30 May 2017

Soothing Sands

Oh, give me light to live with open eyes.
Oh, give me life to hope above all skies.
- George MacDonald

I am not a beach girl. I cannot even tell you the last time I swam at the beach or spent time during the bright sun hours. However, I cannot deny the relaxing, soothing sounds and colours of the beach at sunset. Soft pastel colours mix in the sky and the sand reflects these muted tones. The waves break upon the shore with calming repetitive traits like ambient music to help you relax and focus. As the light wanes and the sun sinks below the watery horizon, the sky lights up with myriad colours and tones. If there are clouds, they become painted with light.

Since I live inland, a visit to the shoreline is a bit more special since I don't have the opportunity to see it everyday. My favourite time of year to go to the beach here is during the winter season, when it's not hot, but a sunset in the summer season is sure to bring about a soft-hued sky that will make you grab your camera.

A change of scenery filled with salty breezes, the sound of waves, and some sand between my toes was exactly what I needed this weekend. I am thankful to have the opportunity to see God's creativity alive and active on a regular weekend evening. 

26 May 2017

Library Musings - Always Learning

Give me time in a library and this is what you get. Words spilling out onto my pages. My hand scribbles to write quickly in hopes of keeping up with the thoughts.

I am sitting at the library now, facing the great floor to ceiling windows looking out to Lake Morton. A lovely view. It took me about 3 minutes to find a book to browse before I selected this spot to sit; a very weighty book - The Fellowship: The Literary Life of the Inklings and I am reading the prologue. It is 500+ pages of goodness that I will read one day (this book has been on my wish list for awhile). 

The library is quiet, chilled, and an ideal place to read and write. It forces you to, by being what it is. At home, one has many distractions. Here at the library, you have only your own thoughts to contest with. The quiet atmosphere and shelves of books provide ample space to think. Your thoughts can wander the aisles of books, if they need to walk about. The lake view does not distract me, but rather, inspire me when I look up from pages. From this cosy spot I can view peacefulness of the lake and the life it supports without sweating on this very hot day.

Here, I will read and be filled with thoughts. I will pretend I am writing something important. I'll imagine my own Oxford, Florida style. In my own way, I do study as if I were a student, because I am a life-long learner. There is no end in sight. I will learn all I can about the world of English literature, words, history of language, and story. That means reading more, and reading broadly. I desire to dig even deeper into the historic context and the origins of the writers I love. To read the older books is to understand the foundations and the beauty that (pagan or Christian) drew in the imaginations and helped produce the layers of book-work for the centuries of great authors in the wake of them.

I have a purpose in all my research (you may deem it all unnecessary, so I will defend in advance). To be a better reader, writer, thinker, person. To have knowledge of history, culture, traditions. To see as through another's eyes. If we do not study the richness of our past, how can we fully appreciate what we have today and set up a good future? It hasn't always been this way. Where did our thoughts and processes come from? We tread on the ground that has been built upon the bones of our previous thinkers. If they didn't read the old books they wouldn't have fed their imaginations to create in this world (or sub-create as Tolkien said) wonder-filled stories that profoundly shape our lives. A book is a branch that reaches outward in many directions.

C.S. Lewis said that if we read a modern book, we must never allow ourselves to read another new book until we read an old book in between, for he was serious about knowing the true classics, and not solely reading the new because there is something important about works that have passed through many ages.

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. ("On Reading Old Books", C.S. Lewis)

I thought about this as I finished reading The Poetic Edda, an ancient text from a pre-Christian era. I caught so many glimpses of names, hints of tales, and stories that would influence literature like Tolkien's Middle-earth and C.S. Lewis's stories. These pagan, Norwegian beliefs became entwined in Christianity when it reached outward in St. Paul's day, all the way to our modern day. One cannot fully understand the newer stories of Middle-earth if there is no knowledge of the predecessor stories. This is a fascinating field of study. I love to find these traditions that, as part of life, became part of our Christian liturgy. 

In the best stories, the tale points to a purer world and higher being. It incorporates myth and symbol, a presence in telling without telling so directly, enabling us to think and interpret on our own. While the good story keeps us thoroughly engaged, there is even more resting beneath the surface if we ponder and have an open sense of wonder, because as Owen Barfield said- words have a soul.

24 May 2017

Trust In What Will Come

The limbs bow in thirst, with efforts in morning stretches,
Parched and dry, cracking in the reaching,
Yet always arching toward the sky, 
In hopes of moisture in raindrops,
Some relief from persistent heat.
Droplets seem idly standing by, 
Unwilling to descend. 
The heavy air beckons they let go,
Allowing a trust to enter in,
Exuding, instead, a hot air balloon effect of floating upwards.
A reminder note we all should jot as we cling to the ache to feel control.
Every droplet we try to persuade, leaving us lacking
In the trust of what will come.
Sometimes when we least expect a blessing,
What we need rains down upon our heads, undeservedly. 

22 May 2017

The Great War

In many ways, our modern lives revolve around being entertained. When we wait or feel bored, we reach for our phones. When we spend time with others, it must be doing something that keeps our attention like a movie or show, and we still reach for our phones. There is this overarching sense to not think for ourselves, while letting the entertainment do the thinking for us.

So many of us, after a long day at work, want to just turn off our brains at home. Thinking is the last thing on the agenda, and while I think this desire to turn off and relax is not unwarranted (and sometimes greatly needed), I beg to differ and even argue that we need to think more, not less. If anything, we need to think more for ourselves, and develop a deeper understanding of our own beliefs in healthy debates. This book reminded me of that. Even while hanging out with friends at the pub or at home, good talks about life, thinking, creativity, issues, and world views will cause us to look deep within and discover what we truly believe.

We don't have to agree with our friends about everything. The friendship between C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield is a prime example of "second friends", Lewis's own description meaning close friends who debate about all the deep, philosophical, theological matters. These two highly intellectual writers who share the love of the English language, words, story, and meaning went through "The Great War", a period of 8 years before Lewis's conversion to Christianity in 1931. Through letters and conversations, these two friends debated all things philosophical and theological, but they still encouraged one another in their pursuits of writing and discovering, because they thoroughly enjoyed each other's company.

In fact, Lewis refers to Barfield as his "unofficial teacher".

When we are friends with others who have different views, we stretch and learn from them. New insights and new relationships. Our world needs these sorts of friendships. When you see deep divides in beliefs, you will find that there are deep friendships there. With Lewis and Barfield, there were deep divides at the time of "The Great War" since Lewis was not yet a Christian, and Barfield was. It is interesting to see how Lewis shifts from some of his views when he does become a Christian, but some of his core views keep him the more traditionalist, while Barfield is interested in new thoughts and systems as culture changes.

In repeating this Coleridgean assertion of a necessary tension between opposites, Barfield shows himself in one sense more modern than Lewis, in another sense less so. If virtue as integrity be an existentialist conception, art as revelation smacks of those ancient and medieval authors who, as Barfield has pointed out, believed their ideas to have been inspired (breathed into them) from above. Lewis, though ethically and theologically more conservative, always viewed artistic creation in a post-romantic way as the product of "imagination", that is, of the individual psyche. Barfield has striven to restore the older meaning of inspiration, but has also tried to build a bridge between older and newer views of creativity by postulating an 'evolution of consciousness' through which modern man has become personally responsible for his ideas and images, whereas his ancestor had them "breathed into" him from the natural and spiritual environment. (pg. 97)

Just as a fun aside, I got this book at The Kilns (C.S. Lewis's home outside Oxford).

18 May 2017


It happens quite frequently - the wonder rises. I observe the world around me, the universe of stars and flowers. Of poetry in the air. Capturing words in my head. With wonder in my soul I look at the details of every place I may be in (or may be observing) with the feeling of privilege that I am in such a place. I stand in the beautiful glasshouses in Oxford Botanic Garden, thick with the scent of blooming jasmine and other flowers, and I am more conscious of the very moment. I slow down my breathing to take it all in and let my senses observe by scent. I wish I could save the scent of this glasshouse.

The quiet is amplified by the occasional drip of water within the glasshouse. It is the sound of growth.

Stepping outside, the sounds of birds chime through the trees. Quite content they should be with the variety of trees and plants in this space. 

There is something about being with nature and plants. Observing their patience in growing. They don't expect to blossom from seed to maturity in a week. It is years of nurturing and posturing. Some of the trees I stood next to provide the oxygen to me as they did a hundred (or more) years ago. This same place. This very spot. It is overflowing with history and grace.

God is not split between the religious and the secular. He is in everything. He is everywhere.

Leaving my middle-earth calm, wise, and clear.
- George MacDonald

16 May 2017

See and Pray Wider

As if a shaft
Of bright light lit
Each detail,
So the heft
Of the earth might fit
Into a glance.

- Adomnán

The imagination. 
It can be used in less than ideal ways if we project the negative. Every instant we get a glimpse of something to look at with a positive or negative aspect in our daily lives. Each moment, we make a decision. While much of our culture is so set upon looking at all the bad, I pray and strive to focus and muse upon the hopeful side that uses imagination to see the good. I don't naturally feel the pessimism others feel about things (but I do remain realistic) and if I do feel myself going down that path, I turn to Scripture because my wisdom is limited. I ask myself how should I act? What should I do in this situation? The answers will come through in stories of old. Stories of wisdom that I need to hear. I think of how, in the book of Acts, Paul and the other disciples would shake the dust off their feet and keep going if they were met with challenges and opposition. They didn't let those things bring them down because they knew where their strength and ability came from.God is always the source of all good. We can have the same mindset and heartset centuries later.

Perhaps if we let the light shine into these interior dark spaces we would begin to look at the world with less myopic views. We would see wider, and pray wider. Our imaginations would look wider. For, all the blessings in life are not giant, but most are very small. Many require you to stop to notice, or be quiet. Or be alone.  These are things I embrace and try to focus on. Because if we are thankful in little, we are thankful in much.

12 May 2017

A Lakelander

I love being a Lakelander. I came here to go to college, and never left. Of course, that wasn't my plan, but it is funny how God works. His ways are mysterious, indeed. I never would have guessed them.

For a while, just 5 years ago, I was trying to leave town, to move elsewhere and try to start fresh somewhere else. After college, it was the norm that one by one all my friends moved away for various reasons. The city lost its charm to me several years later, which probably coincided with my job taking a downward nosedive, and I struggled with feeling like I was part of a community as a whole. The city lacked creativity and imagination, to me, at that time. I suspect part of that was me feeling drained of imagination, inspiration, and encouragement.

It is a true testament of God's timing and blessing undeserved, these last 4 years. I couldn't have aligned or planned for it to happen this way, but God has His own plans. When a wonderful job fell into my lap and I developed a new friendship that led to a tiny home to move into in the historic district, these things became bright lights to chase away the fog that was crowding my life.

It is interesting how you don't even realize how unhappy you are until some light comes in through the crack. Then you (at last!) see that there is beauty and grace there and you hadn't been noticing it!

Along with these wonderful situations and people in my life, came the rediscovery of this city and all its beauty. I became reconnected with the lakes and how enjoyable it is to walk around them, the historic neighborhood was now my home, downtown felt like it was joyful again, and it was like seeing the city for the first time. The creative explosion that has been happening here in the city these recent years excites me beyond words. I have friends who are starting amazing projects that impact entire communities, providing places to gather and be creative. I spend lots of time at my neighborhood craft coffee shops. Local restaurants thrive and I enjoy their unique menus. It is such a joy to be part of seeing this all happen.

I spend more time in my two mile radius of downtown, grocery, post office, lakes, church, and library than anywhere else (okay, except my office - it's outside that radius), and I am so content. I love it that way.  I delight in knowing my neighborhoods and my neighbors. 

God has amazing plans in store for all of us, but oftentimes it is not what we expect. While I was trying to leave, God was preparing all the pieces to fit together so that I would stay. I don't deserve the blessings that have rained upon me. I wake up each morning with a deep thankfulness because I truly know that.

10 May 2017

Bookish Musing: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Amazement seized their minds,
no soul had ever seen
a knight of such a kind -
entirely emerald green.

On a cold Christmas night in Medieval Britain, the knights of King Arthur were gathered for a feast at the Round Table, and a party-crasher comes in - a big, green knight who challenges someone to a wager. He will allow one of them to cut of his head, if they will come to him a year later and allow the same thing to be done to them. An interesting proposition, you might think. Sir Gawain is the one who steps forward (he is King Arthur's nephew), who cuts off his head with one swing. The Green Knight then promptly picks up his head, and still carrying it as he gets on his horse, says he will see Sir Gawain in one year's time at the Green Chapel for his end of the wager.

We then follow the story of Sir Gawain leaving to cross the British landscapes one year later to honour his side of the bargain. Along the way, he deals with self-doubt, loneliness, his honour and his morality is tested, and he then must confront the gargantuan Green Knight in the end.

Now through England's realm he rides and rides,
Sir Gawain, God's servant, on his grim quest,
passing long dark nights unloved and alone,
foraging to feed, finding little to call food,
with no friend but his horse through forests and hills
and only our Lord in heaven to hear him.

I bought Simon Armitage's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight while in Oxford, and was quite excited to hear him talk one evening during the Oxford Literary Festival, where he signed my copy of this book afterwards. I had already started reading the book each night as I sat by the open window looking out to the Queen's College back quadrangle. His translation captures the ancient feel of the story, with all the alliterative sentences, while making the book so approachable and readable with his modern verses. The original poem was written sometime in the early 1400's and we don't know who wrote it. If you were ever curious what it would be like to read such a story, I would encourage you to pick up this translation. It is so enjoyable. 

Our friend Sir Gawain, thankfully comes to a castle, and is welcomed to stay with ultimate hospitality from the lord of the castle, who treats him to a grand feast by the fireside, gives him a room to stay that is furnished with silks and gold, along with his boisterous company. Here, there will be tests of his character, as the lady of the castle comes to his chamber. After many temptations, the knight keeps true to his morals and remains honourable. 

Gawain gazes at the lord who greeted him so gracefully,
the great one who governed that grand estate,
powerful and large, in the prime of his life,
with a bushy beard as red as a beaver's,
steady in his stance, solid of build,
with a fiery face but with fine conversation;
a man quite capable, it occurred to Gawain,
of keeping such a castle and captaining his knights.

After staying for some time, he knows he must go face his fate. He must continue on his journey to contend with the Green Knight. So, he departs from his new friend and makes it to the Green Chapel, which is hidden in a cave or crevice in the crag. The whole scene is dark, mysterious, and soulless. 

With head helmeted and lance in hand
he scrambled to the skylight of that strange abyss.
Then he heard on the hillside, from behind a hard rock
a beyond the brook, a blood-chilling noise.

He hears the Green Knight sharpening his blade. Instead of being gripped and frozen in fear, He shouts out to the Green Knight to show himself, and then they meet again....

I must stop there, so you can read it yourself.

08 May 2017

Bookish Musing: A Preface to Paradise Lost

I have been thinking about how we each have certain gifts and passions for a reason - God wants us to use those talents for good in our community and around the world. These thoughts are partially brought on by my church's sermon series about discovering your purpose, to dream, and to do.

I've known for years and years how my passion circles around reading, books, and encouraging others to get excited about reading. It always has been my passion as long as I can recall. To encourage others to read well and to learn from books has always given me so much joy. In a small way, this space does that. This blog is here for the reason of encouraging others, who may stumble upon this tiny nook in the universe of the interwebs, to read good books, use their imaginations more, and rely on television and video games less for passing the time. An actively engaged imagination brings on good things as we are forced to determine truth and meaning for ourselves as we interpret what we read, and not take on what the media or a filmmaker wants to ingrain in us as truth.

So I continue to do that, and perhaps focus even more on the importance of reading, with suggestions and musings upon books I am reading to hopefully encourage others to read more. This is something I can do with what is given to me, so I will gladly do it. I will trust that God will use it for His purposes.

With all that said, I will jump into a bookish musing on C.S. Lewis's A Preface to Paradise Lost.

I picked this book up in Oxford at the little Catholic bookshop I always visit. Finding a C.S. Lewis book that I haven't read is quite the treat, and I have been interested in reading this book for years. The thing I love about Lewis is how he begins to build his main points from the very beginning. He doesn't jump right into a critique or analysis of Milton's Paradise Lost, but he explains what epic poetry is, so that we are more apt to understand his main points by understanding the reason for epic poems, citing many examples from previous works (ex. Homer, Virgil), and how that all somehow points to Milton's purpose for writing as he did. This is how Lewis builds his arguments so well. 

Lewis wants to clear up some matters first, which helps me appreciate the approach that Milton brought to writing the epic poem. This is how I learn so much about writing, older works he draws from, the art and philosophy of poetry, the critique of it, and the attention to certain aspects of style and content. This is especially helpful for a modern, as he notes:

From its early association with the heroic court there comes into Epic Poetry a quality which survives, with strange transformations and enrichments, down to Milton's own time, and it is a quality which moderns find difficult to understand. (pg 16)

Part of the reason why we moderns do not enjoy epic poems (or any longer poems of any kind) is because we do not understand the tradition or the context in time that they were written. We are baffled my the similes used. We get confused by the word selection, and the high language. Our criticism becomes one sided because we might only know a little about Homer from what we learned in school, and remember the dread of it, so we automatically feel the same way about Milton, for example. If we learn more about the raw materials, that is, the poet and his view, we will read the poem with a set of eyes that is placed in his time. 

Lewis also brings to light the technique of an epic, and how our modern view does not match that of our ancestors. We like dances that are basic and simple (ever been to a wedding?), and poetry that sounds like it could be uttered ex tempore, without much thought or preparation, but our ancestors were the exact opposite. They enjoyed dances that were elegant, with fine clothing, and feasts prepared with care, and poetry that was truly poetic and well-thought out.

What is the point of having a poet, inspired by the Muse, if he tells the stories just as you or I would have told them? (pg 21)

This book, to me, is so much more than an intro to Paradise Lost. It is like taking a course with Lewis on epic poetry, the reason it was written, and why it is important for us to understand the historical context and the view of the author before we criticise the work. In Milton's case, if we take out his theology from the poem, there is no point to the poem. It loses its meaning. Further, we have to understand that Milton's Christian thought comes from St. Augustine, and the telling of the Fall of Adam and Eve is based off that understanding. Many criticisms have stemmed from Milton's telling of the Fall and his portrayal of Satan. If we can understand where his thought is coming from, we can better place ourselves in the story being told.

Only thus will you be able to judge the work 'in the same spirit that its author writ' and to avoid chimerical criticism. (pg. 64)

Have there been any epic poems or longer poems that you have wanted to read but always feel intimidated by? I hope you will take it on sometime. Be patient, become engrossed in the story being told, pay attention to the context in which it was written, and imagine yourself hearing the poem being read out loud at an elegant banquet.

05 May 2017

Read More!

I listen to a lot of talks/lectures online. I realize that I listen to talks about imagination and story more than anything else, I think (and usually focused on my favourite authors). There is so much to draw from all sources of story - ancient or new. The power is in the subtext of story. It's not a fact book that spells out all the answers for you, but rather it is the experience of events and occurrences to which you are brought into and made to interpret for yourself. It is one of the reasons I am drawn to the more mysterious -- it makes you think. Good books cast their own spell of imagination.

That's the beauty of literature. You may be drawn to something that went unnoticed to someone else. You may ponder deeply about what a character is doing and why. For all of that you must use your imagination.

So, how can we be better readers? I thought I would make a short list of things to think about. Since I talk about reading a lot, I hear so many people say that they want to read more, that they should read more, and they wish they had more time to read. It is all a choice of how we spend our time, for we all have time to read if it is important to us.

- Read More
The more you read, the more you expand your vocabulary and ability to interpret different writing styles to enjoy a broader range of books. If you worry about not understanding something and that causes you to not read, keep reading and it usually sorts itself out. As time goes on the things you read begin to cohere in your mind, building upon foundations and previously read knowledge.

- Make Reading A Priority
You say you want to read, but then never pick up a book. Just as you make sure to take a shower each day, make sure you take time to read. Start small. Don't feel like you have to read for hours. Just 15 minutes. Then build it up over time. Before you know it, you will be continuously expanding that time. 

- Read Good Books, And What You Like
Be selective in your books. Don't just read the popular book that everyone seems to be reading, but select books that are classics you've always wondered about or that come highly recommended. But if it is not of interest to you, don't read it. You should enjoy what you read and be challenged in a good way.

- Be A Thoughtful Reader
If you are reading a pure plot-driven action book, there isn't much to ponder about, but if you are reading a classic or a really good story, there is going to be a lot for you to ask yourself - why is the character making those choices? Why does this topic matter? What is the context in history that this book was written? What is the character learning? How are they growing? Do you agree with what is happening?
When you ask yourself these kinds of questions, you start to interpret and develop understanding about yourself that you never would have known before.

  - Talk About Books
It makes it more exciting when you can talk about books with others. Whether the other person has read the book, or not, you can share about what you are learning or why it is so interesting. I am always available to talk about books, by the way. 

03 May 2017

B&B Oxford Style

One of the most enjoyable aspects of being in Oxford is staying in college. It just so happens that each time I go, I stay in a different college, but I would stay in any of these again if there are openings next time. I've stayed in Christ Church, Lincoln, Wadham, Oriel, and Queen's.

There are many delights to staying in colleges. You get to be in a historic college, explore the quadrangles, eat in the dining hall, and stay in the heart of Oxford. It is really nice to feel secure, because as you enter, you pass the porter, who guards the entrance the each college, and then you are inside the walls of a college with a chapel, hall, library, rooms, gardens, etc... As a guest, I don't have access to the library and certain rooms, but I get breakfast in hall each morning, which is such a wonderful experience every day (not to mention saves money on buying breakfast out each day!).

The people make it so pleasant. I have met the nicest people who work in the colleges. They have given me WiFi access when it wasn't included, they've chatted away about Oxford, and they are more than willing to help. I will admit that sometimes there are quirks to the rooms that create a little challenge (such as no WiFi, no mirrors, plugs in inconvenient spots, or the tiniest shower that is difficult to use) but the porters and the scouts are always so nice wherever I have stayed. On this trip, due to availability, we had to switch colleges halfway through, from Oriel to Queen's (the above photos are all from Oriel College). When we arrived in Queen's, the head porter was there with a trainee porter, who didn't check us in with the expected greeting and helpful information. So, the head porter decided to walk us to our room in the back quad, explaining many helpful things to us along the way, and he even carrying my mom's luggage up the stairs to our door on the third floor! 

If you are looking for something fancy, this isn't the way to go. The rooms are basic and since students live here, there isn't any decor, but you will have all you need. The rooms are really clean and the scouts service them everyday (sometimes not as often on weekends). 

I always end up on the top floor each place I stay, which means my legs get in shape, but it also means the views out the windows are lovely. I have a deep love of rooftops in England, with chimneys, bells towers, and sloping attic roofs. I spend many evenings at the windows watching the sunset and listening to the bells chime throughout the city with a dreaminess cast over me. You get used to all the bells chiming throughout Oxford. You grow to love the bells, and can enjoy the different sounds and times that each tower maintains.

For me, experiencing the history, living in the history, as if I was a student living there is what I love so much about staying in college.

01 May 2017

Prayers of Blessing

Faith heaves the world round to the heavenly dawn.
- George MacDonald

O the grace and beauty of a new day!
The soft light glows warmly in tone, mild of heat, and soothing to my soul. Arising from a good sleep is such a blessing. 

I walk into my kitchen with the dawning light and just smile at the gentle waking of the earth. In this moment in time, I get to witness the day break. Why do I deserve to see such beauty? 

The mundane tasks of the day call gently my attention, and I give thanks for the simple things. I turn on my electric kettle and by the power of electricity have boiling water a minute later. I pour it over freshly ground coffee beans and let the french press work its magic. 

Are you thankful for your electricity? I sure am. In the summer I am deeply thankful for the wonderful thing - air conditioning. 

Coffee moments always stir my soul. There is something about sipping a hot beverage to accompany writing in one's journal. I look at the blessing of the day, the evening before, the day ahead. Listening to my surroundings, I give thanks that there are a few neighborhood owls that I hear each morning, hooting to one another. 

I look at what has to be done (what we may deem as chores, tasks) and take care in what I do, but at the same time I try to make it an occasion for prayer. If not then, then when else? Why can't each seemingly mundane task be surrounded in prayer? 

These moments then focus on the blessing and the thankfulness I feel for such gifts.