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One Cookie at a Time

Thank you for reading, my dear friends. I pray this year’s fictional Christmas story blesses you. And I pray you have a blessed and very Merry Christmas as you remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ who came to save us all.

One Cookie at a Time

I nibbled on stale candy corn while my fingers hovered over my laptop. I hesitated to send the email, knowing it would make everything so final. But the truth was, the numbers were bad, and I’d already lost hope in my bakery. There was no point in dragging out the inevitable. I had to tell my faithful client list I would be closing at the end of the year. And I had to tell my daughter, Jenna, there would be no business to return to after graduating from college. I just couldn’t hold on anymore.

It was Christmas Eve, and it took everything I had not to close my doors permanently tonight, to hold out and wait for a miracle. But I knew that stuff only happened in Christmas movies to happy people with happy lives. Not the kind of life I’d lived—an ugly divorce, bankruptcy, and struggling to make a fresh start with only a dream and a box of my own recipes.

“It’s freezing out!” Jenna said, the bakery door jingling as she came in blowing on her hands.

I closed my laptop.

“Are you ready to go? The snow is really coming down.”

I sighed. “I’m ready. I just need to grab these last few boxes.”

“Deliveries?”

“No. Cookies that didn’t sell. No one will want to buy stale Christmas cookies after Christmas.”

“Mom, what have you always told me? ‘Pray and trust.’”

I couldn’t tell her I was too tired to pray, and I didn’t know how to hold onto trust when it seemed like grasping at sugar in a sandstorm. So instead, I put on a smile for my daughter, knowing when the time came to tell her the truth, maybe then she’d understand.

We loaded the white boxes onto the backseat of Jenna’s pickup and climbed into the cab. With my laptop and unwanted cookies in tow, I turned to see my bakery, dark and shrouded in a heavy snowfall. I was thankful the wind was bitter—it could explain the tears in my eyes.

Jenna steered away from the curb and whispered something.

“What was that?”

“I was praying.”

At least I’d done something right. Train up a child…

As we headed across town, the snow stopped falling, leaving the sidewalk as a satin ribbon of white. Evergreen wreaths dangled from the streetlights as their timid colored lights cast a glow into the night.

“Look over there,” Jenna said, motioning to a church parking lot with people spilling out of the building.

She pulled the truck over, reached around to the backseat, and lifted two boxes. She hopped out and handed one to a man and woman with three small children—all with scarves covering most of their faces. The other box she handed to an elderly couple. Their words of gratitude floated in the night air in a puff of white as Jenna returned to the truck.

“Come on, Mom. We’ve got more deliveries.”

“What are you talking about? It’s Christmas Eve.”

“Exactly.”

I tried not to laugh as my twenty-year-old daughter bent over the steering wheel with fierce determination like she’d done when she’d first learned to ride a bike.

“Over there.” Jenna gave a nod before parking at the community center. A man had just stepped out, silver keys shining in his hand.

She grabbed more boxes, jumped from the cab, and hurried to the man who chuckled at her offer while rubbing the back of his neck. She followed him inside and moments later, returned without the boxes. She hoisted herself into the truck, giggling.

“What in the world are you up to?”

“The community Christmas dinner is tomorrow. He told me donations were low this year, and they need cookies.”

My mouth slipped open. “Really?”

“Uh huh.”

Moments later, Jenna steered onto a dimly lit street. The stretch of houses, lonely without Christmas lights hanging from the porches or inflatable snowmen waving in the yards.

“I need your help, Mom. Take a box and leave it.”

I turned to inspect the backseat. “But we only have a few left. And leave it where?”

“At each house. Until we run out.”

I did just that, feeling a surge of adrenaline each time I bent to leave a box of cookies and hurrying away before anyone spotted me. As I was about to leave my last box on a dark porch, a light came on and the door creaked opened. I stepped back when a woman glared from her screen door. A little girl in pigtails ran to her side, but after spotting me, hid behind the woman’s leg.

“I’m sorry to bother you. I was leaving a box of Christmas cookies. I own the bakery down the street, and, well, I have enough to share.”

The woman reached out to take it, the hard lines of her face softening. “Thank you.”

I smiled, and as I turned for the truck, the woman gasped.

“Is something wrong?”

The little girl ran off to another part of the house, her feet thumping on the floor, while the woman gently held the opened box to her chest.

“It’s been a rough year,” she whispered. “A really rough year. My husband lost his job. Two weeks later, my sister passed away. I prayed God would help. Just give me a word to hold onto to get through everything, you know? Just a word. I wanted to believe He was going to help us, but it’s hard to believe when things seem so dark.” She paused to stare into the box. “But then you brought me this.”

I didn’t understand. They were just sugar cookies – frosted stockings, Christmas bulbs, and snowflakes with assorted sprinkles. That sort of thing. Nothing special.

The woman’s eyes filled as she carefully lifted one of the round bulbs from the box. It was frosted in red with white sugar crystals like a gentle dusting of snow. And written in the center in gold was one word: Believe.

I’d forgotten each Christmas bulb proclaimed that word like the angels announcing Jesus’ birth. Or maybe I’d forgotten the word altogether because I’d also found it hard to believe. It was hard to believe God hadn’t given up on me when everything seemed to be falling apart. I’d lost hope in so many things this year. I hadn’t realized until that moment that I’d even lost hope in Him.

“Are you ready, Mom?” Jenna asked from the sidewalk.

“Thank you,” the woman whispered. “Thank you for bringing me hope.”

The words I wanted to say lodged in my throat, so I simply nodded as my eyes began to fill.

I started for the truck, willing my tears to stop, as I peered down the street. We were able to leave a box of cookies at each house. It didn’t make sense. We didn’t have that many to share.

Later that night, Jenna curled up in the living room to watch a Christmas movie with a bowl of popcorn in her lap while I sat at the kitchen table. Reluctantly, I reached for my laptop to finish the email to my customers—those faithful clients who’d been so supportive but also struggled this year.

But when I opened my email, a message appeared in my inbox from the mayor, thanking us for sharing hope with so many—he was amazed the cookies had reached from one end of town to the other.

But we didn’t go that far.

Suddenly I remembered the One who multiplied a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread to feed thousands. And tonight, He’d multiplied hope and stretched it clear across town at a time when we all needed it. When I needed it. God wasn’t far away. He hadn’t given up on me or any of us. He was still the God of godly miracles and mighty rescues. Even if it meant using one cookie at a time.

I smiled and closed my laptop without finishing the email to my customers, knowing I needed to pray and trust. Even though things seemed dark, I found myself believing God still had a plan for us. And I couldn’t wait to see it light up the world.     

Thank you for reading! If you’d like to read another one of my Christmas stories, you can click on A Touch of Fiction at the top of the page, and you’ll find more of them there.

As I do every year, I’d like to bless someone through this Christmas story, but I’m doing something a little different this year. I’d like to give a shout-out to a local bakery owner, Amanda, at Ginger’s Bakery in Uhrichsville, Ohio. If you are blessed by this story, maybe you can give this wonderful bakery a shout-out of your own by ordering some of their delicious Christmas cookies – everything is made from scratch! To order, call (330) 691-7201. Thank you!

Merry Christmas!

          

Hating Christmas?

I was recently in a store when I overheard a woman at the register saying, “I’m beginning to hate Christmas.”

My heart sank because I adore Christmas. But not for reasons most would know.

When I was a little girl, I went to church but never really knew God. And what I knew of Him, I was afraid of. I felt like He was this big monstrous person who was out to get me.

Until Christmas.

Christmas time, the church was decorated with trees in the front of the sanctuary. The harsh, overhead lights were dimmed and the soft glow from those trees gave a gentleness to church.

And there was baby Jesus lying in the manger right in front. I found myself standing on tippy toes (we always sat in the back), believing He was going to move any minute, and I was going to see Him and tell everybody. I spent most of those December services, staring at baby Jesus. I was hopeful. Expectant.

It took years (that’s another story), but I realized God wasn’t a cruel god who was out to get me and zap me with a lightning bolt whenever I messed up. Like the baby Jesus with His arms reaching out from the manger, God was reaching out to me. And He’s done it every Christmas since.

It has nothing to do with decorations, although I enjoy them immensely. It has nothing to do with baking and presents and watching my favorite Christmas movies (there are many).

Christmas has everything to do with Jesus Christ reaching out to save us from eternal darkness and from our own personal dark places (mine – the falsehoods I thought were true about Him). It’s about Him drawing us into a relationship with Him by showing us how much He loves us. He came for us. He’s coming back for us.

It’s all about standing on tippy toes with expectation and excitement and joy sending you into fits of laughter because His love is swelling within and you can’t  contain it. You just can’t.

So, my dear friend, if you’re saying you hate Christmas, ask yourself why.  Commercialism, despair, stress, and anxiety are all thieves. They will steal your joy if you let them.

Don’t let the darkness distract you from the Light of the world that’s reaching out to you. Instead, dance in the light of life this Christmas with the One who came to draw you into His arms for all eternity.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12 NIV.)

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

With so many struggling with loss this Christmas season, I felt led to offer the comfort I have to give – my words. I pray the words in this fictional story lead you into the arms of our great and mighty Comforter.

Training for Eternity

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I hid in my pickup truck in the garage. I didn’t want to fall apart in front of Maddie. It was bad enough my daughter lost her mom so close to Christmas. I didn’t want her to think she was losing her dad to loud sobbing fits. I was supposed to be the strong one, the tough guy. But somehow I felt smaller than my five-year-old who played with baby dolls.

Leslie, my wife, always knew how to talk to Maddie. But since three o’clock in the afternoon two Wednesdays ago, after a horrible accident involving my wife’s minivan and a big rig, I was on my own to raise our daughter.

The truth: I was lost without Leslie. I was lucky I could get myself out of bed every morning and make coffee. And somehow I managed to wash our clothes and boil water…

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Lost?

Homing pigeons know how to find their way home, even if they are hundreds of miles away. They are born with this ability (one theory – the ability to hear ultra-low frequencies). They have this internal compass that helps them get back home.

Humans are born with their own type of internal compass, leading them to know where they’ve come from and how to get back.

“He [God] has planted eternity in the human heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b NLT.)

We came from God. We were created by Him:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NIV.)

The way back to God is through Jesus Christ:

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6 NIV.)

When you feel lost, you can search and analyze and try to figure it out until you’ve exhausted yourself, giving in to discouragement or frustration.

Or you can find the answers in the Bible, God’s Word.

Your internal compass was designed to lead you to God and His Word. You know you were meant for more. You know you have a purpose. You know Someone bigger created you. Even if you don’t know who it is just yet. You want to know Him.

And just like the homing pigeons that can be thrown into confusion when planes interrupt the ultra-low frequency sounds, veering them off course, we get confused and can even veer off course when the enemy of our souls tries to interrupt or distract us from our internal compass with his deafening voice that sometimes slithers in like a whisper.

We may even head in the opposite direction, believing it’s the right way—confusion can do that.

So what can you do if you’re lost?

Call out to God. He does not cause confusion. He is the One you can count on for truth. He is, after all, your Creator. And He’s given you His Word, so you can know Him and His plans for your life. Read it.

God has given you a longing in your heart that will lead you to Him and to His Son, Jesus Christ. And it is Jesus Christ who will lead you home.

“[Jesus said,] In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3 NIV.)

(Photo from pexels.com.)

God Is Coming for You

God hasn’t forgotten you. In the middle of the storms raging in the world today, God still hears the quiet prayers of those calling out to Him. He still hears the tiniest of whispers calling out His name.

I believe He is listening for your voice. Today. Right now.

The enemy is going to try to magnify the darkness of the world, making it seem so large that you, your concerns, get swallowed up—like you’re whispering  into hurricane winds and your voice is too weak, small. You can shout, but no one will hear.

Satan wants you to lose all hope. He wants you to give up. Stop praying. Stop trying. Just give in. It’s useless. The world is one big mess, and you’re just one person. You can’t do anything to fix your own problems let alone the massive struggles of the world. Besides, God isn’t really listening to you and your little voice.

Rubbish. All of it.

God hears His children. Always. He never sleeps, so on those nights you can’t sleep, He calls you to curl up next to Him in the living room. When you’re in a meeting or in the middle of a conversation and you are in desperate need of guidance, God hears the silent prayers of your heart.

And when you are on your knees, sobbing into the carpet or standing during a church service and the tears are reaching clear down your neck, God stands beside you.

He sees the walls you’re trying to build again.  He knows why you built them before. He wants you to trust Him. Hand Him the bricks.

My dear friend, God is coming for you. He is going to rescue you. He is still the God of godly surprises and mighty rescues. Don’t think for even a minute that He doesn’t know how to reach you or how to get through to you. He created you. He knows you better than you know you.

He may come for you through the words of someone you haven’t seen in a long time—words that leave you standing in awe with more tears coming because you’ll see God has not forgotten you.

He may come for you through the mighty power of His Holy Spirit—speaking to you through your own mouth and the words He gives you. He may reach out to you from the pages of His Word—helping you to hear His voice clearer than before with eternal hope staring at you from words so profound and true they leave you trembling.

Or perhaps He will come for you, to love you and remind you He’s never going to leave you, through this very blog—so you will know His children are still out there in the world, in the storm, battling the darkness.

They are fighting for truth, for light, and for you. And more importantly:

God is fighting for you.

You are not alone. God is coming for you. Hold on.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14 NIV.)

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.’” (Hebrews 10:35-37 NIV.)

Photo from pexels.com.

A Christmas Moment in October

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As the leaves are changing and the air is getting chilly here in small town USA, I’m thinking about Christmas.

Yes, that’s right. Christmas. Already. (Cue eye-rolling for those of you who still think I’m nuts.)

Maybe I’m a little biased. I did spend a good bit of this year writing and rewriting a Christmas novella (I JUST sent out the manuscript!!), so my brain has been on Christmas mode a lot. (And LOVING every second of it!) And thanks to my sweet hubby who relinquished part of his man cave, I now write in my own little Christmas corner of the world.

But I’m thinking we could all use a Christmas moment right about now. A moment where we step back from the darkness invading our world to immerse ourselves and bask in the presence of Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

You see with Jesus, He gives you rest. He gives you peace. He’s given you His Holy Spirit, so you are always connected to Him.

With Jesus, you never struggle alone. Darkness will not overtake you.

Of course you can play your favorite Christmas songs and movies. (I’m there with you!) You can start baking those cookies or making the dough and freezing it, so you’re ready when people start hollering at you from across the room that they need your chocolate covered marshmallow cookies. (Or maybe that’s just me!)

But there is more JOY in spending time with the One who came to save, the One who is coming again. There is joy and a calming stillness in His light that the world can’t touch.

Take a moment, my friend. Take a Christmas moment. Spend time with Jesus Christ. Call out to Him. Read His Word. And don’t let the world tarnish or steal that time from you.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” (John 8:12 NIV.)

When I Couldn’t See

When my daughter hurried to the car after stepping off the school bus, I knew something was wrong. “There’s a shooter,” she said.

She explained a few miles from our house, a man had shot at police and was on the run.

We hurried inside, locked the doors, and watched a plane as it began to circle our yard. It flew so low I wondered if it skimmed the top of the maple tree in the front. The growling of the engine grew loud every time the plane approached and became a small speck in the distant sky as it made its rounds, searching for the shooter.

This went on for hours.

I’d asked close friends to pray. Calls and texts came in, asking us if we were okay and telling us to stay inside.

I prayed while my daughter and I went room to room in our house as we watched the sky for the plane and searched the shadows of our yard for an armed stranger.

Of course God was there. And in the brightness of day as we kept watch, I had peace.

But night came and there was no keeping watch beyond the beam of my flashlight. The plane was gone and the quiet was unnerving. Police cars raced by our driveway, their lights flashing in the darkness, their sirens silenced.

I breathed easier thinking, They must have got him.

But another call came. “They think he’s somewhere on your road.”

I’d like to tell you I still had peace. I want to tell you I cried out to God in that very moment and He brought me His peace that surpasses all understanding.

But it didn’t happen that way. I didn’t cry out to God just then.

I’d been relying on my sight, and now it was extremely limited. My ability to monitor the situation had been stripped away with the light. I reasoned I could still listen.

But every creak in our house, every sound I’d heard a thousand times before suddenly made me question the source. My stomach soured and burned. My head started to throb when I heard a helicopter circling, the red infrared light hovering above the shadowed trees.

My husband was completely calm with the seriousness and stability of a soldier on duty while our daughter watched the helicopter in between answering her friends’ texts.

Me? I paced and sat. Paced and sat. Answered my phone and paced some more.

It wasn’t until I was in the shower, my sight and ability to hear limited to the confines within the shower curtain and the sound of gushing water, that I finally cried out to God. My flesh wanted to hurry, so I could get back to the living room and keep an eye on the helicopter or stand in our darkened bedroom to listen for sounds outside our window.

Thankfully, my spirit won over my flesh, and I stood in the shower and prayed.

Please, God. We need You. I don’t know how any of us will get any sleep tonight if this goes on. Please keep the police officers safe. Please protect the man they’re after too. Please Lord, help them find him.

When I returned to the living room after my shower, my husband told me, “You can relax now. They got him.”

You can relax now.

I have to wonder if my Heavenly Father told me that very thing the moment I finally cried out to Him instead of relying on me with all my ridiculously limited abilities.

Yes, I can hear Him now:

Relax, child. I am. And I am here.

I want to remember this:

Every time things are out of my control.

Every time I can’t see the outcome of a situation or even what’s going on around me.

Every time I stumble over my human reasoning and weaknesses instead of living by faith.

And I want to remember how God cares for His children, even when they are pacing in the dark or crying in the shower.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV.)

Distraction

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I’ve finally emerged from the “hole” I’ve been in. I’m not talking about the claustrophobia-inducing crawl space I recently descended into to kill mold where I had to belly crawl and turn my head around backward (it felt like it!) to paint over those menacing monsters that were invading our helpless floorboards.

I’m talking about the hole of distraction. Actually, distractions are more like a swamp with all the slow-me-down squishes underfoot.

I know I’m not alone, hanging out in the quagmire of distraction. We’ve certainly got a lot of things tugging on us for our attention:  Covid-19, politics, masks vs. no masks, violence, shut-downs/cancellations, quarantining, fear, rioting, and wildfires. Just to name a few.

Throw in your own “stay-cation,” unusual family get-togethers (if any), summer DIY attempts, financial woes (lack of employment or decreased pay), and school worries (back in session or maybe it’s not or maybe it is but only online or partly online), and it’s enough to make your eyes jump around in your head wondering what to look at next.

It’s easy to get sidetracked or pulled in different directions with so much going on. It’s like you’re the only piece of candy left sitting in the street during the parade and a swarm of kids has spotted you.

But what about God? What happens to your relationship with Him when you’re so distracted by all that’s going on around you?

God speaks to you, to all of us, through His Word and His Holy Spirit. But when we’re distracted, we’re like a bunch of rubber-necking drivers so busy gawking out the window that we miss what He’s saying, and we wind up missing our turn.

We lose our way and before long, we run out of gas and start walking.

Hello, swamp.

It doesn’t take long for this murky place to zap us of our strength, peace, and joy—no one laughs when they’re knee-deep in the muck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. And there is no peace when you feel far away from God.

But one of the great things about God is that it’s never too late to call out to Him and ask Him to help you get back on track. You don’t even have to belly crawl to get there. 🙂  If you humble yourself and ask Him for help, He will lift you up.

And you don’t have to have all of the answers, logically mapping out how to get from here to there. You don’t have to be “perfect” either. You don’t even need to have hiking boots to get out of the swamp and back to your relationship with Him. God will give you exactly what you need, and He will meet you right where you are.

You simply need to pull your life back from the greedy, candy-sticky fingers of Distraction, and give God your focus.

And while you’re at it, give Him all of you and watch and see what He does.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV.)

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:6a emphasis my own, NIV.)

“Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.” (James 4:10 MSG.)

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6 NIV.)

 

 

 

 

Searching for Your Purpose

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“What am I supposed to do with my life? What is God calling me to do?”

I’ve heard others ask those questions, even asked them myself a zillion times or so. It all reminds me of picking blackberries.

Let me explain.

When I was a little girl, my brother and I would follow the trail behind our house and into the woods as we searched for blackberries. Not the green or red ones, of course, but the dark, fat ones.

Usually, I could stay on the path and pick enough to contribute to Mom’s cobbler. But sometimes I’d spot a ginormous berry in the middle of the blackberry bush, so I’d work my way through those pesky briars as they tugged at my clothing and scratched my skin.

When I’d finally reach for the prize, that one blackberry I knew would be worth the bloody scratches on my arms and legs, my slightest touch to a nearby branch would send the thing plummeting to the ground.

Sigh.

So without my top berry, I would maneuver my way out, carefully backing up as I tried to avoid more snags and cuts. After feeling defeated and a little beaten up, I’d realize there was a whole mess of blackberries on the outside of the bush hiding under the canopy of leaves. I’d missed them because I’d had my eyes fixed on that berry in the middle. The one that looked the best. The one that would be the most difficult to pick.

What looked the best and what I knew would be the hardest to reach seemed to be the one I needed. Or so I thought.

And isn’t that what we do sometimes when we’re searching for our purpose, God’s will for our lives?

We use our eyes or our logic and we dive into something we have no business diving into—all because we think it’s the real “prize.” It makes sense to us. We know it’s going to be a lot of hard work, but we rush right in there after it, believing it to be “God’s best” for our lives without stopping first to check with Him.

We get banged up, scratched up, left feeling defeated because when we finally reach “it,” the thing falls away and we’re left standing there looking at the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. We wonder if it’s too late to turn around and ask God to show us His plan. (Hint: As long as you’re still walking around on planet earth, it’s not too late.)

If we would just stay on the trail God has us on, He will show us. If we stay close to Him and keep talking to Him even when we don’t feel like it, even when the answers are SO slow in coming, even when we don’t feel Him, and even in the midst of a pandemic when things seem to be out of control, God will show up and teach us through His Holy Spirit what we’re supposed to do with our lives.

My friend, your life’s purpose may be closer than you think, easier to recognize than you realize, and simply not at all what others believe you should do with your life.

Go to God. He’s the One growing the berries, after all. And He’s the One who has the best recipe for your life.

“I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” (Psalm 57:2. ESV.)

“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” (Proverbs 19:21 NLT.)

 

Photo from pexels.com.

 

 

 

When God is Quiet During Your Brokenness

This may be an older post, but I believe I’m to share it today. Blessings to you as you press on!

Training for Eternity

during the storm

Things can leave us broken with the pieces of our messy and shattered lives washing ashore. The things we counted on crumble like sand in our hands. People let us down. We feel forgotten or discarded. Or a great rescue we’ve been hoping and praying for doesn’t come.

It hurts. You lie awake at night, tears soaking your face and landing on your pillow. You talk to God. You plead for an answer. You ask Him what you’re doing wrong or what you should do to fix it all. You find yourself dropping to your knees and begging, crying out to Him for help.

But He’s quiet.

You wonder what’s going on and why He’s allowing this storm to rage, one that’s been thrashing against your heart for a long, long time.

Maybe you only see the pieces of what’s survived the storm and wonder what good can come from it. What can God possibly do with this mess?

He…

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