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The (he)Art of Hospitality

I love the sound of the vacuum cleaner. I like the constant whir it makes as the motor runs. The pop, pop, pop it makes as it plows through debris, sucking it away deep into it’s belly. This might seem strange, really. Thinking of a vacuum cleaner in that way, but I find it calming. When I was a young girl, after we were tucked into our beds my Mom would bring out her vacuum and clean up after us. Not every night, I’m sure. Still, hearing that vacuum as I drifted off to sleep made me feel safe.

I’ve always loved a clean and tidy house. When my house is sparkling clean, I feel like I have my life together. When I was twenty, I had the cleanest apartment in the building. (I think. I mean, I don’t actually know for sure, but it was really tidy). I would clean when I was stressed, and fourth year was all that and then some. I loved going to the laundromat, taking my work with me and listening to the drone of the machines as I studied (okay, okay – I was often distracted watching the clothes going round and round in every dryer). I loved to sort and fold the clothes when they were done. Carefully carrying them home in my basket and putting them away in my drawers.

Now I think back to those days and laugh. How easy it was to clean after one person, to do a small load of laundry once a week? Fast forward fifteen years, and I’m cleaning after four people now. On an easy week, I do twelve loads of laundry (on not so easy weeks, sixteen). I don’t mind, really. When I sort and fold the clothes I think of it as a simple way I can love on my family. I still live doing laundry. It’s just, so much has changed and it is different now.

Cleaning the kitchen or bathroom used to be easy and fun, because the results were immediate and rewarding. I would get down on my hands and knees and scrub away grime, watching everything wash away like it was a problem I’d solved. Everything so clean and fresh, like a new beginning.

Now I walk into the bathroom and I see grime line the floorboards. I walk into the kitchen and I see spaghetti sauce on the side of the cupboard near the garbage can. Sometimes I grab my cloth and scrub it away. Other times, I turn away because I just can’t do it. Because oftentimes, having a chronic illness means you just can’t live like you used to. Honestly, I don’t feel sad or ashamed about what’s happened to my body. I just feel discouraged sometimes. To know what I used to be capable of, and to understand what my limitations are now.

My husband has the gift of hospitality. He loves having people over to stay, to come for a meal, or even just for coffee and a chat. I do, too. It fills my heart with joy to spend time with others. But, being hospitable sometimes comes at a cost. And often, whe my husband suggests we have company, it’s a struggle for to set a date. More often than not I have to choose between the super clean house I’d love to have when guests arrive, and actually spending time with my guests. Because in my world, I can’t always do both.

I’ve learned to manage over the last few years, as my body started to get worse. I have to work in phases, taking many breaks. It takes so much longer to clean now, and sometimes it is worth it. But other times, I wonder what have I been missing while I cleaned? And more importantly, who am I missing because I cleaned?

My mother’s house was (and still is) sparkling clean whenever she had guests. I was always taught to have my house looking spectacular when my visitors arrived. I’m not sure if it was to make them feel special, or if it was just so they wouldn’t know the chaos we usually live in. But the point got through – clean. When I was a child I figured the art of hospitality was a sparkling clean home, a fancy meal and a spectacular dessert. Now, I’ve learned sometimes the art of hospitality is the heart of it.

I don’t want to be caught into the trappings of a spectacular house, a fancy meal and a spectacular dessert. But I do want to have guests. I want to spend quality time with them, share a meal, have a few laughs, bring encouragement. I want to be present with people, and not stressed over whether my windows are so clean you can see your reflection in them. I don’t want to give my chronic illness one more reason to keep me from experiencing a rich life.

If you ever happen to be a guest in my home, please be gracious. It will be as clean as I can make it so you feel special. The food may not be fancy, but we’ve prepared it with love and are pleased to share it with you. As for the spectacular dessert, why don’t you bring it? We’ll enjoy it together over some tea and talk.

The heart of hospitality is, after all, love. And I’ll never be too sore or to tired for that. ❤️

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Sticks and Stones

Everyone loves summer. Perhaps it is because summer is when people are most likely to vacation. Summertime is a season where people can relax, enjoy the outdoors, explore and have fun. Summertime is carefree, with long lazy days. And the weather is beautiful, sunny and hot. But sometimes, the summer can be difficult. For some, the summertime can be what they most dread. Or maybe it’s just me.

A few summers ago, I took my kids to an enormous park in a seaside village not too far from where we live. They were having the time of their lives, exploring, running, laughing, experiencing so much joy. I sat in the summer sunshine enjoying them enjoying themselves. Until a few little words knocked me right off of my joy train. I can’t even repeat the words that were spoken, but they cut deep into my soul.

When you have a disability that disfigures you, and causes your entire body to take on a different shape, it’s hard to live life normally. You try your best, but sometimes people stare and make comments that you wish you could forget. And sometimes, you just want to stay home to avoid it all. This day, it wasn’t just staring, or whispered comments. It was someone and their child mocking me and laughing at me as I walked around with my kids, using a cane. Ouch.

Words can cut deep. That old rhyme sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me is complete baloney. Nothing could be farther than the truth. Because words, once they’re said, can’t be taken back. They’ve done their damage. They’ve cut and wounded.

Proverbs 12:18 says, “some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” I know that to be true because any time I’ve been cut by words, the encouraging words of friends are like a balm to my heart, where words cut the deepest.

But it’s easy to forget those words when you most often hear cutting words. Voices that tell you things you wish you didn’t have to hear. Words of the world. You’re not thin, so you’re not beautiful. You’re not beautiful, you’re ugly. You can’t do things most people can, so you’re worthless. You’re worthless, so just stay at home where we don’t have to see you. Those kind of voices. Those kind of words. Have you heard something similar?

Sometimes I get caught up in what these voices are saying. Sometimes I start to believe the words. It’s easy to do, when it’s often what you hear. Words are powerful, but sometimes voices come in a look or an action. Sometimes voices come in a thought that never reaches one’s lips, but is heard loudly all the same. When you hear these words and voices as frequently as I do, they become easier to hear and to detect. In a single day, you could hear up to a dozen different things.

Sometimes it gets to me, wears me down and makes me feel the way the words are telling me to. But, sometimes I remember that I have the freedom and the power to walk away and stop those words in their tracks. Because my identity isn’t in these worldly words. My identity is in Christ.

I live in a world full of people who are having identity crises. They don’t know who they are, and they’re desperately trying to figure it out. How fortunate are we who know who and Whose we are. And when we know who we are, the words and voices offered up slowly start to be lost among stronger, more powerful ones.

You are a child of God. Because you’re a child of God, you’re a daughter of the King. Because you’re a daughter of the King, that makes you a princess. God thinks you are beautiful. He has given you the privilege of suffering and has entrusted you with all that you need to combat the enemy. So fight, beautiful princess warrior. Fight.

These words from the King of Heaven slice through the hurt, and repair the wounds from cutting words in one solid movement. Like a dance, swirling me up from the ashes. He whispers words of love that put a new song in my heart. And I know I can confidently walk around in the world with my head held high, because He covers me in His love.

And those words of love? They bubble up inside of me, like champagne spilling over cups. They can’t stay inside because Love is more powerful than hate, more powerful than darkness. I can’t keep the words of love inside, wrapped up all for myself. Jesus speaks life into my soul, and He wants me to speak it out for all to hear. If ever I doubt this, I look at these verses which light the way:

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. Ephesians 4:29

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Worry weighs a person down;
an encouraging word cheers a person up. Proverbs 12:25

The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain;
the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions. Proverbs 10:11

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:4

Words can hurt. I know with each passing day there will be more insults, more disgusted looks. I know cutting words will be a lifelong companion. But I don’t ever want them to hold me captive anymore, because words of Love have set me free. So when words sting, I’ll look to the One whose words matter most, straighten my figurative crown, and move on. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me when I’m listening to the words of life and love instead.

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Strawberry Blessings

A year ago, I was washing and hulling strawberries that my boys had picked. I wrote this about the events of the day and the state of my heart and life at the time. Today, I was doing the very same thing. But it was different this time, because this time I was counting my blessings.

A year ago, I was processing the news that I was terminally ill. That all of my chances had been used up and there wasn’t anything I could do. Except *maybe* this one more thing. I was thinking about all of the things I would miss if I’d died when I was told. If I believed that one person could number my days, I would only have 365 left. Instead, I trust in a living God who loves me – and look back over what 365 days of blessings can look like.

Three weeks after I received the news, I was surrounded by people I love listening to my neice tell spooky stories around a campfire. We had a lovely time with family, even having the opportunity to see my Gramma. But the most memorable was visiting my friend Lisa who was dying of cancer, and talking about her going HOME. When she passed away two months later, I cried and thanked God for the gift of that day and the birding of her friendship.

A few weeks after that, our family took some day trips around our province of New Brunswick. I couldn’t walk well, but I wasn’t going to give up seeing all the beautiful places that God created for us to enjoy. It was hard, it was exhausting, but it was ultimately worth it.

After summer vacation ended and school was back in session, it was harder to count the bigger blessings because you know how it goes – the days are long but the months are short and roll all together. But one notable gift among all the others was that I celebrated my 35th birthday and finally felt comfortable in my own skin. I am who I am.

Christmas brought much excitement to our house. We had a lovely Christmas Eve service and then a bonfire at some friends house, but Christmas Day everyone was housebound due to extreme ice and freezing rain. We spent the day at home and didn’t feel guilty. It was lovely.

In January, I got a phone call that changed everything. That *one more shot* that might work was happening. I had my first of many appointments. And it WORKED. It is working. I’m just days away now from starting the next phase. And each phase has decreased my pain and increased my mobility. So when my sister was in town for a business trip, we snuck out for a sisters only day and walked around for hours and I barely even noticed. It was amazing, I can’t even describe how much of a gift that was.

Not only are my treatments working, but I got a second opinion. And those 2 years I was given by that one nurse were turned into decades. I could live much longer than anticipated, but I already knew that. I already knew that my God was in control.

I already knew that mushy strawberries still taste sweet and that I’m more beautiful than I appear to the rest of the world. I already knew that I was a daughter of the King who can move mountains. And over the last 365 days, I’ve seen this mountain crumble bit by bit. I’ve seen amazing things over the last year. And I can’t wait to see how many more blessings I’ll be thinking about when I’m hulling strawberries next July.

I can’t look at strawberries the samee way anymore. Now, strawberries remind me of two things – I’m a beautiful princess and I’m loved by THE King.

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Mixing Dreams

I keep seeing the same thing, day in and day out when I close my eyes at night and it breaks my heart. I see a little boy, busting out a tune on his harmonica that only he could perform. Giving it everything he has, but feeling defeated because he just wasn’t good enough to take home the prize. We can’t all be the winners, and it’s an important lesson to learn. But when it’s your own son, you wish he wouldn’t have to.

I never knew my heart could break so much, could ache so much before I became a Mom. I also never knew that it could burst with happiness and pride until the first time it did. It’s a funny thing, the heart.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the future. I try not to, I really do. Because the future is so uncertain, so delicate. We don’t know what it will bring. We don’t know the heartache and joy we will experience, and if someone could truly tell me I’d be afraid to ask. Because as an autism mom, sometimes you don’t want to know.

Like today, when the boys and I were baking cookies. The hand mixer was overheating, and I told them we’d have to give it a break. We talked about the motor inside, and I mentioned the one their aunt and grandmother owned had a more powerful one. They insisted we get one, but I explained that KitchenAid mixers were quite a bit more expensive that my handheld Betty Crocker one from Walmart. Then I said words I can’t take back, words I wished I’d never said. “I can’t afford it, but maybe some day when you’re making the big bucks you can buy me one for mother’s day and I’ll make cookies for my grandchildren.” I was thinking of the future, that uncertain time. I was voicing hopes and dreams that died long ago that somehow resurrect themselves from time to time, when I least expect it.

In truth, I was thinking about my oldest who dreams of being an engineer. He could be, someday. Always thinking, that one. The wheels are always turning. He’s a logical thinker, sometimes too much. He loves figuring out puzzles. I still think about the way his face lit up when he saw his very first blueprint. I don’t worry too much about his future, really. But I still wonder about a wife and those grandchildren.

Today, I was blindsided by my younger son. My boy, who is so much like me, it breaks my heart. He dreams of being an artist. He’s hardly ever without a marker in his hand. He’s filled dozens of sketchbooks over the years, colorful pages that tell a story. He’s creative, but he’s also so full of joy. He’s fearless – he’ll try anything once. He’s friendly, making a pal wherever he goes. But he’s sensitive, and his heart breaks often. Just like mine. All of this just like me. At the same time, he’s got some challenges. Struggles that mean he’s never going to be good at math. He’s probably not going to have the same kind of skills as his brother. I know that is normal, I know it’s okay. But if I think about his future, I’m terrified. It’s a big, black hole.

I always thought as parents, we need to lovingly guide and direct them as they pursue their interests and hone their skills. I know my parents did that for me, and at his age I was already writing. But he’s just a question mark. An unmarked path. He is so willing to try anything, and he gives it his all. He’s not always as successful as he would hope. He says he’s the best at losing, but I don’t think that’s true. I think he’s the best at trying.

I know he’s only ten, but it’s hard not to notice his classmates and friends carving their paths. Winning awards and accolades for all their accomplishments. It’s hard not to get caught up in the fact that he hasn’t found the one thing that he’s excellent at, the one area that might propel him into his future. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep at night because he wants to do big things that he may never accomplish.

But then my heart remembers a favourite verse from Proverbs. One that has molded and shaped my life. One that pops up all over my story.

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9

I’ve made plans so many times that seemed perfect and good, but the Lord has turned them around completely. All for my good and His glory. Time and time and time again. God always has a way of shaping my plans into something far better than I can imagine. If He does that for me, why do I doubt He will do it for my sons?

A few weeks ago we were away at our church conference. Someone mentioned in passing they had a vision of youth who would learn languages to bring the gospel to those who needed to hear it. My heart leapt at the thought that could be meant for my son. The creative one, who loves to draw. Who also can carry on a conversation in Chinese with a stranger at a hotel because he’s good at learning other languages. I don’t know if that is part of his path, but suddenly I felt my broken heart mend a little. Maybe not because of this journey that may or may not include my son. But because I remembered that God has my little boy’s life in His hands. And if my son listens to where the Spirit leads, and follows after Him, everything else will fall into place.

At the end of the day, when the last of the cookies had been put away, I knew this truth in my very soul. I don’t care if he doesn’t make much money. I would love grandchildren, but if I never have any it will be okay. I’ll put all those dreams away if my son just lives for Jesus with his whole heart, following in whatever path He’s laid out. I want that for both of my sons, always.

It’s a million times better than any KitchenAid mixer.

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Stories

I sat three tables over from him, and I could tell. Every move, every twitch spoke a story. My heart broke when I watched him eat the same veggie burger as me – because it was easy for me, but it wasn’t for him. He couldn’t eat without his head jerking. He couldn’t sit still, his feet moving and shaking in rhthym. I have seen this before, in a childhood friend. Tourette’s is his story.

I walked the halls of the mall, searching for the perfect gift for a friend. That’s when I saw her. Tall, slim, with gorgeous caramel coloured skin and flawless brown hair. Her clothes were elegant. She carried her designer handbag on her arm, which amazed me because she didn’t have a forearm or hand. Somehow she confidently walked with her bag on her arm, without fear of it falling and spilling its contents on the floor. She was beautiful. Amelia syndrome is her story.

I was in high school when we met for the first time. We were lab partners, and she missed a lot of time from class. She’d call me from her bed to get her lab notes. She hadn’t moved for a few days. Endometriosis is her story.

Her eyes were so empty it broke my heart. Where there was usually a sparkle and laughter there was nothing but grey. She was talking to me with her lips, but her eyes were silent. And eyes say everything. Depression is her story.

He sat next to me with twenty two staples in his head. Glistening in the morning sun, sending dots of light on the wall. His hands shake more than they used to. A brain tumor is his story.

Each person left an impact on me. But not because of their disability. Because of their character.

Tourette’s was surrounded by a group of friends, happy to be sharing a meal with someone whose company they enjoyed. It reminded me of the importance of friendships where you can just be yourself.

Amelia was absolutely beautiful. She was the kind of beautiful I always wished I could be. But it was her confidence that blew me away. She was comfortable with herself. I want to be that comfortable and confident too.

Endometriosis overcame all odds and had three children after trying for over ten years. How she loves them and pours into their lives inspires me.

Depression persevered through so many hard days. I know her well, I can see she still battles. But she’s such a warrior. When she smiles, there are laugh lines because she’s forever seeking joy.

Brain tumor was filled with faith for healing. He never wavered, and the Lord healed him. It seemed so simple, to have his child’s faith that God loves and so he heals.

There are so many stories to tell. If we could only see the many life lessons we could learn if we allow ourselves to look deeper. I’m so thankful I can learn from other people’s stories, and I pray that other people can see something valuable in mine.

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Good Gifts

The warm spring breeze blows through the trees and the sun glistens on a sea of blue. A sea of crushed blue metal, broken and cracked, shattered and smashed. Broken lights, broken doors. And I look away, because my heart is a little bit broken to see it that way, this wonderful car of mine. This beautiful gift of love.

About this time last year I was standing in front of a clerk taking ownership of my very first car. A car I couldn’t even drive, but still – my car just the same. Beside me, my Dad, signing paperwork and giving me the keys to a car that was his favourite. A gift of love, from a father to a daughter. He gave me this car because it was easy for me to get in and out of, and it perfectly accomodated our family. And it was wonderful.

Little did I know a year later I’d be saying goodbye to my car. Standing there at the towing lot, watching as my husband and son pulled out our possessions, it was so final. I wasn’t ready for it. I’m not ashamed to say I cried a little bit as we left the lot, left behind such a lovely gift from my father. Tears welled up as I thought of the daunting task of finding a new car, something affordable and reliable. Knowing nothing would be as nice as the car we’d just left behind.

And as we drove away I was suddenly overwhelmed with peace, as I thought about good gifts from my father. Just like my Dad gave me the beautiful gift of a car that was good for our family, so my heavenly Father gives good gifts. Like the beautiful gift he gave me this week, allowing my husband to walk away from a collision with no injuries. Safe. As I went to bed that night, and thought of the events of that day, I was filled with gratitude that my husband was still beside me, snoring loudly. (Sorry honey, you know you do it!) And suddenly that sound of snores was a precious gift from my heavenly Father. His hand of protection was over us that day, and still is.

My father loves to give good gifts. His gift of love continued as we got our appraisal for my vehicle and we realized we could purchase a good quality replacement. A very yellow, sunshiny car. With everything we’d hoped for in a new car and then some. And my Father had His loving hands on that as well, in a way that only God can. And just like my Dad’s gift of love continues, how much more will the good gifts of my Lord?

Sometimes we don’t always see the beauty in the broken. When our hearts are hurting, when we’ve been dealt a blow it’s hard to see it. But sometimes we can catch a glimpse of it if we lift our eyes to the Father. As I stood there, watching the sun bouncing off my totaled car, I saw it. It was in the hug that my husband gave me, the way he squeezed my hand as we drove away. Because he’s still here. A gift of love from my God, allowing me to have a wonderful man to do this life with. And at the end of the day, as I crawl into bed, I know it was just a car. There will be more. But the gifts from both of my father’s still stand, wrapping me in love.

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Brick by Brick

Tolerance. It is becoming a difficult word in a difficult world. Every time I scroll through social media I see posts, articles and pictures demanding our tolerance of different social issues. You know what those issues are as well as I do – those controversial issues that rock the boat. Those issues that leave you walking on dangerous ground. Those issues that cause you to fear you might upturn the boat, sink the boat. I’m just going to say it. Those issues like gender identity, the LGBTQIA+ community, women’s rights versus the rights of an unborn child. Those issues.

To navigate the world today, tolerance is key. It’s expected of us. It’s demanded of us. Even when it goes against the very core of what what we believe in. Even when it breaks our hearts and leaves us confused and unsure of what to do, what to say, what to believe.

Right now I live in a country that by the charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms allows all Canadians the following fundamental freedoms.

Section 2 lists what the Charter calls “fundamental freedoms” namely freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of other media of communication, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

Freedom of religion. According to the charter, that means the following:

Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance without government influence or intervention. It also includes the freedom to change one’s religion or belief. Freedom of religion is considered by many people and most of the nations to be a fundamental human right.

Unfortunately, all that means is that I’m allowed to attend church and meet socially with my Christian friends and family to worship God, without government interference. Because if you look on Wikipedia for an explanation, you get this.

Freedom of religion does not persecute believers in other faiths. Freedom of belief is different. It allows the right to believe what a person, group or religion wishes, but it does not necessarily allow the right to practice the religion or belief openly and outwardly in a public manner.

Do we really have freedom of belief? Because where I’m standing, it sure doesn’t look like it.

I remember being in a doctor’s office waiting, mindlessly watching what was on TV. A few ladies were arguing over something current on a program called The View. One of the women started to share something but was interrupted by another, trying to get her to shut up. She slammed her hand down on the table and said No. She said it didn’t seem fair that she was required to tolerate all the things they were sharing, not to interrupt them or put them down…but the second she opened her mouth to talk about Jesus, the rules didn’t apply. Christianity wasn’t tolerated. And just like that, Candace Cameron Bure put Raven Simone in her place. You go, girl.

Even though I don’t typically watch The View, I do know that it wasn’t long after that episode that Candace left the show. As a professing Christian in Hollywood, she sure does handle a lot of negativity for her views. But then, don’t all Christians?

We live in a culture that openly tolerates (read: supports and encourages) many things that we as Christians can’t support and encourage. We don’t support and encourage these things because they go against the core of our beliefs. We live in a country that has crossed the line between moral and immoral, between sinfulness and godliness. We live in a country that persecutes Christianity – if you don’t agree with their set moral standards, you pay for it. I never thought living in a “free” country would be like this.

But then, that’s what God intended. It seems strange to think that way. But it’s the truth – this isn’t our home. But while we live here we have one important mission – to go out into the world and spread the Good News. The news that Christ died for sinners.

Even though I find it it’s disheartening to be here in this world right now, even though it discourages me deeply that we are encouraged to tolerate everything, yet we as Christians are not tolerated. Even still, we are to be the light. We are to be the ones who stand out, the ones who are different. We are the ones who are to extend the love of Christ to others. Even when it’s hard.

Suddenly I realized I’ve built myself a brick wall between my beliefs and the world. Thinking I’ll be safe over here behind this wall – as long as I don’t say anything or offend anyone. But I look at my wall and I realize it’s not what Jesus would do. And if I keep layering brick on top of brick, how will His light shine through?

The tricky, sticky thing is that if Jesus were here on the earth right now He wouldn’t be avoiding these people. He wouldn’t avoid these issues. He would be reaching out to them in love. Reaching out to them in forgiveness. And so should we be. Even when it’s hard, even when we are discouraged and frustrated at everything that is the world right now. Because the fact of the matter is, right now the world just needs Jesus.

For this is how God loved the world : He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

God STILL loves the world. He doesn’t love the sin, but He loves the people. And while I was thinking about this the other day, frustrated over yet another issue to tolerate, I was moved. Because God sees my sin, and He still loves me. So how am I any different from all these other people? I’m not, and neither are you. I desperately need Jesus, every day. And so do they. Yes, tolerance can be frustrating when it goes against what I believe in. But love is stronger than frustration. God’s love can make a way. It can break through. And sometimes, God uses His people to do it.

I don’t have perfect answers. This isn’t a self-help blog that will deliver the miracle idea of how to deal with hard issues. This is just a girl, who desperately wants to share Jesus with people who need Him. A girl fighting with herself to be part of the city on a hill. A girl who recognizes we can replace tolerance with love, because Love covers a multitude of sins.

Brick by brick, I’m tearing down walls to make room for Love. It’s not always easy. But the more the bricks fall, the more His light shines.