I Love You and I Like You

Here we are again: another birthday and you’re one year older than I can believe. This birthday seems extra poignant to me because you’re now only two birthdays away from being a decade in age. And two isn’t very much. My thoughts have frequently been drifting to the drama of your birth, remembering what was going on during each of the 3 days leading up to your appearance.

And now here we are…eight…YEARS…later. You have seven younger siblings who consider you their king (a lot of the time; other times they’re in rebellion); your nights are usually booked as you squirrel away with your favorite reading material (I find your books tucked into the most random places in your room); you can ride your bike with no hands, practice holding your breath under water, and enjoy archery; and you ask Jesus to help you have the right attitude in school.

I am proud of your physical stature and accomplishments but I’m most in awe of your inquisitive mind. You crave knowing- not just about the world around you but about the God who created it all. Your mind doesn’t rest on this planet either. Nope. You’re already exploring the planets we know about and the ones we don’t and pondering the complexities of the sun. And while you’re in the heavens, you’re also drifting in thought to the new heaven and the new earth we are eagerly anticipating together.

From the moment I met you eight years ago, I knew you were one of my favorite people in the world. Each day only confirms that fact. I love you not simply because you’re my flesh and blood but because you are uniquely yourself. You are content to be yourself while still knowing there are areas where you need to grow in skill and good character. But my affection doesn’t stop with loving you; I really, really like you too. I think your jokes are hilarious, your ideas are brilliant, and your verve for life inspirational.

I would go through the drama of your birth all over again in order to be your,

Mama

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Dear Rowan,

Today you are two years old. I am so immersed in raising you that I assume I’ll remember every aspect of how you are right now. But when I try to recall the little details of your infancy, and oh! how I treasured them, the memories are fuzzy and I’m thankful for every photo and recorded moment. Today I’m taking the time to write down what I never want to forget about how you are right now.

I want to remember:

  • Your pigeon-toed run- it looks unsteady but you’re actually quite fast!
  • When you are excited, you jump a few inches off the ground with BOTH feet.
  • The way your soft hair wisps around your ears. It can’t decide if it’s going to be brown or blonde.
  • Your voice. It’s a mixture of squeaky and raspy. It can be ear-piercing but when it’s not, it tugs on my heart strings.
  • How you say, “Bye Mom!” when you want to do something by yourself.
  • How you add “my” to all your actions and double them: “my down my down” for ‘get down,’ “my tub my tub” for bath time…
  • How you say, “nanny boop boop!” When you’re teasing your siblings.
  • How you say, “mom,” so short and sweet and also say “Poppa mom” when you don’t care which parent responds to you.
  • You are so quick to get cozy on the couch with pillows and blankets and will sneak into your siblings beds early in the morning.
  • Whenever you have an apple all to yourself you get great delight in sharing it with everyone.
  • Your intense enthusiasm for music and singing of any sort with your favorite being Poppa’s ukulele playing.
  • Your diligence in making sure everything is returned to its owner: the correct snuggle toys to the appropriate siblings, Tehillah’s blanket, Poppa and Mama’s phones and drink cups (making us extra careful to put them out of your reach), Poppa’s shoes, Poppa’s instruments.
  • Your hulk strength! You can lift the coffee table, throw the Roomba, carry 10-12 pounds items and pull yourself up the side of your crib faster than we can blink. Your strength leaves us dumbfounded at times!
  • The softness of your features. They always take me back to the bliss of your birth.
  • And my all time favorite: how your laugh consumes your entire body. It starts in your face with your mouth,little chipped tooth showing, opened wide as the laugh bubbles out. Your whole body becomes a Tigger spring that you can’t contain. And you laugh almost as much as you shriek- when you’re excited to see us, when we understand what you’re saying, when you’re playing.

It’s impossible to record all of my heart in one birthday letter. I adore every inch of you so it’s a good thing I have a lifetime of birthday letters to write. I hope you know through my tones and actions how much I love being your mom. I will never stop thanking Jesus for giving you to us (even when my ears are ringing and I’m sweating after wrestling you into your high chair for the umpteenth time).

I cannot stop loving being your,

Mom

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Under the Influence

I started on Facebook about 20 years ago. A friend introduced me to it and helped me navigate the set up. I was excited because it felt like my entry into the popular world. I was always a little on the wallflower side growing up- clueless to what was trending. I found it fun to be able to connect and share my life with others and get instant feedback. Gradually I branched out from scrolling and posting to playing FarmVille, making and joining groups, using it as a business platform, making purchases, sharing and affirming beliefs and values, and then finally making the jump to Instagram about 5 years ago.

Instagram appealed to me because of its artistic side. It was fun to see what was trending in women’s fashions, home decor and baby products. I discovered small shops I liked and wanted to support. I developed a knack for turning photo posts into mini narratives about our life. I appreciated that Instagram was more informative and less political than Facebook had become.

Recently, however, a new thought crept into my mind: how much of my mind is my own? Unbeknownst to me I have begun to incorporate so much of what I see on social media into how I live; of course, everything aligns with our family values and convictions but it’s still been absorbed by me from social media. And so I pondered further. Is this what is happening to our society? Have we become “click happy” and “scroll addicted”? Can we think for ourselves or generate our own ideas without first viewing it on a screen?

I’ve begun to wonder if the present generation thinks life only happens if it’s been Facebook approved or influencer promoted. Meals are captioned; events are shared; products are modeled; current events are evaluated; parenting is taught; advice is given. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that unless we can no longer live our lives without doing it or worse, no longer think for ourselves. Social media users must be cognizant of the fact that much of what is on social media is propaganda and opinion but it is being embraced as gospel: it’s what everyone is doing…thinking…believing and so it must be right.

I see many productive uses for social media. I don’t plan to remove it from my life entirely. I think I am going to exercise restraint on how much I consume of it and balance my usage of it with reading books, listening to podcasts, and being quiet. My brain needs a chance to think critically, evaluate objectively and create its own perspectives. I want to know that I’m decorating my home according to my own taste and style; parenting according to my own intuition; living according to my personality- not because it’s trending on social media.

We are influenced every day by someone or something. Let’s be more aware of the influencers in our lives. Let’s practice thinking for ourselves and articulating fresh ideas.

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Strength and Dignity

In Proverbs 31 we are told that “strength and dignity” should clothe a woman. I wonder what that looks like. Is it marching, clenched fist in the air, while spewing hatred and vulgarity towards those sacred, life-giving parts of our body? is it the denial of what sets us apart as a unique sex or the acceptance of propaganda that says anyone can be us? Is it hating who we are, trampling our femininity and mocking motherhood?

Or is it the embracing of life’s unexpected, unplanned and even impossible situations and making them our own?

Givers of the future

Some of my heroes are the pioneer women of Kansas. The hardships they endured could coin the term “Kansas strong.” For some reason, all things about my life that I thought were hard kind of evaporated as I read about them in PIONEER WOMEN: Voices from the Kansas Frontier. This pioneer daughter’s description of them sums it up well:

[they] gave their youth, health, courage and the very best of their lives…at a cost no one will ever be able to reckon. There were no words of complaint; just a slow but steady advancement in the face of difficulties and obstacles that stagger one who considers them now. Surely not a star in Heaven will be too bright for the crowns of those brave women who, with lonely hearts and the dismal music of coyote calls, often watched the stars from humble homes, ‘out where the West begins.’

What got the pioneer woman through when most people gave up and went home? A fierce determination to succeed and a sense of ownership. This wasn’t simply her husband’s dream she was living. It had become hers too and every hardship was seen as something that would only make her stronger. Some would say that this is exactly what women are fighting for today: bodily autonomy, ownership of their future, and equal opportunity in every situation. Yet as a woman myself, I don’t feel pride or camaraderie in these causes. In fact, I feel ashamed when I read the slogans and see female reproductive organs on public display. Womanhood has a sacred role in society but in this era it’s up for auction to the highest bidder and the loudest voice.

Life-giving

Sometimes I wonder what the women of history would think of our current events. Women like:

  • Esther~confronted with a life she did not choose and yet she saved her people from being massacred
  • Mary~a young girl faced with an unexpected pregnancy and yet she loved her Son even at the foot of His Cross.
  • Grandma Moses~risked her life and lost so much for the sake of freedom. Even after she made it to safety she went back over and over again to rescue more people.
  • Irena Sendler~risked her life and suffered torture and yet she didn’t stop saving hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish children from certain death.
  • Mother Theresa~who left everything comfortable and everyone she loved to minister to the most destitute, most unlovely people imaginable.

And then there are my heroes of today. Women like:

  • My mom~who suffered atrocious abuse as a child but shunned being a victim and chose to own her story and live victoriously.
  • My sister~ who fought and beat breast cancer. And even though it changed the course of her life in a way she wouldn’t have chosen, she has embraced her story and shares it with life-giving results.
  • The ladies I serve with at our pregnancy resource center ~ who have abortions in their past and seek to lovingly show moms in similar situations that there are other options. They have turned their guilt and shame into instruments of life.
  • My friends~ who have suffered abuse and are now moms living with joy and ensuring their children are happy and thriving. They are overcomers.
  • My mom friends ~ who have large families. Exhaustion and little time alone are routine aspects of the day and yet they keep choosing joy. Their families get their best and one day will rise up and call them “blessed among women.”
  • Those close to me~who routinely battle anxiety and depression and yet they refuse to be defined by these cruel afflictions. Every day they seek to live well and offer hope to those around them.

These are women who have been empowered by hardship. That is strength. These are women who have owned their story and share it with confidence and joy. That is dignity.

Listening to rants, seeing the rage, reading the propaganda and feeling the erosion, I often feel like I’m spinning in place trying to hold on long enough to make sense of anything. It’s the second part of that proverb that makes sense: “she laughs at the future.” The woman strong in her identity and dignified even in the throes of trial can look confidently ahead. She doesn’t have to change herself or find love in new places or slaughter new life or mock men to get ahead or be more. She embraces her story, hardship and all, makes it her own and becomes an anchor upon which future generations are built. That is empowered womanhood.

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One Day

Yesterday evening we had some wonderful people join us for a summer bbq. This social event was crafted with our parents in mind; they routinely indulge our conversation topics or entertain the children. This particular evening was a unique change of pace and I enjoyed listening in on conversations that were filled with more than half of century of memories and life experiences.

These beautiful people swapped narratives of how they met, travels they embarked on, adventures in parenting, and conversations they’ve had with their grandchildren. They have reams of lessons learned to reflect upon and many health trials for which they’re making adjustments; they shared farewell accounts with their own parents and were able to rejoice together about the work God continues to do in making them more like Him. And it all got me to thinking…

One day I was born.

One day I was a child: playing, exploring, dreaming of being a big person.

One day I was a teenager: learning, working, becoming my own person, dreaming of being an adult.

One day I was an adult: working, socializing, dreaming of being a wife and mother.

One day I was a wife and mother: cooking, cleaning, teaching, raising, breathing, dreaming of quiet moments and slower days.

One day the quieter moments and slower days will come, along with the final good byes: as children leave the home, as parents end their journey on earth, as we take our turn in that concluding chapter of the human experience.

As stories of the past swirled around me, I was reminded me that time is sand slipping through our fingers. Children at the beach build every barrier their fingers can construct to trap the ocean on the shore, yet it always gets away. And so it is with life: we try desperately to construct the perfect day so that time will stand still, our loved ones will be with us forever and our favorite memories won’t fade. But then we look up and realize time waited for no one.

I suppose, then, the best way to live is one day at a time.

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A Modern Conversation

Recently I was scrolling my newsfeed and was swept up in a post about teaching children openness and tolerance. The main point was that children need to understand that love is love and there is no place for judgement (unless someone is being unkind). It was an interesting discussion and I’ve been pondering it ever since; we are surrounded by trending lifestyle choices and I want our children to be well-adjusted, loving, kind human beings. Where do we go from here?

“Love is love.” “You do you.” These catch phrases sound so…well..catchy! Doesn’t it make us feel warm inside to know that we, as parents, are affirming of our children and encouraging them to be their truest selves? Don’t we want to model for them how to practice acceptance of everyone’s self-expression? Don’t we? What a free society we would have if everyone did this! I pondered these thoughts as I observed my youngsters living life.

They are each so unique in how they experience life: always ready to imagine and play. It’s a favorite pastime of mine to observe them play a cooperative game of their own design; the little ones just as involved as the older ones. Yes, I want them to be themselves, each with their individual perspective on living. But then the squabbling begins. Someone looked at someone else in a way they didn’t like; someone yanked a toy out of another one’s hand; two want to ride on the same bike at the same time; someone bumped someone else and they’re convinced it was on purpose. And then the yelling and biting and hair pulling and screeching and name-calling begins. Hmmm…you do you, huh? Which side of my children is the “you do you” I want them to do?

Obviously we want to cultivate kindness and courtesy within our young ones. This is often defined as loving our neighbors as ourselves and putting the interests of others before our own. Unless one of us is a second Mary, there isn’t a single child who desires to be selfless around the clock; in a nutshell, our society is telling parents to say “you do you until it makes someone else unhappy.” If we know anything about children, it is that they revolt against mixed messages and thrive with consistency. Which brings me to the second mantra of our time: love is love.

For this discussion I propose that an aspect of love is establishing and maintaining boundaries; definitions in their very nature are boundaries. Let’s take a moment to define love. Is it romance? Making someone happy? All the warm fuzzies? Not giving offense or stepping on toes? Or is it being willing to say no, to speak truth, to take risks? I think we would all agree that love would be preventing a child from running into oncoming traffic or grabbing someone from falling to certain death. We wouldn’t hesitate to stand between our child and a bully or track down a child predator stalking our young ones. Does the same loving vigilance step up to the plate when it’s parents versus trending ideologies?

Wokeness. Cancel culture. Gender. Disney agendas. These topics are dominating headlines and are targeting families everywhere. They are so extreme that it almost feels bizarre to legitimately discuss them. And yet we must. For love’s sake we must identify the boundaries they are determined to remove. Boundaries provide direction and protection. When there is a wild fire, burn lines are made to keep the fire from devouring everything in sight; sand bags can prevent rivers from overflowing their banks during a storm; fences distinguish one person’s property line from another. Proverbs 22:28 declares, “Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set,” yet in our land boundaries of old are being removed: definitions of marriage, biological sex, and personhood are being erased and rewritten.

Boundaries are only relevant if they hold firm against assault; they are pointless if they disintegrate under the slightest pressure. If ever the ancient boundary stone is being attacked, it is now. Will our love for our children be strong enough to repair, rebuild and restore what has previously stood the test of time and yet now is crumbling? In his eloquently probing book Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund asks, “What’s the meaning of everything? What’s the aim…for our small, ordinary lives?” He goes on to describe the fulfillment that comes from living to glorify God and observes “[h]ow exhausting is the misery of self. How energizing are the joys of living for another.” Perhaps the best way to affirm and advise our young ones is to point them to their higher purpose: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. May they live Christ and love with His heart forever.

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Mothers, Arise!

I am sure we are all aware of the most recent tragedy that claimed so many lives. My mind, like my fellow citizens’, spun with questions: “Why?” “How?” “What’s next?” “Who?” “Could this have been stopped?” “What can we do to prevent this?” And there are no easy answers. My heart is filled with sorrow, rage and disgust over the senseless brutality in our world. I want to do something about it.

And we can! Each of us has a part to play in preserving our society but today I write to mothers. By doing just a few simple things we can bring hope and security to our community. Here are things we can do:

Be mothers who think: I just finished reading a book by J.P Moreland about cultivating a thinking mind through reading, writing and intentional discussion. Mama Bear Apologetics and their resources are a good place to start for mothers wanting to be informed about the worldviews active in our present age. To effect change, we must know what we believe, why we believe it and how to talk about our beliefs in a calm, coherent way. Our children are listening.

Be mothers who are present: the to-do lists don’t ever get done; the calendar is never empty; the distractions don’t go away; we can always be busy. But our children need mamas who can be deliberately undistracted. It doesn’t mean sitting and staring at our children all day (trust me, I wrestle with this one!); it does mean being able to push pause on the list, carve out still times on the calendar, and put away the phone so that we can be all ears, eyes and heart for our family. Our children are watching.

Be mothers who can be at home: I believe that home is where community begins. Home is a place where people can feel safe, be welcomed, experience traditions and be themselves. It’s the window with the light on in a dark world; it’s the smell of baking bread and peppermint tea on a stormy night; it’s the sound of lullabies as little children drift to sleep. There’s always a need to be on the road but in all of the hurry, take time to make home a place you want to be. Our children need rest.

Be mothers who love our neighbors: Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves. While we all know He meant everybody, I think this principle can apply to the people who live next door to us or across the street. Some of our family’s closest friends have been our neighbors and it all started from my mom teaching me the importance of getting to know the people who kind of live life right along with us. Community begins on our very own street so, if you can, wave, bring over cookies, throw that Fourth of July party and work out those differences with your neighbors. Our children will model us.

Be mothers who laugh: life is hard. In fact, it’s more dependably hard than it is fun or easy. But if we can learn to laugh even when it’s difficult, our lives will be much lighter. Find the good, hold on to the joy, and delight in your family. Your children will laugh with you.

Be mothers who fight: there is too much going wrong in this world for us to continue as we are. It’s time for us to make a determined and drastic change; we need to be a presence, a force worth reckoning with, in communities. When we see evil building a stronghold, let’s tear it down! When we see our children being preyed upon, let’s rescue them! When we see our men being belittled, let’s stand beside them! When we fight for what we love, it’s a noble fight. Our children will thank us.

Mothers, we are representatives of life. Home and community begin with us. It is time for us to remember that it is no small thing to be a mother: it is not a hobby or a trial run or a side gig. If the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, we must make sure it is a mother’s hand. Mothers, arise!

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Three for the Fifth Time

I am wondering if you are the most celebrated little boy so far. This entire month your birthday has been mentioned and I really think your siblings are more excited than you are about your special day. The attention and enthusiasm are not wasted on you; you fit perfectly into your spot in the family.

There is something about you that causes people to gravitate to you. Maybe it’s your small stature topped with a head that is proportionally larger than your stout body; maybe it’s your expressive eyes that speak before your mouth does; it might be the way you move that fascinates: wisps of hair bouncing as you run, the efficient way you climb, the delight you have in spinning till you fall down. When you move, all of you moves simultaneously because you’re so compact. Remember when we went to the ranch for Shilo’s birthday and the riding instructor wouldn’t put you down? Haha! Like I said, there’s just something about you.

As much as I love watching you, I love chatting with you as well. Your two top teeth pucker just enough to give you a little lisp. There’s a little whistle that enhances any “sh” words you say. And your style of speaking has been adopted by some of us because it’s priceless. We like to “snell” roses and count from “2-5-8-9” just like you do. We put on our “sim soups” [swim suit] and ask if you want to wear your “puu pup” [pull up] or underwear today. And we never tire of hearing you ask, “Can I sleep in yours room?” Yet for being so small and adorable, you definitely have a fiery side.

Your most recent cognitive growth spurt brought astounding verbal skills. The sentences which flow from your tongue keep all of us on our toes; no one dares exclude you from any plan or activity for fear of encountering your wrath. An upset Simeon is a Simeon to behold!! But just as fiery as you can be, you are equally gentle, cuddly and endearing. Quinley is your favorite sibling, someone for whom you would fetch the moon. And when you sense that Mama is upset you turn on the best Simeon charm: “Mama, youze usset wis me? Are you happy to me? I love you, Mom.” And this is followed by the best hugs.

Your mind is filled with big thoughts and big ideas. You are a speed demon on the little blue balance bike passed down from your biggest brother. When you are on that bike it becomes an extension of you. “Grayjuns” [dragons], “sharyks” [sharks], lions, and horses are some of your favorite animals. Jumping and climbing and running with the big boys are simply part of your day. You are as diligent as you can be in school- putting together puzzles, “writing” as small as you can (you’re our only leftie so far), and “reading” books. Teaching you is a precious time for me.

Last night, you and I snuggled together- chatting and reading books. Since the birthday child gets to sleep in Poppa and Mama’s room on the eve of their birthday, that’s where you are as I pen this- snoozing in the very spot of your birth. It feels like I held you for the first time, breathed deeply, and now you are three years old. I’d be lying if I said that fact didn’t make my eyes misty just thinking about it. In all honesty, it makes me afraid to breathe.

I love you more, Little Man!

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Weaving

It’s funny the things I remember about my childhood: the color and texture of the tile on the kitchen floor because we played marbles on it; the sound of dial-up Internet; the magnetic stand to hold my speed-typing lists; the crevices in our moss rock wall where I hunted for gecko eggs; the huge caterpillars I peeled off the oleander leaves for pocket money; running through sprinklers on freshly mown grass. These memories, and others, will randomly pop into my day, reminding me that what is woven into our childhood stays with us forever.

Tonight I pulled out my third tooth as a mama. For some reason, this particular tooth turned me into mush. Just seeing my son’s innocent freckled face staring up at me, more courageous than me in that moment, I had flashbacks of those little teeth coming in just…yesterday, right? His sisters had the privilege of being audience and they did plenty of commenting the entire time and gave the pulled out tooth all the adoring attention it could have wanted. The younger sister realized, “GH! You won’t be able to brush your teeth anymore! He will just have to use those tooth wipes, right Mom?” After we had said goodnight, I watched him walk to his room. Tears welled as I saw him so grown up and yet such a little boy. So quickly he will be a man. Which begs the question: what am I weaving into the childhoods happening right now?

My tendency is to have a list and plow through it or to have a goal and drive straight for it- regardless of anyone or anything else. This can cause quite the mayhem since little people don’t understand to-do lists. At the end of the day I want to reflect not just on what was accomplished but also on what happened. Did the stories get read? Did we play together? My memories have shown me that living occurs when we least expect it; therefore it is necessary to weave in the work with the play, the discipline with the instruction, the pauses with the academics, the spontaneous with the routine. Tonight’s tooth-pulling event was such an extraordinary normal childhood moment: siblings, dental floss, standing in the kitchen. And yet now it’s woven into my heart along with all the flashbacks of my firstborn’s infancy and toddling steps. On a daily basis I need to freeze time for just a second or two and show my family that I love them and enjoy them.

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Is Life Actually Good?

“Life is good,” we like to say as our toes stretch out over sparkling pool water or we lounge in the sun with an ice cold drink in hand. I tend to think that statement when all my ducks (or should we say ducklings 😉) are in a row, the house is tidy and the bread turned out well this time. Sometimes I think it when we are taking a family day trip and everyone is chatting cheerfully with our favorite music playing in the background. I always define life as good when I’m feeling good. But is it?

What about the fact that at the very same time I’m snuggling with my babies, someone else is grieving about her empty arms? And when I’ve had a delightful chat with my parents someone else is laying flowers on the grave of her mom? And when I’m cleaning my house and baking bread someone else is battling with depression that threatens to keep her in bed all day? And when I’m laughing with my husband someone else is cowering in fear of hers? And when my children devour books someone else is setting up yet another IEP meeting with her child’s teacher? And when I step out my front door to enjoy a walk someone else is hiding from bombs? Do we call this a good life?

Does this juxtaposition of life situations mean that one isn’t true? I was pondering this and went a little deeper: when things are not going my way can I still say life is good? These questions can only be answered by defining good. If good means everything is going my way and I’m thriving, then life is rarely good. In fact, it’s uncertain, unpredictable and unfair. But if good means that I am encountering the sovereignty of God and living out His purpose for my life, then yes, life is good. But doesn’t it seem callous to compare my level of circumstantial difficulties with someone whose daily objective is survival in the literal sense; my hardest moments might even seem good to them.

For those who are members of the household of faith, we can immerse ourselves in Hebrews 11-12. In these passages we are reminded that hardship can be viewed as discipline (not punishment), preparing us for greater joy and peace. The trials strengthen our faith and allow us deeper fellowship with those who have gone before. For those who do not yet know Christ, hardship beckons their eyes heavenward; it serves as a reminder that there must be something more when rock bottom is hit; only God can rescue, redeem and restore.

I am sure this might sound trite at best, cruel at worst. How self-righteous is it for me in western comfort to tell someone in a refugee camp that God is sovereign and their suffering is bringing Him glory or to tell a grieving mom that her loss is meant to teach her more about God? These statements might very well be true in a basic sense but they do not convey Christ’s heart- a heart whose essence is compassion. Jesus describes Himself as gentle and lowly; He longs to comfort the broken-hearted and set the captive free. In our lowest moments, He is there; on our mountaintop victories, He is there.

The concept that we are designed to glorify God and enjoy Him forever is the best definition of good. It provides meaning in the worst of times and exhilaration in the best of times. My goal is to declare that “Life is good because God is good” regardless of the situation.

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