My Mission this Mother’s Day

Not long after I signed with Harvest House Publishers, I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book they were publishing about infertility. Mothers in Waiting: Healing and Hope for Those with Empty Arms* is a collection of 30 women’s personal stories as they tried to become mothers. It was compiled by a mother-in-law–daughter-in-law team with the goal of meeting women along their infertility journeys so no one walks that tough path alone. I instantly agreed because that had also been my goal with Barren. You’ll find my story in chapter 9.

In the five years since I wrote Barren among the Fruitful, David and I have accepted that we won’t be biological parents. Our lives have been upended several times as we moved across the country twice, endured my 3 gynecological surgeries in 10 months, supported a loved one in prison for a crime that never happened, mourned career disappointments, and celebrated career successes. In hindsight, we see how God was able to use us and our resources differently in these and other situations because we weren’t raising kids. We had more time and attention to give, and we are thankful for that.

Don’t get me wrong–we would both still give our right arms to have had children. We are reminded of them each Mother’s and Father’s Day as so many churches dedicate babies, rightly extol the virtues of parenthood, and maybe give flowers to the moms. Each year we debate whether or not we will attend services on those holidays, and we usually agree that our emotions would inhibit any joyous corporate worship. I’m not sure that will ever change.

While I will always remain tender and attentive to the causes of infertility and female cancers, the publications of books such as Mothers in Waiting and the incredible ministries that accompany many of them reveal how God is using other authors and speakers to show His love to people struggling to grow their families. As He has enabled them for this important work, God has prepared my heart, head, and life for a new mission.

I will be spending this summer in Israel digging at Tel Shimron and writing my next book, The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel (February 2021), and with a little luck I’ll “dig Egypt” the following year! God has made a way for me to return to my first love–biblical archaeology–and share the field’s insights into Scripture with the world. He has filled this “hopeful” woman with joy and thankfulness and excitement through situations I never could have manufactured myself. I understand that I would not have the time, energy, or will to devote to writing and travel if I were a mother, and I thank Him for this opportunity to serve Him and for the peace He has given me about the future.

God always knows the outcome before we know the circumstances.

*I receive no compensation for my contribution to or endorsement of this book.

Exciting Announcement

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Celebrate with us! This is my 100th blog post. Photo courtesy of Melinda Phillips at our Nantahala Stay-cation 2013. Food and wine by David Haley. From this place, on this weekend, did this blog originate.

The sound machine stopped raining, and David’s alarm went off. As I do every morning, I reached to the phone on my nightstand:

2 NEW E-MAILS.
Before I reveal their contents, please allow me to explain the context in which I received them…

* * *

Thomas Nelson Publishers requested and published Barren among the Fruitful as part of the InScribed Collection. It was an exciting time that ultimately ended in my own and other authors’ heartbreak.*

As David and I left Colorado in 2015, I was professionally rudderless and wounded. I found myself in a new place I knew could become my lifelong home, but where I could not envision my professional future. I prayed for direction and peace.

I carried with me from Denver one particularly enduring friendship with Stephanie. We were coauthoring a manuscript based on her experiences as a news anchor with the aim of encouraging young women to find success and contentment not in worldly achievements but in their relationships with God. But our work had begun to feel like a pipe dream as I returned to my years of freelance proofing, editing, and ghostwriting. The only yes we’d had was from a vanity publisher who would print our book as long as we paid a ridiculous sum for him to do so. Stephanie had a publicist who was still shopping our book to traditional publishers, but I was just jaded enough to assume that would fizzle to nothing.

To pull myself out of the melancholy, I decided to abandon writing (unless I could help my friend), and I signed up for a class at the local college that would result in my contractor’s license. David and I agreed–it was time to start a new chapter of our lives. I would take my love of and skills in restoration and become a residential contractor, if for no other reason than to work confidently on our own house.

* * *

Those 2 e-mails were a full stop to our new plans.

The first was a very polite rejection letter for our coauthored book. It was more than polite–it was helpful. The acquisitions editor who wrote it took the time to explain why our book wasn’t a fit for her publisher, and she offered some suggestions. This is practically unheard of; writers are typically lucky to receive even a form letter of rejection.

The second e-mail was from the same acquisitions editor, but sent only to me. She had “cyber stalked” me after receiving our book proposal based on my bio and curriculum vitae. She wondered what my plans were for a follow-up to Barren and asked to chat.

I was shocked. Thrilled. Nervous. This had all come about because of Stephanie’s efforts to get our book published, but now I had a publisher coming directly to me. As soon as David got out the door to work, I called Stephanie.

She answered the phone in her usual energetic way that makes even saying “hello” a challenge! She agreed with me that the rejection was so nice–even encouraging. But she went on to say, “The whole time I was reading about what they are looking for in their authors, I kept thinking, They just need to sign Amanda!

“Well, Stephanie, as a matter of fact…” I told her about the other email. She was (and continues to be) over-the-moon thrilled for me.

So here is the exciting announcement: I have indeed signed with Harvest House Publishers for my next book. I will turn over my manuscript on June 30, 2018, and the book will be published October 15, 2019. Its title is tentative, but its contents are not. I’ll tell you all about it in my next post…

*Since I wrote that blog post, the InScribed Collection has been rebooted with new authors.

Embracing Transition in 2018

At the end of this month, David and I will mark 3 years as Chattanooga residents. That doesn’t feel like a very long time as we compare it to our 20-plus years in the Nashville area. We still think of ourselves as newbies in both our neighborhood and our church, and as newbies, we haven’t required ourselves to be as involved in our communities as “older” members should be.

In today’s face-paced society, time should be counted in dog years. That would
make Copper–and our residence in Chattanooga–21 years!

David and I live in a so-called transitional neighborhood. It was built between 1890 and 1930 by lumber barons, railroad magnates, and their socialite wives. Most architecture is Victorian or Arts and Crafts, now in varying levels of dilapidation or renovation. Today’s residents are diverse in age, race, and socioeconomic levels. College students party on one side of us in a poorly maintained rental property; 80-year-old “original” residents are behind us in a neat-but-needy house their parents built. Across the street is what I call the Blue Behemoth: a brand-new three-story craftsman-style row house built by a young family. Diagonal from us is one of many group homes in our neighborhood serving the mentally challenged, and down the block is a public magnet boarding school for at-risk girls from surrounding neighborhoods.

Our church is likewise diverse; we are majority minority, serve all ages, and count both the homeless and a millionaire private-collection wine buyer (how do I get that job?) as our brothers and sisters.

Maybe it is because the diversity of our Chattanooga life barely resembles all our years in suburbia that we didn’t notice when we “transitioned” from newbies to minted residents. In just three years we’ve become the longest residents on our entire block; and in our 5-year-old church, we’ve attended longer than maybe 80% of the congregation. David and I realized this at a Thursday-night gathering where we sat at a table for 10 and discovered we have lived in Chattanooga more than a year longer than anyone else there. We were shocked. And convicted.

We have spent our Chattanooga time consumed by our personal transitions, most notably my work restoring this house and my 3 surgeries. We have not used our spiritual gifts of hospitality to serve our neighbors (new and old) as we should have, and we are resolving to correct that in 2018. It is past time that we go out and serve our neighbors instead of waiting for them to welcome us.

Consider: What gifts have you been neglecting?

Wildfires and Politics

My world is on fire. Literally. Every ridge surrounding our city has a wildfire burning on top of it, and the smoke is settling on the streets of Chattanooga. It’s suffocating and headache-inducing. As I write (and as I dread going back to editing that Greek exegesis waiting on my desk) the pain in and behind my eyes is intense.

Copper is not pleased that the smoky streets are
keeping him from getting a walk this morning.
Our figurative world is burning these days too. If you found this post because of a social media link, then you’ve also read posts and articles all about how America is going down in flames if Candidate X is elected. Maybe you’ve even shared a few stories, commented on a few others.
My Granny would have been right there with you. Back when there was an alarmingly high number of cable channels–50, as I remember–she watched just CNN. It was on 24 hours a day. She listened to talk radio and wrote letters to our congressmen. She spent hours in AOL political-themed chat rooms every night. She was the most informed woman I’ve ever known, and some of her passion “caught fire” in me.
So people who have known me longest may be surprised that I’ve stayed out of all the political squabbling. In fact, I’ve been avoiding Facebook and Twitter and everywhere else for the last six months. (Though to be honest, I started to pull away well over a year ago. Social media blurs the lines between opinion and truth, and the older I get the less willing I am to put up with that.) 
The election has only fired up the animosity that pervades our society, so once we’ve all cast our votes tomorrow, the arguing won’t end. Why? Because we’re all so selfish.  We vote for who we think will improve our own lives, regardless of how others may be impacted.
If we are all going to live with each other after tomorrow, then we need to stop trying to change others’ opinions and start changing our own actions toward others. 
I’ve been spending a lot of time in Luke lately (thanks to that exegesis weighing down my desk right now). In chapter 10, a scholar tries to trick Jesus into contradicting the Hebrew scriptures when he asks how one can attain eternal life. He answers his own question: 

You shall love—“love the Eternal One your God with everything you have: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind”—and “love your neighbor as yourself (v. 27, The Voice).

And who is that “neighbor”? Jesus answers with a story:

This fellow was traveling down from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance. Then a despised Samaritan journeyed by. When he saw the fellow, he felt compassion for him. The Samaritan went over to him, stopped the bleeding, applied some first aid, and put the poor fellow on his donkey. He brought the man to an inn and cared for him through the night.
     The next day, the Samaritan took out some money—two days’ wages to be exact—and paid the innkeeper, saying, “Please take care of this fellow, and if this isn’t enough, I’ll repay you next time I pass through.” (Luke 10:30-35, The Voice)

The neighbor is “the one who showed mercy” (v. 37). Not the priest and Levite who were literal neighbors–presumably sharing the victim’s Jewish faith and living in his community–but the Samaritan. He would have believed and worshiped and lived differently than the victim. Regardless of all his social differences, his actions made him the true neighbor. The one we are commanded to love as ourselves.
On Wednesday morning, I hope the election won’t have left you feeling as if you’ve been “mugged” and left “in critical condition”; but it looks like about half the country will feel that way.
It is time for us to start loving each other, regardless of our social differences. It is time for us to stop thinking so highly of ourselves and our own opinions that we can justify our disregard of others, or worse, we can justify attacking and hating others. Not just during election season–when America is on fire–but every day of our lives.
No matter what happens in the next 48 hours, let’s go out into our smoke-filled streets and AOL chat rooms and show some mercy. (If that happens, I just might be able to reengage with social media!)

Truth Will Set You Free

I would correct that to say, “When there is no truth, there is only perception.”

I first studied philosophy in high school as part of an advanced English class. We read L’Etranger and No Exit, and memorized the principles of relativism and existentialism and other long-forgotten-by-me -isms. I remember one thing well: I don’t enjoy philosophy.

Twenty years later, philosophy penetrates my life (and yours). Take a look at your social media feeds. What are most people posting about? Their perceptions of politics. And many are ready to have knock-down drag-out fights to prove to everyone else that their perceptions are right. And factual. And true.

Every knock-down drag-out David and I have ever had resulted from differing perspectives of truth.

My best friend, Melinda, likes to tell everyone that David and I are a psychology experiment–the one where two people watch a video of the same car crash but have completely different recollections of what happened: “The car was blue.” “No, the car was green.” That’s us, and those different perceptions of truth make for heated but pointless arguments. How relieved we both are when we can find the truth by rewatching the car crash: The car was actually red. We can stop arguing now.

Rarely (thankfully) our arguments result from actual untruth…meaning one of us has lied. Those are the conversations that both begin and end with pain, because a lie is a betrayal. You can’t rewatch a video or Google the truth to settle a lie-spawned argument once and for all. Feelings have been hurt, and the relationship needs time to mend.

I think we as a society have largely lost the ability to distinguish between perception and truth, and that is one of the reasons politics are so ugly–particularly in 2016. My opinion about a candidate or a policy is not truth, so people who disagree with me aren’t technically wrong (even though I think they are!) or lying.

Many philosophies, and most of this postmodern secular society, state that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Christianity disagrees. In the gospel of John, Jesus talks a lot about truth, and it pretty much boils down to this:

I tell you the truth, anyone who hears My voice and keeps My word will never experience death. (John 8:51, The Voice).

If you are a Christian, then you believe one absolute truth: Jesus is the Savior of humanity. It is rare (though not unattested) that I see knock-down drag-out fights over that statement.

If you follow a philosophy that declares there is no absolute truth, then your perception becomes your truth. So when someone else disagrees with that perception, then you feel personally affronted. A “car crash argument” becomes a “lie-spawned argument,” a betrayal.

We should follow Jesus’ example in John. When He declared truth and others disagreed, He countered by speaking the same truth in different ways. In that conversation, He did not back down. But when he encountered people who behaved or believed differently or even incorrectly (as in, Romans and Samaritans), He always responded the same way: by revealing the truth in love. He didn’t argue over the semantics of where the temple should be (John 4) or even about the punishment for adultery (John 8:1-11).

We would rather argue over the semantics. In a climate where opinions and perceptions are elevated and advertised on social media, Christians need to remember that there is only one absolute truth–that Jesus is the savior of humanity–and that all Christians, by definition, agree on it.

Then we need to respond to disagreements as Jesus did: in love and with the one absolute truth. For if we show love, the world will see the absolute truth.

Kaleidoscope of Life

I was excited to buy advance tickets to Coldplay’s “Head Full of Dreams” tour for David. He has loved them since long before
anyone else heard “Clocks,” and I truly believed we would have to fly to a London show in order to see them perform (they
rarely come to the US and, until now, have played few venues when they do).

David and I just got back from our first vacation since 2011. That year we used our first Southwest points to visit San Diego for our eighth wedding anniversary. This year we used our last Southwest points to fly to a Coldplay concert in Boston, where we lived right after we married.

Ignoring for the moment the most awesome concert I’ve ever attended, this trip “home” was both surreal and affirmative.

We rode and drove and walked the areas we knew…but most of our favorite businesses have been replaced. Even the Harvard Shirt Shop, that had the cheapest apparel in town, was gone from Harvard Square. As were all of our friends. Sure, there were still thousands of people milling around, but no one we recognized. We don’t know anyone who lives in Cambridge anymore. In short, nothing we loved there was eagerly awaiting our return as we had been eagerly awaiting this trip.

Cambridge is sporting new-to-us dedicated bike lanes, like those
coming to on our own Bailey Avenue in spring, and beautifully
renovated housing.

Not only did we notice what was missing from Cambridge, but we found bits and pieces of our new home. There are bright green bike lanes at Central Square (like those CDOT is planning for our city), and the houses surrounding our other-side-of-the-tracks apartment are now up-and-coming (much like our current neighborhood). Riding the T–dark and dusty in the bowls of the city–made us dream about the Chattanooga Light Rail that is a real possibility for clean mass transportation in our city. In all the things we loved about Boston, we saw shades of Chattanooga. It was as if Boston was telling us, “Everything you love about me is coming to your new city. Enjoy it all–minus the inflated housing prices!”

Who doesn’t love subtle confirmation that you are where you’re supposed to be?  After years of feeling displaced, we are so happy to be home. Probably the biggest reason we know this is home is the church we’ve adopted. You don’t officially “join” our church because it is, as our pastor likes to say, “La Familia.” We are family. We serve and love one another and our community because we know God’s love and want the Holy Spirit to work through us. We were never able to find the right church in Denver, and our home church in Murfreesboro has evolved without us. It’s wonderful to visit, but they aren’t our church family anymore. And that’s a good thing!

So back to Coldplay. The primary artwork for this amazing concert series is a kaleidoscope, and it speaks to me. As you turn a kaleidoscope, the view changes but every shiny bit and piece still has its place. That’s kind of how I see our adult life so far. Just when I think we’re perfectly settled, God flips something around to give us a new and more beautiful view of the life He’s created. We love what we’re seeing from Chattanooga, and we are excited to experience His changes that are ahead.

Fourth-Day Flood (part 3): Tiles and the Tub Man

Wolf in sheep’s clothing: this beautiful, period-appropriate bath
renovation hid water damage behind cheap unpainted beadboard
and rust under DIY porcelain reglazing.

Maybe the problem was the wall and ceiling color. Both the guest bathroom and the dining room were painted with a drab, flat crimson paint that clashed with everything else in the house…and looked like dried blood.

I see it now: these rooms were ready to make our bank account bleed.

It took 8 months to finish the dining room repairs, and in that time, we still didn’t have a fix for our bathtub.

The first plumber (that genius who had filled the bathtub and reflooded our dining room just “to see what had happened”) said we had a simple problem with seals between the tub and the plumbing. Later when he came to fix it–and the water continued to flow around the pipes after his repair–he informed me that the plumbing was perfect. Instead, we had a hole all the way through the cast iron tub near the drain.

I don’t do anything halfway. While the
tub was in the middle of the room, I
removed the vanity, pulled off all the
beadboard and moldings, repaired the
walls, and tiled floor-to-ceiling.

How do you repair a cast iron tub? I asked around, and the historical society told me about the Bathtub Man. All he does is restore claw foot tubs. It took several weeks to get him out to our house, and when he arrived, he showed me that there was no hole. The problem was the plumbing, not the tub.

So I hired a new plumber–the one the Bathtub Man recommended–and we began 6 more months of imperfect repair after imperfect repair. The plumber would reattach the feet (3 of which had the strange habit of falling off, leaving only 1 foot and the plumbing supporting the tub) and redo the plumbing connections. All would be well for 1 or 2 guests’ showers, and then the feet would start falling off again.

As exasperation gripped everyone involved, I decided to call the Bathtub Man back. Armed with more “symptoms,” he was able to diagnose the problem: 3 of the 4 feet did not fit the tub. They looked as if they fit, but they were actually 1/16th of an inch too small. As a result, the combined weight of the tub, water, and an adult would slowly push the feet out from under the tub, breaking the plumbing seals. He could fix it, but it would require welding nickel onto the iron feet to make them the right shape for the tub. (Sounds like a cheap fix, right? Ugh.)

I went for a classic look: floor-to-
ceiling white subway tile with a 
carrara marble accent.

We had a solution, but we also had a deadline. My sister-in-law and her family were going to move in for 3 weeks while they were between houses. I knew there was no way 4 adults and a child could share our master bath for 3 weeks and continue loving one another!

The Bathtub Man scheduled the 2-day repair. First he would come out, flip over the tub, take measurements, and take the feet back to his shop for welding. While the tub was upside down in the middle of the room, I would tile. Everything. Second he would return the following week to attach the feet and flip the tub. Then I would hire the plumber to come back and reconnect everything. Easy-peasy!

Hiccup 1: When the Bathtub Man flipped over the tub, we discovered the bottom was covered in rust. Mostly surface rust, but some more serious. The renovators had clearly found this tub somewhere, picked out a few feet that looked good, painted the bottom with (I kid you not!) white Krylon, and reglazed the inside themselves with some DIY product…without bothering to remove the drain cover first. Rust, rust, everywhere. I was told to clean and paint the bottom with marine-grade Rustoleum, and the Bathtub Man adjusted his timeline to include some spot reglazing (we just couldn’t afford to redo the whole thing).

Hiccup 2: It takes a long time to lay over 2,000 tiles. I gave myself a week, but it took me almost 4 weeks AND the help of David and Melinda thanks to volume, unlevel walls and floor, and missing insulation. It’s done, and it’s beautiful. And waterproof! But I reinjured my right rotator cuff (torn way back when I was a swimmer), and it will be many months before the pain, swelling, and tingling subside.

Hiccup 3: The plumber couldn’t come out for more than a week after the rest of the repairs had finished, so our family still had to share the master bathroom for awhile. But we love each other!

It’s still a work in progress. I’ve installed a standing shower (upgraded for my tall brother-in-law!), but I still need to repaint the window molding, and I want to change the lighting and mirror so they are proportionate with the 9-foot ceilings. (Right now they are WAY too small and hung too low.) But that will require hiring an electrician…and I’m not ready to wash more blood-money down that tub’s drain!

Facing Favoritism

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With Aunt Dare and Uncle Fred, July 5, 2003

On February 24, 2016, I lost my Granduncle Fred. He was nearly 88 years old, lived more than 500 miles away for my entire life, and saw me twice per year (when I was lucky). Based on those facts alone, you wouldn’t think I’d be close to him. But he was and remains one of my favorite men of all time.

He and my Aunt Dare never had children of their own. For that reason, they were more involved with my father’s family than most aunts and uncles are with their nieces and nephews.

Growing up I took for granted that I had a third set of grandparents. Once I discovered that, like them, my only “children” would be future nieces and nephews and godkids, I finally appreciated all the years of love they’d poured into me.

I think that I was closer to my Uncle Fred than my cousins were. I hazard to think that I was his favorite. He never made differences between us–gifts were always equal, and that’s how a kid knows who loves her best–but I always felt closer to him. Probably because I got to see him every summer, which my cousins did not. Maybe because he expected children to be tiny adults, and I was “born 30” according to everyone who knew me. Since before I was able to sit still insomuch as a church service, he loved to show the same bazillion slides every summer when my parents and I would visit Richmond. I happily listened to his narrations of Bermuda during the Korean War, Aunt Dare’s parents’ store, and Daddy’s gangling childhood. By the time I was 16, I could have done the narrations myself!

I don’t know why some families have favorites while others don’t. Someone once asked my father-in-law, “Anna is your favorite child, isn’t she?” He was mortified by the thought. They equally love their children (and children-in-law, as it turns out). Truly.

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David, Copper, and me on our way to visit Aunt Dare and buy Uncle Fred’s truck over Easter Weekend. I am now the proud driver of his 2000 Ford Ranger–with only 50,000 miles on it!

I grew up with both “sides” of that favoritism coin. On one side, I had a grandmother who had favorites. I knew I wasn’t it because my Christmas gifts were always noticeably cheaper. She also sent something called “birthday dollars” to my cousins that I never received. Granny would send a dollar bill for every year of life in the birthday card. As an adult I found out about them, but I was about 5 years old when my mother found out about them. As she told her own mother what was happening, Grandma was so incensed by the situation that she decided to put 5 dollar bills in my birthday card that next year. Now, I have no doubt that my other cousins on that side also received an extra $5 that year. Because this grandmother made no differences–every Christmas one or two of us would have a couple of quarters taped to the top of our presents because she had accidentally spent just 50 cents more on one grandchild!

So why have these joys and wounds of my childhood been dredged up by Uncle Fred’s death? Because just 3 weeks earlier, I became an aunt with 2 nieces. And I don’t want to have a favorite. (The same goes for my 2 godsons, who are brothers.)

I never thought showing favoritism would be an issue for me because I know how psychologically damaging it is to feel less loved than those around you. I have felt it myself, and I have watched other not-favorites experience it. But I worry that my physical proximity to one niece may mean I am naturally closer to her than I am to her cousin who lives 2 hours away. Will I love one more than the other? No way. But will I know one better than the other? Maybe. And will that make the girls think that I favor one over the other? I fear the answer is yes.

Uncle Fred and Aunt Dare filled a gap for me. There was something intangible about the way they loved me that made me feel better about not being my grandparents’ favorite. I am eternally thankful.

I want to be a gap-filler, too, not a gap-maker. I know we won’t be filling love-gaps for the kiddos because their parents won’t pick favorites. Instead David and I want to be the cool aunt and uncle who take all the kids on adventures and have an awesome play area on “the kids'” as-yet-unfinished third floor of our house. We want to give them things they wouldn’t have otherwise. And we would love nothing more than for all of them to think of us as second parents–as I thought of Uncle Fred as my third grandfather.

"Insight" on Infertility and a Giveaway!

I hope you caught my interview on Miracle Channel’s daily program, Insight. I enjoyed my hour speaking with Paul Arthur and the callers who have been touched by infertility in various ways.

As I mentioned on the episode, I am running a short contest aimed at getting viewers and readers talking about the best ways to encourage friends and loved ones who are struggling with infertility diagnoses. I will send a copy of my book, Barren among the Fruitful, and a “Be Hopeful” necklace to one winner.

To enter the contest, you must do 2 things.

(1) Please answer this question in the comments section below: What do you think is the ideal reaction to a loved one who tells you he or she is struggling to have a child?

AND

(2) click a Rafflecopter giveaway. There you sign in with your Facebook account or email address, check “I commented!”

Good luck!