Fighting For Peace

There’s a fine, dotted line between letting something go and standing up for oneself. It feels like a seesaw, where it’s not any fun when you’re always letting things go and becoming a bitter pushover, and it’s no fun at all to make a fuss over every bump on the road. A wise man once told me to pick my battles, and that’s still a challenge for me. In poker, it’s the difference between knowing when to fold versus staying in the game to win with the bluff. It’s a skill I haven’t acquired yet, but I’m learning. I’m learning how to fight for peace.

If it sounds like an oxymoron, that’s because it is. Jesus sometimes turned the other cheek and preached on forgiving 70 times 7, but He’s the same guy who walked into the temple and turned tables over with a whip. He’s the same guy who wasn’t afraid to ruffle the feathers of the religious leaders and call them white-washed tombs, and goats, and all these pretty harsh terms. He defended the adulterous woman from the stoners (haha see what I did there). He fought for our peace by laying down His life on the cross, and then rising again. That’s pretty tough and bloody.

I used to think the higher road was the quiet road. I used to think that the stronger person was the one who was able to bottle up their feelings and donate them to Ariel’s thingamabob shelves in the bottom of the ocean, never to be brought up again. I thought that people who stood up for themselves picked fights, and were labeled emotional and ill-tempered. And who would want to do life with those people?

Thinking like that, unfortunately, caused me a lot of harm. I tried to control situations that were never mine to control. I internalized frustrations, which grew to hurt me over years and years. I made up rules in my head of what to say and what not to say, and I believed lies about myself and others. I judged people on the inside and tried to do life with them on the outside. I began to expect failure out of several friendships and relationships, and by golly, I was right. Failures galore. All because I didn’t speak up when I should have. I let problems grow.

When I didn’t have health insurance, I only went to the doctor when I really needed to. Now that I have insurance, there’s this lovely thing called a well visit. I can go to the doctor on a sunshiny day, on a somewhat regular basis, and see just how well I am. It’s maintenance, not repair. Speaking up is a lot like maintenance. Good communication shouldn’t be procrastinated for the crises. It may feel like a confrontation, but it’s normal. Conflict is actually normal, but how we view it is what makes it grow exponentially into a negative experience.

We’re technically supposed to consider conflict a joyous thing, if you want to get Biblical about it. Conflict comes into the picture carrying a little silver tray, to serve you with maturity and depth of character. Your character shows. Do you get scared? Do you yell and say horrible things? Do you hide? Do you get defensive? Do you listen? Do you speak with kindness? Do you look for exits of grace, ways to move forward? Conflict reveals what’s in your heart, because it usually flies out of your mouth and circles your thoughts. It can turn into a well visit with God, or a surgery down the road, if we keep ignoring the problem.

dac738fc0d99f3fd891635167f44f0cdMy latest heart check revealed that I am a scaredy-cat. I have also grown a bit into a pessimist. Maybe I’ve been watching the news more than letting my mind dwell on what heaven is doing? With every layer, I find myself having to forgive people from my past, over and over. I never realized how much of an influence their actions and those events still have over me. The fear of those things happening again? Ridiculous. Wanna know what I learned from it, though? Every time we increase in trust, we also have to increase in courage.

Courage and trust are besties, inseparable. When we get moved up a notch with the Lord, and He asks us to surrender bigger pieces of our hearts and dreams, we have to ante up with courage. Match the bet. Cough up those chips to play the round. We have to remind ourselves that we have been given a Spirit of courage, not of timidity. We weren’t made shy, but confident. It’s not a bluff play. If you’re suddenly feeling more fearful, you might be swimming in a deeper pool. It might be a good thing. You might have gotten upgraded in faith, and you may have to accept the fact that yes, you will need to grow, and yes, you will need to get braver.

The Lord is within her, she will not fall. He is with you wherever you go. He has your right hand. He doesn’t let your ankles turn. He hears your voice. He speaks to guide you. He strengthens you. He gives you rest. He takes those heavy burdens from you and carries it like a total pro. It’s easy to Him. He can reach it. He overcomes it.

I pray you know how and when to speak up, that you don’t let yourself wilt inside. I pray you don’t let problems grow because you’re scared to rock the boat. I pray you know that God is not trying to torture you or hurt you in any way, because He delights in you. If anything is trying to steal, kill, and destroy you, it’s not Jesus. He’s the fullness of life Guy. He’s the complete joy Guy.

That’s all I have for now… I pray God multiplies it and applies it where you need it.

Overflow and Fairytales

As a child, it was so easy to believe it all. I wanted to be everything when I grew up. Well, now it’s here. I’m grown up. This is the age when adults do adult things. I’m turning 29 in less than a month, and the people I babysat are grown up, too. As for me, I’ve been cleaning a lot, giving away some things, and making space for my reality.

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I backed off of the internet big time in the last few months, if you’ve noticed. I deleted the Facebook app and deleted a lot of people off of my “friends” list, and made my Instagram private. I almost stopped writing blogs altogether. Crazy, right? The truth is that Facebook isn’t ME. I’m a person, flesh and bone. I live in Atlanta. I have a phone, and an address. I drive a car, and I get coffee and meals with friends and my boyfriend. If you want to be my real friend, I’m available. I’ve been available since 1987, whereas I only got on Facebook in 2005. Back then it was just for college kids, and I wish it had stayed that way. It was much more useful to message someone in the same chem lab and get a study group together, instead of sifting through hoards of cat videos and awkward political posts that fill it up now. What’s the use? Pictures. Information. Announcements. Gender reveals. I would hope that my friends would tell me directly, right? When my best friend got engaged, I heard directly. When one of my best friend’s grandfather passed away, I heard directly. I don’t need the birthday reminders to tell me when my family has a birthday, or when one of my closest friends is turning a year older. It’s almost like we’ve settled into an audience seat instead of being IN other people’s daily lives.

I’m backing off of that so that I can make room for reality. And this is what I wanted to write about: reality.

This is my reality: I work over 40 hours pretty much every week between two jobs. That’s overtime. I get home and sometimes I’m wired, and sometimes I’m super tired. I have a few best friends, and I am head-over-heels in love with my boyfriend. I write a devotional on my spare time, because I think there are people who are willing but want direction. I secretly enjoy teaching, but openly enjoy writing. I think the Bible is inviting and approachable, and it makes me want to go there. Women’s ministry has blurred more into relational ministry than anything else. One friend is finally selling her wedding dress, and is praying that the buy is finalized soon. One friend is going through a tough divorce. One friend is looking at moving to a smaller place. One friend is celebrating that her child is finally cancer-free. You see? It started out as “ministry” but now it’s blurred into friendship. I’m working on boundaries and praying through what that looks like, but I’m beginning to understand that what started out as a “mission” and “calling” is slowly becoming my lifestyle and not something I switch on and off. This is me, and I have a heart for women and discipleship. I am also learning what parts of my life are reserved for only my closest people and mentors.

Now let me tell you about fairytales and overflow: they’re real. It’s a thing. Psalm 23 talks about God’s anointing and His perfect ability to shepherd us unto overflow. Overflow is a real place and a real concept for you and me. If you’ve been on the struggle bus like Job for years and years, don’t forget to read the last chapter. Don’t forget God’s punch line to that story of suffering: double restoration. That’s overflow. Jesus was crucified and buried, but He rose again. Overflow. Don’t get it twisted to call it a fairytale, and roll your eyes, and discredit it as naiveté. Don’t get embittered to the point where you despise the promise of God’s very real abundance. The only thing that could ever disqualify you from God’s abundance is your unwillingness to receive it. SO. I have three little words for you:

OPEN

YOUR

HEART.

You might need to tell your mind to shut up. You might need to tell your mouth to shut up. You might have to change everything you have, and start wearing bright colors again. Paint a wall sky blue. You might need to start hanging out with younger people who sing pop songs and eat lollipops, because you need hope. Roll down the windows of your soul and stick your head out. Play in the rain. Believe that it can happen again, that love can happen, and grace can happen, and that a new adventure can happen for you. You might need to get your passport and go somewhere insane, just so you can get over yourself. I challenge you to it. I challenge you to overflow, or rather to believe in it again. Believe in laughing til you cry. Believe in stomach butterflies. Believe in moments you can’t photograph, like a hot pink sky as the sun rises and little snowflakes fall down. An afternoon rain, falling on the greenest of grass. Counting shooting stars on a rooftop in the middle of the night. Digging your toes in the finest of sand, wondering just how the water could be so blue. Holding that person’s hand that feels so warm, knowing what an insane blessing it is to be in love and to be loved in this short life. Having a little child tell you that they love you, and giggle at you, and pull you to play. THAT. You can only have these things, truly, if your heart is open to appreciate them.

I thought my plant was about to bloom, but it took 22 days for it to actually bloom. Sometimes we think things are just around the corner, and we get disappointed in the waiting. Rest assured, that bloom was worth the wait. Whatever it is you’re desperately waiting for, expectantly, I pray you don’t lose heart. I pray you find your brave moments of joy while you wait. I pray you keep your heart open and stay willing to receive it from God in His perfectly unrushed timing. If it took 22 extra days for a tiny yellow flower, I believe the Lord is also working inwardly and purposefully on your promise’s reveal.

There’s a tragic thing that sometimes happens to people who have been through so much pain, and that is they forget what carefree and happy looks like. They’re traumatized and that trauma traps them like a bug under a jar. The good news is that we are made new in Christ. New means new. New means stop replaying it over and over in your head. New means stop dwelling there and move. New. New looks different and even acts different, and it’s not faking because it’s… new. You have permission to be new, you know. It’s not cheating on your past to be new, it’s giving your present a purpose and your future a chance. Jesus has the gift of “new” for you, and he wraps it with carefree paper and ties it with a ribbon of happy.

This life is only so long, and I pray you’re alive in yours, with the powerful ability to make an impact as an adult, yet the wonderful privilege of receiving overflow like a child.

Contentment

Sometimes it feels like I’m chasing after something I may never fully grasp. Maybe it’s the planner in me, or the drive to grow and improve, right?

 My eyesight is pretty bad on both eyes, and it could very well be from squinting to the future so much with the eyes of my heart. Is it possible to be content and just stay there? Must I always strive so much? These are questions I ask the Lord and I feel His peace rest over me like a cloud. I am mostly cloudy with a chance of thunder.

The worst is when my striving breaks, and I sit with no drive. It’s the feeling of eating without tasting, when your nose is congested. Where did all that flavor go? Will I even want it when it happens to me? The passing of the test, the promotion, the loud home? It’s as if God flipped the switch of my dreams to OFF. I wrestle with apathy and doubt. I start sounding a lot like Bohemian Rhapsody with my anywhere the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me. And it isn’t true. It does matter. I know deep in my heart of the promises of God. I know. I know. I know. I realize. God put books and lessons and love in my heart, and it’s my joy to live to unveil them. There are faces I have never met which will absolutely melt me and propel me to heights of love I haven’t dared to imagine yet. Yet.

I’m learning to yield over and over to the higher ways of God. He knows better than I do. I’ve been warding off any bitterness, any hopelessness, and any fear. It’s been like killing mosquitoes in Tanzania. They’re practically robots, but I do have the shoe. Sometimes they get me, and it swells, and bothers me so. It’s just a reminder that I have something they want. If my dreams weren’t so precious, they wouldn’t be dreams at all. They’d be like a grocery list, attainable and predictable. I get to depend solely on the Lord. He is in full control, even when I dare to think others are. I will not barter with fear. I will not go down that narrow, dark alley of despair. My emotions get to take a knee to a Breathing, Undefeated King. It’s my turn to embrace complete humility, gentleness, and patience.

 

Emotional Abuse and Neglect

November 13th. It would have been my 7 year wedding anniversary this week, ya know, had it not been for the divorce.

I chopped my hair off, my beautiful long, blond hair and I felt so free! Of course, I asked his opinion many times, and he approved. I wouldn’t have cut my hair had my husband not approved! I thought that the change would make me more noticeable, more attractive. I wanted to be attractive, so he would look at me. I just wanted him to really look at me, instead of the computer screen he was so drawn to. I remember meticulously curling my hair, and walking into the bedroom to show him. He was at his computer, and he turned for half a second and looked back at the screen before he mumbled “looks good” and kept clicking. I felt a wave of shame wash over me. My eyes teared up. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Nothing I did was good enough to beat the screen. All that clicking wasn’t just for the games, but also for pornography. I never knew what he was really looking at.

Attention and conversation. How demanding, right? I wanted to be in relationship with the person I had  married. I felt ignored and unseen. I felt helpless, angry. I didn’t know how to express it. I was 21, and I didn’t want to be a nag.

I had an alcoholic college boyfriend call me a “bitch” once. Yeah, I typed it. It hurt so much to hear that word that I told myself I would never nag again, and that I would especially never argue with a drunk man who wants the bathroom door CLOSED while he’s puking. I thought he needed some air. My bad. Don’t even get me started on alcoholism. I’ve dated 2 alcoholics and I’d like to say that’s 2 too many. Nothing like having to drive his truck home every single time we went out in public, because Chugga Chugga couldn’t stop, and then cleaning up his puke in the bathroom because Chugga Chugga couldn’t handle his liquor. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. You’d think those were easy breakups, but they weren’t. I loved their families, loved their mamas. Good hearted men who loved me dearly. They just loved drinking a little bit more.

I’m sure I didn’t look thrilled day-to-day. I’m sure my tears got super old. Ew. What a drag! I’m sure my attempts to talk through it all were just SO draining to him. SO draining that he would say it felt like “cutting his chest open with a knife” every time I brought THAT up. Super. Guilt. Bottle it up. Never bring it up again.

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I found out how crippling and painful it was to marry someone who was addicted. Someone who valued a “THING” over their spouse, and any THING over Jesus. It was painful to watch the person you love the most waste their life and hurt themselves. I didn’t want to have children, and yet I wanted them so I could have someone to look at me and see me. Wow, right?

This is how the divorce started. This.

I daresay many divorces start like this. One person feels unwanted, over and over. They go looking for attention, for affection. Rejection leads to adultery. The opposite of the gospel, really. The very thing two people swear to one another at the altar, to be there for each other. Broken vows left and right, man.

BUT GOD… has shown me fantastic, healthy marriages. Men who are powerful leaders, making Spirit-led decisions, praying over their families, and boasting on how hot their wives are. They are the flower-pickers, the ones who hold the woman when she cries instead of telling her to stop. Men who are not perfect, but their priorities are right. To honor and cherish their spouse, to be home for the family, and to be present, devoted. Oh and these men are praised, let me tell you. Their wives go on and on about how wonderful, handsome, godly they are. Incredible fathers. Fantastic lovers, when the ladies are giving TMI! Oh, what a gift. My favorite person. My great love.

I believe firmly that it takes a change of heart to cause a behavioral change. God has to move in the heart. God has to break the chains of addiction, of fear, of rejection. God has to be sufficient. Idols have to be laid down. And grace has to abound. The ones who love us the most will fail us miserably from time to time, and that’s no surprise. But the ones who truly love cannot, cannot, CANNOT think that emotional abuse and neglect are acceptable behaviors. Women have to stand up against it, as do men.

Ladies, don’t marry the little boy who ignores you.

Men, don’t marry the little girl who turns away your affection.

Wait for people who love you well. Commit, then. And if you’re in a marriage like this, frozen cold like Elsa’s castle, feeling all alone in your frosty attentionless and sexless wonderland, I’m so sorry. Get help. Talk to mentors. Talk to a counselor. Talk to JESUS. Talk. Talk before you cheat. Talk before you leave. People CAN change, but they have to want to. That’s where Holy Spirit can come in and do His job.

I pray a blessing over people who are dating, that they have the discernment to lay down communication and their emotional needs out on the table before marriage. That they understand mutually how important this is. I pray a blessing over marriages that are struggling, that God will open up eyes and ears and hearts to LOVE. That those addictions have to go, in Jesus’ name. That sufficiency will be found in Christ, so that we can love other people well. I pray for the divorces that are about to happen and I intercede, Jesus, for the ones who are hurting SO much. If emotional abuse bruised, they’d be purple and black. Jesus, have mercy on their broken hearts. Be near to them. Bring them renewed hope.

Tasting Fear and Freedom

There are moments in life when you can taste fear. You can feel it in your belly, the cold. Brain goes foggy. Eyes go teary. This is it. This is where all the worst case scenarios are true. It’s over. It’s not gonna happen. It’s the sinking versus swimming, and the flight versus fight. Helpless. Out of control. In pain. Stuck in trauma. Transported back to that place when you’re a little bitty and everyone leaves and they don’t see you, and they don’t notice. You reach for your throat but you can’t scream. There’s just a burning knot you can’t swallow down. Words don’t line up properly, they scramble out of order, forgetting common sense. Intentions blur, as do resolutions. You don’t know how to fix it, or how to escape it. Fear manifests and stands like a monster, looking you in the face.

Be thankful when God places you in front of an impossibility, because He wants to teach you about His heart and nature. Are you willing to experience His peace and faithfulness? Are you willing to cling?

When I am afraid, I will trust in You.
When I’m overcome, I will cling on to the Rock that is higher.

How many opportunities do we really get to look fear in the face and yell ‘Jesus’? In those real deal moments, do we roar? You bet I roared tonight. It took a long call, a Sozo session, a glass of water, countless tissues, and turning my phone off, but you best believe I got to ROAR and God carried me from being miserably afraid and helpless to the ROAR of His goodness and His promise in my life.

When hearts and lives are on the line, how do we fight back? Do we cower and freak out? I repented today of thinking my fear was bigger than God’s power. I repented of the case I built with unforgiving judgment, and the record of wrongs I kept. I get to see God’s perfect faithfulness shine here. That’s an opportunity. I’m gonna take this night and count it as an opportunity for God to show up and do what only God can do, and for me to show up and do what only I can do: trust and release.

102913He’s a Good, Good Father. He will not let me be put to shame. It’s nights like this when I renew my vows to Him. Okay, Jesus… so this is what pain and fear feel like. I hand them over to You, and I thank You for letting me experience what it is to be human.

Thank You for showing me that Your perfect love casts out fear, rejecting it and disabling it. Thank You for open eyes and ears to hear Your truth and Your goodness. Thank You for quiet nights alone when I get to trust You’re fighting the battles You need to fight. Thank You for “this is not your battle, but the Lord’s” and the hard reset. Thank You for grounding me in a good way. Thank You for Your ways that are higher than my ways, and for Your timing that is beautiful and better than my timing. Thank You for being in absolute control and for being Trustworthy. Thank You for being King of my heart.

Thank You for the opportunity to stop measuring my impossibilities and yield to Your possibilities. Thank You for coming through for me, even when I don’t yet know the outcome, I know who You are and Your nature, and that’s a win. Thank You for instilling in me Your  confidence in the quietness. Thank You for teaching my heart to run to You. Thank You that one fearful night yields so much fruit, that the enemy’s plans to kill, steal, and destroy have been reversed into Your powerful new life, abundance, and restoration.

Bravo, King Jesus. Bravo. Only You could do that.

There are moments in life when you can taste freedom. You can feel it in your belly, the warmth. Brain is aware. Eyes are focused. This is it. This is where all of God’s promises are true. It’s real. It’s happening before your eyes. It’s the swimming versus sinking, and the fight versus flight. Powerful. God-ordained. In Love. Released in newness. Brought into the place where you’re embraced by Unfailing Love Himself, eyes locked with His. Words aren’t needed. There’s just a humming, steady peace. There’s a holy alignment of thoughts and desires. Intentions sharpen, as do resolutions. You don’t have to work for it, just breathe it in. Love manifests and stands like a King, looking you in the face.

Greener Grass

Sometimes I get really tired. I get frustrated. I sometimes feel muffled, stifled, and discouraged.

I say one thing, meaning it from the bottom of my heart in the best way possible, and it offends. I lose my appetite to speak again. I lose my appetite to even try to explain myself, because it’s like trying to speak another language. I don’t have that kind of gift, and I don’t wish for it. I refuse to go to great lengths to display my pointless disapproving opinion of others’ equally pointless disapproving opinions. I stop caring. I lose my appetite.

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The thought of trying to change the world, to change the system, seems ludicrous when the loudest voices are the most offensive. The thought of vulnerable people feeling welcomed and loved, when there are so many stigmas, so many hoops to jump through? Are you kidding? Not in 2015. Not yet. The thought of healing actually taking place? It would take a revival of bleeding knees, faces on the ground in repentance for their stiff arms, narrowed eyes, and their culture of spiritual bullying and shaming.

It’s impossible with man. Cue in King Jesus to deal with this nonsense.

I get tired of staying willing, to keep stepping into the mess. And just to sit with them, not because I have to but because I’ve been there and I wished for a true friend then. Making new friends. Following up with old ones who never call me. Catching tears with my shirt, with my hands, with my hair. Watching swollen faces blow their noses loudly, trying to release a pressure from the heart, to express a grief nearly unbearable. And this I volunteer to do, on top of my job. And sometimes during my job, because coworkers pull me aside and cry to me about their broken hearts, too. It follows me everywhere, this thing I do. But it gets tiring.

Sometimes I wish I could just get home from work and be able to go to sleep. Straight to sleep. No call appointments, no emails, no texts, no messages, no voicemails, no blogs to edit, no posts to schedule, no ministry resting on me whatsoever. And the odd thing? I can’t even imagine life like that. But on the worst nights? I wish for it. I wish for a greener grass that doesn’t exist, me not following a big purpose, me not caring anymore. I wish for the very thing I hate, the very thing the world has too much of: apathy.

On nights like this, I put it all down. I lay it all down. Warm, fat tears make their grand leaps down, wasting themselves to streak my cheekbones. He sings me a new song, a low hum of peace. It shatters my anger when He sounds so calm. It wears down my frustration, His confidence sovereign. The King acknowledges my exhausted sobs, the ones of surrender. Then He softly calls me out…

You’ve been holding out on me, taking all upon yourself, going in your own strength, speaking from your own vocabulary. I increased the resistance and you took it on yourself. Don’t do that. Get back on track. It’s time for another big push. I’m stretching you again, big time. You know what is coming, don’t you? I need you big and strong. I need you tough and mighty. I need you loud and bold. I need you brave and focused. Shepherd the ones I’m giving you. Their hearts are soft. They’re ready to grow. Take them to lie down by my still waters, and show them my greenest of pastures.

And that… that’s what it’s like when He keeps me. That’s why I’m still here, still writing, still hoping and going. It’s not my power of will, nor my great endurance, no. It’s Him. He takes me when I’m falling apart, and He keeps me.

About Hope

I’ve found a thing that is most stubborn and unruly. It is irrational, yet the most logical force there’s ever been. It’s true. It squeezes in through the cracks, it passes through. It reaches the marrow of your bones and settles in, and makes its home. It flows through your veins. It’s the breath that catches when you behold beauty. It’s the word written on the door. It’s the reasoning where fear grabs on, because really, fear can only show up if there’s hope. But hope outruns it. Hope is slick, and deep, and relentless. And this is why fear is so starved, desperate, and dependent. Fear is limited.

I’ve felt the depths of grief and the pangs of anxiety. I’ve seen the darkness of depression, and endured the shame of reckless choices. Life has seldom withheld its blunt, sharp force toward me. Trauma: check. Failure: check. Abandonment: check. And yet the spirit of rejection doesn’t get to have a loud voice, because this shrill, shrill obnoxious singing is loud inside my head. Loud, like a song I can’t tune out, repetitive, catchy. Think Uptown Funk.

We are wired to hope. Even in the tempest, there’s a longing cry. My disappointments are all from a hope deferred, and every time my heart was broken, the pain was from my hope being so far up, invested and then returned to me. I could drive it in the ground, but it would rise. They say it floats. I say it sinks into the heart, tattooed, ink and blood and tears, it dares to hope within me, this hope.

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It whispers in the cold “I wish it were warm” and arrives at the thought of “it will get warm” and reasons “when will it be warm?” and it grunts and waits. It waits for warmth. Hope teaches us to wait, to wade through our circumstances unto what is yet to come.

It’s the maybe in the dark. It pauses to remind you that it may be, that it could be. The dream you have, the love you want, the answer could just be… yes. Hope is ridiculous, but it’s right. You just don’t know. How could you know what is yet to be? Nobody knows but Truth. It makes great sense, this hope.

There is not a thing more dangerous than a hopeful one. Not the dark of night, or the schemes of the enemy. Not the accuser’s voice, or the pain of heartache, much less a heavy past. It’s the thing that can’t be killed, it can’t be silenced. Fear is predictable, but hope? Ha! Hope can’t be drowned, shot, or numbed. It can’t be terrorized, much less held captive. This sweet force has found its way to you.

Can you feel it?