the importance of holding a hand

I believe touch may be the most powerful sense of all.
A gentle touch has the ability to calm us and let us know someone cares.

Did you know that chronically ill people and many aging adults do not receive touch stimuli like a hug, a back rub or even holding a hand?

Take a moment to think about how you would feel if no one ever hugged you or reached for your hand.

Would you feel unloved?
Uncared for?

Yesterday, I had a busy day of errands and tasks to complete. Usually, I am quite annoyed if my plans go awry. If I don’t get to check everything off on my “to do” list, I become quite cranky. But this wasn’t the case when hospice needed me.

I had to drive nearly an hour “out of my way”, using my GPS to guide me to a destination I’ve never seen. I entered doors I’ve never darkened, spoke to people I’ve never met, and had the privilege of holding a stranger’s hand.

A patient needed hospice yesterday, as she makes the transition home. She was comatose, but I sat with her, read scripture to her, spoke to her about the pictures she had around her room and just held her hand. I firmly believe she heard me, just as I believe Chad knew I was there when he was transitioning.

People often ask me why I want to work with hospice:
“I could never do that…isn’t it sad?”

Yes, it is sad. It’s heartbreaking most of the time.
But you know what is even more sad?
The thought of someone being alone, dying. Alone.

If you think there aren’t that many people who are truly alone…think again.
I used to think that everyone has someone — a family member or a friend — that would step up and assist when the need presented itself. But it’s not the way things often work out.

Sometimes, the patient doesn’t have children.
Or their families are busy with their own lives that they don’t fully grasp the fragility of life for their loved ones.
Sometimes, their spouse is older, too; not a suitable situation for taking care of one another.
Sometimes, family members are estranged for unknown reasons.
Sometimes, the patient has been socially withdrawn due to sickness or depression.
Sometimes, the family or friend is dealing with the death process by ignoring it.
Sometimes, a patient’s health decline is rapid – a family doesn’t have time to prepare.
And sometimes, a patient doesn’t say much to their family about their health because they don’t want to worry anyone…

Whatever the reason, it’s important to realize that all families are different. Just because I feel I would handle the death of a loved one in a different way, doesn’t make it the right way.
This has been a struggle for me to accept, especially living amidst an aging population. Many people retire to this area, leaving their families in other states. Then, when an illness strikes, it’s difficult to mobilize family members from multiple states in order to care for a parent (or other relative) that needs help.

It breaks my heart to realize how many people are in need of hospice, in my area alone.
I am eternally grateful for our own journey with hospice and my ability to assist now. It has really changed my outlook on life; the brevity of it all. I understand the importance of things I once took for granted.

Never underestimate the importance of holding a hand.
Never underestimate the ability you have to make a difference to someone.

I’m looking forward to holding many more hands…

hospice badge

“Your life may be the only bible someone ever reads”

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Catching up

I have a friend, whom I met through Chad’s career with NCDOT, who still reads my journal and comments from time to time. He suggested that some of Chad’s coworkers/friends might like an update about what’s going on with us…

We left in such a hurry (yay for quick-moving real estate!) in 2014, that I didn’t get the chance to tell a lot of people goodbye. I’m sure some of them wonder what happened to us – especially since my blog was defunct for a couple of years…

Every single one of his NCDOT coworkers/friends were such blessings to us. They gave their time when transporting him to and from work when he couldn’t drive, donated vacation time so he could stay out of work longer and collect pay with benefits, cooked for us, bought Christmas gifts for the girls…  I could go on and on. They are all magnificent people.

First, I apologize for leaving so abruptly. My house sold and I had to find a new home and move out all within 2 weeks. It was hectic, to say the least.

Currently, I am in SC on the coast. I am a short 15 minute drive from my mom, who helps me with the girls when I need it. I’m not currently working — because I am a full-time nursing student…which is a job in itself. I should be finished next Summer, if things go according to plan. We all know how “plans” go, though…

I am not dating or even thinking about it. One day….but not today. I was actually engaged briefly, but we decided to stay friends instead. I’ve got my hands full with the girls and with school.  I am trying to raise these little ladies of mine. My focus is on them, myself and God at the moment and I just don’t have room for anything else right now. That keeps me busy enough 🙂

When school is over, I definitely plan to move again – at some point. I might stay here for a few more years so that Carys can finish high school. Or, I might not. Cailyn is like me – we like moving, meeting new people and learning new things. Carys…does not. The girls really don’t like the beach, even though I keep telling them they will regret not taking advantage of it when they are older.

I do hope to move back to the Raleigh area. I miss my friends and it’s no secret that I want to work for hospice. I’ve been volunteering with Mercy Care hospice here, but took a break after my last patient went back to NY for the Summer. I love hospice – everything they stand for, believe in and aim to accomplish. I honestly feel like it is my calling. I would love to work at Transitions, formerly Hospice of Wake County, where Chad was a patient. We will see how that all plays out. It’s a ways off, still…

After I finish my 2-year degree, I will probably work for a couple of years at a local hospital to get experience while letting them pick up the tab for my Bachelors in Nursing.   🙂

Many people have asked me about my writing. I had entertained the thought of writing a book at one point. I decided to go to nursing school instead. I think writing a book is definitely in my future…and it won’t hurt to have some factual medical knowledge and experience to actually back up my personal account of our little story.

All in all, moving here has been a good move for us. We are each finding our way through this crazy life. We don’t come back to the Johnston/Wake area very much. When we do, it’s a quick day trip — simply impossible to fit seeing everyone and doing everything in. I was so wrapped up in classes this Summer that I didn’t get to do much of anything (except study). The girls start school next week – our Summer is almost over. I don’t know where it all went!

If you are reading this, and are one of the awesome NCDOT people (or JoCo/WakeCo friend) I was referring to, please know I do think of you all so often. I hope you’re doing well. I see a few of you on FaceBook from time to time and it always makes me smile. I will see you all again – I know that, for sure 🙂

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On August 4, 2001, I married my best friend.

I practically ran down the aisle and never looked back.
We started a beautiful life together that day.
Was our marriage perfect? Of course not…
But we were best friends who happened to be married to each other, too.

15 years?
It seemed like an eternity when I stood at the altar with my groom, exchanging vows and rings.
Now? When I look back, I don’t know how the time escaped me.

Sometimes I miss him so much I can’t breathe or think of anything else.
It’s not that I haven’t processed my grief appropriately (like some have suggested recently). It’s that grief is unpredictable. It never goes away. You just deal with it.

What makes days like today better?
Remembering the good days.
The early days.
The conversations.
The trust.
The life we built.
And then I have two little constant reminders that life is a beautiful garden, despite the thorny bits.
I thoroughly enjoy seeing the girls develop into the people they’re meant to be – and it thrills my heart when they exhibit some hint of their dad in their personalities. It’s simply amazing to see.

Carys never fails to say, “Happy anniversary, mama” on August 4th. Sweet, sweet child of mine.

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the situation

There are many things I despise about my situation.
Even calling it a “situation” makes my left eye twitch.

My situation, just to clarify: 
I am a Christian.
I am a single mother.
I am a student.
I am a woman.
I am a homeowner.
I am a type-1 diabetic.
I am a widow.

That word – widow – makes both my eyes twitch.
It makes me nauseous.
And it’s not because of what it means.
It’s because of what everyone else thinks it means.
It’s because there is some type of stigma attached to it.
It’s antiquated.
It’s unfair.
It’s not representative of who I am.

Before I was a widow, I was right in the midst of a seemingly perfect suburban life.
I drove carpool. I made lunches.
I ironed my husband’s clothes for work. Well, let’s not start fibbing…I never iron.
Then, cancer came.
It huffed and it puffed and it took it all away.
For three years, I was becoming a widow.
Then I actually became one.
A real live widow.

People looked at me differently.
They spoke to me differently.
They treated me differently.
Or they didn’t, because they just avoided me.

This is life.
Things were almost perfect.
And then they weren’t.
Obviously, things don’t always go as planned.

I am a widow.
By pure definition alone.

Long ago, women just didn’t remarry after losing their spouse. They mourned forever.
I have mourned Chad’s death every day since November 11, 2010. I miss him.
Some days are good, some days are not. The last few months have been particularly difficult; but I am not, nor will I ever be, sitting in a black lace dress by a darkened window, knitting with my 13 rescued cats. I won’t wear a dark veil or swear off any future relationships. I won’t let my daughters think that my entire identity has been lost.

I miss him terribly. I miss our life. I miss who I was before things became complicated by cancer.
As terrible as the whole ordeal was, and as much as I wish I could have changed the outcome, I am still here. I am still responsible for two little lives and I am still ME.

The way I choose to honor his life and the love we shared is by living, doing, going and being. I think he would approve.

I am different, yes.
I am more aware of the brevity of life, the fragility of it all.
I am more aware of my purpose, my calling in life.

I am different, but I am the same.
I have put myself back together.
I just fit those pieces back differently.

I have a renewed sense of direction — fueled by faith, love, giggles from my girls and insane amounts of coffee.

I am rearranging my life in a way that makes me happy and complete.
It has taken me years to get to this point; 9 years in the making.
Grief is a process that I had no clue how to prepare for. I still don’t know what I am doing.

But I’m doing it…

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Simple phrase
But, man, did it change my perspective

new me

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Until it happens to you

Six years ago today, we sat in a waiting room. We sat, impatiently waiting, for our name to be called. We chatted about random things, trying not to address the situation we were about to face. I wrote a “to do” list on a magazine mailer I found on the coffee table in front of us.


We stood up. We walked, in silence, to a small room. There was no window. It smelled like rubbery plastic, like bandaids. The nurse took vitals. She chatted about the weather, answered a few of my questions. One included, “We have called a few times about symptoms…the PA is usually good about calling back within 2-3 days…why is he ignoring us?” I said it in half-jest. I was annoyed he hadn’t returned our calls – or had someone return our calls. She fought back tears as she informed us that he had passed away quite soon after his own cancer diagnosis.
She told us a brief story about how his widow recently decided to remove his coat from their closet and decided to check the pocket. She found a ring he had custom-made for their anniversary. They didn’t get the opportunity to celebrate and he never had the chance to properly present it to her. I literally gasped at the thought; how terribly sad and tragic.

She left us, as we waited for our own sobering reality.
Chad and I sat in stunned silence. I stared at a stack of out-of-date magazines, internally kicking myself for being insensitive.

The doctor entered.
There was no warm smile and general conversation, like every time before.
He was brief and factual. He offered a few options, none of which Chad wanted to discuss at length.  He already knew he  wanted to forgo treatment, without hesitation. Dr. T offered his condolences, thanked us for trusting him and told us to take our time in the room.

We cried as we sat in the room for a while longer.
I asked my husband a few questions, assured him that he was allowed to take his time and consider all available options. His mind was fixed; he was miserable and didn’t consider “more time” any consolation for the misery he felt on a daily basis. That has been so hard for me to accept. I can never understand that pain because I was always on the outside looking in. It didn’t happen to me.

When we decided it was finally time to leave the room, we weren’t sure what to do. I remember opening the door and peeking outside, like we were in trouble or needed permission.

From that moment on, every single thing looked different.
The faces of the staff looked different as they looked at us with such pity and sadness.
My husband looked different, defeated and tired. But also relieved, in a strange way.
The sky even looked different as we took the glass elevator down to the parking garage.
The drive home was different, as I tried to imagine my home without him in it.

At the time, I did not have time to process the manner in which that news was delivered.
Over the years, I have had time to think about it.
To analyze it.
It made me angry for a while.
It always makes me cry when I think about it.

And the conclusion?
There was no other way for Dr. T to tell us that Chad was going to die within 3 to 6 months.
There just wasn’t another way.
How do you present death, dying, hospice, and “getting your affairs in order” in a neat little package to a 32-year-old man who has a beautiful, young, vibrant family?

Imagine the job Dr. T had (and still has): to care for very sick people and hopefully make them better – even if temporarily. Sometimes he gets to tell people they are healed. And sometimes, like in our case, he  gets to tell people their time is extremely limited.

Can you imagine?
Can you imagine the toll it takes on a professional who has to deliver such news on a daily basis? The heaviness that must weigh on him when families try to bargain with him to save their loved one?
I can’t.
I just can’t fathom it.

I am thankful for that doctor.
He made a huge difference in our lives.
I even wrote him a note of thanks after Chad passed away. Sounds strange – but I told him how grateful I was that he took on our case, when no other surgeons wanted to. He gave us a chance and I will forever be grateful for that opportunity.

I’ve been volunteering with hospice in the last few months.
It has brought back so many memories and has reaffirmed goals I’ve set for myself.

I have been pursuing a career in the healthcare industry for five years.
While I never want to be responsible for telling a family that death is imminent, I want to be able to properly support people who are faced with such tragic news. I want to cry with them. I want them to feel supported. I want them to know they matter.

Nursing school has been the most challenging and rewarding experience.
Sometimes I want to quit, if I’m being honest.
Then I remember that I have something rewarding to offer to people.
I have personal life experience with death, sadly.

Supporting people at their darkest moments is something you can’t prepare for.
There are no books to direct your words or actions.
There are no words that adequately capture the pain, fear and loneliness that death brings about.

There is no way to properly learn empathy
until it happens to you.

I’m reminded daily of the things I miss about my husband and the brief life we shared.
All of those beautiful everyday moments happened to me before all the tragic ones did.

I’m thankful for the good and the bad; for both, equally but in different ways.

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by request

Cailyn requested this post.
So, here ya go Cailyn!

Cailyn & Friend :: Dec 2015

Cailyn & Friend :: Dec 2015

Their #MCM

Their #MCM

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Magical Moments

Our first adventure to Disney in 2011 didn’t turn out well. The girls were secluded to the resort hotel and pool – which they loved. They even thought they “had been to Disney”… And I was secluded to the ICU for the week while I suffered from diabetes complications.
I vowed I would get back there — the girls would experience Disney and we would have a great time.
Life got in the way.
Five years passed.
This is the first time in years that Spring Break was the same week for the girls and myself, so we took advantage of it!

A few things are different with this trip…the girls are older, of course.
They weren’t into character breakfasts like I had planned with our first visit. They didn’t want to take pictures with any characters, but obliged me with Donald Duck. I mean, we couldn’t go ALL the way to Disney and not take a single picture with a character!
They are totally into rides now – and discovering what rides they do NOT like. Poor Cailyn immediately regretted the Rockin’ Roller Coaster. She survived the ride through clenched fists and shut eyes. She still talks about how she will NEVER get on another roller coaster! Carys LOVED the Tower of Terror, which is not something she inherited from me. I hate roller coasters and thrill rides. Carys should be very thankful that Nana joined us on this trip — Nana rode the Tower with her, because I refused 🙂

My new FitBit Alta arrived right before we left for Disney. We were exhausted every day from all the walking – 15k, 18k, 19k, 21k steps. There was so much to see and do every day! The girls thoughts it was cool to keep checking our step count, set a goal and track our progress.

The girls are already talking about their return visit. I’m so thankful we were able to replace those 2011 memories with awesome ones! Here are a few images from our trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my heavy Canon on the trip, but my iPhone is my photo-BFF these days. I didn’t take as many photos as I normally do. I’m trying very hard to live in the moment these days and not create perfect camera angles with every memory.


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All that matters

I’ve learned so much about myself through this journey.
Some of my epiphanies haven’t been life-changing, but some of them definitely have.

Like, for instance, I’ve discovered that I’m an introvert. I would have never, ever classified myself as such. But through all of the reading (and writing) I’ve done over the last 8 years, it’s become very clear that I prefer to communicate this way. It’s more effective for me. It’s therapeutic. It’s cleansing. It’s healing.
It’s not that I don’t like people. I love people. I love interacting with them. But I definitely feel more empowered, creative and intelligent when I have the opportunity to recharge my batteries while being alone. I like my alone time. I feel like I give my best to others in my life when I am able to have that time to myself. It may only be 10 minutes a day, locked in the bathroom while I paint my toenails and try to ignore the chaos of kids and dogs and laundry that lurk on the other side of the door….but it’s my time.

I’ve also learned that I like control. Even though I do not, and cannot, control anything in life, I like to feel that I can. That’s a fault. And I’m working on it.
I never would have labeled myself as a control freak, but I think being in a situation that allows you absolutely NO control shows you how little you are in the grand scheme of things. I’ve always been a firm believer that things happen for a reason and  I have surely put that thought to the test over the last few years. Things around me were spiraling out of control, and sometimes I was spiraling out of control, and I would be faced with the stark reality of it all. I neglected myself, specifically my diabetes because I didn’t want to believe that a disease had the best of me…and, well. I nearly died.
That’s when it hit me — there is no control. I can control my reactions to situations and events, but I cannot actually control them. I can better myself to become better equipped to deal with less-than-ideal situations, but I can’t control what happens.
Although this is a constant struggle, it’s very freeing to let go of control.

I’ve learned that I can let go of the small stuff. When I’m on the verge of getting upset about something, I honestly ask myself, “will this matter in five years? Will it matter tomorrow? Will it matter in five minutes?” If it won’t, I let it go. Simple as that.
It doesn’t matter that my little one poured nail polish on my new comforter, by accident.
It doesn’t matter that my anatomy flashcards were not perfectly color-coded.
It doesn’t matter that my oldest girl decided to tell everyone in Wal-Mart how much I weigh as we were checking out.
I’m not saying I’m living in the Land of Oblivious, because when things warrant a discussion (like being more careful with nail polish and guarding mommy’s weight like a treasure), we have them. I just don’t stress over it anymore.

I’ve given up the endless search for perfection.
I’m not perfect.
You’re not perfect.
My kids aren’t perfect.
My house is not perfect.
Goodness knows, my dogs are not perfect.
It doesn’t matter. I am who I am. I am comfortable in my skin.
And I am perfect for those who see me that way – God, my family, my closest friends.
That’s all that matters.

I’ve learned that people will let you down.
Sometimes, they do it like it’s their full-time job.
And sometimes I grow tired of being the person that forgives and tries to push forward.
Then I remember that God forgives me
This doesn’t meant that I am a doormat though, and sometimes I have had to let go of people in my life that just don’t get it…or me.
And that’s okay, too…

I’ve learned that you can let people go.
It’s okay.
At this point in my life, it’s not abandonment.
It’s just leaving. It’s making a conscious decision to move forward.
Sometimes it forces other people to move on and grow, too.
Sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s also okay. Everyone has their own journey.
I strongly believe that people come into and float out of your life for particular reasons. God puts them there, to hep you or show you something. You learn, you grow, you move on. It’s just the natural flow of things.
And it’s okay.

Because everyone’s problems are not my own!
I’ve tried so many times to take on others’ problems and “help”.
Sometimes I was successful, but more often than not, I was  more hurt by the “ask holes” in my life (that’s a person who asks for help and advice, yet always does the exact opposite of what you tell them). I have enough of my own issues. I don’t need to take on anyone else’s. And also, I learn best when I deal with things on my own. That’s how I grow. Others can do the same if they are constantly seeking out help, never exercising their right to change, and then continuing with negative patterns.
It’s not my problem.
And that’s a hard pill to swallow for a people-pleaser like myself.

I’ve learned that all that truly matters is going to bed with a clear conscience and a loving heart.
Be good to others, they will be good to you.
Love everyone, including those who love you back and even those who cannot.
Be thankful.
Be grateful.
Count your blessings.
Remember who is in control.
Kiss your kids goodnight.
Tell people how you feel.
And know that you’re doing your best, every single day.

It’s all that matters.

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5 years

I think everyone has a photograph (or even a few) that instantly pull you in. You can remember every vivid detail that is captured.

This is one of mine, along with many more. It sits in my bathroom and greets me every morning as the new day’s light pours in. It makes me happy.

This was the day.
This was the day everything changed.

The Lanford family :: November 12, 2007

The Lanford family :: November 12, 2007

This picture is my reminder that I am a small, small speck in this vast universe.

This picture is my reminder that life and love are beautiful things that should never be taken for granted.

This picture is my constant reminder that life can change in an instant.

This is the last photo we took as a family before our lives changed forever. We posed for this impromptu photo on his mom’s front porch, blissfully unaware of what would happen a few hours later.

Veteran’s Day weekend, 2007. We laughed, we kissed extended family goodbye, we got into our vehicles and went home. We ate dinner as a family — chicken nuggets from the oven because we were too tired from a full weekend to attempt a real meal. We went to bed early, exhausted. That night, Chad suffered the first of many seizures. We waited anxiously in an ER bay for 2 days before an upstairs room became available. The next three years would be a roller coaster of surgeries, medications, seizures, plans, and surviving the best we could.

And then, almost three years to the day this photo was taken, he lost his fight.


Five whole years have passed since he left us.
1,825 days.

It went by quickly and slowly, all at once.

Through this whole process, I’ve discovered that you never truly get over the pain of such a significant loss.
Grief changes people; you incorporate it into your life.
You move forward, but you always take the grief with you.

That hurt is woven into everything I do; I treat people differently. Everyone is facing a struggle. Be kind.
I respond to things differently. Peace is better than being right.
I think about things in a different way. Compassion is a gift.

Life is precious.
Love is not to be taken for granted.
These two things are all I focus on sometimes; and it’s enough to get me through the tougher days.

I have faith that there is so much more than this earthly life; things I can’t see. But things I believe in, things I hope for, nonetheless.

I was fortunate enough to have difficult conversations with Chad; what I should do and what he wanted for us. I rest peacefully knowing I was able to have such discussions with him. My heart is at peace, though it still hurts.


What does 5 years look like?
Probably a lot like your life. We’re busy with events, school (theirs and mine), sibling rivalry at its finest and normal stuff… There are piles of laundry, dogs to feed, a mortgage to pay, dust to wipe and usually a few grief-laden tears around the corner.

I am angry sometimes.
At no one in particular.
Life is not fair, and it’s a hard concept to grasp.
It’s okay to be angry, or content, or disappointed, or happy.
It’s okay to feel however I feel.

I am angry, hurt, and saddened that our beautiful children have been robbed of so many good memories. They deserve to have their dad cheering them on at events today. They deserve to have the memory of him teaching them to ride a bike. They deserve to hear him threaten to hurt any boy that might break their little tender hearts. They deserve to hear him say, “I love you” fresh from his lips instead of a voice recording I made at Build-A-Bear Workshop.

They deserve so much.
They have me. And I must be enough. I was specifically chosen to be their tour guide through this life. We navigate it the best we can; learning and laughing. We even cry sometimes, too. I just want them to know how very much both their parents love them.

Cailyn has now been without Chad longer than she knew him. She was 18 months old when the above photo was taken. She was 4 when he died. She likes to hear stories about her daddy and look at photo albums with me. It’s almost like she is looking in at someone else’s life through pictures. She just doesn’t remember much about him.
That shatters my heart. He was exceptional and I see so much of him in her. She is very deliberate about her choices; she is very methodical and organized. She didn’t get that from me…

Carys is starting to deal with her emotions about the whole thing. Just now – five years later. Just two day ago, I consoled her late into the night because she was so upset. “I know I loved him so much, I just don’t remember anything else about him.” She repeatedly pressed the plush hand on a stuffed cat we made at Build-A-Bear; Chad’s voice echoing, “This is daddy. I love you, sweetheart.” I’m so glad I thought to have a voice recorder added to that stuffed animal.
My poor, sweet, innocent girl. That tender heart has already been broken and there is nothing I can do to fix it. I hold her, I cry with her, I share pictures and stories and do what I can. But it will never be enough to fill that hole. Never.

Life isn’t all tears and depression for us, even though today is a very sad day that I dread each year.

We’ve been in our new home a little over a year. Moving  was a necessary task; we needed a fresh start. I had hoped it would make the loss feel less acute since he has never been associated with this place. It has helped us all move forward.

Everyone is doing so well in school, myself included.
Cailyn is making excellent grades. She loves math and science. She loves her new friends. She is just a blessing; so sweet and thoughtful.

Carys is shining through her middle school transition. She’s on a recreational swim team and she is just an awesome kid. Her heart is huge and she is one of the funniest kids I know.

And I have finally been accepted to the nursing program. Moving forward, even though it feels like slow motion at times. I’m using my pain, and also the inspiration I’ve received from so many I’ve met along this journey, as fuel. I am tired. I am determined. I will make a difference, just as others have made all the difference to me and our family.

I don’t know what God has in store for the three of us Lanford Ladies. Faith, Hope and Love have gotten us this far; I’m always eager to see what’s next. The three of us are okay; forever healing, but okay.

Thank you, as always, for your continued support.
We appreciate your prayers, thoughts and concern today and always.

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