A Parent Dies

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A Parent Dies

By Bernadette A. Moyer

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Whether it is a family member, a friend or a member of your community who dies, you can help.

A policeman dies in the line of duty leaving behind five young children and his wife. A mother of three is murdered. A father dies suddenly of a heart attack, too young. A plane crash, an automobile accident, a suicide, or an illness can all result in the loss of a parent. Unexpected loss of a parent that comes far too soon can be very difficult to understand and to accept. Death is the one given we have in life and yet we refuse to talk about it. We think we are respecting the family’s privacy by not bringing it up. Yet in one way we are only further alienating those who are already suffering. It is not uncommon for surviving spouses and their children to feel different, alone and isolated. These feelings may be natural and at a time when they may be at their greatest need for human comfort.

How often our heart strings are tugged when we hear of the death of a young parent? A parent who dies and leaves behind a spouse and children. We want to help, yet we do not know exactly what to do and say. So nothing is said or done, for fear of saying the wrong thing. We witness their grief while feeling helpless.

When a spouse and a parent die it has long and lasting effects on the family. The foundation the family is built upon is under major reconstruction. Expected or not the death and loss can be overwhelming. Initially most people will have their extended family support and that of close family friends. But before long everyone will return to their normal schedules while the family is left to grieve.

If you want to help in a personal way, here are a few tips:

What Do They Need

Understand that your family member, neighbor or friend may need many things. They may need time alone. They may need time to cry and talk about their loss. Listen well and allow them to speak. They may need to tell the same stories over and over again. I remember telling stories about my husband and his death many times. I knew that I was getting better and had purged much of the pain when one day I was tired of listening to my own stories.

Help With the Kids

It might be helpful to a surviving spouse if you extend invitations to his/her children to join your family for dinner or to see a movie. A parent who loses a spouse and has children may very well be operating with less energy.

Make Food

Consider leaving a casserole at the door step with a simple note that reads, “From Our Hearts” and your name. Sometimes picking up a few groceries or a cake or pie and taking it over to their house can mean so much to a surviving mom or dad that has no interest in cooking or eating at this time and yet has other mouths to feed.

What to Say

It is better to say things like, “I am very sorry” or “I cannot imagine your grief” rather than say “I know how you feel.” We all react to grief and loss differently and we really do not know how another feels in a time of grief.

Be Patient

Do not tell a grieving adult or child to “get over it” or “you should be over it by now.” Each person grieves in their own way. Many times because of parental responsibilities and a job, the surviving parent goes into “overdrive.” They rise to the occasion, seemingly handling everything like a pro, only to have a delayed reaction six months or a year or two later. In my experience and with all the grief work I have done with surviving spouses many do not “bottom out” until about 18 months later. This is when many really feel the loss and have a greater awareness of the void in their life and have fully accepted the death. This is also when most people think that they are “over it.”

Write Notes

Personal notes and cards can mean so much and are non-threatening. Writing about a happy or positive memory about the deceased person does so much to show and say “I valued him/her as well.” It also says “They touched my life.” The personal letters I received and the sharing of stories of my husband warmed my heart and made me appreciate that he mattered to others too.

Don’t Forget Them

Many times during the weeks and months after the loss our efforts are more appreciated and needed the most.  Largely because there is usually an abundance of support in the first few days and weeks, but it often withers as people move on and forget. In the early days and weeks the family is shocked or has yet to feel the full impact of their loss. Showing care and concern later can be so helpful and make a big difference.

Therapy Comes in Many Forms

Encourage counseling, inspirational books and movies and support groups. Others have suffered similar losses, they made it through and so will the survivors. Relating to others who have been there makes us feel less alone and better understood. Faith and religion help. Use phrases like “This group I have heard about is for widows and helped my friend Pat, how do you feel about a support group?”  Give an inspirational book or a journal. Writing about their feelings can be helpful. Children may benefit from support groups and journals or sketch books too and help them with their thoughts and feelings.

The Holidays Arrive

Holidays can be the most difficult times as are anniversary dates. These are times when we may think about our loved ones the most. Acknowledge this. It is also a time when we reminisce about past holidays. Many times family and friends may decide not to mention the deceased as they fear it will be upsetting. Better to acknowledge the loss and communicate; “If you want to talk we are here for you” or in a quiet moment, “How are you doing today?” Never force the conversation, but do open the door to it. When we say nothing it is as if we are saying “Let’s pretend everything is fine.” We are afraid to say the wrong things and by saying nothing it may be interpreted that the deceased person is forgotten.

Children and Grief

Many times children, especially teenagers will try and shrug off their feelings of grief. They might even feel the need to put their own feelings aside in an attempt to help their surviving parent. They may feel the need to be strong and bury their own grief.

My Experience and Take Away

My daughter was just two when her father died. She was a smiling, happy child and as she grew an excellent student. It wasn’t until high school when one of her close friends died, that she understood death. That death opened up her buried grief and the loss of her own father. It happens that when small children lose a parent to have their grief show itself and affect them much later in life.

Plants, flowers, books, pins, inspirational items all say “I am here and I care.” One of the things that comforted me in my grief were books on death and dying, books that I could read and reach out for comfort in the dark hours of the night when I felt so very alone and needed  comfort the most. My faith in God and my belief in Angels in many ways gave me comfort and saved me.

The single best thing we can do is listen and allow our grieving friend or family member the opportunity to talk and to cry. Often a well-timed hug can make a world of difference.

I am here today, to tell you that it is not easy and we will experience a wide range of emotions after we lose a loved one to death. I was blessed with the desire to connect with others who had already gone through this and their strength and support made it easier for me. Crying is so cleansing and when the tears stop and they will it is just like the rain, and so often the sun will shine again and even brighter!

Bernadette A. Moyer was widowed at age 23 and at age 32 met and later married a widower when his wife died leaving him to raise pre-mature infant twins. She raised three children, each of whom lost a natural parent. Her oldest daughter will be 35 this year and her adopted twins just turned 23.

She is the author of numerous inspirational articles and her book Angel Stacey/Daddy in Heaven is available at amazon.com. Her website is www.bernadetteamoyer.com and you can find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bernadetteamoyer or can write to her at bmoyer37@aol.com

(This article was first published in June of 1997 and updated January of 2015)

There is Always, Always an Up Side

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There Is Always, Always an Up Side

By Bernadette A. Moyer

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It took years for me to reconcile my first husband’s death, more than 15 years would pass before I would and could speak of it and then write about it. Who knew when I started writing about death and grief that I would so easily connect to so many others. For many years I felt dark and different, so different from my peer group, who were in graduate school. And I was married with a little baby and then widowed too. It caused me to hide and go under and often medicate through much drinking in my early twenties.  Everyone my age was drinking; they were drinking to celebrate their youth, and their freedom, freedom from parents and freedom from responsibilities. I was drinking to hide, to cover up and to medicate my pain away.

The upside of his life and his death and my becoming a young widow at 23, was a deeper appreciation for life, for living and expressing myself through my writing and the written word. Now I had something to say and something to share. My writing that would and could connect me to so many others. Others who knew grief and loss and could relate to me as I could relate to them.

I would never have gone into nonprofit work if not for the pain my child would bestow upon me with her desire to cut me completely out of her life. Her estrangement cut to my core, it was that blade, and that cut that all but ended my life. Nonprofit work was never in my mind or in my game plan yet it was there that I would do some of my best work. Taking that pain and that loss and turning it around to help so many other kids. Again I would write, write grants for kids that had little or nothing and needed financial support. When I was in that full throttle pain I couldn’t even help myself let alone any others.

When I got to the other side, I became motivated and took that grief and upset to motivate myself and a desire to do something good and positive with my life. I couldn’t control what she chose to do, but I could control how I responded to the loss and the pain. I wrote and I wrote. I didn’t let it destroy me, although it very easily could have, I used it to motivate myself. Even in this loss and this grief, there was an upside. There is always an upside.

Again, I had something to say and something to share, something that would connect me to so many other parents who knew the grief associated with estrangement. They didn’t just know the grief but the humiliation that would follow suit as a result of our own flesh and blood declaring that we weren’t worthy. We weren’t worthy of a relationship even though we were the very reason they were born at all. Another gift that came cloaked in the package of darkness and dread. It took more than a decade before I could own it and declare yes, that is part of my life story too.

They say that which doesn’t kill you only make you stronger. The hurts and the loss didn’t make me bitter or angry; it did make me realize I wasn’t alone and in the sharing with others who knew that same pain would come incredible healing. I would never have been a “writer” if I didn’t have something to share. Some of my best work relates to the estrangement, to abuse and to my own family history. It is my story. The funny thing is my family hates me writing about it and yet they keep giving me such great stuff to write about!

The only way I know how to heal is to go through it and try and understand it. My writing affords me that, the process of getting it out and then sharing it and ultimately connecting to so many others who know that same kind of loss, grief and pain. We are stronger when we are together. We are connected.

The upside is connecting to so many good people that I would otherwise never have known at all. My story is their story. We are all more alike than not. What other people have done that has affected my life is only half of it, what I have chosen to do as a result is completely up to me. It is my half of it. My half is beautiful and it is bright and it is that way by choice. I won’t live in the ugly or the blame or the angry. It doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t define me and it doesn’t suit me.

Pieces (lyrics by Gary Allan, Odie Blackmon and Sarah Buxton from Set You Free)

I’ve been broken, torn and scattered, I’ve loved holy, I’ve loved sin

I was rolling on the wind, it didn’t matter, I was so sure of who I didn’t want to be

Every smile and every fear, every laugh and every tear, it was all me, it was all me

Pieces of my heart, pieces of my soul, pieces that I’m gonna be

I don’t even know, I gave a lot to lovers, gave a lot to friends

Everything I took from them, made me who I am

Pieces

We’ve all been lied to, we’ve all been liars

Nothings perfect in this world, everybody’s been burned by the fire

Guess I’m learning, that which breaks you makes you grow

But I’m not hiding where I’ve been

Gonna let the light shine in

There is always, always an” up” side to every situation in life. Sometimes you have to be willing to uncover it. See it for the gift that it is and sometimes it is about timing, when you are ready and when you are healed and when you are able to match the half of the pain with the whole of you.

Bernadette on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bernadetteamoyer

You Need to Make Peace with Yourself

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You Need to Make Peace with Yourself

By Bernadette A. Moyer

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How often do we think and say, “If only that person would change? Or it isn’t me, it is them!” We think a new relationship, a new friendship or another child will afford us what we are looking for in life. No one can give us peace, nor can they really take it from us unless we allow them to do so. Peace is within each and every one of us. It is always there, whether we choose to exercise it or not is another story.

A few summers ago I was pelted with nasty personal attacks from someone I never knew and never met.  For this guy it was a game, it was about winning and he didn’t care what he said and who he said it to. I have his written words where he called me numerous names. He is supposedly a professional. I will keep his letters and e-mails for the rest of my life and when I read his words I will forever be reminded of what I don’t want in my life and who I will never allow myself to become, him.

Years later I actually feel sorry for him, his work keeps him connected to drug dealers, people who drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol and those accused of child pornography and abuse among other social ills. I suspect his world view may have something to do with the kind of people he frequently associates and works with.

My peace was almost shattered by this guy and his personal attacks, I never knew anyone that communicated with such slanderous statements and personal attacks like he did. My husband referred to him as a “clown” and wanted to do battle with him. I retreated; I learned a long time ago, no one wins in a fight. And then I sought out professionals that could help me to understand him and others who spend their time attacking other people rather than seeking peace and the truth. This guy was getting his information from someone that professionals had already determined in writing, “Has many mental issues.” He opened my eyes to a culture of people that seem to live by, “might makes right.”

I am not perfect but I can honestly say I never set out to hurt anyone; I have never looked for trouble and tried to live as peace filled a life as I can. When this guy was finished with his personal attacks on me, he then went on to question my faith in God and attack my Church. Scary that people that you don’t know and don’t know you, think they can pass judgment on you and question your personal relationship with God and your Church.

Today more than ever, I know who I am. Through the years, I did the work. I looked inward. It was through my managerial training, I learned that if there is a problem, first, look at yourself. What did you do? What could you have done differently? What would you do now? Like Lou Holtz often states, “WIN, What is important now.”

We can’t change other people, we can’t change their opinions of us, founded or not, they can think what they will. But when we know who we are and what we did, what we didn’t do. When we can accept that ultimately we did the best we could with what we knew and what we had for that time in our life, then peace is not such a big leap. If we go forward and always try to do our best and come from a place of love and a place of understanding, our own inner peace is a natural.

There is no question that we will be tested. We may see things in life that seem unjust and unfair but how we react to it has more to do with us then with the injustice or unfairness of any given situation. I am reminded of a favorite prayer that hung in my childhood home; The Serenity Prayer. This prayer has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs.

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom, to know the difference.

For each one of us, I believe that no one else can give you peace, and we can never truly achieve peace with others until we first make peace with ourselves.

In God’s Peace …

Bernadette on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bernadetteamoyer

Being “23”

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Being “23”

By Bernadette A. Moyer

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Our twins Brandon and Briana will turn 23 years old this week. It is amazing how quickly the years have passed. I remember being “23”so clearly. I also remember them as babies and all the fun times that we all enjoyed throughout the years.

Being “23” isn’t like it was when were grew up. By the time I was 23 I was already married, had a child and at age 23 was widowed and left alone to raise her. My best friend from high school had graduated from college and was attending law school.

When we grew up many of our parents expected us to take responsibility of our own lives at age 18, today that just seems so young. Kids seem less mature or at least less able to be out on their own.  They say girls mature faster, not sure if that still holds water. I’ve known many young males that were quite mature at 18 and certainly at age 23.

My husband was also in his first marriage by age “23” and also divorced from her too. Looking back we were either fearless or ignorant about the big life altering decisions that we made.

Our son has returned home after two attempts at leaving home, once to join the Navy and another to live with friends. He always wanted to come back home and we always welcomed him. His twin sister left the nest with her own track record on the places that she lived these past 4 plus years.

With our son he shares everything with us; we all get along quite well and look out for one another. He is struggling to make sense of his life like many his age. He lives care free and has so far chosen to take on very little responsibility. He is still having a lot of fun.

With our daughter, she wishes to be “mysterious” we have mutual friends and family members who give us updates on her education, her engagement status and her living arrangements. They send us pictures and her record of accomplishments. The skinny little girl that once could only fit into stretchy pants is long gone. You can see in her photos how she has grown and aged.

Our kids look very different as they are adults now. Like all babies they were once so innocent. Today they are carrying around the weight of their own successes and/or failures. They are responsible for their lives and all their choices.  It is always interesting to see what paths young people will take and how they will fare.

The best part of parenting is when your job is complete and you get to sit back and watch … Happy 23rd Birthday Brandon and Briana! Your twenties are all about growing up and becoming a full-fledged adult, and from our experiences your best years are all ahead of you and still yet to come!

Bernadette on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/bernadetteamoyer

 

We See the World As We Are

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We See the World As We Are

By Bernadette A. Moyer

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Most often we see the world as we are and we don’t see this world as it is … two people can look at and experience the same things and yet walk away with a completely different view. How does this happen? For most of us our view of life and the world has so much more to do with how we are inside rather than what is going on outside of ourselves.

“I could never do that!” Many times we see the actions of others and we declare that it isn’t us and we would never do that. Our responses for many things come from how we were wired as children. If we were trained a certain way, that becomes how we react and respond, part of the growing and maturation into adulthood comes when we learn to think for ourselves and process things for ourselves.

Generally speaking, loving people respond with love and angry hurt people respond with fear and anger. Our responses come from our world view, do we see the good or the evil in people and how much of what we see has to do with the world as it is versus the world as we are?

Loving people see love. As I watched the Bible TV series, I was reminded of this; no matter what Jesus encountered he turned it into good and into a lesson to be learned. It wasn’t that he didn’t see the persecution and the hate and fear; it was that he didn’t allow it to enter into his own heart.

When we are hurt by others, most of the time that is processed through the lenses of, “I would never do that!” and perhaps we wouldn’t. But the truth is that what they have done is only a slight if we allow it to enter our heart that way. Simply put hatred only continues if we take what is spewed and own it and then put more of it into the universe. I have learned to keep myself in check by pausing and thinking through all my responses. I start with am I responding out of love or out of fear? A response of love is always a choice just like any other response. Someone else’s venom and hate comes from their world view and is about them. It only enters our life and our hearts if we allow it to do so.

“The core cause of anger is a lack of self-worth. Rage is an excruciating experience of powerlessness.” Gary Zukav

The day that I gave birth to my daughter was a day that my heart was filled with love, not just for her but for everyone in my family and in my world. Any hurts and grievances became past history. It was as if I was transformed out of my love for my daughter. I forgave everyone, everything. I had a similar experience the day that I buried my first husband. His death allowed me to love with such vulnerability and I forgave everyone everything. On both occasions I was my most beautiful loving self.

It shouldn’t take a birth or a death for us to operate out of a pure loving heart. These were my experiences and looking back it speaks to how I process and respond, someone else may have anger in a death situation or not be as open hearted in a new birth.

When my child was born, I could never have imagined not sharing it with my entire family, and I did. Recently a friend’s daughter had a new baby. She deliberately excluded her mother, the grandmother from being there. My friend is one of the most loving people and she is crushed. I know in my heart that part of her pain is because she, herself would never had done the same thing to her mother and family. This is a big decision to deny your mother access to you and your new born baby. How does this mother ever forgive such a deep hurt? Yet she must because otherwise it will be like a cancer that lives in her heart. Why would any daughter deny her biological parents this joyous occasion of a new addition to the family?

My friend is taking it all in and onto herself and yet it is her daughter who chose to shut the door on love.  We respond to the world as we are and not necessarily as the world is, we do not control the actions of others.  What other people do or don’t do is about them and not about us.

“Choosing not to act on an angry impulse and to feel that pain that lies beneath it is a very courageous thing to do.” Gary Zukav and Linda Francis

We can all make a case against anyone for anything both real and/or perceived if that is what we choose to do. But when we make that case, we need to look inside our own hearts and ask ourselves, what is really going on here? Why am I acting like this? What made me respond in this fashion? Why did I choose fear and hatred when I could just as easily have chosen love and acceptance?

Every one of us is a work in progress, but there are things that are universal and can work for everyone. If you want peace, be a peaceful person. If you want more love, give more love. Practice forgiveness so that when your time comes, you too will be forgiven.

Where we can’t control what other people do and say, we can control how we respond to it. And sometimes the very best response is no response at all. Their anger and their fight lives inside of themselves.

We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are, anger and hate only become our reality if we allow it. Putting more love and loving “as is” allows us to be loved “as is” and brings more love to us. What you put out into the universe is what is returned to you. We must remember that when we are faced with challenging situations and people. Their stuff is their stuff and not ours; it speaks to and defines them and not us.

What would Jesus do? He would take the high road and respond with love. We must condition ourselves and learn to do the same.

Love is what we do for ourselves …

Bernadette on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bernadetteamoyer

To Heal or To Hurt

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To Heal or To Hurt

By Bernadette A. Moyer

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No one gets through this life unscathed, we have choices though, and we can choice to heal our hurts or to continue hurting and hurt others in the process.

Generally I am amused with the term “dysfunctional family” to say that any family is “dysfunctional’ is to presume that there is a model of a fully “functional” family. I have yet to see or to know any family that is perfect, the model or fully “functional.”

What I do know is that no one gets through this life unscathed. Each one of us will experience a wide range of events some will be happy and pleasurable and others may literally bring us to our knees.

In our country according to a 2009 survey 50% of all college aged students have contemplated suicide in their life.  Kids between the ages of 18 and 23 have at least had one episode or thoughts about ending their own life. This figure seems staggering then I thought about the kids that I worked with and knew and I could name more than a few that I was aware of that had at least one time thought about suicide.

As I watched The Road Back, the story of Wynonna Judd and her husband Cactus, I was struck at how they triumphed over tragedy.  Early in their marriage he had a motorcycle accident where he lost his leg and his arm and hand that had to be reattached to his body. He is a professional drummer. Never once did he play the “why me” card or act out in destructive ways. He worked his butt off and worked through much pain until he could play the drums again. His attitude was everything as was his faith in God. Cactus could just as easily played the victim, he could have quit. But he chose to heal and to heal himself.

Bishop T.D. Jakes; “Let go of your past.  When you hold on to your history, you do it at the expense of your destiny.”

On a recent Oprah Life Class with Bishop T.D. Jakes the topic was family relationships and family estrangements. One of the groups on this show was two sisters that had estranged over an old boyfriend several years ago. The guy is no longer in the picture but the sisters hadn’t spoken in three years.  He encouraged them to work it out, he said, “that is your sister!”

I wish my family estrangement was that simple over an old boyfriend? But it wasn’t and it isn’t. It is about family that supported a child molester and threw their sister away. They didn’t even try. Instead they chose to scapegoat, re-write history, lie, and slander and make up stories to justify their absence and my absence too. How do you come back to that? You don’t.

But … you still have to forgive them and you have to heal from it. If we don’t choose to heal we only continue the hurt. Hurt that shows itself in many forms and seeps into all other relationships. Your history is not your destiny unless you allow it to be.

If you show up 99 times and someone else smacks you in the face, then you show up for the 100th time and they smack you in the face, is it their fault or yours? At some point you stop showing up when you already know what the outcome will be.

Family behavior is often set in place when we are just kids, most families revert back to childhood in how they relate and treat one another. My history is only my destiny if I allow it to continue. It takes will, drive and determination to break the model. But it can be done.

You have to believe you are worth more and then take all the necessary steps to heal from the hurt. At some point we must all take responsibility and heal our hurts because when we don’t we tend to recreate them.

Let go of the past!

Create your life in the now and for the future …

And once again, because it is worth rewriting;

When you hold on to your history, you do it at the expense of your destiny.” Bishop T.D. Jakes

Bernadette on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bernadetteamoyer

 

 

 

Our Stewardship

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Our Stewardship

By Bernadette A. Moyer

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What will you leave behind? What will your legacy be once you have departed this life? It surely won’t be about “things” but rather about other people and our relationships. Did we leave this place better than how we found it?

Did we give more than we took? Did we make a positive contribution to society and to others? Did we practice love and forgiveness? What will our stewardship say about us?

We are mere stewards in this lifetime; we own nothing because if we did the U-Haul would be following the hearse to our final destination.  “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” From Luke 12:42-46

Remember the Kansas song Dust in the Wind and the line “all we are is dust in the wind” and “nothin’ lasts forever but the earth and sky.”

On the date that my “Other Mother” turned 80 years old another friend lost her battle with cancer. She had just celebrated her 56th birthday. My “Other Mother” has acquired many possessions in her lifetime, the friend’s departure drives home how nothing will go with her into the next life.

We take nothing with us when we leave this life we return “home” the same way that we arrived with no earthly possessions. In this lifetime we are merely the stewards of “things” and “property” and “material possessions.”

Our relationships transform or transition or they die. How we took care of them will determine their fate.  How do we want to be remembered? What legacy do we wish to leave behind?

Everything that we are given is one day returned. We are stewards for all living things; for our children, our animals, our family and our friends. Our employment and our career path also afford us the opportunity for stewardship too.

How we take care of the land and the people and all living things is a direct reflection on how we practiced our stewardship.

“A society is defined not only by what it creates but by what it refuses to destroy.” John Sawhill