Monthly Archives

December 2016

0 In Book Suggestions/ Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen

One of the things I wanted to have on my blog was a book suggestion or review section. Like I said in my post yesterday, I read a lot and many different books written by many different authors have shaken my faith and touched my heart. For someone who often feels a bit like the odd person out, reading books and finding authors who think like me, who are interested in the same things as me and who ask the same questions as I do reminds me that I am not so odd after all. Through my books I have found countless kindred souls and God has used these people I have never met to weave my faith into something I never imagined it could be.

One of these incredible authors is Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was an ordained Catholic priest and professor who, throughout his life, wrote 39 books (according to wikipedia). I was discussing Nouwen and his work with someone last week and I think she put it perfectly, his writing reflects his humanity. Nouwen’s work is real, brutally honest and so relatable. I think one of the things that I personally love about his writing is that while it is full of assurances of grace, unconditional love and the peace of God it is also full of the honest truth, that it is difficult to believe in unconditional love and it can be difficult to accept that we are the Beloved (Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World).

It is one of Henri Nouwen’s books and his beautiful words that recently brought me back home to God. His beautiful words have wrapped around my heart, offered me reassurances, invited me to hope and have brought me home to God not just once but many many times in the short period of time in which I discovered him. I have only read a few of his books but each one has offered my heart and soul something different. So I have decided to do a mini series in which I discuss the books I have read and how they have impacted me. I hope that you will follow along and maybe even pick up one of his many beautiful books.

Peace, Joy, Blessings and So Much Love,

Margaret

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Jesus Calling

When I began designing The Versatile Girl’s new home I thought of all the different sections that I wanted to add. I crave deep and grace-filled conversations. I know I miss school when I find myself hunting for books to read that will challenge my brain and will also connect to my faith. As I designed this new space I thought that it might be fun and helpful for me to review and discuss the books that have truly touched my soul and shaken up my faith. It is my dream to one day have my own library, full of comfortable chairs, book shelves, books stacked up on side tables and laid open upon chairs. The amount of books I have collected over the years suggests that this dream will one day be a reality!

When thinking about what book to begin my book review section I wasn’t entirely sure which book to begin with. I decided that one of the best books to start with is my daily devotional. I love a daily devotional, but I am incredibly picky about which ones I use. Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence has been my trusty sidekick for the last three-ish years. It has traveled with me all over the US and even internationally to France, Scotland and England. Although I have gone through this little devotional three times it still remains relevant and always seems to say something new to me.

Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, is rooted in scripture and has guided me to incredible passages that I have clung to and read over and over. Young’s words have reminded me to open my hands when I am squeezing them shut and the daily devotions seem to somehow connect perfectly to my life no matter what is going on (I am not the only person who finds this to be true, a dear friend also uses Jesus Calling and has mentioned how perfect the devotions always seem to be).

Sarah Young’s faith story is truly a remarkable one, she discusses how she came to know Jesus in the introduction to the devotional which you MUST read!! The introduction is something many people usually skip over, something I was guilty of until a college professor taught me how useful the information found in the intro is. Jesus Calling‘s introduction is no different, you have to read it to understand how Young came to write these incredible words. A short summary is that she began meditating on God, she listened to the things God laid upon her heart and recorded what was spoken to her. She wrote these amazing messages and combined them into this wonderful 365 day devotional.

The messages are short, simple and to the point. It is a fantastic devotional, one that I continually come back to. Jesus Calling is available in book form, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Adroid forms. There is also a teen and children’s version. Just the other day I was in Barnes and Noble and I discovered Young had published another 365 day devotional entitled, Jesus Always. After spending 1,095 days with Jesus Calling I have high hopes for Jesus Always.

May the Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Peace, Joy, Blessings and SO MUCH LOVE,

Margaret

 

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Peace

“Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps means a little bit more!” The Grinch

Every year I always wonder where the time goes. It seems that the time leading up to Christmas passes in a flurry of crazed shopping, decorating and seeking out Christmas cheer. By the time Christmas does come we are so exhausted and just ready for the peace that usually happens on the 26th.

One of my all time favorite Christmas movies is the live action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Cindy Lou Who struggles with the meaning of Christmas; finding that the in your face celebrations, obsession with presents and the overall lack of substance just does not suit her instead it makes her seek out the real meaning of Christmas.

I really relate to Cindy Lou Who; I love receiving presents (who doesn’t) and I love finding the right gift to give but in recent years I have found myself desiring more. This year my uncle jokingly asked if I wanted world peace for Christmas. As I thought about it, isn’t that what we celebrate on Christmas? Aren’t we celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace.

I think of all the violence on this earth, all the hatred, the darkness, the fear and my heart breaks. In my recent posts I have delved into hope and how difficult it can be in this cruel world and yet, if I focus on my heart, I can feel the warm glow of hope burning inside. This morning I laid on my brother’s couch in the quiet that occurs before the Christmas rush of opening presents and I read my final devotion in my Advent series. This series has been a welcome relief for me each day throughout this season of Advent, allowing me a moment of peace and quiet each day to just focus in on the heartbeat of God. This morning as I lay looking at the tree, the house quiet all around me I found that peace that I have been searching for throughout this Christmas season. Even now as I sit in the living room watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas and waiting for dinner to be ready I feel the warm embrace of peace.

The devotion (written by Reverend Scott Clark) this morning focused in on a moment of peace, reflection and admiration that occurred so long ago. The moment in which all became quiet and Mary held her baby boy in her arms and pondered the incredible words the shepherds delivered to her. I wonder if her heart craved peace like ours do. Ever since the angel came to deliver the news to Mary it must have been hectic and crazed. Goodness, she traveled to Bethlehem, where the inn had no room afor she and her future husband and went into labor! Labor is already stressful enough (especially in those times) imagine having no place to stay and having to give birth in a stable!

After she delivers this incredible baby, visitors come to visit, to worship and share the words that angels delivered to them! After the craziness that had followed Mary for months, after the visitors left and it was just Mary holding her baby I am sure she felt peace. She found the peace that we all search for–the peace that only Christ can bring.

I am not sure what you and your family do on Christmas Day afternoon/evening but I hope that you are able to find the peace that Jesus brings. I hope that you are able to take a moment, to stop, simply be, enjoy being surrounded by loved ones and rest in the wonderful news:

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to use authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Merry Christmas my beautiful friends. May the PEACE of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

PEACE, JOY, BLESSINGS and SO MUCH LOVE,

Margaret

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Weary

Lately, I have been really listening to the lyrics of famous Christmas songs rather than simply letting the familiar tunes fade into the background of my mind. One of my favorites is ‘O Holy Night.’ I absolutely love if it is sung in a large group of people–when all the people sing the line “fall on your knees” it sends chills down my spine. But this Christmas I have been dwelling upon a different line,  “a weary world rejoices.”

If you have been reading my recent posts I think you can tell that I feel weary. As I have looked around me I have seen people who feel just as weary. Yesterday, my Advent devotional (I have been receiving emails from San Francisco Theological Seminary) was entitled Beautiful Feet. The passage used was  Isaiah 52:7-10. Verse 7 is the one that really spoke to me:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.'”

The author of the devotional, Reverend Aimee Moiso, relays a story of her hike up Mt. Sinai in Egypt. She writes of tired, sore and cold feet which are seemingly in opposition to this concept of beautiful feet. However, she concludes that “there is something beautiful about the feet of the messengers on the mountains, the bearers of news so good they will put one dusty foot in front of the other for miles and miles to share it.” What a lovely thought. Just as in the song ‘O Holy Night,’ these weary feet continue to go forth to tell of the good news, that God loves us so much that God has sent her only son to lay down his life so that we may have everlasting life. Just because we are weary does not mean we cannot rejoice!

I think Reverend Aimee Moiso puts it beautifully stating, “the news is so good that disorientation and weariness and fear, while real, and not enough to stop the feet–the beautiful feet, step by trembling step, bringing the good news: yes, it is right to hope.” Despite a weary soul, heart and weary feet it is right to hope and it is right to rejoice in that hope. Though we have a long way to go, we must continue to put one weary foot in front of another, let our hearts follow the beat of God’s own heart (the San Fransisco Theological Seminary’s Advent series’ theme has been the heartbeat of God).

In spite of my weariness I find that I can not only feel the heartbeat of God I can hear it, it is a steady beat that draws me further and further out–closer and closer to the One who loves me with an everlasting love. Sisters and brothers let us draw near to God, let us take our weary souls forth and rejoice!

Though this world and our hearts are weary from so much hate, darkness, fear and violence there is still reason to hope and to rejoice. For faith, hope and love add light into this very dark world, giving our weary souls something to truly rejoice over!

May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. May love be abundant in your life. And I pray that if you are weary, you are still capable of rejoicing.

Peace, Joy, Blessings and SO MUCH LOVE,

Margaret

 

 

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Incredible Faith

Two years ago, my life changed forever when I learned how to connect to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Two years ago, I read the wrong passage for my devotional and I stumbled upon the Gospel of John’s version of the crucifixion. John’s Gospel is the only one that specifies that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was standing at the cross. In that moment I was connected to Jesus through the eyes of his fully human mother. I felt my heart break as I thought about that fully human woman standing watching her son be brutally tortured and hang upon the cross. I think that I connect with Mary because she was fully human and I think she speaks to the part of my heart that wants to one day be a mother. Through this incredible woman I learned who my Savior was and I fell into his arms–my faith and life were transformed forever.

In the last two years I have entered into an intimate relationship with God that I never dreamed I would experience. As I listened to Pentatonix version of ‘Mary Did You Know’ last night I was reminded of that moment two years ago and I thought about this woman’s incredible faith. As the words were laid on my heart and I prepared to go write them–my mother brought up how she was truly amazed at Mary’s faith.

So many people scoff at Mary and the virgin birth, writing it off as pure fiction and in some cases judging those who believe it as a bit delusional. Even today I read a comment in response to an article I read, which completely wrote off the virgin birth. I can understand where these people come from–it truly is difficult to believe in such an amazing story. But if you take a closer look you will see that the faith it takes to believe in the story is the exact same faith it took to make the story happen. If Mary had not sung her faithful praise then the story would be completely different.

Luke 1:26-38

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a townie Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this gem since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of god. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.”

I think about my faith and how limited it is. There are times that I simply want to ignore and do ignore God’s call. There have been some very big calls that I couldn’t even say yes to, instead uttering a miserable “ok.” Yet, this woman (who was probably about 12-14 years of age) managed to trust in the Lord and the angel’s words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. In my study bible this verse has a footnote which reads:

“Mary’s unsolicited consent to the divine word establishes her as a model disciple who discerns God’s activity even in the midst of circumstances that place her precariously outside of social convention” (The Discipleship Study Bible).

She stepped out in faith and chose to believe in all that the angel said to her.

Just a few short lines later, we see Mary visiting her relative Elizabeth. Elizabeth greets her with a cry of:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:41-45)

This is one of my all time favorite passages, in fact it is currently the lock screen of my phone. Blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. This woman praised the Lord, despite the scandal her pregnancy would cause, despite how difficult this would make her life. That, my friends, is incredible faith. Just as Elizabeth said: Blessed is she who believed the Lord would fulfill the promises made to her.

 

I am in awe of Mary’s reaction to this scary news. Instead of running away, arguing or simply saying nope I don’t want this she accepts the words that the angel has spoken to her–then continues to sing praises to God.

Luke 1:46-49

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

If you have not listened to Pentatonix version of ‘Mary, Did You Know?’ I urge you to go do so. It not only is a fantastic version of the song, just listen to the words and think about that young 12-14 year old woman who boldly believed in God and the promises made to her.

It is clearly obvious I have immense admiration, respect and love for Mary. This woman and her incredible faith have allowed me the chance to draw nearer to my Lord and Savior. So during this Christmas season I will give thanks for her incredible faith and I will sing praises to the God who I believe will fulfill all the promises she makes.

I hope that you (and I) are able to step out in faith, to draw nearer to God and trust that there will be a fulfillment of all that God has spoken to us. This Christmas season lets try and choose to have incredible faith.

May the Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Peace, Joy, Blessings and SO MUCH LOVE,

Margaret

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Open Heart

In my last post I reminded my readers to look for the good in the world but I struggle to do this myself. Although my posts come from my heart, there are times that I catch myself being so hypocritical. I buy into the lies that the darkness tells me–too often than I would care to admit. It is easier to buy into that hopelessness rather than to strive to really see that good, to choose love and to hope. But easier, in this case, is not better.

Falling into that dark pit of hopelessness is easier but it is not better. This past Saturday, I had the amazing opportunity to do a reading at a dear friend’s wedding. As I read the two beautiful scriptures the couple had chosen and glanced at them as I read the words I saw love and I felt so much hope. The warmth, light, love and hope present in that place was remarkable. Truly the Lord was present (Genesis 28:16). Watching two people stand in front of their friends and family and promise to love, honor and cherish one another is a rare treasure that adds a little bit more love into this world and reminds all who stand as witnesses to that love that love wins.

Despite that beautiful sense of hope and all the love I felt Saturday, I fell back into that trap. I slipped back into that hopeless abyss–but then today, I did what I encouraged all of you to do on Friday–I looked for the good. Sometimes, like today, I am just blown away by the love that surrounds me.

Yesterday, I received a text message from a dear friend, out of the blue, that reminded me that I am loved, in a time that I really needed to be reminded of that. A series of similar conversations occurred and today on my flight back to Charleston from Philly I was just bombarded with the realization that I am so blessed. Instead of being grateful I have let myself get distracted by the temptation of feeling hopeless. How sad is that? But I have a hunch that I am not the only person that falls into this trap so easily.

I am truly learning what it means to actively seek out the good, to look with an open heart and open hands. I have so much to be thankful for; so much that I overlook too often. I am so loved and I have the capacity to give so much love–what an incredible gift.

I am trying and failing then trying again to choose hope, thankfulness and love. I hope that if you find yourself falling back into that pit of darkness that you receive a text, a smile, a kind word, just a little reminder of how loved you are.

For those beautiful humans who touched my heart and reminded me that I am loved–thank you. I am so incredibly thankful to each one of you for accepting me as I am and offering me love and support–no matter how far away we may be from each other.

I love how Fred Rogers defines love and I feel like this is the love I have been receiving and hopefully giving:

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

My dear brothers and sisters, know that you are dearly loved. I hope that your holidays are filled with so much joy, peace, love and hope.

May the Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Peace, Joy, Blessings and SO MUCH LOVE,

Margaret

Psalm 9:1

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.”

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Dare to Hope

I, like so many others, seem to constantly wait for the other shoe to drop, the bad news to be reported and the worst to happen. It is like we are always living in a state of fear or unrest, that we are too scared to let ourselves hope or believe that love and goodness can actually best evil and hatred. Recently, I have watched as people hurt those they love, how fear and hatred have dominated political rhetoric (throughout the world), how people have become nothing more than numbers, stereotypes or groups. It is hard when we are bombarded, constantly, by bad news on TV, social media, newspapers and even in our own personal lives. The other day I really sat and thought about it, how is it that hope still exists?

Sometimes, more often than I would like to admit, I believe that we all have reason to lose hope. It has become increasingly clear that a dark cloud seems to be getting closer to consuming the world and thrusting us into an all out hopeless world. And yet, despite that advancing darkness, the light still remains–maybe it is a bit dim, but it is still there.

For me, in order to not lose all hope, I have to remind myself to look for the good. As an American treasure, Fred Rogers said:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. you will always find people who are helping.'”

Just as we must look for the helpers we must always look for the good. Maybe it is something small and seemingly meaningless, but if we start counting all of the good things we experience, witness or even do those things will build up and help brighten the light. The light is still there, even if it seems to have dimmed, as long as there is even just one person who still believes in the light I truly believe that the darkness will never win.

Today I am writing this post in a crowded airport in Fort Lauderdale.  I am waiting to board another flight and head to Philadelphia to celebrate the love of two beautiful human beings. This is something that is so good, something that adds a bit more love into this world and a heck of a lot more light. Celebrating the love of two people at their wedding and being given the opportunity to share my love with them is a beautiful blessing. But if I let myself buy into the lie that the darkness offers then I would miss the blessing. We always have a choice: see the blessing, accept it and be a part of it or buy into the lie, ignore the blessing and reject it.

There are still so many reasons to have hope. I believe with all of my heart that love, pure, unfiltered love will eventually vanquish the darkness for good. I, like everyone else, have the choice to choose to hope, to love and to have faith or to choose to buy into that lie. I choose to hope, to love with all of my heart and to have faith.

1 Corinthians 13:13

“And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

It is the season of Advent, the season in which we wait and prepare our hearts for Christ’s arrival. This is meant to be a season of hope, peace, joy and love but for too many it is not. We are nearly crushed with the weight of stress, work, heartbreak, hopelessness and fear. Look for the good–even if it is just seeing the sun (after living in Scotland for a year, you really are truly thankful to see the sun).

Hope has always been something I struggle with. I guess it is the Negative Nancy side of me that is always concerned with the reality of things and that reality always tends to be darkened with negativity. There is a phrase that we often use: “Expect the worst and hope for the best.” However, it tends to end up being shortened to: “Expect the worst.” Isn’t it heartbreaking that so many of us, including myself, have lost the ability to hope? I remember my final year of undergrad sitting in my Virtue and Vice class and admitting to my professor and classmates that I have a really hard time hoping for things. I can still see my professor looking at me and saying: “My daughter asked for a time machine and all the sick people in the world to be cured for Christmas. If she can hope for that and believe that it can happen then we can have hope. Have faith like a child.” I guess my struggle to hope comes from my human desire to control things–the lesson I have “learned” countless times is that when I control things, it will always go wrong. The key to hope, at least for me, is to have faith like a child. To believe that God has control and that no matter what it may look like–beautiful things are about to happen.

For the first time in my life I am learning how to hope, I have been feeling the warm glow in my heart as it grows and learns to walk this new path. I am growing into hope, but I can already sense something beautiful is about to happen and I am noticing beautiful things all around me.

I am learning it is only with a grateful heart and open hands that I am truly able to grow into hope. Today, I am so grateful to be on my way to celebrate the love of two fantastic people and to spend time with those I love.

In this season of advent lets grow into hope together–for I have touched the living vein of love and I can assure you there is so much to be thankful for, so much to be hopeful for and so much love for every single one of us.

My beautiful brothers and sisters, may the Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

MAY PEACE, JOY, HOPE, BLESSINGS, and SO MUCH LOVE follow you today and always.

Much love,

Margaret

 

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The Quest for Peace

We are currently in the season of Advent, waiting for the coming of Christ. During the Christmas season one of the most difficult things to find is genuine peace. We are constantly concerned with decorating the house, buying all the gifts, drinking lots of hot chocolate, baking and eating Christmas cookies in an effort to squeeze in as much Christmas cheer as we possibly can. But what tends to happen is by the time Christmas does come and go I often feel like I missed the season, that it didn’t feel like Christmas at all. Those are the worst Christmases, the ones that don’t feel like Christmas and the peace and joy of the season missed.

This year, I am entering this season of Advent with a heart that has found much peace in the past few months. It seems that when you take three months to do nothing but drink tea, ponder God, pray, journal and read that peace is a natural side effect. I have just recently returned home to the United States and have been thrust into yet another transitional period of life, trying to listen for the call of God and figure out my next few steps, AKA not a very peaceful period. However, in this season of Advent, I don’t want to get caught up in the swirl of things and I certainly do not want to get caught up in the storm of worry and anxiety; instead I want to get back to that peace I have discovered in the past few months. I want Christmas to actually feel like Christmas. Too often I, along with so many others, tend to put Jesus and his peace on the back burner during Christmas time. It is so easy to get swept up in the rush of the holidays and lose track of time and lose track of that quiet hum of God’s peace, joy and love.

I have just started an Advent study, I am, of course about a week behind and working my way to catching up. But the second day’s study focuses on exactly what this post is discussing–God’s peace. I have recently been reading another one of Henri Nouwen’s books, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World. In this book Nouwen discusses how we need to set aside time to just simply be, a quiet time in which we meditate and let our hearts come to rest. During this Christmas season I am going to try and make time for this necessary quiet time, to actively seek out God’s peace and let God in.

In the last few months, a dear friend of mine has constantly told me to just let myself be. It is when I stop all the struggling and striving and simply come back to a state of rest, to let my heart, mind and body simply be, that I find myself coming straight into the heart of God’s peace.

This past Friday I went to the Church that became my home this past summer. The St. Andrews St. Andrews Episcopal Church in St. Andrews, Scotland offered my heart sanctuary in a time that was an incredibly stressful, hopeless and uncertain time in my life. I wandered in one Friday in June and was met by a woman, Sybil, who welcomed me in and offered me the blessings of acceptance and peace. This past Friday I had a heart to heart with a man who took communion with us every Friday, a former Episcopalian priest. This man told me something that has stuck with my heart. For so long I kept my heart boarded up, scared to trust God, love and let people fully in. My friend looked at me and said: “The disciples were boarded up in a room, locking everyone out and that is when Jesus came in.” If I think about this past year, I see that my heart was boarded up–to an extent, locking out love, peace and locking out God, but still Jesus came in.

In the passage John 20:19-21 we see what happens:

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

In this season of Advent I hope that Jesus comes in and offers you his peace. May you and your family have a wonderful Christmas, full of God’s peace, love and joy.

May the Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Peace, Joy, Blessings and So Much Love,

Margaret