Compassion

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For those who have followed my blog for a while you know I have three sponsor kids from Africa: Alex from Tanzania, Amede from Togo, and Mamounata from Burkina Faso. These kids have enriched my life in more ways that I ever could have imagined when I first started sponsoring them.

A couple of weeks ago I worked at an event for Compassion International called the Compassion Experience. This experience allows participants to see how children in third-world countries live too frequently. While it’s heartbreaking, it prompts one to want to make a difference.

During the Compassion Experience, each participant is equipped with head phones and an iPhone that leads them through a realistic look into the lives of two real children. In the one I volunteered for, those children were Kiwi from the Philippines and Jey from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Before I began my shift, I walked through Jey’s life (you can listen to it for yourself here) so I could adequately represent it to those I would be helping with the experience. Let me tell you it was eye opening!

Jey didn’t have a father and they didn’t have food or money. He grew up on the streets begging for money and food. When he couldn’t get anything to eat or drink, he began stealing.

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At just 9 years of age, Jey was arrested and found himself in jail. His cell looked like this. Could you imagine the fear he must have felt? Jey admits to not fearing death, as that was the only way he saw that he could get out. And worse, as a mother, could you imagine knowing your child was in this place?

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The above photo is of Jey’s grandmother’s place where numerous family members shared a tiny space. There was one bed, the one shown here, for everyone to share.

 

 

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The above two photos are areas in the slum neighborhoods where children were often found begging and trying to make money for food.

When Jey got out of jail he went back to the same poverty stricken environment. His mother didn’t have any means to provide for her kids. Jey thought he would have to go back to the streets again to beg and probably die. At that point in his life is when Compassion International came in.

The two photos below are of the school in the Compassion Project that gave Jey hope.

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Jey finally had a place to go where he received food, learned music, and a new way of thinking. That’s when things started turning around for him. The first time Jey heard “I Love You” was from his sponsor. He was told he was special, and that we was going to end up to be somebody. Words that forever changed him.

Today Jey is a DJ and a youth minister. But even more importantly, today Jey is free from prison, hunger, poverty, and destruction.

Jey’s is just one of so many heart wrenching stories. As a mother, I couldn’t imagine a horror so great as watching my child starve or be put in jail as a result of trying to get food or drink.

Tonight as you tuck your children into bed for the night, or you get that phone call from one of your children needing help or just calling to say “Hi, Mom/Dad,” or you pass by your teenager’s messy room, offer up thanks for having a healthy, happy child. Be grateful that you have the means to support them. And give thanks for the freedom and government programs we all have here in our country. Freedom and government programs children in third-world countries don’t have.

At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.
― Mother Teresa

The Bucket List

Bucket List Post

How many of you have a bucket list? The movie, The Bucket List, with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a 2007 movie in which two terminally ill men (Freeman and Nicholson) set out to accomplish a list of things they want to experience before they “kick the bucket.” I guess I took that movie to heart. Why wait until we’re dying to experience life? Each day we’re all one day closer to the end of our days. And at the risk of being cliché, not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow. That shouldn’t be a depressing or distressing thought, but rather one that inspires you to truly live.

I recently reviewed my bucket list and realized how few of them I’ve accomplished, much less remembered. I updated it, removing things that no longer held interest, adding some items that have piqued my interest over the past couple of years.

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years – Abraham Lincoln

Some of them I’m especially passionate about, namely:

  • Ride on a train,
  • Travel the New England coastline,
  • Perform a random act of kindness every day for a month,
  • Get to know 10 people from different countries.

While I’m an advocate for kindness by everyone, toward everyone, I’ll admit I’m not consistent in consciously looking for ways in which to practice acts of kindness. Work keeps me busy and preoccupied, life gets in the way, the lure of the television set and electronics, and…well, practicing acts of kindness gets placed on the back burner. Until I review my bucket list and remember.

Riding on a train and traveling the New England coastline are dreams that require minimal planning to make come true and are affordable. So there really is no excuse. Except, as with random acts of kindness, life happens and they become a “someday” item on the agenda, if I remember them at all.

And getting to know 10 people from different countries? That one I’m especially passionate about. Not simply meet, but with whom to share life. And, yet…yup, you guessed it…without the reminder, the effort falls to the wayside. So making an effort to meet and get to know people outside of the those that I stumble upon as I go through each day doesn’t happen.

My dream is to prove that love can cross any boundary, physical or otherwise. Nothing can stop love except unloving people. And this past year, with so many issues demonstrating anything but love, it’s especially important. There’s so much hatred, judgement, and intolerance in the world today, that it’s frightening. I want to be part of the movement to bring back love, compassion, kindness, and acceptance. It occurred to me this past weekend that while criminals in our country are considered innocent until proven guilty, those from other countries and nationalities or different race and religion than our own are often not afforded the same benefit. Instead they’re forced to prove their innocence. Where’s the fairness and justice in that? Why have we as a nation gone so far astray by separating “us” and “them.” Why can’t it just be “we?” “All” innocent first.

It’s all about Love. Acceptance. Kindness. Compassion.

I have three sponsor kiddos through Compassion International who I treasure, all three from different countries in Africa: Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and Togo. That’s a start. And I’ll be printing my bucket list and keeping it handy to view frequently, reminding me in the midst of the chaos and busyness of life, what’s truly important.

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When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves. William Arthur Ward

Women’s History Month Spotlight – Katie Davis

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Young? Only in actual years. This beautiful, amazing young lady has the servant’s heart of one who has lived a lifetime for Jesus. Her book, Kisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, is on my bookshelf and travels with me everywhere I go as an audio book. I guarantee you’ll be forever changed after reading it.  Warning – Your life will gain new perspective and you will find a desire stirring in your heart to want to serve.

Katie was a popular teen in high school. She was the senior class president, Homecoming queen, she had the boyfriend of her dreams and college plans were in the making. When she talked her parents into allowing her to go to Uganda for a two-week mission trip over Christmas break to work in an orphanage, her life was turned upside down. No longer could Katie imagine living a life of comfort and convenience, with so many things, when there were so many who lived with little to nothing, who were dying from lack of food and medical care.

Katie moved to Uganda at age 18, adopted 13 girls, and has devoted her entire life to serving others. She began a non-profit, Amazima Ministries, and has been an angel sent from God to so many in need.

I have three sponsor children through Compassion International that I’ve talked about in the past – Alex from Tanzania, Amede from Togo, and Mamounata from Burkina Faso – among other causes I support. I have had people tell me that there are plenty of needs to be met in our own country and have gone on to ask why I feel the need to support those outside. Yes, I really have been asked that. And my heart breaks each time. I look at Katie and thank God for people like her. Not because she serves in another country, but because she serves. She serves where the Lord has sent her. We aren’t all called to serve in the same area, doing the same thing, which is a blessing in and of itself, since there are many needs to be met all over the world. I just ask -and challenge – you to look for a way to make the world a better place. To serve those in need. To be a light in the darkness, stillness in the chaos, peace in the midst of war. Be that someone to another. No matter where or to whom.

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That’s my challenge to you. Find someone – or a group of someones – that YOU can make a difference to. Whether it’s your time, money, talent, love…it’s free to love another. It doesn’t cost a cent. But it can potentially save the life of another and will make you the wealthiest you have ever been. Guaranteed.

“Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same — with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead.”  -Mother Teresa
 

Research Life Hands On

Internet Learning

While the Internet provides the virtual world at our fingertips, making it possible to do research for writing projects that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do, it’s the hands-on research that benefits me the most. The times that get me out of my office and catapults me into the real world of experience. Of course, I suppose one’s primary learning style is largely responsible for how one best retains information. Of the three learning styles, audio, visual, and kinesthetic, my primary is kinesthetic, then visual, then audio. That being said, my audio learning ability has increased tremendously since I’ve been listening to writing books on audible every chance I get.

As for doing research out in the field, traveling provides amazing opportunities to create settings that paint a vivid, real picture in the reader’s mind. Actually seeing the sights and experiencing it with all of the senses, makes it a real part of the writer.

One’s job provides bottomless ideas for story fodder.

Relationships provide ideas for feelings and dialogue.

People watching, whether it be at the mall, at the coffee shop, on the bus, at work, in an elevator, etc.,  provides the opportunity to capture facial expressions, snippets of dialogue, clothing styles, interactions between people, etc.

Participating in volunteer activities and hobbies helps grow characters into well-rounded people to incorporate into a novel/story.

Last weekend I attended the quarterly meeting for a writer’s group I belong to, Sisters in Crime – Colorado. We had a guest speaker, Dr. Laurie Sperry, Associate Professor, Regis University, who discussed the different typologies of stalkers. By the time she was done, we knew the behavioral traits our stalker characters would portray on the page, depending on what type of stalker s/he is. That kind of information is like candy to a group of mystery writers. And how much better it is to be there and taste that candy than to simply look at a picture of it on the Internet!

The place I work has a Citizen’s Academy going on this month. Next week is the class on arson investigations and a presentation from the Coroner’s Office. The following week is a presentation on Crime Scene Analysis. Bonus for a mystery writer!

An organization for which I’m a sponsor, Compassion International, offers an opportunity called The Compassion Experience, where you get to experience another country, another culture, without leaving yours.

There are opportunities literally everywhere to taste life and be a doer rather than sit back and be an observer. Make it a goal to do something every day, starting today.

Seize the Day

Let’s talk – What is your primary learning style? What kind of research do you do for your writing?

 

Birthday Blessings

Seize the Day

I’ve heard people talk about 50 as being “over the hill,” “half of a century old,” “on the downward slide,” etc.

When I woke up this morning, having turned 50 myself, the first thing that came to mind was:

I AM SO BLESSED!

I got out of bed, got dressed and headed out the door for an early morning run. As I ran, I reflected on my life. What a better time than a milestone birthday, right? And as I strolled down memory lane, my heart nearly exploded with gratitude. I am, at 50 years of age, at a place in my life that is the best it’s ever been. The heart breaking moments and tragedies of years past are a direct connection to where I’m at now. If every one of those crises hadn’t happened, my life literally would not be what it is today. I think of all the prayers I’ve prayed, disappointed when they weren’t answered, only to realize that they were answered. Thankfully not the way I had hoped for at the time.

So today, at 50 years old, let me share with you some of what makes me the richest woman in the world.

First of all, the people who have been placed in my life by God, at the exact time and in the exact role that He knew I needed exactly when I did.

  • An amazing husband, Clint, who has given me the marriage, friendship, and partnership in life that I’ve always dreamed of.
  • Two amazing boys, Ben and Alex, who have taught me the true meaning of unconditional love and acceptance.
  • A granddaughter, Zoey, who brings unmatched joy to my life, and a chance to experience part of her father as a little one all over again.
  • A step-daughter, Jennifer, and five step-grandchildren who have accepted me into their lives, my life all the more beautiful because of them.
  • A step-daughter, Becky, who enriched my life with her kindness, sparkle and beauty–inside and out–who has gone ahead to greet me at the gates of heaven when I’m called home.
  • Parents who gave me the gift of life and the foundation of family and faith. It took me a while to catch on, but I eventually got it. 🙂 And while they waited, they taught me patience and perseverance.
  • Sisters, Sandy and Brenda, my best friends chosen by God for me to share life with from beginning to end.
  • My grandma Cielinski and my Uncle Earl who helped carry me through some of the most difficult times of my life.
  • Mr. Rude, my high school English teacher, who made such a difference in the life of this high school student with a love of writing.
  • My “Brighton Group” (you know who you are), who have accepted me exactly as I am, broken and flawed, who have taught me how to live a clean life, honest and true, how to love, and how to be a friend.
  • A Church and Church Family that lifts me up.
  • A blogging community with which I’ve grown as a writer and as a person.

And beyond these angels in my life, I’m blessed with and grateful for:

  • A job in which I’m blessed to serve victims of crime. Since I was a victim of crime at one time, I’ve come full circle, blessed to use my tragedy for good.
  • The ability to sponsor three kiddos from Africa (Togo, Burkina Faso, and Tanzania) through Compassion International, helping to release them from poverty and give them hope. Alex, Amede and Mamounata have taught me compassion, that the gift of giving blesses the giver, and the power of prayer.
  • The ability to be a sponsor to Amazima Ministries in Uganda, furthering the work of Christ as he reaches the unreachable.
  • The ability to be a donor to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I mention these things because it is not me or my money that helps in these areas, it’s all because of an amazing God who has laid these passions upon my heart and has given me the resources to be able to do so. And it’s this giving that has changed my heart as nothing else could ever do.
  • The gift of writing, which brings me so much joy and satisfaction. I published a book last year, The Inheritance, a dream I’ve had as far back as I’ve been able to dream, and another book, Shear Madness, due out next month.

And the blessings just go on and on. Go back to my thirties? Not a chance. Not even my forties. My best days, my best life, is right here, right now.

And as a side note, at the end of my run, still dancing on my pink cloud, I nearly stepped on not one, but two, squished flat as a pancake, messy toads. If that was the enemy’s way of bringing me down from my high, it didn’t work. It simply made me drive more carefully than ever to work. Just in case… 🙂

Carpe Diem

 

 

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Letters

Does anyone else miss the days of pen to paper letter writing? Technology has made things so fast and easy, that it seems the personal touch of actually writing has become obsolete. Not only is writing electronically faster, but when you make a mistake it’s easy to hit the backspace or delete key and with no indication whatsoever of any error, you’re back on your way to creating the message. When you make a mistake when handwriting a letter, unless you scribble out the error, leaving it look less than beautiful, or you use the tacky, sticky white-out method, still leaving proof of an error, the only way to be error free when handwriting is to start over. And over. And over.

But there’s something about putting pen to paper that makes a message more personal and intimate. Choosing the stationery or notebook, the style and color of ink, feeling your hand move on the page, even the smell of the paper. And speaking of the smell of the paper, did I mention the extra personal touch of a spritz of scent on the paper before sending it on its way?

When I write, whether it be novels, poetry, or even writing practice, typing on the computer and writing by hand produces a significantly different outcome, which I’ve come to learn there’s a reason for: How you write affects the way your brain processes information.

One of the items on my bucket list is to become friends with people from ten different countries. In my pursuit to make that happen, I began looking at different websites that assist with finding pen pals. When I looked over the lists, a large number of those potential pen pals are looking to exchange letters specifically via email. I have to admit, I bypassed those.

I began to look at my own letter-writing habits and realized when I write letters to my sponsor kiddos in Togo, Tanzania, and Burkina Faso, I write them on the computer, sending pictures electronically as well, because it’s faster and easier. But when I receive their handwritten letters, seeing each curve and individual style of their handwriting in their handwritten letters, it brings me a sense of closeness to them, and pride when I see the progress they’ve made in their handwriting skills. I treasure those letters. Not to mention the thrill of seeing a letter in the mailbox. Oh the joy! 🙂 Perhaps it’s time to send them good old-fashioned handwritten letters in return.

In an age like ours, which is not given to letter-writing, we forget what an important part it used to play in people’s lives.”  ~Anatole Broyard

What are your preferences?

Writing pen to paper or email?

Actual books or electronic readers?

Electronics–friend or foe?

Receiving handwritten letters via snail mail or email?

Carpe Diem

Living With Compassion

 

Live Simply

If there’s one thing that can turn a bad day into a good one every single time it’s connecting with my Compassion kiddos. I can be having a terrible day at work, but if at the end of that day I come home to find a letter from one of my three kids in the mailbox, it’s like the dawning of a new and better day. I learn so much from them on how to be thankful for the smallest things in life, about praying for one another and asking for prayer for our families, and that less truly is often more.

I look at today’s kids with cell phones in kindergarten, people of all ages texting or otherwise immersed in phone or computer games and social media instead of connecting with one another in person and it makes my heart heavy. Trust me, there is no judging going on here. Me, my children and my grandchildren are all active participants of this movement. But it saddens me, nonetheless, to see that we’re moving away from personal contact with others, from living relationships with others, to cyber relationships.

I watch as we in this country become so obsessed with things, when my Compassion kiddos are simply trying to stay fed and clothed. And yet they’re happier and richer than anyone else I know. One of my kids, Alex Mandari, from Tanzania sent me a letter last week thanking me for his birthday money. With it he bought clothes, shoes and food. Buying all that with the small amount I sent him shows me he’s a master at making the most of a dollar. He tells me what he learns at the Compassion Center on Saturdays, about the goodness of God, how it’s important to listen to Him, and tells me every time he writes that he’s praying for me and my family. He’s a fifteen year old boy going on fifty in terms of wisdom and life lessons.

I began my sponsorship with these three angels wanting to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. To share what I have with those who have not. However, what happened is that they are the ones who daily make a difference in my life. They teach me about faith, unconditional love, and the power of prayer. They teach me that giving is a gift to the giver. They give to me of their lives, their worlds, their enthusiasm and zest for life, and the best part of humanity I could ever hope to experience. They aren’t just my sponsor kids, they’re part my family. And I’m so richly blessed!

Alex M. Amede Mamounata

Alex, Tanzania, 15                         Amede, Togo, 8                      Mamounata, Burkina Faso, 10

I have come across criticism a time or two for sponsoring outside of my country when we have so much need here. My answer is that thank goodness there are so many people with so many different interests. My answer is that it doesn’t matter where you give and who you give to, only that we give to each other. My passion lies with these three children and the people who make up their worlds, and also the children of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I’m so fortunate to have these passions laid upon my heart.

I would love to hear how you volunteer your time and support others and to hear how it has enriched your life, the giver of self, time and finances. It has paid me back far beyond what I’ve expended. 🙂

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” -Mother Teresa

Carpe Diem

“M” is for…

Mamounata.  And Alex and Amede.

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These three precious children have changed my life. They’ve taken me out of my own self-centeredness by sharing their lives with me.

Mamaounata is 9 years old, from Burkina Faso, and likes dolls and group games; Alex is 14, from Tanzania, and likes soccer and singing; and Amede is 8, from Togo, and likes soccer and group games.

Before I had begun sponsoring these kiddos, I had been praying for some time that God lead me to an area in which He wanted me to serve. A way to serve that would glorify and honor Him in the way that would make the biggest difference to His children.

And He led me to Compassion International, where I looked at these three angels and my heart was so deeply filled with a need to love them, that I knew it was right.

Sponsoring them has been such a gift and a blessing, receiving their letters in my mailbox turning a difficult day to one of gratitude. Hearing that they are praying for me? Wow! Reading that they bought clothes, rice and beans with the birthday money I’ve sent them? Again, Wow!  They tell me their favorite bible verses, what they’re doing in school, who their best friends are, ask me how my family is and that they pray for me, they draw me pictures, and on and on. The blessings are endless.

I have had people ask me why I choose to help children in another country when we have so much need right here in our own. To that I say “Each of us is called to serve in our own unique way.  I was called to this, and it’s not for me to say ‘No.'” As long as each of us is serving in some way, helping in some area of need, the world will be a much better place.

Being of service isn’t time taken from us, it’s life given.  Giving to those in need isn’t giving money away, it’s an investment.  For me, there is no better investment than investing in the life of a child. And I have so much life to live and so much more investing to do.

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Peace.

An Opportunity to Pray

Prayer
Last Saturday I worked an event for Compassion International in a for a movie showing of Son of God. My duties were to show up an hour early to set up the display and hand out information cards to all movie goers as they entered the theater and then display child sponsorship cards as they exited. During the movie, I was able to sit and watch with the rest of them, and it was the best portrayal of the story of Jesus I believe I’ve ever seen. I would highly recommend it to anyone.

But I digress…

As I was handing out the cards before the movie, one man looked at it and asked, “What is this?” After I gave him a very brief explanation, he handed the card back and said, “I can’t even afford my own kids. Thank God for the complimentary tickets.” Initially I was taken aback, but it quickly turned to compassion for this man. Thank God, indeed. His statement demonstrated such humility. And, yes, thank God he received a complimentary ticket so he would be able to share the story of Jesus with his children.

I had an opportunity to pray for that man, and for the others as they accepted the card I handed each of them. I prayed that God would speak to each individual heart in that theater as only He knows what each needs most.

I had another man tell me the people coming in behind him were atheist. My answer? “Wonderful!” with a broad smile. “Welcome!” And another prayer sent up to a loving Father who welcomes all.

After the movie, as I was displaying child sponsorship packets, I had an opportunity to speak with others who already sponsor a child. One woman told me of her trip to Tanzania to visit her sponsored child. As she spoke of the poverty, a level she admitted she was nowhere near able to comprehend or prepare for, her eyes lit up as she told me what a life-changing experience it was.

As I drove the 45-minute drive home, I had time to consider the opportunities that were given to me that evening to pray. As if I need an opportunity at all.

And it struck me that as I was praying for God to speak to each heart in that theater, he didn’t miss mine. He spoke to me in a way He knew I would hear.

He blessed me as I reached out to bless others.

He showed me that there are so many areas to serve, and no one way is the right way. As many people as there are, there are at least as many ways to serve.

The man who admitted he couldn’t afford his own children? He served by blessing me with gratitude for what I have. He reminded me to be grateful for what I have rather than want what I don’t.

The atheist? He served by giving me a chance to love without discriminating. To accept and not judge. And to be welcoming rather than drive him away. The fact that he was coming to see the movie Son of God? Beautiful.

The woman who spoke to me of her life-changing experience in Tanzania? She served by moving forward, if only an inch, the recent plea of one of my sponsor children of when I will come visit her. My sweet Mamounata in Burkina Faso. And that inch is one inch closer to making a child’s dream come true.

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Peace.

Why I Write

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Last week I received an email from the author of a blog I follow,  The Creative Penn, and the author asked her readers to think about why we write.  And that did, indeed, get me thinking…

I write because when I do, I:

*     Feel freedom and the ability to express myself in a way that nothing else can match.

*     Feel joy,  peace, and pure contentment.  Even if I’m working on a piece that doesn’t come easy, I’m in my element in the quiet     of my office with pen in hand or fingers on the keyboard, mood music playing softly on Pandora, and my mind creating whatever it happens to be creating at that moment.

Create.

 

 

 

 

 

*     Get more connected with God by making my thoughts concrete on the page, where oftentimes it’s then I can see where God is working in my life, or where I’m not, showing me I need to make myself available for more of God.

*     Am able to live vicariously through my characters–where else can one live so many different lives and have so many fun, funny, loyal, and even quirky friends? 🙂

*     Have the ability to reach and connect with other people that I wouldn’t have been able to without the magic of written words.  I’m able to connect with my sponsor kids through Compassion International, making a difference in lives in another country.  How blessed am I! I’m able to connect with readers on this blog, every one of which I am so grateful for.  It’s a magical connection that other writer’s at heart can likely understand.

*     Can turn a bad day to better from being able to escape to another world, whichever I happen to create, or by simply writing my feelings on paper, making me aware of them and then being able to let them go.

*     Spent a number of years getting too busy with life, which resulted in not writing, and I’m a much happier person when I write.

Writing journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*     Cannot imagine my life without words and story, whether handwritten or from the keyboard.  The vehicle which produces those words doesn’t matter, only the fact that I’m able to do it.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
―     Maya Angelou

All is Grace.