Disappointing in the Very Best Way

The reality that we were going to Israel for a month took equally as long to sink into my brain.  It was one of those things that seemed unbelievable, like meeting your favorite celebrity or being gifted a brand new car.  I couldn’t believe I was actually going, and every time it occurred to me I’d end up shaking my head, getting chills, giggling like a kid.  Some people congratulated us, some were so envious they chose not to respond or just forced a “so happy for you” through their gritted teeth.  But the consensus from most was that we would experience something powerful, something divine in the Holy Land where the Bible first came to life and history is as vibrant as the hot Israeli sun.

In all honesty, I expected the same.  The Bible stories I’ve heard all my life had firmly implanted themselves in my brain and taken on a life of their own.  I was convinced that touching down in Israel, feeling the ancient ground beneath my feet would infuse me with some heightened sense of God’s presence, that every corner of the country would bestow some deeper enlightenment of the Gospel.  And it isn’t difficult to understand why; I think most people with Israel on their bucket list expect to be fulfilled, to experience God in a more impactful way, if not to find Him altogether.

After a few days in Tel-Aviv my preconceptions began breaking down and I realized I needed to reset, or perhaps just entirely abandon, my expectations.  There is nothing “holy” about Tel-Aviv.  It’s a bustling, noisy city that sleeps even less than New York, has shoreline as scantily clad as Miami, and its boutiques and shops on the city streets could rival those in Paris, Milan or Budapest.  Over the two weeks we spent in Tel-Aviv, I fell in love with its mediterranean breezes and culture and buzzing undercurrent of tension.  And although looking up I was reminded every few feet that I was in Israel by the blue and white flags flying from every other balcony, I also had the odd sensation that I could have been in almost any other big city in the world–so great were its similarities to the West.

Those similarities began disintegrating on the train to Jerusalem.  My excitement to see it grew as the miles between the two diverging cities whizzed by in a literal 100-mile-an-hour blur, as did my awareness of the sidelong looks at my bared shoulders from the other women on the train, both young and old, themselves dressed in long skirts and modest tops.  It didn’t take long for me to dig my cardigan out of my backpack and slide my arms through the safety of its sleeves.  Their looks walked a fine line between curiosity and disapproval, and I became very accustomed to this kind of attention for the duration of our visit to Jerusalem.  No matter how hard I tried to be respectful, to meet the basic requirements of religious decorum in a city that is preternaturally conservative, I kept finding myself being carefully observed–either by the women, who watched me shamelessly, or the men, who did so secretly under their wide-brimmed hats, trying their best to avoid direct eye contact or accidental physical contact with me at any cost.

And I found that so funny, and indicative of the heart focus that Jesus touched on in His teachings so long ago, that I, someone who would be considered pretty conservative by American standards, was squarely in the provocative and unacceptable camp in Jerusalem.  Whether it was my exposed shoulders on the street, my blonde hair uncovered and unbound, or holding hands with my husband in public, I was definitely not “good” enough.

But I’ve known that for along time–that I’m not and never will be good enough.  And as crazy as it sounds to 21st century philosophers who love to say “you are enough,” the disappointment that I’m not, but Jesus is, is the most freeing and wonderful thing I’ve ever come to understand.  

As we walked the Old City of Jerusalem, squeezed past shoulders in the holy sites of Galilee, and dodged tourists at the Church of the Nativity, the disconnect between God’s intended simplicity of Gospel of Jesus Christ and the contrived holiness that men have created at these places over the centuries in an effort to improve upon what God already did perfectly, was unnerving to me and my family.  

I found myself conflicted in ways I had not expected.  Why did I feel more moved just seeing the countryside of Galilee than being inside a church that was built at the spot where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish?  Was there something wrong with me, that I didn’t want to touch the rock where supposedly Jesus shared breakfast with Peter?  Why did I feel so disappointed to see candles and incense hanging over the manger where the Messiah was born?  Should I have been on my face weeping in front of the slab where Christ’s body was prepared for burial, like so many others were doing?  Or standing in a four-hour line to see the empty tomb?

I wrestled with these thoughts for days, eventually coming to the conclusion that all the reminders of my lack of holiness, my distaste for man’s definition of what holiness is centuries after my Savior walked the Earth, whether it be in appropriately covered shoulders and hair, or specific prayers prayed in a shrine, were refreshing in their confirmation that I was and am disappointing enough to have been graciously redeemed by God.  The righteous overkill that still permeates every corner of Jerusalem are just a sideshow to the fact that these are all historical sites that remind us that Jesus was real, that the Gospel is real, that He lived and died and rose again making all the memorials helpful in the context of who he was, but not holy in and of themselves.

I don’t want to make it sound as though I’m minimizing what may have been happening between the Holy Spirit and the people on their faces and in tears in the Holy Sepulcher.  It’s understandable to be overcome by the magnitude of what happened in these places.  But my connection with God in Jerusalem wasn’t so much about the specific sites as it was the historical significance of the Gospel roots of this land–the Light of the world being born in Bethlehem; the scenery along the dusty roads we drove; walking the small, crowded streets with the disapproving eyes and imagining Jesus being judged under their gazes as well; and finally, the stone courtyards where he was pronounced guilty, beaten, tortured, and given a cross to bear because I, because we, were so disappointingly, blessedly incomplete and imperfect in our own skin.

No shrine, no mausoleum, no tapestry or incense or prayer could ever fully represent or reflect the holy adequacy of Jesus’ life and sacrifice in Jerusalem, his story through the people of Israel, and his origins from the foundations of the world. And here, in my bedroom on the other side of the world in the United States (a country that was not even dreamt of during the years he walked the Earth), his presence is just as real as it has ever been. What a gift, to have your expectations crushed so perfectly. That is the awakening gift that I took home from Israel.

A Periodic Gross Family Update…with some confessions.

How long has it been since I did one of these? I have no idea. Probably it was before life got weird and 2020 started reading like a dystopian book series. Like most of you, the Gross family has undergone many changes, adaptations, reversals and transformations over the past two years.

The kid/school stuff is exhausting to even think about describing. How to say it–in just two years we’ve gone from two schools and one preschool; to one school virtually from home, Puerto Rico and across the country in a camper; to the pandemic-brick-and-mortar version of that same school which became an academic prison; to emergency end-of-year homeschooling; to applying to a private Christian school for next term. See what I mean? Exhausting.

What’s most exhausting about that, and sobering, is that I’m the one primarily making the decisions on my kids’ behalf, and one of the scariest privileges of being a parent is that God gives YOU, a flawed and sinful human being, the ability and RIGHT to do that for your kids. I take it seriously, hold it humbly, and often second guess myself and fret over whether I’m doing the “right” thing.

Fortunately, I have lived long enough to learn (and have been married to the King of Pivots long enough to know) that most decisions are not set in stone and very few paths are straight. Often it’s possible to change course and do something else, and if you parent with honesty, levity and humility, your kids learn how to pivot gracefully and forgive you readily for your mistakes. We have forced and coached our kids through so many shifts and modifications over the past two years that they have developed this amazing versatility and good humor, and have even taught me how to lighten up. I guess the patterns of our childhoods, the milestones and guideposts really do find their way back into our lives as parents, whether we try to avoid them, imitate them, or incorporate pieces of them into our own families.

What I bring from my childhood and my past into my present adult-parenthood is the adventure, the anticipation of something new that I can share with the people closest to me. If I were to be examined by a psychologist or just gossiped about by other women, they might say that I am afraid of sameness, afraid of being bored and that I’m not content with a simple life. Maybe that’s true. Maybe the constant change, the uprooting and moving and reinventing that I did as an Air Force kid my entire childhood and adolescence–figuring out who I was, who I wanted to be, where I fit in and always being unsure of any of those things fueled this wanderlust and need for excitement.

Or maybe God just had a path for me that branches out in vastly different directions and enables me to observe and recount and identify His love, His creative power, His sovereignty, His plan in so many different scenarios and places and cultures. Because in all the places I’ve lived and traveled, I’ve witnessed this strange dance and balance of differences and sameness in humanity, from complete strangers to my own children. Everyone searching for meaning, for significance, for recognition and achievement and security and LOVE. And when it all leads to the grave with nothing you can carry with you, what is the point of any of it unless there is Someone who can be praised for creating it all, Who has a reward for those who saw His purpose, those who lived for righteousness and holy love that cannot be shaken, that is full of security, steadfast, yet simultaneously exciting and breathtaking and new?

Bryan lost a job two months into COVID, putting him in the same club with so many Americans in our country who found themselves out of work in a struggling economy. But we had also been in that position before and seen the Lord provide, and when you have those Ebenezer stones of remembrance, it’s easy to trust and believe that God will actually provide–to put one foot in front of the other and do the next best thing. And that’s how Ichi was born. We are excited about the prospects and opportunities that Ichi is providing, the people God has brought into our lives through this project that began in Bryan’s head and now occupies our entire basement. However, we hold it loosely, because we know nothing is promised and although things are looking good today, we do have all of our eggs in a loosely woven, bouncy basket, and it could be tomorrow that they all roll out and smash at our feet on the ground.

So we carry them carefully, with a steady step, a loose grip, a heart of reverence and a gaze focused on eternity.

These are the things I’ve pondered this year through a pandemic, political shifts, financial uncertainty, career risks and changes in our family dynamic and schedule–in the walking through uncharted territory with the people God has planted beside me.

Bryan and I are still best friends, lovers, fighters, teammates. Life and work have made it very hard for us to have focused time and conversations, but fortunately we’ve created a pattern of date nights, a week away together each year, and prayer and prayer and prayer, and these things have saved and restored our marriage time and time again. We are passionate and tenacious, in both good ways and bad, but when the sun goes down (as long as B is in town and not traveling for work) we fall asleep holding each other, and I know that no matter what nightmares I have about being alone, as long as we are breathing, I will wake up and see his head on the pillow beside mine.

But my own head is often raging with personal battles–the daily sacrificing of my vanity as I see more spots, more wrinkles, more sagging, on the body and face I have lived with and have babied for years. Whether women will admit it or not, we reach a point where we wish we could go back in time and tell our younger self that she was in fact lovely, to appreciate what she has and not compare herself to other girls, to enjoy her youthful beauty, because when you see it start to fade in your 40s…it can be hard to watch. I fight temptation to pursue temporal, carnal things that are enticing but will inevitably leave me empty, and I constantly thank the Lord for His intervention in my foolishness, His loving diversions and protection. I see the window for attaining personal goals narrowing, and that was the hardest part for me in deciding to bring the kids home to finish the year homeschooling.

I had looked at this year as THE year–that I was going to complete a novel, volunteer, make a difference. And God, in His goodness and wisdom, has reminded me yet again that “many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). Nothing about this year played out the way I planned, and although I can clearly see God’s purpose and ways in the stripping away of my “free” time to accomplish some goals, I also know the learning and growing process He has for me is humbling and exposing, not really that pleasant, but deeply sacrificial and will be meaningful for my children when they are old enough to fully grasp what I did in removing them from their school and bringing them home to finish the year. The novel I had gotten halfway through, that I was determined to finish this year is now inching farther down the list in the recently opened Google Docs, but it’ll keep. It’ll still be in the same spot, waiting on me to pick up where I left off when I come back to it.

Children don’t work like that.

I don’t know if any of what I have typed made sense. I usually try to button up my writing with a catchy summary phrase that will tie everything together, but that’s not the way the last years have gone. There hasn’t been much tidy about them–they’ve been messy, but impactful, nerve-wracking and glorious. Huh. That’s exactly how my favorite Bible stories go, almost like they were organized to go that way by Someone who knows what He’s doing. That’s what I’m going to believe anyway.

No Mountain High Enough: Why Christmas is all About Descending

You know those moments when you’re keenly aware that you are experiencing something profound, something that will become a treasured memory in a matter of hours?  I had one of those last week.  A very strange and hectic turn of events took me to Peru on the first week of December when I expected to be hanging decorations, head-down in Christmas events and helping my kids wrap up their final school projects and assignments before Winter break.  Instead, I left my family in North Carolina and flew to Cusco, where I joined my parents and my sister and her family on a whirlwind tour of ancient Incan civilization, culminating in a full day hike with a Peruvian trail guide, my mom and my sister along a portion of the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.

The first glimpse of the famous Incan mountain-top city was spine tingling.  We stood atop the Sun Gate on the adjacent hill, gazing down at what we knew was Machu Picchu surrounded by ethereal, wispy clouds, waiting for the moment that they would rise and we would see it–this beautiful, intricate, mysterious and awe-inspiring place, built so high on a mountaintop that it seems sacred and frozen in time.  As the clouds dispersed and Machu Picchu was drenched in sunlight, we walked down into the ruins, speechless with gratitude as we learned more about the people that constructed and occupied its walls so long ago.  And learning more about them, I recognized both a similarity in my own past and this ancient people who tried to work their way to salvation, and a sympathy for their striving to know the true God–the one they could not quite name, who cannot be found on a mountain peak, but who descended to Earth to reign in and fill our hearts. (Ephesians 4:10)

The Incans lived their lives on mountains–traversing, building, farming, storing, worshipping, an endless cycle of work.  Gazing at the structures and terraces they built on the steep faces of the Andean mountains, the question comes unbidden to everyone’s mind: How did they DO this?

They were only in power for a little over 100 years, but they accomplished so much in that time that you get the distinct impression that their entire existence was defined by work.  

Mountains themselves are a symbol of work and challenge.  Perhaps for that reason, countless ancient cultures have linked mountains to religious worship.  Mountain peaks have historically been the preferred location for temples or considered off limits to humans because they were inhabited by gods.

Some other mountains that are either historically sacred or still considered as such today include:

Mount Everest (Tibet)–the holy mountain of the Sherpa

Mauna Kea (Hawaii)–the holy mountain of the Kanaka Maoli

Uluru (Australia)–sacred mountain of the Anagu

Mount Shasta (California)–sacred mountain to the NAtive American Winnemem Wintu

Ahkka (Sweden)–sacred to the Swedish Sami tribe

Mount Olympus (Greece)–the home of the gods according to Greek mythology

Mount Ararat (Turkey)–the landing place of the Ark according to Biblical history

Mount Fuji (Japan)–Buddhist pilgrimage site

Arunachala (India)–holy mountain of Hinduism.

For centuries, mountains have inspired inward reflection.  We see their immense stature and contemplate how small we are, appreciative of our weakness.  People climb them to experience a rush, to gain a perspective few have seen, to see a vision for their future.  We use the word figuratively in our conversations to convey personal trials and triumphs.  Some see their beauty and height and recognize that they could only have been formed by bigger and more beautiful Creator.  A tour of the Cusco Cathedral in the city center revealed that, as the Incans were converted by the Spanish, they even drew Mary in the shape of a mountain, combining her characteristics with those of their own Mother-Earth-Mountain goddess.

It’s for all these reasons, the work, the mystery, the unattainable nature of the mountain, that reflecting on its symbolism was so powerful for me as I gazed at Machu Picchu, this epicenter of Incan worship during the Christmas season, a time of remembrance and celebration of the day God came down to the humble earth to dwell among man.  No mountain has ever been high enough for man to enter into the presence of a Holy God.  Even Moses, who climbed Mount Sinai to receive God’s commandments, was never permitted to see His face, to remain in His presence. (Exodus 33 & 34)

 Every other religion still clings to its mountains, to its belief that getting close to its god requires a pilgrimage, a journey, sacrifice or struggle.  These other religions still preach a separation from God, a breach that can only be bridged by an endless and often futile striving on the part of humanity, and an uncertainty that man can ever truly be assured he has reached the apex of holiness.

That’s why Christmas is not about scaling mountains, but getting them out of the way–removing their symbolism, the weight and burden they signify.  Being a Christ follower is about God’s glorious descension, not our ascension, but our recognition of His sacrifice and acceptance of His authority .  The beauty, the mystery, the wonder of Christmas is that God abandoned his mountain and came to us to make his home in the dusty, common valleys. Becoming Emmanuel, God With Us, he destroyed the dividing wall (Ephesians 2:14) and the hostility of rugged, rocky walls and stony hearts and began to sow seeds into hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

When I walked through the long abandoned temples of impersonal gods at Machu Picchu, at the imposing Winaywiyna, and Pisaq, all I sensed was cold stone, no living presence.  But there was still the yearning in their stories recounted to me by our tour guides, to know this diving Creator, to offer worship and sacrifice and praise to One who made the things they could touch with their hands, the things that they depended on for their livelihood.  I’m so thankful that yearning is still alive today in the hearts of man, and that He has satisfied it in the form of the baby who became a Savior, who was born as a gift to us all, not in a citadel or a castle on a mountaintop, but in a stable in a small town on flat earth (Isaiah 9:6, Philippians 2:7).

When I see a mountain, I’m not compelled to strive, but to give thanks, that my Savior came down from His for me.  And that one day, I can ascend to Mount Zion on His back because of what He already did, not because I broke my own back trying to build enough temples to get there.

Why Teaching My Kids How to Love Has Eternal Significance

A few months ago I wrote an article for Christian Woman Magazine about how love is more choice than feeling. This verse reminded me of that idea, and made me ponder how the events of the last year or so have shown us how well we really love those around us. When it’s hard, when we don’t agree with them, when they are making it difficult to love them. How easily even Christians have taken to dismissing or canceling each other, how we’ve begun to redefine what love looks like.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6: 35, 36.

I’m reminded of the passages in Matthew where Jesus asked what benefit is it to us when we just love the people we like? And this isn’t meant to sound judgmental or legalistic—I do it too sometimes when people rub me the wrong way, when they assume things about me without even talking to me, when they dismiss me or reject me because they don’t agree with me. I’m tempted to stop caring about them, to brush THEM off. But did we ever see Jesus doing that? No, He pursued people. He opened doors for people to enter righteousness, he never closed them. It has actually been a pleasant surprise to me this year, that although I have been canceled by some, I have actually had a number of relationships improve that I would’ve considered unlikely to ever go anywhere, just because we chose to pursue each other, to practice the basic forms of love and kindness with each other.

Bryan and I had an exchange with two of our kids recently, discussing this practice of loving one another. Our middle daughter is an acts of service/quality time person—she doesn’t easily verbalize her feelings and it doesn’t come naturally for her to hug you. But she loves spending time with people she loves and making things for them, playing a game together.

Her younger brother though, has physical touch and words of affirmation as his love languages. He constantly tells her he loves her and tries to hug her. The other night she rebuffed him again and it brought him to tears.

I asked her, “don’t you love him Georgia?” She answered, “I don’t know. Sometimes I think I do and then he does something annoying and I’m not sure if I love him.”

Aha! I thought. And isn’t that what the world does? We decide whether we love someone based on our feelings of the moment, or our own interpretation, instead of considering being loving in our intentional actions and trying to understand the person who needs our love.

I explained to her, we all have moments when we are annoyed by or being annoying to another person, but that doesn’t mean the love isn’t there. The Bible actually says that love covers a multitude of sins—that it believes the best, always hopes.

Bryan then explained to her that love is also a commandment, and as Christians, we are expected to love. And if we practice loving someone, then we get better at it, and we find that the feelings come with the practice. He told her it’s like learning a new sport—we practice and practice until we are good at it. In the beginning it feels awkward, but eventually it becomes fun, we find ourselves loving the sport without effort.

So then we told her, babe, go love your brother. Show him kindness by speaking his language, and we’ll tell him to back off and give you a bit more space as well.

This is a challenge to me and to those of you still reading—the next time someone offends you, says something you don’t like, how about instead of becoming annoyed or angry, talking about them or dismissing them, pretending they don’t exist, we choose to practice loving them even if it feels awkward—ask them what their concerns are? What would be kindness or goodness to them? What are they going through and can we be praying for them? What if we tried speaking their language?

The choice to not love, to reject, to cancel, is not of God. It is not Christlike. The only thing God ever canceled was our debts when His son died on the cross. If we have the opportunity and choose to not practice Christlike love when it is difficult, what does that say about our hearts? What does that say about our respect for what Christ did for us?

Choice Words: Why Choice Matters When it Comes to Love.

I heard something last month (the month that in the last five years has undergone a cultural name change from June to Pride) that shook me deeply because it was fundamentally and experientially incorrect.  Someone said:

“You don’t choose who you love.”

My mind and heart in that instant both rose in defiance of this idea, an idea that has been gaining popularity in recent years.  I knew instantly that it was a dangerous notion, and a concept that can have detrimental effects on the younger generation, and thoroughly confuse those of us who know better.

An internet search on the word “choice” in regard to feeling proves to be even more confusing.  There are a myriad of theories of how choice factors into love.  But the popular opinion now amidst the LGBTQ community and their supporters, is that one has no control over who they love, that they are at the mercy of their feelings, that they cannot reign over their thoughts or behaviors.  It is unclear whether they really believe this or if it is something that they grab onto because it gives them a sense of affirmation and peace.

And to a degree, I get it.  If one does not know Christ, does not have a renewed mind and heart as is promised in the scriptures, (Romans 12:2, Ezekiel 36:26, Jeremiah 24:7) then what else does a person have to rely on but their own emotions?  What else could possibly guide them than their feelings and their misguided heart?

But even by society’s definition and standards, this reasoning begins to crumble in other scenarios. 

 First, what do these same people have to use as a defense for adultery if it’s true that one doesn’t choose who they love?  I would argue that people still have a delineated moral line that cannot be crossed when it comes to cheating.  Regardless of your sexual orientation or preference or relationship status or religion, most people agree that cheating is wrong.  It hurts people; it breaks hearts, it destroys marriages and families, it creates deep wounds in children that color their perspective and darken their view of love, it ruins friendships and brings division even in the workplace.  It is clear in these circumstances that there is some expectation that you hold fast to your commitments, that you can’t just follow your feelings and use the excuse that you couldn’t help it when you’re unfaithful.

Second, this same group of progressives will be the first to use “choice” as the foundation of their argument when supporting abortion as a right.  Once a woman becomes pregnant by her choice to have sex (in all cases except 1% according to research by the Guttmacher Institute), she champions choice when deciding to end her baby’s life because it is inconvenient for her.  She has allies in virtually every corner telling her that choice is king.  But in this arena, choice is definitely not loving, because love here would require sacrifice, inconvenience, and hardship.  The mention of irresistible, unstoppable love is nowhere to be found in defense of the unborn child.

Yet sacrificial love and choice is the intrinsic essence of the Gospel, the very basis of Christianity.  And this is why Christians must learn to see love and choice through a biblical lens, to memorize God’s definitions of the words.  In studying the scriptures, one finds that it is an irrefutable fact that God’s love for us was both a feeling AND a choice–a feeling because He Himself IS love perfected and he created us out of an overflow of love, and a choice because we were unlovable.  After the fall, each one of us was born into sin and on a rebellious track to destruction until God in His mercy chose to save us through the most painful, sacrifical choice imaginable.

2 Thessalonians 2:13

“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

John 15:16

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

Romans 5:8

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

John 6:44

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Deuteronomy 14:2

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

1 Peter 2:9

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Even if the sacred truth and mystery of God’s grace and choice were not clearly spelled out for me throughout the Bible, I would learn the daily reality of choice in love from my own marriage.  Initially, feelings, attraction, and similarities drew me and my husband together, but it wasn’t long before we had our first fight, then our second, then faced enough repeated difficulties in our 15 years of marriage that have shown me that loving him, being loving toward him, is a daily choice.  Some days the choice is as easy as breathing, but other days it takes my commitment to Jesus alone to keep me from walking out the door. 

And a few years ago, during a season of temptation,when my feelings were pulling me away emotionally and mentally from my husband, I had to recognize the very dangerous reality of what following my carnal desires would do to my marriage, my children, my parents, siblings, friendships and community. Blindly bowing to my whim would have been foolish and destructive, and no one would have believed that I lacked the self control or wisdom to make a better decision. Daily, I chose to quote scripture, pray, deny those feelings and chose instead the life that God had gifted me, one that glorified Him and not myself.

It’s on these days that I have to know the Word, to listen to the Holy Spirit remind me of the sacrificial love that God demonstrated for me, a love I could never earn or deserve–to understand that I don’t even deserve my husband’s devoted and imperfect love, and that it is his choice to love me as well. 

And I’m so grateful that he chose me and continues to choose me every day.  Because for all the times that my feelings try to lie to me, on those lackluster or boring days, there are just as many, nay more, days that I am overwhelmed with love and joy and gratitude for the person I get to choose to love.  And that’s when I can’t imagine feeling any other way.  

“Joy in the Work”—a podcast review.

Linking to an article on Christian Woman & Co Magazine, a podcast review of Episode 3, “Joy in the Work” on the “Is That Like a Thing” podcast by Christian/Country recording artist Crystal Yates, singer Magen Thurman and artist/writer Becky Leach.

In this podcast and in my article we discuss the difference between happiness and joy, gratitude and entitlement, success and the process. Enjoy!

Finding Joy in Your Work

Grayson and the Grosses: Stories and lessons from our maiden camper Christmas voyage across America.

A couple of years ago Bryan and I were planning an adult trip to California with friends, which was going to include a good bit of driving from San Francisco to Sonoma to Tahoe. My husband briefly suggested that we rent an RV, to which one of our friends replied, “I am NOT going on a vacation which requires the toilet to travel with us.” This was a good two years prior to COVID, after which all travel stopped for months, and then timidly restarted with severe limitations and changes.

The first couple of forays we had into the changed landscape of travel in a COVID-stricken world revealed that the “service” aspect of travel no longer exists, at least for now. The little niceties that you take for granted even at Holiday Inn–people making your bed, replacing your towels, free coffee, extra hand soaps and shampoos, aren’t part of the deal anymore, but here’s the catch, you’re still paying the same price. We haven’t quite figured out if the travel/hospitality industry is really paralyzed by fear that they’re going to transmit or contract COVID, or if they’ve realized that they can still get paid for doing much less work.

Either way, pulling a toilet with you and having all your preferred comforts along for the ride no longer sounded as low brow, because at least you’re going somewhere. In fact, it started sounding quite convenient and adventurous. Which is why when my husband and I looked at our December calendar, (at a journey that started falling together in chunks from North Carolina to Colorado and back with multiple stops along the way) a camper-trailer seemed like the only way to go.

We started researching with a week to spare before we needed to leave, and our list of requirements narrowed the field significantly. Our camper had to be light enough to be pulled by an F-150, but new enough that it would be attractive to other RVers should we decide to rent it and have a low likelihood of major repair needed in the near future. It needed to have sleeping quarters for a family of five, lots of storage, to be able to handle freezing temps, and be within our budget (always the hard part).

We settled on the Keystone Outback Ultralite, and because my husband is a master at finding the very best deal possible, we were able to snag a 2021 OU that had been returned to a dealership in Mississippi and was now available for much less because the first owners had gotten a divorce. And Mississippi just happened to be the second stop on our voyage–it was meant to be.

The combined camping experience between me and Bryan until December included multiple backpacking trips in the US and Europe, car camping at state parks with our kids, and a couple of years with a rugged pop-out, tent camper we’d purchased in Germany. I didn’t expect to feel any differently about our new vessel than I did about any other camp setup, but I was quite surprised by the excitement and anticipation that swept over me the first time I stepped into Grayson, which is what I named our camper.

Hello Grayson!

I saw her as our ship, our literal home on the road, our cozy nest, our opportunity. In a year when at times I felt the walls of my home closing around me as events were cancelled one after the other, here was our key, our safe place to base ourselves as we explored, got away and adventured. And she is so lovely–gray barnwood interior, plush leather recliners and bench seats, a flat-screen TV and hidden pantry with loads of space, goose-neck faucet and roomy shower.

After stocking her full of supplies I’d ordered and sent to my sister’s house in Biloxi, and a couple of Walmart runs later, we flipped open the brand new Good Sam camping catalog that we’d acquired with our membership at Camping World and pointed ourselves westward toward our ultimate destination of Grand Junction, Colorado where we were meeting my in-laws for Christmas.

What We Learned About Camping/RVing

Since our first experience with a camper was during COVID, we have no basis of comparison for our trip versus what it is like to RV during “normal” times. I imagine that a lot of the nuances of actually driving, running, operating a camper are similar to what others know, but I also suspect the novelties and amenities of camping, being in a community of campers, and the proximity you can have to other people in your same demographic, has been significantly diminished by COVID, like everything else.

I now know that we were very ambitious with our first trip–not only did we do this during COVID, we did it for a month during winter, during Christmas, when you have to pack the bulkiest clothing into the most limited space for an extended period of time. We had multiple events/occasions to consider: a wedding in Alabama, virtual school, Christmas and skiing in Colorado. So it wasn’t just clothes we were stuffing into every possible crevice of Grayson–there were laptops, notebooks, folders, gifts, skis, boots, helmets. It was cold everywhere we went, so we spent very little time outside and had to give each other a lot of grace and get very creative with our little space.

We learned that we suddenly noticed campers everywhere–mini campers, travel trailers, fifth wheels and luxurious RV’s— more and more the farther west we drove. We learned that pulling a travel trailer drastically altered the quality of our ride, so we began to notice and remember which states have the smoothest roads, and realized that we didn’t really want to be on them for more than three hours if we could help it. A rough stretch of asphalt meant our daughter needed Dramamine (and may mean that we need a bigger truck) and almost always meant that I found snacks and spices scattered across the floor of the pantry when we’d reached our stop for the night. We learned about winterizing hoses at night so that our water lines didn’t freeze and break, that for off-the-grid-camping you need a big jug of water with which to wash, flush and brush.

We discovered the intimacy and shivering closeness of private lunches of soups cooked over our gas stove-top, or sandwiches of cold-cuts, as the five of us squished and huddled onto our bench seat dinette. We figured out how to time our showers in an RV in winter to about seven minutes before the hot water is gone. We found out how to latch the doors properly so they didn’t slide off track during a long drive, the importance of bins and storage racks, precisely in which order to flush your gray and black water, how to take wide turns into a gas station, which gas stations refill your propane, and on and on. We bounced back and forth between phone hot-spots and public WiFi for work and school.

We grew as a family. Because the chores were novel in Grayson, the kids found it fun to help with washing and drying dishes, sweeping and mopping the floor, and helping Daddy with connecting and disconnecting hoses and cords. Everyone had a part to play to keep the ship running smoothly so that we could continue on our voyage. When the time came for us to do real life, we turned Grayson into a mobile schoolhouse/office for virtual school meetings and conference calls. As has been true with my children through most of COVID, the more challenges we’ve thrown at them, the more adjustments we’ve made, the more flexible and positive they’ve become, and the month on the road with Grayson highlighted this beautifully. They settled into camper life and our mini routines with ease and optimism. Bryan and I found our routines as well–gazing at whatever new surroundings were outside our window in the morning with steaming mugs of coffee warming our fingers; or curling up in the two recliners with our nightcaps after the kids went to bed, while we watched whatever channels we could get over the air and hung our feet over our plug-in heater/fake fireplace.

What We Learned About America

She truly is beautiful. We covered 13 states in our journey from North Carolina to Colorado and back, and I spent most of it just staring at our shifting and changing landscape, marveling at how many different climates and features and land forms decorate this vast country. The Rocky Mountains are often touted as being majestic, but just as majestic to me were the rugged mesas and deserts of New Mexico and Utah. My mind couldn’t comprehend the extension of land stretching out in front of me as we drove through the flat lands of Texas and Kansas. I kept thinking, surely this is the type of thing that was so eerie to early explorers when they wondered whether they would fall off the edge of the world. The sunsets out west just seemed bigger, grander and more colorful than what I experience at home when the sky is segmented by trees. The cities, new and bustling, always gave me little bit of nervous excitement as I wondered if we were actually going to make it through the traffic with our extra length. The arches and towers of rock jutting from the ground and canyon walls were startling and intimidating–until my kids started trying to figure out which animals or mythical creatures they resembled.

Just as noteworthy though, were the people we encountered. Although sitting in our homes and looking at the news we all are led to believe that Americans are disconnected, that we’ve changed for the worst, that we’ve lost the openness, the spirit and the drive we’re known for, I did not find that to be the case. From Alabama to Mississippi, to Texas, to New Mexico, to Utah and Colorado and Kansas and Illinois and Tennessee, we found people smiling, living, enjoying. In RV parks and state parks and homes across the nation we found people willing to share their stories of their days on the road. People congratulated us and encouraged us in our new venture, promising great memories in store. We experienced true blessings when our truck almost stranded us in New Mexico and a Ford dealership went above and beyond to help us two days before Christmas.

Mile after mile, my mind conjured up images of pioneers migrating, discovering, settling, building, persevering–images that I’ve never seen firsthand, images way before my time. But it was here on this land that dreams were pursued and captured and achieved, because America is a land of go-getters and doers. A land of seekers and adventurers–people who never give up.

It was a relief for me to see as our family pursued this, one of our own dreams in the midst of a nightmare, that the pioneer spirit has never left America. Why would we think that it left us in 2020? No challenge has ever deprived us of that spirit, and it won’t succumb to COVID either. The desires to create, innovate and cultivate, to build and inspire and connect are modern adaptations of those pioneer ways that live on in us, that thrive on community, and our American community is strong. It hearkens back to the days that we built it. In 2021, I pray and hope that we keep pushing, that we not allow the rumors to convince us what is true until we have gone and seen for ourselves…that there is always more beyond our horizons. Let us never give up.

Sheltering in Peace–5 Weeks in Puerto Rico

Like so many other people, we had Spring and Summer plans that were dashed within the first week of COVID. I tried to keep my complaining at bay, knowing that people all over the globe were dealing with canceled vacations, tournaments, weddings, graduations, even very sadly, funerals. I think all of us believed this would be very temporary, that we’d be in the full swing of things, surely, by the Fall.

Summer passed serenely for us–full of local hikes, afternoons at our community pool, plenty of TV and a few restorative, short trips to the beach and the mountains and the tentative hope that COVID conditions were improving. And whether or not I believed all the hype, or agreed with the regulations in place to manage the health crisis, it impacted my life and my family’s life whether I liked it or not, and we found ourselves making daily choices not just about our actions, but about our mindset and perspective. The choices were more deliberate and important when my husband lost his corporate job due to a company-wide resource action that terminated 30-40% of its workforce and the school year began, and we were all under one roof, all day from Monday-Friday, clamoring for any quiet spot with good WiFi where everyone could concentrate and focus on their Google Meets or web conferences.

Every day was a practice in focusing on the Lord, of asking and even begging Him to remind me that the world was bigger than what was going on inside my postage stamp of reality. I woke up earlier and earlier to find moments of silence in the darkness before my family woke to hear from Him, to ask for a new perspective that would remind me that His kingdom depended far more on His faithfulness than my feelings of drudgery day to day, the growing sense of despair and hopelessness that this was never going to end, that I’d be shut off from normalcy, from having hope for community and peace in our country again as the social and political scene seemed to be deteriorating by the day. And then I daily repented of thumbing my nose in God’s face to think that my wonderful life could ever be described as drudgery, that I could ever be so ungrateful as to entertain the thought that there isn’t hope. (Sometimes repentance is a one-time surrender and the Lord turns your heart inside out, hiding you from the sin that wants to entangle you. But sometimes, repentance is a regular practice–a daily surrender of your incorrect thinking). In these moments, my husband was a great inspiration to me, as he never lost a step in stewarding his role as provider, and he did it with patience, temerity, and wisdom–trusting in the skills, connections and experience he’d built over time and in God’s proven good provision for us over the years. His hard work and demonstration of putting one foot in front of the other, showed me that he was believing there were better things ahead.

In mid-August, with the start of a school year unlike any other, Bryan and I were talking about the unique set of circumstances we had in this COVID season–all of us being home, we realized that we could really be “home” anywhere, as long as we had good WiFi, stayed within the US and relatively close to the Eastern time zone so that the kids could join their live instructions during the week. By this time, the free hours to think (away from a regular job) had spawned a new business idea that Bryan was ready to develop. His business partners and developers were located in Puerto Rico, which conveniently checked off all our boxes, and my head began swimming with visions of beaches and sunshine and crashing waves–potential moments of natural therapy after a long day of screen time (for the kids), and managing screen time (for me).

Plans were made the way they usually are in our home–me dreaming, scheming and voicing my preferences; Bryan taking the reigns and booking things with a speed and efficiency that would take me a week to implement. We took COVID tests, we set up management for our AirBnBs while we were gone, we packed and arranged rides to the airport (which wasn’t scary at all—pretty empty and pretty easy place to avoid crowds these days. But it allows you to get a peak into people’s varying degrees of COVID freak-out). We arrived at said airport two hours before our scheduled flight only to find out it was delayed and spent 10 hours there before we finally left, arriving in Puerto Rico at 4:30 in the morning on the following day–dead tired with three kids in tow who started falling asleep sitting straight up on a bench as they watched the sun rise in a rental car parking lot.

Approximately 6am in Puerto Rico–been awake for 24 hours.

The weeks following unfolded much like that–full of surprises and schedules and plans that fluctuated from day to day. The constants through it all were my family, the ocean, the sunshine, and the Lord. People came in and out of our lives in those five weeks in Puerto Rico, and it was no small realization to me what a blessing it was that during a time when the world is so closed off from each other, when we are being told to distance, to scatter, the God-given desire to encounter each other and build relationships is still a need for most people. Whether it was the surf instructor two doors down, the single guys on my husband’s business development team, the new families we met in the elite ex-pat community of Dorado, or the local pastor and his wife at the church we decided to try one Sunday, we found people eager to connect and share community. It was a relief to me to see that need alive in a place the media would have me believe is inaccessible.

What may seem like an opposition to those statements above, is that I also rediscovered the importance of disconnecting for my relational health. I spent so many hours staring out at the ocean–pondering its power, the way it beckons, the way it makes one feel small and insignificant but at the same time fills you with gratitude to be a part of creation and witness the beauty of the natural world around you. I have no idea how much time I actually sat there in a Tommy Bahama chair over the course of five weeks, gazing at the surf and breaking waves, observing sea turtles, not talking to anyone except my children, soaking in the simplicity and power of God’s presence. But I do know that every second, every minute was essential for my peace. This world tells us everything is so dependent on us and our decisions and that there can be no peace, when our Savior has told us just the opposite.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

I believe in those moments, He was speaking that to me, reminding me that tapping into His peace, which is always present, requires my being still. And seeing the waves and the sea life behave according to their design, reminded me and encouraged me as God alone is the maker, the sustainer and the protector of life, and there is actually very little that depends upon my action or inaction in this world where He is the ultimate authority. He holds it all together. As I silently pondered the mysteries and unknowns of the expansive and deep ocean before me, I sensed His Spirit bringing closure to some of my own struggles with sin, and temptation to put my temporal desires first, to get lost in sinful despair, to have my whims satisfied. I consciously released the stress over unknowns to Him.

The ocean throws its surf and spray violently onto shore over and over again, never tiring, but always leaving behind treasures, little gifts scattered across the sand that are only visible if we’re patiently searching for them. We must remain intentionally patient to find the best shells, the tiny crabs and mollusks that want to run and hide from threats to their environment. Likewise, community and peace in these unpredictable and hostile times require intention, perseverance in stillness, patience and gentleness –the best relationships and changes are worth risking the shifting tides and the occasionally violent and surprising currents. Underneath all the efforts usually lie memories and experiences that remind us that there is reward in seeking community, in claiming peace, much like the reward of a handful of colorful and unique shells after walking the shore.

Finding treasure

Leaving Puerto Rico was bittersweet–to be pulled from a place that served as our escape for five weeks to return to normal life was difficult for us all. We came back with tan skin and blonder hair. My children picked up some Spanish phrases, they learned names of new foods and came to expect a Reggaeton beat as the soundtrack of the day. They gained a knowledge of the ocean and marine life that had not existed before we’d arrived in Puerto Rico. Although our daily life schedule had not changed while away, we pared our essential activities down to school, work, play, basic errands, and simple interactions with the people around us. I began to realize that our lives in Puerto Rico were really the same as our lives back in North Carolina–just with a tropical setting, different people with the same needs and concerns, and ultimately minor cultural differences. Understanding this prepared me for how I could transfer this posture of peace, this sense of gratitude for something so special, back to my home state and see it as special again, and not as drudgery.

Likewise, community and peace in these unpredictable and hostile times require intention, perseverance in stillness, patience and gentleness –the best relationships and changes are worth risking the shifting tides and the occasionally violent and surprising currents.

Christians know that the Lord does not intend for us to live in despondent isolation, but to pour into each other, to enter into difficult places at difficult times with eagerness and compassion. That is why the COVID crisis has been so damaging to humanity–resulting in record numbers of divorces and addictions and depression and weight gain and suicide, because we cannot live without connection, without hope for community.

So my desire is that the being still, the opportunity to shelter in the absence of noise and worry and fear, the peace and hope that God grew in me in Puerto Rico, will bloom gratitude as I remember the way the earth, water and sky bore witness to His presence and faithfulness every day. I pray that, no matter how the unknowns batter me in the next year, however many times I am knocked into the sand, I will remember to look around for treasure in the moments and community scattered around me. I am grateful this year for the answered prayer of knowing, the balance of understanding, that there always are forces and stories much larger than my square of property that are infinitely impacted by circumstances that I may or may not see, currents roiling and churning under the surface. But even though those things may be huge and beyond my ability, your ability to control, we can look for the treasures in the midst and reach out to take hold of them.

Whose You Are: Why Good Things Happen to Bad People?

Whose You Are: Why Good Things Happen to Bad People

“Why do bad things happen to good people?  That only happened once, and He volunteered.” R.C. Sproul

A Tale of Two Pavements

In both scenarios, tears were streaming down my cheeks and I felt utterly alone.  In both scenarios I’d watched a man drive away and leave me stranded.  One held a gun to my head and forced me to comply with his fantasies, then left me lying facedown, crumpled on the ground, literally naked in the middle of the night in a dark cul-de-sac.

“Get out.  Face down on the ground.  Don’t move.”  

I watched my own car leave without me with a stranger in the driver’s seat, it’s taillights fading, and with them went my dignity and security.

The other had bewitching blue eyes, said toxic things I already believed about myself, but they seemed like poison coming from someone who months earlier had claimed to love me and had seduced me with promises of forever.  He left me standing upright, emotionally crumpled, feeling naked in the middle of the day in a mall parking lot.  I watched his tailights fade along with my dreams of happiness and wholeness.

“I could never marry someone like you.  No one will ever want you.”

Individually, these men played a part in robbing me of hope, of joy, of freedom, and it would be easy to blame them alone.  It would be simple to cast them as villains from those moments on, carrying anger with me for the rest of my life.  It would be understandable to pin my problems on men, to see myself imprisoned in my gender and needing to fight an endless battle against “them.”

But there was so much more built into these fleeting moments when I was reminded of my humanity and stared abuse and rejection in the face.  There was a cosmic, spiritual battle raging for my soul that culminated in these years, that I couldn’t see through the pain.  There were moments I almost succumbed to it entirely, nights when I heard voices telling me it all wasn’t worth it.  There was an enemy lying to me–he was bent on destroying me, thought by thought.

But in the days and years that followed my assault and the rejection of the man I thought would finally rescue me from my loneliness,  I would learn that there was one Father, one God-Man, one Lover, one Savior and Redeemer who could reframe my perspective and restore my hope.  There was Him–the ultimate, victorious, loving, righteous, holy, just, tender, faithful Him.  I would learn that my brokenness was a necessary step in recognizing His everything.  As time went on, I would even hear myself say that what happened to me–all the hurt, threats, ridicule and anguish wasn’t that bad.  How could I possibly say that, that something I would never wish on my biggest rival wasn’t that bad?

The Idol of Pain

When something horrible happens to us, we tend to think of ourselves as innocent and undeserving of tragedy or injustice.  And on a human level, that may be true.  None of us like to see people hurting or treated unfairly, or to be the ones receiving unfair treatment.  This is what creates empathy, concern, action that seeks to make things better, improve conditions, fight for justice.

But to maintain that perspective and not see ourselves as God sees us keeps us feeling sorry for ourselves and separates people by degrees of oppression.  It even sets us up to compare ourselves to others, to judge whether someone else’s pain measures up to ours to the point that we make too little or too much of each other’s problems.  We begin to worship our pain, our struggle, our testimony.   

But worst of all, it assigns expectations of God that are not Biblical, that do not even acknowledge Him as our sovereign Lord who has holy purposes for our pain.   Sure, He is our Savior, but that is not all He is.  Yes, He loves us, but His love is an outpouring of His holiness and His character, not our winsomeness (because truthfully we’re not winsome).  He rescues us, but it’s for His glory alone, not for our blessing.

These misunderstandings of who God is and who we are have been passed through culture for far too long.  They are beginning to erode the traditional Gospel and build up an insidious, me-centered faith that reduces Jesus deity and elevates our importance.  We stop observing God in His Word, seeing Who He is and how He behaves and jump to reinterpreting and twisting the Word to fit our lives.  Thinking this way, we start to believe that all of our struggles are accidents, an anomaly in the mythical, prosperous Christian life instead of seeing them as a privilege and means of reflecting God’s perfection, glory and sufficiency.

We regularly hear the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  I think we only ask this question because we have an incorrect view of God and of ourselves.  

Alisa Childers says, “Jesus offers us true joy and peace, but only after we realize that we are not the center of our own lives.”

It is with this in mind that I would like to drill down to some basic truths, taken straight from scripture, about Who God is, who we are without Jesus, and who He says we are when we worship Him as Lord:

Who God is:

-”…God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.” (John 1:5)

-”For who is God besides the Lord?  And who is the Rock except our God?” (2 Samuel 22:32)

-”Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him. For God is our refuge.” (Psalms 62:8)

-”Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?  Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)

-”To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)

-”For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)

-”Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:28)

-”God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

-”…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Matthew 11:27)

Who we are apart from salvation in Christ:

-”I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

-”We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

-”For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

-”If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

-”In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit…” (Ephesians 4:22)

-”…and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8;8)

-”Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12)

-”Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sin.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

-”And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1)

-”The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Who we are if Jesus is our Lord and Savior:

-”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

-”For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

-”You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable through God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)

–”And you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:10)

–”Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

All of the truths above are reasons that I don’t have to worship my worst moments, why I instead worship the One who rescued me and set me on the path to the Promised Land. It’s why I can actually look back on my worst nightmares and be grateful for them, because the Lord used them to show me the true state of my despair and my need for a new heart. It’s why I can actually say that my hardest times are not about me and that I am okay with occasional injustice or ill treatment or heartache–because I was never a good person, and I deserved far worse than what I got. Every breath of fresh air, every moment of peace and stability and joy is a gift of grace. And that makes me all the more grateful.

“For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17