Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

Indignant is the word to describe how I felt back in 2005 upon hearing that another version of Jane’s Austen’s beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice, was to be released in the cinema, this time starring English actress Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. The very existence of this new intruder version felt like an insult to those who had played in the 1995 BBC adaptation of the book. Like utter disloyalty to Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, who, in my mind, actually were Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Why make another when perfection had already been reached?

But of course when the time came for the film to appear in our one local cinema in Inverness, Scotland, where we were living at the time, I went along to see it. And slowly, as I sat with my sweet popcorn and mini tub of ice cream, I felt my arched brow of skepticism slowly fade into a soft smile. For even with the simplified script, the overacting, and that awful brown dress Kiera Knightly dons for the majority of the film, it cannot be denied that with all the talented cinematography that captures the breathtaking Darbyshire scenery and the gorgeous film score by Dario Marianelli, the film is a veritable feast for the eyes and ears. And I decided that perhaps seeing what other artists had to offer was, after all, a good thing. 

I like to put it on in the background sometimes, if I’m, say, folding laundry or working on my scrapbook. But Keira Knightley will never, ever be Elizabeth Bennet, just as the 2005 version will never be to me the haven of coziness, inspiration, and nostalgia that the 1995 version is. 


And so it will be with this newest adaptation of the novel Anne of Green Gables by Canadian Author Lucy Maude Montgomery, which will air in February 2016. This version was created by Breakthrough Entertainment , and stars young actress Ella Ballentine as the red-headed orphan Anne Shirley, and Martin Sheen as Matthew Cuthbert, the Bachelor who, along with his spinster sister Marilla, ends up adopting the feisty, talented, kindhearted Anne.

Canada’s CBC-TV also has plans to run a series, simply titled “Anne,” which is set to air in 2017, and which CBC says will follow Montgomery’s story line, but will also “chart new territory.” Writer Moira Walley-Beckett say she had adapted Anne’s story and that Anne’s issues are really contemporary ones like feminism, prejudice, and bullying.  

I will watch both versions. And if the trailer for the made-for-TV film is any indication, that adaptation will be charming and entertaining, if nothing else.

But I’m a little concerned that the series will modernize Anne too much, throw Anne’s catch phrases about in a way that becomes obnoxious, make the story into something Montgomery never intended it to be.

 So yes, I’ll watch them, but at the possible risk of having to go back on my word, I’m quite sure that these will not be the versions I go back to–again, and again, and again. Because Megan Follows who starred as Anne in the Sullivan Entertainment   version simply is Anne Shirley, just as Colleen Dewhurst is Marilla, and Jonathan Crombie is Gilbert Blythe.

I was practically introduced to Anne’s world from birth when my mother named me Avonlea, and it was to Sullivan’s 1985 version that I was first introduced. It was these actors whose faces I had in mind as I read the books, these faces I felt uplifted and encouraged by on those days when I, too, felt “in the depths of despair,” or had “a Jonah Day,” or could say of God’s working in my life, “He knew.” They are as much like friends to me as any fictional characters could ever be.

Another chance to view what is probably my favourite story on earth? Yes, please. Perhaps Breakthrough will even go on to make other Anne films based on Montgomery’s books,and stay a little closer to the stories than Sullivan did with their second Anne film. But just as I’m quite sure that a rose called a thistle or a skunk cabbage wouldn’t smell the same, an Anne by any other name could just never be as sweet. 




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“Pretend you’re eating with the Queen,” she’d say, my mother, in those preschool years when my younger sisters and I would gather around the dining room table for our lunch of cottage cheese and tinned pineapple rings. Oh, and we knew something of the Queen, over in her castle in England, and of Princess Diana and all her lovely clothes. I owned copies of them, after all, paper copies, which fit neatly onto my Princess Diana paper doll. 

And so when she’d say it, and our minds were filled with pictures of a royal banquet at Buckingham Palace, my sisters and I made sure to keep our elbows off the table, chew with our mouths closed, and always say “Please pass,” instead of stretching for something out of our reach. 

But they weren’t quite enough, those lessons in manners, didn’t quite do the trick when, sixteen years later, I found myself dining with real royalty–well, they were only 42nd in line for the throne, as I was told, but for this young American, that came close enough.


I arrived by train. My friend was there to greet me, and as we climbed into the car and whizzed down the single track road towards his family home, I felt as though I were being driven to another world. Through the maze of green hedgerows that towered around us, I caught glimpses of thatched cottages and gently rolling fields.  The sky grew smaller as the hedgerows grew taller, and in the next couple of days, I would grow smaller, too. 

“My mother is hosting a dinner party,” he said, my friend, “and you should probably apologize for arriving in the middle of it.”

Wide-eyed, I assented, and when we arrived at the most ancient of large cottages that his family called home, I found his parents and six of their friends gathered around a table (which was really a 400-year-old door) for a casual four-course summer evening meal. 

I dutifully apologized, was met with murmured acceptances of that apology, and was then seated to the left of his mother. 

The meal could have gone worse, I suppose, if I’d tried to make it so, though I a made a small disaster of the affair quite well without even having to try. 

And what did I do that was so very wrong?

I could have laughed a little quieter, eaten a little less, declined the cheese course. But I did not. 

And when the man to my left made a comment about the side-by-side American style refrigerator that my friend’s family had just purchased, followed by the statement that everything in America is large, I could have smiled demurely and said something diplomatic like, “Perhaps that is so, but bigger does not always mean better.” But I did not. 

And when, for the first time in my life, my nose started to bleed, I could have quietly slipped from the table into the other room until it stopped. But as I had a proper handkerchief with me, I decided to use that to dab at my nose, thinking the bleeding would soon stop. But it did not, and I waited until the elderly man who sat across from me looked at me with a measure of horror before I decided to slip away. 

But there is more. 

The next day I awoke to find my hosts in the garden wearing their wellies, having just returned from a countryside stroll with their king Charles spaniel. I was offered some strawberries that sat in a large basket on the kitchen door-table and asked how I had slept.

The main activity of the day was watching my friend play cricket, that most English of games. I sat with his parents to watch the match, where we could look down at the local castle and admire how brilliantly the men’s white cricket uniforms stood out against the green.

“Do you ride?” I was asked. 

I had taken horseback riding lessons, but as it had been a few years, I replied with an honest, “No.”

His parents looked thoroughly unimpressed. 

And later on back at the house, as I sat beside the enormous fireplace while my friend watched a football match, I was asked, “And what do your parents do?”

It was all a bit too much like that scene in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth Bennett visits Rosings Park and is interrogated by Lady Catherine De Bourgh. “Do you play and sing?” and “Do you draw?” and all the rest. 

I cringe as I remember the humiliation I endured, though I didn’t realize I was enduring it at the time.

I sigh as I recall the golden English June sunlight that bathed those few days, illuminating the green of the fields and and pouring through the windows of that old house.

I laugh at the shock I must have given my friend’s family, especially when I imagine the fear they must have felt that he would fall in love with me and that they would have to welcome me into the family.

And what I wouldn’t give to go back and re-do the visit. Not to deny who I was–the great-granddaughter of poor immigrants who chose to make America their home–but to present myself with more of the discretion, thoughtfulness, and self-respect that I now possess. But that was then, and this is now, and had the visit gone differently then I wouldn’t have been left with such a fine story to tell.  





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Etiquette, it seems, is a thing of the past in the minds of many people. And this, to me, is just a little sad.  For I am a person who admires the finer. I appreciate a well-laid table, enjoy dressing up for a special event, and, should I ever really meet the Queen, would like to learn what I ought to say ;). The British tradition of etiquette–from the days of chivalrous knights to the decorum of the Victorian era–is something I have always admired.

What I don’t admire, can’t quite look up to, is when someone uses their position, their intelligence, their wealth to make others feel inferior. Smaller. Less. For etiquette and manners must go hand-in-hand, and real manners are about making the other person feel respected, appreciated, at ease.

The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones.  – Gabirol, The Choice of Pearls

That being said, if we are to avoid making others feel uncomfortable, neglected, patronized, hurt, I do feel that we must all learn to be a little more thoughtful and careful in how we behave. And if we’re to aim for a little more than that, and hope to earn others’ admiration and trust so that our good life’s work (whatever that may be) will not be compromised by our thoughtlessness and indiscretion, then we should aim for a little polish, a little beauty, as well.

A few rules of etiquette that I think worth noting?

1. Mobile/Cell Phones – Put them away when it’s time to be with people. If you’re at a restaurant they should be tucked away in a handbag or pocket. If you need to check your messages, excuse yourself and step away for a moment, or at least let your friends know that you are about to mentally switch off from what they’re saying, then check your messages quickly and discreetly. The same applies if you are a guest at someone’s home, or if they are a guest at yours. The phone should not act as an extra person in the room, taking your attention away from the real people you are supposed to be spending time with. Always put your phone away for hellos and goodbyes.

2. Conversation – Avoid speaking ill of others. Give genuine compliments to those you are with, and also speak well of those who are absent. Don’t spend the entire time speaking about your problems or everything exciting that you’ve been doing. Your close friends will of course want to know when you’re struggling, but don’t be a little black rain cloud and drag others down with complaints, or a long list of every little thing that is wrong with your life. Ask people questions about themselves, listen attentively, and give encouragement whenever you can. Wait until others have finished their sentences or thoughts, and don’t jump in or cut them off. Let your thank-yous be genuine. Statement such as, “Wow, thank you for the purple vase. We changed our decor to more neutral colors now, but thanks anyway,” are transparent and cannot really be considered as thanks.

Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were.  – Author Unknown

3. Entertaining – You may not have time to make your house spotless before your guests arrive (aren’t we all comfortable with a little clutter?), but do clean your toilet and make sure the bathroom is supplied with toilet paper, a clean hand towel, and soap. As for the meal, there’s nothing wrong with simple. Your guests have come to see you, and if they’re busy parents then they’re probably just glad that someone else is cooking. However, if it’s within your power to give them a treat and make them feel special, then do so, and provide as delicious a meal as possible. Your table spread can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. I love lighting candles, using the good dishes, and putting out fresh flowers, but actual sit-down dinners aren’t always practical or possible when you’re expecting a house full of children. Just relax, and let your guests take the lead. Never make them feel uncomfortable for doing things differently from the way you do them.

4. Going Visiting – If you’re invited to someone else’s home, let them take the lead on how things are done. If your hosts are sock-footed or wearing slippers, then offer to remove your shoes at the door. Bring your host or hostess a small thank you gift, such as a candle, flowers, or a bottle of wine. If you have children, spend at least a little time helping to tidy the toys before you go. And if you if happen to notice a slightly unpleasant odor coming from your youngest, ask to use the changing table or take your baby to the bathroom to change his nappy. Never change a nappy right in front of your hosts, especially if people are eating. After baby is fresh and clean, wash and dry your hands in the bathroom, not at the kitchen sink.

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.  If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.  – Emily Post

5. Common Courtesy – Please, thank you, and excuse me are still good manners. So is being a courteous driver, opening the door for the person behind you, and offering your seat to an elderly person or a lady (especially if the lady is pregnant, or a very tired mother with three young children in tow). Wearing a hat inside (gentlemen), beeping your horn at or tailing other drivers, and chewing gum are still not (while I realize the need for a little breath-freshening, there is no faster way to resemble a cow. Chomp, chomp).

6. A Little Note on Tea – In the UK, you can’t be in a person’s home for more than 60 seconds before you’re offered a cup of tea. It’s a good rule to go by, and a wonderful way to make your guests feel comfortable and welcome. Don’t let your guests sit for a good couple of hours before they finally break down and ask if the can help themselves to a glass of water from the kitchen tap. As soon as they’re settled, always offer your guests a drink (tea, coffee, juice, whatever is the norm for you). If they decline, it is still polite to bring them a glass of water in case they change their mind and become thirsty.


For a complete list and very entertaining read on British etiquette, visit the experts at Debrett’s. 

Oh, but my world just now is not a public one. Not a world of garden parties or white-tie events. And it can be easy, in the midst of potty training, and high-chair scrubbing, and meal scrounging, to forget a thing called manners. To move through my routine, scoot my children where I need them to be–to the table, to the bathroom, off to bed–without once using please or thank you. Without saying excuse me, or kneeling down to listen carefully to what they’re trying to say. 

And the steps are all so small just now. Learning to eat with cutlery, reminders not to laugh or speak about bodily functions over the dinner table. But really, really, I want my home to be a haven, and it’s not the details that will matter most in the end, but what my children come to understand about the heart of it all

And I must remember that if gruffness, mumbled answers, sarcasm, are acceptable at home, then I should not expect my children to behave any differently when they’re out. Because I’m raising a good army. Three little ones who will become three grown men. And when they’re ready, when they go, I want them to know fully their worth–because of how we treated each other at home. Because they know how much they’re loved. And when they’re ready, when they go, I want them to know how to treat others as though they have worth. I want them to know how to live, serve, love well in whatever circumstances they are called–royal courts or grass huts. And that, really, is the heart of it all. 

Because where the world is concerned, it is not our job to teach and correct, but simply to love. 

For love covers a multitude of sins, and a multitude of bad manners, too. 



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For friend hearts, and sweethearts, and parent hearts, too,

for hungry tummies, and open arms, this one’s for you.

Some truth, some fluff, some real love stuff . . .


Ah, Janey, make us swoon.

To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.

~Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


Love? Yeah . . . You’ll be crying . . .


Well, well . . .

Handsome is as handsome does.

~J.R.R. Tolkien


Ah, at last . . .

I don’t want sunbursts and marble halls. I just want you.

~Lucy Maud Montgomery,

Anne of the Island


Sweetest video ever made–send this one to your honey.


And this is what you can tell them over Valentine’s dinner 😉

Opening her eyes again, and seeing her husband’s face across the table, she leaned forward to give it a pat on the cheek, and sat down to supper, declaring it to be the best face in the world.

~Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend


Love? Oh, WOW.


Love comforteth like sunshine after rain.

~William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis


A little something for the Valentine table.

For your children, for your honey, or for you!

Beetroot and Parsnip Soup with Horseradish*

(nope, not tomato!)

pink soup? think of that! and jolly easy to make!

30 grams butter

1 potato, peeled and chopped

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 large or 4 small beetroot,

peeled and chopped

800 ml vegetable stock

1oo ml cream and sour cream,


1 T horseradish mixed with

1 T olive oil and 1 t vinegar

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. And the onion and cook till soft but not brown, then add the potato, parsnip, and vegetable stock/broth. Bring to the boil and then add the beetroot, cooking for a further 15 minutes. Don’t overcook, as the beetroot will go from a lovely deep pink to a red color. When the vegetables are tender, remove from heat and puree with a stick blender (or blender) until the soup is smooth, but with a few lumps. Stir in the cream, sour cream, and horseradish mix and season with salt and black pepper. Exquisite!

*Recipe adapted from Delicious Soups by Belinda Williams


Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.

~C.S. Lewis


Wishing the happiest of Valentine weekends to you!

Avonlea x


Happy Little Sigh is now on Pinterest! Join me there?



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It all began with a cup of tea.

He wanted one.

And so did I.

We were the only ones.

Earlier, on that cold walk through the night to the student flat where a group of us were meeting for a DVD, there were questions about peanut butter (isn’t that what Americans eat?), and secret smiles, and I thought he must be very young.

I was in Scotland.

The world was green, and there were castles, and though I could hardly understand a word of what he said, my red-haired Scottish loon from the village on the sea,

on the pages of my journal I swore I could marry that boy.

And, more to my amazement than anyone else’s, I did.

We moved to Scotland, and life began.

It began. It didn’t end.

Not like the movies or the books, where it ends with “I do.”

No, that was the beginning.

And I went to teaching and he went to working. And meals were cooked, and floors were swept, and a baby came. And although it happened, every few months, that I’d pinch myself and wonder how little me ever ended up there, in the Highlands of Scotland, most of the time it was just life.

And while life was happening, it also happened—as it happens to us all, I think—that somewhere between the tenth time washing the dishes and the hundredth time making the bed, between the hundredth night up with a crying baby and the thousandth time wiping a toddler’s face, that I began to wonder.

I wondered if this was right.

Because this was not how happily ever after was supposed to go.

Castles and Scottish mist aside, I wasn’t supposed to be tired all of the time, and the housework wasn’t supposed to take so long. I wasn’t supposed to get lonely, and we weren’t, no we weren’t supposed find within our hearts such moments of hate that with our words and our eyes and a turning of our backs we would wound each other. Leave each other bruised, starved, and with our very hands widen the cavern between ourselves and God and between each other.

And yet we did.

And the days were dark.

We could have walked, either one of us, in search of our real life. Our real fairy tale. And though we didn’t feel it, we chose to believe it when we heard that the grass is always greener where you water it.

And even yellow grass, or even brown and dry, can become green. But you’ve got to water it every day.

Even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

And you can try to be happy with it just being all right, or so-so, but I’ve got to ask you, like I asked myself, don’t you want the very best?

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More than anything, I love to talk of those first days.

The first dance. The first giggle. The first time I dared to touch his shoulder with my head.

Because I know I must remember who he is. Who he really is, deep inside—that boy I first met.

We’re the same people, he and I, deep, deep inside.

Oh, sometimes we’re both still so angry, we’d like to do a whole lot more than spit. And it takes a whole lot more than a little grace to make it through.

But love is not self-seeking.

And real love gets a little less sleep, a little less time for what we want, a little less of what we most love to eat, to make the other person happy. To give them joy. To make them strong.

Never underestimate the power of a smile. The power of a kind word.

Like water to grass, they are spring rain to the soul.


No, life doesn’t end with “I do.” That is where it begins.

For you and your Mr. Darcy.

For me and mine.


“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”
~ C.S. Lewis


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Another day ahead.

Not that it’s always easy. The getting started of a day.

Not when my bed’s so warm and the house so dark, and the children woke me in the night three times, at least.

And while my mind swirls with the to-dos of today,

beneath the surface of these plans, beneath all that I know will keep me busy, rushing from here to there,

lie my deeper dreams and goals.

All my heart longs to do and be for my family.

All the words I long to write.

And they look like a mountain from here. Like I’ve been given a wheel barrow and a shovel and told I have to move it.

Like I have to move a mountain.

But of course, I can’t.

And so no wonder it’s easier to stay in bed. Slip back into those dreams.

But this new day awaits. It’s time.

And though the stars are still out,

I can smell the bread.

The first gift of today, and there will be many.

And just waking, well isn’t that a gift?

And hasn’t the one thing that really needs to be done

already been done by Jesus?

In that, I can rest.

With that, I can pull back the curtains,

with hot cup in hand venture a step or two outside

to hear the first bird sing.


Lamentations 3:22-24

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”



Old English songs, you bring to me
A simple sweetness somewhat kin
To birds that through the mystery
Of earliest morn make tuneful din,

While hamlet steeples sleepily
At cock-crow chime out three and four,
Till maids get up betime and go
With faces like the red sun low
Clattering about the dairy floor.

~Siegfried Sassoon


And finally, a word from Jane . . .

“What fine weather this is! Not very becoming perhaps early in the morning, but very pleasant out of doors at noon, and very wholesome—at least everybody fancies so, and imagination is everything.”

~ Jane Austen, November 17, 1798, in a letter to her sister, Cassandra.

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Read one of Jane Austen’s works as if it’s my first time?

Oh, could I please?

And the answer

is yes!

Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, has been asked to write a 21st century version of Emma, Jane Austen’s fifth novel .

He said the request was “like being asked to eat a box of delicious chocolates.” If that’s the case, then reading it will, I think, “taste” even better! McCall Smith’s writing is so full of warmth, humour, wit, and colour that I expect much from these contemporary versions.

The book is set to be in bookstores next autumn. Too long, I know!

But a version of Sense and Sensibility by author Joanna Trollope will be out this month.


And versions of other Austen novels are set to follow.

Read the full story here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24383000

Isn’t it lovely to read GOOD news?

And for more on Alexander McCall Smith, great promoter of tea drinking and good books, see my post Our Favourite Drink –  https://happylittlesigh.com/2012/02/28/our-favourite-drink/

Avonlea x

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Some people are scared to go.

Others are scared to stay.

I was like that once. From this side of the Atlantic, going to Scotland seemed like a one-time thing. But the place got to me. Once I’d wandered the cobblestone streets of that fifteenth century university where I studied, stood on the cliff tops overlooking a ruined castle and felt the sea air make my hair dance, sat in my dorm room reading Pride and Prejudice while the tree outside my room turned from winter to spring, the place got into my blood, got into my soul.

A few weeks in, there was a gathering, a cup of tea, a charming red-head with an accent so thick I had to smile and wanted to cry, and did. Three years later we were married, kilts and empire waistlines and all.

We only meant to stay in Scotland for a year, though it turned out to be eight.

And I never did believe it, even after all that time, that I could be so blessed.

I could have stayed forever.

There, in that green corner of Scotland where we lived. As if Scotland has a corner that’s not that color. That’s not green.

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Yes, I would have been quite happy to keep our home at the foot of the highlands, with our view of the village and the valley and the hills beyond. Our home and my great white kitchen with those walls thick enough to park your car, and our winding staircase, and the window seat John built me, where you could close the curtains and open a book and get lost for a while.

The nursery, where we spent the tenderest moments with our boys, singing lullabies, kissing toes.

The paths we walked—field and forest, castle and garden, playing Pooh Sticks, collecting rocks.

And I loved it.


But sometimes, sometimes you can love a thing too much.

You can love a thing, love a person, so much that your heart grows gray.

Gray and cold as stone.

I looked green enough, I’m sure, from the outside.

But not all green is grass.

Because I never missed a Sunday. Bible beside my bed never collected that much dust.

But I’m quite sure, if you’d gone looking, you would have seen the moss.

And moss means damp, and sitting, and rotting, and feeling comfortable too long.

It means clinging on for safety to what’s not really safe. It means being happy to linger in the shadows when you should be chasing light.


It wasn’t easy leaving. I must have left a trail across the country where I tried to dig in my nails and hold on tight.

But I’ve felt God’s love like I’ve never known it, and I’ve seen that He will take you places if He knows it will bring you closer to Him.

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God will lead you to green pastures. He will lead you to a desert.

He will take you halfway round the world.

And He will bring you back.

He will bend you far like a reed, or wrap you up and cradle you like a newborn.

Whatever it takes.

Sometimes God borrows human hands, to cup your face and turn your eyes to His.

Other times His hands look like painful goodbyes, or a loss so big you don’t think you’ll ever smile again. Or a turn of luck so grand your mouth hangs open. Wide open. And you’ve got to dance.

Whatever it takes.



Whatever it takes to make sure you’ll be with Him. Today. Tomorrow. Forever.

He’ll chase you like He’s been chasing us humans from the beginning. He’ll forgive you again and again, make a way to bridge the bottomless gap. Pursue you, even when you’re running. Even when your heart is so gray and your deeds so black you make Him weep.

And what else could you call Love?

Some people are scared to go. Others are scared to stay.

But it’s not the going or the staying that matters.

Not really. Not to Jesus.

It’s what’s in your hands.

It’s where you’re looking.

It’s the color of your heart.


Psalm 37:23-24, Isaiah 43:22

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