Category: From My Heart


blossom1There’s an old, familiar face lurking in the shadows of my heart, and it doesn’t look as though he’s going away any time soon. Grief. He started out as disappointment and sadness, when the first of our babies passed very early in my womb, leaving What Could Have Been to linger where Hope and Promise and Joy used to be. He stayed a while, but Optimism shushed him, till the second miscarriage happened, then the third, and finally the fourth where he rose up in my heart and flailed and screamed and cursed the earth and the sky and everything in between for all that was promised and stolen from us. His rage would come and go like the wind, rolling dark clouds upon my horizon before the crashing storm of of his despair consumed my every breath. Then he would leave again, and I would wrap my ¬†empty, motherless arms around myself, waiting for the pain to stop and life to move on. Eventually it did. Until that one day when it didn’t.

On April 19th, 2017, my beautiful boy dog, my Hooch, passed from cancer and made his journey across the rainbow bridge. Though we had a few months to prepare ourselves while we gave him medicine and love, fighting against the losing battle of the cancer attacking his lymph nodes, we weren’t ready. I don’t think there would have been any sufficient amount of time to be ready, to be honest. I was blessed with a period of being home, a fortunate place to be for it meant I could lie with him on the floor, wrap him in blankets and spoil him completely, and whisper all the promises of peace which awaited him on the other side of the bridge. Though I couldn’t bear the thought of saying this goodbye, I held onto this one, simple truth – he wouldn’t be alone for he would have our beautiful children to play with while we waited for the day we would all be together again. When he passed in our arms, my heart shattered so completely I thought there would never be a day again where I would breathe without crying.blossom2

How it all began

Hooch came into our lives in 2008, at the approximate age of two years old.

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One of the first pictures of Hooch

I told hubs that if he wanted a dog, he had to go to the shelter and meet the dogs, then pick the dog he wanted me to meet, and I would meet that dog. I warned him – perfectly seriously – that if he introduced me to three dogs and asked me to choose, we would be leaving the shelter with three dogs.

He chose Hooch.

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Hooch after we took him home

Hooch was a skinny, nervous nellie and had been gifted the name Spruce because he was found in December and he didn’t have a name that they knew. We don’t know his origin story, but we fell in love with him immediately. When he bounded over to us with his huge, goofy grin, there was an unmistakable Turner & Hooch moment. And so his name became Hooch.

He was a gentle soul and – if not for his nervous disposition – he would have made a wonderful therapy dog. He could sense when you needed a hug, and he would worm his way onto your lap wherein he would roll over and beg for belly scratches. Whatever you were feeling before melted away into a peace and love. All thanks to this goofy, big chicken, rescue of a dog.

Two years later, we got him a little sister…

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Sonny Valentine

…and they became inseparable.

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Sonny & Hooch

There was much joy and laughter in our lives but, just like everyone’s story, they were punctuated with events which left us wrecked and asking what we could have done differently. Through the housing crash that saw us lose our home – and the little room we longed to turn into our child’s nursery – Hooch was there for us. It was as though he knew what we needed, and in his furry, in-the-moment innocent and loving way, he would gift it to us. He was our grounding when it felt as though nothing else was going the way we wanted.

It’s hard not to rage at God when you are facing unending infertility. Eight years, four losses, and no baby in our arms, the unfairness seemed destined to swallow us whole. Intercut that with our beloved friends effortlessly growing their families with beautiful little humans, and it wasn’t hard to find yourself questioning what you could have done to be punished so mercilessly.

blossom3Yet Hooch continued to gently love on us, even in those darkest moments when we couldn’t love ourselves.

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Bathroom buddy

He would sit by the bathroom sink on “Trash Truck Tuesday” because – though he feared the bathroom for reasons we couldn’t fathom – he feared the monstrous rumbling of the garbage truck more. He saw us as his protectors, as much as he was ours, and we loved him all the more for it.

When he started to get sick, we did everything we could for him. It was hard because we needed to be fair to him even as it meant overriding our heartache that our time as his family was being cut short. The decisions needed to benefit him the most, not prolong his journey through selfishly trying to squeeze out more from him just because we weren’t ready to let him go.

The day my heart shattered

When my beautiful boy finally crossed over the rainbow bridge into the loving arms of our children, my world crashed around me. That old friend, Grief, tore through my heart with such ferocity there were too many nights where the physical act of breathing was too much to bear.

Who could have imagined that the loss of my beautiful boy would unleash the pent-up rage and devastation I’d long thought silenced into submission. Losing him was like losing each of our children all over again, only this time I’d got to hold him and love him, and fill my heart and my memories with the very essence of who he was. There were no ultrasounds of our babies, no handprints or footprints to say they had been there inside my womb. There were no photographs or sounds of laughter to fill my dreams. There was only that old, familiar darkness of Grief pouring through my heart as he teased of What Might Have Been. And now he had Hooch.

Grief is brutal. And he is merciless.

I try and take solace in the fact our children get to know our love for them through the love we have for Hooch, and I try and draw comfort in the knowledge that we will all be together again some day, across that rainbow bridge.blossom4

Meanwhile I have their memories etched upon my skin in beautiful tribute tattoos: four blossoms for the four babies who bloomed all too briefly, and Hooch’s paw print forever upon my shoulder.

Though the shadows of grief have blackened much of this last year I look to this anniversary as a defining moment. My heart aches for my beautiful boy, my goofy peacemaker who could skin a tennis ball in the blink of an eye, and whose idea of a kiss was to come right up to your face, then sneeze. He was a darling of a dog, and despite all the heartache we went through trying and failing to grow the human half of our family, he really did know how to soothe the hurting until it became something you merely carried in your pocket. We had eight and a half years where we had the honor of being his family, and I like to think we did him proud.

I miss him every day. And I still find myself crying because the pain of not having him here is insufferably loud.

But I do him a great disservice when I weep for him to be here with us. He only ever wanted us to be happy. He only ever offered comfort and patience, even if we didn’t feel we deserved it. As I said, he would have been a great therapy dog if he weren’t so ridiculously afraid of random things.

So I will try and do better. I will hold onto the memories and the photographs, and the beautiful moments he gave us. I will endeavor to live my life in a way that would make him know his love wasn’t wasted on me.

And when the time comes that I walk across the bridge and see him and our little ones all fully grown and wrapped in the light of Jesus, I know everything that hurt will melt away, the grief will be silenced once and for all, and there will be only Joy.

It will be a beautiful day.

I love you, Hooch. I will always love you.

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My beautiful boy.

ūüíô

 

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I remember it fondly. It was a beautiful day and the other children were outside at recess (which we call ‘play time’ in Scotland), and I was sitting beside my teacher as we¬†formed each letter on the page, transferring the story in my¬†young¬†mind¬†onto the crisp sheet of paper before us. There were finger spaces between the letters, and I’m sure the letter themselves were untidy, not unexpected since I was perhaps five or six at the time.¬†This was my first story.

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I have no idea what the actual tale was, nor how well it was received, but the memory of the teacher’s patience, and my determination to tell my story have lived with me ever since. And I’m still trying to tell the darn story.

When I moved to the USA, I had a nugget of an idea, and perhaps a dozen¬†chapters of an almost-story I’d started after college. Both were sitting unfinished as I’d lost confidence in the project. Adventures about magic, it seems, aren’t ‘Christian’, so I held onto that as the excuse to no longer continue.

It was at a friend’s Christmas party in Malibu that my new friends¬†found out I was a writer. My wonderful hubs blabbed. They knew I was an actor and had done theater my whole life. They knew my beloved had proposed while I was performing in a show in Balloch, Scotland. They knew I’d moved five thousand miles for love. But they had no idea this half-started book and this knot of an idea still lived inside me, till my darling spouse¬†told them all at the party. And therein started the journey through taking this idea and actually turning it into a novel.

Full disclosure: it’s almost finished. There are only a few chapters to go, and I’m very excited to write it. I’m also terrified and intimidated to write it, but it’s too good not to finish. I owe it to myself to at least get to the end of the last chapter. Not to mention, I owe it to my hubs and the many, many wonderful friends who have cheered me on as I have planned, mapped it, written, re-written, and edited all the chapters so far to within an inch of their¬†lives. I’m so in love with my book that I can’t believe¬†it’s actually mine.

The funny thing is, some of the most wonderful changes have come from taking the things I’ve learned in acting. When we break down a character to understand what they’re feeling, why they’re acting this way, what the relationship is with each of the other characters in the scene…. all those things translate to the written word too. When I was working through the core of the storyline, and pushing my character into and out of different scenarios, I tried to stay anchored to her drive. What was her purpose in this moment. What was she feeling over there. Why is this important to her? All the things we do and decide when we take a script and try to tap into the authentic person we’re wanting to represent.

Sometimes it’s easier to create a character on paper because you are in full control of all the scenarios and emotions that you want to showcase in the moment. Sometimes being a character on stage is easier because you have other cast members¬†pushing the narrative with you. For me, both are similar yet¬†different, and both require a great deal of being able to connect and react to emotional, challenging, or extraordinary situations. And, I can tell you, it’s wonderful.

Across the road, lanterns glowed like blurred suns against the inky blackness, their burnt-orange aura easing a finely drawn path through the narrow, cobbled streets.

The Hideaway, Chapter 1

A dear friend of mine asked to read the chapters I had so far, and the feedback came back that I had “major writing chops” but they didn’t know where the story was going. This wasn’t unexpected since I was writing every chapter on a whim, and trying to work out where it was going as I did. That doesn’t work when you’re trying to engage readers. So the re-write began.

At that time, he suggested I also start posting extracts online, to garner interest as well as accountability for finishing the story. The feedback was wonderful and – with a lot more rewriting – I finally reached the point where the finale was right around the corner.

Then I stopped.

In all honesty, it was a massive panic attack that stopped me from writing it. What if it sucked? What if it was disappointing? What if it was a letdown to all those wonderful friends who had invested all that time and effort into reading it?

And on the flip side: what if it was actually any good?

 

I think the latter was the hardest to grapple with. Having grown up the way I did, I struggled with a fear that all good things are temporary and therefore will disappear. So would I lose my book? Would it be swindled away from me, or somehow accidentally deleted from my computer so that it no longer exists? What if they wanted another story? What if this labor of love is all that I have?

Just so you know, anxiety sucks. It’s the hardest thing to battle because it’s all inside your head and your imagination, writing one “if only” on top of another until you are literally too scared to leave your house in case something tragic happens. It’s easier to stay quiet, resign yourself to living in the smallest space possible, hug your dogs, and will the world to leave you alone. Facing the anxiety is like trying to slay a dragon that refuses to die, while it insults you and and tells you all the things about yourself that you’re trying to forget.

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So this is me standing up to the dragon.

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I have four chapters to go till my book is done. I’m posting the new, fresh, beautifully revised chapters on a site called Patreon¬†that any and every budding creator should check out. People can pay to read your work, and having people actually wanting to pay to read your work is surprisingly humbling and exciting. They give feedback if they want to, or they simply ‘like’ your work. It tells the anxiety dragon to be quiet. It tells you that you’re not half bad. And it persuades you to keep going.

Everybody has a story in them. I  truly believe that.

Now, go write it.

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Note: there are spoilers here for those who have yet to read the book or see the movie. So proceed with caution.

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Alrighty then, here we go…

It’s been years since I’ve read the book. At the time, it tore through my heart,¬†forcing me to examine my faith,¬†and left me reeling as Mack’s grief reflected back at me something I’d long been trying to avoid. His questions were the same ones I wrestled with, and seeing them in print was shattering.

Like Mack, the Father Heart of God wasn’t a love I could understand. Back then I was a broken young woman¬†who’d grown up in spite of¬†terrible trauma, one that had blackened¬†my soul as I’d bargained my own worth for what I saw was the greater good. Left alone to struggle through the aftermath, and shut inside my own pain lest it bleed out and infect other people, there was no beautiful figure of love and gentleness to walk me into a place of healing. I called it My Story¬† and it was as raw and as terrible and as gut-wrenching to me as Mack’s grief was to him. I wept so hard through The Shack book that I had to read it twice.

I was very excited to see the movie.

The Shack movie is devastatingly beautiful.

There was a part of me that was already emotionally tense as the opening scenes unfolded, because I knew what was going to happen, and I knew it was going to be a journey in need of Kleenex. I wasn’t wrong. It stays true to the book – not surprising since one of the producers is also one of the co-writers of the book – and it’s not long before we see the broken Mack (played by Sam Worthington)¬†who’s been devastated¬†by his daughter’s death. As the story weaves between what was then and what is now, we relive the flashbacks of the better times, the laughter and sparkling beauty of a family that is warm and tight. We see the days when Mack’s eyes are¬†bright and his smile effortlessly creases his face, and we¬†compare that with the shattered man whose universe has caved in upon itself until he can only see through¬†the knothole of his pain.

There’s no easy answer that’ll take your pain away.

– Papa (The Shack)

Grief is complicated. It manifests at the most inopportune times and, when it does, the heart crumbles under the weight of its own anguish. As Mack grieved for his child and wracked himself with guilt over being helpless to prevent it, I felt an empathy roll through my soul and leak tears down my face, because I realized I understood. Though our circumstances were vastly different (and his was, technically, a fictional movie), having had four miscarriages over eight years made me far too capable of relating to the rage and devastation he was feeling. The whole time up to that point, I’d been telling myself I was finally fine with it and had moved on. But I was wrong. I was horrible, furiously¬†wrong. Mack was speaking for¬†me and I was heartbroken for him, and we were both angry¬†beyond words at God.

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As we journey with Mack to the place where it all went wrong, the snow covered shack in the middle of the woods, the scene is wonderfully crafted to be both haunting and lonely. The stillness and the thick snow speak metaphors to the layers of nightmares, anger, and guilt which have stacked themselves upon Mack’s soul, yet we still see the remnants of the tragedy upon the floor. It’s a stark reminder that no amount of snowfall can cover the truth, and I found myself aching¬†with him. Though I’d read the book, and I knew the beautiful journey that was going to come next, there was something hollow in my stomach as I watched his pain explode across the screen, for this is the two sides of grief – the screaming and raging at God and the world that rips out of your being because it’s too huge to contain, and the empty space inside your heart where your hope and promise and tomorrow used to be before it all went wrong. I wept.

Mack: Where were you when I needed you?

Papa: I never left you. I never left Missy.

(The Shack)

Octavia Spencer is wonderful as Papa.

Papa is gentle. Papa is kind and soft even when Mack is angry and withdrawn. Instead of a God figure who is distant and somewhere outside of the story, Papa is right there beside him, not pushing him or preaching to him, but loving him with a purity of heart that your own soul aches to know. A love that lets you be you while nudging you ever so sweetly towards the healing that you so desperately need, that’s a rare love to behold.

The movie reveals to us how our image of a Father God is tainted by the flawed human father we’ve each been given. For those who grew up with a violent father, the idea of a loving Father God is a foreign, troubling concept. It’s one of the reasons Papa appears to Mack in the manifestation of a wonderful woman who is familiar to him. For me, in the film and in the book, this resonated deeply with me because I’d gone through such a trauma as a child and there were no authority figures who stepped in and stepped up to see me through it. As I stumbled into adulthood, there were very few adults who were nurturing to me and, like Mack, there were very few sweet, kind people I’d let through the walls I’d painstakingly built to protect myself.

The film made me realize that the God I picture in my head is a collage of¬†how other people I trust see Him. I don’t fully comprehend a God that is loving to me because I’ve only experienced glimpses here and there, like reflections in a pool or an echo within someone I know. I can count a handful of times God has talked to me directly, the most profound of which was Him saying to me, “I’m not going anywhere.” That statement changed my life, and just over¬†a year later I was living in a new country, with a new husband, a new name, a new family of friends, and a whole new existence outside of the broken child I’d long held as my identity.

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The representation of Jesus (played by Avraham Aviv Alush) is who I imagine the real Jesus to be. He’s confident but not arrogant, at ease yet always vigilant, and with infinite patience and kind humor that makes me want to sit at the dock all day and talk to Him. He’s the friend you need as much as the one you want, and it’s delightful to see the bond forming between them. The film uses beautiful visuals and angles to show Mack’s journey into letting himself trust Jesus, and the trailer itself gives a peak into how much fun that trust leads to.

As we weave¬†our way through Mack’s journey, there are moments when I’m panged with knowing what’s to come and the ache in my heart is almost unbearable. When you have to face the ghosts of your past, whether as an adult looking back on childhood trauma, or as an angry, broken soul raging against your version of God who is cruel and unkind and unfair, there’s a lot of emotional unpacking that needs to take place. This was no less true for Mack, who had to make the choice to forgive the person who hurt him the most, while fighting with his inner self who wanted the person to feel the depths of his pain.

Since I first read The Shack, I took that journey and it wasn’t easy. The innocent child broken by trauma had evolved into an adult who struggled with anxieties so crippling it kept me anchored into the past, forever defined and controlled by a sequence of events I couldn’t change. Walking through it was the hardest thing I had to do because there would never be an acknowledgement from the perpetrator of the pain, something Mack has to realize too. At first they feel like words that would sooner suffocate you than leave your lips, for a part of you knows that if you let go, everything you’ve known up to that point will change. Perhaps it’s a fear of the unknown, perhaps it’s a fear that the God we think doesn’t love us enough to nurture and protect us will in fact magically absolve the perpetrator of every wrongdoing beause we said we were fine. The forgiveness I learned (‘forgive and forget’) was not the one I walked through, and neither was it like that for Mack. It was raw, and honest, and gut-wrenching, and powerful.

Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive.

– Papa (The Shack book)

As Mack walked through his forgiveness of the perpetrator, preparing himself to complete the last part of his journey, he’s repeating “I forgive you, I forgive you,” each step of the way, and I’m not the only one weeping with him. It’s a powerful, beautiful, sensitively crafted moment that speaks truth to what it’s like to forgive someone you’ve only ever wished harm upon. It’s a process, and you have to go there over and over until you get to that point where you feel Papa with you in it, and it’s memory no longer has the power to consume your soul.

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Mack has to close the chapter on the horror which befell¬†Missy with some powerful, tearful moments that make your heart swell because they’re so elegantly and carefully crafted. You feel his pain, yet among all the beauty of the garden there’s a sense of release, of taking something that was dark and tragic and terrible, and transforming it into something that is lovely and whole and wondrous.

It’s more beautiful than my own journey which was far less graceful, and layers more complex, but it’s what I hope mine turns into eventually. For there’s a peacefulness that comes from understanding this garden; this jumbled chaos of wondrous plants is a representation of Mack himself. The hole they dug¬†in the midst was to transform the pain of ¬†his grief¬†into fresh new growth, fed by the tears that had been lovingly¬†collected by the Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). It was a symbol, to me, that our tears aren’t wasted. They don’t fall into the darkness to be forgotten, but are¬†seen, heard, and acknowledged by Papa.

As Mack returned home, and we see the pieces of his life fall back into place, we also see the transformation of his daughter, Kate (played by Megan Charpentier), who’d been carrying her own horrible guilt over the tragedy. It’s a testament to the power of forgiveness, and it’s a wonderful representation of God’s love that isn’t preachy or overly scriptural, but is raw and real and personal, the way Papa’s love is supposed to be.

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The Shack movie, much like the book, left me asking myself so many questions about how I saw God. He really is a collage of all these other representations and testimonies I’ve been given by those I love, but the movie poked a hole right through my own grief to show me I’m filtering Him through the knothole of my own pain.

Going through the miscarriages was brutal for we never made it across the six week mark so there wasn’t even a sonogram or the memory of a heartbeat to cling to as the depths¬†of our pain began to drown us.¬†¬†Through it all we had nobody to share it with, so we plodded on until we were spent, and then we buried it inside and pretended we were fine.¬†Someone said, “it’s probably for the best,” with well-meaning, but it just stabbed at the unfairness¬†of our failure, but the most brutal heartbreak came from¬†someone I once looked up to who made it clear to me how disappointed they were in me for not¬†making it happen.

Then The Shack came along with its big emotional stick and poked it right in the heart of that pain.

 

 

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The movie showed me that the God I see in my mind is not the one of love, but one still being filtered through the lens of My Story. The little child abandoned to the trauma of my childhood is still inside me, shaping the view of this father figure into something more human and mean than the gentle, sweet Papa that He wants us to know.

That’s painful, because it calls for a lot of introspection and soul-searching, and I know it’s not going to be easy. But that’s how we grow.

In conclusion:

The Shack movie is beautiful, heart wrenching, sweet, loving, humbling, and will make you cry.

xo

 

It’s finally stopped raining here in Southern California and today’s blue sky is a welcome sight. This week, as I’ve tried to shake off whatever this under-the-weather thing that has afflicted me and a number of my friends, I’m taking a long look at last year, and breathing in this fresh new one along with all the promises it brings.

Nelson Mandela Courage QuoteI realize that much of last year was spent creating new goals for myself, not least when I picked up archery once again, having enjoyed it back in my high school days. The feel of the bow in my hand and hearing the¬†thuck of my arrow hitting the target was all kinds of wonderful. Of course, a tiny part of my rekindling the archery romance¬†might be my love for Hawkeye and having spent last year binge-reading my way through Marvel’s Hawkeye comics, I still tell myself¬†it was mostly nostalgia. Mostly.

Annie Bergin Archery

And then there’s Hapkido. In 2014¬†I had extensive knee surgery which led to a year of intensive therapy to get the mobility back. Last year I started taking Hapkido and working with Master Sayed at the¬†American Hapkido Karate¬†Academy to build up its strength, with the added bonus of learning a martial art in the process. In May I achieved my first belt (Orange) and was very excited. After a few knee setbacks which saw me return to class in the fall, I ended the year with my much-anticipated second belt, Yellow.


I finished the year with new headshots by the fantastically talented Mark Atteberry¬†and his eye for detail is incredible, as verified by his amazing¬†Instagram¬†(so it’s not just me being biased). The next few months will include marketing them to casting directors in the hopes of unlocking¬†many¬†new auditions for me.

Quite a few people see 2016 as the year that hated us, bringing with it losses like the wonderful Alan Rickman, Nancy Reagan, David Bowie, Victoria Wood, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds to name but a few. Though it’s hard not to attribute human emotions onto the passage of time, 2016 has certainly dealt an unfair share of punches and I, for one, am glad the year is behind us.

One of the most emotional blog contributions I’ve submitted to this blog site was written last summer. In it I spoke of how the events of my past were once the core of my existence and how I let it shape and define every part of my life but that I was now choosing to no longer allow My Story to be my defining. I called the blog, “Live in the lower case“.

The fallout from this blog was unexpected. While the majority of those who read it were deeply moved by my honesty, this reaction wasn’t universal. I learned that while I was choosing to move forward with confidence, there were a few I once wanted to be close to who instead took umbrage at¬†My Story, for they believe such things are¬†meant to be kept in the darkness and not brought into the light. I’m sad to say that their support and understanding was not forthcoming.

I made the difficult decision to draw a line in the sand and walk away from these lifelong connections for the betterment of my soul and my future, and entered into the new year released from the burden of twisting myself into a pretzel of their defining. Though a part of me is pained by the estrangement, there is a sense of liberation within myself that I can now live my life according to my own definitions.

While the earth dries from the storms of the last few weeks, and while we each find our groove as we navigate this new year, I hope each of you pray for the courage to chase new challenges, and the strength to leave behind anything that is detrimental to your story.

Much love and Happy New Year

Annie

xo

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