Look, over there!

It's another subject!

(no subject)
I spend too much time on Facebook, but here and there, I do see things that I find meaningful. Two sayings that different people have reposted on their pages have stuck in my mind, and I find myself thinking of them often; observing them and living them out. One is: "Children who need love the most will ask for it in the most unloving of ways", and "be the love you never received".

Since I haven't posted on here much in the last several years, some of you (if you're even still reading!) may not know that I now have two small children in my care. Their mother was a housekeeper at a hotel where we both worked, and I was her boss. She was my best, fastest working employee, and when an opportunity for promotion became available, I wrote her a letter of recommendation. She interviewed well, and got the job. When she was a housekeeper, she made less than a dollar above minimum wage per hour, and received section 8 housing, along with foodstamps and a daycare subsidy. She lived in project housing - cold, hard, carpetless floors, roaches in the walls, loud, aggressive neighbors. Though it was not a standard of living to which anyone should aspire, it was her own apartment, and she was making it. Barely.

Then she had the nerve to work hard, be good at her job, and get a promotion and a raise. She became the executive housekeeper at a different hotel within our company, and then...she lost everything else. She had to move to Columbia, where rent is higher, and pay full price for it. Her daycare subsidy dropped to almost nothing and she soon lost her food stamps. With no safety net, she found herself falling head first into the gap between "poor enough to receive assistance" and "not yet financially secure enough to make it with no help at all". I saw the eviction notice on her refridgerator in April.

We became roommates in May. Her two smallest children, ages 2 and 3, came with her. Since then, we've been co-parenting with varying degrees of success. The ongoing nature of this has been very challenging for me at times, and I can only imagine how much more so it is for the kids' mom; my roommate. The kids have not had a whole lot of stability - they've moved several times already in their short lives, been through several daycares; the 3-year-old's father has been in prison since before she was born and she has never met him, so the 2-year-old's father is the only father she knows, and he is a selfish, childish, angry, verbally abusive individual who consistently makes and breaks promises to them. As their mother works long hours and is exhausted by the time she picks them up, they find themselves competing for her attention, constantly. When they moved in, they had MAJOR behavioral issues. Still do, really, but it just seems so much better now by comparison that it feels weird to say it.

At first, I found myself endlessly angry and frustrated with the way these kids acted. They were so disrespectful, even to their own mother! I was shocked and enraged by the way they felt entitled to talk to her and treat her (and myself!), and at such young ages! Then I realized that indignation and expecting a scolding to shame them into good behavior was ridiculous. They didn't know any better! With no standard having ever been set for their behavior, they had no idea what they were supposed to be striving for. As I began reading articles about parenting and child psychology, certain things became more clear to me. All they cared about was getting their needs and desires met, by whatever means necessary. They'd learned that the louder and longer they could scream and cry and whine, the more likely whatever their demand was would be met, because eventually their mom would just give in to get a break from it. So the battle of wills was loud and relentless, every single day.

I began to identify their needs and look for ways not just to meet them, but for the kids to express what they are, and for effective and polite ways for them to ask us for what they want, as well as how to deal with disappointment when the answer to a request is no. My roommate, realizing she had my full support in any effort to change their behavior, began to make more of an effort to do so, and I backed her up. Things were pretty ugly for awhile - lots of screaming and crying (more so than now, and there's still quite a lot of it) and whining and rebellion. But then, suddenly...things were better. Not a lot, but enough to be noticeable. And they have continued to improve ever since, with minor setbacks here and there.

Today, as I sit here in (near) silence, I am thankful for the opportunity to be involved in these kids' lives in the way that I am. I am grateful for the opportunity to soothe their screams and cries - for the realization that it's almost never about the object for which they are whining, screaming, and crying, but a much greater sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction with their lives. I'm grateful every time I pick Brianna up off of the floor when she's thrashing around there or doing the limp-noodle thing and refusing to stand up and go to wherever she's being told to, to wrap my arms around her and pull her legs to the side of mine and feel her stop kicking, stop screaming, and sink into me, realizing I understand how big and overwhelming her anger and sadness is for her.

I'm grateful to have helped Ian find a way to deal with disappointment at not getting to play with his mom's phone, or eat a food he's allergic to (there are so many!), or whatever else, by suggesting over and over again whenever the answer was no to whatever he wanted, that we read a book instead. I'm grateful every time he's crying and I ask him "what else can we do?", or sometimes before I can even ask, he calms himself down and then tells me: "I need to read a book!"

I'm so happy when he crawls up into my lap and snuggles into my chest and Brianna sits down alongside me and we read together with my arms around both of them and the book in front. I love it when they do something I taught them how to do and I get to tell them how proud I am of them.

It both breaks my heart and fills in those cracks with gratitude whenever I get a glimpse into what is truly driving their anger around those with whom you would think they would feel safest. Like when Brianna said, out of the blue, in her carseat in the back of my van: "My daddy yells at me a lot." And I got the opportunity to say: "I know, baby. But you know it's not about you...you know it's not your fault, right?" and she sighed and said with heaviness no child should have to bear: "I know", and then, after a minute: "I love you, Julie."

I don't want biological children. I don't want to go through all I would have to in order to be pregnant and give birth, and I don't want to be solely responsible for bringing anyone into this world. I'm not even sure I would ever adopt. But this - temporary, and yet indefinite; almost, and yet not quite - parenthood, has proven to be a rich blessing. I've been given the opportunity to love the children who need it the most but ask for it in the most unloving of ways; to be the love I never received. When I get to meet their needs, ease their fears, calm their rages, comfort them in their sadness...it feels like I am making something right in the world that wasn't before, and not just for them. For anyone who has ever been handed more than their fair share of heartbreak, and at far too young of an age.

A year ago, I could never have imagined doing this. Now, I can't imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn't done it. They challenge me to be more patient, more forgiving, more available, more compassionate, more optimistic, and more thankful, every single day, for every gift in my life.
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$137.15. That is how much it costs to file for divorce in Missouri, if you're paying with a credit or debit card. You pay, they give you a court date, you show up, a judge says "it is so ordered", and then you're divorced.

It seems absurd, that it should be so easy a process to exit a marriage. That you can walk into a room married and walk out a few minutes later single. It could be argued, I suppose, that it is equally absurd that someone should enter a room single and leave it a few minutes later married...but almost as soon as I had that thought, it was struck down by the overwhelming realization that the difference is that when you enter into a Christian marriage, you bow your head in the house of God, in front of friends and family, and ask for his blessing upon your union. Then someone with the spiritual authority to do so proclaims it is so; announces that the two have been joined into one with God's blessing. "What God has joined together, let no man separate." That's real. Divorce seems so superficial by comparison. God is not involved at all. Certainly no one is asking for his blessing. We should know better, if we have read the Bible at all.

And if knowing you do not have God's blessing to proceed in the manner that you have is not painful and difficult enough, divorce is startlingly painful just on its own. I say "startlingly" because no one could have prepared me for the way I feel about it. The shame of it. The failure...failure to have honored my vows; I feel like my word now means nothing, because I didn't just make those promises to Dan; I made them to God, and I said those words in front of nearly a hundred people. I let every single one of them down. I now have an almost irrational obsession with keeping my word, and experience enormous guilt if I don't, even if it was just some small thing. I am angry whenever someone else doesn't keep theirs, either. Furiously angry. Doesn't a promise mean anything, to anyone? Does no one else understand how serious it is to give their word, and then go back on it?

I ask myself what is wrong with me, that I couldn't have just been happy where I was. I am so sad now, whatever sadness or emptiness I must have felt before must surely pale in comparison to this. What have I done?! In the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment, I seem to have come up short.

I pray - in church, at home, at work, in my car. When I'm alone, sometimes I cry until my eyes are swollen and burning and my face feels raw from the salt of my tears. There is no one I can call by the time I've reached this point. My phone is charged, and full of numbers I could dial. I could touch the screen a few times and speak with anyone I want, but I don't feel like I deserve the comfort they might offer. I'm not writing this for the purpose of garnering any here, either. I'm writing it so people can understand why I can't talk about it...not like this, anyway.

Sometimes I forget. How could I possibly forget? When I'm doing my job, or singing, or playing my violin, or bantering with friends, or scrolling through social media...my focus shifts to the matter at hand, and I feel happy. Lighter. This isn't necessarily a good thing - like every other painful thing that has ever happened in my life, forgetting about it temporarily is tempting, but at some point I have to remember again, and then it is all the more painful. When I realize the reason my heart felt light is because of how heavy it now is again, it takes my breath away.

A friend quotes South Park, and I am transported back to that basement where we would sit together in our pajamas, watching it like two kids watching Saturday morning cartoons. I remember how his hair sticks up in every direction before he showers and combs it in the morning, and how soft his t-shirts felt when I laid on his chest.

I see a t-shirt, or a prop that references a video game we liked to play together in a store, or online, and I automatically check the price and think about what the next occasion is that I might give it to him to make him laugh.

Someone says a word or phrase that triggers a memory of one of our inside jokes, and my eyes fill with tears and I have to look away. Hold them back, swallow the lump in my throat and turn back to laugh as expected.

I hear his two favorite songs - one of them plays at my job sometimes. I hear it and I remember the CD he made me when we first got together, when I asked him to share his favorite songs with me, because that's one of the best ways in which I feel like I can get to know and understand other people - through the music that they like. He isn't really that into music, but like most everyone, there are a few songs he does like, and he granted my request.

I drive by the university, and I barely even register whether the stoplight at that intersection is green or red - my eyes are drawn to the big stone sign, but what I'm really seeing is the look on his face as he smiled bravely for the picture of him in his brand new car, packed full of his things as he set out driving to Missouri to start his new job there, even though I knew he was terrified. The same thing happens whenever I cross the bridge into Jefferson City and look over at the Capitol. It's suddenly 2011, and I'm seeing it lit up at night for the first time all over again. Wondering where he lives in relation to it; what his apartment - soon to be our apartment - looks like...what our life together will look like.

Even social media isn't a totally safe place - someone on my Facebook posts a picture of themselves in Guatemala, or of one of the girls who lives there that we visited, and I am devastated that I will never go on that trip with him again. We were both the best versions of ourselves (at the time) there, together.

When I went to his apartment to give him his copy of the paperwork, I was reminded of how he has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. They are considered hazel, but they have every color in them. Most people with hazel eyes have the green on the inside, right around their pupils, and the brown is just a ring around the outside. His are reversed - the golden brown circles are right around his pupils, and the green is on the outside, with flecks of blue - so many shades - throughout.

Somehow, when I lived with him, I became complacent. I felt like I lost myself. I felt like I had no identity outside of us as a couple; knowing no one on my own, but only through him in the beginning, for months. I finally found some things to do outside the context of our relationship, and finally having the freedom to discover and explore who I am and what makes me happy, I guess I got carried away. He didn't want to join me when I pleaded with him to come out with the new friends I'd made, and he didn't want me to have them over when he was there. He obliged a couple of times, to make me happy. But he didn't want to be there and everyone knew it. I made excuses for him to my new friends, and they eventually told me I didn't have to do that anymore - that their invitation to us both was ongoing, but they already knew it would only be me joining them. It was like I suddenly had permission to go on without him; make more friends and become more involved in this community on my own. And as I did so, I grew...without him. Away from him.

I began to become aware of how many evenings we were spending in separate rooms - him watching TV, and me on my computer. It seemed like I was bothering him whenever I went out into the kitchen/living room for anything. Even though after our first separation, he stopped acting unwelcoming when I'd enter the room, for some reason, that feeling never fully went away for me.

I don't know that there was any one defining moment for me when I realized I wanted to separate and taste full independence for the first time in my whole life. What I do know is that once I had, there was no going back. I tried. For a year. And I'll always be glad that I did. Putting the divorce on hold indefinitely, even reconsidering going through with it at all - while doing my best to help him fight through extreme anxiety and depression that evidently had plagued him for years but became impossible for him to hide anymore once we'd made the decision to divorce - was difficult beyond words, but during this time I learned to love someone on a deeper level than I ever had before. He learned to let me.

I discovered as I have a few times before (though to a lesser degree than this) that love is so much more than feelings. It is an a continuous act; a work that is never complete. It is holding onto someone through a panic attack, steadying their shaking body, breathing with them and telling them they are going to be okay until they are again. It is reassuring them that they are strong even though they had to hide in the bathroom at work to cry for a half an hour that day. It's persuading them to lie back down when their prescription sleep aid has failed and they are now halucinating, and talking to them until they finally close their eyes. It's taking them to the emergency room first thing in the morning when a new drug causes them to wake up with a side effect so strange and severe that nobody has any idea how much harm it could actually cause or what to do about it.

It's laying down your pride when they finally agree to try anti-depressants after you tell them about how a mutual friend took them for awhile, even though you've taken them for years...trying not to hold it against them that someone who is not their spouse's experience is more valid and convincing of an argument in favor of it than yours is, and simply feeling gratitude that they've finally agreed to take the step they so desperately need to in order to get better.

It's watching it happen, and feeling so proud of them when they begin to think and speak clearly again; when they realize what they were trying to manage on their own before and how important it is that they finally agreed to get help.

And yet, by the end, I felt we were such different people than when we started, and so different from one another, now that we were both finally healthy and relatively stable, I found it impossible to connect with him on a meaningful level. Without the codependency that had existed on one side or the other throughout our entire relationship, I didn't know what to do. I finally told him that I just couldn't seem to go all the way in with him, and that if I couldn't go all the way in, I needed to get all the way out.

But I don't know if I'll ever be all the way out of this. This grief; this intermittent, stabbing pain that strikes without warning, threatening to destroy me from the inside out.

Living with him for the rest of my life and becoming complacent again in so doing; losing the person I'd become and grown to finally even like...I didn't want to do it. But I never wanted to be divorced, either. I never wanted to hurt either of us so badly. Some nights, like tonight, death seems like a reasonable compromise, and a welcome relief, if only I could be sure of what was waiting for me on the other side. Though I profess a faith in Jesus Christ, I still often question whether the salvation he has to offer is still offered to me, considering what I have done; the damage I have done as I've tried to claw myself out of one hole after another.

Tomorrow I will wake up, wash my face with cold water to take out some of the redness from crying; I will get myself ready for work and go in and smile and do my job to the best of my ability once more. For awhile, perhaps even most of the day, I will forget it, and then I will remember again in the evening. I will postpone the worst of the pain by staying busy; I might buy myself a few days with this strategy; make it wait until it will be restrained no longer. A friend of mine who went through a divorce herself a couple of years ago told me that it doesn't ever hurt less, but it does eventually begin to hurt less often. I think this is true, or at least, I hope it is true. But for now, this is how it is. 

(no subject)
I'm not ready to not be 29 anymore! I can hardly believe that when I wake up tomorrow, I'll be 30 years old. Feels weird.

(no subject)
A few people out of the handful that knew I was separated have occasionally apologized for sharing good things about their romantic lives, and/or commented that I was handling things remarkably well, in spite of other people's engagements, weddings, decisions to move in together, and new couples forming, among other things, all going on around me.

But you know what? It actually makes me happy. It gives me hope. Love is real, and real people I know are experiencing it. It does work out sometimes. People find good matches for themselves and go on to be in love for many years and build good, satisfying lives together. Part of grieving the end of my marriage is lots of moments throughout the day when I have to hide the fact that I'm suddenly crying or find a place to do it where I don't have to be so careful, but it doesn't help me to see other people suffering through the same pain. I just feel terrible for them, because I wouldn't wish what I'm currently going through on anyone.

So tell me your love stories. Tell me all about these wonderful things you experience with your partners, because I truly want to delight in them with you, and be thrilled for you that they're happening. I want to know that good things can happen in love for people I know, and build faith on that foundation that if it can happen for them, it can happen for me someday.

I loved - no, I still love - my husband very much. He is a good person. We both entered into our marriage for a few reasons, some of which were not good enough to justify doing so, and which didn't allow us to sustain it. It was/is a very hard, but in the long run, a very necessary decision we made to divorce, At this point I can't imagine ever considering remarriage, although I suppose that could always change in the future. But I can imagine dating someone, and it would be nice to be able to hope that I will have good experiences doing so this time around, now that I am so much more sure of who I am and what I want. So don't be afraid to be happy around me, please. It may cause me a moment of sorrow here and there, but it mostly renews my faith that better times are ahead for me...and for him. I'd like to think we both deserve them.

(no subject)
Originally, I was going to post this picture and say something heartwarming about how my friend Sara gave me this a long time ago, and when I'd moved into my new apartment alone, it was the first thing I put up on my bookshelf and I looked at it a lot over the time that I lived there, especially over the first few weeks...and now it's up in my new home, now that I've moved back in with my husband.

I was going to make an inspirational post about how it's interesting and almost unfathomable how the same words can take on such different meanings throughout our lives. How "being brave" meant certaint things to me when I first put this frame up, and how it means so many different things now. And it still does. But now, before I could even finish this post, I am crying, because of an exchange that evoked a realization that because I stopped being brave for awhile, and chose to do this - to move back in with him - that being brave is going to take on a new meaning again. And I don't know if I'm up to the task.

I realized that when I live with him, I become a person I don't like. I've been here two weeks. Two fucking weeks!

I told someone recently that the apprehension I was feeling was probably just part of an adjustment period, and maybe that is true. But I don't really believe that, not now. I can feel myself slipping. I've slept so much. Sleep is an escape. I have no motivation. I'm more irritable and I'm taking things too personally again. It's creeping into the other parts of my life; my life outside of home, and I hate it. I see it and I'm terrified that others will see it and change their mind about how they feel about me. I became a person I liked; a person I was proud of. And yet somehow, I felt like this was the person God would condemn, because in order to become that person, I had to leave my marriage for reasons not justified by the bible.

I still struggle with that. It isn't enough to be unhappy. Sometimes I almost think I'm choosing to be unhappy when I'm with him. But then, why did happiness come so easily without him?

I don't want to lose the person I've become. I have such a hard time believing God wants me to either - I was more patient, more kind, more motivated, responsible, and trustworthy. And a lot more fun! Now when I look at this embroidered encouragement, that is what it means to me. That I have to be brave enough to keep being that person, even though I can see how easy it would be to let her go.

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(no subject)
I hate it when you're making something and you suddenly realize you're missing one important ingredient. I do not feel like going out in this cold weather to buy one goddamn onion, but I can't finish my salsa without it, and I already opened everything else so now I'm committed.

For anyone who wants it, here is my salsa recipe. Actually, it's not really a recipe because I just sort of guess at amounts of stuff until it looks like it did the last time I made it and I'm terrible at keeping track of how much of each thing I've put in...so maybe I should call it an ingredient list, instead. In any case:

1 12 oz. bag of frozen corn (you can use fresh sweet corn but you definitely taste the sweetness and I don't think it's as good)
1 15 oz. can of black beans (drained)
8 oz. of diced tomatoes
1 big white onion or two small ones, diced
1 can of hot Rotel
Lime juice (just keep adding it until the mixture is kind of liquidy)
Cilantro...sprinkle it all over the top, stir it, and repeat twice (or until you can see the cilantro throughout the mixture).
1/4 cup white vinegar

Put it in a crock pot on low for about an hour and a half. I like it better after it's been refridgerated awhile.

(no subject)
I was going through some old stuff online today and found this...it brought tears to my eyes. A few days ago, a friend of mine remarked that I am a very strong person. I don't always feel like it, but maybe it's true.

You and I have been through a lot together. In high school I always admired your strength as a person. It's truly a blessing to be able to have had a friend like you through all these years. I hope that you and yours have a wonderful Christmas.

All my love,

(no subject)
A few days ago, my phone informed me that it would need to take thirty minutes to do some updates. I didn't see any options for getting around this, so I set the time it was supposed to take place for sometime in the middle of the night and let it happen.

Since then, all of my display settings look different and I can't figure out how to change them to the way they were. I'm not sure there is a way. This is all simply a back story, though, so I can tell you how what happened tonight happened.

I was texting a friend, asking her if Applebee's sounded good for dinner. With the two kids under age 2, it's difficult for us to go out to dinner, so when we have dinner together, I usually just pick something up and bring it over. The thing is, even though I thought I had deleted her old phone number, I guess I didn't, and my phone reset the default number to call and text to that old phone number. So I texted a stranger, and they texted me back:

"Applebees? They have good burgers."

Me: "That is actually what my friend and I decided to eat for dinner - burgers from there. I apologize for the earlier text. Somehow when I went to text my friend it sent it to her old number. Have a good night!"

Stranger: "No problem! I accidentally deleted all my contacts a few days ago, so I wasn't sure if you were a wrong number or not. Enjoy your weekend!"

Me: "You as well!"

Stranger: "Also, you don't have to answer back, but thank you for not using text talk. Fight the good fight for grammar, dear heart."

I randomly text a wrong number and they just happen to be a fellow grammar nerd! This made my night.

"I can finally see...that you're right there beside me."
It's coming up on a year since Pastor Terry passed away.

I've been thinking about the last year recently, and wondering if my desire to live my life in a way that would honor his memory and his wishes for me has come to fruition or not. I think in a lot of ways, it has.

The numbness I recall being startled out of at the news of his death, to be replaced with grief and then the betrayal of my husband lying to me, causing me to miss his memorial service for nothing, is hard to remember. I know that it happened, but I have been so alive and present in my life since then; so honest with myself about the state of things and what I need to be doing, that it's now difficult to figure out how I was functioning before that.

It's an ugly collection of memories - the series of failures, disappointments, and hurts I absorbed following my move out here, almost immediately. I felt jolted awake from all of it and began the daunting task of trying to identify everything that was wrong and go about fixing it. My efforts were often laughed at, ignored, or so strongly rejected that it took my breath away.

It occurred to me that if I wanted to realize Pastor Terry's wish for me to be happy, and honor how he helped me grow into the person that I am now, I needed to stop torturing myself like that and find a different way to be happy again. So I did.

I moved out, and now I live alone. I like it, and as difficult and confusing as things between my husband and I have been, I am much happier overall. I have friends over and I go over to friends' houses, and I don't need to justify the time away. I experience a kind of joy I had forgotten when I practice my instrument. Though I do joke about it, I don't worry about bothering anyone with it. I just play. It is nothing for an hour to go by when I'm alone and become focused on practicing certain phrases and passages.

I began running again, and can now run for five miles. I usually only do three or four, and even that is enough to make me feel accomplished and re-energized.

I stopped caring what other people might think of my opinionated, passionate and sometimes impulsive personality and decided to just let myself be. Last week, in fact, a friend from the symphony told me I reminded him of his daughter, and when I asked how so, he said, smiling, with a sparkle in his eyes: "You're sassy." I've always taken that word to mean something kind of negative - sarcastic in a rude way, or obnoxiously loud. (At least when I've been called that in the past, it was certainly meant in a negative way.) But the way he said it - as though it was a compliment - made me want to look it up when I got home, and when I did, I saw that the actual definition of the word is "lively, bold, and full of spirit". I think that is one of the best compliments I have ever received. It is not a word I would have used to describe myself a year ago at this time, but it was true long before that, and it is true again now that I am no longer holding myself back.

I don't know if Pastor Terry would have encouraged me to separate from my husband so soon after getting married, but I feel confident that regardless of that, he would be proud of who I have become...and knowing that is enough for me. I still miss him, but this is the way that I keep his memory alive - I don't waste time waiting for things to get better on their own. I reach out even when the outcome is uncertain, and I love with an open heart, just as he did.

One of my friend Jan's (and my) favorite pictures of him. The little boy is his grandson.
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"Love is not a victory march; it's a calling; it's a broken hallelujah."
"Can a man be brave when he is afraid?"
-"That is the only time a man can be brave."

-George R.R. Martin, "A Game of Thrones"

Some things are more important than pride. There is this instinctive fear of caring more, giving more...but sometimes I do those things regardless of whether anybody knows it or not. So really, why should I have ever cared what anyone thought of me for owning it? That has never helped me. There's the idea of "saving face", I guess, but all that does is isolate people when they are their most vulnerable. I'm done with that. I may be afraid sometimes, but when I choose to see fear as an opportunity to be brave, instead of viewing it as a weakness, it actually becomes a source of strength.

Recently I decided not to hide or downplay my capacity for love. I am capable of loving people on many levels and I have loved one person for years who does not even know how to love me back. I have forgiven years of hurts without ever having even been asked for that forgiveness. I didn't do it because they deserved it. I did it because it felt right for me to choose to love instead of hate.

I will pour out my love and compassion freely as I choose to, without a single look back. The handful of people I've encountered who have looked down on me for it should not and will no longer be allowed to determine how much I will give to anyone else.

I realized a few days ago that when I stop measuring my worth by whether and how much other people love me and instead decide to measure it by how much love I have to give, I am very content.


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