Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Open Door

Sometimes seasons are easy to pick out: A year-long Bible study. A friendship during a specific part of life. A time of growth and hardship. Knowing that the seasons are temporary, we can remain open and soft and learn as much as possible.

Other seasons are harder to pick out. Things that we think could be permanent- and wish would be permanent- we feel shifting and changing. We can fight against the change, clinging to the present, or accept it and allow God to work. 

If you go back and read blog posts from the past few years, the next season of my life will not be a surprise. Two years ago, I felt a very strong call from God to get involved with foster care. He showed me the role that sacrifice has in new life. "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." This sacrifice came in the form of being willing to commit; be tied down; let roots take hold, so that I might be a family to some. 

That journey has looked very different than what I thought. I thought I was walking into a season of opening my home to teenage girls, so that's what I prepared myself for. What ended up happening was providing a room for a pregnant teen, and then a pregnant wife whose husband was in a different country, then a newly separated woman, and now a young widow who is trying to figure out her new life in Lynchburg. I could have missed those opportunities had I been glued to the thing I had pictured. But, God kept me soft and helped me through the messy times that happen when you allow God to use you in the lives of people that need love. 

I was able to afford to live on my own because I was blessed with a full-time job with a radio group. It wasn't the job I was necessarily looking for, and wasn't in the field that I had imagined I would end up in, but I was being stretched and challenged in ways that I hadn't in the past. 

Right before I got the job, I started my journey with Celebrate Recovery. It was painful, but necessary. I had been sober for a long time, but still had typical addict behaviors. I dove head-first into tackling the hurts, habits, and hang-ups that were distracting me and weighing me down. My life, while going in a good direction, lacked integrity and I often found my heart at odds with scripture. 

Digging up hurtful things proved to be challenging while working in a Christ-centered environment. In the past, I would have shut myself off to my coworkers, kept my distance, and focused on "cleaning house." But, God knew that what I needed was not to have the option to run. He knew that I would need caring coworkers that would be willing to pray and listen and show me grace while I figured out what "normal" was supposed to look like for me. It was messy and frustrating to be so exposed, but isn't that the beauty of surrender? When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the Lord, He lavishes His incomparable grace on us so that we can endure the discomfort. 

As I neared the end of the 12-step program, I found myself in a precarious place. I found myself in a season of depression- a harsh winter. I was searching for clarity and listening intently to God's voice. I felt alone, but on the cusp of something big. Each time I cried out to God, I felt Him tell me to listen. So, I kept listening. 

And that listening has led me to this point: an open door. 

Through a series of interactions with God, I feel that the calling that God put on my life two years ago- to become a foster parent- is coming to fruition. Not exactly how I thought it would look, but all the details that I am certain of are there. One thing that God revealed during my journey through recovery is that the majority of the baggage that I acquired, and all the wrong turns that I took, started when I was a teen. What an opportunity to come alongside hurting teens and help them get the tools they need to be able to navigate the crazy adult stuff later in life!

Just a few weeks ago, when I least expected it, an opportunity to work in a girls' group home plopped in my lap. If not for the path that I was confident God was leading me down, I would have faltered. I would have hesitated and possibly missed the door. But God gave me everything I needed to confidently step into this new role that I am certain He has been preparing me for for years. 

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." 

While I'm obviously sad to leave a job where I get to interact daily with people that have easily become family, I am excited to take this leap and pursue the passion that God has put in me. 

I appreciate your prayers as I step into this and remain soft to what God is saying. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Spring is Here (Kind of)

Have you ever been in a forest in the winter? You can hear EVERYTHING. The crunch of your feet stepping in the snow. A tree branch collapsing under the weight of snow a mile away. A woodpecker trying to hollow out part of a tree.

But, if you stop and hold your breath you realize that there is a whole lot of silence as well.

It's almost deafening.

That has been my life the past few months. The only way I know how to describe it: a winter forest.

April, May, and June of this year were a struggle. Depression is something that I have struggled with since around age eight. It always has a way of sneaking up on me and it's usually not until the third week of me barely being able to drag my butt to work on time that I notice something is off. I have chronic mono, so sometimes I just chalk up my fatigue and pain to the mono flaring up. And sometimes it is. Other times, I can't shake it.

In April, I made the difficult decision to step down from my church's worship team. This was a decision that I didn't take lightly. But, because of my work schedule and responsibilities that I had there, I just didn't see any way around it. I felt sad, but also peace that God was going to lead me to something fruitful. Work was also just a stressful point for me. I was down two team members, and feeling pressure to find the right people to take their place. I knew God would provide in His own time, but wanted that time to be now. (Ha!)

In June, two things happened back to back. I was already planning on traveling up to Ohio to see my Nana. She and I hadn't had a relationship in years, but she was nearing the end of her life. Going through Celebrate Recovery gave me a lot of clarity and allowed me to feel brave enough to make amends with someone that I loved and respected. I wanted to make peace with her. Unfortunately, she passed away just a few days before I was able to make that trip. It was devastating to me, and I felt completely out of control. It stirred up emotions that I felt when my father suddenly passed away just a few years previous.

When I returned home from that trip, I found that the woman that had been living with me for six months had moved out without telling me. She had also stolen the rent money that was supposed to be paid to the landlord while I was gone. The breath was knocked out of me. I felt.... well... a lot of things. I was still reeling from the trip home. I immediately felt myself going to a very dark place. I needed to regain control. I needed to feel on top again. Yet, all I heard from God was to surrender to Him. "Listen to me," He said.
Those moments began a very dark few months. I wasn't myself. I withdrew from community. I stopped going to church. I pulled back from Celebrate Recovery. I got overwhelmed easily. I felt panic attacks creeping up on me. I started having night sweats, waking up at three or four in the morning completely drenched- even though I had two fans and the air conditioner on. I had a hard time waking up. I even started struggling with suicidal thoughts at my darkest point. And yet, I could still hear God. "Listen to me," He said.

So, I listened. I felt that whatever He had to say needed to be good. I felt desperate. I had pretty much eliminated everything from my life except work, the Literacy Board, and a handful of friends. I was smiles on the outside, but crawling with hopelessness. I didn't like who I was becoming. I so badly wanted to be healed. I worked really hard to be normal. I did laundry. I took showers. I fed my cats and changed their litterbox. I even vacuumed. I convinced myself that if I did normal things, I would go back to normal. But, nothing. I just kept getting dragged deeper into the quicksand.

This lasted about two months before I finally reached out. I talked to a friend, and to my mom. Both suggested that maybe if a doctor could prescribe me something, it might help lift the fog until I was able to process through everything. I kept praying and asking God to heal me. But all I heard from Him was, "Listen to me."

It's funny how those three words, "listen to me," seem so simple. I thought I was listening to Him. I was praying- crying out and sometimes sobbing to Him. But, after the millionth time of Him answering my prayers with His command, I finally realized that I wasn't listening at all. He wanted to me to be still. Through varying circumstances, He had allowed me to be in a very isolated place in life. And as I looked around, I realized that it was very quiet. Since I became a Christ-follower three years ago, I hadn't experienced this kind of quiet. I didn't have anywhere to go or anything to do. I could just be still. And once I really started listening, He started speaking with a clarity I hadn't experienced in a long time.

He showed me that this bareness is just a season; a winter season. It's not forever. It's not for me to be stuck in. It has a purpose. Trees need the winter to allow new growth. Spring comes every year and puts buds on the trees. The trees are so still and silent in the winter months- sometimes their branches die too and fall to the ground, rendered useless. But, the trees remain steadfast and withstand the cold. Why? Because they're so deeply rooted in the ground. Because they have everything they need to last the barren season. And they know it. The barrenness is not a source of anxiety or confusion for the trees, because they know what's coming next.

This video was such a HUGE source of encouragement to me:

That was the first encouraging thing that I heard in months.

Since then, God has only spoken more. I was at a fork in the road with Celebrate Recovery. I needed to decide if I was going to stay in CR and find a place to serve or if I was going to take the principles I learned and apply them to my life in another ministry. I felt like God was asking me to say yes to serving in The Landing, which is CR for Middle and High Schoolers.

I have worked with tiny children and adults. I've never in my life worked with teens. They terrify me. But, God has given me a love for them that I can't explain. As I worked through the steps, I realized that most of my wrong turns started in my teen years. I feel really strongly that God has me there to help give the teens the tools they need to make healthy decisions (now and later) in life.

My prayer is that even though the trees are budding, that He would continue speaking loud and clear. So, I'm making it a point to listen carefully and often to what He is saying.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Little Bird

A month ago, I was sitting up in the balcony at The Muse in Wyndhurst. I had just gotten out my paper and pen to start what would be a painful journey: taking Moral Inventory of my life. Things that I did. Things that were done against me. All of it. Written down.

To say that I was nervous and scared and not looking forward to it would be an understatement.

I started writing and was soon distracted by the overwhelming feeling that I wanted to be far away from  where I was and what I was doing. Remember Forest Gump, when Jenny prays "God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here?" That's what I wanted.

Then I saw something moving next to me and heard a noise. I wasn't sure what it was, but suppressed a scream as I convinced myself that whatever it was was going to surely kill me. Then it moved again. And chirped. And ran into the window.

A bird.

A tiny, brown bird.

A sparrow?

At any rate, the poor little guy was trying to escape through the window. Logic told me that it was impossible, that the little bird would never be able to fly out of the window. But, Little Bird didn't know it was a window. He could see through it. He could see trees and a street and the sky. But couldn't get through. He didn't know he was trapped. He thought he was free, but couldn't get to the actual freedom part. And couldn't figure out why.

As I sat and pondered Little Bird and his dilemma, I heard that Still Small Voice tell me, "Go help him."

"Um, no."

"Go help him."

"Birds are gross. I don't want to touch him. And I wouldn't know how to help him anyways. I tried to help many an injured animal when I was a child and they all died. Do you really want me to kill this creature?"

"Go help him."

"But I--"

"Go help him."

I realized that I wasn't going crazy. I pray and talk to God and have had God talk to me. It was possible that God, in this moment, wanted me to help this bird...... wasn't it?

I decided to go ahead and try to help the bird. I mean what's the worst that could happen? Then my mind thought of all the worst-case scenarios, which included screaming really loud if it flapped its wings in my face and embarrassing myself and  getting startled and falling over the rail of the balcony. Both were not ideal. So, I decided my plan needed to involve a "fall and scream prevention plan."

I got up.

I moved closer and closer. Slowly. So slowly that I felt like it was taking hours for me to get over to Little Bird.

When I finally got to the window he was flying through, I realized that I needed to be careful not to startle him, or he would fly up into the rafters and I would never be able to help him.

I raised my arms and inched closer and closer. Very slowly.

As I got closer, I closed my hands around him. His Little Bird Legs found my hand a few times and he chirped in a panic and tried to escape. But it was too late. I had made a cage out of my arms and my hands followed his movement. Closing in more and more.

When I finally got one hand on his body and trapped on wing, he had a full-fledged Little Bird Panic Attack. Although I was talking to him, he didn't know that I was trying to help him and was instead trying to protect himself from me.

I used my second hand to fold his free wing up close to his body. And I just held him for a second.

I turned his body so I could look him in the eye.

And that when it happened. I felt his entire body relax as he surrendered to me.

I was powerful enough that I literally could have crushed him in my hands. And he knew that. But, I was there to help him be set free. So, I just stroked his head for a moment and said, "Okay, Little Bird, let's go get freedom."

I walked carefully down the stairs and noticed for the first time that the entire cafe was silent. They were all watching me and Little Bird.

I shook off my embarrassment and made it to the door. I released my grip on Little Bird and he paused for a second before flying out of my hands. I haven't seen a bird happier to be free.

----- ----- ----- ----- -----

I made it back up to my seat and sat down, processing what just happened and why on earth God cared so much about a bird that He told me to help it. Then I realized that I was the bird.

How many times have I thought I was free, but couldn't understand why I wasn't experiencing freedom?

How many times have I fought God, as if He hunting me down to destroy me?

How many times have I struggled against His grip before I ultimately surrendered to Him?

Freedom for the bird was something it never would have experienced on its own. It would have had to fly down in the middle of the cafe, towards people and go out a door on the complete opposite side of the building. Because of Little Bird's instinct to flee people, it never would have been able to be set free on its own. It needed help. It needed to surrender to my hand so I could free it.

I picked up my pen again a changed woman, willing to let God walk me through these extremely painful parts of my life for the sake of freedom.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Laying it Down

I am single.

I have come close to getting married, but haven't actually made it down the isle in the white dress.

I have never been a parent.

I have taken care of children, but at the end of the day I always give them back to their parents.

And yet God is asking met to step into becoming a foster parent to teenage girls.

He is asking me to lay down my independence, my "All the Single Ladies" attitude that somehow entitles me to live me life mostly for God, but still protecting this little section that is only for me. And up until now I have been able to do that with no consequence (other than a pile of laundry and boring chores that aren't getting done). Because up until now, it really didn't matter. Up until now,  I was responsible for only myself.

This part of it is scary. The season before I actually do anything. It took me a month to fill out and mail the application. But, the time is here. In a week and a half, I will begin training. I will begin the process.

I will step into the world of becoming something that I never would have thought for myself.

A single mom.

And through the fear and all the manymany question marks that float through my head, I hear this confident voice. God is saying to me, "Yes. This is the thing that you need to be pressing into. Keep moving. I will tell you what to do next."

And I read passages that guide me.  

"Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

In order for new life to happen, I must sacrifice. I need to lay down this life that I so pride myself in. This single life. I need to allow God access to all the areas of my life. All of them. Not just the ones that I want Him to see. But, I need to expose the hidden areas too. I need to allow Him to do a work in me so that I may die. So that I may literally lay down the life that I live in order that new life may spring up.

And as this new life springs up, God will guide me on how to love these sweet girls that just need a home, a place to be safe. A place to learn how to be loved. A place to learn how to love back.  

All this, I am willing to do because He first did that for me. It was God who first sacrificed His life for me. And after He died, He adopted me. He took me into His fold and has been teaching me what it means to be safe. And what it means to be loved. And what it means to love back.

And now it's my turn to give that to someone else.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

More Than a Father

I have struggled for as long as I can remember believing that I had love from a father. It's not that my father didn't love me. I believe now, as an adult, that he loved me as best as he could. There were just gaps, and unfortunately those gaps created hurt and pain. And eventually led to my belief that I did not have his love.

When I stepped into a new relationship with God last year, I finally allowed myself to be loved by my Heavenly Father. I finally allowed myself to belong. I think that at some point in time, I had given up hope that feeling cherished and cared for and pursued by a father was possible for me. Oh, how wrong I was.
----- ----- ----- ----- -----

It's been two years since my father passed away. This has been a hard season of me processing through grief
and just allowing myself to feel the absence of my father, while knowing that God will use my pain for His glory and ultimately heal those areas that I allow to be exposed.

I think the biggest area that I have felt my father's absence is with my car problems. If you know me, you know all about my Jeep. You can hear it coming from down the street. It's not pretty, has had manymany issues over the years, but it has kept running.

Maybe it seems silly to you, but you have to understand that my father's love was often expressed in practical, manly ways. It never failed that I received a flashlight, fuel injector fluid and a nail/screw set for Christmas. Every. Year.

He was just the practical type. Sometimes it bothered me, but sometimes I found it endearing. He always reminded me to get my oil changed. He always bugged me to keep my car clean and checked my tire pressure. He always checked my fluid levels and kept everything topped off.
----- ----- ----- ----- -----

When I returned to Virginia this summer, it was clear that my Jeep was barely hanging on. Honestly, it's been barely hanging on for the past few years. But, the noises coming from the Beast were a little alarming. So, the search started and the pennies began being saved.

Only hours after I looked at my budget and shot up a "I'm not quite sure how this is going to work out, so I really need you" prayer to God, I was contacted by a woman who told me that God had put me on her heart and she wanted me to nanny fairly regularly. When I shared with her that I had just been praying for God to provide more of an income for a car, she mentioned that they had one for sale.

It turned out that they were going to ask for about $2,000 for the car. Very reasonable, considering that it was a 2000 Camry with only 136,000 on it. But.... It would take me months to be able to afford it, and they were wanting to sell it within a month and a half. So, I just told them I would let them know, but not to hold it for me.

About a month later, I got a text from the wife. This is how it went down. God talked to her husband in his private prayer time. He told this man that I needed a new car and to sell it to me for whatever I could afford. I was blown away. I cried (obviously) and told her I would think about it. That night, I texted her the amount I could reasonably afford within the next few weeks ($800). Then she responded by dropping another $200 off the amount.

So, just to recap:

I talked to God.
God talked to the wife.
The wife called me to nanny.
I told her I needed a car (in a casual conversation).
They told me they wanted 2k for it (it was worth $2,600).
I told them I'd think about it (aka blew them off).
Time passed.
God talked to the husband (I found out this was a repeated thing until he eventually told his wife).
The husband talked to the wife.
The wife talked to me.
I calculated and told the wife (this was based on the amount i thought I could sell my Jeep for).
The wife responded by dropping more money (this, she said, was after much prayer again).

So, this whole time, I was feeling super encouraged by God. How many fathers would negotiate the price of a car down to a price that their daughter could afford? Probably tons of them. But, how many fathers would be able to negotiate the price and have it dropped from $2,600 to $600. None. That's right. None. Why? Because God is able to do so much more than our earthly fathers. It's in His nature. It's part of who He is. He is above all things. He is WAY bigger than the cost of a car.
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When I went to pay for the car and get the title signed over, I had money in the bank to pay for the car (another thing God did in an amazing way). I took my checkbook in the house and as I was writing the check out, the husband told me, "Hey, just make the check out for $1.00."

"Yeah, just make the check out for a dollar. If that's okay. I just kept praying about it and felt like God wanted us to just give you the car."

Once I regained the ability to move, I wrote the check. I expressed my gratitude and left in shock.

Here's the thing that I didn't realize until a few days later (with the help of my mentor): God chose to give me this car at a specific time. I've needed a new car for years. I've been searching for years. I've tried to get second jobs and failed. I've begged and pleaded for help, believing that He would help me when it was the right time. But it was in this season, as I approached my father's birthday and the anniversary of our last few conversations and ultimately the anniversary of his death, that I needed my Heavenly Father the most.

It was in these moments when my heart ached and the what-ifs clouded my head that I needed to be reminded that there was a Heart to which I belonged. And that Heart would anticipate my every emotion, my every move. And those emotions and actions would be coupled with His actions of love and compassion. And I know now, two years later, that if I had never lost my father I wouldn't be able to experience God in this way. God has unveiled my eyes to show me that because my father passed away, I am able to have a unique relationship with my Heavenly Father. How amazing is that?

Love and compassion.

In a way that exceeds anything that I could ever ask Him for.

In a way that exceeds anything that I could ever imagine.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Bully

Last week, someone was in my apartment while I was getting dressed. Every article of clothing I put on, they would comment.

"You shouldn't wear that. It makes you look fat."

"Pull your skirt down a little bit. I don't like how your knees look."

"That doesn't fit you like you used to. You shouldn't have stopped working out. Now you look frumpy and unattractive."

"That color makes your skin look weird. Why did you waste your money on that sweater?"

Finally, I was able to find an outfit that both I and this person were satisfied with.

----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Then, came the hair and make-up.

"Your eyelashes are too short. You need better mascara."

"Don't wear eyeliner. You look like you're trying too hard."

"You should get those eyebrows waxed! They are SO not feminine. But, that makes sense, since you're not much of a lady."

"Dreadlocks? What were you thinking?!? That was such a mistake!"

"Your bangs look weird. You should swoop them the other way. Better yet- why do you even have bangs? They don't make you cool, just so you know..."
----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Then, I looked at myself from all angles, trying to figure out what other people would think when they saw me. But, it didn't matter. The person that was standing next to me let me know what other people probably thought. It wasn't pretty.

I'll spare you this part, because it just got downright catty and nasty. And, to be honest, I don't really feel like reliving that on my blog.

I never stood up for myself. I never talked back. I just listened and accepted their words. I felt defeated and hurt; scarred and slightly humiliated. I can't explain why I never stood up for myself. Maybe the words are too familiar. Maybe I've grown accustomed to just taking it.

When I finally got in my Jeep and the other person had strapped into the seat next to me, I was on my way. Fully insecure, fully taking in this person's words, fully believing them.

Does this make you angry? Does it upset you that I would just take it? That I would believe the toxic words? That I would let it internally affect me? That I would take their words with me, strapped to my back like a L.L. Bean school bag? That I would slowly let their words become the filter that defined how I saw myself?

Don't be mistaken: This person has been abusing me for a long time. With words. Harsh. Blunt. Cruel. No feelings spared. Crippling in most social situations.
----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Now for the truth: I am this person. I am this abusive person that judges everything about myself: My laugh, my teeth, my eyelashes, my glasses, my body. Every move I make, I critique myself. Harshly. "Don't laugh that loud. You'll draw attention to yourself." "Don't slouch; it makes you look fatter." "Don't sing too loud; you're off key."

The list goes on and on. And this is what I know: I am not alone. Women and men alike. We all abuse ourselves.

I didn't realize until last week when I was having lunch with a dear friend what I do to myself. We were talking about the abusive thoughts we have about ourselves and the analogy popped into my head of being bullied.

Recently, I was bullied by a literal person. Someone who thought they knew what they were up against. There were manymanymany things I wanted to say to this person, to tear them apart verbally. Although I did say some things that I wish I could take back, the majority of what I wanted to say, I refrained. I tried to be careful with my words.

Several times, I had to stop and pray. Were my words glorifying God? Was it my place to take them down? Was it my job to seek justice? One thing was clear: it's best not to fight dirty. I kept my head high. I stood up for myself. I felt proud that I didn't dissolve into a puddle like I did when I was bullied as a child.

But, now a thought occurs to me: Why do I bully myself? Why do I quickly "Oh NO you DIDN'T" when a person verbally attacks me, but I take abuse from myself??
----- ----- ----- ----- -----

I don't have all the answers. But, I do know this: God has been super intentional about showing me who I am to Him. I have been so focused on not letting other people's words affect me. Maybe it's time I started silencing the voice inside myself too. Maybe it's time to look at myself in the mirror and use God's Word to build me up, the way I would for a friend.

How does this resonate with you? Do you find yourself picking yourself apart until there's nothing left?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

We're a Catch

In the last 10 or so years of my life, I have dated a good number of men. Some were mistakes. Some were good relationships that just didn't work out; they weren't meant to be.

But, here I am. 31. Still single.

I've gone "back to the drawing board" more times than I want to think about. I have reevaluated my standards and my "list" so many times that there is nothing left to examine. I have also cried and screamed and been extremely frustrated with this one thought that keeps lingering.

Why do men keep "throwing me back?"

You know those fish that people catch and deem not quality enough to keep? Because they are too small, or female instead of male or the wrong type of fish.

Thrown back.
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This all changed a few days ago.

I was having a conversation with a good married friend about dating and at the end of the conversation, he added, "You're a catch."

I thought that he was talking about a specific guy we had been discussing, so I responded, "What? He's a catch?"

"No. You're a catch."

I felt a little uncomfortable, since I can't remember a time when anyone has told me that. But, hours later, God opened my eyes and the words sunk in. What truth!! I am a catch! I am someone worth keeping. Not throwing back, but keeping.

This is true for all of us. We are all catches. We all have qualities that are worth getting to know. We all have characteristics that will benefit someone's walk with God. And while I don't believe in soul mates or "the one," I do believe that we should all be looking for someone that we feel would add to us (and us to them).
----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Let this sink in: God looks at you and He sees beauty. He sees His handiwork- His craftsmanship. He sees qualities of Himself. The freckles. The curly hair. The big feet. The awkward words. The clumsy movements. The bad posture. All of it. He sees all of it, and adores every last bit. He made your body and personality and brain. And He loves it. He adores it.

The next time you have a chance, look in the mirror. And not in the hurried, I-don't-like-how-I-look glance.

Take a long look.

And remember.

You're a catch.