My Weakness

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My Weakness

In November 2014 we completed our one and only round of IVF, “our last try.”

The cycle was almost a bust because for reasons unknown at the time my ovaries weren’t responding to the meds. (We would later learn that we got a bad batch of meds that were virtually useless).

Of the over 24 eggs eventually harvested, only 17 were deemed mature enough to fertilize.

Of those 17 eggs, only 11 actually fertilized through forced sperm injection in a petri dish.

Of the 11 that fertilized, only 6 kept growing past day 2.

On day 3, one looked “slightly better” than the others, though none looked “perfect.”

That first embryo of just 10 cells would be our first transfer, and she would become my first ever successful pregnancy.

A few days later I got the call. Somehow, 2 more embryos had proven strong enough to freeze.

2 more chances, maybe…

I had lost over 100 pounds and was in the best shape of my life when we began in 2014.

I had planned, and I had worked hard for every inch of victory I gained.

I did the hard work of therapy and began the arduous journey of dealing with my crap that had led me to the grim prognosis I received about 2 years prior.

It was in my control to change everything, and I did.

I didn’t know it then, but while I pressed into the intense runs and long mountain treks, I had also begun an injury to my hip, a tear to the cartilage in my hip joint. The tear was completed the day I gave birth to our sweet daughter.

That day, I learned anew how little was actually in my control.

Exercise, which had become a welcome refuge and deep therapy of its own, was ripped away from me and was instead replaced by a steady and never ending pain.

It took 15 months for a correct diagnosis, 1 very painful hip surgery that I still can’t google the specifics on,and almost 3 years of rehab, learning to walk again, and countless setbacks to arrive where I am today.

And not a day went by that I didn’t think about those 2 frozen embryos and wonder if instead of “when” we would try if instead we would “ever” be able to try.

2 months before the actual frozen embryo transfer I finally got the “go ahead” to try.

My pelvis was finally holding, I had regained enough strength, and the muscle spasms had subsided.

Only this time, I would be heavier, older, and in worse physical condition than ever before. How could I do this now?

I felt so weak and unable, and, to be totally honest, ashamed to be in this space with my fragile flesh.

The world will think me a fool.

My power is made perfect in weakness.

I heard it echo through my mind again and again, His still small voice.

It was time.

God moved mountains to get me to even this space, and He was once again asking me to trust Him.

We were finally able to give one of the embryos a chance at life. A chance I had thought many times might never actually come.

I have had doubts fill my mind, I have battled fear relentlessly, and I have been reminded constantly of my weakness. And He gently reminds me that I am not the author; He is.

Here I sit, wonderfully nauseated by the new life that grows within me, because God is bigger than my weakness.  He is able. He is the author and perfecter of my faith. And though I might have to lay my weakness before Him one thousand times a day, He isn’t mad, He isn’t surprised, He holds me in all my brokenness, and He loves me so much that He is willing to keep repeating, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

His love truly is more precious than rubies.  What do you need to lay before Him right now?

 

To Be Seen

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I have eyed the medicine sitting in its bright blue plastic bag in my refrigerator door off and on all day; tonight the shots will begin.  It is a 3-pronged approach to hopefully wake up my ovaries and shock them into function–not that I will need the eggs for the transfer we hope to do, but our bodies are picky-down to a cellular level-when it comes to breeding life. I need an egg. Technically, I need 1,000 things to go perfectly; the egg is just one part. My head throbbing, thoughts racing, all the improbability I seem to be facing, and I hear the familiar thought echo through my mind once again. “Now God? Now we are hoping for a child? At our ages? With this body?” My thoughts cascade into a familiar loop of all my fears and I feel the heaviness growing within my chest.  It feels like the choking of impossibility.

Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah?

Not that story again, not now.  How many times have I read through different writings of this familiar story, a seeming favorite to quote to the barren and infertile to remind of God’s ability.  Honestly, I have found it irksome. Our stories could not be more different. Sarah and I are in different worlds, and what could I possibly be reminded of that I haven’t heard a hundred times before?

Read it again. Dig. Look at it as you are, a woman who has long journeyed with barrenness and infertility. 

Sigh.

That was several days ago…and I am still blown away by all I had never seen before about my girl Sarah.  So, I invite you to pull up a proverbial chair and sneak behind the scenes into my favorite chapter of Sarah’s story, the promise, as I unpack what I think the scene may have actually looked like on that day so very long ago.  One infertile woman’s look into the day of another…(Genesis 18)

….

Sarai. She had always heard of her incredible beauty, some even believed she was the most beautiful woman alive.  Even middle aged her body showed all the firmness of never having carried a child, another attribute of her beauty in others eyes, but a searing daily reminder of what had never been.  Her golden skin tones, her symmetrical features, she was a prize for any King, and once already she had been captured by a King because of her looks. Her worth as determined by her beauty fell flat as she considered how time had passed her by. Would she trade it all for a child? The one thing that every woman could do, she could not– she could not bear a child.  There was not a day that had gone by since early in their marriage that she did not hope for a child. As year after year passed, her desperation grew. There was only one thing left in her power to try: to substitute another woman in her place to be her surrogate. The desperate try turned into a cold reality of yet another hope broken when it worked, and Sarai still felt the same inside.  Her womb was still empty as she watched the swelling belly of another offer proof that it was her shame that made a child impossible. Not even Abraham could make her pregnant, though he could her surrogate. The world now knew without doubt it was Sarai who was broken. Her beauty, her freedom, and the wealth she enjoyed would never comfort that deep ache within her for a hope that seemed to be impossible.

Her hands went to work preparing the bread like she had done a thousand times before–the flour, the water, the kneading. She created the bread absentmindedly as her thoughts wandered to the guests her husband had said arrived.  Both culture and status demanded their hospitality today, but this was something more. Something inside her whispered these were no ordinary guests. She remained in the tent, hidden away, unseen, doing as was expected of her. But when the food was done, something drew her to the tent door, to the men that sat just outside of it.  She had to know more. Who were these men? Why were they here?

Then they said to Abraham, “Where is Sarah your wife?”

God shows up with two angels, shares a meal with Abraham and asks where Sarah is.  The omnipotent God knows exactly where she is. He knows she is listening at the tent door; it is His presence that drew her.  He sees her, not for her physical beauty like everyone else, and not for her barrenness. He is not hindered by her hiddenness; He has shown up, and He wants her to know that He sees her, truly sees her.  And he calls her not by the name she had known all her life, but by Sarah, the Mother of Nations. He lets Sarah know with one question that He sees her and exactly how he sees her: not as barren, but as exceedingly fruitful.

Sarah. Sarah? His words touched places deep within her. They held power; they held life.  This is what it feels like to be seen?

He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him.

Sarah couldn’t believe her ears as she laughed to herself.  Her heart raced. Had she heard him correctly? She would have a son next year?  Now, Lord? Now we are hoping for a child? At our ages? With this body? When it has been proven impossible for me by time? When we feel old? Now?

It was the thing she wanted most. This was the promise she had dreamed of having for most of her life.  Just when she surrendered to the reality of never, God spoke of a certainty her mind could not compute easily.

And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old’? Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah, hidden within the tent, silent, her thoughts completely seen before the One Who Created Her.  Can you hear His tone as He pours His love into her? Sarah, I see you. I know your thoughts. I know you’re struggling to understand. I know it is hard to trust that the day will finally come. I know you don’t want more pain.  However, I am going to blow your mind. I am the God of the impossible. Nothing is too hard for me, and this is for my glory and always has been.

Sarah, shocked and fearful that her thoughts were known, and sad that they showed her vulnerability, her tenderness, and her pain, immediately sought to erase them.

Sarah denied it…

And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Seen. No hiding. Jesus is not mad; He is honest. He understands. He isn’t surprised. He wants her to know she never needs to hide from him her innermost thoughts and pain.  He has her. He is the God who sees.

Her pain was never without purpose. In her season of waiting, she may never have imagined the plans God had for her.  The waiting was not by accident but by design. In a time where the only certainty of barrenness, of impossibility, would be time, he allowed the time to pass so he could perform his miracle.  God wanted to give her a front row seat to see that He is the God of the impossible. The one who the world thought was barren would become the Mother of Nations.

The tears keep filling my eyes.  He is the God who sees, not just Sarah, but me and you.  In our heartache, in the deserts, in the brokenness, in the waiting, He sees us.  He is the God of the impossible, and He always has a plan. And He is inviting us to have a front row seat to watch Him do immeasurably more than we could ever comprehend. Whatever OUR impossible, He repeats, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Walking in that truth changes everything.

 

Gearing Up For a FET

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I stand in front of the mirror and look at my body that has gone through so much. My curves aren’t quite where I wish they were, and I am fluffier than I want to be. My scars are numerous, every one a tribute to a battle fought or a privilege carried. My gray hair is boldly declaring its victory crown which resembles more of a zebra stripe down the center of my head then an actual crown. My wrinkles are a map of a road well-traveled, and the only thing really left firm after having a baby, hip surgery and 3 years of physical rehabilitation, is my resolve to keep going. This is not exactly what I had planned when finally being able to try to conceive again.

I didn’t plan my course, I didn’t see all the twists and turns coming. If I could have, I am certain I would have tried to alter the course to avoid all the hard places that would mold me into who I am today. However, that avoidance would have robbed me of the most incredible knowledge and deeply profound experience of walking with the God of Love because I would have bought the lie that I could do this life thing solo. I was never meant to walk this solo. The hard places have shown me my absolute need of Jesus, and they have unearthed a great treasure of knowledge regarding His sweetness that I dare say I will never have the ability to put into words.

I need to look in the mirror and remember today who I am. Instead, I find myself wanting to focus on the giant mountain standing before me and it tempts me to quit before I even start.

I could focus on the fact that I am fluffy, almost 40, and uncertain if I will be able to do this again.
I could focus on my 3 kids and the age gaps that I never intended and how sometimes I feel like I am already failing at parenthood.
I could focus on the money, so much money, and how we are a single income family.
I could focus on revisiting the million hard places that I have already traveled on our parenthood journey.
I could focus on all that could go wrong as we begin diving into the FET process next week.
I could focus on everything that is out of my control.
I could focus on the 2 precious embryos who have been waiting for over 4 years now.
I could focus on how I feel like I have already failed in a thousand different ways.

OR I can be thankful and remember all of the moments He has shown He is bigger than my failures. My focus is always my choice, it remains the one thing in my control.

I am so thankful that I even get the privilege to try and become a mom again. Many times over the last 4 years of physical pain and disability I have cried out to God and wondered if we would ever even get the chance to transfer our embryos, if my body would ever heal enough? It has. What once seemed impossible became possible. How quickly I forget. I am grateful that despite my faithless moments God remains faithful. It is no small miracle that I am even here, at this junction of the road.

I will hold onto gratitude, and the monuments of remembrance erected by me of God’s power in my journey with white knuckled fists right now; I have to, or I could never journey down this road again.

I would love to say I won’t fear, I really wish I could. Instead, I will humbly surrender my fears to the One who has proven that regardless of the outcome, the hugeness of the impossible mountain, He has me, He is able, and He is good. Sometimes faith is a war cry, other times it is a sweet surrender. Of this I am certain though, sometimes God moves the mountain, other times He teaches you how to climb.

Sex Would Never Work

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It was 8 months since I had gone off birth control pills and we began trying. 8 months of timed intercourse, negative pregnancy tests and mounting tension. There was an unspoken ache growing in my womb instead of a baby. We had purchased our first home and we eagerly painted one room the sweetest pale yellow we could find, as we dreamed of our first baby.  I knew something was wrong, even when others would speak of our “young age” and the need for me to simply “relax” in the waiting. Finally, we went to the doctor for testing.

I can still remember the phone ringing as I sat at our dining room table, trying to plan out my decor for the rest of our tiny home.

“Hello?”

“Hello, may I speak with Crystal Coates please?”

“This is she.”

“Hello ma’am.  This is So-and-So from Such-and-Such Hospital. I am calling with your lab results, is now a good time?”

I said yes, later I would wonder if I had said “no” if it would somehow buy me more hope, as if doing that could stop and change the story.

“I am sorry ma’am.  There is no way for you to be able to get pregnant naturally.”

“Naturally” meant sex.  But we could have sex every waking moment for the rest of our lives and never “fall pregnant.”  In one moment my world seemed shattered.

I don’t remember anything else that was said. I do remember dropping the phone as tears slid down my face.  I remember calling my husband of 1 year and repeating the words like a robot. I remember dropping to the floor and weeping and wondering why this was happening to us.

That was 17 years ago.  I was 22 years old. I would spend so many years and tears navigating people talking about how God did the impossible for such-and-such a couple or after we adopted, people sharing how it was “after adopting” that so-and-so unexpectedly got pregnant.  Those stories are glorious, no doubt, but they felt like salt in a never ending wound. We would never get pregnant “naturally.” And for years that held a shame and weight I can never express with words.

Eventually, we would opt to try and get pregnant.  Eventually, it would work. Eventually, I would lose those babies and learn of a pain when I buried them that felt far heavier then the infertility. Eventually, we would adopt, and adopt, and adopt again.  Eventually, when all hope seemed gone for us to ever be able to try again, we did.

This time it was IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization), the mac-daddy of all infertility treatments, and I was 35 years old.  Finally, I would know what it was to carry a baby full-term and the joy of hearing her first cry when she was born. And, I would also have 2 more embryos frozen for the future.

It has been almost 4 years since our daughter was born, almost 3 years longer then we had planned on waiting to try again by doing a FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer), but that is another story.

The future is now.  This week marks the beginning of walking through a FET, of (God-willing) giving those 2 embryos a chance at life, and I can’t help but remember the very beginning of our story.  A story that began so long ago, a story so full of sorrow and joy and God’s unwavering faithfulness that it steals my breath with its enormity. So tonight, as I swallow my meds, I need to remember His past faithfulness.  As I ponder my fragility, I remember His strength and His power. When I am tempted to fear, I lean on his faithfulness. Because one thing I have learned through it all is that I was never meant to walk this road without Him.

 

Daring God and Moving Mountains

“When pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge,

a little human sympathy more than much courage,

and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

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She was serious but full of compassion as she read over the lab work.  I was tired. In all honesty most of me lay dormant inside, unable to be roused since the twins died.  Now, when we talked of Ashley and Bethany, they were referenced to simply as “the twins.” But they weren’t talked of much now, the time for polite grief long gone, and life must move on.  The battles for, and adoptions of, our four beautiful daughters had long been finalized and all our energy must be poured into life with them…

“Your liver is beginning to fail.”

The words seemed to hold in mid air for a while.  She looked at me trying to ascertain if I comprehended the gravity of the situation.

I did.

I left her office and sat it my car.  Failure. Me. Age 31. Was this how my life would come to a close?  A slow, painful death of my own creating? 311 pounds–the weight I had eaten myself up to since burying the twins.  It was threatening to bury me when all I was trying to do was bury all the hard feelings. I had always struggled with my weight but this was more, so much more.  I had a problem, or a million problems. But did I care?

I cried an ugly cry.  The snot pouring out of your nose, eyes red enough to stop traffic, blubbering, smack-the-steering-wheel-multiple-times sorta cry. And when I was done and my eyes were firmly swollen to puffy little slits, the stillness spoke– Do you want to get well? He didn’t ask because he didn’t know, He asked for my benefit.  Yes, yes I guess I did. A fire began inside me in that moment. And then, the birth of the most forbidden dream of all was whispered into my heart…

Pregnancy.  Try again. What?

I could not contain the laughter or the tears.  Seriously God? Is it time to go admit myself into the mental ward because HELLO, look at me.  My name is failure. I began to list off every single detail that must be overcome for me to even TRY to become a mom again: the weight, my various health issues, the doctors response after losing the twins, the money, and on and on.

I pointed to the mountain and I dared God to move it!

I say dared because I had an attitude about it all that would make most faithfully obedient believers blush.  I didn’t doubt that he could, my attitude came with the “would he” part and the “trusting” part. But God…was bigger than all the feelings I had tried to eat away, and he was bigger than my terror.

Sitting there, 100 percent a mess, certain I was broken beyond repair, truly terrified of what lie ahead, God met me and he breathed new life.

I love how He meets us right where we are, just as we are.

He had me in his hands the whole time.  When I could not see, He could, and he carried me on to dreams that I was not bold enough to dream.  He carried me through my fears one step at a time–just one step at a time. Trusting Him is the best part and the hardest part.  But you know what?

He moved that huge mountain!  He overcame every obstacle. And the delivery of that beautiful dream came wrapped up as a gorgeous baby girl in July of 2015–14 years after first being told we were infertile.

Today, I need to remember that He is a God that can move mountains.  Here I am again, facing a huge mountain and daring God to move it.

What mountain are you facing today?

 

The Picture

Maybe it was the infertility struggles, maybe it was naiveté, or maybe it was just a really good sugar high from too much cake, but there was a time when I held the lofty certainty that I could be the perfect parent.  I know what you are thinking, “perfect, really?” Well, no, I didn’t process my thoughts in my mid-twenties with that verbiage but let’s just be real, that was the burning desire– I was never one to be content with average performance.  So imagine my horror to find that I could indeed be the crappy parent I promised God I would never be.

I can still remember the moment my therapist said the words, her legs crossed as she pressed down the pleat of her pants, her top painted in warm inviting hues–really her very personage being akin to a warm, soft sweater on a cold, rainy day–safe and inviting– “What about being a good-enough parent?

I could feel the veins in my temple start to throb as the color rushed to my face and I found myself giving the armchair an undeserved death grip while I willed my fingers into its yellow flesh.  What the heck was she saying? Her calmness was disarming and infuriating. How dare she

Would that be ok?” she asked, and I found myself wanting to cuss at her and I really didn’t understand why.

NO! That would not be ok, why would that ever be ok– in a million years, no. Did she not understand my love and devotion to my children? Did she not understand that it was up to me to give them a perfect childhood? To make up for any brokenness that some of them had started life out with? To be Mr. Rogers, Martha-frickin-Stewart and Mother Teresa all wrapped into one? My kids deserved a mother that did it all perfectly and I just needed her to understand her dang job was to FIX ME. As the words rolled off my tongue and touched air for the very first time the light began to dawn, illuminating all the brokenness to my thoughts.

You are wanting to be a perfect mom, but is perfection truly possible?” she said, calmly shifting her hands in her lap as she grabbed her mug to take a sip of her tea.

Oh. Ohhhhhhhh. Dang it. Dang her.  How dare she? Why was I angry with her?  The depth of this depravity was not her doing but she was the one bold enough to point the stage light toward the steaming pile of crap.

Where did that leave me? What would this mean? If what she said was true then I don’t understand the mommy-hood picture I am aiming for anymore. 

The picture.  The picture of the perfect mum.  I knew immediately that this perfect picture hung in my head needed to burn.  It was all a lie. A mirage. It was also a means of torment. The yardstick by which I would measure myself every dang day and find myself failing.  But how could I not fail? I had set myself up for no other option.

Perfection isn’t possible.  The enormous pressure perfection burns into one’s shoulders actually breaks the barer. Yet, I ran after it like it was the great prize that determines my every worth and the entire fate of my children.

Snap.  There it is.  The why. If I do it all right then I will earn my motherhood honor badge and have avoided all the struggles and all the pain and all the problems that could befall my children, ever.  The picture in my head, haunting all my moments and reprimanding me like a brutal taskmaster every time I fell short. That impossible dang picture. The lie.

I sat in my therapist’s office, broken–not because of all the hard circumstances I was trudging through (like I thought)–but because of all the lies that lay buried beneath it all like a festering wound eating away at my spirit.  So, as the tears streamed down my blotchy red face I vowed to understand what good-enough parenting looked like and I finally let the fire burn the perfect picture away.

The freedom…

Good-enough parenting:  Where you work at getting it right a bit more than you jack it up, you deal with your crap and model that process for your kids, and fall heavily into grace in the midst of “I’m sorry’s.”  It is a messy place full of learning about love, compassion, and forgiveness. It keeps showing up, pressing in, holding onto peace and running after the truth that leads to freedom. And, knowing that when all else fails, there is always therapy.

 

The Fire

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The oxygen mask strapped to my face felt like a muzzle holding in my desperate cry. I grabbed for it to yank it off.  A stout hand firmly put it back in place and commanded me to breathe. Breathe deeply! A blurry image of a nurse sat next to the head of my bed, repeating her commands at regular intervals like the hands of a clock striking the next second, minute, hour. Breathe! I could no longer feel the pain that less than an hour before had torn through my body without mercy. My body was numb now, empty, and once again barren. I heard someone whisper–something about sats not yet stabilizing, the fever, the sepsis, it was still too early to tell.

I could die.

I could see the blurry outline of my husband sitting with his head in his hands, I knew this was all just too much to process, he was numb too. His hands wove through his dark hair endlessly, his tell of boredom or stress. He was not bored.

I could hear the tears falling.

Where was she? Where was my second baby girl?  We had just gotten to 24 weeks. She had a chance, unlike her little sister born just 2 weeks before.  It all floods back–the team working on her in the corner of the room as soon as she was born, desperately fighting to help her–my husband and my mother helping hold me down as the doctor fought to stop the bleeding–me fighting to stay alert, to get a glimpse of her, desperately wanting to draw her close to me.  Septic. 15 minutes she lived, while my life slipped away.

Why did I survive?

I remembered the specialist’s words again in that moment, spoken not long after my water broke at 17 weeks, their advice: terminate the pregnancy.  “The odds are not good. You, the mother, could die.”

Then let it be.

“I will not kill them. I cannot, regardless of what it might mean for me!” I had said it passionately and without hesitation as I carefully walked out of the small, cold office praying that even then the amniotic sack was resealing.  I knew I served a God who could do miracles, and I would hold onto that hope with every fiber of my being through the weeks to come.

But sometimes the miracle doesn’t come. Sometimes the fire just burns, and ashes are all that remain.

“Let me die!” First a whisper, then I rip off the mask and let it out in a long roar.

“LET ME DIE!”

The nurse is unflinching in her demand for me to breathe and calmly places the mask over my face again.  I have no strength to fight her.  My husband comes over to me, tenderly leans in close, and whispers how he needs me to fight, how he can’t lose me too.  My heart breaks for him and his pain.

I can’t.

Not even for him. Not for our 3 foster daughters either. Not for my mother, who I hear choking back tears as she stood to the side.  My fight was gone.

After years battling infertility we had finally gotten pregnant through IUI (intrauterine insemination), and in the span of a month everything had been lost. I had given birth to two precious baby girls, born less than 2 weeks apart, and watched them both die, powerless to save them.  I could not do this. I could not live through this. I did not want this to be my story. I was certain. And so I begged God to just take me home–over and over again.

Then a whisper played through my mind…

Be still and know that I am God.

A sweetness in the words was almost palpable, but my mind and heart still pleaded with God for a merciful end to my agony.  Again and again, it echoed through my mind, then my heart, then ministered to my spirit in ways no words could ever convey.

Be still and know that I am God.

I didn’t even understand that day what it truly meant, not really.  I just knew that it was a promise of His faithfulness, somehow. In a darkness so deep that I questioned if there would ever be light again, it lit the match.  He was there. In complete desolation, He was there. Though I did not understand, and I was shredded to the core, He was there. Though I did not feel his arms, He held me, gently, reminding me of His love.  Though I questioned, he never wavered.

I know that now…looking back.

This week, almost 12 years later, I learned the Hebrew root of the words be still.  It means to release, go slack, to let go.  I had to smile.  That is exactly what God has been teaching me how to do since that day.  To let go of my fears. To let go of what people think. To let go of my children. To let go of all the hard I face.  To let go of all the things, and sink deep into The One who is able to do immeasurably more than we can imagine.

I think I am beginning to get it, just beginning.

What I began to learn 12 years ago I continue to journey into, like peeling back layers of an onion, going deeper and deeper to the heart, His heart. I can bring all my pain, all my hard, all my tears to Him.  I can pour myself out at his feet. He is safe. And in return, He gives Himself, a precious perfect peace that defies all understanding–even as the fire rages. It was true then; it is true now.

He is capable of raising new life up out of the ashes!  I continue to learn that new, beautiful, wonderful things do come, even in the hard, even when there are scars, but the most precious of all these will always be his presence.

What do you need to let go of today?