Living Loved

Live from the abundant place that you are loved, and you won't find yourself begging others for scraps of love. - Lysa Terkeurst, from Uninvited, the book. (Simple, but not necessarily easy.):

The quote above could stand alone, in my opinion.

I read this and wonder how many times I have acted in exactly this manner….looking for my self-worth and validation from others: in my friendships and relationships, as a mom or perhaps in my career.

I suspect there are many of us who live in a place where the approval of others is more important than how we view ourselves – how Christ views each of us.

Think back to middle school or high school for a moment.

There were always those people who seemed to sail through adolescence with the grace and beauty of a well-crafted yacht. They were the shiny people. Others were drawn to them. Their clothes fit neatly, they grew in seemingly appropriate proportions, their teeth were perfect….in a nutshell: they belonged. Their brightness seemed to bounce off  you when they were around. You felt important. You (should you dare say it) felt shiny.

It felt great to be a part of their circle.

Until you realized that you weren’t.

I was never a yacht-sailing adolescent. My transition through my youth looked more like a small dinghy that could barely make it out of the harbor without capsizing. I was awkward. I was short and lanky. Long after all the other girls began looking like young women, I still looked like a little girl. I had braces to close the enormous gap between my front teeth – teeth that were too big for my head (or so it seemed to me). My clothes hung on me because I couldn’t fill them out. I was a swimmer and my hair stayed short for the ease of the sport. Boys were not flocking to my side. Oh, how I wanted to be one of them.

I stayed on the outside of the social groups for many years. It took some special friends in high school to finally help me find my place in the social tribe, not to mention the end of adolescence.

I have often wondered how my early experiences shaped my future outlook on friendships, relationships and how I ultimately viewed myself as a person. Taking an honest look at my life through that lens is embarrassing, at the least.

I think girls are particularly vulnerable to allowing the opinions of others to shape who they believe themselves to be. Look at the marketing ploys of the fashion industry. Look at the TV shows a lot of teenagers are drawn to watching. The media has crafted  a world that so many young people believe to be reality; and yet, when their own lives are a dim reflection of what they have been led to believe, they become lost and unable to form healthy relationships with others and most importantly, themselves.

Let’s go ahead and throw social media under the proverbial bus as well. Teenagers live in an era of instant gratification and a world where their validation comes in the form of “likes”, “comments” and “streaks”. Can you imagine the damage this instantaneous world has done to the next generation of adults? Research is not favorable to technology in how it influences social and emotional health in people. Not to mention that social media allows its participants to create an on-line life that projects perfection and fun.

As a mom of 2 teenage daughters, I am watching them navigate the very worlds I describe here. One daughter is lauded for her beauty and gracefulness. She is well liked and she tends to handle most conflicts with peers as if they don’t matter to her own existence. In fact, she is pretty good at walking away from it altogether. My other daughter seems to be bobbing along the waters of adolescence in a very different way. She has difficulty navigating the social waters in her peer group. She speaks her mind and doesn’t easily let the behaviors of others roll off of her back. She stays in it to fight back. I’ve painfully watched her bounce from one peer group to the other, searching for the right fit. When she is in one and things are good, she is good. When things go sour, her mood plummets.

I try to coach them both through these years: telling one to be compassionate to others who are still figuring things out and to the other, I assure her that she has wonderful qualities that anyone would be honored to be around – maybe she hasn’t found the right group yet. I have also had many discussions  with them both about what it means to love yourself first and who they are in Christ.

I am reading the book Uninvited, by Lysa TerKeurst. The sub-title really just captures the essence of this book: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely. I want to share a profound quote from her work.

It reads, “The mind feasts on what it focuses on.What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.”

That is an amazing thought.

As I look over the landscape of my own life, I see where I went wrong on so many fronts. I see times today, as a 46 year old, when I am still sending myself the wrong messages. Times when I am focusing on the wrong things, punishing myself for mistakes, putting value in the things that ultimately don’t matter. I still seem to battle for spots in social groups and can get sensitive with friends from time to time. The habits, fears, and insecurities of adolescence seem to follow some of us right into adulthood.

See if any of these messages sound familiar to you:

“I just can’t lose the weight like I used to.”

“I don’t want to buy a size bigger; I’d rather squeeze into something too small and be miserable for the sake of a number.”

“I wonder why I wasn’t invited to go with them to the movies?”

“Who is going to love a woman with a train-wreck history in relationships?”

“I texted her an hour ago and still no response. Did I do something wrong?”

“Why didn’t they pick me for that job? I have the years and experience. I was the perfect candidate.”

“I can’t believe I was foolish enough to believe the lies he told. Look at the wasteland my life has become. I will never find love.”

“God can’t use me for His Kingdom. I have made some terrible mistakes and disobeyed His word.”

“I am not as talented a writer as others. No one will read my stuff.”

I could go on and on about the messages we send ourselves. The  quotes above are messages that I told myself. Some of those messages are pretty recent. When I send myself those messages, I become that 12 year old girl who listens to others talk about the great birthday party they went to over the weekend – the same birthday party that I wasn’t invited to. Or I send myself those messages and am reminded of all the unwise mistakes I made and how those have caused my story to be vastly different than what I imagined. Sometimes when I send those messages to myself, I am indirectly telling my 2 teenage daughters that the number on the scale or in my waistband is important. Then there are some messages that I send myself which counters the very thing God says about me in His Word.

I wonder what my life could have looked like if I had let my value to Christ pierce my heart when I was a young girl? I’m not referring to the salvation story here. No, I’m talking about the stuff that points to my place in His Kingdom no matter what.

The part that says I am loved by a God who dances and sings over me with joy. (“Yahwah your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His Love,He will dance over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17)

The parts that remind me of His promise that He has a plan for me, a divine purpose that is not deterred by any action on my part. (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11)

The piece of Scripture that reminds me He makes beauty for ashes. (“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory.” Isaiah 61:3)

The reminder that He makes no mistakes and all those created are done so with His hand to perfection. (“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;  your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14)

My story with God is the greatest Love Story of all time. It is a story where He wants me to remember to LIVE my life with the piercing knowledge that I am LOVED with an abundance.

What about you, Reader?

What messages are you sending yourself that might be keeping you from living loved in this world? What messages are you sending others who are struggling with the same?

Love’s the Thing

This post is two weeks late, and for that: I apologize.

Week 7 ushered in the day of love……Valentine’s Day.

I have written several essays dismissing this holiday as a ploy to get consumers to spend outrageous amounts of money on greeting cards, flowers and chocolates. While I still believe that we spend way too much money in the name of “love”, I’m certainly not as cynical about Feb 14th as I have been in the past.

Perhaps it’s Dave (the ultimate romantic hero in my life)…..perhaps it’s growing older and more sentimental……perhaps it’s a combination of this and so much more.

I am profoundly aware that love takes a seat in each of our lives in a variety of ways. Love is present as lovers & spouses, children, family, and friends. So in honor of love, I would like to share a snippet about each of the remarkable people that bring their own personal brand of love into my life each and every day. They enrich my path, fill my heart, and remind me that the greatest treasure we possess on earth, is the relationships we have while we are here together.

‘Love one another’ is the greatest of all commandments from Christ. When I consider all of the loves in my life….I am the richest person in the world.

Dave

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, eyeglasses and indoor Ours is a story that still amazes me. We met in 2012. He wasn’t looking and I wasn’t available. Yet, the meeting was pure magic and as so often happens in these cases, the Universe conspired to bring us together. We married in 2014. He is as opposite from me as possible. He smooths out my rough edges. He makes me laugh. He challenges every platform I stand on. He has influenced my thinking and heart in ways that I never thought possible. He took on an instant family that included 2 teenage girls, 2 dogs, 1 cat and a turtle. To say that he has the patience of Job is an understatement. Most importantly, he knows the good, the bad, and the ugly about me and yet, he chooses to love me anyway. He is my lobster.

Grace & Anna

Image may contain: 2 people, child, outdoor and nature These two…oh, how my heart loves them. They are the reflections of all that is good in my world. They are the most opposite of creatures; a mixture of their father and me – the good and the bad. I am amazed at them both. Their existence reminds me that my heart lives outside of my body at all times. They have made me a better human being. They have shown me the closest thing to God’s unconditional love that a mere human can experience. They are my heartbeats.

Family

My father, Jim, and stepmom, Margaret. Margaret cultivated my love of reading and flowers. Everything that I know about growing things, came from her. My father cultivated a love of building stuff and having a strong work ethic. They both make me proud  – they are good and kind people, serve those less fortunate, and embody the love of Christ towards others.

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Also in this picture are my Uncle Marty and Aunt Carol. Carol is my mother’s younger sister. She is all I have left of my mom. She was 14 when I was born and serves more as a sister to me than an aunt. Her husband, Marty, is one of the funniest guys I know. He is a good man – plain and simple. (Pictured here: Grace, Margaret, Anna, me, Carol, my dad, and Marty 2015)

No automatic alt text available.Pictured here are my stepfather, Mac and my mom, Barbara. Both have made the journey home to Heaven; yet, the love they gave me lives on in me today.

Friends

Miranda

Image may contain: 2 people Miranda is both family and one of my closest friends. For many years, I was married to her father which made her my stepdaughter. Yet, she has managed to transcend that role over the years so that even when her father and I divorced, she remained an unwavering friend and half-sister to Grace and Anna. There are simply no words to describe what she means to me. Truly….words fail me and I am silent when I think of what she means to my life. She is pictured here in 2014, giving me away at my wedding to Dave. That gesture alone….

Ruthie

Image may contain: 2 people, outdoorSince 1990, as students at Milligan College, she has been my best friend. She is, by far, one of the smartest people I know. We have seen our marriages fall apart, raised our children, vacationed together as family, and even traveled to Italy in 2012. She is the girlfriend that you snuggle with and watch your favorite movie. She is the one who listens, asks the questions that make you cringe, and doesn’t hesitate to say the things that you don’t want to hear. She is a straight shooter. We “get” each other. We remind one another quite often, how lucky we are to have had this friendship for 27 years.

Amanda

Image may contain: one or more people, sunglasses and closeup We met at church, almost 14 years ago. I was pregnant with my second daughter and she was pregnant with her first child, Ava. We just hit it off. She is sharp-tongued and quick witted. We haven’t always agreed or seen eye-to-eye; but, there is an acceptance between us, a friendship unlike any other. Our friendship is the living example of forgiveness and unconditional love. We have struggled through motherhood together…..marriage….divorce…dating after divorce….heartbreak…love. We went almost a year and didn’t speak. I’m not sure why now. I do know that we were both at turning points in our lives and neither could cultivate a common ground to stand together on. Until one day…we did. The ground appeared. I suspect it will remain for many years to come.

Karen

Image may contain: 2 people, people smilingWe met at work about 12 years ago. If I recall correctly, we didn’t like one another very much in the beginning. But as with all magical things, the Universe found ground for us to stand on. She is funny. She is loving. She is a great mom. She is so much wrapped up into a small bundle of fiery personality. I’m not sure that a cross word has ever been spoken between us. In fact, I’m positive of it. I also know that she would do anything for me – and she has. She is the best at being a co-conspirator. I just love her.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor Image may contain: 1 person And these sassy ladies? Well, they are special to me as well.  On the left are: Lindsay, Marla, Meredith, Jaclyn, Rachel; and, not pictured: Jenny and Pam.

On the right is Renee. She is Grace and Anna’s godmother and Anna’s namesake. Our friendship? Well, I couldn’t write about it here and do it justice. All that we have shared and the times that are still ahead for us once our lives settle down a bit.

All of these ladies make me laugh. They are beautiful ,smart, and have made me a better person. Our paths have crossed and the rest is history. It is more difficult for me to see them these days, but we manage to talk all the time. I just love them all.

The words I have written here don’t do each of them or the relationships I have with them: justice. They are too precious and special to have only a paragraph written about them. I could write a book about each. So, during this past week of celebrating Valentine’s Day, I was reminded of the many love stories that exist in my life. I offered a prayer of thanks for each one. I have been fortunate enough to work with and socialize with some amazing ladies. Many pictured here and more that I just don’t have pictures of – but that doesn’t make them any less special. People like: Susan, Tammy, Jennifer, Ashley and Carol; my cousin Jenny. I love them all.

Love’s the thing, you know……

Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

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The restaurant was loud Thursday night.

J and I were crowded in the corner, our chairs close to one another. As we spoke in hushed tones, our spouses and daughters buzzed with conversation or stared into lit phone screens.

A signature here. A signature there.

In some ways, I’m glad that our meeting place was so public. I found it difficult to ruminate over the documents while forks clanked against plates and peals of laughter rose from across the dining room. If we had been alone, I would have cried.

When the last signature was drying on the fancy paper, J looked at me and said, “Now you can get busy living.”

It was done.

When you have to prepare for your death, it is a sobering reminder that none of us will get out of this world alive. Once the blue ink dries and the documents are in your hand, you realize that some of the burden accompanying death, is lifted. No one  has to wonder what your wishes are. No one has to wonder if they are making the right decisions. You have made all of those arrangements for them.

One weekend while visiting my Mom many, many years ago, she suggested we spend the afternoon at the condo on Lake Norman. Once we settled in, she and I gathered our fruity cocktails and sat on the covered patio and watched as the boats and jet skis passed through the cove. I’m not sure her exact thoughts, but I imagine that she knew this would be a tough conversation for us both.

She then pulled out an envelope and slid it across the table to me.

When I opened the flap and recognized the documents inside, I started to balk. But before I was given the chance to protest too much, she stopped me.

“Kelli, we both know how this ends for me. I want to leave this Earth knowing that I gave you and Mac one less thing to worry about. It’s important. Let me have my say.”

For the next couple of hours, she explained her Last Will & Testament, her Living Will, and Power of Attorney for Health and Finances.

She educated me on Mac’s responsibilities as well as my own. In her careful planning, she gave me a piece of paper that outlined her final wishes for a memorial service and what to do with her personal effects after she was gone. She even picked out the outfit she was to be buried in. That was my mom. Meticulous down to the last detail. If she couldn’t control how her life was to end, she was determined to control the rest.

I cried a lot after she finished. In fact, I’m sure Mom cried too. We never opened that envelope again.

From that day forward, she got busy living the rest of her life and stopped worrying about the dying part.

In hindsight, it was one of the greatest gifts she gave me. I knew that those documents contained her request for honoring the life she lived here and how we would celebrate her arrival in Paradise.

So Thursday, after the waitress cleared the dishes, I huddled up at the end of the table with J while everyone else visited with one another or their technology. Between us, J spoke candidly about each document and then showed me where to sign. He signed. Then our witness signed.

Finally, the documents were placed in an over-sized envelope.

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At work this week, several of us talked about the vapor of life. One woman spoke of a 50 year old father who died very suddenly after a seemingly common illness. Another colleague watched in horror as her child fell in what could have been a terrible accident. Yet another received a phone call that her son had been involved in a traffic accident.

Our lives are but a vapor.

I am reminded of this when I observe fog that blankets a river one minute and then lifts and is burnt away by the sun.

Despite life’s brevity, it is a wondrous adventure.

There is a popular saying that goes something like this, ‘Don’t get so busy making a living, that you forget to make a life.’ And I think many people enter into adulthood and do just that.

They live to work, buy stuff, acquire status and positions at work or in prominent social circles and then wait for retirement to really live this one life. That’s an ok way to approach things, I suppose. Yet, I often wonder about how people feel if they suddenly come to know the end of their life and realize that they missed living it.

And perhaps the real issue is all in how we interpret what it means to really live life to the fullest.

What I find adventurous in this world is certainly not what others are interested in doing. I respect that.

The glorious aspect about life is that we get to choose how we spend our time here.

So, I would encourage you to spend some time and linger over a couple of important things: how you want your love one to handle your death and how you might spend your time living your best possible life.

The first will ease the burden for others after you are gone. The second will show your loved ones how much fun you had at living life in the hopes that they will follow your example.

It is easy to get trapped in our “to-do lists” or always feeling that you have to say ‘yes’ to this person or that person. It is also easy to say, “Let’s do that next year when the time is right.”

Instead, look for opportunities, big and small, to live life  with a bit of reckless abandon for the possibilities that exist out there. Pay attention to the colors in the sky at morning. Don’t be in such a hurry to end a conversation over dinner. Notice how the shadows play with the landscape as the sun sets. Laugh until you cry. Book that trip to that destination you always wanted to see. Reach out to the hurting in this world even it is a bit uncomfortable. Listen to the ideas and viewpoints of someone who is different than you. Forgive. Taste food from another part of the world. Be willing to see Divinity in every person you meet. Eat that piece of cake.

Do whatever it takes to get busy living this one, wild and wonderful life.

If you aren’t bust living, then you are busy dying.

Teenage Snuggles & Butterfly Kisses

Somewhere on the streets of Heaven, my mother is giggling. She giggles because all that she endured when I was a teenager has been heaped on me two-fold.

Oh, how clever she was to say, “Just wait until you have children of your own. It’s not all snuggles and butterfly kisses.”

As a parent of two teenage girls, I must admit that I have never missed my mother more than right now. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to chat with her about Grace and Anna over a big slice of her 7-Up cake and a cup of coffee. I imagine her soft blue/gray eyes framed with the lines of a mother who lived and survived the raising of her own teenage daughter. I can see her thin mouth twist upwards into a “knowing” grin as I seek answers to questions about sassy mouths, girl drama and topics concerning the allure of romantic notions.

I suppose that she would remind me of my own sassy mouth – cutting, actually. She would remind me that her silence during those moments was more wounding to me because I didn’t get the verbal fight I was looking for. A lesson to carry into adulthood: I don’t have to participate in every fight I’m invited to attend.

And girl drama? Well, she would recount stories of my own hurt from being picked on for having short hair, a gap between my teeth, and being a string-bean, studious “nerd”. Those girls don’t have boyfriends and they don’t get invited to sleep-overs; but, they do grow up to be kind to others and inclusive of people – regardless of their differences.

And those romantic notions? Well, she would have a lot to say there. She would remind me of a boy named Joe in 8th grade and how I dreamed that he would somehow notice me. She would tell of finding notes to Joe that I never sent because the fear of rejection was too much to bear. She would also tell me that hearts will be broken and that every frog we kiss brings us closer to our prince. She would put her hand over mine and remind me that figuring out love takes an awful long time.

Watching Grace and Anna navigate these years is difficult and fascinating all rolled into one.

I’m fascinated at how they are growing into their own women; that process of trying on different personas and versions of themselves until they find the right fit. The pain-staking steps in creating boundaries for themselves and others; deciding what you are worth and how much to let in and keep out.

Yet, these years are also painfully difficult to watch as well.

They have avenues of communication and connections that I never dreamed of in my youth. They are growing up faster than I did and are confronted with situations like cyber-bullying, sex,  and drugs/alcohol at ages that are more destructive to their overall well-being. It is hard to watch your daughter fight to find her place in her tribe of friends and battle with issues of self-esteem while measuring her beauty against the others.

I lay awake at night and worry if I am doing enough….or not enough.

Am I letting go too soon or holding on too tight?

Have I laid a foundation strong enough to support the years ahead?

How will the divorce of their father and me affect them as adults?

Did I pray for the right things?

Time is really the only way for me to know.

Shortly before my mother passed away, I apologized to her. I remember the day well. She had had a series of small strokes and was briefly hospitalized before being sent home in her final few weeks under Hospice care.

On that particular day, I wheeled her down to the Radiology department for another CAT scan of her brain. We needed to see how much the cancer had progressed. As we waited, I looked at her and said, “Mom. I am so sorry for all that I put you through when I was a teenager. I was awful and so mean at times to you. I wish I could take it all back right now. I would give anything if I could.”

She took my hand and said, “The greatest joy of my life was being your mother. You have delighted me at every moment and I couldn’t be prouder of the woman you have become.”

The tears fell from my eyes. That unconditional love a mother has for her child – no matter what.

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As I raise my own girls through this period, I try to remind myself that their fear of growing up and growing away must be a thousand times scarier for them than it is for me. They are moving away from the comfort and innocence of childhood into a phase of great uncertainty; couple having to do that in the world today. I’m sure I was equally scared and confused all those years ago.

How frightening it must be to know that in a few short years, the world will require many things of them. Things that they only  have a small window of time to figure out.

One night recently, I was making my rounds to each girl before bed.

I stopped by Anna’s room and sat on the edge of her bed for a few minutes. She was in a tailspin over the latest disappointment inflicted on her by a boy. She really thought he was different than all the others. The questions poured from her lips and I could see she was fighting the tears that wanted to fall.

I listened for several minutes and said, “You know, Anna, love is a hard thing to figure out. It’s tricky now and even trickier when you’re an adult. These boys have a lot to learn, just like you. Be patient. Love doesn’t have to happen right now. You have you’re whole life ahead of you to get it right.”

As I bent down to kiss her goodnight, she gave me the lightest butterfly kiss – just like she did when she was a young girl. I needed that as much as she did.

In the next room, Grace made an unprecedented request. “Mom, will you snuggle on the bed with me for just a minute before going to bed?”

As I climbed under the covers with her, I thought to myself, ‘I would like nothing better.’

Raising teenagers is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It takes the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the love of Jesus. There are days when I have all three of these qualities; but more often than not, I am lacking one, at the very least. Throughout this time, I never want to lose sight of the wonderful woman that is tucked away in each of these creatures. A woman seeking to know who she is and how she will make a difference in the world and to those around her.

Sometimes, in a rare, unexpected moment, a butterfly kiss and a snuggle is present in our encounters as parent-child. They serve as a reminder that beneath the struggle to become an adult, is a little girl who just needs to know that no matter what, no matter the age, Mom is there to see them through to the end.

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Be blessed….

Molly

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Her name was Molly.

It was the 1977-1978 school year.

First Grade….McGary Elementary School….Room 2.

When I was about 3 years old, my mother came into my room and found that I had lined up all of my stuffed animals and baby dolls across the front of my dresser on the floor below. According to her, I had a Little Golden Book in my hand as I chatted away at my stuffed and still audience.

My mother asked, “Kelli, what are you doing?”

Stopping to turn, I said, “Teaching. Of course.”

I have always believed that God planted the seed deep inside of that 3 year old little girl; but it was Molly who watered it and made it grow some four years later.

The specifics of that year are a little fuzzy now that I am 40 years away from it; but there are things I remember:

Her class smelled like lotion, a new box of crayons and glue.

Molly was tall and had beautiful blond hair that fell and touched her shoulders in soft, big curls.

She had a big smile.

She smelled like lotion.

She always greeted her students at the door with a smile and a hug.

She taught me to read using Curious George books.

She read to the class every day from a rocking chair.

We counted beans and bears for math.

She had an easel in the back of the room. Each morning as I came into Room 2, I looked at the name printed in the lower right-hand corner of the paper. If it said “Kelli W.” in her perfect handwriting, then I was allowed to paint a picture instead of doing my morning work.

She was patient and loving to me when I tearfully told her that my parents were divorcing and I didn’t know what that meant.

I still have the 2 pieces of clay pottery that I made in her class. One was a “bowl” with upper-case letters drawn in – one for each member of my family. The other is an Easter basket with ceramic eggs in the bottom.

She loved to see me come in on Thursday mornings with my Girl Scout Brownie outfit on and my beanie hat sideways and tilted because of my pigtails.

I got to hold the class sign on our group picture day. I stood next to her.

She didn’t get too mad at me when I punched a boy in the nose for trying to kiss me on the playground. She calmly explained to my father that she was secretly quite proud.

I was devastated when I realized that going to 2nd grade meant leaving Molly behind.

I never realized the awfulness of being in the same school with Molly, but not the same class. My mother remarried and we moved to Louisville in the summer of 78. Yet, I never forgot about my 1st  grade teacher. In fact, I went back each year to visit her until I was about 27 or 28. She never forgot my name.

Not once.

Never.

My last face-to-face visit was just before I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Curriculum & Instruction. It was April of 1997. She was so proud of me. I made a proclamation  to her, that one day, I would have my PhD. Fourteen years later, I achieved my goal and became a Dr. I never saw Molly face-to-face again.

I never, ever forgot about her. When asked about my main influences in life, she was always on that list.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to write an essay on this very website about Molly. Then it occurred to me that in this day and age of technology, surely I could make contact again.

So I searched.

I found her daughter, Molly Elizabeth, on FB. I sent her a private message asking if she was somehow related to Molly, my first grade teacher from long ago.

Several days later a return message was waiting for me. In it, Molly Elizabeth said that her mother knew right away who I was and fondly remarked to her daughter, “Oh, she was such a sweet little girl.”

Right away, we began emailing one another. We wrote long essays to one another. We bantered about public education and the harm that many of the “reform” movements would bring to our profession. See, she saw her life as a teacher in much the same way most teachers do: as a servant for the greater good. No one would dream of entering the profession of teaching for the money….or the gratitude….or the ease…or the summer “break”.

See, the truth about public education teachers is…

….we are some of the lowest paid professionals who spend the most time and money to become experts in our field….

…we rarely get accolades for the work we do; on the contrary, we are demonized for not “fixing” the ills of our society through education (by the way, our public education system isn’t “broken”; it is filled with students who come from broken homes with absent parents and morals)…..

….teaching kids from a variety of demographics, experiences and abilities is not “easy”…

…and those, summer “breaks”? Well, any teacher would tell you that they spend those 8 weeks pouring over data, going to professional development sessions and preparing for the next school year when they will do it all over again.

Yes, we worried about “school reform”.

We also shared details of our personal lives.

I told of my new marriage and this mad hope; the challenges of raising teenage daughters today; and my plans to retire at the beach – someday.

Molly told of the last several years as she battled with breast cancer; her excitement over her daughter’s marriage; and eventually the thrill of being a first time grandmother at the age of 79.

In early December, I received an email from Molly. She was counting down the weeks until her granddaughter would arrive and she asked about the decorations at Cate Cabana.In reply, I wrote about the hustle and bustle to get our new home ready for our first holiday party and sent her pictures of Grace and Anna after a recent trip to North Carolina.

As always after our exchanges, I waited.

Then last Monday, I received a private FB message from her daughter, Molly Elizabeth.

Molly began a new chemo and radiation regime during the holidays. Sadly, it was too much for Molly and she had passed away two days before.

Molly was my first grade teacher.

She taught for 50 years! By my calculations, she must have influenced approximately 2500 students in her career. The network of influence would boggle her mind; but I bet on the morning of January 14th, when she slipped into the arms of her Savior, He showed her the fruit of those 50 years.

I cried uncontrollably at the news and thought of her daughter with a 3 week old baby. A baby, much like my own two children, who will only know her grandmother through the stories that are told by Molly Elizabeth.

Her legacy is evident in my life each and every day. It is seen in the hugs I freely give to each child in my building…..in the time I spend with teachers supporting their tireless efforts and encouraging them to not lose hope…..in my love to continue to learn and perfect my craft….and in vehemently opposing any effort to “reform” public education by taking support and monies away from those who need it the most: our students. Molly is evidence that the system, while not perfect, is filled with teachers who spend their entire lives providing a quality education to all students; an education where the walls are broken down with the help of the teacher who musters the strength to get up and do it all over again; an education where the love of Christ is shown in the love and hugs of the teacher in that class.

Molly, I’m sure you were overwhelmed by all that you were shown on that first day in Paradise. I imagine you had no idea how strong your influence was in the lives of so many. One day, you and I will see one another again. I hope that you will find a thousands reasons to be proud of the work I’m doing here. Your influence in my life during that school year in 1977-1978 changed me forever. Godspeed.

Reader, it is my hope that you can find a moment to reflect on a teacher who made a difference in your life. If so, give thanks for the opportunity that you had with them. If they are still with us, give them a call or drop them a letter. If not, well, do something every day that would make their efforts worthwhile.

Be blessed.

Human Connections

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“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
Herman Melville

Each night before I go to sleep, I reflect on my day and pick just one thing that happened which I am grateful for. In previous years, I have met those moments and then dismissed them to the quiet of sleep.

This year I wanted to try something very different.

I wrote last week about my intentional practice of writing down one thing that happened during my day in a gratitude journal; no longer content to let those moments die with sleep.

As I was thinking about this week’s topic, I looked through my journal to see if anything of note popped out that would make an interesting essay. What I found surprised me in a way.

For the past 14 days, I found an interesting pattern to my gratitude entries. All but one or two, were centered around an encounter or exchange that I had with other people. It was profoundly interesting to me that at the end of a day, regardless of the many wonderful experiences or moments that I encountered, it was the people in those moments that I chose to write about.

Take a look (actual entries):

1/1: girls came home after a week at their father’s house

1/2: snuggling with Grace

1/3 watching Anna play basketball followed by a family meal with lots of laughter

1/4: greeting/seeing/talking to staff and students at TJES after a long winter break

1/5: seeing the excitement on the faces of students as they anticipate the coming snow

1/6: early dismissal from school for everyone’s safety

1/7: waking up to a Winter Wonderland and sledding with Dave and the girls

1/8: quality time watching silly girl shows with Grace & Anna, watching a movie with Dave

1/9: yummy meal that Dave prepared for me just to show how much he loves me

1/10: being there for Anna’s last regular season basketball game

1/11: dinner at Chili’s with Angie and Eric – laughter and fun

1/12: seeing Jaclyn, Judy, Ashley, Sherri & Marsha at a district meeting – catching up

1/13: helping a teacher solve a problem with a student

1/14: Dave & I had a night out with friends (Jaclyn/Steve, Meredith/Matt) at Atlantic Ale House

As I look through that list, most of the entries revolve around people, the relationships I have with them – big and small. The joy that those encounters bring me wasn’t the surprise; it was the frequency. I guess I expected that I would list things like: “that first cup of coffee”, “the surprise piece of chocolate I found in my purse”…..Those are little things that I’m grateful for as well; yet, at the end of a day when I sift through all the experiences, I find that the human connections pack the most punch in my intentional life of gratitude.

Why is that?

Let’s explore a couple of perspectives on this.

Gareth Cook, the Mind Matters editor for the magazine Scientific American, explored the importance of human connections with the author of the book Social, Matthew Lieberman. You can read the entire article at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/

Cook asks Lieberman why the need for connections is so powerful. Here is an excerpt of his answer: “Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.  When this happens in childhood it can lead to long-term health and educational problems.  We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.”

Scientists have  long ago concluded that we are wired with a need for connections – to one another, the world around us, and to something larger than ourselves. That spiritual side of who we are. Of course, science only confirms what I have long believed: God placed the desire within us; the desire to seek relationships with one another and with Him.

In Genesis 2:18, God declares, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (NIV)

One commentary on this verse out of Cambridge says the following: “Man is created a social animal. His full powers cannot be developed by physical and mental work alone; nor his moral being by self-discipline in solitude. His faculties and his character require to be expanded and beautified by the duties of domestic and social life, as a member of a family, as a friend, as a fellow-worker, as a citizen. To be alone is not “good”; it does not promote his fullest life, or his best service.”

I love this…..we cannot realize our full potential without the social connections beyond our own selves.

During His time among us, Jesus gathered people to him – to feast with… to worship with…to teach…to heal…to celebrate a marriage with… and to grieve with others in their hour of pain. He too knew the power of connections. He also knew when to retreat and be alone. The introvert side of me appreciates this fact about Jesus. It gives me permission to take time to reflect and gather from within so I can continue to give to others beyond.

As I continue the practice of writing about a moment of gratitude from each day, I look forward to more discoveries and insights into the things that matter most to me. It is my hope that by reflecting on these things, I can more easily prioritize where my focus will be in moving forward.

Reader, I challenge you reflect on the encounters you have with the people around you – family, friends, enemies and strangers alike. Our individual humanity is like a thread in a piece of tapestry. When the One who created us, weaves all of our threads together, He creates a tapestry of humanity that depends on one another.

We need one another.

It is through our connections with each other that we individually become who we were created to be.

Blessings…..

Setting Our Intention for Gratitude

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“Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.” Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

In January of 2015, I launched this website from a hotel room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. If I remember correctly, the water was a color blue that I have rarely seen on the east coast. Dave and I woke to a beautiful sunrise and bone-chilling cold temperatures.

I pitched my idea to Dave a few days before. As always, he was so supportive of anything I chose to venture out and try. I recognized that focusing on intentional gratitude was not a new concept. Oprah introduced gratitude journals to the world several years ago. The research behind gratitude and thankfulness is very powerful. So, undertaking this feat would not introduce the world to anything groundbreaking or important; yet, I felt compelled to do so anyway.

To date, I have published 98 essays since that first one in January 2015. That’s a lot of intentional living. Some of these are really good insights and some are an attempt to squeeze some form of thankfulness out of seemingly mundane or otherwise difficult circumstance circumstances.

Finding topics to write about, week after week, is difficult. There are weeks when everyday life presents me with what I need; other times, I get my ideas from current events. I have been known to use other people’s circumstances as a platform. There have been a couple of occasions when the only thing I could write about was my frustration at trying to find gratitude in my life. My fear as a writer is losing ideas or appearing redundant or irrelevant. Maybe I fear appearing to try too hard at being grateful; because, let’s face it – life isn’t always rainbows and unicorns. It is hard and finding ways to feel gratitude during the difficult days can be a chore.

However, I can write with confidence that this journey, which began in 2015, has given me a deeper sense of how wonderful this world is and how fortunate I am to be here, right now.

Now let’s get to the heart of this week’s essay: setting the intention of living through the lens of gratitude.

Why should we focus on a life centered around intentional gratefulness?

Well, aside from the obvious, there is a vast quantity of compelling research that heralds the benefits of gratitude. The author of the website happierhuman.com, Amit Amin, compiled the research found in numerous medical studies about the benefits of gratitude. On his website, he writes extensively about how gratitude positively affects our lives in 5 key areas: Personality, Emotional Well-Being, Social Well-Being, Career and Health.

The results are impressive.

Emotional Well-Being: more “good” feelings (Dopamine and Oxytocin – chemicals released in the brain that promote the “feel good” feelings), a greater sense of relaxation (serotonin – another mood booster from the brain), better memories, greater resiliency, and fewer feelings of envy (remember: comparison is a mood killer).

Career: better management, improved networking, goal achievements, improved decision-making skills and increased productivity.

Health: improved and better sleeping, greater immunity and ability to fight illness, longevity, increased energy and a desire to exercise.

Social Well-Being: improvement in our social relationships, aid in healthier marriages, instill a greater tendency to show kindness, deeper relationships, and more openness to meeting and making new friends.

Personality: people who live with a deliberate life of gratitude will experience less desire for materialism, less self-centeredness, more optimism, increased self-esteem, and a deeper sense and connection to spirituality.

Impressive, huh?

So, what can we do to promote a greater sense of gratitude in our lives?

I think it begins with more awareness. Our days are filled with work, family, busy schedules, etc., and that can make it more difficult to stop and consider all that we have to be grateful for. I am trying something different this year. I have a journal next to my bed that I have never used. The other night, I pulled it out and decided that this was the place I would record my moments of gratitude.

I began by listing my goals for 2017 under the umbrella of my word for the year: LINGER.

Each evening before I turn out the light, I look at those goals and consider how my decision to LINGER will effect my ability to real those goals. On the pages that follow, I take about 2 minutes and write one (1) thing I am grateful for that happened that day. Just one.

This is my new way to stay centered on all of the wonderful, tiny things that happen in my days. At the end of 2017, I can look back and see 365 ways that my life has blessed me. I’m not sure I could have come up with 365 things to be grateful for all at once; but, my intention is to LINGER each night and let God show me at least one thing that deserves my gratitude.

Other people do the same thing but write it on slips of paper that are then put in a jar. At the end of the year, or on a particularly difficult day, they can pull out a random note and find something to be grateful for. Same principle as mine.

I say: find whatever works for you.

However, you decide to move through 2017, I challenge you to do so with a more intentional sense of gratitude.

I don’t think you will regret it.

Reader, I leave you with the following:

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Be blessed…..

2017

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“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”
Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Today is the first day of a new adventure in your life and in mine.

We woke this morning to a blank page. Hidden within the pages of this next year are opportunities, hope, joy, sadness, victories, defeats, gains and losses.

All the things you accomplished in 2016, are the foundation upon which your future successes stand.

All that you failed at in 2016 – in big and small ways – is building up your character and made you resolute to stand firm and try again.

All that brought you happiness and joy in 2016, reminds you of the balance between the mountaintops and valleys. The joys push you forward during times of struggle.

All that brought you to your knees in sadness and grief in 2016,  left your heart tender and open to the world around you.

This is the beginning of a great year.

I no longer make resolutions. I haven’t for about three years, now. Instead, I choose one word that serves as a mantra of sorts for the entire year. It is the word that is the lens through which I try and view all things that come my way. I went back this morning and read my essay from January 2016. I was curious about the word I chose and the goals I had set for myself. My one word for last year was: INTENTION. I suppose I wanted to make more deliberate decisions in 2016. I reviewed my list of goals for the year and evaluated myself on how well I had accomplished those goals. Some were a success and some were not.

For 2017, I spent some extra quiet time to really think about the one word mantra that I wanted to pick for myself. I asked myself some very tough questions and didn’t slack on the answers. I was brutally honest with myself. I also listened carefully to those around me – Dave and my girls in particular.

So my one word for 2017 is (insert a reggae-like drum roll here):

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This is not an easy concept for me to wrap my head around. I pride myself on efficiency, productivity and a strong work ethic. The old way of doing things tends to look like a whole lot of hustling and being a “busybody”.

Linger: to remain in a place longer than is usual or expected, as if from reluctance to leave; to remain alive, continue or persist; to dwell in contemplation, thought or enjoyment.

Heaven help….this is not going to be easy for me. But I think it is a necessity.

I equate my worthiness with my ability to mark things off my list….be busy…..be dependable and responsible…..put off my pleasure until I made sure everyone else was taken care of. All of those things are ok, but there has to be a balance. Dave said to me recently, that the only time he saw me living that balanced life was at the beach. I talk a lot about it. I encourage others in my circle to live that balanced life. And to be fair to myself, I feel certain that I accomplished this as it relates to my relationship with work and home. I used to work until late; brought home a briefcase full of things to do. In the last few years, I  learned the art of managing my time and tasks at work so that when I am home, I am home.

Yet, being home looked a lot like “working”; yet, the work was different. I guess I bought into the notion that idleness at home was the same as laziness. I’m not sure where this came from.

Dave is constantly reminding me that it is ok to come home from work and not have a “to do list” to accomplish. Sometimes it is perfectly fine to allow myself some quiet time with a glass of wine and soft jazz. So, I achieved balance in some respects, but not in others. This year, I am looking for ways to Linger more at home.

Linger over a conversation.

Linger in a hug.

Linger in a kiss.

Linger over dinner.

Linger at a sunset or sunrise.

Linger over the words that I write.

Linger over the taste of foods and wines from around the world.

Linger in a yoga pose.

Linger in the quiet.

Linger in a prayer.

Linger in the love I feel for others.

Linger in the knowledge of God’s love for me.

Linger in extending Grace to myself and others.

Linger in the garden as I sift the dirt between my fingers.

Linger on a raft in the pool.

Linger on the floor playing with my puppies.

Linger over the stories that Grace and Anna tell from their day.

Linger in the warmth of Dave’s gaze.

Linger at the ocean.

Linger at home.

Linger at my interactions with staff, students and families at work.

Linger……

This is a tall order for a task master like myself. But I think I am up for the challenge. I know I  have lots of  support and encouragement from friends and family. I’m anxious to see how this intentional practice to slow down and linger  in my personal life will impact me in all areas.

I am excited for 2017. I am excited to spend another 52 weeks with you; writing about the things that cause me to pause and give a breath of gratitude. I promise to linger over my writings and musings with greater thoughtfulness and honesty.

What about you, Reader?

What hopes do you have for the up-coming year?

Spend some time and linger over the possibilities.

New Year’s Blessings to you and yours.

When Gratitude Comes After 46 Trips Around the Sun

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I recently celebrated my 46th birthday.

There were a few jabs from Dave and Grace about how I was sliding closer and closer to 50. I made sure there was plenty of fanfare during the entire day. I had no problem ordering something special from the dinner menu all the while explaining to the waiter that I was entitled because it was my birthday. All of this hoopla and drama surrounding my day was met with the usual eye rolls and grunts of disapproval under the breaths of my teenage daughters. And my response to their protests? Laughter and shoulder shrugs.

Hmmmm…..yes, I think I am ok with that, actually.

It seems to me that I heard a saying once about how old age is a luxury afforded to only a few. Maybe I dreamed that; I’m not sure. Regardless, I’m ok with getting older. I have a young friend who turned 30 a few days after I turned 46. I love this young friend. I love that she was extremely anxious about this milestone birthday. If I remember correctly, I believe my 30th birthday was stressful to me as well. I’m also pretty sure that there was an older friend in my life who gave me some sort of advice on how to stop fretting and start living.

My older friends just kind of found me when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. In much the same way, my younger friends of today have found me. In my circle, I have about 3 girlfriends that are considerably younger than me.  I treasure them for a variety of reasons.

  1. They are witty. Their off-the-cuff wittiness keeps me on my toes – all the time.
  2. They have a lot of energy. Therefore, they inspire me to keep up.
  3. They are passionate about their work and their opinions. They remind me to be passionate about mine.
  4. They have young mom concerns and are often exhausted. They remind me that I value my sleep and help me to remember when my girls were toddlers.
  5. They have young wife anxieties and often worry about their future families. This reminds me that our partnerships need constant nourishment.
  6. They often seek my opinion (I hesitate to say ‘advice’). These exchanges remind me that life is certainly the best teacher and I have learned a great deal along the way.

Their friendships certainly add an extra layer of vibrancy to my life and I am forever grateful to them for that. Yet, I can’t help but be a tad envious of their youthfulness. Not for the reasons you might suspect; but because if I knew the things I know now when I was their age……

Yes.

So, after 46 times around the sun, let me impart a bit of my 40-something knowledge to all of my much younger friends.

  1. Time really does speed up the older you get. Remember when you were a kid and the thought of summer break or Christmas was just more than your little, inexperienced mind could comprehend? It seemed like time moved at a snail’s pace. Not so as you get older. In fact, I am constantly amazed at how quickly the days on my calendar disappear so suddenly. It seems like I was just adding the December events to our family calendar and mapping out all of the places we would have to go. I looked at it this morning, and to my horror, the month will end this weekend. Are you kidding me? So soon? I feel like I just put out my decorations for the holiday season….So, I say that to say this: take the time to really be present in every single moment. Whether you find yourselves with family or friends. Watch each sunrise and sunset with awe. Put the phone down and pay attention. Have a real conversation.
  2. It’s ok if your life isn’t as perfect looking as the Instagram photo you posted (after taking 25 photos before the perfect one was captured). Messy is ok because messy is what life is at times. It isn’t perfect; people will let you down; things won’t go as planned. And that is ok. That is where you truly find out who you are, what you are made of, what you will stand for and what will cause you to walk away.
  3. Don’t compare. Comparison is a killer. It is the one thing that we women do and it drives me bonkers. Your life is exactly the way that it is supposed to be. You aren’t here to live anyone else’s. Besides, if you are envious of someone else, then that is a reflection of what is going on inside of you. If you find jealousy in your heart, then push the pause button and understand why it is there. Truly, it is about you – never them.
  4. Whenever you think that life looks greener on the other side, remember that the grass still has to be watered on that side of the fence too. Look, it doesn’t matter what is on the other side that you are looking at – better job, better life, better marriage/relationship….whatever. It’s all the same on the other side as well. Trust me. I know these things. Life is hard no matter what side you are on. It all has perks and it all has tremendous let downs. Water the lawn you are standing on. Which brings me to my next point….
  5. Bloom where you are planted. God has brought you forth for a specific purpose. Use the talents that He gave you and do so without any shame or need for approval by others. Just bloom.
  6. Getting ahead in your job is wonderful. Women have broken through so many levels of the glass ceiling. However, it should never come at the expense of your partner or children. If your job calls for you to forsake being present with the ones God has entrusted to you, then your values are skewed. No one else can fill the void like a mom can. Letting husbands and grandparents raise kids while you climb the corporate ladder may seem like you are setting an example for your children, but at the end of the day, they need you. Period.
  7. Your body will change in  ways you never  imagined as you get older. You can fight it (you won’t win); you can try to trick it (plastic surgery is noticeable and it is expensive) or you can accept it (much more peaceful). Now, this doesn’t mean that you stop caring. It means that you stay real. Your body will have done many, many miraculous things in its life – be good to it.
  8. If you aren’t already doing so, start using a good moisturizer. You will thank me later.
  9. Travel. Meet new people – especially people who are different than you. They will bring a richness to your life that will truly amaze you. I have met people who share the same faith and values that I do and their testimony has been a blessing to me. I have also met people whose values and faith are on the other end of the spectrum. These relationships have blessed me as well and challenged me to dive deeper into my faith. Other cultures and traditions have helped me to see God in all of humanity. It has opened up a place in my heart for all to sit and gather. I can’t think of any richer way to view those around me.
  10. Be extra patient with the elderly. As you age, you will understand why this is so important.
  11. There is no substitute for living in the space of authenticity and vulnerability. It may mean that you feel more deeply and intensely; but it also insures that you will really, really live. Having said this, understand that not everyone will appreciate this transparency. It will make many people uncomfortable. Live that way despite what others think. I promise that you won’t regret a single moment.
  12. You can’t change people. You can’t control what they say or think about you so don’t waste your valuable time trying. The only person you  have any control over is yourself. You get to choose how you will respond to others. You get to choose who you spend time with. Therefore, forsake all forms and negativity and surround yourself with people who lift you up and don’t try to drag you down.
  13. Speaking of dragging people down. You should never look down on another human being unless you are reaching out a hand to lift them up. People don’t need your judgement and you certainly never want to place yourself on a spiritual pedestal. I have done this and then I took a very long and embarrassing tumble. Best to leave the stones on the ground.
  14. Do the best you can to sprinkle kindness out into the world each day. It costs nothing and the return for the value is immeasurable. Kindness allows us to honor the Divine in each person.
  15. Finally, life will test your faith over and over. With each loss, hurt, disappointment, victory, etc., it will expand and shrink. Don’t let that scare you. Even when you feel as if the well of your faith has run dry, pray. Have others pray. Then get real quiet and listen. He speaks, but He won’t compete with the noise that we allow in our life. When you aren’t sure what to do, do nothing. Then when you least expect it, your heart will fill to brimming with joy.

This is a short list.

By no means am I an expert of any kind on this thing called Life. I try to remember that each morning I awake is a new opportunity to do the very best that I can. I also mess up more times than not. The difference now is in the grace I try to extend myself when I do fail. I extend that grace because I am learning to take hold of the truth that I am loved by my God. Not only am I loved unconditionally by Him, I believe that He dances over me when I sleep at night.

Grace and Love are finding themselves better situated in my everyday life in recent years. Their presence has made a profound impact on me and those in my life.

Reader, it is my hope that you will find gratitude as you reflect on the lessons and experiences that you have had with each revolution around the sun. I hope that you will share the knowledge you have gained with others. And in so doing, help each person you meet, live the best version of this one wild and wonderful life.

Be blessed.