Tell Your Story

I have read that yesterday was Mental Health Day and today is International Day of the Girl. I would like to tell a very long story about a very young girl. A story that is currently 17 years old. A quick spoiler. It is my story. Not all of my story, but a very small part of it that has had a very large impact.

In 2001, I was a 21 year old who had two part time jobs to support my less than one year old habit of community theatre. I was listening to music while driving to my second job. It was a clear, calm, and beautiful October day. I do not remember the specific day in October, and I have never looked it up to find out. It is a day I do not want to commemorate, but I always get a feeling when the anniversary approaches. I have that feeling today, so it must be near.

I can still remember the clothes I was wearing, and the song that was playing, but I will not share what they were, what it was, nor the details of what happened out of respect for the other party. But they happened. By the purest of accidents, I was involved in a car accident that can only be described as devastating.

In one millisecond, two lives changed forever. By the Lord’s providence, my car was being followed on the road by a prominent lawyer from a neighboring town. He was able to testify on scene to the police my lack of fault in the events that transpired. A couple stopped and stayed with me until my family could arrive. I remember the woman had a bruised face, and said she had just escaped an abusive relationship. I think she told me she was from Florida. I remember how kind she was to me in contrast to how battered her face looked.  Later that night, I remember the feel of the rapid thumping of my father’s heartbeat as he tightly embraced me. He told me the hospital had called. The other person did not survive.

I cannot describe to you in eloquent terms the emotional turmoil that I went through in that moment, so I won’t attempt it. The best I can muster is to ask you to pretend your soul is made of fabric. Then imagine someone holding that fabric and ripping it in half. The sound of the tear is the disassociation one experiences in that moment.  You are in the moment, but also outside of it, observing. 

After the bold headlines appeared in the local paper, I had trouble adjusting to “real life” again. I was convinced everyone who looked at me, could see what I had done. It didn’t matter that it was not my fault. That if it hadn’t been me, it would have been the person behind me, or in front of me. It was me. I knew it. Even if no one else did. We sold the car I was driving so I’d never have to see it again. I never wore those clothes, and I never listened to that song (as best as I could control it.)

After I “adjusted,” the best way I knew how to cope was to not talk about it. I was never punished in the traditional sense of the word. No charges were ever filed, and no one blamed me. No one but me, that is. I became a self-punisher. If the world wouldn’t get justice, I would do it myself. I didn’t always punish in the physical sense, although sometimes, I did that too. I would hit my legs with belts or use my own hands to slap my head until my skull tingled. I had so much pent up emotion that it had to come out. And since I didn’t talk about it, I expressed it in that unhealthy way. But mostly, I would withhold things from myself that I thought would bring me happiness. I didn’t deserve it. How dare I deserve it.

I lived this way for ten years. Community theatre helped. I could be somebody else on stage. I didn’t have to be me. I could be funny, dramatic, whatever the play called for, as long as it didn’t call for me to be me.

Strangely enough, I never blamed God or asked “Why” it happened. It just did.

In 2008, the bullying incident I spoke of earlier this year took place, and I was suddenly without my safety net of my home theatre. I found a new set of friends, and tried to recover from another emotional sucker punch.

In 2010, my life shifted yet again, and filmmaking changed from a pipe dream to a reality. After several opportunities to work behind the scenes, and one successful collaboration was granted distribution, the opportunity to write a screenplay presented itself, and in early 2011, I bought a book explaining how to write a screenplay, and I penned “The Hepburn Girls.”

I changed the circumstance, and added humor, because Life has both tragedy and humor, and my life had not been all sadness. Great moments of joy and humor had punctuated my personal timeline. However, as the author and leading actor, the process of writing and acting in the film was the cinematic equivalent of ripping a bandage off a wound over a decade old- only now, I was finally allowing a healing balm to soothe the pain.

I learned a lot while making the film. Before, I didn’t know PTSD could apply to people who were not in the military. As I researched, it dawned on me that I had been experiencing the effects for years. I understood that my life split in two pieces after that moment. Audrey was me before that accident and Katherine was who I became after.

I also learned, intimately learned, that sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. So when I created Katherine and Audrey—I created the two women whose bodies I had inhabited at one point in my life. The carefree teenager who loved old movies, nostalgia, and bounced back easily from her relatively sheltered life’s problems. And Katherine, the recluse shattered by tragedy, the person who was kind to everyone but herself, and who used humor to deflect attention without getting to the root of the problem. I thought, if only my two selves could meet and help each other. Katherine could tell Audrey to grow up, and Audrey could tell Katherine to let go.

Anyway, in 2013 the film was complete and edited, and ready for distribution- and just like that, the guaranteed distribution deal, very suddenly, but very amicably, fell through. Film festivals were entered, but there wasn’t a lot of interest. Other distributors were contacted, but they would only accept the film if pricey changes were made, including a new title. I couldn’t afford that, so Audrey and Katherine drifted back into the shadows.

I was confused, and disappointed. I again, felt I was to blame. I felt as though I had let everyone down. That I hadn’t done a good enough job, hadn’t been pretty enough, thin enough, young enough, acted strong enough, whatever things you want to tell yourself when you tell yourself you’re the root of the issue. But then, I met a new group of people, a theatre was founded, and my life became very full, and very happy for four years. I gained a new self-respect, and a new lease on life and happiness and creativity.  I was writing again, and a routine seemed to be laid out and settled into.

In January of 2018, I felt an unexpected nudge. By chance, I had been sent the link to a film festival by a friend.  I half-heartedly read about it. Most festivals have a time limit. As in, you must complete the film within a year of the festival. “The Hepburn Girls” was now an ancient seven years old. But this festival said they would accept films from any year.

Again, I was confused. Audrey and Katherine seemed to be calling to me, but their fate was sealed. My fate was sealed. They were going to live on Amazon and Vimeo, downloaded by….no one. The Lord had closed that door and I had accepted it, and embraced it.

But still….I did love contests.

I thought about it, and prayed about it, and decided I would do a one year private experiment. What was the harm? Only more rejection, and I was getting better at accepting that. I filled out the information for fifteen festivals with varying deadlines throughout the year, and swallowed hard as I paid the various entry fees that added up to more money than I was expecting to spend. All the ones I entered said they would accept films from any year. Then, I went on with life and told the Lord I’d trust Him to let the chips fall where they may.

It is now ten months later, and of the fifteen, four rejected it (goodbye money!), five accepted it as an official selection, and four awarded it some kind of laurel ranging from “Inspiring Hope” in Atlanta, Georgia to a “Bronze Award” in Ellington, New York. Two are still undecided as of this writing.

One festival had some small print that once selected, asked that you be present to be eligible to win, so last week, my husband and I took a quick road trip down to Atlanta and were thrilled to receive Third Place in the Feature Film category.

I’m not sure why there has been a renewed interested in “The Hepburn Girls” or how long that interest will last. Maybe only this year. Maybe only when someone needs to see the film. Audrey and Katherine no longer belong to me. Once the film was released, they became wards of the world. In the intervening years, I have given up trying to orchestrate or figure out the why or how of anything. I have learned to just let go, and truly embrace that my timeline and the Lord’s timeline, are not the same timeline.

I think that’s why I wanted to share part of my story, today at the intersection of World Mental Health Day and International Day of the Girl.

Tragic things happen to many people for many reasons, and sometimes for no discernible reason at all. However, the Lord has taken my tragedy and used the circumstance for good. It is no coincidence that my life verse, even before the accident, was Romans 8:28. It has carried me through on the darkest of days. 

I don’t want to be seen as inspirational, or put up on some pedestal as a person who should be emulated in any way. I am broken, but I’m finally allowing the Lord to glue me back together. I’m still recovering. As with most of us, I will spend my lifetime recovering from Life and everything it has thrown at me, and is still yet to toss.

Actually, I do want a couple things I did to inspire others. Tell your story. I didn’t approach anything close to healing until I began to tell my story. There is power in words, and in sharing those words. Pain needs somewhere to go. It can either live inside of you, or it can be expressed out into the world. Inside, it will fester and boil, and cause internal emotional and physical chaos. Outside, it can be released. Given away. Some people won’t want to hear your story. That’s okay. Not every story is for every person. Tell it anyway. The right people will eventually find it.

Also, never do anything for the worldly glory you could receive.  Perhaps that was part of my early lesson. Don’t make a movie because you want to be told you are “the prettiest, skinniest, most talented, most-insert-adjective here” — do it because you have a story that is burning to be told, and you are the vessel by which it will be shared.  There are so many people who have stories, and they are allowing fear to hold them back. I still grapple with fear. I have won many battles with fear, but I’m still working on the war.

Also, also, remember that God’s timing is not your timing. And the fastest way to find that out is to inform Him of exactly what you plan to do. These laurels are wonderful, and have served as such an encouragement to me to continue to dream and work, even if that work isn’t immediately recognized- but they aren’t the basis for the true value of the film. That was achieved when it helped me overcome, and it will continue to be achieved as each person who needs the message of the film, views and absorbs it.

“The Hepburn Girls” is just a tiny part of my life, but if what I experienced can inspire someone to tell their story, and begin their healing, then perhaps they will be able to inspire someone else, and with each story told, together we can begin a trickle effect that will truly heal the most broken of lives.

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“The Hepburn Girls” can be found on Amazon.com by clicking here: http://a.co/d/aXOPzTX

Anxiety

How can I say I “suffer”
from anxiety
when it has accompanied me
my whole remembered Life?
Like a Siamese twin,
I “exist” with Anxiety.
We dwell together,
sup together,
sleep together,
and
work together.
Our lives intertwine-
I seek to chop it off,
but it grows back…
a rejuvenating limb.
Sometimes,
it’s better to say,
“Anxiety suffers with me.”
It is the bigger sister,
and I am the limb.

The Best Time of Day

The best time of day
is not day at all.
It is when the house settles
with a sigh and final creak.
The lamp has been switched off,
and I burrow into the flannel sheets
and a pillow the size of my head.
It is then,
in the darkness,
that the cat slowly crawls over the pillow.
I lift the blanket
and extend my right arm.
He arranges himself in the nook,
draping his paws over my arm,
and resting his head.
He may or may not purr-
But it is in that moment
that I feel pure happiness
and what it must be like
to be loved…
unconditionally.

Nothing New

“That which has been is what will be, and that which is done is what will be done. And there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new?” It has already been done in ancient times before us.” Ecc. 1:9-10

To me, the study of history is the study of future events. What has happened before, will happen again. It is up to us to have the wisdom to recognize the pattern, and respond accordingly.

I actually didn’t blog for an entire year…on purpose. After my cat (and feline best friend) Simon died on Christmas Eve last year, there was nothing I really wanted to write about, or to say.  I had small bouts of creativity here and there, things happened that thrilled me, and other things happened that disappointed and hurt me, but for the most part, 2017 was a year I wanted to leave fairly well undocumented.

That was silly of me. We learn from everything Life throws at us…and I did nothing but a disservice to myself and my future growth by ignoring or pretending an entire year didn’t happen.

Despite this woeful beginning, I am actually feeling very optimistic about 2018. The word I’ve decided to focus on this year is: authenticity. I want to be more of it, and have more of it from people and projects in my life.

I want to invest my attention and energy into those who reciprocate it, and decrease my involvement with those who don’t.  No more small talk, awkward exchanges, or feeling as though I’m begging for attention. Life is becoming increasingly shorter, and my tolerance for that kind of treatment needs to as well!

Perhaps it’s the slow creep to middle age that is causing these reflections, or perhaps it’s just immersing myself in the study of the awe-inspiring people that created and made history.

So! On to a year of more writing, more reading, more movie-watching, more painting, and more introspection…more of becoming a person I will be proud to look back and remember, and less of a person who just existed to please.

Simon Says Goodbye

Three and a half years ago, my beloved black cat Sammy passed away from kidney failure. He was only three years old himself. The day after his traumatic death, I walked into the Humane Society and said simply, “I need to hold a black cat.”

The women there were very kind and accommodating to this grief-stricken girl and her strange request. Soon after,  I began a years long friendship with them, and the rest of the furry residents of the Kitty Kottage.

A couple months after I began coming by regularly, an adult male black cat was dropped on their porch. The women arrived at work in the morning only to find him in a pet carrier with a note.

“Friendly neighborhood cat. Keep the carrier.”

Whether he was truly just a “neighborhood cat” or not, we’ll never know, but he was christened “Cruiser” by the staff, since he was allegedly found “cruising” around the neighborhood.

Shortly after his arrival, as I sat in their floor playing with some of the kittens, he sauntered in. He sized me up, climbed into my lap, flipped over on his back like a baby, and began to purr.

“It looks like you’ve been picked!” one of the staff members exclaimed. Indeed, it did.

Every visit would see the same behavior. The staff informed me that as an adult male black cat his chances of being adopted were slim to none. I slowly began to realize  that I needed to take this enchanting creature home. That while he could never replace Sammy, he might be able to help heal the hurt, and the gaping hole left by Sammy’s death.

I brought him home in July of 2013, along with a few other cats, whose story I will tell another day. I renamed him Simon, for the character Simon Birch in the movie of the same name. He was small, but mighty.

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From that day forward, our only separation was when I left the house for work. If I exercised, he walked with me. One of our favorite spots was a grove of trees out front of the house, where he would show off by sprinting up one of the trees and then posing dramatically before jumping down again. If he got tired of walking, I picked him up and carried him.

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When I worked from home, he slept on top of a brown pillow I had out for him. When I showered, he stayed in the bathroom to make sure no boogeymen were there to attack me. He slept next to me, sat in my lap when I watched tv, kept me company when I was sick (which lately, had been often), posed for numerous Instagram photos, always came running when I called him, and when he heard the garage door open, I would walk in to find him waiting for me outside the door.   And if, by some odd chance, he hadn’t heard the garage, I’d find him on my side of the bed, curled up next to my pillow.


His antics were so adorable to me (as any cat lover would say of their own furry child) that I created a hashtag called #SimonSays to more easily access all of his photos and the memories we had created.

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He never judged, never said I looked fat, never called me stupid, never minded my moods, and most important; loved me fiercely and exclusively. Despite his semi-permanent frown, he allowed me to cradle him like a baby, and would purr contentedly.

He was also one of the smartest cats I’ve ever known. His words may have been silent, but we talked all the time, and understood each other perfectly. He healed my heart in ways I couldn’t imagine, and the only thing he deprived me of was more time.

I wanted years and years with him. I wanted more cuddle time, more adventures, more companionship. More of everything. More of him.

I didn’t get it.

Simon was in my life for approximately three years and six months. This morning, Christmas Eve morning, I found him where he loved to be most in the world, just outside our grove of trees. There were no marks on him, no signs of struggle, no blood. Just my sweet, sweet friend lying in the grass.

I still have no idea what happened, but I think I know when it did. I getting ready for the day in my bathroom when I heard a noise of distress that sounded exactly like Simon’s “voice.” It sounded like he was right under my window. I was so alarmed, that I ran and looked outside to make sure he was okay. I didn’t see him.  He was hidden by the hill of grass. I found him about 20 minutes later.

Today was the day Simon says Goodbye. And my heart, while twisted with pain and inconsolable with grief, is so, so grateful that I knew him. Today and tomorrow are supposed to be days filled with family, happiness, love, and joy. Why did I lose my best friend on Christmas Eve? Why him? Why now?

It’s not fair.

But. That’s the one thing Life always promised. Never to be fair. 

And so.

Goodbye, my sweet, feisty, adventurous companion. Thank you for coming into my life at the perfect time, and bringing me such love and joy.  You knew me and chose to love me, and every day you let me know how much.

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I miss you more than I can possibly express.




NLC, THG and the Mystery of 11/11

11:11 has been haunting me for about five years now.

I do not tell you this story because I expect you to believe it. It’s unbelievable. I wouldn’t believe it if it was told to me. But it happened to me, so I have to believe it. I also have friends and family who have been witness to it and the effects.

I will tell the story as succinctly as possible.


It began in 2011, shortly after the completion of “No Lost Cause.” I am, admittedly obsessed with clocks, but what began as a simple odd coincidence morphed into a freaky occurrence, and then finally to a reassuring signal.

You see, it was around this time (no pun intended) that when the urge to check the hour of the day came over me, and I would glance at my phone, or bedside alarm, or some other digital form of telling time, that the display would read 11:11. (both am and pm).

Obviously, I would look at the clock at other times of the day, but this time began to become more and more frequent. It started happening so frequently, in fact, that I began taking screen shots. At it’s zenith, I counted 45 screen shots in a single month. I was not cheating and waiting for that time to hit to take the screen shot, nor was I actively pursuing the oddity.

On the contrary, it was beginning to freak me out.  Especially when I began getting receipts where my check out time was stamped 11:11, or the total of my order was $11.11.

Why did I keep seeing this time? This amount? This number? What did it mean?

I did some internet research, and depending on your belief system 11/11 could either be a signal from Someone supremely evil, or supremely divine. Of the two, naturally I was hoping for the latter.

Finally, one day, about three years later, when my poor, frazzled brain thought this would be the new normal of my life, I looked at the clock, and it was 11:12. Then, the  next day, it was 11:14, and so on. Whatever it was, it seemed to be over.

But what had it been?

It was a few months later that I found out that our film, “No Lost Cause” had been acquired by TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network) and would be broadcast on their station. The day the film was approved?

11/11.

Was this a signal? Were the numbers tied to the film? It remained to be seen.

Because it began to happen again.

I saw the numbers, over and over, for several weeks, and then just as suddenly, I stopped seeing them. I did some research, and found out that “No Lost Cause” would be playing on the television station again.

This theory would be proven over and over during the coming two years. The numbers would occur, over and over, for days, sometimes, weeks or months….and then they would stop. And every time, it was connected to something positive for our film.

Meanwhile, our second film, “The Hepburn Girls” was completed quite a while ago. We have been working off and on since it’s completion seeking distribution.

I tell you all of this, not because I’m looking forward to the ridicule that will surely follow, but because it has happened again.

The past few months, I’ve been seeing my old digital friends.

On October 1st, I uploaded the film to Vimeo. A few days later, I was emailed by two filmmakers who noticed it and wanted to know if I was interested in entering their filmmaking contest, where the grand prize was a distribution contract.

After doing some research on the company (because, be smart) I liked their concept, the way they ran their website, and I thought I’d give it a shot. As I’ve been prone to say many a time before….”Why not?” (It is, after all, how I ended up with two films). Plus, I’m a sucker for a good contest.

I originally was under the impression I’d be entered into their “Winter Season” competition and that the film wouldn’t premiere until February or March, but when I was emailed my premiere date, I stared at the computer, dumbfounded.

The date of the premiere?

11/11.

Beginning tonight at 7pm (CST), and for the next 20 days, our film will be available completely for free. If you like it, you have the opportunity to “become a fan” and donate $3 to this competition. We get $1, and the rest goes to help continue to make this contest available for other independent filmmakers. At the end of the competition, the film with the most “fans” wins.  Pretty straightforward!

I hope you have an opportunity to watch it. While a distribution deal would be a wonderful answer to prayer, even more important to me is the opportunity to give as many people as possible the chance to see my story.  I hope you find some value in it, and in the message, which is based loosely on events that have happened to me in my life. It was very cathartic to write, and even more cathartic to act out.

The film focuses on the life of Katherine, a woman who is her own worst enemy, who uses humor as a defense mechanism, and who pushes away all possible paths to happiness under the misguided notion of self-punishment for an accident she never speaks of. She has locked herself in a PTSD cage of her own making, and it takes her newly discovered half-sister Audrey to help her figure out the way to mental and emotional freedom.

It is also powerful testimony of Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Will this contest work together for my perceived good of a distribution contract? Or will it simply be good for someone to see my story, and know they are not alone?

I don’t know…truly, only time will tell.


Link to “The Hepburn Girls” (Free until December 2nd, 2016)

https://fandependentfilms.com/films/348/the-hepburn-girls/

To the Class of 2016: Ten Things I’ve Learned

To all my sweet, young friends who will be graduating tonight. I want you to all know how proud I am of the humans you have become.

As you embark on this thing called adulthood, let me pass on a few things I’ve learned along the way. Maybe one or two of them will help you avoid some unnecessary pain or frustration. There are many other things I have learned, but no one wants to read an infinite list. Ten will do for now.



1.
Don’t believe your own press. As you grow older, things will be said or written about you, both good and bad. You’ll even say things about yourself, both good and bad. We’ve all had to make ourselves look as good as possible for a job interview or an audition. Maybe things will even be printed about you. People will put you on a pedestal, and they will think you can do grand things. Don’t get me wrong; you can absolutely do grand things, but the minute you replace confidence with ego, that’s when your downfall begins. Stay humble. Stay grounded. Know who you are, and know who you’re not.

2. Find your people. Don’t settle for any group of friends that you can’t be yourself around. Be your quirky, weird, fun, absolute true self, and keep being that person until you find a group of people who are similarly quirky, weird, fun and true. Don’t surround yourself with ‘yes’ men and women. People who suck up to you are not your real friends. Don’t allow it. You can’t grow without positive resistance. Conversely, don’t allow yourself to be bullied by anyone. No one has the right to tell you how you should live your life. Or to make you feel small or unwanted. This isn’t high school anymore. You can walk away, and it’s a beautiful thing. Keep walking until you find your people.

3. Never stop learning. If you are pursuing higher education, take it as far as you possibly can, and past that, keep learning. Even if you’re not pursuing higher education, keep questioning, never take anything anyone says at face value, and never accept the answer, ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ That’s they way it was always done before you got here. You bring value to everything you do. Keep reading, watching, listening, learning. You can never have too much knowledge. Also, travel. See things, see them in person. Meet new people, seek out opportunities to grow your mind, and expand your personal world.

4. Find your calling. You may or may not work some really crappy jobs in the next few years. Keep working, because they are the jobs that make you humble. A job is different from a calling. A calling lights a fire under you, brings you joy, challenges you, and makes you look forward to another day. Find your calling, and find a way to get paid for it.

5. Do all things in moderation. This is so important, and so very simple. Don’t drink/smoke/sex/drug/study/stress/sleep/work/play/spend too much. All of these have the power to take over your life. Some of them can ruin your life, and destroy many years, or shorten your life by many years. I’ll let you decide which those are, but they all have that power, if you give it to them. Don’t.

6. Choose a mate you like. Hormones are extremely powerful. You will have feelings for people you didn’t believe were possible. Strong, passionate, lusty feelings. Don’t listen to feelings. Do listen to that inner voice. It’s not enough to love someone, you must like them too. Do you like who they are? Do you like who you are when you are with them? Do they support you? Do they challenge you? If the only thing you have in common is physical attraction, then what will you have when that fades away? Choose someone who doesn’t push you to do things that make you uncomfortable, instead, choose someone who makes you the best possible version of yourself. Choose someone who brings you peace, not turmoil. Choose someone who makes your heart, mind, and soul say, “Ah. There you are.”

7. Be kind. Always. You are busy living your story, but you have no idea what your fellow man (or woman) is going through. Be kind whenever possible, and it’s always possible. If you find yourself becoming jealous of another person, ask yourself if you are willing to put in the amount of work they have for the result they have. If you are, then do it. If you aren’t, then be happy for them, and stop being jealous.

8. Learn to read body language. This will save you years of heartbreak and wonder. Learn to listen to what people say with their bodies, not their mouths. If the two don’t match, it is the body language you should believe. It is the purest form of truth.

9. Keep your sense of humor. Know that Life only gets harder. It will not always be kind, forgiving, or fair. Especially fair. Bad things will happen. Good things will happen. Sometimes, they will happen at the same time. Keep your sense of humor, because if you lose that, you could possibly lose your mind. Someone you love may not love you back. You might not get the job you know you were meant for. Eventually, you will lose people you love to distance, breakup, or death. This is Life. But you are in it for the long haul. Hang on, because it can also be beautiful, and full of wonder. Keep going for those moments. The big ones, and the small, simple ones. They make all the bad times worth the journey.

10. Seek God/Don’t blame God. He is the ultimate teacher, granter of wisdom, favor, and love. Seek Him in everything you do. He extends the hand of friendship to every human being. Those who accept it live an enriched life. Be careful to understand that it is not an easier life, in fact, at times it could be harder. In that vein, do not fall into the trap of blaming Him when Life beats you up. Trust Him. Trust that he will work all things together for your good. Bad things happen because this is Life, and this is a world with good people, bad people, disease, accidents, and tragedy. Know that He weeps with you in the bad, and rejoices with you in the good. Know that He loves you more than our human hearts can understand. That is, until you become a mother or a father. Then, I think possibly you will understand the depth of His love for you.


I don’t have all the answers, but these things have worked for me. In short, welcome, my friends, to all the possibilities of your Life. What an exciting adventure awaits!

 Happy Graduation Day. 🙂