Friday, July 31, 2009

The Question of Sovereignty (Part 2)

I think I settled on my previously held beliefs about God's sovereignty as a way of making sense of all the hurt and brokenness I experienced in the first two decades of my life. I wanted to believe that everything—both the good and the bad—had come into my life for a specific purpose, that God had chosen each thing for me as part of His ultimate plan for my redemption and refinement in His image. It terrified me to think that God was not fully in control of every detail, that He did not choose which "bad" things to allow into my life, that perhaps I was actually at the mercy of the Prince of Darkness. At that point in my spiritual and emotional journey, I was not strong enough to believe this and still move forward. I needed to feel safe enough to rise from the ashes where I had fallen. And I couldn't do that with a God who could not—or would not—protect me. I drew my comfort from the Old Testament story of Job and believed that God placed a hedge of protection around each of His children, that Satan could not harm us unless given permission by God Himself. And these beliefs served me well over the ensuing years, giving me the courage to heal and grow and accept love.

But when Nathan died and my neatly ordered spiritual life broke into pieces, I was forced to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about God. I realized that I could not reconcile my deep attachment to God's sovereignty with a world ridden with tragedy and unbearable suffering. Yes, my life was a picture of God's redemption. Much good had come from every awful thing I had experienced. But what of those whose suffering is never redeemed? What of the child who dies of starvation after a life of poverty and disease? What of the girls who live through years of horror in sexual slavery, only to die at the hands of their captors without ever knowing hope? What of the boys stolen from their families and forced to fight and die as soldiers when they are only children? The list is endless. Does God really choose these things for His creation? Can a God who is love, in its highest and purest form, be responsible for the greatest tragedies of humanity? In the face of these questions, the safety I have always found in absolute sovereignty begins to disappear.

In Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, author Philip Yancey says this:

Bible writers believed they knew why bad things happen: We live on a planet ruled by powers intent on blocking and perverting the will of God. The New Testament openly describes Satan as 'the god of this age' and 'the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.' Of course bad things happen! On a planet ruled by the Evil One, we should expect to see violence, deception, disease, and all manner of opposition to the reign of God.
And so begins a new perspective on sovereignty. Yes, God is absolutely sovereign. But I have finally come to understand—or perhaps "believe" is a better word—that God has chosen not to exercise the absoluteness of His sovereignty for the time being. I believe He created our world to operate by natural laws, and while He can and sometimes does intervene, many times He does not. Most importantly, I believe now that God does not choose the evil that is allowed to come into our lives, but because He is omniscient He knows what it will be, knows how He is going to bring good out of it, knows how He will use it to refine us and accomplish His purposes. And I suppose this is where our hope lies—that even though the Evil One rules this present age and brings all manner of suffering into our lives, God is not surprised or overruled by it. God's purposes still stand and His work in us is still accomplished.

So how does this new understanding of sovereignty affect my view of prayer? To begin with, I realize now that prayer is multifaceted (here we go with the layers again!). My former perspective on prayer was not wrong—it was simply incomplete. Prayer is very much an exercise in intimacy. It is one of the primary means by which I come to know God in a deeper, more personal way. And it is my opportunity to share myself, too. Yes, relationship with God is unconventional by nature, but just as with any other relationship, I must spend time with the One I love in order to really know Him and be known by Him. Prayer offers me a way to "spend time" with the intangible and unseen God of the Universe. And when He draws near to me while I pray, I see Him and know Him in ways I could not otherwise experience. This pursuit of intimacy may be at the very center of prayer's purpose, but I believe there is more.

Philip Yancey presents the idea that prayer is meant to be a way for us to see our lives from God's perspective—that we should not be carrying all our requests upstream to God but simply climbing up ourselves, sitting next to God, and looking back down on the situations in our lives from God's perspective. In essence, this is the only way we can keep our eyes on what is important and not be swayed by our cultural and human experiences. It is the way our minds and wills and hearts can be transformed from a worldly view to a Christ-like one. And this allows us to see what God desires for the people and situations in our lives, which in turn gives us the insight to pray for them more effectively.

And here is where God's sovereignty most comes into play: I believe we are also called to use our prayers to intercede on behalf of the people and circumstances in our lives. While I never understood this before, I believe now that God's plan, both for humanity as a whole and for each of us individually, involves many things that He has deemed non-negotiable—meaning that no amount of prayer, no amount of sin or immaturity on our part, and not even the interference from Satan can change them. But for whatever reason, God has chosen to leave the rest of the details up in the air, so to speak. Philip Yancey writes this:

[C.S.] Lewis suggests that we best imagine the world not as a state governed by a potentate but as a work of art, something like a play, in the process of being created. The playwright allows his characters to affect the play itself, then incorporates all their actions into the final result.... Lewis says, 'The scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise. It may be a mystery why He should have allowed us to cause real events at all; but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method.'

This was really the turning point in my search for answers in the wake of Nathan's death. I realized that God did not mislead me about His desires for Nathan—I fully believe He desired Nathan's healing and redemption far more than I did. But Nathan's death at the young age of 18 was a non-negotiable part of God's plan. I think I was given a little glimpse of the heartache God must face so often—deeply desiring the best for His children but being ever aware of what the future holds for us. And many times that future reveals the fact that our healing will not come this side of heaven. Within days of Nathan's death, I told someone that I wished I hadn't prayed so much for him. I knew even then that it was my time spent in prayer for Nathan that made his loss so difficult for me to bear. But as I stand here now, I could not be more thankful for the way God burdened my heart for Nathan and called me to pray for him. I know beyond all doubt that if Nathan's death had been negotiable, my appeals to God's mercy and compassion would have spared Nathan's life. Do I wish God's plan had been different? Of course. My heart still grieves for everything that Nathan could have become in this life, everything he could have accomplished for our God. But I am learning to take comfort in the God who is sovereign and unchanging yet still chooses to be affected and moved to action by the prayers of His people. And slowly I am making peace—with Nathan's death, with myself, and with the One who brought us both into being.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Stopping to Smell the Roses

Last week I had the chance to make an early-morning trip over to the Woodland Park Rose Garden for pictures. It had been more than two months since my last outing for pictures and I was itching to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather and vibrant summer blooms. I didn't quite make it to the garden by opening time at 7 a.m., but I was only a few minutes late and the sun was still perfect for photos. Strangely, though, when I arrived at the Rose Garden I realized I wasn't in the mood for roses. Yes, I know. First of all, how could I ever NOT be in the mood for roses? And secondly, what on earth was I doing at a rose garden if I didn't want to take pictures of roses? I can't really answer the first question, but it turns out that this rose garden has a lot more to offer than roses (although roses are definitely still the main attraction). And of course, I couldn't resist the roses completely. Like this rose that looked as if it had been sprinkled with pixie dust:

And this is one of my favorite shots from the set:

But all in all, I only took a few rose pictures and instead focused mostly on the other interesting plants that were in bloom throughout the garden. I even tried my hand at some distinctly non-flower pictures. I know. What was I thinking? But I like how they turned out. Like this one where the water seems to be dancing in the sunlight:

And this "self-portrait" in black and white:

I also tried photographing the lily pond from water level, holding my camera so close to the water that my fingers kept get wet as I was trying to set up the shot. The focus didn't turn out exactly as I wanted, but it's still a cool shot. And considering that I had to shoot it blind, I think it came out pretty well. What do you think?

All in all, I had an enjoyable trip to the Rose Garden despite the fact that I wasn't in the mood for roses. The heavy dew and water droplets from the sprinklers made for lots of fun pictures, even if I did end up with very wet shoes and pant legs by the time I left. You can see my favorite pictures from this trip here (as always, the slideshow option will be in the upper right sidebar). Happy Summer, my friends!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Question of Sovereignty (Part 1)

For the most part, I try to avoid theological debates. Not because I don't have opinions and beliefs but because I have a distinct inability to formulate and articulate a convincing argument in the face of opposition. It doesn't matter how logically, Biblically, or prayerfully I have reached my conclusions. All of that disappears the instant I attempt to express myself to someone on the opposite side of the table. Don't get me wrong. I love hearing the "other" side to every story, every position, every belief or lack thereof. It challenges me to think more holistically about things, to consider more than my own opinion, to understand how someone else could reach a different conclusion, and, sometimes, to change what I believe in light of the bigger picture. But I rarely, if ever, engage in a debate over these differences. It's not the way I am wired. And mostly I am thankful for that. I find that loving people, though much riskier, is more rewarding than arguing with them. But there are moments when I wish I had just an ounce of ability to convey my beliefs more coherently. Today is definitely one of those moments.

This portion of my story, more so than any of the others, has a lot to do with the issues of God's sovereignty versus our free will, God's changelessness versus His responsiveness to our prayers. No small matters, theologically speaking. I can promise you this: I don't have all the answers. In fact, I'm not sure I have any "answers" at all. Mostly I just have a new perspective on these things, one that has come about through the direct working of God in my life. I hope as you are reading this you will remember two things: First, my aforementioned difficulties in articulating my beliefs; and second, the fact that I, along with the rest of you, am a work in progress. I am beginning to realize that my view of God and my understanding of what He wants in relationship with me will continue to change as I am refined over the days, months, and years of my earthly journey. I am learning to take comfort in the fact that God is far beyond our ability to comprehend Him, knowing that it is precisely His greatness that allows Him to pursue intimacy with each and every one of us.

As I said in my last post, once I wrote my letter to Nathan it became clear to me that the issue of prayer was largely responsible for my inability to move forward. After this realization, I just "happened" to recall a book on prayer I had seen advertized many months previously. Written by Philip Yancey, the book was entitled Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? Hmmm. Could there possibly be a more appropriately titled book for my current dilemma? I didn't think so. I immediately checked it out from the local library and began reading through it over the next couple months. Or perhaps I should say laboring rather than simply reading. Not because it was difficult to read but because it was jam-packed with insights, thought-provoking questions, and belief-challenging examples from scripture. My journal is overflowing with the quotes, ideas, and musings I wrote down while working through this book. And to be perfectly honest, I only read the first half of the book. I wasn't ready to read the rest, though I suspect that I will be a few months from now.

The most significant of my discoveries while reading this book had to do with God's sovereignty. Although I had avoided the sovereignty-versus-free-will discussions for much of my life, I realize now that I had firmly planted myself on the side of God's sovereignty, almost to the exclusion of free will. I believed the purpose of prayer was that spending time in God's presence would enable me to see what He wanted for the people and situations about which I was praying. Then, when I prayed for the things I felt God wanted, I fully believed that those things would happen—not because I prayed for them but because God had already willed them and then revealed them to me in our time together. I suppose I viewed prayer as an effort to discern the heart of God and then to align my desires with His. Doing so allowed me to see His work in my life and the lives of people around me, to rejoice when His desires were fulfilled because they had become my desires, too. Prayer was more about intimacy with my Creator rather than an effort to change His mind or alter the outcome of a situation. I wanted to lay my heart bare before Him and then spend time listening to His heart as well, choosing to want what He wanted, choosing to accept His will for my own life and for the people I interceded for. And there is nothing wrong with that. I think this is a hugely important part of prayer. But it does not capture the entirety of prayer's purpose.

After spending a year praying for what I believed God wanted for Nathan (and, thus, would do for him), Nathan's death left me with three choices: God misled me about His desires for Nathan, I had no ability to discern God's desires, or all my beliefs about prayer (and perhaps about God Himself) were completely wrong. None of these options were easy to accept and all of them, at least to some degree, left me feeling betrayed by the One I loved more than life. Would the God I love mislead me about what He wanted? Would the God I love refuse to honor my deep and earnest seeking of His will and His desires, regardless of my ability? Would the God I love allow me to live 27 years with a false view of prayer, of Himself, of His purposes—all the while knowing that I desperately wanted to know Him? And which of these heartbreaking things did I want to be true? I didn't know. But I do now.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Awaiting Redemption

I have been trying for days to write the next chapter of this story I began last week. I am finding that what has taken place in my life over these past few months is difficult to summarize. This really should come as no surprise to me. After all the years God has been working in my life, I know very well that He consistently chooses the "downpour" method for me. You know the saying, "When it rains, it pours." Yes, that describes my spiritual journey quite nicely. Whenever God is at work to bring about some change or revelation or growth, He doesn't do it one thing at a time. It is quite often an earth-shattering, life-altering experience. And even when the path begins slowly and quietly, it rarely ends that way. My recent experience has certainly been no exception, and I am left struggling to speak some amount of order into the myriad of twists and turns this road has taken.

I think it was my letter to Nathan that first revealed the many layers of both my grief and my process of healing. Slowly I began to see what had been true from the beginning—this experience was not just about Nathan and his death, not just about grief and loss, not just about letting go and moving forward. It was also about God and His sovereignty, about prayer and its utility or futility, about my view of God and my understanding of my relationship with Him. In truth, though, I could not have put all this into words at the time I wrote my letter to Nathan. I was only just beginning to grasp the magnitude of what was happening. What I did know with certainty, however, was that the matter of prayer was central to my inability to move forward.

Only hours after Nathan died, I was already aware of how "unconventional" my connection to Nathan was. I knew it wouldn't be easy to explain the depth of my grief over Nathan's death, even to his family. I had known Nathan since he was very young, but for much of his life, I lived hundreds of miles away. I went back often for visits, but my closest relationship was with Nathan's older sister. In human terms, I did not "know" Nathan the way I know my close friends and family members. But during the last year of Nathan's life, I literally spent hours on my knees before the God of the Universe on Nathan's behalf. For those of you who are not intercessors, this may be difficult to understand, but when you stand in the gap for someone this way, there is a strong and undeniable bond that forms. And it is a bond that, quite literally, extends beyond the confines of this life. As I interceded for Nathan and pled his case before God time and time again, my heart became more and more attached to and invested in Nathan. My longing for him to know God's redemptive power in his life became nearly unbearable. And when he died, I experienced his loss as that of someone I deeply loved.

With prayer at the center of my relationship with Nathan, it is not surprising that prayer was also at the center of my struggle to make peace with Nathan's death and the One who brought it about. Although I did not realize it until shortly after I wrote my letter to Nathan, I stopped praying completely within the first few days after Nathan died. In my letter I mentioned praying "a lot of prayers since the night of the accident," but in reality I had merely been processing out loud, speaking (sometimes yelling) my grief and my disappointment into the air. The truth of the matter was this: I had stopped believing God was listening. As this began to sink in over the days following my letter, I no longer had any doubt about what was holding me back and keeping me stuck. Just as I was born an artist, I was also born an intercessor. Prayer has long been an essential part of the way I love and relate to the people in my life—and it is even more essential to the way I love and relate to the One who created me. In the absence of prayer, I no longer knew who I was or what I was doing here. Even more than that, I no longer knew who God was or what He wanted from me. Simply put, I was utterly and completely lost.

But the story doesn't end there. Even though I stopped speaking to Him, God never left me. Every step of the way He was diligently working towards my redemption, just as He has done in every other chapter of my life. Yes, it has been a deeply painful experience. But I can tell you without hesitation that it has been worth it. And I can't wait to tell you about it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Surrendering to the Unknown


I have to admit that after writing my last post, I experienced a lot of anxiety. Even though I have managed to write the first chapter of this story, there is still so much left to wrap my head—and my words—around. In some ways I am afraid that I have started something I cannot finish. In other ways I am afraid of how my story will be received and what judgments will be passed on me because of it. But perhaps the greatest fear comes from the realization that I do not have it all figured out. The past nine months have opened my eyes to a whole lot of things, but clearly, I don't have all the answers. And I suppose it is this fear in particular that gives me pause. I am afraid of getting it all wrong. I am afraid of sharing the things God is teaching me only to be talked out of them by someone wiser or stronger or simply more articulate. I am afraid of putting God in a box, reconstructing another limited view of Him that will someday have to be torn down just like the last one. Maybe more than anything, I am afraid of the "not knowing," afraid that something hurtful lurks in the shadows of what I do not know about God.

With all of this swirling in my head, I was reviewing my journal in preparation for writing the next chapter and came across these words, written on March 12, 2009:

I do not have all the answers. There are many things I don't understand about God and faith and prayer and sovereignty and free will and suffering. But maybe that is the biggest thing I have learned in all this—that God is bigger than all my understanding, that there are things in this life I can never fully explain or understand, that part of faith is accepting the 'mystery' in all of this and being okay with the 'not knowing.'
I had to laugh. Evidently I still need to be reminded of the things I have learned these past months. And it's always amusing to hear God speak to me through things I've written in the past. He has such a sense of humor and irony, doesn't He? I am thankful for that. And I am thankful that tonight He is telling me this: "Of course you don't have all the answers, Courtney! You're not supposed to. So let it be okay and stop trying to figure it out. Just keep pressing on in what I've asked you to do. Aren't I the author and finisher of your faith? Then let me finish this. I can do it if you'll let me. You just have to be willing."

Okay, Lord, I am willing. Write Your story.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Beginning

Today would have been Nathan's 19th birthday. Instead, it is the 283rd day since Nathan left this world for his forever home. 283 days. It has been a long journey for me, one that does not yet feel complete. I regret that I did not start this blog sooner to help me process this experience and share my heart along the way. As I talked about in this post, my progress towards healing has not been straightforward or clearly defined. Over the months, I have shared my journey in bits and pieces with most of the people in my life, but I have yet to sit down and share my story from start to finish—and by "finish" I guess I mean the place where I am right now. Not the end of the path for sure, but definitely closer to the end than the beginning. I feel very strongly that, although I am ready to do so, I cannot take the next steps towards reconciliation with God until I acknowledge everything that has led me to this point. Because I don't want to forget where I have been and what I have learned. Because I don't want to go back to the way things were before. I want Nathan's death to change me from the inside out. I want this dark valley to forever deepen my love and devotion for the One who both took me into the valley and brought me out again. And so I have been struggling for a few weeks now with how to convey all that has happened in my mind and heart in the last 283 days. It seems an impossible task, and my heart has been heavy with the weight of it. But the other night as I was expressing these feelings of being overwhelmed and not knowing where to begin, I felt God whisper this: "Just start at the beginning and take it one step at a time." Not an earth-shattering revelation, but it's what I needed to hear. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be attempting to share my story from these past nine months. It is a story of grieving and healing, of tearing down and building up, of leaving and returning, of holding on and letting go. Mostly it is a story about God. The way He chooses the harder path for us, knowing that in the end it will lead to our greater good. The way He relentlessly pursues us even when we run. The way He invites us to be angry, to fight, to cry, to be real in our darkest moments. The way He waits patiently for us to understand, to be ready, to say "yes." Indeed, this is a story about God and His ever-redeeming ways. And tonight, I will start at the beginning.

On September 27, 2008, Nathan died in a car accident. Though my life was forever altered in that instant, my journey towards healing did not really begin there. After four months of grieving, I did not feel any less broken by his death. I felt stuck, unable to make sense of where I was and unable to move forward. At the suggestion of a friend, I decided to write a letter to Nathan and tell him everything I wished I had said before he died or wished I could tell him now that he was gone. I was skeptical about the role this letter would play in my healing process, but once it was completed, I knew the real journey had finally begun.

So here it is, the beginning of what has slowly and painfully become one of the most transforming experiences of my life. But remember, this is just the beginning. It's been an extraordinary journey and I hope you will stick around to hear the rest of the story. 
_______________________________________  
Dear Nathan,

It's been four months since you died. Sometimes it feels like only yesterday, but sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago. I have cried a lot of tears and prayed a lot of prayers since the night of the accident, but I don't think I am doing a very good job of healing and moving forward. Most of the time, I feel just as much sadness, disappointment, and confusion as I felt in those very first days after your death. The rest of the time I just feel dead inside, closed off from everything that used to mean something to me. A good friend of mine suggested I write you this letter and tell you what's on my heart, that maybe somehow this would help me to grieve and let go. I figured it would be worth a try, since nothing else I have done seems to be working.

You might be wondering why your death has impacted me so deeply. After all, B and I have been best friends since childhood and you were just her little brother, right? Maybe not. Maybe I have always felt that B's family was my family, too. Maybe I thought of you as my brother. Maybe I loved you like I love my own brother. I know I never told you this, and it breaks my heart to think that you never knew I loved you, never knew how much I believed in you. I am so sorry. I wish I could go back and change things. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered to you, maybe you didn't need to know. But I need to tell you now. I need you to hear me say, "You are my brother, and I love you."

About a year before you died, I started praying for you every time you came to mind, which happened more and more as the year went on. I heard from B that you were having a hard time and making choices that didn't seem the best for you or your family. For some reason, I felt in my heart that you were acting from a place of brokenness, hurt, and anger. While I don't know your whole story, I do know that what happens when you are very young changes who you become, that it takes years and years to recover, and that sometimes you make really big mistakes in the process. When I heard about the things you were doing, I couldn't help but think how much your story resembled mine. Maybe my mistakes looked different and maybe some of them were quieter than yours, but I still made them. And I did a pretty good job of messing up my life while I was trying to come to terms with my own hurt and brokenness. In fact, I never intended to make it to my 21st birthday. I always assumed that I would take my own life long before I reached adulthood. It is only by the grace of God that my story didn't end that way. He never gave up on me and never stopped working to bring healing and hope back into my life. I am not proud of all the mistakes and bad choices I made, but I am grateful to know by experience the infinite mercy of my God and the redeeming power of His love. And oh, how I wanted you to know it, too! I prayed so hard during those months before you died. I prayed for God to bring you to the end of yourself, that He would set you free from your past and give you a future full of hope, that He would redeem all your years of struggle and turn them into something beautiful. I wanted you to experience the second chance at life that He had so graciously given to me. I knew that if you experienced that, you would never be the same again—and nothing would deter you from bringing glory to God with the rest of your life. As I was praying for you, I fully believed that God would answer. It never once crossed my mind that God would not do for you what He has always done for me—redeem, heal, restore, bring beauty out of ashes.

And then you died. I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I have never been so deeply disappointed in my God as I have been in the wake of your death. I do not understand the choice He made to end your story this way. I do not understand why He led me to pray so hard for you when He never intended to answer. And I am disappointed that I cannot see who you are now—now that you've been healed and made whole. I wanted so badly to watch you become the man of God I knew you were created to be. Now I have to wait a lifetime to even tell you that I love you.

Shortly after you died, I heard someone say that maybe God decided to bring you Home because you were making too many bad choices, walking too far away from Him. For a brief instant, I found some measure of comfort in this thought—perhaps because it gave me an explanation for something that otherwise seemed senseless, or perhaps because it gave me a feeling of control over my future. After all, if your death was the result of mistakes you had made, then all I had to do was avoid those mistakes and I wouldn't have to worry about God cutting my life short and bringing my Home. And that's when it hit me: I've already made most of your mistakes. Maybe all of them. Maybe more than you did. Suddenly I felt nothing but overwhelming fear—fear that I had failed God, fear that I had made one too many mistakes, fear that God was losing patience with me, fear that God was on the verge of giving up on me and calling me Home. From that moment on, I knew I could not accept this explanation for your death. The God I love is a God whose mercies are new every morning, whose forgiveness is inexhaustible, whose love keeps no record of wrongs. I choose to believe that all the days ordained for us are written in God's book before one of them comes to be. I choose to believe that God doesn't need a backup plan, that what He has purposed from the beginning of time cannot be thwarted by how badly we mess up. And that means I believe you would have gone Home to be with Jesus on September 27, 2008, regardless of how many mistakes you made in your life. God wrote your story long before you were even born. I do not understand it, and I have not yet made peace with the ending God wrote for you. But I am choosing to believe in God's goodness. I am choosing to believe that what now lies broken in the ashes will one day be made beautiful again.

I will miss you, Nathan. It was a privilege to know you, to love you, to intercede for you. Your loss is teaching me much about myself and challenging my view of God. It is more painful than anything I have ever felt before, but I am grateful for the opportunity to grow and change and be refined into the image of my Savior. I can't wait for the day we meet again in the presence of the One who authored our lives and accomplished His purposes in us. Until then, save a place for me—I'll be there soon.

Love Always, 
Courtney

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Blessed

The last two months have been long, hard, and nearly unbearable. The overwhelming physical demands of moving combined with the emotional devastation of relationship conflict have made this one of the most difficult experiences of my life. And for those of you who have known me for awhile, you know that's saying a lot. There were many days when I wanted to give up, and I am deeply grateful for every friend and family member who came alongside me and walked me through this. Some of you lent your physical strength for the hours and hours of packing boxes, hauling furniture, and cleaning up the house. Some of you lent me your ears as I poured out my hurt, my anger, and my brokenness. Some of you lent me your wisdom and spiritual insight as I struggled to extend grace, to seek reconciliation, to find truth in the midst of lies. Some of you just grabbed my hand and pulled me forward when everything within me wanted to turn and run. And some of you did all these things at the same time. While this has been one of the most difficult seasons of my life, it has also opened my eyes to see how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who love me when I am broken, who stand by me when I am attacked, who give of themselves when I am in need, who make me laugh when nothing is funny, and who give me hope when I cannot find it for myself. Yes, God has blessed me greatly, and I am humbled by His goodness. I can't say for sure that the worst is over, but as the dust begins to settle from all the happenings of these past couple months, I am finding a little room to breathe. And oh how grateful I am for this! There is so much I want to share with you, so many things I want to process and hold up to the Light. I am looking forward to doing more of that in the days and weeks ahead, but for now, I just want you to know how grateful I am for all of you. This has been one tough stretch of road, but you have never wavered in your support and I am forever in your debt. It is the most glorious feeling to know that regardless of what the future holds, I do not face it alone. May our God bless you beyond anything you have ever known for all the love you have shown me.