Monthly Archives: May 2014

Getting Free

I was debt-free until my senior year of college.  I was not a great manager of my finances, but I was debt-free.

My college savings (that is the money I worked for and set aside to pay for college with) was getting dangerously low by the end of my unemployed junior year, and I had two options: take a(nother) year off of school to work and save OR take out student loans.  I didn’t want to spend another year just working, and so I went with the student loan option.  And so my journey into debt began.

I don’t regret taking out student loans.  I wanted and needed to finish my degree, and student loans enabled me to do that.  However, those student loans and their impending payments began to loom as I finished my degree, and the pressure mounted for me to find a full-time job; if possible, before graduation.  So I took the first job I was offered, which was sixty miles away from where I lived.

I needed a car, so my Dad and I went to the dealership and cosigned on a car, not because he was going to pay for any of it, but because he had an established credit score that helped me get better interest rates.  And with that, I tripled my debt.

I don’t regret buying my car.  I need my car for practical reasons. It’s just nice after years of schmoozing people to get rides, being able to get myself places.

I didn’t need the credit card.  The idea behind getting the card at all was that it was supposed to help me further establish credit, but I spent money I didn’t have, so that’s not what happened.  I didn’t need that retail store charge card either, but fortunately, it has a low limit and working at said retail store with the charge card makes for some great discounts.

I wouldn’t say I regret either of the cards, either, just that I should have handled them more responsibly.

A year after graduating college, I was roughly $30,000 in debt, and making less than $20,000 a year.

It. was. suffocating.

I was stuck in this job that made me emotionally distressed and physically ill, that paid a pittance, and that I was driving way too far to get to.  I was looking for work, interviewing, and coming up with nothing.  I couldn’t get out.  And while people were so helpful in sending prospective jobs my direction, they didn’t see the financial burden I was under and couldn’t understand why quitting was not an option.

Eventually, God provided a part-time job for my evenings that was more in line with what I’d gone to school for and had some experience in.  I took the job so that I would eventually be able to quit the job that was making me miserable, but I worked from 7am-10pm Monday-Thursday and 7am-3pm on Fridays for about six months. (How did I do it? I have this capacity to be a robot from time to time, when circumstances make it necessary).  I did quit the full-time job when I felt it was financially safe to do so, feeling pretty confident I’d find something else soon, even if it was just part-time.

I only worked part-time from February to November last year.  I was not fully making it, and yet, I was prioritizing paying off debt when I could.  I had certain bills I paid every month, and certain bills I would alternate.  Not good, but doing what was in my power.

Then I picked up a retail job in November as a seasonal hire, and they liked me and decided to keep me on.  Since beginning this job, I’ve been able to pay bills every month.  Last month, I was granted a hardship forbearance on one of my debts, which will give me time to pay down other things so I can begin faithfully paying on it again in a few months.

It’s been slow-going, but I was crunching some personal finance numbers today, and I saw that I’ve reduced my debt by half since August 2012.  Slowly but surely, I am coming up out of debt.  I don’t feel like I’m drowning under a burden only I can see for the first time in a long time.  I feel like even if things keep going the way they are going job-wise for me, I’m going to beat this.  I feel like I will someday be independent, even if it means two more tough years.

What wise people often try to tell us, but we don’t often comprehend until it’s way too late, is that there are consequences to irresponsible spending, to having more money go out than comes in. Debt ties you to companies, people, living situations, and a score by which you are evaluated for just about everything.  Debt holds you back from doing things you want to do, because you have to work, you have to pay your bills.  Debt makes life just that much harder.

I’m not telling you student loans, or car loans, or credit cards, or store cards are bad and neither will any other sensible person, but if you’re spending money you don’t have and cannot guarantee you will ever have, you’re going to find yourself enslaved in the pursuit of money.  And that is an excruciating and lonely burden.

Getting free requires tenacity and discipline.  It is the slowest and hardest path I have ever been on.  And it’s humbling.  I’m amazed at how many people are willing to speak into my situation without having much (if any) idea what is going on.  “Isn’t working two jobs a little greedy?” “You’re not doing YOUR part.” “You deserve this.” And maybe, on one hand, they’re all right:  maybe if I hadn’t been so insistent on finishing my degree in my timing, maybe if I hadn’t accepted less than I deserved out of a sense of unworthiness, I wouldn’t be in this boat.  Maybe I do deserve this.  It’s true that we reap what we sow.

But I am getting free, with every month that passes.  And with the exception of $200 last October from various friends for an urgent financial need, it’s been all God.  And even that was really Him, prompting people, but what I mean is that by and large, God’s help has not come in the form of monetary gifts.  It’s been more like, “I’m going to teach you how to do this yourself so you remember the responsibility that comes with money.”  He’s taken care of me through my irresponsible financial choices, and I believe He will continue to do so.

I just want to be free.

 

 

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Happy 23rd Birthday, Whit!

Dedicated to the fearless truth-speakers in my life:

my dad, Mark Thomas, and my dear friend Whitney Gross.

Thank you for not accepting the things I accept too easily.

~ the dedication of The Field

962965_10201716767741147_1471129219_n(Photo Credit: Melody Ellison, 2013)

Dear Whit,

Happy, happy, happy 23rd birthday, friend!

I know your birthday is not technically until tomorrow, but I was thinking of and praying for you on my drive home today.  You’ve been a fearless truth-speaker to me during some of the roughest seasons of my life, and I am so thankful for the times you have given me the eyes to see beyond what is right in front of me.  You are such an incredible person, and I sense that you need those eyes back tonight, so let me see if I can be a fearless truth-speaker to you.

God still has something big in store for you, but don’t despise the day of small things. I know this season has not turned out the way you had hoped and planned, and I know how disappointed and frustrated you must be, but God is not done with you.  Although unexpected circumstances have come, God is not reduced or lessened in your life.  He has something He is doing for you, in you, and through you.  As in, right now.  And maybe He’s doing it in the thing you’ve overlooked as not a big deal or insignificant.  Our God is both a big-picture God and a God of intimate detail, so keep seeking Him in the small stuff, and the big things will become clear.

Don’t be afraid to pray specific prayers and remain open.  After a door slams in our face, a door we deeply desire, it can be tempting to stop praying specific prayers and say, “Whatever, God.” You had gone through your door, you were living your prayers, and I know being snatched away from that is disheartening.  God has given you your heart for this world and for the people in it, so keep asking and seeking and knocking for the deepest desires of your heart.  No, God’s call doesn’t always look the way we think it should, but He’s given it to you for a reason, and He intends to bring it about in your life.  Keep trusting Him and remain sensitive to His leading, even if it could lead to more frustration, disappointment or discouragement.

These things will change, so find joy in where you are at and what you have now.  Our lives consist of seasons.  Some good, some bad, some long, some short.  I think God does this so we remember the impermanence of our lives here on this earth.  You are not going to be where you are at forever, or even for the rest of your life, although it may feel that way now.  And this season? It’s giving you what you will need at some point in the future.

I love you, dear friend, and am praying for God’s very best for you in the coming year.  I pray that He shakes up your life in ways that grow you closer to Him.  I pray that He gives you continued direction and purpose.  I also pray for the people you love in the country you had to leave.

Mostly, though, I’m just thankful.  Thankful to have had you in my life as a fearless truth-speaker, as a fellow-adventurer on this life journey, and someone to just laugh and cry with when life gets to be too much.

I’ll leave you with this verse: “Forget the former things and do not dwell on things of old.  See, I am doing a new thing, even now it springs forth.  Can’t you see it? I will make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

Again, happy birthday, dear Whit!

Love,

Lyd

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Dear Men, I Do Not Exist For You

[I really think I’m going to have to start issuing ruffle warnings.  As in, your feathers are about to be ruffled.  Consider yourself warned.  Ruffle, ruffle.]

Dear Men,

I do not exist for you.  I do not exist to satisfy your desires or to cater to your whims.  I am not obligated to respect you,  like you, befriend you, be attracted to you, date you, marry you or sleep with you.  There is nothing wrong with me if I am not drawn to you (and not necessarily anything wrong with you, either, I must add);  I am just not here – living this life at this point in time and space – for you.

As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” That is, the divinely-appointed purpose of humanity, of any life, of my life “is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.”

My life is not now and never will be about your needs.

Yet I’m told it should be.  And I’m not just hearing it from secular culture, I hear it from the Church.

I will never forget a conversation I had with a godly, older married friend a number of years ago.  We were discussing whether or not it was right or okay to have something you would leave your husband over when entering marriage.  She maintained that it was not right or okay, that a woman who had such a contingency was not fully committed.  I admitted that I felt I would leave my husband if he was ever unfaithful to me, because I didn’t think I could recover from that.  She returned with, “If a man’s needs are being met in marriage, he won’t ever go outside of it to fulfill them.”

That scared me off of marriage for a long time after that, because what the mess kind of standard is that?  I’ve been asked many times about my singleness: did I struggle with my sexuality? Was I a commitment-phobe? Was it because I had a front row seat to a messy divorce? Nope.  It was because for many years I was deathly afraid of marrying the wrong man; I mean, the really wrong man.  I was afraid I’d end up loving and marrying a black hole of need that I would never be able to satisfy.  Maybe I’d be sick, or upset, or otherwise just not feel like “it” and he’d take his needs somewhere else.  And of course, because for whatever reason I wasn’t up to giving him what he needed (forget my needs), his infidelity would be my fault.

I reject that now.  I reject that my actions ever FORCE someone to sin.  I reject it because I am not now and never will be held accountable for someone else’s sin.  God is never, ever, EVER going to ask me if it ever happens, “Lydia, why was your husband unfaithful?” In my feelings of betrayal, should I ever encounter infidelity in my marriage, God’s not going to say, “Okay, but Lydia, what could YOU have done better?”  That is NOT how God operates: “A bruised reed He shall not break” (Isaiah 42:3a).

And in case you’re wondering, I now also desire a healthy, Christ-focused (not husband- or wife-focused) marriage.

Where I am now in my attitude is unfortunately not the point, however; the fact that I was ever terrified of marriage because of being blamed for someone else’s sin is a problem.  And it’s not a problem because my attitude toward marriage was wrong; it’s a problem because someone placed (or at any rate, tried to place) a burden on me that God never intended.

This burden is not rare in the church; in fact, it’s all over the place, anytime a husband is unfaithful to his wife.  And it all boils down to this: the wife is spending too much time on things other than her husband.

Every time I encounter this attitude, the old fear in me rises up, and I spend days and weeks vanquishing it again.  I have to re-remember that I am not living this life for the pleasure of any man; I’m living to glorify and enjoy God.  I have to re-remember that any man who stands in the way of that is not worthy of my respect, good feelings, friendship, attraction, time, commitment, or body.  And since I am having to re-remember it, I am re-reminding you, dear men: I do not exist for you.

It’s ironic.  The Field contains this sort of romantic subplot, and I was really conflicted about whether to leave it in or take it out.  I left it in because it’s so personal, but until today I hadn’t been able to formulate why it was so personal.  It’s only sort of romantic because the heroine doesn’t choose her love interest; she chooses her purpose.  And that’s what I’ve had to do a time or two.

Because I don’t exist for men.

 

 

 

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Nobody Goes to Hell Because They’re Gay

Nobody goes to hell because they’re gay.

This is going to ruffle some feathers, but that’s okay.  More and more, I seem to be in the business of ruffling feathers.

I just want to be incredibly clear.

Nobody goes to hell because they’re gay.

Just as nobody goes to hell because they’ve committed adultery, or murdered, or committed suicide, or molested a child, or violated an adult, or lied, or been arrogant, or whatever sin you deem as heinous or innocent.

If that were the case, we are all going to hell, because we have all sinned – we are all sinners. I don’t care how good or moral we think we are, sin is a part of our DNA from the time we are conceived, and we have all violated God’s perfect standards at one time or another.

There is one thing that separates those who are going to hell from those who are not, and that is Jesus Christ.  He is the only One who met God’s perfect standards, the only One who did not sin.  And He is the only Way anybody can access God, the only Way anybody can have victory over sin, the only way to eternal life.

In order to understand why we even need Jesus, we have to acknowledge the existence of a God who is not us.  He is completely perfect, and therefore, He is completely other from us.  He does not operate the way we do, or the way we think he should.  He cannot tolerate sin and requires a payment for it.

In order to understand why we need Jesus, we have to acknowledge that we are all sinners, no matter how good or moral we deem ourselves to be.  As sinners, none of us can hope to live perfect lives, and therefore, we are disqualified from ever being able to pay for our own sin.

That’s why we need Jesus, because God is perfect and we are not and cannot hope to be.  We need Jesus because He is God’s perfect Son and the only One qualified to pay for our sin, the only One able to bring about a new way of life – which He did, by being crucified and rising from the dead!

It’s so simple, and yet, the way I’ve come to see it is that two things stand as roadblocks to accepting Jesus in our human thinking:

1.  We have a construct of God that makes Him like us when He is not.  We have this idea that He thinks and acts the way we do when He does not.

2.  We don’t like to think of ourselves as sinners, unworthy to approach a God who is entirely other from us.  We are all about ourselves, our strengths, our worth, our independence, and we can’t stand being told that however good and moral we may be, we are not good enough for God.  We can’t stand being told that our lifestyle choices condemn us in God’s eyes, but they do.

While the sins of homosexuality, or adultery, or murder, or suicide, or molestation, or rape, or deception, or pride, or any other sin you can name absolutely keeps you from God, only one sin dooms you to hell: rejecting Jesus and your need for Him.

Without Him and His payment for sin, we are all hell-bound sinners.

In Him and with Him and only because of Him, we have the power to change lifestyles that violate God’s perfect standards. I’m not saying we don’t still struggle with sin or stumble in sin, but we do have power in and with and because of Christ to overcome!

These aren’t my rules.  These aren’t Phil Robertson’s rules, little as I care for his approach.  And as a sinner myself, I’m not judging you for how you choose to live your life, or what you believe about God, or what you believe about yourself.  I just want you to be aware that there is a Judge, He is perfect, and at some point we will all answer to Him, and we will all be evaluated by His standards, not the standards we’ve created for ourselves.

When I come to the point where God holds me accountable for my life and the sinful choices I’ve made, I’m not going to be able to say, “But look, God, I did this, this, and this right,” not because I haven’t done good things, but because those good things simply don’t make up for my sin.  Only Jesus does.  He is my only plea in God’s court.

Jesus is the ONLY plea in God’s court, and if you think you’re not going to hell because you’re good enough on your own or because the god you’ve formed in your mind wouldn’t send you there, I don’t care how you’ve lived, you’ve got another thing coming.

 

 

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I wouldn’t trade my path for anything

I get all sentimental around this time of year.  It’s graduation time, and while I’m not graduating, I usually know several people who are, and it just gets me thinking.

This year one of my closest friends graduated. She’s going to be the best teacher ever – she just has this spirit to nurture and teach, and she has since I met her.  I met her at the beginning of my senior year (almost four years ago … time flies!), and we bonded in home group and life group, over movie nights, soccer games, guy problems, and just life.  She’s very different from me, and we balance each other out well – she’s optimistic and idealistic, and I tend to be more pessimistic and cynical.  She’s been one of my biggest fans and supporters, and I’m really thankful for her.  God knew what I needed.

Yesterday, as a number of us were celebrating Hope and her accomplishments, I got to thinking (as I often do this time of year).  If my life had gone according to my plan, I would never have even met Hope.  I was supposed to go to UNT in the fall of 2008 and graduate in the spring of 2010.  There were a lot of hard, spirit-breaking things that happened that brought me to the decision not to take a year off of school, and I won’t rehash them here.  There were many things God did with me during that year and in the season following that made it extremely beneficial for me to have taken that time, as hard as it was.

Most of all, though, if I hadn’t gone through all of that hard stuff, I would never have met Hope.  (I wouldn’t have met a number of people that I am so glad to know now!)  God used Hope to re-access vision and well, hope in my own life.  God used Hope to help me rediscover my heart for romance (which through some of those hard things had gotten buried).  God used Hope to offer me understanding in a situation not many other people understood.  God redirected my path all those years ago (six of them now) in a very large part to bring Hope into my life.  She continues to be a source of vision, brighter thoughts, compassion, support in my life, and I really thank God for her every day.

I know God has great plans for her, and can’t wait to see all that He does in this next season! Love you, Hope!

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Not Everyone Works at McDonald’s Because They Want To

I want to get one thing out of the way at the outset: this post is not about whether or not the government should raise the minimum wage.

Honestly, I don’t care.  I live in the largely conservative state of Texas, so forgive me if this post comes across as irritable, but I’ve been hearing the same crap all day long.

It basically ALL goes like this.

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If you’ve been saying and supporting this stupidity, please stop.

I work two part-time jobs.  One of them is a minimum wage job.  I work a job that pays $7.25 an hour.  Apparently that’s because I have minimum skills, education, motivation, and contribution to the workplace.

Let me tell you about my minimum skills and experience.  I have mad coordination skills: I assure you I can organize and get things done like no other. I get things done, come hell or high water.  I’m an independent producer, so I have to be able to self-motivate to accomplish anything. I write, direct, film, act, oversee logistics and  cook (to motivate other people) just to get things done in my productions. I also worked for a year and a half as a television listings editor, which requires juggling like you would not believe.  I kick butt at communicating: I don’t think I’ve ever held a job that didn’t require high levels of interpersonal communication – in person, on the phone, via email.  If something ever needs to be said, I’m your girl: I’ll say it in the best way possible.  I’m also incredibly tech-savvy: I can operate, troubleshoot and repair A/V equipment.

Let me tell you about my minimum education.  I have a Bachelor of Arts in Radio, Television and Film from the University of North Texas.  That’s one of those majors where the first day of class, the professor walks in and says, “Look to your right.” And the whole class does.  “Okay, now look to your left.” And we do.  Then he states some overwhelming statistic where most of us don’t end up graduating with our degrees.  I got the best of those odds, and I do hold a degree, and am very skilled in my field.

Let me tell you about my minimum motivation. I work hard at my job that pays $7.25 an hour; in fact, I work harder in my minimum wage job than I do in my non-minimum wage job.  It’s just how that cookie crumbled.  But as I said before, I work two jobs.  Additionally, I self-advertise my book, The Field, because having someone else advertise it is WAY out of my budget (and would be way out of my budget even if I was earning a living wage).  Then, I set out to crank out 1,000 words for my second book, Update. On top of ALL of that, I’m still searching high and low for a full-time job that will pay a living wage AND develop my skill set.

Let me tell you about my minimum contribution to the workplace.  When I’m not waiting on customers (which entails making sure their needs are met and up-selling various products to them), I’m merchandising (making sure things in my store look good).  When I’m not helping someone find their power button, or projector remote, I’m updating computers, testing equipment, and otherwise ensuring things are running smoothly.  Not because I want to move up in the world, but because I own my job, and I own every job I take on.  It’s the right and responsible thing to do, regardless of your salary.

I hate (hate, hate, hate) this assumption that a person who works a minimum wage job is somehow a minimal person, or a person lesser than you with your big shot non-minimum wage job.  I hate the assumption that all it takes is work to get out of this minimum wage job and this minimal status as a human being, as if that’s all there is to it.

That’s not how it works.  I know and fully understand that there are entitled people out there who don’t want to do any work for anything.  I also know not everyone who wants to see a raise in the minimum wage are doing it out of some greedy, demanding, entitled motivation.  A lot of us just want to make enough to live, and the bottom line is that the current minimum wage is not a living wage, and it’s not as simple as just working harder and getting a better job. That’s not reality, and I feel genuinely sorry for you if you think it is.

Someone once said to me, “I hope there is a minimum wage increase and that you lose your job as a result.” (I guess so I learn my lesson not to support minimum wage increase?)

You know why I’m not going to lose my job as a result of a minimum wage increase?  Because contrary to the opinions of the people I’ve been hearing from all day, I’m not a minimal person, despite not making a living salary.  I go over and above every day, and it’s been noted by people who matter (i.e. the people who make hiring/termination decisions).   It doesn’t matter what you think of me in your job that you think you’ve earned because you’ve worked so much harder, because you don’t make those decisions. (Thank God).

I just hope that you (the people I’ve heard from all day) never have to live by the standard you’ve put out there today.  You’ve been proud and judgmental and have assumed the worst of people who really just want to make a living, and sometimes McDonald’s is the only place to do that.  I hope that you don’t come to find out what I’ve said today is true through experience.  I hope you find some compassion, some understanding for the real people in minimum wage jobs, not just your perceptions of who they are.  There may be some who are what you think they are, but most of us are not.

We just want to live.

 

 

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Persistent and Consistent

The two things I think God has been working with me on lately.

Persistent. Per-sis-tent. Adjective. The ability to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed.

Consistent. Con-sis-tent. Adjective. Always acting or behaving in the same way: of the same quality; especially, good each time.

Learning to be persistent and consistent in asking God to relocate me to Seattle, to provide for me emotionally and financially during the interim (however long that may be), and other personal stuff.

Learning to be persistent and consistent in my search for a full-time job.

Learning to be persistent and consistent in my writing projects: in advertising my recently-published book (The Field), in writing 1,000 words a day for my second book, and developing a Proverbs curriculum for Sunday School and Kids’ Clubs.

Honestly, there are days when none of this seems to be making any kind of difference at all, and its hard to be persistent and consistent.  There are days when I deal with emotional stuff and I don’t think I can cope, and its hard to go through any kind of daily routine, let alone to be persistent and consistent.

Today has been one. of. those. days.

As I was working on the Proverbs project, I reread two verses that reminded me of my purpose, especially as a writer:

A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men. (Proverbs 18:16).

Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before unknown men. (Proverbs 22:29).

While it’s not my goal to be known by great people, it is my goal to excel.  And in order to excel, I have to be persistent and consistent in my habits.

Nobody ever said that would be easy.

 

 

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The Proverbs 31 Man

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;ensure justice for those being crushed.Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT).

“I assisted the poor in their needand the orphans who required help.I helped those without hope, and they blessed me.And I caused the widows’ hearts to sing for joy. Everything I did was honest.Righteousness covered me like a robe,and I wore justice like a turban. I served as eyes for the blindand feet for the lame.I was a father to the poorand assisted strangers who needed help. I broke the jaws of godless oppressorsand plucked their victims from their teeth” (Job 29:12-17 NLT).

He’s a man of justice.  He’s an advocate.  He’s a warrior.

He has to be or he’d be no match for a woman of valor.

 

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Motherhood

What is motherhood but a life-giving force?

And that is what I endeavor to be.

When Waiting Is a Gift

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been waiting.  Specifically, I’ve been waiting for a relocation to Seattle.  Some days, I’ve been waiting patiently; other days, not so much.  As time goes by, the not-so-much-patience days outnumber the patient ones.

Last night on my drive home, I was talking to God, and I was reminded of this post, written about fourteen months ago:

I feel like God is preparing me for something big. I don’t know what it is or how it will come to be. I only know that when God tells me something big is coming, I can expect it to be incredibly challenging. Most likely it will break me, humble me, and push me well past what I think are my limits.

God has also convicted me that this something big will be a source of incredible blessing, not just to me, but to others as well. So I’ve been praying it into my life.

I don’t like to wait, but as I wait on this something big, God has assured my heart that this wait is vital. It is the calm before the storm. I will need this time to prepare. And in this something big, I’ll be glad I’ve had this time.

So, for the first time in my life, I am content to wait.

Weird.

I was reminded that what I was waiting for then is the same thing I am waiting for now, but I was more able to see the wait as a gift then.  Over time, as the vision and call have become clearer, the wait has become more of a burden.

Talking with God about it, here’s what I think has happened: I have over-romanticized what I’m being called to.  Not that it won’t be good and exciting, but it’s going to be hard.  And this time of waiting? It’s meant to be a time of respite, a time of preparation.

I want to get back to that place where I was fourteen months ago, where I was so at peace in God’s timing and His ability to make things happen, that I was content to wait.

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