A Few Thoughts About Mothers

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I’ve been thinking A LOT about mothers lately.*

Maybe it’s because Mother’s Day is just around the corner and it’s always been an emotionally challenging day for me. Maybe it’s because I recently happened upon the eye-opening viral video from a few years back soliciting and interviewing applicants for a job whose duties and responsibilities seem incomprehensibly difficult, if not wholly unachievable (mothering) – that I just can’t stop watching (https://tinyurl.com/y4g9w7cy). Maybe it’s because the internet has given me access to the wisdom of extraordinary moms whose children I often envy for reasons that likely are evident to those who know me or are long time readers of my blog (https://tinyurl.com/nxauc7s). Maybe it’s because, while I haven’t acknowledged it nearly often enough, for 33 years I’ve been blessed to have a front row seat to a living, breathing example of what it really takes to be an EXCEPTIONAL mom – to struggle, comfort, sacrifice, love (unconditionally), hurt, rejoice, pray, fear, and hope as only a mother can. Or maybe it was a message exchange I had with a young, single working mom last week, who, in the midst of her own considerable personal struggles and a day-before-trip to an emergency room for her youngest, said simply: “When it rains . . . I’ve been up all night with (my oldest) – fever and throwing up. Finally kept Motrin down at 4:00 a.m.”

Likely, it’s a combination of all the above, but it was the last message (and the messages that followed) that landed hardest on my heart, because they made me realize that mothers seldom, if ever receive the credit they (and their often-weary hearts) truly deserve from the person they most need to hear it from: Themselves! Maybe they (my friend included) just don’t see it. Maybe great moms are “wired” in a way that makes the enormity and difficulty of all that they do for their children, often before or after an exhausting and stressful day at work (usually both), seem like just another task, as reflexive as their next breath – as no big deal. Maybe, unbeknownst to us, God implanted a gene in moms that “diminishes” the magnitude of it all in the mind of the doer because He understood how undoable it would be without it – the giving birth, the diapers, the pumping, the midnight feedings, the countless trips to the doctors, the spitting (let’s call it what it really is – “throwing”) up, the constant cleaning up after (does that always continue into high school?!?), the dressing (of bodies and “boo boos”), the laundry, the shopping, the homework help, the birthday parties, not to mention the drying of countless tears, the compassion, the empathy, the worry, the fears, (and for those of faith) the endless hours spent in prayer – to name just a little of the “all”!

Or maybe it takes the heart of a “little boy” that longed for so many of those things (especially the emotional pieces) to help them see it. Maybe that’s the gift I can give this Mother’s Day (i.e., a Word Mirror), not unlike the one I tried to give to my friend last week: “You’re a good mom,” I responded to her initial note. “Hardest job there is! Get some rest. You earned it.” “I wish I could,” she said. “I have to take him to the doctor and I’m incredibly far behind at work. Plus, my anxiety’s through the roof and I’m exhausted.” That’s when it hit me. “You and your heart might benefit from a slightly different perspective,” I offered. “Try this: ‘You know, my friend is right. I AM a good mom – a GREAT mom! My boys are very lucky. Because of me, because of days and nights like this, they’ll know what sacrificial love looks and feels like and, hopefully, want to pass that gift on to their children. Work will just have to wait, because that gift is invaluable – and I’m the only one who can give it’.” “I wish work cared about all that,” she quickly shot back. “There are just SO many challenges. I feel like I’m doing something wrong. Work is building. There’s just not enough of me . . .”

“Give me a minute to type,” I pleaded (in the midst of feverishly trying to play catch up to a flurry of follow-up messages headed in the wrong self-talk direction) “and then I gotta go.” “I can only imagine how overwhelmed you must feel in this moment,” I began, “and I’m sure it’s not the first time. But, in a quieter one, this morning is worth reflecting on. What you instinctively framed as another opportunity to beat yourself up, to heap more abuse and hurt on a heart that already is supersaturated with anxiety, guilt, shame, and ‘not enoughs’ was anything but. It was (and still is!) an opportunity to affirm yourself, to catch a glimpse of something you’re doing (and for the past decade (!) have been doing) VERY RIGHT, giving your boys a PRICELESS gift – a gift I never got: The comfort, security, self-confidence, and warmth that comes from knowing that they are truly, unabashedly, and unconditionally loved by their mom. While you defaulted to it feeling anything but, where your boys are concerned it’s Christmas morning and you, my friend are one of the best Santa’s ever! Please start seeing the truth about you. It was there to be seen this morning. I saw it – and I suspect two very impressionable hearts did as well!”

And, I “see” you, Cyndy – and all the moms out there. Now, all that’s left is for you to see “you” too! Happy Mother’s Day!

*Credit for this poignant and captivating image goes to Sarah West, who graciously gave permission for its use. Sarah’s other work can be found at https://www.captivatingbysarahwest.com

https://tinyurl.com/mbruafn

A Letter to a Weary Heart

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Many of the eating disorder and addiction sufferers I’ve been privileged to interact with are adults who’ve been battling these illnesses for years.  Some are married.  Some are not. Some have boyfriends or partners. Others do not.  Some are in school, miles away from home.  Some have been forced by their illness to move back home.  Some have families and full-time jobs. Others work several jobs to try and make ends meet. Some have always been and remain close to their parents, while others come from broken or abusive homes and are, understandably, disconnected and distant ant from theirs.  Many have been in and out of treatment programs multiple times, have “blue chip” treatment teams and still find themselves in a constant tug-a-war between relapse and recovery. Others don’t have or have long since exhausted the resources needed to secure the treatment they long for/desperately need and, as a result, are forced to make due. Some, thankfully, are more firmly rooted in recovery.  But, at one time or another, all of them, sufferers, those in recovery, and loved ones alike, have shared the darkness and questioned whether their story would have a happy ending.

I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when one of those friends, a young woman I deeply admire and respect, wrote to share her sense of exhaustion and openly wondered if her most recent stumble will be the proverbial straw that breaks the will and the patience of those who, in her words, “up to this point have so heroically and patiently supported and encouraged” her. As I read her e-mail, I couldn’t help but wonder how often those same hurtful and fear-engendering thoughts entered our own daughter’s mind and found their way to a shame-filled, guilt-ridden heart already questioning its worthiness.  You see, try as we might – and believe me we tried mightily – my wife and I were far from perfect in responding to the daily and often all-consuming challenges that an eating disorder presents to both the sufferer and those who love them.  In fact, the tears littering the keyboard as I type these words have their birthplace in too many remembered moments when my response to various incendiary situations spawned by our daughter’s eating disorder only added fuel to an already raging emotional bonfire.  All of which brings me to this note:

Dear Loved One,

I know you’re weary.

I know you’re frustrated.

I know you’re angry.

I know you’re wondering what you did to “deserve” this.

I know you don’t think you can do this for even one more minute, let alone another day, week, month, or year.

I know you’re losing patience.

I know you want your life back.

I know you want your loved one back.

I know you’re asking yourself if/when this nightmare will end.

I know you feel like you’re running out of options.

I know you’re scared.

I know there are times when you feel helpless.

I know you are starting to lose hope.

But, here’s the thing: Despite how they may act or what they may say in the grip of these insidious diseases at any given moment, your loved one feels those things too (weariness, frustration, anger, guilt, shame, fear, helplessness, hopelessness, confusion, etc.) and would give anything to have their life back – and you yours.  The last thing they need is to feel more of it – to be given a reason to believe that the lies their eating disordered (or addicted) mind has been telling (screaming at) them all this time are true (e.g., that they are a “burden”, that they are “worthless”, that they are “unlovable”, that the world (even your world) would be a better place without them in, etc.).

You are the only truth that stands between your loved one and those lies.

The good news is: YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK, more COURAGEOUS and RESILIENT than you realize, and have a greater capacity for PATIENCE and EMPATHY than you ever imagined.  More importantly, while in this moment it may not seem or feel like it, your ability to provide your loved one with LOVE and EMOTIONAL SUPPORT are actually LIMITLESS and their transformative power UNPARALLELED.  Rest in that TRUTH, draw strength from it – and if, as I suspect, you’ve already gone the “Extra Mile” pause for a minute (or two) to catch your breath – you’ve earned it – then keep going, keep loving, keep believing, keep the flame of hope alive. Because the magic may well be in the next one.

Wishing you peace and strength,

Don

https://tinyurl.com/y7x92nhp

Exchanging The “What” For The “Why”

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At one time or another we’ve all asked ourselves the question: “Why do ‘bad’ things happen to good people?”  Some ask it more than others.  I would be one of those people. Sometimes the question crops up in the wake of the sudden and premature death of celebrities or sports figures, who seemingly are at the height of their career and full of life. Lou Gehrig, Roberto Clemente, Brian Piccolo, Jim Valvano, Princess Diana and Steve Jobs are just a few of the more prominent ones in my lifetime who immediately come to mind. Other times, the question is raised in the aftermath of the death of prominent politicians, activists, public figures and innocents whose lives have been cut short by senseless acts of violence and hatred. John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., the students, teachers and administrators at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Santa Fe, and Margory Stoneman Douglas, and the victims of 9/11 and countless recent church and synagogue bombings and shootings, certainly would fall into that category.  But the question is by no means limited to deaths, nor is it restricted to those who happen to enjoy celebrity or other public figure status.  No, it’s one that either has or will touch all of our lives in very personal, mostly non-public ways.

Maybe the question will arise amidst the ruins of a failed marriage or other committed relationship.  Maybe it has or will have its roots in the suffering that we or a loved one, especially a parent, spouse or child have endured or are enduring in battling a chronic or life-threatening illness. Maybe its source is having stood at the precipice of the realization of a lifelong dream only to have it suddenly cut short or interrupted, by an unexpected change in life circumstance.  Maybe our wondering stems from the loss of a job or a business that we dedicated our entire working life to when we least expect and can least afford the financial consequences that inevitably come with it.  Maybe for us it is a death, albeit of a very personal “celebrity” in our lives – a spouse, a parent, a child, a dear friend or a mentor.  Maybe it is posed through our tears as we stand amid the rubble that once was our home, our life, wiped out in an instant by some form of natural disaster.  But, while the precipitating event is (or will be) different and unique to each of us, the question asked is always the same: “Why?”  “Why me?”  “Why my loved one?” Why do “bad” things happen to good people?

The obvious, though highly unsatisfactory answer, of course, is that “bad” things happen to everyone – good and bad.  Like it or not, death and the myriad other circumstances outlined above don’t discriminate based on the fundamental “goodness” of their “recipients” or their significance in our public or private lives. However, it occurs to me that, while we may not ever be able to fully understand the “why” of it (that is uniquely God’s providence) more often than not even the darkest of events ultimately give birth to a knowing heart (one that has been informed by the hardship or the suffering endured), which, in turn and in time, becomes a source of light and hope for the world if we will allow it.  Maybe that’s at least part of the “why” – the answer I’ve been searching for all these years.  Interestingly, it’s a concept that, without realizing it, I was close to stumbling upon in formulating the text for the back cover of my book when I wrote: “If we are willing to take a step back and reflect on the matters of the heart that invariably surround events [that challenge us to our core], they can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, of those we love [and, if we pay close enough attention, to what it means to be fully human].”  But now I see it much more clearly thanks to wisdom imparted by lots of courageous and insightful friends and a healthy dose of Divine intervention.

Yesterday, I lost a dear friend and the world lost a beautiful and authentic man. Bill Linburg was a God-fearing guy who understood that the measure of a real man is not his ability to selfishly meet his own needs, but his attentiveness to and selfless commitment to meeting the needs of others; who loved, honored, and respected his wife, Angela the “old-fashioned” way; who sacrificially loved his three boys (Austin, Cole and Barrett) and fawned over his precious granddaughter, Natalie (the way every “Pop” should!); who preferred vulnerability to bravado and the quiet intimacy of a night at home with family and friends to the glare of the public spotlight (as if it ever fully shines on those who truly matter); who would unhesitatingly drop whatever he was doing on a moment’s notice (and often did) to attend to a friend (or stranger) in need; who would rather praise than be praised; who valued the simple things in life; who was strong and courageous – in quiet ways; who was real and introspective; who was kind (always); who loved and understood the healing power of music (and, truth be told, was a bit of a card shark); who was a catalyst for smiles like those seen in this photograph; and who sought peace over conflict at all times (imagine that).

There was a time not so long ago when I would have been crushed by the weight of the “why’s” of a too-soon death like Bill’s, but not now – not anymore. Now, my time will be spent reflecting on the “what”: “What was I meant to learn from his life, his friendship, his example?” – and, as importantly, on the “how”: “How will I honor him and the wisdom gained from his life going forward?” You were loved, my friend – and you already are missed.

The Stories Of Our Lives

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Anyone who’s read books for any length of time, especially fiction, likely has come across one or two that were so captivating in the early chapters that it was nearly impossible to put them down. Maybe it was the setting – a familiar place, exquisitely painted that is warm and inviting or one filled with intrigue, adventure or romance that you always fantasized about visiting. Maybe it was the personality, relatability, charm, wit, strength, courage, or mysteriousness of the main character. Maybe it was the complexity, creativity, pace, drama, or texture of the story line. Maybe it was the voice of the narrator or the skill of the author – his or her descriptiveness, clarity, phrasing, or subtlety – that drew you in and made you willing/eager to follow them anywhere. Or maybe it was the villain or villainess – the bad boy or girl – that immediately captured your interest and affection, stirred something deep inside of you, triggered a passion that surprised even you. Whatever it is, we’ve all experienced it at one time or another – it and a seemingly insatiable desire for more of it that makes it the first thing we pick up in the morning and the last thing we put down at night.

But, then it happens or several things happen, often in quick succession. The author surprises us with a radically unexpected and, from our perspective, unwelcomed plot twist. A flaw is revealed in the main character that fractures our affection for him or her – indeed, makes us suddenly despise them. A relationship that we’d grown fond of and whose success we were rooting for is thrown into complete chaos and appears certain to be over. The storyline we’d grown comfortable with and whose future path seemed clear and pleasantly predictable is suddenly disrupted, detoured, and set on what by all appearances is a collision course with disaster and a wholly unsatisfying ending. If you’re like most, like me, your initial reaction vacillates between disbelief and confusion. “It can’t be true,” you exclaim to yourself and so you keep reading for a few pages or a few chapters hoping for an equally immediate turn around. When that doesn’t happen, your disbelief morphs first into frustration and then to anger. You slam the book shut and either toss it in the trash or bury it in the bottom drawer of the nearest night stand, swearing that you’ll “never read a book by that author ever again”.

A few months later, you run into a friend and fellow reader at a local coffee shop and the conversation turns to your shared passion. You ask for a recommendation for a new book to read and she can barely contain her enthusiasm, as she blurts out the name of the book now headed to the local landfill or collecting dust in your bottom drawer! You tell her that “you hated that book” and are greeted with surprise. “Really?” she asks. It’s then that you confess that you actually didn’t finish it. That you stopped halfway in disgust at the turn it had taken. She smiles, knowingly, and shares her own displeasure with the twists and turns that filled that part of the story. “They caught me off-guard too,” she admits. “I didn’t see them coming.” “But,” she continues, “you won’t believe what happens three chapters later. It’s incredible! I don’t want to ruin it for you. Promise me you’ll give it another try”. And, so you go home, pull out the book, brush off the dust and turn to the dog-eared page you’d left as a reminder of where it all went wrong – and reluctantly start reading. And just as your friend promised, your heart begins to smile and it keeps smiling all the way to the end.

Sometimes I think the stories of our lives and our relationships are like that. They start off with so much promise, so much positive energy that we can’t possibly pour enough of ourselves into them or wait to see what the next page holds. And then, often when we least expect it, something happens that blindsides us, turns our world upside down, dampens the light or extinguishes it completely, knocks us off our stride, and makes us question everything we once believed to be true. Suddenly, nothing seems to fit and in our confusion, anger, disbelief, impatience, and despair we react. Instead of weathering the storm(s) or the season(s), we close the book on us, on our relationships, or, regrettably, in some instances, on Life itself. We don’t even give the Author of it all – and redemption – a fighting chance. I’m not suggesting there’s a happy ending woven into every story, nor am I advocating that anyone should stay in a story marred by physical, emotional or psychological abuse. I’m just saying, as someone who came very close to closing a remarkably beautiful book of my own, that curling up in bed tonight with an open heart and giving yours a second look may well end up surprising you.

http://tinyurl.com/y7x92nhp

A Valentine’s Day Wish From Your Inner Child

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Lots of people may have gotten it wrong where loving you is concerned . . .

discouraged,

when what was needed was encouragement

judged,

when a little bit of understanding would’ve gone a long way

turned a deaf ear,

when all you wanted was to be heard

demeaned,

when your parched heart thirsted for affirmation

offered a cold shoulder,

when what your weary soul longed for was a warm embrace

harshly criticized,

when compassion and empathy were the soothing balm you sought

shut you out,

when you desperately needed to be invited in

clung to past missteps,

when forgiveness was what you hoped for

been blind,

when your pain was in plain sight . . .

But you don’t have to be one of them!

You can love “you” differently –

compassionately

tenderly

non-judgmentally

empathetically

unapologetically –

the way you’ve always wanted to be loved,

deserve to be loved,

were created to be loved,

are worthy of being loved.

And, you can speak to “you” differently . . .

with words that encourage

with words that affirm

with words that forgive

with words that are kind and gentle

with credit due.

What would that Valentine’s Day gift to “you” look and feel like . . .

a warm candle-lit bath?

a quiet afternoon with a favorite book?

a night out (or in) with your favorite meal?

a pen and a blank sheet of paper?

snuggles with your four legged friend?

a day’s respite from an artificial number on a scale?

playing hooky and picnicking at your special place?

a long drive to nowhere in particular?

time spent with favorite photographs?

a “to do” list (or two!) torn to shreds?

a smile in the morning mirror?

a whispered word of affirmation?

Truth is: The best way to show others how you long to be loved is to live and love “you” that way.

Why not start today – right now?

 

Things Don’t “Just Happen”

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I’ve spent the better part of the past 10 years trying first to convince myself and then others that things don’t just happen – at least not “things” that matter. My writings are replete with examples that I believe more than prove that point, encounters and events that just can’t be explained by or dismissed as coincidence. I didn’t “just happen” upon a still-wrapped bouquet of discarded roses at precisely the same moment that a woman badly in need of a reminder that she was seen walked by with her dog, any more than I “just happened” upon a little boy in need of a word of encouragement moments after a sidewalk spill from his brand new bike or a lost young girl late for the audition of her life. I also didn’t “just happen” to choose the off the beaten path Italian restaurant I did among the dozens that were available on a frigid, week-before-Christmas night I will never forget. Truth is: No one will ever convince me that any of those things (or the countless others that fill this blog) just happened. In fact, any hope you had of doing that disappeared completely and eternally during a recent trip to Chick-fil-A.

I’m a bit predictable – at least I used to be. For months, almost every Saturday morning followed the same script: up by 7:00, breakfast, an early morning walk (5 – 8 miles depending on the weather), a little bit of writing if the walk inspired it, a warm shower, and out the door to our local Chick-fil-A for an 8-count nugget meal, complete with a medium waffle fry (don’t judge me!) and a LARGE iced tea. That Saturday was to be no exception, or so I thought as I turned the corner into the over-sized shopping center and headed for the CFA at the opposite end of the parking lot. It was then that I saw her – a homeless woman, with what I imagined were all her earthly belongings stuffed into two large bags, slowly making her way down the sidewalk that bordered the westbound lanes of Flagler Street – and then that I decided that I was going to buy her lunch. I have no idea where the thought came from, but it was powerfully present to me, and I immediately began trying to figure out how I was going to make it happen, given the logistics and awkwardness of it all.

By the time I’d found a parking space, however, I’d managed to talk myself out of it. I just couldn’t visualize how to make it work – or maybe I just didn’t want to. She was still a few hundred yards away. What would I do? Should I wait for her, approach her with an offer to buy her lunch, and, if she was receptive, invite her in? And, if so, what would that “look like” exactly? Would it mean taking the next step and actually sitting down to have lunch with her? Is that really something I could do? Should I just assume she’d want lunch, go in, buy it, and then approach her on the sidewalk with the meal I’d selected and hope she accepted it? What if she said “no”? What if she rebuffed my well-intended overtures? What then? It all seemed too complicated. So, I bagged the idea, put it (and her) out of my mind, proceeded into the restaurant, waited in line with all the other guests, placed my usual order, paid the bill, and turned to head toward the dining area. As I did, I looked up AND THERE SHE WAS, having obviously made her way past several guests to get to me!

I froze. “Will you buy me lunch?” she asked shyly. “Absolutely,” I responded, holding back tears as I ushered her toward the cashier who’d helped me moments earlier. “Order whatever you’d like. I’m buying.” “Thank you,” she whispered, as we exchanged smiles and went our separate ways to our very different lives, sharing – me for the hundredth time, her perhaps for the first – the unmistakable, irrefutable reality that nothing just happens . . . at least nothing that matters!

Beyond “The Extra Mile”

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Many of the eating disorder and addiction sufferers I’ve been privileged to interact with are adults who’ve been battling these illnesses for years.  Some are married.  Some are not. Some have boyfriends or partners. Others do not.  Some are in school, miles away from home.  Some have been forced by their illness to move back home.  Some have families and full-time jobs.  Others work several jobs to try and make ends meet. Some have always been and remain close to their parents, while others come from broken or abusive homes and are, understandably, disconnected and distant ant from theirs.  Many have been in and out of treatment programs multiple times, have blue chip treatment teams and still find themselves in a constant tug-a-war between relapse and recovery. Others don’t have or have long since exhausted the resources needed to secure the treatment they long for/desperately need and, as a result, are forced to make due. Some, thankfully, are more firmly rooted in recovery.  But, at one time or another, all of them, sufferers, those in recovery and loved ones alike, have shared the darkness and questioned whether their story would have a happy ending.

I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when one of those friends, a young woman I deeply admire and respect, wrote to share her sense of exhaustion and openly wondered if her most recent stumble will be the proverbial straw that breaks the will and the patience of those who, in her words, “up to this point have so heroically and patiently supported and encouraged her”.  As I read her e-mail, I couldn’t help but wonder how often those same hurtful and fear-engendering thoughts entered our own daughter’s mind and found their way to a heart already questioning its worthiness.  You see, try as we might – and believe me we tried mightily – my wife and I were far from perfect in responding to the daily and often all-consuming challenges that an eating disorder presents to both the sufferer and those who love them.  In fact, the tears littering the keyboard as I type these words have their birthplace in too many remembered moments when my response to various incendiary situations spawned by our daughter’s eating disorder only added fuel to what already was a raging emotional bonfire.  All of which brings me to this note:

Dear Loved One,

I know you’re weary.

I know you’re frustrated.

I know you’re angry.

I know you’re wondering what you did to “deserve” this.

I know you don’t think you can do this for even one more minute, let alone another day, week, month, or year.

I know you’re losing patience.

I know you want your life back.

I know you want your loved one back.

I know you’re asking yourself if/when this nightmare will end.

I know you feel like you’re running out of options.

I know you’re scared.

I know there are times when you feel helpless.

I know you are starting to lose hope.

But, here’s the thing: Despite how they may act or what they may say in the grip of these insidious diseases at any given moment, your loved one feels those things too (weariness, frustration, anger, guilt, shame, fear, helplessness, hopelessness, confusion, etc.) and would give anything to have their life back – and you yours.  The last thing they need is to feel more of it – to be given a reason to believe that the lies their eating disordered (or addicted) mind has been telling (screaming at) them all this time are true (e.g., that they are a “burden”, that they are “worthless”, that they are “unlovable”, that the world (even your world) would be better off without them, etc.).

You are the truth that stands between your loved one and those lies.  The good news is: You are stronger than you think you are and more courageous and resilient than you realize.  You have a greater capacity for patience and empathy than you ever imagined and, while in this moment it may not seem or feel like it, your love and support are actually limitless.  The same is true of your loved one.  Rest in that hope, draw strength from it – and if, as I suspect, you’ve already gone the “extra mile” pause for a minute (or two) to catch your breath – you’ve earned it – then keep going, keep loving, keep believing. Because the magic may well be in the next one.

Wishing you peace and strength,

Don