From the Basement

August 24, 2010

An Update

Filed under: Faith — jeannablue @ 2:19 pm
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On Friday, August 13, my beloved asked me to marry him. It was a very romantic proposal well suited to our tastes (he proposed in a bookstore), and the subsequent week was a flurry as we began wedding planning. In the days since he left my home, there have ensued certain dramas of the emotionally and mentally draining sort, which have not only precluded blogging but, frankly, my quiet time with the Lord. So I’m jumping back in headfirst, feeling utterly exhausted, sinful, and so very grateful that we have a savior who says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

This week is a blessing — my mother is out of town and so I have the house to myself. I am nearing the end of the month-long journey of “I won’t apply for work so that I can work on the novel and be faithful to God” — and trust me, the last 12 days have been brutally unproductive in that department. So if you could pray with me that the rest of this week would be fruitful and good, that would be so appreciated.

Hopefully the blogging will start up again soon — who knows, maybe even today. All I do know is that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it… and even in the face of all my uncertainty and sin and fear, He is working difficult situations to the good.

August 21, 2010

Lyric Post: As the Deer

Filed under: Faith,Lyric Post — jeannablue @ 4:39 am
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As the deer panteth for the water

So my soul longeth after Thee

You alone are my heart’s desire

And I long to worship Thee

You alone are my strength, my shield

To You alone may my spirit yield

You alone are my heart’s desire

And I long to worship Thee

You’re my friend and You are my brother

Even though You are a king

I love You more than any other

So much more than anything

I want You more than gold or silver

Only You can satisfy

You alone are the real joy giver

And the apple of my eye

August 12, 2010

Trusting God vs. Trusting Numbers

I want to let numbers determine my success, because numbers are easy things to measure.

It’s easy to feel like a failure when I have written approximately 0 words in a day. It’s easy to feel like a failure when I get on the scale and see that I’ve gained weight (when I can also say that I have worked out for approximately 0 minutes in a day). It’s incredibly easy to feel like a failure when I look at my grad school record – 11 rejections, 1 offer for an unfunded MA. Ouch.

On mornings like this, I whine and bitch and moan and want to throw up with the anxiety. I ask God, what is the point of taking a month off from job hunting to write if I have written very little? What about all those missed job opportunities?

It’s easy to get distracted by other things – good things, but other things which take away from our time with God and (feeling convicted here) from the things He has called us to do. It’s easy to forget that, like Angela Thomas said, God doesn’t make us superwoman; He makes us more dependent. And the thing is, He promises to make us more dependent. Isaiah 41:10 says,

Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you,

Yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

When we are afraid and feeling weak, God’s response is that He will help us, that He will strengthen us. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you.”

This morning, I’m in need of His comfort and strength. I have asked Him for strength and self-discipline, but I’m still learning about what to do with what we receive… how to focus on Him, focus on the task at hand. I’m in a lazy slump and am in desperate need of a push to get out of it (the image of Jesus lifting me out of a pit while my feet are on his shoulders and him pushing my butt to get me over the freaking edge is rather funny).

Mornings like this, I read Isaiah 41:10 over and over and over, and I listen to songs like the one below, desperately reaching up for my Abba to take me in his lap once again, to take me back after my own failure, to comfort me and coax me back onto my feet again.

August 10, 2010

Free Indeed: Writing & Reading Outside of Academia

Today, it struck me how different my summer would have been had I been accepted to grad school, particularly in terms of reading. In the eager anticipation of entering a doctoral program, I had prepared a list of “must read” books – notable 19th century novels, notable theorists. A small sampling:

Nathaniel Hawthorne – Blithedale Romance

George Eliot – Middlemarch, Mill on the Floss

Matthew Arnold – Culture and Anarchy

Catherine Gallagher – Nobody’s Story

Judith Butler – Gender Trouble

Since grad school didn’t work out, I’ve been reading very different sorts of books – the sort that doesn’t secure cultural capitol in academia. Genre fiction, memoir, Christian living. Desiring God and Women Food and God were two of the best reads this summer, and I just finished Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (I didn’t realize Janzen was an English professor until I started reading). I’ve been traipsing around Egypt with Amelia Peabody and indulging in the romantic comedies of Jennifer Crusie, whose titles (Welcome to Temptation, Faking It) are apt to send the literati into seizures. The disappointment of the summer was James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series – I made it through four books before tiring of the formula.

The closest I’ve come to grad school reading material is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, and maybe The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. And I’m almost done reading the short stories in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer-prize winning collection Interpreter of Maladies, but I don’t know if that counts since I would read her stuff even if she hadn’t won the Pulitzer. She and Atwood are quite possibly the only literary writers I enjoy – reading Toni Morrison is like pulling teeth and I’ve never been able to get past the first chapter of a Salman Rushdie novel, sorry.

All this has me wondering: exactly why did I want to go to grad school? I’m terrific at forcing myself to read books I don’t want to, mainly because it feeds my English Major Ego – I could force down Native Son again if my professors told me to. It’s about being able to say you’ve read this novel or that novel or this theory or that theory…

The question arises: what’s the point? I might pick up one of the aforementioned novels, because I really am interested in reading more 19th century work, but they’re obviously not my priority or I would have read them already.

Here’s the thing: if you give me the option between writing a novel and studying a novel, I’d rather write a novel. My English major was an external result of a deep love and appreciation for the power of a good story. I think literature is of critical importance in a society, mainly because good stories are absolutely critical to the nourishment of the human spirit.

My reading this summer has been the sort that nourishes that spirit, or at least mine. It’s encouraging, revelatory, instructive, hopeful. In its own way, it teaches. (It also teaches you how contemporary novels are structured, because I’m sorry, but Middlemarch and Pamela are utterly useless when it comes to learning how to write a novel.)

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a close friend. We were talking about how God had leveled our plans and expectations. My friend had thought she wanted to pursue teaching or higher education in public policy, when what she really loves is being on the ground, working with the people, loving the people. For me, I’d thought I wanted a doctorate in literature so I could teach about other people’s stories, when what I really love is writing my own stories. God took away the chaff and gave us the wheat, the small, concentrated portion that had been driving us the whole time.

God’s taken us both to a place where our real passion is evidenced. She’s working on the ground with people, and I’m writing a novel. Unemployed and living at home, but writing! I can read whatever I want to, and no one is going to judge me. I can write whatever I want to, and who cares if people judge me? My goal is to write a good story, imperfectly told, that is emotionally honest and accessible.

That’s what I want. I don’t need to be the next Jhumpa Lahiri; I’m content to learn from her. I don’t need a Pulitzer or a Booker or to be “literary” or to please my professors or even to please my friends… I need to tell the best story I can, one that is honest and emotional, that demonstrates the value of the human spirit. A friend recently texted me these words of encouragement: “You have something to share with the world that no one else does. God has words for you to communicate – not even necessarily sacred writing – but stories.”

And who knows? Maybe someday I will want to read Middlemarch and Pamela, and maybe I’ll want to pursue a doctorate… just not right now. Not while I’m writing, gloriously writing. For the first time in years, I feel free.

August 9, 2010

On Inspiration

Filed under: Writing — jeannablue @ 1:56 am
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Today, I tripped down memory lane, writing wise. I spent a few hours downtown this afternoon at two of my old haunts. Two years ago, when I worked downtown, I’d walk to the Acoustic every day for lunch – sat at the same table, eating the same thing, writing non-stop for an hour straight. It was marvelous. I’d trained myself to do that; that hour was my writing time. I was able to write there today – I did a few exercises from The Art of War for Writers, which is great inspiration. Then I went to a coffee joint I’ve been frequenting for over ten years. It’s moved locations once and changed owners several times (it’s currently a raw food place/coffeehouse), but the coffee’s still decent. Its current location is in a former auto repair shop, so it’s got high, open beam ceilings, wood floors, and a counter that extends for more than twenty feet. I parked myself on a couch, watched the cars go by outside, listened to the writing music from two years ago, and relaxed.

Lately, I’ve been remembering how important it is to soothe the soul. Sometimes artists get so wrapped up in approaching our art like a job that we forget the value of inspiration, of sitting back and just nourishing our creativity. For me, that means not reading to learn craft. It means reading Jennifer Crusie or Elizabeth Peters, not Jhumpa Lahiri and Margaret Atwood (I still learn from Crusie and Peters – I just enjoy their stories more than literary prose). It means watching Little Women and Lie to Me (for some reason, that show really gets my juices flowing). It means trying not to get too addicted to youtube watching my favorite performances from So You Think You Can Dance and American Idol – there’s something about watching vibrant young performers pursuing their passion and all-out going for it every single week.

It means remembering that life is to be enjoyed, and even if art is our calling, it’s not our burden. Trust our Creator, trust the talent we’ve been given, buckle down and do the hard work, and freaking enjoy it. Life is short. It’s so short. Let’s not get lost in needing inspiration – but let’s not shove it, either.

August 6, 2010

In Celebration of Robert

For the first time ever, I’ve been watching So You Think You Can Dance (and I think I’m in love – I enjoy it so much more than Dancing With the Stars). Tonight’s episode was a nailbiter: 4 got whittled to 3 as viewer votes alone determined who would go on to dance in next week’s finale.

I feared that my favorite of the top 4, Robert, would be going home. Adechike, for all the criticism, had never been in the bottom three, and the judges seem to be in a weekly contest of “I Love Lauren and Kent More!” The Lauren Love, I get – girl is wicked talented, and judge Adam Shankman summed it up with three words: “I’d hire you.” But Kent? Talent, check. Cornfed charm, check. But A) he cannot control his face and B) up until last night, there was no indication that he could connect with an emotionally mature routine.

Robert, on the other hand, has gone in and out of the bottom three all season. Even with his “brilliant” performances, wonderful growth, and remarkable maturity (he’s only a year older than the innocent Kent), he hasn’t been a voter favorite.

But tonight turned out to be a wonderful surprise. Adechike went home, the picture of gratitude and humility, and so Robert, Lauren, and Kent will be dancing in the finale. My money is on Lauren to win it, but I’m thrilled that I’ll get to see Robert dance one last time.

So, in celebration of Robert, I give you my favorite Robert Dance. The routine below was danced on the second “Top 6” night, and it’s one of my top 5 dances of the season. It’s subtle and mature, and the more I watch it, the more I cry. (The video quality isn’t ideal, but it’s the only vid of the performance I could find that would embed.)

Enjoy. And Robert – best of luck next week.

P.S. A link to one of his other exceptionally moving routines – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnguqsMQmg4&feature=related

August 5, 2010

Suffering & the Christian Church: A Question

A question I’m wrestling with right now:

How do I reconcile the call to suffer with the fact that I was born in the USA to parents who did not have the means to travel internationally? I’ve never been out of the country. Never witnessed an atrocity. Am living a plush middle-class existence. Even in the face of economic crisis and unemployment, my parents are (thus far) still employed with health insurance and enough money to cover dental and vision costs w/o insurance. I. Am. So. Effing. Blessed.

So how exactly can I claim the promises of God and a “mature” (snort) faith when I am obviously not suffering?

(It should be noted that this post comes in the middle of a meltdown over how awful the writing is going and doubts as to whether or not God wants me to write, etc. etc. etc., blah blah blah)

It’s coming in the middle of extreme emotion, but the question is honest. Obviously, the answer isn’t for every American Christian to move to third-world countries, get rid of all possessions, eschew all dreams/hopes that extend beyond basic survival, and minister to other people (or is it?).

How do we reconcile the two?

Thoughts from a Christian Feminist

I am a Christian. I am also a feminist. I triple majored in English, Politics, and Women’s Studies in college – suffice to say I sought answers in feminism that I could not find in the church. In the church, I saw leaders who told women they should stay at home, who said women’s primary purpose was to be wives and mothers. There were fellow congregants who stood aghast when I declared my ambitions, who were equally appalled at all the original oratories I took to speech competitions on gender pay equity, violence against women in advertisements, and women and the presidency.

For a long time, it seemed like I was on the outskirts of both groups. I was too liberal for the church, and I was too church-y for my women’s studies classes, what with my views on, well, the church (or rather, should I say, Jesus Christ).

For the last decade, any mention of Ephesians 5 has been enough to make my blood boil. Suffice to say that I grew up in a home where headship was abusive and un-Christlike, even after my father’s conversion. Male headship was something to be feared. A husband could do anything he wanted to the wife, and she had to obey for “the good of the family.” And let me tell you, much as I heard pastors rail against abuse and male domineering within marriage, I watched again and again as pastor after pastor ignored my parents’ situation. (It is my personal opinion that for every pastor out there willing to confront an abusive marriage in his congregation, there is one who cowers in his office, fearful of confronting it, hoping he can just pray it away – particularly if it’s not life threatening to the wife and children. Cynical? Maybe. But it’s just my two cents.)

So to say I have baggage regarding marriage is an understatement.

But over the last few months, the Lord has really brought me to a place where I’m reconsidering crucial questions within a biblical light – often for the first time. It’s grace. Total grace. I still have fears, and the desire to control is very strong within me, but I’m learning – slowly – what marriage is about, what it was intended to be. (To spell it out, I affirm Christ-like headship and submission.)

Part of my reluctance in discussing this is that feminism is viewed as an enemy by prominent Christian theologians; it is very much figured as a war on the church. I’m in a unique position in that I am intimately familiar with both sides of the war, as it were. I’ve read Grudem and Piper (the experts on complimentarianism), and I’ve read “evangelical feminists” like Craig S. Keener. It goes without saying, given the Women’s Studies major, that I have read at least the basic texts in each major feminist theory. (Which is – I think – more than Grudem and Piper can say, given some of their arguments.)

This post was inspired by something that struck me tonight; it’s a very small point but I do feel the need to introduce it within its larger context. A friend recently blogged about her frustration with extremism in the feminist blogosphere, and the discussion brought up issues of identifying as a feminist and as a proponent of gender equality.

The term equality has never sat very well with me. It posits a binary in which Man is Equal and Woman is Unequal; at its core is the assumption that women need to be “brought up” to men’s standard. And man is not the standard!

This is what I love about Christianity: it eradicates having “man” or “woman” as the standard – Christ is the standard. Look at how Christ treated women – he was an absolute feminist, for at its core, feminism is about acknowledging the value of men and women, and how much more can you affirm the value of both sexes if not by offering both eternal life? (Notwithstanding the fact that both were created in God’s image to begin with.)

Like I said, small point.

I’ll be blogging about feminism and Christianity in the future, but can I leave you with some thoughts? Both “sides” – the church and “feminism,” so called – make terribly general assumptions about each other. Of particular concern to me is how the church discusses feminism. The Great Commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, and Faith is not an excuse for:

a)    Rash generalizations (e.g. feminism is responsible for the downfall of the family)

b)    Not doing your homework (e.g. not reading feminist texts and theory)

c)    Poor arguments – the result of being uninformed and general

And it seems that most discussions of feminism in the church today are, frankly, all of the above.

This is not to say that writers like Grudem and Piper have not produced outstanding scriptural exegesis on passages like Ephesians 5 – quite the contrary. Piper in particular gives the best explanation of Ephesians 5 I’ve ever heard. While they sometimes push too far for my liking (e.g. stating that mothers should not work), I think they’ve done outstanding work.

It’s when the church starts blaming feminism for everything that it displays a remarkable lack of self-reflection…

But that’s the beginning of another post.

P.S. Here’s a link to one of Piper’s sermons on marriage, entitled “The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission.” http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/2088_The_Beautiful_Faith_of_Fearless_Submission/

August 3, 2010

On Faith, Daughtership, and not being Superwoman

The one writer I follow on facebook is Angela Thomas. She posts words of encouragement regularly, and I take heart in her exhortations. I want to share something she posted the other day:

“I asked God to make me superwoman. He is choosing to make me more dependent.”

Amen, sister.

Lately, the writing has been very difficult – I’m still relying on my own strength. I’ve been doing a poor job of dedicating this time to God and praying through writing, and so my weakness is becoming ever-apparent and ever-crippling. A lack of focus has pervaded these last days – to quote David Mamet, “I have contracted to write a book about Vermont, and so find myself obsessed with Indiana.”

But – His strength is made perfect in our weakness, and He brings us to our knees to raise us up in Him. John 3:30 says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I was reading in Hebrews this morning and found encouragement in such verses as, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (10:23) and “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance…” (10:35-36a).

The author of Hebrews exhorts us in our faith, stating: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…. Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:1,6). And we are reminded that the reward – hope in Jesus Christ, the fruits of the spirit, everlasting grace, eternal life with our Abba Father – is so much greater than the things of this earth. “By faith Moses…. [esteemed] the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (11:24,26).

In chapter 12 comes the great exhortation of Hebrews, the “race of faith”: “Therefore… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1-2).

And chapter 13, the last chapter of Hebrews, opens with what was my initial prayer for this month: “Let your conduct be without covetousness: be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (13:5-6).

To quote a popular worship song, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain – He washed it white as snow.” What can man do to me, indeed? We have nothing to lose by casting our anxieties, fears, worries, and even our talents on the cross. “Oh, praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!”

We decrease so that He may increase. We are not superwomen – we are women stripped bare of every care and concern, humbly clinging to our Abba. We crawl up in His lap and say, I can’t do this alone.

He desires to bring us to that place. And I can’t say it eloquently like John; all I know is that in our weakness and brokenness and utter failure, there is redemption. Because He delights to show us mercy and grace, to give us strength where we knew we had none of our own. It’s for His glory. And it is His pleasure to love us like that.

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together – Romans 8:15-17

August 2, 2010

Don’t Give It Away: Notes from My Younger Self

Today, I was digging for books in the closet under the stairs, looking for books from a favorite series I’ve been re-reading, but I found a few other things, instead: books on writing, books on business, my long-lost Scrabble dictionary,The Sacred Romance, An Unfinished Marriage – all these books I remember from pre-college days but had long since lost and forgotten about.

There was one particular book I pulled from the pile: Don’t Give It Away! by Iyanla Vanzart, a workbook on self-awareness and self-affirmations for young women. Can I just say that I love my mom for giving me that kind of book as a teenage girl?  I learned to write through my emotions at an early age, and I was bad at keeping a consistent journal, so books like this one are precious to me – glimpses into the psyche of my earlier self.

True to form, my mom wrote notes to me throughout the book, many that were centered on Jesus, as Vanzart’s books – while spiritual – draw from a variety of faiths. Mom was wonderful, writing things like: Be patient and fearless. Let Jesus be the center of your joy! You are an original, unique creation. You are overflowing with linguistic intelligence – use it for good! Don’t worry over someone else’s opinion of you! Ask yourself, ‘Am I pleasing God?’ If the answer is yes, then let God take care of the rest. The answers to all of your questions can be found in God’s Word. Bury His Word in your heart!

My mom had a mom who did not encourage her, so she was always sure to affirm and encourage her daughters; she poured out her love into us and told us about the ever-flowing, gracious love of our Creator.

I wanted to share some notes I found in the book, notes from my earlier self and notes I wrote down today. Something I love about myself is how I date things; I’ve been like that since I was a kid. I like to go back and see what I’m thinking. The first notes in this book were between 1999-2001 (mom gave it to me on my first day of middle school).

And then, there are notes from 2004, when I was at the Crazy Church (I don’t think I’ve written about the Crazy Church, but I will at some point). Even if there weren’t dates, I would know it was that time – the language (the emphasis on being “sold out”), the belief that God would do what He wanted with me regardless of the desires He put on my heart, the overpowering guilt – these feelings are both tacit and stated in my comments. Now, being God centered is, of course, not a bad thing! But everything was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus – there was no enjoyment of the gifts He has given, and no faith that He would work in ways I enjoyed (He doesn’t always, of course, but feeling sure that He never will is not healthy). There are two extremes: being so about Jesus that you totally ignore the world and the gifts that are here and, alternately, being so consumed with the world and the gifts that we forget the Giver.  I’ve definitely been on both sides of that coin.

So, sharing a few notable items that stuck out. The first one caught my eye because I was talking about striving. At age 13 or 14. And thinking it was good. Oh goodness.

Prompt: The most perfect thing about me is…

2001, age 14: that I strive in my spiritual life. I nurture my talents. Note: this is when I still thought striving was a virtue. I say that because I’ve only recently realized that it isn’t.

2004, age 17 (at the Crazy Church): I am not perfect. I’m a work in progress, needing continual rebuilding. I can’t get through a day without God catching me at least 50 times. Note: that is so true! But I can feel the self-recrimination in my younger self’s voice (in this comment and others), and I know what happens to her the next year: total spiritual breakdown, total darkness. I feel her feelings of not being enough, of being constantly told she’s a sinner without being reminded that God’s grace extends beyond initial salvation! I feel her lack of mercy. Oh, I have such compassion for her!

2010, age 22, almost 23 (because I couldn’t resist making more notes): That I am a daughter of the King. He loves me perfectly, exquisitely! His promises are always true and His mercies are new every morning. When all is stripped away, there I am, in the middle of the road, walking hand in hand with the One who put the stars in the sky.

Another prompt demonstrates how changeable and glorious the young, imaginative mind is – I was always coming up with crazy new careers to pursue. What careers did you want to pursue when you were younger, and what did they say about your desires?

Prompt: I dream that one day I will…

6th grade: Save a premature baby. I will write a bestseller. I will score the winning basket!

7th grade: I will be a market-researching executive. I’ll write a bestseller. I’ll make varsity volleyball. I’ll get a full ride scholarship to UM. I’ll grow in Christ. I’ll own my own business.

8th grade: I’ll be a lawyer/writer. I’ll go to Duke and Harvard Law.

10th grade: Writer, business – but whatever God puts in front of me. (There’s that doubt that God would give me what I wanted… so pervasive in the 2004 comments; it wasn’t there earlier.) U of Chicago. Wheaton. U of Iowa. (I went to a private, secular liberal arts college, LOL!)

After college: write a novel, marry the BF, adopt kids, learn to rest! 🙂

Some things are so striking in their consistency across the years: a seeming inability to believe in good things, the prayer for wisdom, frustration with my baby sister, the song “Hold Me Now” by Jennifer Knapp, issues with control and striving.

Can I share a few funnies? I laugh when I read things my younger self wrote, but she is so right!

“When I look at me, I see a young woman with drive, ambition, and gorgeous lips! I love me! I am totally awesome – a rockin’ gurl who is 14 and one day!” (Yes, girl is spelled that way and it is underlined.)

“The best thing I can do for myself is eat healthily, read the Bible, and pray – and pamper myself!” (this was pre-Crazy Church, when I wouldn’t have written “pamper myself”)

My 13 or 14-year-old self, in response to The thing that really confuses me is: “Love! Everyone says it’s wonderful and horrible. I have no clue.” Amen, sister.

And last but not least… after one of the notes I wrote today, I added a P.S. for my older self:

I hope you are writing. I hope you are finding peace and joy in Him who loves you as no one else will ever love you. I hope you are resting in His arms.

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