End It

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A young girl sits in a cold, dark room. Tears stream down her red, raw cheeks. She quietly whispers to herself through her own muffled sobs, “How did this happen? How did I get here?” Then suddenly she hears those footsteps again. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. The lock on the door begins to turn and the familiar creak in the hinge echoes through the tiny room. She closes her eyes as tight as she can, but she knows it won’t make it stop. He’s here again…..and this time he isn’t alone.

 

Another girl sits in front of a mirror. The music is pulsating through every object in this tight and cramped dressing room. She looks herself up and down and wonders if the makeup will hide her true feelings. Her skin is covered in purple, blue, green, and yellow splotches – bruises and track marks – some new, some old – but each carries its own pain and memory. A single solitary tear runs down her face. She wipes it away quickly – she’s not allowed to “feel” anymore. She can’t afford to feel – it’s the only way she can survive. A gruff and burly man pokes his head through the curtain. “You’re on in 2!”, he huffs at her. Slowly her eyes move to the only thing on that table that can make her forget she’s there…make her forget she feels anything at all. Perhaps it’ll offer only a momentary high, but anything that can take away the pain is worth it to her now.

 

Back and forth another girl walks. Her feet pounding more pavement in a night than most people see all week. She remembers a song from her childhood, Chasing Pavements, but snickers as she realizes THIS is not what Adele had in mind. Quickly, she darts her eyes across the street to see if HE saw her momentary lapse of emotion. The mere thought of HIM sends shivers down her spine, almost as much of thinking of the next John to stop on her strip of sidewalk. This is not the life her mother had planned for her. It’s not even the life she had thought of. All she was looking for was a way out of her house and away from her parents – instead she found a way into her own personal hell on earth. And finding a way out of this hell seemed impossible; death itself might be a sweeter option, she mused.

 

These might sound like scenes out of a movie. But for far too many, this is a familiar daily occurrence in the world of sex trafficking. And it’s happening all around you whether you realize it or not.

 

Today is “Shine A Light On Slavery Day” – part of the End It movement. In support of this cause, you’ll see people wearing a red “X” on their hand. But this issue doesn’t just exist one day out of the year. For the people living it, stuck in the middle of it, for girls like these that I’ve spoken of, it’s every single day: 24 hours, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds of a living nightmare.

 

Many years ago, in my younger days of working youth ministry, I was on an inner city missions trip to St. Louis. Our first night there, after all the kids were sound asleep, the staff of the Dream Center took the leaders out to help with their prostitution ministry. We spent time showing the women, walking the streets, that God’s love for them was unconditional – all while our driver kept an eye on the pimps with the van door open, prepared for us to make a quick getaway if need be. We finished the night, or should I say morning as it was nearing 3am at this point, in a parking lot of a strip club in Illinois, eating BBQ.

 

At the time, I didn’t think much of this experience outside of what it was on the surface – witnessing and sharing the love of God to those in the “sex industry”. But a couple of years ago, I witnessed one of the saddest things I’ve ever experienced.

 

While helping a friend look for a runaway, I saw first hand the people inside some of these seedy establishments we all know and pass by often, yet have never given them a second thought. I saw girls, impossibly young, not a day over 16-17yrs, so drugged they could barely stand upright, nearly if not entirely naked, selling themselves for a few dollars and a moment of dancing to men three times their age.

 

My heart immediately ached for these girls. I wondered how many of them had families who were desperately looking for them too? These were girls who had likely been lured away with the promise of a better life, their own life away from the parents they thought at the time they hated, promised a job and roof over their head – and before they knew it, they found themselves addicted and indebted to a man who not only didn’t love them, but saw them as property instead of a person.

 

I asked how this could ever be going on…right here in what I thought was a safe city…and why on earth were the police not here, breaking down the doors,to rescue these helpless underage girls?!

 

My world was quickly turned upside down as I began to hear story after story of how often their (the law’s) hands are tied when it comes to things like this. When fake/false identification is provided that can’t be proven otherwise – when probable cause must exist as well as warrants before they can enter these establishments – and even times when the law works against the girls and is harsher on them than on the perpetrators who put them there.

 

And this isn’t just happening in one or two places, or one or two cities; it’s everywhere. And whether you realize it or not, it’s all around you too! As you begin to notice the tell tell signs of an enslaved person, you begin to see it everywhere – even more so when events come to town where there is an influx of people. It’s not just frightening, it’s downright horrific.

 

What, you may ask, should you take away from all of this? Perhaps you’ve known of this already occurring in your city. Or maybe I’ve enlightened you to a world you thought was CHOSEN by these people “working” in it? What I desire you take away from this is that it’s time we no longer turn a blind eye to sex trafficking and slavery and instead choose to make a difference. Whether that’s praying for them, showing God’s love to them, getting involved in ministries helping them, or donating so others can make a difference- DO SOMETHING! Quit sitting idly by thinking this will never affect you.

 

I could certainly talk on and on about this issue. No girl should ever have to experience this – but those who have should know – IT DOES NOT DEFINE THEM! They are just as valuable to God as you and I are. They’re just as beautiful. Just as smart. Just as precious. They are worthy not only of God’s love, but of His sacrifice for each of us.

 

YOU can make a difference too by getting involved!

 

A21 Campaign – Founded by Christine Caine – they are setting out to abolish slavery and human trafficking – http://www.A21.org

 

Bochy’s Place – Founded by Carla Shellis – giving these girls, who have been rescued out of this world, not just a place to live and recover, but a foundation to build a life – http://www.bochysplace.com

 

 

In HIM…You ARE

Have you ever been asked to do something you weren’t sure you were capable of? Or been in a situation where you felt completely over your head? 

Have you ever felt unqualified? Unworthy? Unlovable? Unbeautiful?

I know I have. In fact, when I was asked to speak to the youth at our summer camp – I was excited! At first, that is. Then that small little voice of fear crept in. 

You see, Satan doesn’t take a sick day. He doesn’t sit back and think, nah I’m just going to let that one slide. No, he’s always there, waiting for the opportune moment to sink his claws in and destroy anything good God has for us!

Lisa Bevere once said, ‘Satan doesn’t attack us based on our past, he attacks us based on our future!’

He attacks us based on what he KNOWS we are capable of because he knows what Christ, who lives in us, is capable of! 

So when that little voice started saying to me: you aren’t ready for this. You’ve never stood in front of people talking (as I started having horrible flashbacks to college speech classes) – You aren’t qualified to do this. I quickly felt deflated and defeated. 

Sure I’ve done the small group thing before – where you have the instant feedback and gratification from your participants – but to actually get up and speak to an audience – to preach – mark that one on my ‘Never Have I Ever’ list. 

But what does the Word say about who Satan is? Does he come to remind us of the obvious truths we may believe in? No. The Word says in John 8:44 that Satan is a thief and the father of all lies – that there is no truth in him. And in John 10:10 NLT – “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

Satan takes the truth and twists it until it becomes a lie you believe. As a prime example, just last night – through a series of crazy events – we saw bugs on the beds we were preparing to sleep in. The truth of the matter – it was an actual bug on the bed. The lie – they weren’t bedbugs. Satan took that truth, and through fear, twisted it into a lie until we were so overcome by it that no one wanted to sleep on the beds. 

Satan comes to STEAL the TRUTH from you, to KILL your FAITH and FUTURE, and DESTROY EVERY GOOD THING GOD HAS FOR YOU. 

So the Lord really began to minister to me about who I am and who lives IN me. 

Because of Him – My past and sins were crucified with Him 

Because of Him – I was raised up and I am alive

Because of Him – it isn’t me who lives, but Christ who lives 

He LIVES in ME! He LIVES in YOU! 

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians‬ ‭2:20‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Because of Him, because He lives in me…when I believe the lies of the devil and I say I’M not qualified, I’M not capable, I’M not beautiful, I’M not ENOUGH…we are saying that Christ IN US isn’t qualified, isn’t capable, isn’t exactly who He created you to be – we are saying Christ ISN’T ENOUGH!

I don’t know about y’all. But that revelation hit me like a ton of bricks. Christ IS enough. His death and resurrection ARE my LIFE! When the greater one resides in you…who can be against you? What dare be against you?

But even more so as I was praying over this Wednesday on my drive to church…the Lord began to minister to me about not just Christ in me, but Christ in others. 

One of the nasty lies of Satan I’ve believed all of my life is that I wasn’t pretty, wasn’t beautiful. How much more so if I didn’t believe it and didn’t love myself, then how could anyone else find me pretty, or beautiful, or love me?! 

That’s when the Lord began to minister to me that if He’s in me and He is everything, then isn’t He the same in other believers too? I have to believe that Him in me, Him in you, and Him in my future spouse are enough too! 

With Christ in you, because of the sacrifice He made…you are equipped and capable and beautiful and EVERYTHING HE DESIGNED YOU TO BE!!

Pure & Simple – *more than just sex


Purity – a topic that is always a hot discussion, yet no one ever really wants to discuss it anymore in public. This week, our youth pastor at church will be speaking on it and I’m really looking forward to his take on the topic. 

Personally, I came out of the 1990’s “purity movement” that took most evangelical churches by storm. And now, 20 years later, I look back on it all with a much different perspective than my young, teenage self did at the time. 

In the 1990’s, purity was taught (sometimes on a level of brainwashing) as simply all about sex – no sex outside of marriage – period. Churches everywhere were holding “purity ring” ceremonies on every awkward level you can imagine. And don’t even get me started on how this was mainly shoved onto the girls only – the guys seemed to be surprisingly absent from this abstinence message. And they were singling everyone out who didn’t live up to the “pure” standards they set. Because of this, most people tossed out the purity message as not being relevant to them. 

So I really started thinking – what was so wrong with the purity message of the 90’s? 

I’ve focused a lot these past few months about what His Word says about living a pure life and guarding yourself and I kept coming back to II Timothy and Proverbs. 

Sure we can all quote scriptures about sexual immorality and fornication (who ever thought I’d use a word like that in one of my posts?!), but what does living a pure life really boil down to? 

II Timothy 2:21-22 NLT

If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.‭

When you set your life aside for God, when you put down your own desires, He will use you in a great and magnificent way! When you put aside your own desires as a sacrifice to Him, everything else will come naturally. But you must do these with a pure heart and the right intentions. 

Proverbs 4:23 NLT

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. 

Last time I checked, Proverbs 4:23 didn’t say “guard your V card”, as some would like you to believe. It says “guard your heart”. 

Guard your heart from those who only want to mess with it. Guard your heart from what will hurt it – from what it might not yet be prepared for. Guard your heart from the emotional games people like to play. Guard your heart as a precious and fragile gift to one day give to someone. Guard your heart against anything impure so that you can live consecrated and set apart for His good…for His great plan for our lives. 

As you begin to live a life pure and set apart for His good, you’ll find that living purely in other areas will come naturally. 

And that pure life … it can start today, right now, no matter what your past holds. No matter the choices you’ve made. No matter the consequences you may be living with now. When you give it all over to the Lord, you start fresh and anew, washed clean as snow, with everything of the past cast into the sea, forgotten, never to be brought up again by God. 

Start living your life set apart for Him. Let your thoughts and speech be pure (even I am working on this). Let your life be an outward example of the greater one who lives on the inside of you. 
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that sexual purity isn’t important – I’m simply saying it’s only one aspect of the pure life we should all be leading. 

Purity is about more than just sex! Purity is also about living a life that is pure, no matter your past. This is what should have been taught back then. And it’s what the purity message should be from here on out. 

So remember, It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in your past – determine today to live your life pure as a gift, not only to your future spouse, but as consecrated and set apart for the one who gave His all for us! 

All You Need Is Love 


As the holiday season is all around us, and the new year is quickly approaching, I’ve been thinking back over 2016. 

I don’t know about you, but for me (personally) 2016 was an incredibly difficult year. Over the last 12 months I have laughed and cried, I’ve experienced the joy of new lives and the pain of others as they died, I’ve been blessed by some of the most selfless people I could know and deeply hurt by others I’ve called family. 

But through it all, the ups and downs, the highs and the lows – one truth has remained the same: all you need is love. 

Maybe you’ve faced some of these same difficulties this year. Perhaps you are even in the middle of them now. You’re thinking to yourself, how are you going to get through the holidays? How are you going to put a smile on your face when your heart is hurting. Remember, even in the midst of your greatest moments of sorrow, of pain, of hurt, Jesus is with you. His love surrounds you. His peace comforts you. His arms protect you. 

Thousands of years ago, God’s love for us provided the ultimate answer to every need we would ever have, to every problem we’d ever face. God’s love for us gave us Jesus; God’s own love and grace given to us through flesh and blood. He took on the embodiment of man, was subjected to the ridicule of this world, and suffered our pain and diseases so we could be free – so we could in turn, be living examples of Him, of His love for us. 

I’ve tried to take this realization, this truth, and see others through His eyes of love this season. And let me be honest with you, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I won’t go into details, but know I’ve seen family turn their backs on those closest to them, loved ones die tragically long before they should have, and others have risen up in false accusations. But how do you love someone, as Christ has loved us, when you’ve been rightly wronged? 

You turn the other cheek and you love them anyway. 

You do unto others as you would like done to you. 

You see them through the eyes of Christ, as He sees them. 

You remember just how much God loves us and challenge yourself to love others even a fraction of that amount. 

Start walking out each moment as an example of Christ’s love for us. 

Hold the door open a little longer at the store. Offer to take someone’s cart back for them. Ask the cashier how their day has been. Tell the woman in the dressing room next to you that her dress is beautiful. Make eye contact. Smile a little more. Hum a sweet Christmas carol. Say Merry Christmas to those you pass. 

I think you’ll find as you begin loving others (even the unlovable) you’ll find your own mood lifted and loving yourself even more. And as a great side effect, you’ll be sharing that love with others and brightening their day too. You never know when your kind word or act of kindness may be the pivotal difference in someone’s dark and desperate life. 

This holiday season, remember you never know what someone else may have been through that you, and your love, could be the answer to! 

And if all else fails, just hum the famous little Beatles tune in your head to help you remember, all you need is love. 

All you need is love. Bum bum bum bum bum. All you need is love. Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need. 

When Everything Goes Gray

There’s always been something about thunderstorms that I love, but also hate. As the clouds roll in, bringing much needed rain to the land, they also bring a gloomy, gray blanket that seems to immerse everything within its reach. 

As I laid in bed one evening this past week, listening to the thunder rumble in the distance, I started thinking about when things went gray in my life. 

Let’s discuss a subject that has had so many talking lately – and frankly effects far more youth than I could have ever imagined. If you haven’t dealt with it yourself, you know someone who has. 

Suicide 

This is a topic I’ve never broached before. Not on paper. Not online. Not even in person. In all honesty, only one person in my life really knows all that went on and all that I went through (and even she might not know/remember some of the details I’m about to share). But I’ve had it on my heart for months now to share my story. 

I can’t tell you what triggered it. I wasn’t bullied. There was no event that brought on the feelings. One day, my 10yr old self (yes at just 10 years of age), woke up like every other day – the difference came that night when I tried to go to sleep.

That night, when I turned the lights out and curled up in bed, it started. It was a quiet, little voice at first but when I gave it place, it quickly became the loudest thing I heard each night. 

“No one would miss you”

“No one really loves you”

I had two parents who loved me unconditionally. A pesky little brother. Grandparents who thought the world of me. And a church and pastor that considered me their own. Yet all I could think about each evening was how I should do it and what I’d write in a note to leave behind. 

I don’t quite remember how much time passed before I began to talk about it. But I do remember countless nights of insomnia. And I remember crying one night and my mother coming in and telling her I was afraid to go to sleep because I thought I’d die. It became so drastic a fear that I began to believe my own body would forget how to breathe in and out. 

Here I was, a prepubescent child, dealing with a very (not to get overly spiritual) demonic spirit of fear and death. I was tortured with thoughts of killing myself (down to the details of what I’d use, how, when, etc) and yet in the moments I tried to find peace and rest, I was plagued with the fear of dying – of not waking up or forgetting how to breathe. 

I’d like to say there is a magic answer to make feelings like these go away. Perhaps for some there is. But for me, there wasn’t. It was countless nights (months) of tossing, turning, crying, pacing my floor, and even actually writing a note out one night and sneaking in to my parents room as they were sleeping because I knew they kept a gun in there. My mother played a “Peaceful Praise” tape on repeat in my room each evening and she prayed with me often. I even prayed myself. I knew this wasn’t what God wanted for me – I found myself literally crying out to Him. 

Months passed before the suicidal thoughts and fear of death began to subside. 

I never fully acted on it. I never had any professional counseling. No medication. Frankly, in the early 90’s, it wasn’t talked about much and people didn’t go to counsellors like they do now. And unlike today, there were no wonderful female ministers teaching about your immeasurable value in Christ; No books about how God created you beautiful just as your are. No – It was simply the grace of God that saved me and the sheer determination of a 10yr old who wanted to live and not die. 

I don’t know why I went through this all at such a young age aside from I truly believe: Satan wants to destroy anything and everything that could ever bring glory for the kingdom of God. 

I’d be lying if I said the thoughts never tried to creep in after that. But I’m older and wiser now. I know where the voices of despair, depression, and death come from and I know exactly where they belong. I know that His word says He had a plan for my life before I was even formed in my mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5), that His plans are for my good not for my demise (Jeremiah 29:11), and that the spirit of fear doesn’t come from God because He gives us power, love, and a peaceful mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

I don’t know why I’ve had it on my heart to share. Especially to share something so personal that I’ve never even talked to my best friend about it. Maybe there is someone that needed to read it. And if it reaches just one person, then it is all worth it. 

No matter how bleak things may appear. When everything in your life seems to go gray. When there seems to be no answer to the problems you’re facing. When you feel more alone than you ever thought possible. When the voices speak so loud you can’t hear your own. Know that:
You are not alone

You are valuable

You are beautiful

You are wanted

You are loved

You have a purpose 

You have a plan 

You are needed

You are alive 

And know, it’s ok to talk about it. There is no shame – no stigmas – no condemnation. The torturous thoughts and feelings of suicide are no respecter of age, race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, etc – it doesn’t matter if you are 10 years old or 100 years old. Talk to your family. Your friends. Your pastor. A leader in your church. A counselor. Someone you trust. Anyone. And if you feel you have no one you can talk to about it – call the suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255 or suicide.org). There is NOTHING so horrible that it is worth taking your own life for and you don’t have to face it alone. 

Fearless


When did fear take over our lives?

Turn the tv on. Open up a newspaper (do they still make those?). Listen to the radio. Scroll through social media. Talk to a friend. 

No matter your means of information, it’s hard nowadays to not be inundated with headlines that spark fear in even the most fearless of people out there. 

Don’t go outside! Zika virus is everywhere and if you get bit by a mosquito, you’ll end up sick. 

Don’t go anywhere! ISIS is everywhere. You can’t travel now without the fear of a terrorist attack. 

Don’t say anything! If you do, you’ll offend someone or end up in a social media word war because no one is allowed to have a differing opinion anymore. 

Don’t write that. Don’t say that. Don’t do that. Don’t post that. Don’t confront that. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t. 

This could all read as – fear, fear, fear, fear. 

The more soul searching I do of myself, the more I recognize how much of my past experiences were dictated by fear. How many things I didn’t do or missed out on because I was fearful. 

Almost 9 years ago, I had this brief moment in my life of fearlessness. I was on the cusp of my 25th birthday – next to nearly no responsibilities, I had just graduated from the university, I actually had money in my bank account, and I was confident the world was truly my oyster. 

So I grabbed a friend and set out on a two-week vacation through five countries in Europe. I didn’t care about the cost – I had enough money and no worries about the future. I didn’t care about safety – two young, single girls traveling alone through unchartered territories (what the heck were our parents thinking?!) and predominantly Muslim places in the middle of Ramadan. I didn’t worry about what I could come back to on my desk at work. I truly didn’t have a care in the world I couldn’t conquer on my own. And on that trip, I had the time of my life! I saw some of the wonders of the world. I met some amazing people. I brought back memories I’ll cherish forever. I even climbed a volcano! I climbed a freaking volcano!! 

For those two weeks, FEARLESS was my middle name. 

But as the years went on, adult responsibilities increased, and my child-like-faith decreased, the fear-less part of me was taken over by the fear-more part. 

Fear can absolutely cripple a person if you allow it to take root in your life. And all it takes is to open yourself up to the voices of the world: the voices telling you to fear, to doubt, to hate – that you aren’t safe enough, good enough. But that is never God’s best for us. 

II Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 

He’s given us power to overcome fear, love to conquer it all, and a peaceful mind so the cares can’t get us down. 

I’m not sure the Word could be any clearer than that. Once you identify that fear is not from God, it is not good, and it most definitely doesn’t belong in your life, you can begin to uproot it! 

Now this isn’t your pass to go and act like an idiot. Most of us do enough of that as teenagers to fulfill a lifetime quota. But it is your pass to look at things with God on your side – if He is on your side, who can be against you? (Romans 8:1)

Quit being fearful about tomorrow. Quit fearing the elections (yup I said it). Quit worrying about your future – or even your past. Quit worrying about school, what to wear, your boyfriend/girlfriend, the popular clique or the unpopular clique. Quit worrying about college. Quit worrying about that trip you want to take. Quit worrying about your job. 

Take a Holy Ghost chill pill, rest in your Father’s arms, remembering “hey, He’s got this!” and start living life fearlessly again. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get back to where I was at 25yrs old and be FEARLESS! 

In a world that fears more, we should fear less because greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world!! (I John 4:4 NLT) 

The Kindness of a Stranger


Picture this: you’re having a bad day. Someone asks you a question and you immediately snap at them. Did they deserve that response? No. Did they snap back at you? Most likely yes.
Perhaps it’s human nature. Or how we’re raised. Or just our own selfish attitudes that immediately tell us to treat others how they are treating us.
Whatever happened to the golden rule?
Do unto others as you would have done to you.

 

We live in a world where being kind to someone for no reason, much less being kind when we’d rather retaliate, is nearly non-existent. And perhaps, dare I say, it’s even rarer to find among the Christian groups/people?
I found myself in this exact situation last week. I had received horrible news that morning that a dear friend, someone I loved very much, had been in a horrible accident and was clinically brain dead.
I mustered enough strength to make it through work that morning. But by lunch, all I could think about was getting away, if even just for a moment.
So I took myself to lunch. As I sat there, all of those emotions from the morning began to well up inside of me. Then after sitting there for 10 minutes with no waitress, another emotion came up: anger. I had a very limited amount of time for lunch and I didn’t have time to waste waiting on a non-existent waitress.
Shortly there after she finally showed up and I was quick to quip a snarky remark about it.
But she didn’t retaliate.
She apologized profusely and very honestly.
She never even hesitated to return my anger with genuine kindness of her own.
I left there thinking of this encounter for the rest of the afternoon.
That waitress had no idea what I was going through, the emotions I was dealing with. And not that it made my actions justifiable, but her kindness did something to me. It changed me.

 

I honestly contemplated going back by the restaurant after work to hug that waitress and apologize for being rude.
The Word says: A gentle answer deflects wrath, but harsh words make tempers flare. Proverbs 15:1 NLT
I’m still dealing with my own grief, guilt, and what-ifs over the death of my friend, but it doesn’t give me a free pass to take it out on others. And I know for sure, next time someone snaps at me, my first thought will be (or at least should be) – I wonder what they’re going through and how can I help them?
You never know – that person might be dealing with the death of someone they loved dearly. They might be dealing with more than you or I could ever fathom.
Don’t be quick to judge. Don’t be quick to retaliate. Don’t return anger with more anger. Love them. Be kind to them. Do unto them as you would want done unto you.

 

As I prepare to say goodbye to my lifelong friend, I hope to be that kindness to someone else some day. I hope to be the kindness of a stranger in this world.