I once was blind

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Six years ago, during a dinner party of adults, I excused my 12-year-old son to go to my room to watch a movie. Much later, after the dishes had been cleared and the last of the guests departed, I climbed the stairs to check on him. He’d dragged my armchair across the room to sit comfortably, three feet from the screen. “This is the only way I can see,” he explained. “I have to do this in math class too, in order to see the board. Didn’t the teacher call you? She said she would.” Off to the eye doctor we drove and sure enough, the boy was near-sighted. His chatter filled the first car ride after picking up his frames. “Can you see that over there? Look at those houses way over there! I can see their rooftops!” On and off went his glasses as he tested before and after versions of his sight. The most remarkable thing, he shared, was seeing individual leaves on the trees as we drove past.

A few weeks ago, my 20-year-old daughter returned home for winter break. In our taxi to see the new Star Wars movie (a Christmas tradition three years running), my son exclaimed, “Oh no! I forgot my glasses!” The driver pulled a quick u-turn and he hurriedly ran up to his room to get them.   After the (thrilling!) movie, he handed his glasses to his sister to hold while he removed his sweatshirt and she jokingly put them on. And then she stopped dead in her tracks. Her mouth fell open in awe and her head made a slow circle, taking in the hubbub of the mall – all the glory of Christmas – the rushing shoppers, twinkling lights and bright decorations. She almost couldn’t believe what she was seeing.  Apparently, she is also near-sighted, but we didn’t know it.

The following morning, we landed in Bangkok as planned and made our way to a shop where she had her eyes tested and picked out frames. Just like that, she got a new look – and a new outlook. It’s been a week now and she hasn’t stopped marveling at what she can see. She’s doing exactly what her brother did six years ago. On the top of a high rise admiring the view, she pointed to the distance. “Can you see that red building?” she asked. “How about that sign – can you read that sign?” The glasses went up and down over her forehead as she compared her naked vision to her improved vision. Nature is the biggest shock, she agrees with her brother. When we arrived at the Thailand coast to a little town called Hua Hin, she stared at the ocean. “Guys, I’ve never seen the ocean look like this, you know.” We all razzed her, “How could you not know? How could you not realize you couldn’t see?” Here’s the best way she’s been able to articulate it: everyone’s vision ends somewhere. The horizon, the distance, the skyline, whatever you name it, is as far as the eye can see. She just assumed that spot was a lot closer for everybody than it really is. Her reality was short-sighted.

The New Testament records a story of Saul (later known as the Apostle Paul) who God intentionally struck blind in order to stop the evil persecution of new Christians. Saul was a pretty awful character, honestly. After three days of blindness and misery, a minister nervously approached him to offer prayer and Saul, at the end of his rope, I imagine, accepted the offer. Saul repented of his wicked ways and the Scripture says, “something like scales fell from his eyes,” and his sight returned. He changed his name to Paul and became the greatest Christian evangelist of all time. He wrote much of the New Testament and his is a story of utter and complete transformation – a life lived one way and in a single moment that life was changed and made 100% new. A true conversion. He was blind – blind to his own evil ways, blind to the power of God’s love and the welcome of His embrace and physically too blind to continue to murder and imprison Christians – but then… then he could see. He could see the grace of God that welcomed (even) him. He could see his own sin and failings and he could see a way of escape from the dark life he’d been living.  He could see so clearly that he reordered his entire life. It’s as if even his heart (or mind or soul) received vision after the scales fell.

I’m pretty sure I stumble my way through life mostly blind. Full of uncertainty and insecurity, I do my best with the vision I’ve got. It probably stops long before the horizon and much before I can take in all the beauty around me.  It reaches only as far as my trust in my marriage, my security in my friendships, my hope placed in God and my handle on anxiety. On a given day, (sometimes depending on my struggle with insomnia), those can be fairly short distances. My vision is blurred and distorted by my numbing, my self-doubt, my self-sabotaging ways and my utter lack of sleep. Sometimes, I see myself bigger than I really am, the hero of a story where I am a bit player at best, and other times I view myself as weak and small­ – the victim of a story – where I am meant to shine. My vision isn’t trustworthy all the time. It doesn’t always provide me the truth.

I know what it’s like to have moments of clarity, though. Those watershed moments where suddenly I think, “I see it all clearly now.” Recently, I had a moment like this within my marriage, where by a small miracle I could actually see my contribution to a problem and I was able to own it rather than lay blame. Those were heavy scales that tumbled down that day. I remember a day long ago spent with two friends and the nagging feeling of being excluded and ignored. “I never need to feel like this again. I don’t need these friends in my life,” I realized. And it was done. As an entrepreneur I probably have had most of my clear thinking moments in my business. My own actions and efforts are the biggest predictors of my success. As simple as that sounds, that’s rare clear thinking for me. I’d rather factors beyond my control be in charge.

A casual friend told me about the moment she knew in her gut she must leave her marriage. She was on a couples date and her husband was openly flirting with the other woman.   Then she overheard the woman quietly ask her husband what the secret to a long happy marriage was. Her husband of twenty years whispered, “I don’t know. I hate her.” Was this the first time he’d disgraced her in public? Probably not. And it wasn’t the first evening out that ended with hot tears of humiliation and shame, but it was the moment “something like scales” fell away for her.

As I age, my vision of my parents is becoming sharper and more in focus. I see their tender hearts and how well they’ve loved me. It’s clear now that they are humans who did their very best and though at times I may have needed more, or different, they gave me everything they had. This clarity brings a flood of gratitude. My wasted and limited vision in my teens, 20s and even into my 30s didn’t always allow this. I was in a blurry zone, but it’s clear now.

I’m compassionate to that younger self, though, the one stumbling around with her scales in place, doing the very best she can. She’s still with me now much of the time. My best friend tells me to try to do just the next very best thing and when that is done, go on to do it again. When I embrace that advice even though I can’t see the horizon or barely even the path beneath my feet, somehow I know not to step into the ravine. I know to avoid the potholes and to duck if a branch is hanging too low in front of me. Just the next very best thing is what I do.

With everything in me, I hope that 2018 is a year where clear thinking and more importantly, clear seeing reigns. Dear Lord, may I really see the woman standing in my mirror and understand her potential. May I see the women I meet and know them as three-dimensional humans, full of their unique hopes, stories and abilities. May I see my husband and children as people in process, like all of us. May the scales fall off in every role and every relationship. May I experience the beauty of the individual leaves and the rhythm of the waves in a new and more detailed way.

But if my year turns out to be muddled, confusing and clouded like many of them that have come before, may I trust myself to do just the next very best thing.  May I work with what I can see in front of me, through my thick and heavy scales, and still enjoy 2018 one hesitant, nervous step at a time and somehow, through God’s grace, make my way down the path that rises up to meet me.

Blessings to all of you in the New Year. With your scales, your half-scales or your brand new glasses, I’m in it with you.

Much Love,

Singapore Joy

P.S. But seriously, how cute does she look in those glasses?

 

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Girlfriends

Resized_20170513_173029_001Girlfriends,

This is my grandmother Lucy and her best friend Eleanor. They met as neighboring young brides with growing families when they both lived for a short time in Rockville, Maryland. More kids arrived, jobs changed and they both moved away. Jobs continued to change and children grew up. About fifteen years later, they found themselves living as neighbors again – and this is where they’d each remain – in Annapolis, Maryland. Over the years, they shared crab feasts, backyard BBQs, family birthday parties, boat trips on the Chesapeake Bay, bridge games, books and conversation…lots and lots of conversation. They held each other as each of their husbands passed away and when their own bodies began to fail in different ways, they supported and cheered each other on through medical scares and adjustments. This year, they separately moved into the same retirement home so they could get extra care and that meant they got to see each other at meals, Bingo and sometimes just for a quiet afternoon chat. Turned out, though, that my grandmother Lucy, the younger of the two, needed a little more care than that home provided so she recently moved into a skilled nursing home an hour’s drive away. They are both in their late 90s; this picture is their goodbye hug before Lucy moved out – likely their last goodbye.

Oh, that I should be so lucky to keep my girlfriends as close as Lucy and Eleanor were able to keep each other. I’m only 44 and I’ve all but finished raising my kids. The days of meeting other moms on the Saturday morning soccer sideline are done. Those long sunny Friday afternoons playing in the street that rolled into two families heating up all the week’s leftovers we had in the fridge, laying them on a shared table and calling it “Picka-Picka,” are finished. No more, You take the kids after school today and I will take them tomorrow exchanges, or Can you take my kids out for ice cream tonight because I have to work and am worried about leaving them on their own. Now, girlfriend time is just that – time I can spend alone with my girlfriends.

I’ve started listening to a new podcast series by one of my favorite writers, Jen Hatmaker. Her podcast, “For the Love,” began with a series called, “For the Love of Girlfriends.” As I walked my dog in the rain this morning, I heard Jen say into my ear buds, “I invest heavily in my girlfriends.”

I felt tears spring up as her words landed somewhere tender in me. Because, I. Love. My. Girlfriends. That same tender spot was activated a few weeks ago when my business coach ventured a little more into life coaching. She asked me to think of this upcoming work season and consider all I wanted to achieve and receive and try to boil it down to one word that could serve as an intention. “Friendship,” I answered. “I want to lean into my gift of friendship.” “Joy,” she replied, “You are friendship – it’s what you do naturally. What you are saying is you want to be more of your true self this season.” YES! It turns out, my Girlfriends, we are linked in my heart. To be a better me, I need to be a better friend to you.

Life, though, with its supersonic speedy ride, throws so much in the path of “investing heavily.” I need more sleep than ever before and the older I get, the more time I seem to need to regroup alone. The extroverted me is asking, who is this new introvert moving in? I need more time to spend with my parents and my almost-adult children, and my marriage – like all the other ones – is an organic force that needs care and tending as well. Plus, I work, like, all the time and run out of hours and energy every day. How can I slice a fatter pie piece called friendship?

I’ve learned from moving abroad, and by traveling constantly, that it’s real work to maintain friendships and that work has to be taken seriously. Similar to the work of marriage, it’s best and most successfully done when both parties believe it’s 100% their job to do the reaching-out and initiating. Anybody waiting around for a text, or thinking, “You know, I am always the one to call. Let’s see how long it takes her to call me this time,” is sunk. Memories are too faulty for us to play those tit-for-tat games. I am “here two weeks and gone for two months” in most of the friendships I currently have, and those are with the friends I am lucky enough to live near or visit regularly. My Lucy- and Eleanor-style friends – the ones I’ve nurtured for many years – I see once in a blue moon as I’m passing through a city nearby, or we schedule a long Face Time catch-up when we can. One of my besties and I trade lengthy emails often, and when we reply, we interrupt each other’s paragraphs with different colored fonts so that it reads like we are interjecting into a live conversation. Another friend takes me grocery shopping or does it for me if I cannot tag along. While I was typing this, she dropped off two bags and we stood outside my gate laughing so hard at random things that we had tears streaming. Just after she pulled away she sent a message, “That was just what I needed today,” and of course it was soul-lifting for me too. Another friend leaves me voicemails regularly and asks “How can I best pray for you today?” Another lives five hours from where my eldest is experiencing a hurricane from her college dorm room and texted last night to say, “Can I go scoop her up?” When I was in labor with that child I passed that friend’s apartment and my husband stopped and beeped during a contraction. Our connections runs deep.  Another makes eyebrow-threading appointments for me whenever I am in her town – even if we are off schedule from each other. She just comes to sit with me while I do the upkeep because she recognizes how busy I am and what a gift the hour of conversation is to me. Recently a friend moved into my home for a few weeks as she transitions to a new life and she makes me laugh every single day, usually through bitmogi. She’s a bitmogi ninja. Three other friends book a lunch reservation together whenever I can come. I know they cancel plans and move things around and always go to my favorite places because I don’t live in their town anymore and they know I miss the food and their company so much. I can’t begin to list the friends who have opened their guestrooms or kicked their kids out of bedrooms to host me overnight or overweek during the last four years – it’s too many to number. Investing heavily can look a lot of different ways, and I am a lucky gal.

I don’t have high standards for friendship, honestly. At least not in the beginning – I’ll give almost any woman a chance to see if we have the spark. This has been a useful mindset through an international move for sure, but it’s enhanced my entire life. Obviously it doesn’t work out with everyone, but it has afforded me a *very* diverse set of friends. Random ages, with/without kids, married and single girlfriends, various or no religions, working and non-working, American and everything else. It stays interesting.

Here’s what I look for in a friendship that will stand the test of time:

The Best of You. I don’t need you to be my Best Friend; I’ll find the best in you and I’ll offer you the best of me. We don’t need to align on everything and you don’t need to be my end all to all end alls.  Maybe you are my writing buddy or the one who holds my whispered marriage stories or the one who will get me through the years of caring for elderly parents. Maybe I can be your shopping or lunching friend or I can sit in the hospital with you while your baby is getting diagnosed, or help you house-hunt. Don’t feel the need to meet all my needs, just bring your best self and know I’ll bring mine.

The Real Stuff. I’ve been told I’m a tad more comfortable sharing the tough stuff and getting vulnerable than the average gal and I try to keep that in mind and go slowly. It’s hard because the times I’ve chosen to dive in deep with someone new have mostly paid off and I see no reason to wait. I don’t need you to bare your soul, but I do need to be real myself. And I need to know you can handle it. You may not be a God person, but you gotta know I’ll share my faith journey with you. You may hold your parenting fears close like cards, but you’ll hear a lot of my worries about my kids.

We’ve gotta be on the same team. There are enough people in the world transacting, posing, one-upping, competing and manipulating. I’ve got no time for that in a friendship and I don’t think you do either. If something about me brings up an insecurity in you, or something in your past has taught you that women are meant to be jockeying with each other, we can either talk about it frankly or move on from each other.

I can do the group friendships, but I love the one-on-ones more. I really love parties. I’ve built my whole career around them, for goodness’ sake. And I love to throw my own birthday party as many years as I can. I fill the room and introduce my friends to each other. The connector in me comes to life in groups. Those long tables filled with laughing women make great memories, and they are the perfect place to include newcomers, but know that I’ll look for time to be alone with you too. Alone we can discover together what we can share and what we can be to each other. And groups can bring out a different dynamic sometimes… one that doesn’t foster the kind of friendships I want. A few times I’ve learned I could be an individual friend with a particular woman, but I needed to avoid her in groups.

Laughter. You don’t need to be my personal comedian, but we’ve got to find a way to laugh together. Laughter heals me and hits the reset button. I can get through almost any stressful thing if I can find someone to laugh along the way with me.

Grace given easily. I’ll freely give it and I’ll need it too. I can’t have grudges in a friendship and I need to know no one is keeping score. I’m certainly not. If I’ve hosted you for dinner more than you’ve hosted me, know I am not tracking it and I’m likely finding that you are giving to me in some other way. Remember that part of my giving you my best? It doesn’t always appear as Even Stevens. There’s no tally pad in my heart. And I’ll likely come up short if there is one in yours.

Listening, especially to the hard things. I like to hear the whole thing. The whole story. All your feelings and thoughts. I’ve worked hard to become a good listener and I am cued up, waiting for you. I went through a rough patch a long time ago and I just couldn’t seem to move past it. I needed to reiterate and revisit the hurt and each time I verbally went through it, I learned something new about myself. As time went on, that experience provided much-needed personal growth. But while it was happening, it was hard and miserable. A close friend offered to be my listener. “You never have to apologize for repeating yourself with me. I’ll listen to the story as many times as you need to tell it.” Ever since, I’ve tried to be to others what she was to me.

Recently, I was sitting in church next to a new-ish friend and she leaned over and whispered, “Hey, do you think sometime we could just, like, talk?” I looked up and saw some brimming tears. “Now,” I replied. I grabbed her hand and exited the pew immediately. You know what I felt? Honored. Hopeful. Ready. When a woman leans into me and makes a bid for a deeper friendship, I know I’m one step closer to a Lucy and Eleanor relationship.

We women have so much to offer each other in this little lifetime and no time to waste. We’ll be 90 and hugging goodbye over our wheelchairs soon enough. Can we get started today?

 

What do you look for in a friendship that will stand the test of time? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Seems like I am writing again. Subscribe in the upper-right-hand corner to receive the blog in your email inbox.


The Fearless Pursuit

wonder woman joyI was speaking with my friend, Kim, yesterday about the theme of the recent cabi sales conference, Fearless Pursuit. She said, “You are always so fearless, Joy!”  Ha!  If only she knew!  I am fearful of so much — what people will think of or say about me, that I will fall short of my own expectations or ones others have of me, that I will bite off more than I can chew, or that I will fail to see the larger context and play out my life in small little ways.  I am a recovering pleaser and fear has been a friend/foe for as long as I can remember. (A few years ago I even wrote a rare blog piece about my relationship with fear) No, I am certainly not fearless, but I am learning to be courageous.  I am learning to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Please, please tell me you saw the Wonder Woman movie this summer!  I took my grandmother and the two of us have been texting each other ever since to point out themes of female empowerment, courage, risky grit and leadership.  My biggest take away is swirling around the idea of “calling” and how Wonder Woman was “called” to her mission, and that mission didn’t look like everyone around her thought it should. And if you’ve seen the movie, do you remember that moment when she entered no man’s land simply to rescue a village — a small blip on her quest to end WWI? When her team hesitated and said, “This is not what we came here to do,” and she replied, “No, but it’s what I am going to do,” donned her crown and climbed the ladder, I seriously thought my heart was going to explode.  It was like she was saying, “This is all there is right now,” and that’s the line that keeps coming back to me as I do the little things to open and build my business this season, settle my family into the new school year, connect with far flung friends and touch base with my parents even when I feel too busy to call.  “This is all there is right now,” is what is guiding me forward at the moment. It’s what my inner Wonder Woman is whispering to me so that I don’t get overwhelmed trying to eat the whole pie of my life — dreams, achievements, ambitions and all. This Wonder Woman will stick with me as I enter the big noisy cabi shows this fall and see that one shy gal standing in the corner needing some personal attention, the days when my inbox reaches 300 unopened messages, but a friend in needs wants to go for coffee, or when my kids ask for some extra help and love even though they really could do it on their own.  It’s what has kept me traveling so much this past year.

Speaking of which, I’ve been living out of a suitcase for 15 weeks and tomorrow, I go home!  I cannot tell you how eager I am to unpack, sleep in my own bed, walk my dogs and make toast in my own kitchen.  This last stretch of travel has been wonderful and I’ve seen so many great friends and had fabulous cabi fashion experiences, but it’s time for a little rest and recovery as I enter this fearless fall fashion season and begin again.   Stay tuned for lots of information as I dive into the collection and begin having shows, but for today, listen for your own sweet Wonder Woman’s voice and ask, “What is this thing in front of me that is requiring me to be fearless?”   What fear are you feeling, but doing the hard work of courage anyhow? What is your no man’s land moment?  What did you certainly not sign up for, but you now realize has become everything that you need to do? Well, I can’t tell you how you will get through it, but I can tell you — with certainty — you are not alone. I am cheering you on and I’d love to hear what you are fearlessly pursuing.  You can just hit reply to this email and you’ll land in my inbox.

From one strong Wonder Woman to another — Much Love,

Your Singapore Joy

P.S. Truth time: This is a re-post. This morning, I emailed this to my Cabi fashion clients in my typical newsletter form. I usually receive 2-3 responses to a newsletter update.  After just a few hours, my inbox had over 30 responses with women sharing their intimate and closely held fears, inspiration and triumphs with me.  So… I’m not the only one who is familiar with fear and who is trying to overcome it, huh? Thought I’d share it with my patient readers as well.  I promise, you guys, I will start writing again. I think about it, and you, all the time. Thanks for hanging in there with me during this quiet phase.

P.P.S. I know a movie scene outside of the context of the movie just isn’t that moving. But here’s my Wonder Woman Moment. Click Here 

 


While on a gondola…

photoA few days ago, I loaded into a gondola on a spontaneous one-day ski trip with my 13-year-old son.  In order to ride up the mountain forward facing, I sat next to the small boy who had boarded ahead of us, rather than next to my own son.

Now that I am back in the city, returning to regular life, I keep asking myself, how long can a gondola ride last? According to the ski resort’s website, just under 10 minutes, which was long enough for me to see the pain on his face and hear it in his voice.

“Are you guys just getting started?” he asked us casual and friendly.  Louis and I giggled and quickly recounted pieces of our morning of misadventure.  Among other delays, Louis lost one glove somewhere between the car and our first gondola ride.  After a thorough retracing of steps we gave up and bought a new pair.  As we were about to board our first chair lift, a man behind us called out “Hey, you dropped these,” and handed us Louis’s goggles. I said, “After many delays, we are finally going skiing, yes.”

I think Louis and I were projecting a pretty heavy, mother-son-on-an-adventure vibe without realizing it. It seemed to strike a cord with this boy and he leaned into the warmth and charm of it.  He shared that he was in high school (this was surprising because my 13-year-old was physically much bigger), that he attended an East Coast boarding school, was on a three week school vacation, had been skiing in Tahoe for 10 days and that this was his final day. He was climbing the mountain to meet a boy he’d made friends with earlier in the week.

He was sharp and quick-witted.  By asking only a few questions he deduced that we were from, (his words) “San Fran,” and that my son attended an all boy’s middle school.

He bristled at the description, all boys. “I am in a co-ed boarding school now and it’s so much better.  When it’s time for you to find a high school, go co-ed for sure.”

I asked if he started high school first at a single sex school and he told me no, he had attended a Jr. Boarding school that was only for boys and it had been a terrible experience.  Without shyness or fear of vulnerability he shared some of his experiences and explained the difference between bullying (picking on people for no reason) and hazing (a brotherhood of love continuing abusive traditions that had been done to them.)

I was stunned into silence while he shared stories of being the “little kid” on the hockey team and some of the nightmares he’d endured.

I mentioned that I had looked at various middle schools that might be a good fit for Louis and had come across the idea of boarding school for sixth graders.  “It’s more common on the east coast, I understand,” I concluded, and he concurred. I asked why he’d gone to a Jr. boarding school in the first place.  He turned to Louis and said, “You are so lucky she didn’t send you away.”  My parents just…” He made a repeated motion with his hand as if brushing dirt off his ski pants.   “I guess my Dad works all the time and my Mom, well, I think she wanted freedom to travel.”  Brushing hand motion again.

“Have you shared with your parents some of the experiences you had?” I asked. “Yes, and they feel terrible, but it still caused some real attachment issues for me.”  Clearly this kid had been to therapy, but he had not finished processing his pain.

We sat in silence for a few minutes and then I quietly said, “Middle school can be a really difficult time in a boy’s life.”    We looked at each other, goggles to goggles for a long moment and then he said, “Yes, and it’s a time a boy really needs a Mom.”

We sat in silence some more until my son quietly said, “What’s your name?”  His name was Patrick and he is now a sophomore in a different, more gentle sounding boarding school.  He and his parents continue to work on their relationship.  “My parents love me, don’t get me wrong, but they just…” and he did that motion with his hand again.

For the whole ride, his knees were almost touching Louis’s knees, and I know his words were imprinting themselves on Louis’s soul.

He didn’t know that Louis was a kid who has had a rough time in middle school as well.  I am not sure how Louis would describe his own experience: bullying, excluding, ostracizing…. He chose not to open up on that gondola ride.  Whatever happened to Louis in the past, we lived through it together. I have suffered inside for not being able to rescue him from it and no efforts on my part seemed to stop the behavior of other kids.  While listening to Patrick speak, something clicked into place in my heart.  All Patrick regretted was that his Mom hadn’t been there for him.  He didn’t seem to have any anger or resentment for those boys (he was quick to defend the hazing rituals he had endured) he just wanted his mom to be a part of his life.  Patrick wanted a mom who could pick him up each afternoon and absorb all the details.  Remind him that his identity was not placed in what the boys said or did.  Name the treatment as wrong and unfair.  Spend time with him on a Friday night instead of going out. Support his interests and love him just as he was, skinny and short.

Understanding my role as a parent of a teen can be challenging.  He is pulling away from me emotionally, and I am resisting the urge to helicopter parent, (s)mother and over-manage.  But Patrick-of-the-Gondola reminded me of a powerful, under-valued and still-necessary ingredient of parenting:  Just freakin’ show up.  Sometimes there isn’t anything specific to do and holding still and being nearby is the hardest thing of all.  I need to honor this kid I’ve been blessed to have, step up to the role I asked for, and simply be present. The rest, well, it somehow-someway takes care of itself.

Afterthoughts:

  • Louis loves his school and chose to stay there from Kindergarten til 8th grade (next year).  I am sure he made the right choice and I am happy I listened to him.
  • There are loads of happy kids at boarding schools whose parents “show up” in the right ways in their lives.  I know this is true, but Patrick is not one of them.
  • I will be praying for Patrick and his broken heart for years to come.  I hope he knows or learns how valued and loved he is by God.