Finally 40

40 days ago I set out to blog my way to 40. My goal was to explore 40 different facets of who I am, embrace 40 days of newfound friendship, rock 40 days of fun fashion, encourage 40 days of reflection and enjoy 40 days of photography.  

I did write everyday for 40 days and loved every minute. I failed at blogging everyday for 40 days. I published 27 blogs total. I have 17 additional drafts that I started, but I did not wish to produce filler content, so if I did not feel it was ready or worthy, I did not post. 

I learned a bunch about blogging and a lot about myself. I have met lots of new people and became better acquainted with old friends. I had fun expressing myself through fashion and loved being in front of the camera instead of behind.

Guess what? I’m 40 y’all!!! Finally, I get to say farewell to my 30’s and embrace 40. It feels good to be here. I never thought I would live beyond 36, so seeing 40 feels fantastic. This year has been filled with some of my favorite memories. Memories I have dreamed of since I was a little girl. 

This year has been a golden year for friendship. My friends are more like sisters and my sister is one of my closest friends. My friends encourage and collaborate with one another in wonderful ways. We have supported each other through the birth of both babies and businesses, celebrated the release of albums and books, but most importantly we have prayed for one another through life’s heartaches and headaches. 

For today’s post I thought it would be fitting for me to thank YOU. Without your companionship, 40 Days to 40 would have been an online diary, but because of your presence and participation I am an official blogger! Thank you for reading the overflow of my heart. Your comments, likes, shares, subscriptions, and private messages have meant so much to me. 

The blogosphere has embraced me with open arms. I have enjoyed being able to peer into your world and savor your words. Open book living is the only life for me! I will continue to blog on a weekly basis. Who knows, maybe even more… In the meantime, keep seeing, saying, and setting people free. The world needs your words, because your words change the world. 

Babes Who Blog

Special thanks to my daughter Trinity for editing my blogs, my husband Melvin and friend Beverly, for reading every word I wrote, my friend April for helping me get unstuck if ever I faced a fashion crisis and my fairy godmother Camil for making me feel beautiful from the inside out. My sister Rocky for catching any edits me or Trinity may have missed. My friends Peaches, Rashida, Terri, Katie W., Katie T., CarlyAnn and Chanda for encouraging me to share my truth always and Ms. Evelyn for faithfully being my human filter who makes sure I write from a pure place. I love you ladies to life and I am thankful for your presence in my world!
Time to rock 40!!! 

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Afraid to Fall

Yesterday I went to a 1980’s/1990’s themed skate party. Prior to then, I am not sure when was the last time I wore skates. It was probably in the 80’s or 90’s. I was praying that skating was like bike riding, hoping that the moment I tied that awkward bow, I would magically know how to skate again.

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As a mom of 6, who has had a knee surgery and double foot surgery, the thought of skating slightly terrified me. Allow me to clarify, skating wasn’t what scared me, falling is what frightened me. Memories of air blowing in my face, loud music and laser lights excited me; but the memory of falling made me hesitant. Who would care for my kids if I hurt myself? What would happen if I dislocated my knee? What if I re-injured my feet? Is 40 too old to be rolling around a rink?

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All my fears subsided when my husband grabbed my hand, led me to the floor and said, “Come on Babe, trust me, you won’t fall.” Like a goofy, gullible kid, I trusted him and guess what? I did not fall. After rolling around the rink a few times my shins started to burn, but other than that, it was smooth sailing. We had an amazing time!

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We shared a memory that would not exist if I did not allow him to lead me. We laughed, danced, rapped and sang as we skated the night away. I wish I could tell you that skating is like riding a bike but I can not. What I can tell you is that life is like skating. Don’t allow your fear of falling to keep you from living.

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Falling would not have meant that I was a  hopeless cause. Falling would have actually meant that I was one step closer to my goal of finding balance. Seeking stability is not much different from falling while skating. You fall, laugh, dust yourself off and let the lover of your soul lead you back into the circle of life.

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Your shins may burn, but that is just because you are exercising (faith) muscles that haven’t been used regularly. Keep trusting, keep skating and fight the urge to focus on falling. Make it your aim to find balance so you can enjoy the experience.

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To find out more about our marriage read my previous blog entitled:

Anniversary Q&A

I love Christ But I Don’t Like Christmas 

I can’t remember when it happened exactly, but I broke up with Christmas. At first I said, “Hey! Our relationship is much deeper than gifts, so let’s write letters to make sure our relationship doesn’t become superficial.” For years I wrote letters and sent cards to hundreds of people. The message was simple and consistent, Jesus is the reason for the season; but, overtime I began to wonder if that declaration was true.

If Jesus is the reason for the season then why do we focus on everything but Christ during Christmas time? Shopping, Santa, stockings, trees, baked goods, gifts, mistletoes, candies… Christmas is one big giant sensory overload. Initially we would do a “Happy Birthday Jesus Party” to keep our focus on Christ. Upon examining Christ’s birth a bit closer, I felt like I had been in a relationship with someone who had been lying to me about their past.

Christmas started to feel more like an arranged marriage rather than the advent of my Savior. Christmas is something my parents introduced me to. I really did not have a choice whether or not I was going to enter this relationship. I never quite understood why adults would teach me not to talk to strangers but would dress me up once a year, take me to a complete stranger, have me sit on his lap, whisper in his ear, and tell him what I wanted. They would even go so far as to encourage me to write a letter to him and include my home address. Is it just me, or is that creepy?

Christmas traditions perplex me. No matter how much I tried to tie biblical meaning to holiday symbols for my children, it just felt like I was doing a different version of the same thing. Revamping Christmas traditions to put a Christian twist on them felt more like embellishment and conjecture.

My favorite non-traditional Christmas celebration was called, “Bring Your God Given Gift.” It was a party in which we encouraged all of our friends to celebrate Christmas by sharing their talents to honor God in lieu of exchanging presents. If a person cooked, they brought a dish. If they played an instrument, they played a song. If they had a gift of speaking, they shared a message. Like the various parts of the body we got to see every joint supply as something significant. For many, I believe it was one of the first times that their God given gift had been acknowledged in a formal setting.

For every stage of my Christmas detox there have been aspects that I have thoroughly enjoyed. I have always loved sending and receiving mail. For years we would write a family newsletter, send a photo greeting, or mail a Christmas poem out to loved ones and friends. It was one of my favorite ways to commemorate the holidays. I think overtime, social media has diminished the impact of photos because we share them so frequently. I still find it endearing to receive Christmas cards, but I did not feel like taking the time to mail cards this year. Time and money saved from addressing envelopes was spent with my family. My only regret is that older relatives (who aren’t on social media) won’t have the excitement of opening an envelope and seeing our faces this season.

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I am not a killjoy. My kids do get to experience winter fun. We occasionally accept invitations to Christmas parties and we make memories with our friends. But we refrain from the consumer driven pressure to purchase gifts. Commercialism has not corrupted our kids. They enjoy both giving and receiving gifts throughout the year but we have never done a traditional gift exchange.

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Prior to being married, my husband and I witnessed children disrespect their parents over unmet expectations on Christmas morning. We decided long before having kids that we would not create an environment for our children to believe that Christmas is when you get stuff. Our children cherish the gift of presence not just presents.

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Breaking up with Christmas is a process. It does not have to take place over night. We have baked cookies for neighbors in pastimes. Passed out cozy socks and blankets at the nursing home, and purchased gifts for single parents. I am not sharing this to brag on our family’s good works. I am sharing this to help someone not feel bad about relinquishing man made traditions. It is okay for you to break free from something that might be perfectly fine for others but just no longer works for you. It doesn’t mean you love Jesus any less. It may mean that you find yourself free enough to love Him more.

My most frequent memory of Christmas when I was younger was a desire to give, but a feeling of never having enough that would follow. These days I rest in knowing that I owe man nothing but love. I find it far easier to love others well, when I can do so in the absence of buyer’s remorse. The only debt I will enter the new year with is a charge of being present in people’s presence, and loving them with the love of Christ.

Do you have a non-traditional way of celebrating Christmas? If so, feel free to share in the comments below.

Whitney Plantation: The Bitter Side of Sugar

wordswag_1482295218104On December 19, 2016 my husband and I checked something off of my lifetime list. We visited The Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana. I first found out about it because I saw a video on a friend’s Facebook wall. It captured my attention because the caption said something like, “White Man Spends $8M to Open First Slavery Museum in America.”

I clicked on the link and was blown away by the story of John Cummings, a retired New Orleans trial lawyer and real estate developer, who transformed Whitney Plantation into a deeply meaningful museum. Unlike other plantation tours that focus on the wealthy, Whitney Plantation focuses on the lives of the enslaved who once worked the property.

Slave Quarters

The tour gripped my heart and mind in a way that no other museum has ever done. Three of the dwellings that stuck out to me were the stable for the horses, donkeys, and pigeons. They were all more accommodating than the structures that housed slaves. I couldn’t help but lay in bed that night and ponder how people could justify treating animals with more compassion than humans.

Donkey Dwelling

The Whitney Plantation has researched and recognized slavery in a way that made me realize, no matter how much I think I understand a portion of history, I don’t. Short from time travel there is no way to really know what took place unless you hear it from the people themselves. One of my favorite aspects of the tour is that you get the opportunity to both hear and read quotes from the enslaved in their own words.

Quotations

I hope to someday return with my children. Being there made me think of them. Not just because of the statues of children in the Antioch Church or the Field of Angels that contained the names of over 2,000 slave babies in St. John Parish who died before the age of 3. But because, if I don’t expose them to America’s true history, who will? If they don’t know their past, how will they be passionate about being preemptive against injustice in the future?

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Field of Angels by Rod Moorhead

When I was little I remember being told that my grandfather was a share cropper who picked cotton and cut sugarcane. As a kid, the first thing that came to mind was that cotton is soft and sugar is sweet. “What’s so bad about that?” I had no real frame of reference. By the time I was a teen I understood that picking cotton was hard. Whenever we would travel South, I would get an erie feeling as we passed by cotton fields. However, it wasn’t until I listened to our tour guide at The Whitney Plantation describe how dangerous harvesting sugarcane was that I started to get a true glimpse of the bitter side of sugar.

Kettles Used to Stir Sugar Cane for Granulation and Slave Dwellings in the Distance

I wondered how I would have viewed slavery as a child had I been able to tour a place like The Whitney Plantation. Would I have worked even harder in school? Would I have taken advantage of more opportunities to be all I could be? I remember hearing stories from my uncle of how my grandmother would have a baby one day and be picking cotton the next. As a kid, I thought, “Wow, Grandmama was strong!” As a mother, I can’t even fathom what it must have been like… Trying to get a nursing baby to latch on after a long day in a hot field with cotton buds sticking your hands and critters of all kind underfoot.

Angel Carrying a Slave Baby to Heaven

While touring the Whitney Plantation, I read a narrative from a child who described what it was like for their mom to give birth in a sugar cane field. It made me think of my grandparents and the things their parents and grandparents must have experienced. Because we didn’t share lots in common one thing that we did share were moments of awkward silence. Oh how I wish I could go back in time and fill blank spaces with questions like, “Grandaddy, can you tell me about your Granddaddy?”

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My Grandfather Jimmie D. Burton
Shackles

I would resort to acts of service to show my affection, like rubbing lotion on my grandfather’s feet. It seemed like no matter how much lotion I applied, they always seemed cracked and dry. I once joked with my cousin about how Grandaddy’s feet looked like the feet of a slave. We laughed until we had tears in our eyes and today it makes me want to cry. I am reminded of the times that I laughed at slave references or accepted some glamorized version of our nation’s history. I am not angered by what happened. But I am disturbed by how we have handled history, until now. 

Middle Passage Sculpture Donated by Ken Smith

 I have had friends tell me how disheartened they have been in the past while visiting plantations in Tennessee with their children on school field trips. One mom told me there were actors portraying smiling slaves who sang songs and acted as though slavery was a delight. Whitney Plantation is much different. It shows a glimpse of slavery through the eyes of children. I am thankful for their approach. I think it is time our children began learning truth. Perhaps if we told them what really happened, they would have empathy and compassion for one another and take advantage of education. If we share accurate accounts of history, maybe they will hold us accountable when we go astray.

Available for Purchase at Whitney Plantation 
Hallelujah Sculpted by Ken Smith

I woke up with my thoughts consumed by consumerism. If the demand for cotton, indigo, tobacco, sugarcane, and rice, caused people to enslave then, what is the cause of slavery now? Are our trends and propaganda creating pressure that compels people to spend more than they make, thereby making them slaves to debt? Is our lust, greed, and gluttony the cause for modern day slavery? If you find yourself hesitant to answer YES, try explaining forced migrant work, arranged marriages, prison wages or sex trafficking to your children.

Formal Dining Room in the Big House
Bedroom in the Big House
Cup in the Detached Kitchen

If you know of a must see exhibit, please share in the comments below. I would love to add it to my lifetime list. If you have visited the Whitney Plantation, what were your thoughts of the museum and monuments? If you have not visited The Whitney Plantation, I pray that this post and these images pique your interest. It is a must see for all Americans of all ages.

Invisible Diner

My husband and I stopped for breakfast at a not so fancy restaurant. We were in a tiny town in Tennessee. We sat down at the counter, and I am sure we stood out. The service was good, the food was fantastic, and all was fine until Melvin said “Ma’am, is that our check?” The lady hushed him with a strange look and acted as though we were invisible. It was awkward but I had peace but only because just seconds before everyone was so warm and friendly.

She gave her full attention to the other patron and whispered something to our waitress about us. Once the other customer left the building, magically we were no longer invisible. She could see us and she even spoke to us again. She said, “I’m sorry, but that man insisted that I let him take care of your bill, and not say anything about it until he left.”

As we all sighed a sigh of relief and laughed; I wondered to myself, “What, other than our skin color, could have made us stand out from anyone else at that counter?” The only answer I could come up with was that we held hands and blessed our food before we ate. Thanks kind stranger!  Sadly, we live in a country that tries to make everything about race when most of the time the issue is light vs darkness.

I shared this on Facebook in December of 2015. I wanted to share because it received so much engagement. Hope it warmed your heart during this holiday season. Be the light and let love always be your highest aim!

Anniversary Q&A

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1. What is something quirky about me that you love?

Toya- I like that you talk to yourself.

Melvin- I love that you are a black girl who can’t dance.

2. How did you know I was the one?

Toya- I knew you were the one because you loved all the things I didn’t like about myself.

Melvin-I knew you were the one because you weren’t naive and you survived meeting my mom.

3. What song would you say is “our” song?  (Old School & New School)

Toya- Old School, It’s Our Anniversary by Tony, Toni, Tone. New School, What Do You Say by Proverbalist.

Melvin- Don’t You Know by Heavy D. New School, My Whole Life Has Changed by Genuine

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To hear a song my husband wrote for me click photo.

4. What is your favorite book and why?

Toya-The Bible. It’s the perfect blend of drama and hope.

Melvin- The Bible. It’s always applicable.

5. What is one of the first things I did that made an impression on you?

Toya-You heard me.

Melvin-You gave me your number.

6. What is a goal you have for our marriage?

Toya-I’d like for us to leave a legacy of love in the earth. One that impacts our children’s children. I would love for us to write a book on marriage.

Melvin-I would like to experience more firsts together.

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7. What is your absolute favorite memory with me?

Toya- Traveling to Honduras.

Melvin-It’s not a memory, it’s a feeling.

8. What advice would you give to a couple about to get married?

Toya-Pray for, praise, protect and pursue one another.

Melvin-Put your spouse before yourself.

9. Would you rather time travel with me into our past or into our future?

Toya-I would choose to travel to the past, I would like for you to meet my father.

Melvin- I would like to travel to the future to meet our children’s children. To see space travel or find out if we all become zombies.

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10. When was the last time we laughed uncontrollably?

Toya-Yesterday. You did an impersonation of Jeff Bridges in The Giver.

Melvin-In Mississippi when our son asked the preacher why he said “Ha!” between every word.

11. Would you rather have more money to spend on me or more time to spend with me?

Toya-I would rather have more time to spend with you.

Melvin-I want more time to spend with you and more money to spend on you because you were with me when I had no money.

12. What has been our greatest trial?

Toya-Adoption.

Melvin-Raising children.

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13. What has been our greatest triumph?

Toya-Adoption

Melvin- Being “happily” married.

14. Tell me one thing that I do for you that no one else does? (Outside of the obvious.)

Toya-You listen when I’m hurting until pain leaves and love returns.

Melvin- Give me purpose. Make me feel special.

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15. What is the very first thing you thought of me when we first met?

Toya-I thought you were a flirt, I didn’t like your cologne, you were light-skinned…

Melvin-I thought you were a cute girl that I wanted to flirt with.

16. What is my greatest weakness?

Toya- Your rigid paradigms.

Melvin- That you love people so deeply.

17. What is my greatest strength?

Toya- Your ability to compartmentalize.

Melvin- That you love people so deeply.

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If you have any questions you would like to add to our list we welcome you to do so in the comment section. To listen to What Do You Say, written by Melvin Poplar Jr. (vocals by Adam Sullivan) click image under question number three. Thanks for taking the time out to help us celebrate our anniversary! We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our marriage.

Toya & Melvin Poplar

P.S. Don’t be shy, we would love to hear from you. If you are married how many years have you been married, what advice would you offer a couple about to get married?

 

17 Anniversary Questions

In honor of me and my husband’s 17th wedding anniversary we came up with 17 questions for couples. Feel free to answer them and invite your spouse to do the same. Tomorrow we will share our answers. Enjoy!

17 Anniversary Questions

  1. What is something quirky about me that you love?
  2. How did you know I was the one?
  3. What song would you say is “our” song? (Old School & New School)
  4. What is your favorite book and why?
  5. What is one of the first things I did that made an impression on you?
  6. What is a goal you have for our marriage?
  7. What is your absolute favorite memory with me?
  8. What advice would you give to a couple about to get married?
  9. Would you rather time travel with me into our past or our future?
  10. When was the last time we laughed uncontrollably?
  11. Would you rather have more money to spend on me or more time to spend with me?
  12. What has been our greatest trial?
  13. What has been our greatest triumph?
  14. Tell me one thing that I do for you that no one else does? (Outside of the obvious.)
  15. What is the first thing you thought when we first met?
  16. What is my greatest weakness?
  17. What is my greatest strength?

What’s Left

Have you ever encountered,

A love so pure,

That it looks beyond your sickness,

And straight to the cure? 

One who knows your beginning,

Yet sees your end. 

One who lets love cover,

Instead of seeing your sin? 

Maybe you’ve wondered,

Can such a love be found? 

When darkness surrounds you,

Love’s light will abound. 

Maybe such a love sounds rather odd. 

If our hearts don’t condemn us,

Then we have confidence towards God. 

Whatever is condemning you,

Just let it go.

Guilty ground,

Is no place to grow. 

Every flower that I’ve seen,

Has gone through some dirt. 

They know what it is like,

To endure when it hurts. 

Broken clouds,

Will bring forth life’s rains. 

You will break through the soil,

And heal from the pain.

The battle is not yours,

So don’t even fight. 

Joy will soon come,

With the morning light. 

Although you can’t take back,

The words that were said. 

You can take captive

The voices in your head. 

Yesterday is gone

And tomorrow may not come. 

At the end of the day,

What’s done is done. 

Choose your words wisely,

And cherish every breath. 

Don’t focus on what is lost,

Focus on what is left. 

Something to Love

When I was little I wondered if I was adopted. My personality was so different from my siblings; adoption was the only explanation for my pensiveness. I was a melancholy middle child who was always aware that I was different.

The irony is, I looked just like my father’s side of the family. So, I knew I was at least his. The older I got, I started to look like my mom, there went my adoption theory… Alas, I was hers also. I had no idea of what to do about my inner yearning to belong. What do you do when you feel like you just don’t fit?

I found something to love. I loved my stuffed animals, baby dolls, Barbies and I babysat. I had best friends, boyfriends and bold dreams of someday having a big family. Fast forward into my future, I am now a married mom of six.

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My youngest three sons are adopted, they are ages, six, seven and eight. As much as my childhood adoption daydream was my answer to “being different,” for them I wonder if it is what makes them question if they fit in.

When our boys are feeling forlorn, I am the first to notice. I can detect when they feel dejected and naturally it burdens my heart. Hands that were made to help, have often been used to hurt and steal. I prayed and prayed to God for answers and He showed me, they need something to love.

I went to the local thrift store and found three little stuffed bears. I brought them home, put them in the washer and told our boys the bears needed someone to handle them with care. The boys were exhilarated. The eight year old named his bear after himself and said he would call him, “Junior.

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Our first trip to the store with our newfound friends was the most stress-free experience we have ever had in public. I kept thinking, “Wow! I wish I would have given them bears when they were one, two and three.” Someone asked me, “Aren’t they too old for bears?” My response was, “We are never too old to learn how to care and we all need something to love.”

The same God who prompted a precious birth mom to share the gift of life, compelled someone to donate three little bears to fill a void in our boy’s lives. If your heart is longing for something, take note, it’s not always about what you can get. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Our boys did not need another lifeless object, they needed something they could pour their lives into.

Love you to life!

Toya

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Our three little bears when they were one, two and three.

The Beauty of Recovery

I have been writing for the last few days, yet none of the things I have written feel right. They are true but not the truth that I wish to share with the world. I believe in creating from a pure place, so until I feel like I am a clean stream for the Father to flow through, I choose to say nothing at all.

Every now and then I walk through something that knocks the wind out of me. I have been trying to catch my breath over the last few days. Recovery is not always pretty, but it certainly serves its purpose. The purpose of recovery is to return to a normal state of mind, place of peace, health, or strength. If I am walking through something, it affects all of the above.

In my efforts to regain control of whatever has been lost, I shut down so that I can reboot, and recuperate on my own. As much as I can preach a friend out of a pit, when I go through tough times I am so pitiful. Being left to my own thoughts is a dangerous place. While recently sulking in my closet floor I received an early morning call from a friend.

Her voice was like sunlight breaking through overcast skies. Like rain after days of drought. I was able to fall apart so that true recovery could begin. Until that moment I was only pretending to be okay. On the inside of me there was a little girl whose heart was shattered. My friend did not fix me, but she listened to my heart. Being heard was an invitation for true healing to begin.  I am not one hundred percent, but I am happy to be on the mend. God often uses ugly circumstances to make us beautiful.

Making Me Beautiful

He’s making me beautiful,

And it does not feel nice.

My life seems chaotic.

Nothing is right.

I am not psychotic,

So I know He is in control.

Although my heart is breaking,

He is making me whole.

At times I get tired,

And He makes me get rest.

He strengthens me mentally,

When I am not at my best.

It does not feel good,

But I will rejoice and be glad.

I will be lovely in the end,

And that’s not so bad.

When we are walking through tough times it is hard to see the beauty of recovery. Is your heart hurting? Are you in need of healing? Do you wish to be heard? If your answer is YES, know that you are not alone. One of the most beautiful things about recovery is that being vulnerable makes you sensitive to those who are hurting around you. Allow your brokenness to become someone else’s beauty. I have noticed that sometimes one of the keys to returning to a normal state of mind is found in looking around, not looking within. Hang in there; life will get better if you just keep living.