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To young families at Christmas

Published December 25, 2015 by joypatton

IMG_0710For all the moms who are just beginning families: be intentional about the traditions you begin. They will be the things your kids remember, and it becomes very sweet as your kids get older and take over.

I remember one of the first Christmases we had as a little family. I tried to do all the things my family did and all the things everyone else said we should do. From big meals to Santa to Elf on the Shelf. I was exhausted at the end. So I decided to start some new traditions. The only rule was that it had to be easy for me. Yes, it sounds selfish, but going into Christmas with an exhausted mom is no fun either.

Fifteen years into making our family, I wanted to share some of the ones that have stuck, and the payoff is good.

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Joy, Hope and Faith in 2009.

Christmas Eve – I remember coming home from Christmas Eve service after getting everyone dressed. I wanted a big meal, but I didn’t want to make it at the end of the day. So I started doing a pot roast in the crock pot. All you have to do it warm rolls when you get home, and you have a great meal. This year was ingenious because I used stew meat instead of a roast. Delicious! (See the recipe below) After dinner, everyone opens one gift: a pair of PJ’s. Everyone has a new look for Christmas morning, and the little ones satisfy the urge to open a gift.

Overnight Breakfast Casserole – What I love about this one is that you make everything the night before and let it sit in the fridge. On Christmas morning, I just wake up and put it in the oven while we open gifts. This is one of my kids’ favorite traditions. My oldest told me this morning, “This casserole is the only reason I get up on Christmas morning now that I’m a teen.” The best part is that this morning I got an extra hour of sleep because my 13-year-old helped me make it last night, and I told him he could start baking it in the morning. I got out of bed, and it was all ready to go. Merry Christmas to me! (See the recipe below.)

Kids Giving Gifts – One of my favorite traditions is having my kids buy each other gifts. I used to think everyone did this, but I have found out that it’s not very common. When we do our Christmas budget, I include enough for each kid to buy each of their siblings a $10 gift. It helps them to think about each other and keeps them focused on others…a little. This Christmas we used our Citicard Thank You points from my husband’s business card to buy gifts on Amazon. All the kids made wish lists, and shopping was really easy. Each kid sat with me at the computer and picked out gifts for each other. When they came, they helped wrap them. It was so sweet to watch Faith’s face light up as she watched her big brother open the gift she picked out for him.

I love this because it teaches my children how to give good gifts and think of others. This year we didn’t have enough money in the budget for them to buy gifts for mom and dad, but my oldest used some of his own money to get gifts for Andrew and me. They were things we actually wanted. He has learned to watch and listen to see what people need. He has learned that giving gifts is as satisfying as getting them.

As far as Santa and Elf on the Shelf, I’ve tried to avoid them, partly because we didn’t do either one in my family of origin. I don’t like that Santa gets credit for the best gifts, and an Elf that goes around the house and makes more messes for me to clean up is insanity defined.

We dabbled in Santa with my boys, but when they figured it out, we decided not to attempt it with the girls. However Faith, my six-year-old drug me back into it this year and her older sister Hope (age 8) played along with her. They each got one gift from Santa, and the stockings were filled after the kids went to bed.

I’ve learned that inviting some close friends over for Christmas dinner in the evening is just right because by that time we are tired of each other, and we prefer to travel to Ohio at Thanksgiving so that we can have our own family traditions for Christmas at our house. Last night we had our own little candle-lighting service. My boys instinctively started humming “Silent Night” because that’s what we always sing at church.

From left to right: Faith, Hope, Kyle and Connor

It’s so rewarding as a mom to watch these traditions become a part of the fabric of our family. The kids did most of the decorating this year because the decorations always go in the same spot, and they know where to put them. When I am old and tired, they will carry on. When they start their own families, our traditions will help them enjoy the holiday as parents.

I’ve seen the reward of being intentional about these things. As a young mom, sometimes you wonder if the day will ever come. I’m here to tell you that it will. When it does, it’s very sweet and fulfilling to a momma’s heart.

 

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Stuck: Letters from Prison

Published March 29, 2014 by joypatton

letter-writing-picLately I’ve been thinking about and having conversations with other people about the idea of being imprisoned in a metaphorical, spiritual sense.  It’s a season when you just don’t feel like you have what you need to do what God has called you to do.  I have been through the wasteland and discovered who I am and who God is and who God says I am.  But now, I just feel stuck.  I don’t lack the vision, but I do lack the resources…the time, the money, the magical networking connections and coincidences that make a project go. It’s a time that feels like God is intentionally keeping my world small.  I dug the ditches, but he has to make it rain.  I set the sails, but he has to make the wind blow.  There is no rain, and there is no wind.

Maybe it’s a career that you want to have, but just can’t get the right opportunities.  In fact, you land exactly where you don’t want to be.  Maybe you are a full-time working mom that would rather be a stay-at-home mom, but the money just isn’t there or you feel like you’re working alone.  Maybe you dream of adopting a child, but your life circumstances make that impossible.  Maybe you want to serve more at church, but the real job in the real world takes everything you have.  Maybe you have big plans for what you would like to do, maybe even kingdom work, but you deal with a chronic illness that robs you of energy and keeps your world small.  Maybe it’s been a series of unfortunate events that has taken away people or events, and you feel like you are starting over.  Maybe, like me, God gave you a dream, but the dream doesn’t put money in the bank, at least not as much as your family needs.

Almost a years ago, the walls had closed in so much that something needed to change.  I had publishers that were interested in my book, but none that actually pulled the trigger.  I was booked to speak for a women’s retreat, and then I was unbooked.  I was told there was a teaching spot for me at church, and then there wasn’t.  So I did an online Bible study that was very successful, and then I tried another one that didn’t work so well.  The entire year felt like a series of “yes’s” followed by “no’s.”  The walls were closing in, and the money was tight too.  We had cut everything I was willing to cut out of the budget, so it was time to make a change.

Reluctantly, angrily, I started looking for a job, a very depressing process when you haven’t held a full-time job in 13 years and haven’t even had a part-time job for three.  I sent my resume off into cyber space with no response.  It didn’t stand a chance next to people who had actually been getting real experience while I was at home with preschoolers.  I made excuses about how I could never find something that would fit my schedule or pay enough to cover childcare expenses.

But when I told some friends I was looking for a job, I got a part-time job as a personal assistant that could work around my schedule.  This job got me working again.  I remembered how good it felt to be paid for the work you do, something full-time motherhood doesn’t grant.  I also realized that my purpose in life was very simple: to love and serve people no matter where I was.

Then at the end of the summer, we decided I really needed to be working full-time, another Facebook post got me a another part-time job as a PR assistant.  This prompted me to find a full-time childcare solution for my 4-year-old.  I worked in the morning in Nolensville and then drove to downtown Nashville in the afternoon.  I was still loving and serving people, and my work was appreciated.  That felt good, but I began to realize that I really missed teaching.  I was made to teach.

Then I found out about a long-term substitute teacher position at my son’s middle school.  I was offered the job, even though it meant having my own son in class.  But the benefit was that I got to know his friends and teachers.  When the teacher I was subbing for came back, I started subbing every day.  I remembered that I loved teaching.  One day when I was subbing, I met the principal and told her that “Any day I’m teaching is a good day.”

The depression and the anger slowly lifted, but the uncertainty remained.  But God had a plan, a plan that he unfolded right in front of my eyes.  I interviewed for a high school English teaching position that was opening mid-year.  The principal offered me the job at the end of the interview.  What??  So here I am, loving and serving people, teaching senior English, Film as Literature and Creative Writing at a school that “does things differently” with a different kind of students.  It’s a perfect fit for me.

I was talking to a fellow teacher this week.  He asked if I still felt like I was still in prison.  I smiled and said, “I’ve been moved out of the maximum security part and now I’m on a work relief program.”  I don’t know when this sentence will end.  I don’t know if the walls will magically fall down, and I’ll discover this is my new dream.  I do know that I really love my job.  I am grateful for God’s provision for our family and for group health insurance.  Any day I’m teaching is a god day.  Anywhere that I can love and serve people is a good thing.

That’s the trick of prison: learning how to be who you were made to be, to be fully alive and not give up hope.  Joseph modeled that for us in his prison experience.  He was still a leader.  He still used his gifts.  He still interpreted dreams, and he never lost hope.  At least not in the parts that we see.  He ultimately trusted God with his dream, and that’s what I must do as well.

Lessons from the Wasteland: Prison is Not the Same as the Wilderness

Published March 18, 2014 by joypatton

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Being in prison is not the same as wandering in the wilderness.  In Scripture, we see different characters deal with these two different challenges.  The Israelites and Elijah experienced the wilderness.  Joseph and Paul were familiar with prison.  Lately I’ve been identifying with Joseph more than the Israelites.  Unjustly accused, misunderstood, thrown away, discarded, locked up, prevented from going where I would choose to go.  I used to think that the wilderness was difficult, but prison is a whole different story.

In the wilderness, you still feel like you are moving forward.  Sure it’s slow and the steps are difficult and painful, but at least you are moving.  In prison, you don’t go anywhere.  You don’t feel like you are making any progress at all.

In the wilderness, you see the sky.  You are in a vast, expanding place.  In prison, it’s small and confusing.  There is no freedom; no illusion of freedom.  Everything you see, everywhere you turn you are reminded that you are not free.

In the wilderness, you are moving away from something bad, something that enslaved you.  Even though you dream of going back and long for the comfort of Egypt, you know that the wilderness will ultimately bring you to the promised land, a better place.  Each painful step is filled with the hope of a land flowing with milk and honey.

In prison, the good thing you had was taken away.  Joseph was taken out of a prestigious position.  Paul was taken out of his traveling ministry.  Both good things; both things given by God.  In prison, the good things were taken away without just cause, and there is no hope of a promised land.  Your only hope is early release, and years of working your way back to a good reputation.  But you have no control over when the locked door will open.  For Joseph, it opened and led to his ultimate dream.  For Paul, it opened and ended with a death sentence, which he joyfully received to enter the ultimate, eternal promised land.

You don’t really get new promises in prison.  You generally harken back to what God promised before prison. This is why it’s called faith; it’s difficult to see the promised land sitting in a dungeon cell.

In the wasteland, you know there is a purpose, a point you will eventually get to.  In prison, waiting is the point.  You feel stuck.  It’s like the progress is so slow and so small, you wonder if you are getting anywhere.

The lesson of the wilderness is to follow.  Step after painful step completely dependent on someone else to guide you.  The lesson of prison is to suffer.  To suffer joyfully.  To suffer and not lose faith.  To suffer and remain hopeful.

The wilderness and prison are both places of testing.  Testing of faith.  Prison is a test of character; you find out who you are and what you really believe when you are sitting alone in the dark.  Both test endurance and patience.

Prison makes you question what you thought you knew about yourself.  Joseph emerged from prison broken and humbled.  He was no longer the cocky kid brother boasting of his greatness.  He left a mature man who understood his fate rested solely in the hands of the sovereign God.  Paul was in prison so that he could write the words that impacted not only his generation, but many that followed.  I wonder if he would have taken time off from traveling if it hadn’t been for house arrest.  Prison is not without purpose.  Prison is not outside the presence of God.  He is still with me, and that is the hope that remains in this cold, confined space.

The Princess and the Audition

Published January 20, 2014 by joypatton

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L’Audition by Himitsuhana

“I’m not going to audition for the musical.”  My young friend looked me in the eye and said it.  I asked a few follow up questions, but all her answers made sense.  She didn’t want to deal with the drama of the drama people.  She didn’t want all the stress because she knew she had a good chance of getting a major role.  She wanted to get a job and make some money, so she could go out and have fun with her friends her senior year.  She knew she wasn’t going to pursue anything with theater after she graduated, so she just didn’t see the point.

A few days later my young friend and her mom showed up at my door.  “We need you to give us some advice.”  Even though I was reluctant to give advice (said with false humility and sarcasm), I agreed to listen.  “Mom wants me to audition, and I don’t want to.”  Once again I listened to her well-thought out reasons and justifications.  Then I turned and heard her mom’s sadness as she thought of her daughter’s high school experience ending without the lead role in the spring musical.  Her mother had watched her light up on stage for years.  She watched her daughter soar in many shows, and she quietly beamed inside with pride.  Her mom had a hard time imagining watching the spring production without her daughter on stage, and yet my young friend insisted she was at peace with not auditioning.

After I encouraged my good friend to let her daughter make her own decisions and bear the burden of the potential regret, I turned and asked a few questions to my young friend, a struggling Ice Queen like myself.  How much of this decision is based on your desire for control?   To control your destiny and not do what everyone expects you to do?  How much is based on your desire for shock value?  The fact that everyone would be shocked that she didn’t audition because they all knew the part was hers.  Trust me, I get shock value.  I get the rush of the Ice Queen when people are surprised.  Which choice requires more faith?  She knew the cost of time and energy of having a major part in a musical.  It would cost a lot, and she was afraid that it would cost too much with little return.  She preferred the more predictable choice of the job at the local chocolate shop where she got a paycheck at the end of the week and predictable hours.

The Ice Queen does what she wants, but the Princess does what the Father wants.  The Ice Queen won’t go anywhere she doesn’t want to go, especially when she can’t see the end.  The Princess goes where the Father asks her to go, even if she doesn’t see the point.  The Ice Queen carefully measures her own time and energy, but the Princess trusts the King to give her the time and energy to do what he has called her to do.  The Ice Queen has to make her own provisions.  The Princess trusts the Father to provide for all her needs.  The Ice Queen seeks her own glory and carefully strategizes her placement.  The Princess trusts the Father to place her where she needs to be to glorify him.   

When they left, I didn’t know what my young friend would decide.  A few days later she told me that she had auditioned.   “It was the best audition I had ever given.  I usually walk away not liking what I did, but this time, I knew it went really well.”  That’s what happens when a Princess walks into a room trusting God to be at work.  The pressure isn’t on her because she is just doing what God made her to do.  The Ice Queen only trusts herself and her own ability, which makes her incredibly nervous because she knows her weaknesses.

After the audition, my young friend got a call back to audition again for the lead roles.  At one point, she decided not to participate in another reading for a different part that she didn’t want.  However she heard God tell her that she needed to go do everything that was asked of her.  Like a true Princess, she went back into the audition on the arm of the King, entrusting herself to him.  Providentially she was able to read again for the part she really wanted, an opportunity she wouldn’t have had if she had left.

A few days later the cast list was posted.  She had the female lead, the part everyone knew she would get.  But more importantly she learned what it felt like to completely trust the Father.  To walk into a situation, knowing that it was all up to him.  To set aside what she wanted and to do what he wanted her to do.  Now that she knows what that feels like, she will also know what it feels like when the Ice Queen is pushing, driving and not trusting the King to be in charge.

“… but [Jesus] continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (I Peter 2:23)

Maybe you don’t have an audition, but maybe he’s asking you to go into a job interview or on a date with that guy who keeps asking you. Maybe he’s asking you to make a phone call or write a letter, but you just don’t see the point.  No matter what the situation is, the question for the Princess still remains:  Will you entrust yourself to him?

Sacred Service

Published August 29, 2013 by joypatton

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I stood at the back of the room dressed in a tuxedo shirt and bow tie with black pants. The emotions caught me by surprise. As I looked around the room, I saw familiar faces. I looked at the person on stage. I used to be that person, the one standing on the stage in the front of the room giving the keynote address. I wanted to be that person again. But today I was standing in the back of the room wearing an apron and cleaning up dirty dishes. It was a painful reminder that I was not where I used to be.

To me, it felt like a giant demotion. Being there as part of the catering staff felt like a declaration of my failure. I guess the book thing didn’t work for her, so now the poor thing has to wait tables. The voice of the accuser haunted my ears. “See, you tried too hard, you went too fast, you pushed too hard and you ruined it. Now you will never have it because you messed it up. Everyone else knew you weren’t ready, that you were too young, but you didn’t listen. You kept pushing anyway.” All of his words confirmed to me that I was an Orphan, unworthy and abandoned…unloved.

But I kept serving and smiling. I texted my husband to ask him to pray. He knew what it felt like. He had friends show up at concerts where he was working security and not the green room. He reminded me that we were doing what we had to so that we could provide for our family. I hated that. I hated doing this to provide and not the things I loved doing, that I was gifted to do, that I was called to do. And then I became the Accuser. If God wanted to, he could have made it so. He could have made our efforts successful. But he didn’t. The proof was as plain as day… he must not love us after all.

And in my desperate prayer for help, I heard his voice. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. It makes no difference to me whether you are standing on a platform in the front of the room or standing with the catering staff in the back of the room. It’s all service. All of it is serving me and my purposes for my glory. I don’t care where you are standing; I care about your heart.”  I asked him to forgive me for putting him in the wrong.

He is lovingly teaching me what it means to serve. I’m learning to be content serving in the back. I’m finding joy in serving others and helping others’ dreams come true. God, in his amazing grace, has even given me friends to serve alongside. Last weekend some friends who were in Bible studies with me years ago came and worked at my catering job too. What fun it was to serve together again! So we weren’t planning a women’s retreat or doing a weekly women’s Bible study. But it was still sacred because we were doing what Jesus did when he took up the basin and the towel.

Recently I was filling out another job application, and it asked where I saw myself in five years. I used to be able to answer this question easily because I was very goal-oriented. However now I’m in a place I never planned to be, and my goals are completely worthless when matched against God’s sovereign plan.  I’ve learned that I am and will always be a follower of Jesus. And Jesus had no career goals or plans. He simply did whatever the Father asked him to do; he went wherever the Father asked him to go; he said whatever the Father asked him to say. And everything was overshadowed by two words: loving and serving.  By his example, Jesus made all service sacred.

I don’t know where my “career” is going, but I do know that wherever the Father asks me to go, I will be loving and serving others, hopefully just like Jesus did.   I serve at the pleasure of the King, and I will go wherever he asks me to go…to a tiny back room to make jewelry, to a marketing firm as a PR assistant, to my family at home or standing in the back of the room in a tuxedo shirt and apron.  Some day I may even stand on a platform again delivering a keynote address, but it will still be about loving and serving people, and it will be no greater or more significant or more important than where I am serving and loving today.  It’s all loving and serving people. It’s all pleasing to the Lord when my heart is the heart of a Princess.  Just like Jesus, I serve at the pleasure of the King.

 

Free Advice Friday: I believe in God. I just don’t think He is good and kind.

Published June 14, 2013 by joypatton

Okay…so I stole this one from The Wally Show on WayFM.  Wally used this comment from his email as a 10-second topic about whether God is good.  He asked what you would say to this person, so that got me thinking…

What if the only part of planet earth that you experienced was the desert?  Everyone told you that the earth was beautiful, full of green and blue, but all you ever knew was brown and hot.  They also told you the earth was round, but from where you stood it only looked flat.  At some point, you would have to decide whether or not to believe what they said.

Then imagine that one day you went to outer space and saw for yourself what was true.  That the earth was round, that it was beautiful.  You would see that it wasn’t just one giant desert as your experience told you, but that the desert parts were outnumbered by the beautiful greens and blues.  You would be able to see the whole picture.

That’s how it is with God.  “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:12)  Some day we will know how the deserts fit into God’s beautiful plan, but now we know in part.  We are finite, and God is infinite.  We only see from our small perspective, but God sees everything, beginning and end at the same time.  That would be why He is God and I am not.

What’s interesting to me is that it requires some degree of faith to believe that God even exists.  So why not believe that God is also kind and good?  Both require faith.  At times I feel like God isn’t there, and I feel like he is an apathetic and indifferent to my suffering.  But those are the times I must rely on the Truth that I know from His Word.  That is when what I know in part overrides what I feel. Faith is believing what we cannot see.  I choose to believe that the earth is round, even though I haven’t been to space to see for myself.  I trust the pictures and words of others who have been to outer space, just like I trust the pictures and words God gives in Scripture.  Personally if I’m going to believe in God, then I will believe that he is good and kind.  When I judge God as evil and unkind, I make myself god, and I believe that I know more than God.  How absurd for the finite to judge the infinite!

My prayer is that God will show Himself to you.  That God will show you that He is caring, kind, fair and good.  That you will come to know him as a loving Father, not a tyrannical king.  That you will come to see that the Creator knows you fully and loves you completely and unconditionally.  That you might have a small glimpse of what God sees when he looks you and sees the bigger picture of your life.

Lessons from the Wasteland: Living by the Promise

Published March 26, 2013 by joypatton

“Are we going to live by what he promised or by what life gives us?”  This was the question Lloyd Shadrach posed in his sermon “He Breathed His Last.”  Right now I’m not crazy about what life is giving me and I’m finding it much easier to focus on that.  The last two years I have been writing a book, piloting a study, building a “platform,” and wholeheartedly pursuing the life of the writer/speaker I felt I was called and created to be.  I thought that would lead me to a place where I could get paid to do what I love.  But it hasn’t.  I thought I had laid the foundation beautifully and all God had to do was come in a bless it.  He hasn’t.  I have dug the ditches in anticipation of rain, but it has not rained.  I have set the sails, but the wind doesn’t blow.  So I sit in the wasteland knowing I have no ability to make it rain or make the wind blow.  I can’t make someone want to publish my book; I can’t make anyone pick up the phone and call me to speak.  So I wait in the middle of nowhere, in the wasteland, in the wilderness…at least that how it feels to me.

In the wasteland, there is death.  For me, it’s watching my dream career die, and I mean completely die.  Other times it’s the death of other dreams…dreams of marriage, dreams of having children, dreams of financial stability.  Or maybe it’s a literal death of a person or a death of a relationship.  In Luke 23, it was the death of the Son of God.  The one who represented hope to a nation.  Many watched their dream of peace and power die as Jesus hung on the cross.

Lloyd offered two “comforting” lessons from this place of mourning.  1.) God is present in our darkest moments and 2.) God doesn’t prevent the darkest moments.  Both true, yet both not exactly what I was hoping for.  In our modern Christianity, we want the doctrine that allows us to work hard enough to avoid the house of mourning all together.  We want the version where there are no more tears, and we try to make it so here on earth.  In the church, we don’t know what to do with people in mourning.  We offer trite sayings and try to see how God is going to work it all out for good.  But the truth is first there is death, painful, excruciating death.

Lloyd also said, “The essence of real hope is to lose hope in everything but Jesus and his promises.”  In his infinite mercy, God was weaning the disciples and true followers of Jesus from their false hopes of earthly peace and power.  When he died on the cross, every selfish reason they had for following Jesus had to die as well.  This is what he is doing for me.  I have lost hope in agents and publishers to help me fulfill my dream.  I’ve lost hope that building a platform will make the dream come true.  I’ve lost hope in my own ability and some days wonder if I was a fool to think I could be a writer/speaker.  And truthfully there have been very dark days when I have lost hope even in Jesus, wondering if he cared or if he loved me.

I stood in church at the end of the service praying and asking God what his promise was for me.  Often I have reminded women that the promise is his presence, that he would be with me through it all.  But last Sunday, that promise was not enough.  And then he brought to mind a different promise, one that I’m honestly afraid to share because I don’t even know if it counts as a promise.  It was I Peter 5:6 “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”  This one was enough; this one made me cry.

So I will hope for a resurrection.  A resurrection that will not come on my time table or in the way I think I should.  It will be a resurrection that comes exactly when God intends for it to come.  In John 11 when Lazarus died, Mary and Martha believed that Jesus had the ability to raise Lazarus from the dead, and they knew Jesus loved him.  When Martha ran out to meet Jesus, she says she believes that Lazarus will be resurrected, if not now then at the end.  Even in their own personal wasteland, they continued to hope for a resurrection.  I think Mary and Martha would have preferred Jesus to come and heal Lazarus when he heard he was sick, but he didn’t because it wasn’t time yet.  Why did Jesus wait and not go to Bethany right away?  Why did he wait until Lazarus had died?  Why did he wait for him to be buried in the tomb for three days?  “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  (John 11:4)

What Jesus wanted more than anything was to glorify the Father.  Because at the proper time, the resurrection will happen and no one else can take credit for it.  No one can say “he wasn’t really dead.”  No one can say “we prayed so hard and had so much faith that God had to act.”  I won’t be able to say “I just worked really hard at it and followed steps X, Y, and Z and that’s how I became a writer/speaker.”  More than anything what I want as His Princess is for the King to be glorified.  I know the wasteland does not end in death, but in life.  I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but for now I place my hope firmly in Jesus and his promises.  That is the difference between false hope and real hope.

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