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Dear Friends,

We are survivors, all of us. Life can be brutal. We have all been through the ringer, run the gauntlet, held on through some horrible experience at some time in our lives. Some of you who are reading this are living through such a time right now. If you feel trapped in what seems to you a hopeless situation and are suffering, feeling isolated and afraid - please don't give up on life. If you are dwelling in despair and maybe contemplating extreme measures to end your pain - please, please reach out to someone in our faith community whom you have reason to trust. Do it today, right now. Trust one of us with your heart's story: your shame, your fear, your secret, the betrayal, the loss, your outrage.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

This soft loving animal is Shamas, the Westie puppy that former UUFSB member Kathy Nashleanas (formerly O'Farrell/Lotten) wrote about to a friend not long ago. Shamas and Mike, Kathy's husband, are among those who survive the loss of their beloved Kathy to suicide this week. Mike was a UUFSB member for many years. Kathy belonged to the Bellport Fellowship. They moved to Florida three or four years ago. While at UUFSB, they participated in Couples Group activities. Mike was a Worship Associate and active member of the Men's Group, which he has replicated at the UU Church of St. Petersburg. Kathy worked as a Fair Housing Investigator, and in a volunteer capacity for Casa de la Paz, PeaceSmiths, South Country Peace Group, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of LI, and the New Century Singers, among other regional and global initiatives.

The "purposeful companionship" that is the center of our community life is, at its core, a means to a richer, more liberated, meaning-filled and hope-lit life. The chalice flame we light together on Sunday mornings lives throughout the week - warm and illuminating - in our connection to one another. "At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person," Albert Schweitzer wrote. If your light is dimming, call someone, meet with him or her. Open the chalice of your heart to the love that can revive your own failing flame.

I know you have seen many examples in recent weeks of letters, videos and news stories reminding us that "It Gets Better." These are responses to the recent rash of suicides among teenagers and young adults who have been) bullied, harassed, abused into mortal despair. It does get better. As you talk, as you sing and walk, as you fast and feast with others, as you begin to trust once more, as you come to love again your vulnerable, resilient self, you will relax into life's wild ride. You will come to trust that "meanwhile the world goes on" -- that something good is coming up and you are expected there.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
-from Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese"

And You, who are alive and alight, write Mike at 9300 50th Terrace North, St. Petersburg, FL 33708, and reach out to those who are suffering near you in their own private darkness. You are a survivor. Offer your light.

Be ye lamps,

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Dear Ones,

Between the mixing and the first rise - while the dough takes a short rest - I am taking a minute to write you. I am so interested in process, in how things get done, each time a little more expertly, with a little more joy in the work, with a little more love in the mix.

I have been making bread since I was little. My mother loved and had mastered one Fleischmann's recipe and she taught me to make it - Oatmeal Molasses Bread - a yummy sweet caramel-colored sandwich loaf. As a young teenager I sold loaves of bread to people in our summer neighborhood, prided myself on making whatever type of bread they asked for, but only yeast breads.

I knew the moment I laid my little girl hand on the baby softness of a well-worked round of dough that bringing a loaf of bread into the world is to dabble in real life magic. The love born in that moment has never left me. Once upon an organic garden, I grew and harvested, threshed and winnowed my own wheat berries.

Though I mill my whole wheat flour these days using store-bought berries, I still smell and taste and feel the earth's goodness plucked up and ground into mix, destined to rise again as tomorrow's toast and sandwich. When you make a loaf of bread you conspire with the Spirit of Life in a complicated process. Different ingredients come together, give their individual gifts to the whole, form together a structure capable of holding the energy that is released, and then they become something entirely new. The ingredients are changed by their association. They become.

We are becoming something together we could not have become alone or in any other combination or circumstance, my friends. The energy we are producing in the process will move us, shape us, change us and make of us a new gift to the world in which we live. What gift or gifts shall we become in the next three years? The next ten? What goodness will you bring to the mix? How will you give yourself to the magic and the fire?