Dear God….

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It’s me.  We met back when I was a teenager in a moment of grace. I felt it and I knew something had changed.  Not that I was healthy then.  No, there was still work to be done.  You had bigger plans, more to do and more preparation.

The years haven’t been easy.  We’ve had ups and downs, miracles and nightmares. We’ve survived hard times and created more hard times.  We’ve started this family, the four of us, and we’re trying to make it and not let things slip away.

This morning, we need something from you. It’s about Carter.

You know him, our oldest.  Our sensitive one, the early riser, the one who never really quite fit in.

The worries started a few years ago. We tried to shrug it off, to chalk it up as “just his personality.”  We hoped he would grow out of it. We assumed it would fade as he grew into years of security and personal identity.

It did not.

Right now, today, he’s in the middle of a relapse of his anxiety and worry, in a hole deeper than he’s faced before. His mind churns like storm water. His heart is heavy. His eyes are longing.  He’s in the middle of changes that seem so big they cannot be overcome.

We need your help.

Friday night, after a few long hours, I was putting him to sleep.  Through tears he yelled and pleaded,

I pray all the time about this stuff that God would take it away and nothing happens.  If he’s really out there, why doesn’t he do anything?

The cries of a child, an innocent soul.  So I ask you, not for me.  I’m almost forty years into this and you know I’ve got enough scars.  I ask you for him.

Where are you?

For this child.  For this boy whose life is still so far ahead of him.  For this child with so many gifts and such potential.  For the moment his heart is so heavy that he cries out to you.

And nothing changes.

Here’s a great opportunity.  We don’t need a Lazarus moment.  We don’t need water into wine or feeding five thousand people.  We don’t even need you to walk on water.

I need you to help my son’s heart, to quiet his mind. To calm his soul and let him know everything will be okay.

I’m typing this through my own tears.  Whatever it takes, please help him. He deserves it, he needs it. He’s done nothing wrong.

I ask for your grace.  I’ve screwed up as a dad more than once. I’ve not given him what he’s needed.  I’ve been emotionally absent more than I should and for that I’m sorry.

All time exists for you in a moment.  You know the plans you have for him and for us.

Please, today, right now, please give him peace. Let him know you are there and things will work out.  Let him know he doesn’t have to be owned by his fear.

Let him know he is stronger than he thinks. Help him to be excited by  life again.

Please.

 

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A Currency of Dreams

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Ask my kids what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll get two different answers. Aiden, our youngest, loves dogs.  He’s gone from a K9 police officer, to a veterinarian, to a dog trainer, and even a monster truck driver (he’s a big fan of cars and trucks too).  Carter tends to be more contemplative.  He wants to do something active.  He dreams of his future as an athlete and leans towards science and math pursuits.  Maybe one day he’ll be able to combine the two.

At some point our dreams start to fade.

I remember as a senior in college sitting in the lounge of Main Hall at West Chester University talking to a few other Lit majors. We were throwing around what we’d try to do with our futures.  One guy mentioned that Comcast would need to hire people to write their television program descriptions right? So why not him? He had a valid point.

You have a purpose.  Search your social media feeds and you’ll find numerous people selling you online courses and coaching to reveal just what that purpose is.

You’ll find your purpose in struggle and suffering. In the courage to put yourself out there.

I still battle with the courage part.  The strength to speak and write without the fear of not being heard or connecting.  The strength to open up the wounds so others can open theirs as well. The strength to reach out a hand in comfort and stability.

The strength to try. 

That word is loaded with meaning.

Ever fiber of our being pushes against change.  We want the old, we crave routine and strive for sameness.  We want comfort.  The same instinct kept us alive when the dinosaurs roamed.

It also kept us out of new lands.  Until resources dried up and we had to move, to step into the darkness.

It takes courage to try. It takes courage to get up in the morning and face the day.  Reach deep and feel the newness inside straining for life.  Some moments it is clear.

Life is a battle between both sides and every day is a choice.  Choose wisely.

 

Wind

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I overheard the following conversation this morning between two people at the office:

-“It was really beautiful this weekend.”

-“Yeah, it was kind of windy though.”

Life is perspective.

In high school I was on the mock trial team.  I was a lawyer, all four years, and enjoyed breaking down the case files and reading over the witness statements.  Now all were fake and written by law students, so every team had the same source material.  We’d conduct “trials” against each other (two matches, one prosecution and one defense) and be judged by a jury of lawyers from the county. You’d wonder how, if every team had the same material, we could develop any strategy.

Each team had lawyer advisers (our adviser one year turned into the current DA of the county next to ours).  We learned quickly that perspective is key.  Go to a crowded street corner and watch a car accident.  There may be twenty witnesses and each story will be different.  How did it start? How did it end? Who was at fault? Depending on your source of material it could be viewed twenty different ways.

A few years ago I got called to jury duty at federal court in Philadelphia.  I ended up chosen and served on a gun possession trial that lasted two days. It was immensely interesting to get in a jury room and listen to twelve different views and see how majorities would develop. We’d all heard the same witnesses and pulled different opinions.

This Sunday, our pastor delivered a message about Jesus and his final meal in the upper room.  He mentioned the observation given in the gospels that Jesus entered the meal In Full Knowledge of what was about to happen over the next few days.  Around him sat Peter, who would deny him and Judas who would betray.  The others would turn into cowards and stay silent. Twelve different viewpoints.

What did Jesus do?  He served.

It was a beautiful night for some.  For others, the beauty was lost.

We all choose how we see the world.  Our boys, Carter and Aiden, are prime examples of that. Aiden is the optimist. He lights up a room and can find joy in situations.  Carter is more serious, more emotional.  He’s like I was as a kid.  He’ll stay back and observe before jumping in and his opinions are passionate no matter right or wrong.

If you are like me, this new season is a time of reflection.  Fall leads to winter, the ending of summer and desolation of cold. Nights are longer. Time outside is now time inside.

I tend to take inventory in the fall.

Right now I’m feeling the gap and hanging on the expectancy of fulfillment. Maybe you are there with me, weeks and months of waiting, of work being done.  You are standing in the warehouse and God is putting you through whatever is needed so you can move forward. You want more. Your soul longs for meaning and greater things because the alternative is unfathomable.

You call out in the dark moments.  When the kids are in bed and you are in bed looking at the ceiling and wondering when tomorrow will be different, when you’ll love your circumstances. You may not find that love right now, no, but that is for a reason.

Because you are meant for something more. Your story is meant to change generations and impact those you love.  It is meant to change hearts.  This change is work.  Sleep and rest, sameness and routine are so tempting.

Erwin McManus, head of Mosaic in Los Angeles, said this in a message:

Some of you know way too much about your lives.

It is time to embrace the mystery, step into the challenge.

See the beauty and feel the push of the wind. Know your heart aches for something more and follow it, no matter the cost.

Because nothing changes if nothing changes.  And it is time to wake up.

 

The Boys

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image from imdb.com

If you are not watching The Boys on Amazon streaming, you should be. This quality adaptation of the comic with the same name is helmed by Eric Kripke, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan. Kripke is the mind behind Supernatural, one of my favorite television shows and the writing staff includes veteran writers from the X Files, a show that defined my childhood.

I’ll preface saying the show is for adults, so not something I’d sit and watch with Carter.  The writing is deep and relevant as they address current issues across headlines.  In their world, superheroes are real and managed by a corporation.  This corporation keeps close watch on their superheroes, a group known as The Seven, and works various power plays within the country.

As episodes progress, information is revealed.  Our heroes all have dark sides and face their own demons.  They are vulnerable and real under the costumed exterior. Hughie, played by Jack Quaid, is an outside player that finds himself in the center of the action. Hughie’s girlfriend is accidentally killed by A Train, one of The Seven, and this spurs him into character change.  Quaid has his father’s (Dennis Quaid) magnetism and he uses it to full effect as he enters a relationship with Starlight played by Erin Moriarty, the newest member of The Seven, as she deals with her own identity as a hero.

Hughie’s story is the most intriguing, in my opinion.  After he experiences the tragedy, he’s told by his father to just calm down and be the nice boy he is.  He is offered a payoff by the agency managing the heroes and denies it.  He ends up working with The Boys, a covert group of mercenaries  keeping the heroes in check. He’s pulled, consistently, out of his comfort zone and experiences the rush of rising to a challenge.

In the last episode I finished, Butcher, the head of The Boys, takes Hughie to a victim’s support group.  The group is for individuals who had been damaged physically and emotionally by superheroes.  Butcher finds the people living in a victim mentality and gets angry.  He stands, yelling at them an important question:

Where is your rage?!

Now that scene itself is worth an entire movie and book. Victim mentalities can weigh us down.  We are called to rise up and take back what was ours.  We are called to act.

We have a choice.

Status quot. The same routine, day in and day out.  The same relationships and friendships, the hollow conversations, the meaningless seconds tick by.

Or we can tap into that rage just under the surface.  That anger that knows we’ve been wronged. That voice that everyone has told us to keep quiet for way too long.

As we stand and we rage, we find truth. We find power.  We find identity. Not without sacrifice, or sorrow.  Not without emotion.

We meet ourselves in the fire.  Raging, as Dylan Thomas wrote, against the dying of the light.

 

 

Smoke

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I recently finished the book Vicious by V.E. Schwab. She has a razor’s touch and style that carries you into a world of heroes, villains, shifting allegiances and every role in between. There are great lines in the book itself but one, an aside of descriptive observation, lives in my head.

A character is waiting for his girlfriend on their college campus.  She writes,

“Eli was waiting on the building steps in the late afternoon with a cup of coffee in each hand. The dusk smelled like dead leaves and far-off fires; his breath escaped in small clouds as he held one of the coffees out to her, and she took it and slipped her arm through his again.”

Writing is powerful and these few sentences put me right there on the steps.  The time, smell, breath and taste pulled me into the past.  How many of you read that paragraph and were immersed in sensory feedback?  I could smell the smoke and taste the coffee.

Fall puts me in the past, in the midst of slate skies and Friday Night Lights. The sound of the school band echoing down the streets of our home town, the nights where pumpkins and candles just start to wink through the darkness.

Time is a double-edged sword. It is that fire that never stops consuming our memories and expectations.  It has a unique talent to absorb the past and future. I look at my sons and realize they’ll be looking back at me one day as teenagers, men, husbands and fathers. I look at Val and realize one day we’ll be holding hands as our grandchildren play in the yard.  I look in the mirror and wonder what happened to that kid staring back.  No debt, no regrets, no missed opportunities.  Just chance and an open road of time.

And almost four decades later, here I am. God, that sentence scares me.

The smoke from far-off fires reminds us. Everything changes.  Everything will burn and emerge a new creation. We will raise our boys until one day they’ll step out into this world on their own.  We will keep on our path as it grows and changes.

In a way, things are the same. Yeah the weight of life is heavy.  The choices we’ve made, good and bad, have shaped our story. Our love and mistakes as parents have helped to shape two boys into growing kids.

We are still that couple walking home from high school holding hands. We still stand at the edge of opportunity.  Some days dusk seems closer than others.

And the sun still rises.

Every day is a chance for something more.

What if we got it wrong?

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Faith is a loaded term.

Brands demand faith. Politicians demand faith. Schools, teams, clubs.  Watch a college football game with 100,000 kids in the stands all wearing the same color and you’ll see faith in action.

The broad idea is commitment and conviction.  The broad idea is expectation that something will happen even without evidence (“blind faith”). Look through history and you’ll find moments of faith for good and evil, movements that changed lives and eliminated lives.  Faith is power.

And we’ve screwed it up.

Faith is hard.  Faith is not the belief that something will happen even without evidence. Faith is not pulling the lever of the slot machine in the sky. It is not the stoplight we made in Sunday School about How Prayer is Answered with stop, wait, and go.

Faith is not a request. Faith is not a transaction.  Faith is not conditional.

The night of the storm, Jesus calls Peter out onto the water. There’s wind and rain, waves and noise.  There’s a boat full of his peers and a man that looks like a ghost standing off in the distance.  Peter slings his leg over the side of the boat and takes a step.  We read he takes more than one before literally taking his eyes off Jesus.  At that point, he sinks.

Let’s dig deeper.

1-Faith requires the storm. Jesus tells us we will have trouble. Go through history, page through the Bible and do a quick Google search on martyrs.  No one who follows Jesus is immune.  There’s a reason for communities of faith.  They exist as support systems.  Life is ugly. More hands help to provide strength and comfort in the dark nights.

2-Faith is daily action. You can, and you will, have moments of distance. Jonah found himself in the depths, David in the desert. There is nothing about faith that is once and done. It takes effort and time, a choice every day to hear the still, small voice of the divine.

3-Faith is loss. Imagine the early church, the ones who had seen Jesus had to face his death.  The ones later had to go off of writing and witness accounts.  Faith is how we deal with the hole in our heart waiting to be filled with something. We will all become orphans one day. We will face the passing of time.  Faith is the intersection between loss, grief, and the sun rising. Baptism symbolizes death for this reason, it is a concept not far from the minds of every believer and a reminder of so much more.

So, if we’ve watered it down and compressed it, what actually is faith?  Beyond the car magnates, bumper stickers, conferences and political movements.  What does it mean to believe?

What if it has nothing to do with belief?

There is a divine story. There is meaning and purpose, influence and grace.  There is hope in helping and healing in sacrifice. Faith is tapping into the undercurrent.

Faith is a willingness to let go.

Faith is the point where you break through the weight of this world and feel the supernatural.  It is the moment of intoxicating joy and unending grace.

It is the laughter of your child, the sunset over the ocean, the red hue of a rose. Faith is the beauty of creation.

Faith is an invitation to be a part of something more. Faith is a journey. Faith is humility. Faith is knowing that you are meant for something more.

Faith is a state of cognitive readiness, of acting and living the circumstances you are called to embrace.

This has existed from the moment the universe breathed into existence.  Faith kept the stars in the sky, filled the oceans and pushed the winds across the desert.

It has nothing to do with right and wrong, with division and “teams”.  Faith does not place you against someone else. It hopes in bigger, better, and greater things. Faith is not a place of privilege or superiority.

Faith does not make you better than anyone else.

As Paul said, faith shows you your failings, holding up a mirror to the past to help you be thankful for the present and inspired for the future.

This faith can change the world.  This faith opens blind eyes.  This faith feeds the hungry, provides for those in need, and opens hearts.  This faith reflects Jesus and our calling to follow.

This faith gets us off the boat and, when we sink, it picks us up again to keep walking in the storm.

 

Fear

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On Sunday we went as a family to the movies to see Spiderman: Far From Home. It did an excellent job addressing the navigation of Tom Holland’s Spiderman with his normal life on a class trip to Europe.  He is drawn into a conflict that has ramifications when Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio forces him to face down illusions and embrace who he is.

We see Holland’s character juggle both lives, often denying his responsibility to save the world until he can deny it no longer. He tells Zendaya’s Mary Jane Watson that he is actually Spiderman and they come to an understanding with a new level of relationship.

Fear is the bottom line of the movie. Mysterio is angry with not getting credit for his work.  He’s willing to damage property and take lives to be the hero and get recognition and is done being passed over. Holland’s character doesn’t feel worthy to step up and embrace his abilities. He says, more than once, he just wants a normal life.  He wants to return to his class trip and his love interest. We hear that his spider sense is not working right and, when he finally trusts it and himself again, he saves the world.

It is easier to doubt ourselves.  It is easier to sit in our darkness and not take a risk.  It is way easier to not move forward. It is easier to get hung up in injustice and take out our resentment on those around us (see every recent superhero movie).

I’ve written before on here how our son Carter deals with anxiety.  He worries about small and large things.  The small things grow and linger.  If he’s resting, he’ll eventually need to get up and move around.  The idle mind creates demons.

The hard concept to reconcile is this: you need to do it yourself.

I grew up believing that if I was good enough, good things would happen and all would work out. I grew up optimistic in the infallibility of people, that they were genuinely good and had my best interests at heart.  I believed relationships were forever, family never changed and time would turn into some continuous Hallmark movie. In the Third Act, conflicts would resolve and peace would descend across the land.

The truth is, moments of peace are fleeting. People are imperfect. Family changes. Relationships, without effort, will wither on the vine. Conflict is reality. Disappointments happen in our human imperfections. There is no guaranteed break, no assured down time.

There is no finish line.

There is only a start and it depends on you, the ball of mess that makes up your identity.  Every memory, every moment, every good and bad word ever exchanged.  The dreams and nightmares, the power and the glory. Every instant you bowed your head and felt defeat. The joy of small and large victories.

The noise and crashing waves combine to make your soul unique. The abstract painting of divine destiny is more massive than you can imagine. It waits for the first step.

A step only you can take. Alone. In the still, small moments of silence.

The first time you pick your head up, put down the addiction, send the text message or make the phone call.  The handshake, the job application, the new business website.  The hug of a child. Facing your past and putting it to the fire to be burnt as fuel, an ignition. The first time you feel how deep the scars run and you understand.

For faith is a connection, a shaft of light in the darkness, an understanding.  It is conviction.  And conviction has more than one meaning.

Conviction knows guilt and that, with time, it will fade. It understands that dreams bigger and wider than you could image await you on the other side.

Until then, keep fighting.

 

 

The Lake

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Do you have a sense of purpose in life?

Have you come to terms with life and death in a way you resonate with?

How much power do you have in designing your future?

Death, it turns out, is not your greatest fear. Actually, your greatest fear is reaching death and having never truly lived.

When you organize your spiritual life, you become clear on what your life is about. You become clear on what you stand for, and how you want to spend each day. You develop conviction for what really matters to you, and what is a “distraction.”

No matter how well defined, everyone has a moral system governing their behavior. Most people believe in being honest and good people.But until you organize your spiritual life, you’ll experience internal conflict when acting contrary to your values and vision.

-Benjamin Hardy

 

I shut my eyes to sleep and open them to the lake.

Waves lap against the boat. The metal reflects the heat of the morning. Mist rises from the water. Dragonflies land and take off.  To my left, a fish blasts through the surface and the dragonfly, a living flash of emerald, buzzes past my head with too much peace for having faced death.

I am young. I turn in my seat and see no one.  I am alone and fear grips me like ice.

Do not be afraid. The voice sounds from all sides, from the water and sky, the trees and forest, the earth and air. The boat dips as a weight settles behind me.  I turn to see a man.

He wears a suit the color of fall Pennsylvania sky.

Who are you? I ask.

I was wondering the same, he says.  His voice is a mix of many. I hear my father, my grandfather, years of blood running through the past.

He tents his hands on his lap.

Ask.

I feel a drop of rain, hear thunder in the distance. Rain destroys the calm surface. My shirt sticks to my chest.  I shut my eyes as memories roll like waves. Every moment, conversation, up and down. Joy, sorrow, embarrassment. Frustration.

First hand held, first kiss, slow dancing at the prom, proposing marriage. Moving out. Plans, dreams, visions, struggle.

Loss.

Wind rips through the trees, pulling the breath from my lungs. I force out a word.

Why.

He laughs.

Because I formed the first star and set its place in the sky and, in that moment, I knew you. I knew your purpose. I shaped the wind and every single drop of rain.

He raises his hands. The storm dies.

The story is unfinished. The ending is written and your role is of vital importance. I need you in the place that can only come from hurt, from loss and suffering.

I need you to walk through the fires and come out refined.  The fires will only get hotter, the journey longer, the force harder.

I need you because you need me.

I’m scared, I say. An eagle soars from a distant tree top.

I’ll be with you.

Stand.

When you fear          When you cry

When you can’t take another moment

When you lose

When you feel like you have nothing left

Stand.

More storms are coming, he says.  Know I will pull you through.

Thunder crashes and he is gone.

 

 

My eyes open to a storm outside. Aiden climbing into our bed. Red numbers on the clock.

And the sound of rain tapping against the glass, peaceful in the night.  

 

 

Stuck

I’d mentioned before on here that my dad worked in a nuclear power plant.  He’d spent two decades there as an operator, a staff member working on upkeep of engines and various machines at the plant including the reactor. I remember being awed at the mystery of the thing, the idea of working with radiation and the precarious spot of being an everyday employee.

In fifth grade we had to do a science fair project.  Dad helped me with a presentation on the Chernobyl disaster. HBO recently aired an outstanding series on the events surrounding it.

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image from hbo.com

For those of you unfamiliar, a reactor at the plant melted down after a faulted safety test in the middle of the night.  This exposed workers and residents of the town of Pripyat and the fallout is still being felt decades later. Pripyat was a town built specifically for workers at the plant and their families.  Today it stands abandoned.

The lessons behind the incident are explored in the series. What is the price of lies and secrets? How valuable is information? When is reputation more important than life itself?

We watch the show and wonder what we would have done, being faced with certain death. We consider the cost of duty and we rage with those the government had left behind in their efforts to cover up the true scope of the disaster.

Our lives have power and potential.  We radiate with purpose.  We are driven with a force strong enough to light a thousand cities and yet we can find ourselves stuck.

We fall slave to routine. We find comfort when lies are easier than truth, avoiding correction is easier than facing the music for our mistakes. We settle and fight, pull away into isolation and find comfort in a place that slowly takes our hours until the sun sets and darkness falls.

If you find yourself in this spot, there is hope.

People in social media land make significant money helping people find hope.  They do it in appearance, words, finances, status, any key they can find.  They miss the point though.

Hope is not a concrete thing.

Hope is an internal switch.  It is the moment you realize you are tired of being tired, that nothing changes if nothing changes.  It is the point you look in the mirror and decide you’d had enough. It is the moment you burn it all down and walk away from the ashes on a new path with new life and direction.

Hope can’t be sold or captured, forced into a form or transaction. Hope comes in understanding that God is doing a work in you even in the midst of darkest night.

We get stuck when we are caught in routine, following a rote path carved out because someone said we should, falling to peer pressure and the comparison game, giving up and settling down because it is easy.

Hope is not easy. Know today that the fire still burns within you, the light of a million suns and the potential to change the world, your family, your marriage, your children, and every single breath.

I believe this and I believe, as you read this, a small voice inside agrees with me.  You can feel it ready to soar, to break out and push forward. Your day is here.

Your time is now.

Living in the Gain

I’ve been reading a lot of Ben Hardy and he loves quoting Dan Sullivan.  Both are well written and exposed individuals in the improvement space.  Sullivan writes of the concept of motivation and mindset as placed in the Gap versus the Gain.

The Gap is the space of what happened versus our expectations of the results.  The Gain is how far we’ve come from where we started. Most of us live in the Gap.  The failure in expectations causes many kinds of complications from frustration and anger to addiction and suffering.

Living in the Gain creates motivation.  It creates a world view where you are moving forward.  There is always something to celebrate in that a new day is a small victor and a chance to progress over where you were yesterday.

The idea sounds easy.  It is not.

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One of the most entertaining movies of the past few years, in visuals and story, is American Beauty. The movie could not be done today with the awareness of Kevin Spacey’s actions and the overall tone would be difficult to capture. Alan Ball’s screenplay sparks and Sam Mendes paints visuals that draw you in.

The movie itself is about acceptance. Kevin Spacey’s character, Lester Burnham, steps back from the parts of his life that are keeping him contained.  He’s not a hero, by any means, but he does find his way to freedom. His death at the end of the movie (shouldn’t be a spoiler at this point) puts an exclamation at the end of the work.

Everyone is misunderstood. Everyone has wounds. When we let our individuality out, we become vulnerable. Burnham decides to chase that feeling of being alive and, in the end, it costs him everything.

Turning your back on the Gap and looking to the Gain isn’t as nihilistic as the movie makes it seem.

Carter and Aiden are friends with two kids of similar ages. Their situations could not be more different than ours.  I’ve watched these kids develop over the past few years and there’s some dangerous tendencies emerging. They have a sense of entitlement that I’m fighting hard to stop Carter and Aiden from adapting.

Entitlement is a mindset born in the Gap. It can be an unhealthy driver that poisons relationships and creates false stability.  A focus on the Gap creates a feeling that the world owes you something.  It does not.

Thankfulness is born in Gain, in that you are always aware of rock bottom. You know where you came from and that you’ll work like crazy to never go back.  You are grateful for the progress you’ve made.

Today is better than yesterday.  Remember that.  Have your eyes on the wins, no matter how small. The Gain inspires you to keep creating. It opens up new opportunities that you’ll see when you look for them.

The comparison game is way too easy. Focus on your race. Find your heroes and mentors. Keep pushing forward and writing your story.  Do your best.

Know that you won’t have all the answers, but you will gain.  One step at a time.