A Homemade Latte: something light for your Monday

You know what God did for humanity? Apart from Jesus, of course. Coffee beans. He created coffee beans. He gave us a way to continue living, understanding that in addition to ruining the world with our terrible decisions, we would also need something to stimulate our brains to keep functioning while competing in the daily rat race; And while servicing the thousands of needs of our family twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Year after year.

For a good, long, shameful while, Starbucks owned my checking account. And savings account. And the home equity line of credit account. And if there happened to be anything in the PayPal account, that, too. We have a coin jar in our bedroom. How many quarters and dimes do you think are still in there? Um…

Well, this past Christmas my sister-in-law caused the skies to open up, and all of heaven’s angels came down the ladder to shake her hand and say thank you for teaching me how to not be so appallingly wasteful. This queen of a lady taught me how to make a homemade latte. And no swanky, overpriced machines were needed.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

We latte drinkers like to hedge ourselves in with the real coffee drinkers, don’t we? You know, the ones who like it so dark and bitter it could choke an elephant. But let’s be honest, what we prefer is a splash of ultra-concentrated black death and artificial sugary syrups with our morning cup of warm milk. Then we put it in a cute coffee mug. Like somehow that further separates us from the kids. Right.

Truthfully, though, I had to force myself to learn how to enjoy even a latte. I used to despise the taste of coffee and didn’t actually start drinking it until a few years ago. Six to be exact. And if I’m going to be totally honest it was simply out of a desire to be a part of the coffee “culture.” I wanted membership in the club because it seemed way more sophisticated and trendy to engage someone in thoughtful conversational over a cup of coffee than to be slurping down a milkshake at Steak N’ Shake. Although I’ve done both, and the latter is way more delicious. But then I had children. And now I’m just trying to survive…

So if you are like I was- spending way too much at coffee shops, wishing you knew how to make your own lattes at home, but don’t have money for expensive machines… you are in luck, because I am going to pass along the wisdom of my sister-in-law to you. For FREE.

Step 1.) Make the espresso “shots.” Basically, you make coffee like normal except use 3x the normal amount of coffee grounds to make it extra concentrated.

Step 2.) Heat up 6-8oz of whole milk or 2% milk (you can also mix half n half with skim or 1%) until it’s scalding (just before boiling). This can be done on the stove or in the microwave. Then using a whisk or the stick attachment on your blender, stir the milk at a high speed until it is frothy.

Step 3.) Prepare your mug. Add whatever syrups or sauces you like to the bottom. My favorite is to coat the bottom with real maple syrup, then add a squeeze of caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, and a dash of cinnamon.

Step 4.) Pour in the concentrated coffee and swish around or stir until your syrups and sauces have melted and mixed in.

Step 5.) Pour the milk over the coffee. The milk will pour out first, then you will probably have to spoon the leftover froth on top.

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Step 6.) Top as desired. I use a bit (hah!) of whipped cream and drizzle some caramel or chocolate sauce to finish.

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Final note: whether you want a small or a large latte, the ratio to remember is about 1/3 coffee to 2/3 milk.

That’s it! Now the magic is yours to keep. May your days be filled with more laughter, smiles, and hope as you sip your very own homemade latte for a fraction of the coffee shop price. Happy Monday!

Peace & Love, Amy

Living in Remission

I have been in remission from Leukemia for over twenty five years now. Doctors considered me “cured” long ago. But it’s a paradoxical term, in my opinion; a combination of current success with the possibility of future failure. When someone is said to be “in remission,” that means the cancer has been beaten… for the moment. The body has taken back control and the cancerous cells have surrendered. Until they don’t. Too often they lie dormant, waiting for another opportunity to catch the body’s defense system off guard, only to come flooding back in, working furiously to strengthen their numbers. Sometimes the body successfully beats back the invasion again, once more entering into a state of remission. And sometimes it doesn’t, fighting until the grave. I am, unfortunately, intimately familiar with both.

 

 

 

I believe that every single person combats their own cancer- perhaps not on the cellular level, but on the soul level. If you consider what cancer actually is by definition (a disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells), I believe we are all born with a soul containing abnormal “cells” (a.k.a. our sin nature). The thoughts we think and the choices we make throughout our lifetime determine how much those cells divide and proliferate or remain dormant and inactive. Ultimately, though, the sad truth is that we all develop cancers- be it selfishness, pride, greed, anger, depression, hatred, bitterness, or any number of other soul-draining diseases. It is humanity’s curse.

But thank God the grave was not the end of His story, and it’s not the end of ours either.

There are no saints in this world. Even the “best” trudge through the trenches of imperfect living and thinking. I may be in remission from Leukemia, but there remains a more deeply rooted disturbance that gathers its strength daily every time I allow my anger and frustration to supersede kindness, gentleness, and respect.

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My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

“Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

If it seems like much of my writing focuses on this one particular character flaw of mine it’s because I am very much a fool in this regard and it is the refining fire that burns hottest, the one that I often reject walking through out of pride, the one that keeps me lying awake at night wallowing in guilt. My propensity towards immediate frustration and annoyance is the thorn in my side. I get angry that I am angry, for goodness sake! And God’s response to my pleas that He help me acquire more self-control? More opportunities to practice getting it right.

Yay.

Practice makes better, right? Well, unfortunately, my efforts most often feel a lot like one step forward and two steps back. I desire that my body reject the spread of this cancerous beast. Many days I do well. My reactions are slow and thoughtful, kind but firm. Other days I forget I’m the model for my children’s learned behavior and throw some epic adult tantrum-like attitude around, complete with yelling sarcastic responses at my sassy four year old in hopes that he won’t have a witty or quick enough response to “win” the argument. He usually does, though. And how? Because he’s been listening to ME.

It’s the ugliest kind of mirror.

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Wasn’t my previous essay all about how I had finally figured it out and solved my problem? Yeah, that was a glorious week and a half of living in remission, of beating back the dark of my sin nature and living cancer-free. But while patting myself on the back, my heart was blinded by its own self-congratulatory pride, leaving the door cracked open for a few low-lying cells to sneak back in and take my body by surprise.

Normally I might say I’m back to square one, but I know I’m not. I recognize the signs earlier now, the swirls of smoke that signal a potential explosion- the heat rushing up to my face, jaw clenching, eyes narrowing. I have come to the point where, even in the heat of the moment, I hear God’s spirit within me begin to speak the way of wisdom to my rapidly disconnecting mind: slow down, breathe, pause, just wait, close your eyes, breathe again… and if I listen, I win. If I don’t, and allow my initial feelings to boil over into a reaction, I lose.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)

Ditto, Paul. Ditto a thousand times.

Living in remission of the soul means staying vigilant to potential threats that would create opportunity for a relapse. It means that the first time my son stares at me with a scowl on his face, I immediately take a deep breath. When his eyes roll all the way around his head and back again, I pause and close mine. Learning to react less and respond more is a developed skill that takes a whole lot of intentional practice and a whole lot more prayer. It means accepting the challenge of opportunities that offer such practice and need for prayer and facing them with a type of brave that goes beyond the natural.

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And with the grit and determination of a mama who is committed to raising the right kind of men, I have resolved to keep on fighting. Every day. Every hour. Every moment.

Peace & Love, Amy

(If you are currently standing on a similar battleground, please let me know how I can pray for you.)

New Happenings

Today I have the privilege of being the featured guest writer over at Coffee + Crumbs. I am so grateful for the opportunity, as I have only recently (as of this past summer) delved into the world of blogging and freelance writing. I am taking baby steps down a path I know almost nothing about, but I’m going to keep on anyway! At 32 years old I’m still chasing new dreams. It feels exciting and a tad crazy, but… why not?

To quote the often-quoted Albert Einstein, Once you stop learning you start dying.” So to sound as cliché as I possibly can: I’ve decided to keep learning.

What are you dreaming about today?

Peace & Love,

Amy

Invite Them In

I’ve struggled to learn the dance of motherhood, wifehood… lifehood. All of it. It’s all hard. So much broken. So much refining. So much fighting, and in all the ways you can think of. The learning curve has been steep, and even still continues its upward slant into the endless atmosphere of infinity. Is there ever a point at which everything in life becomes smooth sailing? Absolutely! The moment after death.

How comforting.

For about the past nine months or so as my four- almost five- year old son had been growing into his personality, our relationship had turned volatile. But I don’t mean physically violent. I mean the train wreck kind of head butting, words flying, voices rising, stomping, sassy, demanding, I-want-it-my-way-so-I’m-going-to-yell-over-you-until-everyone’s-crying type of volatile. It finally culminated into a moment of realization over the Christmas holiday: I’m losing control of him and myself, breaking both our hearts, and damaging our relationship. I HAVE to find a way to do this differently.

 

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Every time there had been an incident, I always ended up “winning” because I’m the mom and he’s still little. But they had begun happening more and more and I had noticed my affection toward him becoming less and less. We are so much alike in the ways we deal with frustration only because I’ve poorly modeled anger management, and so those negative tools are the only ones he knows to use to cope with his own. If you don’t listen I’ll just yell louder. If you don’t put down the toy I’ll snatch it away. If you don’t start walking I will carry you kicking and screaming. You are a frustrating tiny human and I’m going to let you know it and feel it.

And man, did I make sure he knew it and felt it. Especially when he would make huge messes, spill things, drop and break things accidentally, etc. Cue the extra loud, annoyed sigh. And I began to see the uncertainty in his eyes every time my voice would go up. I started to notice his extra attempts at affection and attention- which were of the preschool nature and only helped to further my irritation because his chosen methods often resulted in my clear displays of annoyance and his subsequent misbehavior. I was pushing him away almost every time. Not necessarily physically, but certainly emotionally. I was shutting him out. It was obvious that his sense of emotional safety and stability were on the edge because he never knew how I was going to respond to anything he did.

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I know there’s grace and forgiveness in all of it. But there comes a point at which one must recognize their damaging behavior, own it, change it, and live differently. Grace and forgiveness are real and beautiful gifts, but there are still consequences that result from poor behavior and wrong decisions. I was beginning to lose my son at the tender age of four. At least that’s how it felt to me.

Since returning home from our holiday travelling I have marked a course to pursue the way of love with my sons. And here is how I’m changing my behavior:

I’m beginning to invite them in.

Into my inner thoughts. Into my prayers. Into my daydreams. Into my physical space. Into my arms. Into the tasks that I would normally just try to accomplish myself. Into the hard moments.

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Maybe to most people that seems like a glaringly obvious thing to do. But I struggle to share a lot of things, including my space and time. So for the first week I would very literally repeat the words “invite them in” like a mantra in my brain every time I felt a rush to push back, say no, cut them off, or raise my voice. It was difficult, but every time I successfully resolved a situation peacefully I felt more empowered and at peace than when I would attempt to control a situation by shouting or demanding. When my oldest son would begin arguing with me, instead of yelling I started hugging. What I discovered is that what he has been needing more than anything is reassurance- reassurance of my love, my affection, and my delight in him; that I value him as my son, as a human, and as a part of our family. He was desperate for it.

What it came down to for me was a misconstrued vision of our roles and how I thought our lives were supposed to be playing out. I had been fighting very selfishly for my space and time, wanting to control all the outcomes and avoid more work for myself instead of inviting my children into my space and allowing them to just be present and accepted as they are: preschoolers. They are not fully-functioning adults. My expectations for their behavior were not at all proportionate to their ages, especially my oldest son. They need me to be present, and calm, and listen, and teach, and watch, and take part.  They are clingy sponges that require the space- my space- to simply be and learn and grow. Not pushed out in a wave of heated frustration and heavy sighs.

It’s not convenient. There’s nothing convenient about life with children. And it’s not supposed to be. I have had to let go of this notion of “me and them”, and instead embrace “us.” We are us all of the time. A family. A unit. Our space, our time, our love… it all must be shared- sometimes all day and all night. Like right now when the kids are on winter break, the temperature is below zero, one is potty training, and the van won’t start… we are stuck here together for DAYS. A potential nightmare for any parent with young children.

But I have to say, this last week and a half of change has been nothing short of miraculous- a gift from God. We have needed this time- okay I have needed this time- to fully embrace this truth of us and live into it fully. My relationship with my oldest son has already vastly improved. When his voice goes up, mine stays steady. When his feet start stomping, my arms stretch out. When his words turn sassy, I speak the truth in love. Discipline is necessary and consistent. But already it’s been required less and less. Amazing.

When he looks at me now with his round, sea blue eye, they don’t hold so many questions anymore.

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I’m reading a book right now called Kitchen Table Wisdom. As I was sitting one night just over a week ago reading this book, wallowing in my mom guilt, I read this excerpt that burned me:

“We have all been taught that certain of our ways don’t fit into the common viewpoint and values of the society or the family into which we have been born. Every culture, every family has its Shadow. When we’re told that “big boys don’t cry,” and “ladies never disagree with anyone,” we learn to avoid judgement by disowning our feelings and our perspectives. We make ourselves less whole. It is only human to trade wholeness for approval. Yet parts we disown are not lost, they are just forgotten… In hiding we have kept it safe.

One of the most dramatic manifestations of the life force is seen in the plant kingdom. When times are harsh and what is needed to bloom cannot be found, certain plants become spores. These plants dampen down and wall off their life force in order to survive. It’s an effective strategy. Spores found in mummies, spores thousands of years old, have unfolded into plants when given the opportunity of nurture.

When no one listens, children form spores. In an environment hostile to their uniqueness, when they are judged, criticized, and reshaped through approval into what is wanted rather than supported and allowed to develop naturally into who they are, children wall the unloved parts of themselves away. People may become spores young and stay that way throughout most of their lives. But a spore is a survival strategy, not a way of life. Spores do not grow. They endure. What you needed to do to survive may be very different from what you need to do to live.”

I want to listen. I don’t want to know and shape only the select parts of my children that are riveting and easy to manage. In fact I don’t want to “manage” my kids at all. I want to do life with them. I desire that they develop their whole, unique selves within the safe space of our family instead of feeling the emptiness of a partial existence. For far too long I have seen them as disruptive to my order rather than what they actually are: an extension of God’s holiness and beauty, and grace- His order.

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Parenting is sanctifying work. It’s refining work. It’s a throw-your-entire-body-into-a-vat-of-bubbling-lava kind of work. Because the person that comes out the other side is vastly different from the one who first took the plunge. The crisscrossing battle scars and burns become a precious work of art; reminders of the holy path you’re walking, the miles you’ve already traveled, wisdom gleaned along the way, and the selfishness that’s being chipped away to reveal a clearer image of the Jesus within.

So now I invite them in to live with me, not around me. And it really is the most fulfilling and satisfying kind of life.

Peace & Love, Amy

The Village I Didn’t Know I Had

Well, I popped a baby out on November 13th. A whole week and a half early. Thank goodness, too, because he was just shy of 9 pounds… and he was the smallest of my three boys. We can only make them big around here I guess. It’s been a whirlwind of a couple weeks with all the changes and transitions, though. Three is quite a bit different than two, at least for our clan. And can I just take a second here and talk about the genetic curse that is my children’s inability to latch properly while nursing? Even the lactation consultants, after various suggestions and hands-on efforts, have only ever been able to shrug their shoulders and offer sympathetic smiles as each successive child gnaws and bites and chomps the life and soul out of my nipples. Can I say that? Nipples. Yes. That is what they are. Or were, rather. I have already mourned their passing. Okay moving on…

It always seemed to me that, in general, after someone had one child, everyone tended to make lighter of all subsequent pregnancies and the family was mostly left to figure out their new normal without much help, unless they had family willing to step in for a time. People offer their words of support and often say, “Just call if you need anything!” The thing is, though, it’s not that simple. For someone like me who doesn’t like asking for help out of fear of inconveniencing someone else, calling someone for help of any kind seems impossible and unthinkable. Almost to the point of absurd. My thought process usually goes something like this: I know I need help. I am miserable. Who can I ask? Could I actually ask someone to watch my other kids for a while? Who does that, though?! Isn’t that rude? I can’t just ask people to watch my kids for free. Especially since they have kids of their own! That’s crazy! And I will go through the list of all the ladies in my life who have offered their support and scratch off each one as I make assumptions about all the reasons why they wouldn’t actually be able to help, so I can’t possibly dare burden them by asking. And so I don’t. And my family suffers as I try to do it all and be it all.

The result of trying to do it all and be it all after having my first two children was a downward spiral into postpartum depression. So not only was I trying to not need anyone’s help, I was stuck in a deep chasm of despair, floods of tears and feelings of hopelessness; believing that everyone would just be better off without me. Thank goodness for an innate sense of duty and responsibility and the moving, gracious hand of God that kept me from making terrible decisions. Also the control freak side of me that believed even though I wasn’t doing a good job, no one else would be able to raise my children right either. So better me than a stranger at least. Hah. Ahh… The things our mind can get us to receive and internalize… it’s unreal.

This time around I have had a mindset shift. I’m saying yes. Yes, I would love a diaper shower! Yes, I would appreciate you creating a meal schedule for us! Yes, you can take my kids for the morning! Yes, I will accept your coffee delivery offer! Yes, I WILL call you if I need help… so I sure hope you mean it! Because this time I am doing everything I can to avoid the darkness. My first thoughts when I wake up (or get up- because let’s be real- not much time is spent sleeping) are used in prayer. Prayer for more strength than exhaustion, more kindness than frustration, more gratefulness than discouragement, more patience than irritation, and more hope than despair.

Already I have discovered a village I didn’t know I had. The friend who offered to throw me a diaper shower and the ladies who made it happen, the offers to clean our house, babysit the older kids, provide meals, the promises of mental health inquiries by brave and dear friends, my mom taking on the full responsibility of my older kids and house for an entire week while we transitioned back home, donations of baby items and clothes that were desperately needed… the list continues. Even today, I am only able to write this essay because a precious mom friend took both my older boys, along with her own two children, for the entire morning. AND she brought me my favorite latte when she came to pick them up. I was floored. And all I had to do to receive her gift was say yes.

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All these people were already friends. People I love. But the idea of the village is that everyone is working together to support one another, to pick up the slack, and ease the burdens of one another out of true compassion and kindness… not just getting together to have a good conversation or play date once in a while. The village does the hard things together, too. I can’t imagine my friend had the easiest of mornings today managing four preschoolers. I’m sure she wouldn’t call it “fun.” I’m going to guess she did it out of a pure and simple love. And also because her soul has been kissed by unicorns. She took four preschoolers to an indoor park, guys. I mean, really…

I am learning about a new kind of grateful through this- a grateful that breaks through the pride of a hard and willful heart; that sees genuine compassion in people’s offers to help. I know it brings me joy when someone allows me the opportunity to help them. Why can’t I allow that same joy to be someone else’s when they offer to help me?

We live in a culture filled with expectations and ulterior motives. We’ve been conditioned to assume there’s always a caveat; that it’s never just a simple act of kindness. Instead, it’s easier to presume that everyone, even when offering their help, has some sort of hidden agenda, desire for recognition, or expectations for a return on their “investment.” We have grown accustomed to this idea of “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.” Why can’t we just scratch someone else’s back without requiring something in return? WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST BE NICE, COMPASSIONATE, HELPFUL PEOPLE? Why do we have to waste time guessing if what’s being offered truly doesn’t have any strings attached?

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I know I spend an awful lot of time driving around that circle and usually end up refusing help because I don’t want to feel like I owe anything to anyone. Gifts are meant for holidays and birthdays. So why do you want to give me this nice thing or do this wonderful thing for me right now? It’s not Christmas and there is no birthday cake on my table, so what is it you’re really hoping for? That’s how I tend to think. It’s so sad, isn’t it?

I’m starting to believe that the biggest hindrance to the village mentality is the lack of belief in genuine kindness- that people are beginning to doubt that it even still exists. Why do you think there are so many social media posts and links to videos that attempt to “restore your faith in humanity?” Because there is now this prevailing belief in the loss of the genuine goodness of people. Instead of automatically assuming the best about someone, we think the worst until proven otherwise. Compassionless until proven compassionate. Disingenuous until proven genuine. And the trial that we put people on to prove their authenticity is more often than not a self-made, arduous process that requires more effort than we have energy to give, and so we’d just rather say no than take a chance on accepting at face value what is being offered and the person doing the offering. But by doing so we lose a large piece of this beautiful life puzzle because we push away community. We can’t fully invest. We don’t fully trust. We live in the shallows because we think it’s easier and less painful, when in fact the loneliness and struggle of not having community is far more difficult.

Be the kind of person you want others to be. If you’re searching for kindness, be kind. If you desire compassion, be compassionate. If you seek love, be love. If you yourself are genuine in your own efforts, you will begin to recognize the genuineness in others. Good always finds a way to seek out other good. And when you start recognizing that authenticity in others you can then begin making connections and developing your own community.

 

It has taken me far too long to recognize the kind hearts of those that have surrounded me for years because I’ve wasted an exorbitant amount of time believing false assumptions. The village I didn’t know I had is only now emerging from the shadows because I’m allowing the light of their gracious hearts to shine brilliantly on these long, difficult days of sleep deprivation, newborn drama, and preschooler madness. I am finally choosing to believe in their genuine goodness.

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I only regret not fully embracing them sooner. Thank you, friends, for your love and support.

Peace & Love, Amy

 

 

 

When You Just Don’t Feel Like It

I have days when I just don’t feel like it, when I want to Forrest Gump my life and start running and never stop. Like right now, I don’t even feel like writing this. I’m not a bad person for feeling this way, and neither are you if you do, too. Sometimes being an adult just sucks. It’s overwhelming. The expectations are endless. The days are long. The children are all at once precious and tyrannical. My oldest son has recently developed a throat clearing tic that makes me want to send my entire body through a wood chipper. Because at least the sound of that would be slightly more pleasant.

So in the moments when I want to lace up my running shoes and take off down the street, I remember, first, the impossibility of that- as I am nine months pregnant, huge and swollen, and have zero energy. Then common sense kicks in and I realize that even if I DO start running, they will only chase after me. There is no escape. Kind of like when they wait outside the locked bathroom door for me, banging on it with all the feet and fists they have. And so I resign myself to a temporary daydream of a mountain adventure. Solo. And then I learn to breathe again while ignoring their whines and throat clearing and desperate pleas of “mom, watch this!”- which actually translates to, “Mom, watch this thing I can do that I do every single day, a thousand times a day, and demand that you watch every single time or I feel neglected and sad!” Only then can I jump back into the mess of Lego creations, help the Transformers analyze a battle plan with the Power Rangers, and read Goodnight Moon for the 8,346th time. Sigh.

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My life is a good one. No, a great one. But trying to be a responsible adult in life in general, maintain a reasonable level of sanity, AND raise healthy, happy, well-adjusted, well-behaved, loving, compassionate, kind, generous, humble, thoughtful, God-loving, servant-hearted, socially aware, educated children… sometimes it all becomes a tad overwhelming and the weight of all the responsibility pulls at the threads holding my brain parts together and I start to unravel. The raging pregnancy hormones don’t help either. Some days are just hard.

And you know what? It’s okay. Because eventually they go to sleep. Eventually. After a long, drawn out war of the wills.

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And then I get a few moments to myself. I write and release the frustration, or numb it with Netflix. And before my eyes close in restless, often-interrupted sleep, I pray for a chance to try again tomorrow with a little more grace and a lot more patience.

I know I live a blessed life. I am grateful for it. But we all have times when we just don’t feel like it; when we reach the end of ourselves by midday. Or morning. Maybe shortly after waking up. So breathe, take a short daydream trip to your favorite place, control what you can and release what you can’t, pray for patience, listen to a favorite song, drink coffee, eat something good (and by good I mean indulgent, not some kale kefir beetroot concoction that can only ever produce misery and sadness), or simply step outside in the fresh air. Do something to remind yourself that life IS beautiful. Because it is. Then keep on keeping on.

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Peace & Love, Amy

A Faithless Faith

The natural state of the human heart is to be self-seeking and selfish. I’ll just go ahead and raise both my hands in the air in personal confession. If you were to honestly consider your heart’s true motives behind even your best do-gooder actions, more often than not you will come to discover that even your most well-intentioned deeds are motivated by selfishness or pride and were only disguised as something shiny, pure, and selfless. No one wants to hear that, though, right? Because that would essentially nullify the personal reward for all of our wonderful acts of kindness and efforts at improving humanity. And what would that say about us? That even in our attempts to do good, our compassionate acts of service and love, our fight for social justice, we are still very broken people in need of saving. We ourselves are not the saviors. And we are still coughing up dust at the starting line because we are missing the point.

If you believe your faith in God and your salvation are based on a certain moral code, a set of ethical beliefs, or upholding all the do’s and don’ts of your version of Christianity; if you believe you will receive eternal life because you are living a morally upright existence; if you think faith has anything to do with doing… you have missed the mark. And thank GOD that’s not the actual truth.

If you think that any positive thing you are accomplishing is earning yourself the ability to claim righteousness in God’s eyes, you are living in sin. Ugly, prideful sin. And pride was the first sin of both angels and humanity.

People who believe they can save themselves by their own actions believe God approves them because they are better than other people. Even atheists fall into this trap; they simply substitute the world’s praise or history’s opinion for God’s approval. The self-satisfied superiority is the same.” (BSF International)

“Righteousness” is a big, religious-sounding word that some people may have a difficult time understanding. I’ll admit that I have spent the majority of my life glazing over it, having only a general sense of its meaning. So let’s start there. “Righteousness” is being in a right, perfect relationship with God. The only way to be in a right relationship with God is to believe in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection; to accept Jesus as God’s gift to us as the only way to receive forgiveness for our sin and be restored to a right relationship with Him.

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I’m not sure why Christians make this so difficult when it is meant to BE and FEEL so incredibly freeing. Why do we want so badly to make it all about us? Pride. It really is the worst.

Perhaps those who live believing they are in a right relationship with God based on the things they do are so bound up in their self-righteous, religious pride that the thought of it actually being that simple is sort of a letdown; they want to believe that all their hard work and personal effort will somehow put them on a more level playing field with God; that they are storing up extra credit points to take them to the next level and leave the rest of us failing peons behind; that they deserve more because they are doing more.

Well, the rain on their parade is a downpour because religious and moral behavior doesn’t save us. Faith in Jesus does. Freely. Believing in the redeeming act of the cross of Christ, having faith in its truth, in its ability to forgive every single wrong action, thought, word, etc.… THAT is what allows us to come back into a right relationship with God. Because when we believe, accept, and internalize that truth, we are justified by grace and made perfect in His sight. It has nothing to do with our “doings.”

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Consider the difference between “works-based faith” and “faith-based works.” The first says that we must do in order to receive God’s forgiveness and salvation. But that would mean salvation comes by way of our own actions, in all our imperfect humanity. Yeah, okay. No thanks. The second says that morality, ethics, good deeds, and righteous living pours out of a desire to be this way because of our faith in Jesus. We love because He first loved us. We give because He gave to us. We serve because He was a servant.

People who simply live good and moral lives because they believe that’s just “the right thing to do” are just as far from the truth as those who live in the sinful pride of religious superiority or the utter darkness of moral depravity. And this is the truth that is often hardest for those that want to believe God is all love and mercy to accept. God IS love and mercy, but there is still a reckoning with the sinful human heart that needs to be satisfied. No one is perfect. No one is without sin. All sin separates us from God. But God, in His perfect love, provided a free avenue for justification through Jesus- justification meaning that we have been forgiven of all our sin and justice has been appropriated so that we can be set free from it, because when Jesus suffered and died on the cross he bore the weight of ALL the sin of humanity, enduring the full wrath and judgement of God for us. He became sin for us so that we could be freed from it. But no matter how good of a person someone is, if they choose not to accept that gift, they remain separated from God. Their morality and ethics are based on humanity’s ever-evolving standards rather than God’s perfect standards. And human standards will never be good enough to save us from ourselves.

That’s why those who know they are screwing up, the people who feel the full weight of their failure and can do nothing but say, “God have mercy on me, a sinner,” these are the ones who are able to experience the freedom in its fullness and receive it with absolute joy.

Jesus, himself, talks about this when he shares the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Beautiful, gracious, gift. Our loving God, who sent His only son, Jesus, to live, suffer, and die in our place. A God for all people – not just the religious ones or the Jewish ones or the ones who do great things… ALL of us. Christianity was never meant to feel or be exclusive- that is the product of human failure and man-made tradition; because Christianity, as intended by Jesus Christ, is, in fact, the most inclusive of all belief systems. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you come from, what your past or current story is, He loves you and He wants you to accept His free gift of salvation. You don’t have a checklist of things to accomplish before you can receive forgiveness and freedom. You don’t have to fit a certain mold, look a certain way, or do certain acts. You are able to have a right relationship with God through simple faith just as you are right now. It really is that simple. And that’s what makes it such good news!

And how can we know that God never intended for salvation and righteousness to be exclusive? Abraham was called righteous by God even before the law of God was given to the people of earth (Genesis 15:6), simply for believing in the promises God was making with him. His belief was credited to him as righteousness. It didn’t come by way of anything he did (and guys, he did some pretty absurd things). David committed adultery and murder, yet was called a man after God’s own heart and made righteous in God’s eyes because he confessed his sins with an honest, broken heart and repented (Psalm 32, 51). He even specifically says in Psalm 51:16-17, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” We are made right with God through our faith in the work Jesus accomplished and the gift of grace and forgiveness that is free, not by the things we do. It is the posture of our heart that matters.

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In Romans 3:21-24, the apostle Paul again explains that a right relationship with God comes through faith in Jesus and not the things we do and the laws we follow.

“21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Christianity becomes a faithless faith when we trust ourselves more than we trust God, when we walk our own self-made journey believing in our own ability to play God rather than give up control and follow an unfamiliar path that requires trust. Anybody can create all their own answers if they really want to. That doesn’t make them right, good, or true. A right relationship with God requires faith- faith in Jesus, faith in His omnipotence, faith that He is always at work in the world and in our hearts despite the darkness, and faith that He can and WILL do all that He has promised.

When all our good deeds and actions begin to flow out of a faith-filled heart, there is no longer room for pride. Instead, humility takes root and begins to grow, and we begin to do those things out of right desire rather than selfish and prideful desire. That is when the authentic light and hope of Christ can be seen in us. And that is the precious, holy work Christians are called to.

Peace & Love, Amy

(Please feel free to comment or send me a message with any questions you may have.)

The Value of Seasonal Interests

While searching for an extension cord the other night I stumbled across my old sketchbook that I sometimes took to using during my final year of college. When it comes to the arts, I usually stick to music, but for whatever reason, making oil pastel creations for that period of time in my life filled a particular need for expression during a lonely season. I have zero technique or training and I’m not much of a natural drawer, so while the images themselves would probably seem rudimentary and  lacking in form to just about everyone else, I remember the heart and desire behind them. They are precious to me for that reason alone.

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After finding my sketchbook I sat down the next few nights and attempted a couple of artistic, expressive strokes, energized by my discovery of this past “self” I had long since forgotten. I didn’t get very far. Even though I was motivated to engage in the activity, the attempts themselves seemed forced and I was unable to generate the peaceful process of constructing an image that gave me any sense of personal satisfaction in the same way it had ten years ago. I soon understood this creative outlet to be a seasonal one, perhaps even only sporadically useful. I can’t pinpoint what exactly propelled (propels) me toward this desire to draw. I only know it remains dormant until the moment it doesn’t.

I would venture to say there are interests and hobbies in everyone’s lives that take a similar position. We invest in them for a time, and then find life moving us on to the next thing. Maybe you come back to those pursuits and maybe you don’t. Regardless, they shape a piece of you. Or maybe it’s the motivation behind the activity that is more formative than the actual activity itself. Like I said, I’m not a great drawer. There’s nothing awe-inspiring about my pictures. The images themselves didn’t cause any seismic shift in perspective or life direction. It was the flow of desire to create something that filled a void and inhabited a once-empty space I didn’t know existed, a visual representation of feeling separate from my music and tremendously therapeutic.

Life cracks us in ways we may not even recognize as we are carried along in its swiftly moving current- cracks that can unknowingly leak precious energy and soul fuel out into the wide open spaces while we become increasingly baffled by our slowing pace and darkening horizon. Where did this negativity come from? Why do I feel so afraid? What is this confusion? Why am I so frustrated and overwhelmed? Or whatever type of uncertainty or questions you may start to feel and ask yourself. And as the cracks deepen and widen, a void becomes visible.

I find musical expression to be my most common construct for communication between myself and God. All the sadness, intensity, joy, desire, longing, anger, despair, and hope can often be channeled into melodies and lyrics. The largest cracks during my middle school and high school years, and much of my college years were filled and sealed with the flow of poetic rhyme and the strum of guitar strings. But there were other, less noticeable gaps that required something different. Enter oil pastels. And a marathon. Advocating for the Invisible Children organization. Attempting a meal delivery service venture. And now blogging. These are just a few of the activities that have served (and some that still serve) a very specific purpose as seasons of reconstruction and growth, other methods of connection between my spirit and God’s.

Training for and running in the Chicago Marathon for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, for example, was a deeply personal venture; rooted in my own story as a cancer survivor and my sister’s lost battle to that same cancer. During our childhood struggles with Leukemia we were the “heroes” who other runners ran in honor of and raised money for to give to this organization. The loss of my sister has always been a deep, closed off well of thoughts and feelings. But by accepting and entering into this season of training, then running the actual marathon in her honor with this same organization, joy poured itself into that well, filling in the deep cavernous spaces that had for so many years caused an unspoken grief to take up residence. I don’t think I’ll ever run a marathon again. It was all at once terrible and exhilarating. But the driving intensity that fueled the fire of self-discipline to train has since been satisfied. That season came to a close once I crossed the finish line. That period of reconstruction and healing is finished.

And looking back on that time, God was clearly intentional in the way He steered me in that direction. Because what came about through that experience was not just a necessary heart-healing, but a whole new path to personal education in health, wellness, and nutrition which has since transformed the way I live. Mostly. Except for when I’m pregnant… because chocolate. And sugar in general.

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So these seasonal gifts and experiences that are given to us throughout our lifetime are opportunities for growth, healing, reflection, and teaching- to perhaps be the turning point toward a new direction, teach us a truth we would otherwise miss, or simply be a momentary grace in the midst of difficulty.  Embrace them for the time they are given to you, and if you come to a point when the activity or hobby feels forced or no longer brings the joy it once did, consider the possibility that the season for that interest has come to a close. In those moments reflect on the changes it has produced in you, the soul connection created that allowed a different avenue for the channeling of God’s love, grace, and teaching, and then be willing to look up and around and offer up your heart to whatever may come next. Or perhaps you will return to an original passion with renewed zeal.

Whatever the case may be, embrace these seasonal interests, thank God for them, seek out the divine purpose, and grow.

Peace & Love, Amy

An Honest Wild

Nature has always blended in special harmony with my spirit. The whispering invitation of the trees will forever resonate more intensely in my heart than the chaotic noise of humanity. I love being outside and away from people – walking, hiking, exploring, gazing out over vast expanses of uncultivated land. It reorients my perspective to the larger picture, the grander design. It’s humbling to be a speck on a cliff, peering out into a sea of foliage that spans for miles, knowing that I am just a minute existence of a thing in comparison to all that is. But yet somehow… I still matter.

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My parents took care to help nurture this love, taking family trips to national parks and waterfalls and allowing me the freedom to climb and explore, to lead and navigate, holding my hand when necessary and letting go to permit risk. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them to watch. On trips that were just me and my dad, I would often be warned, “Don’t tell your mom I let you do this!” And I would smile and feel brave, my confidence growing with the conquering of each tiny ledge, large leap, and steep drop-off. I think the mom heart feels the gravity of all the “what-ifs” slightly more and so we are quicker to pump the breaks on testing physical limits. But now that I’m a mom myself and having had those experiences growing up, I do feel a certain amount of anxiety, but also a freedom to allow my kids the same experiences… hopefully WITH my knowledge, though (Hah. Right…).

My dad was a bit of a nomad in his earlier years after his time in the Marine Corp- through college and into his 30’s and before he met my mom. He is a storyteller by nature, so growing up hearing about his motorcycle adventures through the mountains of Albuquerque, New Mexico and his photography and van life travels all across the United States settled deep into my bones. Who rides a motorcycle up the side of mountain in the dead of winter during a blizzard? Who crawls into the middle of a herd of bison in order to capture a better image? Who gives up a potential high-income job working with high-end businesses because he’s bored and instead takes off into the sunset with his camera and beat-up van? This guy. And who accepted this same guy’s marriage proposal after one date? My mom. Because of course. They were a divine match.

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I mean it all seems so adventurous, idyllic, and picturesque, right? Straight out of a book. A life of freedom, changing scenery, thrill, and excitement. So when I’m in those wide open spaces of beauty and grandeur, my heart explodes. I feel like Moana finally getting to sail past the reef (cue the Disney soundtrack). It would delight me to no end if instead of choosing traditional sports, my sons would pursue things like rock-climbing, wilderness survival training, mountain biking, etc. I have to be honest when I say I would find way more personal enjoyment in watching them scale cliffs than staring at a baseball diamond or a basketball court. That’s just me, though.

I want to be a family that lives out adventures and makes memories on the open road; that crisscrosses through states and hikes and explores; that breathes in the scent of natural creation through every pore of the skin instead of simply knowing of its existence on a television screen or through other people’s photographs. I have to work hard to reign in my jealousy when I hear about or see images of the travels of other people and families. Sometimes I get depressed that I live in a state filled with corn fields instead of mountains or oceans.

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My parents’ trip to the Tetons

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Every autumn when the air is cooling and leaves are transforming into vibrant shades of fiery color, this particular nostalgia and longing tends to creep in. It is my absolute favorite time of year, but it is often filled with an intense, overwhelming desire to go. I don’t know that I even have the words to adequately describe the depth of meaning in that one, simple verb because it encompasses a profoundly complex, passionate longing in my God-shaped spirit.

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I experience God’s presence most acutely in the midst of uninhabited creation. My spirit connects instantly with the natural landscape. It all just feels so right and pure. No politics, no media culture, no traffic, no to-do lists. The constraints and inhibitions of normal, daily living are suddenly lifted and I feel free to breathe my own air, to walk my own path, to take my time, and just simply be in the present moment.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” -Romans 1:20, NIV

It makes sense that I would feel this way- a created being designed by the same Creator that called the snow-capped mountains into existence with a word. We are connected by the same Hands, the same Voice. It seems obvious that I would marvel at the awesomeness of all that is wild, beautiful, and free- as my own heart is fashioned in similar orientation through the Spirit of God.

There is an uninhibited reality that is displayed throughout nature. Where humans strive to paint lines over truth, cover up what we don’t like, hide the things we deem unworthy, showcase only the best created versions of ourselves- nature manifests its true self consistently and without fail. And still, every bit of it is worthy of notice. Perhaps that’s why as a truth seeker I feel so drawn to it; because the stories of creation are all at once broken, glorious, tragic, and  oh so very real. It doesn’t hide its hard parts. It can only be what it was created to be: an honest wild.

I find the authenticity of nature to be, in part, a representation of God’s own character; unbounded and outside the confines of human ruling. We don’t control the wind and the waves, much as we don’t control the hand of God. Our existence, as seen through the lenses of our human eyes, is far too narrow and adulterated to comprehend the vastness and complexity of God’s total design- yet every piece of the puzzle points to Him. It is for this reason that I experience freedom and joy when I step into the extravagantly majestic spaces of open air and feel the wind turn my face toward the sun. Because it is there in those places that I feel Ultimate Truth permeate to the core of my being- that God is here, among us, with us, inside of us, loving us, offering us this glimpse of immense beauty that is only a drop in the ocean compared to the perfection that awaits us in eternity.

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And what if we as humans were also to live out our own honest wild? To free ourselves from cultural mandates, human perspective, and limited thinking, and instead allow the sweeping winds of the Holy Spirit to drive us toward open, truthful, transparent living in the simplest ways of loving, serving, and giving? To breathe in grace and exhale love? To pursue actual wisdom instead of click-bait articles or the loudest voice? I know I get tired of pretending I’m something other, of withholding when I see a need, and adding my own hot air to a ballooning, self-serving culture. Maybe you do, too.

In the final moments of my life I want to be able to look back and smile on the journey, knowing that I was able to live and love truthfully and transparently- maybe not perfectly or even beautifully at times, but purposefully and honestly- a life that was worth every single God-given breath.

Join me on the cliff’s edge, will you? Let’s jump outside the calculated boundaries of human creation and see what happens in the wildness of God’s.

Peace & Love, Amy

(All photos credits: my dad- no filters, photoshopping, or other editing used.)

The Dark Days of Motherhood

There’s not much thoughtfulness or wisdom in my words today… not that I claim a corner on wisdom even on good days. I guess what I mean is that failure is looming larger than success in these afternoon moments on this cloudy, autumn day. I’m sitting here typing in the semi-darkness of my dining room while my kids watch shows because today has been one for the birds. And I’m tired and frustrated and a crying mess because of all the things I can’t do or say right, and the children I can’t seem to be kind to or love well. Which leads me to how the heck am I going to do this with ANOTHER baby? Cue the overwhelming, joyless glimpses into my future life with two preschoolers and an infant. All I can think about is how I’m preparing them well for a life of expensive therapy.

Why did God choose me to be their mom? That is the question turning circles in my mind. Because clearly I can’t do this right or well. At least that’s the lie I’m allowing my heart to latch onto in my weaknesses amidst today’s hard. Obviously there’s been some sort of supernatural mistake that heaven and I are just over here trying to make the best of because now it’s too late and these precious, innocent, tender-hearted babes are stuck with a controlling, frustrated, cold-hearted, prickly mom.

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I know it’s a lie. But it feels like honest reality in the ugly, heated moments; that surely there’s another woman out there better suited to love these boys properly, the way they deserve, because I continue to fall short. I spent a good amount of time searching for inspirational quotes about motherhood to include in this post- one that would speak me into a state of grace. I didn’t find one. Because the truth is I don’t feel like I wear motherhood very gracefully. I have come to recognize that I maintain unrealistic expectations- like subconsciously expecting my four year old to act and reason like a ten year old and getting upset when he doesn’t. It’s a problem.

But here’s the truth that’s working hard to edge out the despairing lie even as I write these words: God doesn’t make mistakes. And for as long as I am present on this earth, these boys are my gifts- flawlessly designed and paired with me as their mother. God knows that my sons are perfectly suited to sharpen the dull edges of my blade and refine the rough surfaces of my calloused heart to reveal my false securities and character flaws in order to bring about a greater dependency on HIM and strengthening of character. (Also not to mention their own grand life design and purpose here on earth of which I get to bear witness to and take part in.)

I like believing I can do it all by myself. And that right there, I believe, is a large portion of the problem. But that’s how I’ve lived the majority of my life; making sure I don’t have to be dependent on anyone or anything else. I don’t want to be vulnerable. To me, feeling vulnerable is akin to might as well be dead. Not a super healthy perception, I am aware. But having children has thrown all kinds of curve balls and cracked that mentality. I am now extremely vulnerable when it comes to their health and wellbeing. I will lose myself in all the worst case scenarios and weep over situations that have never even happened. Clearly I’m missing the healthy balance.

But this allowance for vulnerability has turned the tables on my false sense of independence. It has been made undoubtedly obvious that I am incapable of walking this journey alone. But that right there is the point. We were never meant to. We cannot do it all or control it all. The grace and strength to face a new tomorrow after a painful today again and again and again can only come from one source- and that source cannot be my own depleted soul.

29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
(Isaiah 40:29-31 NIV)

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In the eye of the tornado is where I usually meet God. It’s often after I’ve slammed the door and lay crying into my pillow, telling myself that I am the worst mother in the world, convinced that it’s hopeless and they are destined to be broken, angry, cold-hearted adults because I’m destroying their tenderness. It’s in those weighted moments of total despair that I speak the lies as questions out loud to God. Am I…? Will they…? How can I…? Don’t they deserve…? And I know the answers already, but they just can’t be right. So I ask them again. And again. And each time the words “grace” and “enough” are burned across my heart. I don’t necessarily feel their heat right away, but the words reverberate in my brain… reminding me, comforting me, stilling me… until I do.

But he [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV)

Everything about me feels weak today. And on such dark days of motherhood when the exhaustion is all-consuming, the frenetic energy of my children threatens to do me in, and my frustration peaks, God’s promise to me is grace; that even still, I am enough to make it through one more frustrating meal time, one more botched bed time, one more day that displayed all my ugly stripes. And I am such because my source of life doesn’t depend on me. It’s Christ’s power at work in my spirit that splashes the hope of a beautiful rainbow across my rain-soaked, stormy skies; reminding me that even though I’ve failed, He never will.  And because of that I can look forward to a new morning- a clean slate- another chance to love better than the last. It’s the hope of tomorrow that allows me to forgive myself for today.

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And so I continue on this journey very imperfectly, yet still hopeful.

Peace & Love, Amy