13 July 2016

"Passing"

No one ever guesses that I am black. If I saw me on the street, I probably wouldn't either. As soon as they hear my college-educated Northern speech patterns, learn my last name, and see my (very pale) children, I am automatically accepted as some kind of tan European person. This is what black folks call "passing" for white.

I must confess that, at times, there is some relief in that. I don't experience the latent or overt racism that my brothers and sisters with darker skin tones do. I'm automatically accepted at job interviews and people smile at me when they walk down the street. It makes life easier to be automatically accepted.

There's guilt, too. For example, about once every few weeks, a truck with a giant confederate flag purposely rolls up and down the main thoroughfares of our town. My survival instinct kicks in and I stop wherever I am, cowering and thanking God that I'm not dark enough to warrant a stop - and I'm disgusted by my fear and ashamed of how scared I am to be counted among my own people.

I have anger sometimes with other black people who call me too white or look at me at in a room of black people wondering why I am there. I get angry when they try to dismiss my experience of life as a biracial person by telling me that it is not a valid part of the black experience. The irony of being discriminated against does not miss me - especially since almost every black American (outside of actual recent African immigrants) has at least one white ancestor.

On the other hand, I know that I will never fit into the racial construct of "whiteness". As most people of color know, according to the standard of "whiteness," if you're not purely European, you are not white. I certainly don't fit that mold.

 I know that if the wrong person knew my heritage they would automatically begin to discriminate against me, my children, and probably even my husband for "diluting the gene pool." I know for a fact that certain people on both sides of my family told my parents not to get married, ostensibly under the guise of protecting my white mother from racism. I know for a fact that if certain members of Eric's family had been alive when we got married, no matter how white I looked, they would have rejected us completely from their family tree. Those are just some examples, but I have dozens more - conversations I've overheard when certain people thought they were alone;  Questions people addressed to me because "I would understand" since I'm "not really black;" the way my family is looked at in a restaurant based on which of my parents are also in attendance; or the fact that I am taken more seriously by my colleagues if I say the same thing about the black experience in a meeting at work as my friend who has darker skin.

Just recently, I had some tell me I shouldn't really tell people I'm black, because I'm really just white (i.e. My appearance is not like most people of African descent). Another time I was expressing my fears about racist backlash if a Trump presidency occurs and I was told, "it's okay. You're white enough. You can just hide."

 ...  As if it would be totally normal to watch my father, aunts, uncles, and cousins be rounded up while I sat in my house watching Netflix.

My Facebook feed fills up with comments from "conservative" white friends and family who think that they have all the answers to racism in America or who consistently use demeaning language to talk about people of color. I would classify myself as a moderate or conservative most days, but the things I see make me question whether the people who identify the same way even care about anyone who is not white, Protestant, and/or affluent. If I were to take a screenshot of my Newsfeed, and substitute the word "white" or "Christian" for what is being said, most people would probably start crying from all the hate. And because people don't think of me as black, they don't think about the fact that I see their posts and I always remember who wrote it. 

Each post becomes another stab in the gut proving that, at the end of the day, when these people feel their comfort threatened, they will turn on me. I cannot believe that they have my best interests at heart. Often I'm told I'm paranoid in response to my concerns, which only drives home the point that these are people I cannot trust. I still love them, but wariness becomes a constant in my relationships with them. Blending in - passing - becomes the norm because I believe calling attention to my difference will result in being treated as a threat.

The thing that makes me most upset in all of this is that passing should not be a survival tactic or a tool to get ahead in the world - it shouldn't exist at all. Being a person of African descent is NOT something to be ashamed of or protected from. I'm exceedingly proud of my heritage, whether we're talking about my ancestors who survived the absolutely inconceivable horror of slavery; the Irish ones who left family behind forever at the turn of the 20th century to make a new life in the US; the German ones who came in the 1800s; or the Native Americans who lost their homeland and still survived. All of them are Americans who love this country - who fought in its wars since the Revolution (though, to be fair, one group on the white side of the family were loyalists in the War for Independence and had to flee to Canada... 😬).

My lineage is, without exaggeration, the story of America, with all its beauty and some of its festering boils. I could not exist as I am in this 21st century woman's body if I were not in America. I love it for what it is. But I am tired of being told that one part of my story is less desirable than another. If my existence challenges your perceptions about race in America, then I am glad. I don't care it makes you feel uncomfortable because you feel like you have to ask me the question "What are you?" when you see me since your racial categories are too strict to allow for my uniqueness. I have always loved myself and I always will. 

I am proud of my hair, my nose, my skin, my body shape, my pattern of speech, my racial ambiguity. I don't care where you think I belong. I am not "passing" for anything but for being myself.

02 June 2016

The Child I'll Never Hold

Our family loves babies. As we look forward to the birth of our fourth child in January, it's hard to say much more. We are very excited. 

But even with that excitement, there is a part of my heart that also grieves. About four years ago, Eric and I lost a child in the first six weeks of pregnancy. At the time, I thought I wouldn't grieve at all - when, in reality, the opposite was true. I can still conjure up the physical pain of it, doubled over on our couch while I prayed for a miracle I knew was not going to happen. I remember the emotional turmoil of grieving and the well-meaning but devastatingly painful attempts at expressing sympathy. I also remember the sad look of knowing as other people told us that they, too, were members of this club that no one talks about until you join it. There was a lot of pain.

There were also moments of grace... too many to relate. In particular, I remember going to confession after I had proceeded through the initial stages of grief and feeling some sort of need to reconcile with God, even though I wasn't sure how or why. Our parish priest just happened to have a sister who had gone through 13 miscarriages (13!!!!) before having a long-awaited child. His witness and compassion in that moment were the truest workings of the Spirit in the Sacraments and the exact message of healing I needed I that moment. If there was a moment that I recognized the person of Christ in the minister is the Sacrament, it was that one. 

Now, four years later, I have long come to terms with my loss. But the grief still bubbles up for the child I never saw, never held, never met in this life. 

It's a little stab when I check in to the doctor and they ask me how many pregnancies I've had. It's a slight hesitation when people ask me how many children I have. It's a fake smile when people joke about how many kids we have. It's the way my heart breaks for others' pain as they experience the same thing. As the experts say, grief really never goes away. You just learn to live with it.

But looking back over these four years, I see how God has used that experience for immeasurable good. Many friends have gone through the same thing and I was able to recognize their need for healing over many months. I was unexpectedly able to witness to my experience and God's grace over a beer and cheese dip with a friend of a friend. We eventually had two more beautiful children who might never have born because we realized how much we wanted another after Owen. God brings such marvelous light out of our darkest nights. 

I still can't say I understand why it happened, but I can see how God uses it to help me become more holy and to share his love with others.

I look forward to some day meeting the one we have not yet known. I believe that he or she will be so beautiful and full of grace when we finally see each other face to face in the light of God. I cannot wait to hold that one in my arms and  speak of the love that I have always had for my child. I am certain that on that day I will not cry or regret the years without my little one. It will all be seen in its fullness and seen with joy for the glory of God's Name. That day will be the most blessed of my days because, finally we will be with Christ, and Christ will be all in all.

01 February 2016

My Vote Matters

Many people have argued with me over the years about voting in national elections - who I should vote for, if so should vote at all, whether or not it really mattered if my vote was counted mathematically (no surprise, that last one was Eric).

While it may be true that in the grander scheme of things, my vote is much more important on the local level than national, no one yet has persuaded me either to cast a blanket vote for one party nor to skip voting all together. In primary season, particularly with the "interesting" array of candidates we are seeing, I have finally been able to articulate why no argument truly convinces.

You see, I am both a woman and a person of color. It is still less than a hundred years since women one the vote in America. It is just over 50 years since the 1965 Voting Rights Act finally gave protection to all people of color. My grandmother was born just one year after the nineteenth amendment was ratified. My father was ten years old when the March from Selma to Montgomery took place. This privilege I enjoy - one that allows me to decide whether cleaning my house watching TV is more important than voting - is only one generation removed from being tenuous if not impossible. Thousands of people in the Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights movement were willing to face violence so that I could have the rights that I accept as a fait accompli.

The security I feel every day in never doubting I will be heard it counted is a gift. It is not something my grandfather, an Army officer and WWII veteran, experienced. It is not something my great-grandmother, who left her family at age 16 to come to America forever, knew for a fact. I am blessed because I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me. 

I feel that when I do choose not to vote in any elections, I cheapen the courage of the Marchers and the Suffragettes, and even the founding fathers who risked certain execution for treason if they failed. And I would forget that history for an extra hour of sleep? On that day I will have become to soft.

So, yes, I know that my one vote might not make any difference or that I may be fighting a losing battle by researching candidates and platforms when so many times it comes down to who spent the most money. But it matters to me that I do act even if it is a Pyrrhic victory. 

On the day the aforementioned laws were enacted, the powerful had to begin to care what women thought or what minorities thought, because they knew we had a vote to win, which meant our communities had a say. 

This is the best of democracy in action. It teaches others that it is not only the "strong" who have strength. 

When I vote, I carry on that legacy, even though it doesn't cost me much. When I vote, I am, in a small way, not allowing politicians to ignore the groups they would rather forget. I am also standing in a long line of brave and inspiring people for whom the hope of an America like ours was worth fighting. I pray that I always live up to their example and never take this wonderful life for granted.

18 January 2016

Seven Years, Seven Lessons

Hello Internet. Long time, no see. In the past few months I have been busy working, Christmasing, and beginning the first steps of my Masters program. I've started about five different posts and deleted them all. My life has had plenty going on, but few moments to reflect.

This year marked my seventh year as a wife and so I thought I would share seven lessons (big and small) that I have gleaned from being married to the best husband I've ever had.

7. Netflix is addicting

Eric and I do a pretty good job of agreeing on what to watch during our nightly sojourn on the couch to watch Netflix. It has given us some great fodder for conversation and many shared laughs. We've even slowly converted each other to some of our favorite shows. He got me hooked on Doctor Who. I got him to come around to the glorious goofiness of Shawn and Gus on Psych. But we also stay up way too late to watch "one more episode" (like everyone who binges) and have lost more than a few hours of sleep over the years. Netflix responsibly, people.

6. His health means more to me than my own

About three months ago, Eric was put on a different diet by his physician, right around the time I was starting to feel the need to get serious about eating more healthy foods and choosing more socially and environmentally responsible ways of eating. While the moral aspects were not very hard for me to change, I found my eating habits still were rather unhealthy. 

When Eric told me about his visit with the physician, I went into full-on health mode and changed 90% of what our family was eating and how it was made. I never found a good enough reason to do it for myself, but I loved him too much not to help him. God used my love for Eric to help me also do what was best for me.

5. Never stop praying together

When we dated, Eric and I would regularly set aside time for prayer together. As our relationship has continued, we got out of the habit of planning that time together. We still pray individually, with the children, and together when we feel a need, but not as frequently as when we had intentionally put it into our schedules. Making that space for God is so important.

4. Children are insane (in a good way)

We have created three little people who roam the world in utter bliss. They are adorably cute, but they continually do things that make absolutely no logical sense. It's like their brains aren't fully developed or something!

For example, who would take a perfectly delicious cookie and smash it into the ground while laughing? Who sings a song to the babysitter about staying awake all night and never going to sleep? A crazy person, that's who! But they are really funny and loving crazy people, so we think, in the end, it's a good thing... I hope.

3. We grow together

19-year-old Eric who I started dating was a different guy than 23-year-old Eric who I married, who is a different guy than 30-year-old Eric, the father of my three children. For one, 30-year-old Eric has a much bigger beard (which, I confess, I think is amazing). I would imagine he would say much the same thing about me (but maybe not my beard).

While I won't say we are more alike, we have discovered new things about ourselves through loving one another. 

For example, at 19, I was unsure of how I felt about my hair and put it in a ponytail almost every day (a manifestation of my larger doubts about all of my physical appearance). Now at 30, I have embraced my curls and wear my hair down almost every single day. In fact, the other day, I put my hair up and Eric asked me if I had done something new to it. He didn't even realize the only change was throwing it up. It was a testament to how much more comfortable I am with how God has created me. And that confidence in believing I am beautiful is due in no small part to knowing that he thinks I am a beautiful woman. His love has helped me grow and I hope he would say the same of me.

2. College made us really fast

I read ridiculously fast. This is not a humble brag. Eric loves to read and goes pretty quickly, but I'm way better thanks to loads of practice (shout out to my professors for believing I could read 200 pages a night!). I also kick butt at writing after thousands of pages of practice.

However, when I was spending all night in college reading book after monstrous book, Eric was doing math problems. Eric can solve any basic math expression in his head in about 10 seconds, which deflates my ego about the liberal arts quite thoroughly. Again, loads of practice, which makes perfect.

Thanks, universities, for the quantifiable skills. 

(Bet you all never expected a theology major to have any quantifiable skills! Yet, here I am, reading tomes quickly and defying stereotypes.)

1. My vows are more true than ever

My wedding vows were as follows:

I, Shannon, take you, Eric, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

Each day I wake up next to my best friend. We have had great days, horrible days, and mostly normal old boring days. In each one of those days, even when I least wanted to be around him, I have loved my husband.

I honor him because he is a wonderful man who, even with his more direct manner, cares deeply for others and sacrifices of himself to make his family, his community, his workplace, and himself better each day. 

I stay true to him no matter what happens - not just because it is the right thing, but because his trust is irreplaceable and because I can never imagine choosing a life other than the beautiful one he has given to me. He brings me closer to Christ and he is is my most loyal friend. Eric is my truest confidant, the father of my children, and the man I want to see staring back at me when we have grown old. 

I meant my vows seven years ago when I pledged my life to him before God and the Church. I mean them more today, because I better understand what they ask of me. The best part of it is that I get to prove it to him every day for the rest of my life.

31 July 2015

To My Friends with One Child

Hello friend,

Don't worry. This is not a letter to teach you all about parenting, to judge and shame, or to vent about how much I miss being a mom of one. This is a letter to encourage you and tell you how awesome you are. I know at times I have said things that may have been misconstrued as criticism, but I never mean to criticize. You are my friend and we are on the long journey together. 

I am so proud of you, no matter how you chose to give birth, feed, sleep, discipline, or teach. I am proud that you said yes to life, even when knowing that your life would now no longer be about you (even if you didn't realize how much less it would be!). Mostly, I want to thank you for giving it your best and reminding me of how wonderful parenthood is when I am caught up in the stress of juggling three children. Your tweets, status updates, instagram posts, phone calls, texts, and stories over bottles of wine make me laugh, cry, and grow. It reminds me of how much love and energy it takes to care for one little human and how much love and energy each individual child deserves regardless of if they are the only one or one of many.

Some of you have waited for years for a baby; some have been surprised by one; some have lost a child or a pregnancy; some have adopted; others given birth; some are married; some are single; some divorced. Each of you is a gift and example of the deepest truths of human life. Each of you is needed, not just for your child, but for each of us.

I remember how hard it was. You constantly second guess yourself. You wonder when you'll ever have a normal life again, or just when you'll have a normal amount of sleep again. You wonder how a person so small can make so much poop and how many loads of laundry you will have to do before they can wash their own clothes. You wonder how many times you'll have to read Goodnight Moon and still pretend to be excited about it. I remember it all.

Keep doing your best, mom, dad, whoever you are. Please share a million photos on social media so I can see that sweet baby in action. Never be ashamed of your love for your child. Teach them to love others by the way you are loving them right now, however you are doing it. You are doing the hard work of the Kingdom of God. God gave this little person to you, not anyone else, and he knew you were the best mom or dad for them. He wants you to love them and help them grow. Each moment with your little one is an invitation to grow and I hope you embrace it (even during the times when you think you might scream and throw pillows across the room - we sympathize!).

So trust that you are good at this, because you are.

And when you call Eric or me about baby advice, know that, at least a quarter of the time, we're probably just making things up as we go. You're getting our best guess or a half-dazed memory from a time when we were sleep-deprived. The exception is anything regarding diapers. We have changed thousands and we know what we're talking about.

We love you and God loves you. Good work and God bless.

Your friend,
Shannon


14 July 2015

Sign to be Contradicted

After almost a decade in ministry work, I have started to cringe a little bit when people ask me what I do for a living. It's not because I am embarrassed, by any means - I love talking about Christ and the Church - but mostly because I know that there will always be a big reaction. When someone says they are an accountant, the response is usually along the lines of "oh, cool... Must be pretty busy in April..." Then the conversation turns to something else. When I tell someone I am a youth minister, they always seem to have a definite reaction.

I've found that there are 3 categories into which these responses fall - total excitement, total avoidance, or complete anger.

Total excitement is, obviously, positive. People gush to me about how much the love their faith, how much they love teenagers, or are just generally fascinated by what I do. I once had a high school classmate repeat over and over again to me that he thought my job must be so fulfilling and how awesome it would be to do that every day. I felt sorry that he was so burned out by his job in finance that I probably overplayed how draining youth ministry can be. 

On the other hand, this excitement can be a bit overwhelming if I just want to spend time talking about trivial things. One of my favorite Jim Gaffigan jokes ends with the Pope telling an evangelical Christian that he wants to "leave work at work." It passes through my mind frequently when someone wants to talk church with me for an hour.

Now, I believe that it is my call as a follower of Christ to witness through my actions and my words to my faith - as St. Peter says to "always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15)." However, some days the idea of being called to witness feels more like another task on my office to-do list than the loving prompting of the Lord Jesus. Part of this is a challenge to me to persevere even when I am tired and (nominally) suffering. Part of it is the fact that, as people, we are all more than one thing. Many days I just want to discuss soccer formations without having to relate it to Jesus... (btw, Jesus is always the goalie, because Jesus saves!).

The second group of people, the ones who avoid me because of my job, are more trying than those who are excited - at least with the latter, I have a friendly ear. The avoiders treat me like a communicable disease; they seem to think that if they talk to me I will start spouting Bible verses, try to convert them, or blurt out horrible things about anyone who is gay, liberal, or Muslim. As in the aforementioned statement on the excitement group, there is in fact, more to me than just my career. Lawyers don't only talk about their cases. I, too, like to trade theories on the arc of Game of Thrones plot lines and where to buy the best doughnuts in Indianapolis (Long's Donuts). 

Youth ministers are people, too!

The final group, the angry people, are few and far between. Thankfully, our society is so politically correct that 75% of the people I meet simply stick to avoidance because they don't want to hurt my feelings. But there is a small group, about 5%, who dislike me instantly because I am associated with the church and often, too, because I try to encourage youth to practice their faith. They try to point out the hypocrisy of Christians, every horrible thing any religious person has ever done, or discuss whatever hot button political issue they think Catholics have ruined that day. When someone asks me the question, "so, what do you do," this is the reaction I am always afraid may come out. So many times, this ire comes from a negative personal experience which I could not begin to address, even if they wanted to talk about it. And, unfortunately, it comes out as a personal attack on me. 

I remember one specific moment while leading a bible study at a Starbucks. Most people simply left us alone to sit, but one night a young man came up after our bible study and began to accuse me of judging others (society's choice for the world's greatest sin) and, basically, being a hypocrite. My initial reaction was not the best, but I ended up inviting him to join us the next week to share his own thoughts or to come to Mass. I never saw him again. 

This encounter stands as an example of why those who ask for my profession inspire my normally amiable affect to become slightly more guarded and disconnected. No one wants to take the blame for hurt they didn't cause or be accused of ruining the world.

So what does this all come down to? It is simply my very real example of what it means to imitate Christ in everyday life. In Luke 2:34, the prophet Simeon tells the Virgin Mary that Jesus is destined to be "the rise and fall of many in Israel; and a sign to be contradicted..." It is a prophesy of the divisiveness that Christ himself tells us faith in him will bring. It is a prophesy that Jesus is not simply a good teacher or a great prophet, but the person who will require us to say, "yes, You are God who rose from the dead," or "no, I cannot believe that this man is more than just a man." When we chose the former, it comes with the cost of also becoming a sign to be contradicted. Unlike many people would like to believe, we can't avoid the question of Jesus. Either we believe in him or we don't.

A hard part of that choice is that when we say "yes," people think that choice excludes them if they do not. They think that talking about Jesus or believing that God wants us to live a certain way means that anyone who doesn't automatically gets kicked to the curb. They seem to think that they would never be loved or welcomed by those of us who do. 

Any Christian who reads the gospel knows that Jesus never excluded the earnest seeker and, if he judged, it was because he was God and he had the only right to do so. More importantly, we see the people who were judged harshly weren't the prostitutes or the tax collectors, but rather those who used religion as a stepping stool for power and precedence over others. They were also the people who openly flouted their power to disobey God's laws as they saw fit. The ones who need compassion received it, even if they were called to change when they did. Jesus certainly never let anyone off the hook when it came to righteous living - look at the way he asks the Samaritan Woman at the Well about her love life, tells the adulterous woman to sin no more, and even rebukes Peter, his righthand man, for trying to make his ministry about politics instead of salvation. But, even when he asked for another to repent, he offered his own help to become a new creation.

I suppose we should come back to the point. The point is that a career like accounting, sales, or engineering might not evince a strong reaction, but it would also not give me a chance to witness. When I signed on with Christ, I said I would take whatever came with it and I certainly can't back out now. I'm in this for the long haul. I certainly hope you'll join me on the journey.

17 May 2015

Bigger than the Baby Blues

At this time last year I was 36 weeks pregnant; deciding whether to give up my job and move to a small town in the middle of nowhere; and I was a working mom with two boys under the age of five. There was a lot going on in my life.  

Oh yes, and I was being treated for post-partum depression.

Moving on then...
Okay, not really.

Mental health problems are not generally something people like to talk about even if they have them. We live in a society that values healthiness, so admitting you are unhealthy (physically, emotionally, spiritually) feels like you told someone that you kick puppies for fun. The reaction is usually not one of support. Ironically, one of the most helpful things for a person with mental illness to do is tell other people and seek support from their family and friends.

But getting back to me (because that's what life is about - me!)... About three months after Will was born and I found out I was pregnant with Molly. I had some extremely stressful situations at work coupled with the stress of managing the life of a couple with multiple jobs, a newborn, a preschooler, and graduate school. We were stretched very thin. All of these things sent me to a place where each day felt like a chore and that my world was spinning out of control. Eric would ask me normal trivial questions like whether there was a specific spice in the meal I had made for dinner and I would break out into tears. The only things that seemed normal to me was going to work every day and watching TV ad nauseum. In addition, I was, at best, ambivalent about having another baby in only a few months.

The point when I realized I needed help, however, was when I was trying to put my younger son down for his nap and our oldest began throwing a huge tantrum about whatever it is four-year-olds cry about. The baby woke up and I was, quite literally, screaming at the top of my lungs at my eldest for waking him. In that moment, I was inches away from hitting my child and knowing that I was capable of it scared me to no end. His face told me that my yelling had hurt him just as much emotionally as an actual slap would have physically. I simply walked away from him and began to cry. I knew I needed to talk to someone and soon.

Thankfully, my physician was extremely understanding and helped me find options for care. I found an excellent therapist and was able to finally feel like I could handle some of the emotional stressors in my life. It was a long, hard journey, full of painful self-examination and allowing myself to be the woman that I am, instead of an image of who I thought I needed to be.

Surprisingly, having a name to put on my feelings was one of the first steps for me to get better. Knowing it wasn't just me being "dramatic," or "stressed out," or "distracted." I had work to do to help myself become healthy again and there was no stigma in my mind about that.

Normally, I would close with some uplifting application to the life of faith. I think today I will leave it up to you to draw any grandiose theological insight from this post. I do, however, think that God wants us to be healthy in body, mind, and spirit, and that he will walk with us each step of the way. If you think you or someone you know might be suffering from depression, I cannot urge you enough to tell someone and to seek out treatment. If you are unfamiliar with depression or other similar mental illness, find more information at the Mayo Clinic site - http://www.mayoclinic.org

Please know that you are not alone. One in three adults will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. We need to stop pretending that mental illness doesn't exist or that it can be fixed by having a good cry. The more we acknowledge our own struggles, the easier it will be for other people to get help. If I had not been willing to acknowledge that something was wrong, I am not sure what would have happened by the time Molly was born. Thankfully, because I did get treatment, I was in a much happier place when she was born than I thought I could be.

My whole family feels better now that I have gone through therapy, because I have acknowledged that I cannot be the best wife and mother I could be without getting help. Getting better was as much about them as it was about me. Love can help heal any ill. In this case, it was the thing that brought me to my knees and helped me understand how much life was worth and how much I was needed and loved.

God has used this experience to remind me that he wants me just as I am and I don't have to be perfect in order to be his. I was open to many things that I might have missed, like moving to a new town. He has brought good out of a situation that could have been very bad. I am very, very thankful for that. Looking back today, knowing how normal and happy and whole I feel, I am relieved to know that I made the right decision. It feels great to wake up looking forward to the day ahead. It feels good to smile and laugh and know that there is plenty of hope. Best of all, I know that I am loved; I have a purpose; and that nothing is bad enough that it can't be overcome.