaves us a space where we can relax and rest, taking the time for study enriches our brains and sets the stage for creativity and imagination and curiosity.

 

Sometimes we have to put to death our flesh in order to see the Spirit come alive.

 

Sometimes we have to do the hard work before we see the growth.

 

But, to be honest, there are days (weeks? months? years?) where it feels as though everything is the hard work and nothing is enjoyment or growth. That is when we have to listen well; we have to pay attention.

 

 

“Listen to your life. Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks . . . It’s in language that’s not always easy to decipher, but it’s there, powerfully, memorably, unforgettably.”

Frederick Buechner

Even today. Even in the difficult times and the joyful times…God is speaking.

Even when we give advice to four year olds when we really are talking to ourselves.

The next day? She jumped in the water and came up laughing. She was the first one in line for the slide, even though it meant going deep under the water for her. She came up with joy and had already forgotten the tears. After the second day the exclamation was, “When can we do this again!”

Losing children, resting in hope.

Honestly, we are pretty diligent about watching our kids. I mean, genuinely, we for the most part know where they are and we are paying attention to what they are doing.

 

We are engaged with them and watching…but sometimes, well, sometimes we just feel comfortable and we get a little lazy.

 

We go to church in an old Catholic School building. We meet upstairs, then we go down to the basement level to pick up Sammy. We usually end up talking in the hallway with other parents while the kids literally run up and down the hallway, playing hide-and-seek with a little notch that sticks out. Sometimes they run around a little corner where there is a stairwell. The room at the end of the hall is a meeting room for the church, which opens onto the parking lot, but the kids never go in there…they just run back and forth.

 

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Except, of course, this one time.

 

When we were comfortably talking away, and I suddenly realized I had not seen Maddie. I wasn’t sure how long it had been.

 

I walked down to see where she had been last hiding, and she wasn’t there.

 

Not around the corner in the stairwell.

 

Not in the meeting room. I talked to the person who was ushering in that room, and he had seen her running around, but had not seen her in a few minutes. We both darted outside and asked the parking attendant…also the youth pastor.

 

Nope.

 

Not panicking yet.

 

Walking back in, I thought back to the drive down to church when I was thinking about Maddie’s hands, and how innocent they are. I thought about how she hugs fiercely and how she constantly tells us she loves us.

 

I thought about how much our world has changed with this little one.

 

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And then I thought about what it would be like to really lose that little one. And panic did ease its way in a little.

 

I heard something though, that brought reality back pretty quickly…the sound of the the guys talking on the parking attendants radio describing Maddie’s dress and telling everyone to find her. And I realized where we were and then I opened the door to the women’s bathroom and found one of my dear friends helping Maddie straighten her dress and open the door to come find me.

 

She had to go to the bathroom and we are just completing potty training. She had been hiding right by the girls bathroom, but the door is a little heavy to open back up.

 

Heart pumping, panic done, radios now relaying the message that all is well. Maddie was a little scared as well, but we were all fine.

 

Still, there was that moment of fear, and that clench of the gut at the awareness that we live in a perilous world and we can never completely relax. Even in the places where we are comfortable.

 

I cannot fathom losing a child. I can only catch the glimpses I have had and they were moments of fear in the midst of a reality of many helping hands and places of safety. (Thanks, Peter and all the gang at church)

 

The world, though, I can fathom as a broken place where we turn around and realize suddenly that something is amiss and it throws us completely off our grounding.  Those are moments we need to know that there is help beyond us. Helping hands and those who can see beyond what we can see. Not just community, but beyond even that.

 

 “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” -Buechner

 

Yes, yes, I know. I have used that quotation of Buechner’s before. I’ll warn you that I will most likely use it again. It is simple and it is true, and more than that it lets us know that we are not alone. More than that, it gives us that glimpse that there is hope, and there is help.

 

Grace.

 

Hope.

 

Mercy.

 

We cannot simply muster these things up from within ourselves. When the need grabs hold of us, when the awareness of our lack gets our attention and we realize we cannot simply manipulate something to be better…the awareness that there is a God who is able and who is willing, brings enormous comfort.

 

That awareness brings us to the God who creates redemption, brings salvation. Brings life.

 

 

Boxes of Stickers

I know I am a few days behind writing about Easter, but, well…life has been crazy. Allergies have not helped.

 

A box came yesterday, though, and brought together some of my thoughts.  Do you remember when I spoke of the Power of the Sugar Cookie? Well, this box was similar.

 

Dad has moved into a new house with Mom. They moved from a two story house into a one story, mainly to guard against falls and trips. The result is also that they have to simplify life. Moves will do that.

 

Boxes must be gone through. Years of treasures must be sorted. Mom was a collector. Yes, I’m being kind.

 

I know that this is not an easy process for Dad, because it is taking a giant highlighter and marking the decay that has happened over the last 5 years. She has no connection to these treasures…and she would have considered them just that. She no longer is possessive of them, when she would have been just a few years ago. She would have guarded them even if she couldn’t quite pinpoint why she needed them. Now she lets them go more easily, because there is no connection.

 

I hate that.

 

I received an enormous box of scarves. Another with purses. Another box with white china cups and plates she used when her Bible study ladies came over. Boxes that come with little glimpses of her personality.


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Mom dressed impeccably. She was, and still is really, gorgeous. Tall and stately. Stylish. Her scarves show how she could pull off all kinds of colors and styles.

 

She was bold.

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Her purses? All kinds. She was full of life.

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Now Dad dresses her and always makes sure she looks just right when she goes out. He makes sure she looks how he knows she would have wanted to look.

 

The last box that came, though…it was such a stark reminder of who she was.

 

A box of stickers.  Hundreds of stickers.

 

I remembered them, and anyone who had known my Mom would have remembered them. They were attached to birthday cards and notes and letters. They were bought with purpose and with thought about each person. And I realized how much Maddie would have been loved by her.

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I realized these stickers would have come attached to birthday cards and notes to the little girl who carries her name. Jane. Madeleine Jane. I can almost picture the notes she would have sent, and the delight she would have had in sending little gifts of coloring books and goodies.

 

What does this have to do with Easter?

Everything.

Watching Mom slowly fade before our eyes, watching her personality change from vibrant colors and bold choices, to greys as she loses more and more of herself…leaves me hungry and aching for healing. Aching for home.

 

Easter was a wonderful celebration. Wonderful music. Wonderful fellowship. Fun decorating eggs. If that was all it was, though…there is little hope in the mourning as we watch the brokenness around us. We need more than some pep talk.

 

Buechner:

“For Paul the Resurrection was no metaphor; it was the power of God. And when he spoke of Jesus as raised from the dead, he meant Jesus alive and at large in the world not as some shimmering ideal of human goodness or the achieving power of hopeful thought but as the very power of life itself. If the life that was in Jesus died on the cross; if the love that was in him came to an end when his heart stopped beating; if the truth that he spoke was no more if no less timeless than the great truths of any time; if all that he had in him to give to the world was a little glimmer of light to make bearable the inexorable approach of endless night – then all was despair.”

 

Opening these boxes and finding each new piece as Dad sorts through Mom’s life, it is another statement of her fading. Another statement that she is a little farther from our grasp. She is physically in our midst, but we continue in this strange limbo of her presence without her personality. I know that I am more of a spectator living a thousand miles from home…and I continue to be amazed at how my Dad cares for her with such strength and kindness.

 

Easter tells us there is more, and that the suffering now will seem as only momentary when we reach home. Easter tells us Good Friday has power.

 

It doesn’t make it light and easy, but there is a foundation to stand upon. There is a strength to be held, and we do not despair. We hope.

 

 


I believe in the holy shores of uncreated light 
I believe there is power in the blood 
And all of the death that ever was, 
If you set it next to life 
I believe it would barely fill a cup 
‘Cause I believe there’s power in the blood ”

Andrew Peterson

 

 

Because of that hope, because that life overcomes death, we are able to live with a joy and a wonder even in the midst of grey and suffering. Even in the midst of sorrow. Because of a Savior who conquered death, because of an Easter that is a reality, I can take a box that signifies the decaying of a mind…and turn it into a celebration of life.

 

These things continue to carry her personality, and although they are just things, they are little glimpses of this woman who helped form who I am. And even though she cannot delight in Maddie…I can delight in Maddie for her. Part of that is watching Maddie enjoy these things that were part of Mom’s life. Like having coffee and crackers on white china, and wrapping up that hair in scarves from the 70’s.

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Resurrection life. The reality of Easter…the Power of Easter, gives us the freedom to embrace this life even in its painful moments, because we hold on lightly to this life. Our true home is one where no tear will fall and no mind will decay. 

 

The Party Wouldn’t Have Been Complete Without You….

There are significant moments in the lives of those we love which call for us to stop and pay attention.

Marriages.

Births.

Deaths.

And 80th Birthdays seem rather appropriate as well. If you have followed this little blog very long you will know it is the time of year for my Dad’s birthday, and this year marks the 80th. He has now lived longer than his father, and has entered yet another decade.

What on earth do you do to celebrate? Well, when you are part of a family that is not terribly crafty, and when there is not really a gift you could give that would be more than a mere gesture…you simply come together.

All of my siblings are in Albuquerque for the present time, and I am the only one no longer living in the home town. So, our “gift” was a surprise dinner, including my flying in from TN just for the dinner.

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Our gift, though is really just recognition of the gift we have received. We have this tremendous blessing of growing up in this family. This legacy is the real gift, and the dinner was just a simple way of recognizing that this is important to us.

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Recognizing that we were blessed to have a rather tremendous man as a Father.

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” -Buechner

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I have written much about my Dad in the past, but it is worth saying again that he inspires us as he cares for Mom. He examples selfless love on a daily basis, but more than that…he has always made us feel special as his children. He has always pushed us to do more with our talents, and to be thankful in the simple things.

He is one of the constants in my life, and along with Mom has created a family that truly enjoys being with one another. We were thankful that Mom was content for nearly three hours as we laughed and told stories. That is a gift in itself…and she was not only content, she seemed to enjoy being with us.

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When I think about memories and about thinking well about our lives, I do turn to Buechner often. He does not fail to have the words I need to express this importance of family…

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” – Buechner

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I would not have missed out on my Dad’s 80th birthday, but the reality is part of the gift he has given us is simply who we are. Hopefully we give that back to him as well. He has given us a foundation to be a family where there is strength and laughter, where stories flow quickly when we are together. He has raised up children who are eager to bless him, and that is part of the gift.  We didn’t have to say that…sometimes flying a few states over makes the point.

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Happy Birthday, Dad.