Invest Yourself!

The purpose of life is a life of purpose

This is the final day of our challenge! I am so glad that we’ve had this opportunity, and grateful for the chance to have gotten to know you all! I’ve had requests in the group and in conversation to keep the self-care group going in some fashion, and so we will keep the group going, with just a daily check-in post for people to comment or post their #selfcareselfie each day. Hooray!

Today we’re going to talk about knowing our purpose. I know that seems pretty weighty, especially for our final day, but I don’t think that knowing our purpose has to be that challenging. I think it lies at the intersection of our gifts, our passion, and the needs of our community. That could mean that you find meaning in an activity or effort outside of your home/family (perhaps something that the members of your family do together), and it could mean that what you are investing yourself in right now is your family.

When I say gifts, I don’t necessarily mean something “flashy.” In every endeavor, there are many facets of the operation where gifted individuals are needed; in administration, operations, legwork, liaisons, etc. So if you are not a “people person” and aren’t gifted with public speaking, but you are gifted with administrative abilities, then your gift is still needed, whether you feel it is an admirable gift or not. And if your passion is for parenting and caring for a home, more power to you, as well. I am not about to tell anyone that finding their purpose in such a noble and necessary calling isn’t “enough.” That would be ridiculous. The question – questions, really – are: What are you passionate about? What are you good at? Who is your community? What do they need?

I know that we’ve just spent the last 29 days talking about prioritizing care for ourselves, so to end on the note of “invest yourself,” might seem strange. But all the self-care in the world is for nothing if we don’t have something to do with our carefully cultivated wellness. People that we care about, something that we love to do, the delicate balance of passion and responsibility; these are the things that add depth to our days when otherwise we would just be endlessly living out an empty routine.

Many of us already know our purpose, for the most part, and what we need is a reminder of our “why.” It’s not about finding something new to invest in, but about reigniting our spark. That is where 30 days of self-care can be particularly useful, because sometimes all we need to rekindle our passion is some respite. Burnout can easily get the best of us, draining us of that much needed vigor, when we don’t prioritize care for ourselves. But caring for ourselves does not mean withdrawing from the world, either. So we develop a routine: the daily activities, weekly activities, and regular breaks for more significant rest (once a month, once a quarter, or whatever interval works best for you). Creating a solid self-care routine so that we can give back to our communities without the burnout.

Share with us. What is it that you love to do. What gives you a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment?

purpose-Studio-Insights-by-Michael-David-Sturlin

Enjoying the Great Outdoors

There are so many reasons to get out and enjoy nature! Sunshine promotes the production of Vitamin D, trees and flowers can smell amazing, and there is so much beauty to behold! And if you have ever thought of spending time in nature as a spiritual experience, you are not alone!

Many people over the course of human history have pursued their spiritual growth by spending time in nature. From Biblical prophets to Native American vision quests, it seems that people have always instinctively known that sometimes we need to get into the woods to get some clarity.  But what is it about being in “the wilderness” that facilitates this transformation?

For one thing, there are the myriad ways that being in nature positively impacts our physical, mental, and emotional health. One aspect of nature, in particular, is known for evoking feelings of peace, tranquility, and happiness; and that is water! The sound of the waves, of a river’s current, and of the trickle of a mountain stream are all known for their relaxing effect. Not only that, but floating in water has been shown to facilitate the type of brainwaves associated with creativity. Those who live by large bodies of water – such as the ocean – tend to be healthier and more optimistic.

And then, of course, there is sunlight! We’ve already mentioned its very important role in Vitamin D production! That is likely a significant part of why being out in the sun can feel oh-so-good! Additionally, exposure to sunlight increases our levels of serotonin and endorphins, the compounds best known as our “happy” neurotransmitters. Being in the sun just makes you feel good.

Contact with the earth also positively impacts our well-being in numerous ways. Beneficial (probiotic) microbes in the soil play an important role in our moods and our immune systems, for one. Also, physical contact with the earth’s surface can actually help boost our immune system in other ways, by offering a protective benefit by way of electrons from the ground. This is known as grounding, and it can also help protect our bodies from other modern environmental stresses.

So there are a lot of reasons why nature is conducive to spiritual growth. It is therapeutic in and of itself, and that multifaceted effect can also create the mental and emotional space needed for spiritual introspection. Let’s not forget, each of these spheres of our life is pretty intricately connected.

Beyond that, though, something about the wilderness just strips from us all the trappings that so easily distract us. And that same something makes it easier for us to awe, to be inspired, to listen. Nature is so profoundly other than the busy-ness of our modern, fast-paced and high-tech existence. If we don’t bring our noise, stress, and frenzy into nature, with us, it can create a healthy distance between us and the every-day. That distance can give surprising clarity about our weaknesses and strengths, about the proper ordering of our priorities, about our true desires and motivations; and all of these focal points are excellent fuel for spiritual reflection. Feeling the place in which we fit, too, in such a vast and amazing world; if that isn’t enough to just overwhelm our souls with gratitude, I’m not sure what would be.

Today’s challenge is to get out in nature (or, make plans to get out in nature, soon)! Do you have a favorite place you like to go, or perhaps a memory of a spiritual encounter in nature?

 

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Gratitude As Self-Care

We’ve talked a bit about gratitude and positive self-talk as a means to counter negative thoughts and complaining, but today I’d like to discuss the transformational power of gratitude in a little more detail.

The simple practice of gratitude – expressing thanks – has profound impacts upon not just our own wellbeing, but that of the world around us, as well. People who are intentional concerning gratitude have lower blood pressure and stronger immune systems. They get better sleep. They experience more positive emotions than their peers, as well as becoming more joyful and optimistic. They take better care of themselves. They feel more generous and loving toward others.

If you want to live a satisfying and fulfilling life, it seems that it matters more how you appreciate what is already in it than it does how many goals you reach (or how much “stuff” you acquire). If you’re the type of person who wants to “be the change,” then it all starts with gratitude.

The ability to be thankful for all of the blessings in our lives can transform us, and in doing so, transform the world around us, too! But where do we begin? Well, if it seems like you don’t have much to be thankful for, you start with the little things?

Are you breathing right now? Do you have clothing to wear, food to eat, and a roof over your head? Do you have a job that pays the bills, family and/or friends to spend time with, a car, a bike, or feet? Even if you cannot answer yes to all of these questions, you have a beginning. Find a few small things to be grateful for, and express that gratitude daily. You can pray a prayer of thanksgiving every time you use the thing / do the activity / feel the feeling for which you are grateful, or you can express your gratitude out loud while you meditate. You can keep a gratitude journal or a list. Start small. Be thankful for the teeny, tiny, seemingly insignificant things that we take for granted every single day, and watch your gratitude grow!

I love the Cherokee parable about the two wolves living inside of us. The one that gets to control you is whichever one you feed. I think it goes very well with what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:4-8, “Rejoice all the time, be compassionate, dwell on truth, excellent, praiseworthy things (my nutshell paraphrase).” As you begin with little bits of gratitude, that gratitude multiplies. As it multiplies, it begins to soften our hearts and our perspective. We take better care of ourselves and we begin to glow with gratitude. And as it continues to grow and we continue to glow, we are able to pour that out into the lives of the people around us. And that is how gratitude can change the world.

Your mission, should you chose to accept it (sorry, I couldn’t help myself there!) is to practice gratitude in a way that works for you! I don’t think, however, that it will be an impossible mission 😉

You can…

Pray, journal, keep a list, meditate, or do any combination of these. Do you know of a way to practice gratitude that I have overlooked? Feel free to share it in the comments!

Gratitude Word Art

Spiritual Self-Care: Prayer and Meditation

Disclaimer: This week feels a little extra delicate to me. I’m very open about my own faith, and it is an important part of my life, so I’m excited about this aspect of self-care. However, I also know that others may come from different backgrounds, and I don’t want you to feel like this is about persuasion/conversion. If anybody wants to talk to me about my faith (Christianity), what the Bible says, and such I’m happy to have those conversations; but I would want to have those conversations privately, and on your terms. So, I just want to take a moment to reiterate that – while I’ll be sharing things based on my own experiences – you are welcome to take what works for you, translate it into your own life and practice, and leave the rest.

Prayer and meditation can both be something that many people talk about, and genuinely want to practice, but they just don’t know where to begin. Part of the problem is that we know that it is important, and I think that psychs us out a bit. We don’t want to get it wrong, so it seems “safer” not to try.

The truth is, there are many ways to pray and to meditate, some of them as unique to each of us as our own personality.

My most heartfelt prayers are prayers that I sing. When I am singing worship songs on my own at home, and often in church, as I press in to worship I hear little melodies and pieces of Scripture. I sing snippets of whatever I hear, as I pour out my heart. And it’s not just one type of prayer; it is confession of how I fall short, it is gratitude for God’s grace and for the many blessings in my life, it is intercession for the things we need and the needs of others in our lives. Music has always been my primary language, and when I pray like this, those are the prayers that really move my own heart, and the prayers that transform my faith.

For ages I tried to pray like “everybody else.” And I do pray in a more conventional manner, as well. But when I try to really pray through something I find that my words come up short. There are feelings that – for me – spoken words can’t express. But when I stop trying to form sentences and just let my heart-cry out, well, that’s nearly always musical. It’s my prayer language. I believe that God speaks to us in the language that we are best equipped to hear, and that usually has some strong connection with the gifts we’ve been given.

Meditation is the same way, for many. There are so many faith traditions that appropriate the basic concept of meditation, and so many different voices within those traditions; so meditation can seem kind of intimidating. How do I do it right? And if I want someone to teach me, how do I find someone to teach me who shares my faith tradition? And so we complicate something that doesn’t have to be that hard. I am so guilty of this.

We did cover meditation during cognitive self-care, but today we will add some layers to make it more accessible as a spiritual self-care practice. For instance, as we sit with our thoughts, we can get proactive regarding our thoughts in a way that also encourages growth spiritually. If I encounter thoughts about myself, life, or the people around me that are a lie (e.g. self-deprecating thoughts, or self-pitying ones), I can counter them with the truth. For me, that means confronting those thoughts with Scripture, or with Biblically-based truths.

Other ways to bring meditation from the cognitive to the spiritual combine meditation and prayer. Praying by hand is a practice where people repeat short prayers as they work through a beaded or knotted strand. These prayers give you a platform for meditating on some quality of God’s, or some truth that you are trying to learn. But you get out what you put in. For instance, I could pray, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of your glory.” I could say it ten times and it would be nothing but vain and idle chatter, because I’m just checking off my list to “pray this ten times.” The words aren’t magic, they are a vehicle, a platform. They give direction to my meditation. With every repetition I can picture in my mind some scene from Scripture or from the world around me that reminds me of God’s glory. I can echo the ancient prayer of Moses, “Show me Your glory,” while I meditate on what it is that displays God’s glory.

Other methods of meditation include: Getting out into nature and meditating on the beauty around you, doing the same with eyes closed and meditating on what you hear, praying Apostolic prayers from the New Testament (for Christians), or praying whatever traditional prayers have been passed down to you. Another one that has been very helpful to me is journaling prayers. Sometimes after we get done singing in church, as we’re moving into other parts of the service, something is just stirring in my heart that I can’t quite express, and putting a pen to paper can help me to understand. Thoughts flow out that quickly expose the root of a lie I’ve been believing or a struggle I’ve been dealing with. I won’t pretend to know how it works, but I do know that it has been incredibly beneficial in my own life.

Our challenge today is to pick a form of prayer and/or meditation today, and give it a try. It can be something I’ve mentioned here, or something that is more familiar to you. Five minutes, ten, twenty; that part is up to you. But I’d love to hear how it goes, you can comment here or on the group page!

Spiritual Self Care

Week 4 – Spiritual Self-Care

I am so stunned that we are in our final week. This week is shorter, as we finish our 30 days on Thursday! I hope that you have all been enjoying this as much as I have! Seeing your responses and check-ins has been really encouraging for me, and I can see that we are all encouraging each other! Rest assured, we are definitely going to do more of these in the future. This week, amid our regular posts, be on the lookout for some polls and questions from me about your experience in the group. As I look toward future challenges for different topics, your feedback will be so essential! As a thank you, all polls will be worth 15 entries in our giveaway drawing for the final week!

This week is all about spiritual self-care practices. I just want to state up front that I know this can be a tricky area because some of us may come from different perspectives. I will share some basic principles for spiritual self-care that can be applied broadly. As for my own experiences and examples, I can only share what I know. I will share what some of these practices look like in my life, and what informs them. I trust you each to take what speaks to you, and leave anything that does not.

Today, I want to talk about fellowship. We all need connection in our lives, and connecting with people on a spiritual level is important, too. It needs to be stated that coming together with other people with honesty and transparency is already a spiritual act, so those who might identify as athiests or agnostic can still participate in this important piece of our self-care puzzle.

Many people, when searching for the right faith community, might start by searching for a group of people who are like-minded, and of the same mind with them, specifically. I will agree that having a connection is very important; but I also think that having diverse viewpoints on some things is equally important. Knowing that we don’t all see every single thing exactly the same way can keep us from taking too much for granted, can keep us listening, and keep us teachable. When we’re in a place that is completely comfortable, it is easy to slip into complacency; and complacency is the opposite of intention and self-care. So a little discomfort can actually serve a purpose. Just to prevent any misunderstanding, I would say, “a little discomfort once all your basic needs are met.” I would not advocate staying in a place that was spiritually abusive or manipulative just to see how you might grow from it, and would not want anyone to interpret my words to mean that. But I think we need to be aware that trying to find a perfect body of people with whom to fellowship might keep you searching for a long time. And our imperfections can be the tools used to bring about healing in a real and lasting way, as we work through potential offense or confrontation together.

Studies show that those who practice a faith and are members of a spiritual community have lower incidences of risky behaviors such as driving while intoxicated, higher incidences of healthy behaviors such as eating well and exercising, and a longer life. On top of that, those who are part of a spiritual community heal better and faster from serious illnesses, and have a much lower risk of chronic illnesses or conditions. Experts generally attribute these differences not just to healthy choices inspired by many faith traditions, but also to the support and encouragement that come from regular fellowship.

Where do people fellowship? Well, of course we know that people fellowship in churches, synagogues, and mosques. People can also fellowship in home Bible study, prayer groups, or other smaller group settings outside of a conventional structure. You can fellowship in a book club, a sewing circle, or a “mommy group.” All that is really required for fellowship is transparency, vulnerability, and the desire to listen and learn.

However, if you practice a faith, there is a lot to be gained from making time for regular fellowship with others who share your faith. This sharpens us, challenges us, and reinforces that sense of love, family, and community all at the same time.

In my church, I have found a place where I can confess when I have fallen short, and find grace, understanding, and forgiveness when I do. I can also be an encouragement to others. I know that the leadership is handling Scripture with care and with authority, and I enjoy coming together to worship and pray as a family. When our service is over, the fellowship continues, as we talk and check in with each other, seeing what is going on in each other’s lives. There is genuine affection that extends beyond our shared faith. Does that mean that we are always smiley and happy, and never have to deal with any offense or confrontation? Definitely not. But it does mean that we are committed to loving each other as we grow closer to God and closer as a family.

What do you look for in a spiritual community / in fellowship?

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Filling Up and Pouring Out

It’s a pretty fair assessment to say that the activities that fill our days are not all the same. Some of them are “pouring” activities. They require energy and effort from us, and don’t necessarily offer much to refill our cups. Other activities are refreshing, refueling, and refocusing. Some might be a fairly “even trade.”

It’s important that we keep a balance of those different activities. Too much time pouring out and not enough time refueling, and we will be running on fumes in a heartbeat. We might not notice problems right away, but it does catch up with us.

Relationships are the same way. Most of our relationships would ideally be basically reciprocal. We give and we receive. Some relationships will naturally be not quite as balanced, such as with our children. We are their caretakers, so naturally we will be doing more of the “overt” giving in that relationship. I think it is important to have some relationships – be they mentoring relationships, pseudo-family, or whatever you would like to call it – where someone is pouring into us. Someone who is in a different stage of life and maybe comes from a different perspective but has the same priorities or goals can help us to make wise decisions or think more critically about life situations. And we need to watch out for too many extra-familial relationships where we give more than we put in.

I almost hate to mention that, because to me it sounds cold or detached on the surface; but the truth is that managing those relationships is a very difficult but absolutely imperative component of self-care. I am not saying to cut out any friends who rely on you more than you rely on them. As I mentioned above, everyone needs a mentor, big sister/brother, or someone who pours into them. And so naturally, I think we also need to each have someone we can invest ourselves in building up. What I am saying, is that we need to make sure our friendships are balanced; or that we do not find ourselves in a position of always pouring out, and never being refilled.

In our activities as well as in our relationships, we can get into this very natural flow of giving, without realizing that our tank is empty until it is too late. We find ourselves having a health crisis, a nervous breakdown, or just stuck in this swamp of depression. It is so necessary that we establish boundaries that will help to keep us in balance! We get so caught up in what we do every day, that we never stop to think about it.

So today, we’re stopping to think about it. Are there activities that need to be rearranged on your priority list? Are you maintaining healthy boundaries in your relationships? Are you putting out more than what you’re taking in?

One last note before I sign off today, and that is this: I believe the quote in this graphic. I know that if I’m not taking care of myself, I can’t take good care of my family. I don’t serve my friends, my neighbors, or my church community well if I am totally depleted. Self-care is important to them. MY self-care is important to them.

But I also hope that, through the remainder of this challenge, that we can get to a place of knowing that – even if no one else relies on us – self-care is important for us. You deserve self-care. I deserve self-care. Being on this planet, in a body, with a mind, a spirit, and a heart; these are enough of a reason for us to take care of that body, mind, heart, and spirit. We need self-care for the people who depend on us. But we also just need self-care. Treasure yourself. Nurture yourself. Your value as a person does not depend on your value to those who depend on you. It is intrinsic to who you are. You matter, so please take care of yourself.

Overflow

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

One of my favorite self-care practices is laughter.

Yes, that’s right. Laughter is self-care!

Studies show that laughter has some serious health and emotional health benefits. It lowers blood pressure, boosts your immune system, and even tamps down on stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. It can wake you up, helping to oxygenate the blood and improving the tone of respiratory muscles (That’s right, laughter is a good workout!). It can boost those creative juices.

Can you make time to laugh today? You could watch a funny YouTube video from that awesome channel you’re subscribed to (but always forget to watch), or watch a lighthearted comedy with some friends. You might read that BuzzFeed or Huffington Post collection of parenting-related tweets, or tell funny stories with their kids. You could join in a pun-war on Facebook (you know you want to…), or remember hilarious episodes from your childhood. There are so many ways to laugh, so many reasons to laugh, and so many great people to laugh with!

Benefits of Laughter

 

Friends and Self-Care

Emotional self-care can be some heavy work, so I think that you will all be thrilled to know that today’s “work” is much lighter! Today we’re talking about making time to get together with friends!

We’re community-minded creatures. Even as we find fulfillment in our families, large and small, still most of us crave some connection outside of our families, too. This is often especially true for women, though both men and women do seem to benefit from having peer groups in which to socialize outside of the family and even with their families.

When we get busy, though, social time often goes out the window. To an extent, that can be appropriate. As our roles in life change, our priorities change, and our friends take on different roles in our lives. But we definitely still need to make time to unwind with our friends. Friends can give us a different perspective on our problems, and they can lift our spirits with laughter, fond memories, and fun. We get a chance to let go a little bit, to support and be supported, and to connect and remember that we are loved.

Your challenge today is to make time to get together with friends. The getting together does not have to be today, of course. If you don’t already have a regular “night with the girls/guys,” trying to schedule regular time with friends can be a great breather, and a quintessential part of self-care, too!

Best Friends

 

How Do We Manage Our Emotions?

This really is one of the pivotal pieces of emotional self-care. We can create boundaries, journal, use our support people; but if our emotions are always plummeting up and down in response to the situations in our lives, we are going to wear ourselves out either way. I know that we are all different, and we handle our emotions differently, but I would like to share something from my own personal experience that has greatly impacted how I view “managing” my emotions.

I have pretty much always lived life on an emotional roller coaster. I feel things very deeply, regardless of any efforts to change that. And I have tried to change that. I have wanted to be “tougher,” to have “thicker skin,” or to at least (for crying out loud) not be an “angry crier.” I’ve wanted to be more balanced. But I could never change the way I feel; and I really don’t think that anyone can. For me, the phrase “managing your emotions” was code for, “Would you please get it together?” I was always hearing how sensitive I was, but I always felt like the emotions I was feeling were justified…so it felt like a flaw in me that was impossible to fix.

At some point while we were in the diagnostic process for our son – who has high functioning Autism – I began learning and appropriating more about my own learning type / cognitive profile / neurodynamics. One of the things I learned was that people like me tend to experience “situationally inappropriate emotional extremes.” While reading that bit of research, I got pretty mad, honestly. I didn’t want to hear that everyone else was right, and that my emotions were “larger than life.” I’d heard so much negative feedback about me and my feelings over the years, and this information seemed to reopen the wound. I also felt like it meant I was destined to keep yo-yoing on for eternity, between those emotional extremes.

However, as I began to process how I was feeling and what I was learning, I realized that this new knowledge really was empowering. I knew, now, that even though clearly I am different from a lot of the people around me, there is a good reason for that difference. I also learned that just because I feel things deeply doesn’t mean I have to be ruled by my feelings. I could learn how to pause before responding to things, to think about why situations made me feel the way that they did, to think about what any other person involved in the situation might actually intend; I could learn how to pause and decide how to respond appropriately.

I’ve made a lot of progress, though I also still have a lot of ground to cover. But bit by bit I’m learning to live out of a place of stability and just feel my feelings, rather than live out of my feelings, and feel totally tossed about by everything life throws at me.

While not everyone has the same extremes of emotion to deal with, the truth remains that we can all feel the tendency to live out of our emotions. Our emotions feel so amazing, when they are good; and even when they are not good they feel so gratifying. So how do we learn to manage our emotions?

We’re going to take what we learned last week about observing our thoughts, and take it one level deeper. Just like with our thoughts, this is a great technique to master in quiet time or meditation before putting it to work in the ups and downs of everyday life.

So, as you’re observing your thoughts, we take it deeper by asking, “What emotion is behind this thought? What am I feeling?” You can begin with the thoughts that run through your mind while you’re quiet or meditative, and then proceed to envisioning situations. Conversations that stirred you up, didn’t go well, or caused/revealed conflict; how you responded to different pieces of news; any past situations can be a good opportunity to explore the emotions behind your thoughts. As we begin to observe our emotions, we can teach ourselves to pause. As we practice that pause in meditation, we can begin to apply it in everyday life.

Today’s challenge is to start the process: Spend some time meditating or reflecting, and observe your thoughts. As you’re observing your thoughts, dig a little deeper to find those underlying feelings. Just as with our thoughts, we’re not going to master this in a day, or even a week, but what is important is that we start.

feeling wheel

Date Night!

Sometimes when we get so caught up in the rhythm of our busy lives, we forget to make time for those things which should be most basic. One of the things that can take the biggest hit is the time needed to nurture our relationships. Our spouses or significant others are in our lives because we are committed to one another, which means we are committing to love and support one another. That basic relationship needs nurturing, so that we don’t get to the point of feeling like roommates or business partners. It is essential.

We need time to spoil each other, to show affection, and to also offer support and receive it from our spouses. So our challenge today is to set aside time for a date night. Once a month, twice a month, once a week; whatever works for you both is ideal. I don’t think there is a “clinically proven” formula; but I do know that relationships need tending or they can crumble under the strain of everyday life (and in doing so, add to the strain of everyday life). Making sure each other’s cups are full is amazing, because you get to give and receive at the same time.

Other ways to incorporate this practice:

  1. Be intentional about giving your spouse/partner compliments.
  2. Do nice “little things” like making his/her coffee or breakfast in the morning, leaving notes or texts for each other throughout the day
  3. Take the time to give a gift outside of an occasion. It can just be something small, that reflects their personality. Something that says, “I know who you are.”

For those among us who are single, this challenge is for you, too; but you get to take yourself on a date. While a night in to relax is totally an option, taking yourself out is great, too! Treat yourself to a fancy dinner, go catch a show you’ve been wanting to see (live theater, cinema, comedy, dance, whatever your preference)! If solo doesn’t sound like fun to you, then you are free to go with a group of friends (though we’ll also be covering that later in the week); but I think you’ll be surprised at how refreshing it can be to go out and treat yourself to a nice evening (or morning, or afternoon)! And take the time for some journaling or self-reflection, to vent stresses, celebrate successes, and make sure you’re offering yourself support. I mean, isn’t that what the nature of this 30 days is really all about, anyway?

So it is short and sweet, today. Make time to be with your spouse/partner (or yourself), and make sure you are both giving and receiving support!

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