Prayer Stations

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I LOVE Prayer Stations! They are one of my absolute favorite things to use. Ever. Seriously, if you’ve never used these before, please consider exploring this teaching technique.

No, “teaching technique” isn’t the right description. Rather, prayer stations are mini environments created for the worshiper to encounter God in unique ways that cover all the learning styles. Through prayer stations we are creating guided opportunities for students to spend time in God’s presence. We are no longer saying to them, “Read your Bible and spend time with God,” but we are teaching them how to spend time with God by actually spending time with God. Prayer stations create opportunities for students to speak with God through guided conversations, and, also, listen for His voice.

The Logistics

Prayer Stations as Centers
Each station has a specific theme & activity for the participants to complete. For example, one station might be focused on forgiveness. Short “instructions” are included to unpack what forgiveness is and why we need it or why God offers it. Then there is a simple task for the participant to complete. Perhaps the participants spend some time confessing their sins on an individual dry erase board, asks God for forgiveness, then wipes the board clean and thanks God for His forgiveness. Be sure to include enough supplies for everyone to accomplish the task and not be on top of one another.

Depending on your set up, group size, and time alloted you can generally have anywhere from 4-10 stations set up at one time. These can all fit in one classroom or be spread out throughout your entire church (often depends on the audience size).

Prayer stations are generally heavy on supplies & prep time but don’t always have to be. I’ve done an Easter Prayer Path that took weeks of planning & prep and was supply heavy – think VBS for a one-day Easter Prayer Path – complete with turning classrooms into a tomb and a garden. I also recently did a prayer path for a lesson on David & Goliath which required minimal supplies and set up only took 20 minutes. Go big or go home. Or the simpler the better. Both theories work & have their time & place in the prayer path world.

I generally try to create stations that can be self-guided by the worshipers so that I do not need to have each station manned or hosted by volunteers. However, one time we were trying to get our Youth Ministry more involved so our Youth Minister had different kids lead each station. It worked beautifully!

Prayer Station Themes
Here are 3 Prayer Paths I have used in the past. All include stations I have adapted from various sources or written myself.

  • Easter Prayer Path – This PP was written for families to participate in together prior to our Good Friday service. Prayer paths that include preschool aged children work best when they can do it with their families. After all, someone needs to be able to read the directions to them! Stations were set up all over the building to accommodate a large crowd.
  • David’s Life Prayer Stations – This PP was written for a week at camp with kids who had completed 2nd-5th grades. The version included here is a compilation of some of the stations used throughout the week. Each day we explored a different theme & story from David’s life. The stations offered fit that day’s theme. Incorporating these stations allowed me to do some teaching with the large group first and then students were able to individually respond to God through these stations. Stations were set up in our large group room (with a few being outside). Students were asked to limit the number of people at each station (I think it was no more than 6/station at a time) and to remain silent so as not to distract their friends.
  • Worship Response Stations – These stations are written and designed for our students during their small group time every Sunday. We generally have 5 stations available at a time and we rotate those out periodically. As you can see these are more generic so that it doesn’t matter what the specific lesson is that day. The goal is for our kids to be able to respond to God.

Prayer Stations for ALL ages!
By design prayer stations are intergenerational. A 4-year-old can understand than when his mistakes are written on a dry erase board and he asks God to forgive him that He wipes the board clean like they never happened just as simply as that speaks to my grown woman heart. Parents who struggle to know how to have faith conversations with their young children can practice with guided instructions and activities at a prayer station. I have been using the David prayer path written for elementary kids at a Bible study for moms with only minor tweaks (substituting “school” and “homework” for “job” and “laundry”, etc.). It works not because these moms aren’t smart but because God speaks through these experiences. We all need to be forgiven, to forgive others, to be reminded of who God is, and to know how much He loves us. Regardless of age. Or gender. Or demographic. God speaks when we create the space to listen.

State your expectations.
No matter the age, setting or group size I would highly recommend always having a time of sharing the expectations with your audience whether in written or oral instructions. Do worshipers rotate at their own pace or at your signal? Silence or partner/group work? How many people can each station accommodate at a time? If the station is full what do they do? Do they rotate in a certain order or as they want?

I had one older camp counselor share her concern that our children wouldn’t be able to handle the expectations of the prayer stations. I respectfully listened and then assured her I knew it would be possible because these kids had done them before. She told me after camp she was amazed by how much the kids got out of the stations and that she was glad she had been wrong. When kids know the expectations – and they are enforced – they will operate within the boundaries expected. Well, most of the time. Because they are still kids!

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If you’re new to prayer stations, don’t be scared to give them a shot. Say a prayer or two and trust God to work in powerful ways in your kids’ hearts. God always shows up when we give Him room to speak.

A final note to those who may be new to prayer stations: Many logistic details were not expanded on. Please don’t hesitate to shoot me a message to ask further questions. I’m more than happy to give you more details then you’ll know what to do with! Happy praying!

 

 

MIA

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Hi friends,

Between the holiday and being sick this week, I haven’t accomplished much writing. I really apologize for the inconvenience. We’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming on Monday. Thanks for your understanding. Have a blessed weekend!

Blessings,

Danielle

One Brave Mom’s Foster to Adopt Journey

Melanie Parent’s foster to adopt journey is one of love, heartbreak, deep faith and godly community. She is brave & courageous & one of my heroes. She told me once that she could only consider this journey because she has such an amazing village who loves her well. May we all learn from her experience & strive to create villages that so beautifully surround, support & love all the Melanies & Sophies in our churches.

My foster and adoption journey started after a mission trip to Panama in 2012. I’ve volunteered with my youth group for many years but on this particular trip God stirred in my heart the call to adopt. I’m not married and wasn’t even sure I wanted kids of my own but when God begins to speak who am I to say no? So after much prayer and seeking advice from my people, I decided my answer was YES. This yes started my journey as a foster mom through the state. Because I’d be doing this as a single mom, fathers and sons from my church stepped up to say they would be constant role models for these sweet children. My church invited me to conferences to make sure I was prepared and prayed with me when the doors I thought were the right ones seemed to close. They also connected me with people who I believe God placed in my life to work out a plan that far exceeded anything I could imagine.

I was approved as an official foster parent in June 2013. 8 months later, DCS placed a 3 1/2 week old baby girl in my home! Oh the excitement! My church family rallied around us with calls and texts to see what our immediate needs were. Friends brought us dinners and diapers. One friend from church brought me lots of baby girl clothes and stayed to put away all the clothes and diapers in the nursery. That first night was rough. Sweet girl only slept for about an hour at a time and cried most of the night. I have to say I threw up the next morning, exhausted and overwhelmed about all I had just been entrusted with. My yes to God had just gotten real! I knew it was impossible without my village. Our youth minister and his wife came over that day and held baby girl while we both got some much needed sleep. It was then I knew we would be ok. God would continue to provide. In the next few months, we began our new normal. I knew there was a good chance this little girl would not be staying with me forever. She had a great aunt in a different state who loved her and wanted to take care of her. But getting her there would mean lots of court hearings and decisions by judges. In the meantime my heart fell in love with this precious life that was depending on me. I loved her fiercely and I cried about letting her go. I again turned to my church family for prayers when her future seemed uncertain and prayers before court hearings and prayers when it felt like my heart could handle no more. They sat with me for long mornings at court. They shopped with me to occupy the time during birth family visits when I wasn’t invited to stay. The time came to entrust someone else to care for this sweet little girl who had been mine for almost 4 months. Again my church surrounded me. They prayed and spent time with me so I wouldn’t be alone in a now very silent house. Slowly the healing began.

You may have noticed by now I have not mentioned baby girl’s name or told you much about her “story”. With both of my girls, I’ve had many people ask me “so what’s her story”. While this seems harmless, it makes us feel as if you’ve just asked us to tell you the deepest darkest secret of our child’s soul. Those details aren’t ours to tell and we don’t always know the facts. We do know there is brokenness. The details aren’t important, just know they are in need of love. 

God wasn’t finished with this journey. Four months later, I got the call for a 2 week old baby girl named, Sophie. My church family showed up with just as much excitement as before! They went with me to the hospital and packed me dinner because I was way too excited to remember to eat! They brought food and pulled out the newborn clothes and put away the bigger clothes (since I couldn’t bring myself to do that in the months before).

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Melanie & baby Sophie surrounded by some of their village.

I was smitten from the beginning. This time I was told she might need an adoptive family. I was more than happy to be that family, but again this would mean lots of court dates and judges and uncertainty. No matter where the journey lead, I knew my church would walk with me. I remember friends consistently checking in and asking what they could pray for specifically. Most of the time people didn’t ask me “how are you doing?’ because they knew sometimes it was a roller coaster of emotions and I might just need a hug and someone to cry with me. They celebrated with us over baby milestones and made Sophie feel like she had lots of extended family. 🙂 I remember walking to my car one Sunday morning and finding diapers and milano cookies on my hood. I didn’t have to purchase the first pack of diapers until Sophie was 4 months old!! Our church’s children’s clothing sale ministry allowed me to shop early and gave me a credit to use at each sale. Just another wonderful way they could encourage and support me in my fostering journey. My life group prayed over big court dates and checked in after to see what decisions had been made.

After 13 long months I got to adopt my sweet girl!! It was a great day of celebration! Sophie and I had 54 people at the courthouse that day to celebrate our new family. I had a good friend who volunteered to photograph the occasion. They also threw a brunch afterward, complete with yummy food and monogrammed cookies. My church has continued to wrap around us. They threw an adoption shower for us to fill our home with toys and books. It’s a little unconventional to throw a shower for a toddler but my church did it so well. 🙂 We recently moved to a house with a big backyard for her. I had mentioned to a friend at church that I planned to buy a swing set for Sophie at some point. A few weeks later, I had come home from a youth group trip and my mom told me to check the back yard. I opened the door to find the coolest swing set, already assembled and ready to use. It even had a toddler swing! I looked at my mom and said, “Oh you shouldn’t have!” and she said, “I didn’t. It was everyone at church!” Many families from our youth group pitched in to get us the perfect housewarming gift.

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Standing room only during one court date.

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The village who came to support and love Melanie & Sophie on their “Gotcha Day”!

Typing that story brings tears to my eyes. It will always be a reminder of how my church family answered the call to take up the cause of the fatherless and show more love than I would ever know alone.

I chose to foster and adopt because LOVE. These children need love. I need love. God is love. So as God has commanded, Be Love. Whether that’s being a prayer warrior for a foster or adoptive family or meeting physical needs. We need people who will walk with us throughout our journey. These kids need us all on their team! Together we can help heal hearts.

 

Defending the Fatherless

Callie Lillard joins our conversation today as we explore serving the often overlooked in our churches. I’m grateful for her passion and lifelong work to serve children & families journeying through foster care & adoption. I’m grateful for the practical ways she encourages & challenges all of us to support & love these families. But mostly, I’m grateful for her heart that loves God and seeks to follow His command to love the “fatherless”.

“Defending the fatherless” has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. When my mom was growing up, her parents opened their home to children in foster care and later to pregnant young women who were planning to place their babies for adoption. My grandfather, who was an attorney, volunteered his legal services to families who were adopting. When my older brother and I were eleven and six years old, respectively, our parents dove into their own foster care journey by saying yes to a newborn baby who needed a home for a little while. On Christmas day 1990, my mom left our family get-together to go to the hospital, and she returned with a tiny pink bundle who was most certainly everyone’s favorite gift that year. That kind of day soon became pretty normal for our family, with many more babies passing through our home over the next 22 years. I was eight years old the first time my parents took me with them to serve at a children’s home in Kingston, Jamaica. In 2001, when I was seventeen, I gained a brother through adoption, and in 2003, a sister.

Foster care and adoption were just what my family did. It was our thing. Anyone who knew us knew that. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I really began to understand that it wasn’t just our thing; it was the church’s thing. Or at least it was supposed to be.

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

Caring for the fatherless is not a suggestion; it’s a command. One that’s repeated over 40 times in scripture. It’s not just a command for those who feel “called.” It’s a command for the whole church. We are all called. If we call ourselves Christians, we must respond. All of us.

I have good news for those of you who are starting to sweat. You don’t have to foster or adopt to care for the fatherless!

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If God’s not leading you to foster or adopt, He’s probably leading you to serve those families who are. No one understands “it takes a village to raise a child” more than foster and adoptive families. We need people in our church to come alongside us and help us give these kids what they need to heal. Maybe that looks like bringing a meal once a week. Maybe you’re good at math, and you could offer to tutor a child who’s struggling in school. Maybe you could provide respite care or free baby-sitting for tired parents who need a night out. Maybe you could help a foster parent entertain their kiddos on those long days spent at juvenile court (and encourage a struggling birth parent in the process!). Maybe you could donate financially or plan a fundraiser for a family who’s adopting. Maybe you can be a prayer warrior for a child or family. Maybe you’re a photographer and could donate your time to your state’s Heart Gallery or offer to do free sessions for children in foster care (do you know how many former foster kids have childhood photos of themselves? Just about zero.). Maybe you could help meet a child’s emotional needs by helping pay for counseling that’s not covered by insurance. Or maybe you could help meet a parent’s emotional needs by offering to pay their way to a conference or retreat (or by babysitting while they attend said conference or retreat).

Another important aspect of supporting foster and adoptive families in your church is recognizing that our kids have some unseen special needs. Our kids have all come to us from hard places. What looks like misbehavior to most may actually be survival skills that our kids used when they couldn’t trust an adult to meet their needs. They need us to teach them how to replace those unhealthy survival strategies with healthy ones. Many of our kids have been exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero or suffered abuse, neglect, or trauma. Or all of the above. And every single one of them has suffered the loss of their first family. These events have changed the way our children’s brains work. Instead of inquiring about their stories, ask us how you can help meet their needs.

Fostering attachment and building trust is a huge focus for families with new arrivals…and maybe even for those who’ve had their children for years. Let our families participate in church activities according to our kids’ needs. Our babies may never be in the nursery, and our big kids may need a parent to come with them to VBS. It’s not that we don’t trust you with our kids; it’s that we are trying to teach our kids that they can trust US. We get that it seems a little weird to you (it did to us once, too), but trust us – we have spent lots of time trying to learn how to help our kids heal. Help us help them by encouraging, supporting, and believing us, even when our parenting seems a little “out there.” And we would LOVE it if you wanted to educate yourselves about our kids. Attend a conference with us or ask us about resources we use (Empowered to Connect is a good place to start). We want you on our kids’ team!

One year on Orphan Sunday at our church, an elderly woman approached our ministry’s table after service. We had a sign-up sheet for our email list but she didn’t have an email address. She wrote down her phone number and told one of our volunteers, “I can’t foster or adopt, but I’m an artist and I can give free art lessons to children.”

This woman got it. She understood that God commands all of us to care for orphans and vulnerable children. And she was willing to use the gifts God gave her to respond to that command. This is “taking up the cause of the fatherless.” This is the gospel made touchable. And you don’t have to foster or adopt to be a part of it.

 

 

Our Experiences with a Special Needs Child in the Church Community

Jenny Perkins is a mom to 4 kids, Zachary, Ethan, Brady & Ainsley, and Student Pastor at Bethany Congregational UCC while studying at Lexington Theological Seminary. She previously taught in schools as a Special Education Teacher. Today, she shares with us from her personal experience with Zachary, her special needs child, and the Church community. Thank you, Jenny, and welcome.
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Zachary with his service dog, Buster, on their first day of 8th grade!

My 14-year-old son, Zachary, is a child with a hearing impairment, Asperger’s Syndrome, and very disabling anxiety. He has spent his life as an active member of a community of faith. We have had a variety of experiences throughout his life as Zachary’s needs have changed and as we have been a part of different congregations. I hope to give you some insights as to what has been a blessing for us as well as some areas where I can see needed growth for churches in general.

Throughout his life Zachary has been fortunate to have interacted with many individuals in the faith community who have loved him (and our family) very, very well; well enough to do the sometimes hard work of really getting to know him, well enough to see beyond the obvious disability, and well enough to know how to be welcoming and patient, even when (especially when) things were hard. Just as God has a special heart for the powerless and vulnerable, we have seen that special heart in action through the love and work of those who ministered to Zach in this way. We are all extraordinary grateful for this measure of grace.

Often when children’s ministers or ministry leaders have a child or group of children in their midst with special needs, they might become overwhelmed with the need to create a specific ministry or program to serve these children. The magnitude of starting such a program can be daunting and at times it may not be the intervention needed for the kids. No two special needs children—even those who might share a common diagnosis—are ever exactly the same. While there can be common principles in play, the approach to each child will need to be tailored to the specific needs of that child in the specific moment. This individualized planning might seem daunting on the surface, but in actuality the approach is remarkably simple: treat these children (and their families) with love. This is what makes the difference that matters.

I think the greatest blessings that have had the greatest impact for me have been those individual Sunday school teachers or children’s ministers who would come to me and say “I noticed this __________ was difficult for Zach. Do you know how I might be able to make it easier?” or “I was thinking about trying ______________ with Zach. Do you think that will help?” These communicated such love and commitment…and what parent doesn’t want that for their child?! But there were other blessings too—the various members of the congregation who went out of their way to be present for me as a mom when times were particularly hard, or those who whisked away my other children when Zachary required my sole attention, or quietly supported me in ways that I was too preoccupied to notice in the moment. These were seemingly little things, done with great love, but things that communicated grace and acceptance and mercy in extraordinary—yet simple—ways. Things offered in ways that made all the difference.

So maybe a children’s minister or ministry leader who might feel overwhelmed or unprepared for creating a space and program for children with special needs, just needs to gather up individuals in their congregation who are willing to delve into the life of an exceptional child and their family. They don’t have to have grand experiences or answers…just an open heart and a willingness to meet a child (and their family) where they are. I have never hoped or expected to find ‘experts’ in special education at church. All I ever hoped for is a community of people who will love and accept Zachary as the fearfully and wonderfully made child of God he is.

Zachary has gone through phases where his disabilities have had a greater impact on his daily life and functioning than others. These phases often involve an increase in difficult and disrupting behaviors. Anxiety and depression can cause people to act in very unpleasant ways. In all candor, the church has not always been a place where I felt I could openly discuss these struggles. As we all know, there is much stigma surrounding mental illness. The church should be the first to break down these barriers, and yet our own fears and prejudices often get in the way. Several years ago, when Zachary’s mental illness became severe enough to require hospitalization, there was no mention of it in the public life of the church, as if the topic was not to be openly discussed. I was approached by many in leadership privately, and I was grateful for that support, but the public silence was both deafening and disheartening. Especially since others with more ‘acceptable’ illnesses were put on the prayer list and spoken of with regularity. I understand that we are uncomfortable with mental illness, and that this discomfort leads to our wanting to put our heads in the sand, but that serves no one well; especially not those whose loved ones are afflicted through no fault of their own. The community of faith has been ordained by God to bind up the wounded of all stripes.

This fear causes us to judge. We see a chronically disruptive child in the assembly and immediately want to cast blame—about the same time we wish they would just disappear. Since mental illness is not a possibility we are comfortable entertaining, we diagnose the cause as inadequate discipline, or poor parenting. These thoughts are rooted in ignorance and not in love. Extravagant love, particularly love for the wounded, needs to be at the heart of caring for children like Zachary—and caring for the families in which these children exist.

It’s that simple, and that difficult, all at the same time.

Beginning a Special Needs Ministry

My sweet friend, Whitney Hardy, joins the conversation today. I am so proud of her for following where God called to meet an important need in her church. I’ll just let her tell you her story…
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Last year, I embarked on an adventure that I never saw coming. I, along with a good friend, started a ministry. Now this was way out of my wheelhouse- God calls unexpected people to accomplish His will sometimes! I am a mom, a foster parent, and a good, southern, church going girl. But ministry leader? Um, maybe not.

However, when you are called, sometimes you can’t help but go. So began my journey from apprehensive and reluctant “helper” to co-leader of a church ministry.

It started so simply, so sneakily. I was walking to the sanctuary from checking on my youngest daughter in the nursery (helicopter mom to the rescue!) with my friend and we walked past another mom with her precious little boy. He had on noise-cancelling headphones and a harness with a leash and he was on the verge of a meltdown. He has autism, and his mom spent a lot of time walking the halls with him because there was nowhere else for them to go. My friend innocently said to me after we passed, “That is exactly why we need a special needs ministry.” I was intrigued because I had almost no awareness that a special needs ministry was even a thing that churches had. I told her, “And you’re the perfect person to start one!” This is true- she’s a pediatric occupational therapist and she works with special needs kids every day at work. Her husband is even a special education teacher. Obviously she was the perfect candidate. Obviously. And yet, she was as willing to volunteer as I was. Neither of us is a person you’d pick out of a lineup as a natural born leader. Or public speaker. Or ministry starter.

Some time passed after that Sunday, and the idea kept nagging at me. I randomly sent her a text message about it and she, in essence, said, “I’m in if you’re in.” So, for some unknown reason, my unqualified self agreed to help start and lead a ministry. To this day, when someone has to make announcements or lead anything, we have to coin toss over who will have to do it. WE ARE NOT LEADERSHIP MATERIAL, PEOPLE. But God calls who He calls.

We started by just planning and dreaming and shaping our vision. We talked about it, read about it, prayed about it, and pinned every single pin on Pinterest about it. Eventually, we decided we needed to talk to the Shepherds of our church about it to see if they would even go for it before we got in too deep. We set up a meeting with two men who are part of the leadership at our church that deals with the children’s ministry. We went in expecting to pitch our idea, be heard, and then have them get back to us after it had all gone through the proper channels (weeks, months, never?). What we got was these leaders saying, “This sounds in line with the vision and mission of our church, – our motto, after all, is ‘Helping People See Jesus’ – and the need is already here. Let’s pray about it and get started.”

Well, that was way more than we bargained for! What now?!

We decided to prepare ourselves. We went to conferences, we read ALL the books, and we visited other churches who had functioning special needs ministries. When we visited a local church that has a HUGE special needs ministry, we got the courage to finally take the plunge and BEGIN. The minister there told us that we were ready, and it was time to let go of our fear and jump. No more doubting, just trusting and doing. So we did.

That very day we asked the leadership for a room. A room that was near the Children’s Ministry (not off in a corner, not hidden- a room in the midst of the children’s classrooms) that we could use as a classroom, a worship area, a decompression room, and a safe, familiar place for these kids to unwind after a very overstimulating Bible class time. While our dream is for these kids to stay in classrooms with their typically developing peers, we know that sometimes they need a quiet and calm space to get away and reset. Real estate is in high demand at our church- we are not very far from outgrowing our facility- even so, our request was again granted on the spot.

We have intertwined our church mission with starting a special needs ministry. That mission is to make our church a special needs church. This means that not only do we have a space for special needs kids to learn, but we are also building a church culture of acceptance and welcome for these kids. We lead a panel during the Bible class hour of people who are advocates for people with special needs- nurses, advocates for vulnerable children, mothers of children with special needs, siblings of special needs kids. This panel addressed the things they have experienced at churches relating to their loved ones with special needs (good and bad), opportunities to involve yourself in the special needs community and serve them, how to talk with your children about people with special needs and myriad other topics that help to raise awareness and tolerance and acceptance within the church.

We are a fledgling operation, and we by no means have it all figured out, but we heard the call and we responded. Everything that has fallen into place since then is totally God moving through His Church. We have been blessed by this ministry and by the people that it serves. I personally can’t wait to see what God has in store for us!

It is easy for those of us without training in this specific area to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to meet these families’ needs. Please share in the comments below how you intentionally include those with Special Needs in your ministry.

Planning for Christmas

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Confession: I am why Hobby Lobby puts Christmas stuff out in June. All things Christmas makes my heart happy. During my single days I was known to spend my last $10 on Christmas decorations rather than dinner. Thankfully, hubby has knocked some sense into my head over the years. But if he didn’t threaten to move out if I decorated before Thanksgiving, my tree would be up before Halloween. I love all things Christmas. For the love of all things green & red, these are my parents:

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More Back to School Ideas

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I recently asked a group of Children’s Ministers what they do to make Back to School intentional for their families & children. Here are responses I received:

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Back to School

It happens every year…

Summer disappears and no one is quite sure where it went.

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I’ve worked for churches that had a crazy jam-packed summer of Children’s Ministry events & activities and now for a Children’s Ministry that is very low-key in the summer and August seems to come quickly no matter the summer schedule. So how do we make Back to School intentional no matter what our summer has been like? Here are just a few ideas.

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