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Positive (all the time?)

19 Jun

The other day I was chatting with someone I hadn’t seen in a while who I know casually. We were catching up and I was telling her about the interesting possibilities I’m nurturing. She looked at me quizzically:

“Are you always this positive?”

Hmmm. Good question. My first response, “I have practiced” my second response, “I have a good friend who is very sick and other things like that on my mind, but it cannot be the story I’m always telling.”

I have heard criticism of Unity for being a happy feel-good religion. Which I think is a laugh, as I feel it’s far far from it, though I have heard the feel-good sermons cover-it-over affirmations. Unity to me is about personal responsibility. About acknowledging the shadowy parts, taking them out and making friends with the hidden depths. Honestly seeing your part in your world and life and taking action to heal, improve, reconcile, and make amends.

This kind of authenticity is not the norm for our society. Numbing out feelings so fear, unworthiness, sadness etc so they don’t have to be experienced also numbs joy, love, and connection. This according to the research of social researcher Brene Brown and my own observation. She also says that “in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.” And to do this we must allow ourselves to be venerable.

I was so happy when I came upon her TED talks (see below) because it made so much sense to me and her she had real data!

You see, I live in this world of fullness that she describes. So when someone asks me if I’m always this positive, the answer is usually yes. I can live in the place of sadness about the imminent demise someone I care deeply about and still be very excited about the interesting opportunities unfolding before me. I strive to be present to the people and feelings that are here now. I don’t have a positive spin to place on this loved ones death, except that there is no more pain or suffering.

While it can mean these things, being positive or optimistic doesn’t mean you are faking it, inauthentic, or clueless. Being optimistic means that with the cards I have, I am doing the best I know and also knowing through faith that the cards I need will show up.

It means loving deeply knowing that people and relationships are not permanent. Boldly following dreams when the path is not clear. It means saying yes when your heart says yes even if your head says no. Garth Brooks sings in The Dance:

“Our life, is better left to chance, I could have missed the pain, but I’d a had to miss, the Dance.”

So I will dive in, knowing I’ll get hurt sometimes. I will be stubbornly optimistic, I will love, I will dance, I will follow dreams and cheer you in following yours.

And yes, I will cry. My tears will keep my heart soft, ready to love again.

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It Starts with Me

22 May

I get frustrated when I feel like people that matter to me are being attacked or that there is unwillingness to explore various perspectives. So I wrote this blog, mostly to remind myself where I stand, but to also tease out some of my reasoning so that maybe it might encourage another.

the light within

I am for love

I am for compassion

I am for voicing concerns with an open heart and mind so that real understanding can come forth.

I am for finding workable solutions

I am for taking action that brings forth justice, clarity, peace, compassion, and understanding.

I believe a solution doesn’t come from the consciousness that created it. (Albert Einstein thought so too)

I believe that people are inherently good.

I believe that people make decisions based on the information they have. Sometimes it’s not accurate information, sometimes the decision is not life-affirming, and sometimes the decision comes from an illusion of not enough.

I believe that disagreeing doesn’t have to create conflict or violence.

I believe that there is enough.

I think that as a society, at least in the United States, are in a big turning point phase. I have talked about this numerous times with people one-on-one, and events have called me to take a bigger stage.

There are heart-breaking events making the news all the time, and there are plenty of folks who are happy to tell you what new indignity you should be mad enough to sign a petition about. It can easily become overwhelming. It could be easy to start down the road of hopelessness, victimhood, or apathy.  It could be easy to rage about every single thing, letting the anger build with each new revelation.

I currently live in Missouri, one of the handful of states where a bunch of my friends still can’t get married, it’s also the home of the city of Ferguson, and just down the road from the headquarters of Westboro Baptist Church. To say it’s an interesting time is an understatement.

I have heard interviews with several movie experts and they pointed out something I had already been wondering about. In the 50’s there was a cultural obsession with the ramifications of the nuclear age, think Godzilla, and there were the outbreak of disease or bio-weapon themed movies of the ‘90’s.  Now I find it interesting that there are so many books/movies/TV shows about a post-apocalyptic or dystopian world. It’s like there is this feeling of big changes ahead but no way to put it into something that makes sense. Zombies and the Hunger Games is the best popular culture can do to explain this feeling of impending change. There also seems to be a rise in superhero movies and it’s not just because Marvel is on a good run or that CGI is taking us to the next level of reality.

So what, in my opinion, is the big change that for some means zombies? In the ‘spiritual’ crowd, many are talking about a shift in consciousness, you may recall the end of 2012 and how that was going to transform everything.

I think the answer is partly in all of the above. I think that as a society, and many of our organizations that are sub –sets of our society, are experiencing growing pains. Think about an adolescent, which, on a global scale, the US is. The struggle between who that adolescent is becoming and its roots is tough. The decisions of where that adolescent’s alliances are shift as better offers are made. It’s an often confusing and chaotic time and there are strong allegiances within that are struggling with one another. The wise adult sees the bigger picture and strives to support, console, and gently nudge toward wise choices. So here we are, a country (and many organizations and companies) that are trying to figure out who we are, what we stand for, and what we want.

Then we add that we as a world seem to be heading toward some kind of critical mass moment that the scientists say is coming. Some say it’s an enlightenment, others say it’s zombies. Probably both are possible, and maybe the both are already happening. I think most of us have zombie moments. Where we do something unkind, we hurt instead of heal, we choose fear instead of compassion.  We have enlightenment too: we help, share love, lift up, seek understanding, use wisdom, and consider the big picture of our choices.

Finally, with all the adolescent in-fighting, the finger pointing, the blame slinging, and fear mongering, many are looking for a hero. When said hero isn’t perfect they get trampled for not being everything everyone needed. What if instead of following the one finger pointing out, we paid more attention to the three pointing back at us. What if we realized that WE are the heroes we’ve been waiting for? What if Margaret Mead is right?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.~Margaret Mead

I have often said that there are several ways to go about trying to make the change you wish to see. You can stand on the outside and throw rocks at the big boat going by- which brands you a nuisance and doesn’t typically change to course of the boat. You can go elsewhere and find another boat- which also doesn’t change the course of the original boat, but you have decided to peacefully move along and make your way. Or you can get on the boat and become part of the organism that is steering. That may be the hardest route, and it may take more effort, but it is the best chance of effecting change.

It starts with me. Each day, each moment I am making choices. I choose compassion and love. I choose to be understanding even when someone around me is having a zombie moment. I choose to make amends when I have a zombie moment. I choose to see the bigger picture of the events in the world and seek understanding and wisdom about what parts I am called to take action on. I choose to be my own hero and help those who aren’t yet able to. I choose to see others who have different opinions from me as fellow beings and not the enemy. I choose to see a deeper consciousness and understanding coming forth to form solutions.

It is not always easy, no one ever said that it was. Sometimes it will feel like you are swimming upstream, that’s ok.

I choose grace

Rachel

Giving up Facebook for Lent (mostly)

12 Apr

February 18th, Ash Wednesday I posted this on facebook:

Dear everybody.
I have been here, scrolling facebook though I haven’t been posting much. But here’s the thing, it can so easily be a vortex for my time and energy. So, for my Lenten practice, I’m spending 10 minutes or less on facebook a day. If you have a birthday between now and Easter, I might miss it, if something exciting happens, I might miss it too. If I take a cool picture I might post it. But I still love you and hope that if there is anything you really want to share with me that you’ll reach out in a non-facebook way.
I intend to spend my time more intentionally and to have the space to discover what the things to spend my time on truly are. I’m open to where the path takes me.
Happy journey and much love,
Ra

Now it’s a week after Easter and though I have plenty of other things to put my attention on, I felt the need to share something on my experience. Let me start by saying that I like Facebook. I like that I can keep up with and cheer on my friends and their kids from afar. I appreciate that I know when important things are going on in the lives of people I care about and I have to opportunity to offer congratulations or support.

There are some things I don’t like about it too. That just as it’s all too easy to share information, it’s just as easy to share mis-information and say things our filters might catch if we were in person. It’s easy to pick up the phone/tablet/computer and endlessly scroll to tune out of whatever is going on around us. I tire of the cartoon pics with sarcastic sayings on it them, post this to prove you really care about ___, and to a lesser extent the inspirational quotes.

So I decided to just get on facebook to check my notifications and some top stories each day. Finally I found the top stories algorithm doing something useful! And you know what? I liked it. I took back my time, and not only that, I feel like I took back part of my mind too. That’s not to say that I spent all my time doing something heroic. I did a bunch of math refreshing on Khan Academy. I read some books, I got ready for and did some preaching, I traveled to Oregon and California with my sister and husband. But there was no urgency to post the great pics I just took to facebook, or see what others were up to. I just was. I was present in the moment. I didn’t post my vacation pics til Easter, which was 5 days after we got back. Something in me wanted to keep it precious and sacred, a shared experience of the people who were there. When I did share the pics, that was great too. But I did it on my schedule, not some socially expected norm that I have in the past accepted as required.

Now when I mentioned how great it was to free myself from the facebook habit to several folks of an older generation than mine, they kind of poo pooed it, saying oh yes, you young people and your technology, like we are the only ones throwing our time and energy down a black hole. Later my mind flashed to the living rooms of countless parent and grandparent (to me) aged folks that I had visited in my lifetime. A large percentage had a television on, a large percentage of the time. Maybe no one was watching it, maybe they were glued to it. Just saying we’re not the only ones.

Robert Brumet, beloved Unity Institute and Seminary professor and unofficial pastoral/spiritual guru for Unity, gave a keynote at the annual Lyceum this weekend. He said that we are in a culture of distraction. That we often don’t take the time to see or notice what is happening around us. I completely agree. It is so easy now to use screens to keep us from being present where and when we are. I’m not saying some level of escape to relax is a bad thing, if scrolling facebook helps you decompress the day, scroll on. But where is the balance point, where facebook or videos or whatever become the thing we’re putting more time on than the things we say actually matter to us. Our relationships, our health, our community.

It is not new that I am particular about what shows and movies I watch and what music I listen to. I know that my ability to be present, loving, and compassionate is related to my environmental inputs. My personal belief is that this is true for everyone, but some have much higher tolerance to crappy input because of a lifetime of exposure (and probably have crappy output, but that’s another blog).

Many of my friends would say that they are part of the movement to raise the consciousness of the planet. So I challenge you, dear reader, to consider what that means to you. Consider the inputs in your world. Consider where you place your time and energy. Consider if what you are doing is raising up yourself, someone else, and/or the world or doing the opposite. If we truly believe that we can change the world through how we show up and who we are, let’s think about what thoughts and beliefs are spending time in our noggins.

That’s not to say you can’t sing the blues, listen to an angsty country song, or watch a chick flick/action movie now and then, I certainly do, but for me, I just can’t hang out there anymore. I am honored to stand with you in the realness of your pain and sorrow, but I am taking back my emotional state from the media. I do not turn a blind eye to the real issues and trials facing our society, but I’m interested in productive solutions.

I’m not quitting facebook, I think that it still serves a purpose in my world. However I’m drawing a line in the sand. It’s what works for me, I write because maybe what I am getting clear on will be helpful to you. The answers are within you, therefore I encourage you to give your mind spaciousness to hear them.

Hugs,

Ra

PS, Here’s a sunset that I enjoyed with my husband with no posting in real time while in Oregon

Simpson Reef Sunset

Simpson Reef Sunset

Where are you living?

3 Jul

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker today. He has a tough but potentially amazing journey ahead and I had overheard him telling someone about it. I mentioned that maybe he could focus on what a once in a lifetime chance this was, the kind of thing you do when you’re young. A story to tell the grandkids.

He was receptive to my point and we were exchanging more on the topic when I said what many of us have heard before. “We all have to travel through the darkness, but you don’t have to build your condo there.” then I added “why don’t you build it in gratitude and let that be the thing you center around.” Wait. Yeah, I just said that.

“We all have to travel the darkness but you don’t have to build your condo there. Why don’t you build it in gratitude and let that be the thing you center around.”

They say that most car accidents happen within 25 miles of the home. I think that’s because it’s where you spend most of your time so there’s a probability thing going on there. The point is that we spend time near our home and at our home. We go to the bank, post office, grocery and other stores, gas station, work, church, etc. We may also visit a museum, library, theatre, park, sporting event, restaurant, or friend’s house. We do our selection of activities and then we return home. If we decide we don’t like the place we’re living, we move. That may effect which stores etc. that we frequent, it may not.home

I’m here to suggest the same model of awareness for ourselves. Where is home? You and I know people whose home seems to be a dark and stormy place. We also probably know people whose home is sadness, anger, peace, joy and more.

So my question is where are you living? Where is your homebase and is it where you would ideally like it to be? Having feelings is normal and healthy. Just as you might visit go on a trip for a week or two, you might be camping out in a  feeling(s) for a while. That’s healthy. Like I said at the beginning, it’s not about where you visit, it’s about where you live.

What ideas, feelings and principles do you use to guide your life? Safety or fear? Abundance or lack? Joy or impending doom? Victimhood or gratitude? Now let’s not start getting judgmental about ourselves, but instead use this awareness as a tool. If you want to move your homebase, you have to know it first and now you do! Yeay congratulations.

How? Well, just like any move, you have to pack up the stuff you want to keep, throw out what you don’t want to keep and possibly take several trips to your new neighborhood. Then you have to settle in to the new place. Unpack, hang your pictures, figure out the best way to get to your favorite places to visit. It can take a while. Be patient.

I have noticed when I have had a shift in how I see or do one thing (my house), it changes all sorts of other things (the routes). It can be a touch confusing, but roll with it, be curious, be open, be aware. Hopefully you’ll find your new center of being serves you well. If not… well… time to pack.

Peace for your journey, Ra

PS Sometimes it’s also about choosing what the centering idea is for a particular situation like my coworker’s new adventure. While there will be all sorts of high and low experiences, decide what the underlying theme is and you’re well on your way.

It’s not Funny

9 May
The rock outside our house

The rock outside our house

I wish to live in a world where having gay friends is normal and multi-culturism means more interesting potlucks not conflict. Boys and girls can grow up to be whatever they want to be and folks with different abilities are included and accommodated. Not that it’s always perfect, but when it’s not we work to remedy it.

In general, I spend my time in the company of folks who have similar goals/feelings on such things.

Which brings me to the focus of this post and my own struggle: what to do when the world isn’t nice to folks?

We’re raised, or at least I was raised, to be kind, don’t make waves, maybe even grin and bear it. But what if someone is speaking unkindly to another person? What if that person can’t or won’t stand up for themselves? What if the comments are general but the words would be hurtful if they were heard by the parties being discussed?

A couple weeks ago, someone who I was working near was joking with another co-worker. He was acting dumb and said he spoke with his hands. I asked myself what was the course of action I wanted to take. I moved to where this conversation was happening and I said “no one makes fun of special needs people in my presence or of people who speak with their hands.” I then went back to my tasks. The young man soon after sincerely apologized and added that he’s an adult and should know better and he’s going to do better.

I thought, in all, that was a good outcome. I don’t think that he was trying to be mean or put down someone, he just had never thought of it from another perspective.

And I think that is the basis of a lot of the hurtful or unkind things that people say. People just don’t realize what they are saying. Maybe they have never known someone in the ‘category’ they are marginalizing, maybe they just hear the word in the world so much it’s slipped in unconsciously.

The other day some co-workers were joking around like people do, “Hey, I think you missed the bus on that one” (haven’t we all) “Yeah, the short bus” (oh oh) that went from hey you made a mistake to hey you’re stupid like the special ed kids in a moment. Hopefully I don’t need to tell you dear reader that many kids on the special ed bus are there for reasons other than IQ.

Sure, being the sibling of a special needs person does make me more sensitive to this, but this is not the only topic that makes my hackles rise. There seems to be no limit on the ways that folks can find to marginalize other folks. I have already written a blog about my feelings on blonde jokes, then there are LGBTQ topics, and a host of areas relating to race and countries of origin. Heard anyone say ‘Indian giver’ lately? I have. Heard someone assume the worst about someone because of their skin tone (and are teaching their kid that)? I have.

There have been big pushes the last couple years to ban ‘gay’ as a derogatory word, ie: “that’s so gay” and the ‘R’ word, the formally clinical term to mean mentally delayed that was being used for anything the speaker didn’t like.

I would like to think that when I hear these kinds of things, that the person speaking them, and the people who are complying with their silence don’t understand what it’s like to be on the other side.

Maybe they have never watched their parents, doctors, and teachers try to figure out how to help their sibling be able to learn and thrive when their different abilities are always throwing curve balls.

Maybe they have never overheard classroom conversation about beating up the gay guy at the dance when you know the person in question is your best friend.

Maybe they have never supported a loved one struggling with mental illness.

Maybe they have never been told they can’t because of which body parts they have, or the color of their skin, or the region associated with their name, or their level of education, or the God they chose (or are perceived to chose) to worship, or the level of their parent’s bank account.

I don’t think it’s possible to gotten to high school or older and not experienced some of these things or have had them effect someone they care about. And it has to stop. Instead of people reacting from their pain and causing more pain, we have to learn to respond out of compassion. We have to look at the hurt we feel and use that to fuel us making it better for the next person instead of taking our pain out on them. It is time to make it stop.

We don’t have to be mean, and we don’t want to become the new oppressor, but it’s time to stand up and say, “hey I don’t feel comfortable with that reference, could you find another way to express that please?” No, it’s not always comfortable, and some people will not understand what you are saying, but some people will. And it will make a difference. Each time someone chooses a kinder word, it makes a difference. Staying silent means you are saying it’s ok.

I’m not saying it’s always easy, I’m not saying I expect each person reading this to get it perfect, (hey I’m not perfect either) but tell me that I goofed up and I’ll be happy to do it better and more mindfully next time. That’s all I’m asking.

I’m here to co-create a world that works for all, some may say that I’m being too sensitive, lighten up, take a joke. But I ask you, how is making another person bad, wrong, or stupid funny? I love to laugh, my laughter isn’t quiet, but I just don’t see the funny in oppression.

We can do this, we can create a world where people are safe and free. One baby step and one honest conversation at a time. It takes a village, a community, a world. Are you in?

Love you

Ra

Love All Hate None (my thoughts on Fred Phelps)

18 Mar

You may have heard by now that Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is in ailing health and presumed to pass soon. You probably are familiar with Fred and Westboro because of their penchant for picketing funerals, gay folks and soldiers are their favorites. They also like to picket productions of The Laramie Project which is a play written about the hate crime death of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Fred and Co picketed the funeral with their ‘God Hates Fags’ signs and by doing so, Fred became a character in the play.

Eleven years ago I was the stage manager for one such production at Central Washington University. The Laramie Project had been submitted for the season and not chosen by the committee who chooses such things. The students put together a petition to have it included, and it was. So there I was, 23, Stage Managing this powerful show with a zillion cues (ok, over 600) and we get word that we will be protested. Now their purpose is to get people to not do the show, but we had already fought for it, and we were committed. So we set up security protocol and what if procedures. Not really concerned that the Westboro folks would do something other than protest, but that some person influenced by them my go lone wolf.

Image

It’s not who you love… it’s how. Kevin Bacon

Image

All you really need to know: Love all, Hate none

As word spread, the Gay-Straight alliance started selling tshirts in support. The University had Love All Hate None shirts made up and the counter-protest was planned. The local ecumenical group wrote a letter to the editor that they didn’t condone hate, and that Westboro did not reflect their values. The first day of the protest arrived. Westboro had about 10 people on their corner. The folks under the ‘Love All Hate None’ banner? There was about 300. The wellness center had set up hydration stations, folks were drumming and hanging out. And then it happened again with about the same numbers the next night. Oh and we sold out our shows, which for a drama is quite something. One night, I swear half the audience was a sea of red wearing the shirts from the Gay-Straight alliance.

I know that our story is special, but it is not unique. I have heard countless stories about communities coming together to stand for love. In Shawnee Mission Kansas, just down the interstate from Westboro HQ, a high school turned their counter-protest into a fundraiser for AIDS. Recently a football player from the University of Missouri came out and 2000 students and supporters formed a human wall so that the player, Michael Sam, and the campus would be shielded from the Westboro protest. Motorcycle guards and more human walls are created around the country for soldiers funerals. The stories like this go on and on.

But why do I tell you all this?

Some have said we should ignore Fred, others have said we should love picket his funeral. Even before I heard that they don’t have funerals for Westboro members, making attending his funeral not a possibility, I was uncertain of what to do. (And I do live close enough to attend such a thing if I wanted to)

Ever since my experience back in 2003, I have felt that while the words and tactics they use are horrible and hurtful, there is some good in what they do. Now give me a moment to explain before you get out the tar and feathers. When you look at the countless stories of communities coming together for the common goal of respecting the fallen, standing up for love, or simply saying no to hate, can you really say there is no blessing there? The level of compassion and connection that happened in my college town was electric. Our town was rural, a cowtown, it was not liberal, and there was probably plenty of anti-gay sentiment under the surface. This brought people together like never before, to say hey, this kind of bullying is not acceptable. Not in my town. I know that this may not be the universal experience, but I have heard enough testimony to know it has been a common theme.

So no, even if there was a funeral to love picket, I would be staying home. It won’t be changing anyone’s mind. Westboro may be losing it’s founder, but it doesn’t show signs of slowing down it’s work. And to that, I think of a verse from the bible, Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” I know it wasn’t your intention Fred, but you have brought together many people in compassion and in a search for greater understanding. Godspeed and may you finally find the peace you have so vigorously been searching for.

PS Let us all continue the work of acceptance, compassion, and standing up for others. Let’s make sure our own legacies deserves a love parade.

Changing the future to be different than the past

6 Mar

“I’m not listening to the people who say I can’t because of my past failures.” 

I overheard someone say that recently and while it was not appropriate for me to comment directly, I had some things to say about it. 

First of all. Right on sister! Go for it!

And at the same time, most of us have heard a version of this quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” by George Santayana. We’ve heard it because it has many elements of truth. 

If, you think that continuing on the same path you have been on and acting in the same ways is going to get you somewhere different than where you have already been, you are sadly mistaken. 

I have been in the position, and dear reader, you may have too, where you see a loved one jaunting down the same road you’ve seen them head down before. The road that ends in all sorts of heartache and chaos. Do you warn them? How can you? It’s different this time they say. You are being silly and unsupportive. The answers aren’t easy and there isn’t one ‘rule’ that can sum it all up and apply to every situation. 

My general strategy is: I remind myself that while I can hold the highest vision for this person, they are on their own journey. Every journey has hiccups and detours, sometimes they look darned familiar. But I can’t fix it for them and I can’t make the timeline look like what I want it to be. I say, “I’m cheering you on dear one, and I hope that you can have a happy successful journey. If you fall, I will still be cheering you on, but I’m not gonna fix it, only you know how.”

But back to you, you bucker of history, ready to conquer the world and change your destiny.

Let’s say the change you are making has to do with an unhealthy relationship, (which could be a person, substance, idea, pastime…) you have been in and out of relationship with this person (substance, idea, pastime…) for a long time. You have declared your freedom, you have shouted from the rooftops and taken a victorious step in your ability to be free from that blankety blank. But then something changes, they do something nice, you cave to temptation, the people around you try to have hope that it’s different this time, because you say that it is. But eventually you realize that it’s not and you end up back at the beginning of this paragraph. 

Then you are back to those people saying your history shows you can’t make the change. Well, that’s the thing about the past. It happened. Instead of putting your energy into convincing others that it’s different, put your energy into examining what the triggers were that caused yourself to get where you are. Then do something different!

Were you participating in an activity or group that was keeping you engaged and then stopped? Were you supporting yourself though a more healthy living practice (food, exercise, sleep, laughter)? Who are you spending your time with and are they influencing your behavior towards your independence from this relationship or towards your dependence? 

These can be hard questions to ask and harder questions to honestly answer. To really be honest about the situation is a first big hurdle, and then you have to make the changes which takes a lot of courage. Doing it once isn’t enough of course, that is where so many of us have fallen down before. The tenacity to stick to it, to believe that something better is possible, and attainable, and worth it.

Because you dear one are worth having an amazing, healthy, successful life. You deserve to be in relationship with people who care about you and encourage you to have that wonderful life. You have the right to be safe. You have the power to create the life of your dreams. (which will require hard work, belief in yourself, time, and lots of help)

Like I said before, Right on sister! (or Brother) Change your future so you won’t be reminded of your past failures again.

For those of you holding the high watch, keep up the cheering!

Rachel

PS Remember, history give us lots of data on what doesn’t work, inventors don’t keep trying the same thing, they use the info they have to try something better. Reinvent your life!