The Good Thing about Hard Times

In the midst of all that’s going on in this world, it is easy for you to allow fear to grip your hearts.

Fear of the future, fear of sickness and death, fear of lack of resources, fear of the unknown. I know for my personal life, one fear has attempted to break my peace consistantly and that is the fear of suffering in some way.

Whether it’s suffering in finances, in lacking resources needed for my family, in the economy, whatever it is, there’s this uneasiness about my comfort being attacked in some way. My daily “normal” somehow changing. It can definitely be scary.

Obviously I am not the only one who feels this uneasiness, as toilet paper was the first thing we ran for during the scare. Toilet paper. Think about it. Something that is NOT a necessity being bought over food or water. Because of this one word that has imprisoned us for way too long: comfort.

I was reading in Romans today, seeking peace for my soul during this time and stumbled upon a passage I have read many times. But often His Word jumps out at us when we need it, so I figured I would share.

Romans 5:3-5 – “Moreover (let us also be full of joy now!) Let us exult and triumph in our troubles and sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character (of this sort) produces (the habit of) joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.”

Wow! What peace this can give us if we center our hearts on its promises. All too often as Christian’s these days, we pray for things like character, patience, integrity, more faith, more hope, and yet we never seem to pray for suffering or trials (I know, who would?)

But think about it. This scripture shows you the formula to having joy, peace, faith, and character; trials and sufferings which lead to endurance. All too often we pray for miracles in our lives and yet would pray against situations where God would be able to work miracles.

“Lord, please deliver us from bondage of the Pharoah BUT why have You led us to the Red Sea to be killed?!?” Sound familiar? The Israelites wanted the freedom without discomfort. But without discomfort the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea would never have been needed. Without sickness, we wouldn’t see His healings. Without struggle, we wouldn’t see His mighty provision. Without discomfort, we cannot grow.

So I take this time in my personal life to do as His Word tells us and exult in trials and sufferings. During this time where comfort and “normal” seem out of reach, this is a time to buckle down and praise the Lord that we are gaining endurance and patience. That we are learning what it means to rely solely on Him and not ourselves, our social lives, or our government. That during this time of stretching we can be thankful and renew our minds to see everything as He does and not what our flesh wants.

Take this time of isolation and really learn to be dependent on God. This is a time where distraction has been wiped out of most of our lives. Distraction and comfort that all too often keep us from our true Love and our families. Stop complaining, worrying, and fearing, and start praising God and thanking Him for your blessings, your life, and the ability to grow in Him.

Hard times are hard but they always restore my faith a little because it always seems that hard times produce such beautiful fruit in humanity. We see communities come together, servants appear in this individualistic selfish world, and neighborly love everywhere we look. Once again the principles of the Word evident all around us.

I wanted to encourage you in this time to look at things in a different way. Stay in your Word, keep your minds renewed, and walk in thanksgiving. Love you all! Happy homemaking!

Stones of Remembrance: Remembering God’s Faithfulness in the Midst of your Trial

If you have never read Joshua chapters 3 and 4 I urge you to go and read them now. You will read about a miraculous working of God once again in the lives of the Israelites. Essentially, God told Joshua to lead the Israelites across the Jordan, and that when they stepped foot in the water, He would part the waters for them once again as He had done with the Red Sea. What a mighty God we serve.

Although I love to read of His miracles then and hear of them today, that isn’t necessarily the part of the story I want to touch on. As you read in this story, Joshua also tells the Israelites to do something else. As they cross the Jordan (which was by no means a small creek or brook), Joshua tells one man from each tribe to pick up a stone (large enough to carry on their shoulders) from the bottom of the Jordan.

And he explains that the reason for doing so is that when their children, and their children’s children ask why they have kept a stone, that they can then remember God’s faithfulness to them and the miraculous work that He did. These stones became Stones of Remembrance for God’s goodness and faithfulness.

I believe we all make stones of remembrance, but sometimes they are not for God’s goodness or faithfulness to us in the midst of our storms but of the suffering we have. For instance, when I battled anxiety I remember that one of the things I feared was, well, fear itself. At the back of my mind I was always fearing when the next big anxiety attack would hit or fearing if I would live this way forever. It was a dark cycle that was quite exhausting.

One day I was crying out to God regarding this; how am I supposed to ever be free from fear if all I do is fear anxiety?!? I stilled my mind to listen and heard these three words: Stones of Remembrance. I had remembered faintly of this from a teaching at some time, but I could not remember where to find it. So I googled it and read the story of Joshua. What a nice story, I thought to myself, but what does that have to do with what I am dealing with God? (Thank the Lord that He knows how to deal with our sassy attitudes and questionings).

“You have made stones of remembrance to your struggles and not to my faithfulness in the midst of your struggles. When you remember my faithfulness, then you will find yourself free from fear.”

Tears welled up in my eyes and heat filled my cheeks as I realized that I too had made stones of remembrance, but not to my God. I had built stones of remembrance to the onslaught of the enemy, but not to the goodness of God who always delivered me in the midst of those battles. When the darkness of fear gripped my soul, and God would bring peace on my mind, I should have built a stone of remembrance to His goodness to keep His promises. Instead, I remembered the feeling of despair and built a stone of fear’s threats.

Every time I would be going through a somewhat “good” time in my life, my mind would come across those stones made out to fear and fear would have a foothold in my mind. Thus the cycle continued. After God pointed this out to me, I decided to make stones of remembrance to His faithfulness.

Every time fear would raise it’s ugly head and say, “You’re going to have anxiety about this or this will always be a struggle for you,” I would go to my Stone of Remembrance and remind my soul, “Remember the last time you went through this anxiety battle, and God delivered you?” “Remember the last time you thought you would be overtaken, but God strengthened you?” “Remember the last time you didn’t think you could make it through the night, but God was with you until the morning?”

We can replay our sufferings, trials, storms, and traumas over and over again. And when we do we will often find ourselves on the other end of more suffering, trial, and storm. Your mind is a journey and where you allow it to travel, so will your emotions. But when we take control of our thinking and cast down those thoughts and fears and make our thoughts obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), then we can remember God’s goodness and faithfulness, which will give you hope and strength.

Stones of Remembrance were used by the Israelites to remind them and the generations after them of God’s faithfulness and workings of miracles. They would leave the stones in the place where God worked and when they or someone else traveled upon them once again, they could remember what the Lord had done for them. What I found interesting was that Joshua had them pick stones up from the bottom of the Jordan River. These stones would not have been able to be retrieved had God not done something mighty. The stones we pick up in this life our symbols of God’s mighty power and work in our lives. And when the enemy tempts you with a pity party over your sufferings, remind him of the mighty work God has done and will continue to do because He is able to make good out of what is intended for your destruction (Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20).

When you go through a trial or storm and come on the other side of it, don’t create a stone of remembrance that will remember and praise the attack, but create a stone of remembrance of God’s faithfulness to you and His goodness to you in that hard time. It’s time we take back control of our thinking and instead of being accused all of the time by our accuser, we can remember the love and goodness of God.

So if you find yourself traveling through the same cycles of fear of the future, fear of the next attack, remembering struggles, sins, and traumas, go ahead and make a stone of remembrance that will help you remember that God gave you the strength to get through it and He will do it again. We do not have to live in fear of the future because we know Who is already there, Who has already prepared the way for us, and Who has already brought victory and deliverance through Christ Jesus.

The Deception of Self Love

Okay, so this is not going to be a popular post. I’m okay with that because I don’t write for popularity but for what God lays on my heart to say to whoever may read it. There is a trend going around that is what I like to call, deliciously deceptive. It’s those topics that come along and are covered in something labeled “good” but are dangerously deceptive underneath. Have you ever heard of the saying, “A wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing?” That’s pretty much the imagery of what I’m talking about.

Now cultural fads come and go. And there’s an easy way to fall into a cultural mindset without weighing whether that mindset lines up with the Word of God. Because it seems good to the eye, then it must be inherently good. One of the things I keep seeing over and over in culture, particularly in women today, is this idea of “self love”. This notion that we as women need to be putting ourselves first, creating a beautiful self image, allowing ourselves to be selfish every now and then because, “Girl, you’re worth it”.

At first you’re like, “That’s right! I should be worrying about myself first.” And you feel really good reading posts that elevate that self esteem and independence and self love. But, if you’re not careful, that’s an easy place to be deceived into becoming self minded or what is really selfish. If I were to say to you, “Girl, you need to do what makes you happy and what makes you feel powerful,” you would probably high five me. But just because something makes you feel good, does not mean it’s biblical or that it should be something we strive for.

Let’s be real with ourselves here for a moment. This world is preaching a lot of messages to us women today, and if we are not careful we can hop on that train into a tunnel of deception. Remember, if you are saved, you are living according to a different culture, the culture of the kingdom of God. Remember, we are not of this world nor are we to think like this world (John 17:16).

“And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you].” Romans 12:2 AMP

It’s pretty clear in scripture that we are not to be of the world; that we are not to align ourselves with popular ways of thinking, acting, dressing, that is not in line with the Word of God. So why dear sisters are we women of faith being so deceived into what I like to call the deception of self love?

Scripture is blatantly clear on how we are to view ourselves.

“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross daily [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me]. For whoever wishes to save his life [in this world] will [eventually] lose it [through death], but whoever loses his life [in this world] for My sake, he is the one who will save it [from the consequences of sin and separation from God].” Luke 9:23,24

“He must increase [in prominence], but I must decrease.” John 3:30

“It teaches us to reject ungodliness and worldly (immoral) desires, and to live sensible, upright, and godly lives [with a purpose that reflect spiritual maturity] in this present age” Titus 2:12

“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not [carefully consider the cost and then for My sake] give up all his own possessions.” Luke 14:33 AMP

“And he who does not take his cross [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me] is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life [in this world] will [eventually] lose it [through death], and whoever loses his life [in this world] for My sake will find it [that is, life with Me for all eternity].” Matthew 10:38‭-‬39 AMP

You cannot show me in scripture where my goal in life should be to glory in myself, to put my wants and needs before others, to do what makes me happy, to seek selfish desires. What you do see is scripture telling us over and over is to lay our lives down, to put others first, to serve others, to humble ourselves before God and man, to give God the glory, to seek the will of God and lay our desires down. I am so tired of seeing a generation of women of faith falling into the trap of the self.

Hear me clearly. No, you are not meant to be a doormat. No, you do not have to be abused, used, or treated like garbage. No, God does not want you to view yourself as ugly, fat, or not good enough for love. But its not to make you feel good about yourself in yourself, but to know who you are in Him.

I’ve found that the many times I have let my self be the focus of my every thought, motive, and desire, I am left miserable. Your prayers, thoughts and purposes should not all be about you. Many of us would feel alot better, have more stable mentality, and live in more freedom if we would walk away from the bondage of self and begin to live a life concerned about others.

Get yourself off your mind. Seek God and HIS righteousness. Seek god and HIS purposes for your life. You can do your hair (not bad in itself), fix your makeup just right (I wear makeup too), take that perfect selfie (to show off how strong and happy you are) and still not ever reach happiness. You can have the new clothes, the starbucks coffee, the designer shoes, the promotion at work, the golden globe (you know who you are), and still find absolutely NOTHING at the end of the day. Because sister, joy and peace are not in this world to be found. They are in HIM and Him alone. Stop forfeiting the purposes of God for your own purposes.

When you find yourself in a cycle of self, slap the enemy in the face and serve someone else! Woke up feeling bad about your appearance? Don’t think about YOU all day, instead compliment other women, thank God for your health and being alive, do something good for someone else! Having a bad mental health day? Reach out to someone you know who also struggles and ask them how you can help THEM. You’re not too broken to be used by God to bring light to someone’s life. And you’ll most likely find yourself feeling uplifted and joyful afterwards too.

This culture for too long as promoted self and self interest; independance from others and fulfilling happiness. But if you are a child of God, happiness is not your goal. Hard to hear right? What we think will make us happy, the perfect body, the perfect husband, the perfect children, the perfect house, the perfect job, none of those things will do it in the end. You will get that next thing and feel good for a little bit… and then it doesn’t do the job anymore. You will get the followers and the attention, but find yourself feeling empty.

Because fullness of joy, fulfillment, and peace come only from Him. Because the only path to true self love is the laying down of self in His hands. You want what’s best for you? Try surrendering every dream, desire, life bucket list and relationship to Him and watch Him truly give you the desires of your heart. Trust me, what the enemy doesn’t want you to know is that behind every culutral pep talk and self love blog post is emptiness and a dangerous deception.

It’s not about not taking a night to yourself after a stressful week to unwind and find peace. That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is to not get so caught up in this cultural fad that you find that your self is the only thing on your mind. That is not how Jesus lived, and that is not how we are called to live.

Trust me, I feel it. I feel the tension of cultural ideals and the Word of God. It is so much easier to think about myself all the time than put others before me (thats our flesh’s auto set since birth). But there is no joy in it. Love yourself because you were bought with a price and considered worthy in His eyes, not because of anything you do. Love yourself not because you deserve it, but because God thought you were worthy of His love. Love yourself because you were made in His image, not because you have the perfect body, clothes or smile.

I’m waiting for a generation of women of faith who stand up for biblical principles in a world who will call them “out of date”, antiquated, and stupid. I’m not saying hate yourself, just get yourself off your mind. You will be surprised what you find. You don’t have to worry about not being taken care of either… because when you rest in His hands and take care of others, God is faithful to take care of you too. So, be free to not be in yourself. It is freedom indeed.

A Letter to my Best Friend: From a New Mommy

Dear Best Friend (you know who you are).

I have been thinking about you a lot lately, and I hope you know that. So much has changed so dramatically over the last few years. I got married, became a mommy, and now I’m balancing how to serve as a wife, mommy, daughter, friend, all at the same time. It gets hard sometimes. Remembering what it felt like to drop everything and hang out with you, laugh until we cried, watch movies and eat the junkiest of food feels bittersweet.

I miss who I was back then, when it was just me and you sometimes too! When we would lay on your bed and dream for hours about our future and what we wanted and prayed for. And now I have some of those things and I am so grateful for them, but I also grieve what I lost in a way too.

I miss you. Life got so hectic and I was so overwhelmed trying to figure out how to hold it all together for everyone else without falling apart myself that sometimes I fear I forgot to think about you too. And those few times you would come to my rescue and remind me of who I was before all of these new roles got put on me saved me. I get to where I almost forget who I am apart from wife and mom, and you remind me of my true, goofy, sarcastic, witty self.

I am writing this letter because I want you to know how much you mean to me. I want you to know how much I cherish you even though I still am figuring all of this out. I want you to know that I miss you and I need girl time. I want you to know how much joy it brings me to see you love my family. I want you to know how thankful I am that you haven’t given up on me even through the many cancelled plans, exhausted friend dates, and boring hangouts.

I’m praying for a day where life slows down a bit or even I get better at balancing it all out to where I get to give you the time you truly deserve. I always say I have been so blessed to be surrounded by people who have true servants hearts. You give so freely, so easily, and never look back. You are pure joy, peace, and truly shine the light of Jesus.

One day, we will sit together and reminisce about the good days while making more good days, surrounded by our husbands and children. Until then, lets make the most of these crazy transition years.

I’ll live through your adventures and you can always come home for some yummy homecooked meals. You tell me of your latest excitement and I will tell you of the latest baby poop story. You tell me what’s going on in your crazy world and I’ll tell you what’s going on in mine. And in the midst of the chaos, we can become those two teenage girls again, laughing hysterically, talking in accents, eating way too much chocolate, and trying to find our way in this world.

I am writing this letter because I just want to let you know how thankful I am God put you in my life. How thankful I am that you are longsuffering with me and patient. That you really are a picture of true friendship to me, sometimes when it feels a little too one-sided on your part. I promise I will try to be better at being a new mommy and a best friend; I promise I will learn. But until then, thank you for still loving me while I figure it out. (Also just think of it as me clearing the cobwebs for you for when its your turn).

I love you, best friend. I cherish you. I miss you.

Love,

Your best friend.

The Key to a Happy New Year

Happy…happy…happy! What a word that is thrown around all the time. Especially this time of the year! A new year! It’s such an amazing and exciting time for the unknown. One tradition I always do around this time every year is just take a moment to breathe and think about where I was this time last year. Did I do the things I wanted to do? Did I chase the passions I wanted to chase? And then I think about the next year; I think about all the things that can happen in one year.

New years are the perfect time to start “anew”. They are the perfect time to gain back hope and get excited for all the things that lie ahead of us. But they can also be a time where it is easy to fall into the fear trap. Many opportunities lie ahead in the new year, but so do many unknowns. That can be a little scary. We worry about the new year. Will it be like last year? Will I go through trials again? Will it be hard again? What if bad things happen? What if I’m not happy?

Last year was an amazing year of ups and downs for me. I had my first baby, bought my first house, graduated with my master’s degree and celebrated two years with my love. But also there were many hard times. Times of anxiousness, depression, doubt, and numbness. Many times last year I struggled with that word: “happiness”. I fell into comparison traps, I blamed everyone around me for not feeling happy (including my husband and baby), I blamed my past hurts for keeping me stuck in a pit of despair. Yes, there were times I felt strong in the Lord, but any time something hard happened and my “Happy” was hurt, I returned back to murmuring, complaining, fault-finding, and even finding myself angry towards God.

Yesterday, I felt a general sense of just unhappiness. As I walked through the day, I tried to find every reason for why I was feeling the way I felt. “Well, nothing new and exciting is happening in my life….” “Well, my husband has been getting on my nerves lately….” “Well, my baby has been very clingy and hard to deal with lately….” “Well, my body still isn’t what I want it to be…” “Well, God still hasn’t healed me…” “Blah, blah, blah”. I was sick of being with myself by the end of the day.

After I got baby into bed and my husband went to sleep, I thought maybe a “self-care” night would help. I soaked my feet, watched I Love Lucy, drank some hot peppermint tea, took a bubble bath, and yet the numb sadness was still there. I put my phone down beside the bath, took a deep sigh, and realized what needed to be done. The key to happiness wasn’t going to be found in more “me” time. It wouldn’t be from drastic romantic dates and notions from my hubby. It wouldn’t come from a constantly happy baby and a fit body. Happiness wouldn’t come when all of my wants were met. It could only come from one thing: humility.

I realized that I had been attempting to find blame in everyone and everything else for why I felt the way I did. I wanted to put the responsibility for my happiness on everyone else, that way I didn’t have to do it myself. I realized that I had been walking in selfishness and pride; thinking that the only person that mattered was “me..me…me”. It will exhaust you as a Christian to walk in pride and selfishness, because Christ’s nature of servanthood lies within you and they cannot coincide together in peace.

When you feel yourself always feeling unhappy, think about WHO has been on your mind lately. Is it you? This world teaches us that it’s all about making ourselves happy; it’s all about doing what makes us happy. Who cares if it hurts someone else or you have to walk over everyone else or you have to leave people behind, as long as your happy, you do it. What’s sad is that this type of thinking can slowly leak into our minds as Christians, if we are not careful and cautiously taking inventory of our thought life and heart attitudes.

Movies tell us that romance is always butterflies and fireworks, so if we are not getting that 24/7 then our spouses need to step up and make us happy. Instagram moms post pictures of their perfect babies, always clean, always happy, always doing what they are supposed to. Then our babies act like humans and we think that we did something wrong or got the short end of the stick. Prosperity gospels tell us that God should always bless us and fulfill our every desire, but when we don’t get every single thing we expect from Him, we get bitter and disappointed at God. But did you notice, we never turn our eyes on ourselves.

It’s time we stop blaming everyone else for our current emotional turmoil. It’s time we stop blaming our families for our stress and our jobs for our unhappiness. It’s time we stop blaming God for our disappointments and let down expectations. It’s time we turn the mirror on our own souls and get to the nitty gritty. It’s time to humble ourselves.

I sat in the bath and I wept. For so long I have been murmuring, complaining, and thinking negatively. For so long I was waiting on everything around me to line up perfectly in order for me to find happiness. When the whole time the problem was me. Wrong attitudes, wrong motives, wrong outlooks. Selfishness, pride, envy.

I asked God to forgive me for not being thankful for His many blessings. For always looking at the bad instead of the good. For wanting Him to do my will instead of His will. For blaming everyone else for my problems, instead of the fact that I was running. I didn’t need more self love or self care. I needed time with Jesus. I needed to hit my knees and humble myself and realize that it was me all along that was responsible for my happiness.

David in the bible was often in the midst of trial and turmoil. But one thing you can find in him, is that he always encouraged himself in the Lord. He didn’t need 15 different small groups, 100 new friends, and social media to make him feel good when he struggled. He took it upon himself to encourage himself in the Lord. Sometimes we don’t need to reach for the phone when we are feeling downtrodden or worried. We need to reach into our spirits and say to our soul, “Why, oh my soul, are you downcast? Why are you so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5).

There is a point when you have to tell yourself, enough is enough! Stop allowing the enemy to walk over you. Stop letting life’s circumstances declare whether you are going to praise God and walk in thankfulness or not. Stop waiting on everyone else to bring you peace and joy, when you can speak to your soul and tell it to rise up!

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6). Sometimes, your struggles in life are not because of other people but because you have chosen to continue to walk in defeat. Sometimes you are your own problem. If you speak negatively, think negatively, walk in defeat, murmur, complain, and never count your blessings, then you can bet that you will walk in depression, anxiety, and bitterness.

It’s time to get up! Shake the dirt off, walk in victory, and be who God has called you to be. Stop waiting on others to do the hard work for you. The pastor ain’t gonna do it for you; the people in the alter ain’t gonna do it for you; your friends and spouses aren’t gonna do it for you. If you have struggled with the same sin, the same defeating thoughts, the same fears over and over again, it’s time to humble yourself, surrender to God, and walk in victory. Proclaim His Word instead of your fears. Walk in thanksgiving and praise instead of doubt and complaining.

Stop seeking blog posts to give you the “top 5 mindfulness attitudes” to bring you happiness. Stop buying all of the products that advertise they will complete you. Stop filling your life so full of plans that you cannot find a moment of peace and quiet to hear from God. Make this year the year that you stop relying on others to fill you up, and rely on God instead. Humble yourself, come to Him, and let Him be everything that you need. You will be amazed to find that in the midst of humility (which hurts very bad sometimes), you will find happiness.

Finding Myself Again: The Journey of Learning I am more than a Mother and Wife

Our identity need not lie in the roles we play here on Earth, but in the stance we took when we were adopted into God’s family. I am more than mother and wife, I am first a daughter.

Katie Richards

I finished my master’s degree back in October and since then have been dealing with some identity issues. Before school ended I felt as though I still had something for myself. Yes, I was a wife and mother, but I also had school which helped me to feel like I had a meaningful purpose.

When school ended, my role switched and as I do with most things in life, I found myself pouring all of myself into my husband, son, and household, that there wasn’t much left for “me” anymore. It’s been a slow process but I have felt the burning out. The endless cycles of cleaning, cooking, and serving everyone else, and sometimes feeling like I am forgotten along the way.

My personality is a go-getter personality. Up to this point in my life, I have always had something that I was chasing after; some goal that kept the fire lit in my soul. Today as I poured my heart out to God, I wept as I told Him, “I feel like my fire is gone. I don’t even have a dream or passion for myself anymore. I’m tired of living off the vision of everyone else; I want vision again.”

I type this out with tears in my eyes because it has been the first time that I have allowed myself to feel these feelings and I will tell you why. Every time in the past I almost got to this point, I would feel guilty. If I allow myself to weep over what I feel like I have lost in this season of motherhood and marriage, then I am not being thankful for what a beautiful blessing it is.

But that isn’t true. We are allowed to be so thankful for what God has blessed us with, while also wanting our souls on fire for the things of God again. We are allowed to serve our families while not forgetting what our real passion and purposes are. Yes, God has me in this season of homemaking, but He also has other things in store for me. I am so tired of living in an “either-or” state of mind.

I am writing about this because I am sure that I am not the only young mother, wife, and woman who has felt this way before. But I offer encouragement. Today, as I wept tears of grief, weariness, and just exhaustion, God comforted my soul. “Daughter, your purpose in life is not to be a wife, mother, teacher, author, evangelist, or person in ministry. It is not to master the art of homemaking or be the one everyone comes far and wide to listen to. Your purpose is to be Mine, to seek Me in everything you do. When your heart has the right purpose in it, you will find passion in your home and on the stage.”

As I’ve poured myself into everyone and everything, I have lacked in pouring myself completely into God and the things of God. Had I purposed in my heart to serve Him first, then all the rest would easily follow. You see, exhaustion comes when we try and do everything without Him. We think we are simply doing our part and playing our roles, but God has asked we do all things according to Him.

So when I am cooking dinner, I am not simply feeding my family. I am feeding my husband, who has mighty purpose and anointing on Him. I am feeding my son, who will follow in his father’s footsteps, a prophet to the nations and mighty man of God. And I am feeding myself, a mighty woman of God with a heart for the broken and the Word of God.

When I am cleaning my house, I am making a home that is welcoming the Holy Spirit. Where the hurt and broken can come and be ministered to, through the Word or through baked goods. Where peace is present, and laughter is worship to the Lord.

We all live in seasons. And right now your season may be a stay-at-home mom or a working mom who feels like everything is spent out in serving others. I encourage you to change your mindset. To allow God to rewrite how you think about your daily life. To pray daily that God would show up and order your steps.

I am excited to see what God has in store for the future. I am. But I cannot afford to spend my time always looking ahead and forgetting what is in my today. The chances for ministry here in my own home. The chances to serve God in humility as I lay myself down and put others before me. What we cannot forget is to pour into our spiritual lives by setting aside time with Jesus as a priority.

The One Who loves you more in a second than anyone can in a lifetime longs to spend time with you. And when you set aside daily duties, to-do lists, and distractions, you will find the Well that never runs dry, ready and willing to fill up and overflow every part of you that feels empty.

So, yes I am a mother and a wife. And I love those roles that Jesus has blessed me with. But first, I am a daughter of the Most High. Adopted, created with purpose, and made for communion with my Father. So, I am opting to walk in that role first, and I know the passion and fire for the rest of my roles will come with it.

Seasons come and go, but it is what we do with them that truly matters. Enjoy your season and use it as an act of worship to God. I hope this encourages you, happy homemaking daughter!

Are you Tired? Then Go Running

I love to write. I have always loved to write, since I was little. It’s the perfect way to get my heart across to another. Often in marriage counseling or talking with friends, I tell them to write. Writing helps get our thoughts across in such a way, that often distractions can’t come through. Usually when I write on here, I write from experience, revelations, or fun ideas. Often, however, I simply ask God what He wants me to say. What do they need to hear?

Today, as I was in my time with God I felt the urge to write. And this is what He wanted me to let you know. When you’re tired, weak, exhausted, and weary: run. Physically, this idea doesn’t make much sense. When you are exhausted physically, the last thing you want to do is go running. The last thing you want to do is use what energy you have left in your reserve.

Often when we are struggling spiritually, we feel the same way. We are so exhausted from the battle, emotionally and mentally, we don’t want to use any energy left to run to Him. We would rather numb ourselves in front of the television or with groups of friends, hoping the distraction will somehow create an energy in us to deal with the struggles. But simple physics tells us nothing comes from nothing. If we do not get gas for the car, gas does not simply appear in our tanks. If we do not run to God for refuge in the storm, we won’t have the strength to go forward.

One of the verses I “run” to all too often is Matthew 11:28. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” With my personality, I often am way too focused on doing everything myself without asking for help. I don’t know why I am this way, but I feel like a burden to ask for help. So I just do it myself. This can be one of the worst things a person can do to themselves. God made us as people who need others. We need Him. If you are feeling burnt out and exhausted, it is very possible that you are carrying a burden you were not meant to carry alone. The next part in the scripture explains a truth that set me free. Verse 29 and 30 says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Not many know what a yoke is because not many are surrounded by farming and harvesting. A yoke is what holds two cattle together as they plow the fields. It is very important that the two remain working together, because if one pulls the yoke too fast, the other can be injured or even killed.

Jesus is telling us here that if we are exhausted and weary, it’s time we lay down our yokes and yoke up with Him. Our yokes, our burdens, our weights, are too heavy for us to carry. But when we come to Him, His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. When you are at your breaking point, feeling like you can’t push forward by yourself any more, it is not the time to run away from God, but to run towards Him. Drop your yoke of the world, and yoke up with Him.

“Cast all of your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7). Imagine your child walking alongside you on a hike. They are carrying a backpack they packed themselves before the trip and you are carrying the backpack you packed. As you hike along, the child becomes increasingly exhausted; crying, whimpering, complaining. “I can’t carry it anymore, it’s too heavy.” “Well give it to me then.” You would think the child would hand it over right? No. Instead you hear, “Well, I can carry it myself.” Or, “It’s mine though… I don’t want to hand it over….” “If I hand it over then I may lose something…” “I don’t know how to walk without carrying my backpack… if I give it to you then I don’t know how to go forward.”

Confused, you continue walking with the child. This time they stop, kneel to the ground, huffing at the exhaustion and strength it’s taking to carry the backpack. You kneel down beside them. “Honey, give it to me, I will carry it.” The child lifts their head, crying, and says, “I don’t know how.” “Just hand it me.” Crying heavily, “I don’t know how. If I give it to you, I won’t be carrying anything.” You lift their chin to you and say, “You carry my backpack, and I will carry yours.”

You take your backpack off and help them take off their backpack. As you lift it you realize how heavy it is. “What did you pack in here?” You open it up to find many stones. On the stones are written different things. One reads “fear”, another “anxiety”. There is a huge one, and on it says, “expectations of others”. You keep rummaging through the bag, pulling out the stones one by one. “Sadness”, “loss”, “depression”, “self-hate”, “suicide”, “bitterness”, “anger”, “hurt”, “abuse”, “rejection”, “condemnation”, “shame”, “guilt”. It goes on and on.

“Honey, how have you carried this for so long? Here, take mine.” The child, relieved, drops their shoulders. As they lift your bag on their shoulders, their eyes open in amazement. “It’s so light! What do you carry?” They open the bag and begin pulling out feathers. On the feathers are written many words: “faith”, “trust”, “peace”, “love”, “forgiveness”, “righteousness”, “holiness”, “joy”. The child begins crying, “You mean I could have carried this the whole time?” “Yes, honey, but don’t be sad that you have walked so far with burdens. All you have to do is hand them to me, and continue forward. And if you are tempted to pick up any rocks along the way, just give them to me.”

I know, it may sound corny, but this story is the perfect depiction of how God feels with us. You would feel so frustrated that you offered to carry your child’s burden, yet they continued in exhaustion and weariness. You would want to scream from the mountain tops, that what you had for them instead was so much better. But when we continuously rely on ourselves or others, to meet our needs and fill our emptiness rather than relying on God, we will be that child who continuously decides to carry burdens that are not ours to carry or pick up things along the road of this life, we were meant to cast away.

Enough is enough. Stop carrying the world on your shoulders and cast it onto the One Who is enough for you. Are you heartbroken? Wounded? Rejected? Bitter? Do you not know how to give it all up? Have you been walking so long with the weight that you’re afraid of what it may feel like to finally let it go?

The answer is not complicated, although the enemy wants you to believe that it is. It is simple. If you are weary, RUN. Run to Him with everything you have. Hit your knees, throw your burdens on Him. Trade your sorrows for joy. Trade your mourning for dancing. Trade your tears of grief for tears of laughter. Trade your brokenness for full restoration. Trade your bitterness for forgiveness. Trade your anger for peace. Trade your hate for love. Trade your dirtiness for righteousness. It is so much more simple than it seems.

Humble yourself. You do not have to carry it on your own any longer. You are not a burden to Him, He yearns to give you peace and rest. So, if you have been wounded and exhausted, RUN TO HIM. If you have been trying to numb yourself from reality, RUN TO HIM. If you have been running in the wrong direction, RUN TOWARDS HIM. You will find hope for hopelessness, faith for unbelief, and healing for your souls. Think on this:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Psalm 23

Postpartum Body: Does it get Easier?

I promised I would be vulnerable on here and I just want to talk about something I am struggling with pretty bad. My postpartum body. It’s been almost 9 months since I gave birth to John, and I still haven’t “bounced back”. As I watch so many friends who gave birth around the same time as me post their pictures and somehow look like that lost weight being pregnant, I can’t help but feel so discouraged.

I never thought I would have an enemy. This enemy seems to be everywhere, all the time. It’s a reminder of the things I hate about myself and I can’t stand to look in it. This enemy: the mirror. Y’all I absolutely hate getting undressed in front of the mirror. I hate seeing those stretch marks, the jiggly belly, the extra pudge. I pull the fat around my face back to remember thinner days. I turn sideways and see what looks like a 2 month pregnant belly. I turn around and look at the rolls on my back forming as I turn. I feel utter disgust. Humiliation at my husband seeing me. Tears welling up in my eyes.

Last night my husband weighed the baby by first standing on the scale and then holding John and standing on the scale. I glanced at the weight of them two together and felt a punch to the gut: they weigh less together than I do at the moment. Not by much, but still. The thought that two people weigh less than I do together made me want to throw up. And then yesterday we picked up my wedding set that was resized because I was tired of not wearing my rings. When I went to put them on, they fit, but they still were tight. It felt like punch after punch. I felt sadness and depression looming nearby.

That night after the baby went to sleep, I wanted to relax in the bath. As Tyler got ready for bed he happened to be in there as I undressed. Complete shame filled me and I just wanted to hide. I got in the tub hoping he would just hurry and leave the room. He came by and kneeled by the tub to kiss me goodnight and as our eyes met he asked those words, “What’s wrong?”

Now if you know me, I can hold my tears back as long as you don’t acknowledge me. But as soon as you ask me to talk about what’s wrong, they will flow like Niagara Falls! I start bawling and say something along the lines of, “I hate myself. I hate my body.” Knowing he needed to get up in about 5 hours for work, he still sat down by the tub and held my head in his arms. He kissed my head, my arm, my tear rolling down my cheek, and said, “I love every part of you.” “But I don’t, I hate every part of myself.” “He prayed over me and told me I needed to get alone with God and listen.

As he went to bed, I sat in the tub and decided to listen. “God, I don’t like feeling like this… I’m so tired of hating myself.” “Your worth is much more than what is physical. There are some who would trade a “perfect body” for your stretch marks and weight gain. Those who want a baby so bad, they would immediately take a body they do not “love”. Be grateful for the scars, the jiggly bits, and your womb.”

This hit me hard. It’s not fair to whine about my body. Yes, I have a thyroid problem that makes losing weight extremely hard (if not impossible). Yes, I don’t like my reflection and it feels like whatever I do doesn’t work or help. But, I hold a baby boy everyday who is healthy and happy. This is the body that carried him. This is the body that my husband loves. This is the body that carries me throughout this life, making memories and taking me on adventures. I am so tired of being my own worst enemy. I am so tired of being mean and hateful to the person that God loves. I would never in my life allow someone to talk like this about themselves, but I allow the abuse to myself.

Ladies, I still struggle with my body. But I am choosing to work hard in the ways I can by being healthy, and letting God do the rest. I am choosing to learn to love myself in this season without hating my reflection or pictures of myself. I am so tired of seeing my husband’s smile go away when he shows me a picture he took of me and the baby and all I can do is criticize my image. He saw a memory, the woman he loves and the baby we made, and all I saw was myself.

Hating yourself is selfishness. It’s always thinking about yourself and not of others. It’s okay to work on yourself and be healthy, but when it surrounds your life in a way that your self takes priority over other’s, it’s not godly nor healthy. So if you had a baby and your body bounced right back, I am thankful for you! I am so glad that your body is healthy and you now have a healthy body. If you are struggling with your postpartum body like me, I am with you, but let’s be thankful for the gift of life and the amazing work God created our bodies to do. And if you’re struggling to even have that precious baby you dream of, I am sorry if I have ever hurt you with my criticism and thoughtlessness. I am praying for you and that God would answer every desire of your heart.

Let’s stop letting the enemy win. Let’s stop allowing him to steal the joy of this season. Let’s stop allowing him to take away the praise we should be giving, and replacing it with complaining. Speak well about yourself, for you are a daughter of the Most High! He doesn’t like you talking so badly about the one He loves. Your spouse doesn’t like hearing you talk about the one he loves so much. Your child doesn’t need to hear you talk about their mama, teaching them it’s okay to talk so badly about yourself.

So, I encourage you to take some time to be friends with yourself. Give your worries, pains, and shame to God and enjoy every moment of this time of your life. Happy homemaking and good luck!

The “What-if” Trap: How I Broke Free from Anxiety

Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.

Charles Spurgeon

I remember that time during my life, when anxiety was my “normal” state and I couldn’t remember what it felt like to just not worry. About anything. At that point I remember worrying about things that really didn’t matter; what people thought of me, if I was doing enough as a Christian, if I would ever make it in life or be successful. You may think those things matter but honestly, while I was worrying about them they were falling together without any help on my part in the background. My worrying was getting in the way of promises coming to pass.

But I worried still. One thing that really stuck out during that time of testing in my life was I continuously had to go to God. What felt like the darkest, most trying time of my life also was one of the times of my life I felt closest to My Father. I had to learn during that time complete reliance on His strength for my everyday. Honestly during that time there were days I would not have made it one my own; but God.

One thing that God taught me during that time was that had He just delivered me from anxiety, I would have never known how to fight anxiety when it tried to come back. You see, anxiety will rear it’s ugly head to everybody whenever it gets the chance. Some have learned to turn it away, others embrace it. During that time God had to teach me to stop embracing every anxious thought and instead cast it down and cling to His Word. So that three years later when an anxious thought tries to come back, I have the tools to tell it where to go.

One thing I realized as I tested every thought during that period was that most often, every anxiety attack began with two words: what if. What if I don’t get that job? What if I never get in that relationship? What if I get sick? What if that person I love walks away from me? What if I get hurt again? What if I’m not good enough? What if I am rejected again… what if… what if… what if….

It was a prison. A cage. A trap. Every time a thought began with “what if” I knew what would follow. A thought that led me down the path of fear into the storm of anxiety. I knew what I was thinking wasn’t true… I knew that it was fear and anxiety attacking me… but I didn’t know how to not embrace the thought.

One day as I was praying to God and crying out, I just began to be at my wits end. “How do you expect me to break free of it if you do not tell me what to do?!? ‘Fear not’ is easy enough to say, it’s the doing that’s hard!” In my frustration, He quieted my soul. “I have told you what to do. Read My Word.”

Begrudgingly I went to the Word and turned to one of the many verses on anxiety I had memorized at this point. I’m going to post it below because I believe if you’re reading this post, then you need to read this scripture:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.

Philippians 4:6-8 AMP

As many of you know and some may not, my undergraduate and graduate studies were in psychology and counseling. As I read this scripture, immediately I thought of psychology and counseling concepts for people with anxiety, trauma, and depression. The thought behind many of the techniques used for people with those struggles is to locate maladaptive thoughts and replace those thoughts with the truth and positive thinking. While I contemplated what this scripture meant, I realized our Counselor, the Holy Spirit, can help us do the same thing.

He essentially told me right then how to deal with anxious thoughts and cast them down. The above scripture is a formula for anxiety.

1. Take what is making you anxious and pray to God about it. Give specific requests (supplications) and thank God for His blessing and hand on your life; knowing that whatever may happen He has you.

2. Filter your thoughts through the list above. Is what you are ruminating on just, true, pure, lovely, of good report, praiseworthy, virtuous? Or is it anxious, fearful, angry, bitter, lustful, dread-giving, prideful? You will essentially live out your thought life. So a way to combat an anxious life? Stop anxious thinking.

You may be thinking, “That’s easier said than done.” And you would be correct. It was very hard work to be free of anxiety. For two years I filtered every thought I had; it was the most emotionally draining thing I have ever done. But it is not impossible to be free of anxiety. You are not doomed to it forever just because you struggle with your mind. The issue is to retrain your thinking. If you struggle with anxiety and depression I do recommend reading a book by Dr. Carolyn Leaf who is a Christian Neuroscientist. She helps explain your thought life and the physical and spiritual aspects of it. This book really helped me live free of anxiety and depression. I will post a link of it below!

Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions by Dr. Caroline Leaf (2007-05-03)

So after I read this scripture I asked God, “What does that look like practically? Replacing my thoughts?” And He simply told me what began my walk to freedom. “Instead of thinking what if something bad happens, simply turn it around and think what if something good happens.”

So when a “What if I never get married,” thought came around, I turned it around and said, “What if my God has my husband waiting around the corner?”

“What if I am never free from this bondage?” instead “what if my deliverance is tomorrow?”

“What if they don’t like me?” “What if God has anointed relationships and friendships waiting on me?”

“What if they reject me?” “What if rejection by them is what will put me on the path to the right relationships?”

You see it’s all about outlook. Anxious thinking is truly thinking without God in mind. But when you remember who you are and Whose you are, you remember to add Him into the equation. Then we remember that whatever the enemy means for our evil, God can turn around for our good (Genesis 50:20). Even if those bad things do happen that you are anxious about (which they most likely never do), then you have a God Who restores, replenishes, and redeems.

The what if trap steals your hope for the future, wraps you in anxiety, and chains you in fear. But if you begin to filter your thinking and align it with the Word, you can and will be set free. Freedom is not unavailable to you. If you have been trapped in fear and anxiety for 2, 5, or even 20 years, you can still be free. My mom lived in anxiety for over 40 years. And she walks free of it today. Don’t let the enemy lie to you and tell you that this is your forever. Begin surrendering your thought life to God and see His freedom today!

I will be sharing more of what I learned on my two-year journey with anxiety. Be encouraged and please let hope spark in you again. Happy peaceful homemaking!

He is with You in the Fire

In Daniel chapter three, the story of Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-Nego is told. I am sure you have read the story before (if not I urge you to), but essentially what happens is they are ordered to bend down and worship the image of King Nebuchadnezzar every time they hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, or psaltery. What happens is they of course do not worship another god, and so they are ordered to be put into the furnace.

When the king says they will be put into the furnace, he asks, “Who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” They answer essentially, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image you have set up.”

Later on, while they are in the fire, bound, those who were viewing it asked if the king had ordered only three men to be cast into the furnace, because as they looked they said, “I see four men loose (remember they were bound), walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”

When they were released, they had not been touched by the fire. Not one hair had been singed, not one piece of clothing affected; the smell of smoke was not even on them.

God was speaking to me about this story the other day. Many times we pray for the storms and trials of this life not to touch us. We ask to be delivered from hardships and trouble, yet at the same time we pray to see the miracles of God at work in our life. Without trouble, how can we see miracles?

If the Israelites had not been pushed to the edge of the Red Sea without hope, how could the miracle of God splitting it be done? We want the splitting of the Red Sea, without the Egyptians following behind us. We want to see God come through mightily in our lives, without being placed in the furnace. We need to have the attitude of these three, who believe in the deliverance of God, but still say, “But if not…” We often will serve God and walk in faith as long as things are going our way. “I will serve you God, as long as it seems you are on my side.” We need to tell the enemy, “Listen, My God loves me and will deliver me from this storm, BUT IF NOT, I will still serve Him and love Him, because He is my God.” Adopt this attitude, and watch your life change.

With all that said, there was something more that God showed me through this story I had never seen before. Jesus was with them; He joined them in the fire.

With Christmas coming, it is a time we remember the story of Jesus’ birth. And we think of the baby in the manger, with the angels and gifts, and we smile. What we forget is that we are celebrating WHY He came. He didn’t come to just be a baby in a manger, He came to set us free from death and sin. And to do this He had to come wrapped in flesh.

He came in the flesh so that He could be tempted as we are, tried as we are, and troubled as we are. Yet, He did it without sin. He came in the flesh and suffered in the flesh; beaten, bruised, battered, crucified. All so that we could be free.

You see just as Jesus joined Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the furnace that day, so He “joined” us in our suffering here on Earth. Without Him, we would remain a people separated from the presence of God. Sick, dead, without hope. Now, because He joined us in the fire of humanity, we are given a hope, a new life, and complete restoration.

While this story can show how in the midst of our trials, God will show His glory, cover us in His presence, and protect us, there is also another beautiful thing. You see, God loved us so much, and was so tired of being separated from His people, He joined us.

In the furnace we set ablaze for ourselves through sin, Jesus stepped in to join in our suffering. As the three left the furnace, remember the fourth never stepped out. The three left completely untouched by the flames that were supposed to kill them. Not one hair singed. No smell of fire.

Just as that, because Jesus came and stood in our place, we can stand without a single hair singed from death and no stench of sin on us any longer. What was meant to kill us and separate us from God forever, Jesus entered into and stood in our place and now we have an Advocate at the throne.

I say all of this because this season, I believe people need to remember three things.

1. Some people need to remember the WHY behind Jesus’ coming. It was not to make you go to church more, to read your bible, or to “do” good things. It was to set you free from sin and death so that you can be one with the Father. If you aren’t one with God, ask Him to be one with you. Ask Him to forgive you and set you free. Ask Him to reign in your life. Religious duties will never stand in the gap for true relationship with God. He didn’t create you for church going, bible reading, and works. He created you for communion with Him. Remember this and be free.

2. Some people need some hope. You have been in a season of nothing but trial and tribulation. Maybe you are still in the midst of it and you are without hope. This is to remind you that we are never without hope in God, because we have a God Who loves us so much He joins us in our suffering. He didn’t leave you to suffer alone, but gladly came down and suffered in your place. Remember His faithfulness and hope in this. Trials end, but His faithfulness remains forever. Where catastrophe and storm has bruised and battered you, remember He is the God Who restores completely. When you come out of this, not one hair will be singed, and no one will be able to smell the fire you have been through. Have hope and expect in Him!

3. Remember they were bound in the fire before Jesus came. If you are bound and do not have the Lord in your life, He can set you free. What man had done to them, God had completely erased. What man had ordained for them, God rewrote their story. If the people in this world have touched your life in such a way that you believe the lie you are forever scarred and cursed to live in chains they have spoken over you, remember this: only God has the power to tell your story. What harm they intended for you, God will turn around for His Glory. You are not stained by your past, but God is the Master Artist Who can make all things new.

I want everyone in this Christmas season, not to rely on the pretty, “baby in a manger” scene. That baby in the manger was the King of everything. That baby was sent to suffer, on our behalf. That baby, after suffering for us, came back and took His seat beside the Father. We are co-heirs with Christ. This means you are no orphan, you are no victim, you are no poor man. You are new in Christ, you are a slave to sin no longer. You do not live in fear. You walk with authority and the power of God! I’m tired of seeing Christians continuing in bondage, when your inheritance is so much more. Accept the freedom due you, and walk in it.

I love you all and remember, happy homemaking! Make that home a powerful place of God’s presence and restoration!