Mary, Did You Know?

There are many things to think about when recalling the Easter story; self sacrificing love, victory over death, fear, sadness, forgivenes and much more, but this Easter I want to focus on one small figure at the foot of the cross. Mary. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.” John 19:25 (KJV)

There she stood at the cross, the foot of which was most likely soaked in blood. I imagine the small divot where the cross was pounded into the ground was also pooled with blood. I can see her tear soaked face looking up, squinting in the sun, trying to catch a glimpse of her baby. She probably saw no more than his chest painfully rising upward while he was struggling to breathe. I can imagine her getting as close to the cross as she could, possibly soaking her own clothes in his trickling blood. Maybe it would have been just enough for her to feel a tip if her finger on his toe. A small touch that would say, “Mother is here.” It wasn’t likely that she would have a chance of touching any part of him, but at the very least, she probably came into contact with his blood. He was beaten severely before they nailed him to the cross and the scene that beheld his mother’s eyes was no doubt horrific. But she was his mother and that’s what a good mother does, she’s with her children in their time of need. She probably got as close as she could so her baby would know mother was there.

I know how much it hurts me anytime my children are hurt. In about a months time my youngest son will have neurosurgery, no doubt the reason why my Easter post took this topic. I can’t imagine the moment my little boy gets wheeled back for surgery without tearing up. I know my son will be in the care of the very best neurosurgeon but it doesn’t relieve most of my worries. I will have the obvious worry until I can touch him in recovery. I will feel relieved once I can touch my son and let him know, “Mommy is here.”

There is comfort in those words, “Mommy is here.” I find it a beautifully designed plan of God’s to allow the Son of Man to be born of a woman. He was God with a human mother and by every description of her, she was a wonderful mother. She was loving, honest, and faithful. She obeyed God with no thought of herself when she was told she was with child. She knew she was a virgin but what would her husband Joseph say? How did she know he’d still take her as his wife? Did she worry about these things when God asked her to carry His holy vessel? We will never know her intimate thoughts but she knew she was going to participate in a plan that would forever change humanity. I think about that when I look at the difficulty I face. My problems will not change the world and my plans will not be recounted for generations to come, but yet, I worry. I don’t think I have the faith Mary possessed. I know I am not the woman of faith God needs me to be, but I’m trying. I also know God has not asked me to sacrifice my son as he did Mary. What does this story of mother and son mean to me? Can it also have meaning for you?

I can only imagine what was also going through Mary’s mind during the crucifixion. There was little detail regarding Mary during this moment in time, but let’s try to stand with Mary and look at it through the eyes of a mother. Here she stood at the foot of a cross, watching her bruised, beaten, bloody, and dying son struggle for his life, possibly recalling the moment his life began. She may have thought of every other beautiful moment she had with her son since his birth, and now, the torment she must have felt as she was helpless to save him. I can see her anger for those who were mocking and belittling him. I can feel her agony as she realized what she was witnessing was indeed reality and when she finally could touch her boy, he’d be dead. Even if she had knowledge of his resurrection, she still had to witness his horrible death. It was a death he didn’t deserve because he was wrongfully accused. He was tortured and he was humiliated. He was an innocent man publicly shamed as a criminal and no one knew this better than Mary. This makes me think of the song, “Mary Did You Know?” Did she see what Jesus saw in the garden as he asked for this to be passed from him on the day of his birth? Did she look at the perfect son she had just delivered and see the death that awaited him? Christ did, and he was so fearful, he agonized over it. The Bible says, “And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Luke 22:41-42 (KJV) “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke 22:44 (KJV) He didn’t want to experience the pain, even when he knew the effect his death would have on mankind. This verse comforts me because Jesus had all knowledge of his death, spoke to God honestly about his fears in prayer, and asked that God’s will be done. In difficult times, I take comfort in the obedience Christ displays for us here. He felt fear over his life, just like I have. He prayed and told God how he didn’t want to experience the pain, just as I have. Then, he asked for and accepted God’s will, just as I am still trying to learn. God doesn’t ask any more from us than he did from his own son. Mary and Jesus both obeyed, even when they saw the tragedy ahead.

Jesus even obeyed while he was dying. Jesus spoke few words as he died, but he spoke these words no doubt out of love and obedience, “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman behold thy son. He saith to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.” John 19:26-27 (KJV) His mother, Mary was most likely widowed at this time and would have no home and no income. It was customary during this time in history for women to be put in the care of someone else at the passing of the man who was caring for her. Jesus didn’t forget his mother standing there. He made sure he took care of her in his most desperate hour. I can recall many times where my husband and I were experiencing the same pain, yet he took care of my needs before his own. It’s hard to forget that kind of love. Jesus was displaying self-sacrificing love two times over on the cross. He was sacrificing his life for mankind and put his mother’s needs before his own while he did it. My husband’s actions will never be of that magnitude, but through his actions, I have no doubt how much he loves me. When one person puts your needs before their own, they are displaying the same love Christ displayed at the cross.

Mary saw her son give up his own life shortly after this. He was removed from the cross and it was finished. In God’s great plan, taking care of Jesus’ earthly mother was included. He didn’t say, “Thanks for carrying my holy vessel Mary, get lost.” He had a plan for her care right to the end. He honored his mother. Three days later, Jesus rose from the grave proving victory over death. He didn’t forget his mother then either; Acts 1:14 says, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (KJV) Jesus spent time with the disciples, and even his mother after he rose from the dead. They prayed and worshipped together until the time he ascended into heaven. Again, the Bible didn’t mention the interaction between mother and son during this time, but there must have been joy in Mary’s heart once she saw her resurrected son. All the pain, sorrow, and grief of the cross must have melted away. She may have spent her time with him, once again admiring the wondrous works God was doing through him. Maybe she finally felt the magnitude of her pregnancy and the angel’s words to her saying she was with child.

These days, motherhood begins with two pink lines, no proclamation from heaven but the news is still as sweet. God had a plan for the mother of his son and never forgot her faithfulness. I imagine he always smiled on the woman who said, “Yes” to a plan that was uncertain for a woman in her time. She had the faith to answer God’s call and follow that all the way to the foot of a bloody cross where she watched her beloved die. His life did not end in vain. No, he had a purpose and in it, so did she. It was her “Yes” that helped complete a plan put in motion before Adam ever placed his feet upon the new creation. God had Mary in mind when he decided one final sacrifice had to be made to unite man with God. He had a plan for him and he had a plan for her. There was death and tears at that cross and there was blood, a lot of blood. Mary was probably covered in her son’s blood just as we are when we say “Yes” as she did. When we say “Yes” he has a plan for us, all the way to the end because he doesn’t forget. Like Mary, he has also promised us a new home. An eternal one. Mary wasn’t afraid to come close to the cross because she was Jesus’ mother and she’d follow him anywhere. I have no doubt Mary would take our hands and lead us to the cross where we too can be covered by the blood of the one last sacrifice because there we can find love. There lies the ultimate form of love and forgiveness. Follow Mary. Take the journey to the foot of the cross with her this Easter and ask, “Mary, did you know?”

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Love is Stronger Than Pain

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I was thinking about what Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) has taken from me today. It has taken many things; my peace of mind, health, mobility, strength, and much more. It has been hard to accept that just a couple years ago I didn’t have to worry so much about my own health, the peace of mind about being able to take care of my own children was secure, and I knew I had the physical and emotional strength to take on whatever life threw at me. Now most of my day is centered around pain. I ask, if I stretch, exercise, or take the right medication or supplements, can I relieve this pain? But the day usually begins and ends the same, in pain.

I am certain I can handle what the disease takes from me, what I don’t like is what it takes from my kids. Above, I posted a picture of me holding my youngest daughter. She is our surprise baby; you know, that baby who comes along and yells “surprise” a week before a scheduled hysterectomy. My husband and I determined we were finished having children and I needed to have the surgery to take care of some health issues that have plagued me for many years. These problems were so disruptive, we are lucky to have even one child, we have four. When our youngest snuck in under the radar we were very excited. We were shocked and thrilled when we finally conceived our first and every child thereafter was equally, maybe even more exciting.

I think I do alright as a mom. I love and have loved every stage of their lives thus far, but I especially love the toddler years. I personally think too many people focus on the possible tantrums or stubborn nature of a toddler and miss all the incredible things they are learning and accomplishing in the first short years of their lives. I was always the proud mom to carry her babies around on my hip. The first three were glued to my hip as long as they’d allow me to pick them up and put them there. Unfortunately for my fourth, she hasn’t had the same. I am unable to pick her up, let alone carry her like I could with my other children and that just makes me mad. She is frequently raising her arms to me and saying, “up” and I have to say, “Sorry baby, mommy can’t pick you up right now”. Yes, I know I can find other ways to pick her up and I know it isn’t a necessity but I want to do it! I hate that my RA has taken this simple joy from me. I have accepted and smiled through many things that have spewed into my life but I am neither going to smile or accept this one.

As you can see, I try to pick her up as much as I can, pain or no pain and I often try to take a picture. I want to remember that I was blessed to have had babies on my hip. I am privileged to raise my children and I will keep doing my best despite what this awful disease does to me. I will pick them up (try to put them on my hip), hug them, kiss them, and smile at them, even if the entire day is experienced in pain. When I think hard about it, my life isn’t about me, it’s about who I have been gifted to love. The love of a child is far more powerful than any pain some awful disease tries to throw at me.

*d*

Pondering the “What If” in Life

It’s Monday and Kristie’s day began before most of the world opened it’s eyes. It’s 2 a.m. and one of her two sons is ready to start his day. Kristie rubbed her eyes, dreary from numerous days of scattered sleep.

“Can I get up?” asked her youngest son Blake standing next to her bed

“Go back to bed, it’s too early.” As he wandered back to his room, Kristie knew she shouldn’t get too comfortable. She knew he would come back and he’d probably ask to go to the toy room. Several minutes later, he was back. ” Come on,” she said as she walked with him to the toy room. She laid on the couch and he grabbed his iPad. She didn’t look forward to the next four hours of interrupted sleep on the couch.

On this morning Kristie couldn’t sleep. She settled on the couch and made her best attempt but couldn’t.  Instead she ended up watching her little boy. Her mind began to wonder about all the things surrounding Blake and her oldest son, Drew. She began to rehash the “what-ifs” and all the other parts of her life she tries not to think about. It’s the same inner monolog that plagued her when her oldest son Drew was born, it’s the same crushing thought that wonders what life would be like without Fragile X Syndrome. What if their two boys never had it and what if she never carried it? “What if,” she wispered to herself.

She began to wonder what their life would have been like without all the harsh looks, awful critism, and impossibly difficult days in the  fifteen years since Drew was born. She recalls the worst of moments when a harsh stare was enough to make her family feel unwelcome and how a terrible comment like, “You should stop having those defective children,” seemed to cut her to her soul. She could still feel the same sting she felt fifteen years ago when it was confirmed that Drew had Fragile X.

She sleepily closed her eyes and  began to dream, or maybe it was her imagination but when she opened her eyes, both of her boys stood in front of her. “Hi Mom!” They spoke with unbelievable clarity, each offering arms open wide. “Thank you,” she heard from both boys harmoniously. In her  confusion she also heard, “We know it’s been hard, sorry Mommy.”

“No babies, don’t say that.” She thought she had spoke but the words didn’t come out.

“I love you.”

“I love you ”

Each boy embraced her. The very real feeling startled her awake. It was Blake. He was pushing on her arm. He wanted to watch a movie. It was 4 a.m. She got him settled again, all the while playing back the vivid vision in her head. She returned to the couch and now she really couldn’t sleep. She felt a gnawing in the pit of her stomach. If getting carried away with an impossible notion where her boys weren’t plagued with Fragile X wasn’t enough, she felt like she got a very real glimpse of it. She was very certain her boys would never fully understand the difficulties their family faced daily. The boys didn’t know life without Fragile X, it’s all they knew, but Kristie couldn’t help but wonder.

What would it feel like without the cloud of anxiety that seemed to hover over her boys. The anxiety that make daily schedules a must, especially when plans change outside the normal routine, small difficulties a big deal, and outings that often feel more like a production. The anxiety that causes fear of the unfamiliar. The same fear that causes tension between the boys and sometimes leads to physical outbursts. Most importantly, what would life be like without her own anxiety over every decision made in regard to her boys?

Kristie and her husband wanted to be prepared because they knew they could not afford take the trial and error approach to parenting. They knew they would need support and help with the decisions they would have to make for their boys and a foreknowledge of how to deal with the issues that come with Fragile X. They have attended meetings and conferences to help navigate life with their two special boys. She and her husband couldn’t simply ask, “When will Drew start school?,” they asked questions like, “What’s an IEP?” and “Will this school be able to accommodate his special circumstances?”. They couldn’t anticipate developmental milestones, they had to work hard to help the boys reach them. Each day is hard work and she and her husband often feel like they are fighting an uphill battle. They fight everyday to make life fulfilling for their boys while trying desperately to somehow fulfill their own needs. So they do wonder what would life be like if every decision didn’t feel like a thread that could pull the complex tapestry of their lives apart.

Kristie blinked heavily, “It’s six Blake, let’s get a shower.”

At this age both her boys should be taking showers independently but both boys need help as developmental delays and anxiety keep them from doing it without assistance. Soon she would have to wake Drew who is often hard to get out of bed and often difficult to bathe.  After the routine of morning showers, Kristie either feels ready to approach the day or ready to go back to bed. Today was difficult. Both boys needed plenty of help and verbal cues to prepare for the morning. It felt like an entire day was packed into a mere few morning hours. Already tired and exhausted, she began to make a schedule for the day, but today was proving to be too much. She began to cry.

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Drew and Blake saw her crying. Drew nudged her and said, “You’re a sad little Mama,” and stormed off but Blake stood for a moment, looked at her, and began to cry.

She couldn’t help but smile through her tears. She looked at Blake and just like any other mom, she saw her baby and wiped away his tears. But Kristie became especially grateful for this moment. There was no anxiety, schedules, or questions, just a moment where she could cry with her little boy. It was a moment when he was moved by her sadness. This small moment reminded her of a great many things.

What would she be like without Fragile X? Would the small and grace given moments such as these be as special? Would she see the world with the same set of eyes if her life wasn’t entwined with it? Undoubtedly, the disease has laced each day with challenges most families will never face, but it has also allowed life with her boys to teach her many things.

She knows patience is not given but learned. She knows even when she has felt like she has failed, there is always an opportunity to try again.

Grace is invaluable. She knows why it is needed because she knows she has needed it.

Love should be given blindly and love is not defined by another’s capacity to reciprocate that love.

“I love you Blake,” she said as he left the room. Kristie wiped her own tears, reminded of why she makes it through each day.

She has been given a gift and although she can’t help but occasionally wonder “what if”, she knows she is filling a greater purpose. Kristie is the woman God has intended her to be, a woman who serves as an example of His unending love and grace. Kristie sees the world with compassion because she has needed compassion, she has patience because she has to endlessly practice it, and she loves her family as selflessly as God wants to love each of us.

Yes, Kristie has grieved the life she envisioned for her boys, she still prays for easier days, and still desires understanding from those she comes into contact with, but with it, she has an opportunity. She knows there will be days when she will wish the world would love and accept her boys as she has but it won’t, she struggles with the inevitable bullying and dirty looks that frequently come their direction, but you won’t see her deny the blessings she has received through each of her boys. Life for Kristie and her family can be hard but they truly love the life they have been given despite the difficulty. They have been given the rare opportunity to show others that true joy comes from the foundation in which you stand.

Kristie knows that on days where she feels like she has had enough, she can still stand because she chose a solid foundation in her faith. It is faith in a God who provides the most joy in what seems to be the most difficult of situations and shines an example of His love through her life. God often uses the broken to do His best work because oftentimes the broken are already asking for His guidance through prayer. No doubt this is Kristie.

At the end of the day, she can look back and thank God she was blessed with another and thankful for the strength to endure. Soon enough the day will start again and she may be tempted to wonder “what if” but she can be assured she will remember why she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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The Invader

It’s a rainy Monday morning and a very pregnant woman arrives with her husband, bags in hand, at the hospital. Today is the day she will welcome their new child into the world. She can hardly contain her excitement. She also can’t hide her obvious worries. Despite all the birthing and breastfeeding classes, as a first-time mother, she still has lots of questions. No matter how many times she was reassured that her motherly instincts would kick in once the baby arrived, she felt no indication of it. Before all of that, she will finally experience childbirth. From the time she announced her pregnancy, every mom she knew shared every birthing horror story with her. All these thoughts swirled in her head as she was lead back to her birthing suite.

Her heart skipped a little as she looked at the rocking chair where she’d soon be rocking her baby. Her suite had a large tub, big windows and a cheery feeling. Soon her bags were put away, she was changed, and resting in the bed. The staff began checking her vital signs, asking questions, and preparing for the forthcoming arrival. She felt a sense of peace come over her. Over the next few hours, she was encouraged to walk the halls to help speed up labor. She thought this would be the perfect time to visit the nursery where they would be bringing the baby shortly after the birth. As she approached the window she gasped at what she saw, snakes… There were snakes in the nursery slithering inches from newborn infants. “What’s going on here?” she cried.

“It’s okay,” a nursed comforted. “We have had a snake infestation for years and we have never been able to completely eliminate the pests.”

“Why wasn’t I told of this ahead of time?” asked the now crying mother.

“No one ever talks about it so we have learned to ignore the problem. Besides, who wants to hear that in birthing class, right?” she chuckled.

The mother stood stunned in front of the nursery window. The air escaped from her mouth when her husband turned to her and said, “It should be fine, just go back to the room.”

“Yes”, the nurse agreed, “very rarely will one of the snakes actually bite one of the newborns.”

The mother, now completely dismayed, wandered back to her room. She couldn’t understand what was happening. She certainly couldn’t have been the only one to notice the invaders, yet the birthing suites were full and babies were making their way down to the nursery. The new mom now had a choice, remain quiet or speak up. If she spoke, she wondered who would believe her and worried if she would sound crazy. She wondered if this was all in her head and became too scared to speak up so she decided to take her chances with the snakes.

This story itself may sound crazy but something just as vile is invading birth experiences everywhere. No one would allow snakes to roam freely in a nursery but there is a very real problem that does happen every day, it’s Postpartum Depression (PPD). And here is the reality; Postpartum Depression is just as sly as a snake lingering about a nursery. It’s waiting to strike and squeeze the life out of what should be a beautiful moment in a women’s life, the birth of a child. It can strike so quickly that it can even interrupt the bonding experience between a mother and child shortly after birth. Yet, many people are still tight lipped about PPD and some women don’t feel like they can be open about it. These women often feel brushed off, just like the mother in this story, and end up deciding to take unnecessary chances with an invader rather than speak up. This is why the discussion about PPD needs to happen and turning a blind eye to PPD can no longer be acceptable.

I struggled with depression after my first son was born and anxiety with the subsequent three. I was fortunate to have a supportive husband and a knowledgeable family physician that worked with me when the hospital and gynecologist failed. After his birth, I had experienced unexpected complications and by the time I was released from my six day hosptial stay on a mere couple hours sleep, I felt like I was falling apart. I  began to sicken over the reality that I was expected to care for my child alone when I felt no will to take care of myself. I felt worthless as a mother and the overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame were crushing. My husband felt very alone as I was deteriorating before him and he had no idea what he could do to help. I was a shell of myself and I couldn’t make myself better. Thankfully I had a common sense family physician who removed me from the counterproductive medication I was given at the hosptial and a supportive family. They assured me that my feelings were common among many mothers and in time, I would feel like myself again. It took me weeks before I begin to feel better. Getting the proper help and listening to my body was a must. I had to realize that it was okay to open up and ask for help, but it wasn’t easy. Like many mothers, I didn’t want to admit that I needed help because it felt like if I wasn’t able to care for my child, it meant that I didn’t love him. Or, others would judge me and deem me a bad mother.

Over the years I have personally witnessed other women struggle with PPD in various degrees, most more severe than my personal experience. The biggest issue I saw  was the judgement these women faced. Comments like, “Shake it off,” and “You just have to get on with life” invalidated their struggle and made them afraid to reach out. PPD has nothing to do with how strong or weak a woman is anymore than someone dealing with physical pain. If a woman broke her leg on a icy sidewalk, she would be encouraged to seek medical care, so the same woman suffering deep emotional distress cannot be asked to brush off her emotional pain and steer free of a qualified professional.

Pregnancy and childbirth are wonderful and natural. The changes that has to happen to a woman’s body to sustain another life is astounding but it can also come with a price. Women experience very real hormonal and physical changes before, during, and after pregnancy.  It is very important to emphasize this: hormones and the effect they have on a woman are real! With all the recognition of all the amazing things a woman’s body can do, why is there still a stigma around the emotional changes that can happen during any of her body’s natural processes?

Real change about PPD needs to happen long before a women ever gets pregnant. Healthy conversations about how hormones can effect mood and cause depression need to couple the with the discussions explaining the physical processes of womanhood. Young women need to know that jokes and sneers about a woman’s monthly cycle further add to the problem and she should never feel ashamed of it. Young women need to know they are supported and loved even when they are struggling with the real emotional effects of hormone fluctuations. So if the time comes, she can feel like she is able to be honest and speak up about how she feels.

PPD and Depression is real and treatable. Seek help and discuss depression with your daughters (and sons). Don’t feel ashamed to seek help. New moms also need a friend in which they can speak to with honesty without judgement. Please be aware of some signs of PPD:

Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, and emptiness.

Trouble sleeping.

Lack of concentration.

No interest in every day things.

Loss of appetite or weight loss, a sudden weight gain is also possible.

(Source webmd.com)

There is hope but we have to start talking about it. We have to discuss it often and we have to support each other. When we fail to acknowledge the mere existence of PPD and depression, we are all failing.

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The Follow Through

I am bad at following through. When I ask myself why I am this way, the whole “nature vs nurture” debate plays out. As a kid my parents were great about getting me into activities, for one year. Dance class, piano lessons, plans to change the course of my life all occurred in the span of a year.
These days plans to change my outcome or improve myself take a great deal of determination. I never really learned to follow through. I have learned to feed the leering instant gratification monster. I can handle small life changing decisions like banning fruity pebbles (I clean the bowl but they are never really gone), limiting the verses of SpongeBob sung in the van, or how many times I will ignore the growing noise downstairs. The life altering decisions require effort but are usually worth the work.
This month I have decided to start over and make some small positive changes. Probably for the 142nd time. I have come to embrace my flaw. I make plans and often don’t notice how I have once again failed to integrate the difference until I am deep in my familiar loop. So I allow myself to keep starting over. Most people wait to start fresh until the first of the year. What good is a resolution without a year of failure preceding? Others wait for Monday. A new start may as well wait for a new week, right? I just keep trying. I keep trying to make those small improvements once a month, a week or even several times a day if needed. It doesn’t always work.
Failure is necessary. We must fail for growth. We must fail so we can understand ourselves and embrace our flaws. We must also admit our imperfection. Sometimes failure is a hard thing to recognize. I am a mother of four. There is a large supply of people to point out my mistakes. And that’s okay. Keeping on track takes work and it takes support. In the end, fighting to keep a desire for positive change yields the most results.
I will continue to make the simple  choices my kids can’t seem to live with: limiting screen time, finishing homework, or making sure they try everything once. I know I will fail to teach them something but I don’t want them to fail to try again.
As for me, I try to remind myself that I am worth the effort. The monotony of motherhood sometimes leads to a void of self-worth. Beauty is usually hiding behind a shirt used as a tissue, jeans speckled with cheerios and hair arranged in a fashion slightly resembling a pony tail. And the phrase “take time for yourself” is joke-worthy. I am on an uphill journey well worth the experience. My follow through could happen on a Thursday afternoon and that could change my life.