From a Soldier to a Foster Parent - with Tony Erskine

Being shot by a sniper and returning into a machine gunfire to successfully defend his Scout team from an insurgent attack near Baghdad, Tony Erskine, today the Principal Software Engineer for CloudCard LLC, found that being a parent to his 3 natural and 26 adopted and foster children required more courage, more vision, and more faith than being under fire.

Connecting with Tony was literally finding a treasure.  Tony, a voice for courage to follow God’s will and this is his story

[1:16] $10 treasure that brought us together
[4:50]  Natural and supernatural kids
[7:37] From a good soldier to a good dad
[12:05] Journey of foster parenthood
[19:19] Feeling of belonging and foster children
[26:39] Message to the past self
[27:52] Message from the future self

“Parenting takes more courage than running into machine gunfire – I know” – Tony Erskine

” I’ve cried at more as a father and a husband, and I ever did as a soldier” – Tony Erskine

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Victoria Rader [00:00:02] In the world of many internal and external voices, the voice you listen to is the voice that dictates your life, would you like to discover a clear path to a life of freedom and fulfillment? Then welcome to All About the Voice podcast, where we focus on awareness, alignment and action in order to live a life of abundance. I am your host Victoria Rader.

Victoria Rader [00:00:26] Being shot by a sniper and returning into a machine gun fire to successfully defend his scout team from an insurgent attack near Baghdad. Tony Erskine today the principal software engineer for Cloud Card LLC, found that being a parent to his three natural and 26 adopted and foster children required more courage, more vision and more faith than being under fire. Connecting with Tony was literally finding a treasure. Here’s Tony. A voice for courage to follow God’s will. All right, and here with me is my personal pirate, Tony Erskine. Tony, welcome to All About the Voice podcast.

Tony Erskine [00:01:14] E.R. Mickey,

Victoria Rader [00:01:16] All right, I get it said this stage for you guys because this is an interview, unlike any others that I think you’ll remember it. I’ll remember it, and it’ll bring us all a lot of joy. So some of you kind of know that I travel a lot and I try to record on the road whenever I am. And currently I’m in North Carolina recording this episode. And couple of days ago, my team, my two wonderful friends, Jane and Nadia, that are staying here with me went for their very innocent walk on the beach and came home with their eyes squared and a little plastic bag they dug out and found under the sand. I’m going to read you what’s in that bag. First of all, there was a $10 there. That’s, by the way, nonrefundable Tony. It’s going to be framed, right?

Tony Erskine [00:02:02] It’s yours. That’s the treasure.

Victoria Rader [00:02:05] And the note said, OK, are maybe you found the booty. Congratulations, you finders keepers for this is the law of the sea. Pray. Send me a message in a bottle so I know my treasure is in good hands. Far winds and following seas. Captain fuzzy head. P.S. Should anybody fall into the hands of the Royal Navy? I assure you, I had no intention of littering. I’ll be back to claim you loads. So, Tony, tell me about that little note.

Tony Erskine [00:02:36] Oh man, we were out all at just about this time about a year ago, and my kids were there with us. We had five kids with us. We have six that lived in the home with us and our oldest was back home. But my son and I were just playing in the sand and digging a hole and we’re like, Hey, why don’t we bury a note for someone? So we just kind of started brainstorming what would make it fun? And then I wrote a note and all the of treasure in there. We didn’t really have anything valuable, so we just put it in our building there. And that’s kind of how it happened. And we did that a couple times since we got to. My wife and I were married down there and we go a lot. And every time we’re like, Hey, we should go check to see if we want to found it yet. So I’m so glad it was pretty deep. I mean, it was probably three feet down. So kudos for the folks that found it.

Victoria Rader [00:03:23] Oh, well, we had a good storm that helped us out, and my non joking joke is that, hey, was the hand of God that sent you into my life and onto this podcast. So when you get a referral like that, we’re going to pay attention and it’s good to share something else with you and the family here. So the irony of this is much greater than I could anticipate. I’m teaching right now a 12 week course called Personal Finance, and this particular week, you know, leading on to finding the treasure, we said the intention of finding money where we don’t expect that now. I was talking about cut off some subscriptions. You know, look at what you’re spending that you shouldn’t be. But Jane and Nadia took it literally. They found money where they didn’t expect it. But what’s even funnier is that we talked about the significance of $10. I said, you know, a lot of people don’t invest or they waste money because they think it’s just $10. But it’s never just ten dollars, it’s ten dollars. And the value of that is so to find money where we didn’t expect with ten dollars I got to tell you we had a whole other level to that. But I think you’re the hidden treasure, Tony. You and your family is the hidden treasure. Because when we reached out to you, I love, I’ve learned, oh, I’ve learned so much. So tell me about your family.

Tony Erskine [00:04:50] Well, you know let me comment about what you just said because it is so true. Yeah. Well, the kids, OK, let’s see. We have six kids living at home with us, but one of my friends jokingly calls me 10 kid Tony we do foster care in adoption and we have three of our own natural kids. And like I said, three more that we’ve adopted. So we say instead of saying, you know, like these are these are adopted, we say, these are our natural kids and these are supernatural kids because it really is kind of a blessing and a miracle that they came to us. And they’re a handful. It is quite an adventure parenting a family of eight.

Victoria Rader [00:05:24] Now, Tony and you guys decide to become a foster family.

Tony Erskine [00:05:29] Oh, yeah. Well, you know, we always kind of wanted a bigger family. And then my third child, our son, was just such a rough pregnancy. In fact, our second was tough and the third was just really, really hard. We like we can’t do that again. That is too scary, but we still wanted more children. And so it started honestly, kind of selfishly, we wanted another child. But as we got into foster care, we realized that it can’t be about, I want a child. It has to be about more than that. About this is something that a need that needs to be filled. And it’s such a. Solve problem because so many folks go through hard times in their lives where they genuinely need someone to come alongside them in the same way that if my brother was dealing with, say, drugs or alcohol or something, he would need me to come alongside and watch his children for a time and to love them and treat them like they’re your own. But even better, because these are my brother’s children. Are these my sister’s children? So it became about more than just we wanted another child in our family. And of course, we did end up with more children in our family because not all children can go home to their biological parents. And so we did end up adopting three children whose families were never able to to get to be a safe place. But we had another 23 that have come through over the years and for different amounts of time, some just for a few days and some four months. Some still call us mom and dad. And that’s where I get the name 10 kid Tony. You know, they weren’t all adopted or, you know, some of them. I say I’m a granddad now because some of our oldest came to us when they were like 15, and now they’re in their mid to late 20s and have children of their own. And so it’s an adventure sort of a jumpstart. I’m not sure I would advise jumping right straight into teenage girls as far as foster care, but it has been quite the adventure. Wow.

Victoria Rader [00:07:24] So 29 kids, three biological, three adopted and 26 that have gone through. Amazing, amazing now. You know, I will want to pick your brain on a lot of these things. But something that really touched my heart was the suggested title for the episode where you said parenting takes more courage than running into machine gunfire. I know. Tell me about that gunfire.

Tony Erskine [00:07:49] Oh, man. OK, so that was January 11th, 2007. I was with a small scout team in Iraq, and we started taking fire from some machine guns and I ended up being shot by a sniper. And we were pinned down. You know, it’s been a relatively long story, very short. We were pinned down and nobody could get back up to the machine gun that I had been manning. But I was able to run back up there and it was intense. You know, there was a lot I mean, there were just dirt picking up everywhere, and I was able to help defend my team and rout the enemy and everything ended up working out. Later on, we realized the extent of my injuries, which weren’t all that severe, but it was one of those moments. In fact, it was the moment that in a lot of ways had been waiting for my whole life, that sort of defining moment of growing up in that family, an army family. You know, you look up to soldiers, look up to heroes. And it was what I guess what I would call that G.I. Joe moment of being like, Wow, I’ve been shot. I had been shot at that moment, and I had the courage when other people tried to go up the hill and came back because the fire was too intense. I had the courage to go and defend my team at the risk of my life. And then I found out it wasn’t enough. You know, at that point I realized that, you know, for a few days, everybody wanted to hear the story. The next day, it took me 20 minutes to get from the chow line to my seat in the chow hall because everybody wanted to know what happened. But then pretty soon, you know, life goes on. And I realized there’s more to life than trying to achieve some achievable thing, you know. In fact, life is a lot more about pursuing God’s specific plan for your life, and that’s not something that I would call achievable. It’s more of a relationship. You know, it’s cliche to say life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. But that’s what it is. It’s getting on this inner line of looking like the highway of God’s will and just opening the throttle and going as far and as fast as you can. And I realized that that wasn’t the army for me. In fact, the army was kind of a selfish, sort of childish. I mean, there were a lot of people like, Wow, thank you for service and thank you for all that. And that’s great. Don’t get me wrong for saying I’m not doubting being a soldier or anything like that, but for me, it was about trying to meet some need that to be honest only God can meet. And it was this needed validation and significance, and the path that God had for me was parenting and was being a mentor to my children and the people that I work with. And so when I ended up honestly looking at my life and realizing I can be it, I can be a good soldier or I can be a good dad. But I can’t manage both and then choose to make that choice to be a good dad, good husband and to get out of the army. After I got back from Iraq that it was a very pivotal moment. You know, and honestly kind of a low moment because you go through a period of time where you’re like, Wow, I was, you know, I was in the army. People were like, Wow, thank you for your service and you get military discounts and all of these things. But now, who am I? I’m just a normal person. Well, you know what? God’s got a plan for normal people. And in fact, nobody’s normal. I guess it’s probably really the best way to say it

Victoria Rader [00:11:00] well, or else it’s normal to be genius. We’re all it’s just normal to be genius, right, it’s a new kind of a norm, find your genius, find.

Tony Erskine [00:11:09] Yes, I love that. Exactly. And I feel like that was two thousand nine when I got out of the army. And over the last 12 years, you know, God has kind of led me into what I really feel like he made for. And it does. It feels like genius. It feels like I’m firing on all cylinders here and doing what I feel like I genuinely made for. I will say it has been scarier and harder. You know, like, I’ve cried at more as a father and a husband, and I ever did as a soldier and I lost friends. One of the friends I lost in Iraq was myself. I didn’t come back the same person. You know, it’s hard, but it’s nothing compared to the path that God had for me as a husband and a father.

Victoria Rader [00:11:52] Well, you know, for the sake of not sounding cliche, but what you just said is actually very poignant that you know you’ve lost your life to find it. I think there’s some additional treasure to that. You know, you’ve literally lost. You have to find it. And so while looking at this journey of foster parenthood, I’m sure there are different virtues, qualities, character qualities you’ve had to dig deep and to develop. What would you say? And I know that since it’s your actual kids and souls and lives are involved, you probably can’t give us names and stories. But I’d like to general description of what’s been some of the toughest points of the journey. You know, when you say that brought you to your knees? And what are some of those points and how did you overcome them?

Tony Erskine [00:12:37] Yeah. Well, let me answer the how I have overcome them, and that is that I have it in so many ways. The hardest times and the hardest challenges have actually been the pain that I see one child inflict on another or, you know, choices that I see a child make that I know are going to cause them pain in the future. And they’re things that are beyond my control. So I mean, I feel like the serenity prayer, you know, captures a lot of it. But and when I say that if you’re not familiar with it, you know, God grant you this ready to accept the things. I cannot change the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. That’s the beginning of it. It’s worth reading the whole thing. I put it all here, but it’s been used in all sorts of 12-Step program and stuff like that for years and years. That’s super helpful. But to be honest, how we’ve really persevered through these difficult times has been through family. I’m not talking about biological family. I’m talking about our church family and talking about the body of Christ, folks that have loved us and stuck through it with us. You know, in fact, this is my office. It’s a three mile. But I remember walking into this very room one day and just losing it, you know, as I watched my daughter make terrible choices and my coworker, who is a brother to me, walked over to his office and he had the wisdom to just hold me right. He just gave me a hug and we stood here and I just cried, you know, because I’m in a situation, I have to watch a child make choices that I know that only she can learn from. And so I guess the other part of it is surrender. It’s trusting God’s in control. And I can’t. If this isn’t on me to do now, I have not done that perfectly. I’ve gotten myself into more trouble when I’ve tried to fix the sort of unfixable situations. But when I have just sat back and surrender to the process and said, OK, God’s got this, he’s not asking me to do anything here. He’s just asking me to pray and to show this child that I love them, you know, even though they’re doing things that I don’t approve of or I don’t like or I want, you know, like, whatever and to work through that. Those are the times when I’ve seen that show up, and it hasn’t always turned out the way I wanted it to, but it’s turned out or in some cases, it’s still ongoing. Yeah, but those are the hard ones. The other really hard ones are when one child hurt another. That’s different, you know, obviously, because I have to step in, but I have to recognize that you look at that cycle of hurt because, you know, let’s say and I’ll just make up names, you know, let’s say that Tommy hurt Sally, right? Why did Tommy hurt Sally? Tommy hurt Sally to be honest, because Tommy was hurt terribly at some time in his path by Jack, and then this anger starts to bubble up. But then I have to think about hold on who hurt Jack? You know, maybe Jack was in Tom’s biological family or whatever, you know? And I realize there’s this system of just generational pain and sin, and I realize this is the reason why we are stepping in here. It’s to stop this pattern this cycle of generational pain and generational sin. You know, now what I mean, so sometimes. Is that that is going to like we’re going to take the brunt of that or even some people have faulted us to say, Well, what about your own kids? You know, my own kids have taken some of that pain themselves, and that is heartbreaking with the choices that I’ve made and the direction I feel like God’s like me to have pushed me to my biological children or other children have adopted. That’s heartbreaking. You know, and to understand and try to wrap my mind around, how can God let this happen? But then I see we’re humans and humans make choices, and I have to understand that this child had every right to be loved and even at loving this child, because this other child to be hurt or a cause is the wrong word allowed this other child to be hurt. Then it’s the only way for me to say, Well, I can’t do that would be to say, Well, then this child didn’t deserve to be loved, and there’s no way I can say that sometimes that hurts. And that’s what it all boils down to is sometimes loving someone means that we have to endure pain and, you know, that’s just hard. And I think it was typified on the cross, right? I mean, sometimes loving someone, loving me as Jesus, an awful lot of pain.

Victoria Rader [00:17:15] You know, I think of the neurobiological a response to that because there’s just so much spiritual take on it. But I also think there’s a very practical take on it. I personally think that love heals. I think the absence of love is what hurts. I think, you know, even if you take Christ suffering on the cross, it is love that gets some of the cross, you know, and heals. And it is the suffering and the lack of love that he carries through that that hurts him. But I think what happens is that for all of us, when somebody hits us and say it’s because I love you, we form a neurobiological receptor that love is unsafe and it is better to hate and it is better to hit because it is unsafe to love. And then we resent that love. And so I genuinely think that love by its energy only heals. And if it looks like it hurts because it’s the healing is incomplete yet, right? And it’s like they say, in the middle of surgery, it looks like murder.

Tony Erskine [00:18:14] So I am going to say, yeah, it’s just like surgery. That hurts, but it’s a healing process. That’s right. Absolutely right.

Victoria Rader [00:18:23] Yeah. And you know, I was thinking I’ve married a man with three adopted children and, you know, they’ve kind of inherited as mine part of a family. So we have two biological and three grown up, completely adopted step kids. And it’s been really fascinating to observe that sense of belonging. So what I found to be on a very small scale, which you find in a grade one is that sense of not belonging. How do you guys help them feel they belong?

Tony Erskine [00:18:53] Oh, man, that is huge because when a child is removed into foster care, that that’s like a happy day, you know, like their whole other leading some really bad situation or oh, they’re leaving the place where they feel like they belong. It might be chaos. It might be painful. They might be abused or neglected. But they feel like they belong there and they’re going somewhere that they don’t feel like they belong. I mean, you hit the nail on the head with that question. And to be honest, in many, many ways that is the job of a foster parent is to help a child feel like you belong here, right? That you’re wanted and you’re loved. And we do that honestly by affirming anything that we see in them, but also affirming their pain and affirming their struggle. You know, when a child makes a bad choice. Helping them to try to understand, well, where did that anger come from and helping them to kind of process through that? So that is a very difficult and it is idiosyncratic process. It is. It’s different for every single child. And to be honest, we’re not even talking about biological or adopted kids. This also applies to biology. It’s how many kids in middle school and suddenly feel like I don’t belong. You know, I don’t belong in this body that has feet that are too big for me. Or, you know, like that has this voice like that squeaking. We are all looking for a place to belong. And I wish I had a really simple answer to that question. But I think the biggest part of it goes in actually taking the time to listen to someone and find out what they’re really saying or sometimes what they’re not saying, what they’re trying to understand. What is this child or person? And like I said, it’s really everybody. What is this person feeling and helping them ask their selves? In many ways they can only answer these questions. You know, what do you want? What’s going to make you happy? Like some questions like that which seem like they’re simple, you know, are, you know, like Tommy hit Sally Honey, what do you want? What do you want? I want? Well, you hit Sally. What is it that you want? Why did you hit? Not just why? Because y can be sort of accusatory. No, yeah, but why is it that you want it and helping them see that validating the pain that they’ve been through, validating their journey to that point and helping us all see it? We’re on a journey together and then also having a sense of belonging yourself. I think that might be one of the biggest ones because if I look at you and I see a person who I know feels at home in their own skin and feels like they belong, then I can have some hope, right? And if you genuinely feel that way, then you’re not going to be too preoccupied with your own insecurities and your own angst to be able to help me where I’m at, you know? So I think that while it is a very unique answer for each person, start of that is for me to find my own belonging, which goes to the people that are around the beautiful.

Victoria Rader [00:21:54] And I guess, you know, to everybody who’s joining us and listening to this. I think that I found in family practices that I’ve used verbally change into structures for a parent saying, you know, so often we worry about our kids through. We love our kids through worry. So we say, Well, I worry about you. So. And that added an hour, or I worry that you will da-da-da. But I found that changing that structure too, I believe, is very powerful. So, you know, sort of saying, I worry that you saying, I believe that you, I believe that you and that shifts that whole thing. And I think it’s important for all of us to verbally tell those we love. We belong not to right? To starts a lot of oh my gosh loss of freedom, right? But you belong with us, right? Like you belong with us. I think we belong in this conversation and you if you’re listening to belong with us. So, yeah, I love that. I love that so much, Tony and I know it is a big family to feed. Tell us what you do professionally.

Tony Erskine [00:22:53] I will. But let me give you one little quick, one quick hack to actually, because that it occurred to me while we’re talking. And that is naming so there’s something of you see it all over the Bible where God renames people or somebody else will give someone a name. So, you know, for some kids, the ones that were adopted, they got new names. They even had some input into their new first name. Not just their new last names over the years, but not just that with anybody. The idea of, of course, you want to be respectful, but of nicknaming a person and like, Wow, this person belongs. You know what? We have a special connection as I have a nickname with this person. In fact, with me, my dad, when I turned 16, he was a Korean linguist in the army. He actually gave me a Korean name, which is very meaningful and very powerful, and it goes to who my dad saw the man I was becoming at 16, you know, the two names are the Korean words for fire and student.

Victoria Rader [00:23:56] What is it, Tony?

Tony Erskine [00:24:00] In that is beautiful, youthful and strong and is fire, and ha is a student or scholar. And that was who he saw me to be at that time. And so that’s always been super powerful because it wasn’t like this in any name before, you know me, like when I was a little baby. But he knew me as a young man. And so having those pet names, or even when you adopt a child and looking at the meaning of that name, like, Oh, this is what Abigail like my daughter, you know, like so that that is one of the

Victoria Rader [00:24:34] you’ve been living up to that name, Tony.

Tony Erskine [00:24:42] Yeah, appreciate that. It’s aspirational, I will say. So what do I do? Yeah, we run a small business. I’m a software developer by trade and it’s a little company called Cloud Card on my first mission and we do online forest mission for colleges and H.R. departments and things like that so that people don’t have to come out and stand in line to get their ID card. So obviously, COVID was really big for us. We were well positioned to be super helpful during that time. I was like to quote Thomas the train, you know, I want to be a really helpful agent. That’s what it felt like at that time. Like for just such time as that, we were able to step in and be like and solve the needs for so many schools and so many businesses. So that’s kind of what we did. And it’s a lot of fun. But what I feel like a real product is, is our employees, the people that we work with. This is something who knows how long it will last or go on or, you know, like 10 years when you add it up. Technology is going to change, but the people in the impact that we have on our employees, especially because we get this much more time than anyone else. And hopefully that lasts forever. You know, hopefully that it changes the husbands, the fathers, the parents, the wives, you know, the mothers that they are and change their kids. So that’s our impact. That’s our product.

Victoria Rader [00:25:59] That’s fantastic. And you guys says those of you that. Listening to this for the first time and may not know it, all the links will be in the description to the episode so you can look it up and see how you can support Tony. And when you support him, you’re supporting a lot of lives. You know, just in a very meaningful way. I think so. Tony, three questions I always ask at the end of the episode. The first one is I want you to first think of a moment in your life where you personally probably need encouragement the most. And then I’m going to give you this amazing power to go to you at that moment. So tell us what that moment is and what would you tell yourself? What do you need to hear from you at that moment?

Tony Erskine [00:26:46] Well, I feel like I feel like we already hit on that when it is that moment when I am in over my head with someone I love. And when I really need to let go and to surrender that situation to the role of God, you know, that is the hardest moment when I am experiencing rejection or pain in that moment, a feeling like actually the best way to describe it is feeling like a failure. You know, as a parent, I think I think that’s probably one of the biggest things that we face this appearance. I have failed these children, you know, and understanding this isn’t about me. This is about this child and their development. And I have to surrender and let them walk out the path that they’re on. You know, so that’s what I would tell myself in this moment is God’s got this. And if he needs your help, he’ll let you know.

Victoria Rader [00:27:44] Oh, this is so great. God’s got this. If he needs your help, you let you know. Beautiful. And now, going forward, 20 years from now, Tony, from 20 years from now comes back. Sits there right by you. What did he have to tell you? What do you need to hear today?

Victoria Rader [00:27:59] Wow. Let’s see 20 years from now. I’m sure that I would be telling myself, Tony. Life is short, right? You know, we all hear that in the focused on the people in my life and not money, not success, and definitely not failure. Is that for me, my greatest fear is failing. But growing up poor and we didn’t talk about that, but I grew up poor and of my other fears, just not having enough. And that’s never been the case. Even more for my dad, my mom. They busted their tails and they took care of us. But it would be to not live out of those fears and to instead focus on the people who are around me because those are the things I don’t want people things, but the people, you know, and the impact that I have on their lives. That’s the real impact that I’m going to have. That’s actually going to last, you know, whether I succeed or fail or have enough money or anything that will all work out.

Victoria Rader [00:28:59] You know, it’s fascinating that you say that because literally through probably at this point, not hundreds, probably through thousands of individual sessions I’ve done there really, just to fears that humanity shares. And that is I don’t have enough or I am not enough. And really, I don’t have enough simply covers. I’m not enough because the only reason I don’t have enough because I’m not enough. So when you come down to that, I’m not enough and you realize that you are created in the image of the greatest creator of all. That by definition, makes you enough, you know? And then what you do with it and how you deal with it is the individual journey of growing into that. But what a beautiful, beautiful advice to yourself.

Tony Erskine [00:29:45] Yeah, yeah. Another way to look at that is to accept that I’m not enough, but I’m loved by the only one who is. And that’s where I find my peace is like, I don’t have to be enough. You know, it’s OK that I’m not enough because God is enough and loves me. You know, like a kid jumping off the Dove board or sliding down the slide the first time and feeling like, What if I can’t swim? It’s OK, I’m right here, right here. And that’s what that’s, you know, like, just jump. I got you. You know, I’m enough.

Victoria Rader [00:30:19] And the last question. So if our family here at all about the voice were to remember Tony by one quote or one teaching or anything you wanted to share as kind of the final message, what would that be?

Tony Erskine [00:30:32] Oh, I would say there was one thing I would say God has a specific plan for your life and in the business of your life should be figuring out what that is and doing it. You know nothing else. God has a specific plan for your life, and that’s where true happiness is going to be on the other end of God’s will.

Victoria Rader [00:30:53] Beautiful, Tony. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being genuine and open and just finding time to join us here. I know somebody will have heard what. They were looking to hear today. Thank you.

Tony Erskine [00:31:05] Awesome. Thank you for having me.

Victoria Rader [00:31:07] This was Tony Erskin, what is it inner calling within you that has been stirred by this vulnerable conversation? One encouraging nickname of inspiration and belonging? Are you going to choose for yourself and for your loved ones?