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Faith and Vision

Say it aint so…about 23 days left in 2019. Really??? December is upon us. It’s a great month to reflect on the year and to think about goals for the upcoming year. Although these last 3 months have been the most difficult for me, I’m fairly optimistic about 2020. I know I am because I went to the Dollar Tree and bought my daughter, Elise, and I a couple of poster boards for our 2020 vision boards. It was Elise’s idea. We’ll embark on this activity during the Christmas break. I’m looking forward to the time off and spending it with my family.

Why is it that the time flies by the fastest from September to December? To be honest, the first 5 months of the year were a blur. I can best summarize it as: work was gruesomely rewarding, my son graduated high school, my daughter completed 8th grade, my son and I traveled to the Dominican Republic for a life changing trip, and some family members came to visit us in Austin in between. It was a roller coaster ride, for sure. I was doing alright with 2019 until my husband started getting sick again.

What I’ve learned in these last few months, the hardest months of my 2019, is that God’s hand is on me and my family. He’s been trying to tell me something for a while. I’m listening. He’s got my attention. God has me where He wants me. I know this because my intellect, education, and experience can’t get me out of this. I have no where else to turn except to God.

I no longer believe in happenstance, coincidence, or the like. I’ve known since my twenties my God given purpose is to help people. However, I’m coming to terms that God has a plan for my destiny. I don’t know what it is yet, and that’s hard to live with.

I’ve been spending time daily reading and listening to teachings about Detours. My faith is being tested. I feel like this is the final exam. I’m recalling a time in college, where I was waiting on the results of a final exam. It was a difficult exam. Sometimes, you just know when you do well on a test or not, but in this case, it could have gone either way. This is where I am now.

The more I delve into the spiritual side of me, the more closed off I want to be. This means I want to spend less time on social media. I want to spend less time trying to impress people on purpose. I want to spend less time writing on my blog. I just want to get to understand God better. Can anyone relate?

With all of my life’s experiences thus far, I will say that God has molded me to be a STRONG and COURAGEOUS person. I can’t imagine what else He is preparing me for. Only God knows. I’m learning how to wait patiently and to wait well.

My words should have painted the picture that I’ve been struggling. The struggle is the underlying tug in my words. However, I know there are better days ahead. In fact, TODAY is a GOOD day and it really was(time for bed). It’s called FAITH. This blog site is about self-care and I would be remiss to not acknowledge the most important tool in my self-care box is FAITH. Faith in God and then faith that he’s equipping me to withstand anything. Admittedly, it’s a little scary to think about what other challenges I may face in this life, but whatever it is, I will withstand it.

In 2020, I’m looking forward to a fresh new year to start over. I want to make more meaningful connections with people, especially the people I love and those who love me. Life is too short to worry about people who don’t matter when the people who do matter are right under your nose. They deserve most of our attention and love. I also see more travel on the horizon.

I’ve been saving old magazines so Elise and I can work on our vision boards. I’ll be thinking about some other goals for 2020. I hope I find the pictures to capture it. Do you know that visualization in your mind increases the likeliness of achieving goals. I visualize in my mind often. However, the last time we did a vision board was in 2016. It’s been long overdo.

How about you? What lessons surfaced for you in 2019? What are you looking forward to in 2020?

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Gratitude

Be grateful my friends!

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This is the time of year for giving thanks, so it’s no surprise that I’m about to lay out exactly what I’m thankful for in this post. Before I do, I will point out that practicing gratitude on a daily basis is something I’ve aspired to do over the years.  At one time, I arranged for each of my kids and my husband to have their own gratitude journal. I personalized each journal with their name followed by a heart ♡ that I drew myself. The plan was for us to write or draw what we were grateful for when the urge hit.

Looking back, that was my attempt to instill the love of journaling into my kids. To my chagrin (I may be exaggerating), I don’t know what happened to those journals. I was just kidding myself thinking my husband would do it, but for a time I think…

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Food chronicles: November comfort

Yes, it is. This is the Sunday before Thanksgiving! If like me, home cooks from all over are thinking about, planning, and even prepping their Thanksgiving menu extravaganza. In my household, we’ve been talking about the Thanksgiving dinner since the beginning of November.

I made turkey broth with smoked turkey wings three weeks ago. I froze the delicious product. It occurred to me I may need another batch of broth since I make soups weekly and have been using up my stash. Therefore, I’ll be making another batch this Tuesday or Wednesday with the leftover roasted chicken we’ll have for dinner tomorrow. That’ll be the third batch of homemade broth I’ve made in November. My main motivation is the health benefit In case you don’t know, collagen (bone broth is a source) is amazing for hair, skin, and nails.

I wrote my Thanksgiving menu three weeks ago and reviewed it with my husband, Bryan. Since then, I’ve been strategically ensuring I have all of my ingredients. I’m not one to wait until the last minute for something this important.

Yesterday, I was so excited to pick up bags of sweet potatoes from my local grocery store at $0.14 cents per pound. Can you believe that? I bought 12 sweet potatoes for $2.10. The sweet potatoes were the only major ingredient where I waited to purchase because about a week ago a grocer told me that this deep discount was coming. We’re all looking forward to my sweet potato pies. I might do something different with the sweet potatoe side dish instead of making my usual scrumptious mashed sweet potatoes.

This year, possibly today if I’m up to it, I will do something different and make pumpkin bread. I have no idea if I have the right pumpkins considering we picked these up from our churches’ front lawn last month. No, we didn’t steal them. Our pastor told us to take them home.

Beautiful Sunday morning at church. LPC

I don’t want to waste the pumpkins, so I will make pumpkin puree for smoothies, bread, and whatever other ideas I conjure up.

Naturally, because this is turkey month, I’ve gotten caught up in sharing my ideas on the Thanksgiving meal when this blog post is REALLY supposed to be about the other comfort foods I’ve conjured up this month. You know I’ve been cooking up a storm.

I love fried plaintains, which is a Haitian staple. I don’t make them often and I’ve been thinking about why that is. It partly has to do with it being a fried food, which I tend to not consume often. And they are not just fried once, they are double fried. You fry them once, remove them from the oil, then smash them in the plaintain peel, and return them to the oil to fry again.

Plaintains are also in the carbohydrate family. I actually “googled” their health benefits recently, which caused me to gain more of an appreciation for them. They would probably be a regular part of my diet if I liked them boiled like my mom did, but I don’t. No bueno. Fried is best.

A few weeks ago, I decided to indulge and picked up two from the grocery store. I’m so glad I did.

Fried plantains or banan. LPC

Soup is the ultimate comfort food in my book. Last month, my daughter and I took a trip to an Asian Market. I stocked up on noodles and rice. The noodle prices were a bargain for the amount I purchased, but I didn’t think so much so on the rice. Regardless, I also purchased a large bag of brown jasmine rice.

Thai shrimp and noodles soup. LPC

My son and daughter loved this soup. I loved this soup. I woke up one Saturday morning with a taste and believed I could carry out a thai soup. I’m using the word “thai” loosely here, but it worked. I got to use my thai red chilli curry paste, which I’ve had for a while. It was also my first time cooking an egg in liquid. My homemade broth made this recipe SHINE.

I’ve learned the preferred method is to soak rice noodles in warm water instead of boiling them prior to adding to a dish. This epiphany has been “GAME CHANGING”!

My daughter could eat tacos everyday. She loves them. I’ve loved tacos since I was a little girl growing up in Chicago. We all love them and the combinations are limitless. In one week, I made sauteed chicken tacos with black beans, taco soup, and breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs and leftover chilli. All I can say is YUM, YUM, and YUM!!!

Sauteed chicken breasts for tacos. LPC

Sauteed chicken, black beans and pico de gallo. LPC

Finally, I don’t stray too far away from my Haitian roots and the dishes I grew up with. I pulled out my mortar and pestle or “pilon” to make rice and peas with oven fried chicken.

I used my brown jasmine rice, which entailed a longer cooking time and produced a softer texture than I’m used to, but the flavor profile was on point.

Oven fried chicken wings, rice & peas with salad. LPC

Light lesson: It just occurred to me that cooking is an expression of my creativity. I love to cook and being creative connects me to my divine source, which is probably why I enjoy being creative in this way so much. I can’t take credit for linking creativity to God because I’ve read about this before. To make this connection in my own life is reaffirming.

So what sides are you conjuring up this week for Thanksgiving. If not through cooking, how else do you express your creativity?

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So I was thinking…

I’ve been thinking about revamping my blog site. My blog journey began in 2016 although it took me a year before I had the courage to just do it. Aside from my long love affair with journaling, I don’t recall who or what inspired me to start my own blog, but when I made up my mind, I had to do it. The blog experience has been rewarding, deflating, exhilarating, deflating, fun, deflating, and ENLIGHTENING.

Coincidentally, I started my blog site a few months before being diagnosed with breast cancer. Writing in the form of blogging is therapeutic for me. I needed to blog during that pivotal time in my life. I don’t think I would be able to function for very long without processing my thoughts via writing or blogging. Writing is my SUPER POWER. Writing is my ULTIMATE expression of self-care.

I blog for my own personal satisfaction, but I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge I’d love more “likes” and “comments” to my posts. I follow other blogs and realize that some bloggers invest a great deal of time on their blog sites. Some actually blog for a living, which is neat, but not my life. My career as a public servant is my living. Blogging is my hobby. And it’s not that I’m investing only an hour here and there. When I blog, I easily lose several hours because I get so engrossed. Additionally, when able, I spend time reading other blog sites.

So how do I want to revamp my blog? The short answer is I’m not sure yet. I’ve thought about retiring my “enlightenedsocialworker.blog” site to start something new, but as you can imagine, it is very sentimental to me. Over the years, I’ve noticed my writing improve in that my thoughts are more clear and succinct. I attribute this to my day job where I spend lots of time editing my staff’s work. We produce many deliverables and work on short time frames, so I need to produce and edit quickly.

I’ve written on numerous topics pertaining to self-care and my life. In the past year, I’ve expanded topics to include more of what I’m passionate about such as cooking. I’ve written about grief, leadership, social issues, breast cancer, relationships, healthy aging, ethnicity, identity, and more. At times, I’ve thought about narrowing my site’s focus. Other times, I’ve thought about expanding the topics. I’ve also thought about changing my blog design to incorporate more photos because photos inspire my blog entries.

There are rules “out there” on what makes a successful blog site and posts. I’ve been getting some traction, which I appreciate immensely, but I’m not at the top of the blog game yet.

I’m grateful for “stats”, which allow me to see the numbers and locations of people viewing my site and reading my posts. I’ve noticed trends of which posts get the most likes and views. My cooking posts tend to get the most views. Hint, hint…

I’ll continue to think about how I will revamp my blog site. I may introduce something new in 2020. I’m just not sure yet. One thing is for sure: I will continue to blog because I receive positive feedback from the people who are impacted by my posts.

Whatever I decide, you’ll be the first to know.

I’d love to know what you think…what would you like me to keep writing about?

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Making the path for the light at the end of the tunnel

OMG. Holy Moly. I don’t know about you, but it has been a rough past few weeks for me! However, I can see the LIGHT at the end of the tunnel and I’m in a much better place. What happened and how did I get to the light?

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6:12 NIV

I believe wholeheartedly I’ve been under spiritual attack. Six weeks ago, my husband, Bryan, and I joined a Lifegroup through our church, LifeAustin, and we’ve been studying the “Detours” series. I wrote about this new experience for us in a previous post, which you can read about here.

This experience has been beautiful and uncomfortable as we’ve been sharing with fellow believers in our church (whom we didn’t know previously) the detours that have surfaced in our lives. We’ve been learning the purpose, patterns, and promotion of detours according to God’s word.

I’ve come to look forward to my Tuesday evenings. Our hosts welcomed us into their beautiful home each week, prepared a delicious meal, played the video that accompanied the week’s lesson, and led us into discussions about detours. It’s a great experience because I enjoy sharing my perspective, learning from the Bible scriptures, learning from others, especially Bryan, and bonding with new people.

In the midst of our Detours Lifegroup, I was feeling increasingly burned out at work and home. I’m a giver. I’m an overachiever. My hormones were out of whack (all over the place). I was not getting enough sleep. I was in the process of interviewing and hiring for one of my vacant positions. Deadlines I’ve been juggling for years began to feel impossible. My team was noticing I seemed different. My boss was noticing. Bryan needed an urgent heart procedure to determine if he needed a more invasive surgery. I was feeling overwhelmed…too overwhelmed to write a blog post last week.

My internal thoughts were attacking me, but I can only take so much. Despite how positive I am and how much I preach about self-care, I’m susceptible to setbacks like most people. We’re also susceptible to spiritual attacks. I must be doing something good and right because I felt the weight of the attacks on my spirit, mind, and body. Then, this week, the weight was lifted.

The path that led me to the light was this:

  1. Awareness – I knew I was off kilter.
  2. Vulnerability- I shared how I was feeling with others – my Lifegroup family, my husband, my sister, and a friend.
  3. Prayer – My husband prayed over me, our Lifegroup family prayed with and for us, and I prayed.
  4. The Word – On my commutes to and from work, I listened to sermons that encouraged me.

In the meantime, I also surrounded myself with people and the furry animals who love me.

Beignet and Cannoli. LPC

I got out and enjoyed the glorious weather when we had it.

Trip to an asian market. LPC

Lucrece and Bryan at the Capitol. LPC

I entertained my sister in law visiting from Illinois.

Sadie, Bryan, and me. LPC

I’ve continued to do my favorite form of exercise…DANCE!💃🏾

A little sweat session in the garage Thursday morning. LPC

I’ve been catching up on my zzzzz’s. Thank you time change. I’ve been going to bed earlier because of it.

I love this sleep mask. LPC

By the end of this week, I could appreciate my accomplishments and most importantly what God is doing in my life. We completed our 6 week Lifegroup, I hired an excellent candidate for my team, I continue to use my position at work to mentor and uplift others, my daughter got all A’s in her second semester as a freshman in high school, my son registered for his community college classes, I have a game plan for the dance I’m coordinating for our office holiday party, my spiritual and mental energy has been restored, and Bryan doesn’t need an invasive heart surgery.

My final thoughts are: Life is GOOD. Hang in there. Appreciate what you have. Pray incessantly. Have FAITH. Keep moving forward.

What encourages you during difficult times?

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Food chronicles: October adventures

I’ve been doing it all wrong. I’ve been doing it wrong for a long time too. I remember watching Rachel Ray’s, 30-Minute meals on the Food Network back in the day and she did the same thing. She said the best way to store herbs is in a large zip lock bag with a paper towel inside to absorb the moisture. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

I’ve watched countless food shows over the years and have seen herbs displayed in vases and jars, within easy reach for the chefs/cooks to pluck what they need. I don’t know why I haven’t made the connection previously, but a couple of weekends ago, I decided to change my method in storing herbs. I was getting tired of throwing away brown, rotten parsley and cilantro, especially cilantro! I despise wasting food!

Guess what? I placed a bunch of cilantro and parsley, each in their own mason jars with water, over a week ago, and they’re still beautiful. I admit I was skeptical. The cilantro would start turning black by now in the storage bag. Not only does the jar storage system keep them fresh, but it’s aesthetically pleasing to see mini herb bouquets when I open the refrigerator. Also, because they are visible and easily accessible, I’m likely to use more fresh herbs.

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Our grocery supply is getting lower since it’s towards the end of the month. Remember, I purchase the bulk of my groceries at the beginning of the month. I get paid once a month on the first, so this makes it easy to pay large household bills and expenses like food right away. As the month goes on, I tend to need to stop at the grocery store only to buy fresh produce and herbs, which is expected since some have a short shelf life.

To help make groceries stretch, I purchase large quantities of frozen vegetables, including peppers and seasoning blends. The peppers above are frozen tricolor peppers I bought from Trader Joes. I buy about two bags per month. I’m thinking of buying three bags in November. They are very convenient, especially for cooking in the middle of the week.

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Hash cake filling. LPC

For those who follow my site, you know by now I incorporate vegan cuisine into my weekly meal rotation. Frozen peas came in handy for this hash cake recipe that includes: cooked, quinoa, chia seeds, green onions, parsley, garbanzo beans, peas, and spices.

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Oven ready hash cakes. LPC

I love the hash cakes as a snack while I’m at work. I take about two per day and warm them up in the toaster oven. My taste buds love salty, crunchy, and savory foods, so these hash cakes hit the spot and I don’t have to worry about calories.

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Jerk chicken, grits, & collard greens with cabbage. LPC

Something in me conjured up the combination above and it was absolutely satisfying and delicious. I learned a few years ago my grocery store carried frozen collard greens. I sauteed fresh cabbage and onions with frozen collard greens and peppers plus spices. The result was a delicious side dish. The grits were by far the star of the show.

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Gumbo File. LPC

Another cold front came in this week, which prompted me to make a hearty and scrumptious pot of chicken and sausage gumbo yesterday. I was so proud of my roux. I really took my time with it and got it to a rich, dark chocolate color. It gave my gumbo so much flavor. I also used three bags of frozen vegetables in this recipe: a bag of frozen okra and tomatoes, .5 bag of frozen okra, and .3 bag of frozen corn. I can’t wait to eat the leftovers.

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Delicious chicken & sausage gumbo. LPC

There’s no telling what ideas I’ll come up with for next week.

What are you cooking?

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What breast cancer has taught me…

Breast cancer awareness month is nearing its end. I often spend September and October reflecting on my life after my breast cancer diagnosis, mostly because I was diagnosed right at the onset of breast cancer awareness month.

About 10-12 years ago, when my mom was attending to her breast cancer treatment, I had no knowledge of the disease. She told me she was struggling with how to proceed in her course of treatment considering how much her breasts meant to her. My mom had a mastectomy and breast reconstruction with an implant. I didn’t think she needed to get a breast implant. Admittedly at the time, I thought it was odd my mom was talking about her relationship with her breasts, considering she was in her late 60’s. I thought she wouldn’t care so much since she was in a different phase of life. Looking back, I was insensitive.

She wasn’t sure what to do and I wondered if she was repeating what medical staff might have told her to consider in her decision making. It’s possible I wasn’t accepting her position because I had never heard my mom discuss how she felt about her own body. The procedures took a toll on her. There was a complication with the breast implant, so she had a repeat surgery. She got through it. My mom is my finest example of a strong Haitian Queen.

Three years ago, I was faced with contemplating what my breasts, and LIFE, meant to me. Upon initial cancer diagnosis, doctors arm you with so much information. In a week’s time, I had met with my primary care physician, two different surgeons (one who would remove the tumor and one who would perform the breast reconstruction), and the oncologist. It was overwhelming. I presume they do this to ensure you know all of the options because of the unknowns about the cancer until the initial surgery to remove the tumor is performed.

There are different regimens of breast cancer treatment – surgery to remove the tumor, plastic surgery for breast reconstruction, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and oral medications.  These activities don’t necessarily occur in this order and one may not need every type of treatment. Characteristics of the tumor, and whether or not the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, determine the course of treatment. The initial surgery to remove the tumor is the main treatment. Tumor pathology results further dictate the course of treatment.

Ultimately, I had a lumpectomy, followed a week later by breast reconstruction of both my natural breasts, then radiation therapy daily for 3 weeks, and finally (I pray), due to my age, I take oral medications for another 2-7 years.

I have a long complicated history with my breasts, but not as long as women who are diagnosed around the average age of 55 years old. I’m an anomaly, along with other women diagnosed at younger ages – twenties, thirties, and forties. We may no longer be anomalies in coming years given younger women are diagnosed every day. Much of that has to do with the increase in breast cancer screenings and earlier detection thanks to breast cancer awareness campaigns.

I developed breasts early. I was around 11 years old. I remember my mom’s friends at times whispering to her while pointing at my breasts. It felt awkward. I was getting the messaging I was developing early.  This caused me to be self-conscious. By the time, I got to high school, I really noticed how the boys reacted to my breasts. They gawked at them, which made me even more self-conscious. I recall my first day as a freshman, waiting on classes to start in the gym. A boy said “hi” to me. We chatted for a bit, then he whispered to his friend (not really a whisper), “Nice cherries!” They both nodded and snickered.

It never occurred to me that I should love or be proud of my breasts. I was conflicted about them for sure. I knew boys and men loved them. They would just stare. I knew this type of attention is what girls are taught is not good attention. Plus, it also made me uncomfortable with my sexuality and how to process the attention I was getting.  Growing up in a religious environment didn’t really address body image issues and sexuality. Sex occurred after marriage and that was it.

Fast forward, I got married and had my two children, both of whom, I breastfed. I loved I was able to breastfeed my babies. I was doing what was best for them. However, breastfeeding two babies left me with sagging breasts. It wasn’t long before I started wishing for the beautiful size C cups of my youth. I was left with some large, lanky size double D’s. I had to double up on sports bars for my workouts. I would complain to my husband, Bryan, I needed a breast reduction. We would joke about it…”one day, when we got a lump of money…”.

Three years ago, I was in my plastic surgeon’s office listening as he explained plastic surgery options. By this time, I had shown my breasts to every doctor/nurse I had seen in a week’s time and this continued for a year. The awkwardness of showing strangers, especially male doctors my breasts can’t be fully explained. I already had a love/hate relationship with my breasts.

If I chose to get a double mastectomy with breast reconstruction, fat could be removed from my stomach to rebuild my breasts. The surgery is 8 hours with a minimum of 1 week in the hospital and 1 month recovery post surgery. I could opt to get breast implants too like my mom. I would need to make a plan for nipples because I would lose them through surgery. But there was a resolution for that too….tattooed nipples. I’m as squeamish as they come, yet he was showing me before and after pictures. I could hardly stand it. My preference with my body is to always pick the least invasive approach.

I didn’t want to go through any surgeries. I wanted to be alive for my children. However, the path to wellness was surgery. Also, I was finally going to get a breast reduction and my size C cups back, but this was the farthest from my mind. I couldn’t imagine how I would get through all that was ahead of me, but I did by taking things in small bites – day by day.

When I told my mom I had breast cancer, she wailed, pleaded, and even told me on repeated occasions, she couldn’t accept it. Her reaction was as if she blamed herself. The fact is, I may have quite possibly gotten it through her genes, considering my grandmother, my mother’s mother, also had breast cancer. Genetic testing results came back negative. Genes are a trip. I’m thankful my siblings didn’t get it. It’s the luck of the draw. My children do have a real risk of getting breast cancer.

By the time, I told my mom, I knew I had a positive prognosis and had full faith I would be healed. I think I surprised her with my calm demeanor and positive attitude. I knew I had to get through my treatments to get to the other side. I was determined to do just that. I showed her how brave I was.

There is no question a cancer diagnosis brings you face to face with your own mortality and makes you consider what’s really important in life. You often will hear people who have had a sudden onset of a serious health condition say things like they know what’s important in life now, they don’t sweat the small stuff, they are more grateful, etc.

I agree with all of those things, but I still have a hard time with overachieving and overall doing too much and feeling guilty when I do try to do less. I’m working on it though. It’s takes awareness and deliberate action daily.

Ultimately, breast cancer has taught I can brave any storm and my one body is beautifully flawed. How people process their diagnosis varies and should be respected. Breast cancer has also reminded me of the need to:

  • Fuel my body daily with nutritious food and liquids
  • Reduce stress
  • Move daily
  • Think kind thoughts about myself
  • Have self-compassion
  • Slow down
  • Do things I love
  • Ask for what I need
  • Say what I mean to say

What have life challenges taught you about yourself?