Words We Cannot Afford to Keep From Our Children

lifeline #hfm

“When I need to get home,
you’re my guiding light,
you’re my guiding light.”
Foy Vance

It was almost one o’clock a.m. when my plane landed. I felt anxious. It was only my second time flying back to my new “home”, a city that contained one of the busiest airports in America. I reminded myself that the hosts of the speaking event I just attended were aware of my travel anxieties and poor sense of direction. They kindly arranged a transportation company to retrieve me from the airport and take me home. I managed the airport shuttle without trouble and felt certain I was getting off at the right stop. But when I went to the top of the escalators, my ride was not there. I felt my chest tighten, my pulse quicken. I looked around and saw a vast hallway quickly emptying as people hurried off to their destinations.

I fumbled for my phone. I called the transportation company and said I could not find my ride. They instructed me to find the Delta terminal, walk outside, go down a ramp, and look for the area where cars were idling. I told them I did not see any Delta signs and was not familiar with the airport. “Could the driver please come to me instead?” I asked, trying to keep my emotions in check. They put me in touch with him. The way he spoke to me was rude, condescending, and not helpful at all.

I stood in the middle of the massive airport deciding if I should walk outside in the darkness, unsure of where I was going, or stay put. With shaky hands, I wiped the tears falling from my eyes. I didn’t know what to do.

“I see you are troubled. Can I help you?” a uniformed driver waiting for his client said in a beautiful accent.

When I explained what happened, he offered to talk to the driver. As he waited for the man to answer his phone, he reassuringly said, “Don’t worry, I will help you.”

In a firm but respectful tone, my new friend repeatedly told the driver he needed to come inside and retrieve me. Within a few minutes, the man showed up. I did not leave without asking my friend his name, shaking his hand, and requesting his business card so I could use his company for all future transportation needs. I could not leave without telling Emmanuel he was my angel. He had provided light in my time of darkness.

lifeline #hfm

I am not sure I would have thought about that troubling experience had it not been for my recent trip to Indiana to speak at the Indy Women’s Expo. Just like last time, my flight landed after midnight. The event hosts had kindly arranged my ride home. But this time, a familiar face was waiting for me when I got off the escalator. Out of all the drivers who worked for this transportation company, my friend, Emmanuel, happened to the one driving me home.

It wasn’t until we got in the car that I felt brave enough to speak up. “I don’t know if you remember me, but a year ago you helped me when I was very much alone and confused. You were my angel.”

“Miss Rachel?” he exclaimed, his beautiful face breaking into an oversized grin. “Yes! Yes! I remember! But I just did what anyone would do.”

Emmanuel and I spent the rest of the drive talking about our families, the joys and challenges of technology, his family back in Ghana, and how providential it felt to be brought back together that night.

Although I was exhausted by the time I got into my bed, I laid there for an hour unable to sleep. While in Indianapolis, I’d met the loveliest blog readers—some of them driving from as far as Illinois and Ohio to be there. I’d played non-stop with my precious niece and nephews. I’d hugged a family member I hadn’t seen in twenty-five years. While I should have been happy, content, and hopeful, I was overcome with sadness.

Heavy on my heart were the children who didn’t leave the airport that night with someone who had their best interests in mind—including the ones used for unspeakable acts right there at the airport.

Heavy on my heart was the 13-year-old girl who climbed out her window to meet someone she met online, never to return home again.

Heavy on my heart was the young man who was violated by his teammates on the bus ride home from a sporting event.

Heavy on my heart was the child who feels like less and less each time she is snubbed, ostracized, and belittled online and in real life by her peers.

Heavy on my heart was the child who cannot stop looking at disturbing images online that make him feel ashamed, dirty, and worthless.

Heavy on my heart was the one who peers into the darkness debating whether she should go alone—the one believing there is no one to ask for help in her time of need.

What was given to me at the airport—comfort, assurance, security, and validation—should be given to all children, and the time is now. Exposure to life-altering people and life-altering content is held in their pocket, merely one click away. And although you will hear me advocate for Internet accountability/filtering software and active involvement in a child’s online activities, it is not enough. There must be pieces of internal protection given to our children again and again and again.

lifeline #hfm

Three years ago, I gave my daughter a piece of internal protection. It was during a rash of cyber bully suicides and sexual violations of young women recorded on cell phones by classmates. I remember desperately wanting to protect my child from the dangers she faced when she stepped outside or into the online world. Because I knew that was not possible, I vowed to equip her with internal protection. The following letter was the beginning of an on-going conversation I have with my daughter—a tangible piece of proof she will never be alone in her darkest hour.

lifeline #hfm

A 21st Century Lifeline to my dear child:

Technology has become an integral part of your life now that you need it to complete your schoolwork. Eventually you will start communicating with others online. Before that day comes, it is very important for me to tell you a few things. You will hear these words a lot from me—you might even get sick of them. But these reminders are important. When the time comes, you will know how important they are. When the time comes, these words will make all the difference. Here are my reminders to you …

Tomorrow holds promise.

When you have been teased, hurt, or humiliated, that day will seem horrible and unbearable. Just know that when you make it through the day, tomorrow you will see a new light. Tomorrow holds possibilities that you cannot see today. I will help you see the promises in tomorrow when you can’t.

My love for you cannot be changed.

With me, you don’t have to be strong. You can cry, scream, and let out your true feelings. My love for you cannot be changed by revealing the feelings going on inside you—no matter how hard they are to say out loud.

You are worthy of love.

You are worthy of love and respect and kindness. If people mistreat you, together we’ll figure out a way to help you work through those problems, move on, or distance yourself from them if needed.

I encourage you to find that one loyal and kind friend with which you can go through the school year. Don’t let societal standards fool you into believing this friend must be popular, good looking, or cool; at the end of the day, kindness is the most important quality to have in a friend and be in a friend.

You possess courage and strength.

 If you have been humiliated or teased, facing certain people may seem impossible. But you have the courage and strength within you to show others they cannot hold you back from living your life.

It is about them, not you.

No matter how personal the attack, it is about them—their insecurities and their issues—not about you.

No one can change the way I see you.

No matter how humiliated you are and no matter how embarrassing it is to tell me what happened, when I look at you, I see my beautiful and amazing child. No one can change the way I see you.

Nothing is too bad to tell me.

You can come to me with anything—even if you made a mistake, even if you used bad judgment. There is nothing that is “too bad” to tell me. Believe me, I have made plenty of mistakes and even though it was hard to let someone else in, I was so relieved not to carry the burden alone.

Let an adult know.

If your gut tells you what someone is doing to someone else is wrong, it probably is. Letting an adult know about someone who is being harmed or mistreated does not make you a coward—it makes you courageous and compassionate; it makes you a good friend who can look back on this later in life and proudly say, “I didn’t turn the other cheek. I tried to help.”

If you are the one being hurt, mistreated, or violated, tell an adult; do not suffer alone. Even if it is embarrassing … or unbelievable … or risky to tell someone; do not remain silent. Come to me or someone you trust immediately.

You are never alone.

I cannot make your problems and pain go away, but I can listen. And together we can come up with a solution. There is nothing we can’t get through together. You are never, never alone.

I love you forever and always.

Mom

[From my book, Hands Free Life]

My friends, if you are considering giving your child a valentine on February 14th, please consider making it a piece of internal protection. In my second book, I refer to this type of soul-building message as a 21st Century Lifeline and this is why:

A lifeline is something that can pull you back when you get too far away.

A lifeline is something you can hold on to when peer pressure is demanding you go the wrong way.

A lifeline is something that helps you be brave and say, “Something terrible happened to me.”

A lifeline is proof that somebody loves you and accepts you no matter what the world says.

A lifeline is something that keeps your head above water when it feels like it might be easier to just go under.

The 21st century lifeline contained in this blog post is for you to use as your own. My greatest hope is that my words will be given to a child this week. Feel free to use every single word. Feel free to use only the words that feel right to you. But please do not remain silent. Do not mistakenly assume the people you love know these things already. Do not mistakenly believe the people you love won’t find themselves in a troubling situation.

It is quite likely they will.

And when they find themselves standing there all alone, terrified to walk into the darkness, I pray it is your voice they hear.

“Don’t worry, I will help you,” they will remember you saying on Valentine’s Day 2016. And it will never mean more to them than it does right then.

In one instant, the worst moment in their life will not be the end.

In one instant, the worst moment in their life will be your chance to help them find their way home.

And you’ll be so thankful to be the one holding their hand as you walk toward the light.

lifeline #hfm

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Important note and valuable resources: Friends, this message is not just for young people. If you have never said words of acceptance and affirmation to your adult child, it is not too late. It is also not too late to apologize for not being there when you were needed. Also, this message is not just for people who have children in their home. Be a Noticer like my friend Emmanuel. See the young person with tearful eyes at your church, bagging your groceries, riding the subway, or being controlled by a domineering man at the airport. Kids in desperate situations are walking among us every single day. All it takes is one person to notice and say these hopeful words, “You look troubled. Can I help?”

Here are six life-changing resources I hope everyone will take time to read or save to read later:

1) 7 ways to spot that a person is being trafficked and what to do to help. (Note the average age is 11.)

2) This article from the FBI details signs your child might be at risk online and what to do to minimize the chances of an online exploiter victimizing your child.

3) 9 Most Dangerous Apps for Kids

4) How Pornography Harms Children

5) How Good Parents Miss Sexual Abuse & Five Questions to Change That

6) Parenting in the Digital Age. This is a FREE online series hosted by author and family therapist Susan Stiffelman. Speakers include myself, Byron Katie, Alanis Morissette, Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Victoria Dunckley, Glennon Doyle Melton, and a host of other writers, teachers, and experts in the field. Click here to see the critical topics experts will discuss and to sign up.

For those who are new here, the 21st century lifeline contained in this post came from my 2nd book, HANDS FREE LIFE, which dedicates several chapters to protecting our loved ones online. The book also reveals nine daily habits you can do today to create strong, loving, and communicative relationships despite our culture of distraction and overwhelm. In addition, I was recently interviewed on Focus on the Family about overcoming daily distractions to connect with our loved ones.  If you are looking for small, daily steps to bring more presence, peace, and connection into your relationships, part 1 and part 2 of my interview hold many answers and a lot of hope. The interview begins at the 2:07 mark.

P.S. I wrote to Emmanuel’s employer to let the company know about his professionalism, kindness, and helpful actions. They said they would pass the compliment on to him as well as recognize his commendable actions in the company newspaper. Because the Hands Free Revolution community can be a mighty force for good, let’s carry on the kindness Emmanuel extended to me by looking for someone in need today and helping. You can start by sharing this post. I strongly believe this is the most important post I have ever written and feel certain there is someone in desperate need of these words today. Together, we can reach that hurting heart and prevent life-altering damage in others.  

 

From Merely Surviving to Truly Living: A One-Step Plan

DSC_0050

“We’ll never be as young as we are now
The faces in the crowd are thinning out
And I’m not saying stick around, but stick around
And we may never have another like today, tomorrow is brand new start away
And we’ll never be as young as we are now, as we are now.”
–Saint Raymond, As We Are Now

2015 ended with a few words I thought I’d never hear:

“Well, there’s no need to make another appointment today. Hopefully, I won’t see you for a long time.”

I was standing in my doctor’s office when I heard those glorious words. My doctor worked closely with my urologist (one floor down) and my gynecologist (across the street). They all agreed that with my internal pain slowly subsiding, my elevated blood pressure back to normal, and having pristine blood work and kidney ultrasound results, I was free to go on with my life.

It wasn’t until I pushed the elevator button—the one I pushed with shaky hands over and over throughout the past year—that I was overcome with emotion.

“I won’t be back here for a long, long time,” I whispered, both as a promise and a prayer.

I would never be able to un-see what I saw at my impressive collection of hospital stays, CT scans, and medical appointments over the past year. But what I saw at the cardiovascular institute for my recent kidney ultrasound offered the greatest motivation to care for this precious body God gave me.

A long, healthy life doesn’t happen “by accident,” and I knew some of my poor habits would catch up with me eventually. Although I am a daily exerciser and healthy eater, I still had two problem areas that could greatly harm my health. I still hadn’t kicked my on-going Coke Zero addiction and often sacrificed sleep to get work completed.

“It’s time,” I said out loud, knowing the new year was an ideal time to ditch old habits and begin new ones.

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Hope for the Angry Child

heart inside you HFM

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.”
-Emily Dickinson

I haven’t spoken of this experience for over fifteen years; I have definitely never written about it. Yet, when the memories of this time came rushing back, I had to pull off the highway and find a gas station where I could scribble my notes. It’s taken four weeks to transform my notes into readable form, but I have no doubt the timing of this message is perfect for someone reading today. This is my story … and Vince’s* story …

*Name has been changed

I had just one year of teaching under my belt and was taking classes towards my master’s degree in special education. Though barely qualified to teach students with challenging behavior disorders, I quickly assessed that academic training wasn’t going to make me a successful teacher–it had more to do with the connections I made with my students.

The way this particular school set up its special education program for behaviorally challenged students allowed me to form lasting bonds with my students. Rather than having a self-contained classroom, I had one-on-one time with each of my sixteen students throughout the school day. By providing direct support to the children and their teachers, the school district believed these exceptional students could be successfully mainstreamed into a tradition classroom. Furthermore, it was not unusual for me to work with a particular student for multiple years.

Such was the case with Vince*. Vince had compliance and anger issues but we had made significant strides in our first year together. Vince was an adorable child who looked forward to our one-on-one lessons and my frequent check-ins to his regular classroom.

On this particular evening, a typical event for a new school year was taking place. It was “Meet the Teacher” night. All the teachers were lined up, preparing to walk across the stage as we were introduced. As we waited for the principal to take the podium, I noticed Vince’s mother making her way through the crowded gymnasium. She was coming straight toward me in breathless haste.

When she spoke, I thought I did not hear her correctly – there was no way I could have heard her right. As the blood drained from my face, I leaned closer praying I had misheard. Vince’s mother repeated the words that seemed incomprehensible, unbearable, and repulsive to my ears.

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Finding Lost Joy the Way We Find Lost Pets

joyless

“Come back, Joy.
Come back, Gratefulness.
Come back, Energy.
Come back, Zest.
I’m looking for you.
And I won’t stop until I find you.”
–Rachel Macy Stafford

The last two blog posts I’ve written about softening and dreaming have uncovered a painful truth: Many of us have lost our joy. Many of us are simply going through the motions. Many of us see the way our irritability hurts the ones we love—but we continue our unpleasantness anyway. We taste the bitterness of our words before they come out of our mouths—but we say them anyway. Many of us can’t remember the last time we were the party … the gathering place … the heartbeat of our family. Many of us have lost our joy and haven’t the slightest idea how to get it back.

I know the feeling.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

That difficult period of my life came back to me one day as I was out for a walk. A handmade sign stapled to a telephone pole caught my eye. Franklin the cat was missing. I stopped and studied the lovingly made poster despite the winter wind trying to move me along. My eyes became wet just thinking of those who loved Franklin and desperately wanted to see his furry face again.

Come back, Franklin. I pleaded in my head. Come back.

I’d pleaded those same words about Joy a few years prior. Oh how I’d longed to see Joy’s optimistic face and feel her enthusiastically squeeze my heart and hand.

When I got home from my walk that day, I wrote a poem. It seems fitting to share it today–perhaps more than ever.

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One Long, Overdue Question and a Sky of Possibilities

dreamer“For all the heartbreak dreamers waiting for the light
Looking for just one reason to get through the night
Every long lost believer caught in the fight
All the heartbreak dreamers gonna be alright
Everybody sing.”
– Mat Kearney, Heartbreak Dreamer

Several months ago my daughter Avery and her classmates were presented with a surprise Chick-fil-A lunch by an author friend of mine who deeply appreciates her Noticer existence and firefly light.

On the day of the celebration, the author had prepared a special note for Avery’s teacher to read out loud. The author explained the reason for the party as this:

“Dear Avery, I hope you and your classmates enjoy this special treat. It’s my way of honoring you and saying ‘thank you’ for all you’ve done to inspire so many (including me) just by being who you are – a light who shines from within and a Noticer. I also hope you appreciate just how incredible and how beautiful those two ‘invisible’ gifts are and that you will never stop being you.”

As those words were read, the expression on my child’s face was nearly indescribable, but I will try. Beyond an enormous smile that could not be contained was equal parts joy … certainty … clarity … relief … peace … and fire. Oh yes, behind Avery’s little pair of eyeglasses was a fiery determination I’d never seen before. And above Avery’s head, the Sky of Possibilities opened up. For a brief moment I was a mind reader, feeling quite certain what she was thinking: I am somebody, and I have a gift worthy of sharing.

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One week later, Avery began writing music; I am talking real songs, real chords, and soul-stirring lyrics that might be heard on the radio today. Coincidence? I think not. The gift of affirmation is mighty powerful—it has the power to become belief, inspiration, and courage when given at a pivotal time in a person’s life.

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A Vow to ‘Soften’ So Your Loved Ones Can Shine

vow to soften

I received a booklet from each of my daughters for Christmas. Some of the pages made me laugh. Others made me cry. But a few pages stood out.

“I love when you talk to me like a friend.”

“I love that you love my opinion.”

“I love how you never are mean to me.”

“I’d be lost without your love.”

It’s not often a person receives tangible signs of progress—an unexpected measurement of how far she’s come.

you are never mean to me

love #HFM

My Hands Free journey started as a mission to let go of my millions of distractions and my need for perfection. As those outer barriers dismantled, my inner barriers did too. I felt myself being less of a controlling manager and more of a peaceful nurturer. As my inner barriers weakened, my ability to respond more lovingly, more patiently, and more openly grew.

My friends Lisa and Shawn call this process softening, and I just love the image that word creates and the feeling of calm it brings.

To me, softening has come to mean pausing, breathing, reflecting, surrendering, accepting, opening, and revealing.

But there is more – and this is the kicker:

Softening means seeing—truly seeing.

By responding to others and myself with more compassion, patience, and acceptance, I’ve begun to see less in black and white and more in color. I had no idea my loved ones had so many colors until I began to soften so they could shine.

waves HFM

As New Year’s resolutions or “word of the year” bounce around in your head this week, I hope this one sticks: soften. It is doable. Its benefits reach far beyond you. It is life-changing and life-giving. And even a little bit of softening goes a long way.

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Consider Being Softer: It’s the Gift They’ve Always Wanted

soften #HFM

“You don’t have to go looking for love when it’s where you come from.” -Werner Erhard

During a nightly walk, my younger daughter told me she wanted to visit a nursing home like we did before we moved. “There’s just something about old people,” she explained. “It makes me sad sometimes when I see them. I just want to cheer them up.”

“Okay,” I said, both pleased and surprised to learn this about her. “Let’s plan on it. And as soon as we get home, I want to show you something.”

After Avery got into her pajamas, we gathered in her bed and I pulled up this video. I’d watched it more times than I care to admit. In this touching German commercial, an elderly father fakes his death in order to get his busy children and grandchildren to come see him for the holidays. The way the man’s sullen face transforms to elation when given the gift of time and presence makes me weep.

I thought I was alone in this emotional reaction to mere commercial—but it turns out, I wasn’t.

When it got to the part where the man comes around the corner revealing he is alive, my child began to cry. She covered her face. “I can’t stand it. It makes me sad and happy, Mama,” she whimpered.

“Me too,” I said. “I feel the same way.”

Avery leaned her head against me like two kindred souls who knew it was okay to be soft together … to be open to the pain and joy of others … to cry if you are moved.

I gave her that gift; I thought to myself. And suddenly a long-held cloak of shame lifted—the one that labeled me a terrible gift giver. It stemmed from an experience at age eight when I hurriedly stuffed a flimsy ten-dollar bill in a plain envelope for my sister’s Christmas gift. On Christmas morning the money was accidentally discarded with the crumpled wrapping paper. My family searched and searched but couldn’t find it. My sister seemed so sad that Christmas morning, but it wasn’t about the money. I knew she would be smiling had I put a little thought and effort into her gift that year—had I not been so selfish. Putting my needs and my agenda ahead of everyone else’s was an on-going problem of mine, and it could not be ignored whenever birthdays and holidays rolled around. What in the world will I give? I’d wracked my brain knowing what was required to give a meaningful gift was often more than I was willing to give.

Until this year.

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Note to Self: You Don’t Have to Have the Answers Today

note to self

“We are all ready,” my 12-year-old daughter messaged me with a picture of two smiling early morning faces. Days before, she’d assured me that she and her sister didn’t need anyone to care for them when their dad and I left at 5am to go to the hospital. She assured me she could get them up at 6:30, fed, and ready at 7 o’clock. I had faith in them; I said okay. And like any good Type A list-maker would, I left a checklist, being sure to mention the importance of waking her little sister up gently.

So there I was donned in my surgical gown and ghastly cap—teeth chattering, no less. But instead of worrying about my impending surgery, I thought about how things were going at home. Would they get themselves off to school okay?

With one message and photo, my question was answered. One big fat tear ran down my cheek. They could do it. They could do it. What a beautiful answer I’d just received.

Shortly after I received the text, I was wheeled into the operating room. I was greeted with cold air and lively music. I was usually good at ‘name that tune’, but I couldn’t remember the title of that familiar song. I knew I liked it though. It was a good dance song.

“I forgot you played music in the operating room!” I said to the nurse as if we were walking into a club. Music is my thing. It often serves as my warm blanket in trying times. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten about this little operating room “perk”.

“Some patients don’t like it,” the nurse said. “But many do.”

“Well, I love it,” I said enthusiastically hoping she’d turn it up. Instead she instructed me to transfer myself from the bed to the operating table. I knew exactly how to do it. I felt like a pro.

Within minutes, the anesthesiologist was giving me information and a cool rush was felt in my IV.

“It’s too tight on my arm,” I said in a shaky voice that felt like it might crack.

“It’s because I gave you some medicine. Don’t worry. We’ll take care good of you,” said a voice of calm.

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Clues to Cling to When Facing Life’s Mysteries

cookies

On Sunday I woke up with the feeling of angst. Monday was the day I was going to my urologist’s office to learn the findings of my recent CT scan. I’d done a really good job of not thinking about this day over the Thanksgiving holiday. But on Sunday morning I could not keep the anxiety at bay. I kept envisioning what the doctor would probably say.

I’m sorry, but we didn’t see anything.

 Because those are the words I’ve been hearing for many months now from several doctors despite many tests.

I decided that preparing myself for no answers would be the best route. At least I won’t be any worse off when I come out of the office than going in; I told my shaky heart over and over.

But uncertainty is hard. Uncertainty is uncomfortable—especially when you are one who likes to know, plan, and prepare.

I went to my paper calendar and reviewed the week’s appointments and events. My twelve-year-old daughter walked up and lovingly leaned against me. “Tomorrow you go to the doctor, Mama,” Natalie said knowing this was an important day. “What’s he going to say?”

“Well, he will tell me the results of my CT scan, and then we’ll go from there,” I explained, not really knowing what else to say.

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Day Openers to Breathe More, Stress Less, & Carry You Through

“Hope that you spend your days
And they all add up.
And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup.”
 -One Republic, I Lived

Last weekend my 12-year-old daughter prepared a special birthday gift for one of her best friends. As a generous gift giver from an early age, it did not surprise me that Natalie put great thought into gathering her friend’s favorite things. Having outgrown the tendency to re-gift gently used items from around the house, the basket was filled with items Natalie purchased with her hard-earned babysitting money. What did surprise me about this gift were the envelopes tucked inside. My younger daughter discovered them while admiring the gift before her sister left for the party.

“Wow! This is so thoughtful,” I told my older daughter when she discovered her little sister and me bent over the gift basket. Natalie quickly gathered the envelopes up. I sensed she didn’t want us to make a fuss over this special touch, but I had to ask, “What’s inside the envelopes?”

“Just inspirational messages,” she said as she hugged the basket to her chest and headed to the door. “They’re just words to help my friend through situations that might come up.”

day openers HFM

day openers HFM

day openers HFM

Just words to carry her through.

There was nothing just about that.

Although I could not know for sure, I felt certain those envelopes would outlive the Eos lip balm. They would be more coveted than the warm PJ pants. They would be remembered long after the party was over. At the age of 12, this child got it—she got the point. I live each day of my life desperately wanting to get it too.

But so often I fall short—especially during chaotic, busy times like holidays. I get caught up in what’s on the outside—the tasks, the preparation, and how it looks. I forget what’s underneath—the memories, the connections, and how it feels. In light of personal health struggles and worldly tragedies, I don’t want to miss the point this holiday season.

Perhaps you don’t either.

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