courage

Running therapy: how grief crashes like ocean waves

Posted by | Be You Bravely, courage, death, Fear, finishing well, Hope, running, Stories, Struggle/Hardship | No Comments

 

The ocean has always been my happy place. Ever since I was a little girl I have found refuge near the water’s edge. There’s something about the crash of the waves, the salty air tickling my tongue and the breathtaking sunsets that draws poetry out of me.

I have run over a diversity of terrains these last few years but Saturday was my first time running an actual race on the beach. I participated in the “Rock’n Around the Pier” Half Marathon from Morro Rock to Cayucos Pier. I found out this memorial run was started to honor runner and teacher Brian Waterbury who died of melanoma cancer in 2003. This out-and-back trail run was quite literally on the hard-packed sand along the Pacific Ocean.

We rode a charter bus with about 35 friends from our Fresno running club, The Express. When we disembarked the bus, we were greeted by the misty, cool air of the Central Coast. This was a welcome contrast to the temperatures that have soared in the triple digits this month in the Central Valley. Fog seeped over the hills and spilled out over the ocean, creating an ethereal mood at the start of this race.

I generally run with my ear buds pumping a carefully-curated playlist of music but there was no need for music when all creation was singing to me. The waves, the wind, the birds. We weaved through kelp, crunched over sand dollars, avoided crabs and leapt rivulets of water.

“Make the race your playground, not your proving ground,” says Lauren Fleshman, a former American track and field athlete. This quote holds particular weight for me. Although I am competitive by nature and training, I have come to experience running as a kind of grief therapy.

When I am running, I feel free. I dig deep and God breathes healing.

My play was interrupted Saturday by two back-to-back phone calls. One from my mom, and one from my brother. I’m not in the habit of answering the phone when running but two phone calls from family alerted me that something might be wrong. My brother let me know that my uncle had died.

Just last week we received word that my 31-year-old cousin died of a heart attack in her sleep. My mom attended memorial services last month for her dear aunt, a close friend and a former student. Our family has experienced so much loss in such a short time.

Of course, these losses stand against a backdrop of losing my husband in 2014 to melanoma cancer. When you’ve experienced this depth of loss, any future losses tend to stir up old grief wounds.

A symphony of waves crashed at my side while waves of grief crashed anew in my heart. This was grief upon grief. It’s hard not to live in fear when grief stacks up. It’s hard not to let your mind wander to the next tragedy, to get beaten down by anticipation of the next death.

Then my feet hit the soft sand. I was running but getting nowhere fast. I found myself gasping for air – the anxiety rising up to choke me. My chest burned. The salty air stung my eyes. The tears started to come. I had to slow my steps to steady my breathing again.

In through the nose, out through the mouth. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

I felt like Moses and the Israelites standing in the darkness before the Red Sea. “…and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21). God was working through my darkness to hold back this sea of grief. If He could harness the wind and these ocean waves, He could surely help me navigate these rough waters.

Then I saw my husband Shawn. He had finished the race and returned looking for me. I felt the hope rising. I found the rhythm of my feet again. I strained and squinted for that arch that marked the finish. Shawn kept telling me it was there but I couldn’t make out the black letters through the mist.

I could see the Great Rock – Morro Rock – rising glorious and majestic before me, and I ran toward it. The words of the Psalmist were suddenly on my lips: “My rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God” (Psalms 62:6-7).

Are you being drowned by waves of grief? Are you squinting through the mist for a finish line? I encourage you to run toward the Rock. The waves of grief will come and go, ebb and flow, but the Rock will provide that refuge.

Finally, I saw it. I picked up the pace. I felt my strength and fight returning. My feet kicked to the next gear. I ran for the finish line. And just beyond towered the Rock.

**Are you navigating a grief journey? Could you use some words of encouragement? I’d love to add you to my Glorygram list, which includes a weekly dose of courage and recommendations. Read more about my Grief Journey here.

In the Shadow of the Giant: How to be a Glory Chaser

Posted by | Behold, community, courage, fierce flourishing, finishing well, laughter, running, self-care, Stories, Struggle/Hardship | 6 Comments

 

There is no gun to signal the start of this race. Just a voice bellowing “Go!” that echoes throughout the forest. I start up the trail. When I say up, I mean straight up. My trail shoes hit the rocky path, and I feel the strain. I lift my knees and pump my arms. My lungs burn for the first few miles because of the elevation, which soars above 5,000 feet.

I run today with a band of 10 mama runners (with 30 kids among us), who have become my tribe this year. We all run at different paces but we cheer for each other along the way. I’m not sure how it happened exactly. A few of us said we were going to try a trail race. Then several more signed up. And a few more stragglers registered at the last minute. And the rest is history. They remind me that I can do hard things in community.

This race is called the Shadow of the Giants, started in the 1990s by a notorious trail runner known as Big Baz. We’ve been told the now-75-year-old likes to harass runners out on the course.

This is my first trail 20k. I’ve run marathons and half marathons but this is the longest distance I’ve tackled on the trail. I’m a road runner. I grew up in the city racing 5ks and 10ks with my daddy and then eventually joining the high school track team when my soccer coach told me it would be good cross training.

The trail is different.

It taunts and charms me at the same time. The trail requires embracing the unknown. The trail experience is less about pace and mileage, and checking my Garmin watch, and more about lifting my eyes to drink in God’s glory around every curve.

I once heard a preacher talk about how we are called to be “glory chasers.” Pastor Mitchel Lee’s phrase sparked something deep inside me. He argued that we humans were put on this earth to discover God’s glory and reflect it back to God and those around us.

We have permission for ambition but not for personal glory. We are to live and work and run for God’s glory.

I pray for God to show me ways I can be a “glory chaser.”

I started this back in 2014 when I chose the word glory as my theme word. I had to train myself to notice His glory around me through the tragedy and the triumph. That was the year my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer. That was the year I experienced God’s glory in sunsets and along the coast. That was the year He showed up for us through our community, who served us, fed us, collected money for medical bills, and lifted us. That was the year my lover leaped into Heaven – the ultimate Glory – leaving me a widow with three children.

Now three years later, I’m still a glory chaser. I’m still looking for God in my every day. I’m tracing his faithfulness through every piece of my past. I’m leading others up the trail to unearth His glory for themselves.

This trail through the famous Nelder Grove not far from Yosemite National Park is the perfect teacher. The first four miles of our race is uphill. The battle on the trail is always against the mind.

My mind zigs and zags as I fix my eyes on my feet. So many rocks and rivets to navigate. Can I do this? Will my knees hold up? Do I have enough water? Will they leave me behind? How will I finish?

I start to lift my head when I hear my running buddy say, “We need to remember to lift our eyes up from the trail.” She, too, is driven to see the glory.

My eyes can’t help chasing up the trunks of the majestic sequoia trees – each one pointing toward Heaven. I am reminded of a Creator God who took time to plant every tree in this grove and design every bird and beast and flower that call this place home.

A glory chaser lifts her eyes to see God’s glory even when the trail is uphill.

I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this view – miles upon miles of trees and sapphire sky. My soul is calmed by the sound of water dancing down little waterfalls below us. We are in the shadow of the Giants and the shadow of the Most High God.

My friend just read Psalm 91 to me. I meditate on these words as I run: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” I whisper a prayer of thanks.

Thank you, Lord, for the shade provided by these trees shielding us from the heat of the sun and strengthening us on this uphill track. Thank you for lungs that can breathe and legs that run. Help me not to take these for granted but to see them as part of your glory too. Amen.

Before long, we have been running 7 miles. We hear water rushing below us and we know the river crossing is near. This is the X-factor, the uncertain part of the trail I have been most anticipating. After a heavy rain fall this past winter, I have heard this crossing could be as high as my waist. I debated for days what to wear and how to carry my gear.

When we arrive at water’s edge, I look at my friend. “Well, here we go.”

A glory chaser runs through the water instead of around it.

I think about Moses in Exodus 15 and how he followed God’s command. He led the Israelites straight to the roaring Red Sea. They ran for the water and the rapids parted.

A voice sings through my ear buds: “Your grace abounds in deepest waters.”

I step into the ice cold and begin to blaze a trail. I am filled with laughter as the water rushes over my legs and splashes my arms. I anticipated this as a difficult obstacle to cross but it proves a refreshing and memorable part of the race. Baz is on the other side of the shore with his white beard and broad smile.

“You made it, darling,” he says, warmly. “What did you think of it?”

“It was glorious,” is all I can say.

My friend Amber is behind me. She catches up and we continue on the trail. We feel a rush of excitement that we have survived the river and we are almost finished with our 20k.

We can breathe again without burning lungs. We chat about books we’ve read and travels we hope to take one day with our families. The trail offers a mix of companionship and solitude. I am grateful for my friend on these long miles to keep me going.

Her knee starts to hurt. We walk a while. I try to encourage her. We give ourselves no pressure to make time goals like I might in a road race. We want to savor every step. The sun crosses our path in patches but just when I put on my sunglasses we have ducked back into the shade. The temperature is perfect – another glimpse of God’s glory today.

My watch tells me we have finished 12 miles. Amber urges me that I must go ahead. She wants to walk and insists I run to the finish. I concede. The solitude will serve us both well, I know.

A glory chaser always runs with the finish in mind.

The trail turns from a wide road big enough for a fire truck to a single track of switchbacks headed downhill. I can’t help it. My feet take me faster and faster. I jump over logs and duck under tree branches. I am chasing the finish line now. I don’t know where it is exactly, but I trust my legs and my God to show me the course step by step.

This is a lesson I have learned these past three years. If God had revealed the whole course – all the details of my husband’s cancer journey, his death and our grief, and even the redemptive pieces of my story like getting remarried to one of his best friends, I am not sure I would have survived. I would have been overwhelmed by His full glory. He ran just ahead of me and paced me with His presence. I always ran in the protective shadow of the Giant.

My sprinter’s heart is pounding. I want to finish well. I want to run for His Glory. I want to cross the line like my husband did with arms outstretched and hear Him say those long-anticipated words, “Well done.”

 

**Are you interested in hearing more about how to be a glory chaser? Join here for updates on my Glory Chaser book and bible study project! And please share ways God has shown His glory to you in the comments below!

Farewell, old friend: When forty is the new thirty

Posted by | Be You Bravely, Behold, Biblical Womanhood, community, courage, creativity, death, family life, fierce flourishing, finishing well, friendship, gifts, Grief, Hope, individuality, Inspirational, kids, laughter, One Word, parenting, passion, relationships, rest, Stories, transitions | 4 Comments

 

This week I said goodbye to a good friend. She’s the friend who has walked with me through some of my greatest joys – the birth of two of my baby girls, finding my sweet spot in ministry, and learning a new language. She’s gone with me to book signings and baby showers. We have laughed until our bellies ached and sang together at the top of our lungs.

She’s also that friend who journeyed with me through the darkest days. She was there when he lost his job and Christmas was just around the corner. She was there when we were just scraping by, trying to raise a family. She was there when we received his cancer diagnosis. She stood with me by the graveside and sat by me when I wept and wailed my “whys” and “how comes” to God and the stars.

She’s been a faithful friend. She’s taught me how to love my body and stand firm in my convictions. She’s helped me to feel confident standing on a stage and mothering my three unique children. She’s the one who taught me how to let go of pretense and perfection.

Farewell, Thirties. Oh, how I will miss you.

I have a new friend now. I don’t like to replace people but it’s kind of turning out that way. Last Saturday we toasted my new friend with a full house and music spilling into our yard on Backer Avenue. We served up Indian food and delectable desserts. And my new friend swept into my life with a new haircut and a promise of new adventures to come.

Some people have jokingly called her my “mid-life friend.” I know better. I know she could be gone tomorrow.

She told me we have a blank canvas before us and handed me a paint brush. I pulled a new painter’s palette and basket of paints from that gift bag she brought. I don’t know how she knew I needed this. It’s like she read my journal or eavesdropped on my early-morning, whispered prayers.

“It’s time,” she said.

“Time for what?” I quizzed.

But I knew. I knew she was saying it’s time to remake myself.

It’s time to embrace all my old friend taught me and let go of the mistakes we made together. It’s time to stop worrying about pleasing people and start sharing this gorgeous glory story God has given me.

It’s time to move forward.

It’s time to give myself permission to rediscover, to explore, to celebrate, to rest and to remake me.

My new friend said I can run marathons, travel to new lands, jump into a new career, discover new adventures with my girls, dance wild and free with my new husband, and every once in a while linger over the memories of another life, another decade.

Hello, Forties. It’s so very good to meet you.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” ~Revelation 21:5

 

 

Would you like to read more about what I learned in my thirties decade?

Check out these blogs: 

Learning to flourish through the seasons

Personal Sabbath: How training for a marathon taught me to rest

Pressing into the bittersweet {and a love letter to my widow friends}

Posted by | Behold, community, Compassion, cooking, courage, fierce flourishing, food stories, friendship, Grief, Hope, Stories | 6 Comments

 

My love language is food, and I love sharing it with my people.  This past Sunday night I hosted a dinner party at my house. In the afternoon, my girls helped me roll meatballs, frost mini bundt cakes and dip chocolate strawberries. We scrubbed toilets and pulled out extra chairs so we could fit all the guests around the table. While my oldest prepared activities for the kids, I lit a mess of candles and arranged flowers all over the house.

The goal: to make our friends feel loved and cherished.

After all, it’s Valentine’s week, and we needed to celebrate. As the guests began to spill in the door, the pasta water began to boil. Everyone gathered in the entryway exchanging hugs and catching up. The kids found their way to our office/playroom with no trouble and started up a game of heart bingo.

The party had officially commenced.

A few friends helped me in the kitchen and we served up steaming platters of pumpkin ravioli with alfredo sauce and beef tortellini with tomato-meat ragu. We passed an antipasto salad and crusty bread with softened butter around the table. The volume rose with little clusters of friends all around the room chatting and telling stories.

You might not be able to tell it from the outside, but we all had one thing in common. We were all widows.

To be honest, this is not the kind of gathering I ever expected to have at my house. This certainly was never the story I would have written for myself. When I read my wedding vows to my beloved Ericlee, the thought never crossed my mind that I would be widowed before the age of 40. I never thought about navigating grief with my three daughters all under the age of 8 when their daddy graduated to heaven. Prior to his cancer diagnosis, all our dinner parties were with family and couples and friends with kids.

As I gazed around the table Sunday night, I experienced something surprisingly bittersweet.

Author Shauna Niequist illuminates this poignantly: “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.”

As my widow friends told stories, rich laughter rang out around the table. It was contagious. One story led to the next and to the next. An evening that could have been somber, that could have been spent home alone on the couch, was suddenly dripping with bittersweet like those strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.

We savored every bite.

I know Valentine’s Day can be hard when you are missing someone you love. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we were all surprised by joy and a few tears as we each remembered what we loved most about our husbands. Each one talked about husbands who had made them feel loved and cherished, who were their cheerleaders, their best friends, their spiritual leaders and the faithful fathers of their children.

I saw courageous mothers around that table. I saw women digging deep to rise above the ashes. I saw widows who were not willing to be defined by pity, but instead held fast to faith. Their strength buoyed mine.

We sent each of the women home that night with a bouquet of roses. As they drove away, I was struck by how, despite life’s thorns, God cultivates resilience in us through community. The blessing Sunday night was all mine.

 

***

 

Dear Widow Friend,

Today I know may feel bittersweet. I know the very thought of Valentine’s Day may prick your heart and trigger your memories. I know you will be scrolling through social media and see all the pictures of couples, and you will miss him.

You will stop and wonder how this came to be. You will ask yourself why you have to endure this holiday without your beloved. Again. I urge you to press in. Give yourself permission to grieve. Allow yourself to step into those memories. Don’t try to shut it down.

Remind yourself what you loved most about your man. Jot down some of those special things he did or the words he would gift to you on a day like today. Tell your kids about that silly gift he brought you that one year or the way he always showed up with flowers.

It’s ok to be a little sad on Valentine’s Day. It’s alright to shed a few tears – or even a deluge of tears if you have to – as you look at his pictures, as you remember the curve of his jaw and the tenor of his laughter.

I don’t want you to forget that you are still cherished. You are still loved.

I can’t help thinking about women in the Bible like Hagar who wandered in the wilderness with her child. God found her there. “Where have you come from and where are you going?” He asked her. He cared about her story. He saw her in her brokenness and leaned in close to see her, to listen to her.

Our God who sees is bending close to see you today.

I can’t help thinking about the widow, Ruth, who lost her husband and all the providers in her life. She followed her mother-in-law to a foreign land. She trusted God even in her grief. And He provided for her in Bethlehem. She was given food and shelter – and eventually a husband who brought new value to her life. A kinsman redeemer.

Widow friend, He provides for us in Bethlehem too.

I don’t pretend to know where or when or how God will provide for you, but I know He will. He is always, always, always working underground on your behalf. He may give you the gift of community. He may speak to you in a sunset. He may sing to you through the radio or the tune of a bird. Look for Him today. Listen for his love notes.

On this Valentine’s Day, I am extending my hands to you. I wish you courage and kindness and grace. And I wish you love.

Dorina

The Ministry of Presence

Posted by | community, Compassion, courage, Culture, death, Fear, friendship, Grief, Hope, Personal Stories, politics, protecting kids, relationships, serve, Sharing faith, Social Justice, Stories, Struggle/Hardship | 2 Comments

 

Last night I woke to the sound of my 5-year-old whimpering in the next room. I ran in to check on her. “Mama, mama, I had the baddest dream,” came her trembling voice. I climbed into the top bunk bed next to her and laid down. “Mama’s here,” I assured her. She put her little hand in mine. Immediately, I felt her body relax. She drifted back to sleep. In that moment, I realized what my baby-girl needed was my presence.

That little scenario made me pause. I couldn’t help thinking about the emotions I have felt in the weeks following the election and the Inauguration last Friday. This season has been harrowing to say the least. I have voted in six presidential elections in my lifetime, and I never remember it being this bad. The divisiveness, the name calling, the character bashing, the violence, the fear, the dismissiveness of those in my community grieves me.

Immediately following the election, I read a lot of posts on social media that people should stop being crybabies about the outcome. I read more of the same after the Inauguration on Friday and the Women’s March on Saturday. These were painful to read because there is so much more at stake here. It’s not a simple, “Your team won; mine lost” scenario. Meanwhile, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have also been teeming with posts about hate crimes and sexual assaults committed, about friends with families and local businesses who fear being deported, about school children expressing uncertainty about their future.

My heart aches for my people and our country.

I have been searching for my place in all this. I have been asking myself, “How can I use my voice as a woman, as a multi-ethnic American, and as a Christian in this climate? How can I leverage my privileges to lift up the most vulnerable? How can I offer grace and love to my neighbor in tense times like these?” The answer I keep hearing is related to what my 5-year-old taught me when she was fighting her nightmare. I need to offer up the “ministry of presence.”

In this context, a “ministry of presence” means moving in close to listen, laying down our defensiveness and agendas, and offering up empathy instead. I have been reading Ann Voskamp’s latest book, The Broken Way, and she reminds me anew that Jesus always moves into the places of grief and offers up the ministry of presence. She writes, “In a broken world, isn’t the call always to koinonia, to communion with community that bears our burdens with us? Wasn’t suffering then actually a call for us to be a community, to stand together and bear under, trusting that arms of love are always under us?”

I have been offered the gift of presence several times in my life, and it has been important to my healing. When I was in college, I was walking to class one day and two men grabbed me from behind. In the days that followed that sexual assault, fear rose up inside me like an all-consuming monster. Thankfully, I escaped rape but the damage to my mind had already been done. I could not walk down the street or a hallway without feeling anxiety or going into a panic attack.

During that season, a dear friend and her boyfriend (who later in life became a police officer) decided to be present with me. They woke up early every morning and walked me to my classes. They waited around to see me home in the evenings. It was a simple gesture but their presence made all the difference in the world. Little by little – through counseling and mountains of prayers over many years – I regained confidence. I found the tools to combat my fear. Of course, it was unrealistic for them to be my bodyguards for life but their willingness to be present with me in that initial season was a powerful gift.

More than 15 years later, I faced a devastating stage four cancer diagnosis for my beloved husband. This was a different kind of trauma. During that journey, I had hundreds of people who offered to help us in tangible ways but it was the ones who offered the “ministry of presence” whom I needed the most. Friends came to play worship music for my husband in his final days. Friends came to sit with us through the long hours of the night when he faced the most pain, and I was the most exhausted. My community stood with me by the graveside, and they offered my young daughters and me a safe space to grieve in the months to follow.

One family offered us the gift of their presence just a few months after his death when it was time to buy a Christmas tree. Our family’s tradition was to go to a local Christmas tree lot and pick out a tree with Daddy. As the time drew closer to Christmas, dread heightened in my heart. Our friends asked me this question, “How can we be present for you this season? What’s something we can do to support you?” They agreed to accompany us to the Christmas tree lot.

The girls ran down the aisles of the tree lot in search of the perfect tree with their friends. The husband helped secure it to my car. My dear friend hugged me tight as we put it up in our home. The tears pooled in my eyes when a gathering of friends came to decorate our tree. We shared ornaments with all of them as reminders of my husband and his quirky personality.

This simple act was healing for our family because it was more than a “like” on Facebook or an act of service, more than a check or card in the mail. They were not focused on giving advice or urging me to get over it. These friends stepped into a messy, awkward situation full of grief and memories, and they were present. They listened to our needs and offered to go with us on the journey. We were not alone.

I give these two examples because I believe in these challenging times we are all called to the “ministry of presence.” It’s easy to mouth off on Twitter or re-post that article on Facebook that supports our views, but the reality is people are hurting and scared. The most courageous thing we can do is listen. The bravest thing we can do is stand with them.

We recently visited a family who has adopted children from Ethiopia and Mexico. A picture of Donald Trump flashed on the television behind us. Their middle son asked his mama again and again if his brother would be deported. She told me he has asked hundreds of times in the last week. His parents try to reassure him and offer up comfort, but it’s hard.

I sat at my kitchen table the other day listening to the story of a dear friend who has been working for years to get her American citizenship. The process has been hairy. She watched the election with fear and trembling, realizing the ramifications for her family after living and contributing in the U.S. for decades. I listened. She educated me. She spoke with courageous faith and prayed for God to make a way for her now.

I recently dined with a group of my heart friends at a local Indian restaurant, where we often celebrate each other’s birthdays. This group of friends represents a diversity of cultures and professions. We all attend different churches and live in different parts of the city. It was important to be present with each other, to sit face to face and listen to each other’s unique experiences. One woman’s son was afraid his grandma (who is a citizen) will be sent back to El Salvador. Another friend said one of her clients just chose to move to Mexico to escape all that is happening.

I considered my own multi-ethnic daughters, whose hair colors and skin colors vary in hue. How would these next four years shape their cultural identities? Would they endure comments and prejudice? As mamas, my friends and I contemplated: How can we administer grace, teach resilience and model peace in our communities and our homes?

My challenge to myself and to you is to ask: How can I be present for someone today? This is not just about acts of service or help. It’s taking time to listen, to empathize, to grieve alongside others.

These are some practical examples that have inspired me:

-invite friends to dinner and ask them to share their stories
-walk to school with neighbors and friends
-make something and deliver it to a neighbor from a different cultural background and ask them how they are doing
-offer to sit and be present with someone who is grieving
-read books to your children about empathy, kindness and other cultures
-stand with someone in your community who is afraid
-speak up against racist or sexist remarks

Friends, this is how we can be used by God in these uncertain times. In Matthew 1:23, an angel announces the birth of Jesus Christ: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us.’)” God chose to put on flesh and come to earth as a baby, who grew to be a man, who chose to be with people, to walk alongside them in their suffering, and lay down his life for them.

In the same way, we are designed to dwell with others in community. We need to carve out space for lament in our churches. We need to ask the hard questions and listen to our neighbor’s story. We need to set aside our political differences and be present with others, especially those vulnerable during this season. This is activism too. We need to seize the opportunity to be Immanuel – God with us – to those in our community.

**This article was previously published on www.inAllthings.org.

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