I just want to remind you of something that may have slipped your mind this morning, or this week, or this month since the seasons of life are changing and the colder months can cast a darker, colder shadow at times.
Each morning, you might want to start fresh, and leave the past behind you, right? But please, friend, don’t forget everything you’ve overcome.
Don’t forget the challenges which seemed impossible…when you said “there is no way I can get through this” but you did, and you are. Don’t ever forget.
Don’t forget when you ran out of every last molecule of energy you had left to give, and you had no idea how you would keep going another moment longer…. but instead of giving up, you found something else inside of you that carried you forward. Don’t forget that driving force within you.
Don’t forget when you had experienced all of the torture you thought you could shoulder. Don’t forget when heartbreak, physical pain, and sleepless nights pushed you past your breaking point. You said, “I can’t endure this nightmare for one more moment.”
Remember when you were ready to forget it all?
How are you still here after everything you’ve been through?
Don’t forget how you made it!
Don’t forget that force inside of you that begins when you’ve reached the end of yourself.
As seasons change, as life continues to surprise you, carry yourself as the OVERCOMER you are.
Links to the featured artist: The Last Sparrow (artistic home furnishings on Etsy), Follow Voilet D’Art on Flickr, Twitter
To be thankful while you are suffering is one thing, but to be thankful for suffering….
Once in a while in the support group I administrate, there is someone who makes a statement that is so powerful, it catches me off guard and it sets my soul on fire. In truth, this isn’t a rare occurrence. I guess you could say that those suffering so deeply every single moment of the day have some profound insights to share. One thing that inspires me the most is when people say they are thankful for their illness. That is a bold statement that I believe one would never come to lightly- and no one would EVER openly say something so provocative in a support group setting among a band of individuals with severe chronic diseases, unless they truly meant it. That’s why it always gives me pause whenever I hear such powerful expressions.
It’s not unusual for those who go through a near death experience or a serious short term illness to find deeper meaning and purpose. It’s no less real, but it is more common when the storms have an end, and suffering can be left behind. While it’s not rare for those with ongoing illness to eventually find new ways to appreciate life again, to say they are grateful for their illness, it is so much more rare in cases of chronic disease. Why? Because an illness that is daily, constant, and does not see an end- is far easier to hate than to get excited about. A condition which may be degenerative, becoming more painful and physically or mentally compromising over time, isn’t easily beloved…as you can imagine. To me, it’s almost a miracle hearing that anyone would be happy or thankful that they became so sick. Others with chronic illness can find statements like these offensive, even. These ideas of “illness gratitude” certainly border on the extreme, but make one wonder where their personal journeys have lead them to truly embrace their infirmities.
I’ve heard people claim to be thankful they are in pain and chronically ill because it transformed their lives. It made them see the world in a different light. Their conditions allowed them to shake off the clutter and stress of a life that they realized didn’t have substance, and focus on a life of greater meaning and value. They once believed losing their career meant losing their purpose, but I’ve spoken to those who say that they are so thankful they became ill because now they found their true calling. Some have said that their new life of chronic illness has enabled them to be there for people in ways they never could have in their “healthy” life, so they are forever thankful for their new sick bodies, and how useful they can be to others through deeper compassion and connection. Sometimes people are grateful they are in pain because it has brought them closer to their faith, and they cherish a higher spiritual connection they never could have had without constantly being pushed to the edge of what they can endure. They are forced to cling to God instead of their own strength, and in that comfort, they find gratitude for suffering that brought them more enrichment spiritually.
Again, these are extreme statements, but thought provoking and inspiring nonetheless!
Most often, people I encounter long for a cure or pray to be healed. That’s normal, and that’s not at all unhealthy. Research in psychology equates the loss of health or a limb to losing a family member or spouse passing away. It’s earth-shattering. The losses just keep coming. With chronic illness, the grief starts over again and again. It’s cavernous, and there’s no end to the emotional roller coaster or the physical fight. Hoping for a cure, for healing, or for remission is what we all are desperate for, and that focus can at times become crucial for survival. But for some of us, restoration of health becomes a worship in itself, and begins to supersede everything else. Seeking a cure or healing can become such a focus that illness becomes nothing but a betrayal of God, of government, of doctors, and family. Nothing feels real except wellness and full restoration.
Obviously these are 2 opposite sides of the spectrum, and balance is always the goal.
When I was diagnosed at 22, I spent the first years asking God WHY? Staying up every night in excruciating pain, my leg felt as though it was breaking, nerves like being electrocuted and burning pain like nothing I could have ever imagined before. Full body spasms, tremors, the room spinning, my heart racing and palpitating, wondering how I had planned and worked so hard for everything that had lead me here, just to lose it to this “incurable degenerative” condition that no one seemed to be taking very seriously to help me try recover from. It didn’t make any sense. As much as I tried to analyze it, I couldn’t crack the code. It only made sense for me to get better, so I searched for my panacea, and prayed (demanding) that God must heal me. At the time, I wasn’t a big prayer person, but illness has a way of connecting you to your higher power. In the Bible, yes, there is healing, but there is also so much pain. The importance of learning through pain, finding ways to share strength or comfort inside of infirmities, these are scriptures that have been so encouraging to me.
I eventually felt lead to make a decision. I believed God would heal me, and I still do believe that is true. But, I decided that if I was going to spend any period of time living a “sick life” I was going to explore it. As much as I was desperate to go back in time, moving forward is all I could do, it’s all any of us can do- Even if it’s slowly, frightened, and with tears in our eyes.
I cannot go as far as saying that I am thankful I am chronically ill. I can say that at almost 12 years, I’m so grateful I made that decision to press forward and try to find myself inside of this life. If I had stayed so distracted by my past, or so focused on what I might be losing in the future, I would have missed every bit of the beauty, the miracles, the blessings, the generosity of others, the opportunities to be of use, and purpose found inside of this pain.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. Psalm 94:19
Just over one year ago, I wrote a post which I now believe may have been a premonition. On one of the last days of 2015 I wrote No Fear Campaign, 2015 and I have thought back to that post as well as revisited it so many times throughout this past year.
I was fueled with courage at the beginning of the year, but I had no idea why I would need it. And then the bottom dropped out of my life and I REQUIRED that courage more than ever. I suffered so much loss this year, I made a huge transition, fought a difficult battle, saw several new doctors, visited the hospital, started physical therapy, home care, and have been exposing myself to many new faces, new experiences, and could never have imagined any of this just one year ago. It’s true that this year, I’ve been in constant crisis management. But it’s also true that I’ve been managing my own crisis. That might seem like a given, but illness doesn’t always allow us that luxury.
Last year, the messages to be courageous seemed to jump out everywhere: Have no fear, do not fear, I am with you, be not afraid. If God wants you to hear a message, you will see it constantly whether it is on Facebook or Twitter or television or out of your home or in your Bible- if you feel like there is something that keeps popping up in front of you repeatedly, that message is JUST FOR YOU! Truth finds you. You can try to ignore it, but if God wants a message in front of you, He will repeat it and confirm it. It’s not a coincidence. And I am so thankful I grasped the message to have courage when I did. It truly saved my life this year and courage continues to change how I move forward.
Things are so hard now, SO HARD. But I’m planning to beat fear once again, and go to my sister’s wedding… in 7 days. This is possibly one of the scariest things I have ever attempted. And yes, I am afraid. As it comes closer, all of those I CAN’T thoughts are terrifying at times.
These posters were made around the end of last year. Around the same time that I wrote No Fear Campaign, I wrote a few other, fearless-themed posts. In one piece, I said: “The strength comes for the step you need it, not days or months ahead.” That is what I am counting on for this wedding adventure. And it helps give me peace that God will strengthen me and my body to do what needs to be done when the time comes, for my sister, and for me.
Whatever trials wait for you tomorrow, and paralyze your heart with worry today, I hope you feel comforted remembering you can call on that added strength and courage at the moment you need it. You aren’t walking your path alone.
~Peace be with you~
“Freedom lies in being bold.”
― Robert Frost
I never thought a car wreck that did damage to my elbow
would stop me from walking an entire year later. I never thought you could get a disease from a car wreck.
I never thought I would have to depend on anyone else
to get me through tough times in my life.
I never thought I would face an uncertain future
without the ability to answer the tough questions.
I am by nature a very opinionated, strong minded, determined and focused individual. Having my life turned upside down by an unforeseen event is not in anyone’s plans of course, but, the thought of it was always something I thought I knew exactly how I’d handle as a ‘strong and independent woman’. Little did I know that my ultimate undoing would also be the one thing that allowed me to become more whole as a person.
Looking back on last year’s thoughts on how this disease impacted my life over the first year of learning to deal with it, I was already at a place of seeing the blessings that came with the pain and the horror. I make it a priority to find good in all things or at least as many as possible. I don’t believe things are one way or another in life. I believe that things are the way we interpret them to be. Our perception and reactions to life determine what we take from each instance and whether or not we count it a blessing or a curse or in this case admit it is equal parts of each.
There are still times where I try to convince myself that this is all a bad mistake and that I’m really ok (when I feel good it’s easier to lie to myself) and the pain was just a figment of my imagination trumped up by my brain somehow. I still have those moments or days of denial where I really do want to refuse to believe that I will have to deal with this for the rest of my life. There are also days where I think I have it under control and manageable and that I can handle it. I fool myself into thinking that I am the one in control, not the disease.
I am learning that there is more to it than drawing hard lines, coming up with definitive answers or even being able to list symptoms. Everything is so fluid and ever changing with CRPS. Life equilibrium. Balance has never been so important and never meant so much to me as it does now. I’m learning to live in a state of seeking my own level the same way that water does. When my pain levels are up, my activity levels go down and vice versa. When I am frustrated with my limitations, I find ways to realize the gains that they have brought me in my emotional life. My physical life has forced my emotional life to do some very large sacrificing….and what I thought was me becoming weaker is turning out to be me learning to become stronger.
You see….. when life begins to strip you down to your core and bend and stretch you to your breaking point, you have to adjust and adapt and learn new methods. There is more to it than that though. You can get caught in the label, in the diagnosis, in the symptoms, in the daily rigor of the battle and forget that you have a life to live beyond the disease. You can forget to choose to take in the beauty around you, to find new strengths, new outlets, new hobbies, new friends, new resources, new paths to use your talents on. It is so easy to get stuck in the mud of the issues that come with CRPS/RSD….but we who have this disease have to learn to rise above and be water and flow and seek our own level. We have to learn to live differently. Life may never look the same, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be beautiful, or full of adventures. It just means we have to change our definitions and more than that we have to push ourselves to make new expectations, focus our perceptions and define our interpretations in a way that helps us grow and find positive experiences in the struggles that we face. If we don’t adapt we become stuck in that mud and the weight makes us feel like there is too much work involved in moving forward we become depressed and despondent because our expectations are still tied to our old life and our old abilities. I’m learning now to flow, to adapt, to change my focus away from what life was, what I used to think, expect, want, etc so that I can still have dreams, still have goals, still accomplish things. Now I do so as part of a team, with the help of friends, family and loved ones. The disease brings its own challenges, but if we accept our lives are not determined by external circumstances, but rather by our mental approach, we can and we will triumph despite the challenges, no matter what they are. Rise to the top, find balance, seek your own level and don’t stay stuck in the mud. Make the choice to look for a new perspective.
I never look forward to the pains I know the next year might bring, but I do actually anticipate with high hopes the new horizons and the new vantage points that come on the other side of the valleys. I plan to enjoy my journey no matter what, for as long as possible!!!
I am so honored to have Rikki as a guest writer for us 2 years running! I have revisited her post from last year “Broken Things can be Fixed” several times throughout this past year and it still chokes me up. She has so much wisdom, insight and vigor, it is easy to forget she is in her second year of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Thank you to Rikki for lending us your voice today and allowing us to share your end-of-year reflections on your ever-inspiring journey. Rikki has many hobbies including traveling with her family, uplifting others around her, and she has a passion for Celtic Mythology. Check out her fascinating Facebook page: Celtic Lore and Mythology.
To see more RSD/CRPS articles, artwork, and poetry, visit the Categories menu for “RSD/CRPS” or click here.
My sister asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday last year. I told her that if I had been well enough, I would’ve wanted to invite friends over to make sandwiches to bring to hungry area children. I used to do this type of thing in high school sometimes, and last year fantasized that it might make for a unique summer birthday gathering that my friends would like to participate in (being my awesome friends). I was really only thinking out loud, and then asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday (since our birthdays fall inside the same week).
When my birthday came around, I went to stay at my parent’s for the week. On the day of my birthday, my family gave me a small photo album filled with pictures of smiling children. “How cute…What is this?” I asked, curious what my family was up to. My parents and sister had arranged to spend the day volunteering for a back to school program called Give a Kid a Chance which prepares underprivileged children for the coming school year. My family donated goods, packed backpacks and checked little heads for lice. They spent their entire Saturday volunteering for this wonderful program in honor of my birthday!!!! I was crying, they were crying, we were all emotional as they shared the details of the day. It is absolutely one of the most heartfelt and most humbling gifts I had ever received, (which others received) and I know I will never forget their beautiful selfless gesture.
When my mom explained why they did it, she said, “Volunteer work has always been such a big part of who you are. After you couldn’t help in the community any more, you turned your attention to caring for people online. Your sister told us what you would have wanted to do for your birthday, so we did this because you would have been doing this if you could have.”
I didn’t realize how much I needed a wake up call until that moment. I felt like a doorbell was being rung to the door of my soul that a warrior part of me had to close in order to stay alive. To fight the illness, I had to know my enemy, and get in the trenches with him. But the price was that a piece of me had to be shrouded away, protected in that way, while I fought through the very worst of it. My family didn’t know how much I desperately NEEDED this reminder of my core, of who I am.
No one had spoken of my former self out loud in what felt like years. Their gracious act and words were like an unlocking spell. Something awakened inside of me on that birthday that started a transformation- which is still in progress. I am so thankful and fortunate for them, for having the ability to see the good in who I am now, and for never forgetting the person I have always been.
I woke up the following morning with this poem trickling from my brain:
In the time and space between
dark rooms and restless painful nights,
you might have time to count
too many stains on the paint.
The time between forgotton breaths
may have left you wondering
who you used to be.
Did the air sneak your old life out?
Under the door?
Through the cracks in the floor?
Like Russian dolls,
the top one falls:
And mama sweeps it away.
Those who recall that ghost,
tip toe beside the host of the demon.
They bring pieces of the past,
until at last you remember.
The apparition waits outside.
Now, you can smell her perfume.
There are times during the fight that we must lay down our old lives and find a way to nurture today, without looking back or too far ahead. But I’ve also learned that reminders of your past can boost your spirit in the midst of a struggle. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you have someone in your life who sees the strength in you and reminds you of it.
Blooming Beauty is by one of my favorite artists: Peggy Wolf. Check out her gallery on Etsy, you’ll love her as much as I do.
Over the last 10 years of chronic illness, people have told me that I will be healed if my faith is strong enough, that I am being prepared for something greater in my future, that all of this pain, loss, and disability will be given a special meaning some day. But, I believe that our lives are meaningful even in the midst of the darkest struggles. We don’t have to wait until life becomes perfect to attain purpose and perspective.
In the first couple years after I was diagnosed, college friends told me praying harder would heal me, one suggested the sins of my parents or grandparents may be expressed through my illness, family members sent me books about focusing on God’s healing promises, and I was prayed over for healing at church more times than I can count.
I was so angry and frustrated at everyone! God wasn’t healing me, I was getting worse! Why didn’t they understand? But no one did… I felt all alone to face this new monster eating away at my body and taking down my dreams and abilities one by one. I had such a strong confidence in my purpose, in my “calling,” and I didn’t know why those passions would be given to me, if only to be ripped away.
I do believe God has the power to heal my body. I also believe that healing can come in other forms as well. I used to pray and pray for my body to be healed, for the horrible pain to go away, and for my life to go back to the way it was. Of course I did. Of course I want my pain to go away and for life to be easier. Everyone in pain wants that! As life became a one-day-at-a-time struggle for survival, talking to God changed also. My heart desired to be of service to others (on support groups, online, in my relationships, etc.). Over time, I realized those prayers overtook the ones begging for physical healing. I believe there are different kinds of healing beyond physical wholeness that I hadn’t thought about before chronic illness, or during my first years living with it.
In each of the instances with my friends and family, they were showing up in the only way they knew how to offer hope and support. I’ve since learned that the people who show up are the ones to hold onto- sometimes they take some time and guidance to figure it out though.
During the storms in life, it is so common to be told that when the storm lifts, we will use what we’ve learned to help someone else, or we will have a greater sense of clarity. Well, when the rain doesn’t let up, when your body is constantly beating you up, if you are terminally ill, there is no waiting for healing to make use of your life today. Loss of health forces us each to look at our mortality and time in a new way. The desire to make a difference in the world doesn’t stop just because one’s legs, nervous system, or liver is failing. For so many remarkable individuals I have met over the years, illness can even inspire a new-found purpose, passion for growing in new ways, and redefining success based on what they hold most precious vs. what society has told them is of importance.
If you feel as though your purpose has been lost, and you don’t know why your life has taken this sudden detour, please know that you are not alone, and you are still on a path that is your own. You have not been forgotten. Your life still has meaning, even now- even in the mess you feel you are going through. You don’t have to wait for the perfect body and perfect life to be useful. If I had waited for that kind of moment, I think I would be waiting for eternity! Even in the middle of your struggle, your story matters. What you are going through matters.
My good friend at one of my favorite blogs, Findingoutfibro wrote this amazing post below!
Finding the good in your struggle and using it positively is definitely something to be celebrated; however, when others forget the good you choose to share is born from the daily struggle you STILL live in…that is where the problem lies. Please continue reading:
The danger of being viewed through the lense of the “inspiring cripple” archetype is that it was created by ableists as a tool used to invalidate those who are struggling. It means that people expect things from you that you weren’t even capable of before disability, muchless after. It’s such an unhealthy way of approaching people who are ill, as if we are not trying hard enough unless we can plaster a fake smile on our face and say we’re doing well, when actually we are struggling in ways that only a small percentage of the population can understand. The notion of the inspiring cripple does not leave room for the uncensored reality of the chronic illness spectrum.
If you are able-bodied and do not experience mental illness, I am not your inspiration. If something I say or write is helpful to another spoonie, then that is why I am here and it makes me happy…
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Sometimes those of us who have had very serious struggles can have some hang ups when it’s time to show compassion to our friends. Not all of us, and not always, but there are those times when our friends or family are facing difficulties and we end up doing or saying the very things we complain about people doing/saying to us when we are in need of support.
Why don’t we know better? Spoonies may even be the worst at this. Has anyone ever said, “I shouldn’t be complaining to you about my little ______.” I have come to believe that this is a problem. If anyone should be hearing out someone’s difficult day of not feeling well or emotionally struggling, don’t you think it should be someone who can empathize with feeling crummy? Yes, even if it’s a cold!
We who have gone through our daily battles, we who have lived in survival mode on and off for so long, and then when a loved one falls into his/her own valley: shouldn’t we be the best people for the job of lending an ear? But in stead, we listen to that little voice that says, “Are they kidding me with this?” Or, we try to give them our sage advice to protect them from what is coming. We may know some of what they are facing, but we aren’t them. They have a unique struggle, isolated from ours. Their pain, however similar or maybe seemingly less than ours, is relative to their own experiences in life. A struggle or illness that is tearing someone’s world apart, however lower on the pain scale we believe it is- still is shattering his/her life into pieces in ways we may never understand, and in ways we may never face. (see Proportional Pain and My Guilty Genes)
After surviving so many challenges, we often view others’ battles through the lenses of our own lives. Sometimes we go further than relating and into the realm of “been there lived that, bought a T-shirt.” Remember how, “I COMPLETELY understand” feels when someone says it to you on a bad day? It can feel even more isolating.
But we often do understand so many challenges because we have walked such a painful road of our own. We want to make sure our friends know they are not alone. We can be close by emotionally, available, and most of all: COMPASSIONATE. We don’t need to remind them how much pain we also have felt, or how many times we have been in their shoes. We don’t need to compare horror stories or solve their problems every time they have an issue we believe we can solve. Compassion is the language that tells your loved one that they are not walking their harsh road alone.
I have to confess that this was written in response to a few of my own very dear loved ones recently facing some challenges. I fear I am guilty of failing them in all of the above ways in attempts to “help” when I should be the one person who knows how to handle their pain and grief, shouldn’t I? However, they have been teaching, growing experiences that I am thankful for. In the beginning years of my illness, I used to get secretly annoyed with people for even talking about their allergies in my presence. But now, I want to be the person people come to for comfort. I pray I can continue learning to be a humble, caring, compassionate friend for those I love so much.
“If pain doesn’t lead to humility, you have wasted your suffering.”
-Katerina S. Klemer
Thank you to Elle Moss Conceptual Fine Art Photography
Please go purchase one of her lovely original prints for your home or gifts. She has so many whimsical, seasonal and Autumn images to choose from.
This blogger has only been up for one week, yet she keeps encouraging me. I know you will be blessed by her message this morning.
You never know what someone is going through until you walk miles (barefoot) or in their shoes with no soles. Everyone attempts to travel alone before needing the company of someone else. The world is composed of too many bullies (intentional or unintentional). Before you form your lips to speak, allow your thoughts to process. The tongue is the most powerful weapon we as humans possess. It’s like a samurai sword piercing through your body and tipping the core of your heart (right before the “lub dub”).
We were all planted on this earth to bloom without fear of someone cutting off our supply of water, oxygen, and essential nutrients and fly without fear of someone clipping our wings. Humans tend to be the most disengaged and insensible beings on earth. We often attack others (with words) like a predator decoying its prey. Words can hurt and in many instances…
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I recently watched Dark Girls, a documentary on African American culture. The focus was on prejudices based on skin tones within the black community and how this leads some women to devalue their skin and hair. Each women told a personal story of how she was disgraced by the shade of her complexion. Of course I am aware of this cultural phenomenon. However, hearing women of all ages share their intimate stories puts it in a perspective that would make any woman emotional on behalf of these challenges.
When I was a child, I was so envious of dark skin. First, you should know, growing up, we were the only white family on our block. I would swim with the neighbor children and watch the sun bounce light off their dark chocolate skin. On the playground, so many of the girls wore the plastic marble ball bands to hold their braids- which seemed to stand up, defying gravity. My little sister and I were so jealous of those hair bands! (Along with gravity-defying hair, of course). Hair that could twist and mold one moment and appear soft to the touch the next.
We got our wish for those marble ball bands once, but our braids fell limp. I suppose I thought the magic came with the bands. But that experience made me realize the girls on the playground just had magic hair that I would never acquire.
Everyone in our neighborhood had a special unique skin tone all their own.
Back at my crayon box there weren’t enough crayons to express all of my neighborhood playmates. Only one color to express my family though: Peach. When I asked what color we were, my mother said we are “white.” Confused, I responded, “No, we are peach,” and I ran to get the correct crayon to prove it.
Our Barbies we had collected up until that point were all the same color: Peach. The only variation was hair color. At this point, I asked for more colorful Barbies. That Christmas I got a Hawaiian Barbie. She had coffee skin, almond eyes, and long black hair. She was my favorite Barbie. My mother remembers this story and says at that time Hawaiian Barbie was the only non-Caucasian-looking Barbie she could find.
I’m really not trying to open up a can of worms with this entry. However, what struck my heart the most in the documentary was the little girl of around 3 or 4 who was asked to identify the ugliest and dumbest child. Each time, the African American girl pointed to the darkest of all of the images. And the prettiest, smartest child she believed was the lightest image. That experiment is a heart-crusher. If not, go get your vitals checked.
Below is CNN’s version of a similar experiment.
Without knowing the history and socioeconomic influences, she envies the light skin girl with the light hair and light eyes. And without knowing the history and socioeconomic influences, I envied the girls in my neighborhood with the chocolate brown skin and the magically soft hair.
Why do we always want what we don’t have? Why can’t we appreciate the beauty of others without depreciating our own beauty? Why do we grow up and cast judgement on others for being slightly different from us? I suppose this is the human condition. But just because it’s how we lean doesn’t mean we can’t learn to stand up straight, you know?
Please tell someone they are beautiful today. You truly are.
“You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”
Song of Solomon 4:7