Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Light a Candle: Remembering Sandy Hook

I don’t know about everyone else, but I cannot seem to move past the events of last Friday. I have heard the stark, cold facts over and over: crazed gunman. Murdered mother. Twenty-six dead children and teachers. It doesn’t make sense. In all my conversations, that’s the line that keeps being repeated over and over. When the names of the slain were released, I had to force myself to read it. When photos of the deceased were published, same thing. I knew I needed to look. I knew I owed it to those precious souls to look at their faces, to read their names, and to internalize the fact that each photo and name represents someone who isn’t coming home.

My heart has been most broken for the siblings. For the little girl who lost her twin brother. For the younger brothers and sisters who lost their role model and best friend. I think about my two little brothers (though the word “little” at this point is slightly misleading) and how I would have wanted to protect them from something like this. How guilty I would feel if I survived and they did not. How shattered my life would be if something like this happened to one of them.

I have cried for these families over and over since Saturday. Every funeral, every photo, every tribute to those lost makes me ache inside. What can I do? I keep tossing that question at the heavens. On Friday I left my outside light on throughout the night. It felt, at least a little, like fighting the darkness threatening to overtake us all.

John 1.4-5 says, “In him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the Light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

In John 12.46 Jesus says of himself, “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.”

I John 1.5 says, “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”

Psalm 139.11-12 says, “If I say, ‘surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will become darkness,’ even the darkness will not be dark to You, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.”

How cruel that in this advent season of waiting for the Christ child to arrive on Earth from heaven, we are mourning twenty precious children who have departed for heaven and left us broken-hearted here on Earth.

There are no easy answers. Quite honestly I don’t think anyone is interested in easy answers right now. We just want to ease the aching of our bleeding hearts and find comfort in whatever way we can.

One of my favorite Christmas songs has a line that says, “Light a candle, light the dark/light the world, light a heart or two/light a candle for me, I’ll light a candle for you.”

As for me, I’ll be gathering up 27 candles and lighting one for each soul lost. I’ll be grateful that I had teachers who would’ve made that same sacrifice. I’ll hug my brothers a little tighter whether they like it or not. And I’ll seek out the comfort and deep peace of Jesus Christ, Light of the world, the One who was in every classroom and with every child and adult at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday.

The God of the universe can handle your questions and your heartache. I encourage you to seek Him out.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Sometimes life is rough. As Christians we do not grieve without hope, but that does not mean we don’t grieve from time to time. Whether it’s grieving the loss of someone dear to us, the loss of a dream, or of a friendship, we grieve. I say that to say that I have had a rough week. My circumstances are weighing heavily upon me until I feel like I am hunched down beneath them, a sort of emotional Quasimodo.

By the time I got to church this past Sunday, I was barely able to hold it together until the lights dimmed. About ten seconds into the second worship song, tears began rolling down my face. I couldn’t even help it. The chorus of the song we sang went like this:
Our God saves, our God saves
There is hope in Your name
Mourning turns to songs of praise
Our God saves.
I needed (and I mean I really, really needed) to hear that there is hope. As someone who scores sky-high on the ‘encourager’ portion of spiritual gifts tests, I try to share hope with others. I don’t want anyone to feel hopeless. I don’t want anyone to grieve alone. Even if I don’t know what to say, I’ll hold their hand and say a prayer. And I am grateful to say that on Sunday morning, I did not have to grieve alone. My friend Summer was standing beside me. She saw my tears and put her arm around me. A moment later, she made me trade places with her so I could be in between her and our friend Andrea.  It may seem like a small thing, but to me it was huge. In my grief, Summer wanted me to be comforted on all sides. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses of Scripture, Psalm 139.5 “You both precede me and follow me; you place your hand of blessing upon my head.”
It meant a lot to me to be surrounded by support and love…and hope. And it meant even more to me that during the invitation, my friends took me by the hand, walked me to the altar and prayed over me. They didn’t even know what was wrong. But they knew the solution.
My problems didn’t magically resolve. Part of walking this journey with Jesus means choosing to trust him when my heart feels plain wrung out. I don’t always like it. I don’t always feel like it. But thankfully, I’m surrounded by friends who will bear up under my burden with me and make the load on my shoulders a little lighter.
If your heart is hurting today, I’ll tell you what I won’t do. I won’t give you a spiritual to-do list of how to feel better. Not today. Today, if you are bent over under the weight of your circumstances, you find (healthy) comfort where you can. If that means getting a pedicure, do it. If it means a stop-off at Starbucks, make it a venti. You have permission to hurt. Even-especially- if no one understands why.
And then, when you are sucking down your caramel Frappuccino and sporting Cajun Shrimp on your baby-bum-smooth feet, I would remind you of a prayer that was prayed for you by the Apostle Paul a couple thousand years ago:
“I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named. I pray that according to the wealth of his [God’s] glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” [Ephesians 3.14-19]

And then I would probably invite you to my house for a sleepover.  J


Friday, July 13, 2012

My Bedazzled Soapbox and 50 Shades of Grey

Okay. I’ll join my sisters all over the blogosphere who are saying, “I didn’t want to write this.” But recently I have observed some things that have both touched and disturbed me, and on some level they are related.

In the past week, I have read no fewer than three blog posts that were in some way related to the desire/need/responsibility that older Christian women have for their younger sisters in the faith. Heaven knows, that’s the pink sparkly drum that I beat on this blog and the bedazzled soapbox that I get up on when given the chance. Christian women ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR LITTLE SISTERS. I don’t know how to say it any clearer than that. We are commanded. It is our duty. It is our joy if it is done with the right attitude.
I guess I’ll go ahead and bite the bullet: Fifty Shades of Grey. There. I said it. I haven’t read the books. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t have to read the books to know that I don’t need to read them. The consensus is that they’re about an unmarried couple who are in a sexual, S&M relationship, and later get married and have kids. There is apparently also at least one graphic sex scene depicted in the first book.
I’m not telling you not to read the books. I’m not saying you’re a bad person if you read them. What I am saying to my sisters in Christ, older AND younger, is this: please, just give it some thought. Does reading this book honor God? Are the mental images from this book something that you want playing across the movie screen of your mind for years to come? Do you want your teenage daughter/sister/niece to see you reading them and assume that it must be ok for them, if it’s ok for you?
I know this is a touchy subject. But here’s what else I know. I have made the mistake of reading stuff like this before. I know what it does to your mind. And you better believe that I will step in and say something (already have) if it means protecting one of my younger sisters. A woman I know has an 18-year-old daughter who purchased the Grey series upon the recommendation of some women at her church. I am so appalled by this that I don’t even have words. My friend had never heard of the series before her daughter bought it and was also appalled. Where were the godly women who should be protecting this young girl’s heart and mind?
And now we have reached my actual point. As the Church, the bride of Christ, we have been given the command to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12.2) and to think about things that are pure, noble, lovely and praiseworthy (Philippians 4.8). We are responsible for encouraging our younger sisters in the faith to do the same and for setting an example for them (an imperfect one, to be sure).
I’m 29. I have fantastic older Christian sisters/mothers. But right now I feel the lack in my life of having an older woman look me in the face and ask the hard questions about my prayer life, my relationship with the Lord, my thought life. I want someone to pray (out loud) with me.
But just as important, I want/need to be doing it for someone else. I can’t justify this in my own life if I am not doing it for someone else. And by ‘it’ I mean investing intentionally into someone younger than me. Fighting for her on the battlefield of her precious life.
More than wanting to share my opinion on a book series, this is about a deep-seated passion in my own life to reach out to a younger generation and to call other women of God to do the same. We have to, ladies, or they’re going to get discouraged and may even give up on the faith—it’s not easy to be a young Christian woman in this world.
I’m going to fight for them. So help me God (literally), I will do what I can to protect my little sisters. Won’t you do the same?

Friday, May 25, 2012

The 3 Types of Friend Every Woman Should Be--Part 3 (the finale)

My original, working title for this series of posts was “Friends are Friends Forever,” but I nixed that title because it was just a little too Michael W. Smith-ish. I Googled it, and that song actually came out circa 1983. It’s practically a classic by now. That song and its place in Christian pop culture deserves a blog post all its own. Maybe some other day. J Today, we finish the discussion on friendships in the life of a Jesus-loving woman.

The first two types, friendship with older women and friendship with younger women, are sort of a revolving door. You’re almost always going to have people in your life who are older than you and who are younger than you. You always have the potential to be someone’s spiritual mother or daughter. This third type of friendship, friendship with peers, is probably the most obvious mental image you get when you think about friendship (or when you hear that classic MWS song…but I digress).
The third type of friendship present in the lives of women who love the Lord is friendship with their peers. I probably need to clarify what I mean by the word “peers.” For this discussion, “peers” refers to a friend at or near your age who is in the same stage of life as you. They are having similar life experiences to you and are dealing with the same life issues.
This is the most obvious type of friendship, of course. From the time we’re born we spend time with other kids our age. We learn to ride bikes around the same time, we’re struggling with long division (nearly killed me) at the same time, we’re reading the same books. Making friends this way continues all the way through high school and college, as you become comfortable with your own identity and refine who you enjoy spending time with.
As we age, we find ourselves continually drawn to people in a similar stage of life. If you’re engaged or newly married, you find yourself spending time with other engaged/newly married couples. If you’re the parents of toddlers, you want to compare notes with other parents of toddlers. When I was in seminary, those of us who were single all lived in the same apartment complex on campus. We had Christmas parties, celebrated birthdays, and went to the midnight showings of Harry Potter together.
In my third year of seminary, I met Mary Margaret. She came into my life at a time when I was wary of making new friends. I had recently had my heart broken by another friendship, so even though I liked Mary Margaret immediately I was cautious of becoming close to her. Nearly three years later, though, I am so glad that I did.
MM and I are in a similar stage of life. We were in seminary together, so we shared in each other’s school-related trials and triumphs. We’ve walked alongside of one another as we graduated seminary and waited to see where God would have us serve next. We’re both single and waiting for a godly man. At this point in my life, most of my friends are married and having children. That doesn’t mean that I’m not still friends with them—on the contrary, I’m Aunt CC to my friends’ children, whom I love like family. But being able to relate to someone who shares my same values, and who is dealing with singleness and dating in the church, is really priceless at this point in my life.
Mary Margaret and I were both raised in the church by believing parents. We’re both the oldest of three with 2 younger brothers. We share a similar life’s calling: MM’s calling is to minister to high school girls, while mine is directed toward college students, primarily girls. It was easy for us to bond over cheese dip and a love of girls’ ministry.
MM is a heart friend; we share our struggles and know that we can count on one another for prayer. This, I think, is the most important part of our friendship and really any friendship between two believers:  I know that I can count on Mary Margaret to encourage me in my faith. She always points me toward the Lord. We hold each other accountable to things; we talk about what the Lord is teaching us; we exchange prayers and scripture and ideas. We have the freedom and safety to express our hearts to one another, with no fear of judgment or betrayal. It means the world to me to have a friend like her, and I’m thankful that God brought us together the way that he did.
Does this mean that I am lacking friends who don’t share my values or who are in a different stage of life as me? No way! I have friends—best friends, even, who are single/married, with children/child-free, in church/out of church…you get the idea. And it is my responsibility to care for them and love them like Jesus—basically, to be the best friend to them that I can be. For the purpose of this discussion, though, I wanted to point out how beneficial it is to have a peer-friend who is in the same stage of life as you are. With this type of relationship in my life, I feel encouraged that someone else is dealing with the same issues as me. I feel less alone. And if I can help just one other person feel less alone, and more loved by Jesus, then I have accomplished Kingdom work.
There are other types of friends, of course. I’m certainly not limiting it to these three. But every Jesus-loving woman should be fulfilling these three roles in the lives of other women. I know it isn’t easy. I’m having to forge new friendships in one area of my life right now and it is downright terrifying. But the benefits to having friends who are both younger and older than you far outweigh the risks. And having those heart friends who are your age and in your stage of life is the sweet spot in the middle.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. I Thessalonians 5.11


Saturday, May 12, 2012

The 3 Types of Friend Every Woman Should Be-- Part 2 of 3

This is #2 of a 3-part series on relationships. What I’m sharing is based on what I taught at a girls’ retreat at Indian Springs Baptist Church in Laurel, Mississippi two weeks ago. As I discussed friendship with the youth girls, I broke down the discussion into three parts. The first part, friendship with older women, you can find here.
Of the three types, friendship with older women is what makes me the most sentimental. I have benefited from this type of friendship in many ways and on every level. But this second type of friendship is what gets me the most fired up.
The second type of friendship present in the lives of women who love the Lord is friendship with younger women. I have two younger brothers. As much as I hoped my mother would give birth to a little sister for me, and as many times as I dressed up my brothers as girls (sorry, Hunter and Reed), I grew up without a sister. I believe, though, that God didn’t give me biological sisters because He knew I would adopt them later on. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a little sister to love on, maybe it’s because I didn’t have a big sister to love on me, but for whatever reason it’s one of the joys of my life to adopt younger girls as my family.
An example of this would be the college girls I’m blessed to know through the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at UCA here in Conway. I know some of them from having them in my home each week for discipleship group, and some I’ve gotten to know through hanging out on evenings and weekends. We meet for dinner, we watch movies and paint nails, we talk about boys and parents and school. I pray over them (in person and when they’re not around). I hug them. Sometimes they keep me up past my bedtime, and that is how they really know that I love them!
For the most part, you make friends with women who are older than you because you believe they can teach you something. However, making younger friends doesn’t mean that you think, “You know, I have arrived. I really think I can teach these girls how to be good Christians because, I mean, look at me! I’m awesome!” What it means is that you get involved in someone’s life because EVERY GIRL needs someone to look up to. “I’m not a good enough role model,” you say. False, I say. If you are a Jesus-loving woman who is walking with the Lord and striving to do His will for your life, you are qualified.
It’s scary to invest in a relationship like this. When you truly let a little sister into your life, you have to be real and make yourself vulnerable. Earlier this semester, I went through a really tough couple of weeks. My sweet freshmen girls came over for our weekly discipleship group and on the way out the door, the last two asked how I was doing. “I’m good,” I told them. Then I realized I had just told a bold-faced lie, so I remanded my statement: “Actually, that’s not true. I’m having a rough week.”  It’s easier to pretend that everything is fine. It’s less complicated. Being honest about life costs you something. But ladies PLEASE, for the love of our little sisters in Christ, swallow your pride and fear, and give it a shot. They need to see us deal with crises and annoying people and PMS just as much as they need to see us loving the Lord and talking about spiritual things. They are not asking us to be perfect. They just want us to be present.
Why should we have friendships like this in our lives? Because we’re commanded to in Titus 2.3-5. I talked about this in Wednesday’s post. But there are a couple more reasons. First, because it was done for us. This is my major motivator. If I don’t do for others what was done for me, then the investment of those godly women in my life is wasted. I know how much I benefited from my relationships with older Christian women. Because I know how much I needed someone in that role in my life, I am driven to try to fulfill that for others.
Second, because it was not done for us. We recognize that we could have benefited from having someone like this in our life, so we want to give someone else a better experience. When I was in the youth group there were some cool older girls, but none of them really reached out to us younger ones. When my peers and I became the older girls, we adopted the 7th and 8th graders like they were little sisters. We hung out with them, had sleepovers with them, and just generally made a big deal out of them. We knew what it was to do without, so we wanted to leave a different legacy with the younger girls so that they would someday do the same.
How do you find yourself a little sister? Look around your local church. There are women there who need the wisdom and insight you have to offer. I am 29 and don’t consider myself to be super wise. But to a 19-year-old, I know just enough more about the world than they do to be considered useful when they need help with laundry or life decisions. I say that to say to my peers and to girls younger than me—we aren’t off the hook. There’s always someone younger than you who could use your influence in her life. And as long as we’re present and loving, speaking the truth in a non-judgmental way, we will be welcome in their lives.
As Christians, we are commissioned to make disciples. As God’s women, we are commanded to teach those younger than us. The call is clear. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it won’t be messy. But love is messy. Relationships mark us, for better or for worse. Let’s leave a mark of love on our younger sisters in Jesus’ name.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The 3 Types of Friend Every Woman Should Be--Part 1 of 3

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of going to Laurel, Mississippi to lead a girls’ retreat for my friend Zack, who is a youth minister at a church there. If you’ve known me for, say, longer than 15 minutes, you know that I jump at any opportunity that involves the word “sleepover.”  So I excitedly began praying over and planning toward the girls’ retreat weekend. Zack asked me to teach on relationships, so my first session was on girlfriendships (I made that word up). 

I’ve read several articles lately that had titles such as “the 5 types of friend every woman needs.” I love to read about and study relationships, so I always read these types of articles eagerly. I clicked on one in particular not long ago and read through the 5 types of friends that the author claimed every woman should have.
But as I read through the ‘types’ I found myself having to work hard to come up with a friend who fit each of the descriptions. I finished the article a little disillusioned. Is something wrong with me? Why don’t my friends fit into the author’s boxes?
The truth of the matter is that while the author does have some pretty awesome-sounding friends, they are just that—her friends. All of the categories that she described are what work for her life. In reality, there is no all-encompassing list of stereotypes our friends fill for us. Everyone is different; therefore, everyone’s relationships are different.
As I prayed over how to present this information to the girls, God led me to talk about 3 types of friendship. This differs from the categories of friends I mentioned above because these 3 types of friends are universal. Every woman on the planet has the capability to be all three of these to another woman. There are no personality requirements, no necessary spiritual gifts. You simply must be a Jesus-loving woman who wants a friend— more importantly, who wants to be a friend.
The first two types of friendships come from these verses in Titus 2: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”
The first type of friendship present in the lives of women who love the Lord is friendship with  older women. The example I’ll use is my friend Penny. I met Penny at a ladies’ Bible study three summers ago at my church in New Orleans. At the end of our 8 week study, I had realized that Penny was a godly woman and that there was a lot I could learn from her. So I asked her to meet me for dinner. As we got to know each other, it became obvious that God had placed us very intentionally in one another’s lives. Penny cares about everything that happens in my life. She prays for me regularly. On my way to Laurel for the girls retreat, I called her and she even prayed for me over the phone as I drove.
I don’t ever have a conversation with Penny where I don’t learn something. Through her wisdom gained from years of walking with the Lord, she constantly teaches me how to love Him better. Because Penny has allowed me to walk through life with her, I know that she is not perfect. She has been honest with me about real life struggles and heartaches, and her level of transparency with me allows me to be transparent with her on that same level. It’s so much easier to confide in someone when you know that they struggle too, and that they are not going to judge you. And not only are they not judging you, they are loving you. Penny has taught me a lot about unconditional, agape love, because that is how she loves me. She is what I like to call a spiritual mother, but she is also my cherished friend.  We are firmly planted in one another’s hearts.
Why do we need friends like this in our lives? I can only speak for myself here, but in my experience having relationships with older women has enriched my life on every level. There is just no substitute for life experience. Anyone who has been walking with Jesus longer than me has something to teach me. Every woman is different. I have a fantastic Christian mother who is my favorite person on the planet. But no one, not even my wonderful mother, can meet my every need. And so I have other women friends who meet different needs. The variety of women in my life speak the truth into my life in a variety of ways. It’s beautiful, really. I would not be who I am today without the long line of women, starting with my mother, who have shared their love and their time with me.
There is another answer to the ‘why’ question: we’re commanded to. It’s as simple as that. Paul commanded the older women to teach the younger women how to live godly lives. He expected Christian women to have inter-generational relationships. I don’t know why it is ever perceived as weird to have friends who are 10 or 15 or 30 years older than you are. It’s Biblical.
If you want this kind of friendship in your life but you don't know where to start, spend some time observing the Christian women around you (this assumes that you spend time around Christian women). Listen and watch. What do they talk about? How do they spend their time? How do they interact with you? With others? Ask the Holy Spirit to identify a potential older friend (or friends). Is there one woman in particular that you just ‘click’ with? Ask her to lunch or coffee. It doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. Get to know her just as you would someone your own age. It may seem out of your comfort zone, but you will find that it is worth the effort.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Loving an 8th Grader

I spent part of last week recruiting at a youth conference in Texas. I set up a table and offered several quite impressive giveaways in exchange for filling out an info card. Hey, what’s signing your life away if you win a sweatshirt blanket or a t-shirt? The conference’s main sessions took place in a drafty, cement-floored room filled with rows of brown metal folding chairs. After one morning’s session ended, I stayed behind while the several hundred 7th through 12th graders, their youth ministers, and their adult volunteers emptied the room.

As I sat in the empty room and reflected upon the morning, in my mind I could see a young, curly-haired girl in a sweatshirt and jeans. She would’ve been sitting at the front of this conference—it was her favorite thing to race for the good seats. Sitting in between her current BFFs, she always wanted to be in the middle, ever-fearful of having to sit on the end, left out of the conversation.
She’s me, of course. Fifteen years later, my hair is straight (and higher!) and my seat in the room has changed. What hasn’t changed is the presence of the youth ministers and volunteers. They attended every conference, retreat and lock-in of my youth, and are still at it. At the end of each session they faithfully line the front of the auditorium, Bibles in hand, ready to pray and counsel with whoever has a need.
I won’t pretend that I was not a dramatic junior high girl. There was always something earth-shattering happening in my life that caused me either unspeakable pain or supreme joy. When I had an issue (which was often), I went to one of my youth moms. I’m so thankful that my youth minister had the good sense to place women in front of us week by week that we (the dramatic girls) could talk to about our issues. They never laughed, they never belittled our problems. They listened, hugged us, and prayed over us.
As our chaperones on youth trips, they also played their fair share of truth-or-dare (photography forbidden, of course), dealt with unruly (and unsleepy) bed partners in hotel rooms, and medicated those who got car sick on the church bus or van. Only heaven knows how much sleep they lost on our (my) behalf. I hope that there is a special nap room in heaven for youth sponsors.
But at the end of the day, they were the ones who ministered to me every bit as much as the youth minister. They were the ones who could take one look and know if the 8th grade had been rough on me that day. They were in turns both tender and tough. They put up with my drama and called me on it.
When I look at junior high girls today and remember my own awkward journey through those years, I wonder how anyone put up with me! But every 8th grade girl needs a hundred hugs a day and to feel like she is important to someone she looks up to.
Typically, 70% of students drop out of church after high school. Research shows that if a teenager has multiple adults in the church who invest in her life, she is far more likely to stay in church after she graduates high school. I am an example of this. I am no longer close to many of the friends I would’ve called BFF in junior high, but several of those youth moms are still an important part of my life. Had it not been for their care, I don’t know that I would have stayed involved in the youth group. I would absolutely not be who I am today if not for their unconditional love for me during some very important, formative years of my life.
As an adult my responsibility is to pass along the love with which they gifted me. I call their love a gift because I did not deserve it and because there is no way I could ever repay them. But if I know those women, they would say to pay it forward, instead. I am passionate about encouraging women and girls younger than me because it is a calling God has placed on my life, but also because it is doing for others what was done for me.  
If you are a youth parent/volunteer/chaperone/sponsor, I say this to you: please, please persevere. You don’t know the impact you are having on the lives of the students with whom you spend time. Even if all you’re doing is administering Dramamine on long trips, please keep doing it. You have no idea how badly these students need you. You WILL reap a harvest someday-- the fruit of which will be lives changed for the better, and spiritual children in your own life who do for others because of what you did for them.

A little later, as the worship band played the invitation song, a junior high girl and a youth mom walked past me to the back corner of the room. They talked, the mom prayed, and they returned to their seats hand-in-hand, wiping away tears. My own eyes filled with tears and my heart was filled with gratitude for the parent volunteers in this room and for the ones whose love changed my life. I hope they think that the time they sacrificed was worth it. I know I do.