December 8th, 2010 by admin

26 Comments

Being Her Own Role Model

Being Her Own Role Model

Lyn Beckstead Greenwood

At A Glance

Houston, Texas, November 2010


Trained as a chemical engineer, professional female role models have been hard to come by for Lyn Greenwood. That hasn’t stopped her from having a successful career at ExxonMobil. But the lack of role models has forced her to pave her own way as a single working mother and later, once she remarried, forced her to build up her own confidence in the kind of mother, worker and friend to others that she wanted to be.

Who were your role models growing up?

My mom was a huge proponent of education, so the emphasis my parents put on education and their early-married life made an impression on me, and instilled the idea that it’s okay to sequence your life. My parents got married in 1972 and didn’t have me for three years after they were married. They had to put up with people telling them they were being unrighteous for not having kids right away but we don’t hear that so much anymore.

How do you think your experiences as a child influenced your family and career choices as an adult?

I decided I wanted to become a chemical engineer when I was sixteen. I talked to my dad about the interests I had and he encouraged me to look into chemical engineering. I never deviated from that path and it’s been 20 years since I made that decision. I guess that this identity as an engineer and a professional has been with me since my youth.

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Talk about your time as a female engineering student at BYU.

When I graduated there were about 50 people in our graduating class and five women graduated, so 10% of our graduating class was female, which is pretty low, even lower than the national average. There weren’t a lot of females around, so we all knew each other really well.

Sophomore year was when the curriculum really got started—when we started taking our core classes and the guys were getting off their missions and they were getting serious about our major. We were all getting to know each other that fall semester and after the first set of midterm exams we were comparing scores. One of my friends was sitting next to me, and he turned to me and said, “What score did you get?” So I told him. He said, “Oh, you’re not supposed to do better than me.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because you’re a girl.” I looked at him and said, “What do you mean?” He kind of laughed it off.

From that moment I knew that I was going to get noticed because I was female and it really made me motivated and determined that if somebody said to me, “You’re getting a good grade because you’re a girl, or you’re getting an award because you’re a girl, or you’re getting this job because you’re a girl” to be able to say to them, “No, I’m getting this because I worked hard and because I deserve it on my own merits, not because I’m a girl.” To this day my friend doesn’t even remember saying that. We’re still friends and we joke about it. But it’s something that has stuck with me. Maybe it’s being in a male-dominated profession or working or whatever, but it spoke to me very early in my female engineering career that I was going to have to stand on my own merits and it wasn’t going to be easy to be a female engineering student at BYU.

“What score did you get?” So I told him. He said, “Oh, you’re not supposed to do better than me.” And I said, “Why not?” And he said, “Because you’re a girl.”

When you were in school, did you foresee a time when it would be difficult for you to balance family and work? Were you thinking toward the future when you were in school?

I remember one time I was talking to a professor whose wife also worked in a science-related field. So I asked him, “What did you guys do when your kids came?” He talked about how his wife stopped working, and eventually 20 years later started working again. I said, “Hmm. I’m not sure what I’m going to do.” He looked at me and said, “You know what to do.” I remember thinking, “I do? What am I going to do?” At the time (this might have changed) there weren’t any female chemical engineering faculty members. There wasn’t anybody like me I could talk to and say, “How is this going to work? Am I just going to school for four years to work for a year or two and then stop working to raise my family? How can I manage doing this thing I’ve wanted to do for ten years with a family as well?” There really weren’t good role models while I was there.

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Who have been role models since you graduated from BYU and started working at ExxonMobil?

I’ve been at ExxonMobil for twelve years, and in that time, I think the role models probably have fallen into two buckets. One is my good friend Jennifer who’s closer to my age. She’s done very well in her career, and she’s also a great mom. She has two kids, and seeing her balance her work and her kids’ activities and how involved she is in the kids’ activities gives me hope and is a positive example of being able to balance both.

There is also a good network of women at ExxonMobil who have been in their careers for 20 to 30 years who are taking an interest in the younger women, by helping and guiding them and giving them advice. They’re my role models as well. You don’t see that mentoring happening everywhere.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to attend a leadership course for work. As part of the course, I received feedback from my colleagues that I should start thinking about how I could mentor others. Until then, I had always considered myself one of the youngest, least experienced in the room–someone still looking for mentors. It really made me realize that I was hitting a crossroad, that I needed to consciously transition into mentoring others. It’s a little awkward to walk up to somebody and say, “Hey, I’d like to mentor you,” but I’ve definitely changed my mindset when I’m talking to women at work or at church. While I was on maternity leave after the birth of my daughter, I was assigned to visit teach another working mother. She was also on maternity leave and was scheduled to go back to work the next month. Those first couple weeks back at work are so hard, and I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone. The night of her first day back at work, I stopped by her house to drop off a small gift. She wasn’t expecting me, and her husband almost didn’t open the door for me. We talked for a minute and then she turned to her husband and said, “She knows. She’s done this before.” The experience solidified my belief that there is such a need for support of working mothers — especially in LDS culture. I’ve come to realize that it is up to me to be that mentor for the next woman. I might not have had my own LDS mentor, but I can be conscious of how I fill that role for others.

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After you were married to your first husband for eight years and had a two-year-old son, you divorced. How did your years as a single mom shape how you see yourself today as both a worker and as a mother?

I married another BYU student at age 20 in 1996, and we eventually divorced in 2003. One thing I decided when I was a single mom was that Thomas, who was two years old then, would never hear me complain about work. I wanted his take on work and having a profession to be a positive thing. I wanted him to perceive the fact that his mom worked as a happy, positive thing. So even though it was sometimes really hard, I tried not to complain or be down on the fact that “Mommy has to go to work.”

Did you feel positive about your work at that time or do you think talking about it that way influenced how you felt?

I think talking about it influenced how I felt. There were times that it was really, really hard. I’d get Thomas up, get him to daycare and me to work. Then it was six o’clock and we’d drive home for an hour, be up for an hour and then go to bed. There was about a year when I was doing a global job, when I’d have teleconferences starting at eight pm at least once or twice a week. A lot of times Thomas wasn’t asleep and I was having teleconferences while Thomas was jumping on the couch. When I got transferred out of that division and sent the goodbye email, the comments from Asia were, “Oh, we’re going to miss you, and tell Thomas goodbye too” because they were so used to having him in the background. When I was a single working mom there really wasn’t a whole lot of time for much other than work and Thomas.

I've come to realize that it is up to me to be that mentor for the next woman. I might not have had my own LDS mentor, but I can be conscious of how I fill that role for others.

What are some of the challenges you face today as a working mom?

As a working mom, it’s making conscious decisions about what you’re going to spend your time and energy on. Time really becomes a premium, so you decide if you’re going to go to book club and girls’ night out or if you’re going to hang out with your kids or go running. Sometimes I’m good at making conscious decisions about where I’m spending my time and sometimes I’m not so good. And my family lets me know.

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Childcare has also been a challenge, and we’re lucky to have a great situation right now. After Thomas was born, he was at a daycare center that was right by my office. I would drive to work with him in the morning, and then I’d spend my lunch hour with him every day. For a while I was nursing and would go over at lunch and nurse him. I don’t think I appreciated how great that community day care center was and what a family it was. He stayed there until he was four years old and I remarried in 2006. Then my new husband and I picked a new day care center close to our house. Good quality childcare is one of the conditions of both of us working.

After your second child, Kate, was born in 2008, you took a leave of absence and stayed home with her for almost a year. What are some of the challenges you faced as a stay-at-home mom?

I think that for me a lot of the hard part of being a stay-at-home mom was coming to terms with what direction my life was going to take. I felt like my life was really at a crossroad and I was deciding where I was going to go. I also felt isolated. I had gone from an environment with people around me constantly, to really having to seek out time with other people. I think a lot of it was coming to peace with who I was and trying to be at peace with who other people were. I was all angsty about who I was, so it wasn’t easy for me. I didn’t like who I was very much. I felt like I was picking fights all the time.

There were other smaller challenges, too. Obviously my wardrobe needed to change. I wasn’t going to be wearing suits around the house. So I rearranged my closet so my pantsuits and my skirt suits were no longer front and center in the closet. I made room for the T-shirts and the jeans and pushed the suits to the back because I wasn’t wearing them very often. It was very bittersweet. I really missed the suits and missed dressing up and I think it represented, for that time at least, putting away that other identity that I had and moving into the stay-at-home mom role for a while.

Part of the struggle for me while I was home was that I had all these high expectations. For years, I had been told that staying home and raising my family was my role in life, that that was what I was supposed to do. I felt like I was supposed to immediately embrace and be totally satisfied with and totally fulfilled in this role. It was really frustrating for me that when I was home it didn’t come easy to me. I felt guilty for feeling sad over losing my role as a professional woman. That was really hard, because I felt that I wasn’t supposed to be sad, and I wasn’t supposed to be having these feelings of guilt, and I wasn’t supposed to be missing my career the way I was.

I felt like I was supposed to immediately embrace and be totally satisfied with and totally fulfilled in this role. It was really frustrating for me that when I was home it didn’t come easy to me. I felt guilty for feeling sad over losing my role as a professional woman.

Where was “the supposed to be” coming from?

It was probably wanting to be good, and my perception of what I thought I was supposed to be. I read through old journals of my Young Women days. And when I was a young woman, those are the kind of lessons that were being taught. That’s what had been, for six years, drilled into me. I don’t know if it was doctrinal as much as cultural, and my internalization of what I thought the culture and my religion expected of me.

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Did you feel you had anybody within the Church or at work who understood both sides of the coin for you?

I remember talking a lot with my friend Alexis (who is a part-time physician and a mom of four kids) about work and sacrifice. She said to me one time, “I think you’re much more ambitious than I ever was.” So even though I had Alexis to talk to, I’ve still been looking for other forums where I can find LDS women who are trying to balance being ambitious and having strong careers and still being good mothers who are engaged and faithful. They don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

You seem happy now. Talk about how you reached the decisions you’ve made and how you feel about them know.

It wasn’t easy. Nine months after I had Kate, I called work and told them I was going to take another nine months off. One of my mentors called and had a frank conversation with me about why I felt like needed more leave and asked if I would be interested in working part time. We started a dialogue and she started looking for a part-time position for me. My husband said, “After you had that conversation you were giddy.” It was night and day, knowing that I was going to be able to have that part of me that had been important for such a long time, that I wasn’t going to have to give that up.

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I wish I could say that I was the one who came to this revelation that I would be happier working, but I think it came from other people mentoring me and talking to me, sometimes knowing me or being interested in what I could contribute better than I knew. For me, I wanted so badly to be the perfect stay-at-home Mormon woman that I couldn’t see that I could be an example of a Mormon woman and eventually be a mentor to someone else.

What has this experience helped you realize about your relationship with the Church?

My friend Alexis would say that each person has to prayerfully decide with Heavenly Father what’s best for them. She’s said that the Church should give counsel on how things can work, but that each of us has to come to our own conclusion and work it out with the Lord. I really didn’t believe that. But I’ve come along this journey to now believe that it really is up to the individual and the Lord.

At A Glance

Lyn Greenwood


LDS_woman_photo_GreenwoodCOLORLocation:
Houston, TX

Age:
35

Marital status:
Married to Virgil since 2006

Children:
Andrew (stepson), 15; Thomas, 9; Kate, 2

Occupation:
Planning & Business Development Advisor, ExxonMobil Chemical

Schools Attended:
BYU

Languages Spoken at Home:
English

Favorite Hymn:
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Interview by Shelah Miner. Portrait by Lindsey Loo Photography.

26 Comments

  1. Kym Caress-Knight
    12:10 pm on December 8th, 2010

    This inteview absolutly hit home. Thank you for being willing to share a side of women in the church that I don’t think gets talked about often enough. As one of those newly single-working moms, your words have been a blessing today. Don’t they always seem to come exactly when you need them? :) Thank you.

  2. Carrie
    2:08 pm on December 8th, 2010

    Lyn, I really appreciate you sharing the thought that went into your career and life decisions. This interview helps emphasize that the paths that are outlined for us as LDS youth are not one-size-fits-all. It’s possible to deviate from the norm and be doing everything right for you and your family.

  3. fiveunderfive
    2:29 pm on December 8th, 2010

    Thanks for sharing your journey and perspective. I love the focus on personal revelation.

  4. Deanna
    4:37 pm on December 8th, 2010

    Thank you for sharing your story. The hardest part for me becoming a stay at home mom wasn’t the baby and the house but the lack of feeling needed and important and being around other adults. I now work part time from home. I love that I can balance my family and still fulfill that need of being productive besides the housework (which is harder sometimes and less fun for sure) But like you said- its all about balance!

  5. Nettie
    5:16 pm on December 8th, 2010

    I, too, liked the idea that we need to seek the Lord’s guidance in finding out what path is best for us. And that those paths aren’t going to be the same for all of us.

    My mother faced a very similar situation as an accounting major at BYU, probably years before you were there. She said that some of the guys were put out that she was doing so much better than they were. It makes me curious to know if things continue the same as always, or if women like you and my mother have finally made any real headway in those perceptions.

  6. Kristin
    5:32 pm on December 8th, 2010

    Thanks for sharing Lyn. I’m impressed with the thoughtfulness of your decisions and path. Very insightful!

  7. Stacy
    5:47 pm on December 8th, 2010

    What a great story – I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you for being an inspiration to other working mother’s out there. And for working so hard in a male-dominated field. I really enjoyed that part about you achieving things because of your hard work and merits and not just because of your sex. I also appreciate your good attitude towards working and not being negative about it. It was a reminder that I needed lately!

  8. Emily
    5:58 pm on December 8th, 2010

    What an amazing story and journey. Thank you for sharing, Lyn! I remember how HARD it was to go to work that first day after having my first child. And I remember how truly hard it was to turn in my notice and transition to staying at home. I hated being a stay at home mom for the first 6 months. What a blessing to have figured out what works for your family!

  9. Heather
    10:04 am on December 9th, 2010

    Oh, wow, I loved reading this so much. Lyn, why aren’t you in my ward?? I’m printing out this article and showing it to my articles. So honest and forthcoming and refreshing.

  10. TLC
    12:19 pm on December 9th, 2010

    Thank you for sharing all of this. It really hit home for me. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with who I am and why I do what I do and feel what I feel. I have realized that I never felt authorized to find my passions as a young woman in the church, even though I excelled in school and other activities. I never felt it was OK to choose a career path (even to think what it might be, let alone follow it). I felt guilty doing the PhD that I finally finished last year (after 12 years and 3 kids, now 4), and even while doing it, many people in the church would say I was doing it because it would make me a better mom… Our stories need to be told. We have more than one role in our lives, even if one role or set of roles (as a wife and mother) is the most important. I wish we could get beyond the role lessons to talking about how people find balance, how working moms can get dinner on the table, how we can keep family first without feeling that we have to quash other ideas, ambitions, interests, and talents, how, really, when all is said and done, what we do and who we choose to be are between us and the Lord, and should be unmediated by Mormon culture and expectation and even the general council we receive over the pulpit. Thanks again for sharing your story.

  11. Chrysula Winegar
    1:02 pm on December 9th, 2010

    Lyn, your journey is so much more the norm than we (culturally) feel comfortable admitting as yet. I am a MWP alumna on the critical need for women to stay connected to their professional lives, even if only via a journal subscription or keeping an eye on a couple of relevant blogs. It is essential for the emergency preparedness aspect, let alone the desire to use our talents and training.

    It is NOT easy. There are many opportunities for guilt, irrespective of our paths. I’ve been a full time SAHM, a full time breadwinner and now I work from home. It’s a constant reinvention, and YES, always that hand in hand journey with the Lord as to what is best for you and your family.

    Beautiful interview, clearly representative of a beautiful life. Blessings to you and yours, Chrysula.

  12. Lyn
    6:51 pm on December 9th, 2010

    Thanks so much for the comments. I have to admit at first, I wasn’t sure how much my story would resonate with others, but Shelah convinced me. I’m so glad I was initially wrong!

    Heather, Chrysula — I have been reading each of your websites for some time now. I’m a big fan of each of you!! I guess its time to come out from lurking….:)

  13. kierste
    6:43 am on December 10th, 2010

    Lyn–

    I really enjoyed this interview, and it really resonated with me. My life ended up going a very different way than I ever thought it would, and though I wouldn’t change it, I do wonder sometimes about what would have been. While our lives may be different, I still have a lot of those same feelings you are describing, and I’m itching to get back to school, and pursue a dream I’ve had for a really long time.

    Thank you so much for sharing your life and perspective–definitely a valuable insight for both working and stay at home moms. I think you’re amazing!

  14. Courtney
    8:13 pm on December 22nd, 2010

    I enjoyed reading your story. I’ve only encountered a couple LDS females within the engineering spectrum and you’re thoughts and life decisions sound rather familiar. Part of me wants to stay home, possibly engrained from the culture, however the other craves the professional world and doesn’t think I would enjoy being home all the time. I’m still trying to figure out how to balance everything, we are expecting our first child, but I think we’re on the right path for us with my husband planning on staying home.

  15. Jessica Gregory
    10:39 pm on December 23rd, 2010

    Lyn,
    I wish that my friends and I had you as a young womens leader growing up! I wasn’t even aware opportunities like this existed until after my schooling was finished.
    My husband just accepted a job as a Chemical Engineer at Exxon Mobil and will begin work this summer.
    I am grateful that he will be working with incredible women like you. And who knows… maybe my daughters will have you as a church leader someday:) Thanks for your story and a merry Christmas to you and your family!

  16. Alisa
    9:44 pm on January 16th, 2011

    Lynn,

    I was so excited to see this article on you and your story. I didn’t get to talk with you much last time I saw you. Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes we have so many options and what we should do seems so obvious to others, but the choices and lives we live are each our own. It is such a blessing that the spirit can help guide us in finding the best path for us and our families. And that as our lives change our balancing acts can change too! You and your family look happy. God bless.

    -Alisa Millar Henrie

  17. Lynn
    6:09 am on February 13th, 2011

    The prophet is still teaching that our calling as mothers of young children is to teach and nurture them. This requires sacrifice on our part. There is true power in an effective one to one relationship with a child. When we are cuddling a newborn, speaking, nursing or speaking to him/her, we are literally helping the infant develop neurological pathways in the brain. No matter how good a day care center is, they are not going to have the time or ability to provide a one-to-one bond with a child that a mother can. Nor can they provide a high level of emotional and physical nurturing. It isn’t their ‘job.’ If we as women think we can ‘have it all’ without something falling through the cracks we’re kidding ourselves. I, too, struggled with my identity as a stay-at-home mom. I began working fulltime when my children were in high school. I now have a satisfying career. But if I had it to do over again, I would have stayed home during my children’s high school years. Just sayin’, we have to be honest about our motivation to work and the cost it involves to everyone, not just ourselves.

  18. Lyn
    8:18 am on February 22nd, 2011

    Alisa – good to hear from you!!!

    Lynn – I commented above that I was initially reluctant to agree to the interview. Partly because I didn’t think my story would resonate. The other part was because I know that the prevailing opinion is the same as yours. I’ve sat through plenty of RS meetings where The Prophet has been quoted and not enough RS meetings where we’ve been encouraged to seek a personal relationship with The Lord and work things out directly with Him. That’s also why I didn’t believe my friend for so long when she kept telling me it was okay to work it out with the Lord directly.

    I’m grateful to Neylan for starting this site and giving a voice to all kinds of women. Even women like me, who are reluctant to share, because not every path has to be the same.

  19. Alexis
    9:09 am on March 9th, 2011

    Lyn-
    You continue to be an inspiration and strength to me. I love the diversity and strength of the women in the church, each with a different path and experience. Thanks for sharing!!

  20. Linda Chu Schmidt
    8:52 pm on June 13th, 2011

    Thank you so much for being willing to be interviewed, Lyn! I too am a woman engineer, although it’s on the back burner now while my kids are young. It’s so great to know that there are other LDS women out there who share similar struggles, each of us trying to do our best. I’m actually considering going back to school for a master’s as a way to get back into the workforce when the time is right.

    Alisa – I remember you! You were president of SWE when I started as a freshman at BYU. I’d love to get back in touch if you don’t mind.

  21. Tiffany Lund
    8:20 am on June 14th, 2011

    Hi Lyn – thank you so much for sharing your story. As a professional mom who also graduated in Chemical Engineering from BYU (I think maybe only a couple years ahead of you), I can relate to so much of what you said! My first son is only 18 months, and I’m still struggling with questions of whether I am doing the right thing by working. But luckily I have been able to take advantage of almost every possible flex option available to spend more awake time with my son. And while I was teaching the Young Women for 3 years, I did my best to change the message you and I received and encourage all of them to get an education and find a career, because you just don’t know what life has in store for you!

  22. Erin
    8:49 pm on July 7th, 2011

    @Lyn–thanks so much for your story. I struggle with some of the same issues you raised. I’m a 38 year old mother of 2 (4 year old and an 8 mo. old) and have only had three long-term “breaks” from work since I was 16 years old-one for 6 weeks after my mission, and 2 8-week breaks after my children were born. I’m lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband, a job that allows me to work “part-time” (if you can count 32 hours/week plus 2 hours/day commuting part-time), and a fabulous mother-in-law who has helped with the daily care of my babies. I think regardless of which path someone takes, there will always be a struggle.

    @Lynn–I agree with your underlying point that there is a cost and consequence to every choice. Some people in my position have said, “Well, I’m just going to have faith and quit my job and hope that my husband can find something better that will allow us to keep our benefits, our house, etc.” Every time I consider that option I get the strong impression that for our situation, it would be utterly foolish and a complete disregard for the blessings the Lord has given us. Do I miss my kids during the day? IMMENSELY. Do I regret working? No. It’s helping to put food on the table and keep us out of debt. I leave work at work and when I’m home (which is mornings, evenings, and 3 full days/week), I’m fully engaged. I don’t do as many of the clubs or as much running as I’d like but am hoping to be semi-retired when my kids are in high school. Something tells me that my drama queen daughter is going to need me around a bit more then than she does now.

    @All–for now I try to focus my mind on when the Lord spoke “peace to my mind concerning the matter.”

  23. BYUmom
    10:29 pm on July 31st, 2011

    It always amazes me how Women hide in the work place instead of take care of the day-to-day operations of their household. If only more women would stop talking about “how guilty they feel”, and take action, and be the mother 24/7. God blessed you with children only for you to pass them off while you work? That just does not seem like a good message. The guilt you feel inside is usually God telling you are headed down the wrong path.

  24. Lyn
    10:59 am on August 9th, 2011

    @BYUmom – It isn’t clear to me that you actually read the interview. I believe we show respect and gain understanding of one another by listening and learning. I appreciate everyone’s perspective, but I think the credibility of your position is dimished when you fail to show an understanding of the specific interview you’re commenting on. Nowhere in my interview did I say I felt guilty for the path I have chosen – and in fact, if you read the interview carefully, you’ll see that I felt guilty when I was home full time. I could easily take your logic and come to the conclusion that due to the guilt I felt when I was home, God was telling me I was on the wrong path by staying home full time.

  25. Lauren
    9:03 am on September 3rd, 2011

    Lynn and BYUmom- it is because of judgemental people like you that we moms who also balance careers can feel pressured by LDS culture, not doctrine. Are there mothers who work to escape? Of course! Are there mothers who stay home and still neglect to nurture their children? Of course! Every working mother I know has made it a matter of prayer and have gotten an answer from our loving Father in Heaven, who knows us personally, that this is the right move for this season in our lives. No one, not even SAHMs, can have it all. There is a time and season for everything. Please, keep your judgements to yourself. This is a matter between us, our husbands, our children and the Lord. Thank you Lyn for sharing.

  26. Elise
    7:34 am on August 25th, 2012

    Lyn,

    I found your story and had to share it with a group of women I am in a forum with. I hope you don’t mind. It was a very excellent story illustrating some of the dilemmas of working mothers in the church. I too had issues not having a career and I’m lucky my husband has been equally supportive with me choosing to delve away from a traditional SAHM. The church can do a lot of damage by boxing us in depending on our gender and I had to escape that box.

    I also would like to say a personal note: that I’m so happy you have found Virgil and you two seem like an amazing couple and family. You used to chat a bit to my current husband a little bit as well and he remembers you as being very intelligent and fun. Funny how things work out. I wish you both much happiness and joy in life. – Elise (and Justin)

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