As I was cleaning up toys (again!) in order to make space for my yoga mat I got to thinking about how Nathan creates worlds with his blocks and train tracks and farm animals. Every day he gets down on the floor with the basic items and after a few minutes there are new pieces of colorful architecture, a pastoral railroad, or a fairground with 4-H animals.

Every night the buildings come down, the tracks go back in the box and the animals go back to their plastic barn. And Nathan doesn’t care. He can build again tomorrow. He trusts, without even knowing, that his imagination will be there and he can create something using it and whatever he finds.

How wonderful is the wisdom of a young one who hasn’t yet learned to fear the finite. In my “wisdom” I know that I may not finish what I envision so I talk myself out of ever starting. In doing so I miss the opportunity to practice, to learn, and to play.

I spent the entire month of September off Facebook. It was lovely.

For months, years maybe, I’ve considered pulling the plug on it entirely. My feelings about Facebook are up, down, and all around and frequently negative. But it’s addictive! And sometimes it’s fantastic. There are parts that it is difficult to live without nowadays. But it can be destructive, a massive time-waster, and I often left it with a vague anxious feeling.

This summer was one of the most difficult seasons of my life and I could see how facebook was exacerbating my anxiety and loneliness. The format enables connections that would otherwise be impossible, but it keeps friends from real life at arms length. It gives everyone an equal footing to learn about your life and give an opinion, even if said opinion is ignorant, hurtful, or trite.

When I felt a tug in late summer that maybe I should take some time away from it I decided to announce it so I’d have accountability and then move the app to the back screen of my iPhone so I couldn’t see it regularly.

Hours into September 1st I noticed I had 13 notifications and growing. I got a daily email letting me know I was missing out on this and that. My fingers got a little twitchy and more than once I typed in the URL automatically when I sat down at the computer. It got easier each day. I started to notice that I was using my time more efficiently without the constant over/under-connection.

The loveliest thing, and something I don’t want to forget, is how peaceful I felt.

No longer did I feel the tug of notifications popping up, the urge to check for comments, the need to pithily and wittily sum up the moment for a status update, preferably with a well-composed picture of my kids.

I didn’t have to deal with the unsolicited advice (grrr!), misunderstandings, unwanted news updates, pushy partisan political posts, and the annoyance of scrolling through updates letting me know the all important news that my friend liked an image of puppies in sunglasses.

To my shame I found myself thinking narcissistic things like, “I wonder if I should post just one picture of the boys. I bet people are missing them.” After 2 weeks? Seriously, Anna. Get over yourself.

But I missed some things too, or really one main thing – my friends. There are several people who I stay in contact with solely through facebook and I was sorry to miss a whole month of their life.

Within minutes of logging back in on October 1st I was able to pin-point a major reason why it leaves me anxious – it’s too much to read. I am a voracious reader, a hoarder of information, and the never-ending newsfeed is basically purgatory for people like me.

And the inflammatory political posts and alarmist news stories? I still hate them. Just say no, people.

Also, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool reference librarian. When people ask questions, I always want to answer. This sucks so much of my time.

After my break, I feel like I have a better perspective on facebook as a tool and how I can use it well and what I no longer want to do with it.

I don’t want to use it as a passive aggressive tool for letting people know what I really think.

I don’t want to use it to lazily faux-connect, when what I need is to heart-connect with a flesh and blood friend.

I don’t want to use it to passively learn about friends when I should be contacting them directly.

I don’t want to let the minor relationships in my life take more of my time than the important ones.

On the other hand…

I do want to use it to post pictures of my kids for friends and family who don’t see them regularly.

I do want to use it to connect with people who live far away.

I do want to use it as my “support group” for adoptive and special needs issues not well-supported by my real life friends.

I do want to use it to post pithy and witty thoughts about my daily life, because it amuses me.

I do want to use it to share the parts of life that can be shared there and to remember that there is much about life that cannot be shared in that venue, and that’s OK.

I’m working to ignore the pushy political junk, the silly cat memes, the unsolicited advice. I’m working to see the people behind the posts, but to see the people I know in real life even more. I’m working to keep it all in perspective.

And I try to remember to log the heck out and not keep the tab open all the time.

Sunday was a doozy. After waking up at 1:50am with a cranky baby, I went on to soothe children, help pack up the car and then ride in the backseat with Elijah for 15 hours.

Fifteen. Hours.

And he napped about 45 minutes total. And cried for about 2 hours.

In the scheme of road trip parenting it wasn’t bad, but by the end of that trip, I was done. Elijah was done. Jason was done. And Nathan, who rode with my parents, was done. Fully cooked, well done, verging on burned.

It was after dark, way past bedtime, by the time we rolled into Dallas ahead of major thunderstorms and we needed to get everyone settled and in bed for a few hours sleep before regular life started up full speed Monday morning.

To say I was stressed would be, well, an understatement.

As I got the crying Elijah out and carried him in to our home, he calmed down, looking around with his red-rimmed, wet eyes. He has an uncanny ability to let a single tear sit picturesquely on his cheek as if reminding all who see him that he was recently very unhappy, and reserves the right to be so again with no notice.

We entered through the door and I set my bags down. His eyes darted around with interest and he started to smile his little half-smile. Then, I’ll never forget, he took a deep breath, and let out a deep sigh of contentedness. Everything about his body relaxed. He was home.

A few minutes later, my parents dropped Nathan off. We’d been about 30 minutes apart on the road all day and we hadn’t seen him since we’d said good night in the starry pre-dawn on the mountain. The first thing he did was run over to where Elijah and I were sitting, grab Elijah’s head in both his hands and give him a huge smooch on the cheek. He was home.

Those two moments combined to fill up my Mama heart and bless me more than anyone can understand, but I’ll try to explain.

We live in a small space. 1000 square feet including the patio we don’t use. While many living near us have much less, there are also a lot of people that live around us with much more. A whole lot more. Our neighborhood is strangely situated on the border of a large subsidized housing area and literal mansions. There is a Maserati dealership around one corner, a Porsche dealership around another and can’t-afford-a-car poverty around yet another.

We’ve made intentional choices to live small, and even when we are able to buy a home we plan to live small. It suits us and our values. But it is still hard sometimes to live the way we do while mixing with people who have so much more. And so much less. I can’t not notice, but I don’t want to be so self-conscious.

I worry about not providing my boys with the everything and beyond of the many kids they will play with, but I worry about providing so much they cannot relate to the majority of the people in the world.

I work hard to make our home a life-giving space filled with books, art, music, creativity, yummy smells, soft beds, and nutritious yet delicious food. But, in 1000 square feet and on a limited budget I cannot hide all the nuts and bolts of life that end up on display, like dirty laundry, receipts, and toys.

I worry about not providing them with all the comforts of the many kids they will play with, but I worry about providing so much they do not understand how the majority of the world lives.

To combat this, I spend a lot of time in the spiritual practice of actively focusing on what my priorities are. It boils down to two things. I want my boys to grow up feeling safe so they feel free to dare everything for God’s call on their life. And I want my boys to grow up knowing intimate authentic love so they can lavishly love their God and the people in their life.

The rest truly is extra. Even the really really good stuff – the stuff I value and believe in and want for them – it’s gravy.

So that’s why, at the end of a tender exhausted day, when we’re all just showing our truest heart of hearts, to see evidence of my boys felt safety in their home and love for one another? That was a gift without price.

And I will ponder these things in my heart for a long time.

Today is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day. I’ve felt extra bruised all day ever since my Instagram feed reminded me first thing this morning.

We’ve lost many pregnancies. Two or three a year almost every year of our marriage. Except 2012. I guess I was too stressed out and sick that year to get pregnant. Some I remember vividly, some I’ve forgotten.

I feel like a bad mom for not remembering all of these precious ones, but forgetting was the way I kept living. And my God is big enough to fill in where I am not enough and he knows every one and can carry that knowledge for me.

The first was January 2007. We’d been married just a few months. I was devastated. Then another in March. Another in June.

I stopped talking about it to anyone besides Jason because I was so hurt by people’s reactions. I heard loud and clear that others did not want to bear this sorrow with us, and that they thought there was a strong possibility it was all in my head. Someone close to me actually told me they’d be happy for me when I was actually pregnant, but they wouldn’t hope with me that one of these pregnancies would stick. I’ve heard just about every insensitive thing someone could say to a woman experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss.

At times I thought I was crazy and making it up because surely it wouldn’t happen this many times. For a long time I blamed myself, then when doctors clarified that it wasn’t my fault and helped me understand why it happens again and again I found knowledge doesn’t make it any easier.

The official statistics say 25% of pregnancies end in loss, but if you add in all the pregnancies that never make it to even a positive test, the number goes up significantly. I’ve read that it’s more in the neighborhood of 80%. Can you believe that?! I’m one of the lucky women who have strong, early pregnancy symptoms so I’ve had early warning each time. There’s always the fear, the hope, the days of no bleeding, take a test or not. Wait. One week late, maybe closer to two. Then the pain and the bleeding begin. Again.

I knew I was pregnant with Elijah almost three weeks before I tested positive for pregnancy. It was all the same symptoms I’d had each time. My last miscarriage was in January 2013 and I assumed it was about time for another one. But, he hung on, my precious strong boy. I’d given up on tests, but I decided to get one because, well, I guess I hadn’t run out of hope yet.

I’ve written before about my journey to accept this path and I think it’s obvious to anyone who knows me that I’ve found happiness and joy abundant. I love my boys and this journey is what brought them to me. But the memories feel like bruises and I will bear those always. And I will remember.

There are so many Twitterature link-ups I’ve intended to join over the past months. Alas, pregnancy and the early postpartum months managed to get in the way of my best intentions. Finally I’ve remembered it in time to hammer out a post. This isn’t exhaustive, but I thought I’d cover some of the highlights of my recent reading.

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The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

I stumbled upon this on a serendipitous library trip at a different branch and snatched it up (Sidenote: one of our frugal ways is to skip the bookstore and go to the library branch in the nicest part of town, the one by where the Bushes live. It’s maintained well and we can bring home as many books as we want and when we’re done just drop them off at our local branch.) This book fulfilled two of my goals – reading more international, non-British literature and reading more Korean literature specifically (my oldest son is Korean). It’s a short story with delightful pictures, but it’s not children’s literature by any means. It’s melancholy and so dear. It made me cry. And I felt like my heart would burst with sympathy for this poor hen’s motherheart. I shamelessly personify everything so finding myself breathlessly interested in the life of this hen was normal for me.

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Dad is Fat

Oh how I laughed while I read this book. And I made my poor husband listen to whole passages. He kept asking why I was cackling away and I finally just shortened my explanations to “this book.” Jim Gaffigan is my favorite comedian and this book did not disappoint. If you like his stand-up, you will like the book.

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Delancey

It’s almost criminal for a gluten-free/dairy-free girl to have to read this book. I wanted to devour all the pizzas while reading it. If I wasn’t nursing a dairy-free baby I probably would have hightailed it to the nicest pizza joint in town to devour me some, consequences be damned. I enjoyed the voyeuristic look into opening their restaurant, although the recipe selection was odd. I think I liked A Homemade Life better, but I haven’t slept enough recently to discern why exactly.

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Counting One’s Blessings

This has been my bathtub read for several months. While looking for solutions to my postpartum anxiety I learned that magnesium helps a lot so I regularly draw up a bath of hot water with epsom salts and lavender and grab this tome (600+ pages) and settle in for an hour or so. The first part is more interesting than the last part. The editor’s explanation is that she stopped writing about personal details due to the risk of stolen letters being published. However, what is interesting is very interesting, at least to this historian and lover of women’s biographies! I especially liked to contrast her letters about important events to the various people in her life. The tone and word choices were strikingly different sometimes.

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What Alice Forgot

As others have said, this book reads fast, but sticks with you. We’re approaching our 8th anniversary next month and are fully in the trench crossroads of marriage and parenting littles. It’s hard and it’s good and this book was the perfect accompaniment to this season of life.

For a full list of what I’ve read lately you can check out my Book List page where I’m documenting every book I read since beginning my book challenge in 2009. You can also friend me on Goodreads.

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I threw my back out.

One minute I was attempting to clean up the bedroom while wearing Elijah and the next I was gasping for breath through the pain, stumbling to the living room so I could sit down and call for help.

There really is no better way for my body to say, “Fine. If you won’t take a proper break, we’ll make sure you rest!”

I spent about 4 hours on my back on the floor of the living room and still the muscles wouldn’t relax so I crawled to the bathroom and sunk down in hot hot water. I stayed well past prune-stage and let nature’s pain reliever give me a break.

I wish the first full night I’ve slept alone in my room for years was more relaxing, but I can’t deny that I got more sleep than I have in months. Elijah slept better too in his little crib next to Jason on the couch. Maybe we need to end our co-sleeping relationship. There’s no denying that it contributed to my back problems.

When my back went out I was angrily cleaning while reluctantly carrying him in the Moby, ranting in my head about what an attachment parenting failure I am. My back was already hurting from yet another bad night’s sleep bedsharing with him and having to wear him to keep him somewhat happy was not what I wanted for either my mind or my body.

I know that attachment parenting is not really about cosleeping and babywearing, but it’s easy to let those tools feel like the entire thing. And neither comes as easily to me as I would like. The idea of snuggling next to your baby sounds dreamy, and it is in small doses. But the wonder wears off when you have to stay in one position until your back is aching and you can’t turn over and it keeps you awake so you’re exhausted the next day. The concept of wearing a baby on your body so your hands are free sounds great until you put the baby in the carrier and simultaneously feel a fog overtake your brain making the fact that your hands are free completely beside the point because you can’t remember any of the things you wanted to do anyways. And then the child starts to cry.

Attachment parenting is so much more than this. It’s an approach to parenting that covers every aspect of the parent-child relationship and does not require cosleeping and parenting. I’m victorious in my attachment goals every time I choose relationship over behavior, every time I snuggle in close so I can understand instead of putting a comfortable distance between us, every time I tune in to the emotional undercurrents in my boys and choose to be educated by them instead of the reverse. I can’t help but parent by attachment. I would do it even if it didn’t have a name.

The primary personal battle I fought after Nathan came home was maintaining my core mother identity in the face of other’s criticisms. My primary mothering battle this time is being content with the mother I am in the face of my own criticism. I struggle to let my ideals guide me, but not become gods.

There is no way to worship the god of being the ideal mother when you are crying in agony on the floor of the living room unable to pick up your children.

So I’m thankful for the gift of this pain. I’ll soak up some rest, quiet, and alone time. And I’ll take note of all the ways I’m able to love my boys and maintain attachment even from my bed. I’m grateful for them and the gift of these relationships.

And I hope I’m back on my feet soon.

 

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I recently read this little book called The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. It’s about a chicken named Sprout and in the first few pages you learn that she named herself. When I read that she’d given herself her name I had to pause and think about it.

It is so rare in our culture to find people who are comfortable with naming themselves. I don’t mean literally naming themselves, of course. But figuratively, people have a hard time saying, “I am _______” without having some sort of outside justification or verification or authentication.

If someone says they are a teacher, we assume they have an education degree. When someone says they are an artist, we expect they have training in art. When someone says they are a mother, we expect they have a child that makes them so.

This outside naming serves a purpose for us as a community of people. Nobody wants to go to a doctor who is not licensed by a medical board. Nobody wants a lawyer who hasn’t passed the bar exam. Although if we stop and think we have to acknowledge that there are people with the skills to heal who did not go to medical school. And it’s possible to get good legal advice from non-lawyers.

Expecting outside verification of our inner selves has its downsides. It can limit us from owning the truth about ourselves and even from discovering who we really are.

I tell people that I am a writer. Now I do have some training, an English minor, and a couple degrees that sort of rely on me being a decent writer, but I did not go to school for writing. People have said I’m a good writer, and that’s nice. But the reason I self-identify as a writer is because I know that in my heart of hearts that is who God made me to be. I love to write. I need to write. I’m a writer. I don’t need a degree, an exam, or really anyone else to agree with me.

I wish that more people owned their right to self-examine and then self-proclaim who they are. How many more artists, writers, healers, and pastors would we have if we didn’t have such hang ups about needing proof? How many more people would be excelling at their work because they are doing something they know they are good at that they chose for themselves? How amazing would it be to raise up children who feel free to decide what they like and pursue it instead of feeling compelled to take the outlined classes so they can get a piece of paper that allows them to be something that will hopefully help them earn a living. Ugh. Doesn’t it sound terrible when you think of it that way? I’ve been a historian since I was in 4th grade. I didn’t need a History degree to make me one.

Think about it, who are you? What are you? What are your strengths? What are you naturally good at? How could naming yourself help free you?

I’ve read several stories lately detailing people’s frustrations with the way others live that is irksome. This isn’t surprising because people are annoying. Everybody on the planet is annoying. I’m annoying and you’re annoying. Isn’t it grand?

Whenever I read these stories, usually from women seeking affirmation of their point of view, or maybe some advice about how to handle the relationship, I think about responding but rarely do. Mainly the reason I don’t respond is that I try to avoid giving advice whenever possible. I will talk about what I do and I will talk about my experience, but I tend to assume that advice will be unwanted in the end.

Even this is not so much advice, but a sharing of my perspective that will hopefully enlighten someone to another way of seeing their world.

I find in my relationships that more and more my philosophy is to choose the path of least resentment.

What does that mean?

It means that I choose to behave in the way that will lead to harmony and not resentment within myself regardless of anyone else’s opinions or behaviors. What this looks likewill vary from situation to situation and person to person.

Almost always it means acting proactively instead of reactively. I make sure my choices are the best for me and my family and don’t purposely react to others either by doing something or not doing something.

Occasionally it means choosing to not do something if it’s obvious that the other person doesn’t value the action and I don’t think it’s important to do it regardless of their opinion. A good example would be not giving someone a gift if they do not reciprocate or seem to find gift giving to be important.

Other times it means doing something, even if those around find no value in the action, just because I do value it. I will make healthy, delicious food for a party because I want to even if the other guests would be OK with junk food. And, here’s the kicker, I will actively choose to not be annoyed that they don’t care.

Choosing the path of least resentment leads me to harmony with the world, which I need, without actually being in harmony with everyone around me. This is a win-win since I have no control over anybody. I barely have control over myself!

So what do you think? How do you manage to stay at peace in a world filled with conflict? Are there ways you can be at peace within yourself without others agreeing with you or behaving the way you would prefer?

I waited and watched, aware all to well of where depression can take you as you navigate the journey of mothering a new child. Would I lose interest in cooking? Would I lose interest in reading? Would I just sit and stare, paralyzed, just sure I was doing it all wrong? Would I fall down into that dark place again where it felt like there was no hope and nothing beautiful. No. I watched and waited and it didn’t come. 

I kept reading. I kept cooking. I kept tuning into the news of the world with interest and understanding. I kept moving and doing and the depression never came. In fact I’m happier than I’ve been in months. In some moments incandescently happy. Glowing in the smiles and smells of my baby. 

Except sometimes I can see something crushing the baby’s head. Sometimes I worry that something might impale his soft spot. What if he suffocates in the night? What if I leave the house and there’s a fire that kills them when I’m gone? What if they go somewhere without me and are crushed in a car wreck? What if I get cancer? What if he gets cancer? What if what I’m eating is hurting him? What if this is toxic and it gets in his skin and hurts him and I don’t know until it’s too late? I pray every night that he won’t die and I turn over and check compulsively to see that he’s breathing. Again and again and again. Constant.

But still, no paralysis. Surely these thoughts aren’t true Postpartum Anxiety because I’m still going. I’m reading. I’m cooking. I’m interested in the world. There is no depression. I’m happy, even. And once I can get more sleep I’ll be OK. And once I settle into a routine of working and being a mom things will be fine.

Except sometimes I’m angry. Viscerally vibrating with anger so strong I feel I might break something. Angry that people aren’t helping me, angry that he’s doing it wrong, again. Angry at being so alone. Angry that I asked for help and they said no. I wasn’t meant to do this alone, don’t they see that?

But still anger isn’t paralysis. I must be OK. I’m cooking, reading, interested in the world. I will be OK. 

Until the move. I’d pushed off preparing until the last moment, telling myself that it was because Nathan and I couldn’t function with our home in upheaval, which is true. I put off the inevitable for as long as possible. 

Until people show up unexpected to pack our house. And I was too sick to help. The baby, sick as well, needs to nurse and be held and I have sit there and let people dig amongst my things, boxing them at will and seeing beneath the public surface of my home to my sacred space, dismantling it before my eyes. I have to leave my home for others to pack and live homeless with my boys while my things are in boxes. And it’s not about the things, but they are the catalyst. Losing my nest launches me out into a place I do not recognize. And suddenly it’s not OK. I realize after its begun that I’m paralyzed. It feels like a fog that gets thicker and darker. I can’t see more than what’s in front of me. And then I can’t see anything. Panic. I need to do something and I can’t figure out what to do.

I shake my head back and forth, hands rubbing my face, tearing at my hair. He tries to talk to me so I put my hands over my ears and rock back and forth, shaking my head, listening to the white noise of hands rubbed against ears. Rock. Rock. Rock. Don’t think. Can’t think. Need to think. 

And it happens again on the kitchen floor. And it happens again on the closet floor. And it happens again sitting in bed, this time holding the baby like a lifeline, grounding me to reality, needing me to be more than this shattered pile of nerves that can’t think. Panic attack after panic attack. Every day feeling the anxiety thrumming knowing that something will send me over the edge. And the edge feels so close all the time and so high up and I dread it.

Alone with the boys just being Mommy I’m at my best. They need me and I’ll do anything to protect them from feeling that they can’t be needy because I’m too needy.  But add in any other relationship, any other task, and all bets are off. 

It is now I realize my markers were all wrong. I can read and be anxious. I can cook and be anxious. I can be interested in the world and be anxious. I can be happy and be anxious. Postpartum Anxiety is a beast I hadn’t reckoned with and wasn’t watching for so it found me unawares.

So now I know and the journey begins. 

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I think every experience, every person we meet, has the power to teach us something and leave us a more compassionate person. I think that’s how it’s supposed to work. It seems to get gummed up in some people’s lives and their experiences turn to sarcasm and cynicism, but that’s a choice and it doesn’t have to be that way.

I have started pocketing these compassion-inducing experiences faster and faster over the years and I like to take the time every once in awhile to figuratively pull them out of my pocket and look at them like a stone collector.

By far the biggest one I like to examine is my Nathan and the experiences that come with being his mom. He is a fascinating, multi-faceted gem of a person and I can say with all seriousness that I am blessed to know him. Loving him has battered and softened my heart in the best ways.

In particular, I’ve been spending time ruminating over what knowing him has taught me about the voiceless in our society. By voiceless I mean people who both literally don’t have a voice or those who’ve been marginalized and overlooked until their voice is so weak it can’t really be heard – the mentally ill, the elderly, the disabled. My Nathan cannot say much. Yes, his expressive vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds, but by that I mean he can kind of say all his sounds and a handful more words. Communicating with him and helping him unlock his voice continues to be incredibly difficult. It is easy, I know because I’ve done it, to ignore his opinions because he cannot express them. It’s easy to assume he doesn’t care because he cannot tell me, to assume he doesn’t know because he cannot tell me, to assume he’s OK because he cannot tell me otherwise. It’s easy to do and it’s wrong.

My little Nathan has as much or more running through his brain as any other “Why?” asking, movie-plot replaying, obnoxiously-long-story-telling three year old. and if you’ve had one you know that’s A LOT. Three year olds are full of everything to exploding. In a group of toddlers he may be the awkward, overlooked one, but I know that his intelligence surpasses everyone in the room most of the time. Seriously, he’s a genius.

And when I extrapolate the lessons I’m learning loving my Nathan to the wider world – oh my goodness it opens my eyes. Who is it I’ve been assuming didn’t care because they can’t say anything? Who am I ignoring because they don’t speak up? What wonderful, mesmerizing, gorgeous brains are hidden behind those lips that cannot express verbally?

It makes me want to look everyone in the eye and really see them. To give them space to express in the way that they can. To give them time to get the words out and to do all the work necessary on my end to make communication with them a possibility. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt.

How have your experiences led you to have compassion in new and lovely ways? I really want to know.

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