Love and Surrender

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I stood in front of the mirror, scanned my reflection, and sighed deeply as my shoulders dropped. My flesh tells a story of chapters I find myself longing to rewrite. It is not the signs of age, child bearing, or gravity that heralds in my yoking of shame, it is the battle with my flesh and food that firmly takes me down, over and over again. My eyes stare down my wobbly bits, my wrinkles, my scars, and I make an agreement with the shame that engulfs me. The message I accept is simple but powerful: “I am not worthy.”

The one word that God keeps echoing through this season beats in my mind again: surrender.

God, I am sorry. It has all been so very much. The pain, learning to walk again, doing everything to help me, learning to move and then having it all taken away and now starting over for what feels like the millionth time…  I keep failing at navigating all of this and…

Surrender. Give it all to Me, including your fear.

Breathe in, breathe out. I remember, just breathe.

I choose to surrender it all, God. Help me to see clearly because it seems so dark right now.

Get your green shirt. 

Immediately I knew which shirt, the shirt I had quickly bought from Target when we visited Florida 16 months ago when it was skin tight. I dug it out and thought back on how hard that trip was and how I battled fear every step of that vacation, afraid of another setback and more pain and all the alcohol I used as a muscle relaxer when desperate. Tears started filling my eyes as I realized how now I can walk for miles, can almost swim one, not truly realizing how far I had actually come.

Thank you Lord.

Put it on. (I have grown to love the sweetness of His still and gentle whispers.)

Slipping my arms into the blouse I flashed back to the day of purchase and how I struggled to get it on but bought it anyway because I was short on time. And while I know that was 54 pounds ago my eyes still can’t quite compute it yet. There was extra room everywhere, inches and inches of it. Muscle replacing fat.

I want you to see what I see.

I see a warrior who chose not to give up and has found me in the depths of this season of pain.

I see one who is learning that while she may find herself in the furnace, she is never alone there. In fact, I am using the heat to burn off all that binds her.

I see one whom I love, and I am asking her to agree with me and to choose to love herself too. 

You understand that I want you to love like I love, and it starts with you.

How can you love your neighbor as yourself if you don’t love yourself? 

How can you be kind to others if you are brutal toward you?

Surrender and see.

Be kind. It is a lesson taught in preschool, but I don’t remember ever being told to be kind to myself until I started therapy many years ago. I am so thankful that God is patient because I am clearly still learning, one baby step at a time. He is always inviting, and I am always choosing my hard; the hard that leads to life and freedom despite our circumstances or the hard that comes from self-soothing in ways this world heralds which lands you into a pit.

Lord, help me to keep surrendering, help me to truly see. Thank you for every step on the path of victory. On second glance I can see some abs starting to peek through their winter coat and that I have breasts that double as floatation devices, and then I hear myself say, “it is good,” like it is listed in Genesis under the days of creation…

Ok, well, it is a start.

 

The Weight of a “Happy Birthday”

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Each year on this day I have a dialogue in my head about the child who feels like she’s dead…

It all started with a phone call.

“We have an immediate need for a placement of two sisters, 13 and 14, will you take them?”

Even as the memories unfold my chest begins to tighten, is it anxiety or grief or both today? I know that for the few who journey down this road it becomes clear; outsiders don’t understand and no one really shares when the story is not a fairytale. Public silence is the rule.

Today is your birthday, and I just keep flashing back to that day we stood before the judge and you signed on that line that you had chosen the family that had chosen you, fought for you, and hoped for forever with you. The adoption couldn’t have happened without your consent, not at the age you were. And now, 14 years later, I have watched you replace us and choose a new family time and time again. And despite years of therapy to process all that has taken place I find I can’t make my heart understand that love was never going to be enough.

“Mom” number 5.

Therapeutic  parenting?

It swirls in my head every time I try to understand this story; our story.

I know it was never about us but we still have to figure out a way through all of these roads labeled HARD.

We can’t just mute our love for you because you have walked away.

I never saw the story unfolding the way it has. I flash back to adoption workers saying words like “unadoptable,” and my stomach still churns at the thought. No child should ever be labeled that way and yet, now I wonder, what did it mean after all? What was it all for? What was the point  of it all if this is how the story goes?

The girls ask me if you think about them, they ask why can’t they know you and love your children. It has been years since we last had moments with you and we all have to walk our road through the grief. How am I supposed to answer questions like, “doesn’t she miss me?”  Then the adoption worker’s words echo through my head again, “why would you want to adopt them? You don’t have to.”

At 25 and 28, we thought that with enough love, and counseling, and training, and Jesus, it was all going to be a messy but wonderful happily-ever-after.  That is not the reality today.

We didn’t “save you,” we couldn’t heal all the wounds, if any, and today I am not sure we did much of anything for you and your sister at all. I replay all the professionals saying the same “it was too late, there was nothing you could do.” But I can’t tell my heart that, not yesterday, or today, and even if it understood what will that give me?

But we did choose you and therein lies all that was in our control and has the aroma of obedience to the God who drew our paths together and wove you into our hearts.

Why did I ever think a sacred path would be without suffering?

I will cry today, for the millionth time, and replay so much pain, and feel it all again. I will remember your laugh and your smile and I will cry harder.  It is the only way through.  I will answer your younger sister’s questions, and then try again to explain to the youngest who you even are while my heart breaks anew. I will hold them as they cry, and pray again for you, even when my words run dry, because that is the best that I can do. Your dad and I will once again wonder to God “why?” Why did He choose us to choose you if the journey runs this way?

And God will patiently remind us that He doesn’t owe us an explanation for all of our why’s, instead he faithfully holds us in our hard so we can continue to hold you in our hearts. For each of us may not have your DNA but we are still choosing you today.

So Happy Birthday to the one who never had to earn our love but was given all the imperfect that we are from the very start. And has taught us more about God’s unconditional love and how he holds an ever bleeding heart.

 

A Picture of Infertility

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A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the depth of meaning is always in the backstory, the one no single image can ever convey.

An image tempts the viewer to fill in the narrative with all of their assumptions, and most often they are wrong.

It is National Infertility Awareness Week. We are among the 1 in 8 who have journeyed through the devastating diagnosis. Yes, devastating. There are so many moments seared in our flesh that originally felt like a slow acting poisonous arrow straight to the heart. It isn’t fair. I was certain at 22 when we first heard the news that it was the single most crushing pain I could ever experience. Now here I am, almost two decades after our infertility journey began, to offer a few words for those on the journey and those who aren’t.

Stop making assumptions about another person’s journey.  Instead, show up for those you love, be curious, be compassionate, and know two things are almost totally universal: it is a complicated-messy journey and there is always room for hope.

As I reflect on our journey to and through parenthood I am filled with exactly every emotion God has bestowed upon the human race. I grieve over all the loss and marvel over all the beauty.

I am a mom of 8 daughters. What? You can’t tell that by looking at the picture I am posting? Yeah, that is my point. You can’t assume anything accurately from this one image except, quite obviously, that these three girls are gorgeous…you would be accurate on that.

Not pictured:

The twins that died or the miscarriage less than 30 weeks ago,

All the infertility probing and needles and spread-eagling for the chance of a child,

The incredible moments of being present as another woman gave birth to a child I would raise,

The questions about stories and birth families and am I worthy of love at all?, are you sure?

The incredible depth of love that beats in my chest for the birth parents of my children,

The sorrow over having chosen children not chose you in return,

The joy over watching all the first moments, the kisses and hugs and cries of “Mommy!”

The head pounding of all the cries of “MOMMY!”

The begging and pleading and praying to God that he would just do things my way,

The humility in realizing you got a yes,

The toll it takes on your emotions, your finances, your marriage,

The realization that the story is more incredible and difficult than I could have ever imagined, or the two adult children not present at all, or all the loss that has come as they have had children and 1 million other moments that have led to this one picture.

Messy, hard, beautiful, broken, complicated journey–absolutely.

But also NEVER without hope in a God who is able to carry us through it all.

Are there chapters I wish didn’t exist? Yes.

However, it has been in the chapters I would never have chosen that God has done some of the most incredible things. The best has been in Him drawing us deeply in and inviting us into an intimacy with Him that I would not trade for anything in all the world.  And somewhere along the way He turned us into warriors, not just fighting for the daughters he has given us, but for their birth families, for their kids, for an entire group of people I would never have known.

Easy? No.

Worth it? Yes.

There is a priceless gift in the hard spaces. It is a shedding of the belief that you were ever in control and an invitation to surrender to the One who is. Holding onto the Hope that is found solely in Him, you learn you have been given the greatest gift of all: an extraordinary Savior who dreams far bigger dreams than you do.

 

Grief and Rainbows

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I should be holding you in my arms this week…

One thought, stuck on repeat.

A deep ache seems to pound in my flesh; my body hasn’t forgotten.

It seems to know at a cellular level that a baby was supposed to be born this week.

My flesh, my mind, my heart are all struggling to compute a reality without you, a you I never even got to meet…at least not yet.

I have so much to do; there is not time to deal with the tears that keep slipping over the edges of my eyelids.

I know this space called grief, and yet it is like I am walking the road anew. The ground is unfamiliar even while the scent smells the same.

Quarantine. A weight clunks down onto my chest…

Parenting kids locked inside while they navigate puberty.

Another weight falls.

A husband stressed.

Clunk.

A complete upheaval of all that was once familiar, of friends.

Clunk, clunk, clunk.

Parents in health-crisis.

Clunk.

Caring for others.

Clunk.

The bank account draining.

Clunk, clunk…

Shopping in the midst of COVID-19.

Clunk.

The fridge breaking.

Clunk. Gasp, GASP.

My breathing is so labored the tears have permission to fall as all my effort focuses on willing my lungs and heart to just keep going—even when it feels impossible.

Stop. Scream. Cry. Tear clothes. Pour ashes on your head. Lock yourself in a bathroom. Go for a walk.

Take a moment…

To feel it all.

I should be holding you in my arms right now and blanketing your face with my kisses-

not crying over a fridge and lost groceries and pain and parents and kids and money and COVID-19.

And yet, I must cry over it all—all the hard—for this is grief, and the only way out is through. After the rain comes the rainbow, and it looks like a few who offer their words of comfort, their toilet paper, their coolers, and their acknowledgement of you, dear Cara Belle. With the rainbow comes the reminder of His promise, that He is bigger than the destruction of your world. He provided the ark, and the ark can look like beautiful friends showing up and picking up a weight to carry, the snuggles of those who are present, and the whisper of a God who has provided every life-giving piece of wood that makes up the ark during the storms, all while He carries us through them.

 

Surrender

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It is 4:15 a.m. and I can’t seem to find my friend called sleep.

My mind spins and turns and frantically but methodically tries to comprehend all that is unfolding in this season.

The house has a steady white noise of rhythmic breathing- theirs, not mine; mine is forced, theirs is a symphonic reminder of some of my most precious gifts.

I listen to the bathroom fan whirl in submission to the switch it must obey and slowly demand my own breathing to find a calm rhythm.

Surrender.

This space doesn’t seem fair, it smells of grief and loss and yet is somehow oddly clarifying.

The most important things seem to gleam and glow in this space, eager for the overdue acknowledgement of their splendiferous life giving fruit.

It is a pruning reality, and one where the branches that aren’t bearing life may be expertly cut away to create the conditions for new fruit to be born.

Surrender.

A distilled clarity of offerings that hold a fragrance of the finest perfume becomes a pouring out of what really matters in that space. A perfume submissively poured out at His feet, and one so strong that it will still linger through the breaking of bread, the garden midnights, the flagellations, the accusations, and the cross.

Surrender.

I pour out the perfume that has been refined in my soul over the last several months at His feet…

The baby girl who won’t be born this month,

The loss of people who were dear,

The pain of rejection,

The quilled blanket of isolation,

The mother who must undergo her cancer treatment alone,

The body that just will not heal,

The parenthood journey that refines my warrior ways,

The quarantine, the trauma-homeschooling, and all the things,

And s-u-r-r-e-n-d-e-r.

The heaviness of it all drives me to my knees in the dead of the night asking God if there is any other way…

And then He reminds me again of the Garden and the Cross that is coming…

Today is Wednesday but Friday is coming-

Surrender.

He grieved, He wrestled, He refused to run from the crushing spaces, He carried it all to the cross and He surrendered and sacrificed for you and for me.

“Yet not my will, but yours be done.”

The single greatest act in all of history-

Jesus willingly going to that cross.

Surrender.

Surrender is the choice that makes the yoke light, it is the only way to the cross, and it leads to the life after the tomb.

Friday’s coming but so is SUNDAY.

Surrender.

Not my will but yours be done God.

What do you need to surrender today friend?

 

Death, Focus and Finding Beauty

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14 years ago I laid in a hospital bed being pumped full of heavy duty antibiotics, an oxygen mask snuggly fitted to my face and a stout, demanding nurse seated at the head of my bed who routinely refitted the mask and loudly ordered me to breathe. Just an hour earlier the room had been full of medical professionals whose sole mission was to save my life and maybe that of my daughter’s. But the sepsis had ravaged both of us by that point and only one of us survived. I laid in that bed and flashed back to just two weeks prior, as I held my first daughter in my arms while she took her last breath. It was only then, in the stark contrast that I realized that even those agonizingly difficult moments were a gift I was not given with both. Our twins, born two weeks apart and months too soon only lived for about 15 minutes.

I laid there full of disdain for the nurse who was fighting to keep me alive, she was holding space for a life I no longer wanted, so certain was I that it was the event meant to destroy me. It was in that space, wishing I could lull off to sleep and simply wake, held in the arms of Jesus, with my girls, that I first heard Him whisper.

“Look for the beauty in this day Crystal.”

It seemed like a cruel joke at first. How could there ever be beauty in spaces like this? Then I looked over at my mother’s tear stained face, hung low, seated beside a husband who was fervently praying for my life, and I began to understand. Seasons are always woven, they are rarely solitary notes, suffering and joy are often melted together into the tapestry of our lives. The beauty of that day was the love of two who were fighting for me even when I had no strength or desire left to fight for myself.

I would continue to hear that gentle prodding as the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months and months turned into years. Eventually, I began to seek ways to capture the ordinarily beautiful moments through photography. What started as a vision-shift turned into a way to remember the beauty in the hard seasons. Today, after days of high stress, and countless questions in the midst of this pandemic season I looked over and my breath caught in my chest as I quickly picked up my phone to “snap” a picture.

Daddy is now having to work from home, uncomfortable at our rackety kitchen table, but he was briefly interrupted by a sweet 4 year old, dressed as Princess Jasmine, who just had to hold him tight for a moment. A moment that 14 years ago, laying in that hospital bed, I could have never dreamed of. One miraculous moment, again reminding me of just how big God is and the beauty He provides in the ordinary (and even hard spaces) if we will just have eyes to see.

What beauty are you prone to miss in the distracted hardness of this time? May I encourage you to always look for the beauty? It often shows up in the ordinary.

 

What About the Least of These?

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Maybe I have read too much over the last few days regarding all that is pouring forth on my 4×2 inch cell phone screen, or maybe you will think I have read too little but there is just so much I can’t seem to understand. I could feel the tightness grip my chest as an initial sense of overwhelming details kept lighting up my email, my social media, and my news feed. Declarations of absurdity, declarations of panic, declarations of closures and politics and toilet paper and SO VERY MUCH. Too much. At this time and season and space of my life it just felt like too much- a sentence that even as I type it I am certain I will be judged for.

I am seeing people of faith declaring, in faith, all that they will do as they refuse to bow down to fear and plan to continue their meetings. I am seeing people dismissing the whole thing as folly, while some pass around jokes and make light of it all. And I am seeing others, some silenced by feelings of shame, not want to acknowledge their own fear, their own desire to prepare or their concerns of how it will affect them.

And as I have sought to still my own soul in the presence of my Savior one question keeps echoing through my mind-

What about the least of these?

These events are so far reaching and so deeply impacting that it is just folly to disregard the seriousness of the situation. It goes far beyond “just” concerns about ones own health in the face of a new virus; it is impacting every single American in varying degrees. And I just keep wondering-

What about the least of these?

What about the ones who ARE medically fragile on a good day?

What about the elderly who with their gray crowns of splendor may now be wondering how they can navigate this time? I wonder if they feel disposable as the comments are thrown around.

What about the immune compromised or those with serious chronic conditions who are looking into the face of greater suffering?

What about the least of these?

What will we do? What will we look back, as most of us will be able to, and say about this season? What will we choose? And how did we care for the least of these?

I believe in faith over fear. I also believe our fears should be acknowledged and not shamed while we kick them out of the drivers seat. However, I also believe in wisdom, in knowledge, in discernment, in prudence and applying these in powerful measure as well.  I believe in a God who has equipped us with big, beautiful brains in His sovereignty as well as the possibility of deep and abiding faith. And I believe that we who claim to love Jesus and are “able” have an incredible opportunity to serve and love the least of these who may be in our corner of life.  And I believe that we can encourage one another, inspire one another, and lift each other up to the God who is truly able (even from a distance of at least 6 feet).

Get Back Up

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I believe I first began to use food to “self-sooth” somewhere about age 5. I can remember shuttling away to my bedroom with a box of chocolate hostess cupcakes, certain I had just become a master thief complete with a back up plan: if they were discovered missing, I could always blame it on my brother. My 5 year-old self thought the plan was perfect and my sugar high harmless. It becomes no small battle if you pick food as your drug, you can never just “quit it.” And I would argue that while emotional eating may be the only socially acceptable “drug,” it is only truly “acceptable” for the thin. For, in my experience, you are indeed treated differently if you find yourself taking up “too much space.” So, if I could sum up my journey with food I would borrow a former Facebook moniker and simply say, “it’s complicated.” But today, today smells better then double fudge brownies right out of the oven.

This isn’t about the scale, that is merely a marker of what may be working as I continue my journey of learning what MY body needs. Nor is it simply about losing 50 pounds in the last 16 weeks.

Here IS what is represents though:

It is not quitting on me.

It is gaining almost all of the weight back that I once lost after having gastric sleeve surgery.

It is realizing I was wrong on what it would take to get it back off.

It is not staying in the dying spaces and snuggling a blanket of excuses that sound like defeat.

It is not letting the hard season I am in, or the physical pain I endure daily, or my long list of limitations, or my PCOS shackle me down in a space of Hopeless-So-Do-Not-Try Land.

It represents over 8 years of hard work in therapy dealing with my crap.

It stands as a marker of learning more about how to lean on a God of freedom instead of a god of food.

It represents exactly zero perfection.

It represents more freedom.

It is about pressing into being healthy and strong, not a certain size.

It is about making peace with food battles and no longer labeling everything.

It represents a woman who keeps taking the next step, rising up on bloodied knees and bloodied hands after she falls and not quitting on herself.

So if we are choosing our hard, friends, let us choose the hard that leads to life abundant.

Don’t quit. Don’t ever quit on you and showing up for your life.

You are worth it.

Get back up.

 

Honor and Lung Cancer

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My Dearest Mom and Dad,

I know you remember this moment, you dreamt of it long after you let all of your own dreams die. YOUR child, a COLLEGE graduate and the first one in our family. Your expressions say it all, and so does mine. You both are beaming and I was just happy I could bring you both such joy. I didn’t understand at 21 what I think I might today, and I am wondering if you both see it more clearly now too?

Dad, you started working after junior high, and mom you never got the chance to finish high school, parenthood arrived early in your journey and changed everything. I thought on graduation day you both were living a bit through me, and while a sliver of that may be true I now see the heartbeat of your dream more clearly. It wasn’t about college as much as it was you two believing that was a ticket to a better life. But if your peel back all those layers the better life really wasn’t about college, it was always about breaking the cycle, wanting better and more for your children as you grappled with navigating your own lives. It was about freedom, a freedom that seemed elusive to you but you wanted desperately for your kids and it just dressed itself up like “college.”

And so tonight as I wonder what I most need to say, it is this:

You did succeed. Because Mom and Dad, this little girl grew up to be a warrior who walks in more freedom then the two of you ever dreamed. You DID succeed, not because of the career I chose or because of how much money I have but because you taught me to run my race, to never quit, to dream bigger dreams then I could ever do alone, and a thousand other lessons you never thought you could teach.

And now we enter what I think may be the most important chapter of our earthly story, the nearing of the finish line. And I have to say to you both that this space is far more important to me to do well then getting any college degree. It is far more important that I do THIS season well more than any before it. It is MY turn to show up in the hard spaces, to cheer YOU on, to be YOUR shoulder to lean on, to pour out MY love in all the everyday ways, and to remind you that you are not alone in this journey.

Today was a hard day Mom and Dad, but you have known many.
Mom, you tried not to cry as you told me the news and I held you.
Mom, it is ok to cry.
Dad, it is ok to be emotional too.

Lung cancer.
Mom.
Congestive Heart Failure and COPD.
Dad.
Today is a hard day but none of this gets to win because God ALREADY HAS.
He formed you, He loves you, He holds you and He will NEVER leave you.
I pray that you both would lean in with every fiber of your being and find just how sweet He is, especially in the gut wrenchingly hard spaces.
I confess I am not sure I will do this chapter well, I want to do a throwback to age three when tantrums were acceptable, I want to be selfish and I want to fight the fallenness of this world because I am certain I will never feel ready to even think about the earthly story ending with you.
But I will keep showing up, imperfectly, loving you and lifting you up the the God who delights in you.

Love,
Your “Baby”

Conversation with a Sexual Predator

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I had just entered Costco with my husband and kids when I saw you. You are older, heavier, and balder then you were 23 years ago but your features are burned into my memory like a scared wound.  The revulsion I felt in my body was rapid. Just the sight of you made my stomach turn, my fists curl, and my pulse race. The bile that raised up burned my throat as I willed it back in place. 23 years since you robbed me, groomed me and violated me. Do you remember me?

My husband said we could leave the store, that I didn’t have to put myself through this- the seeing of you.  But you see, I am not who I once was and I don’t run away or cower down or submit to evil anymore. I would not be the one to retreat today.

I saw the woman at your side and I wondered if she knew who you really were. Did you tell her you are a sexual predator? Does she have kids? Have you changed? The bile rose in my throat again. I didn’t fight back before, I never stood up for myself, for I was utterly convinced (despite the few who learned of what happened saying otherwise) that I had somehow caused it all.  Me, “a stupid, seductress, teenage slut” was responsible for what you did… I even planned on taking my own life after you attempted to rape me and failed because of the shame that enveloped me, the knowing that I couldn’t wash away your fingerprints on my flesh.

But not today. I am no longer her.

I thought it was time you meet me.

I feared I may have missed my opportunity while I regained myself, so I whispered silently to the God who has redeemed all you stole, “give me another chance…”

I stood in the middle of the aisle as my husband grabbed some butter and you rounded the corner with the woman.  You looked up, you recognized me, and you quickly looked away. I stood there, arms crossed, and invited my children to gather around as I explained that this is what a predator can look like. And then, after what felt like too long, I willed my feet to move. I walked right up to you and leaned in a bit, you turned with a smile. That smile made it clear what I needed to say.

I wonder what you expected.

“Have you told her who you really are T**?” You looked at me with disdain before you looked away.

Again, I grew a bit louder, bolder, and unwavering– with one look I knew you had not changed.

“Does she know you are a sexual predator? Does she, T**? If not, she really deserves to know who you are and what you have done.”

At this, behind you, I heard her asking who I was, and then when my words registered, I saw her eyes grow big and heard her exclaim, “WHAT?” I faintly heard my husband behind me say, “I don’t think she knew.” And as you started to walk silently away I drew one last breath to say, “Who better to know than me, your victim!” And the chain fragments that were still being carried by me, fell. Did you hear them? It sounded like a surge of my power coming home, where it always belonged.

And walking away to a clammer of sounds between you and that poor woman, that my mind just could not be bothered with, I realized that I had finished taking back my power- power you once robbed me of.

Were you surprised to find yourself before one you once overpowered now standing before you fiercely, unflinching, a warrior?

I turned the corner of the aisle and fist pumped the air, then turned to look at my daughters who had watched it all.  And I realized again, it is NEVER too late to take back your power, to fight for your freedom, and to land in the beautiful, bountiful land of victory.

Dear T**, I wish you knew my Jesus.