Community Impact Digitized

Community Impact Digitized

Community impact is at the core of Gisele Garraway’s story and heart. In fact, she found a way to create community impact digitized through her non-profit THRIVEfunds.

If you find yourself in a space of craving a community, read on to be inspired to do so. On the other hand, if you feel blessed with a wonderful community already, enjoy a beautiful story about impact, motherhood ups and downs, as well as the quest to raise good humans.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I LOVE hearing people’s stories. Particularly women and especially those with a servant’s heart. Gisele not only checked those boxes, but also left me feeling like I wish she was my next-door neighbor. My “Auntie Gisele” in the neighborhood to look to for wisdom on everything from motherhood to general life questions.

She speaks the wisdom which she credits to her own upbringing in community. It was fascinating and heart-warming.

I hope you enjoy Gisele Garraway’s amazing story of her jolt into motherhood, focus and intentionality on community, and how her idea in THRIVEfunds was pushed forward by her daughter’s tenacity.

GISELE & ALEC

Gisele and her husband, Alec, knew they wanted a family. In fact, they had a solid plan of how life would play out. Get married, get pregnant, have two biological children, and then adopt one. Forming their picture-perfect family of 5.

God had other plans. Furthermore, Gisele describes those years of yearning for a child but it not happening with the simple phrase of, “it was hard.”

Family comments about when they were going to have children. All the questions adding to the stress. Infertility treatments. Shots administered by neighbors when Alec was traveling… You get the picture.

In a moment of clarity, Gisele and Alec stepped back and thought:

Why are we so focused on this rigid plan? We know we want to adopt, why not start that process now?

And I feel like this part needs a drumroll or something. When they made the decision to adopt, it took 6 weeks for them to be matched with their newborn son, Dwight.

That’s right. SIX WEEKS. From the adoption decision and paperwork to receiving a call at work requesting the birth mother meeting took less than two months.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is Gisele’s professional life. She was a leader at Staples corporate office in Framingham, MA. Holding Director and VP level roles for the company over an 8-year period.

And yet, getting the call requesting the interview with the birth mother the same evening, she remembers thinking, “this is the most critical interview ever.”

Dwight’s birth mother had very thorough and thoughtful questions. In an amazing sacrifice of love, being a single mother with a one-year-old severely autistic child, she wanted a different life for her newborn. For her, this meant finding Dwight a home in different circumstances. Her questions included him having his own room, loving parents, siblings, a non-smoking home, collegiate education opportunities should he want them, etc.

Feeling satisfied with the answers from the Garraways, the next day they were on their way from Framingham, MA to a hospital in Connecticut to meet their little boy.

THERE IS NO MANUAL

As they jumped in the car with Gisele in the driver’s seat… she chuckled and said “obviously” about her being the driver… they realized the need for a car seat. Stopping at a nearby Babies R Us, Gisele selected one and headed to the counter.

I grabbed a car seat and in all the excitement really didn’t even know what I had. Someone standing nearby overheard us and finally injected. “Didn’t I overhear you say you are on the way to get a newborn baby?” We both shook our heads yes in delight. “Well mam, you have a toddler seat, what you need is an infant seat.”

We both laughed at what that moment was like! Excitement, fear, heart bursting with love, anxiety, ALL the emotions.

But then I sat there in dismay thinking of all the “things” you need for a baby. Remembering back to my own experience, I was blessed with three baby showers prior to my first son’s arrival. Can you imagine finding out overnight you are going to have a newborn tomorrow?

This is where community stepped in for Gisele and Alec. With adoption, they were not allowed to cross state lines for a period of time, so found themselves in the Connecticut home of friends. A mere two-hour drive from their house, but in another state.

However, when they arrived home with Dwight, the Garraways were shocked to find a fully functioning nursery in their house with all their needs met.

(I’m not crying, you’re crying… 😉  )

Their church community as well as her Staples community banded together to meet the needs of the Garraways.

She even described the church thinking of Dwight over the years as their baby. Such a blessing to an entire community.

COMMUNITY IMPACT

This community impact on Gisele and Alec goes deeper than their experience with the adoption of Dwight. Both felt they were raised by not only their parents, but also their communities.

I grew up mentored by so many women. Mom would go visit on someone’s front porch and even as a little girl, my role was to sit there on the step and listen. It was an education on life. I got to listen to wisdom and absorb all of it.


Young girl posing with 6  women in dresses posing on a front lawn in the 1970s.

Gisele as a young girl pictured with some of the matriarchs of her family.

 

She went on.

Additionally, if anyone needed anything in the community, someone stepped in to fill the void. Any gaps we had were filled directly from community. Mrs. Nixon had an encyclopedia set specific to black history which we all used in February for our assignments, for instance. Community scholarships made advanced education possible. When my mother saw needs, she was very practical. For example, if she noticed someone at a bus stop with groceries, she would stop and give them a ride. It’s just what she did. My father also ran our food bank at the church.

It was this background of service in community coupled with a deep seeded desire to create more impact that the idea of THRIVEfunds came into Gisele’s view.

Wanting to make direct impact and fill a gap in someone’s life, essentially, we’re digitizing how I felt my community invested in me in a modernized way at THRIVEfunds.

DAUGHTER’S COMMUNITY IMPACT

While THRIVEfunds was the idea, Gisele admits it took a while to bring it into focus.

The Garraways talk as a family a lot. They’ve made a couple big moves for Alec’s jobs, but also realize the strain this puts on the entire family.

For instance, when they moved from Boston to Indianapolis several years ago, everyone weighed in on the decision. Letting son, Dwight, and daughter, Darena, in on the why of the move was key. Alec, an MD-PhD and Trained Oncologist, felt he could make a larger impact on cancer with this move.

We have the final decision, and the kids know that. However, we talk about life and the variables. We hear out their concerns. I think this has taught them the lesson of the give and take in a family and there are no “perfect” solutions. The move from Boston to Indy was hard. And then to move again from Indy to San Francisco a couple years later was even more difficult. But knowing the new role was Alec’s dream job helped us all get behind it. We’re a tough quad, we stick together.

This openness to talking it out and expressing thoughts and feelings ultimately led Darena to push her mom’s idea into the reality of THRIVEfunds.

The idea for THRIVEfunds came to me while walking the dog during the pandemic. I thought about the way my community always supported me in so many ways. How can we create a space to support others in filling those gaps through direct impact? My daughter one day said to me, “why don’t you stop talking about this thing [THRIVEfunds] and just do it!”

THRIVEFUNDS- COMMUNITY IMPACT DIGITIZED

In Gisele’s upbringing, food, housing, healthcare and other basic needs were fulfilled. However, broader things like technology, transportation to college, scholarships, and summer programs were a gap that was filled through community involvement.

People coming to THRIVEfunds are hard workers. The potential is there if they just had some direct support. Like my own experience. To get a better footing for themselves. It’s an investment in America’s working families. Filling a gap for them to directly impact a financial burden. THRIVEfunds focuses on childcare, career advancement, transportation, and technology needs.

Financial burden creates so much stress in today’s families. With the direct impact of THRIVEfunds, it’s not only filling a gap but releasing a stressor for a family. In turn, having a ripple effect on well-being.

You can read more here for an example of how the process works. Essentially, a family experiences a financial burden. They visit a partnering organization to discuss the need. The family creates a Request for Investment with THRIVEfunds, such as gas cards to impact daily work and education travel. The request is fulfilled by someone in the community wanting to create impact and serve their community.

Direct impact. A key in the process also being the power for the family to choose the need that would most benefit their situation.

Utilizing technology practically to fill a void.

Through this platform, an individual receiving this support thinks, “wow, someone doesn’t even know me, but they care.” It’s unconditional. There is a long-term sustainability about this kind of support.

Because of THRIVEfund’s vetted community partners, they are amplifying the work of sponsor organizations. Additionally, families receive access to programming such as financial coaching, workforce development, and a myriad of other services for continued support and impact.

To find out more, visit www.thrivefunds.org.

WISDOM SUMMARY

To be frank, I didn’t want our discussion to come to an end. Gisele shared stories of “Auntie June,” a dear friend and neighbor whom she looked to for wisdom and guidance. I found myself leaning into Gisele’s wisdom and guidance, looking to her as “Auntie Gisele.”

Here’s a summary of a few of those nuggets of wisdom.

On the journey into motherhood: 

I had this sense of “why didn’t anyone tell me how hard and tiring being a mom is??” In fact, just look at a Pampers commercial with a peaceful baby snuggled on a chest. We tend to glorify the opposite of the hard, but under share how we might think mean things about our spouse for packing the diaper bag wrong. [laughter] Community was crucial. I continued to work and loved my job. Going to church on Sunday and the aunties taking over was a big stress relief for me. All that said, I still look at being a mom literally as a gift.

For those with infant to elementary school aged children, she shared this:

Don’t worry and stress yourself over the little stuff. Enjoy the process. Your child will hit the milestones. It’s not worth the stress of comparing yourself or your kids to others.

Gisele expressed the middle school years were probably some of the tougher ones for her. In fact, she took a break in her own career to support her son with ADHD and acclimating to the diagnosis. Additionally, supporting her family through mental health challenges during the pandemic.

I found motherhood shifted from more physical to mental as they grew older. A mentor once told me when the kids were little that I may find the need to stay home with them in those later years versus when they were babies and toddlers. I found this to be so.

And for those entering a time of more independent young adults, heed this advice from Gisele with Dwight (20) and Darena (17):

Love your child into the person God created them to be. Take time to step back and ask, am I pushing an agenda? Then remind yourself, this is their story.

Dwight encourages him mom to take time for self-care often saying, “Mom, you need a massage, you’re spiraling.” While Darena pushes Gisele to follow the dreams on her heart. A catalyst to making THRIVEfunds what it is.

Definitely appears the lessons Gisele and Alec are impressing upon their children are blessing them in return.

Thank you, Gisele, for sharing your beautiful story and wisdom. You’ve created community impact digitized through your servant leader’s heart.

Toddler girl and her mother in their Easter dresses posing on a front porch.

Gisele and her own mother on Easter Sunday.


 

I reflect that my current flourishing was cemented when others gave me a great and durable gift: a belief in my potential. Their generosity was not mere lip service, but a tangible investment toward cultivating my unique abilities for contributing to society.

– Gisele Garraway, Founder/CEO of THRIVEfunds 

 

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Trip Around the Sun Reflection

Trip Around the Sun Reflection

Recently, I turned the page from 43 to 44 years old. Another full trip around the sun complete. In other words, an opportunity for reflection.

Frankly, it’s bonkers to think I’m 44. On one hand, I don’t feel a day older than 22. Conversely, my back aches say otherwise. Can you relate? 

Because of this, I thought I’d share reflection on a few things that feel like newer lessons for me as I “age into wisdom.” Is that actually a thing?

In all seriousness though, I feel like I’m learning more now than I ever have before. Likely because I’ve come into a realization over the last few years. The lesson being, I really don’t have to have my s**t together all the time. Releasing of expectations and realizing continuous learning is part of the journey.

So, this blog post consists of a few observations I’ve made recently. To some extent, observations of other people, but really, more about myself. New truths I’m exploring and learning about the world.

I would sum them up in three key points:

First, pausing for reflection is like drinking water. You know it’s good for you but making it a habit is hard.

Second, while feedback is a gift and should be viewed as such, it’s difficult to give direct and honest feedback.

And finally, people just need to be heard.

I hope you find a supportive tidbit for yourself in my birthday reflection.

LESSON 1 – REFLECTION AND THE POWER OF PAUSE

If you’ve read any of my blogs or talked to me from a coaching lens, you’re probably sick of hearing me talk about the importance of pausing for reflection. Sorry, not sorry?!

It’s just that I know what it’s like to keep doing the same things over and over again expecting different results. Correct, it’s the definition of insanity. Banging your head against walls or glass ceilings or whatever structure is standing in your way and getting mad at the structure, but not addressing the root of the problem.

This is where I lived for quite a while. Not pausing for reflection but expecting answers to drop in my lap like a beautifully wrapped birthday present. Furthermore, not giving myself space. And when I finally did, BAM, a lot changed.

Now, I sit at my desk hour after hour, day after day and listen to people share similar sentiments. 

“I know I want something different, but I just can’t figure out what that is.”

“I just don’t have time to think for myself, but I need a change.”

It’s easy to empathize with these statements as someone who had those same thoughts. Undoubtedly, it’s also easy to pick out when someone is throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks versus being intentional.

Even with all that said, reflection takes time. Moreover, it’s the last thing on the to do list and we most likely don’t make it down that far on our list in a day, week, month, year.

LESSON 1- REFLECTION POSSIBILITIES

While that may feel a bit gloom and doom, all is not lost. In fact, the solution lives in creating a habit.

There are people who journal on a very regular, even daily basis. Amazing! Kudos to you if you do. I am not one of those people. Obviously, I would love to be one of those people, but I’ll be honest. Even though I love to write, daily or even weekly journaling has never been my strong suit.

I’m telling you this for a reason. You must find the thing that works FOR YOU. First, create a habit fitting to your lifestyle. Then make it a priority. Otherwise, you won’t sustain it. Without the habit fitting your lifestyle and being authentic to you, the act then becomes a chore and not something bringing you joy, inner calm, and answers.

Think about a few factors as you work to implement your reflection process.

Do you prefer a guide and some thought provoking questions to get you started? Or do you prefer something more freeform?

What does accountability look like for you? Would dedicated time on the calendar hold you to creating a time of reflection? Or do you need an event, like a workshop or friend date to facilitate this?

How often do you want reflection time? Weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly? On your birthday?

I’ll share with you an interesting observation. Often when people feel unsettled, their job is the first area they place blame for life dissatisfaction. And while it is sometimes the case, it’s not always. The job is just an easy scapegoat when we don’t take a deeper look under our own hood.

What will you do to make reflection a more regular event in your life? If you would like a tool, check out this Self-Evaluation Guide to get you started.

LESSON 2 – DIRECT AND HONEST FEEDBACK IS VALUED BUT HARD TO GIVE

I’m sure you’ve heard the statement, “feedback is a gift.”

Of course! But sometimes the feedback gift can feel like a stocking full of coal. Even if it’s exactly what we need to hear for growth as an individual. Giving and receiving direct and honest feedback can be tough.

Admittedly, I grew up in a household where direct feedback wasn’t necessarily a strong point. To be fair, this may be more a sign of the times in the 80’s and 90’s than a direct reflection of my own family.

Anyone else perfected the dance around subjects like a professional ballerina?

While the intent for the dance around direct feedback is likely from a heartfelt place of saving feelings, I would now argue it leaves a lot of holes.  

Struggling with feedback is actually pretty common the more and more I coach with leaders, but on the other side of this struggle lives two problems.

First is the harbored frustration of one never being able to fully express when they feel wronged, hurt, or frustrated by someone or something.

Second is the receiver feeling contempt or frustration from you but little context on the why. A misfire so to speak. “Saving of feelings” by not actually saying the words, but body language, tone, and other factors telling a mixed message story.

LESSON 2 – DIRECT FEEDBACK AND BOUNDARIES POSSIBILITIES

While it’s relatively easy for me to put on my coaching hat and talk someone through the importance of clarity in their feedback message, it’s quite another to put it into practice. In fact, I just had a conversation with my own coach about this yesterday and laughed about the irony.

“Old habits die hard Heather. What are you afraid is going to happen if you are honest?”

Those old habits do die hard, but the key is in knowing the old habits and behaviors EXIST. In other words, self-awareness. In this case, taking the time to be thoughtful about my messaging in feedback. I’m not to the point of giving direct feedback on the fly and in the moment when it’s an emotional subject for me.

That’s a huge stretch.

However, knowing the importance to my own wellbeing of giving the direct feedback? That’s new. And freeing. And scary. Even exhilarating in some cases.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned more and more about the power of boundaries. Why they are not only important, but also how implementing them is actually not selfish. In fact, it’s healthy for all involved.

“Saying yes to something means you are saying no to something else. Use your yeses wisely.”

This has become a mantra for me. Albeit not to perfection, it sure has supported me in feeling more authentic and aligned with my own values.

LESSON 3 – PEOPLE NEED TO BE HEARD

Truth be told, I thought I was a good listener years ago. I was not. Probably still am not (remember, old habits die hard).

The interesting thing is, I was listening with the intent to respond in 99% of those interactions. Furthermore, I was guilty of hearing, but not listening. There are key differences to the words hearing and listening.

Hearing boils down to perceiving sound. That’s it. Like hearing a bird chirp outside. Being aware of a sound coming from the other room.

Listening, however, is active, focused, and intentional. Taking this a step further, someone really skilled at listening stops their mind from wandering into their own agenda. Absorbs the thoughts coming from the other person and not just in word, but in entirety. Emphasis, tone, body language. In turn, a full communication experience.

Think back to a conversation with someone you knew wasn’t really listening. Sure, they were hearing your words, but it may as well have been the talk track of Charlie Brown’s teacher… wa waaaa wa waaaa wa.

Now think of a conversation where you truly felt heard. There was even a pause after you stopped talking while the other person processed a bit and formulated a thoughtful and intentional response before just filling the dead air with words.

Which experience made you feel appreciated and truly heard? 

People, in general, just want to be heard. And while we all have opinions and want to express them at every moment, do we really even listen to each other enough to know how true the following statement is?

“Opinions are like assholes; everyone has one and they usually stink.”

Typically, people aren’t looking for advice or to hear about your comparison story to theirs. On the contrary, what they want… is to be heard.

What can you do to check yourself on your listening skills? Are you listening to respond or truly listening?

REFLECTION SUMMARY

I will continue to learn and evolve on this next trip around the sun and all of those to follow.

In this time of thanksgiving and moving into holiday non-stop action, I hope you take the time to appreciate what you have and how far you’ve come. 

Pause and take the time for reflection. Allow yourself the space to acknowledge your frustrations and where expectations missed the mark. On the other hand, don’t forget to celebrate your growth. We tend to forget to pause and celebrate before moving on to the next improvement or task. Celebrate and find your joy.

Direct and honest feedback. While it is a gift, find what works for you. What harbored frustration are you feeling? And how can you express it in a manner authentic to you but more direct and honest? Check out some feedback resources here.

And finally, listen with intent. Equally as important, find people who listen to you with as much intentionality.

I hope you enjoyed this reflection. Have a wonderful holiday season!

 

We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.

– Max Depree

 

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The Power of Boundaries

The Power of Boundaries

Forgiveness, Empathy, Self-Care, and the Power of Boundaries.

To meet Sarah is to feel kindness. Deep within her eyes, you get an immediate sense of empathy and understanding. In fact, she has the keen ability to pick up on the signs of someone struggling. Sarah’s approach is simple yet impactful.

Tell me what’s really going on and there’s no judgement.

Even with this incredible ability to empathize, which she credits to her mom and step dad as well as a ton of life experiences, Sarah admits the empathy pendulum swings too far sometimes. She has had to learn what it looks like to be empathetic and still find the power of boundaries.

To hear Sarah is an executive at Adobe, founded Linking Indy Women, has four amazing kids, and owns an awesome house in Brownsburg, IN, it would be easy to think life has been a series of good fortune. On the contrary, Sarah has walked through darkness, learned-pivoted-found the joy, walked through more darkness, learned-pivoted-found the joy, and so on.

Even through this, her warm smile says it all. You can do it too.

My hope is you take away a supportive nugget for yourself in Sarah sharing her story of forgiveness, empathy, self-care, and the power of boundaries.

Power of Boundaries- selfie image of woman with blonde wavy hair, big smile, kind eyes

BACKGROUND

Sarah comes from a big family including two sisters from her mom and biological father as well as two half sisters and a half brother from her father and stepmother. Sarah discussed her father:

I don’t take mental health for granted. There were signs for sure of something off with him even when I was a child. For instance, keeping a steady job was a struggle. He had to spend time in a mental hospital after he and my stepmom got together. In truth, his struggles with mental health continued throughout his life, even including homelessness in the later part until his death a few years ago. As heartbreaking as parts of this journey have been, it also gave me the keen ability to pick up on when people are struggling.

Sarah’s compassion for the situation was evident. Additionally, she shared her mom and step dad always taught them to look deeper than someone’s actions. This ultimately led her to be able to forgive her father and his situation, and approach through the lens of – you don’t know the struggle anyone is going through.

Sarah talks with so much love about her step dad.

My mom was a psychiatric nurse and my step dad is just an incredible person. Both of them take an approach with care to people. My step dad quickly became dad to not only my older sisters and I, but also to all of our friends. They taught us to look deeper than someone’s actions. 

For Sarah, mental health is a spiritual thing. Furthermore, believing the spirit can be disconnected from the mind. Feeling as though a person’s character doesn’t always reflect who they are inside.

As her biological father’s mental health continued to decline in Sarah’s adolescent and college years, Sarah and her sisters became closer to their two half sisters and half brother.

It was so foreign at first to go on camping trips with my dad where we were getting to know my siblings in Ohio we didn’t see much. But over time, we’ve bonded and are all now really close. We just had a big Halloween party together which was something my mom and stepdad did for years. I’m now trying to make sure we continue this tradition.

Sarah’s mom passed away in September of 2020.

Power of Boundaries- woman with her four children all dressed in black for funeral. Smiling and posing for picture.

MARRIAGE, DIVORCE, AND FINDING SELF

Sarah shared about her first marriage.

We were very young and frankly, he was controlling of me. Down to things such as not allowing me to have my own money. I knew the situation was not healthy.

Sarah left the situation and started over, but admits to not taking enough time to find herself first. Getting in a quick relationship, consequently they married and eventually parted ways.

She describes her own growth over the last 9 years since the divorce.

I stepped back and finally took the time to figure out what I wanted. Who I am. First off, it was key to learn the power of boundaries. Boundaries have been a journey and still continue to be, but I’m in a much different place now than I was then.

A big part of the learning and growth was realizing how co-dependent she had become, in particular through the years of marriage. After starting with a therapist, she also began to lean on friends and family to call out behaviors of co-dependency if they saw them.

While this sounds like a great idea, she reminds anyone reading this that in order for it to work, you have to be OPEN TO HEARING IT.

I did not always receive that feedback great (said through laughter), but eventually I did. It continues to be an ongoing conversation, not only with boundaries, but also other areas I’m actively working on myself.

POWER OF BOUNDARIES

As she worked on boundaries and co-dependency, she is happy to say she doesn’t see the co-dependency behaviors really any more.

Additionally…

A yes is a yes that I WANT to do.

Sarah described life before boundaries feeling a bit like playing a part in a movie. Furthermore, a feeling of not being over her own agency.

To suddenly step out of living life in a movie and instead live on her own terms she describes as very freeing.

Of course, as you exercise the power of boundaries, it gets easier to recognize and adjust.

However, she continues to learn, grow, and evolve. Even as recent as the Halloween party this year, she realized her boundaries and especially expectation setting weren’t where she wanted them to be.

I should have set better expectations with everyone and put people in charge of various parts of the party. Someone on trash duty, someone in charge of the bonfire, another running the costume contest, someone on food re-fill, etc. I felt very overwhelmed at one point and realized it was because I hadn’t asked for help or told people where they could step in. Trying to do it all. All of my family will have roles next year to help. I was so busy running around, I even forgot to put out the additional lasagna I had ordered from  Send a Friend Lasagna!

My take-away from this though was Sarah’s ability to not get angry or upset with the lack of help. Rather she took inventory of the situation, realized what was off for her, and spoke to her family about it. Creating a plan through expectation setting. In fact, all are now on board for next year.

LIFE LESSONS TO HER KIDS

As mentioned, Sarah has four amazing kids. Evan is 24, a scientist working in a local lab. Emma is 22 and works for a tech company. Additionally, she made Sarah a grandma! Sarah’s eyes sparkle as she speaks about grandson Emmett. Luke is 20 and attends UIndy studying finance. And then there is Noah, who is 13.

Noah was recently diagnosed with aspergers. Sarah described the discovery of this diagnosis as being one of those situations where you truly don’t understand what someone is going through. What’s going on internally. In addition, not to judge their actions.

Noah, up to this point, wasn’t particularly a high performer in school. Upon this diagnosis though, they realized he is high ability and has a really high IQ. He’s been moved to honors courses and is now thriving. His acting out in class before related to being bored with the content, not intentionally disruptive to be rude. They are still adjusting to what the diagnosis means for them but are thrilled to be headed in what feels like the right direction.

She described the Lacey family as “a therapy family.”

We’ve talked about mental health as a family since the kids were little. And it’s continued conversation. Each generation learns from the previous and evolves. I was taught to look deeper than someone’s actions. Lead with empathy. Then I added in the power of boundaries for my kids.

Sarah went on to describe some situations in her youth where her own mom could have benefitted from some boundaries coupled with her empathy. With the benefit of hindsight, Sarah uses this as a teaching moment that you can still show empathy but have boundaries. Keep an eye on how far the pendulum is swinging.

You can help someone but you don’t have to let them into your home… or marry them (said through laughter).


Power of Boundaries- family picture of woman with two grown sons, one grown daughter, and a teenage son. All smiling with a wreath in the background

Luke, Emma, Sarah, Noah, and Evan.


 

SELF-CARE

With the holidays coming up and the hustle and bustle of ALL THE THINGS, I asked Sarah for advice on self-care and sanity in this busy time.

It’s important to remember it’s your holiday too! It’s your magic season too so don’t forget that. We get so caught up that it has to be perfect. Frankly, it’s liberating while simultaneously challenging to say – I’m a part of this too.

Dr. Ina Wilson shared at the September Linking Indy Women event, “None of this matters if I’m crazy!”

Dr. Ina was speaking in reference to life and entrepreneurship. Meaning, she can’t provide for her family and do the things she needs to/wants to if she’s not mentally healthy.

Sarah and I laughed about how that was perfect for everyone to hear as we head into the holiday season.

Additionally, self-care means so many things to so many people. For Sarah, it’s rooted in therapy and talking to others who will challenge her awareness. She naturally gravitates to people she learns from. However, this again takes being open to those opportunities for growth.

Find your version of self-care and embrace it.

SUMMARY – FORGIVENESS, EMPATHY, SELF-CARE, AND THE POWER OF BOUNDARIES

I could sit and talk to Sarah for hours. We didn’t even get into her passion for Linking Indy Women… the networking event she started over 12 years ago to bring women together monthly and share their inspiring stories. Make sure to check that out!

Sarah’s approach in life, whether business or personal, is one of empathy, forgiveness, and grace.

If I go into every conversation with people believing they have the best intent, it makes me happier.

This approach now coupled with understanding the power of boundaries supports her in keeping the pendulum from swinging too far.

Don’t take mental health for granted.

Couple your empathy with boundaries for your own well-being.

Surround yourself with people who will call out behaviors you are working on adapting.

You can do it too.

Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your inspiring story with The Mom Huddle!

 

When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you’re not saying ‘no’ to yourself. 

– Paul Coelho

 

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As a result, she utilized a donor to bring her perfect little boy Ben into the world.

Everyone has a story to share. This is no different in Julie’s case. Ironically, I’ve known her for years and knew she had a child. However, in passing one day she mentioned the journey into motherhood for her involved a donor. I was hooked and wanted to share her story!

I hope you enjoy hearing Julie’s journey into motherhood and her words of wisdom for anyone hesitating to take action in their own life.

Single Mother by Choice - young boy on front porch in front of door posing with a big smile for first day of school picture

Julie’s amazing little boy Ben

BACKGROUND

Julie grew up in Indiana and is a very humble basketball star from Twin Lakes High School. Standing 6 feet 2 inches tall, her calm demeanor is inviting. In fact, quite a contrast from the woman on the court who recently earned a spot on the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame’s Women’s Silver Anniversary team.

After playing basketball and immediately upon graduating from Butler University, Julie married and put her career on hold as a trailing Army spouse. After three years and realizing her husband was struggling with addiction and not ready to seek help, she knew that starting a family was not the answer. They divorced, and she moved back to Indianapolis to start over.

Upon returning to Indy, Julie made her way back to Butler University working in the Office of Career and Professional Success. Simultaneously, she went back into the dating scene.

I dated good guys, but the spark just wasn’t there.

In truth, there was one spark. Even though they dated for 2.5 years and had a great relationship, they were in different places in their lives and decided it best to part ways.

He had a daughter and was done having kids. I knew I wanted a family. It was a tough break-up because we loved each other, we were just in different places in our lives and knew this was best for both of us.

In turn, Julie returned to the dating scene hopeful.

SINGLE MOTHER BY CHOICE

As the years went by and Julie’s motherhood desire continued to grow, single mother by choice came into view.

Two of my friends utilized a donor and this intrigued me. The process involves many consultations and then a lot of planning. It’s a PROCESS. I also met with my financial advisor who told me – if this is what you want to do, you need to get your s**t together! So, I did.

Julie describes herself as not being a risk-taker. Others would challenge this knowing her story.

After her financial planner gave the stern advice coupled with encouragement and support, she created a plan to set herself up for success. Putting money aside for a few IUI attempts as well as having a reserve for herself and her growing family.

In other words, a calculated risk. While she was taking a risk at having a family on her own, she knew financial stability and her amazingly supportive family made this feel much less risky and more like a dream come true.

SINGLE MOTHER BY CHOICE PROCESS

The process of artificial insemination took four tries over the course of a year. After the third try did not take, a disappointed Julie decided this next attempt might be the last.

The doctor upped her meds and shared that the chance of multiples could increase 20-30%. At the ultrasound there were three mature follicles.

To put this in perspective… this meant as a result, there was a chance she could have triplets. This was NOT part of her plan personally or financially. However, Julie dug into her faith and knew she and her support network would figure out whatever came to be.

At the viability of life ultrasound, there was one little gummy bear in there!

Julie shared this with the same enthusiasm as I’m sure she had the day she found out.

She described having a great pregnancy. Even made the decision to utilize a doula through Indianapolis Doulas for labor. Something she swears by to this day as being a great part of the process for her.

Two weeks before Ben’s due date, Julie’s water broke. Through laughter, she described putting a trash bag on the car seat and driving herself to the hospital as calm as could be (it was only five minutes away).

It was uneventful yet still very exciting!

POSTPARTUM SINGLE MOTHER BY CHOICE

About 7 hours after entering the hospital, Julie met her perfect little boy, Ben. Reveling in how amazed she was by him…

His hands were so big. And he didn’t really cry. Honestly, I was just amazed by this little boy.

Lots of people were a part of the process as she returned home from the hospital. Co-workers, friends, and family supporting and checking in on her. Creating a meal train. Ensuring she felt loved and supported. Julie’s mom came and stayed for 10 days too.

Julie also shared that she decided to pursue the option of having her placenta encapsulated.

I went through a process where the doula saves the placenta and cleans it. Then it is cooked, dehydrated, and blended into a powder, which is encapsulated for consumption. I do think this helped me feel better through my postpartum experience.

DATING, MARRIAGE, LIFE

Julie then shared she is in a relationship. Remember back to the great relationship she had but they were in different places? Well guess what, she and Jeff reconnected while she was going through the artificial insemination process and began dating again.

Julie and Jeff tried their separate lives, but ultimately reunited and realized they could each have what they wanted. At this point, the official ceremony being the only thing not making them married.

Single Mother by Choice- man and woman posing with teenage daughter and toddler son. All smiling and casual.

Julie & Jeff’s family


However, it wasn’t until Ben was 3 that Julie and Jeff moved in together. And while Jeff is not Ben’s biological father, he has been present and involved in his life since birth.

The donor is an open donor. Meaning at 18, Ben can contact the donor. We will be very open and honest with Ben about this. He calls Jeff- Jeff but refers to him as Daddy. It’s very sweet.

RELEASING EXPECTATIONS

People will often say to Julie – I don’t know how you do it. Her response:

I didn’t know any different.

Furthermore, this releasing of expectation is Julie’s approach on most things in life. Conflict exists when there is a difference of expectations, whether a spouse, partner, co-workers, friends.

I’m in a relationship now and it’s really good. I made the choice to be a mother and I have no expectation of anyone else doing things for me. We’ve gotten good at communicating versus expecting.

Julie likes routine and organization, but motherhood has also taught her adaptability. Being okay with a plan B.

Single Mother by Choice- man and woman posing at a wedding reception smiling

Julie and Jeff enjoying a night out

MOTHERHOOD ADVICE

I asked Julie what advice she would give to other moms.

Whatever you do, DON’T USE DR. GOOGLE! It’s so scary!

Said through laughter…

In addition to Dr. Google, she also reminds everyone that babies milestone differently. Do your best not to get caught up in the comparison game.

SUMMARY – SINGLE MOTHER BY CHOICE

Julie describes herself as risk averse, but in action it feels much different. In fact, she took a chance on herself and created a life she always dreamed of. Being a mom.

Although it’s easy to want certain things for our kids and try to plan it all out, she’s also recognizing the adaptability necessary. Including allowing him to have his own aspirations.

When I really think about it, I just want him to be happy and himself. Whatever that is. Of course, if he could be a star basketball player like his mom that would be great (giggles), but I really do want him to find and pick his thing. Really challenging myself to keep this in mind as he gets older.

She also acknowledged the challenges of finding a good day care, the upkeep of nursing and cleaning ALL THE PARTS when he was a baby, and then the reality of losing time with friends. But she went on to share that even with the feeling of that loss of freedom and flexibility…

It is worth it. Yes, 100% worth it.

Thank you, Julie (and Ben and Jeff), for sharing your story with The Mom Huddle!

 

Comparison is the thief of joy. 

– Theodore Roosevelt

 

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I’m always appreciative of stories, tips, and experiences in mental health shared from moms who have kids, sons more specifically, a bit older than my own. It’s fascinating to hear their family focal points. What they tried. And yes, even what didn’t work. This was no exception in my recent conversation with Nancy Polsky.

Nancy is certified through the same coaching program as me, but a few years prior. We were paired up in coaching bartering and I have the privilege of hearing pieces of her story through our coaching together.

Her sons are now 16 and 22. In passing, she mentioned her own focus on emotional health with a teenage son and frankly, I was hooked. Feeling the relevance of this for not only my own family, but also many of our readers more than likely.

I hope you find supportive tidbits for yourself in hearing Nancy’s story.

EMOTIONAL & MENTAL HEALTH COACHING

Nancy is a senior leader in the learning and leadership development space. However, the focus on emotional health in her two sons wasn’t initially an intentional focus.

We always talked and listened to the boys. Getting on their level. They’ve been very engaged since a young age. In fact, one pre-school teacher commented to us – she liked to sit with Caleb at lunch because he always had a lot to say!

As women, there is a tendency in families for the mom to develop the social-emotional side not only in their kids, but also with friends and even mates. This was no different in Nancy’s family.

Males tend to connect through doing things. Going to games, throwing around a ball, in other words, activities. Females connect more through conversation. Social-emotional.

EVOLUTION OF CONNECTION- IMPACT ON MENTAL HEALTH

At the beginning of 2020, Nancy noticed a change in Ben, her now 16-year-old son. They had always talked and connected, but something was off.

The first signal was the academic implosion. He changed schools during the pandemic and experienced a hard time meeting people with everything via Zoom. As a result, his grades suffered. The second signal was the obsession with his phone. Which now makes sense knowing his social emotional health was not great… it was a lifeline to his friends.

Nancy even shared a story we both agreed is funny now, but I’m sure was not at the time. He snuck into her room at night to get his phone but made her think she dreamt it while she was sick with COVID and very groggy.

Said through laughter, “that dude is gas lighting me!!!” reflecting on the moment she realized he was lying.

They began therapy to talk through what was happening. Nancy realized something very profound through talking out the experiences they were both having.

Even though Ben and I talk a lot, I began to realize our connection points through discussion were all heavy. Dialogue about politics, what’s happening in the world, even his own mental health. We didn’t have activities to do together. He shoots hoops with his dad. He goes and does things with his friends. He and I talk, but we were at a loss of activities to do together. Everything was heavy. The foundation was heavy.

This lightbulb moment was a switch for them both to be intentional and redefine their relationship.

They are still exploring activities they both enjoy, but a few they have implemented already include watching film, sharing music, and traveling. In fact, as I type this, they are exploring Yellowstone together.

How cool is that?

Mental Health- woman and her teenage son posing for a selfie with big smiles

WORKING MOM

Nancy has always been a working mom. In fact, she was the bread winner while her now ex-husband worked on his PhD.

My boys saw it as a norm for mom to have a meaningful career. This was important to me, as my mom was also a single working mom. She came of age professionally when women were just getting into the workforce and always felt dismayed that she had a series of jobs that supported us but didn’t have a meaningful career for herself. She delighted in seeing me develop in my career, crafting it the way I wanted.

One key for Nancy has always been for life to be meaningful.

I tell the boys all the time… What impact do you want to have? You have an opportunity to show up and make a difference.

In fact, she hates it when people ask her sons what they want to be professionally. Instead, she prefers to think the following:

Find a shared meaning or a common purpose with others and have fun. Play all in doing it.  No matter what it is.

Ben, in particular, has taken this to heart.

For example, as a high school sophomore he created MindFULL Me with a teacher at his school. Teaching the art of being focused and intentional to teens.

He recognized the need in his fellow students to understand the value in a pause. Even as an active student athlete with several extracurricular activities, Ben understands the importance of being mindful and intentional for mental health.

This was a very proud moment for Nancy.

MindFULL Me strengthened his ability to find something that works for him. Growth in his own interests. Furthermore, using his autonomy and impacting change.

MOM’S IMPACT ON MENTAL HEALTH

Nancy’s life hasn’t been all positive experiences. She shared some of the challenges such as chronic illness, family transitions in a divorce, and reinventing herself through four layoffs throughout her career, to name a few.

However, it’s the lessons within each of these experiences and how she used her own energy and action where she can stand proud.

My mom taught me to always be all in. She never expected anything but that. Put your energy and action into whatever you are doing. In fact, this created a belief in my own agency. In other words, why NOT me?

It was this ability to overcome adversity as well as deep belief in self that has led Nancy and her boys to, as she puts it, “try on different hats and see what fits.” She encourages them to be open and curious.

Nancy shares in her mom’s life philosophy…

When I was a kid, our family didn’t have much money. My mom had to make her paycheck last all month long. But she used to tell me: Nancy, I don’t want it to just say on my tombstone, I paid my bills. So, my mom lived her life. I try to live by that too – and raise my sons to do the same: Show up, play all in, play well with others, passionately – wring this life out. We’re here to make a difference and have fun doing it.

Mental Health- woman in a cow Halloween costume with two kids dressed as milk and cookies

VALUES

When her boys were 12 and 18, Nancy did a really interesting exercise with them. For the record, I’m totally going to take my boys through this here soon too!

She noticed they were arguing and the older one was teasing his little brother too often. Nancy decided to take them through a values exercise to create awareness of what is important to each of them. However, it went much deeper than even she anticipated.

First, she gave them each a list of values and asked them to pick 5 that stuck out to them personally. Then they identified the top two. Finally, the three of them each shared which values they selected and why those were important to them.

As each one shared their top values and the story behind them, the other two got excited. Instinctively pointing out specific moments where they saw (or spotted) these values in action in their family life.

In this heightened state, with them all feeling really elevated – they took a few minutes to go around again. Each saying where there might be further opportunity to lean into their values in action. For her oldest, this meant more kindness towards his little brother. And just like that, he stopped teasing his brother.

Nancy was blown away with how powerful this activity was for her family. They each learned a lot about not only each other, but also themselves. The keys were to self-identify values (intrinsic motivation), elevate one another through ‘strength spotting’ (external validation and celebration), and to seek out opportunities for even more elevation by more consistently bringing their best self to one another.

CONCLUSION- FAMILY MENTAL HEALTH

Nancy shared with great pride the emotional learning journey she and her boys not only have been on but also continue to navigate. Definitely not easy and she didn’t sugar coat the tough stuff. But it’s in this honesty I think there are a few key things I’ll take forward in my own family.

First, Nancy was brave enough to call out what she was feeling and seeing in her son. Knowing there was something off but not just waiting to see what would happen. When talking didn’t work, she sought out professional support for not only her son, but also for them as a family.

And the result? A renewed desire for the two of them to create fun and enjoyment TOGETHER.

Second, expectations can be so high from parents to kids. Whether it’s wanting them to follow a particular career path, sports path, academic path, or “fill in the blank” path… it’s pressure. And while some pressure can be good for growth and learning, her approach took a step back from specific expectation.  In other words, “Show up. Ring this life out. We’re here to make a difference and have fun doing it.”

Immediate pressure release!

Finally, understanding what your kids value and allowing them the autonomy to decide and share with you is a truly empowering experience.

My goal is not to get them to live in my values but rather to live in their key values.

Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your story with The Mom Huddle!

 

Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think. 

– Buddha

 

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Empowered Mother Through Faith

Empowered Mother Through Faith

Kristen is first and foremost a Christian. Then a wife to Noah and mother to Max. Additionally, she works as a Director for EDGE Mentoring, a Christian-based organization providing whole-person development through mentorship. 

One quick conversation with Kristen and it’s amazing to witness her deep faithfulness. Admittedly, sometimes I hear people talk about religion and there is a part of me who questions if it’s as deep to them as they claim.

Are they saying this to convince me or themselves? Do they TRULY believe with such a deep faith in the tough times as well as the good?

Unequivocally, Kristen does. It’s not just her words, but also the conviction with which she shares. Deep strength, for instance. And a general sense of knowing. It’s both comforting while simultaneously inspiring.

Her son, Max, will be two next month. For certain, the journey into motherhood for Kristen was one she dreamed and prayed about for years, with heartbreak and disappointment prevalent in the form of a battle with infertility.

Not only does she share her beautiful story, but also describes how unconscious bias exists for young mothers even with the best of intentions. Additionally, the chaos of having a baby during a pandemic, loneliness of maternity leave during quarantine, and the juggle of returning to work without full-time childcare.

Enjoy Kristen’s inspiring story.

KRISTEN’S CAREER PATH

A volleyball player and Sports Medicine major from Depauw, Kristen thought a career in physical therapy was her calling. 

I had shoulder surgery and was going through rehab. It felt natural to go ahead and intern there too since I was a Sports Med major. That’s where I met Noah (her now husband). I now realize it was God’s plan for me to go on this journey in PT to lead me to him, not for a career as a physical therapist.


Empowered Mother Through Faith- Caucasian man and woman posing together smiling in front of pine trees

Kristen and Noah


 

She continued. 

After graduating, I worked in physical therapy for a little bit, but I didn’t sense that this was what I was supposed to do long-term. Through some fortunate connections, I landed at the Colts, working with their cheerleaders. Working with women who are held to such a public high standard really opened my eyes to the need for all women to feel supported. I formed meaningful relationships with these women and loved supporting and empowering them.

With this newfound passion focused on mentorship and coaching, Kristen pivoted after 2.5 years with the Colts and spent the next 7 years working as a health coach and mental health contributor.

Shortly after Kristen joined the team at First Person Advisors, she met now friend and mentor, Todd Richardson, CEO of EDGE.

Todd came in and gave a talk to our executive team. For the record, I have no idea why I was even in the meeting, nevertheless he described what EDGE Mentoring was doing and the whole-person development concept really spoke to me. Consequently, I had been looking for a female mentor for almost 10 years. I raised my hand in sort of an out-of-body experience and said – can I volunteer to go through this?

And so began Kristen’s involvement with EDGE.

EDGE|Groups pairs seasoned leaders with early to mid-career individuals looking for whole-person development, including career, personal, and spiritual mentorship.

For Kristen, this meant impact. Moreover, she wanted to make an impact, but also felt she was in a space of needing this mentorship and guidance herself.

PANDEMIC BABY

Kristen and Noah married in 2013. They spent years praying for a baby with the hope of growing their family. Undoubtedly, three years of infertility was a dark and lonely journey for Kristen. The strange dichotomy of wanting something so badly while also leaning into her faith and God’s plan for their lives.

Then in 2019, their prayers were answered. Max was due in May of 2020.

I was 7-months pregnant when the pandemic started. As an expectant mother, I think we all have the expectations of what the birth will be like. There is definitely some grieving when it doesn’t go according to the plan you have built up in your head. I went through that period, but then also realized – how you respond is up to you.

Noah was able to be in the room with her for Max’s arrival and they utilized FaceTime to involve the rest of the family. It was a special bonding time for the now family of three.

Coming home was another story. Noah, also a physical therapist, is an essential worker. So, after a short time at home with the newborn, he was back to work. Kristen’s mom quarantined to come stay for a couple of weeks of support.

Then Kristen and Max were on their own.

Maternity leave was something entirely different than I had imagined. Frankly, it was super lonely. We were trying to keep Max from getting sick, which you do with any infant, but it was absolutely amplified with COVID.

BACK TO WORK

After her 3-month leave, Kristen returned to work at First Person Advisors only this time with a newborn baby in tow.

We were really nervous to put Max in daycare at this point (August of 2020), so made the decision to keep him home with me. While it was nice to have the additional time with him and be a mom, the juggle was stressful. I was anxious all the time. Not feeling like I was giving my best self to anything due to the guilt of split attention.

Over time, Kristen also felt the grace once being given for parents juggling work with children at home starting to wane.

Fall 2020 was hard. We had been in the pandemic for six months and many, rightfully so, were frustrated and ready to get back to “normal”. I too wanted to change because the pace at which I was running was not sustainable, but I didn’t know how long I would need to sustain it. That’s when I began to talk to HR about what my options were to get myself to the space of being the healthiest wife and mom I could be.

This is where EDGE came in again. Routinely checking in to see how the new family of 3 was doing, Todd approached her at the beginning of 2021 with a position he was creating to reimagine the faith-based mentoring program.

Suddenly the guilt Kristen felt was removed. She could work on projects she found deeply meaningful and had participated in as a mentee, while the part time role allowed her flexibility and grace.

She left First Person Advisors and began her role with EDGE in early 2021.

EDGE Mentorship Logo

UNCONSCIOUS BIAS EXISTS

Kristen describes one of the surprises to motherhood being the pull mom guilt has on her.

Am I doing what’s best for him? On one shoulder I have the mom guilt about decisions for him – like if someone should watch him during a pandemic. Then on the other shoulder the thoughts of – am I being present in my own life? The intensity of these feelings and lack of confidence I have in my decision making took me by surprise! But I also began to realize it was the devil messing with my head in those moments of doubt and mom guilt.

Another surprise came in the form of what she called unconscious bias wrapped in support.

I don’t think one of my husband’s patients have asked him who is watching Max while he is at work! There have been moments throughout these past 2 years where comments have been made that appeared to be supportive, but really were bias towards working moms. Any time someone goes through a disruptive life event – birth of a child, divorce, death of a family member, pandemic, etc. – involve them in the decision-making process of what’s best for them. Because chances are, your unconscious bias towards their situation will come through.

Kristen felt empowered enough to bring this up. Sharing with colleagues:

I don’t want the fact I’m a mom and mom of a young child to hinder my growth, especially if growth is what I’ve asked for. The bias exists. Even when people are being kind and looking out for my best interest.

She encourages other moms feeling this unconscious bias, even from a place of love, to bring it up.

It’s natural for people’s own experiences to cloud their thoughts of what they perceive you are experiencing. Be conscious of the labels you put on yourself and what others may be putting on you. Bias, even when wrapped in support, is still bias. Furthermore, if it bothers you, share.

EMPOWERED MOTHER

Another surprise to Kristen comes in the form of the silly things people say. For instance, how does one respond to an elderly person saying, “I’m so glad I don’t have to raise a child in these times.”

We laughed about this one. Is a “no kidding” or “me too” response appropriate?!? How do you even come back when you literally have a child?

But then Kristen shared her empowered thoughts. 

God chose this timing for me and there is a reason. He could have chosen any time for Max to be born and for us to become parents, and He picked right now. I don’t have answers, but I know we’ll figure it out. I feel empowered. In fact, I feel strength in the power the Lord is equipping me with. It makes me excited! Not fearless, but I stand on the belief we’re here for this.

I told you at the beginning, her deep knowing is what sets her apart. The quote above was said with the strongest conviction and she believes it to her core. It was contagious!

Empowered Mother Through Faith- Man and Woman with a toddler sun posing for a picture with fall trees in the backdrop all smiling.

Happy Family!

SUMMARY

Parenthood is hard. We all know this. Kristen’s approach though could inspire you to embrace it.

The very thing the devil could use to discourage, isolate, scare you (like a pandemic), the Lord could use to bless you. It’s on you to decide which voice you listen to.

She leans in to recognizing each life situation for what it is and finds His purpose and His glory in it. Leaving her feeling empowered.

Her goal for Max is to have his own faith journey.

I want him to know of God’s love and kindness despite what he may hear and see in the world. My hope is he looks at faith not from a lens of it being ‘mom & dad’s religion’ but rather understanding this – the way I’m loved from my mom and dad, there’s a God who loves me even more.

Keep the faith. Feel empowered. Find your community through intention.

Thank you, Kristen, for being a beacon of empowerment and faith. And for sharing your story with The Mom Huddle!

 

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. BUT TAKE HEART! I have overcome the world. 

-John 16:33

 

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