Sunday, 13 April 2014

(Im)Perfect Christians

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In some ways, I think the reality of our Christian faith is broken down by false notions of what it means to be a “perfect Christian.” Sometimes we have this idea that ‘perfection’ is the prerequisite to belonging in the Church, that anything else would make us unworthy. And maybe we know in our minds that this isn’t the case, but we often forget that in the way we live our lives.

Because we all mess up.  We're all sinful, sometimes for extended periods of time. And our hearts can grow so cold, so hardened, so afraid of returning to God, convinced he wants nothing to do with us anymore. In our minds we are hopeless cases, fallen too far from grace, impossible to be saved. And when it happens, we run. We hide in shame. We distract ourselves with other things, unwilling to turn back to God. We feel that no matter how crisp and clean our Sunday mass attire is, we can never hide our true ‘stains.’  That if we continued to serve, we’d be nothing more than hypocrites. And sometimes we’d rather drop out of church altogether than be hypocritical -- at least that way we wouldn’t have to 'pretend' anymore.

But that’s the thing: Who said we had to pretend? Who gave us this crazy idea that we could only approach God when we were at our absolute best, when everything was right in our lives, when we were ‘spiritually high’? We fool ourselves into believing that we can only approach God when we are pure, clean and presentable, unstained and pleasing,  like we can only let him in when all the clutter is swept beneath the rug.

But that is false.

There's a quote by Abigail Van Buren that carries some partial truth: "The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints." Yes, the church is a hospital for sinners; but the saints were sinners too. They were just sinners who never gave up.

I came across a quote by Paul Hudson that immediately struck me as true and powerful: "Intimacy requires you to expose yourself, to show your true colors. It requires you to be vulnerable and to place all your cards on the table. True intimacy is a complete unraveling of all your defenses. It's allowing someone else to see us for who we really are, not just for who we let on to be." 

It's easy to apply this quote to our deepest, most meaningful relationships. But when it comes to our relationship with God, it suddenly gets harder. Yet Jesus doesn’t want a pretentious friendship with us; he wants that. That kind of intimacy that dares to show the ugly, dares to speak of the unspeakable, of the brokenness, of the pain, but also of our joys and aspirations of life. EVERYTHING. He doesn’t want the polished up versions of ourselves; He wants us.

Even when we run away, God says, “Even now, return to me with all your heart …” (Joel 2:12-13). It's a perpetual message of, "Come back." To focus only on our brokenness is viewing only one side of the coin. Flip it over and see the other side.

Maybe then we could experience first-hand what Christopher West means when he says:
"The 'call to perfection' is... the recognition that I am loved as I am, in all my imperfection--and as I open to it, it's that love that transforms me, "perfecting" me step-by-step. In this way, "I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself" is transformed into "I was at peace, because I know God loves me; so I exposed myself." 
It's Holy Week now, only several days until Easter. Let's not miss out. Return to God, regardless of where we've been or where we are now. We might've gotten used to rolling around in the mud, but God can make us clean again. Just trust. He can take it. We just need to make that first decision to get out of the mud.

I'll leave you with one last quote by blessed Mother Teresa to ponder about:
 "Jesus wants me to tell you again ... how much love He has for each one of you -- beyond all you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus -- one to one -- you and Jesus alone ... Be careful of all that can block that personal contact with the living Jesus. The Devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes -- to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you. This is a danger for all of us. And so sad, because it is completely opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that He loves you, but even more -- He longs for you. He misses you when you don't come close. He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don't feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes -- He is the one who always accepts you. My children, you don't have to be different for Jesus to love you. Only believe -- you are precious to Him. Bring all your suffering to His feet -- only open your heart to be loved by Him as you are. He will do the rest ... "I thirst" is something much deeper than Jesus just saying "I love you." Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you -- you can't begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him." 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Vocation: To Fall in Love

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"We have to believe in God's love. Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." Pope Benedict XVI

THE SEARCH FOR PURPOSE ...

There's a lot of rhetoric going on about "discerning your vocation" -- how God wants you to live out your life in a way that's unique to you. And it's so relevant. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think everyone has at least the sliver of a desire to do something meaningful with their lives, to make it count. It's the yearning to "make the world a better place," as cliche as it sounds, that burning desire or aspiration. Or maybe it's the simple feeling of discontent towards mediocrity, the inability to escape the feeling that we were made for more.

And that, in a nutshell, is our search for vocation: The search for purpose.

DISCERNMENT RETREAT ...

A few weeks ago I went on a Salesian Sisters Discernment Retreat, opening myself up to the possibility of religious life in my own vocation search. I went out of curiosity, but also for clarity. I hoped to come out of it with some kind of nudge towards any direction, whether it was religious life or not.

But I didn't find any clarity. Nor did I find answers. What I did find was something much more fundamental than all of that -- a reminder of the one thing that was key to my entire search.

I had to let God love me. 

It was so simple, so painfully, ridiculously obvious, but I'd forgotten it along the way. I 'knew' God loved me like a cliche imprinted in my memory; but I hadn't let it transform me in the sense that I was willing to give up everything for God since nothing else mattered more.

I'm still a work in progress.

But this retreat made me realize several things: That it didn't matter what particular vocation I was called to, only that I loved. That I couldn't love others fully in the way my vocation called me to until I was able to love myself. That I couldn't fully love myself until I grasped the magnitude of how much God loved me.

It was a bittersweet revelation, to be honest. I wanted to be able to do God's will, but my inability to embrace God's love was inhibiting it from unfolding. But a friend of mine reminded me of something else I had forgotten: "[God loves] the you that is struggling and striving. The you that is failing and making mistakes. The you that is broken. What makes you truly beautiful is you as a whole, as you are NOW. That is the Truth."

We're often tempted to think that our vocation is something vast, complex, and complicated. But it's really that simple. Fall in love with God. Let Him love you. Because yes, the saints did great things in the service of God -- but only because they were first deeply, madly in love with Him.

Mother Teresa explains it in this way: "Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you -- you can't begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him."

As Fr. Arrupe says: "Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." 

A FEW LAST WORDS OF WISDOM ...

Finally, I wanted to leave you with an incredible quote from Pope John Paul II as a reminder that everything we seek for in our vocation search is really God Himself:
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”
Matthew 12:30-31 // John 15:5 

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Friday, 14 February 2014

Relationships: An Investment You'll Never Regret

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Valentine's Day might seem like a cheap marketing trick designed to make singles feel worse about themselves (and maybe it is to some degree), but it also reminds us of something simple yet profound: that all relationships, romantic and non-romantic, are truly worth celebrating.

We need people. This seems obvious, but 'independence' and 'individualism' are so prized these days that many of us trade opportunities to nurture relationships for opportunities to pursue our own goals, to meet our own deadlines, or to finish our own duties.

And when you think about it, life would be much easier and clear-cut that way. We wouldn't have to deal with the messiness and drama of dealing with people. There would be less distractions and more time for ourselves and our projects, for producing outcomes. We'd be more efficient that way.

But here's the thing: We are human. We aren't meant to operate like machines. We can't just expect ourselves to work constantly and churn out results, expecting this to be the recipe for a fulfilling life. A fruitful life requires way more than success and achievement; it requires people.

Nothing can take the place of meaningful connections and relationships; they make life that much more colorful, that much more livable, and that much more bearable. They can fix an entire month of stress with five seconds of shared laughter. Love heals. It's medicine. It's irreplaceable.

"IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER ..."

Below is a piece of writing that struck me IMMENSELY. It was written by a woman named Erma Bombeck after being diagnosed with cancer, outlining things she would've done over if she had the chance to.
"If I had my life to live over, I would have talked less and listened more. I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded. I would have eaten the popcorn in the 'good' living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth ... I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains. I would have cried and laughed less while watching television - and more while watching life. I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband ... Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I'd have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, "Later. Now go get washed up for dinner." There would have been more "I love you's".. More "I'm sorry's" ... But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute... look at it and really see it ... live it...and never give it back."
Powerful stuff.

THE POINT?

Yes, independence, privacy, and solitude are all valuable things to preserve. But people are always worth making space for. People are worth the effort, the time, the energy, the sacrifice, the accommodation, and even the occasional nuisance. Because in the end, it's not the number of trophies that'll matter most, but the laughs we shared, the memories we made, and the tears of joy and sorrow we shared with and for our loved ones. These perfect moments are what make life beautiful, moments made perfect in their imperfection.

It's not always about the things we do, but the people we do them with; not the places we see, but the people we see them with; not the answers to life, but the people we can puzzle about life with.

So this Valentine's Day, be grateful. Relationships are worth celebrating. 


WHERE 'YOU' COME IN ...
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Monday, 10 February 2014

5 Ways to Kiss Perfectionism Goodbye

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I never took the possibility of being a perfectionist seriously, never really considered myself as one. But after putting a ridiculous amount of effort on school assignments last week that weren't even worth much to begin with -- especially at the expense of my own happiness, well-being and personal goals -- I realized that I did have hints of perfectionism. I also realized how detrimental it could be.

Perfectionists are often mistaken for hard workers, but there's a profound difference. Hard workers work hard because they choose to; perfectionists work hard because they they have to. Hard workers focus on effort (they're satisfied, as long as they do their best); perfectionists focus on results (they aren't satisfied until they get perfect results). Even then, their satisfaction is short-lived and temporary. They lack a permanent sense of peace and self-worth that gets them through anything; instead, their security is threatened by circumstance and always subject to change.

In short: Perfectionism is NOT worth it.
Here are 5 ways to overcome perfectionism. Hope they help!

1) Re-assess your sources of validation.
Perfectionists usually place their sense of worth on external factors. The extent to which they can respect themselves depends on how well they do in school, whether or not they get that job promotion, who accepts them and who doesn't, or whether or not they have a bad hair day. Their desire to perfect everything is driven by the fear that one bad move will mean they're a failure as a human being. 
The problem with this is that it provides no permanence; external factors are always changing. What we really need is an unshakable sense of self-worth, the knowledge that we are valuable no matter what. Job loss, break-ups, mistakes -- none of these matter because we'll get through it in the end. 
So place your source of validation on internal factors (like belief in oneself) rather than on external factors. But most of all, have faith in who God says you are: if there's anyone who knows your true worth, it's the One who made you. God is the most unchanging, consistent, truthful, and loving source of all, for He is the source of ALL things. 
2) Be clear about what you REALLY want in life. 
A common tendency for perfectionists is to try to do EVERYTHING well, expending the same maximum amount of effort on ALL tasks. 
Not only is it impossible to do 100% well in absolutely EVERYTHING, one might not actually want to do that. Who wants to spend their life doing things that don't even matter to them in the long run? The trick is not to to do EVERYTHING, which leads to burn-out, but to spend more time doing things that are actually meaningful to you. 
So rather than putting the most valuable tasks in the back-burner as you try to tackle everything else that presents itself to you, prioritize your most important and fulfilling tasks. Rather than stretching yourself thin by putting the same amount of effort in everything, put most of your effort on things that matter to you the most. There is such thing as "doing everything" but "accomplishing nothing" -- and you don't want that.  
3) Realize that mistakes aren't the Big Bad Wolf. Dare to make them. 
Perfectionists are often driven by the belief that mistakes are permanent, un-fixable, and catastrophic. They may also believe that mistakes define who they are and what they're worth. Though mistakes can be powerful, they don't have the power to do that.
What mistakes do have the power to do is to strengthen you, to make you wiser, more resilient, and more capable -- if you choose it. Their power to 'build you up' or 'break you down' depends solely on you. 
While we certainly should do all we can to avoid making mistakes, we should also realize that it's not the end of the world if we do make them. It's part of the human experience, and can be necessary for growth and learning. Life is not meant to be lived on tiptoe, constantly afraid of making a mess. It should be lived to its fullest, which means experiencing the joys and pains of overcoming mistakes.
Dare to make mistakes and realize that you have what it takes to learn from them and move on. 
4) Focus on intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards.
Perfectionists often prioritize tasks that lead to extrinsic rewards -- things like money, grades, or the avoidance of punishment, which are external to us. However, extrinsic rewards are completely subject to the evaluation of other people to judge whether or not we can receive them.  Too much emphasis on extrinsic rewards can lead to feeling as if our lives are a product of someone else's expectations, rather than of doing what we actually want to do. 
So start focusing on tasks that are intrinsically rewarding to you -- tasks you'd do simply for the love of it, even if you never received external recognition or payment for them. These are tasks that are inherently rewarding because you enjoy them or are passionate about them. When you focus on doing these things, you'll be much happier. No longer are your efforts directed at pleasing others, but at enjoying in the task at hand. 
5) Redefine your idea of "progress." 
Some people latch onto perfectionism because they want to feel like they are progressing in life -- which is totally normal and even healthy. However, a person's conception of what "progress" is can dramatically determine whether or not they feel fulfilled at the end of the day, or how hard a person is towards themselves. 
The key is to reward effort rather than results. If your definition of progress is getting results, you might feel disappointed when you don't get them immediately, regardless of your best efforts. But when your definition of progress is effort, you'll suddenly you feel much more satisfied with the work you've done, regardless of the results.  
So that's it! The transition from "perfectionism" to becoming a genuinely "hard worker" takes effort, but it's well worth it. Cheers!

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

WHERE 'YOU' COME IN ...
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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

To Live for Something Greater

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A few weeks ago I opened a book and was hit by this phrase: "You have been created to live for something greater than yourself, and it is only through the complete giving of yourself that you will find yourself." 


It stuck with me.

I closed the book. Turned on the TV. The documentary on TV repeated a similar message: that the happiest people in the world exhibited two qualities: 1) They lived for something greater than themselves, and 2) They had a sense of community, connection, and social bonding.

Turned off the TV. Went to Theology of the Body class. The same message was repeated yet again, a third time. The priest reiterated John Paul II: "Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self." He said that there were two desires in the human heart: to give our lives over to something greater than ourselves, and to be in communion with God and with other persons.

Three similar messages. Three different sources. All within the same time frame.

THE "ACHE" ...

The priest said that there comes a time in our lives when we become restless. After years of living for ourselves, we begin to realize: "I can't stay by myself and be lonely. I need to give of myself, to go outside myself and establish relationships." He said it was precisely this ache to live for something greater than ourselves that triggers the search for our vocation.

Why else do we give up our personal "freedom" to get married, have kids, and change diapers? Why else do we switch into jobs that enable us to support a cause that matters to us, even if the pay is lower than the previous job?

Because we yearn for more. After years of being told that the way to happiness is to secure the best for ourselves, to accumulate more for ourselves, to raise our own statuses and prestige, we begin to wonder if we've been chasing empty goals. Why? Because we're only living for ourselves.

Yet that crazy, counter-intuitive part of ourselves calls out, that part that actually wants to make sacrifices, that wants to put someone else's needs above our own, that wants more to life than safety, security, and convenience. We yearn for that something that is worth the inconvenience: Our vocation. Our purpose. Our unique calling by God. 

I, too, came to discover this ache in my heart -- that behind my typical "wants" was an even greater underlying desire:  to live for something greater than myself, to let go of my own self-saving ways, and to give my life over to a worthy cause. In a way, I wanted to be "less selfish". It wasn't enough for me to go through the motions, securing a safe life for myself. It wasn't enough to merely survive meeting the demands of everyday life, living from deadline to deadline, from service event to service event, from weekend to weekend. Yes, I realized a great part of life was to find joy in the mundane tasks that absolutely had to be done in order to fully function as a member of society, but still -- there had to be a greater purpose.

I'm still on the way to discovering that purpose.

THE WAKE-UP CALL ...

We've all felt this "ache" some way or another. Sometimes we'd rather hide, run away, or distract ourselves than face it.

But this ache isn't here to tear us down. It's here to wake us up, to disturb us, to keep us from settling for a lesser life than we were destined for. In an ironic way, it makes us 'uncomfortable' with the comfortable, pushing us towards a different way of living.

I used to think that the only way a person could 'give' of themselves was to 'find' themselves first. But now I'm realizing that it's the reverse. Perhaps it is how Gandhi puts it: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

The book 33 Days to Morning Glory describes 'holiness' in this way: "What is holiness? Dying to the self." Perhaps this is what it means when the Bible says "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.": the only way to find true meaning in life is to 'die' to our own desires and replace them with God's. He is that "something greater than ourselves" that we so badly yearn to live for.

WHAT NOW?

Let this yearning, this ache for happiness, fulfillment, and meaning, propel us to seek our God-given vocation. Perhaps the first step is to let go of our self-saving ways, of our selfish ambitions, and to replace them with God's greater dreams instead.

As Pope Francis states: "Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life the most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others."

Philippians 1:20-23

WHERE 'YOU' COME IN ...
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Thursday, 2 January 2014

This New Year: Wait, Hope, & Trust

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There is no way we can predict what'll happen in the new year, but one thing's for sure: change will occur. Whether it's deliberately sought out, or whether it hits us by surprise, 3 things will always remain in our power to do: to WAIT, HOPE & TRUST.

The following hymn describes it beautifully in italics.

During times of DELIBERATE change, like keeping resolutions, the process can be painfully slow. We are called to WAIT. 

Wait when the seed is planted,
Wait for the rain to fall;
Wait for the restless green sprout,
Wait while the plant grows tall.
Wait for the coming Savior,
Wait through the heart’s slow race;
Wait for the kingdom’s dawning,
Wait till we see His face!

During times of UNEXPECTED change, we might feel lost in the dark. We are called to HOPE.

Hope when the sun is setting,
Hope through the dark of night;
Hope though the moon is waning,
Hope as we long for light.
Hope for the coming Savior,
Hope through the heart’s slow race;
Hope for the kingdom’s dawning,
Hope till we see his face!

During times of INEVITABLE change, we might dread the seasons of life. But we are called to TRUST. 

Trust in the new spring’s promise,
Trust through the summer’s heat;
Trust in the dying autumn,
Trust through the winter sleet.
Trust in the coming Savior,
Trust in the heart’s slow race;
Trust in the kingdom’s dawning,
Trust till we see his face!

As I said before, we can't predict everything that'll happen in the coming year -- but maybe we don't have to. Maybe all we need is to WAIT, HOPE, & TRUST in the Lord, always. He's got us in the palm of His hand and will never let go. Best believe it.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! May your 2014 be filled with many blessings. <3 


Saturday, 28 December 2013

Disney's "Frozen": Top 3 Lessons on TRUE LOVE

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The Disney movie "Frozen" captured my heart for SO MANY reasons -- good music, cute story line, lovable characters -- but what I loved most were its LESSONS. Seriously. Good job, Disney. If you haven't watched it yet, WATCH IT. It's the kind of movie that speaks to every woman, regardless of our differences (at least I hope so!).

** SPOILER ALERT: Do not proceed to read if you don't want parts of the movie 'spoiled' for you. Don't say I didn't warn you. :P **

TOP 3 LESSONS FROM "FROZEN" ...
  1. From Elsa: Accept Yourself.
    • Conflict: The movie is centered around Elsa's inability to control her 'snow magic', something she deems dangerous. Taught at a young age to contain and hide her powers, she spends most of her life in fear and solitude, afraid of the world and of her own self. Unable to accept the very powers that make her so unique, she never lives in peace with herself. Her powers are capable of creating great beauty, but she is unable to offer her powers as a 'gift' because she first fails to see them as 'gifts'. She is so busy fighting herself rather than maximizing her potential. 
    • Lesson: Only when Elsa accepts her powers and stops fearing them is she able to use them for the benefit of others and for her own happiness/freedom. Love, rather than fear, was the attitude she needed to have towards herself and others all along. 
    • What about us? How many times do we also hide the parts of ourselves that we believe are 'unacceptable'? How many times do we fear our own uniqueness, withholding ourselves from the world, rather than realizing that our uniqueness is exactly what needs to be offered? Rather than viewing ourselves as 'cursed' for being different, it's time to see ourselves as 'blessed'. God makes us the way we are for a specific purpose; we'll never tap into that if we are constantly afraid of who we are. 
  2. From Anna: Guard Your Heart.
    • Conflict: Rather than living in fear like her sister, Anna trusts too easily. Although her idealistic hopes and dreams for true love are sincere and innocent, her desires blind her from seeing the reality of people. As a consequence, she falls in love with Hans, a prince who turns out to have vile intentions. Her desire to believe that he was exactly who she dreamed of made her project ideal qualities onto him that never really existed. Her desire to find love also made her rush into it without consideration, taking his hand in marriage after only knowing him for less than a day. 
    • Lesson: Eventually Anna did find the man who was the right one for her, a person who took some time getting to know and who wasn't her idealized image of  'perfection', but right for her nonetheless. She might have missed out on him entirely had she given her heart away to the wrong man out of carelessness, rushing, and desperation. 
    • What about us? How many times do we rush into relationships because of our desire to love and be loved, knowing in the back of our hearts that we're settling for less than God's best? Though our desires for love are healthy, we need to realize that love is worth waiting for, and that it takes time. Guarding our hearts doesn't mean living with walls up, never trusting anyone. It means remembering how valuable we are and only giving our hearts away to those who deserve it. Take your time and don't rush; never settle for less. 
  3. From Elsa & Anna: True Love Comes in Many Forms. 
    • And finally we come to the last thing that makes "Frozen" so awesome: it shows us that true love doesn't have to come from a 'prince'. Many people blame Disney for teaching young girls to make "finding Prince Charming" the primary goal of their life, but kudos to Disney for giving us something different for a change. Given the choice between Kristoff and Elsa, Anna chooses her sister instead, showing us that love between two sisters is just as powerful as 'romantic' love between prince and princess. 
    • What about us? True love is available to all of us right here and now, regardless of our 'relationship status'. Rather than obsessing over finding a man to fulfill our emotional needs (not saying that men are bad!), realize that there is so much love to find in our friends and families as well. Like Elsa discovered, no one is meant to live in total isolation. True love is out there, we just need to seize it. 
IN A NUTSHELL ...



In some ways, I think that's exactly what Elsa and Anna learned to do. Whether it was by offering their powers for the good of the community, or offering their hearts to someone who could love them properly, they learned to value themselves first as gifts in order to make that "sincere gift of self." 

To do the same, we must learn to see ourselves through God's eyes: as precious and valuable daughters (and sons) of God. Nothing less.

Psalm 139:12-16 

WHERE 'YOU' COME IN ...
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