Here I Raise My Ebenezer: “Like Sand Through an Hourglass…”

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“Like sands through an hour glass, so are the days of our lives….” The signature words and distinctive tune flowed from the TV. It was one o’clock and I sat comfortable and warm on my aunt’s couch.  With a bright smile, my aunt came over to serve me lunch, a turkey sandwich and a cup of Folgers instant coffee. She sat down beside me like she had done on so many other weekdays.

Over the next hour, we allowed ourselves to be swept up into the drama of Salem and followed the unfolding of the Horton family’s stories. We watched the trials and triumphs of Bo and Hope’s love. We laughed over ridiculous storylines and plots, and debated which characters the writers would bring back from the dead. This was our shared guilty pleasure and this time turned into one of my fondest memories. Memories that had little to do with the soap opera and everything to do with the time we spent.

I didn’t have the years or the perspective to appreciate it then. I knew my aunt was a busy woman- a wife, mom, personal trainer and volunteer- but I didn’t know what it really meant to choose people over to-do lists.

My aunt made it seem like there was nowhere else more important than serving me lunch and spending time with me. She made me a priority. She gave me her full attention and time. How much I wish I could go back and thank her. Thank her for providing me a safe place. Thank her for her hospitality and presence. Thank her for her gentle guidance and inspiration. Thank her for taking time to stop, look, listen and linger.

I can’t go back or even tell her now. My aunt was stolen away from us twelve years ago from complications due to cancer treatments. Even when she was in her hospital bed, weak and in pain, she still managed to smile and made you feel as if you were the only person that she wanted to be with. Her presence offered hospitality. She wanted to hear how you were doing and made sure you knew your situations were just as pressing as what she was going though.

Although I can’t go back, I can move forward. I can be thankful for the time I had with my aunt and put into practice what she modeled. I can be thankful for every day, and what it brings, the good and the disappointing. With intention and sacrifice, I can see each person as an opportunity to encourage and build up, to make them feel valued and special. And make them feel like there is no other place I would rather be than with them in that moment.

Like so many of us, my schedule is busy, expectations are high, the demands and distractions seem unlimited. It’s hard to stop. But time seems to be slipping through my hands more quickly than ever and I’m more of aware of this than ever before. Time and people are precious gifts and to treasure them is wise.

So with these realizations, I’ve been making difficult and intentional choices to stop, look, listen and linger. I’m making space in my schedule by saying no to things and saying yes to people. I’m trying not to be swept up into ridiculous dramas or the fantasies my imagination writes so well. I’m debating over things that need to be let go of, handing them over to God to overcome, and not letting the destructive ones make a reappearance from the dead. I’m always, always, continuing to work at presence with people- with littles and bigs.

It is here I raise my Ebenezer. Thanking the Lord for His help so far. Thanking Him for the strength, energy and grace to get through my days and the reminder that time and people are special gifts. It is here I thank the Lord for the people in my life, like my aunt, who took time for me and modeled what it looks like to stop, look, listen and linger; and what it means to use our precious days wisely before they slip away.

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But…Three Ways Little Words Affect our Relationships

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There’s a tiny three-letter word used in many conversations that’s been an instigator of doubt, helper of defensive attitudes, and distinguisher of joy in relationships. A casual little conjunction, called BUT

BUT in itself is not a bad word. It’s the context in which we use it and the statements we choose to combine it with that’s the issue. In homes, workplaces, and in churches, I hear BUT being used in three different ways. Three ways that cause discord between people and promotes negative thinking. With some thought before we speak and a simple replacement word, I believe we can bring about change.

When we replace BUT with AND, we shift our phrases to the positive. We create encouraging and constructive conversations that open dialogue and build up relationships. AND takes nothing away, it only adds.

BUT and Doubt…

Combine BUT with an “I’m sorry” or an “I love you,” and we’ve completely taken away the sincerity of the apology and have established conditions around love. When we say “I’m sorry, but you’re not perfect either” or “I love you, but next time_____,” we are instilling doubt and confusion into our relationships, often leaving the other person to question where they stand, where we stand, and over time, where the relationship stands. It is better to keep the “I’m sorry” and “I love you!” as self-contained, assured statements.

BUT shows up in other ways too. We give, receive and process words through a wide spectrum of emotions and levels of confidence. What we may think is a casual observation or a small statement of opinion can be so much more to the receiver. The BUT can inject doubt into their work, their passions, and their callings.

Some examples… “I like it, BUT it would be better if _____.” “You did a nice job, BUT next time_______.” Instead try saying: “I like it, AND I can see you worked hard on this.” “You did a nice job, AND I would love to hear more about your process.”

BUT and Defensiveness…

We give (and give) so much of our time and talents to people, to our work and the church. Sometimes, we find ourselves in a state of exhaustion. We start getting protective of our time and energies, sometimes thinking we already did our part, gave enough and have nothing more to give. OR God has reluctantly moved us to a new place or a new season and we are processing through those all the thoughts and emotions of letting go and moving forward. When someone approaches us for help or our opinions on something, there’s a threat to answer out of our exhaustion and emotions rather from of a place peace and the inner strength that comes with knowing God has a purpose and a plan.

Instead of saying…”I would love to help BUT I’m already working too much.” Try saying, “I would love to help, AND even though my schedule does not allow it right now, I can help you by thinking of people who might be able to ask.”

Instead of saying…”We did it that way for ages, BUT now_______.” Try, “We did that for ages, AND now we get to do ____________. ”

“Another change! BUT why? ” Try, “Another change! AND maybe there’s good reason for it. I’m going to find out…”

BUT and Distinguishing Joy…

Every day BUTS can distinguish innocent joy. They can overshadow the simplest praise. BUT feeds discontent and rapidly multiplies in conversations. It shows up in our attitudes and the way relate to each other.

Instead of saying… “That’s good, BUT this person/this program/this church does it better like this __________.” Try, “That’s good, AND praise the Lord for what he has done it here.”

Instead of saying…”Only five people showed up, BUT more people should have come.” Try, “Five people showed up AND they were the rights ones. Our small group enjoyed a lot of good conversations.”

There is absolutely a time and place to state opinions, evaluate and reevaluate. It must be done in an edifying, safe and trusting environment, if not the “buts” will continue to destroy relationships, breed distrust and all sincerity will be lost.

I sadly admit I have been both a speaker and receiver of many BUT phrases. I don’t beat myself up about what I might have said, instead I look toward changing what I will say. I think it’s important to remember that in our humanity we are not going to have perfect conversations all the time. It’s an awareness of our choice of words, and working toward using those words in a positive way. This awareness and practice will be beneficial not only to our family, our workplaces and our church bodies but also to us. Let’s start catching ourselves in mid-thought and in conversations, and challenging ourselves to be the change and positivity-promoter that our relationships need.


Five Things to Do This Valentine’s Day-That Fills Everyone’s Love Tank!

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Love is essential for emotional health and well-being and to feel loved is a primary human emotional need. According to Gary Chapman, author of “The Five Love Languages,”  love can be expressed and experienced in five ways:

-quality time

-words of affirmation

-physical touch

-receiving gifts

-acts of service

We have natural preferences and tendencies to give and receive love in one or two of the five ways listed.

Dr. Ross Campbell, a psychiatrist of children and adolescents, suggests each person has an “emotional tank” that needs to be kept full for optimal health and well-being. When our “love tank” is empty, we do not feel loved, perspective on life seems darker, we may feel irritable, and act out. “A lot of misbehavior in marriage grows out of an empty love tank,” said Dr. Gary Chapman.

Our children have their own love languages and love tanks too. Although, their primary languages will not be established until they are older, it’s important to keep their “love tanks” full by loving them in all five ways. Knowing your own and your family members’ love languages can improve relationships and help see interactions in a new way. Your can discover your love language here.

This Valentine’s Day be intentional with how you love and work to keep love tanks full. Below are a few ideas that reaches each type of love language.

Cooking: (quality time, acts of service, gifts)

For Younger Kids: Valentine’s Day Sparkle Playdough

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Sparkle Playdough Recipe adapted from https://www.iheartnaptime.net/

Ingredients:

-2 cups flour

-3/4 cup salt

-4 teaspoons of cream of tarter

-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

-red food coloring

-red and silver glitter

-quart size plastic bags

Directions: 

1.) Add flour, salt, and cream of tarter to a large pot. Stir.

2.) Add water, oil, and food coloring.

3.) Over medium heat, stir mixture constantly until dough has thickened.

4.) Separate dough into two bags quart size plastic bags and add silver and red glitter.

5.) Knead the dough in the bag until glitter and food coloring is incorporated and combined.

6.) Have fun!

The playdough can be packaged with a heart cookie cutter and given as a cute Valentine’s Day gift.

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For Older Kids and Adults: 

Try a new recipe and learn a new technique. Here’s a scrumptious recipe for truffles by my friend Stacey. They make a beautiful, thoughtful gift!

 https://www.inthekitchenwithstacey.com/chocolate-truffles/

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Crafts:  (quality time, receiving and giving gifts)

Younger, Older Kids and Adults: Pull out the craft supplies and lots of glitter and make Valentine’s cards.

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Older Kids and Adults: Sewing and Embroidery

We did a simple sewing project this week with muslin and embroidery floss. With a pencil, I stenciled a heart on the fabric and embroidered around the traced shape. They added heart after heart in different colors. The end result was so cute, we framed them.

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Appreciate Love and Others : (words of affirmation, quality time)

Grab a deck of cards and some paper. Write 52 things you love about a person or what you love about being a family. Cut and paste one thing to each card. Hole punch cards and tie together. (This makes a great gift! I gave this set to my husband about five years ago.)

52 Reasons Why I love You
Create a gratitude board with the  100 Things I Love activity. We did this at MOPS a few of years ago as a practice in gratitude. It was a great reminder of all the big and little blessings that make my life richer and more enjoyable. This activity could be done together or separately.

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Dance Lessons (physical touch, quality time)

Lego Birthday Party - Box Step Feet Dance Steps DiagramGrab a partner and learn a new dance with these fun dance cards from Step Calvert Art.

 

You can get printable dance cards like the one above at this link: https://stephcalvertart.com/lego-birthday-party-dance-dancing/

Here’s an example: Rhumba

Reading Books: (quality time, physical touch)

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One of my favorite parts of the day is when we are all snuggled on the couch with a cozy blanket and a good book. No matter what the book it is, it’s the time spent together, the amazing places you “go”, and the interesting characters you “meet” that makes it such a special time. I also love the great conversations that follow the readings.

Take time to slow down and enjoy your loves today.  Have a very happy Valentine’s Day!

Love,

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Thanksgiving Eve

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My grandfather, Baba, was one of the best.  He was gentle and kind. Intelligent and clever. He delighted in learning and was always up for an adventure. He loved his family and he loved words.

Baba went to the library almost every day and if he couldn’t get there, he would call the reference desk with his questions. The ladies knew his voice and he kept them busy with his burning inquiries. When he wasn’t reading or highlighting large portions of texts, he was creating and writing his own short stories and home answering machine messages. Sometimes the messages made sense, sometimes they did not; but they always rhymed and they always brought him joy to create.

Baba was a special man. It’s because of him I wanted to be a teacher. It is because of him, I will always be a life-longer learner. It’s because of watching him observe and problem solve, that I love observing, exploring, and discovering just like him.

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The holidays always bring a mixture of emotions with them- sadness for the ones we miss, joy for the ones we have near, gratitude for the memories from the past and the new memories we are creating. In memory of my grandfather, I wrote the following little poem (true to his poetic style.) It brings me joy to think I might be carrying on a little bit of his “rhyming words and writing “corny” verses” legacy. 🙂

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

Twas the night before Thanksgiving,
And all through the town,
the pies were a baking,
the dishes strewn around.

The preparations were happening,
the time was very near,
the moods varied from maddening to
“Yay! The time is here!”

In the hustle and the bustle,
its hard to stop and rest,
to remember why we celebrate,
the reasons why we’re blessed.

This day is more than history.
more than moods and the food,
this day is about gratitude,
and the people we include.

The blessings that come in small ways,
through the good times and the bad,
the people who praise and pray with us,
and the communities that make us glad.

Let’s turn our eyes toward heaven,
and thank the good Lord who
gives us life and provisions
daily for me and for you.

And let’s sow some seeds of gratitude,
so our hearts may be renewed.
And harvest a field of hope and joy,
that will last the whole year through.

Happy Thanksgiving Eve! I am thankful for you! 🙏


Circles of People, Circles of Prayer

 

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It was Thursday night. It had been a long, good week but I was tired. On top of our usual routine busyness, there had been a MOPS meeting to prepare for and a Sisterhood message to finish. I had just finished making dinner and I was craving some moments to myself. To my kids delight, I let them eat their dinner on trays in front of the TV. The sound of Miles from Tomorrowland and quiet kids gave me some peaceful moments to take a deep breath and strategize my next steps. I could only manage to think one step ahead and doing the dishes seemed like the next logical thing to do.

I stood at the kitchen sink and sighed over the mountain of dishes. The dishes were not going to get done by staring and sighing so I began to scrub and circle the dishes clean. The warm, soapy water became a salve to my weariness. And as I scrubbed, I became overwhelmed. So overwhelmed, I began to weep. This was a different “overwhelmed” than I have become accustomed to. Not the overwhelmed by busyness or by my to-do list or by expectations, but overwhelmed with deep gratitude for my life and the people in it.

Right there in my kitchen, in the quietness of my heart, memories came back to me so clearly I felt as if they were present time. One by one they came. I could smell things, feel things, and see details of things I had forgotten. I was with people who have long gone to be with Jesus.

I was a little girl standing in the church kitchen, looking up into the faces of a circle of kind, older women. The women were smiling, chatting over their work of cleaning up the communion cups. They welcomed me in their space and allowed me to eat the leftover communion crackers. I felt accepted and safe.

I was a little girl sitting in an oversized metal folding chair among a circle of other folding chairs placed around the small living room of my childhood home. Each chair was filled by a Godly man or woman. Some held hymnals and others large, beautifully tabbed Bibles in their laps. Their songs of praise beautiful. Their prayers powerful. I felt accepted and safe. 

I was a preteen kneeling on the rug in my parent’s friends living room, not quite happy that all my other friends were out at the movies and I was at a Bible study. Regardless of my inside-ungrateful-attitudes-struggles, I was still still in the circle and I listened to God’s word be discussed and life struggles shared. I felt accepted and safe.  

I was reminded of the countless times my parents had us hold hands around the kitchen table. This happened with whoever was joining us for dinner, when we needed the Lords’s guidance, or when we were praying for someone who needed prayer. I felt accepted and safe.

Circles of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe. 

These were the people my parents chose to surround me with. Faithful, Jesus-loving, people who seeked God with all their heart. These were people who let me sit at their feet, invited me into their discussions, welcomed me to participate, let me ask my questions, and loved me through my attitudes and seasons of growing up.

They were not perfect people. They struggled with life. They went through trials. Some of them lost their way. But these are the people who God used to shape my life. These are the people whose stories and testimonies shaped how I saw God and Jesus. These are the people who have prayed circles in and around my life.  Prayers I am just starting to see answers to. These are the people who I wept to God in gratitude and thanksgiving over.

Somehow, the dishes seemed to get done quicker than I thought. I lingered in the memories as long as I could. I didn’t want to leave. But the call of “Mommmm!!!!” brought me to my next task. I wiped the tears from my eyes and heading into the living room to fulfill some random request. The feeling of overwhelming gratitude remained.

I want my children to have what I had. I want to leave a legacy like my parents have left for me. I want my children to grow up in circles of Godly men and women. To be able to sit at Jesus-loving people’s feet, invited into conversations about faith, feel safe enough to ask questions, sing songs of praises and embrace their part and purpose of the Kingdom of God. I want my children in circles of imperfect people who know they need Jesus, where powerful prayers are prayed, where life struggles are prayed through, where testimonies of God’s faithfulness are declared.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Where they feel accepted and safe. 

As I write this, I am overwhelmed and weep again. This time for the people currently in our life. Our faithful parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Our Godly friends. Our intergenerational church family whom I love so much. People who have graciously given us room to grow in our faith and have come alongside us, encouraging us in our parenting and leadership, and loving us unconditionally. People who have welcomed our kids at their tables, fed them, watched over them, given them smiles and a hugs, invited them into prayer circles and to join them in singing songs of praise. Imperfect, Godly men and women, who know they need Jesus, who pray circles around them and encourage them with their words.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe.   

 


2016: Year in Review

There have been times in my life when I’ve had an overwhelming sense to do everything I can to remember the moment. Sometimes the moments have been big, life altering events like my children’s births or the death of a loved one. Other times the moments are found among mundane everyday tasks. Moments that stand out as special, holy gifts. In good and bad moments, I have commanded myself to stop, take a good look around, listen, and pay attention to the people who are with me. Then I pray. I pray my careful observations will become a memory or a lasting impression on my heart in which I can always feel.

Over Christmas break, we traveled to my brother’s house where we gathered with my family. Our family lives in several different states making times when we are all together very rare and special. It was loud and crazy. There was food, a lot of food. There was dancing, singing, praying, and playing with the kids. And food, more food. There was a whole lot of talking and a whole lot of love.

While we were together, I couldn’t help but think about what it was like for my Grandma, Mom and Dad, to be surrounded by a family they started. A bittersweet mix of the golden memories of the past and forging new ones in the present to be remembered for a future time. Missing loved ones and celebrating life in their children and grandchildren. A job well done, children reared, overcoming hard times and celebrating the good times. All this wrapped up in this thing called life.

One night my brother-in-law called us into the living room to watch a video he put together of clips he had taken of his family throughout the year. He captured the big moments and the small ones and masterly put them together complete with touching music. With my family, I watched a year fly by in about three minutes. I was struck with how much of our daily worries and what we think is big stuff, really isn’t and how the small touches, details, and love in life are really what mean the most. All those little moments collected together to mean something very big. It is not the things or even the places, it’s the people that make life worthwhile and meaningful.

My brother-in-law’s video inspired me to reflect back on my year. I went through hundreds and hundreds of pictures and picked out the most meaningful captures. When I look at these pictures, I see a common theme. My word for 2016 was community. These pictures represent so many of the special communities I am part of. God has richly blessed me through this word and my heart is so full thinking of His kindness and His gift to me in people. I was going to add captions but then changed my mind. For those of you who were with me, I hope these pictures spark a special memory or a special moment for you. Thank you, thank you all for being a part of my life, praying for me, and inspiring me to be the best woman, mother, and leader I can be. I love you dearly!  Happy New Year! ❤

January- Subways and Skiing

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February- School, Snow, Sunsets

 

March- Family

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Road trip to my brother’s house where we met up with my sister, my parents, and Gammy. We do not get to see each other often so these trips are important and special time.

April- Wonder and Discoveries

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May- New Friends and Callings

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June- Overcoming Fears and Heights

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July- Gammy on the Go

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August- ADVENTURE

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September- New Beginnings

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October- Incredible Opportunities with Incredible Women

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November-SHINE…Together

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December- Home is Where the Heart Is

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family

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Here’s to 2017….

2017


You Are Never Too Old to Try Something New-Skydiving with My Grandmother

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Tuesday will be a day I will never forget. A day filled with adventure, friendship and inspiration. Inspiration provided by my eighty-six year old grandmother, Gammy, who continues to surprise me with her resilience, endurance and her energy.

Gammy has been living with us since the beginning of July and at the beginning of the summer I made a promise to her of a summer she would never forget-The Summer of Adventure. She loves to be “on the go.” Seeing new things, meeting new people and going out to eat are some of her favorite things to do and I have affectionately hashtagged our adventures as #gammyonthego.

We have chanted “Gammy on the Go! Gammy on the Go!” on our way to visit mansions in Newport, RI, chasing sunsets to gorgeous views, and road tripping to NY. Most of all, I think we have enjoyed the good company of family and friends and getting to know each other better by living life under the same roof. My kids and I have been blessed by this time we have had with her. I have heard stories never heard before and we both have been stretched and grown in different ways. I am trying to take it all in as I have become increasingly aware of not knowing how much more time we have with each other here on earth.

We arrived at Skydive Pepperill  under gorgeous, clear blue skies. A warm breeze was blowing the various flags decorating the Skydive Center and skydivers with colorful parachutes were gracefully landing with expertise in a large, adjoining field. Three other fun-loving, adventurous souls from our church family were jumping with us and some other church members had come to watch. The whole experience was made even better with them there and I was again reminded how much I love my church. The relationships that have built over the ten years at Centerpoint have become some of the most treasured relationships in my life. When it comes down to life, it really is all about relationships. Relationship with Jesus, with your family, with your friends. Relationships and trust take time to grow, through good times and hard times, but it is so worth the time put in. Life is better with good people around you and we have a whole church filled with good (FUN) people.

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I could try to describe our experience. The multiple-page waiver we had to sign, the video that stresses multiple times how you could die, the gear, the plane, the 45 second freefall, and the landing BUT a picture is worth a thousand words. So….here are some pictures and the “most awesome video in the whole world” to take you on our adventure with us.

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Our Skydiving Declarations

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Gearing UP

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Walking Up To The Plane

 

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The Queen of Skydiving

 

The plane

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In the Plane

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At the Door

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Free Fallin’

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The Coolest Grandmother in the Whole World

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Parachutes Deployed

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The Landing. Look at Gammy’s legs. They are in perfect position, better than the instructional video.

Our Instructors

Our Instructors- Vinny and Keith

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PS The record for the oldest female jumper at this center was 94. Gammy said we will be back on her 95th birthday (if not sooner.) I hope that am half of what she is when I am 86. So incredibly blessed!