Posted in Writing

Lessons From a Girl’s Deathbed

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For those of you who haven’t been following my friend Vanessa Raghubir’s story and you would like to read more, you can find her story at these links: Half-Naked and Picking Weeds,Half-Naked and Picking Weeds part 2,Half -Naked and Picking Weeds Part 3,When Being Still Seems Impossible!,When Too Much Gets to be Too Much!,When God Stretches Your Heart,Today: August 20, 2018,A Funeral…A Birthday…A Calling.

My friend Vanessa Raghubir passed away on August 20, 2018. She was 33 years old, a smidgen from her 34th birthday. Ironically, she died at the same age as Christ her Lord, but her time in the faith was about a year. She didn’t leave behind a surviving mate or children, instead she left behind a great testimony that has already been shared over and over. This was her dream, to share her testimony. She taught us many lessons in faith and love. Lessons I felt we could all benefit from. 

Everyday counts. 

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the bet use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  (Ephesians 5:15-16 English Standard Version)

I asked Vanessa if there’s something she’d like everyone to know. She thought for a moment before forcing the words from her slow mouth. “Everyday counts,” she said. “I want them to know everyday counts.” 

I couldn’t help, but wonder even this day? You’re bedridden, with a bald, swollen head that aches, it takes all your concentration to utter incomplete jumbled sentences, but before I could ask she went on…  

“The doctors told me I had two months… months ago…I still have life. They don’t know. Every day counts.” She answered my question…even that day. I felt convicted. How many hours do I waste away on things that don’t matter when facing eternity. 

After being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, Steve Jobs stated, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trial of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”  

Make your days, hours, minutes, even seconds count. You don’t know how many you have left. 

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Love people no matter who they are, what they believe, right where they are. 

“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12 English Standard Version.)

Vanessa had an eclectic collection of friends from all races, backgrounds, and beliefs. Too often the gospel is strangled by the snake of self-righteousness. We forget one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbor. We know how to preach it from the soapbox, but fail to practice it. How many times do we feel we need to stick up for God while beating our neighbor with the club of truth? Meanwhile, we wrap the like-minded in loving care because its easy. God commands us to humble ourselves and become servants to all neighbors. 

Allow others to share in your pain.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” (I Peter 2:21 ESV)

One of Vanessa’s greatest gifts was allowing me a front row seat into her pain and suffering. For this, I was drawn to her bedside. I wanted to hold her hand, because she wanted me there. Her vulnerability was endearing. She was humble and not filled with pride. She scolded us once for not telling her one of her eyes was darting in another direction, but after scolding us busted out laughing. 

At one of her consultations  the doctor asked, “How are you doing Vanessa?

“Fine,” she said, as she always said when someone asked her. 

But the doctor’s office was the place for honesty. I looked across the room. “Be honest,” I said.

“Well, I can’t see, I can’t walk, I can’t lift my right hand, I can’t speak,” she shrugged. “Other than that, I guess I’m fine.” We all laughed. You see she wasn’t a complainer, but she didn’t push people away from her, she pulled them in and held them tighter when she was suffering. She wanted connection, even if it was just a hand to hold. We were not created to be an island, to withstand the storms of life on our own. God created us to share each other’s heartaches, pains, and joys.

Below Video: A little humor break, I know I look like a professional Physical Therapist, but the truth was I had no idea what I was doing, and Vanessa was too kind to say anything. She was just letting me do my thing. LOL!

 

Minister to others even if you’re suffering more.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 ESV

On her death bed, Vanessa asked her friends how they were doing. One day a friend named Fiaz Khan who suffers from MS came in. She turned her head and put out her hand and after several tries asked how his appointment with his doctor went. His eyes widened, and he was taken aback that Vanessa who had lost most of the control of her mouth to the point she couldn’t eat or swallow her salvia forced out the words to ask about him. It was a lesson, I’ll never forget.

We choose to be happy. 

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV)

The day Vanessa received the worst news, she had my husband Jay, her friend Sunita, and I wheel her outside the hospital.

She glanced up at us, “What should I do?” She had the choice to get on hospice and have two months to live or receive chemo to have maybe four. 

“If you weren’t a believer, we’d be having a different conversation,” Jay said. “Vanessa, you have somewhere to go. The Father’s waiting for you. What quality of life will you have on chemo, to just stick around and suffer?” 

“I’m tired,” she said. “Did I fight hard enough?”

We all assured her she fought very hard and she could let go now. 

She stared at the row of cars piling up in the valet lane, before looking back at us. “Okay, I’m ready to go back in now,” she said.

Jay parked her wheelchair by her mother and aunt in the hospital lobby. 

Joan, her mother sighed. “Funny, last month we received such good news and left here so happy,” she said.

Vanessa smiled. “I’m still happy,” she said.

You see, It’s our choice to be happy and not allow the disappointments and heartaches in our life to have the last word, and overcome us. Vanessa leaned on God and she had peace. She chose to be happy the day she heard she was going to die. If she can choose happiness, we can too.

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God is worthy or our praise no matter what our circumstances. 

“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul  makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalms 24: 1-4 ESV)

This one hits me in the heart every time. It is the most powerful memory I have of my sweet Vanessa. Some of my visits, I’d play Vanessa’s favorite worship songs either on my computer or on a phone. A week before she passed, I told her we were doing worship. At this time, she could do nothing but lie in the bed, she’d lost her sight, the ability to close her jaw, eat, or swallow. I only tell you this, so you will see how she was filled with God’s spirit. I played one of her favorite songs, “What a Beautiful Name.” You can imagine my surprise when I heard her gurgling the song in her throat. She was worshipping in the only way she could. He was still deserving of her praise when everything physically had been stripped away from her. It made me question, what’s my excuse? How dare I complain when I don’t get what I want or my plans are interrupted, or my heart has been broken over and over.  I have no excuse. None of us do. 

There were many more lessons, but this blog post has become longer than what most people read.

So, I’m closing this article with my goodbye to a girl who came into my life unexpectedly, whom I had the privilege of sharing the gospel with and became a witness to her  salvation, but who in the end taught me more about faith and love than I taught her. This will be my last blog about Vanessa, but there will be more about her in the book I’m currently writing. I hope her story touched you as it did me.

Goodbye for now my sweet friend. I love you!

Posted in Christian, Writing

A Funeral…A Birthday…A Calling

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I skipped writing a blog last week. It was a week meant for quiet, sadness, sprinkled with a bit of joy as well. A dear friend named Vanessa Raghubir passed away from brain cancer. If you’ve been following the blog you’ll know all about her. (You can find multiple stories about her by scrolling down)

My husband and I spoke at her funeral. Jay read scripture and shared personal reflection about Vanessa, and called me up to tell her testimony… Vanessa’s story. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, to be honest, the mere thought made me want to puke my guts out and lay on the podium sobbing. 

I told the story of Vanessa having three altars in her apartment one for the Hindu god, one for the Muslim god, and one with a cross. Vanessa choose Jesus Christ. I explained He was the one God who knew what it was like to feel abandoned as she did. He was the one God who knew what it was like to be beaten, as she did. He was the one God who knew what it was like to face death, as she did. 

He’s the God who knows about all of your heartache too. He knows what it’s like to lose a child. He knows what it’s like to be sad, hungry, rejected, humiliated, poor…the list goes on and on.

I told this story to a room filled with Hindu worshippers, and Muslim men and women wearing burkas -not exactly easy on the nervous system if you know what I mean. A friend in the back told us a few Muslim men moaned when I mentioned the one true God, but everyone was respectful and allowed her wishes. You see, one day Vanessa told me she could see herself telling her testimony from a stage to all her friends and family, but Vanessa lost her voice before she got the chance. I know it was no accident she’d told me her wishes.

 God will ask you to step out of the boat during a hurricane, all it takes for the waters to calm is your feet.

God showed up. I survived without puking my guts up, and her testimony was told.

A woman approached me after the funeral, she was co-worker of Vanessa’s at the bank. She told me how happy she was to hear her story.

“I tried to lead Vanessa to the Lord,” she said as her eyes teared. “I kept telling her she needed to choose Jesus Christ, but she brushed me off. She told me she’d think about it. I came here thinking she never made the choice. I’m so glad she found you.”

“I only planted a seed, just as you did,” I said. The truth is this. It was God Vanessa found. God wants us to find Him so badly. He will place people in your path to point the Way. 

“for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek Him, He will be found by you…” I Chronicles 28:9b English Standard Version

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When I think of Vanessa’s life and my own, Proverbs 16:9 comes to mind: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”  

I shared a somewhat embarrassing story at Vanessa’s funeral. A story I’ve kept close to my chest all this time.

About a month before my sister, Tricia passed, she had her son help her into the kitchen where Mom, Dad, her husband, and children were. She walked over to Momma, kissed her on the mouth and said, “Momma, I want to go home.” 

“You are home, sweetheart,” Momma said.

“No! Home Home!” 

“You’re ready to go to heaven?” Momma said.

Tricia turned and walked over to Daddy.

“Daddy, I want to go home!” She said.

Realizing by now what she was asking, Daddy nodded. “Okay, you go on now.”

She turned to her husband Thomas and said the same thing. She told everyone individually her intention. She wanted their permission to go.

Of course, we all assumed she would go just like that. So, I stayed awake that night, looking for some sign and praying God would allow her to pass by my room in Orlando. (She lived in Virginia) That night, Jay fell asleep on the sofa, and I kept the tv off for I wanted to be ultra- aware for I just knew I was going to see something in my room change the moment she took her last breath.

Around 2am there was a light in my room. I jumped up in bed. My eyes darted around searching every dark corner for her, but she wasn’t there.

Instead, it was my phone.

I had a private message on Facebook. The words were jumbled, but I’m going to take the liberty in writing them clearly below.

“You don’t know me, but my name is Vanessa. I know Jay from the bank. I’m in the hospital, I had a brain cancer tumor removed. I’ve been reading your sister’s story. Thank you for writing it.” 

That was my first contact with Vanessa. You see, God wasn’t going to send me my sister. He was going to send me someone He desired to make my eternal sister.  

I’ve spent this week, looking backwards and forwards, wowed by the steps God lit up in our lives and how our paths intertwined, connecting us for eternity.  I celebrated my 49th birthday, with Vanessa’s family instead of my own. It was the day she was cremated. Before we left to go to the cremation ceremony, I found a new laptop sitting on my bathroom counter. I’m so thankful God gave me a man who holds my hand through my dreams. 

Before Vanessa lost her voice, she asked me to write her story when I finished my sister’s memoir. One day, while sitting at the foot of Vanessa’s bed, I told her. “I know you want me to write your story, but my sister’s story is incomplete without you. You’re her ending.” Vanessa seemed happy to hear that.

Take some time to think about your steps. Has God been trying to get your attention? Lead you to Him? Has He called you onto a stormy sea?  Has He put you on a path you didn’t expect? Or is He giving you an assignment?

Next week, I will share what we can all learn from a dying girl from Guyana. I hope you’ll keep a watch out.

Until next time…

Posted in Christian, Writing

Today: August 20, 2018

 

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Today, at 8:30am, Bella started Pre-K4. She was nervous and had a fluttery stomach, but once we arrived and walked into the classroom, she ran over to the puzzle table and dove in. “Bye Momma!” she said waving me off. Today, she passed a milestone. Today, she seemed to grow a foot…a year… and a whole lot of independence.

 

Today around noon,  I visited my friend Vanessa who’s been suffering from brain cancer. You can find her story “Naked and Picking Weeds 1, 2, and 3 by scrolling below) Today, her breathing was different than the last time I saw her, I held her tiny hand, her princess hand I like to call it, her fingers didn’t curl around mine like they did last week. Today, she didn’t pull me back when I tried to let her go. Today, she didn’t blow kisses at me as I headed out the door.

Today, I leaned over her, “I love you,” I said. “You have a great adventure ahead of you. You’re about to meet your Heavenly Father and He has something amazing in store for you. I just know it!”

Today, I witnessed a mother’s touch, calming the breath of a dying child. It was beautiful.

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Today at 4:30 my doorbell rang. I received a surprise package in the mail. My editor at She Leads Daily decided to print last month’s magazine that included an article about my painting. I hollered before texting my family and showing my boys. “My writing and art is in a print magazine!”  Today, I crossed milestone.

Today at 4:51pm, just twenty-one minutes later, Vanessa took her last breath. She passed away. Today she crossed over. Today, Vanessa can see, run, talk, laugh, breath, and eat. She is meeting the Father who’s watched over her.  She is meeting Jesus whom she gave her life to, not too long ago.

On one of my visits, I laid my head across Vanessa’s chest and she stroked my hair. “I’m going to meet Tricia soon,” she said. (My sister Tricia died of breast cancer.)

Today, Vanessa met her sister.

Today,  I’ve swayed between shock, joy, incredible sadness, love, and peace. Today I experienced an abundant life.

Today, I ask anyone reading this to say a prayer for Vanessa’s Momma Joan, and her family and friends as they mourn her passing.

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Goodbye my sweet Vanessa. I love you.

Tonight, I know we’ll meet again.

Posted in Writing

When God Stretches Your Heart

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Bella and her cousins who are her stand-in sisters.

 

 

With the boys back in school this week, I’m longing for the smell of fall candles, cooler evenings, and a pot of chili, but we are in our hottest time of the year here in Florida. I wonder if I’m the only woman who gains weight in the summer and loses that weight every fall and winter. I suppose it’s because I tend to hibernate through the hottest months and when that first breeze kisses my cheek, I take a long stretch and become alive again. I’ve told my peoples I’ve decided to become a European. I’ve outfitted my bike with saddle bags, mirrors, head and tail lights, and a cell phone holder. I’ll be the biggest bike nerd in Dr. Phillips. I have a plan to fit exercise into my day, get ready for it… I will bike to the grocery store. Of course, I know this seems a bit counterproductive exercising to get food, but I see it as a way of shooting two chickens with one bullet. Contemplate my brilliance, I can only buy that night’s dinner ingredients, which will keep me from buying anything unnecessary. Save money…loose fat…fetch dinner. I see it as a win-win-win. Make that three chickens. The truth is I’ve been seeing that middle-age monster lurking in the shadows and I know he’s out to get me!

 

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Aubri, Bella and Sunaeya with Sleeping Beauty.

 

 

            There are times our heart needs to get into shape in a spiritual sense as well. When we’ve had an absence of hurt or joy in our lives, our heart can go into a complacent hibernation. Sometimes, this is caused by protecting our heart too much, by tucking it in a dark cave.

             This week, we celebrated my daughter Bella’s fourth birthday. Every year when her birthday rolls in I can’t help but think of my sister Tricia. When I announced I was pregnant with Bella, it didn’t go over so well. We found Tricia an hour later sobbing on her friend’s sofa.

            “I’m so sorry Tammy,” she said. “I’m happy for you and Jay, it’s just this… while you are getting ultrasounds, I’m getting PET scans, while your body is creating life, mine is creating cancer, while you are looking forward to the day you meet your baby, I’m dreading the day I say goodbye to mine. You’re looking forward to the future, while I’m holding on to the past.” It was a painful irony.

 

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Months later, Tricia and her last visit to Florida.

 

 

            The next morning, we stood outside our parent’s home riddled with guilt for the pain we caused the other.

  “I’m sorry about last night,” she said.

 “There’s nothing to be sorry for.” I said. “I would’ve felt the same way. I want you to know I wasn’t trying.”

            “I know God is giving you this baby to… ya know… keep you busy so you’ll keep going when I go.” She smiled and placed her hand on my belly. “You’re already showing.”

            “My body knows what to do by the fourth one,” I said.

            Her eyes met mine. “When she comes, I will go,” she said.

            Although she whispered the words, I jumped back as if she’d punched me. “Wait, No, You don’t know everything Tricia Baines. Besides, I know you’re wrong because Jay only makes boys.”

            She grabbed my arm. “I know okay.”

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August 7, 2014

 

 

            The moment Bella propelled herself into my world, my heart stretched between conflicting emotions of incredible joy and wrenching pain. I smiled through tears at my tiny baby before Tricia’s words flooded my memory, and I let out a sob. Tricia happened to be in a Virginia hospital bed as well that day. True to her prophetic statement, she died around the same time my baby was born, exactly nineteen weeks later.

            After she passed, I kept having these terrible chest pains. Convinced my pregnancy had put a strain on my heart, I underwent an EKG, and a stress test. When the tests results were in, Jay and I sat in the cardiologist’s office for a consult. I knew he was going to tell me I’d need some sort of heart repair, but instead he looked up from his file and said, “Everything looks good. Your hearts in good shape.”

            “No, that doesn’t make sense, my heart hurts.” I said pointing to my chest. “I’m having this sharp stabbing pain.”

            “Have you experienced anything traumatic lately? Have you been under any strain or anxiety?”

            Jay nodded. “Her sister died.”

            “That’s not it!” I said pointing at him. “I’m fine with that. This is physical pain.”

            “That’ll do it to you.” The doctor turned around in his chair dismissing further objections. “Looking over your tests, your heart is great. Our bodies have a way of letting us know when we’ve experienced something difficult.”

 

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Tricia with her children: Caleb, Peyton and Cody.

 

            Every Bella birthday, I celebrate the day my heart stretched and in the looking back, I’ve come to realize a stretched-out heart can only hold more. My larger heart holds more compassion, empathy, and love than it did before, allowing more blood to flow through…more life.  I believe sometimes God lets our heart stretch between pain and joy so we can feel a tiny bit of what He felt as He watched His Son die on the cross. He must have mourned watching the pain and suffering of His Son, all the while feeling great joy for the birth of salvation for mankind.

 

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Newborn Bella flew to Virginia so many times to see Aunt Tricia, she became a frequent flyer.

 

            Has there been a time in your life when your heart stretched? See it as a blessing. Or do you feel your heart has been in a complacent hibernation? Stop protecting it. It needs exercise. Pull it out of the cave.

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Happy Birthday Isabella Fawn Adams!

 

 

Have a great week everyone!

Posted in Cancer, Writing

When Too Much Gets to be Too Much!

 

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There are seasons when life becomes filled with too much. Too much stress, too much sorrow… too much work…just plain too much. That has been my season this summer. I’ve had a summer of too much illness, not my own (thank you Jesus), but in the ones I love. My summer started with my friend Vanessa who’s battling brain cancer (you can see her story starting here: Half Naked and Picking Weeds) and took a turn for the worse in May. I left Vanessa’s hospital bedside and flew to Virginia in June to take care of my mother as she underwent kidney stone surgery, while there Daddy became sick. After they recovered, I returned to Vanessa’s hospital room. In July, another dear friend of mine contracted a terrible infection in her knee that could have been fatal. It was off to Tampa to visit her in the hospital. She is still at home with a port in her chest administering daily antibiotics. In July, we almost lost Jay’s father, and drove up to Ocala to visit him in the hospital. After, my son Christian began suffering from a bleeding throat and had to have a tonsillectomy. He’s still recovering today. Last Wednesday, we drove to Tampa to be with Vanessa during her MRI consult. After receiving great news in June that her cancer had almost disappeared, we heard terrible news that it was not only back but spreading rapidly. The doctor told her without chemo she had two months with chemo, she’d have sickness and maybe four. It was all just too much!

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“I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.” Steel Magnolias

  I’ll admit it, on the drive home,I was bit testy with God. I sobbed until my eyes swelled shut, and told my husband I was darn mad. I wanted to know why God allowed us to get so excited over great news to only crush us with terrible a month later. I suppose I’ll never understand all of that. Maybe, it’s not my place to.

 

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            You know when your Momma tells you to “settle down.” Today, I’ve settled down. I have to accept God’s sovereignty in the lives of those I love, and I’ve decided to truly surrender your life to God means to surrender your loved ones, hopes, dreams for your future, health, and even your anger to the One who holds it all in His hands. Besides, everything that happens to us first slips through His perfect fingers anyway. And His hands… that’s a good place to put the too much too. So, when you feel like you’re going through “too much,” place it in the hands of the God who loves you so much. That’s it for today. A little sad and tired to write more. Have a great weekend!

Posted in Writing

Perfection Obsession

I threw the broken seashells behind me and placed the perfect into my pail. My toddler, Bella followed behind selecting her own shells. The water swirled around our legs. I kept glancing back to insure she wasn’t swept away by the undertow. Later that evening, I returned to the beach to clean up, and peered into our pails. My bucket was a quarter-filled with the perfect shells, hers overflowed with all the broken I’d discarded. Immediately, I felt the familiar nudge when God wants me to see beyond what is physically there.

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            I have a tendency to wade in the waters of perfection-obsession. Perfectionism can be debilitating to a writer… an artist… an older Momma, filling me to the brim with the “not enough” syndrome. My writing doesn’t grab the attention enough, my paintings aren’t riveting enough, as a mother of a toddler I’m not young enough. Perfectionism’s return is always void, always costing me an empty bucket of unfulfilled hopes.

            That night on the beach, I dumped my shells and slipped a couple of Bella’s shards into my jean pocket.

            Bella is a lover of the broken, the imperfect. I am thankful.

            When we snuggle in the chair at night, she raises her brows, and tells me to do the same. She traces the lines on my forehead with her little finger and tells me she has lines too. For now, rooted in innocence, she sees my lines as beautiful, and I am grateful.

            I’ve worried about my Bella, thought about the unfairness of it all, being stuck with the older version of Momma. The one bearing sags of four pregnancies, diminished eyesight, and with three other children- an over-filled calendar. The Momma with lines around her eyes left from a life of laughter, sprinkled on occasion by the heaviest of clouds.

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            Bella watches me put on makeup. “Mommy you’re pretty,” she says. I smile, the lines appear in the mirror, trying to taunt me, but I remind myself they are evidence of a life well lived. I am living proof a bucket filled with broken pieces produce blessings in a lifetime. The crooked legs I was born with, still want to dance.  A creative mind that daydreamed in school, now creates paintings and characters.  A once naive and trusting spirit brings laughter to the joyless.  A broken heart that feared commitment, still leaps at the sight of my husband.  A memory that couldn’t retain history dates, remembers life’s tiniest details. A weak faith has endured testing and strengthened. A girl who wanted to take on the injustices of the world now shows mercy to those around her. A twenty-something’s unwise choices has produced wisdom. It is the broken pieces about us that can produce full buckets of God’s glory.

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            Occasionally, we need reminding, God loves us no matter. Just like Bella, walking along the shoreline picking up the pieces I’d discarded, Jesus walked this earth and picked up the broken, washed up, and rejected. His final act of love for a broken world was to break Himself on the cross and rise from the tomb, leading me to my ultimate blessing… I have a Savior who’s perfect, so I don’t have to be.

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            Are you chasing perfection? Chasing the lie? Do you spend more time worrying over the sags, bags, cracks, and lacks? Do you work harder to impress the world or to please God? Do you compare yourselves to others on social media? Don’t sap the joy out of your life with perfection-obsession.God loves those broken, tired, wrinkled, and baggy parts, my friend. Nestle into His grace, and while you’re at it, spend a little time this summer picking up the broken seashells.