Reflections Between Sneezing

Currently all the fur babies in the house are curled up asleep, and I’m left alone with my box of tissues and this infernal cold I woke up with this morning. I had grand plans for my day off all which were tossed aside and traded for pajamas and hot tea.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything. I did some traveling to Georgia, got older, the site was down for a while, picked up a temporary job, and then I celebrated the holidays with family. There’s a newsletter coming at some point, really there is.

2016 hasn’t really been what I hoped in a lot of ways, and keeping up with the news has sometimes felt like watching an episode of The Twilight Zone. My day alone and feeling under the weather has afforded me a few moments of reflection. (I’d like to say quiet reflection buy my sneezing is anything but quiet.) Continue reading “Reflections Between Sneezing”

Life and Language Learning

Language learning and I have a rocky past together.

In high school I took Spanish, because there really weren’t a lot of options in Nash county, NC. I can still recite the alphabet quite well, but all else is long forgotten.

In Community College I attempted French, because it’s supposed to be romantic. Alas, that venture ended when I responded to my French teacher in Spanish one morning. (Why are language classes always in the morning?!)

At Emmanuel College, I tried my hand at Greek, because I was going to be a good biblical scholar who could read and understand an earlier text than King Jimmy’s version of what went down. I gave that one up to have a social life and so my best friends wouldn’t kill me. Sorry God.

I swore off languages for forever, and then I moved to Ukraine. But it was okay because I worked for an English ministry and attended an English speaking church. Really not a lot of incentive there for the linguistically challenged.

However, my last year in country I tackled the Russian language head on. My teacher understood me and went out of her way to help me wrap my head around the complexities. She also scolded me for my constant lack of speaking because I desired perfection. Again and again and again and again she chided me because I was afraid to mess up.

Oh, God, how that applies to so many areas of my life.

Therein lies the heart of my problem with linguistics, I’m afraid to mess up. And if you’re learning a language it is simply inevitable. I mess up the English language daily and I’ve been speaking that one my whole verbally communicating life.

So really, it’s pretty ridiculous to try to learn (anything) without failing.
I was actually starting to enjoy Russian when life took an unexpected turn and I found myself back on American soil indefinitely. And y’all I do not have the discipline to tackle language learning alone.

Now, I’m heading back to Ukraine. This time, however, I’m in a different city and a different church and my role will be different, and all those things include a different language. So because God has a grand sense of humor, I now need to know Ukrainian. IMG_6030

And because I’ve spent the last six years praying for a miraculous gift of speaking and understanding both Russian and Ukrainian and that miracle has sadly not transpired, last week I started Ukrainian language lessons.

Within five minutes I had read off something perfectly… in Russian. My teacher laughed. I laughed. In fact, in our two Skype lessons so far there has been a lot of laughter, because one of the letters that shows up everywhere my mouth just has a hard time forming.

And I’ve decided that maybe laughter is the best way to go about it this time around. I’m going to mess it up.

The language isn’t all I’m going to mess up in Ukraine and in life. I’m certain I’ll get a LOT more things wrong along the way,

Because life is a lot like trying to learn a foreign language, and perfection is completely unrealistic.

When I demand perfection of myself, I hate whatever it is that I’m trying to do. It becomes this unconquerable obstacle in my way, and I’m NEVER good enough. I end up full of fear and shame and regret and all the yuck, because I’m placing something on myself that nobody else is even expecting.

I know those who feel like they could never go to God until x, y, and z have been taken care of, until they’ve made their messes look presentable, or until they think they could stick with Him and walk it all out perfectly. But thankfully He doesn’t require that, or none of us would have a chance.

But it does require vulnerability. Language learning requires it and so does relationships and life, if you’re going to do it well.

It means admitting that maybe I don’t have it as all together as I want you to believe. That maybe I need help. It means admitting that I’m probably going to mess up again and probably this week and probably the same thing I just said I wouldn’t mess up again, because even though I understand there’s a difference, I still can’t seem to implement it yet.

Through it all, I’m really thankful for grace and for laughter.

And I apologize in advance to all my Ukrainian speaking friends.

Pass the Tissues

I’ve gone through so many tissues in the last couple of weeks that I should probably just buy stock in Kleenex.

It reminds me of when I was an intern at IHOP-ATL and my friend Christy and I joked around about owning our own tree farm so we could at least raise some support money from all the tears.

  • One of the kids wanting me to spend time with them – pass the tissues.
  • Movies or TV shows or, let’s face it, commercials – pass the tissues.
  • Trying to figure out how to get all my stuff across country – panic, then pass the tissues.
  • The struggles and hardships that just come with life in a fallen world – pass the tissues.
  • Someone saying they are praying about my return to Ukraine or want to support me – pass the tissues.
  • Just pass the whole box, maybe two. Aloe, please.

Yep, I’m a mess.

Somewhere in the last two years this chaotic, creative, conglomeration of cultures known as Los Angeles grew on me and made me love it.

And don’t even get me started on this crazy family that has taken me in and let me be part of their crew and loved me in the unlovable and encouraged me to dream and believe that God could really use a me for a place and people on the other side of the world.

Sometimes I’m a little envious of those who get to stay in one place with their family and friends close to them. It’s hard to have your heart scattered all over the world, but then it means you have family no matter where you land.

You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.
~ Luke 6:21 (MSG)

#blessed

But for real.

Some of those free flowing tears lately have come from very real, very hard places of not understanding life and death and war and injustice and timing, but a lot of those salty rivers are just simply from love and that there is just never enough time. I’ll have this same problem when the time comes to leave Georgia and North Carolina and Kiev. Don’t worry, I love all of you all too!

It’s a good problem to have, and I know there is joy coming.

There is the joy of meeting up with friends and family on the east coast and hearing all that has been happening in their lives these last couple of years. There is the joy of returning to Ukraine and getting to know the young adults I’ll be working with there and seeing how God will touch lives.

And there is the joy of all the unknown little surprises that lie ahead, but for now just pass those tissues my way because I feel some tears welling up again.


If you’re interested in the latest update on that return to Ukraine, click here to see the most recent newsletter.

If you know you want to support with a one-time gift or be a monthly support, tax deductible giving can be made throughRe-Generation:

online through PayPal to email address
info@re-generationnow.com.

Under the “Write a Note (optional)” you can just indicate “Ukraine” and if it’s one-time or on-going.

or by check with a separate note attached indicating it’s for Ukraine to:
Re-Generation
1905 N. Wilcox Avenue, Suite 219
Hollywood, CA 90068

You can also keep up to date through my Facebook page, here.

Confessions of Someone Who’ll Never Be a Beauty Queen

I know that I’m not a conventional beauty. No one is ever going to beg me for a photo shoot or probably even for a date. My teeth are too crowded and I love coffee too much for them to stay pearly white. My tummy refuses to be flat, because  I like potato chips more than I’m willing to commit to ab workouts. I have no chest, and my voice sounds like the hound on The Fox and the Hound or a congested kid. And don’t get me started on hair products and makeup, because they just completely confound me.

Even if I had “the looks,” I’m just kind of an awkward human being.

I also keep somehow living in these places that are known for beautiful people, like Ukraine and Los Angeles. It can be a real self-esteem crusher.

I have cute toes. That has to count for something, right?

Toes in the Sand

Hold On A Sec..

You may think this is too harsh, or maybe you’re like, “I can’t believe she just said that.”  But those are some of the nasty little thoughts that confront me on a pretty consistent basis, like most every time I look in the mirror.

They are annoying and thought consuming and, frankly, I’m sick and tired of them.

While there are a million things going on in the world that are horrible and in need of attention, I also know that I’m not the only one that struggles with the mirror on the wall.

Some days I can brush it off, say “Shut up!” and go about the day. Other days it’s crushing, and the heavy cloud it brings darkens the atmosphere around me.

I can give you the good Christian girl answer…

“For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 NKJV

I mean that’s pretty clear cut even for the New King James Version.

Or this one…

“What matters is not your outer appearance — the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes — but your inner disposition..” – 1 Peter 3:3 MSG

Again, pretty straightforward, which I appreciate; the inner is more important than the outer.

I get it, and I’m sure you’ve heard it, too.

We can all think of people that are drop dead gorgeous in appearance and are really not beautiful at all because of the atrocious way they treat others. And I’m sure we’ve all met more than one person that the world wouldn’t give a second glance at in the outward beauty category, but they radiate nonetheless.

It clearly isn’t all about physical  attributes.

So why is this such a struggle for so many of us?

Because comparison is such a nagging, little demon that just needs to be splatted against the nearest wall.

When I find myself struggling with my lack of conventional beauty, I’m not looking at what God says. I’m looking at the cultural norms I see around me. Which, when I think about how messed up the world is, it honestly seems pretty ridiculous to even want to be what culture says I should be. Culture and the world isn’t all bad, but clearly there are some bad priorities happening.

But what I know is true and what I think and feel just don’t always sync up.

Until it does sync up I have to keep choosing to believe and trusting what God says and asking for a perspective change. Some  days it’s an easy decision, and other times it’s a whole lot harder.

All I know today is that part of me would still like to be a conventional beauty, but when have I ever done anything the conventional way. Good thing I have such a winning personality…

But It Can’t Be Over

The darkened theatre was filled with movie goers of all ages. Next to me sat a little girl with her grandfather. She talked and laughed and questioned throughout the movie, but there was one moment that I just couldn’t handle.

It was the movie scene where it appeared all hope was lost. There was nothing left to suggest this could ever have a happy ending. Under her breath I heard her whisper, “It’s all over.”

Pause.

“It’s all over.”

Pause.

“But it can’t be over.”

And tears trickled down my cheeks at the child who could look at the totally hopeless situation and know it simply couldn’t be the end of the story.

Sure, it’s Hollywood and we’re suckers for a happy ending, but I think we all long for good to triumph because it is how we are created. We see and hear the hopeless, the unjust, the evil splashed across headlines and social media every day and the storytellers among us remind us of what could be and what is, but gets lost in the money pit of bad news and myriad of unthinkable atrocities.

Somewhere deep inside we know that good is supposed to win, justice should be served, and that there may be a price to pay, but it will be worth it because hope and love and life are important.

When it looks like evil is winning, when it looks like there is no solution, no hope, under our breath we say, “But it can’t be over.”

I woke up this morning to what has become an all too familiar occurrence. I got online to check messages to find a new set of news updates and social media hashtags related to injustices happening in our own backyard.

I sat outside and cried for so many that still cannot see past the color of a person’s skin or their position in society or the uniform they wear or the lifestyle they live that we may not agree with. I prayed for those on all sides who are mourning the loss of loved ones and felt for those who are fearful to leave their home each day.  I contemplated the circus that feels like our media and politics and the desperate need for accountability, honor, courage and truth to prevail.

Love seems like such a cliche answer to it all, like trying to fix a gaping wound with a small butterfly closure, but if that’s our reaction then we don’t really understand what love means.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (MSG)

That’s the kind of love we are called to walk out. That’s the love that brings hope and opens communication for reconciliation. And it’s not cliche. It’s really really simple and it can be really really hard.

Our headlines are dark, the solutions seem lacking, but it can’t be over.

 We can choose to walk in love when the world resorts to hate and fear. We can choose to have conversations that are difficult, because there are decisions that need to be made that are difficult. We can choose to care and listen before speaking. We can choose to extend grace and mercy when everything seems to scream the opposite.

It can’t be over because you and I are still here, and no matter how bleak it looks we can make a difference. We can choose to love.

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“No. But It Doesn’t Matter.”

“Do you have the courage to go alone” Mrs. Whatsit asked her.

Meg’s voice was flat. “No. But it doesn’t matter.”

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle

This is the post where I tell you that I’m kind of a terrible missionary, because recently I haven’t really been concerned about God’s plan, but, rather, His lack of following mine.

God and I have been having a lot of conversations recently about courage and about being alone.

It will seem ironic to some, but, despite my introversion, I hate to be alone. This was well solidified recently when the family I live with all went on vacation for a week. It was great for a few hours and then I was 110% over it.

When I left Ukraine two years ago, I knew I wanted to return. I also stated, “Next time I don’t care to do it alone, thank you very much.”

About a year ago I  was asked, “But if you knew God made it clear it was time to return and you still weren’t in a significant relationship, that wouldn’t stop you from returning would it?” To which I easily replied, “Of course not,” because at the time God hadn’t said, “Hey, let’s start thinking about that return.”

But then He did and I visited in the spring for a short trip. It was like going home and plans were set in motion to make moving back a reality.

Then I came back to the US and, frankly, the last couple of months I’ve sat down on the floor and kicked and screamed and thrown my temper tantrum because there’s still no answer to that other small issue of “Please don’t make me do this alone!” I’ve selfishly pushed aside planning, budgeting, support raising because I just haven’t wanted to face this part of it.

So when I read the above words in A Wrinkle in Time last night, I cried because I could see myself so clearly in Meg’s reluctant acceptance of needing to go alone. The answer didn’t come in the way she expected. The solution wasn’t one she would prefer.

She had people that loved and supported her, but the thing that had to be done in that moment meant going alone. When questioned if she had the courage, Meg responded, “No. But it doesn’t matter.” She already knew she would do it.

There are many things that haven’t worked out the way I placed them on the imaginary map drawn out in my head. God hasn’t seemed too concerned about my timeline and plan. I guess He’s got a better one.

For now, if you ask me if I have the courage to live alone overseas again, my response is, “No. But it doesn’t matter.”

So for those who’ve asked or just been wondering about my silence on the subject:

  • Yes, I’m moving back to Ukraine to help with young adult discipleship at Living Word Church in L’viv
  • Yes, that means I could use a lot of prayer and financial support, which means I’ll be updating my contact list if you’re interested.
  • And if you know any eligible bachelors with a heart for God and Eastern Europe… I’m just saying…

 

Courage, Dear Heart

“But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, "Courage, dear heart," and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan's, and with the voice a delicious  smell breathed in her face.

In a few moments the darkness turned into a grayness ahead, and then, almost before they dared to begin hoping, they had shot out into the sunlight and were in the warm, blue world again. And all at once everybody realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

When the possibility of terror threatens and looms large at every turn, we long for Hope’s whispering that drives the darkness into oblivion.

Whether we find ourselves stumbling into darkness from foolishness or rushing in on mission to find another soul in need of rescue, the inky tendrils pull and grab attempting to capture and enslave, but Love hastens to reveal Himself and deliver us to safety if only we will call out.

Then, the night may not fade all at once, but that sweet voice that speaks gently, calling us to the light and warmth of love whispers, “Courage, dear heart.”

And how often it seems that once the moment has passed we realize that while beads of nervous sweat were gathering on our brow, in reality, there was never anything to fear because He was always near, always in control, always good and trustworthy.

Therein seems to lie my struggle, to remember He is good. Love may be in no way safe, but He is always good, even when the path seems unclear, shadowed and not the one I think I want.

These two, good and safe, should not be confused. Good does not guarantee safe, at least not in the way we may first consider. Many have given their lives in the service of Love, sacrificing all for others to know Hope and Life. I dare say we would deem that good, but not safe.

Likewise, safe does not always mean good. It’s been said before, but the ship that never leaves the shore may be free from danger and risk, but it isn’t doing what it was created for. If a child were always carried, he may never fall and get hurt, but he would also never know the joy of walking, running and climbing.

“Courage, dear heart” thunderously resonates within me, simply because I’m not a naturally courageous one, but I know that sometimes you have to walk into the darkness and be the one that brings the Light, and sometimes the sacrifice is great. I do not want to miss out on what I was created for because I gave into fear instead of calling on and heeding the voice of Love.

Often the voyage on this great adventure of life seems to travel through dark places and rough seas, but why should we fear when we are assured of His guidance and presence?

He is good. He is really, really good. And we are his sons and daughters. I have a suspicion that if we really understand and walk in that we will quickly realize that “there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.”

“Courage, dear heart.”

 

 

A Left-Handed Apology

I don’t know how other right-handed people feel about their left hand. I guess I’ve just always considered it a nice balancing mechanism, not good for much, but it helps even things out. My left had is uncoordinated and shaky, and I have little patience for its lack of efficiency.

A couple of years ago I was play fighting with my friend (because who likes to really act their age). I fake punched and she for real blocked and I sprained my right thumb. I thought I would go crazy before it healed because my left hand just couldn’t seem to rise to the occasion and handle all the expectations suddenly forced upon it.

So last week when I fell on my left hand (because Los Angeles sidewalks hate me), I wasn’t too concerned that the injury was going to effect me terribly. However, it’s a week later and I’m discovering that I owe my left hand an apology. It has been seriously under appreciated.

Dear Left Hand,

I apologize for the indifference I have shown you all these years. I have seen the error of my ways. I will no longer look upon you the shame of not having the same capabilities of a right hand, but promise to appreciate your differences. Please forgive me?

Sincerely,
Me

It makes me wonder what other things in life I so quickly dismiss and take for granted like…

Those pesky, unpleasant emotions that I try to ignore.
The entire winter season (There is some good to it, right?)
People that are part of my life and nice to be acquainted with, but not my “go to” group.

Am I guilty of flippantly regarding the people in my life that don’t meet some invisible standard of performance in the same way that I have always regarded my left hand?

Everyone can’t be a right-hand man, that would be strange and wouldn’t function. Those acquaintances and not-so-close friendships have their value, too.

Sometimes they add much needed insight into our situation because they are further removed, helping give stability and balance.

Sometimes they bring along some lightheartedness and fun, and they remind us to enjoy life and not be so serious all the time.

Sometimes they help catch you when you fall, and you realize you’ve been taking them for granted for far too long.

If you’ve ever felt that I didn’t appreciate you as much as I should, I sincerely apologize. I really do need and want you in my life. I realize that I can be terrible at communicating these things, which is just no excuse. Can you forgive me and help me work on that weakness so our relationship doesn’t end up like my actual physical left hand at the moment?
Left hand sprain

Blessings in the City of Lions

Have you ever met people and from the moment you meet them they just seem like family? Or visit a place and half-jokingly but half-not-joking-at-all declare that one day you will live there?

This happens to be the case with the Blessing family in L’viv, Ukraine.

L'viv Old TownThe city is just about as far west as you can go and still be in Ukraine. It is one of the cultural centers of the country with an extensive list of noted writers, poets, musicians and artists. The first time I visited in the summer of 2010 it tugged at the fairytale lover in me with High Castle Hill (despite the missing castle component) and the “City of Lions'” stunning architecture that includes hundreds of lions. It doesn’t hurt that it is also known for its chocolate and coffee. (There’s even a coffee festival in the fall.)

The Blessing family, which is Mark and Rhonda and their daughters Bria, Lindsay, and Kirsta, have lived in Ukraine since the early ’90s. They are the kind of people that overflow with God’s love, have a huge heart for Ukraine and for the Jewish community, and are just a lot of fun to be around. It’s a long, slightly complicated story, but over the course of a year or so I became friends with the entire family, after meeting Krista through a friend of a friend on my first visit to L’viv.

They have built there home, Bethel House, as a place of ministry, first to the Jewish community, but I have personally been blessed to find a bit of refuge for a few days on my visits, too. Mark and Rhonda also planted and are pastoring Living Word Church, a non-denominational congregation in L’viv.

Blessing FamilyA couple of months ago, they asked me to pray and consider coming to L’viv to help with their young adult ministry. Serving with CCX in Kyiv for several years helped show me just how much I love working with university and young adult age because there is so much curiosity, creativity and hope for the future. Also, it’s just a crazy age range with so much happening and so many decisions to be made, and I’m so deeply grateful for people that listened and cared and helped speak truth in my own life at that age.

So a few days ago I said yes to moving back to Ukraine and working alongside the Blessings. There are other ministry opportunities we discussed, and I’m sure I’ll get to share some of that in the future, too.

For now, I am hoping to sit down face-to-face in L’viv with the Blessings next month to solidify some ministry details and ideas and start the process of returning to Ukraine.

Stephanie, do you mean this March? Like just a few weeks away March?
Yes, yes, I do, and here is why that is so soon:

I have been blessed to maintain so many close relationships from my time as an CCX worker. One of those, Inna, started out as one of the university students and became one of my closest Ukrainian friends, to the point that we call each other sister. She is getting married March 5th. She has asked me if there’s any way possible for me to come to Kyiv for this special and important day in her life, and I cannot put into words how deeply I want to be there. 964955_549211958641_663966180_o
The hope and tentative plan is to make a trip to Ukraine from March 1 – April 5. This would mean I could make Inna’s wedding, have some vision casting time with the Blessings, and have a few weeks to meet up with other friends and former students. Currently, roundtrip tickets are at a ridiculously low price of about $750. That means, including food and travel, I only need about $1,100 total to make the trip a reality.

There are a few people that have been part of this process that are praying about all that has been mentioned in this blog, and I’d be honored if you would also join in praying for what God is doing in Ukraine and the great things He has in store.

If you feel led to help financially toward this trip, tax deductible giving can be made through Re-Generation (that’s the non-profit I help with in Los Angeles)

online through PayPal, and send to email address info@re-generationnow.com

or by check with a separate note attached indicating it’s towards Ukraine to:
Re-Generation
1905 N. Wilcox Avenue, Suite 219
Hollywood, CA 90068

You can also keep up to date through my Facebook page, here, since I tend to post articles, videos and short updates that don’t turn into long blogs there.

It’s an exciting time, and I cannot wait to see where this is all going and to share it with you!

 

Wait For It…

New passportThe last decade of life I’ve done a lot of travel, and with that travel came a lot of waiting.

Waiting in TSA security lines, waiting to board planes, waiting to take off, and waiting to land.

Sometimes when you’re waiting to land, your plane is put in a holding pattern, which always drives me nuts. You’re looking at the in-flight screen and can see the red line going in circles. You  know the airport is within miles, but because of traffic or weather or whatever issue your plane has been requested to hold off on arriving at its destination.

Once the plane lands, there’s the waiting to get off the plane. Then there’s the rush to get out of the plane for more waiting in more security lines, if traveling internationally,  and waiting for stamps of approval, and then on to waiting for luggage that, fingers-crossed, hopefully made it to the same airport.

We all have our things in life that cause us a lot of time waiting. Maybe it’s waiting in line for the DMV or waiting for the kids to go to sleep to have a few minutes of calm or waiting to have all the laundry finished, which let’s just be honest is never actually finished.

You would think that we would all have waiting down to a tee, and maybe you do, but truthfully waiting puts me on edge, and the last couple of years I’ve been waiting.

Waiting for some direction and vision.
Waiting for a job.
Waiting to return to Ukraine.
Waiting for a knight in shining armor.
Waiting….

Much of that waiting has felt like walking through a desert with all of the paths erased by wind.

I’ve been blessed with family and friends that understand (or have at least tolerated) the waiting and have loved me through so many unlovable moments in the past couple of years. They’ve helped remind me of who God is and who I am when all I could see was the parched, dusty, cracked desert that seemed to stretch to eternity.

“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him. ”
Lamentations 3:25 NKJV

Sometimes in the waiting, it’s easy to forget that God is really, really, really good and that He is really, really, really for us. Then something happens, a conversation or something you read or you somehow get some sense knocked into you, and suddenly you remember. You know the waiting isn’t over, but you also know that He’s taking care of it.

I’ve known since before I left Ukraine that there was going to be a waiting before I would return, and that God would make it clear when and if it was His timing for that return to happen.

A few months ago, the holding pattern seemed to lift, and suddenly I was in conversations about possibilities for the future.

It was both thrilling and terrifying to consider and to hope. Today, a brand new passport arrived at my residence ready for the next step.

The waiting isn’t over quite yet, but some questions have been answered in the last few days, and I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of the details.

But for that you’ll have to wait for tomorrow and part two.