life beyond the well…


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The Best Kind of Boring

Last week I had the opportunity to drop in to the 5th Grade Band Class.  My purpose was really just to quickly speak with the teacher, but since he was clearly occupied, I thought I’d sit for a few minutes and just observe the teaching and learning process taking place.

To be clear, I’m ever so slightly biased towards band/music programs.  I was forced to take piano lessons as a child, and the family legacy of playing in the band starting in middle school was incredibly strong.  My father was a percussionist in the marching band when he was high school at Hillside in the 1970s.  Simply put, I always knew that I was going to be in band- at least for a year.

Well, that year ended up being way longer that we all expected.  I spent summers going to band camp at UNC-G and made sure to register for band through middle school and high school.  I started out playing trumpet, but quickly moved to clarinet after getting my braces and struggling to get any type of sound out of my trumpet.

I’m digressing.

So, I’m in this band class, and the ENTIRE class is focused on getting the ALL of the clarinet players to get a sound out.  Some of the scholars are able to do this effortlessly.  Others are competing for front row seats on the struggle bus.

All the while, I’m watching our band teacher repeat the same process- sometimes with students individually, sometimes with the group.  He never raises his voice- he’s steady in his delivery of correction and also consistent in providing praise.  And as time passes, I watch these students get closer to the goal.

It was, quite simply, the best kind of boring.

Doing something over and over and over and over and over again- until the results came.  Accepting correction and praise, making necessary adjustments, and persisting until they reached the goal.  It made me mindful of the fact that while we often dislike the boring and mundane tasks, they can also produce the results that we’re searching for if we’re willing to accept correction and praise, make adjustments, and persist.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9 NIV

Until next time…

Be encouraged! Peace and Blessings!


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The Best Thing I Heard Yesterday

“Today, I am here to be the best that I can be. To lift up our community, to be the best that we can be. To make each second count. To make new mistakes and learn from them. To support my teammates in our mission to make the world a better place. I am proud of my hard work, but I am humble. I still have a lot of work to do. Above all, I am grateful for those who have made my life better. I am ready to get to work.”

Yesterday, my school welcomed our 5th grade scholars for new student orientation.  I’m always excited to meet these students.  The beginning of the year, especially at for students attending a new school creates such positive feelings and I love the excitement and anticipation of things to come.  The “Back to School” time is one of my favorite times of the year.

We did a small group activity with students to help them understand the meaning of our school pledge. As we worked on the second half of the pledge, my group began to discuss people who have made their life better and I heard a sweet voice say this:

“I’m grateful to God because He has made my life better.”

This simple, reflective testimony made my heart smile.  It’s going to be a great year.

Until next time…

Be encouraged! Peace and Blessings!


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Today.

“Today, I am here to be the best that I can be. To lift up our community, to be the best that we can be. To make each second count. To make new mistakes and learn from them. To support my teammates in our mission to make the world a better place. I am proud of my hard work, but I am humble. I still have a lot of work to do. Above all, I am grateful for those who have made my life better. I am ready to get to work.”

Every morning, our students recite our school pledge, listed above. I’ve heard it so many times that I am also able to recite it. I have it posted in my office above my desk as one of many motivating reminders when I struggle to find or remember the meaning and purpose of what I do and who I serve.

Working with children is hard. Period. My office is nestled in a space where I have the joy of hearing our elementary students and our middle school students.  I never know from day to day what I might hear.  Sometimes it’s the joyful exuberance of second graders.  Other times it’s the patient instruction of our band directors. You just never know.

Earlier this week, I heard an exchange between a teacher and a student.  Apparently the student had engaged in some form of inappropriate behavior, and the teacher was insisting that the student apologize. The more that the teacher insisted on an apology, the more the student refused. Their voices escalated, and then I heard both the teacher and the student storm down the hall.

But it was what I heard later that really caught my attention.

Maybe 20-30 minutes later, I heard the same teacher and student having an exchange.  But in this case, the teacher was apologizing to the student for the way in which he spoke to him. While I couldn’t hear the entire exchange, I did hear the teacher say, “I apologize for speaking to you that way. I should not have done that…”

Teachers make mistakes too, ya’ll.  But what I love is that this teacher owned it, and showed his student the respect that we all deserve.  Even the smallest of us deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

I won’t say that my school always gets it right. But I will say that each day the students AND adults in the building commit to that pledge, and our community is better because of it.

Until next time…

Be encouraged! Peace and blessings!


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The Appointment

It’s not something that’s on my schedule.  If you were to check my iPhone and my Outlook calender, you’d notice that the space between 4:45pm and 5:00pm Monday-Thursday is always empty. It’s the end of the day, and during that time, I find myself doing two things: prepping for the next day and waiting.

Waiting for my appointment.

I don’t know when it became an “appointment”.  It kind of just happened.  She would get dismissed from her class and swing by my office before heading downstairs to get picked up.  Initially, it was just to ask a question about high school or college. But eventually it became more- the visits became more frequent and the questions (and conversations) became about life.  Real life stuff- the kind of stuff that can trip up even the smartest, most talented person if they aren’t equipped to deal with it.  She shares, and asks questions.  I listen- until she’s ready for me to ask questions or provide feedback.

After talking with Jesus, and praying with Preacherman, this is one of the best parts of my day. When working with students, you often wonder if you’re really impacting their life.  You wonder if what you do, what you say, how you teach and instruct is helping to move the needle; not just in the classroom, but outside of it as well.  Most days, I’m given this appointment- this 15 minutes to plant some seeds, water other seeds, and pull up some weeds in this student’s life.  It’s something that I cherish- and I’m grateful to God to be entrusted with this responsibility.  My life is better because of it- and I pray that hers is as well.

Until next time…

Be encouraged!  Peace and Blessings!


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Coming Home.

“But sometime when the springtime comes and the sifting moonlight falls, they’ll think again of this night here and of these old brown walls, of white Old Well and of Old South. With Bell’s deep booming tone, they’ll think again of Chapel Hill, and — thinking — come back home.” – Thomas Wolfe

Everyone should have a place where to which they can return and feel at home.  Things may have changed.  Buildings are different.  Some people aren’t there. But, none of that matters when you return to that place. What matters is what that place you gave you.  How it forced you to grow.  How it introduced you to new people and new circumstances.  How you overcame far more than you thought you ever would. How it helped you become who God destined you to be.

For me, that place is UNC. One day I’ll be able to find all the words to express how transformative my experience was. My desire to attend UNC was reluctant–both of my parents worked in Chapel Hill, so I had already experienced a lot of what (I thought) made the town special.  I’ve enjoyed hot dogs and Shirley Temples from Sutton’s Drugstore since before I was tall enough to see over the counter. I remember shopping for books at the Intimate Bookshop.  The Miami Subs on Franklin Street- I enjoyed those fries and sandwiches long before I understood their appeal to late night college students. Before I had sense enough to like Cosmic Cantina, I got my tacos from the Taco Bell on Franklin Street.  I remember picking up church programs from the Copytron at the corner of Franklin and Columbia with my mom, eating hotdogs from Squeaky’s on breaks with my dad, and enjoying Time Out biscuits any chance I could.  Summers were spent at camp at Hargraves Recreation Center, Saturdays in the fall were spent attending Communiversity.

And so, I thought I had a real understanding of what made Chapel Hill special. And while I was partly right, I was also completely wrong.  My love for Chapel Hill grew immensely as a result of attending UNC. I grew immensely as a result of attending UNC. I learned how to lead and how to love. I became more culturally aware. I learned how to work smart and work hard. I had professors who challenged me and pushed my thinking. I fell in love with Jesus. I met my husband. I gained some of my best friends.

When we returned to UNC for Homecoming last month, being on campus was like getting the biggest warm hug from a friend that you haven’t seen in far too long.  Yes, things had changed.  Yes, I have changed.  But like the best of friends, when you’re together, it’s like you’ve never been apart.

Until next time.

Peace and Blessings!


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First Day

It seems like every year the summer goes by faster and faster.  As a child, I enjoyed summers- they gave me time to read endlessly, play outside for hours, travel to see family members, go to camps to meet more new people.  Summer was a source of endless adventure, and I looked forward to it.

But…I also looked forward to going back to school.  I enjoyed the routine, I enjoyed the environment, and perhaps more than anything, I enjoyed learning.

I have spent all of my professional career in education, and I can honestly say that I STILL get the same emotions about back to school.  As much as I “needed” a break and a slower pace, after a little bit of travel and some extended quality time with Preacherman, I was ready to see the kiddos again.

Today, they were back.  And there’s absolutely no feeling like the first day of school.  This morning, I had the privilege to meet so many wonderful members of the Class of 2022.  This morning, I met so many little faces of hope, of possibility, of excitement; and I got overwhelmed with the same feeling I get every year when working with students: gratitude.

I am grateful that God called me to work in education.

I am grateful to have a job in education that I love and that contributes to my life’s purpose.

I am grateful for parents who trust me with their children.

I am grateful for previous students and parents who have shown me how to be better.

I am grateful for my current students who continue to defy statistics and prove what is possible.

I am grateful to work alongside (and to have previously worked with) some of the most caring, gifted, and talented educators.

Working education is tough. The days are long, but the years are short. It’s hard work, gut-wrenchingly tough work, that often times keeps you up far too late, or startles you awake far too early.  But it is SO worth it.  The time and energy spent investing in these lives is never wasted, and it is never in vain.  I can’t always see the results of the seeds that are planted, or being watered; but I can trust and believe God for the increase- in them and in me.

Day one down. 189 or so to go.

Cheers to the new year!


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More About Me

I’ve been writing in this space for almost 10 years now, and while there are some things you might be able to guess about me just from reading, there are others that may surprise you.  I decided to share some of those things that you:

  1. Ketchup is my favorite condiment.  It’s been this way for as long as I can remember.  My mom says that I used to put ketchup on my eggs when I was little, but I have no recollection of that.
  2. Though I don’t have as much time for it as I’d like, reading is something that I love (which is why you see all the book reviews).  There’s nothing better than getting lost in a good book.  
  3. I’ve had 3 favorite colors over the course of my life: purple, blue, and now pink.  I’m slowly starting to like green, but I think it’s because I find myself often thinking of my grandmother, and green was her favorite color.
  4. Speaking of my grandmother, she was my first reading teacher and forced fostered my love for reading by making my read everything to her aloud.  The newspaper, signs, random sheets of paper- nothing was off limits.  I wish I could thank her for that today.
  5. I attended a high school focused on science and math- and while there I had AMAZING humanities teachers and a FABULOUS counselor that inspired me to work in education.  
  6. I never planned to attend UNC, but going there changed my life. I found Jesus, met my husband (though we didn’t connect on that level until years later), and became friends with some of the most amazing people in the world. 
  7. I hope to author several books over the course of my life.
  8. I am ridiculously southern, and have an unapologetic love for mason jars, monograms, and pearls.
  9. Before dating Preacherman, I rarely ate salmon. Now I have it for dinner once or twice a week.
  10. My work love language is “wearing jeans”.  I love jeans, but I don’t have the opportunity to wear them as much. When we’re allowed to wear jeans at work on days OTHER than Friday, I get so excited!

 


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25 Questions to Ask Yourself Before the End of 2013

I have my dear friend Jovian to thank for this.  She sent these questions out in an email to a bunch of us, and I thought I’d tackle them in this space…because I feel that doing so makes me slightly more accountable than just answering them in my head or replying via email.

So, let’s have at it (warning- this is long):

25 Questions to Ask Yourself Before the End of 2013

1. What am I most proud of this year?

I am most proud of my growth as a wife.  Every day, there are new challenges and new opportunities for growth.  In our first year of marriage, we had experienced changes beyond what either of us could have imagined.  I’m proud of handling the change with faith, and by being on the same team.

2. How can I become a better person?

I ABSOLUTELY must be better by asking for help.  Note to self: It takes a strong person to admit where they are weak, and to ask for help to become stronger.

3. Where am I feeling stuck?

In my pursuit of having a more healthy lifestyle. My current reasons have not been compelling enough, nor has my discipline been where it needs to be. I’m looking forward to overhauling this area, and really understanding my “why”; as well as creating SMART goals to make sure that I see the progress I desire.

4. Where do I need to allow myself grace?

In my role as a wife. Preacherman knows this more than anyone, but I am incredibly hard on myself.  I’ve decided to adopt Emily Ley’s motto as my own: “I will hold myself to a standard of GRACE not PERFECTION.”

5. Am I passionate about my career?

Yes! I love what I do, and who I serve. It’s been a huge area for growth, but it’s been rejuvenating and fun. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help students see the possibilities, and then make them realities.

6. What lessons have I learned?

Not so much lessons, but reminders: God is a faithful. God is love. God is a provider. God is…

7. What did my finances look like?

I’m extremely proud of our saving this year- we came up with a plan that works, and with God’s provision, we were able to handle a huge move in the short-term without taking much of hit.  This year, the goal is to live lean, save more, and to look for ways to build wealth.

8. How did I spend my free time?

Pre-move: lots of time was spent serving at church, and fellowshipping with friends and family.  Post-move: lots of time was spent on organizing our new home, getting acclimated to new jobs and a new area, and creating systems to make us more efficient.

9. How well did I take care of my body, mind, and soul?

I started out on a roll with all three- exercising and eating healthy, striving to learn new things, and purposefully seeking growth in my relationship with God.  As things got busy and life happened, I didn’t do as great of a job at balancing all three- I would maybe have 2 things going well, but missing the third one.  Again, I believe that creating SMART goals for 2014, along with clarity about what’s most important in this current stage of life will help me be better at all of these in the coming year.

10. How have I been open-minded?

In seeking, hearing, believing, and trusting the promises of God beyond what I can see or feel.  The circumstances of my life this year have required that I be more open to seeing, hearing, believing, and trusting the promises of God.

11. When did I feel most creatively inspired?

I don’t know if I can identify a time, but I know that I feel more creatively inspired to write (for this blog and otherwise) when I’m most balanced in my relationship with God and can hear Him clearly.

12. What projects have I completed?

Getting the new home organized and decorated.  It’s great coming home to a place that you love.

13. How have I procrastinated?

Dissertation.  See also #15.

14. In what ways can I re-structure my time?

Reducing some of the social media activity (although I LOVE the debates and conversations that take place on Twitter and FB), Scheduling meetings in the mornings, blocking out my day tasks- and not being afraid to say no to someone else’s “urgent” (your emergency is not my emergency) when it could be detrimental for me.

15. How have I allowed fear of failure hold me back?

Dissertation- the feedback that I have received while working on my dissertation has been the most critical feedback that I’ve ever received in academic work.  I’ve always enjoyed school, and I’ve always done well at it.  While I enjoy this, I find myself in a situation where I’m doing a ton of work that is extremely time consuming…only to get a significant amount of feedback of where you can improve.  It can be paralyzing to know that you’re doing all that you can to submit your best work and you KNOW that you’re going to get  a return email with your document…and even more corrections to make.  I definitely let this affect my mental approach to this work, and that CANNOT happen this year.  I need to keep the end goal in mind.

16. Where has self-doubt taken over?

In appearance- turning 30 in a workplace where the average employee is a female around the age of 23 or 24 and has their college metabolism and college body really forced me to think about what I wanted 30 to LOOK like and feel like for me, and how to really get to “my best self”.

In competence- my school work transitioned from classes to sole work on my dissertation.  I thought that without having classes, I’d miraculously have more time and the ideas and words would flow freely.  But that’s totally not what happened…and while I had moments of progress and inspiration, it wasn’t nearly as much as I’d hoped for.  When I coupled that with my inability to really master my time in the best way, I began to doubt my ability to complete the task at all.  I ended this year on a high note, making much progress and getting positive feedback from my dissertation chair.

17. When have I felt the most alive?

In moments with Preacherman and/or our little- working on math problems, making funfetti pancakes, watching the Cosby show, helping to wrap Christmas presents, singing “Jesus Loves Me” before bed, reciting our confession of faith together in the mornings.  All the little moments that I won’t always have.

18. How have I taught others to respect me?

Setting appropriate boundaries- especially at work has been extremely helpful here.  Being vocal about what I need, and refusing to take on too much has been incredibly helpful here also.

19. How can I improve my relationships?

Be more diligent in maintaining and creating them.  This is a challenge as an introvert, but it’s one that I need to overcome…particularly if I want to keep friends and make new ones.

20. Have I been unfair to anyone?

I hope not (LOL!).  I’ve probably been most guilty of being unfair in not extending the same grace to others that I would want extended to me.

21. Who do I need to forgive?

There are a few people who really hurt me over the past few years, and while it doesn’t hurt anymore; there are times where I find myself angry or frustrated about the way things panned out, especially after doing what I could to reconcile the situation. I need to be better about taking any negative thoughts captive and committing my mind to complete forgiveness.

22. Where is it time to let go?

Overworking/being a workaholic.  I need to place better energy on being productive while at work, and not always allowing things to carry over into home life. My first responsibility is to be the wife and steppie that God has called me to be.

23. What old habits would I like to release?

Being mean to myself/being too hard on myself. Grace, not perfection.

24. What new habits would I like to cultivate?

Consistency in reading: The Bible, devotionals, and other books to promote learning and growth

25. How can I be kind to myself?

As mentioned above, I think Emily Ley’s motto sums it up perfectly: “I will hold myself to a standard of GRACE not PERFECTION”


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A Full-Option Provider

I recently read the book “The Other Wes Moore” and it really got me thinking about education, “the system”, family, poverty, and the reality of life for so many of the students I serve each day, and many more across the country.

Here’s part of the description from the back of the book:

“Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence?”

Since reading the book, I’ve wrestled with that last question in the description.  Or with this idea, better stated by Moore:

“The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

But what does that really mean?  And the truth is that I don’t know.  But I wrestle with it as an educator working to prepare students for high school and college, fully understanding the benefits that come from being in the “right” school (or the “right school for you”).  And I guess, if I think about it in the scope of my professional work, my goal is to, as best I can, ensure that my school is a “full-option provider”, meaning that when students leave here, they have the full-range of options at their disposal so that they can create the life that they want.

So that they can have a life of “want-tos” instead of “have-tos”.  So that they can choose instead of having it chosen for them.

And that’s all well and good, but there’s also the understanding that a wrong choice NOW (even as middle school students), can essentially wipe out their options, or reduce them to being so few that they may as well not have any. Today’s poor choices are a down-payment on tomorrow’s problems.

So, while I wrestle with that, I also wonder how do you teach students to make good choices?  Not only make good choices, but make good choices for good reasons? And if you can teach that, then that must be part of the teaching that is included in our school.

I wish I had the answers.  I so desperately wish that I understood what can sometimes seem to be a formulaic equation to success.  Oh, how I wish that I could guarantee that by doing these things and not doing those things, would put students on a path to success.  But it’s much deeper than that.  It’s cultural and institutional.  It’s family life.  It’s access (or lack of access) to resources.  It’s the fact that I’m trying to teach something intangible that an entire segment of the population never has to consider.  Because the truth of the matter is that for some students, a poor choice equates to an elimination of options, but for others, a poor choice equates to an litany of excuses followed by quick explanations and forgiveness.

So, you find yourself teaching contingencies.  You’re teaching “if/then” scenarios, to make sure that your students are always prepared.  You find that being a “full-option provider” also means teaching that you will STILL have to work twice as hard to get half as far. But not only that, you must do it every day.  There are no days off.  There are no shortcuts.  There are no excuses, because somewhere, someone is waiting to excuse your success as the exception instead of the norm.

As I wrestle with all of this, I find myself in a state of gratitude.  Gratitude for those who took to the time to teach me all of those things, to make sure that I had every option available at my disposal.  But also gratitude for the opportunity to mold and shape the next generation.  It’s something that I enjoy, and a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. May God continue to give me the strength and grace to serve these students, who are His children, in a way that glorifies Him.

Until next time…


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The Name Conundrum

What’s in a name?

The “name issue” is one that is frequently discussed among people of color (particularly African Americans), where we sometimes find ourselves confused and baffled by the names that our counterparts have chosen for their children to bear for their life (or until they are old enough to get a legal name change).

I remember being in college, and having two unique experiences in regards to “ethnic names”- one where a friend eloquently argued that “ethnic” names should be celebrated for their creativity as opposed to looked down upon; and another experience after research indicated that having an African American sounding name resulted in less call backs for job interviews. As an educator who has done the majority of work in schools that are predominantly African American, I have looked at many names on bulletin boards and class rolls and have been absolutely baffled by the names that I see before me- which in some cases, look like a random combination of consonant and vowels thrown together.

The struggle is real.

And I say that because it REALLY is a struggle.  The shift toward “ethnic names” is born out of the Black Power movement, and the desire for Blacks to distinguish themselves as separate from their white counterparts.  As our culture has evolved into one that is more “self-centered” where people desire to assert their uniqueness and individuality, I believe that reflection exists in naming trends also- but not just in African Americans, but in whites as well.  I believe this helps to explain names that are “common” (or more mainstream) but are spelled differently (i.e.: Lindsi, Lindzi, Lindsey, Lindsay or Madison, Maddison, Madisyn, Madyson or Erin, Aryne, Eryn, Eryne, Erinn).

Yet and still, there is still a difference that exists.  I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed in this article in the Daily Beast, and found this to really get at the heart of the issue:

“If there is a question worth asking about race and naming, it’s not “why do black people use these names?” it’s “why do we only focus on black people in these conversations?” Indeed, there’s a whole universe of (hacky) jokes premised on the assumed absurdity of so-called “ghetto” names. Derision for these names—and often, the people who have them—is culturally acceptable.

But black children aren’t the only ones with unusual names. It’s not hard to find white kids with names like Braelyn and Declyn. And while it’s tempting to chalk this up to poverty—in the Reddit thread, there was wide agreement that this was a phenomenon of poor blacks and poor whites—the wealthy are no strangers to unique names. The popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black, written by a Jenji Kohan (a white woman), was based on the experiences of a Piper Kerman (also a white woman). And in last year’s presidential election, nearly 61 million people voted for a Willard Mitt Romney, at the same time that the current head of the Republican National Committee was (and is) a Reince Priebus.” – The Daily Beast

I think that really hits the nail on the head.  The article goes on to equate the name issue to that of a racial caste system where blacks are at the bottom, thus explaining the extreme response to the name choices of people of color.

I wish that I lived in a society where I knew for certain that I could name my children with as much eccentricity as my imagination would allow without having to think about the effects they may experience later in life.  Unfortunately that’s not the case.  And the truth is that the issue is NOT with the name, it’s with racism.  I can’t “name my child” out of racism.  While a more “mainstream” name, might open a door, the racism on the other side could slam it shut.

What I can do, and what I’ve planned to do is this- name them whatever Preacherman and I agree upon.  And then educate them.  Teach them about the systems that exist that have been designed to keep them down as young people of color.  Teach them how to navigate a world where they will still have to work twice as hard to get half as far.  Help them to understand that because of your color, there will be people who will choose to view you as less than, but that is not the place from which you receive your worth or your identity. Help them to be thinkers and doers, who won’t accept the status quo, but will fight to change it.

All that said, I can be honest and admit that as an educator, I encounter these “ethnic names” and part of my heart breaks- because I know what the expectations of them are, and I worry about doors that may disappear or be totally locked shut because of something they had no control over.  And then I get back to work preparing them to exceed expectations on every level, doing the best that I can with my “generic” name to open as many doors as possible for them, so that they have one less hurdle in their way.

Until next time…

Be encouraged!  Peace and Blessings…