Heartiversary

Four years ago today, as snow began to heavily blanket the earth in the early morning hours, we prepared for the unpreparable.

I remember my head and heart in constant battle as we learned the medical team was having difficulty getting to the hospital due to road conditions. If they didn’t arrive and surgery was postponed I’d get to hold on to my baby just a little longer…I wouldn’t have to face this.

My head knew he needed surgery to survive but my heart and arms just wouldn’t let him go. The halls were silent that morning but for my muffled cries. I was numb as Scott and I wheeled him to the OR doors. I fought the fearful thoughts creeping in my mind, as this walk eerily felt like a funeral procession…and I was so afraid it was.

I was cold and hollow and at the same time, full of more love and warmth than I’ve ever known.

Physically ill with fear, my stomach was somersaulting in my throat, then plummeting to my feet and back up again. In one minute I was preparing myself to say a forever goodbye and in the next, I knew with all that was in me, that he would be okay. I was like a ball with all the pain of being slammed to the ground and then tossed high up to the sky in exhilarating joy. Up and down, up and down, for all the hours of his surgery until I could lay my burning and bloodshot eyes on him once again.

(1/3/14 post op)

I’ve never spoken of the fear I had in this very moment. It’s something I try not to think about too much. It wasn’t for lack of faith in our medical team, it was the knowledge that our children are never really ours…they belong to God…and He calls them home in His time. His time – not mine. I was not in control.

Would Luke’s purpose have been served in his one month and 10 days on this earth? I prayed with all that I was, that it wasn’t. I prayed for a long, healthy, happy life. Together.

Our walk down winding and sterile halls that morning was a walk to new life. It was a walk to rebirth. The door to Luke’s heart was opened that morning and he was gifted life for the second time. Life I could not ever give him.

(Happy Heartiversary cake)

There are times on this earth when we can prepare…and there are times when no amount of preparation will ever be enough. Times we are in control and times when all control must be surrendered. In those hours all we can do is hold on to each other, to Love. Hold on to faith. Hold on to the Peace that there is so much more than this life…so much more.

As mom to a heart warrior, I honor life with that knowledge, living every day in love, faith and so much thankfulness.

Happy Heartiversary, my sweetest Luke.

❤️💙

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The Dance With CHD

June 12, 2013

Today I heard your heartbeat for the very first time. My own heart fluttered in anticipation of all the beautiful days to come. What will you look like? Sound like? How amazing will it feel to hold you to my breast, comfort you, keep you safe…Your heart was beating so rapidly and loud. The doctor said your heart is very strong. It was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.

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September 12, 2013

You’re a BOY! I knew it! I felt it with every part of me…and I also felt for weeks, that there was something wrong. The ultrasound technician was hovering too long today. She stopped talking. She was intent and focused. Repeated freezing of the screen, contrasting red and blue…The doctor explained there is something significantly wrong with your heart. He didn’t give much detail, only that we will need further testing in the next few weeks.

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September 24, 2013

 You have coarctation of the aorta. We are being referred to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. Oh – and we’re not supposed to Google…I’ll behave – for now. Because maybe, just maybe, if I don’t Google, then it’s not real. There’s a chance this could all be a mistake…some blip on the screen that was misread. This is one time when I pray my intuition is completely wrong.

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October 2, 2013

We went to St. Christopher’s today for a very detailed – and long – echocardiogram. I didn’t want to be there. I hated that I was there. I hated the reason. Despite what I felt in my soul, I prayed they had it all wrong. These doctors would apologize for us having had to drive all this way for nothing but a mistake on an echo. We would stop for lunch on the way home, shop for more nursery items…that’s what I prayed. That’s what I knew deep in my soul, would never happen. Life wouldn’t be the same after today. There’s no un-telling of a truth…Right there, in black and white and gray…contrasts of red and blue…it was all laid out. Your defect was critical…I was critically devastated. “Immediate surgery”…I made it through the consultation, drawings of your heart, questions of whether I’d ever taken any medications while pregnant, family history…I had few tears…I was holding it together. Until I wasn’t…Until I made it to the parking deck and clung to the railing as I sobbed, unable to take another step. As if climbing the stairs would signify the uphill battle we were now about to face.

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June 20, 2017

We’ve been facing battles of all kinds for the better part of nearly 4 years. And on this, the eve of my sweet Luke’s yearly echo, I am yet again reminded that this heart journey never ends. It’s sting lasts long after the scars begin to fade, and like a houseguest who’s outworn their welcome, it lurks in hidden chambers, refusing to ever completely leave. It’s like a lost soul, inhabiting it’s host…never fully here, never fully there…if we are fortunate, it will stay at rest, find peace.

Peace.

I’d like to say I’ve made peace, found peace. But I’ve not…this dance with a disease I can’t see brings tremendous burden…and it’s not Luke’s heart that is the burden. It’s my dance. It’s my own feet that get in the way…I stumble, I trip. I’m falling all over…

It’s my own heart, my own fears, my own anxiety, that are the real uphill battles. It’s in the 2:00 AM wakings – 3 years later – to check on him. It’s in the visual reminders of arterial line scars, cut down scars on his neck, arms, groin, feet…and his back.

The yearly echo is a reminder of how far we’ve come and where we’ve been. It’s a yearly dose of reality slapped square in the face. I wish I could say I am beyond the anxiety and the fear that this day brings…but I’m not. I clumsily continue the dance, stumbling with the ghosts. They can’t ever leave because they are the truth of the past. They hold all that was ever lost, all that has ever been gained, and all that is yet to come. I fear to let them go, I will lose footing on sacred ground. That I will forget, that in great pain and grief, the dance must continue. And I understand that while I may dance with peace and acceptance for a song or two, ultimately, my partners will change – often. It’s the impermanent nature, the uncertainty, of CHD.

 

 

Faith Renewed 

It’s Spring. And I’ve been caught in my own deep winter for far too long.

The leaves have long since fallen, nature unclenching her fist. And I am brought back to the resounding discomfort that often comes with letting go. The pain of watching something fall from a tightened grasp.

Winter came.

And for me, Winter stayed.

I knelt on the ground, picking up the crumbled and crisped leaf, its vibrant beauty lost from months of cold and snow and rain. And that’s when I realized it – I have been caught up in my own cold winter. Clenched fists, fighting, struggling to stay on that limb and not fall to the cold, barren ground beneath. Hanging on to the bud so tightly, I lost sight of what comes next…

Spring.

An incredible time of growth and renewal. A time when all that once was, turns into everything it can be. A time that could never exist if the trees were not willing to release everything in their due time.

Nature does not resist letting go because it’s afraid of the loss. Nature embraces letting go because it creates space for something new. Something beautiful. Nature does not endure in the name of grief – it endures in the name of possibility.

Sometimes we have to let go of the beauty we once created – a person, a place, a deeply rooted dream. We have to breathe like blowing wind, carrying remnants of seasons past, leaving the ache of absence behind.

We must believe in nature’s greatest act of surrender – trusting that after every cold winter, Spring always comes.

…And I haven’t done a great job of believing.

Trust me when I say, you don’t want to see me right now.

My eyes are tired and swollen from crying. My hair is an unruly mess. My skin is dry and cracked. I’m dehydrated and depleted from surviving on caffeine. My barista has seen more of me than my friends and my at-home coffee Ninja has been on overdrive.

Lately, I don’t even recognize myself.

All I can ever think of is my bed. Sleep. And yet it never comes. My mind racing – it’s like a penned horse, bucking and jerking for the longing of unbridled freedom and the serenity it brings. I’m stuck in the confining corral of my own mind.

I think of all I need to be, want to be, to everyone and for everyone. For myself…whoever that is these days.

I’ve spent months walking through my own personal desert as crisp and cracked as that fallen leaf, and feeling as though at any moment, I would crumble to dust, pieces of me scattered and lost forever. I’d never be whole again.

I never expected to find myself here and I’ve had a hard time finding my way out. I’m still not sure I have the right map…

The landscape was treacherous and the elements fierce. Sleepless nights, discouraging days. I was afraid, isolated, lost. I was angry. I was hurt. I’ve tripped and fallen so many times, the bruises evident for months. I’ve even broken pieces of myself along the way.

But I have not given up. Or rather, He didn’t give up…and I merely pressed forth with His strength.

Sometimes it’s hard to know who you are in the midst of what everyone else believes you to be, or NEEDS you to be.

But that’s one thing the desert is really good at – it lets the sand blow against your rough exterior until finally, you uncover what lies beneath. It forces you to sit with the really hard questions so that you can sit with the really honest answers.

Answers and honesty your heart has known and tried to bury beneath the facades of “I’m okay” “I can handle this”…I’m handling this…right…?

Because sometimes – we can’t. Sometimes our handle on life and what it’s dealt us is the very thing that breaks us…we can break by our own hands. We resist the help we desperately need. We spread ourselves too thin, too often.

We want to do it all and be it all. Not for martyrdom or accolades, but because it’s who we are – we are conquerors, we are survivors, we are lovers and healers and we want it all to be okay. And sometimes, if we are honest with ourselves, it’s not that we no longer want the dream we’d once envisioned, it’s that we don’t know how to let it go and accept the new one.

We cling to the beauty of that leaf, and when it withers away, we are so consumed by the Winter – the loss – that we fail to see the transformation taking place before us. We want to get to the other side without feeling the harshness of Winter or the hot desert as it burns and wears us away.

We push it aside. We cover our ears. We hum a tune so loud we hope it drowns all the noise; sometimes, it drowns us before we can drown it. We punish ourselves repeatedly for what we cannot control.

And then, God reminds us of his faithfulness. He restores us.

We seldom become the people that we are all on our own. We become those people through love and encouragement along the way. We become those people because of those that open their arms and hearts to us when we are finding our way in the darkness. They may not have the map, but they have the compass. They don’t let us forget that Spring will come and with it, the promise – the gift – of renewed hope and faith.

Why I Won’t Light It Up Blue

On this day when everyone lights it up blue and has autism on their mind, I would just like to say that as a parent of a child with autism, all I want in this world is to understand my son and for others to try to as well.

Only a few short weeks ago, I could not say the word autism without a lump growing in my throat and my eyes welling with tears. In the early days after diagnosis, I couldn’t even so much as utter “Hi, my name is Laurel and I am calling regarding services for my son who was diagnosed with autism,” without totally breaking down while calling providers. Sometimes I couldn’t even make it past my own name and at times, had to hang up and call back later, only to cry again.

While I already knew for many months with everything that was in me, there was nothing that could ever truly prepare me to hear the words falling from the doctor’s lips. And fall they did…those words hitting the walls of my heart like concrete blocks, leaving jagged chunks of what I thought would be, could be, scattered along a path I had laid for my family. For my son.

Since that day, I’ve cried just about every day. Sometimes from sadness, sometimes anger, a lot of frustration, and most often, because of love. You see, amidst the fallen pieces – big dreams, hopes, the vivid picture I could not only see, but feel, like the strokes left behind from the artist’s brush, the texture was smooth in some places and rougher in others. Like the tiny particles remaining from that concrete rock that collided with my version of reality, they were now imbedded in the colors of my painting. As I traced the dream with my fingers I could feel smooth, then bumpy, rough…and I knew this would be forever.

This authentic and lucid dream I had was once again, not mine. It had never been mine to paint – the canvas was surely mine, but the colors and texture were not up to me to choose. I couldn’t ever have imagined the kaleidoscope that would follow…

I’d hoped for once, my maternal instinct had failed me. That the doctor would tell me I was over reacting, that every 3 year old spends incessant amounts of time organizing and perfecting, lining up trains, cars, magnets on a refrigerator. That leaving the house or transitioning activities is a challenge for any toddler. But she didn’t…

After a 3 hour observation and evaluation and an encyclopedias worth of paperwork, our entire lives, our complete history on display, I saw it in her eyes. I knew what she was about to deliver. She did it in the kindest and gentlest way, and I will forever be grateful for her compassion and empathy.

She provided us with some papers, said we were doing all the right things already, told us we could contact her at any time for any thing, gave me the warmest hug, and sent us on our way. We decided to keep it to ourselves for a while longer; we just weren’t ready to tell others.

I think some of that was fear talking. He is still little and maybe with enough therapy we could help him be as neurotypical as possible. “Neurotypical” is the politically correct word for “normal.” I just could not get past the “autism” word. I was stuck and scared.

My brain understood, but my heart hadn’t yet caught up. Even over a years worth of mother’s intuition did not prepare me. Why was this at once, so hard and yet so easy. There was overwhelming relief because – finally! Finally, we were not living this alone; it wasn’t manifested in some version of our own reality. It was real.

It’s been very real.

I’ve gotten him all the help I can find. Speech therapy, more occupational therapy, ABA therapy. I read and read and read, learning everything I possibly can about autism and sensory processing disorder. I joined online support groups where I’ve met some amazing mothers and no longer feel so alone and lost. There are friends old and new who became my angels, and they know who they are – without them, I would have crumbled. I don’t believe most people have even the slightest inkling what autism families go through – I didn’t. Add in additional diagnoses and medical challenges, and it is literally all-consuming in every sense. All day. Every day.

Initially, we were afraid to tell family and friends because we just didn’t want our little boy treated differently or analyzed. This was fear talking and I know now that those fears would have never happened. So we relied on each other for support, but as a scared mom I needed so much more, and found it in my online autism community and among amazing medical professionals I now so thankfully and lovingly call, friends.

You see, when you have a child with autism your biggest fear is the future. Not so much the near future but the distant future. Will he go to college or will he need to be cared for at home. Will he speak or will he be nonverbal forever. Will he ever have a real friend. Please Lord, will he ever call me “mom” or say “I love you” and on his own. Will he learn to point. Will he be potty trained. There’s so much more…

Just because a child does not speak, doesn’t mean they can’t communicate. Just because they don’t make eye contact, doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. If they don’t want to be touched, it doesn’t mean they are incapable of love. If they need to spin, yell, hum – it’s because it feels good, it serves a need – and it’s okay.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. A person with autism can be low on the spectrum (high functioning) meaning they can communicate and have some challenges but with time can usually manage them and live a normal life. Being high on the spectrum (low functioning) is well, the opposite usually. They are usually nonverbal individuals who could possibly need care for the rest of their lives.

It’s hard to define the autism spectrum. As the saying goes, when you meet one person with autism you meet ONE person with autism. They are all different and all extraordinary – ALL of them. They all have different challenges and strengths. Not one person with autism is the same. Please remember that. Everyone – typical or not – is their own unique masterpiece, crafted by His hand.

If I could put Luke on a pedestal, I would. He brings joy to every person he touches. He is just the most beautiful gift God has ever given me and I am so proud to be his mother. I shed many, many tears of joy because of him. My life is richer, relationships more transparent. As if all we had already been through didn’t cause me to recognize life’s value, any remaining scales have fallen from my eyes.

My canvas I thought, was already perfect. What I didn’t see was the full spectrum of colors and how the mixing, the texture, the unevenness, would be the very beauty defining our lives together. Paint poured out like tears flowing, the canvas takes new life.

The white light of soul, prism refracts. A spectrum – a beautiful kaleidoscope of vibrant color – is born. To me, Luke, and every person with autism or a “disability”, is the essence of purest white light refracted. Where life is not distorted, but clarified and transformed. It is innocence and purity, intrinsic honesty and beauty. But to see it, you must surrender your canvas to the Artist’s brush. You must trust. You must have faith.

April is Autism awareness month but for our family, it’s every day. Every day is a chance to educate others because we live in a time where it is estimated that 1 out of 68 children in this country are diagnosed with Autism and the numbers are as high as 1 in 34 in some parts of the country. I think most people know a child or person with autism. If you don’t, the day you do, smile and feel blessed, because you have met the very essence of spirit walking this earth.

I will not light it up blue because to me, autism is a beautiful kaleidoscope of constantly changing and overlapping colors.

Learn what autism really is and how you can involve children and adults with autism in your every day lives. Teach your children about autism. They will be encountering many peers on the spectrum, all different, but all extraordinary. Teach them all this, so they can become adults that will be tolerant of the changing world around them.

Okay Together

“You’re my best friend, Mommy.”

Yes, Baby.

There’s so much emotion attached to his statement. If I were the mother of a typical 3 year old, I wonder if I’d feel differently about his words. The fact is, I am his best friend (his mother, his OT, PT, speech therapist, his nurse, his advocate) and forever his biggest fan.

But as much as this melts my heart to know my sweet boy sees me this way, it also stings. It stings because I know it’s true. He doesn’t have friends in the traditional sense and I can’t help but wonder if he ever will.

I know what you’re thinking – he’s THREE! Stop overthinking!

We are early in our journey and there’s so much progress to be made. Yet still…my heart cannot help but ache and long for him to know true acceptance from someone other than his mother. I pray this every day as I drop him at preschool…

“Please, Lord. Give him a friend. Give him comfort and strength. Watch over him.”

There is so much we don’t know – can’t know – until it all unfolds. That’s hard for me. Really hard. I want to know if he’ll ever be able to comfortably associate with peers. I want to know if he will ever initiate instead of always needing an adult to prompt.

Some of the fiercest battles we fight as special needs parents are the ones inside our own hearts. We battle between fact and what we hope and pray will be. We do our best to stay strong and positive and sometimes…sometimes it just becomes too much. In spite of our best efforts, we crumble. Under all the pressures and demands, necessary and self-imposed, we succumb to the battle, knees falling to the rocky ground, and we plead with all that is in us to just make it all okay.

“Please, Lord, let it all, always be okay.”

And when we finally pick ourselves up, brushing off the fear, anxiety, and yes, sometimes anger, we see that our knees bear the scars of having fallen countless times before and yet still, we rise. We rise to do it all again and again because these precious souls have been entrusted to our care. And for as many times as we fall and hurt, they hurt just as much and more – and still, THEY rise.

Our babies fight no matter what. They don’t give up, they don’t complain, they march onward – and so must we.

I would battle thousands of lifetimes to be the mother of the son I have right now. He was meant to be mine, of this I am certain. Our souls have been, and always will be, eternally intertwined.

So yes, Baby. I am your best friend. Today, tomorrow, through every sting and every scar. Together, it will be okay. Together we are okay.

Cherish the Valleys

Sometimes we can spend our entire lives waiting. And when we get there, our eyes are still set on the horizon rather than the ground beneath our feet. Sometimes we spend years climbing one mountain, we forget to live in the valleys between.
But what if the valleys are where memories are made? What if the valleys are where life is lived? What if this is the only time you have been given? Can you say you are using it wisely?

Time has a way of creeping up on you. I lived my life waiting for the “next” until experiencing life’s fragility taught me differently. It taught me to hold tightly to the moments. It taught me to live fully without holding back, embrace the mess of life and embrace the beauty. It taught me to cherish the valleys.
What if we spent our every moment looking ahead that we missed the very earth beneath our feet? What if we lived our whole lives hating the discomfort, hating the discontentment, when really, those things are what this life is made of and where the real growth happens.
Forge more life into each of your days! Cherish the valleys, the soil beneath your feet. Like the mighty oak, anchor your taproots firmly, then spring up and branch out; reach and stretch and allow yourself to be pulled toward the sun. When the winds of adversity blow, bend – but don’t break – and absorb all that this life has to offer.

Now Autism 

I need your help in changing the way the world sees anyone who is different. The words that are to follow are important, and stringing together the appropriate letters to convey what is in my soul right now, feels just about impossible. Writing from my heart can be painful, but it’s 100% real, and real is what I always strive to be.
A few days before Christmas 2016, we went for a second opinion and more information regarding Luke’s cortical dysplasia/cerebral palsy. Our previous neurologist transferred out of state and we had made this new appointment with a very reputable doctor last Winter, waiting a year to see her. Going into the appointment I wasn’t worried. I already knew Luke’s diagnoses and challenges but I wanted a clearer picture, a better understanding, and to discuss some concerns.

So tonight, I want to share with you, and the world, that I have a son, his name is Luke. He just turned 3 and he is so perfect and so beautiful that even now, I still can’t believe he really belongs to me. He makes me believe in God and in miracles. He lights up my entire world…and he has autism.
And although this isn’t shocking to me – I have known in my heart for quite some time – I still have moments of shock. I know in a few days the sting will wear off more fully but what won’t wear off, is the overwhelming sadness and fear for those in this world that are tormented because of their differences. This is where my heart has been sitting since last week. I can’t talk about it without tears. Even as I type this, I can barely see through them all.

I’m not sad for Luke, I’m not sad for me, for our family – Luke is amazing just the way he is. I’m sad for the people in this world who are so closed-minded that they will never see the beauty in someone with a disability. Until you spend some good quality time with Luke, you may think he is a typical toddler, and in many ways, he is. But he struggles – interacting with his peers is extremely upsetting to him – so he doesn’t do it. He has meltdowns. His left hand frustrates him, his left foot isn’t as stable and causes him to sometimes fall or appear very clumsy. Transitioning can be absolutely unnerving for him and he has difficulty expressing and communicating. He is impulsive and at any given time an object could be on a trajectory for your head (unintentionally). He sometimes needs to repeatedly spin in circles (I would barf) or throw himself into hard surfaces – maybe even you.

I could tell you more about Luke’s challenges and things he struggles with, more of his quirks, but instead, I want to tell you who he is.

Luke is capable of giving the best and most amazing hugs and kisses ever. He has a great sense of humor and can make a room full of people laugh. He absolutely loves adults and is extremely engaging and a total sweetheart; everyone who meets him, loves him. He sees beauty everywhere – and he makes sure you see it, too. He is polite, he is caring, and so very sensitive. He is the best and biggest helper. He ALWAYS knows where the sun and moon are at any given time. He has amazing hearing, and tells us when aircraft is approaching long before we can hear or see it. He loves music and has some pretty fancy footwork. He is very bright and super inquisitive to the point of driving me mad most days! He has an absolutely incredible memory. I could go on and on…These are Luke’s gifts. Nothing of which to be ashamed, or to hide, they are uniquely his.
Most simply put, Luke is love.

It’s not disability that robs us. What robs us, are our minds and the negative thoughts we house in them. Each of us is a vessel through which either love and positivity flow, or, negativity and sadness. We have the choice every day as to what type of conduit we will be to each other and to the world. And as long as I am on this earth, I will do my damdest to be sure Luke will only know love and acceptance.

As you’re reading this, you’re perhaps thinking that I have it all together – that I’m so positive – and you’d only be half right. I am positive. I worked for that and earned that many, many years ago in my childhood. It’s who I am, and I thank God, because I never would have made it through without that thought. But having it all together? No way.

This last year has been extremely stressful and challenging as I kept silent in my heart what I knew about Luke, until we received a diagnosis last week. We are challenged daily by his behaviors. I have searched and researched, for every possible activity and experience to give Luke, so as to help him – our nights and weekends have been consumed. I’ve spent so much time at his daycare to help him better interact, his classmates now call me “Mommy” and it’s totally possible that if you were to peek in the window, you’d see me holding someone else’s child, or wiping their nose, or reading them a book, or just plain handing out hugs and giving knuckles. But I don’t mind any of it.
While I haven’t had much time for myself lately, it’s okay, because my son only has one shot at being helped early. Now is the time for the big push. He has made some great strides in the last few weeks and we know it’s from supports my husband and I have sought and have been providing both ourselves and through therapists. Now he will have access to even more and for that, I am so relieved and thankful.

So no, I don’t have it all together and this is not the least bit easy. I have a lot to learn. It’s not as cut and dry as heart surgery (but thank God it’s not heart surgery, again!) I am exhausted most days, cannot sleep most nights, and am often times the primary parent caring for Luke when he is struggling. He and I have a very strong connection that is different from that of he and his Dad. Being able to calm Luke comes very naturally to me and while it’s not always foolproof, most often I can at least desecalate and stabilize, and bring him comfort.
If I can ask one thing, please, educate your children, educate yourself. Talk to your children about the beauty of a world filled with differences. Kids are perceptive; they know when a child looks differently, acts differently, or talks differently. And maybe one other thing – stay connected to the people in your life. If someone drifts away, there may be very good reason, but perhaps not one they are able to, or can share at the time; don’t assume, don’t judge. Your text, phone call, offer to go to lunch or grab a coffee, will speak volumes to them, and could very well be the thing that gets them through some pretty challenging moments.

Remember that this life isn’t about YOU. This life is about others. What joy can you bring to someone else. How might you ease their discomfort. The measure of a life well lived isn’t in the loud displays, accolades, and self-seeking recognition. It’s in the quiet moments when you choose to be a conduit of love and pure acceptance to someone else and no one else knows – it’s between giver and receiver. We can all strive for this, every day.