Posts Tagged With: prayer

Planting Seeds

Dear Pope Francis,

It’s spring (not that we really had much of a winter by Canadian standards). Everything is turning green, blooming, and generally looking beautiful.The spring bulbs are starting to blossom. But in order for those bulbs to bloom now, they had to be planted last fall.

This is not the first time I’ve used images of plants and seeds to describe the spiritual life, and I’m certainly not the only one in history to do so (For instance, St. Teresa of Avila talked about watering a garden). In the past few years, I’ve often been the growing and tending stage. The seeds of discerning ministry, school, and making friends, had been planted – partly out of necessity and partly by choice. Now, those seeds have bloomed. One year ago, I successfully defended my thesis and finished school. This capped off three years of new friends, new joys and challenges, and discerning where God was asking me to go next.

For a while I simply enjoyed the blooms in my spiritual garden – the joy and relief that came from finishing school, the bliss of being able to relax with friends, and the excitement and healthy dose of nerves about moving to work in ministry. But now, those blooms are fading, their memories recorded in journals and with pictures. It’s time to plant new seeds.

I don’t know exactly what seeds I’m planting; there isn’t a sign or label anywhere saying what these seeds are supposed to grow into. I think I’m planting some friendship seeds, and of course some faith and ongoing discernment seeds. But there are also some new ones, writing being the most prominent. I have no idea what exactly is going to come from any of these seeds. This is equally exciting and nerve-wracking. What if none of them grow?! the nagging voice at the back of my head asks, better to not plant them at all.

But when this voice gets too loud, I return to the mustard seed: the tiniest of the seeds grows into the largest of shrubs and provides a home to birds (Matthew 13:31-32), and having faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to tell a mountain to move (Matthew 17:20). So, ignoring the nagging little voice, I plant and care for all of the seeds, and have faith that the proper ones will grow, because “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1-4), and really isn’t that what gardening is as well?

Preparing the soil,

Lauren

PS: Readers, have you either seen the fruit of prayer in your life, or are you planting some new seeds. Share below, and I’ll be sure to pray for your seeds too!

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How to Walk on Water

Dear Pope Francis,

It is no secret that the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water is one of my favourites, and that I find myself returning to it over and over again. Every time, I see myself in a different part of the story.

This time however, I’m struck by what is missing from the story: after Peter sinks and Jesus catches him, the author simply writes: “when they got back in the boat, the wind ceased” (Mt 14:31). Did Jesus catch Peter and then they got back in the boat right away? Or did Peter try again to see if he could do better the second time? Did Peter give up, and that’s why they got back in the boat?

While I’ll never know that part of Peter’s story, it’s the part I am living right now.

For three years I felt Jesus inviting me to step out of the boat and into the storm of big city living, loneliness, and school stress. The final invitation was to move even further across the country. But since arriving, things have been different.

I no longer feel like I’m being invited somewhere new; I feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be: I am standing on the water with Jesus. I can see the waves (the physical differences and distance) and feel the wind (the loneliness), and sometimes they get to me. But for the most part there is peace, and I stay on top of the water.

But now that I’m here, how do I walk on the water? Standing here is great, but I didn’t come all this way just to stand on it.

Unfortunately, Google can’t answer that question (but it can tell me how to walk in heels). The only way to answer the question is to take a step, maybe just a little one, but I need to move forward. Then I need to take another one, maybe a little bigger this time. The answer is to just keep taking steps forward, and as I do, without realizing it, I am walking on the water. I am gaining momentum to keep going.

This is a nice picture, painted with figurative language. But what have the steps actually been? Some of them are quite practical, like getting a desk for my room so I have a comfortable place to work at home. Others are more focused on self-care, like making my days off a priority (a big accomplishment for me), and making new friends. In some cases, I have no idea why I’m taking the step, but it feels right, like making blogging a priority again, and starting some other writing projects.

As with most other steps in my life, I don’t know exactly where these will take me, but as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, it gets easier to trust the process and to keep the momentum going. Patience on the other hand, isn’t always easy, but practice makes perfect (eventually).

Skipping on the waves,

Lauren

PS: These are my steps on the water. Have you been taking steps on the water? Share in the comments!

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Take my Advice: Don’t Settle

Dear Pope Francis,

Don’t settle. It’s quite likely that this is the single most annoying piece of advice that I am given. It’s not that I don’t understand it. It’s actually deceptively simple: don’t settle for something less than what you deserve/can accomplish/etc. The sentiment is generally full of care and concern, and sometimes (oftentimes in my case) it does serve as a helpful reality check from an objective third-party.

What gets me about this phrase is that when it’s tossed out as a helpful piece of advice it usually doesn’t give any indication of what ‘not settling’ looks like. Someone tells me not to settle for a guy or a job or anything else, all they have identified is that the option in question is not meeting expectations, but there is no indication of what would meet those expectations. Social movements, like #GIRLBOSS, have developed around empowering people to set their own expectations for their lives so that they don’t settle for something less than satisfactory. While I generally think that we need to have expectations, trying to always set them on our own can become problematic (but more about that in another letter).

Regardless of whose expectations I am trying to live up to, listening and following through on the advice to not settle ultimately requires me to take a leap of faith. I need to believe that there is in fact something better beyond what is right in front of me, and usually there is. That doesn’t change the irritation and confusion of being told ‘don’t settle’ when presented with a really appealing option, or when I want what my friends have.

Taking that leap of faith to not settle requires me to keep searching, praying and probing to see if I really am where God wants me to be. That can be uncomfortable because often it calls for change, growth and uncertainty. It’s those times when it’s more helpful to remember Pope Emeritus Benedict’s line: “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

Settling brings comfort at the expense of growth. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell when I’m feeling good because I’m right where I need to be, and when I’m comfortable because I’m settling. Precisely when I’m caught in a period of settling and thinking things feel easy because I’m where I need to be, is when I need to hear the dreaded reminder all the more:

Don’t settle.

In Christ,

Lauren

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Settling into Ordinary

Dear Pope Francis,

The last few weeks have been very energetic, with the holidays, travelling, seeing my friends again and starting new classes. It’s now almost the middle of January. School is back in full swing, complete with reading to do, papers to write, and extra-curricular meetings and events to attend. I have swapped holiday stories with my friends, and now the opening question is ‘how are your classes?’ or ‘did you finish the reading?’Ordinary Time

While school can be stressful, and there are a lot of different tasks to get done, there is something comforting about being back in my routine. As much as the break I had during the holidays was much needed and relaxing, I began to miss the ordinary things in my regular life, like my friends, my apartment and – to some degree – the structure that school gives my week.

This time at the beginning of the semester is what I consider ‘ordinary’. It is the quiet period after the busyness of the holidays, but before the stressful times of the semester. It’s the time when I can work at my own pace, or linger in a conversation without feeling guilty. It’s also the time when I forget to pay attention because everything seems so far away. The paper isn’t due until February, and from here, that seems like an eon, so I don’t start it right away, even though I have the time now.

It’s not just school where lack of attention can be problematic. This is often the reality in my faith life.

There is no big feast or liturgical season coming right away; we’re in ordinary time. I attend the regular liturgies, I pray in the evening like I usually do, and, as terrible as it sounds, I can forget to look for God in my life. As a professor once reminded me, this ordinary time, both in the liturgical sense and in day to day life, is time that is meant for God, just as much as any liturgical season, feast day, or exam period. God will come and be with me just as much in this time of low-stress school work and socializing, as He is when I am on edge with deadlines.

Finding Him now is no different than finding him in those big moments; I need to be quiet and attuned to the Spirit, perhaps even quieter and more attuned, because God will speak, I need to be paying attention.

Enjoying the ordinary,

Lauren

Seek Kingdom

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Creating a New Normal

Dear Pope Francis,

As I’m sure you (and perhaps other readers) have noticed, both Meredith and I have become increasingly sporadic in writing our letters. It’s not necessarily because we’ve run out of things to say. Speaking for myself, I have lots of thoughts and ideas that I would love to put into words. However, life happens. Meredith has shared good news Summer Vacationrecently about opportunities taking her closer to her goals. I’ve been home soaking up all the goodness that comes from time at home with family and old friends, and taking a bit of a break.

The arrival of September next week (where did the summer go?!) brings with it more new changes.

There has been some major upheaval in my life, and I hope to be able to share some of that in another letter in the coming weeks. For now it’s enough to say that I am going through a long period of transition, which will likely stretch into the coming academic year.  In the last month, since I’ve been home, I have been very intentional about praying and discerning this period of change.

One of the keys to navigating this change has been to develop a new standard of ‘normal’ for my life. This has involved doing some soul searching and reality-checking to realize that some things really aren’t helpful, and trying to replace them with healthier habits. So far I’ve been having some success.

Case in point, one of the habits I’ve very intentionally been developing is exercising most days of the week. In order to do that, I started following a program consisting of daily 30-minute exercise routines on DVD. At first I had to force myself to show up and do my best, considering it a success if I stuck around for the whole workout. Within the first week, I was pushing myself to do more. I added more exercise by biking with my parents or walking with my friends. Thanks to the exercise and eating right, I had more energy, was sleeping better, and was feeling really good about myself.

junk foodLast night, my mother and I had a junk food binge, enjoying all our favourite treats and watching the last two episodes of Once Upon a Time, season 3. Within an hour of eating the junk food, I felt disgusting. I was sluggish, thirsty and uncomfortably full. All I wanted to do was get my bike out and go for a bike ride to clear my head. In the last three weeks, established a new normal, because even two months ago, I would have napped off the food coma, rather than trying to figure out if I could get a decent bike ride in before dark.bike riding

I have always struggled with change, but focusing on making these healthy habits a new norm has helped me to realize that I can in fact navigate change. I can let go of the bad habits, the junk food of my life, and replace it new habits, the wholesome foods that keep me going.

Going forward into September brings a host of changes: a new job, a new school year (complete with a new role), and new adventures to be had. I’m excited for all of it, but I am so grateful that I have this time of transition, where I am a part-time student with a foot in the world of employment. I have the time to focus on making changes and using those changes to structure the rest of my life. What I hope is that developing some of these healthy habits now as a young adult allows me to carry them into my adult life and whatever changes that will bring with it.

 

Soaking up the last of the summer sun,

Lauren

 

PS: As a result of the changes that are going on, Meredith and I have agreed to a new posting schedule. Watch for letters from me on Mondays and Fridays, and letters from Meredith on Wednesdays.

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Exemptions from religion in Catholic schools

Dear Pope Francis,

In today’s newspaper, I read about parents who choose to send their children to the Catholic schools here in Ontario, yet want them exempted from religion classes so they can do courses they feel are more suited to employment and post-secondary education. One mother, Carolyn Borgstadt is quoted saying “it’s 70 minutes every day for an entire semester. Nobody needs that much religion.” Another father thinks religion is going to distract his daughter from her math and science courses.

Cassie and I in the cafeteria.

Cassie and I in the cafeteria.

I am a product of the Catholic school system. Because my family moved several times while I was growing up, I attended four different schools between kindergarten and grade 12. All were Catholic, and all incorporated living the faith into the daily routine outside of religion classes. I do not think I would have absorbed as much meaning from the practice of Morning Prayer and grace before snack and lunch times had I not also received the formal instruction in class.

One of my friends from university often talks about how very few people are concerned with being good people. Yes, people try to do the right thing, but in his opinion hardly anyone spends time thinking about and developing the habits and qualities that make someone good.

When I think about Catholic schools, I think this is where the greatest value in the religion classes is. Learning about the Catholic faith is not being spoon fed points of doctrine from the catechism. In the primary years, what I remember was mainly reading the parables Jesus told in the gospels and then talking about the little things we could do to be like Jesus in our lives. I remember copying the Our Father and the Hail Mary (in English and in French) when we were learning how to write, and the colourful bracelets embroidered with WWJD which we were all given to remind us to do random acts of kindness, and to recognize when others were being kind to us. In grade 7 or 8, we had to learn public speaking, and before we wrote about our own topics and presented on those the test run was reciting our choice of the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed.

Myself and classmates lined up for a trust walk on a retreat our graduating year.

Myself and classmates lined up for a trust walk on a retreat our graduating year.

Most of the parents kicking up a fuss about their children being required to take religion classes have kids in high school. But high school religion was when we started really talking about the qualities that make someone a good person. We started to learn about the lives of the saints, and talked about the process of making decisions and developing our conscience. We learned about the importance of contributing to the community around us through volunteer work and about how events in the global community affect us. In my grade 12 year, we each picked a moral issue to research and present to the class on, in support of or against the church teaching on that issue.

Praying for intentions as a class creates a bond between students which I’ve mentioned before. Having the priest come and say mass at the school creates an opportunity for people to participate. The choir provides music, the dance club and the drama students often provided a re-enactment or artistic interpretation as the scriptures were read or while people were coming up for communion. Many of the students in Catholic schools come from families who do not regularly attend mass. If you think the faith is important enough to send your child to a school which incorporates it, why would you try to deprive them of the only opportunities they have to experience it?

Learning about the church and participating in the liturgies and sacraments is part of the package when you send your children to Catholic school. If you don’t want the package, then change your tax status and send your kids to the public school. I just don’t think the courts are right about this.

Frustrated with people trying to have their cake and eat it too,

Meredith

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Showing Up… Then What?

Dear Pope Francis,

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the importance of simply letting things go so that wounds can heal. Letting those wounds heal has resulted in some significant changes in my life and new areas for growth. Thinking back over the last few months (really since Meredith and I started LTP), I have come to realize that all of that change and prunning that was required is finally starting to make room for new things to grow. But this growth requires something from me.

At first, mostly in the last month or so, the changes simply required me to show up, to acknowledge that the change was needed. More importantly, it required me to realize that growth is possible, not only possible, but necessary. So I showed up. I set what I considered a few small goals, among them: remembering to floss every night and to pray every morning. Showing up simply meant making sure that I plunked down with my prayer journal for about thirty minutes, and that I took an extra five minutes in front of the mirror at night.

What I have quickly realized is that while simply showing up is an important step, it is only the first step. It is the launching point. It is the gentle push to get started. So that leaves me wondering what my next step needs to be.

After some reflection I realized what that is. The next step it two-fold: prayer and discipline. Pretty near every call story in the bible I can think of has an initial step, taken by God. The person being called chooses (eventually) to respond, but that person needs to rely on God, which inevitably comes with some doubt. imagesI think of Peter walking on water. When Jesus calls him out of the boat, Peter could have chosen to give up his crazy request, and simply stayed in the boat. Instead he followed Jesus onto the water, and then relied on Jesus to save him from the waves when he doubted and began to sink.

If you look at Peter’s whole life, we can also see the progression. He was called by Jesus. He ‘showed up’ by leaving the fishing nets and following Jesus. That initial call led to Peter being sent out to evangelize, eventually becoming the leader of the Apostles, the rock on which Jesus founded his Church. Peter’s first step built a lot of momentum. Yes there were bumps along the way, like denying that he knew Jesus, but they didn’t stop him.

So simply showing up, like I have been doing for the last few weeks, has been a good first step, but I need to build on that momentum. I need to use these smaller changes as the push to tackle bigger changes that require more drastic alterations to how I live. These changes won’t be easy, especially since there are some big changes coming all at once; it really is a massive overhaul of some bad habits. Every day, I need to choose to show up, but I need to let each day build on the progress I made yesterday, even when that means picking up after a mistake or two.

Building on that momentum comes from prayer and discipline. Prayer helps me to discern the changes that need to be made and where God is calling me. Discipline helps me to stay focused and on track, especially after I have hit a bump.

Keeping my eye on the prize,

Lauren

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Friends don’t leave friends to pray alone

Dear Pope Francis,

There’s been a lot of firsts for Lauren and mine’s friendship the last few weeks. First time we’ve lived in the same province and time zone. First time we’ve seen each other more than once in a two week period. First time we’ve had an in-person meeting for LTP. And, first time we’ve prayed together.

When I think about how long Lauren and I have been friends now, it blows my mind that Sunday was the first time she and I ever prayed together. We talk about God and Jesus and church news (and boys and family and life plans and job prospects) all the time, and we’ve both prayed for situations in each other’s lives on our own time. But Sunday evening was the first time Lauren and I ever sat and prayed together outside of mass.

Prayer is intimate in a way that regular conversations aren’t. When you sit and pray with another person, you’re saying aloud the things that are really weighing on your heart and the things you’re especially grateful for. It’s an opportunity to include that person in your relationship with God and to understand theirs in a different way.

Praying with another person can also make you feel very vulnerable. You’re opening yourself up to God, but you’re aware of the presence of that other person.

In the youth group I was part of in my early teens, we prayed for the intentions people brought forward, and this practice was repeated in my three years of French class with Miss Henry in high school. In both places, it was always understood that what people asked was done with the expectation people wouldn’t gossip about it. To my knowledge, no one did.

Where I felt especially honoured were the occasions when a classmate I rarely spoke with asked if there was any news about my Dad’s job application when he was trying to make the jump from limos to buses. This same person asked how my younger sister was doing in the weeks after she got hit by a car while riding her bike to school.

We weren’t really friends and didn’t have anything in common except a few classes. I’d have to dig out my old yearbooks to even tell you her name. But it felt good to have her follow up on the situations I had been praying about, and I was always left with the vague impression that she was praying about them on her own time too.

Even though the disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, they went with him. Friends don’t leave friends to pray alone when they’re invited to join.

Perhaps a good mark of friendship among Christians is whether or not you feel you can ask that person to pray with you about something.

In prayer,

Meredith

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Hearing God whisper in the silence

Dear Pope Francis,

I’ve had the song “You are mine” by David Haas stuck in my head all weekend. It wasn’t sung at mass and I haven’t sung it or listened to it until tonight when I went looking for it on YouTube so I could link it today.

Lauren and Chantal enjoying hot beverages on a patio after mass.

Lauren and Chantal enjoying hot beverages on a patio after mass.

I’ve especially been ruminating on the first line. “I will come to you in the silence.” There was very little time for silence this weekend. Lauren came to visit and I had a great time introducing her to another friend of mine, going to mass at my home parish with them both, and eating dinner with a priest I altar served for growing up and another priest my Dad is friends with.

It was good to visit and spend time with everyone, and I was very glad my friend invited Lauren and I to join her for the church service at the non-denominational Christian church she goes to most Sunday evenings. I was happy to see the place where she’s been fed for the last year and to have the opportunity to talk about the experience there. I can see a desire to spread the gospel and I’m glad they’re trying to create a space which makes God accessible for young adults.

But there were no times of silence.

There was ample time for people to socialize and greet each other, and a praise and worship band who performed some beautiful music as part of the service. But the space inside the church, the place I would normally expect to be a sanctuary and respite from the noise and the busyness outside, the space I would go to if I craved an opportunity to meditate; this space was just as loud and busy as everywhere else before and after the service.

The same was true at my home parish this weekend. It was First Communion Sunday for one of the parish schools, so we had a lot of guests at mass. The church echoed with the dull roar of a few hundred people all talking quietly to one another until mass started.

Interior of the Meditation Room at the UN

Interior of the Meditation Room at the UN.

It made me wonder how we can find the balance between being welcoming and using the spaces we have as much as possible and protecting areas of the church as sacred spaces of serene, sometimes sleepy silence.

When I went to New York for an anti-poverty conference with the UN two years ago, I found myself begging the pastor at a church in Times Square to show me someplace where I could have just five minutes of quiet with God. It was my fifth day in New York City and I was physically, spiritually and emotionally drained from the pace of the city that never sleeps.

The pastor obliged, and was kind enough to sit and pray with me in the kitchen above their sanctuary, but she seemed confused as to why I would be so desperate for quiet to be with God.

We live in a culture where silence is seen as unnatural. We think it is awkward to be with another human and not speaking, not filling the space with music or television. We call these silences awkward, even though there is nothing awkward about them until someone remarks on the silence and makes those who enjoy it feel guilty for wanting it to last.

Noticing this pattern of craving silence in my life got me thinking about when I can count on finding it, and what makes a spoken prayer that breaks the silence different from a spoken prayer said in communion with the rest of the congregation

I think the key difference is the opportunity for God to respond. When we are busy filling the silence with words and songs, there’s less chance of us being able to hear God’s whisper of response.

IMG-20120315-00120

The Brooklin Bridge and Manhattan, as seen from a park I went walking in with my Aunt and Uncle the evening I saw them.

When we break the silence with a spoken prayer, as soon as we finish saying our piece, the silence returns. If we are meditating on intentions for friends and family and a verse from scripture comes to mind, we are in a space where we can open the Bible and read the passage without disturbing the quiet.

We understand the Bible as the living word of God, and I think it’s easier for those words to touch our minds, our lips, and our hearts when our ears are not being assaulted with the cacophony of urban life.

For those who like me, crave quiet to be with God I recommend attending adoration and becoming accustomed to either staying up very late or rising very early.

Appreciating the silence,

Meredith

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Five Thoughts on Being a Woman

Dear Pope Francis,

I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat down to try and write today’s letter. There has been so much in my head, that all of my thoughts have jumbled together into one big mess. Every time I sit down to write, I feel like a wall goes up between my mind and my arm. None of the ideas that I have seem well developed enough to write a whole letter about. So instead, of trying to wring out these ideas, I’ve compiled them into a list: five thoughts I have about being a women.

  1. Mood swings are normal, but so are confidence swings. My levels of confidence change all the time. coffeeSome days, I am wearing a killer outfit that I know I look ah-may-zing in. These are the days when my confidence works from the outside (my clothes) in. Other days, I wear a pretty standard outfit: jeans, t-shirt and sneakers, nothing special, but I will feel confident anyway because I know that whatever it is that I am doing, be it giving a presentation, hanging out with my friends, or running a meeting, I can tackle it. This is confidence from the inside out, because it comes from my talents and abilities. But, no matter what, there are days when it doesn’t matter what I wear or what I’m doing that I will doubt myself and my abilities. I know that I’m not alone in these feelings. On these days, I need to acknowledge those feelings, and make time to take care of myself, especially surrounding myself with positive things (like my closest friends and letting the writing flow in whatever form it wants to take).
  2. I am incredibly blest to have the rights, freedoms and opportunities that I have. Hearing the stories about women and girls being shot or abducted for trying to get an education reminds me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to study and not be scared that someone is going to walk into my school and take me away. This extends beyond school as well, in many cultures, women can’t drive or vote or leave their houses without a man with them. I am very grateful that I can do all of those things.
  3. Sometimes I just need girl talk to make things seem better. It doesn’t matter whether the girl talk comes in the form of regularly meeting upon the phone for cheap lattes on Tuesday, or making time for random Skype or phone calls, time with my girlfriends is very important. It doesn’t matter what we talk about, sometimes it’s all the stereotypical things: guys, clothes, etc. Other times, it’s the hard parts of our lives: finding jobs, relationships, etc. What’s important is that we can talk about anything and everything. What’s most important about these conversations is that through our friendship we have a support system that is rooted in faith, which allows us to pray with each other, and for each other.
  4. I need to keep women around me who build me up. All too often I (and many women I know) default into bashing myself for all of my faults. In those moments, I need my friends to help me remember that I’m not necessarily as terrible as I think I am. I still need women to hold me accountable, but in a loving and compassionate way. These are the girl friends who know when I’m being ridiculous in my critique of myself, and can help me see that, but who can also point out perspectives that I may not have considered before.
  5. Finally, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being twenty-something and playing dress up with the clothes in my closet. I never dress upknow what kinds of cool combinations I’ll come up with when I let my imagination run wild. It’s also a great stress-reliever, and a fantastic way to celebrate my natural beauty and unique sense of style (without spending a dime!)

That’s it, my five quips about being a woman on a day, when my thoughts are jumbled. For the women reading this letter, did I miss anything? Add it in the comments below!

Making plans with the girls,

Lauren

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