You are MORE….

She wakes up in the morning short on sleep because of a late night and a restless sleep. Making her way to the mirror in her master bathroom she stares at her reflection and starts to remove the remnants of the night before that haven’t already rubbed off on her pillow.

There’s an uneasiness this morning that she just can’t shake. Looking at the face sans make up that appears in front of her she critically assesses her reflection. Her face has changed subtly over the years as gravity has worked and shaped the angles but it has done little to take away from her beauty. If anything, it has softened sharp edges and made her more approachable. Sometimes to the wrong people.

No, the nagging unease today is not her appearance.

Perplexed, she shrugs it off and goes to work laying the foundation for another day. She leans in closer for finishing touches to emphasize almond shaped eyes and olive toned skin and for a second sees further than herself. Past her familiar face she can see an equally familiar world behind her. In the glare of the late morning sun she sees her beautiful home and family. She smiles and gazes past them to the luxuries she’s worked so hard to acquire. The fun things that she knew would give her happiness. The hot tub, the pool with bar for entertaining, the right cars and boat to enjoy with friends and acquaintances. The right brands hanging in her closet and stamped prominently on her purse.

I’m thousands of miles away and watching and praying for this girl. Oh, not the one with the straight, white smile and flawless skin, the one inside. I love this girl overflowing. The one that radiates energy and passion that spills out onto everyone around her. Whose surprised laugh rushes forth, straight from her belly, genuine and contagious like a toddler’s. As long as I can remember, people have told this girl how beautiful her reflection is. In jealousy, people have passed her off as just a pretty face. In selfishness, people have told her what she wants to hear. I’ve seen her underestimated and valued for the wrong things. Shallow relationships dot her past. So I watch and I pray.

I pray for the breath of God to breathe life into those dry bones. Real life.

And then, he does.

I’m watching from the corner as her face and her reflection change. In grateful tears I look past her confused face into the fringes of her life in the mirror. I can see it too. The mirror briefly fogs up, then refocuses like a camera lens. Suddenly, her world, the people and things in it, look a little different. This world has something wrong with it. Things once bright and shiny have dulled. Things once exciting and new have started to fade. Mistakes once easily justified have become shame. This world is clearly not what she wanted. What she had longed for. In tears, she is wondering what went wrong. How did she get here?

And I’m rejoicing in answer to prayer; a life awakening. Our tears are different because she only sees the potential loss of the familiar. She is grieved by the thought that what she’s always believed has been a lie. My tears are ones of thanksgiving and anticipation. Thanksgiving to a God merciful and loving. Anticipating the joy of watching this girl learn truth.

That she was made for  so much more than what the world can give her.

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That the happiness she’s been chasing so hard after can’t be found in a party, a place or the next exciting relationship, but in the One that made her.

God who sees me

That she’s more treasured, more loved, than she has dared to imagine. And it has nothing to do with her appearance.

That there is relief and forgiveness for the guilt and shame acquired by living according to the world.

Dear, beautiful, friend of mine,

I pray that you will continue to ask, seek and knock to find the truth. Pour all of that beautiful, passionate, energy of yours into finding the joy everlasting. You’ve never shied away from a challenge or given up the opportunity of adventure. I promise this life of following Christ will be the most exciting thing you’ve ever done. Keep looking in that mirror and let Him show you the way.

i love you in mirrow

You, with those walls….

You, with those walls…I see you.  Fear has kept you behind them but I hope love will draw you out.

I hear the exhaustion in your voice from a lifetime of battling alone. I see the anger burn bright in your eyes and fuel the strength for another day. To wake up again and build and maintain all of the walls of defense that tower so high they block out not just the perpetrators of pain, but any light and joy as well.

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I see the protective prison you’ve locked yourself in and I see the hurt hidden deep within the fortress, nearly hidden by all of the anger, resentment and bitterness blowing outside the walls.

All of this fire, brimstone, bluster and force to protect a heart broken, of course.

I know where you are because I’ve been there too. You and me, more alike than you knew. Have you felt it before? That there’s something wrong with this world and you don’t quite belong? That you were made for more than betrayal, pain and suffering? That it’s all just a bit too much and no one seems to be in charge? So we create our own little kingdom of safety, block out the bad and try to control everything within.

Constantly striving to create that one place where everything goes as planned, in the proper order, in its proper place. No surprises, no disappointments, no pain. No light, no joy, no freedom.

But now I’m outside the gates and my heart breaks seeing you still fighting to stay within them. Because I love you, I’m willing to weather the possible storm and share something with you.

You want to know what happens when the walls are built, the gate is closed? You’re trapped inside. It’s lonely and it’s dark. You exhaust yourself maintaining your defenses; going over battle plans. You have yet to realize that safety is not synonymous with happiness. In fact, those wounds unhealed fester and bleed new because you’re all alone with them, picking at them, making them raw and not letting them heal. I know you’re worn out and I pray every day that you are tired enough to stop fighting alone; that you would realize that what you’re doing isn’t working.

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I long for the day that you will realize that all of your seeking, struggling, wrestling and striving to find happiness has led you to a prison of your own making. That you would see your defenses have kept you from not only giving, but receiving love. Worse, in your need to protect yourself from hurt, you’ve inflicted hurt on the very people you love most. How I hope you would learn that safety, rest and happiness are not found in a climate, a location, a bank account, the condition of your house, but a Person!!

That you would know that the way to healing is straight through the pain with the only One with the power to heal it!

There is freedom outside those walls of yours! A life free of anger, resentment, bitterness and pain. True joy in life! Freedom to remember the hurt inflicted by others but not let it rule your life and keep you from your own peace; to live the life you’re meant to. A life where forgiveness and grace abound. I pray that God would tear down your walls more formidable than Jericho’s. That He would soften the tender heart you’ve worked so hard to shield. I pray that you would see past those walls to the abundant blessings you’ve been given and know that God has been with you all along. That every step of your journey, every heartache, every hardship, every mountaintop and valley has been used to bring you closer to the Father that loves you.

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So, now I pray that the Spirit would reveal to you the God who longs to walk with you through healing and true living. The God who can remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

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Oh! If you only knew the abundant blessings within your reach should you just forfeit your kingdom for His.

**Names of the guilty have been omitted, except myself, which has been one of the greatest offenders of all.

Do you see things unseen?

As Christians we base our eternal lives, our very souls, on things unseen.

2 Corinthians 4:18

18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

We believe not just in God, but every truth He reveals to us through His word, prayer, worship and Spirit. I believe He raised mountains, parted seas and tore down walls; though I didn’t see it happen. I know people who lived thousands of years ago. Their struggles, failures and the way God used it all to reveal Himself to me. I believe His Spirit lives within me to help and guide me, though it is a still, small voice to which I’ve never laid eyes on.

But I struggle with unbelief every day in a myriad of ways that might not be as obvious. Because I have yet to see. I worry about my family’s future because I have not seen it. Though I know His plans for us are good.

Jeremiah 29:11

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I push to the back of my mind the suffering of others because I have not heard firsthand their cries. I have not felt their tears, smelled the smoke, felt the earth shake beneath my feet or the gnawing hunger in my stomach. I have not seen their trauma or felt their particular broken heart and the hopelessness left in its wake.

It begs the question then. Do I believe in God, or do I actually believe Him?

James 2:19

19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

What makes my belief different than that of a demon? Do I believe everything He reveals to me? Do I truly believe it as if I’ve seen it first hand? And if I’m truly believing Him, what does that look like?

To truly believe is to follow. It is to take every God breathed word of the Bible as truth regardless of whether I’ve actually seen or known personally the people within it and to respond in a way that I’ve been instructed to. It is to hear the cries of God’s children whether they are within my own home, in my community, or half a world away.

2 Corinthians 1:4

who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

It is to give freely the gifts of grace showered upon me by a loving, generous Father because I know that He will provide for me. I have received His comfort in more ways than I can count. But have I given it as well?

James 1:17

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

 

It is to take up the great commission and share hope to the hopeless.

Some of us are called to the mission field into our own home, serving in a hundred ways no one but God will ever see. Some of us are called to serve our own communities, neighbors written off by the world. Still others are called to mission fields far away from the comfort and privilege of Midwest America. But all of us are called to believe and live a life broken and given to Christ. To live free of the chains of this world. This is great news! But it takes a commitment from us to live a life of belief. Believing the ultimate in unseen suffering, the suffering of Jesus, and staking everything we know and have on that truth.

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Sometimes I am deeply grieved by the products of my own unbelief. Selfishness, pride, worry and fear can keep me shackled to this world without me even being aware of it sometimes. But thankfully there is no need to despair of the condition of my heart! Thanks to Christ’s willingness to live broken and given for me, this condition is not terminal! In God’s infinite loving kindness, He even gives me a treatment for this condition. A way to help me experience the true freedom of the Gospel and sharing that healing freedom with my neighbors. Both seen and unseen.

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Mark 9:24

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

*emphasis mine

Lord, I believe; help me overcome my unbelief! Please help me listen to and be guided by Your Spirit. Please give me Your eyes to see and soften my heart to feel for all of Your children. Reveal to me these things I’m holding more dear to me than You. Show me how to honor You with the time, gifts and resources You’ve given me. Help me to see beyond me, to hear above the noise and to run hard after You. In Jesus name, Amen.

If you see, and if you are feeling so lead to believe in the unseen suffering in the images above, I’d ask you to prayerfully consider helping! You can find out more about the need, and how you can help by visiting the link below.

http://livebeyondwords.org/

 

Good And Faithful Servant

She lays in a bed, her breath slowing, filled and surrounded by what love built. Love of the Father that filled her and has spilled out to the children and grandchildren currently at her bedside. Love that has fueled a life of joyful service.

A veritable whirlwind of energy, she has loved in a thousand ways of laying down herself. Short on words she has always been long on movement; constantly loving her family by meeting their needs. Before this flesh started to fail, she had a key to every house and on any given day you could find her in one of her adult children’s homes cleaning and doing laundry. Running errands from behind a steering wheel she could barely see over. Ferrying grand-children to appointments so their parents wouldn’t have to take time off of work. Caring for close and distant relatives alike. She delighted in her service and as far as I know, never refused a request that was within her means.

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She lived to serve and lived because she served. Because of the love she had for Christ she modeled a life crucified to self. Some may think this way of life, this selfless love, would leave a person tired and empty of joy. Unless they understand, like this beautiful woman does, that this crucified life brings more energy and joy than a life of serving yourself ever can. Never have I believed her to be unhappy. In fact, you needed only to watch this tiny spitfire of a woman on a dance floor with a good Polka band to see the joy she had in life.

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So, from half a continent away, I am grieving that I can not be there to hold her hand. Hands that worked and loved so long. To whisper I love you and thank you. For the milk shakes after the dentist, the french fries to “hold me over” on car rides home, for so many apple pies and the dozens of other ways she cared for a grand daughter that was often as short of words as she was. And most of all, for showing me what a life as a good and faithful servant looks like.

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Lord, I pray that if these are, indeed, her last breaths here you will fill them with moments of supernatural peace, confident in Your love for her. In the days to come please help us all to celebrate her life over the grief. Bring to all of our minds memories that make us laugh and remind us of how well she has loved. Jesus, please give us a comfort and peace that can only come with the truth that all who believe in You shall not perish, but have everlasting life. In Your name, Amen.

Light Glorious Light

Maybe it’s being immersed in a frigid Midwest winter. Or maybe it’s being a couple of weeks into our current series, Life Giving Light, at church in which we’re walking through the book of John. But as the snow piles up in subzero weather outside, I’m spending a great deal of time inside, thinking of light. The physical need for it, the Creator of it, artificial sources of it, the absence of it, and the reflection of it.

It’s a mix of sleet and snow which will undoubtedly wreak havoc on morning commutes, weigh heavy on power lines, and lay sheet-like on windshields. Scattered, wet, remnants of snowman construction and snow angel creation are littered in the entry and no matter how many times I try to get them to remove their boots before they hit my hard wood floors, dry socks will meet cold puddles at least a couple of times tonight. Rosy cheeks and running noses are now bundled into jammies and watching a movie snuggled on the couch. The overworked, tired, “builder special” dishwasher struggles loudly through another cycle and I can hear the jet engine spinning of the last load of laundry for the day. I, myself, am on the laptop checking things off of a never ending Mom list. As I pay the electric bill I glance up at the wildly blinking, multi colored Christmas tree, the several other strands of lights throughout the kitchen, and the crazy “light show” projection light the kids were sure our house needed. I wonder if they’d notice if I unplugged a couple?

The lights flicker, hum low, and go out. The TV shuts off and all of the noise comes to a sudden halt. And, because my laptop is almost as old as the dishwasher and needs to be plugged in, it shuts off as well. Plunged into quiet darkness, my pulse quickens as I reassure the kids it’s okay. To sit still while I find a candle. Eyes unaccustomed to total darkness, the room seems distorted and things much further away or closer than I thought. My stocking foot finds a wet puddle and I know I must be getting close to the table. I fumble to light the decorative Christmas candle. christmas-candle2

It sputters, spits and flickers bright, mellowing to a soft glow that reaches every corner of the room. Relieved faces smile back at me. And we start a puzzle.

I’ve written a lot about my experiences in the dark, and God’s incredible love and grace that shone through the haze of suffering to literally pull me free of it. There is truly nothing more beautiful than His saving light. Sometimes I mourn the years I didn’t see it. How many things did I miss? Opportunities to see His glory? Sitting in the dark, illuminated by a single light and distracted by no others, I realized.

What if I couldn’t see The Light, for the light? Bear with me here. I spent thirty years blinded by artificial light. Think about it. We live in a place of distraction and we’re attracted to bright, shiny, pretty, fun, things.

I can give you a list of mine. Family, money, career, house, cars, vacations, nail salons, restaurants, clothes with tags, shoes with boxes, shopping carts, “perfect” family photos, etc. Things that, plastered all over billboards and websites, shone bright, flashed joy, and fizzled out soon after. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still like pretty things. I am about as “girly” as a girl can get. I have not given away my marbles in exchange for new sight, I will joyfully accept a pedicure any day of the week. What I’m saying though is, these things kept me from seeing that One source of light that would truly bring me joy. The down to my pedicured toes kind. The eternal kind.

Now, here’s the hard part. For me, I did not fully embrace His light until it was the only one left. Until, enveloped in cloying, hopeless darkness, there was nothing I could do to bring myself joy. I couldn’t buy any, I couldn’t eat any, I couldn’t see any.

matches-lightThen there was that beautiful, merciful light….It sputtered, spit and flickered bright, mellowed to a soft glow and reached every part of my heart. Since then, I’ve noticed three things. How incredibly void of true light this world is. How incredibly beautiful that makes every small reflection of God’s glory shining through. And just how desperately I need that grace and joy filled light to live.

Every act of kindness, every gift of generosity, every reconciled relationship, every laying down of self. Whenever I catch a glimpse of His light my heart warms, my eyes spill, and I know a familiar joy. Whenever I am blessed by that joy, I want to reflect that light. What a beautiful design.

What if we were such a bright reflection of God’s glory everyone could see it? Even past all of the artificial light we are bombarded with?

For this child I have prayed

As a young child I longed to know that there was someone in control. My little heart cried out for comfort, security and protection.

When I got a little older I heard mention of God. Surely He would set right a world that didn’t make sense? Small hands asked for big things. That didn’t happen.

With the certainty and independence of adolescence I had decided that God must not exist after all. Convinced my circumstances proved me right, I stopped praying, crying, or hoping for change. I was on my own and it would be up to me to obtain what I so longed for.

It would be years before I cried again. Still longer for me to hope in someone other than myself. And a marriage, a toddler, and another pregnancy before I would pray again.

Twelve weeks into the pregnancy of our daughter I finally waded out of nausea and exhaustion to lunch with a friend. Pale, weary, and chasing a toddler, I was excited for some adult conversation and food that would stay, hopefully, down. Timidly finishing my lunch I scrambled to get our toddler son to the bathroom in time. After our third round of hand drying with the very entertaining blow dryer, I stood up and knew something was wrong. A quick check confirmed my fear. I was bleeding. Too much.

Heart sinking, hands shaking, I ushered our oldest back to the table and tried to bravely tell my friend I needed to get to the doctor. Thankfully, she took charge. All calm, reassuring and full of reason she told me to go right there, she’d meet me. Call Hubby and she’d watch the oldest until he got there. On auto pilot, I followed directions and shortly thereafter found myself in an exam room hearing the doctor echo my thoughts. Too much blood.

Sent to the hospital for an ultrasound I waited barely breathing to see the life still breathing inside of me. There it was! The tiny flutter of a bravely beating heart. Exhaling, my own started to beat again. Tears streaming down my face, I watched her bounce around oblivious to the turmoil she was causing outside. The technician did a thorough check and I was told “the pregnancy is still viable”. What she meant to say was, my baby was still alive. I needed to go home and rest and return the next day to check again. To call if anything changed.

As I laid in bed I prayed.

God, please don’t take her from me! I already love her!

For I knew she was a girl from the first.

Then I begged.

God, I don’t care if there’s something wrong, I don’t care if I need to spend the next six months in bed. Please let me hold her in my arms!

Finally, I bargained.

God, I know I’ve complained of the discomforts of early pregnancy but I will never do it again! She is worth every lost meal and I will be so much more grateful for the gift of her! Truly, every little flutter and bump of her exploring has been pure joy! Even when I’m laying on the bathroom floor. Please don’t take her away….

The next several weeks I rejoiced as the bleeding stopped, blood work came back fine and every ultrasound showed her contentedly growing, nestled in my womb. I thanked God, praising Him for His kindness and mercy.

Then, when given the gift of holding her in my arms, my heart overflowed with gratitude. This perfect tiny girl with the delicately arched eyebrows, pouty lips, and beautiful blue searching eyes was my miracle. My answer to prayer.

Several years later, I was still praying. Growing in my relationship with Christ when I found out that little miracle wasn’t perfect after all. How could He give me a healthy child, let me believe all these years that He answered my desperate prayers, and then just pull the rug out from under me? Betrayed and heartbroken, instead of turning away again I would fire off these questions, waiting for His answer.

And it came. Gentle like a whisper at the hairs on my forehead.

This IS the child for which you prayed.

Soft as a caress on the side of my damp cheek.

I formed her in your womb.download-5

Slowly, so that I’d understand.

I know every hair on her precious head. images-33

This child is still my answer to prayer. The same one He placed in my womb, the one I prayed to hold, the one He gave me.images-34

Through this child He’s answered so many prayers I thought had gone unanswered. For through her, He called me to Him. And through my journey with her, has taught me comfort, safety and security can only be found in Him.

So, for this child, my perfect answer to prayer, I will continue to pray.

When I see beyond me

I was barely five years old and I can still clearly see her standing in that old farm house kitchen. My Mom was all sharp angles and over processed 80’s bleach blonde hair. She was turned towards the wall where the worn out rotary phone hung. One hand with glossy red fingertips worrying the cord stretched and kinked from years of users trying to gain privacy and the other clutching the receiver and the ever present Misty. Even before she glanced over her shoulder with the miserable, apologetic eyes saturated in tears I knew something was wrong. I was already in the process of trying to hustle my four year old sister into the other room. Maybe it was the still clear memories of the past year or so, or maybe it was a carefully honed survival skill but I could usually sense trouble with just enough time to make a swift exit.

Over thirty years ago and I can hear the tinkle of the bell on the door of the local Ben Franklin the next day. In case you didn’t know, Ben Franklins were the Midwest’s small town one stop shop back then. We passed the register, aisles of fabric and yarn, and racks of clothes to the very back of the store. Down a slight incline and past the reaches of sunlight streaming from the front windows, it smelled of musty old carpeting and even older building. But, it housed tall shelves lighted by flickering fluorescent lights and full of toys! Instead of being excited, this made me suspicious. My five year old senses were ben-franklinscreaming that something was wrong. We did not go to a store and buy toys. In fact, I don’t remember even knowing this area, in the bowels of the store, even existed. And not only was my very quiet mother showing us the treasures back here, but she was telling us we could each pick out one thing. My sister immediately latched onto a My Little Pony play set. I already knew I didn’t want anything of what was going on. Whatever it was. But, Mom insisted. So, I gave in to the lure of the Cabbage Patch stuffed horse. I was relatively certain a stuffed animal would prove more useful than a My Little Pony carry along play set for what was coming and I tried to convince my little sister to do the same with no luck. My stomach dropped a little further as Mom pulled the necessary money, which she couldn’t spare, out of her black fringed leather purse.

I was right. My five year old brain struggled to understand what she was saying but I knew I was right. I didn’t want any part of this. We’d be going to live half across the country with our Dad. Just for a little while. While Mom got “better”.

In the main terminal of the airport in Minneapolis there was a large clock and a large plane. Well, at least they seemed enormous to my five year old memory. Clutching my airplane-in-airportstuffed horse, I was trying to figure out the plane inside the terminal, while I caught bits and pieces of the conversation at the ticket counter. Mom grabbed our tickets and we headed to the gate. In my child’s brain, I can hear the echo of her high heels to what seems the ticking of the second hand on that large clock.airport-clock As we approached it, this is when my little sister started to catch on and start to cry. A sympathetic stewardess with bright red lip stick met us. “Unaccompanied minors”. She’d be responsible for seeing us safely from one parent to the other half across the country. A half hour later, in our seats across from the airplane’s galley so they could keep an eye on us, my sister was still hiccupping and trying to catch her breath. I’d given her my stuffed horse and the stewardesses had done their best to distract us. Including telling us they had a couple of extra first class breakfasts they’d get to us as soon as we took off, and would we like to meet the pilot and see the front of the plane? And look here, we’ve even got some pins just like pilots wear! Throughout the flight they gave us the promised breakfast, blankets, pillows, and headphones that plugged into the armrest. Then, took turns trying to entertain the two scared, heart broken, confused little girls holding hands.

I’ve flown out of that same airport, same terminal, a couple dozen times since then. And every. time. I fight panic attacks and nausea. Just the thought of flying out of there would cause me anxiety for weeks beforehand. As soon as I’d come through the doors, I’d fight to see past the blur the crowds of people would become. To hear more than just the clicking of high heels, my head spinning to try to focus on their source. Is it high heels or that dreaded clock? I’d make my way sweating, through security and to the plane where I’d focus on chewing my gum and disappearing into a book.

This last week I had the opportunity to fly to Chicago to attend a Patient Advisory Board meeting with the pharmaceutical company and an organization called Global Genes which provides support and advocacy for rare diseases. As soon as I got my flight information I heaved a sigh. Terminal 1. By the night before I was to fly out I wanted badly to stay in and hide in my blankets for the night. Instead, I decided talking with my sixth grade girls in my youth group about Jesus was preferable to self pity. Instead, I spent the night worshiping and learning alongside young disciples.

The morning of my flight I was packed and ready to go an hour early. I listened to my favorite worship songs on Youtube and went over my flight information, hotel reservation, and meeting times a couple dozen times. Hubby, my mother in law, and Mini Hubby dropped me off. I cried for missing my babies already and made my way through the double doors. I was at the gate before I realized….nothing happened. No panic attack. No nausea. No flashback. No blurring of vision and weird hearing. Instead, my check in kiosk was at the far end of the terminal, right next to security and far away from the dreaded clock. While in line in security, I was entertaining an adorable two year old protesting her confinement to a stroller and listening to a couple dozen students excitedly anticipating their first flight behind me. A beautiful old woman in a wheelchair was wheeled in front of me at the TSA agent and I was wondering if she would have to take off the couple dozens of bracelets, giant earrings, and matching necklace she wore. I wonder if she’s headed to see family. Her bright pink lips and smile says she’s going to see someone special.

So I’m sitting at the gate, in awe of my calm, and pull out my “Show Them Jesus” book I’m committed to finishing while I’m away. I pull out my earbuds and pull up Youtube to the next song on my “suggested” list.

I can’t even make this stuff up! Thank you, Jesus!