What’s the #1 Sign You’re Ready for Marriage?

If you’ve been with your partner for a year or more, I am sure at some point you’ve considered the “m-word.”

So how do you know when you’re ready?  

In my experience working with couples, the #1 sign that you’re ready for marriage is pretty simple.

You each have the desire to grow - as individuals and as couple.

Put another way, you actively seek out ways that you can continuously be more epic for each other.

If this is you, then you have the right mindset for marriage.

But let me clarify here. This mindset prepares you for a certain kind of marriage - a partnership marriage.

Read the rest of this article on YourTango.com.

What are your rituals of connection?

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to get disconnected. 

You may both have full-time jobs that take up most of your day. By the time you finish your work duties, sort the mail, take care of dinner, and wash up, you probably feel pretty exhausted. 

Time to connect? How about time to sleep!

Too many couples let their daily lives interfere with the activities that make them feel most alive and connected.  

Rituals of connection are a powerful antidote to disconnection in our society.

These are structured routines and habits that bring you closer together. They are essential for creating a life of fulfillment and joy together.

What are the different kinds of rituals of connection, you may ask?

There are rituals for everyday living, rituals for communication, rituals for lovemaking, rituals for recreation, and rituals for celebrations and holidays.

You probably have rituals that you developed without even thinking about them. For example, you may hug and kiss one another passionately upon leaving for the day. You may go away for the weekend to celebrate your anniversary. You may share a moment of prayer before eating dinner together.

Each of these activities infuse a sense of unity with your partner and help you slow down to appreciate the moment. Research on the science of well-being shows that these activities, in addition to goal-setting and a few others, are key ingredients for creating a life of contentment. (For further reading on the science of well-being, see Sonja Lyubormirsky’s text, The How of Happiness.)

As a couple moving into an important stage of commitment, this is a good time to be intentional about rituals of connection. 

This week, I encourage you to experiment with a new ritual of connection.

How about a new bedtime ritual? 

Here are some ideas to get you going:

  • Evening backrubs
  • Reading to one another
  • Sharing one thing you are grateful for on that day
  • Meditating together for a few minutes
  • Listening to relaxing music together

If the new ritual works for you, keep it! If not, try something else. You can also rotate through different rituals. Keep it fresh! 

What's most important is that the ritual consistently brings that "warm-fuzziness" you know and love so well.

So, what's your new bedtime ritual? Shoot me a line and let me know!

My New Favorite Read: Wired For Love

Stop everything and get this book: Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner's Brain and Attachment Style Can Help Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship by Stan Tatkin.

Why do I love this book? 

This is the first book I've read that provides a neurological basis for the Conscious Partnership, or the union of two people committed to the needs of the relationship rather than the needs of the self. 

Some of my favorite take-aways thus far:

Your marriage is not about you. It's about the relationship.  Tatkin states that marriage is not about satisfying your personal needs or healing your personal wounds. It is about honoring the relationship itself. When a couple commits to the good of the relationship above all else, they create the security they need for deeper healing to occur. 

The longing for a safe zone is why we pair up. Tatkin uses the term, the "couple bubble," to describe the compassionate space of love and acceptance that couples create for each other. The purpose of the couple bubble is to help each partner relax and feel wanted, protected, and cared for. When couples create a loving emotional environment for their relationship, they develop new neural pathways to replace the old toxic pathways filled with the debris of childhood sufferings. 

"You have to love yourself before anyone can love you" is a myth. This statement is commonly expressed in self-help lit, but Tatkin reveals its fallacy. Babies don't come into this world already self-loving or self-hating. They learn to love themselves because they experience being loved by someone else. Our self-worth and self-esteem are co-developed with other people. 

There is so much in this brief but powerful book and I'll share more as I dig into it further. 

Lastly, I am so excited because tomorrow I'll be attending the annual Couples Conference, where Tatkin will deliver a keynote session. Other "heavy hitters" in relationship science, including Helen Fisher (author of Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray) and Ester Perel (author of Mating in Captivity), will also present their latest insights for couples.

It's a total geekfest for those who love to help those who love - and I can't wait to be there! More to come!

What I've Learned as a 38-year-old

As I begin the 38th year of my life today, I want to take a moment to share some of my key take-aways so far as a human being. 

1- My external circumstances may change, but my internal reality is constant. My happiness and well-being may be momentarily affected by whatever change is happening in my life, but my internal world is relatively stable. I am lucky that my disposition set-point is pretty high on the positivity scale. Even though old fears continue to surface, I am getting much better at recognizing when they take hold of me and finding effective ways to shake them off. 

2- The most difficult years of my life are already behind me. My father was pretty abusive growing up. My mother was absent from my life from the age of 6 to 18. I got cancer when I was 27. All of these things shaped who I am today - a survivor who can take on any of life’s challenges to come. 

3- I can achieve any of my dreams if I focus and commit to them. I’ve done it before and I can do it again. Growing up in a working class home, I realized that if I wanted to make my way in the world I was going to have to do it on my own. It became my singular focus in high school to get a full-ride scholarship to college. I succeeded, and went on to get full scholarships for my M.A. and Ph.D. Moving forward, I have more dreams I want to bring to fruition. Sometimes I let doubt seep in…but I’m reminded today that I really do have the power to ask for what I want so that I can serve in the highest way possible. 

4- I am lucky. We are fortunate that we live in a country and in a time in history where anything is possible for us as a generation. I’ve lived in exotic countries, danced on beautiful beaches, savored sumptuous meals, and experienced epic moments of awareness, joy, and freedom. Life is good and it keeps getting better. 

5- I (finally!) have a solid understanding of my talents and gifts. Before this past year, I didn’t have a solid sense of my deep inner talents. I mean, I knew I was skilled as a social scientist, university professor, and startup marketer. I knew my strengths in a vocational sense. But I wasn’t aware of my character strengths and how they helped me become who I am today. My love of learning, my capacity for hope, my emotional intelligence, my zest for life, my curiosity, and my ability to provide perspective (for myself and others) are all central to who I am. I am grateful for the ways that these strengths have carried me through to today and I am intentional now in using them to get to where I want to go in the future. Most importantly, I am willing to live in my zone of genius. I allow my strengths to shine and guide me towards my maximum potential as a human being.   

6- My relationships - with my partner, family, and friends - really are the most fulfilling aspects of my life. When we die, it’s said that our relationships are the things that people remember and value most. My relationships are my greatest teachers. In relationship, I discover greater depths of my being than I ever could reach on my own. Sometimes they cause the greatest pain I’ve ever known, but they also lead to the highest experience of love and transcendence. Over the past year, I’ve learned that there is an art and science to relating. It is now my primary goal to continuously learn how to be the best wife, sister, daughter, and friend I can be. I’ve also learned that there is no substitute for quality time. Connection time with the people I love is the most valuable currency in my life.   

7-Authenticity in all I do is the only way forward. I’ve lived with a fear that has held me back for a long time - the fear of not being loved. I’ve let that fear inhibit how I show up in many ways, including in social situations. All of a sudden, I think “Will this person like me?” or “Will this person think I’m ____ (smart, pretty, etc)?” And then I start to feel a false personality emerge to mask the fear. It’s still me talking, but it’s a strained version of myself. I even feel physical tension in my body when this scared self takes over. Today I forego this false personality for my true essence. I am willing to take a leap of faith and let my authenticity pour forth. Life is too short and I’m done hiding. 

8- Prayer and gratitude are superpowers. When I just want to give up, there is nothing more powerful in shifting my perspective than a good prayer. Taking the time to give thanks and ask for help has a miraculous effect on me. The more prayers and gratitudes I offer up, the more grounded I feel. Even more powerful is praying and giving thanks with the people I love. 

9-  My body is the boss of me. I’ve recently learned that my body really does know what’s best for me. Much more so than my mind. The more I listen to my body, the better I feel. My body has the best advice when it comes to when to rest, when to go outside, when to dance, when to meditate, and what to eat. When in doubt, I listen to my body. 

 

These are the big life lessons for me so far. I am beyond excited to learn more in the next year of my life. Bring it!

Spring Clean the Fears Out of Your Partnership

Winter is over, my friends. It’s time to open the windows and clean out any stuck areas of your otherwise amazing relationship. 

But how do you know if there's an area that's stuck? 

You know you're stuck if you find yourself full of fear when you think about it.

You want to talk about it - but maybe you don’t know how to go about it exactly. Or perhaps you tried talking about it, but it didn’t come out right. So you say nothing more about it...and the fear festers. 

Sound familiar?  

When you withhold your fears, your relationship stagnates. You create distance. The only way to resume healthy relating is to systematically clean out the fears together.

Here’s how: 

Step 1: Admit the fear about the situation. 

Step 2: Allow yourself to feel the fear. 

Step 3: Move forward in spite of the fear.  

It’s a simple method, yet quite profound in execution.  

Being forthright about your fear is the first step towards loosening the grip that it has on your thoughts and actions. You deflate the power of the fear by saying it aloud to your partner.

Then you move into the fear - you feel it fully. You see the fear for what it is. You play with it. You exaggerate it. You imagine the worst possible scenario and realize that it’s not actually life-threatening. (Whew!)

It’s helpful to offer yourself compassion around this fear. You may discover that the fear originated from a childhood pain or other past experience. If that’s the case, you’ll come to perceive this fear like an old scar, irreversible but not damaging. 

"We love more freely when we let go of fears that have been shadowing us for a lifetime,” says David Richo, psychologist and author of When Love Meets Fear.  

Taking the time to voice and feel your fears together is an incredibly liberating experience. Yet so few couples recognize that they have the power to shift out of the pain of fear so easily

It’s akin to an aikido move. You enter the zone of fear and you move toward it in a non-invasive way. You blend with its energy with no attempt to oppose it, stop it, or strike back at it. You meet this oncoming energy and you experience it intimately. The energy then gets folded back into a resolution.

Now that the fear is disarmed, you move forward with grace and ease. You make a plan and support one another as you proceed boldly in the direction of your desires, knowing that the fear still exists but you have minimized its effect. 

This is how you develop confidence and trust as a couple. Equipped with a technique for surfacing fears and moving through moments of uncertainty with courage, you cultivate greater strength to take on more of life's challenges together. 

How to Fight Better with the XYZ Formula

Let's face it. Fights happen.

But how you fight makes all the difference when it comes to the quality (and longevity) of your relationship.

And what is a fight anyway? It's a misunderstanding. You and your partner are not understanding how you are making each other feel.

Conflict is an important signal in your relationship that there are new feelings and desires that need to be understood.

When most couples fight, however, they react in habitual ways that keep them stuck in an uncomfortable situation.

Relationship scientist Dr. John Gottman, in his study of thousands of couples in his “Love Lab,” identified four common behaviors that often lead to a break-up.

They include:

    Criticism: when you deride your partner's character or personality
    Contempt: when you display a sense of superiority or disrespect for your partner
    Defensiveness: when you protect yourself by deflecting blame
    Stonewalling: when you tune your partner out

Now it's natural for these behaviors to show up in conflict every once in awhile. But the persistent presence of these patterns will cause serious strain in your partnership...and likely lead it its dissolution.

So what can a couple do instead?

Here is a simple formula to help you understand each other better.

“In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.”

The first step is to identify the situation where the misunderstanding occurred. This is key for explaining where and when your feelings got hurt.

The second step is to identify the behavior of your partner. This is important to help your partner understand that you are not criticizing him or her as a person. You are bringing their awareness to the behavior that causes the heartache.

The third step is to identify your feelings - what you actually felt in that situation and with that behavior. Did you feel hurt? Sad? Confused? Get clear on the actual feelings you experienced internally and share them with your partner.

It's not always easy to remember this formula when you are in the heat of things...but taking a moment to breathe, compose yourself, and express your emotions with this formula will be far more effective than anything else you try.

When you speak in this way, you will understand the nature of the misunderstanding better and help each other feel more honored and appreciated.

So how can you start?

Share this article with your partner. Start this simple practice immediately in your next fight.  Know that this skill is key for the health and vitality of your relationship.

Over time, you'll become better fighters (and lovers)...and this is crucial for your evolution as individuals and as a couple.


Looking for more personalized guidance? I specialize in teaching couples the essential skills for fighting less and playing more.

Reach out to schedule a free consultation!

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What's Your Mission Statement as a Couple?

The goal of partnership is not just about being stable and happy - it's about being immersed in the living process that transforms us into better human beings.  

The vehicle for that process is the relationship itself. When you form a union with another individual, you become more than just a sum of two people. 

You are creating a third mode of experience - the unity of both of you together.

Let me explain. 

You could think of the dynamics of a relationship as having three modes of experience.

  • There's the experience of yourself as an independent and mature individual.
  • There's the experience of your partner as an independent and mature individual. 
  • And then there's the experience of the two of you together - that sense of "we-ness."  

This third experience may not be immediately obvious to couples, but if you pay attention to it, you'll notice when it's present. 

It's that ethereal quality that you feel when you're blissfully snuggling, when you're taking a peaceful walk together, or perhaps when you're dancing like wild things on a Saturday night. You also feel it when you are doing things that you love, expressing to the world what you're about, and giving of your unique gifts and talents together. 

When you nurture this quality, it nurtures you. John Gottman's research on thousands of successful couples indicates that those who are most fulfilled have developed ways to cultivate more meaning, or more "we-ness," in their partnership. 

Otherwise...you're just roommates. 

So how can you be more intentional about increasing this quality of experience in your lives together? 

Create a mission statement together. 

Think about the things that you truly value. What are you both passionate about? How does your relationship feed you? What are the things about your relationship that you can't live without?

Having a conversation about your shared values is the first step towards creating your mission statement. The second part is having a conversation about how you can bring those values to life. 

For example, if you value being appreciated as partners, how can that appreciation be best communicated? In what ways? How often? In what form? 

If you value honoring each other's dreams, how do make sure you know what your dreams are? What does supporting each other's dreams look like for you? 

What you are doing here is creating the culture of your relationship. These are your unique guidelines for the quality of connection you want in the partnership. 

This is what makes life as a couple worth living. 

For those preparing to marry, these mission statements can be your wedding vows. However, any serious relationship at any stage can benefit from this exercise. These statements are your "North Star" - a reference point upon which you can build on to ensure that your partnership continues to grow. 

For inspiration, take a look at some of the "Vows that Wow" that I crafted for you. You can use them as a starting point for your own powerful intentions as a couple.

Download "Vows that Wow."

How to Share Your Desires with Your Lover

Very few of us were raised talking comfortably about sex.

Yet being able to comfortably and clearly talk about sex is one of the keys to satisfaction in a long-term partnership.

Unfortunately, when couples usually talk about sex, they kind of “vague out." They have indirect, imprecise, and inconclusive conversations. They are usually in a hurry to end the conversation instead of playfully sharing intimate details that bring them closer together.

It’s the difference between saying, “Everything’s fine in the bedroom, honey.”

and

“You know what I love? I love it when you stroke my breasts for a long time like you did last night.”

One statement shuts down the conversation, while the other statement opens up opportunities for greater intimacy.

It's tricky because there is no other area of a couple’s life that offers more potential for embarrassment, hurt, and rejection than their sexual relationship.

On the other hand, the less clear you are about what you want, the less likely you are to get it.

So here’s the solution:

Learn to talk about sex in a way that lets each partner feel safe.

When you are able to do this, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Not only will new opportunities for quality sexual interaction emerge, but research cited in the 7 principles of Making Marriage Work states that women have more orgasms when they are able to talk comfortably about sex with their partner.

So give yourselves permission to talk about sex.

Here are some simple and easy ground rules to help you successfully broach the topic:

4 Guidelines for Talking About Sex

 

1. Focus on the positive: This is a vulnerable topic. Everyone wants to be a good lover and most people do not respond favorably to criticism in this area. You are having a conversation about how to make a good thing better. Instead of saying “You never do _______," say “I love it when we ________.” Try not to say “Don’t touch me there." Instead say, “It feels really good when you touch me here.”


2. Be gentle and patient: It helps to gradually open up these conversations, especially if you are not used to speaking about sex freely. To start, try the question prompts available in the article "The Top 4 Skills for Epic Lovers."


3. Don’t take it personally: What turns your partner on or off is not about you. The goal is just to explore what works. Think about the perspective of a chef in a restaurant - what is your patron in the mood for? What is he or she hungry for?


4. Lastly, compromise. It’s natural to not have the same appetite for the same thing at the same time. That said, there are ways to compromise differences like pros. I’ll share more on this in a future post.

The important thing to keep in mind here is to make your partner feel appreciated, You are creating a safe erotic space for playful interaction. Opening up the conversation in a thoughtful and gentle way will make your partner feel comfortable enough to share their desires with you as well. 

Following these simple guidelines are clutch to building your relationship intelligence skills together, while also opening up new avenues for delight in your partnership.


Couples who make passion a priority in their life are happier, healthier, look younger, and live longer. Sounds pretty good, right?

I specialize in helping couples develop the core skills for passionate lifelong lovemaking.

Reach out for a free consultation!

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The Top 4 Skills for Epic Lovers

This Valentines Day, skip the Hallmark card. Skip the fancy dinner. Skip the flowers.

Do something really wild this V-day.

Fulfill your each other’s deepest sexual longings. 

I know that’s a bold statement. But the research shows that's what couples really want anyway. Check out these findings from a 2015 study conducted by Good in Bed researchers:  

  • Nearly 85% of respondents believe that having sex is an important part of Valentine's Day.
  • Over 55% of respondents indicated they were willing to try something new sexually because it's Valentine's Day.
  • Over 60% of respondents will be disappointed if they don't have sex on Valentine's Day.

So…what’s the secret to satisfying sex on this day (and every day) in a committed partnership? 

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself in my research on what successful couples do best. After consulting some of my favorite sources, including John Gottman's The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity, Ian Kerner's Passionista, as well as many others, I've found that it all comes down to four essential skills. Here they are:

Skill #1 - Conversation: Sexually satisfied lovers don’t rely on their partner to intuit their needs. They have a language for comfortably talking about sexual longings and preferences on a regular basis.  

Skill #2 - Confidence: These couples are confident as lovers. They take personal responsibility for their own pleasure. They also have a deep awareness of their "love maps," or their subconscious blueprints of erotic desire. 

Skill #3 - Connection: Epic lovers don’t believe that hot sex only happens when it’s spontaneous. They are intentional about creating sexual experiences together and know that connection comes in many forms. 

Skill #4 - Creativity: Lastly, these couples play well together. They tap into the sexy power of their imagination to awaken new sources of pleasure. They aren’t afraid of what their partner may think of their secret fantasies. They share them openly to explore deeper layers of intimacy. 

So what is stopping you from becoming epic lovers? 

I know. It’s not so easy to cultivate these skills on your own. We get used to routine. We have our “go-to meals” when it comes to sex and serve them up regularly, because we know they get the job done.  

It’s also pretty difficult to find down-to-earth information on how to become great lovers for each other. 

Living in San Francisco, there are lots of opportunities to pick up ingredients for your meals, but there's not a lot out there on how to become chefs in the bedroom. 

This Valentines Day, I invite you to take your lovemaking up a notch. One way to do this is by opening up a sexy dialogue about your desires.

To help you along, I’ve created free "Secrets for Lovers" Valentine's Day cards for you. Here's how to use them:

  • Download and print out the 2-page pdf. 
  • Fold each page twice down the middle.
  • Give one card to your lover and one to yourself. 
  • Fill out the 5 sentence completions in the card.
  • Exchange the cards at the opportune moment.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the conversations that will open up as a result of these cards.

The sentence completions enable you to take a pulse on the state of your desires. They can be used on a regular basis to check in and reveal longings with each other that may be hiding under the surface.   

Here's to a fun Valentine's weekend!!!

Download your free "Secrets for Lovers" cards. 

Why is it so hard for our generation to find lifelong love?

Let’s face it. It’s hard to find lifelong love.

And because it’s so hard, many of us are starting to think that maybe it’s not possible.

I’ve been thinking about this subject for a while now, both as a sociologist and as someone who recently got married.

For most of my twenties, I just wanted to have fun. My priorities were simple - career and travel. I was building my craft as a social scientist and living out my inner Peter Pan, visiting faraway countries in search of anthropological insights and epic parties.

Then, I entered my early thirties. I began to feel this growing need to “settle down.”

This whole notion of “settling down” sounded both comforting and frightening. I loved the idea of lifelong love, but had a lot of doubt on whether it actually existed in this day and age.

In my exploration of this issue, I uncovered four reasons why it’s so hard our generation to create and keep a meaningful romantic partnership.

1- Instant Gratification Culture

We’ve grown up in a culture that’s all about instant reward. Our brains love pleasure-inducing novelty and so much of our society feeds into that - including dating apps.

If the person you’re dating is not that exciting anymore, just open up Tinder to find your next fling. It’s easy to dispose of the current relationship and look for a new one once the thrill is gone. It can be an endless, and eventually, very tiring cycle.

The fact is that that we have universal human need for stable love and connection. Unfortunately, that’s a hard need to fulfill in world full of “quick fix” pleasure.

(For more on this topic, see the Vanity Fair article on “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse.”)

2- The Happily Ever After Myth

Let’s say you’ve done something really bold - like date someone for three months in a row. You’re head over heels in love, deep in that “everything is freaking amazing” stage.

You know this stage…it’s the focus of pretty much every rom-com out there. Boy meets girl, boy dates girl, boy marries girl, and they live “happily ever after.”

According to this myth, the ideal love relationship is about perfect compatibility - with no disagreement or compromise.

Believing in this myth translates into jumping ship as soon as conflict comes into the mix. “If it's work, maybe it's not meant to be,” or so goes the saying.  

It’s unfortunate because that’s exactly when real depth and intimacy can emerge in a relationship.

When approached with skillful communication and compassion, conflict presents an opportunity to learn something meaningful and profound about ourselves and the person we love.

But without any roadmap on how to do that, it’s hard to move forward.
 
3- Divorced Parents

Let’s say you’ve been dating someone for a year or two (or five). You’ve been with each other through lots of life’s ups and downs. You’re probably living together.

At this point, the “M” word crops up.

The closest association we have with marriage is that of our parents. And, let’s get real, most of our parents weren’t so great at it.

Some of our parents divorced and remarried more than once. What’s interesting is that the research shows that if you didn’t get it right the first time, then you usually do not get it right the second or third time either.

For those of us with parents who are still married, you may perceive that they have what’s called an "empty shell" marriage where there’s no real love or connection anymore.

We’re afraid the same thing might happen to us...so why bother?

4 - Nowhere to Learn How to Love  

Let’s say you’re ready. You know the odds of success and you ready to beat them.

You want the love, lifelong commitment, companionship, children, and financial stability. You want all the good stuff that comes along with being happily coupled, including:

  • living longer (by four to eight years)
  • having a stronger immune system (with a decreased chance of illness by 35 percent)
  • and having a greater overall satisfaction of life. (From 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.)

So…how do you do it?

Most people just "wing it" because there is literally no training available to build the skills you need for lifelong love.

Think about how much help you’ve had to build your career through years of schooling and experience. And now think about how much help you’ve had to learn how to be an amazing partner for each other? Like none?

Contrary to what many may think, we are not “born” great partners and relationship skills are not intuitive. Most of us muddle our way through it, based on what we’ve picked up from our parents or friends, and hope for the best.

Without a roadmap to lifelong love, it’s easy to end up like a statistic.  

It’s time for a new approach to love.

When it came time to marry the love of my life, I was determined to unlock the code of successful partnership. I put my sociologist skills to good use, researching every source for data on what the happiest couples do best.

What I’ve found is that truly epic couples are the “heroes” in today’s culture.

When you look at successful couples today, you’ll see that they view partnership as a courageous means for personal growth. They challenge and encourage each other to be the best possible version of themselves. They see their partner as teacher. They understand each others weaknesses and see their differences as strengths.

With this approach, I would like to introduce the official launch of Epic Couples. Our goal at Epic Couples is to inspire a new generation to experience the profound joy of lifelong transformation within a truly satisfying union.

If you are thinking about moving in together, getting engaged or married, or just want to take your partnership up a level, I highly recommend learning the core skills you need to bump up what I like to call your relationship intelligence, or your RQ.

Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing with you what I’ve learned from the top relationship experts, as well as from my own experience as a couples coach, on what you can do to prepare for a fulfilling lifelong partnership.

I am beyond excited to begin this journey with you.

Yours,

Shannon Arvizu Hall