Well Done

“You’re there in the morning wrapping grace around what hurts.” I quickly jotted down this line from a Nichole Nordeman song as it struck me while I was listening the other day. I thought it was beautiful and put it with my Bible to ponder the next day. God is so good. I just fall in love with Him over and over. He had me write a note of encouragement to myself and I didn’t even know it. Little did I know I would wake the next morning to find out my friend, Traci, had passed away from complications of Lyme disease. I am stunned and keep stopping to stare at the blank lines on this page, hoping some words come to express what she meant to me.

Believe it or not, Traci and I never actually met in person, though we hoped to one day. She saw Dr. Sunshine just one week before I did and she kept me informed on what was happening with her, giving me the gift of knowing just a little of what to expect. It’s funny to say this about someone you’ve never seen face to face but we became friends. Kindred spirits in some ways. I’m feeling strange about the depth of loss I feel for her, like I don’t have the right to grieve an online friend but she was more than that.

Traci would check on my progress if she hadn’t heard from me in awhile or let me know she came across something that might help me in my journey, though she suffered so herself. She won a five-year membership to Thrive Market and, just because that’s the kind of person she was, she gave it to me. I wonder if she sensed she would be living with Jesus before the end of those five, or even one of those years. Traci was an avid follower of my blog and I always knew to expect a heartfelt comment after she read a post. Publishing this one gives me pause because I won’t be hearing from her.

I can only imagine what she must be seeing and doing right now. I think of her running through fields of wildflowers, experiencing what it’s like to have no pain in a body that doesn’t suffer anymore. Oh, how incredible that must be! I imagine she carried her love of painting with her, painting the sunset from a perspective she could have only dreamed of before. I picture her looking into the tender eyes of Jesus as He said, “Well done.”

As someone who shared my gift of spiritual sensitivity, I know Traci would understand my emotions. We feel all things, and we feel them HARD. My word for the year is “Free” and part of that is reminding myself that I am free to be who and how I am, the way God created me. I didn’t expect it to have to remind me that I’m free to grieve but I guess that’s going to be the first lesson. Traci and I followed writer Sarah Jackson Panther, and shared back and forth how much she inspires us. Sarah created The Hope Shop, handmade jewelry with beautiful meaning and Scriptures for each piece. My husband gave me the necklace called ‘Free’ for Christmas. The last thing Traci said to me was, “I was hoping you’d get one for Christmas!” She celebrated others so well. Now as I wear it, I not only remember that I am free in Christ, but I remember my friend who is now free from her suffering and safe in the arms of Jesus.

God is with her now, wrapping grace around all that has hurt for so long. And He is with her loved ones, wrapping that same grace around us as well. Another line in the song is, “Anywhere You are is sanctuary. Everywhere You are is where I’m free.” May we live in the freedom God gave us through Jesus until one beautiful day we join Traci in the ultimate freedom of heaven. My beautiful friend, you once said to me, “I get excited for you when I see your small wins… or big wins.” Though I mourn for us, I am excited for you. Today I celebrate your big win. I hope you know how much you meant to many. I miss you.

*In memory of Traci Morgan, faithful follower of Beautiful Rubble blog and seeker, spreader, and creator of so much beauty in the rubble of this world.*

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A Power Greater Than Fear

“Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.” – Luke 8:37

This verse makes me sad. The people had just seen or heard about Jesus curing the man possessed by “Legion”, many demons (vs. 30). They saw a man who had been so violent he broke chains finally calm and in his right mind (vs. 29, 35). Instead of rejoicing with this man who had been tortured by demons for a long time and now healed by Jesus, they were afraid. A Power greater than the one who had controlled the man’s life was in their midst and they feared Him. They pushed Him away. I don’t understand. And yet… maybe I do.

I am afraid of many things. The fight or flight mechanism in me seems to be on constant alert. I fear walking that extra block because I might pass out. I fear rejection and disapproval. I fear embarrassment and illness. I fear leaving the house because that makes all of these other fears more likely to come true. I fear that I will never be healed in this life. Isn’t that ironic? The Power that can heal me, a power greater than the strongest of demons, walks with me… and yet, I’m still afraid.

What if the miracle I’ve been hoping for lies in the midst of the things that I fear?

What if I failed to walk that extra block, thereby missing a neighbor who needed a friend? What if I protected myself from needing help and missed the opportunity to receive from someone who really needed to give? What if someone missed hearing a life-giving, freedom-releasing word from the Lord because I was too afraid of rejection and disapproval to say it? What if by fearing and hating illness, I’ve also pushed away the miracles God wants to work in my heart, or other hearts, through it? What if the fear in me is pushing Jesus away just because I don’t understand what He is doing?

Ohhh, my heart. I don’t want to miss Jesus! I don’t want to miss a miracle, big or small. I don’t want to ask Jesus to leave because I’m afraid. No. I want to run and meet with Him in the middle of my fears and let His power work miracles in my life. The people Luke was writing about had just witnessed a miracle but they didn’t understand such healing power, so they feared it. I don’t understand Jesus’ healing power, but I want to embrace it. The people were overcome with fear. I want to be overcome with God’s presence. A power greater than my fear is with me. I don’t want to push it away. Heal me, Lord.

What miracle could you be missing out on because you are afraid?

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Jesus Is Enough

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'” – John 9:1-3

There are people I know who would have been right there with the disciples asking this question. Maybe I would have been one of them. I see how they look at me, pitying me, wishing I would just do the one thing they believe I’m not doing that would make me well. And if I really think hard enough, I understand. I think these things about myself. What am I not learning fast enough? What am I doing to block God’s healing of my body? Why is this taking so long? Surely God would heal me if I was doing this one extra thing. What am I doing wrong? Oh, my friends. These are lies. Jesus wants to use our suffering for God’s glory. He wants to give us more of Him.

“‘How then were your eyes opened?’ they demanded. ‘He replied, ‘The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.'” – John 9:10-11

I am doing everything I know to do and becoming more comfortable by the day with waiting on God. Grace is my favorite word these days. If I could get a tattoo, that’s what it would say. Grace. Maybe if we plastered it on our foreheads we’d remember it better. I’m thankful that only God knows how to heal me and I’ve quit worrying about it so much. I’d rather experience a miracle than work myself and our bank account to the bone trying to heal myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up. On the contrary. I’m just giving up more of my striving and expecting God’s healing in whatever form it comes. I’m only doing the things for my health that He’s leading me to do. I’m not grasping at every straw anymore. And the peace I am experiencing is allowing me to exhale more fully.

“‘We know he is our son,’ the parents answered, ‘and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.” – John 9:20-22

This man’s parents didn’t even stand up for him. They basically threw him under the bus because they were afraid of being put out of the synagogue, which was pretty much excommunication. The people who were supposed to protect him most did not do so. How that must have hurt. It’s painful when those we love don’t stand by us. I’ve had to distance myself from the people who can’t understand why I’m still suffering, if they haven’t already distanced themselves. It’s a terrible loss when those you love have such a poor theology of suffering that they can’t stand to watch it and walk away, or perhaps worse, blame the sufferer.

“A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. ‘Give glory to God,’ they said. ‘We know this man is a sinner.’ He replied, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!'” – John 9:24-25

But in spite of the losses, the doubts, and the continued lack of health, I am seeing a deeper healing. One thing I know. I was blind but now I see! And the view from here is breathtaking.

“Then they asked him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered, ‘I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?'” – John 9:27

How I relate to this man! Mr. Sassy Shorts here has had enough! I love it. I have quite a bit of sass as well… it has been mentioned. He’s just trying to celebrate his miracle and the pharisees keep bugging him. Let the man enjoy his sight, for crying out loud!

“To this they replied, ‘You were steeped in sin at birth, how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.” – John 9:34

So they threw him out. Excommunicated for receiving a miracle and believing the One who delivered.

“Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’… Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.” – John 9:35, 38

Jesus came to this rejected, unprotected, isolated man who had just lost his entire community. Jesus not only healed his body, but stayed around to heal his spirit as well. Isn’t that dear? Jesus is so loving. This man who had just lost everything while gaining his sight believed Jesus and worshiped.

Jesus was enough for this man. Jesus was his defender, saying that sin did not cause his blindness. Jesus was his healer in more ways than one. He opened his eyes to the physical world and the spiritual one. He opened his eyes to Jesus. Jesus became everything to him. He had nothing but Jesus, and that was enough.

I am learning to embrace Jesus as my defender. When the old voices of perfectionism return to tell me I must not be doing enough to be healed, or the looks and off-hand comments from others cut deep, I know and speak the truth to myself that my sin is covered by the blood of Jesus. Jesus is already my healer, though I am not yet healthy. He has opened my eyes to Himself. He is becoming everything to me. I have lost so much and many people who were dear to me, but I have gained more Jesus. And He is more than enough.

If your world is crumbing down, how my heart aches for you. I know this question is difficult. Is Jesus enough for you? My prayers are with you.

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What You Don’t See

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1

What you see is a smiling woman appearing confident and healthy. What you don’t see is the pale face with wide, panicked eyes, horrified at the idea of leaving the house the night before. What you see is eyes sparkling in the sun of a brighter day. What you don’t see are tears dripping onto the cold, dirty basement floor because that’s where she happened to collapse.

What you see is the going out and the doing. What you don’t see is the disappointment and grief with each failed attempt and each gathering missed. What you see is the poker face. What you may not see is the grip on her husband’s hand or how many hours the panic shaking lasted afterwards.

What you see is a woman strong in the Holy Spirit, speaking in front of people. What you don’t see is the panic attack days later refusing to allow her out the door. What you hear is a confident word from the Lord. What you don’t hear are the voices straight from the evil one convincing her that she’s a fraud.

What you see is sunshine. What you don’t see are the dark fingers of fear picking at old beliefs, “You shouldn’t go out in public. You’re a hypocrite. You let fear win. You’re alone. You don’t deserve to be comforted. You’re getting worse, not better. You’ll never be free.” What you see is a woman learning to love herself and, most days, succeeding in at least offering herself grace. What you don’t see are the downward spirals into the pit again, though fewer and farther between, thanks be to God. What you see is a walking, standing, worshiping woman. What you don’t see is a hyperventilating, panicking child, crumpled in the fetal position on the floor.

What I see is darkness, the only light highlighting every imperfection. What I don’t see is the veil Satan has tossed over my eyes. What I feel is the white-hot sear of panic rising in my chest. What I don’t feel, because for a time I don’t believe I deserve it, is a hand of comfort. What I vaguely remember is that this has an end, even if I don’t believe at the time. What I don’t see is the hand of God on my shoulder, pulling me back toward the light with that reminder. What I know in the distant recesses of my mind is that the lies from the evil one are not true. What I don’t know at the time is the Holy Spirit prodding my mind to remember that. What I want is to be a strong, confident woman who no longer struggles with anxiety. What I don’t want is to worship. What I know is that God fights for me when I worship. What I don’t fully understand is how strong He is in my weakness.

“As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” – 2 Chronicles 20:22

What I do is crawl to my feet in the strength God provides and eek out a song through ragged breath. What I don’t do is rescue myself. What I hear is the ugliest tear-drenched song, if I can even call it that. What I don’t hear are angels joining in, making the song more beautiful than I could dream. What I see is the blurred image of the laundry room as the whispered song continues. What I don’t see are the heavenly armies mobilizing. What I manage to push out my mouth is truth combating lies, “I am able in Christ. I am not a fraud. God is my comforter. I am worthy. I am not alone.” What I don’t see is the Holy Spirit welling up in me, giving me the strength to say those things. What I hear is my voice thanking God that, at the name of Jesus, evil must flee. What I don’t hear is the clash of swords in the spiritual realm. What I see are my exhausted hands halfheartedly lifted in a small measure of praise. What I don’t see is God fighting for me while I worship.

What I finally believe is the truth that I am worthy of comfort. What I don’t see, but feel, is God comforting me. What I know is my strength and peace is returning. What I know is it’s actually God’s strength and peace filling me. What I see is a tiny ray of light. What I don’t see is God’s hand cradling me. What I know is I need help so I reach out. What I don’t hear are their prayers rising to a powerful God. What I know is that prayers, praise, and worship are being lifted. What I don’t see is heaven mobilized to fight for me, to rescue me, to give me strength for this moment and hope for the next.

What we see is far less real and important than what we don’t see.

“‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” – 2 Kings 6:16-17

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What Do We Do With All This Pain?

A friend recently asked me a question and I don’t know if I answered it well. Sometimes no profound answer comes to me in the moment but the question lingers with me until I finally ask God why I’m taking it to heart and what He wants to say to me about it. Then, I start writing. My friend was talking about past emotional pain and the question was something along the lines of, “How do you get rid of that kind of pain?” I’ve had similar conversations with at least two other people in the span of a week so maybe that’s why I felt the need to really dive deep into this. Perhaps the subject has come up so much because many of us are wondering the same thing. Throughout the course of my illness, I have asked this very question over and over again. I’ve spoken to my counselor about it more times than I can recall. I’ve tried to answer this question for years until I had to let myself finally realize that it’s actually not possible to rid ourselves of pain. I know you’re thinking, ‘thanks for the pep talk.’ But here’s the thing that has been emphasized to me and something I relayed to a friend just the other day: God never promised us a pain-free life. In fact, Jesus promised otherwise when He said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Unfortunately, pain is part of living in this fallen world. Getting rid of it is something only God can accomplish. He certainly will do so one day when we see Him face to face.

But we all try to do this, don’t we? We try to protect ourselves from pain. When we introduce ourselves weekly at the recovery group I attend, we always start with our struggles: “Hi. My name is Karina and I’m a believer who struggles with…” The rest of my statement is always “…depression, anxiety, and illness,” but lately I’ve been adding “self-protection” to the list of my struggles. It’s the biggest issue I continue to struggle with so, friend, I get it. I understand the urge to fight off pain. I constantly try to do so. But the truth is, we can’t. So we have to find a way to deal with it in a healthy manner. And that’s the discussion I want to continue. What do we do with all this pain?

First of all, we have to let ourselves feel it. Not so fun, right? But it’s the first step in finding freedom from the kind of pain that clings and wreaks havoc on the rest of our lives. I know from experience that shoving pain into a box that we never look at really hurts us after awhile. That box starts to mold and grow in toxicity as the waters of life keep trickling in around it. It affects the way we view our lives and how we relate to others. In my opinion, it’s the number one reason we REACT to certain situations rather than RESPONDING to them in a healthy way. People who fly off the handle when faced with seemingly small inconveniences are really reacting to unresolved pain. Through much reading and countless hours examining my own life, I believe that most, if not all, chronic diseases have an emotional trigger. It’s well-documented that anger affects the liver, grief affects the lungs, etc, etc. Jesus said, “there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:17). Things have a way of eventually bubbling up to the surface in one way or another. We could have a whole discussion just on this topic and I encourage you to do your own research. The point is this: If we don’t allow ourselves to feel pain or other emotions, disease can start to grow in our bodies as well as in our minds and hearts. Take it from the queen of unexpressed emotions. It’s extremely damaging. God called us to be in the light and that includes our pain. I believe that’s for our benefit as well as for others. He wants to heal those broken places if we will open them up to Him.

That leads to my next point. It’s important to speak our pain out loud. If at first you can only muster up the courage to speak it to God (because He knows anyway), by all means do so. There is something to be said about ‘getting it off your chest’… out of your body so that it doesn’t just sit there and rot. After years of pushing my pain away, I finally got honest with God. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve poured my broken heart out to God. I mean, just exploded it all over Him – sometimes with screams, sometimes words, usually snot and sobbing ugly cries. They are not ugly to God. He wants us to pour out our emotions so that He can pour in His comfort. We need to make room for His healing by letting the pain out.

Expressing pain to God is a necessity and I also believe that God created us to need each other. It helps to express our pain to others after expressing it to God. This is where I have struggled most. It’s difficult and sometimes agonizing for someone who has pushed pain away for so many years to stop pretending like it’s not there long enough to let someone in. If you struggle with this, my heart goes out to you. I encourage you to start praying right now for God to lead you to someone you can trust with your pain, someone who will sit with you in it, someone who won’t try to fix but will let you be sad, and who will be sad with you. When He leads you to those people, they will be some of the greatest treasures in your life. Please don’t think that you need to share your pain with everyone. Not everyone is called to be as open to the world as I am. God has called me to be a fairly open book but He may not be calling you to that, and that’s okay. I am even more honest with my accountability group than I am with the world and that honesty received with utmost love has brought immeasurable healing to my heart. Do the thing He calls you to do, whether it be sharing with a close friend or finding an accountability partner, and you will discover the gift of His beautiful healing.

Another important way to find healing in the midst of pain is to invite God into that pain. We can allow Him to comfort us as we are experiencing current pain but we also need to invite Him into our past pain that remains unhealed. God is omnipresent, meaning, He is present at all times. It’s difficult for our human minds to understand but, just as God is present with us in this moment, He is also present with us in the past. Right now He is still standing with that awkward teenage me filled with angst. He is with me at my grandparents’ funerals right now. He is carrying me through the day I left my job… right now. When we invite Him into these past pains, He can heal them. I’ll give you an example of this in my own life. I was born very early and had to be in an incubator for something like 22 days. I’ve wondered if some of my anxiety is something I was born with… if maybe spending time in an incubator meant that I was pretty much born into fear. I’m sure that tiny baby wanted to be held and comforted more than was humanly possible at the time. It’s no one’s fault. I guess I was just impatient to enter this life. I’ve asked God before to take me back to that memory, show me where He was, and bring healing to me in that moment. Side note, it may take several times of asking God and letting Him take you there. It may not happen all at once. But I really got serious about it recently when my doctor asked me if I’ve ever asked God to show me where He was while I was in that incubator. I gave the ‘right’ answer, “Well, I’m sure He was there,” and she called me out on it when she said, “But, do you FEEL that?” No. I didn’t. I didn’t understand how I could feel something when I was just a baby and don’t remember. So I asked God to show me. I got alone with Him and asked Him to take me back to that terrified baby, show me what I felt, show me where He was and what He was doing. I wish I could explain it better but it was one of the most profound healing moments I’ve had with God. I found myself weeping uncontrollably, feeling the pain I needed to feel, and also feeling the comfort of Jesus as He showed Himself to me in that moment. The details are far too precious and sacred for me to publicly share but I believe He brought some healing to a place in my heart that I didn’t even fully understand was there. What a powerful God we serve. Ask Him to heal your past hurts, to show you what He wants you to see. If your memories are too painful, please seek a counselor to walk you through this. DO NOT TRY TO DO IT BY YOURSELF. Allow God to lead and don’t force it. He knows what you can handle and when you can handle it.

I’ve put a lot of emphasis on allowing ourselves to feel but I also want to offer a word of caution. We need to feel for as long as we need to feel and not let anyone or anything try to rush us past our pain… but we do not need to wallow. I say this with all the love in my heart because, I have been there. I have wallowed in self-pity over my pain. When we find ourselves stuck in our pain, not even necessarily self-pity, but just stuck, that’s when we need to seek the guidance of a counselor. Actually, I’ve said this before, but I think everyone would benefit from a counselor. Find someone to help you through your stuck pain. Go to your minister. Do what I did and google Christian counselors. People are out there to help. Ask God to lead you to someone and, if at first you do not click, try, try again. It took me three counselors and seven years to find someone with whom I was comfortable. Well, as comfortable as I can be spilling my guts. I cannot emphasize enough how much light God has shined into my life by imparting His wisdom into my counselor. I also highly recommend Celebrate Recovery, which is a 12-step program for anyone with hurts, habits, or hang-ups. Yep, that’s everyone. It’s so important for us to find people to walk through our pain with us, especially when we are stuck.

We could talk all day about this subject but I want to leave you with one final thought. Remember that healing may not mean the pain goes away. Grief still hurts. But the rough edges can be soothed by allowing God to love us in those painful places. Sometimes God chooses not to take our pain away in this life, but He will always use it for good. I am at a place in my journey where I have the absolute privilege of enjoying some of the fruit God is growing in my life through my pain. While I pray every day for health, I am glad God has allowed me to have the pain I’ve already experienced because it has led me to the deepest relationship with Him in my life. God has used this illness to heal more of my heart than He has my body and I am grateful for it. Don’t think for a second that I wouldn’t do cartwheels and shout from the rooftops if He brought health to my body tomorrow, but I wouldn’t trade the healing He has already done in my heart for anything. It may not feel like it now, but our pain will turn into something more beautiful than we could ever imagine. That’s not just a platitude. It’s God’s promise.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

Yes, Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble,” but the entirety of John 16:33 is of utmost importance. He says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We will have trials. We will have pain. But if we take heart… take Jesus’ heart, He will bring us peace through it. The pain will not feel good. The peace that comes will not make sense. It will be beyond our understanding (Philippians 4:7), but it will be beautiful and much more precious than a pain-free life. If we hold tight to the heart of Jesus, He will faithfully guide us through the pain until we finally see the place He has prepared for us where there will be no more pain. He has already overcome and will lead us through if we open our hearts and let Him. I am praying for you.

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Life to the Full

I’ve noticed something about my days that needs to stop. For quite some time, I have just been getting through one day until the next one comes. I’ve caught myself lately thinking things like, ‘well, I managed to do all the morning rituals (take supplements, make tea, cook) that keep me alive. Only 10 more hours to go.’ Or, ‘thank goodness lunch is over. Just one more meal to cook and then I’m finished.’ I measure my life in survival. Not too long ago I was having trouble falling asleep because I didn’t want to sleep. In my weirdly-flawed logic, falling asleep meant having to wake up and do all of this surviving again and, frankly, I’d just rather not.

Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” I believe Him. But then I look at my life and think, what gives? In the midst of this mere survival I say, “this can’t possibly be all there is. How exactly is this a full life?” Well, it’s not. So then I asked what Jesus meant by a full life and another verse jumped out to me. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11a). In God’s presence, we find life… to the full.

I need to change the way I believe a full life FEELS. Otherwise my life will continue to be about surviving or waiting for some elusive fullness as I understand it. I’ve believed for so long that the people who are out there with healthy bodies being active are the ones who are thriving. I see that kind of life as full, a life I’m just waiting to have before I can start actually living. Now I know that God wants me to stop biding my time and start thriving right where I am.

But how? I’ve started to ask God a lot in the last few days when I’ve found myself dwelling on an illness that just WILL NOT GO AWAY, how I can thrive here. When I haven’t left the house in over a week, when I’ve missed church and CR and small group because I’m nauseous and running a fever… God, what does it look like to fully live HERE? And I think the above verse gives us the answer. Being constantly aware of the presence of God is how we live a full life. I have been allowing Satan to steal my life by making it just about survival, kill my joy by steering my focus to my illness, and destroy my peace by keeping me longing for the wrong definition of life to the full and disappointed when it doesn’t come.

Life to the full doesn’t have to feel good in the moment, but I sure am sleeping better. When I think about God’s definition of a full life, I am living it more now than I was when I was active and leaving the house regularly. I am aware of God with me through most of my days, I have taken risks I never would have taken before because I was acutely aware that He was nudging me, I am beautifully connected heart-to-heart with God and, even though it’s sometimes hard for me to mean this, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even health. I have more of a spiritual peace than I have ever had, even though nothing about my physical life is peaceful.

So what does thriving look like here in this place of pain? Psalm 126:5-6 says, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” Living life to the full means continuing on in faith AND pain, believing there will be joy. It is communing with God from our sick bed, telling Him how we feel and listening for His voice. It is lying here letting Him comfort us. It’s singing to Him in the midst of the battle raging inside of us. It’s doing whatever we can to help others from where we are, even if it’s just praying for someone or checking on them. Those are the best things we can do anyway. For me today, it’s writing this blog from the couch wrapped in two blankets longing for some physical relief. I asked God for the words and He chose to give them so, I write for His glory. Everything we do is worship. We just have to choose who or what we are worshipping.

This is living life to the full. I don’t have to wait for some future fullness. I already have it now. Praise be to God. I think I finally understand Psalm 27:13, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

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Distorted Gifts

I was a bossy little kid. Maybe that’s hard for some of you to believe, or maybe it isn’t because you think I’m a bossy little adult too. My brother would run to mom saying, “Tell Krina she’s not the rule-people, Mommy. Tell her she’s not the rule-people.” I know. Adorable, right? I became known at our babysitter’s house as the girl who loves to give speeches, or something like that. Tell me how I can’t remember to put water in the coffee pot but I remember every detail of this moment from my childhood. My brother and I were outside at the babysitter’s with her two girls and we were all playing “house”. That day, we each had imaginary houses in individual sections of their swing set. One of the girls had built quite the fortress, informing us that none of us were allowed inside her house. The problem with that was, she believed she could go into our houses. Being the strong champion of justice I have always been, I launched into a very moving speech about fairness, informing her that if she could go into our houses, we could go into hers. I was so passionately engrossed in my speech that I was startled when my babysitter leaned out the door and said, “Listen to what Karina is telling you.” I was simultaneously embarrassed that I had been caught being the bossy girl and happy to be validated. Moments like these have the potential to create a monster.

Several people have told me over the last few years that I would make a good therapist. I’ve scoffed, laughed, said “been there, done that, no thanks.” I was a therapist in the past and I’ve been telling myself for years that I was terrible at it. It makes no sense that I should believe that my therapy skills are lacking based on my last experience because, I had great outcomes. But I told myself it was just the ‘luck of the draw’, that somehow I got mostly ‘good’ kids as clients. I was miserable at that job and I think I projected that misery to the therapy experience as a whole. I vowed that I would never entertain the thought of being a therapist again. The fear that rose up in me each time I thought about being a therapist could have lit a fire. FYI – the things we vow we’ll never do again are very often the things God calls us to. Usually the vows we make stem from our acceptance of lies straight from the evil one. God wants us to crush his cunning little head so He leads us right back to the ‘scene of the crime’.

Looking back, it’s no surprise to me that I’m still using the gift of words. Believe it or not, I enjoy public speaking, as ‘shy’ as some people think I am. And I still have a die-hard passion for fairness. I generally have a clear picture of right and wrong and have a great deal of discernment. I truly want what’s best for people and have a deep desire to help them climb out of their difficult circumstances. These things in and of themselves are beautiful. They are not beautiful, however, when they are distorted by the enemy.

I’ve been talking about Satan a lot lately. It’s just that, I’m onto him. I see what he’s done to these gifts God has given me and if I call him out on it, he loses some of his power over them. How sneaky he is! He used his subtle deceit to distort my gift of public speaking into an air of bossiness. He fed me lies that altered my affinity for justice into a spirit of judgement. I have a tendency to believe that I am always right and I have the speeches constantly running through my head to back me up. Satan used my fear of misery and emotional situations to lead me away from a career God may have intended for me. He distorted my discernment into an extreme desire to fix myself and others, even when they don’t want to be fixed. I often see how people can be set free and I so deeply want to help them get there that I have a tendency to go overboard.

This is not what God had in mind when He gave me these precious gifts. They were pure and holy and I have let Satan tarnish them. But like I said, I’m onto him. These days, I’m fighting back with a vengeance. I am stomping on his lies and letting God speak truth over my life once again. I am asking God to redeem the gifts I’ve dragged through the mud. I’ll likely have to do this over and over again for the rest of my life in order to keep God’s gifts holy and beautiful. But the closer I stay to God’s side, the purer His gifts to me will remain. I was never meant to be anyone’s Savior, but to point people to the One who is. I was never meant to boss anyone around, but to humble myself, listen to others’ perspectives and realize that I am certainly not always right. I was never meant to go on a judgement rampage, but to remove the plank from my own eye first (Matthew 7:5).

I recently found myself in situations that involved both public speaking and therapy and, I’ve got to tell you, my heart was ON FIRE. I felt the passion I had stuffed down for so long just burst out of me. I felt excitement, peace, anticipation – things I haven’t felt in a very long time. I was so keenly aware of how natural it was to use the gifts God has given me. I felt as much at home as I’m probably going to feel until eternity… because I was using the eternal gifts God gave me.

It’s fascinating to me that Satan doesn’t always feed us lies that instigate sins that are completely off-the-wall. Instead, he tries so desperately to ruin our God-given ministry by subtly steering us away from our gifts. Think about it. If Satan successfully nudges us to walk away from our gifts, he not only taints our lives but he keeps us from positively influencing others’ lives. Get behind us, Satan! I am excited about rediscovering my gifts and I can’t wait to see how God is going to use them. I don’t feel the guilt attached to them that I once felt because I’ve exposed the distortions for what they are. I can’t wait to see where God takes me when I finally start using my gifts with humility.

So here’s what I want you to do. Think about your most pervasive sins, the character flaws you thought you just had to live with. Ask yourself and God if these sins are just distortions of God’s biggest gifts to you. You may be completely surprised at what God reveals to you and the world will get to experience the gifts you’ve been hiding/denying for so long. Get excited! Enjoy your freedom! God is about to get some major glory!

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Jesus Will Carry Us Both

“When you’re tired, I will carry you. When I’m tired, Jesus will carry us both.”

Those are the words you said to me early in our relationship. I knew I loved you then and I love you more now. You said those same words to me in your vows on our wedding day and again when we danced to the song that has become ours, Hold You Up, by Matthew West. In this moment so shortly after we married, we had no idea how real that song would become to our life together. Our world was truly about to become a war that never ended.

You have given up so much in your life, things that need not be mentioned because you and I both know what they are, but the loss has cut deeply. You have always said that it’s all okay because you have me and that’s enough. You have held me up so beautifully through almost six years of marriage. You have clung to hope when I lost mine. You have had faith for both of us. But I know it has taken a toll. And when we finally allowed ourselves to believe that one of the reasons I might not be getting better is because you are bringing illnesses home to me that my exhausted body can’t fight off, I watched the last of the light fade from your eyes. It shattered my heart once again. I know you have tried so hard. Life is just. so. hard.

I’ve been fairly certain for quite some time that I have given you Lyme. Most people don’t realize that it’s not uncommon or difficult for it to pass through entire families. We didn’t know that until it was too late. But guilt is a powerful thing, isn’t it? One of Satan’s favorite tools. Just as you wish you could stop bringing illnesses to me, the knowledge that I brought Lyme to you has the potential to curl me into a fetal position until there are no tears left. I am so sorry. Sometimes I can hardly breathe with the weight. How my heart hurts. Our hearts hurt together.

But here is what I want us both to know, dear husband…

  1. We did not do this to each other. We may have been ignorant of the consequences of certain aspects of our life together but I wouldn’t change them. Lyme and all the other evils floating around in our bodies entered the world with sin and, as hard has it is for us to lay down our guilt, we have to do it every second of every day for the rest of our lives. Otherwise, we let Satan have too much power. There is no condemnation. God said it. That means it’s true. We are not guilty.
  2. God did not do this. During those moments we’re able to believe that we are not guilty, it will be tempting to blame God. Just as no one could tell me otherwise when I was angry with God, I know that my telling you won’t help you believe, but I’m going to tell you anyway. I want so badly to pull your heart quickly past all the looming darkness but I know I have to let you go through it. You held my hand as we walked through my darkness together and I will hold your hand wherever we go from here. God loves us both so much and he loves our marriage. I will never stop thanking Him for the gift that you are to me. And I will never stop praying for Him to pursue you through the thick fog just as He never stopped pursuing me. What a gracious God. I promise that if we cling to Him, our relationship with Him will be unbelievably more beautiful on the other side.
  3. We have not failed. When I look back at our lives together I see a constant fight to keep me alive. We have done everything we know to do and it is tempting to think that we failed. We have not failed. Maybe we need to stop trying so hard. God fought for me and He will fight for you. We both need to let go and allow Him to do so.
  4. The fight for your health will not be easy but, in my experience, nothing of value ever is. You know how difficult this illness has been for me but if you asked me if I would go back and not have to go through it, I would say no. I’d love for it to be over right about now but that’s not up to me. The beauty I have gained and the lasting impact of what truly matters is far too precious to give up. If my illness never existed, many aspects of my life that have eternal value would never exist either. This will not be easy for you and it will be agony for me watching you go through it. Fixers such as you and me could be tied in constant knots if we’re not careful. I don’t know how you’ve handled my illness thus far without giving up but I can’t thank you enough for hanging on. Your strength means more to me than I can put into words. I promise that I will never leave your side as long as I live. What you go through, I go through. Let me hold your hand.
  5. You don’t have to carry me anymore. Thank you, my love. Thank you for the many ways you have carried me over the past six years. Your burden has been unbearable. I cannot imagine. I’ve prayed countless times for God to be your strength and I know that He has. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been able to shoulder the weight. But you don’t have to anymore and, honestly, that may be the hardest thing for you to give up. But it’s time for you to let Jesus carry us both. His shoulders are stronger. You can rest now.
  6. You are worth the effort it takes to heal. Neither one of us have ever thought very highly of ourselves. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of this, it’s that God’s opinion of me matters so much more than anyone else’s opinion, including my own. Do you know how much He loves you? No really, do you KNOW how VERY MUCH He LOVES you? I pray He shows you in the most beautiful of ways- through the comfort of His arms at the most unexpected times, through a word you needed to hear spoken by one of His people, through an acute awareness of the strength of the Holy Spirit living inside of you. He loves you enough to choose you, to carry you, to live in you, to delight in you. And if He says you are worthy of healing, it is the truest thing I could say at this moment. The grueling effort of taking care of ourselves even when we find it nearly impossible is so worth it. Your health is worth it. Your future is worth it. You are worth it. We are worth it. I pray you open your heart to believe it.
  7. As our dear friend told me while she hugged me tight: Satan does not win. He doesn’t. Period. God already won and the work is already finished. This trial may not feel good or finished but God has promised that He will never stop working in our lives. He will never leave us. Satan has been defeated and he knows it so he works extra hard to pull us away from God, sabotage our ministry, and kill our self-worth. But he has already lost the war. Don’t let him win the battles. I’m fighting with you and God is fighting for you.

Just as we have always done, we will walk through this together. As we near our sixth anniversary, it’s hard to believe but I am more in love with you now than I was on our wedding day. My illness has brought us closer and I pray that yours will do the same. We meant what we said, “in sickness and in health.” While I often wish we didn’t have to mean that so literally, I have to believe in the depths of my heart that we will look back on our lives with gratitude for the ways God sustained us. Yes, there will be times we fall to the ground in exhaustion, choking on the “why”, but I pray that in those times we will open our eyes to the ways God is moving. There will be many moments we beg God for respite, a break for our weary bodies and hearts. But I know sometimes it’s better to have breakthroughs and deeper healing than it is to have breaks. God knows what He is doing far better than we do so I hope and pray that we will never stop clinging to Him. Our hearts are broken together and I believe they will heal together. I love you, my beloved. You will always be my miracle.

Hold You Up – Matthew West
“Love is the blessing
Love is the vow,
Love is the reason we’re standing here now.
The future before us,
Tomorrow’s untold.
But love is the promise that whatever it holds

I will hold you
I will hold you up
I will hold you
I will hold you up

So give me your bad days
Give me your fear
Bring all of your burdens
And just lay ’em down here
‘Cause I’m not gonna leave you
When your world becomes a war
I’m staying in the trenches
‘Cause you’re worth fighting for

Yes, I will hold you
I will hold you up
I will hold you
I will hold you up

And I will hold you up in victory
Watch your light outshine the stars
When you’re breaking down and weary
Just be weary in my arms

There will be trials
There will be tests
As hard as I’m trying for you
I’m human at best
But baby don’t worry
If you should start to fall
Just cling to the One Love
That’s bigger than us all

He will hold you
He will hold you up
I know that He will hold you
He will hold you
He will hold you up
And He will hold you
I know, I know, I know
He will hold you up”

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Joy is Not a Four-Letter Word

Joy has been like a curse word to me for the last few years. While typing that sentence I realized that curse words have probably left my tongue more easily than the word joy. Wow, that’s sad.

I’ve tried to understand joy. I really have. One of the definitions people spout is that happiness is based on circumstances while joy has no dependence on circumstances. I just haven’t been able to buy that. Merriam-Webster’s definition of both concepts is pretty much the same. So, I just don’t get it. Yes, I realize Merriam-Webster is not God, but I’ve studied joy in the Bible too and I still don’t get it.

There was a time I would have understood it better. Then life stomped my joy to a pulp and has continued to do so for years. I think joy is not even allowed in my vocabulary because I truly believe that the second I let it back into my life, my heart will be crushed again with the next horror that awaits me. I’ve heard many people who start to climb out of chronic illness say the same thing. We are afraid to rejoice. We are afraid to get our hopes up. We. Are. So. Afraid. Goooood grief, this post is depressing. Speaking of, everything I’ve described above might be the actual picture of depression, which adds another depth of difficulty. How do we get past this? How do we let joy back into our lives without waiting for it to be crushed again?

The answer may have something to do with the verse below. It jumped off the page yesterday, piercing my heart, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head ever since. I know there’s a reason. I know God wants me to find joy again. I know this. I believe God wants me to be happy. I also believe life will never stop trying to suck the happiness away. How can these two beliefs exist so strongly in one person?

“…my joy in unrelenting pain- that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.” – Job 6:10b

I’m still not entirely sure, but maybe joy isn’t all feeling. Maybe it’s more related to faith than I ever knew. Through unrelenting pain, joy comes to us when we do not deny the promises of God. I have to face facts… and feelings. When I doubt God’s promise that His goodness follows me all the days of my life (Psalm 23), I have no joy. When I doubt that God will turn my pain into something beautiful and good (Romans 8:28), I only despair. When I doubt that God’s purpose in my life is the very best purpose there could ever be (Proverbs 19:21, Jeremiah 29:11), I live in the darkness of sorrow.

But when I believe that God is always, ALWAYS good, the sparks of joy appear. When I sing about His goodness following me, I can feel them ignite. When I let God love me through the pain, the tears turn to from sorrow to joy or maybe a mixture of the two. I’ve been seeing more of the sparks lately, though I stomp them out myself before life can do the honors. But maybe their fleeting existence means that one day I will be able to quit stomping and welcome the flame of joy with open arms. Maybe my eyes will become wet with joy, awe, wonder, and God more often than hurt. Looking forward to that day fills me simultaneously with excitement and terror. God, help me. Help all of us who are terrified to let joy back into our lives.

Living without joy is miserable. It is dark. It closes the door on any kind of happiness we may experience, rejects the gifts God wants to give us, and only lets Him love us with limits. I don’t want to limit God. I don’t want there to be any boundary at all between God’s love and me. I pray that He breaks this stronghold in my life, gives me strength to combat the lies I have believed, and loves me back into joy.

When I picture myself joyful, my shoulders physically relax a little, like a weight is being lifted off of them. So I have to ask myself, what is the weight? I think it can only be one thing: self-protection. God has been revealing this as the biggest issue that still entangles my life. I’m trying to fend off the sting of more crushing when that is not my job. It’s God’s job to protect me, not mine. That doesn’t mean He will protect me from bad things happening, but that He will protect me from being completely crushed when they do. He will love me through whatever heartbreak is in store for me. He will be my safe place to pour out my pain if I will only open up to His safety. If I attempt to block more pain from my life, I also block joy, love, peace, everything that is the fullness of God. I block God from the deepest parts of my life. He longs to enter into those deeper places and bring His light. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand joy – I haven’t let Him deep enough to explain it to me. I don’t want this anymore – this illusion of self protection. It’s too much. It’s too heavy a burden I was never meant to carry. God, help me lay it down. I don’t care anymore how it has to happen or how much it might hurt or how many tears I have to cry in front of how many people. I am done. I am tired. I want the fullness of God. I want the fullness of love and of joy.

The fact that I’m even willing to talk about this is a big deal. It says to me that God is making me ready for His healing in this area. It gives me hope that I am moving in the direction of joy. Thank You, God. May I along with my fellow fearers of joy break free from that fear that so hinders us and open our hearts to the joy of the Lord. We will not be disappointed, this I am sure. His goodness is His promise and when we hold that tighter than we hold our protection, we allow joy to show up and to thrive. Pour into us with the fullness of joy, Lord God. May we remove the blocks, embrace the sparks, fan the flames, and fuel the fire. Amen.

“You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

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I Wonder If They’ll Notice My Scars

Getting ready for church is hard for me in many ways. To start with, there’s the issue of finding something to wear. Pro tip: Don’t give up on gaining any of the weight you unexpectedly lost by finally getting rid of your wide variety of clothing sizes. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll start gaining it back the second you say goodbye to your wardrobe. I own four pairs of dress pants… and not one of them fit. Trust me, I tried them all this morning. So then I moved on to skirts but I had a problem with the short-sleeved top that matched. I finally just decided that’s what I was going to have to wear. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I thought, “I wonder if they’ll notice my scars.” That’s when God stopped me in my tracks.

If I can’t show up to church with God’s people, bearing my scars, where can I go? Where else can I belong, free from my perfectionism? I don’t talk much about this issue and I am embarrassed to draw attention to it but for some reason, today is the day. Around the time of upper elementary/junior high I started battling dermatillomania, which is a mental illness related to OCD, causing the urge to pick at any imperfection in my skin. I usually just do it on my upper arms so I can hide it for the most part but the more stressed I get, the worse it gets and the further down into the open it creeps. It’s why you’ll usually see me wearing 3/4 length sleeves even though I’m most often blazing hot and would love to be wearing a cute little tank top. Tank tops have sadly never entered my wardrobe. I hate what I do to myself but I can’t seem to help it. So usually, I cover it up. But I’m tired of worrying about it and I don’t want to anymore. While looking at myself in the mirror I finally decided not to care if people… my dear church family… see my scars. Yet in the next moment I looked down at my wrinkled skirt and said, “well, shoot, I don’t have time to iron that” and then my gaze fell to the deodorant mark on my shirt as I said, “good grief, I’m a mess today.” But I’m God’s mess, His work in progress, and He welcomes me into His house.

I’ve not made it much of a secret that I’ve been struggling with exponentially-increased anxiety lately so you can imagine how that has worsened my dermatillomania. I’ve wanted to write a post describing my panic attacks but each time I try, I realize I cannot put them into words. Unless you have panic attacks, you cannot understand, and that’s okay. The only way I can think of to describe it is, at least to me, it feels like the fiery depths of hell trying to swallow me and I’m trapped where I am, unable to escape. Being ‘trapped’ in a car triggers these attacks. I stopped driving years ago due to my illness but what keeps me from trying again is anxiety. And now even being in the passenger seat has started to trigger me. I almost made Jason get in a wreck a couple weeks ago because at the last second I made him swing into a parking lot. I just could not handle sitting at another red light. Trapped. It’s not rational and I know it. But knowing and believing are two different things. I’m fighting a battle spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Actually, I’ve been reminding myself that God is fighting the battle while He lets me worship (2 Chronicles 20). While I’ve too often let the panic win, I remembered the truth of this passage last week when I had a panic attack just sitting in my living room, seemingly triggered by nothing. I let the storm come. I fell to my knees hyperventilating and sobbing. But then, I tried to worship. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and it was mostly: sing one word… gasp… sing one word… sob. But God helped me worship no matter how awful it felt and sounded to me and He fought my battle while I sang. Thank You, God, for fighting for me.

The first victory today was getting up and getting ready despite the anxiety and dread. The second was actually making it to church, many miles away, through traffic and multiple red lights, ‘trapped’ in a car. Guess what song came on the radio? The current song based on 2 Chronicles 20, I Raise A Hallelujah, by Bethel Music. Worshiping with that song reminded me that God is fighting for me. We made it to church and instead of fading into the background as usual, multiple people noticed me and they did not accept my pat, “I’m okay,” answer to the “how are you?” question. They genuinely wanted to know how I am, and I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. Answering the question more honestly was God’s third victory today.

You may not be able to see the words in the picture but the first song we sang was You Make Me Brave. I just about laughed out loud. The fourth victory has to do with the perspective of this picture. I am standing. I was able to stand through the majority of the service, which is something my illness doesn’t usually allow me to do. But God continued to fight for me. As always, when we were singing one of my favorite songs, Living Hope, I praised God that death has lost its grip on me once again. “The work is finished. The end is written… Hallelujah.”

There were other victories that left me breathless, thanks be to God, but the point of this post is this: I walked into the midst of God’s people with scars showing… and I am better for it. If we do not air our scars, we will never heal. I far too often play the “what if” track in my mind. What if they see my scars? What if they see my hands trembling with anxiety? What if they notice me sitting down while everyone else is standing up? What if I told them I took 1/4 of a klonopin to even manage walking in this morning, and it doesn’t feel like it’s helping? What if they knew I struggle with control and trust, that I’ve hurt people and struggled with grace? But when God stopped me in my “what if” tracks this morning, He turned the questions on me. So, what if? What if they DIDN’T see your scars? What if you continued to hide them? What if you stayed home and gave into the fear and isolation? What if you gave up on healing and stayed hidden? What if you missed the opportunity to be embraced by God and His people in your brokenness? WHAT IF JESUS HID HIS SCARS?

I think part of the reason Jesus kept His scars when He rose from the dead was so that people would recognize Him (i.e. Thomas, who said he wouldn’t believe unless he saw the nail marks – John 20), so that people would see Him and believe. If we hide our scars, how can people truly see us? How can they believe there is a God who fights our battles if we’re not willing to let them know there is a battle raging around and within us? How can Jesus be fully seen in our lives when our scars are hidden? How can our wounds heal if they aren’t exposed to the open air of God’s love?

I’m tired of being afraid to show my scars to God’s people. They proved to me today that they actually do want to see me… to know me… the real me. And it helped me heal just a little bit. I’d rather show up in God’s presence with a wrinkly skirt, deodorant marks, uncovered scars, trying to breathe under the weight of my sin… and maybe receive just a little bit more healing… than wither away in my own misery. God calls us to be in the light. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). I decided to live in the light today, and received the gift of true fellowship.

As if the blessings weren’t already enough, God celebrated with me on the way home when another song came on the radio. Once again, I sang to my God in thanks for continuing to fight for me, “My fear doesn’t stand a chance when I stand in Your love.” Amen. Please don’t miss the healing that can come from sharing your scars. And if you see someone with scars, love them with the love of Jesus. The church should be the people who most welcome our scars. When scars are aired and loved on, only then can we finally receive the healing God offers. Let’s not be afraid anymore to let the healing happen. Who knows? Maybe there’s a tank top in my future. 🙂 Or more importantly, maybe there is grace, reconciliation, love, light, and healing in my future.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”- James 5:16

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