An Open Letter {to Everyone I Know}: Please Forgive Me

October 17, 2016
An Open Letter {to Everyone I Know}: Please Forgive Me

I used to have the nickname “sunshine,” but for several years now I’ve been nothing but a dark cloud. I apologize for being a black hole instead of a life-giving light.

I have become person I hate, therefore I have been unable to truly love anyone.
I apologize for taking instead of giving, for failing to love you.
The roots of unforgiveness for those that hurt me grew bitterness in my heart. This bitterness took root, grew out, & gave me sharp edges. I apologize for harboring unforgiveness & the effect it has had on my demeanor and how I have treated you.
{You can’t get too close to something with sharp edges or you’ll get hurt too.}

I allowed the bitterness in my heart to create a victim mentality about myself instead of seeing myself through God’s eyes. From this mindset, I built walls to protect myself from any additional hurt. Instead of being vulnerable, I have been guarded – treating everyone like a possible enemy and on the lookout for only myself. With walls around my heart, I have repeatedly acted out of selfishness and self-preservation instead of with generosity and love. I apologize for believing lies that caused me to put myself before you, always be on guard, and unable to trust you.

Mad at God about the injustices I faced, about how I was been treated, and about how – despite how faithful I felt I was to Him, I was wounded so badly – I ceased to see Him as a good Father who wants only good for His children. I couldn’t see His faithfulness to me. I couldn’t see why He allowed me to be hurt and why evil seemed to prevail. What a person believes about God is probably the single greatest determinant in what they believe about themselves and what they believe about others. I apologize for not viewing God rightly – causing hurt to myself, causing hurt to you, and resulting in a poor representation to the world about who God really is.

Hurt people hurt people.

During and after my time as a missionary, I was extremely hurt by a series of events and people. I won’t deny that even after over three and a half years, I have to battle and lay down my desire to right the major injustices that remain. Instead of forgiving and allowing God to carry out my justice, I have allowed the deep hurt to penetrate my heart, where my source of light is supposed to reside. I have allowed how I was treated to shape my belief of who God is, and what kind of love I deserve.

In this condition, I have only been able to take instead of give.
In this condition, I have become a dark, bitter person, strangled by unforgiveness.
In this condition, I have used all my energy protecting my heart by building walls and rough edges to keep others out.
In this condition, I have believed lies about who I am and about the intentions of others.
In this condition, I have viewed God wrongly and therefore responded to Him and to the world disgracefully.

Sometimes it feels as if your heart can’t handle any more hurt, so you build walls to protect it, most of the time without even realizing you are doing so. This wall-building process, however, not only failed to keep me from hurting, it buried me under more weight that crushed my already-shattered heart and pushed away the people I loved most. In the process of trying to protect my crushed heart, I ceased to be myself at all, and I hurt others. Many others.

But the truth is, who I am isn’t a dark cloud or a black hole.
Maybe some days. But that’s not me. I refuse.
I’m sunshine, just as my co-workers used to call me when I walked in the door to work every day. Elizabeth isn’t a guarded heart or a solid concrete wall. She’s vulnerable, giving, trusting, and has a passion for loving and serving others. She puts others before herself and has an enormous capacity to love. A giant heart. A heart that shouldn’t be guarded by the limitations of an inflexible, cold wall or strangled by roots of unforgiveness.

I have to stop defining myself & my current life by what happened, justice or not.
It happened. It hurt. Bad. But it doesn’t define me. It doesn’t continue on today.
It happened and now it’s over.
I am not what happened.
I am not my mistakes
or my sins
and
I am not how people treated me.

I am more. Much more.

I choose to believe this truth.
I choose to believe that I am worth more than how I’ve been treated.
I choose to believe and understand that I have sinned and made mistakes just as those who hurt me, and because of this, forgiveness is the answer. Forgiveness is due not only for those who hurt me, but for myself as well. I am commanded to forgive if I expect Jesus to give me the forgiveness I desperately need.
I choose to believe in the love God has for me, and that injustices hurt His heart infinitely more than they have hurt mine.
I choose to believe that this is why He sent Jesus, to prove on this earth His power over sin and death and all the works of the enemy… and that includes all the harm done to me and my life.
I choose to believe that when Jesus returns as He promised, He will destroy the enemy and his works and take his rightful place as King. He will set up His Kingdom on earth, righting all the wrongs, healing broken hearts, and making me and all of creation completely new, whole, beautiful, and perfect.
I choose to cling to Him until then, believing the refreshing truth of His word.
I choose to love myself… because He loves me, He has forgiven me, and He has made me new.

I ask for your forgiveness for the years of bitterness that stole my capacity to love you as I should have. For all the times I should have loved you better, listened to your heart, and put you and your feelings before my own. I ask for your forgiveness for all my harsh words and the awful negativity that has seeped (and sometimes poured) out of my bitter heart.

I ask for your patience as I ask God to smash the heart walls, whether in Joshua and the walls of Jericho form all at once, or like Andy in the Shawshank Redemption – one chisel, one pocketful of rock at a time.

I will be free!

Finally, I ask for your grace as I relearn how to love myself. I have really bad habits that need to be broken – like verbally assaulting myself on a daily basis. I have really hated myself. I hate who I have become and hate the damage I see all around me as a result of these past few years of being so incredibly lost and broken. Bad habits take time to be broken. So I need your grace for when I revert to old ways, and your love to walk with me through it.
Thank you to those who have continued to walk with me, even as I have bruised your heart in the process. You are and will always be my heroes.

I want to love you better.
You deserve it.
And so do I.

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For the Sake of Perfection

Early in my pregnancy, my husband and I took a vacation.
I swear, had God left me a note or something a couple months prior, I would have made sure we vacationed BEFORE then.

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Hey, btw… you’re gonna get pregnant in June.
Schedule accordingly.

Love, God
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No one wants to spend every morning of their precious summer vacation hugging the hotel toilet. Or trashcan. Or sink. Or experiencing the first of pregnancy bloat and ballooning while in a bathing suit.
Yah. Glorious.

But alas… we were 13 hours away from home in beautiful South Carolina, and I was SICK.

Sometimes life doesn’t flow the way you anticipate.

Those of you who have been with me on my journey since I began writing know that I am a recovering perfectionist. I am constantly battling against ideas of “If I had done this, then that would have turned out better,” or, “If only I had known about variable A, then variable B would have been better.”
I have come to realize (largely thanks to my husband, who never says anything remotely negative) that constantly assessing “what could have been better” in a situation or event makes me come across as a pessimist.

From my point of view in these moments, I’ve always thought that I was not being negative, but was rather seeking how I could do things with excellence and experience life in the best way possible.
However, I have come to realize that instead of being praised as an excellent Quality Control Manager of Life (why doesn’t this exist?!), I instead come across as an ungrateful, never satisfied, cup-always-half-empty kind of person. My actions and experiences are never as good as they “could have been if…”

If I let go of my idea of a “perfect” scenario, my eyes are opened to the possibilities God has for me. Perhaps the person standing right in front of me that may not have been there had I followed my perfect Plan A. My strategizing would instead be replaced with gratitude. My living in the past would be replaced with a heart fully immersed in the present, beautiful, imperfect moments of life.

I have come to realize since our vacation that letting go of the pursuit of perfection seems to be a foreign concept in many churches in our culture.

Churches want to be so polished that everything flows perfectly, like a Broadway production. No errors in the worship lyrics, the lyric slides change at the perfect time in the song, lights dim and come back up like clockwork, and no one distracts from the service by crying, spontaneously coming up for prayer, or heaven forbid, exiting their seat to use the restroom.
It’s controlled… it’s perfect… it’s a production.

While on vacation, Chris & I made the drive to a popular South Carolina church that has campuses all over the state. I used to listen to its pastor regularly, and admired him and the way that his church had grown over the years. I had attended at several different campuses each time I visited the state, and was excited for Chris to visit with me.

On the drive to church, I was so nauseous, I almost barfed all over the floorboard of the car. I made it through the beautiful worship set, but as the pastor began his message, I knew it was coming. I got up and left all my things in my seat – purse, phone, husband – – to run to the bathroom. When I was finished being sick, I cleaned myself up and attempted to head back into the auditorium.
That’s right. Attempted.
As I pulled on the doors befuddled why they weren’t opening, I heard someone approach me from behind.

“I’m so sorry, but once the service starts, you’re not allowed to go back in.”
*blank stare*
“I’m sorry… WHAT??”

The lady explained to me as kindly as she could that the church had a policy that doors were to be locked once the service began to decrease distractions. After all, she said, there were “lighting and sound issues to consider.”

In my disbelief, I stammered that I had left my purse and my phone inside, and my husband, who was locked inside, wouldn’t know where I was. She kind of shrugged and squished up her face and had no solution but for me to wait in the foyer on some folding chairs and watch the service from the outside of the auditorium on a small TV.

I was so livid, I couldn’t bring myself to even sit on those stupid, cold folding chairs that they had so kindly set out for their outcasts and pregnant women who may have to run and barf in the bathroom as to not disrupt the service.
I told her I wish I’d barfed in the aisle so that at least I could have enjoyed the rest of the service with my husband.
(I wonder how that would have affected their production.)

There was not a single announcement made about this policy, nor were there any signs on the door.

Fortunately, my sweet husband came out to check on me, and as I had prayed to God that he would (lest we have to wait until the entire service was over to retrieve our things), he brought all of our things with him! I sighed in relief that he had our things as I watched, unbeknownst to him, the door lock behind him. He was obviously confused as to why I was sitting alone with a tear-stained face and hadn’t come back into the auditorium. I cried to him, in my humiliation, about what had happened. He was just as shocked as I, and after consoling me, went to speak with someone in charge (as any good, protective husband would do)!

I’m proud of him for keeping his cool while simultaneously standing up for his wife and seeking to understand this crazy policy. (When I’m hurt, I tend to have a limited supply of “polite” and my filter no longer exists.) While the person in charge was apologetic, they stood by their policy, and we left the church, completely uninterested by this point in what the pastor on the TV in the foyer had to say.

I have NEVER in my LIFE felt so humiliated and unwelcome in a church.
Can you imagine if I had been a first time visitor that wasn’t a Christian?!

I work up the nerve to attend church… maybe curious what this thing is all about. HUGE step of bravery, right? But wait… nature calls during the service. I go to the bathroom. And then… BAM. Locked out.

“Sorry, you’re not welcome here.”

Why?

“Oh… we try to keep things flowing PERFECTLY around here. And if you go inside, you’ll mess it up.”

Soon after we returned from our vacation, we were dying to share the exciting news of our pregnancy with our friends and church family. We wanted to wait, however, until after we had heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time so that we could share the recording as a part of our announcement. Finally, the long-awaited 10-week visit came, and we heard the beautiful sound of life growing inside of me. Our recording was made, and I put the finishing touches on the announcement video I’d been working on, complete with that beautiful little heartbeat.

That Friday night before the big announcement to the world, we celebrated with our Freestyle ministry family as we stood in front of the crowd and played our little baby’s heartbeat over the loudspeakers and announced the news. What a sweet moment to share with this group of friends we’ve grown to love as family over the years.

It was incredibly difficult to continue to keep the news a secret, but I wanted to at least wait until we’d had the opportunity to share with our church family on Sunday morning. After all, we’d had many people in our church praying for us as we waited month after month for our baby. Many of my girl friends there knew I was becoming increasingly concerned it hadn’t happened yet, and many prayers had been lifted up for our baby-to-be. Our church typically set aside a time at the end of service for people to share a word from God, a prophetic dream, a praise report, etc., so I hoped to make the announcement then as a huge answered prayer!

Waiting on that Sunday morning felt like eternity, but recording in-hand, I showed up to our staff meeting prior to the service, where we put finishing touches on the service and assigned who would be responsible for which part of the service. During this time, someone suggested that we acknowledge the racial divide in our community (as the approaching the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death was causing increased worry and division), and add a time of prayer at the end to ask God for peace in our city and racial reconciliation. Great idea. I also shared what I wanted to announce to the church – a miracle. An answered prayer. New life. Our baby.

As a staff member, I was frequently in front of our congregation, usually to either make announcements or to pray with those in need. Therefore, I thought it would be no problem to share our news if not during announcements, then at the end of service during our typical praise report time.

I was totally wrong.

One of the pastors who was leading the service that day told us that he had planned to share the news FOR us.
I kindly explained I didn’t really feel comfortable with that – it was OUR very personal news, and we wanted to share and thank our church family for praying, as God had answered!!

The conversation went back and forth with suggestions of different options, all while my mind reeled with the shock of  why this was so difficult. It felt like a battle for control – to appease someone’s idea of perfection for that day’s service, including my own.
It’s an amazing praise report for crying out loud. Why couldn’t we give glory to God for this miracle? Isn’t this what we should do in church? Build each other up with reports of how good God is? Inspire hope by sharing answered prayers?

When I suggested that maybe I could share at the end of service as a praise report, the response I received floored me.

“You know… I don’t really think that this kind of announcement will flow with this service today, especially with this Mike Brown thing we decided we’re going to do at the end.”

You.Have.GOT.To.Be.Kidding.Me.

The hot fire I’d felt in my cheeks and my gut during this intense conversation erupted into an all-out hormonal momma-bear rage. I stood up, exclaimed that it was a shame that a dead guy was getting more attention that day in church than the God who creates life, and I left.

We never got to make our announcement to our church family.

I admit that my response was in no way appropriate and also did not intend to belittle the importance of a life lost (I later apologized for my outburst). The sting from the experience, however, stayed. We waited over 30 years for this moment in life… and highly valued sharing the miracle of answered prayer – the miracle of the creation of new life – especially those people who had faithfully prayed alongside us as we waited month after long month. This first baby, this long-awaited miracle, only happens once in a lifetime.

And why? Why were we denied this opportunity? Why couldn’t we share a real moment in life? Why couldn’t we share this moment of vulnerability, the sharing of reliance on God to fulfill the prayers in our mouths and the desires of our hearts… a moment to give glory to Him, because He is good?

Why?
For the sake of “perfection.”

The problem lay in the fact that this idea of perfection one particular person had for that day’s service was completely different than my idea, or anyone else’s for that matter. In my mind, the announcement of a long-awaited answered prayer is as near to perfect a church event as you can imagine.
What better than seeing someone healed?
What better moments of perfection did Jesus have than telling the lame man to take up his mat and walk? Or smearing mud and spit into some guy’s eyes and giving him sight for the first time? Or even the announcement of Jesus’ birth himself? He was the answer to generations of prayers for a savior.

Jesus didn’t have some perfectly polished message planned, complete with a theme for all aspects of his “church service.” Most of the time, his ministry was the opposite. It was dirty. It was unplanned. It was a crowd. It was people desperate for him.

A bleeding woman reached out in a crowd of people just so she could touch him.
Jesus touched an unclean man with leprosy so that the man could be healed.
Jesus brought a widow’s dead son back to life just as they were carrying the body out of the house.
A group of friends lowered their friend through a roof just so they could access Jesus in the midst of a crowd he was teaching.

Luke 5 – “One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.”

That’s right.
Jesus was teaching, and those jerks plopped a paralyzed guy right down in the middle of the service! What nerve they had to interrupt His “service!”

Where in the world did we get this idea of what a “church service” should look like?
How did we become so offended when things don’t go as planned, or when they’re not perfectly orchestrated?
Where did the idea of fully relying on the Holy Spirit go? …Or existing in our daily lives and church services to glorify God and experience His presence?

The scripture in this story states that Jesus was full of power to heal the sick. He was THERE!! You could touch him. Wouldn’t you be desperate too?
Imagine you’re sitting in a church service… Jesus is sitting there too, fully capable of healing anyone and everyone there… but because of the carefully planned, bullet-pointed church bulletin, no one gets up to ask Jesus for healing?
It makes no sense!

He is still just as available now as he was that day, sitting in that crowded house.
Before we moved and I resigned from my church staff position, many of my last Sundays at this particular church were filled with moments of running to the bathroom to throw up, sometimes just before and after I made the announcements. One particular Sunday, I felt so miserable that I left the service and waited in the foyer with my head on the table.

Later, my husband insightfully shared with me he thought it a shame that when people are sick, we expect to send them OUT of our church service, instead of pulling them right up to the front like Jesus would have done, for prayer and healing.

But no… that would interrupt things, wouldn’t it?

Every weekend, people sit through a church service and go through the motions of worship and a message, suppressing their deepest needs. Why??

For the sake of perfection.

If we were to allow people to get up from their seats to approach the altar with tear-stained faces and uninhibited cries of desperation, the church service would not look perfect. It may not end by noon. It may be extremely uncomfortable.
But guess what?

These broken hearts and sick bodies might get healed.

This year, in our Freestyle ministry, we have put less focus on putting on large events in specific areas of the city as we’ve done in years past, and instead have made room for intimate worship nights.

Sure, our numbers have dwindled.
There is much less entertainment available.
Sometimes we’ve even shown up with nearly nothing planned but a worship set.
People are uncomfortable when the confines of “church expectations,” a schedule, and attractive events are removed. One time, we had such a small turnout that we didn’t even enter the worship space… we sat in the foyer and talked and then had intentional prayer time individually and in small groups. We’ve even stopped worship for long, uncomfortable periods of silence for the opportunity for prayer. For the sake of everyone having their own intimate moment of connection with their Creator.

But these worship nights have been highlights in my past year – some of the most powerful times of connecting with God I’ve ever had. Instead of sitting like a “good girl” in my seat as I would have been expected to do in 99% of churches, I found myself face-down on the floor in the middle of the room having one of the most powerful connections with God I’ve ever experienced. It didn’t look perfect. But it was.

Stripping the Freestyle Friday of its schedule, its crowd-drawing activities, and its entertainment factors was a risk. What if people were uncomfortable? What if they stopped coming?

But then we asked the more important question.
When did our comfort and our entertainment become more important than seeking after a true encounter with the God of the Universe?

Why don’t we GET OUT OF THE WAY??
When did putting on an orchestrated televised church service (with protected lighting and sound factors) become more important than the visitor who really wanted to connect with God that morning?
When did a schedule and a perfectly orchestrated church service outweigh the importance of seeing the person right in front of you?
The newcomer with a broken heart?
The bleeding woman? The paralyzed man?
The drug addict who was brave enough to come to church?

I agree that doing things with excellence is important.
Planning a church service isn’t easy.
Worship is important. So is a Spirit-inspired message.
Perfectly timed worship lyrics, dimmed lights, and a service that “flows” are a part of the experience, but if holding this standard of excellence so high that it gets in the way of seeing what we were after in the first place – God’s presence himself – then that pursuit of excellence is void.
It only got in the way.

It’s like anticipating the arrival of your family for the holidays.
All you want is to spend time with them. To make memories.
You want everything to go perfectly, so you go to the grocery, plan out an exquisite meal plan, and schedule activities for everyone to enjoy together.
When they arrive, you are so busy making preparations and scheduling the visit’s details that you don’t even sit down. By the time they leave, you are exhausted from trying to make sure everything went perfectly. And you realize – you never even really spent time with them.
There was nothing wrong with your pursuit of an excellent experience for your guests… but in pursuit of perfection, you missed the whole point.

This reminds me of our classic Mary and Martha situation.
We’ve all heard the story. Jesus was welcomed into a home by a woman named Martha, who spent her time “with much serving” while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching. Martha expected Jesus to reprimand Mary for not helping. However, Jesus responded in the complete opposite way Martha expected him to. He said that Mary had chosen what was better. To sit with him. To be with him. The story even says that Martha was “distracted” by her serving. She had great intentions, but completely missed the point!

Luke 10:38-42 – Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Recently, Chris and I, along with the Freestyle team and a couple of other groups in the region, held a worship event that we entitled “Experiential Worship.” While much planning went in to the event, such as setting up interactive worship stations and planning and practicing worship sets, the leaders of the event made it a point to not attempt to over-control the evening. They even set aside a time to ask those present to share any word from God they’d received that night.
On stage. With a microphone.
It had the opportunity to be completely awkward. What if someone took over?
What if they wouldn’t stop talking? What if what they said was totally wrong?
Surely we couldn’t trust the microphone in a stranger’s hands!
But we trusted the Holy Spirit to guide the evening.
We worshipped. And at times we were still.

The outcome?
Beautiful encounters with God. Hearts set free.
A handful of people were even physically healed!
That’s right! They walked in with bum knees and tooth aches and walked out completely healed.

We definitely don’t have it all figured out. And we probably never will.
But when we trust God in our discomfort, amazing things happen.
When we question the status quo, our expectations change.
When churches lay down their attempts to control every detail or to recruit as many people as possible, and instead seek after His presence as the prize, they notice a shift.
Things actually HAPPEN.
It’s not that God rewards a certain method. It’s just that we need to make room for Him.
If not, we’ve missed the whole point.

We need to listen.
We need to rely on the Holy Spirit.
We need to lay down our pursuit of perfection, and instead ask, “How do you want to show off today, God? How do you want to make your glory known? How can I get out of the way?”

Jesus brought glory to God everywhere He went.
He taught the truth, and as He did, He made room in his busy schedule and amidst the crowds for the blind, the paralyzed, the adulteress. He walked in power, in perfect communion with His Father, and was able to do ANYTHING. He was perfect.

JESUS. IS. PERFECTION.

Now that I think about it, maybe God doesn’t want us to stop pursuing perfection after all…
Maybe He just wants us to correct our definition.

Jesus = Perfection.
Let’s chase only after Him.

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Dear Grandpa

November 30th, 2015

Dear Grandpa,

You died a year ago.
I don’t know if you know this, or if your present joy drowns out all earthly memories. I don’t know if you even knew one year ago today as you had trouble breathing, that you were going to die. I sure didn’t.
I don’t know if you were scared, or relieved, or if at some point you saw His face and decided to let go. I hope you had peace.

When I got mom’s phone call to pray for you – that you were having trouble breathing and had been taken to the hospital by ambulance – I didn’t know that you were already gone. You were so alive to me, and any thought of this world existing without you was so far from my mind, that I didn’t pray from a panicked place of life or death. I prayed from a place of peace that you would experience a quick recovery, I prayed for the nurses and doctors that would take care of you, and most of all, I prayed for your peace and dignity as you were in such a place of vulnerability. Chris and I sat together on the couch in our apartment as the rain muffled the city sounds, and we prayed for you.

I didn’t know that you wouldn’t need the care.
I didn’t know you were already gone.

When mom called me back, the day I had been experiencing suddenly seemed like an entirely different day, as it shifted from a cold and peaceful Sunday afternoon with Chris to the worst day of my life, a shattered pile of my heart on the cold hardwood floor of my bedroom.

“Grandpa’s gone.”
“WHAT?!”

The news was so heavy, my body couldn’t bear the weight, and I collapsed on the floor in sobs and screams of denial. It couldn’t be. You were so alive. I had just sat on your lap and dressed up in ridiculous costumes with you the weekend before as we shared a small reception in Kentucky to celebrate our recent wedding.

“NO! No no no!!!”
It’s a cruel joke. I yelled into the phone at mom. “You are kidding, you have to be! He was just fine! NO!!!”

I don’t recall all the frantic words I yelled that day, searching for some reasoning that would pull this news into a place of reality, a place of understanding. I only recall the feeling of my heart being crushed, or squeezed so much that it was hard to breathe, hard to think, hard to do anything but scream and cry in a heap on the floor.

The man that you watched me fall in love with, exchange vows with, and walk down the aisle with into a promising future scooped me up and sat me on his lap as he let the pressure of my breaking heart release into heaving sobs. I soaked his shirt in tears. He held me on that cold, hardwood floor and let me cry until my head pounded and my tears were all used up.

I think you knew he would.
You knew when you said what would be your last words to him, “Hold on to your treasures,” that he would.
He did.
And he has, Grandpa.

Over 8 years ago, as Grandma was dying, she asked you if you were coming, too.
“I’ll be there soon,” you said.
“15 minutes?” she asked.
We all chuckled and you told her that you would join her in heaven after seeing me get married and have my first child. This made me feel so special.

I know you didn’t really know when your time would be.
You just wanted to comfort her, and you had a lot more of my life you wanted to see and be a part of.

And that you did.

In the years since she died, you saw me graduate from college. You watched me walk across that big ole’ stage, and then walked me arm in arm to the car when the ceremony was over. You were so proud.
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A couple years later, you saw me finish my master’s degree and start my first job as an occupational therapist, and we celebrated again.
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We spent birthdays and special occasions and even many random evenings together at Texas Roadhouse on Richmond Road and remembered Grandma as I ordered the Rotisserie Chicken like you two used to share, and real (instead of cinnamon) butter like she always ordered for her rolls.
(I still do this.)
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You were there on the day I was baptized. I wore Grandma’s necklace.
This is amazing to me… because I remember being at your baptism many years ago.

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You never had much money, but you financially supported me anyway as I began to travel the world in an attempt to make a difference in the lives of those forgotten. Orphans, widows, the poor, the disabled.
You saved every support letter I wrote. You saved every update.

You beamed with pride when I told you I was moving to Haiti to begin a therapy clinic for children with special needs. You prayed for me every night.
Mom printed my blogs so you could read them and you saved them all in a folder that now sits on my desk.

When I moved back to the States, my heart still wrenched from my experiences, you told me you prayed every night for the Haitian baby I had cared for and fallen in love with, and my eyes were opened to how big your heart truly was.

And then… 7 ½ years after your beloved wife of 50 years had passed away… you were there for my wedding.
Our perfect October wedding. And I am so thankful you were.

While I regret I didn’t take more pictures with you, or sit in your lap longer, or dance with you, I know you soaked up all our happiness, and it comforted your heart. It comforted mine to know you were there… to share our joy. To see the great things God has done in my life… because you were there years ago when my heart was broken by those who didn’t keep their promises.

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Just a month later, you were able to join us again as we traveled to Kentucky to celebrate with our family and friends in the area. That was a great day.
We laughed as Chris and I cut the cake and I exclaimed, “It’s a girl” as a joke.
I sat in your lap as always and just enjoyed the comfort of you holding me.
You let me dress you up in whatever dress-up clothes and props I chose, and we posed for silly photos together.
I love your smile in those photos.
I didn’t know they would be our last.

But I am thankful.

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You were right when you told Grandma you’d be hanging around long enough to see me get married. You died just six weeks afterward.
I think you had peace to know I’d be taken care of.
And I have been.
Grandpa, Chris is so good to me.

But Grandpa, you missed the second part – you’re not here for the birth of my first child.

There is a place in my heart that your love and life alone filled, but Grandpa, my life has been so blessed in the year since you’ve been gone. I want to say that you’ve missed it, but the truth is I know you haven’t. You may not physically be here, but you’re so perfected in heaven, so at rest, that you’re not missing a thing. And I don’t desire for you to be here instead of there, because that would be robbing you of the single greatest prize in our existence as spiritual beings – being in the presence of Jesus.

I’m
the one missing it.

Until my day though, I’m going to keep loving Him and allowing Him to love me, grateful for the days I have and the adventures He still has for me, even though you’re not here to share them with me.

One of those adventures has been buying and renovating this house we’re living in now. I know you’d love it. We’ve talked about you as we’ve worked on it, and wondered what you’d say about the 100-year-old craftsmanship and the hardwood floors we discovered under carpet in every room. This house was built before you were even born! It’s amazing and gorgeous and we never thought we could own a home like this. I know you’d be proud of it and the work we’ve done so far. Mom reminds us that you used to say that a job worth doing is a job worth doing right! Your words echo in this house.

We waited and prayed for nearly 9 months until we got the news we’d been waiting for… our greatest adventure yet. Little did I know, what I had exclaimed at our party with you that day over a year ago would come true.
“It’s a girl!”

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I told you last year that Charlotte – which means freedom – was my favorite name, and if we had a girl, we’d call her Charley. You smiled and said that’s what you used to call your sister.

Grandpa… I’M GOING TO BE A MOMMY!

I know you’d be so proud of me.
I know you would love this little girl so much. So much that it would probably cause my heart to explode as I watched you with her.
I try to imagine her face all the time… and while I wait for her to grow big enough to make her entrance into the world and into my arms, I imagine myself holding her.
I imagine you holding her like you held me so many times.

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I know she would have loved you.
Who wouldn’t?

Grandpa – being pregnant is amazing. I absolutely love it. Now that I can feel Charlotte kicking and moving around, it’s even more magical. It’s real! There’s really a little person growing and moving around inside me. What a miracle.
God’s design is so good and so amazing and so perfect.
I know you, more than any of us here, know that very well now.
IMAG4216I miss you so much.

It seems like the earth itself has felt the absence of your presence for this entire year; it’s not quite as peaceful as it was when your gentle soul walked upon it. There are many less prayers being spoken now that your earthly voice has been quieted. There are two less hands for me to hold – rough, knobby hands that worked to build a life and a legacy. There is one less lap for me to sit on. There are two less eyes looking into mine, telling me you love me so much, two less lips kissing my cheek, and one less soft but stubbly cheek grazing mine.

You may not know that you died, or have any memory of it.
You may not recall your last breath, or your last words, or even the foods you ate for your last Thanksgiving meal just moments before you died.
But you know.
You know so much glory.

You have seen the face of God.
You have walked in perfection.
You know, more than any of us here, what is true.
You have no doubts.
You SEE HIM.

And Grandpa, I am so happy for you.

I’m crying today as I remember these moments in time and relive the pain of losing you… but I am happy for you. I am happy for us. We had so many amazing times together, countless memories that I didn’t even begin to detail in this letter to you. You always made me feel so special.
You always made me feel so loved.

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You radiated Christ. You really did.
And I felt His love through you.
It’s most likely this that I miss the most, as there are few people in life that love us with this kind of unconditional, non-judgmental love. I miss your love.
Thank you for the way that you loved me.

I pray now that those that knew you and were touched by your life will remember that kind of love you had for them, and see that it was Jesus in you that caused such a special love. I pray also that some of those same people will see it in me, and experience His love in the way that I love them.
I pray this love will cause them to fall in love with Jesus like you did. Like I did.
The alternative is a closed and cold heart. There is no other life except one with Him!

Thank you, Grandpa, for being a man in my life that modeled this kind of love.

It’s the greatest legacy one could ever leave.

I know it’s not something we can get by striving, only by the supernatural changing of our hearts through Jesus. Only by surrender.
Thank you for surrendering your life to Him so that He could live through you.
I am sure that when you met Him, He told you, “Good job.”

You may have died… but now you live forever.

I miss you so much.
Can’t wait to see you.

All my love,
Elizabeth
(aka “Lizardbreath” – thanks for that one, by the way.)

P.S. We just cut and brought home our Christmas tree last night – I am looking forward to decorating it using some ornaments that belonged to you and Grandma.

Pic for Eliz

A Walk with Grandpa

11.14.2015

There are few people in life who know our true selves, our dirtiest secrets, have seen us at our worst as we swear and throw things (maybe even at them), yet continue to love us with an unshakable love.

Because this kind of love is so rare, the death that brings its end shatters our hearts and brings more pain than any love based on a partial story. Yes, this love is rare… it is a treasure to truly be known and loved despite all things. And because it is such a treasure, the heart’s agony when it comes to an end has no words.

I saw someone in my dreams last night that I haven’t seen since his death nearly a year ago. His love, although he never knew my whole story, was so powerful that his death brought an incredibly painful void where I felt there’d never be another like it.
My grandpa loved me. And I loved to love him.
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Although I am incredibly blessed and loved by many, I know there will never be another like him. He was a man full of wisdom that loved and had given his life to the Lord and shared the love and wisdom of God with his family like a rich inheritance.

 

 

Last night, as we walked together in the fogginess of my dreams, we cut a path through the turmoil of the world. I could see and feel it all around me. Pain, suffering, stress, death. I could even feel the stress in my heart.
I’ve often described my anxiety and deep-rooted anger as a churning volcano beneath the surface of my heart… ready at any moment to erupt above the surface, spewing out like hot, angry, and biting words. I felt this in my dream as I have many times in real life, but somehow the peace of his presence surrounded me as we walked.

As I leaned into the peaceful place his presence offered me, I vented to my grandpa about a situation that had just happened, something that had frustrated me. Funny enough, just as what commonly occurs in real life, it wasn’t regarding life or death; it wasn’t an injustice or an assault on life or liberty… just an inconvenience that my internal lava found convenient to latch on to to build strength for the eruption.
A frustration. A complaint. Because my insides were burning lava that fueled the fire and not a peaceful stream that put it out, I let it boil over and come out of my mouth. I complained to him. And then it happened… in my venting, I spewed out “F*CK!” to my dear sweet grandpa.

Much to my surprise, Grandpa didn’t even flinch. He wasn’t fazed.
Furthermore, he didn’t shame me, although I felt incredibly ashamed of the way I’d just acted. What would he think of me now?

As we continued to walk through the fog, my guilt and shame swirling my mind and squeezing my heart until I felt it in my throat, Grandpa spoke gently.

“You know, purity isn’t just about what you do with your body…”

I’m not sure if he finished his statement, or if what he was getting at in that moment was simply understood in the consciousness of my dream.

Your mouth can be impure just as your body.
I needed purity of my mouth. My speech.

I NEED purity of my mouth. Currently. Real life.

My husband is one of the only people in the world who knows my whole story, has endured me throwing a drink in his face, swearing at him, and much more, yet loves and pursues me without fail. He faithfully walks with me as I continue to be sanctified. Recently, he gently asked me if I would say a word I’d just said, or if or I’d be uncomfortable if someone else had, in front of our daughter. My answer was no, I wouldn’t say it in front of her, and yes, I’d be frustrated if someone else did.
His response was, “Well, can she not hear? And is she not here with us now?”
He easily made his point.

I need purity of my mouth. Like Grandpa said.
Like God said.

As Grandpa spoke these simple but profound words in the dream, he continued walking with me.
This was the most beautiful part. He forgave me immediately. His love never changed… Not even the way he looked at me.

Furthermore, his kindness and compassion, not a scolding or shaming, were motivators for me to seek after purity of my mouth. A pure heart.
His kindness led me to repentance.

(Does Grandpa remind you of anyone yet?)

In reality, I never got to share my full story with Grandpa.
I wish I had. I ache to see his love burst through the partial stories and half-truths, to love me right through my sins and the sins committed against me. I can only speculate that his love would have remained unchanged with the opening of his eyes to the full story that is ‘me.’
Drink-throwing, wall-punching, f-bomb dropping me.

God sometime uses my dreams to teach me things. To get my attention.
And He knew that using my grandpa in this role would be cause for reflection as the approaching anniversary of my grandpa’s death fills my mind most days, and my grandpa is a figure in my life whose words will always hold power and truth, even beyond the grave.

What should I reflect on then?
That I need to change, clean up my act before my daughter arrives?
Well… maybe. But not quite the point I don’t think.
What did Grandpa expect me to do?
Just try really hard? Watch what comes out of my mouth?
What about my thoughts? Is there no chance they will affect my words and actions? What do I do about these?

When I awoke, a particular scripture filled my mind.
“No good tree bears bad fruit, not again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit… The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, & the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
(Luke 6:43, 45)

It’s absurd to think we’re just supposed to “try harder” and all will be well.
People are deep and complex beings, and our hearts are difficult to understand, let alone control. But the Bible speaks of our hearts often, and how precious they are.

In fact, our hearts are to be guarded. Protected.
We are to watch with vigilance what we allow into our minds and hearts.
Why?
Because what goes in can very well INFECT us. Like a disease. Infected hearts are like a sick fruit tree, unable to bear tasty fruit any longer. Conversations we engage in, television we watch, movies we go to see, music we listen to, the company we keep, even the Facebook feed we scroll through… they all have the potential to infect our hearts, and consequently, control what comes out of our mouths. Our hearts are already sinful and prone to wander anyway. Feeding them with anything impure of this world fuels the sinful condition we’re born with.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
(Proverbs 4:23)

What’s more important, however, than what can infect our hearts, is what can HEAL them. We can feed our hearts with what will soothe, heal, and protect.

When I’m filling my mind and heart with God’s word, when I’m engaged in conversations with other believers, when I’m listening to or reading gospel teaching, when I’m spending time talking with my Father and listening for His voice… simply put, when I’m in the PRESENCE OF JESUS, I’m fighting against that churning lava… I’m calming the storm.

Purity may sound dull.
Uninteresting.
Like a shallow promise you made in some long-ago church class.

But in reality, purity – a pure heart – is a wellspring of LIFE that’s fed by the Holy Spirit and His limitless perfection. What comes out of the mouth when the heart is filled with Him are reactions filled with hope, truth, compassion, kindness, and love.
I’ve witnessed it.
I’ve felt it.
I’ve been in situations that were so frustrating and seemingly hopeless… but with a heart filled with Jesus’ presence, I had peace. It affected every moment of my day. My every thought. My speech was kind and gentle. My mind was unhurried. My sleep was even peaceful.

I’ve also, however, been in situations much less frustrating – momentary frustrations even, like the one in my dream – and I’ve flown off the handle and spouted unkind and biting words that have caused division, strife, and pain. I’ve gone about my days with stress and anxiety, feeling like I could explode at any moment.
All because of the condition of my heart.

It’s pretty obvious which condition I’d rather live with.

In my dream, God used a person in my life whose words I valued and trusted to capture my attention and show me two things.

1) There is only ONE that knows our full story and truly loves us with a love completely unaffected. Our Father, our Creator, our Savior. He knows it ALL… and yet He’s a good Father, He offers us grace time and time again, gives us new beginnings, and offers to fill us with life so powerful that it’s beyond what the world can understand or explain. He is so good to give us relationships that remind us of this love, like how Grandpa reminded me of Jesus in the dream by his unconditional love and kindness in the face of my sin. These relationships are so good that death to them feels like it rips out our hearts.
The good news though: Our Father’s love never ends. It’s so good, it goes beyond death.

2) LIFE is found in Him and Him alone.
We can’t just become “good people” by striving. The issue of the heart has to be addressed. Otherwise, it’s like trying to nurture a single apple on a tree back to health when the rest of the tree is rotten or infected. We can’t just pick which sins we need to “fix” without addressing the whole tree.
If the heart is infected, all of the apples will be affected.

This is all good news!
He’s given us more than we need simply in His presence!

Recent conversations and last night’s dream have been a wake-up call for me, but I’m not scolded. I’m not put to shame. I’m loved and offered an otherworldly remedy for my heart that will give me LIFE and the ability to face every day with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control…
even in the face of life’s hardest battles.

Sounds a lot better than the bitter taste that lava leaves in my mouth.

A New Adventure

Chris and I have been blessed by lives full of adventure – – we have both had the opportunity to live overseas for an extended period of time, we have started ministries, lived on the edge, survived on very little, traveled the world, found treasures in dumpsters, explored forgotten alleyways, loved with all of our hearts, sat with strangers, taken risks, failed, & tried again. We have lost faith and experienced an irresistible Grace that drew us back in. We have worshiped when life was seemingly falling apart, and witnessed God create beauty from ashes. We have held dirty babies, prayed miracles over the blind, cared for the sick, and bandaged dirty wounds. We have loved and lost and bravely loved again, in awe at God’s perfect timing and provision.
Life with Jesus is simply an adventure.
We are thrilled, humbled, and grateful to Him as we announce our next grand adventure – – a beautiful answer to prayer!!

The Unanswered Door.

*knock knock*

SILENCE

*knock knock knock*
”Hello?”

SILENCE

If you knock and wait long enough, you inevitably find yourself tapping your foot…

Why aren’t they answering?
Why is the door still shut in my face?
How long do they expect me to wait before I just give up and leave??

I have wondered these very things.
I’d been knocking for months.

Reading back through my journal, I realized I’d been asking for an open door since I began filling the pages 5 months ago.

{November 8, 2014}
I trust you for a fresh perspective, for kingdom eyes
and to light a fire in my soul that burns for You.
May my thirst be quenched by You alone.
May my heart beat to see Your Kingdom come.
May love flow freely.
I need you.
I want you.
God, I look to You.
Help me…”

{January 11, 2015}
“Father,
All I want is to be close to you.
I want to experience you, know you, be in your presence… I’m burdened, but not by a word from you, but the lack of communion with you. Please help me! I need you!
… I miss you. Please Father.”

{January 12, 2015}
“Father, my soul feels so low.
I’m crying out to you.
Rescue me.

Please hear me now. Be with me.
I’m desperate for you.
I’m so tired of the emptiness, of being disconnected.
I’m tired of the walls.
Will you crush them?

Please help…
I want to love you more than anything else!
But I don’t know how.
I’m so distracted. And I feel like love is something I have to conjure up.
This is SO. HARD.
I thought the gospel was easy?
I thought it meant the weight’s not on me?
Then why do I feel like I have to do something before things change?
God, please!
Come!”

{January 16, 2015}
“I want to be CHANGED so that I can actually respond in the SPIRIT for once! What will it take?!
…It’s so frustrating. I want a pure heart!
I want to have faith, not anxiety. I want to spend time in the Kingdom, not the world. I’m so frustrated with my flesh.
God help me!”

{January 19, 2015}
“Father,
I haven’ t been feeling you near. Are you teaching me about desperation for you?
Do I need to become desperate before you’ll answer?
What do you want, Father?
If you want me, you have me. I am yours.
I don’t have an incredible amount of faith right now. But I am yours.
You know anything else would just be mustered up anyway! I want the real thing.
True faith.
Why do I doubt you? Of all the experiences I’ve had with you, how could I ever doubt?!
God, I want all my life to come from you. Please change me, remake me, that I’m dependent on you.
…Help me.
HELP me PLEASE God… to hope.
To dream big dreams.
To believe ALL things are possible with you.”

{January 29, 2015}
“Why is my heart so ugly?
Why do you feel so far away?
I don’t even know what to write. I feel like I’m repeating myself.
I’m tired.
I’m tired of praying for rescue and you don’t come.
I’m tired of asking for a new heart but I’m still ugly.”

{February 11, 2015}
“God…
Help me to be FREE.
Oh, I want to be free.”

{February 13, 2015}
“I feel like crap today…
I feel so unloved. …
I hate feeling like this. Stuck.”

{March 5, 2015}
I can’t believe the date.
Moreover, I can’t believe I’ve been praying the same prayer for SO LONG.
I constantly feel like a failure…
I’m not experiencing God.
I feel like he doesn’t hear my prayers.
I want to be a different person.
I feel trapped.
I don’t get it. At all.
Does God even hear? Does anything even change??”

{March 14, 2015}
God, I’m tired of feeling guilty… Please take my guilt.
Please help me desire nothing more than I desire You!”

{March 15, 2015}
“How could anyone love a failure like me??”

 

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*knock…

 

 


*knock…

 

 


*knock…

 

 

 

 

 
My husband and I recently took advantage of some time off and took a mini-getaway.
When we arrived back to our hotel room at the end of the day, he made himself comfortable on the couch and looked so perfectly content and peaceful as he sat reading his Bible and then closed his eyes in prayer.

What did I do in the mean time?

I got raging mad.
That’s right… I was livid.

I had to watch as the door I had been knocking on for months was seemingly just opened right up for him.

WHAT?!!
Why not me, God?!
Why don’t you answer??!

Up until this point, I hadn’t been able to verbalize my frustrations except that I was tired of praying the same prayer. Tired of wanting to be changed but left feeling so ugly and unlovable. Tired of wanting an intimacy and depth of relationship with God that felt so unreciprocated.

But somehow, in this moment, I was able to formulate the words to describe to Chris a picture of what my frustration felt like. Suddenly it made so much sense to me.

I had been knocking on an unanswered door.

“Babe… it’s like I’ve been standing at this door forever. Knocking.
And God’s sitting inside the house… in this big comfy chair. And all I want to do is sit with Him. Be in His presence and be loved by Him. But He’s not answering the door!!
…So when I see you sitting with Him… enjoying Him… it hurts, you know? Because it feels like I’m not welcome. Like… He’ll open the door for you… but not for me.
…Why not me??”

After we talked, I went into the other room and lay face down on the bed with the image inside my head of myself knocking on the door, and God in a big cozy chair inside, where I so desperately wanted to enter.
I tried to pray.

As I pictured myself standing and knocking, what I saw in my mind changed.

The door opened.
As it was pulled back, the face of the One who opened it smiled at me.

JESUS.

JESUS opened the door for me.

For a brief moment, my doubting mind thought in response, But who says I can come in??
And, hearing my thought, He answered aloud, “I DID.”

A wave of relief and comfort rushed over me as I realized the truth in what I had just seen.

I didn’t bring anything with me to the door.
I didn’t accomplish anything in order for Jesus to open the door for me.
God didn’t yell out from his armchair, “Hey, Jesus! Who’s at the door? What did they bring? What did they do to earn their entrance?”

All that matters is that Jesus deemed me worthy enough to let me in.

So when God sees me, He sees Jesus’ approval. He sees Jesus Himself.
And that is all I need to enter in.

During my months of knocking, I had believed that I was unworthy and had to do something to earn God’s attention and affection. I had believed that God was distant – – because I didn’t feel Him. And all too often, I had thought of myself as unlovable.
The truth is that these were all LIES… the enemy’s deception to keep me from experiencing intimacy with my Father.

But in the truth of this open door, the countless lies of not being good enough or having to do something to earn my welcome are smashed.
The belief that God is distant melts away as I see that He was there all along and it was my false thinking that made me feel so far.
And any remaining feelings of being unloved are proven false in the smiling face at the door… I am loved, and the Father so desires for me to enter in and just sit with Him.

Because of Jesus, the door is always open, and I am welcome in.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
{John 14:6}

I Will Celebrate.

February 5th will always be a special day for me.

Anyone who knows me very well is familiar with the fact that I like numbers and dates, and can’t easily get them out of my head. But I think that even if I couldn’t remember a single person’s birthday or recall my own mother’s phone number, I would remember February 5th… because on February 5th, 2013, my world and his world became one world.

Two people that had lived nearly 30 years each in their own individual worlds were never the same after those worlds collided. God chose the perfect timing to introduce us to each other, each through our own obedience to what He had asked us to do. For Chris, it was starting and being obedient to leading Freestyle STL, despite the uncertainties and the hardships of leading a ministry. For me, it was moving to Haiti to pursue God’s leading, and leaving behind my family, a good job, and a life and possessions.

Through our obedience, God used the people in our lives to make the distance between our worlds smaller and smaller until those two worlds collided on that beautiful day of February 5th.

Exactly one week earlier, I had begun a fresh new journal while sitting on my bed in Haiti.
The ache in my heart was for my future husband, and I had been feeling like God was pressing me to pray for him. Like he was just around the corner. I think God was increasing my faith.
He wanted me to ask so He could give.

And wow, did He.

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Chris and I had the opportunity to become pen-pals while I was living overseas, and were going to have the chance to meet in person when I returned to the States for a visit.

What a time that was! I was in love with Chris before we even met in person, and knew I would marry him before I even heard his voice. I left my parents’ house that afternoon that we’d finally get to meet saying, “Pray for me. I think I’m about to go meet my future husband.”
I did!

Those in attendance at our wedding heard the voice memo I made on the drive to meet him, stating that I thought that there was something special about him, and that I’d love to play the recording for him someday if he was, indeed my husband (hilarious to hear played at our wedding before I walked down the aisle). Of course, without knowledge that I had done the same, Chris also made a voice memo, stating that he couldn’t wait to meet me, and that he, too, was falling for me.

It’s a romance that I would love to share in more detail someday.
But today… I just want to celebrate God’s faithfulness.
I asked, and He gave, exceeding all my expectations. Beyond what I ever deserved. More than I ever dreamed.

I love my husband so so much.

Now that we’re married, it seems we have another anniversary to celebrate. We not only get to remember the day that we met, or the day that Chris asked permission to pursue me, or the day that he asked me to be his wife… but the day that we got married!

Most couples stop celebrating other anniversaries when they get married.
But oh no… I won’t stop.

I will not only celebrate February 5th, but I want to celebrate every single day of life.

I want to daily remember how blessed I am that God not only answered my prayers to miraculously lead my husband to me, but used him to lead me on a journey through the healing of my broken heart as he stood by me faithfully. I want to celebrate the fact that I get to wake up every morning next to my best friend, the one who knows the most raw, deep, and dark alleys of my heart but chooses to love me anyway. I want to celebrate that I get to share a home and the rest of the days of my life with a man who loves Jesus and leads me to know Him more intimately. I want to celebrate that God hears our prayers and is a good Father who gives good gifts – gifts that mold us and change us for the better – forever.

I will celebrate.

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Exploring Nashville together the weekend we met in person.

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First few days together…

He promised to never stop pursuing.

He promised to never stop pursuing.

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Our first date out in St. Louis!

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My first trip to Forest Park

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Enjoying each other more than the park… 😉

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There will be a huge collage of these someday…

Praying over our city...

Praying over our city before it was even our city…

My first trip to the arch!!

My first trip to the arch!!

Our pups' worlds collided, too! And now they are brothers. :)

Our pups’ worlds collided, too! And now they are brothers. 🙂

Spending one last afternoon together before I had to head back to Haiti. We spent time in prayer and studying the book "Real Marriage" together.

Spending one last afternoon together before I had to head back to Haiti. We spent time in prayer and studying the book “Real Marriage” together.

Opening his birthday present I had mailed to him while I was in Haiti. Getting a nice clear Skype signal was a gift!!

Opening his birthday present I had mailed to him while I was in Haiti. Getting a nice clear Skype signal was a gift!!

Back home in the States!!

Back home in the States!!

Exploring UK's campus where Chris used to go… so so close to me!

Exploring UK’s campus where Chris used to attend so close to where I lived! Who knew?!

Officially moving to StL!

Officially moving to StL!

<3

Photo shoot. ;)

Photo shoot. 😉

We have the best dates!

We have the best dates!

Freestyle!

Freestyle!

Smokin' wedding date!

Smokin’ wedding date!

Lyons Frozen Custard. :)

Lyons Frozen Custard. 🙂

The day we found a preserver wedding dress while dumpster diving. :)

The day we found a preserved wedding dress while dumpster diving. 🙂

Another for the collection...

Another for the collection…

Perfect June day to celebrate my birthday in the park.

Perfect June day to celebrate my birthday in the park.

4th of July!!

4th of July!!

❤ always.

Forest Park picnic!

Forest Park picnic!

Seussical Musical!

Seussical Musical!

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Exploring Indiana with our friends!

 

The perfect day on Lake Michigan.

The perfect day on Lake Michigan.

No words necessary. :)

No words necessary. 🙂

Yes!!!

Yes!!!

Celebrate!!!

Celebrate!!!

Forever.

Forever.

 

Leggings and Lemmings.

In response to #butyouwannatalkaboutleggings… 

Yes, as a matter of fact I do.
do want to talk about leggings.

But I also want to talk about a thousand other things – like lemmings – and scream at the top of my lungs for everyone to just STOP – – PLEASE – – just stop hitting “LIKE” and “SHARE” just because it’s there and actually have a thought of your own! Let’s stop liking what we’re told to like and disliking or arguing with things we’re supposed to dislike like we’re little mindless lemmings. Let’s actually question things ourselves for once and even furthermore and most importantly, let’s check out what the BIBLE has to say about it.
We call ourselves Christians… but do we even know what that means? What we stand FOR?

We spend way too much time as “Christians” arguing this issue or that.
Gay marriage. Immigrants. Abortion. Slavery. Politics. Freaking YOGA PANTS.

For crying out loud, the world is well-informed regarding what Christians DON’T believe in.
I started to make a list here, but I honestly think it would be a waste of my typing energy. You already know! You’ve heard about the issues countless times on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Christian websites. They’re circulated and argued about relentlessly as all our social media-brainwashed lemming minds have to do is share with a simple “click” and the issue is re-circulated and re-argued.

[BELOW: some images I found online while searching what Christians are against. Disclaimer:// these are not my personal opinion, rather an example of what is circulating in the world.]

%22Defining modesty for the Christian woman%22

Labeled online as “defining modesty for the Christian woman.” (gag)

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Recently on her blog, a woman shared her decision to stop wearing yoga pants (link HERE). She never claimed it to be a major Christian issue, rather blogged about her personal decision as a Christian woman to heed the Holy Spirit’s direction and do her part in not tempting men to lust after her.

I get it.

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In response to this leggings blog, yesterday, another Christian woman wrote a blog of her own titled, “Ten Things We Should Get Angry About Before Yoga Pants” (link HERE).
Her main point is that Christians spend too much time debating and arguing issues that she believes shouldn’t be debated and too little time focusing on “far weightier matters at stake.”

She writes, “Whether it’s yoga pants or an unsuspecting Target clerk wishing us a “Happy Holiday”, we have become notorious for clutching our collective pearls and hotly debating “issues” that frankly, don’t need to be debated.”
I get this too.

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She argues that instead of talking about these “pearls” such as whether it’s appropriate or not for Christian women to wear revealing clothing, we should be DOING something about the greater injustices in the world: Poverty. War. Orphans. Famine.

Okay.
Breathe.

Here’s the thing.

Three days ago, we were circulating articles about modesty and helping out our fellow brother with our stand against leggings.
Then this new blog comes out, and we’re like, “Yeah! Stop arguing about leggings! Let’s take a stand about something more important!”

 

(Are you exhausted by our culture yet?? I am!)

FIRST.
For anyone who believes that writers who write about “small” issues should STOP writing about these things and instead focus on “more important issues,” hear me say this:

There is a common root in all these things we ridiculously argue and debate, big and small.
Sometimes we take a stand against this root by deciding to dress in a way that will be less tempting to men who aren’t our husbands… sometimes we take a stand against it by joining the front lines in the war on human trafficking. Or poverty.

There are so many “things” to take a stand for – or against – but the issues all come back to the evil of man’s heart and our longing for righteousness.

We are completely dependent on the Holy Spirit, through salvation in Jesus, to battle against darkness. To be sanctified and become more like Christ.
Similarly, we have to be careful not to battle for self-righteousness (righteousness that we think we have by staying inside a set of moralistic and legalistic boundaries), but rather to be obedient to the Spirit in even the most practical of things, seeing that we are sinners and claiming JESUS as our only righteousness.
(I mean, that IS the whole point of this Christian thing afterall!)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21

Paul writes,

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” – Phil 3:8-11

We are all responsible for listening to the Holy Spirit and obeying in the big things AND the small things – as Paul says – in FAITH.

Why should we think we can tackle the larger issues of the world if we’re unwilling to inspect our own yoga-pants-covered rear-end in the smaller issues?

SECONDLY.
I both agree and disagree with the second writer’s response to the initial leggings post. I completely agree that our hearts should break for those “larger” issues in the world. Of course! Our world is broken and suffering under the hand of the “prince of the earth” (Satan).
It is TOTALLY God’s heart to welcome the stranger, meet with the widow, feed and clothe the poor, adopt the orphan, rescue the slave…
But it is also God’s heart for us to be obedient in the “small “things…
In choosing not to lust. In choosing what to wear so that we don’t cause our brothers to lust. In choosing what we allow into our minds and hearts by our choice of television show or movies. Even in choosing when to open our mouths and when to keep quiet (I am still learning this one… mostly the hard way)!

We shouldn’t be debating these things as if to attempt to establish the final say on what is fitting and right and moral for a Christian.
For example, when I say that we should choose wisely what we allow into our minds and hearts by what movies we watch, there’s no need to begin debating what standard movie rating we believe is appropriate for a Christian… that’s missing the point!
Or if I say let’s make deliberate choices in what we wear to both view ourselves rightly as precious daughters of God and to simultaneously help our brothers fight lust, it’s ridiculous to begin arguing about how many inches long our shorts and skirts should be in order to be considered modest.
It’s also not helpful to debate about how many beers we can have before it’s considered sinning, or how far one can go sexually before it’s considered “sexually immoral.”

These are all totally backwards ways of looking at these things!
Christianity is about FREEDOM!!

Let’s look forward instead to God and ask,
“How can I be MOST obedient to You?”
“How can I MOST glorify You?”
“How can I make the BEST decision right now to be holy and righteous… to grow and become more like You?”

If we look at it the other way around, we’re missing the whole point and building legalistic and bitter walls and fences around ourselves that not only entrap and enslave us, but that also keep others from seeing the freedom Christ actually offers.

Jesus came to save us and set us free.
Not to initiate some two-thousand year battle about “issues,” or about which issues are the “most important.”

Jesus battled this with the Pharisees as documented so many times in the New Testament. They knew the law that they shouldn’t commit adultery.
But then Jesus took it a step further and said that everyone who even looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28

The Pharisees thought they were so righteous because they kept the laws and even tried to catch Jesus breaking them – but Jesus challenged them even further. We’re not only supposed to not murder… but Jesus says not even to hate our brother, because it’s the same.

But this is impossible to do right?

…that’s the point.
We’re incapable of keeping the law of our own power.
We are all broken. And no amount of following rules or setting moral standards saves us.

Only a relationship with Jesus does.

Don’t you see? There are no “small” issues or “large” issues here, they all come back to our sinfulness and the world’s brokenness. And because God says no sin is greater than another, this means that we can’t tell someone to shut-up about one “issue” they feel passionately about while blasting others through a megaphone about what we believe to be more important.

Let’s not be afraid to speak up about what matters, but let’s simultaneously be quick to listen and slow to speak.

 

PRACTICALLY, WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE?

I think that if we’re going to address these issues we face as Christians in a broken world and really consider and inspect them, there’s a better way to do it than blasting our opinions on Facebook or leaving angry comments behind the safety of our computer screen.

How about let’s talk about these things in the safety and community of our friend groups and at our small groups through church. Let’s honestly talk about leggings and short skirts and the issues of modesty and lust with our little brothers and sisters.

Let’s learn to have conversations in LOVE (yes, even on Facebook), with the sole purpose of building up one another in Christ.

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One more angry blog post isn’t going to change someone’s heart (and it’s definitely not going to draw anyone to Christ). It may spark some “YEAH, that’s RIGHT!” for a moment, but then tomorrow, another topic will arise, and the “shares” of that article will push the one of yesterday aside while people outside the faith will shake their heads in disgust at our constant disapproval.

The action that will make the biggest difference in the world – regardless of whether the issue is big or small – starts inside each of our own hearts as we honestly inspect ourselves and bring our hearts before the Lord, begging Him to make us less like lemmings, and more like Him.

 

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” – Colossians 3:1-4

 

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:1-2

 

Jesus and Haiti Ruined Me.

I wonder if I will ever be satisfied again.

My discontentment with my job is ever-increasing.
I often feel like I’m wasting time or bored with the mundane day-to-day tasks.
I find myself daydreaming about adventure… about doing crazy things like picking up and going to Africa to take care of children orphaned by Ebola… or selling everything and taking off to explore the world, trusting God to provide along the way.

I don’t know how many times I’ve attempted to come up with an excuse to move to Greece or an idea for a business that would support my husband and me while there.
“Can’t we just get a little place up on a hill and have a winery and write books?”
(Our honeymoon clearly spoiled us.)

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This 9-5 thing isn’t cutting it for me and some days I feel like I’m going to go crazy if I don’t do something against the grain and the grind of this cookie cutter American life.

It’s hard for me to believe, but I have been attempting to get the hang of this American life again for nearly two years since returning from Haiti!

2 years ago, I was most likely covered in dirt and mosquito bites, riding my bike and chasing the sunset through sugar cane fields as dark faces curiously watched me and my dust cloud rumble by. If I wasn’t on my bike, I was walking to wherever it was I needed to go, which usually was an adventure in and of itself, as throngs of children would follow, pulling on my clothes or asking to be held… or a simple hello would turn into hours of conversation along the dusty roadside.

2 years ago, I was rescuing babies abandoned on porches. Literally saving lives. I was doing CPR on a child or cleaning and bandaging a pinky toe hanging on by a sliver of tissue. I was transforming a dirty and forgotten space into a colorful and welcoming one where children would get stronger and learn to walk and do things for themselves.

2 years ago, I was hanging on tight during a heart-pounding ride on the back of a motorcycle, leaning into countless switchbacks through the mountains of this breathtaking Caribbean Island. I was exploring beaches, snorkeling and holding my breath to dive deep and dig up sand dollars. I was joking with locals in my best attempt at a foreign language and buying beautiful hand-carved crafts that now fill my home.

2 years ago, I was building friendships with women with whom I could barely communicate, but I knew loved me deeply and whom I deeply loved. I was teaching them to crochet and handing them the first paychecks of their lives while watching something so powerful – hope – fill their faces.

2 years ago, I was pretty physically miserable on a day-to-day basis, my back aching from a cheap mattress and not a single comfortable chair to speak of, learning the hard way an allergy to Haitian toilet paper, braving cold showers for months, and some days facing even the fact that we had no running water.

But man… I was alive.

Over two years ago, from Haiti I wrote,
“…there is something to be said for having all comforts stripped away and being plopped in the middle of discomfort and unfamiliarity… something to be said for chasing after the life that God called you to, no matter what it takes… something to be said to be said for being stripped away from those things and having to fully rely on him to truly and vulnerably feel like you are living out your purpose in Him.

It’s often in the midst of struggle that we experience God’s presence because our capacity to survive on our own has great limitations.”
(Excerpt f
rom “A Victorious Purpose”  – September 17th, 2012)

Two years ago, I was on a glorious adventure.
Today… I teach handwriting.
(And some clients are elementary kids whose parents pay $20,000 PER YEAR for them to attend school. Yeah. Pay off my student loans please?).

Today, I’m surrounded by countless comforts… including a super-cozy house filled with numerous choices for a comfortable chair, a memory foam mattress, a hot shower every night, and a refrigerator full of food (that I have frequented WAY too much since returning from a life of rice and beans). I can control the temperature in my house and don’t have to go to bed covered in bug spray. I have a great job, many faithful friends, two cute dogs, and a smokin’ hot husband… but I’m still not satisfied.

I. Am. Frustrated.
Maybe Haiti ruined me.

You know what else?
I think Jesus ruined me, too.

With bleeding wrists and a shattered heart, I.MET.HIM.
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I’ve experienced His presence countless times and have stood speechless with snot bubbles and a tear-and-mascara-stained face after encountering Him, in total awe at the sheer weight of His glory.
He’s beautiful. He’s life.
He’s EVERYTHING.

And once you’ve experienced everything… once you see clearly the only thing that REALLY matters in this life, NOTHING else satisfies.

So… I am ruined.
My heart can’t settle for a life that looks like the rest of the world in its never-ending rat race.

I can’t fill my time and my mind and my hands with temporary things to satisfy my appetite.
I try.
It doesn’t work (and my now-too-tight jeans and pile of Hershey kisses wrappers prove it.)

As Jesus said to the woman at the well, those who drink the water He offers will never thirst again [John 4], and I’ve had a taste of what He’s talking about.
I felt alive in Haiti because – stripped of my comforts and distractions – I was constantly seeking and living in and dependent on His presence… the ultimate prize!

So really, being “ruined” has nothing to do with my physical location (although the Caribbean was frickin’ sweet and I will still blame my adventure in Haiti for being forever bored with a “normal” job).
It’s not about having showers with cold or hot water or a comfortable bed or not. It’s not about mosquitoes or traffic or sugar cane fields or an office cubicle. It’s not about being single or having a smokin’ hot husband…
(Hallelujah for that though. For real.)

Being “ruined” is about the fact that I have experienced the living God, the Living Water, the One who supernaturally remade my heart and made me a new – and eternal – creature, and now I belong to a different world. A Kingdom.

In this life, I will forever long for more. I will only be satisfied when I am completely in the presence of the One who gave me life. Even then, and sometimes mere seconds later, my flesh will rise up and rebel and tell me I need something more. Maybe a more exciting job. A move to another country. Or maybe just one more trip to the fridge.

It’s a constant tension.
I just can’t be satisfied with things of this world.
My hope is that as I continue to seek Him, to get to know my God, to read and trust His word – to be sanctified and made more and more like Him – that those periods of resting satisfaction will grow deeper and longer and I will more frequently win the battle against my flesh.

I know it’s ridiculous, but I sometimes envy those who don’t know Jesus. Those who haven’t met Him. I envy those who have just lived on rice and beans and have never had a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Blizzard or a Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich.
(Sweet Jesus I’m drooling.)
These people simply don’t know what they’re missing, so they are blissful in their ignorance (and probably fit in their jeans, too). Some of them even seem to have everything handed to them… where is the struggle?? They happily float along in life, striving after their portion of wind, often unchallenged in their cages with open doors… so comfortable they never even consider escaping.

But I know the truth… that seemingly “easy” life is coming to an end for them.
And an eternity of suffering will begin.
This life will be the best experience they have in all of eternity.

On the contrary, my struggle against my flesh and my desires is temporary. And my eternity will be totally fulfilling, totally blissful, totally beyond anything I can even imagine. This life will be the worst experience I have in all of eternity.

It only gets better.

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…”
[2 Corinthians 4:17]

Jesus promised it was true.
(And He was either telling the truth and He actually IS God, or He was just a deranged liar.)

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?””
[John 11:25-26]

So what will I do while ruined for this world and longing for the next?
I will trust His Word to be true – feasting on this Living Water to fill my deep longings unquenched by anything in this life as I wait for His coming.

While I wait… give me Jesus. Water for my soul.
Only Jesus.

 

 

 

 

(…okay, and maybe a few more pieces of chocolate.)

 

 

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.”

 

(For a great resource on battling the flesh and living in the Spirit, check out this oldie but goodie from John Piper HERE.)

He Knows Her Name.

My heart has been stirred for creativity lately.
I have been having crazy dreams as well as the urge to sit and write more often and currently have four nearly-finished pieces on my desktop waiting to be shared. I absolutely love it. Some of the times that I feel closest to God are when I’m writing. It’s like a direct line opens to carry His whispers from heaven to my ear, and I have a passionate drive to capture His words and presence while I feel Him near.

I was gearing up to share a new piece yesterday, but suddenly, got a new wave of thought and vision, and all but ran to my computer to start writing. Chris and I were supposed to be beginning our weekly date night, but I asked him if he could wait for me while I let the words flow.
In 15 minutes, I was done.

It’s totally different from what I usually write, although still conversational-style.
I’m excited to share but scared at the same time.
Writing is like bearing your heart…
But what would be the point of keeping my heart to myself?

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1.9.2015


“He Knows Her Name.”


She’s beautiful.

Every time her form comes into view, the sunlight gleaming off of her curves and edges, you smile. She’s familiar and comfortable, yet so mysterious.
There’s still so much to explore.

She’s intriguing.
She offers you a lifetime of adventure and doesn’t ask for much in return.
She never leaves you bored or hungry, yet you thirst to dive in deeper.
She beckons you to know every corner and winding alley of her heart.

She’s diverse.
She inspires you as you experience the depth of her personality.
The stories that describe her years of existence are of courage, creativity, and soul. She has allowed many to shape her into all that she is and all she hopes to become.

She’s broken.
She begs you not to leave her. In moments of fear and rage, her darkness in deep and hidden places is made visible. Everyone knows. You have now seen the evil she is capable of, and she cries out for you to stay anyway, unlike those before you.
She pleads with you to love her. To stay.

She’s witnessed this story before.
She cringed as she watched her once-popular and successful sister endure abandonment when her flaws were realized; watched as she became hopeless and more desperate, the weight of darkness crushing her once beautiful soul as year after year those she had loved and sheltered walked away and eventually failed to even look her direction.

“Please stay.”

You squint your eyes to try and see her beauty as you once did despite what you now know. Your heart pounds and aches to escape from the fear of it all – the next outburst or fit of rage, as it damages so much in its wake. The confrontations force you to inspect the blemishes within your own heart, but you just want to live your life in peace.
Can you find it here?

You want to run, but Something holds you still.
Through misty eyes, you see a flicker of light.
There is hope and desperation for freedom in her eyes. She aches for you to see this light that exists deep within her and fan the small flame until it bursts forth like a million glowing angels in song and drives out the darkness once and for all.

If only you will stay and love her, if only you will show her grace this time – and the next – and the next – she will begin to see clearly.
She will grow. Her once-hardened heart will be made new.
She will finally experience what it means to be loved.
She will see that her striving for perfection will only leave her disappointed and empty-handed. 
She will learn to forgive – because her identity and standard of beauty no longer rest on airbrushed perfection, but a raw reflection of grace.
She will be set free and her beauty will shine wildly, unhindered by darkness seeping out of forgotten corners and alleys of her pockmarked heart.

Fear will be snuffed out in conversations of understanding and humility.
She will stand tall and invite others to know and love her, and she will love them freely in return, reservations cast away with newfound trust.

She will no longer live in fear of abandonment, but in awe of the Stone Layer.
The One who made her.
The One you remind her of.

She knows that He will never leave.
He knows her name.

St. Louis.

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