Gearing Up for the New Year: Getting Started

Ecclesiastes 3 famously says there is a time for everything.

This month, I think, is our time to plan. Our time to dream. Our time to decide what we want to accomplish in 2020 — to decide how we want our lives to be different a year from now.

Throughout the month, I will be posting devotionals on Facebook and Instagram to guide us as we gear up for the new year. This week, we focused on the first step: dreaming big, narrowing our focus, and setting our goals for 2020.

Here’s what we talked about:

STANDing BEFORE THE LORD

In the very first chapter of Mark — toward the beginning of Jesus’ ministry — Scripture says that Jesus woke up before dawn, sought out solitude, and prayed. Mark doesn’t say what, exactly, Jesus prayed, but this brief interlude is sandwiched between the very first acts of His public ministry (calling His disciples, healing “many who were sick with various diseases,” and casting out many demons) and his quick rise to fame. 

I would guess that Jesus used this time to center Himself and seek His Father’s guidance, away from the distractions of the world. Not because He needed to, but to set an example for us.

Action step: Seek solitude and simply stand (or sit) before the Lord. Center yourself — away from the noise and distractions of everyday life — and listen for that still, small voice. Ask the Lord to clarify your purpose and set His will in your heart as you make your New Year’s resolutions.

DREAMing BIG IN JESUS’ NAME

Setting big goals and chasing big dreams is hard. It’s scary. As soon as we imagine what we want, we begin talking ourselves out of it. Our heads fill with doubts and fears. We worry about what others will think. We become paralyzed by “what ifs.” We convince ourselves we can’t do hard things, or that we should just be content with what God has already given us.

Where did we get the idea that God doesn’t want us to dream big? Scripture reminds us often of God’s omnipotence. Knowing that nothing is impossible for our God, how could we not dream big? We may not be able to accomplish much in our own power, and we are certainly not called to do big things for our own glory — but in the name of Jesus, when we work for His glory and through His strength, nothing is impossible.

Action step: Let yourself dream big, knowing that nothing is too hard for God and that it’s impossible to dream bigger than He has.

Asking

It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of self-defeat. We try and fail. We get discouraged. Things get difficult, and we have doubts. We struggle. We throw a pity party and give up.

You know what we don’t do, more often than not? We don’t ask.

Scripture often refers to God as our Father. Jesus draws on that image in Matthew 7, asking, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?” (v. 9-10) If we know how to give good gifts to our children, Jesus explains, how much more so does our Heavenly Father, in His perfect goodness, know how to bless us? All we have to do is ask.

Action step: Take your big dreams and impossible goals to God — and ask.

Holding Fast

Our adversary is always on the prowl, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce and destroy our faith. Big dreams mean big doubts, big fears, big obstacles, and big temptations. Whatever life throws at us, we must hold fast to our faith.

The author of Hebrews, assures us that because of “the unchangeable character of His purpose,” we “have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18). He refers to our hope and faith in Christ as “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (v. 19). 

We may walk through dark times — times when we are beset by doubt, worry, fear, danger, and struggle — but we don’t have to succumb to the darkness. We can and should hold fast to our faith and walk as children of light, trusting in the faithfulness, power, and goodness of God even when we do not feel His presence.

Action step: Hold fast to your hope. Stand firm in your faith. Walk worthy of your calling. remember that God sees all and trust that He will guide you.

Running Your Race

The words I want to focus on are “your race” — emphasis on “your.” To run your race, you’re going to have to pass up a lot of other opportunities. You’re going to have to say no. You’ll have to narrow your focus by ruthlessly cutting out things that don’t fit in with the bigger picture. Some of those things will be perfectly harmless things. Good things. Things it will be hard to turn down.

But here’s the thing: You can’t do everything well. In fact, you can’t do everything, period. If you aren’t intentional about how you spend your time, you’ll look back and wonder where it all went. You have to prioritize. Carve out time to pursue your goals. Plan your life around your dreams. Remember that your time is limited, and “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” (Ephesians 5:15).

Action step: Lay aside every weight, and run your race. When you’re considering a new commitment or making your schedule, be discerning. Ask yourself, “Is this mine to do? Will it put me closer to or further from my goals? Is it really helpful or necessary?” 


This weekend, focus on setting your goals for 2020.

How you do that is up to you. You can create a vision board, choose a focus word, or write a traditional list of goals. The internet is full of ideas. Ruth Soukup’s website, in particular, has a lot of helpful articles about setting goals.

If you feel comfortable sharing your goals, we’d love to hear them! Maybe we can help inspire and encourage each other. 🙂

Reflections on the Serenity Prayer (from an Enneagram 1)

This week on The Whole House podcast (specifically, episode 99), Kathleen and I talked about the Serenity Prayer.

If you’ve listened to the podcast the last couple of months, you’ve probably heard us mention the Enneagram and the fact that we’re both 1s. On the Enneagram, a 1 is described as “The Perfectionist” or “The Reformer.” We seek order. We see room for improvement everywhere — within ourselves, in others, and in the world around us — and we are constantly trying to make things better. We aren’t satisfied until things are perfect, and because we have impossibly high standards, we rarely think that goal has been achieved. And here’s the thing — it’s really hard for us to let things go.

That’s why the Serenity Prayer speaks to me in such a deep way. I know I need help with serenity. I am awful at it.

You’ve probably seen the Serenity Prayer on a hundred different bookmarks, plaques, and Christian bookstore items, but in case you need a refresher, here it is:

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

(If you’re interested in reading a longer version of the prayer, you can find that here.)

Now, let’s break down what the Serenity Prayer means to a 1, phrase by phrase. I’m going to them a little out of order, though. You’ll see why (hopefully).

Courage to Change The things I can

This one is easy for 1s, I think. We don’t generally have trouble jumping in to fix things we think are wrong. If something doesn’t measure up, we will either say something or fix it ourselves.

To clarify — by “if,” I mean “when,” and by “something,” I mean “everything.” The phrase “good enough” isn’t part of our vocabulary. We all know, intellectually, that perfection isn’t really attainable, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We are hardwired to see flaws, and we feel it is our duty to fix them.

Our efforts to change things don’t really feel like courage. Changing things is just what we do. After all, we’re striving for perfection. If things aren’t perfect now, something needs to change, and for the most part, we don’t mind being the driving force behind that change.

wisdom to know the difference

This one is a little harder. Just like I understand, as a rational fact, that perfection isn’t a realistic goal, I understand that there are many things I have absolutely zero control over.

But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

I know, for instance, that I cannot change other people. But deep inside, part of me still believes that if I could just find the right words, I could convince others I am right and motivate them to change. And then the world would be a better place. I’ve put a lot of thought into things, so I’m pretty sure my way is the best way. It’s frustrating when others don’t see it that way. I’m only trying to help, after all.

The authors of “The Road Back to You” explain it well:

What most people don’t understand is that Ones don’t think they’re being critical. In their mind they’re trying to help you! They think they’re improving you! Doesn’t everyone want to improve themselves like they do?

So yeah. I have some knowledge of what I can change and what I can’t. Wisdom is something different:

Many experts define knowledge as understanding basic facts, truths, and information. We gain knowledge from learning and education.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is the ability to use knowledge in a practical, intelligent way. Rather than from learning or education, most people believe wisdom comes from everyday experiences.

Knowledge is possessing a mental understanding of certain information. Wisdom is the practical ability to use your knowledge to make good decisions consistently throughout your life.

(Taken from the article “What’s the Difference Between Wisdom and Knowledge?” by Wonderopolis)

As a 1, wisdom is exactly what I need. It is a fact that we cannot change other people, and I know that. What I need is the ability to apply that knowledge to my life and, well, stop trying to change other people. (And anything else that, despite my best intentions and the temptation to think otherwise, I am not actually in control of.)

And we need more than just wisdom to differentiate between things we can and cannot change. Often, we need wisdom to decide whether something even *needs* to be changed in the first place. After all, things don’t need to be perfect to be good. Neither do people.

Serenity to accept the Things I Cannot Change

This is the big one.

Ones have a lot of positive attributes. We’re responsible and dependable. We’re thorough and detail-oriented, and we strive for excellence. We are conscientious. As noted in The Road Back to You, “Ones want to be good people. They always want to do the right thing.” We express our love by “being responsible and doing what expected of [us] to make the world a better, more secure place for you.”

One thing 1s absolutely ARE NOT is serene. We are primed to see mistakes everywhere we look. We have high standards, and we expect a lot of ourselves, in particular. Our inner critic keeps us engaged in a constant inner dialogue filled with questions like, “Am I a good mother? Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? Have I done anything wrong? Is there something I could have done better.”

It is, quite frankly, exhausting — for us, and for those around us. (Sorry about that!) It’s hard for us to silence our inner critic. It’s hard for us to relax. It’s hard for us to let things go. Even if it’s something that no sane person would hold us responsible for, we feel like we can and should be able to improve it.

The Road Back to You sums up our struggle with serenity in this way: “If you’re a One, you believe the only way you’ll know peace on the inside is if you perfect everything on the outside.” You can see the problem with this way of thinking. If we don’t let ourselves feel at peace until everything around us and within is perfect, we will never feel at peace.

And that’s why I keep coming back to this prayer. Not only can I not change other people, but I cannot change myself, really, without God’s help. I need this prayer. I need serenity. I need to let go. But I so desperately need divine intervention to achieve it.

So, Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Studying Personality Types to Better Your Relationships

In the nine years that I’ve been married, I’ve read a lot — and I do mean A LOT — of books and articles about relationships. And out of everything I’ve read or tried in my marriage, if I could point to one tool that has made the biggest difference, it would be personality tests. That’s why we chose to talk about personality tests on this week’s podcast (episode 90).

I have this intense inner drive to understand people. I know that I, personally, am capable of greater kindness, compassion, and patience when I understand where a person is coming from. When I have context.

This is especially true in my marriage. My husband and I agree on a lot of big, important things. We have our faith and a strong work ethic in common. Our sense of humor and taste in movies, TV shows, and music overlaps considerably. But we are very different people.

Unfortunately, another thing we often have in common is our stubbornness. We both put a lot of thought into what believe, so when we arrive at a conclusion, we’re pretty convinced we’re right. Often we arrive at the same conclusion, but when we don’t… it can be hard to remember that we’re both reasonable people doing the best we can.

That’s where personality tests come in. The better we understand each other, the better we can connect and communicate — even when that means expressing negative feelings, conflicting ideas, or (hopefully constructive) criticism.

The Enneagram

By far the most helpful and comprehensive personality test we’ve taken is the enneagram. This personality test separates people into nine different personality types. It offers information about each type’s motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. It even provides insight into how you behave during seasons of growth and when you’re under stress.

I am a 1 on the enneagram — the Perfectionist. My husband is an 8 — the Challenger. We’ve both read The Road Back to You and The Path Between Us, and they’ve been incredibly helpful in helping us understand ourselves and each other better. Turns out, our experience as a couple is common for 1s and 8s. They have a lot in common, like a passion for truth and justice and the sense of obligation to improve the world. When they agree, they can accomplish big things. But when they disagree (which does happen, because 1s and 8s are also very different in how and why they do things, even if they have a common objective), they disagree very strongly and stubbornly. Which is probably why The Enneagram Institute describes them as “a relatively rare romantic pairing.”

Knowing that helps. Not as a reason to throw in the towel or make excuses for ourselves, but as a reminder that neither of us is trying to be difficult. We aren’t pushing each other’s buttons on purpose. We just have a different perspective and approach. Now that we know that, it’s easier for us to stop fights before they happen, de-escalate during a fight, or make up afterward. We can use conflict as an opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and as a couple, instead of getting bitter or resentful.

Love Languages

Another personality test that helped us a lot, especially early in our marriage, was the five love languages. The basic concept here is that while there are endless ways to show that you love someone, everyone has their favorite. If you aren’t feeling particularly loved in your relationship, the problem might be that you and your partner are speaking different languages. You may each be following the Golden Rule, doing for each other what you would like done for you. But if your partner’s love language is physical touch and yours is acts of service, you might be failing to fill each other’s tanks. Once you know that, you can adjust.

Of course, the adjustment requires a bit of compromise from each of you. Your partner responds to physical touch, so you should try to express your love through touch more often. And when you’re feeling unloved, you can remind yourself that all of those small acts of physical affection are your partner expressing his love for you. Perhaps they don’t resonate with you as strongly as acts of service, but that doesn’t mean your partner isn’t being loving.

Other Personality TestS

Of course, there are plenty of other personality tests out there that can help you learn more about yourself, your spouse, and others in your life. The enneagram has been the most helpful to me, and the five love languages are definitely good to keep in mind. Ruth Soukup has a fear assessment that can help you identify the fears that keep your from chasing your dreams and working towards big goals. Sometime soon, I’d love to take the Clifton Strengths assessment (and have my husband take it as well).

No matter which personality test you take (or don’t), here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Personality tests are just a tool. Some may be more accurate or insightful than others. Some may not resonate with you at all. I think that, like any tool, they are neither good nor bad. What matters is how you use them. If they help, great! If they don’t, forget them. They’re not Scripture, so you can take them or leave them.
  • Your motives matter. Learning more about your personality (or your spouse’s personality) will not help your relationships AT ALL if you try to wield the results like a sword. Don’t use them to make excuses for yourself. Don’t use them to blame or criticize others. Use them to understand others better so that you can extend grace, compassion, and patience. Use them to understand yourself better so that you can grow.
  • Reading the books is worth it. If you find the results of a personality test helpful or intriguing, buy the book. Reading books about the enneagram (like the two I mentioned above) has been super helpful, and Ruth Soukup’s Do It Scared book is definitely worth a read. Books give you more context for your results and help you apply what you’ve learned properly. They also give you some insight into other personality types and help you see the bigger picture.
  • Apply what you learn to other relationships, too. Personality tests can be especially helpful in the context of marriage, but their usefulness doesn’t end there. You can apply what you learn to improve your work relationships and strengthen your friendships. Or you can use them to better understand your kids so that you can guide and love them the way they need you to.

4 Reasons to Be Real – Even When It’s Uncomfortable

We’ve all heard the call to be real — to stop putting on a show and let the “real you” shine through. To be open and honest about the struggles we face, because we’re all human. To really put ourselves out there so that we can form deep, genuine connections with other people.

Of course, the problem we run into is that being real is uncomfortable. It involves risk and vulnerability. When you let others see the real you, you risk rejection. You risk judgment, criticism, mockery, and hurt. So why do it?

The good news is that being real is worth the risk. Here’s why:

Keeping Up Appearances Is Hard Work

Often, we assume it will be simpler and safer to fake perfection than to deal with all of the risks that come with being real. But is that really true?

As scary as it is to let yourself be real and vulnerable with other people, in the long run, it’s actually easier than the alternative. Keeping up the illusion that you are infallible, invulnerable, and self-sufficient is hard work. It is stressful, exhausting, and dangerous (more on that in a moment). We think we’re protecting ourselves, but in reality, we’re perpetuating a myth about our lives and our selves. Brené Brown explains it well:

“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

The problem is, we can’t control what other people think, say, or do. No matter how “perfect” we manage to look, we cannot guarantee we won’t get hurt. We subject ourselves to the monumental strain of keeping up appearances, and in the end, we’re not really any safer than we were before. Don’t we have enough to worry about, without adding to our list the unnecessary and futile attempt to maintain a perfect image?

Dishonesty Can Become a Lifestyle

You’ve probably heard that practice makes perfect, but life isn’t that simple. A more accurate saying is “practice makes permanent.”

Here’s where the danger of perfectionism lies. Even if we manage to fool others into thinking we’re perfect, we do so at great risk to our souls. Eventually, that dishonesty about who we are, what we’ve done, and where we stand can become second nature.

In Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, John Ortberg explains:

“We fake it in life to bolster our ego. But the result is, we feel like phonies and become more deceptive and cynical with others.”

No act of dishonesty is truly insignificant, because it shapes how we view ourselves — which, in turn, affects the standards we hold ourselves to and the choices we make. You’ll drift further and further into the fakeness until you lose sight of not only yourself but also God.

We need to ask ourselves (in the words of Brené Brown):

“What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think – or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?”

Your Kids Will Get the Wrong Message

We’ve all heard someone say, “Do as I say, not as I do” — and we all know that’s not how life works. If you won’t follow your own advice, why would other people listen to it? No one respects hypocrisy.

Kids, in particular, can spot hypocrisy from a mile away, and they are far more likely to follow your example than your instructions. As James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” No matter how good you are at faking perfection for other people, you won’t fool your kids. They see what you say AND what you do, and when the two don’t match up, the message your kids hear loud and clear is that being real isn’t worth the risk.

Set a good example for your kids by being real with them and with others, even when it’s uncomfortable. Let them see your flaws and imperfections. Your kids need to know you’re human. Perfection is an impossibly high standard that neither you nor they can ever live up to. There is great freedom in allowing yourself to be real. Give them that gift.

God Made the Real You for a Reason

Finally, remember that you were made in the image of God — and God doesn’t make mistakes. In Philippians 1:6, Paul wrote:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

In the meantime, our struggles and imperfections serve a purpose. They allow us to better empathize with others and demonstrate God’s grace and love.

None of us will achieve perfection here on Earth, and it doesn’t do anyone good to pretend we have. After all, perfection isn’t very relatable or approachable. The heaviest burdens people carry — post-partum depression, miscarriages, childhood trauma, grief, abusive relationships, cancer, chronic pain — are often accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. They worry that no one will understand. They wonder if there’s something wrong with them. They agonize over whether it’s their own fault.

By cultivating the illusion that we ourselves have never struggled with anything greater than skipping a day of devotions, we send a message loud and clear: “Don’t come to me for help. I have already arrived. You could be like me, if only you tried harder. I don’t understand what you’re going through.” It’s like closing a door. Being real, on the other hand, is an invitation. As Brené Brown put it, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”

I can guarantee that if you choose to be real, you will be uncomfortable at times. Some people will judge you. Some people won’t understand. Some people will think less of you. They may gossip behind your back or say hurtful things to your face.

But for every woman who uses your vulnerability to make herself feel superior, there will be one who sees your realness as the precious gift that it is. Who hears your story and feels relief because she’s not the only one. Who feels hope because someone else has been where she is and come out the other side. Who realizes it’s ok to ask for help and finds a community of women to support her.

And that is worth the risk.

Changing How We Think About Adopted/Foster Kids

Often our society treats foster kids — and by extension adopted kids — as somehow less. Less important than adults. Less valuable than their peers. Less lovable because of their background, their biological family, or their behavior. Almost less than human. Different. Other. Less.

We would never say any of that out loud, of course. But some of the most insidious lies we believe are the ones we never put into words. Among them are some very harmful and mistaken beliefs we may subconsciously hold about kids from hard places.

Unfortunately, even subconscious beliefs will affect how we think about and treat others. In order to consistently live out pro-life values, we need to recognize the lies we believe about foster and adopted kids and replace them with the truth.

In order to consistently live out pro-life values, we need to recognize the lies we believe about foster and adopted kids and replace them with the truth.

Kids Are Valuable. Period.

As beings created in the image of God, all kids — including foster and adopted kids — have inherent and inalienable worth. I think all Christians would say they believe that. The problem is, we sometimes don’t act like it.

Instead, we act as if somehow a child’s worth can rise or fall based on what has been done to or for them. A child that we may have overlooked last week might suddenly seem more precious to us once we know they are a foster or adopted kid. Or we might act as though these kids are somehow second-class citizens because of their past or present situation.

It’s important to remember that adopted kids aren’t valuable *because* of what their adoptive families have done for them or even *despite* what they’ve been through. They’re just valuable. Period. No qualifiers.

Foster Kids Aren’t Broken.

I don’t think many people would look at a three-year-old foster child and say, “That kid is broken.” But that’s exactly what our actions often imply. Foster kids often behave differently than we would expect a “normal” child to behave. They act out, and it isn’t pleasant for their foster parents or for anyone else around them —  from teachers dealing with classroom disruptions to random strangers witnessing a grocery store meltdown.

It’s easy to look at these kids and see bad behavior in need of correction rather than a hurting child in need of love. But it’s important to remember that foster kids aren’t broken. They don’t need to be fixed. Like any child, they need to be loved. They need to be guided, disciplined, protected, and provided for. They need us to look past their behavior, see their hurt, and meet their needs.

Foster and Adopted Kids Are Not Their Past.

If you have watched any videos or read any articles about the long-term effects of childhood trauma, you understand that a child’s past — especially their earliest experiences — will leave a lasting impact. (If you haven’t, this TED talk is a good place to start.) We are all affected by what we’ve been through.

However, we must remember that while foster and adopted kids will certainly be affected by their past, they are not defined by it. Childhood trauma, foster care, and adoption will forever be part of their story — but it’s only one part. It’s not the beginning, the end, or even the climax. Just another chapter in a story still being written.

None of us would like to be forever known first and foremost for something that happened to us in the past. Neither do kids from hard places. We should interact with them in a trauma-informed way, but we should not equate them with their trauma, its effects, or their response to it. Beneath all the hurt is a real person with real feelings and a real future, and we need to treat them accordingly.

Adopted Kids Belong. So Do Foster Kids.

It would be almost unthinkable to look at a newly adopted child and say, “You don’t belong here.” But isn’t that the impression we give when we constantly tack on the word “adopted?” When we differentiate between adopted and biological children? When we ask which of a person’s children are their “real kids” or which of a child’s siblings are their “real” brothers and sisters?

Adopted kids belong, just as much as biological children. A family grows and stretches to accommodate those who become part of it — whether by birth or adoption. Adopted kids aren’t the last resort, a charity case, or a pet project. They are part of the family. They belong, fully and forever.

The same is true for foster kids. A foster family is a “real” family in every sense of the word, and foster kids belong. Although their physical presence within the family may be temporary, for as long as they are there, they belong. When they leave, the family grieves as they would the loss of a biological child. Their absence leaves a hole because they were — and still are, in a sense — part of the family.

Kids Are Just as Important as Adults.

Not only are foster and adopted kids just as important and valuable as other kids, but they are just as valuable and important as adults. When we treat kids as though they are important, we aren’t indulging them — we’re aligning ourselves with God’s view of children. Over and over again, Scripture emphasizes the value of children.

Both Matthew and Mark relate Jesus’ teaching that “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” When he caught his disciples rebuking children who wanted to be near Him, Jesus went on to say,

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (See Matthew 18:2-6; Matthew 18-10-14; Mark 9:36-37, 42; Mark 10:13-16.)

We need to treat children as though they are valuable and worth our time, love, and respect, even when we don’t understand them, because that’s how Jesus treated them. Their needs and feelings are just as important and valid as any adult’s. Little voices aren’t any less important, and their feelings aren’t any less real.

We all know foster and adopted kids are people, too. We know they matter. We know they’re precious in God’s sight and made in His image. We just need to act like it — starting with rooting out any subconscious beliefs that undermine their value.

Want to hear more about this topic?

Grab a cup of coffee and join us on this week’s podcast:

Episode 68


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My name is Kristin Peters. I married my husband, Robert, in 2010, and we had our baby girl 5 years later, right after he graduated from law school. In fall of 2016, we became certified to foster and soon after received our first placement — an adorable little boy who is 2 years older than our daughter. He felt like part of the family from day one, but we were able to (finally!) make it official in February of this year. In addition to being a wife and mother, I work as a writer, an editor, and the content developer for SHIELD Task Force. You can follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/SHIELDWV), or check out our website at www.shieldwv.com.​