A house is just a house

logo_new04-300x300Its a cold and dreary day here today which seems appropriate since I’m feeling a little dreary myself. It’s not that there’s really anything wrong, per se, but I am in a place where I need to make a change in my life that I don’t want to make

I’m going to have to move.

I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’ve been in the same place ever since I moved back home and my little apartment has become a cocoon; a safety zone for me that I just don’t feel ready to abandon just yet.

As I sat and thought about it last night, looking at the fairly limited options I have available to  me in this incredibly difficult rental market, I suddenly hearkened back to the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, “A House is Not A Home” and began to wonder what exactly does make a home? Is it the furnishings? The location? The song suggests that the house is not a home without that special person there. Does that mean that a house (or apartment) where a single person lives can’t be a home? Does the love I have for my dog mean the same for creating a loving, “homey” space as that between two people?

I would have to vehemently say that a house can be a home regardless of the number of human beings that reside in said building. I have lived alone for nearly 10 years now and absolutely consider my current apartment more than just a set of walls that provide shelter from the elements. My little 800 square feet is a place that I not only feel free to be myself but I where I am comfortable having others in. I have friends there and have broadened my “family” with the people that surround me in the complex. I mean, sure, there are many people with whom I’ve never even nodded hello, but many of the people have become part of my day to day existence and the thought of having to give that up is painful.

Even as I type this, I realize how silly this all sounds. People move all the time and it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, it can be fun! The start of a whole new adventure! I know this…I truly do, and yet, I am still struggling.

Its not just the process of having to find a new place to live that is more within my budget in a part of town I don’t know surrounded by people I don’t know (although that is, honestly, enough to keep me up at night…and has on many occasions lately). More than that, it’s the need to pick up yet again and start over; to find my way by myself one more time; having to start over yet again to develop a feeling of safety and security in a new place.

Safety and security are not things that I have ever had the luxury of taking for granted. While I certainly recognize that I am blessed, having not been not raised nor ever having lived in a war torn nation threatened by bullets and bombs or having ever lived in the inner city surrounded by gang violence and drugs, I have spent much of my life feeling the need to be perpetually “on guard”, ready and waiting for the next threat to appear.

The thing is, that over the last 4 years, I have been able to stabilize my life; to remove those things that were a threat to me in one way or another and I have been able to just rest in the quiet and calm of safety.

And not I have to shake things up all over again.

I have cried, I have run countless numbers on paper and in my head trying to figure out ways to avoid this new reality, and I keep coming back to the same place.

I have to move.

Of course, God had a bit to say about my moping and whining.

He reminded me that much as I hate the idea of moving, this coming move is like the Spring which has just started. It is full of unknowns and uncertainty, but more than that, it is full of promise. The buds on the trees and flowers, which may well freeze over the next day or two, still took the risk to come out and despite their early appearance, their eagerness will not be in vain. The promises of tomorrow don’t go away just because of a little dreariness or down-trodenness.  They are all there waiting with joy and expectation and sometimes the come in the most unusual packages…

…like a little mud and saliva…or the end of a lease.

The bottom line is this. God can us anything to show us his grace, mercy and love. Sometimes its a big, wonderful rainbow of glorious color that is seen by everyone but sometimes its just a little mud and saliva that is wiped on our eyes to clear away our inability to see the things right in front of us. The mud that God is using for me at this moment is my lease.

Maybe I will find a way to stay where I am, or maybe, just maybe, I will find someplace that is so much more than I could have expected. What I have to do is to stop whining about the why’s and what if’s and choose instead to acknowledge the fact that God loves me and has a plan for me that is greater than my blind little eyes can see in their current state. I have to choose to see that a home is a house with GOD in it and the location of that home doesn’t matter.

Where are you in this Spring season? Are you relishing in the joys of the season or complaining (like me) about the changes that come with it? Regardless of your answer, know that God is with you and waiting for you – like me – to make the choice to see Him in it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Good all the time

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Summer has come and gone in what seems like less than a blink of an eye and we are once again embarking on an autumn full of new activities, homework, busy-ness that permeates nearly every moment of our lives. I often find myself wondering if we choose to fill our days with so much stuff because we are hoping to outrun the tragedies and burdens that seemingly encircle us more and more closely with every passing moment. From mass shootings to natural disasters; from kidnapped children to murdered college students, it all feels as though evil has indeed overtaken every inch of the world.

And yet I know this is not the case.

How can I possibly state this, you ask? In all seriousness, the media coverage shows us all day after day what a disaster our world has become. It seems not just irrational, but nearly insane, to think that evil isn’t winning. And in all honesty, if I were to merely look at the headlines or look into the eyes of those around me who have lost loved ones so tragically, I could agree with you.

But I see more than the headlines.

I find myself turning my eyes from the grief-stricken ones in front of me to the sky, knowing that despite what the media says, my God is still in control. And I can say this with absolute certainty because even in times of grief and mourning so profound words cannot be uttered, eyes still turn heavenward.

MollieTake, for example, Mollie Tibbits, the young woman found murdered just last week. Despite the tragic circumstances of her passing, her friends and family are supporting one another, loving each other through this, and offering prayers, memories and reminders of the beauty that is still around them. While there is understandable anger and overwhelming grief, the family has also thanked God for giving them the gift of being able to find Mollie and to so quickly find answers to at least a few of their questions. This community has circled together, supporting and loving the family that had brought the accused young man to their community and has chosen to see the blessing in the fact that Mollie is with God.

This young woman’s tragic end has made an impact on our country as whole by giving over 34 thousand people a way to connect via The Mollie Movement and giving them tangible ways to show love and support to people in the state of Iowa and around the country.

Yes, I know. This is just one incident. There are hundreds of thousands of people every moment of every day who are dealing with significant tragedy – loved ones who went missing and have never been found, significant acts of violence that have destroyed lives even though physical bodies survived, and on and on.  In all of these instances, something happened in the blink of an eye that changed not just an individuals’ world forever, but the lives of all that intersect with that person and nothing can be done to change return things to their previous state…

…and yet…

…And yet God is there for each and every one of these people at every moment.

Now I get it. From a human perspective, it all seems so unfair. We cannot wrap our minds around why such things can possibly happen if there is a loving God in the heavens let alone in our midst. But as I’ve said over and over again, this life isn’t about us individually.

At least as I see it, our job here on earth is to learn to be God for those around us. That means learning the difficult things like having to be the hands and feet for him during a tragedy, learning to be voice of compassion to one who is struggling even when you don’t understand the struggle, and perhaps most difficult of all, reflecting the grace and mercy of God to those who cause tragic events to occur in the first place. I know this sounds impossible and if we choose to keep our eyes focused downward, it will never happen.

But if we choose instead to look to the heavens and remember that God sent His son to show us how to do just that, it can be done. The hardest part is to remember that even those we consider to be the worst of humanity were still created by God.

And God is always good.  All the time.

TolstoyGod is entirely perfect, entirely good, entirely loving and entirely omnipotent. He has created a world in which we can come to love him and trust Him despite the trials and pains of this world. Faith would not be faith were we not faced with challenges too large to comprehend. We wouldn’t have needed Jesus to be a living example of how to live in God’s image by walking this earth if our time were wasn’t going to be difficult. And Jesus wouldn’t have had to die a terrible and painful death if we didn’t need to be shown that our plans and our goals for our lives and the lives of others cannot fulfill God’s perfect plan.

The bottom line is this. None of us know what piece of the tapestry we are called to complete. We do not know what choices we will make that will cause significant ripple effects on the lives of those around us. And none of us know when our faith will be tested by circumstances beyond our control. What God wants each of us to know – what He cries to us from the heavens in every circumstance – is that He is in control and that if we just turn our eyes to Him, He will create goodness out of every moment, the good and the horrible.

Parenting

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Being a parent is such a challenging thing.

That was the understatement of the year, right? I mean, sure, it has big rewards, but not without significant cost and I, personally, was not prepared for the cost.

For those who may not be aware, nearly 20 years ago, I prayed that God would bring me a husband and children….but I wasn’t specific enough and God, having the sense of humor that He does, blessed me with both at once.

Ok. Maybe that was just my making a choice and not really listening all that well, but regardless I married a man with 3 boys who all lived with us full time for the entirety of our marriage (in hindsight, there are times I truly wonder how much of a blessing the marriage itself was, but that’s a topic for another day) and while I truly do love these boys as much as I possibly can, there are times that wonder how in heavens name they turned out the way they did and I somehow managed not to just beat them upside the head with a 2×4 to knock some sense into them.

I’m kidding, of course. I would never hurt any of them, but I can honestly state that only children have the unique ability to cause such exquisite pain that I find myself wondering if it would be less painful to inflict myself with a million paper cuts and pour fresh salt and lemon juice in them for an hour.

What makes me think about such lovely thoughts on such a pretty summer day? Well as I sit here I am reflecting on the struggles my youngest is experiencing and creating.

He is a wonderful, tender-hearted kid who suffers from pretty severe ADHD and depression. These two things have been a tremendous challenge for him as he tries both positive and negative means to control the impulses and depression that drive him, make him feel like he’s crawling out of his own skin and keep him longing for some unknown source of happiness and peace e has yet to find.

And therein lays the root of the struggle he is currently experiencing.

At this time, he is choosing to act on some things that have the potential to have lasting effects on his personal relationships and lifestyle. Despite how much he tries, he typically sets himself up to fail and cannot force him to make better choices, act more responsibly, or choose not to have instant gratification in a given situation.

I love him dearly and want to be able to do whatever I can for him, but as I look at the life he is leading at the ripe old age of 26, my heart breaks for these choices because it feels to me that they continue to distance him from the life I had believe God wants him to live.

And then I remember that God is God, not me.

Only God knows what His plan is for the son that is currently struggling or the other two, for that matter.

Only God knows what His plan is for any of us and I can virtually guarantee that His plan doesn’t match the one we have in our heads.

We all want our kids all to be happy, healthy, successful, and overall the very best people they can possibly be. But God’s plan is bigger than our mortal minds can comprehend and because of that, not all of our children (let alone each of us) will have the opportunity to live the lives we desperately long for them to lead. As a matter of fact, some of us and some of our kids are going to end up doing some pretty awful things and make some really terrible decisions and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.

And each of these actions fit perfectly into God’s plan.

gods-timing-not-mine-gods-will-not-mine-gods-plan-15628015And that feels more than a little unfair.

Why is it that God places these tiny beings in our live, grow, love and develop into unique, amazing people only to have send this wonderful little human in a direction so far from what we had envisioned and thought He had promised?

Weren’t we the ones that spent sleepless nights nursing them through illnesses or laboring for endless hours at the kitchen table on one homework project after another? Weren’t we the ones championing them on through sports activities, relationship woes, and decisions that either were or at least felt life altering? Of course we were…

…and so was God.

As painful as it has been for me to realize, I have come to understand that for every moment I have spent worrying about my kids – this one perhaps a little more than the others – God has watched him go through it twice; once when He created Him and saw the life He created laid out before Him and the second time, as He witnessed this child actually make the expected errors.

And here’s the particularly difficult part.

The fact is that because God created this boy just the way he is and knew exactly what choices he would make as he walked through this life means that God blessed this life as it was. Not some better version of it or some idealistic view of what my sons’ life could be, but just as it is, warts and all.

And, as the Bible said, it was good.

Ok. You’re right.

The Bible didn’t say that about my child specifically, but in my view, that is in fact what God said about all of our children because God is a perfect God. He is all knowing and all loving and because he is God, He doesn’t make mistakes nor change His mind.  So following this logic, the decisions my son is making are working together for God’s plan for him and those he will influence and it will turn out just the way God intended. My job, as his stepmother and as a faithful believer in God, is to trust His will is perfect, even if it’s not what I want.

New parenting quotes for hard times 10 Inspirational Quotes The Day 479
New parenting quotes for hard times 10 Inspirational Quotes The Day 479

God is not nor will He ever be a vending machine for our wishes. And much as we want to think otherwise, this world and all that is in it doesn’t really revolve around each of us individually. In all honestly, this little tidbit has really been eating at me these past few months as I listen to people talk about how God has done x,y, and z for them because He loves them. Why does that bother me? Because those statements make our faith in God about us not about Him. And these little sentences are the gateways to failures in faith because when things go awry, we can’t believe that the same God who has done all of these things for us individually would think to do something that doesn’t make us happy.

From my little corner of the world, this is one of the reasons Christians fall away from their faith and those we want to lead to the faith do not follow. What they see is when we pray for something specific and it doesn’t come true, it must mean that God is not all loving or that there is something inherently unloving about me.

And this is entirely incorrect,

The plan God has created is better than the one we have in our heads and this plan means we will not have everything we want nor will our lives be what we think they be or maybe what we think we (or other people) deserve. Our lives will only be perfect in the perspective of the truly perfect, loving God.

So as parents, aunts, uncles, and all other family members and friends, we are called to sit back and watch as those we love make stupid mistakes and love them anyway. We cry out in pain as those we love are unjustly treated or even killed and we must trust that our loving, omnipotent God is still in control and despite how much it hurts or angers us, He is still perfect.

48410-billy-graham-quote-3.1200w.tnAnd if, by chance, you are in a similar situation as I am and you are angrily reading this thinking clearly I don’t understand the pain you are currently enduring and could not possibly know what you have and are going to have to deal with, you are right.  I am not for the most infinitesimal moments suggesting that I do…

…but God does.

Just look at the cross.

 

Definitions

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As a writer – or at least a person that attempts to write on occasion – I love words. I am in awe of the fact that one simple sentence can make someone’s heart dance and just as quickly shatter an illusion. I find inspiration in individual words and the way their meaning can undulate like a wave depending on its context.

About a year ago, I wrote a post talking about the meaning of the word “home”. Circumstances in my life had required me to move to a shared house and the definition I had created in my heart and mind for “home” didn’t fit this new circumstance. I was angry and hurt about where life – and God – had led me. While I didn’t blame God for where I was, I did feel confused about why I couldn’t finally rest in the definition of home that I had; why my life had to, yet again, be sent into upheaval like a game of 52 card pickup. I didn’t know where I was going to find the strength to yet again move forward.

Now here I am, a full year later, and the definition of the word “home” has changed again.

I have been lucky enough to find a new place that to lay my head at night and over the past three months, have worked hard to create a space that is an image of me now, not who I have been in the past or who I may be in the future. As lovely as this has been, it has also been a difficult process for me because for nearly 10 years, home always meant the place where my adoring dog was. The actual building or what the building housed didn’t matter. What mattered was that whatever door I walked into, my baby girl was there to greet me.

But now she’s gone.

And now, here I am in beautiful new place – a place she never even stepped a little white-tipped paw in – and I see her everywhere.  I yearn for her to be at the door to greet me when I come back from work, I still turn to give her a piece of cheese when I made a sandwich, and I find myself wondering where she is or how her day is when I’m away. Her loss has broken my heart, but it has also done something else.

It has allowed me the chance to redefine what home looks like just for me. For the first time in my life, I am not worrying that someone else is going to dislike my choice of décor or that there isn’t a place to house knickknacks or heirlooms. I am not wondering what things I need to arrange to make it easier for my girl to get around nor do I have to worry about the bunnies that reside outside my door being chased or barked at all day long. No, this was not what I had planned or desired, but it is what God has given me for this time in my life and I have chosen to embrace it.

The thing that I have found as I work through this grief is that I – and I believe all of us – are often not willing to allow the meaning of the words and the importance they hold in our lives to change as they need to in order to adapt to our every growing and changing lives. We like things the way they have always been and spend a good deal of time and energy fighting the changes that come our way to help us grow.

Recently, I have seen this play out clearly and painfully with some friends of mine who are going through some similar “growth opportunities” where they, too, are having to redefine some words for themselves – words like family and love. In some situations, this is because of the blessings of marriage or children, but in some situations, this is because the current definition of what family or love looks like no longer fits the reality of the situation in front of them and they are angry, frustrated, and sad.

I get it. I really do. We go into situations with an idea of what they will look like only to be disappointed with the fact that our expectations weren’t met. We start a new job with an idea that the people we will be working with will be great only to find out that we don’t mesh well with them and struggle. We go into a new friendship thinking our new friend feels the same way we do about issues we feel strongly about only to find out they have very different views and we are forced to decide whether or not we are willing to accept those differences.

Or we get married and believe that marriage looks a certain way and that the person we married will either always be the same or that we will grow and change in the same directions as do they do because, after all, isn’t that what married couples do?

But that isn’t the case. The definitions of the words marriage and love must change with time but just because we accept this intellectually doesn’t mean that we don’t fight hard against the reality of the situation. We fight the need to allow the definitions we have created in our hearts and minds for these words – these relationships – to change with time.

How many times have you heard or said my spouse/friend/significant other isn’t the person they used to be? And how many times, when you’re expressing this thought, are you absolutely devastated or infuriated by that reality? It happens to me all the time and since I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, I assume it happens to you as well. The way I see it, this happens because we haven’t allowed our definition of who that person is – their role in our lives and the word we have attached to the emotions we have for that person to change. We want them to be who we imagined them to be from the get go. But that can’t ever actually be the case.

All people and all relationships must be able to change and grow and we, as loving, faith-filled people, must grow and change along with them. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily change in the same direction that they do, but it does mean that we allow ourselves to see beyond our own desires and needs and move in a direction that is unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable.

Here’s the bottom line.

Life is full of change – good and bad. Our jobs as members of this society and this faith community is to must allow the words that we use to frame experiences and relationships grow and change instead of putting them all in a big, black, margin-indented book and assume that they will forever be the same. God did not create us to live in a vacuum so despite the pain change can cause, we must trust that His plan for those changes is greater than the pain. We must allow those nearest to us to define themselves – their thoughts, needs and desires – as fluidly for us as we want them to allow us to for them.  In so doing we allow the individual words used to describe a person and relationship to as unique as they are. Sure, there are only a few words in the English language that express what we refer to as love, but if we are gracious with the people around us, we will see that each use of that same word will reflect the specific qualities of the individual to which it is attached.

So as I spend this summer redefining “home” for myself, I pray that you also can find ways to redefine important words and phrases for yourself with the full understanding that these definitions, too, will change.

The vulnerability conversation

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http://consciousmagazine.co/many-tenets-wholeheartedness-core-vulnerability-worthiness/

I was recently preparing to lead a book discussion on the topic of vulnerability. Being vulnerable is a challenging thing. In many ways, we are often taught that to be vulnerable means to be weak which his quite literally the opposite of what being vulnerable truly is. In order to be vulnerable, one must expose the soft underbelly of their soul for others to see. In many ways, being vulnerable is the strongest thing we can do as humans and as Christians. While I was doing my research for the lesson I found a number of wonderful devotions, articles and videos on the topic leading me to understand that this is a topic that we all struggle with on many levels.

The book discussion made me reflect on the fact that I have often been asked how I am able to be so vulnerable in my writings and have to confess that the question takes me by surprise. When I write, I rarely consider the idea of being or not being vulnerable. As a writer, actor or musician (all things I dabble in to one extent or another), vulnerability must be part of what is offered. If I am not open and honest, exposing myself emotionally in my art, how can I expect to touch those receive my artistic offering? So I write, I sing, I act…offering myself to various audiences in hopes that what I have placed in front of them is a blessing in some form or fashion.

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https://everydaypowerblog.com/brene-brown-quotes/

I am a very open person, willing to discuss very difficult topics and open my old wounds should that action be able to help others…and yet as I reflect on the things I have opened up about, there are many things I am less willing – or not willing –  to express in any way. What makes the difference? Well, for one thing, we as a society have developed a more compassionate skin about some things more than others. There are some items that were previously taboo for discussion that now, when discussed or exposed, are things that others are able to be empathetic and supportive about rather than judgmental. For example, things like the #metoo movement make having been harassed almost like being a member of a club – something that bonds people like me to one another providing support and understanding where previously there may been none.

But then there are the other things.

These are the things that, when I awaken in the middle of the night, get my mind wound up and keep me from sleeping through the night; the things that have shaped me enough to know they have made an impact in who I am and how I relate to the world around me and I am unable to keep from wondering if I would be as acceptable to those around me should those little items be exposed for general knowledge.

It’s not that I’ve done anything horrific. To be honest, all of the things that I hide behind the “non-public” side of my wall of vulnerability are things that I would easily forgive in others but for me, they feel unacceptable; unforgiveable. Some are embarrassing, some are hard lessons that caused growth and change, but nothing is really more than that. So why am I so unable to share these things?

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https://quotefancy.com/quote/914506/T-S-Eliot-Survival-is-your-strength-not-your-shame

Shame is, of course, is the anchor that locks those things in my heart and mind. It has this uncanny ability to magnify actions and words making them out to be gigantic monsters in my life rather than the itty bitty dust bunnies they probably are. I’m sure you are all familiar with how that works. Something happens – big or small – and suddenly you’re not able to face the people that witnessed the action or your relationships are forever altered (at least in your mind) because of that action. What makes it worse, at least for me, is that whenever that little event is mentioned by someone trying to offer grace and compassion about it, all I can do is beat myself up just a little more about it.

But shame is also not the only reason for my two-faced vulnerability wall.

The other reason is the way others respond to vulnerability.

You see, when someone tells a story that is challenging or difficult, it is the start of a conversation and stories that are vulnerable in nature often makes those who are listening feel anxious or uncomfortable. We all want to say that our first reaction to such a story would be one of compassion and love, but I would suggest that more often than not, our first reaction is to wonder how they got themselves into that situation in the first place or wonder how they could have done “x” and then, depending on the situation, the most common responses are to either judge the individual for the action to which they confessed or try to find a way to “fix” the problem. Now those initial reactions can be hidden from view in if they take place via social media, but in person, that is not the case.

In person, the individual who has courageously decided to take that step and tell their story sees the entire emotional response play out across the faces of those listening even if nothing is actually said. They see the shock, the anger, the disbelief, the judgment. It plays out right in front of them and suddenly a new level of strength is needed – strength to deal with the repercussions of openness. And unfortunately in my life, and I’m sure many of yours as well, when I have been able to be strong enough to be vulnerable about a situation or action, the response has been anything but supportive. The “why would you ever” statements are almost equally balanced with the “if you would have only done this…”, statements that lead me to feel that I have failed not only for being in whatever situation I had spoken of, but not being smart enough or tough enough or quick enough to respond the way others feel I should.

The thing is that I don’t share my stories to have someone try to “fix” me or to create a situation where I can be humiliated again due to the judgment of others. I choose to be vulnerable to open the doors to things that are painful in life and let others know they are not alone in their suffering. But despite this desire, I have realized that there are things others are not ready to hear; not ready to be forced to come to terms with in others. For this reason, I have created my dual-sided vulnerability wall because in the end, I am not trying to make others uncomfortable, but to invite healing both for myself and for others. If my choosing to be vulnerable about an event in my life creates more strife for both me and the people hearing it, I am not doing what I set out to do.

So is there a point to all of this ranting? You will be happy to know that yes, there is…and here it is.

EmilysQuotes.Com-Elbert-Hubbard-understanding-silence-words-communication-relationship
http://emilysquotes.com/he-who-does-not-understand-your-silence-will-probably-not-understand-your-words/

Vulnerability is a two-way street and it requires equal amounts of risk from both sides. It requires the storyteller to expose those tender places in their hearts and souls and it requires the listener to graciously accept this offering for what it is – a show of strength and healing – and not try to judge or fix it. Additionally, it requires that the person opening their heart do so after significant prayer and discernment to ensure that what is being exposed doesn’t place an unusually heavy burden on those who will listen. Finally, it requires that both parties – the giver and the receiver – be gracious toward one another recognizing the difficulty of the situation on both sides of the coin.  It is here at this place of graciousness that we can truly express the love of God and be the reflection of His mercy and grace rather than a reflection of the ugliness that surrounds us all.
 

Spring Cleaning

pexels-photo-413707.jpegSpring has sprung in Colorado. I know this because our daily weather forecasts contain nearly equal measure of rain forecasts as snow, and on any given day there is a significant likelihood of seeing Dorothy and Toto fly by carried by one of our 80mph wind gusts.

When I was a kid, Spring always meant cleaning – tackling all those chores that nobody ever really wanted to do like cleaning the windows, the garage, the baseboards, and, my least favorite job, finding some way to eliminate the cobwebs that had taken up residence in every nook and cranny when nobody was looking.

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Though I’ve only lived in my new apartment a few weeks, I found myself attending to this very task a few days ago. But this time, it wasn’t true physical cobwebs I was attending to, mental cobwebs to creep into my mind and spirit over the past few months allowing their presence to significantly alter the way I’ve been able to perceive God and both his presence in my life and His blessings around me.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t see that God has sent many blessings over the past few months and I have certainly been able to rejoice in them. For example, a mere 9 months ago, I was less than a paycheck away from being homeless despite having moved to a home shared by several other people. God heard my cries and sent a fantastic career opportunity my way and my financial situation changed literally overnight. I met some terrific people in a wonderful, creative new environment, and I even met someone who I thought might be a lovely addition to my life for the future.

But in the deepest, darkest corners of my mind, silky, sticky strands of cobwebs had already begun accumulating. Each thread contained feelings of doubt and self-loathing and as the shininess of the new job and relationship began to dull I began feeling familiar feelings of insecurity – what if I oversold myself on this job and I can’t do what they want? What if I’m not good enough, insightful or intelligent enough to be an asset and they end my contract? The cobwebs grew faster and faster and started growing in more corners of my life. I felt less and less like an asset and more like an inconvenience in other people’s lives. The “relationship” started to falter as this person echoed my first husbands feelings of me, telling me that while he enjoyed spending time with me in the solitude of his home, being seen in public together was unacceptable; I was unacceptable.

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Each one of these thoughts created thicker and thicker webs that covered any sense of how much I am loved and cherished by God. As life happened around me and things got a little harder, the webs encompassed every inch of my heart and mind. By the time I lost my beloved dog to cancer, I was completely incapable of seeing good in my life. While I was still completely capable of seeing the good elsewhere – seeing the blessings in other people’s lives and see God in even the darkest world events, when it came to me – my house – the opaque threads completely covered the windows of my heart. For me, getting up and putting one foot in front of the other was truly all I could do. I was making it, but just barely. The cobwebs of negativity had thoroughly skewed my world.

And yet…

And yet God’s light continued to shine, reaching out to penetrate those deep, dark corners of my mind and finally His light shone on one of those webs, reflecting back to me and opening the eyes of my heart to see the damage they had done in my heart and mind. Because of his persistent love for me, I was finally able to see that it was time to do a little work in my spirit.

So, for me, Spring cleaning has begun. I have started wiping each silky, sticky thread from their temporary residence letting each swipe carry away the confusion and obscurity they have created over the past few months. As I clean them away, I can feel the peace of the Holy Sprit come through the newly cleared areas, blowing away that which doesn’t belong in my heart and leaving behind clean, fresh, open places in my heart for God to fill. I cannot say this is an easy task for me. You know how it is when you clean cobwebs – they stick to everything, desperately trying to stay where they want to be. Their tenacity is sometimes stronger than mine and they are able to either stay where they were or cling in another place making the next “cleaning session” harder that its predecessor. Harder not only because I have to return again to places that I thought had been cleaned before but are still covered with web, but also because those webs have attached themselves to my heart and, wrong as it may be, extracting the negativity they represent means looking more closely at those in my life that have helped to create their presence and perhaps extracting those people from my life as well. Like with any deep cleaning project, I have awakened the next day feeling battered and sore, but better for the effort because I know that in the end, God is faithful and because of His faithfulness, I am able to continue with the task of becoming “cobweb free”.

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Perhaps you, like me, are in the process of cleaning out the cobwebs of your life. Or maybe you have not yet begun but know this is a task that must be tackled. If this resonates with you, I pray for the strength to either begin or continue the journey and for the knowledge that God is there, shining His light on the places that need attention so we can make way for a fresh indwelling of His presence in our heart. For those of you who have already completed this hard work, please pray for those who are in the process. This journey is a challenging one, but with the prayerful support of our community, each and every one of us can complete it.

 

 

 

 

My Lexy-Girl

27797427_10156091638402359_1129368443817258567_oHer toys have all been discarded, blankets and dishes washed and put away and I am left with an overwhelming sense of emptiness and sadness. I know it will go away with time, but for now, the feeling of grief and loss like standing in quicksand and every breath and heartbeat sucks me further down into its darkness.

There are those who will likely say she was only a dog and while you would be right technically, Lexy was far from “just” anything.

1931098_45645022358_894_nFound under a pallet that served as a porch in the woods in central South Carolina at just a month old, she was scrappy and determined, ready to take on the world – and take it on, she did.

Lexy made friends with nearly everyone she ever encountered. On the farm we lived on for her first few years, she made friends with the barn cats and the horses. She would excitedly lick the cats every morning and run up and down the fence with a young horse, Sport, who tossed things to her to catch and happily waited at the fence every morning to greet her.

27798070_10214412055551640_8198879065367142503_oShe was playful and loving with a heart to serve those who she felt were in need. If we were at the dog park and she heard a baby cry (human or other), she would rush to their side and nuzzle and lick them for comfort. One time, I remember walking past a young man in a wheelchair who appeared to suffer from some pretty significant autistic issues. Lexy walked up to him, sat next to him, and leaned just close enough that he could pet her. He placed his hand on her head and she just sat, waiting, giving him time and love in the way that he was able to accept it. It brought tears to both my eyes and his mothers.

On weekends when she would stay with my parents for one reason or another, Lexy would come home completely exhausted after having forced herself to stay awake all day to watch over my dad and stepmother to make sure they were safe, and then keep guard over the house and each of them as they slept.

27788497_10156098614587359_4162020583359323514_oAside from her color, the only scary thing about her was her bark which could honestly wake the dead. But once someone came into view, she would run and get a toy for each visitor. I could always tell who her favorites were based on the toy she brought. Some received whatever was closest, while others would get the “prize” of her favorite bone or newest treasure.

Coughing was always something that bothered her and if I were ever sick and started coughing in the middle of the night, Lexy would come up beside me (yes, she slept on the bed – don’t judge!), literally pat me on the shoulder with her paw, and then lay as close to me as absolutely possible to keep me “safe”.

There are so many stories that made Lexy unique and wonderful – some I may not even know about – but I can honestly say that she was a gift to me.

27788497_10156098614587359_4162020583359323514_oI wish I could say that on her last day, I took her to all her favorite places – her dog park, her boyfriend’s house, to the trail – to see them one last time or that she got her favorite foods and pets from all of her favorite people, but sadly this was not the case. Her illness came quickly and unexpectedly and I was left with that most horrible of decisions. I now find myself apologizing to her for not seeing what was happening so I could have stopped it; apologizing for not being with her that final weekend; apologizing for being human.

My Lexy-girl was the best thing in my life. She came at a time that I desperately needed someone to care for and to care for me. She took her job seriously and I fear she may have done it better than I. As my friend would often say, she carried the burdens of the world on her shoulders and it was because of this, her life here was cut shorter than we expected.  I don’t know if this is why she passed to unexpectedly, but I do know there are not enough words in the English language to express how incredibly thankful and blessed I am to have had her in my life. She was my best friend, my sole companion for nearly 10 years and I will forever miss her.

“Used to Be” Me

0034For some unknown reason, every now and then I lose my sanity and choose to dive into the online dating scene. I’m not really sure what it is that sparks this craziness other than probably boredom and a bit of loneliness, but I can tell you it doesn’t take long to remember precisely why I never do it for long. Just in case you haven’t had the “pleasure” of this experience, let me see if I can sum it up for you.

Online dating is a tedious process wherein you must choose potential suitors from an enormous database of individuals. You search through images and profiles to find those you find attractive in some form or fashion, chat briefly online, exchange information, talk and or meet in person and then decide if you wish to move forward.

Oh, sure. It sounds innocuous enough except that, as with any online interaction, the reality of who a person is doesn’t necessarily equal who they present themselves to be in the virtual realm. The old adage “you can be whomever you want to be online” is absolutely true. Between decades old pictures and accounts stolen from others in order to be used by some Russian or Algerian prince who is “only trying to give you his millions”, the prospects become pretty…well…disheartening.

To be fair, though, dating through any avenue is difficult. It is inevitable that our own insecurities cause us to create “alternate” realities of who we are either in the way we look, act, or feel about certain things. Sometimes, we even completely mask who we are in hopes that our failures won’t become clear to those around us and then we end up losing our true identities in the process.

The song She Used to Be Mine, from the musical Waitress¸ speaks eloquently to this dilemma and it was in these lyrics that I found some truth about myself and my faith.

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I am, as the song says, imperfect. I am broken, hard on myself, emotionally messy, and have been known – perhaps more often than not – to be lonely. Life hasn’t given me what I had hoped for and there have been many times in my life that I neither recognized – nor much cared for – the person who stared back at me from the mirror.

For much of my life, I allowed the words that were thrown at me by others, the circumstances I found myself in, and the way others treated me to determine who I was and what my life would be. Life was, as Sara Bareilles so beautifully wrote, carved out for me and I chose to believe that reality rather than to risk the insecurity of changing it.

But during a recent online chat with a potential beau, I realized that had all changed. That is more of the “used to be” me than the current me. Not because something miraculous happened, but because of the persistent indwelling of the Holy Spirit which slowly eroded the false identity that the world created and opened up a clearer understanding of the life that God had created for me.

As the Holy Spirits presence in my soul has grown, I have become more willing and able to make bolder choices; to stand up to those who bruised and abused me or to walk away from those for whom standing up would be misconstrued or destructive. I learned how to fight for myself, to recognize my strengths, to hear God’s still small voice guide me and not question it, and to accept that my unique brokenness and messiness has been molded into a beautiful masterpiece.

Ok. I know what you’re wondering. What in the world does all of this have to do with online dating?

I am so glad you asked.

You see, the thing with online dating – and I suppose dating and life in general – is that we are all marketing ourselves; painting a picture of ourselves to others to try achieve a desired reaction, i.e., getting a date. But as I chatted with a man who wanted a “proof of life” photo to prove that I was in fact the person I represented myself to be, I realized for the first time that I am at home with who I am. All of the mess, all of the insecurities, my aging self, and my brokenness has all been blended together to create a person that is uniquely Gods and I don’t need to be bullied or coerced into being something less than that.this-is-me

Because of the things I have seen and been through, God has given me the ability to be truly empathetic to others. I can not only put myself in their shoes, but truly feel the aches that they feel so that as a Stephen’s Minister, I can walk with them through their challenges and struggles.

Because of the mercies and graces I have been shown, I am able grant these same mercies to those around me and to see a God that is bigger and more wonderful than our society often likes to portray. I can rejoice in the fact that His perfect will is sometimes painful to us individually but is wholly loving and just.

And because of the trials God has carried me through, I can be proud of the strong woman God has created me to be and know that the perfect people I need and desire to have in my life will be added when the time is right – in God’s perfect time, not mine. In the meantime, I am strong enough, good enough, and “reckless, just enough” to be the capable, independent woman I am and that being this woman is not a negative thing.

As I reflect back on the off and on relationship I have had with online dating, I am grateful that I no longer feel the need to actually “market myself” – to craft a profile that will attract a certain type of individual in hopes that he might be “the one”. Instead, I feel comfortable showing this online world who I truly am without fear of not being “good enough”. There is a fire in my eyes that God has placed there and that fire will not only attract the right person to my life, but will be the fuel that enables me to continue developing into even more of a beautiful “mess” than I already am.

Threads

threadsI was blessed recently to share a portion of my story (I say a portion because honestly, whose entire story can fit neatly into a 3-minute time slot?) at my church and I was overwhelmed by the number of people that approached me afterwards to hug me, encourage me, or share a bit of their own story with me. The more I’ve thought about the experience, the more amazed I am about how God weaves us all together into the same tapestry.

As I may have said here before, I truly feel that each of us is a thread in God’s tapestry. Some of our threads are long, some short, but all of our threads have a purpose. Each one of our threads adds not only strength and support, but perhaps more importantly, color and beauty to the image that God is creating. And God does indeed create beauty in all things, through all things.

What’s hard to remember is that what makes something beautiful isn’t perfection. I mean, I know that we look at the super models and such in magazines and see them as “perfect”, but even those who we believe to be the most beautiful have something that mars the “perfection” – a beauty mark, a small crookedness to their smile or some other small flaw that make them unique; special.

Similarly, each of us has places in our lives that are broken; fractured by the storms we have encountered. As you heard in my story, I have plenty of these imperfections, but God has been able to make those places of brokenness part of my unique beauty and He does this by weaving into my life other uniquely beautiful people that have threads which are strong in the places that mine is weak. My job as a person of faith is are to be willing to embrace the people that God allows to cross my path.

Sure, that sounds easy, but its only easy if everyone that is woven into my life makes me happier and more fulfilled. But the reality is that God’s creation is full of people and events that are or have been negative influences in my life – people that have treated me badly, abused me or have been conduits to allow bad things to happen. It’s often difficult to digest, but each of these negative people are as important as the positive people because each of their threads has also been woven into my life for a reason.

One of the reasons He has done this, I have come to understand, is that God needed that person to provide disruption; to shake up the status quo of my life and help me focus on what is truly important – Him.

This is more than little uncomfortable and outside of the scope of what I – or I suspect you – would choose, but then God, being God, knows that if we reside in the status quo for too long, this is where we – or at least I – become stagnant. Sameness is easy. It doesn’t take courage, it doesn’t take strength, and it most certainly doesn’t take faith.

And that’s why God doesn’t allow it in our life for any significant length of time.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was listening to a favorite song of mine called Stars and the Moon. If you have never heard it, I encourage you to search YouTube for it. In this song, the singer speaks of the men who had courted her – the poor dreamers and travelers who had nothing but yearnings and desires bigger than money and fame. They dreamt of being able to give the woman they loved things that would nourish her heart and soul but all she could see was the material things that money and security could buy.

In the end, this woman chose stability and wealth but found that this life meant having a life of stagnation; of never needing to reach for something or seeing something bigger than herself and wanting to strive for it. The magic of imagination and fantasy became a distant memory.

I don’t know about you, but even in the darkest times of my life, I have had dreams and desires. I may not have believed that I could achieve the things that I dreamt of, but I still had the yearnings in my heart. To me, those yearnings are the pieces of God in my heart reminding me that there are greater things for me than what I can see. Those dreams that may seem unreachable – and maybe even are – are the threads of my life that create color and texture. These things are often the bumps in my life that that make my contribution to Gods tapestry exactly what He intended it to be. These are the things I used to hide from others for fear of being judged but I now realize are the very things that make me the uniquely beautiful person I am and despite the pain that these things have often brought to me, I honestly would rather have experienced them than not because it is these things that make me see the beauty that is God.

The Idea of Christmas

blue-christmas-balls-1448214910psqI love the idea of Christmas. The lights, the beautifully decorated homes, the snow gently falling and covering the remaining leaves and grass that has lost its color from the summer leaving a beautiful, crisp whiteness to the world and creating a picture of mystery and expectation. The “joy of the season” is something I ache for, but for me – and for many – the parties, the constant reminders of others happiness like wedding engagements, anniversaries and new babies, and the overall excitement of the Christmas season does nothing more than drive home the fact that those things are not my/our reality.

I’m Christian – this time of year is supposed to be full of wonder, miracles and joy if for no other reason than it’s the time we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. But aside from the time that I get to sing some truly amazing music, those feelings often escape me.

I have thought long and hard about why I struggle so mightily at Christmas. Maybe it’s because my birthday is close to the holiday that my birthday celebrations often get lost in the shuffle. Maybe it’s because growing up in an alcoholic home, celebrations often became times filled with anger and fear and I am left with residual anxiety of what may come. Or maybe it’s because of the commercialism that has overtaken the true meaning of the season.

I think in all honestly, at least for me, it is all of these things that combine to make me feel sad, lost and alone with an overall sensation of not being “enough”. I don’t think I’m alone in this, either.

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Social media and neighborhoods alike capitalize on the race for the most grandiose or outlandish décor. Regardless of how beautiful someone’s home may be, whatever was done last year isn’t “enough”. Similarly, party planners struggle to find more unique and spectacular holiday celebrations in an attempt to outdo last years’ events because, for whatever reason, that last party wasn’t “enough”. And gifts? Forget it. Commercial after commercial shout about how we don’t have enough or we are “not enough” without this new car or that new wardrobe or some other new home. We as individuals are never enough without that next big thing.

What makes me feel even sadder is that this same message is often proclaimed just as loudly in the church as it is outside of it. In the one place that I want desperately to feel whole I am reminded time and again that I – just as I am – am not enough.

Ok. I can practically hear you screaming at me through the computer screen now. That’s not what the church says! That’s not what being Christian is about! And while I would agree that this is not what being Christian is about, I would have to say that we, as a body, often talk out of both sides of our mouths on this matter.

On the one side, we say that each and every one of us is precious to God; that He created us each to be unique and beautiful in our own ways. We proudly proclaim, “God loves you!” to anyone who is alone or hurting, encouraging these individuals to remember they aren’t alone; they haven’t been forgotten or abandoned and that they can come just as they are to receive His love, mercy and grace. We seek ways to include everyone in the message of Christmas and send packages all around the globe to ensure nobody feels forgotten at this special time of year. This is all wonderful, but there is another side to this.

The other side is where we as the church perpetuate the commercialism of Christmas by worrying more about whether children have presents under their tree than if they know what the true meaning of Christmas is or worry more about the musical or theatrical spectacle our church is able to present because the church down the street is doing something really grand this year and we want to make sure that what we are is going to be “enough”. Most importantly, to me at least, we are told that despite this lovely season, we as individuals are and will always be sinners, unclean and unworthy.

In other words, not enough.

To me, this message echoes what I have been told from those outside of the church – I can come in, but regardless of what I do or how hard I try, I will never be “enough”; I will never be pretty enough, talented enough, intelligent enough, desirable enough, faith-filled enough, or a good enough Christian. And all of this seems to be magnified during the holiday season as image after image in my mind and around me seem to reflect what I perceive to be others successes. I am left feeling beaten down; defeated.

By now you’re probably wondering just what the point of this article is. Am I doing my best to make you feel as depressed as I sound?vhq8l

Actually, no.

Here’s the thing.

Being sad during the holidays is not something to be ashamed of. It is a reality that many of us face for a wide variety of reasons. Just do a quick Google search on “Christmas sadness” and you will see just how widespread this problem is. Maybe this is a new thing for you or maybe, like me, you struggle a bit every year. Regardless, it is important to know that despite how it may feel, our feelings are not “wrong”. We are not alone and we do not need to cover up our struggle and pretend all is well. Most importantly, we are – all of us – truly “enough” just the way we are even when we don’t feel this is the case.

We do not need to search for that new person, item, job or experience to be “enough”. What makes us “enough” is the real joy of the season – that our Savior was born not to free us from being who we are, but rather born to fill us with a greater understanding of who (and whose) we are and how great that is.

We are each unique individuals created by God to be just who we are. God does not make mistakes and doesn’t compare the way each of us walk through this life hoping and wishing we would be just like our “better” brothers and sisters. Certainly, God created us to experience joy but He didn’t build a specific “Christmas joy” emotion that is either broken or forgotten in those of us that don’t experience this the way we think we should. Instead, He created grace, love and understanding to help us move through these difficult times and help others along the way.

Throughout the years, I have gathered some methods to cope with the “Christmas Blues”. Here are just a few:

  • Set realistic expectations: None of our Christmas celebrations are going to look or feel like a Hallmark movie. Do your best not to go into a situation hoping that this one time it will all live up to the movie in your head.
  • Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outside: Remember that we all have masks we put on in public. None of us has any idea what is going on inside someone else at any given moment and just because someone looks like they are having the time of their life doesn’t mean that’s their reality any better than yours.
  • Don’t isolate: It is easy to hide from others when we feel depressed but that isolation only contributes to the feelings of sadness. Do your best to reach out to those around you and, more importantly, be willing to accept their love and care.
  • Attend a Blue Christmas or similar healing service: Many churches offer a “blue Christmas” service which is an opportunity to, through music, prayer and meditation, come for healing and comfort for those struggling during the holiday season. These services are often non-denominational and very easy services to attend regardless of where you are in your faith walk.
  • Be the imperfect perfection you are: None of us is perfect and regardless of how hard you try, this season will not be perfect either. Relax into the imperfection that is being human and living life.6031-christmas-messages

As we enter full force into this Christmas season, I wish you all joy, hope and peace. Mayyou sense God’s presence, know you are His and, despite what the world may indicate, you are truly “enough”. You are enough because God chose to create you. Period.

 

Merry Christmas.

 

God’s Time

g2oriziIt could be my age, but it seems like time is flying more and more quickly these days. It seems like just a moment ago, it was Memorial Day and now the kids are back to school, Labor Day weekend is just a few days away, and the days are getting shorter and cooler. I saw an image on Facebook the other day that said Christmas is only 125 days away. CHRISTMAS, people! Oh, my goodness!!

It’s not just the seasons that are passing by so quickly. Just a year ago, I was struggling with financial challenges and the physical and mental stress that was caused from both my unemployment and the decompression that occurred after working under such tremendous stress for months on end. Thanks to diligent prayer warriors who spoke loudly and clearly to God, I was led to a wonderful job and shortly thereafter, housing that was more affordable and have now been recruited for an opportunity that is, at least on paper, better than anything I could have imagined for myself.

It’s funny how God works, isn’t it? His plan and timing are always perfect and sometimes I have been lucky enough to actually see how the plan has come together.4f723e1f1ce79500f8d579157a2db489-god-is-good-the-good

And then there are the other times.

The times I have prayed for God’s direction and really believed that I have acted in response to that direction only to see the pieces of my life crumbling before me. I have cried out to God in these times, aching for relief from the pain that plagued me only to hear God say to stay the course, or worse, say nothing at all. Did I follow the wrong plan? Does God not really love me after all?

Though I cannot claim to know for certain, I have come to believe that it is at times like that that true faith comes into play. Not during the good times, when His gracious hand is easy to see, but in the times of disaster when everything I had was destroyed and I am left vacant and alone. It is at these times when I hearken back to Rick Warren’s opening sentence to The Purpose Driven Lifeit’s not about [me].

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? I have spent my entire Christian walk learning to think of Jesus as our Brother, striving for that personal connection with God that only comes with prayer and time with His Word and being told over and over that God loves me and wants only the very best for me – but how can it be that the very best for me isn’t really about me? I mean, honestly, isn’t my being happy or at least at content about me? Isn’t my ability to make ends meet and live the life I believe God has been directing me to lead about me?

Oddly, the answer is no.

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Kind of depressing, isn’t it?

Well, sure, it can seem that way, and yet, as soon as I can take myself and my selfish desires out of the equation, it suddenly becomes so much easier to see God’s work and rejoice in the glory that is God.

For me, being faithful and trusting in God and His will for me requires that I stop trying to see His plan in a linear format. God’s plan is not linear – it doesn’t move from moment to moment, day to day as my life and perspective does. He is beyond time and space, so big that all things are both already done and being done continually. He created everything as He knew it should be and still placed me in a world where I can make choices about my own life each and every day while His mighty hand moves to still the ripples I create in His plan by my actions. It is both enormously complex and elegantly simple and I am blessed to be a part of it.

But it certainly doesn’t always feel that way.

On those days when I’ve had to watch a loved one die despite fervent prayer, sit back and watch as someone I love makes a choice that will be painful and challenging for them, or when a marriage I worked so hard to save disintegrates despite my efforts to be a good Christian wife, I am left feeling empty and confused, questioning whether I didn’t pray hard enough or if what I truly believed to have been God’s plan for me wasn’t. I question my faith, my ability to discern His voice in my life, and His love for me.

And then I remember. Much as I want my life to be about me, it isn’t. God’s voice and direction in my life serve a greater purpose and I may not ever truly know what that purpose is. My job in this relationship is to simply trust and walk the path He creates. It’s not easy and even when I have made choices I knew were the ones God wanted me to make, I certainly wasn’t saved from suffering as a result. But then, how can I expect not to suffer for God’s direction when Noah, Moses, the disciples and Jesus all suffered to do His will?  It is both humbling and a little embarrassing to even consider that I have asked God to let me forego suffering given what has been done so I can even have this life but I guess that’s the arrogance of a human, right?

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So, what’s the point? Overall, I really want to encourage each and every one of you that despite how we perceive the goodness and love of God, His will is always perfect and His love for us is always genuine. In those dark times when this just doesn’t seem to be the case, remember that you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that God placed in your life to walk though challenging times with you. Of course, I know that sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is anyone out there – and perhaps you are in a time where there truly isn’t anyone. If this is the case and/or you are lacking the words to pray for discernment and wisdom, I offer these words of prayer. May they be a blessing to you now and in the future.

Heavenly Father, I admit that in times of struggle and challenge, I too often I desire my will above yours. Lord, forgive me for my selfishness and unbelief as I react to this unclear season of life. Jesus, as you yourself desired not your own will but the Father’s will, so let me seek your will for me in boldness and humility. Regardless of direction you have chosen for my life, equip me to truly believe that you are good, you are sovereign, and are a Father who desires only the best blessings for me. Open my eyes to see that what you see as a blessing may not be mirrored in how I perceive it. Lord, by praying “your will be done,” I surrender in trust and obedience.