My Palette of Joy

Don’t Say It, Do It!

It’s a complicated thing to be a parent. To be responsible for lives who aren’t born knowing right from wrong, A to Z, or even how to feed themselves. As parents we’re often exhausted, but the messy kisses and sticky hugs motivate us to grow in love.

Being a parent hits differently after a known tragedy though. Most of you probably know about the school shooting that took place in Texas yesterday, May 24th. 19 kids under the age of 12 never got to go back to their parents that night. My social media feed is littered with crying parents saying how they hugged their kids harder or prayed a little longer this morning. Some call for more gun laws. Some rage about how we all need to have the same outrage for other tragic deaths.

Regardless of how they reacted, everyone seems to feel something. Especially those who are parents themselves. Whether a bio parent, adopted parent, foster parent, teacher (who parent a whole class), a godparent (who parent through friendship), or an Aunt or Uncle (who parent through extended family). Regardless of your title, most of us are parents one way or another, and we feel the need to do something to protect our children.

As a fellow bio parent and foster parent (and praying to be adopted parent), I want to call our attention to the social media posts that made me pause today. I won’t call anyone out, mainly because most of these posts came from strangers on group pages. I stared at these posts as I lay in bed still wiping the sleep from my eyes as my kids played waaaaaaaay too early this morning.

The posts called for unnamed people to “do something.” One cried saying they wished they themselves knew what to do in light of this tragedy. These people were crying from a place of confusion. They simply know SOMETHING needs to be done.

And, I agree. And posts on social media might not be the best way to start. Ha, I can feel I lost a few of you there in that last sentence! Maybe 2 of you nodded your heads, but I know I struck someone in their soft spot.

Seriously though, I want to talk about what we CAN do. What WE can do.

All in good humor here…

I’ll start by saying I do NOT claim to be all-knowing. I’m not here to tell you I’m wiser than you or the next person, or I’m here because God appointed me as a great speaker. Nope. I’m humble Laura. The girl from southern Jersey who has dreams bigger than her wallet size and ideas more abundant than time. The girl who said at 5-years-old “I want to grow up to be a mommy and a Christian.” The girl who simply wants to be in God’s perfect will, no matter what.

As this simplistic girl, I come to you with the words that came to mind as I scrolled through social media last night and this morning:

God has fully equipped us for every good work.

In my devotions this morning, I looked up this phrase and there are several scriptures to back this up:

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” – 2 Peter 1:3

“May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.” – Hebrews 13:21

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10

But this scripture inparticular stood out to me. Please read this one carefully…

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

If you’re a keen reader who’s read my past blogs, you might have noticed the plural to the “kids” I referred to earlier. My husband and I were blessed with one amazing son, but I wasn’t able to have any more kids after him. At first, we simply put off the decision to have another baby. Then, due to cancer, I was told I shouldn’t have any more kids. We’d always wanted to adopt, so it became an easy decision to make our desires reality last year. Our adoption path though proved long and without success in matching with the little girl we were desiring. So, in March, we became foster parents in hopes that a girl would pass through our home who we would be able to adopt. One such little miracle entered our home a month ago. She’s not yet legally free for adoption, but we’re praying she will be with time. She’s our daughter, and we know this SO STRONGLY.

(I’ve sped through our little story here, but you can read more of our journey on this page.)

Even though this is the first I’ve mentioned her on my blog, I’ve brought up this life event a few times on social media. Friends, family, and neighbors have seen and loved on her as well. And with some interactions, I’ve noticed a curious thing I never expected. A common string of phrases tend to come from both friends and strangers. Like the messages on social media in reference to the school shooting, I pause. It’ll randomly pop up and I still don’t know the proper way to respond to these well-meaning words.

“That’s such a wonderful thing you’re doing. I could never have the heart to foster.” or “You must be so brave and caring. More people need to be like that. There are so many kids in the system…”

These people are sweet, but I hate to burst their bubble: I’m NOT NOT NOT any better of a person because I’m a foster mom. Just like a doctor isn’t more important than a nurse – or vice versa. A musician more important than a painter. A non-fiction writer more important than a novelist. A bowl more important than a cup.

All I did was go after a desire I had. A God-given desire. And I pursued it until it came true, no matter how hard the road. And boy, that road continues to be hard!! However, a difficult road for some can be easier for others. Since God gave me a heart for abandoned children, the difficulties melt away and become easier.

What frustrates me though is that some people look at this event as “so good” that they do two different things at the same time without realizing it. One: they see it as so good & difficult that it is unachievable to them. Two: they see it as so good and difficult that it pails other good achievements that they seriously should be doing.

I want to look at 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 again… “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

If everyone had the heart to foster/adopt, another part of our world might be neglected. For instance, I don’t have a burden for the elderly. I care about them, but I don’t have a desire to volunteer at a nursing home. Neither do I have a yearning to help the homeless. I care about their wellbeing, and have given money when convicted, but I don’t feel ambision to serve at a soup kitchen. These are just two areas I know of that need help and care. Am I any less of a person because I don’t volunteer at ALL of these things? Nope. And NEITHER ARE YOU!

We’re all given a variety of gifts, services, and activities for the common good. Just like we’re all blessed with different talents, we’re blessed with different compassions on where to serve. Maybe someone was called to help teens like the 18-year-old gunman. Maybe someone was called to be a hero like the patrol officer that stopped the gunman without waiting for backup. Maybe someone was called to be a teacher who did nothing more than comfort and protect the children involved.

As a parent, we know in our hearts what’s best for our children. We know how to keep them safe and how to steer them on the right path. It’s an instinct we can’t always name, but it comes to us from God who is the ultimate parent. God shows and directs us what to do too. Sometimes it takes us a loooong time to figure out what He’s saying, but know that He is indeed there. He’s always a conversation away.

When we say “I wish I had the heart for this,” or “I wish I knew how to change that,” know that those questions are only the beginning. Don’t stop there. Maybe you do actually have the heart for that service or you do have the ideas on how to change that event/cause.

Start with prayer. Start with talking to our Father. Then ACT. Act on the convictions in your heart. Don’t content yourself in writing a social media post that does nothing more than state a wish. Don’t content yourself in congratulating other people in simply doing what they were called to do. Be the change God made YOU to be! Because we were all made for such a fantastic purpose. We’re all pieces to the world’s puzzle. All parts to the same body. And I for one can’t wait to see what we’re all meant to do! And I’m excited to be a part of this journey with you all.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. – Hebrews 13:20-21

Spring out of Winter

Spring is such a happy time of year, don’t you think? The pastel colors. Pops of red. And endless growing lime green.

But there’s one major thing that makes spring wonderful. Without it, spring wouldn’t even exist. That cold, bitter season many of us wish would discontinue.

Winter. Seriously, winter.

Now, South Carolina doesn’t have as long or brutal winters as my past homes in Northern Pennsylvania, New York, or New Jersey. Brrrrrr. Winter lasted from October to April. On my first anniversary – October 30th – we had a foot of snow. There were more than a few blizzards in mid-April too. But when May came to Pennsylvania…..oh, it was beautiful. Those first crocuses peak through the brown mud, and frost-covered tan grass. Sunny daffodils wave hello in the crisp winds. I appreciate spring. I NOTICE spring. The colors make me pause because they didn’t exist a few days ago.

Some tropical places don’t even get a spring. Sure, the calendar still holds the spring equinox. They celebrate the first day in late March, but spring can’t have physical evidence in nature. Without the cold, the trees don’t need to lose their leaves. Without the frost, the grass doesn’t disappear. Without a freeze, even the bugs don’t take a break.

Winter can be a season of rest. A season with no harvest. A season where we hold onto trust, hope, and faith. The trees appear dead, but we trust they’ll grow back in the spring. Those daffodils, hostas, irises, daylilies, etc. lay hidden in the ground, out of sight, and we have faith they’ll return with warmer temperatures.

Like those long winters in the north, sometimes life’s “winters” feel extra long. Maybe you’re waiting for an answer to your prayers. Maybe you feel like no one hears you, or listens to your cries. Maybe you feel like you’re in an endless loop of work, mundane responsibilities, or thankless jobs. You’re stuck in a cycle of laundry, dishes, errands, school, taking care of others, etc. Or, maybe, you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing anything because you see no evidence of making a difference.

I’ve lost count of how many “winters” I’ve endured. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been part of one endless winter with mere glimpses of sunlight through the thick clouds – that’s depression and I won’t dwell there, but I will say this: no matter how you feel; no matter how depressed or hopeless you feel… God never desires for you to stay in that place. NEVER. While wait periods, peace, rest times, and mourning seasons are normal, wallowing in pity, guilt, and anxiety aren’t meant for us. Depression and rest are two VERY DIFFERENT things.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. – Isaiah 26:3

That all being said, winter can definitely hold a lot of sorrow, trials, and turmoil we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. But, even those things can be used by God.

I bet the blind man in John chapter 9 felt like he was in an endless dark winter. He wasn’t resting, just waiting. Waiting for a spring he didn’t know was coming. Even the disciples thought he must deserve his predicament. Perhaps he was depressed. I know I would be if I had to sit stuck in the dirt on the side of the road. He was alone. No friends. No comforts. Then Jesus walks up and says He’s “the light of the world.”

Do you know what thing makes us notice light more?

I bet a blind person would know the answer.

I like to nickname my hubby “Andrew the bat.” I’ll usually call him this as I laugh at his squished face when I brighten our bathroom in the morning. He’ll be standing there at the sink, washing his face in pitch darkness. I’m sorry, but I need light to see where I’m going. Light illuminates the area, showing what we can’t see at night. And in that dark bathroom, the sudden flick of light calls attention to the brightness. The burst of colors momentarily blind us in their brilliance, and we acknowledge the light’s existence.

The bible doesn’t describe the moment the blind man found his sight. It simply says “he came home seeing.” I like to imagine he ran home with a spring in his steps, jumping for joy. He wasn’t shy in proclaiming the miracle to his neighbors, so we know he was excited. He appreciated the light because he knew what it was like to live in darkness. Like Jesus said in verse 3 “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Knowing this story helps me look back at the “winters” and dark moments in my life in a new light, if you will. The sicknesses, depression, lost careers, deaths, disappointments, and valleys weren’t brought on because of sin or as a punishment… they were present so God’s work could be displayed in my life. Here, let me break it down in a simple list format:

Cancer caused me to thank God for health, and trust that “by His stripes, I am healed.”

The lack of having more kids naturally caused me to appreciate the one I do have. It also gave us the desire and opportunity to become foster parents and prospect adoption.

Depression caused me to appreciate joy. Joy everlasting. To seek out Psalms and the words of David when he also went through depression. I declared myself a woman after God’s own heart.

My failed careers each brought me to the place I am now. To quote Chariots of Fire: I feel God’s pleasure when I write. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, and can’t wait to see the next steps He has in store.

Each waiting period forces me into God’s word. Some people might need far less to get them to see, but I know I need a kick in the pants too many times. I need a winter to notice when an answer to prayer sprouts life. I need a dark valley to notice the bright morning joy.

When you look up the definition of spring, two examples say “originate or arise from” and “a sudden jump upward or forward.”

It’s time to arise, my friends. Rest when you need to, endure the trial if you’re currently in it, but don’t neglect your call to jump out of it. Don’t stay in winter. Sprout into spring. Grow from the difficulties. Arise from the ashes. It’s time to thrive and spread the joy everlasting!

A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. – Psalm 40:1-3

35 Reflections

Birthdays are a perfect time to reflect. Mine is next week.

35.

35 probably sounds young to most of you. – maybe older to a select few of you. It IS young. I FEEL young. I’m used to being the youngest in my groups of friends. I got married young. Gave my life to Jesus young. Became a mom young. And started my own business when only a teenager.

On the other hand, I also feel I’ve lived several lives. I’ve worked through multiple careers and lived in multiple states and homes. Each one feels like a separate lifetime. I was a vegan pastry chef, owning my own catering business for 11 years. I was a teacher of art, theater, and culinary for 3 incredible years. A business manager. An office manager. Now, I’m an artist and writer. I’ve lived in New Jersey. New York City. 6 different homes in Pennsylvania. And now beautiful South Carolina.

I’ve been through Christian schools, homeschooling, cyber schools, culinary school, business courses, and numerous writing classes. I’ve had rare cancer. Been healed from said cancer. Seen miracles. Been penniless, yet never hungry. Been married for twelve amazing years. Had a child whose first breath came at the name of Jesus, after being born with the cord wrapped around his precious neck. And been told I should never get pregnant again.

I’ve seen a LOT in my 35 years of life.

As long as I can remember, I have never seen a godly man abandoned, or his children forced to search for food.” Psalm 37:25

I’m remembering a time ten years ago. It sounds so silly now, but 25-year-old me felt old. I was tired and drained in my catering business. All I wanted to do was act! I’d wanted to be an actress since staring in a play when I was 7. A year younger than my son is now. 2 weeks before I left for Culinary School, I remember crying to my mom about wishing I could just be an actress. I didn’t though. I went to NYC and became a chef. And at 25-years-old I regretted my decisions. I searched out auditions, casting calls, watched YouTube videos on how to get into the field, and bought stacks of books on the subject. I did all of this until I discovered a trend – an age trend. Directors wanted actors ages 18 – 25. Any older, and actors were considered the “older” category. I let myself get discouraged before I even began. I gave up; defeated before I went to one single audition.

Ugh. I feel so silly the more I think about 25-year-old me. I thought, “I missed my chance, so why start now?” If I’d plunged into that passion, I’d probably be in Hollywood or Broadway right now. I seriously believe that. Did you know Steve Carrell from the show “The Office” didn’t start acting until he was in his 30s? There are many similar stories of “late bloomers.” 25-year-old me neglected that bit of info.

When I was 27, I finally quit baking. I stopped lying to myself that I enjoyed that work: I hated it. I don’t regret quitting my business. Not ever. That same year, I started writing my first novel. I almost didn’t finish that either. I wrote 13 chapters and gave up. Praise God, He brought incredible friends in my life who encouraged me to get back into writing (shout out to Alison & Lauren! 🙂 ). At 29, I finished my first book and spent 2 years editing it. I then wrote 2 plays, 3 picture books, and started this blog. At 34, I finished my 2nd novel. And while I’m super proud of this latest book, I fear it’ll be forgotten like every career, job, house, and friend I’ve lost throughout the years. Let’s be real here: my life isn’t exactly a success story. At least, not by the world’s standards of success.

But as I sit here, thinking about the events of my 35 years, I can’t help but feel thankful for the lives I’ve lived. The failures and mistakes I’ve made.

Missed opportunities force me to sharpen my eyesight so I don’t miss the next one. Failure shows me what not to do again. And times of want always cause me to trust God all the more. It also helps to keep moving. Keep pursuing. There’s an old saying about it being easier to turn the wheels of a moving car than a stationary car. It’s very true. It’s also a lot harder to find your dream when you’re bundled up in self-pity on your couch.

In all my years, I’ve never lacked for dreams. If one dream died, three more would take its place. I’ve dreamt of having a huge family in a house on the ocean…this turned into a desire for a home in the suburbs of Greenville, South Carolina with a blend of biological and adopted children. I dreamt of being a famous actress where I could use my talent to show the passion God gave me… then having my own bakery where I can encourage my customers through healthy comfort food… then my dream became to be a New York Times best-selling author of multiple books, changing lives with the words God gives me.

They’re different dreams. But, if you look closely, they’re the same dream: be loved, and show love. Through people, and through the talents God’s given me.

It’s not too late for those dreams. The first part is already happening. (All glory to God!) I’m still young. But even if I was turning 85, I’d still believe God has more to do through me.

Just like God has so so much more to do through YOU!

If you’ve made it this far while I’ve been talking all about myself, thank you. I know I can be long-winded when I’m trying to make a point. Words haven’t always been my thing. I still SERIOUSLY struggle to articulate my words verbally, so I appreciate you reading my thoughts in this format. I love to write. I really, really do. I know it’s what God made me for. I know this because I’ve been in places I wasn’t meant to stay in. It’s not about it being hard or easy either. – Writing is far from easy most of the time! – It’s a feeling that’s difficult to describe without living it first. It’s peace, joy, passion, commitment, satisfaction, and excitement all rolled into one. It’s a feeling in your soul – the pit of your gut – that you’re doing what you were created to do. A peace that passes all understanding. Can you think of moments in your life that brought these feelings? What desires has God placed in you?

I lay pieces of myself here in order to encourage you to stop making excuses about not pursuing those dreams God gave you. Never let age stop you. Never let life’s circumstances stop you. And definitely never let other people dictate who you should be. Friends encourage you while a competitor will do anything to keep you beneath them. I’ve had to overcome a few of those too.

I look back at my life and I see blessing after blessing. In times of depression, and in times of joy. In times when we didn’t have enough money to go grocery shopping, and in the times we were able to bless others with a hot meal. In times when I’ve cried to God for answers, and in times I felt His voice. In the time I was told I had cancer, and in the time God told me I was healed before the doctor did. In the mountains of rejection letters, and in the future day I’ll find out I made the best-seller lists. In lonely nights, and in parties full of genuine laughter. In times of failure or success, God has been faithful.

I can’t wait to see what the next 35+ years will bring!

In honor of my 35 years, here’s a list of 35 things I’ve discovered in life so far. I hope it brings some joy to your life and sparks the courage to go after your desires!

  1. Killing a plant doesn’t make you a murderer, just remember to water your kids and pets more often.
  2. If you have enough time to check your phone, you have enough time to talk to God.
  3. Try listening more than talking.
  4. On that note…if he’s playing a video game, he’s not listening. I don’t care if he answers, he’s honestly NOT listening.
  5. Pray with your spouse. It’ll bring the two of you closer to each other as well as to Christ, and to a whole other level in your relationship.
  6. Laugh. Smile. Giggle. Snort. It’s healing to your soul and mood.
  7. EVERYONE is going through something or dealing with something. No one is perfect. Treat them with care.
  8. We’re all more alike than you think.
  9. Cats are better than dogs.
  10. But… not everyone likes cats, so that’s why God created dogs. I respect that.
  11. Life’s too short to not have chocolate.
  12. You can’t please everyone. Actually – you can’t 100% please ANYONE. Even yourself. So stop losing sleep over it.
  13. You’ll learn a LOT from having friends that are all different ages, races, and backgrounds.
  14. Watch where you step in the ocean…(long story)
  15. Sunsets are beautiful, but there’s something extra special about getting up for a sunrise.
  16. You don’t have to listen to every piece of advice given to you.
  17. But make sure you consider each piece of advice given to you.
  18. Your career isn’t the thing that defines you.
  19. Don’t walk through your kid’s room barefoot.
  20. Doctor Who is the best tv show of all time, but not everyone has the time to accept this fact.
  21. This time next year you’ll be thankful you started that project NOW instead of procrastinating it.
  22. You’ll never remember that thing you’re telling yourself in bed. WRITE IT DOWN!
  23. You don’t have to follow the recipe. Live a little.
  24. No matter how many times you read the Bible, you’ll always find something new.
  25. Lists are amazing. Satisfying to write, and even better when crossed off.
  26. Forgiveness is more for your sanity than their’s. Just like bittereness effects you more than them.
  27. ALL of God’s promises are Yes and Amen.
  28. There might be no place like home, but real change happens when we leave our comfort zone.
  29. You can never have too many books. No, really! Tell my hubby this one!
  30. It’s OKAY to rest.
  31. Kids are sometimes the best source of wisdom.
  32. You can get used to almost anything if you’re around it long enough. That’s not always a good thing…
  33. Men just think differently. It’s weird, but he doesn’t accociate the silence as a sign I’m mad with how he acted last Tuesday.
  34. Drink more water. Don’t be like your plants.
  35. You’re never done learning new tricks.

Hope you enjoyed those! Have a blessed day!

Oh, and be on the lookout for my new newsletter! Woohoo!! Sign-ups will be posted on March 1st. All who sign-up will get a FREE recipe booklet with original recipes inspired by the dishes in my upcoming book, Neutral Extinction. Stay tuned!

Vision For a Better 2022

Hello, 2022. Nice to meet you? … I think?

It’s two weeks into 2022, and the taste of this new year is still a mystery. Half my mind feels frozen in 2020. While the other half wants to surge ahead to a future date. I don’t think I’m the only one either. The world seems to be approaching 2022 with apprehension, caution, and distrust. A popular meme states that 2022 sounds like “2020 too” and implies we’re in for another rocky year.

I know these memes are in good fun – and they made me giggle and snicker – but they also made me sad in the knowledge that most people expect 2022 to be, well, not a great year. Too many people are going into 2022 with hopes of simply surviving instead of thriving.

Even resolutions are down this year:

Not everyone makes New Year’s resolutions, regardless of the year, but most hopeful/visionary people tend to make them.

Of these hopeful people, too few have plans of improving their lives OTHER than health/exercise in 2022. According to a CBS poll, only 10% of resolutioners desire to “enjoy life more.”

Why?? Why has hope plummeted to staggering lows? Why have people conformed to the mundane and substandard?

WHY HAVE PEOPLE STOPPED TRYING?!?!

I imagine that last sentence echoing in a vast room. The walls line with slumped people, sitting like abandoned dolls with blindfolds over their eyes. The center of the room fills with a mountain of wrapped gifts, each more beautiful than the next. Secrets are held in each precious package. But the vast room stretches for miles, and the expanse lengthens in between this mountain of gifts and each person. People are tired, asleep, or bruised. Too many have tried and failed to cross the expanse. Some have simply resigned to not try. While others give up halfway there, stop mere inches from the target, or get there but forget to open the gifts they hold. All because they haven’t taken their blindfolds off; they don’t realize how close they are to their gifts.

It’s too easy to miss what’s right in front of us because we can’t see past our current situation. To resign. To lower our expectations. To lean against the wall – or sit on the couch/bed/desk – and let the crazy world go up in flames. To say “at least this world is only temporary, I’m just going to bide my time as I wait for heaven and/or Jesus to return.” We wait for those gifts to be handed to us, or learn to live without them at all.

When did the world stop having vision? Please tell me you’re not one of these people, fair reader. I know you’re not the norm. YOU have a vision. You have SO MANY amazing, incredible, wonderful, life-altering, and world-changing visions!! You do. You really, truly do.

A vision is “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.” We all have it. ESPECIALLY you. “The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.” – Proverbs 19:8

Through this wisdom, God has gifted us the ability to imagine even the unseen future.

“So no wonder we don’t give up. For even though our outer person gradually wears out, our inner being is renewed every single day. We view our slight, short-lived troubles in the light of eternity. We see our difficulties as the substance that produces for us an eternal, weighty glory far beyond all comparison, because we don’t focus our attention on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but the unseen realm is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

This unseen realm isn’t just existing after we die, or after Jesus returns to bring us to Heaven. He says our inner being is “renewed every single day,” thus the unseen realm is present EVERY SINGLE DAY.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

Every single day, we have the ability to act in faith. We have the ability to “focus our attention on what is unseen.” This includes the future, visions God gives us, praying in the Spirit, etc. Each of us has a mountain of gifts. Beautiful. God-given. And meant to be opened now on this Earth. They’re for eternity, but eternity doesn’t simply exist in Heaven alone. Eternity is eternal afterall.

I grew up hearing that life on this Earth is “the waiting room.” I’d listen to whole sermons dedicated to this “vision” of convincing the congregation we’re simply waiting for the real event: Heaven. “Just be a good Christian, don’t sin, store your treasures in Heaven, and don’t get attached to this Earth.” While these statements are indeed rooted in scripture, the idea has been distorted. So much so that many of us have forgotten to actually live. And live ABUNDANTLY. The Bible does indeed say to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” However, this is referring to material things, not our day-to-day actions. Because the Bible also says “I (Jesus) came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].” That doesn’t sound like God wants us twiddling our thumbs in a waiting room.

Patience might be hard, but sitting is easy. Too easy. It’s far easier to sit in our current circumstances than risk following a dream/vision into the unknown. (Cue Frozen 2 song Into the unknooooooooowwwwwwwwwn…) I find myself making excuses why I shouldn’t do something I don’t have all the answers for. I might fail. I might be wrong. I don’t want to offend. I don’t want to rock the boat. I’m not going to risk my mental health.

Visions are hard when you can’t see. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? But there is one who ALWAYS sees. Come on, you all know the answer to that one: Jesus. Jeremiah 29:11 is pretty clear on that point, right?

So, knowing all of this, why do we still hesitate? Why do we still find ourselves lacking hope? Lacking the ambition to write down our visions for the future? Why have we stopped trying?

Short answer: after 2 years of hurts, canceled plans, and deferred hope, our souls feel sick. It’s easier to halt the visions to protect ourselves. To nip our hope in the bud before it’s cut off.

How can we change this?

We change this by first healing our sick souls. We can’t have vision without healthy eyesight. How do we heal our sight? Well, it’s not through a shot. Jesus healed a blind man with His words…through faith…

Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. – Mark 10:52

It’s truly as simple as that.

The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.” – Psalm 146:8

Through God, we have the assurance that our vision will no longer be blind. No more blindfolds. We don’t have to fear our hope being deferred, because we don’t live by the rules of this world. We live eternally in the unseen realm. The realm where God’s rules trump the world’s sick rules.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” – Isaiah 43:2 (i.e. no matter what happens in the world, you won’t be consumed/overwhelmed by it!)

With God, we can have a true vision. Seeing through spiritual eyes. All we have to do is ask for HIS vision. HIS sight. He gave each of us visions of the future, we just need our blindfolds off so we can see them.

I encourage each of you to take the time to take out a pen and paper. Write down the visions of your heart. If you don’t know them, ask God to show them to you. But the important thing is to write them down. So you can see them and strive toward them every single day. Discover these visions by asking what God would want. What steps can change our current world? What gifts/talents has God given you that you can use to His glory? How can you serve others? How can you give? And…what do you want?

Close your eyes, and truly see.

I’m praying for each of you. May God give you the desires of your heart, and a vision to make it happen!

Darling, There’s a Better Future For You!

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Some of you might recognize this famous quote from Stephen King. Writers often reference “killing your darlings” during the editing process. The message might sound cruel, but it means to delete the characters/plots/dialog/writing we THINK we love, but it drags our story down. He’s saying to cut the things that’ll make our story better once they’re gone.

If only we could do that in our own lives…

But how do we know which pieces to cut to make our lives better? We don’t want to cut something useful, after all. We don’t want to commit a Freddie Krueger slasher work to our dreams and future.

In 1 Samuel chapter 16, God tells Samuel to stop being depressed over Saul and anoint the next king of Israel. God simply says “I have selected one of Jesse’s sons to be king.” Complication alert: Jesse had 8 sons. Samuel needed to “kill” some of those darlings to find the true king.

When he got to Jesse’s house, he met 7 handsome, strong, and perfect darling sons. They were everything Samuel THOUGHT he wanted.

If I had a dime every time I THOUGHT I knew what I wanted…

When I was single, I made a list of the characteristics I desired in a husband. Some were important: integrity, faith, strong values, kindness, compassion, etc. A few were darlings that weren’t exactly important to a happy marriage. Blue eyes being the most superficial. Once I met a man, I took all the things on my list into account and decided which weren’t as important as I originally thought. In the same token, the important things on the list helped me weed out guys who weren’t perfect fits either.

Samuel had a list in his own head. Tall: check. Nice face: check. Dreamy blue eyes: check. Looks like a king: check. But God told Samuel “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God does not see as man sees, since man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

God’s list was different than Samuel’s. And on the surface, some might have said the “ruddy-faced boy” God chose was a few steps down from the first 7 sons. David wasn’t even invited to be a part of his family gathering. His dad left him to do chores while they feasted with the prophet. Samuel didn’t know Jesse had an 8th son until he asked!

This is something I believe we constantly miss in our lives. We choose a husband/wife, career, job, friend, or decision of any kind simply because we THINK it’s our best option. We fear nothing else will come around because this is all we see. So, we say it’s “good enough” or “I deserve this anyway” when deep down we know we’re meant for more.

I’m not talking about being discontent with what God has given you. I’m talking about settling for less than God intends for your life. Filling your life with events, people, and obstacles God wants you to subtract in order to accept what He desires for you.

Having 1 of David’s brothers on the throne could’ve proven disastrous. I bet Samuel was thankful he abided by God’s list instead of his own when he saw how fantastic of a king David would become. He could’ve made a history-changing mistake if he hadn’t listened to God. If he’d settled for something on his own superficial list.

I know. I know. You’re probably saying “But Samuel was a prophet who verbally heard God’s voice. How am I supposed to know what God wants me to do?!”

Don’t worry: God already told you!

Have you ever heard or said the phrase “God’s working on me concerning ____” or “God’s dealing with me about ____”? It usually pertains to something difficult, life-altering, or a path we don’t want to go down.

For instance, God has been dealing with me about my view of success. My idea of a successful life is changing the lives of multiple people, influencing thousands or millions with my books, and making profits to show these numbers. I see the avenue to this outcome to be by a popular literary agent, having a top 4 publisher, and a six-figure advance paycheck. I’ve committed to this list by e-mailing agents for years. Years. And tailoring my books to what I THINK these people want. Ugh. I fell victim to creating a superficial list of darlings that only matter to the world, not to what God might have in mind. I know this now because God has been “dealing with me” about what’s truly important. How do I know? Because He has been opening doors to other avenues. These avenues might be different than what my list included, but they align with God’s word:

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Galatians 5:17

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:17

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

I want to be clear that what God has “been dealing with me” about isn’t actually different than my true desires. They are simply guiding me via the path God wants me to go down to achieve them. My true desire is to have my words mean something, and have my books published. The how isn’t up to me, it’s up to God! God’s joy and peace fill us when we are on the right path. Our deepest desires are God-given, and only He knows the best way to achieve them.

In order to see what plans and pathways God has for us, we need to cut the parts we don’t need. The only way to do this is to know what parts we do need: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” In order to trust God, we need to have faith. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Honestly, I believe that the real reason most people aren’t living to their full potential is because we don’t trust that God has something better in mind. We see missionaries living in poverty, Christians who never make millions, or faith-filled people who lack so much, and fear we’ll have the same “fate”. But are we looking at these people through God’s standards or the world’s view of success? When we look closer, we can see how faith-filled believers live BETTER lives when they surrender to what God intends. When they “kill their darlings” of the world and tailor a new list with God’s worldview.

Love. Joy. Peace. Faithfulness. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Meekness. Self-control…. a list that trumps wealth, power, and superficial beauty. It’s a list that means something to our future, and doesn’t fade with age and politics.

David was “a youth with beautiful eyes, and good looking.” He wasn’t ugly by any means. Just different than what Samuel had in mind.

Samuel’s desire was to have a good king, and God showed him the path to get there. What path is God wanting to lead you through?

When we surrender to what God wants, instead of what we THINK we want, we’ll find God has something much MUCH better in mind. Kill your darlings, friends, and see the beautiful story underneath.

You Are Blessed!

I AM BLESSED. It’s taken me many years to truly believe this statement. To live those words. To not be afraid of those words.

“Afraid?” you ask. Yes, afraid, and guilty. Riddled with guilt. Second-guessing the reality of my blessings. And doubting I even want to be blessed.

Maybe you’re nodding your head, or maybe you’re thinking this writer is crazier than a two-headed stray cat on distilled catnip. Everyone wants blessings. Right? Count your blessings. Right?

Well, for starters… In a world FULL of blessings, we seem to be defined by our latest asset, gift, or favor.

Notice Riker’s grumpy face setting in?

A few weeks ago, we took our son on an exciting day trip. On a crisp September morning, we traveled to the mountains in North Carolina to go apple picking, eat apple cider donuts, and enjoy an apple festival. Riker – currently our only child – got our full attention as he ate sweets, ran, conquered the playground, and jumped on the farm’s mega trampoline. He even made a new friend whom he played with and saw throughout the course of our adventurous day. We laughed and played together through the rows of apple trees. We went out to eat with new friends and Riker got his pick of the menu. Outside the restaurant, a parade graced the town’s Main Street. Riker jumped up and down in joy as each new float brought something he loved: sports cars, thrown candy, comic book characters, sports themes, and little gifts thrown his way.

After the parade, we waved goodbye to our new friends, and journeyed down the street to our parked car. We passed closing pop-up craft, food, and toy stands. Riker asked for a toy. He wanted to “get something.” Andrew and I told him “No, it’s time to go home.”

He halted in his tracks and whined. “This is the worst day ever!”

Needless to say, we did NOT let that last statement slide. After we laughed.

But, don’t we do the same thing in our own lives? We could spend hours counting each of our possessions, people we love, events we treasure, and things in our lives we’re thankful for. Then something happens: an accident, a sickness, a death, a disappointment, etc. We raise our head to the sky and scream “God, why me!?” Or worse, we expect these discomforts and disappoints so much that we let it eclipse everything good in our lives. They make us doubt we even have blessings. We forget our beautiful lives because of our current darkness.

This doubt isn’t where our worst danger lies. This isn’t the fear I referred to earlier. Disappointments eclipsing our lives is all too commonplace. The comfort we find in these dark places is the dangerous part.

Life in any career isn’t easy. I’m going to refer to my life experience as an artist because that’s what I know: it’s downright INSANE! I’ve been a chef, teacher, play director, writer, painter, and creator of many things, but each path in my career is plagued by harsh opinions, low income, rejection, and doubting my worth in our society. As a creator/artist my work defines me because it’s a literal part of me. As a result, the rejections and opinions of others define me too.

I’ve touched on these facts before, but let me venture into deeper territory… I have many friends that consider themselves artists, and they too live lives full of rejections and opinions. It actually has become a bonding experience for us all:

“I got five rejection emails last week from publishers.”

“I’m so sorry, my friend. I got six rejections as well. Want to look at each other’s work and see what we’re doing wrong?”

We make excuses for each other, try to give reasons for our failures, while also encouraging one another to “continue pressing on.” But what happens when one of us finally succeeds? What happens when we receive a blessing? What happens when we no longer relate to those still getting rejections?

Guilt sets in. We don’t wish to boast, so we downplay our victory. Or, maybe we believe this victory to be a fluke; we fear our blessing will wash away in a sea of disappointment. Misery loves company, right?

I’ve had too many “friends” over the years who got more excited in my failures than my successes. I am also blessed to have friends who cry and scream in excitement more than me when a victory happens. And let me just say, those two types of friends are both extremely blessed, but one type tends to live happier.

What those first “friends” need to realize is that just because one person has a victory doesn’t mean they can’t too. One’s God-given blessings NEVER subtracts from the blessings available to all of us.

When we don’t share our blessings with others, a new narrative takes its place. Without the knowledge of blessings, it appears like they no longer exist. In a society run by a news media who always reports bad news, a social media full of conspiracy theories and prayer requests, and gatherings masking possible smiles, it’s all too easy to get discouraged. We forget good news still exists. We forget our mountain of blessings because all we see is the last tragic event. We see our neighbor suffering so we think we need to be too, and our subconsciousness doesn’t even realize it’s happening.

This guilt is actually tied to our self worth. We believe ourselves unworthy of our blessings. If our friend/neighbor doesn’t have this, then why should we?

The answer is so simple that too many of us choose to ignore the obvious: all of this confusion grows because our worth doesn’t come from the amount or lack of blessings. Our worth comes through Jesus, and Jesus alone. If we realize this simple fact, the darkness engulfing our blessings fades. Because every blessing comes from Him.

Let’s go even further into this blessed knowledge: If our blessings come from Jesus, why are we feeling guilty about receiving a God-given gift? In fact, we should be EXPECTING these gifts. Says so right here:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. – 2 Peter 1:3

In my parents’ old house, they had an old picture hanging in the bathroom. It showed a series of hills with a few cows grazing on lush, green grass. A scripture blanketed the sky: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

I used to stare at that picture and mull over its significant. If God supplies my every need according to His riches, then my needs are tied to His wealth. God also says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He created all things. His wealth is truly endless. That means the supplies to my needs are endless. I’m rich!!

But I forget this fact. I’ve let rejection, death, a bout of cancer, scars, lost friendships, and any number of other dark things dictate how I feel. I forgot Romans 8:32…

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

As I learn to embrace the statement “I am blessed,” I hope to also show you all how you don’t have to feel guilty, afraid, worthless, doubtful, or confused over whether or not you are blessed. Nor should you be afraid or guilty to share your blessings with others. Because we’re not boasting in ourselves; we’re boasting in what Jesus has done for us.

Jesus gave me these words. Jesus gave me a loving husband. Jesus gave me a fantastic son. Jesus gave us the ability to adopt another child who we’ll hopefully meet soon. Jesus gave me a home. Friends. Health. Jesus blessed me with EVERY good and perfect thing because it all comes from above.

I didn’t come by these blessings because of anything I did. I was nobody. And yet, when I asked Jesus into my heart I became His. Jesus is my blessed hope, and I am His treasure:

But you are God’s chosen treasure—priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience his marvelous light, and now he claims you as his very own. He did this so that you would broadcast his glorious wonders throughout the world. – 1 Peter 2:9

YOU are blessed. Yes, YOU. Declare it. Remember it. Share it.

Love you all. Be blessed, and never stop being a blessings to others. YOU ARE BLESSED.

Click on the above picture to be taken to my new online store where you can purchase my artwork on prints, mugs, cards, t-shirts, phone cases, pillows, blankets, and more!
Click the above picture to be taken to our GoFundMe adoption page. Thank you!!

Proactive Thankfulness

If you follow me on social media, then you might have seen our big family news. It’s the event we’ve long waited for, and the event I referenced in my blog last month.

No, I’m not pregnant. – Too many people, including several family members, guessed that one – But this is just as exciting, if not more so… We’re adopting!

We couldn’t be more ecstatic, delighted, and crying happy tears. We don’t know who we’ll be adopting YET, but we’re searching for a little girl around Riker’s age. We’ll begin the matching process the end of September after we complete the home study. It’s a private adoption through foster care. The extreme number of waiting children who need homes was our motivator to choose this particular path. There are over 424,000 U.S. foster kids, with the median age being a fragile 6 years old. That’s heartbreaking. Too many of these kids bounce back and forth from one foster family to the next until they age out of the system altogether. Never knowing a loving family to call their own.

Andrew and I have been going through the rigorous training to be certified as foster and adoptive parents. The process includes several books, articles, classes, forms, tests, back ground checks, fingerprinting, etc. We’ve also taken it upon ourselves to go beyond the checklist to watch and read countless adoption and foster stories wherever we can find them. I’ll tell you what, the stories of these children bring our own lives into perspective.

Sometimes we don’t realize the blessings, gifts, and privileges we have until we see what true want and neglect looks like. But it’s not about boasting in what we have. It’s not about saying “I’m blessed because I have a house while others don’t,” or “thank you, God, for giving me two loving parents unlike all of those children over there.” You probably thought I was going to say something like that, didn’t you? If I had a dime for every time I heard a speaker, a book, or a movie actor say “be thankful for what you have, because there are so many less fortunate than you…” I’d be a rich woman. We all would be. But maybe our lives should be more than just “being thankful.” Maybe we need to do more than just feeling privileged.

Perhaps I’m not making myself clear. God’s word will say it better…

1 Chronicles 16:8 STARTS with being thankful, but it doesn’t stop there… “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the people.” Another translation says “Thank God! Call out His Name! Tell the whole world who He is and what He’s done.”

How about Philippians 2:4 ~ “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests to others.”

Or Proverbs 3:27 ~ “Do not pass by a man in need, for you might be the hand of God to him.”

Whenever God tells us to give thanks, it’s often sandwiched between something proactive, whether it’s praying, rejoicing, working out our faith, or helping others. God wants us to have thankful hearts, but it should never stop there.

This is sounding like a Thanksgiving message I’m realizing! But I can’t help the timing of what God places on my heart. I want to actively do James 1:22… “But prove yourselves doers of the word [actively and continually obeying God’s precepts], and not merely listeners [who hear the word but fail to internalize its meaning], deluding yourselves [by unsound reasoning contrary to the truth].”

God doesn’t say all these things to make us feel guilty, but to show us the right path and motivate us to do His perfect will. It’s easy to wallow in our lack just as easy as it is to simply say how thankful we are for our blessings. Words are powerful, but they can also come cheap. There’s a big difference between praying because we’re looking for wisdom to do something, and praying because we’re stalling since we don’t want to do something.

I hope my words are making sense as the waterfall flows from my fingers… what I’m trying to say is that we should be motivated to ACT when we hear about other’s circumstances. God instructs us many times to give to the poor, but He’s not just referring to money. When you hear or see someone “less fortunate” than you, what blessings come to mind? Money, house, family, freedom, love, joy, peace, or other life circumstance? Maybe even our faith? Good, now definitely thank God for these blessings.

BUT DON’T STOP THERE!!

How can you then share these blessings? What gifts has God given you? Don’t bury them; share them. Can you open your home? Can you send money? Can you offer kind words of encouragement through a letter, message, etc.? Can you give a physical gift to this person to brighten their day? Can you share your faith in Christ if they don’t have this? Can you share a meal? What has God blessed you with that you can share with ANYONE around you?

I’m talking to myself here too. It’s easy to be complaisant. It’s easy to just watch videos, tv, news, etc. and cry about someone’s circumstance, say a prayer, and move on with your day. Not all of us need to drop what we’re doing, sell all we have to the poor, and become missionaries overseas. But some of us need to stop pointing our fingers at what other rich people should do for the world and do it ourselves.

Adoption isn’t for everyone, but it’s something God laid on Andrew and mine’s hearts of how we can give and bless one small person. Maybe God has burdened you for the homeless, or a neighbor on your street who just lost their job. Maybe you’re watching the crying mothers in Afghanistan and God has pressed on your heart an idea of how to help one or more of them. Maybe God blessed you with the talent of knowing laws and politics and you could be a catalyst to change our government or simply your community. If you’re looking for a sign for where and when to stop sitting and start acting, may this be what you’re praying for.

James 2:14-17 … “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Acting out our faith by perusing this adoption isn’t easy, and we don’t even have our future daughter yet. But it’s also a blessing already. I pray for her everyday, wherever she is. I love her already, wherever she is. I pray God keeps her safe until she’s in our arms. Prayer is powerful, but if all I did was pray and not complete the paperwork, read the books, pay the bills, or make her room ready, we would miss the opportunity to welcome her into our home. Our good intentions aren’t enough. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” ~ 1 John 3:18

Private adoption isn’t cheap, and if you feel led to give toward our journey you can visit our Go Fund Me or purchase one of my adoption-inspired art pieces that I created and am now selling on Fine Art America as a fundraiser. But don’t feel obligated to give. I encourage you to give somewhere else or pursue any cause God lays on your heart! I’d just be reminisced if I didn’t post these links in case you also have a heart for adoption.

God gave us each a different gift, a different passion, and different burdens in our hearts. Just as we all have unique personalities and pasts, we also all have unique futures. We’re blessed. And I hope you are now encouraged to share your blessings. Thank God for what you have, then use these gifts to help the world. All it takes is one act of faith to start a movement.

Love you all!!

Purpose…Now what?

So, you’ve figured out what God wants you to do. He told you directly, in a dream, through someone else, or by some other means. Maybe it’s thanks to reading my blog post last month: Living On Purpose. You just KNOW what you’re meant to do. Your purpose could involve a career choice, a growing family, a move, a new friendship/relationship, or something else life altering. You know your desires, but… now what?!

Now…you wait.

I feel like I’m an expert of the waiting game. The in-between times. The “what if” times. The transitions. The period of space where we know we’re meant to be somewhere or do something, but we don’t know how or when. And we start to doubt we have any purpose at all.

It’s the years after God told David he’d become king. He had to watch the reigning King Saul go absolutely crazy, try to murder him, and chase him through the wilderness. And he waited…and waited…and waited. He wrote half of Psalms during his in-between times of waiting on God’s promise over his life to come to fulfillment. It was literal years before he became king.

It’s the 120 years between Noah picking up a hammer to build the ark and the first rain drop fell in the flood. I bet his family and “friends” badgered him with questions and doubts the entire time.

It’s the years Joseph endured between his prophetic dreams and the day Pharaoh rescued him from prison to make him second in command. I imagine lots of long lonely nights in the pit and jail cell.

It’s the decades Abraham waited on God’s promise to be fulfilled in giving him a son. Scripture doesn’t beat around the bush in retelling Abraham’s MANY doubts on God’s promises of purpose.

The waiting game happens to all of us. But it doesn’t have to be a “game.” It’s doesn’t HAVE to be torturous, mind-numbing, depressing, and crippling. Lamentations 3:25 says “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him.” That’s a comforting promise.

But what do we do when it seems like all we do is wait on our next assignment, adventure, mission, and purpose? We know God will be good to us and has the best in store, but what are we SUPPOSED TO DO?!

I remember my first date with Andrew. Shopping, movies, and Starbucks. The perfect trio. The perfect night. I knew I met THE ONE. I literally knew it. I was the crazy sap who cried on the drive home, thanking God for bring me my husband. Thank God I had the decency of mind to not tell Andrew this until AFTER we got married. He would’ve run for the hills, and with good reason. lol

So, in that moment on May 10th, 2009, I knew my purpose. God showed me a glimpse of what was to come, and I rested in that reassurance. Since I knew my purpose, I could’ve twiddled my thumbs, coasted on these thoughts, and waited patiently for my wedding day. I could’ve, but I’m so glad I didn’t!

Instead, I acted on my purpose by taking steps to fulfill it: getting to know Andrew more, growing our relationship, testing to see if we were equally yoked in everything that matters, planning our life together, and learning to live with the fact he would never like Lord of the Rings or A Knight’s Tale as much as I do. Because of doing these things, I was ready to say yes when Andrew popped the anticipated question. Well, as ready as I humanly could be. There were still many surprises after the wedding, but I shudder to think how insane things could’ve been had we not used our dating time to get to know one another more.

David didn’t twirl his thumbs either. Like I said earlier, he wrote a LOT during his decade on the run. He also got married, had kids, and he gathered an army of followers who would help him become king once Saul died.

Abraham, on the other hand, made a few missteps. He chose to force God’s purpose by sleeping with another woman to have a son. This son, named Ishmael, would plague Abraham’s future son, Isaac, until God sent them away to start a new nation. This nation would later become Israel’s oldest enemy. But even in his mistakes, God fulfilled his purpose in His time. Abraham just made it more complicated than it needed to be.

I’m so guilty of this too: making times harder and more complicated than they need to be.

When God first gave me the mission to write novels, I wrote with joy and passion. But then I got consumed with self-doubt as I looked to what others were doing, and why I wasn’t good enough. I let other’s opinions dictate my work and how I edited. I let my own fears stop me from praising God and listening. I look back at my journey and reprimand myself for losing sight of the gift God gave me. Now my first book is a mess, and I’m praying for God’s guidance on how to fix it. I’m waiting for an answer. But I’m writing, learning, and growing as I wait.

It can be unnerving to not know how long God wants us to wait on our purpose coming to fruition. We don’t have those answers. He never promises ultimate knowledge in timing. But He does give many scriptures to encourage, uplift, and instruct us along the way.

If we knew how long to wait, then we wouldn’t hold so passionately to our faith. Our prayer life wouldn’t grow. Our praise wouldn’t increase.

It’s difficult, but not impossible. God promises to never give us more than we can handle. That includes the valleys of solitude and mourning. And the chasms where we don’t know if it’s possible to continue in the dark.

I’m currently waiting on multiple things in my life. My readers are probably tired of me mentioning my purpose of being published. But I really am still waiting on this exciting purpose in my life to be fulfilled: five years and counting. Over seven years if you consider the day I wrote my first sentence in my first novel as day one. There are hundreds of writers who’ve waited even longer. Much longer in fact. I found out that Laura Ingalls Wilder (who wrote The Little House on the Prairie books, and my name sake) didn’t publish her first book until she was 65. Yow! I certainly pray it won’t take me THAT long.

I’m also waiting on something huge that’s twelve years in the making. I believe I’m reaching the finish line soon for that purpose, so you’ll be hearing about it in the months to come.

My point is: while we’re waiting on God’s purpose for our lives, work toward that purpose by trusting in Jesus.

What can you do today that would bring glory to Jesus?

While Joseph waited in prison, he used his God-given talent of interpreting dreams to comfort a fellow prisoner. He didn’t wallow in self pity when this same man forgot about him. Instead, he impressed the jail warden by his actions and he never stopped giving glory to God.

Are you praising God even when you don’t know which step to take?

Jesus Himself waited 30 years to begin His ministry. After His cousin, John, baptized Him and God said “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased,” He had to wait ANOTHER 40 days before He could begin selecting disciples. Those 40 days must have been excruciating… desert. Hot. No food. No water. And plagued by the persistent devil who never ceased badgering Him. But Jesus praised God continually. And Jesus shows us what He wants us to do through His perfect example.

When the enemy tempts us to give up: retort with scripture.

When other people try to get us to doubt what God told us: retort with scripture.

When we ourselves doubt our strength, talents, and purpose: retort with scripture.

God’s word trumps all. Stay strong, my friends. Because God promises it’s worth the wait. I can’t wait to see what’s next, but I’ll wait as long as it takes. Because I want an Isaac, not an Ishmael.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become restless and disturbed within me?
Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence. – Psalms 42:5

Living On Purpose

It’s been a hot minute, y’all! I missed blogging in May, but my blogging week was consumed at an amazing writers conference. It gave me a break from my normal schedule, a chance to connect with kindred spirits, intense classes to challenge my career, and a boost in confidence.

Over the last several months, I’ve been struggling with mass rejections and exhausted faith; a week rediscovering my purpose was EXACTLY the recharge and refocus I needed. I love how God knows what we need when we need it. He sees our needs. He knows our desire. And God knows our purpose.

Purpose. We all want one. We all NEED one.

The best-seller lists are lined with books promising to give people purpose. The Purpose-Driven Life, The Pursuit of Purpose, What on Earth Am I Here For, and The Purpose Effect are just a few. And no, I haven’t read any of them.

There are many quotes on the subject. Here are a select few. And I’m going to say a disclaimer right now: I don’t agree with any of these quotes…

“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” ― Woody Allen

“I believe purpose is something for which one is responsible; it’s not just divinely assigned.” ―Michael J. Fox

“Our purpose in life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.” ―Dalai Lama XIV

Why do I disagree with these quotes? Well, first off, Woody Allen’s outlook is that life is empty. It’s up to us to at least make it fun. Art = fun, right? Art = color, imagination, character, beauty, or fun. So, he’s saying if you take art away, then you take purpose away. I will be the first to say art is mandatory to live fully. To create is definitely a type of purpose. I wrote an entire book proving how we lose our humanity when we strip away art. But can there be purpose without this artist’s existence? Is there a way without us searching for this alleged antidote?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: I’ll write it below.

Similarly to Woody Allen, Michael J. Fox puts a TON of pressure on our shoulders. We’re responsible for finding it, doing it, and achieving it according to his humble standards. There’s no God in his world. Talk about depressing and exhausting! He does have the word “just” thrown in, which leads me to assume he believes a divine deity might have something to do with assigning our purpose. I would hope so. If we left finding a purpose up to humanity alone, we’d have eternal chaos.

The quote from the Dalai Lama is possibly the worst of all. Do you see it? Let’s see if I can explain the flaw with this one…

We live in a current world of a LOT of depressed people. I’ve struggled with depression for the past twenty years. What I have isn’t a situational depression; it’s not brought on by a bad day, a misspoken word, or horrible accident. It’s a struggle of low self-worth, motivation, uncertainties, and life’s pressures. I actually don’t struggle with happiness. I’m a positive person. I’m what’s called “A happy person with depression” or “smiling depression” (this is an actual thing, ugh). By Mr. Lama’s standards, I’ve achieved my purpose. And also by his standards I’ll NEVER achieve 100% purpose because I’m never truly content. No one who’s depressed lives in honest contentment because we’re never always happy. Happiness is fleeting.

As wrong as these quotes are, I do want to point out what they get right:

Woody Allen’s artistic antidote could indeed be our purpose. Our purpose should NEVER be to succumb to despair, thus we do need to find the opposite of despair. And without Jesus there is indeed an emptiness of existence. Jesus would be the artist’s antidote for despair.

To Michael J. Fox’s credit, it is our responsibility to accept Jesus. We don’t need to find Him though, because He’s always there waiting for us, but we do have a responsibility to accept His gift of salvation.

Perhaps the Dalai Lama suffered from a simple case of a writer using the wrong word. If we replace happy with “joy” the quote takes on a deeper meaning. David – who’s arguably the most depressed individual in the Bible – said in Psalms 118:24 “You have put joy in my heart” in reference to God. Paul says in Thessalonians 2:20 “For you are our glory and joy.”

I know. I know. I can hear you saying “get on with it, Laura. Enough of this back and forth interpreting quotes. What’s our purpose?!”

I’m so glad you asked.

Because when we know our purpose, we know where we’re going. When we know our purpose, joy consumes us – not the fleeting happy moments, but a joy deep in our soul even when we’re unmotivated in bed. When we know our purpose, the mountains of rejections become unimportant. Rejections become answers to whether that person was a right fit for me: no, God has something better in store. When we know our purpose, our life has meaning.

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power out flowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]. – Philippians 3:10

It’s that simple. Our purpose is knowing Jesus, and becoming like Him.

I’m done, right? Case closed. End of blog post. But it doesn’t feel quite that simple in our every day life, does it?

How can we be like Jesus when we do our jobs? i.e. writing, selling, speaking, helping, healing, manufacturing, creating….. wait… Didn’t Jesus do all of these things? Don’t each of our jobs involve at least a few of these activities? Jesus wrote through His disciples (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). He was, in essence, a salesman of salvation (He described it and offered it at the one price of accepting Him). He spoke powerful life-altering words wherever He went. He helped every person He came in contact with. He healed better than any doctor or nurse. He manufactured items when He was a carpenter. He created the world, didn’t He?! As well as every food and material all jobs work with.

How can we be like Jesus when we do our housework, raising kids, loving our spouse, relationship troubles, sleeping, eating, etc. etc.? The Bible talks about each and every one of these life events, challenges, and responsibilities. It’s an amazing read. I highly recommend it. I have a horrible memory though, so I need to continually reread it.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s exhausting to try to be like Jesus.

I grew up with the WWJD bracelets and the fire brimstone preaching what will happen if we sin instead of being Christ-like. Both of these methods didn’t work with a majority of my generation. We don’t need reminders of our failures or proddings to be perfect. I believe this is why, first and foremost, Paul tells us to KNOW JESUS more deeply, intimately, so we can recognize and understand the wonder of who He truly is.

I think we as Christians can get so lost in what to do, that we forget the why. We forget who we’re doing it for. We forget the purpose of it all.

When we concentrate on all the things we must do, we risk exhaustion to the point of giving up. We need to realize WE can never be perfect. It’s impossible. We can study the word of God all we want. Wear all the cool Christian jewelry and garb. Spurt out “thees” and “thous.” Make carpentry our profession, and take up fishing. But none of these things will bring us our purpose. Because Jesus isn’t any of this. Jesus, well, He’s all of this and more…

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12:2

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” John 6:35

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” Rev. 17:14

Those are highlights of what the Bible says Jesus is. When we know Jesus, we see our purpose because Jesus = our purpose. Jesus sets us free, and gives us the faith we need to live: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

You know what’s also interesting? In studying the scriptures of who Jesus is, I see my own purpose written… Life. Giver of living bread/food (chef). Faithful. Author. Joy-filled.

I always find my purpose when I look to Jesus. Because Jesus IS my purpose.

What’s your purpose? I dare to say you’ll find it in Jesus.

Let’s Be Honest…About Goals

Where are you going?

In a world still full of travel restrictions, fear, mandates, and opinionated hypocrites, this question might seem a bit taboo. Many of us aren’t going anywhere. And if we do go somewhere, we might try to hide our whereabouts. No need to upset family and friends, or a job that’ll make us quarantine.

But where doesn’t have to be a new state or country. Where can be as localized or foreign as we desire. Where can be a state of mind.

But we need to go somewhere.

Do you wake up with a jump in your step, or do you curl into a ball under the covers? Be honest. Okay, I’ll go first: my bed is the comfiest mountain of soft pillows and billowing warm blankets. A black hole would be less magnetizing. It hurts to leave it every morning to take Riker to school. I want to forget my responsibilities, my worries, anxieties, and just stop adulting for as long as my covers will hold me.

It’s hard being positive 100% of the time. It’s difficult facing people, even when you’re an extrovert. It’s a struggle to take a step when the path is invisible. And it’s totally okay to admit that!!

I knew I wanted to write about goals this month. To beautifully ask what motivates us, and how our daily dreams bring brighter futures. How Christ set us free to be free, and not to be in bondage by condemnation any longer. How goals help us to spring out of bed with renewed strength. But, honestly, let’s just keep on being real here: how can I write about something I’m struggling with myself??

I’ve talked for years about my love of writing. How I dream of being a best selling author with book tours, tv/movie deals, and entering a book store to see my novels on the NY best seller shelves. I have several manuscripts that I’ve either finished or am starting to write (you can see my growing list in Upcoming Books). But, as you can see, half of this list are manuscripts that have been “shelved” until further notice.

The two shelved picture books might never see the light of day, to be honest. I love the stories and illustrations I created, but my style of writing tends to lean more mature than for children. I need to work on that if I want to pursue this genre, but honestly, I love writing for adults. So, I’m okay with these two being shelved. I LOVE the adult picture book I’m creating right now, and I like to think my illustration skills are improving with each picture. But, I still have so so many doubts. Test readers didn’t like my poetic style with my first two picture books, so why should I feel confident in this one? Do I dare let test readers tell me their thoughts so my hopes can be dashed again? This doubt in my talent haunts me.

If you follow my Facebook author page, or have met me via the Montrose Writers Conference in PA, then I KNOW you’ve heard me gush about my book The Judas Killer. The Judas Killer was my baby. My first finished book. The manuscript I toiled over for YEARS. It took me 3 years to finish it, and 3 more years to edit it through over a dozen rewrites. I had a bunch of literary agents interested, and such high hopes for my dreams coming true, but in the end I had 85 rejects. Yes, you read that right. 85.

I can’t get more honest than I’m being with you right now. I’ve never shared this number before. My first agent/publisher rejection came in March 2018. My last rejection came March 2020. And I decided The Judas Killer must die at last.

I love that story. I love the characters. But my writing has actually gotten better since then. So, I tell myself that writing The Judas Killer was like going through 6 years of literary college, and I move on.

The book I just finished is my new baby: Neutral Abyss. This book has had so many countless obstacles that I’ve lost track of its survivor story. I began writing Neutral Abyss in mid 2019. Writing was slow then because I was finishing up my job at Rock Solid Academy, we were getting ready to move here, and then I had that annoying cancer. Once we moved, I hit a beautiful stride despite having to home school, and finished the book in June 2020. Then I had 4 test readers quit on me before they even started reading. I had 2 quit after they started reading. I did have a few finish who loved it, but 1 of my readers spurred a political debate that sadly ended our friendship. I rewrote my first chapter 4 times. I rewrote my whole book twice.

Example of 1 rejection letter.

The good news: my latest readers LOVE it. It’s a strong story. It’s downright powerful. The characters are real. The message needs to be told. But, I can’t help but think about The Judas Killer and those 85 rejections.

Neutral Abyss is a dystopian time travel story about the love and struggles between a torn family. During the pandemic the need for “essential” jobs, the rise of hate crimes, and the separation growing in politics, sparked a question in my mind that I wanted to answer through this stoy: Is it worth sacrificing our art and individuality to create a peaceful society with no war, disease, or conflict?

But, I can’t seem to get any agent to read this book because I’m being told time travel is a “hard sell.” Cue the frustrated scream.

The rejections are building, and I’m struggling to be motivated enough to get out of bed.

There was a time in my life that I loved talking about myself. I freakin’ loved attention. Good and bad didn’t matter, as long as people noticed me. But this faded with experiences and age. I’ve been hurt over the years. Now, I rarely bring up my issues, my struggles, my thoughts. I don’t want to be a burden, and I don’t want to be hurt again. But it’s okay to be honest.

We ALL struggle. We ALL have issues. We’ve ALL been hurt in some way. We’ve ALL had rejection.

Sometimes when we only show our good sides, other people think they’re the only ones going through something. I’d be remissed to tell you all to “be positive” and “trust in God” if my own life was rainbows and roses.

I’ve been honest with you when it comes to my writing life. But, honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But that’s okay. I don’t need to share every bloody detail of my life for you to see a piece of me. An avalanche doesn’t solve a drought; a little rain will help the crops grow.

When our lives are drowning in rejections, failures, and comfy blankets, it’s okay to admit that we don’t know what to do. Yes, goals will get us out of bed. Yes, goals will give us ambition and motivation. Yes, goals help the world start to spin again. But, goals alone won’t solve our problems.

The first step is to stop being so bloody hard on ourselves! It’s OKAY to rest. It’s OKAY to cry. It’s OKAY to admit we can’t do things on our own. Gosh, just read Psalms and you can see for yourself how often David cried and asked God for help.

The second step is to go forward. It doesn’t matter if it’s a crawl, baby step, or lunge. Just go forward. Step out of bed. Open your Bible. Turn that computer on and try one more time. Step out your front door. Call that friend. Send another e-mail. Try again!

The third step is DON’T STOP. Especially if you fail again. Get back up. Cry again if you need to. Eat the triple chocolate fudge ice cream with a side of “HELP ME, LORD!” and try again.

I didn’t know if I’d get a blog post out this month. It was hard. It’s hard to be motivated when you don’t know where you’re going. It’s even harder when the opinionated hypocrites love telling you what to do. But I’m going to admit I can’t go on without the guidance of my Jesus, take a step, and try again.

And, I did it, honestly.

I’m going to end this post the same way I started. Where are you going? Because I can’t freakin’ wait to hear your success stories.

My latest illustration for my new picture book for adult creatives.
May you part the seas today with whatever you do and wherever you go!!

Breathing Life Into Art

In my artist’s mind, inspiration can come from literally anywhere. From dreams, to the swirl in my coffee, to a random conversation. If you catch me staring into space, chances are it’s because something just inspired a plot twist or new artwork. But my favorite inspirations always come when I’m reading scripture. This time was no different: I opened to Ezekiel 37, and an image appeared in my mind’s eye.

In Ezekiel 37, God transports the prophet Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones.

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” Ezekiel 37:1-6

Kind of creepy, right? Creepy like the painting that’s forming at the right of your screen. Andrew came home from work and viewed my painting in this early stage. As I asked what he thought, I could see the list of questions scrolling behind his eyes. He simply answered “oh, that’s nice. Kind of creepy.” Yeah, I’m not all joy and butterflies.

God doesn’t shy away from “creepy” situations either. He’s not scared of going into dark places. A graveyard with bones scattered every which way. Bleached white from the sun. Ripe for Halloween decorations.

I imagine a foggy mist circling around Ezekiel’s legs. Wind creaking the bare tree branches at the edge of the battlefield. The smell of bitter death singeing his nostril hairs. Hey, horror movies originated somewhere!

But then God spoke. He lay His mighty hand on Ezekiel and the prophet wasn’t afraid. Ezekiel never quaked, shivered, puked from the smell, or ran away like a bat out of hell. Instead, he walked “back and forth” and listened intently to what God had to say.

Man, I’d love to be that attentive. My mind would be imagining the skeletons grabbing at my ankles, pulling me down into hell. Or I’d imagine who these people used to be and why they never had a proper burial. “I’m sorry, God, what were you just telling me?”

But Ezekiel listened. Then He did what God commanded: he spoke to the bones.

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”

10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. Ezekiel 37:7-10

Beyond the incredible imagery, this passage invokes a deeper message.

Words. Words are such powerful weapons.

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. Proverbs 18:21

Death and life. Ezekiel saw both. I think we all have seen both in one form or another. I’ve talked before about hope and joy bringing life into our situations. I’ve also discussed how fear can bring disaster.

There have been many, many times I wish I could take back the words I’ve spoken. A simple sentence ending a friendship. A mixed-up line relaying a message I never intended. A shout in anger. Or even words I never said but should have.

Can you relate?

How about harsh words spoken over ourselves? I’ve called myself a loser, unwanted, not excepted, ugly, fat, disgusting…you get the idea.

If there’s anything to be attained through Ezekiel 37, it’s that words really are POWERFUL.

God could’ve brought life to the bones on His own. He could’ve said “watch this, Ezekiel” as He breathed life.

God also loves a good parable. He could’ve just TOLD Ezekiel the message in story-form. “There once was a vast army brought down by a mighty kingdom. The army lay waste in a dark valley where vulchers picked the bones clean. A man came wielding the power of the almighty God, and he spoke life into the bones. Just as I will bring the people of Israel out of their graves and into Jerusalem once again.” Simple as that. Done and done. Point across.

But, nope. God always has a bigger picture in mind. He doesn’t do a SINGLE THING in vain. This wasn’t just a message to Israel about how they’ll live again. It’s a message about the power of our words. – As well as other messages, I’m sure. – Because the word of God is living, breathing, and ever speaking.

God only commanded two things in this text “Prophesy to these bones and say to them…” Prophesy and say.

The definition of prophesy is to “say that (a specified thing) will happen in the future.”

The definition of say is to “utter words so as to convey information, an opinion, a feeling or intention, or an instruction.”

To sum this up, God commanded Ezekiel to utter words that would instruct something to happen in the future. Then He said the words.

All through scripture, we see God telling us to speak, to hold our tongues, and instructing us how to use words.

God told Moses: “speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I speak to you.”

God told Jeremiah: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak.”

Jesus told His disciples: “For it is not you who speaks, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

As a result of these revelations, I’ve been watching what I say more and more lately.

I’ve never been a big talker. And since I’m an avid reader I have what’s called “reader’s dialect” where I say words differently in my head than speech. I get embarrassed quite often by how I mispronounce words. I’m not the best listener either because my mind loves to wander. But I do love to observe. My mind is a wonderland. A muscle that gets overused quite a bit. And I’m attempting to steer this muscle to mull over words before they exit my tongue. It’s quite a learning curve, to put it mildly.

Speaking what God wants us to say comes with a combination of listening and actions. I need to sit still long enough to listen. And not be distracted by the field of bones, or the mist blinding my vision. Then I need to act by saying the words, and saying them with authority over the situation. Because these words “instruct what will happen in the future.” Giving power to faith, righteousness, hope, and LIFE. Rather than death and fear.

Read Ezekiel 37 again. God told Ezekiel EVERYTHING. He gave him the exact words with His instructions, and then went on to even tell him what He meant. All God asks is for us is to agree, then act. Have faith! Don’t listen to any other voice besides God. And we agree with Him by saying the exact words God says.

Our faith becomes effective when we know who we are in Christ. Each bone in that field was created in God’s image. Each person. EVERYONE. Yes, even you are beautiful. Blessed. ALIVE in Christ. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

And, like Ezekiel, we have authority to speak life into the people around us. Like I hopefully am doing to you, dear reader. You are so loved. You are so beautiful. You are God’s chosen. Chosen to do mighty mighty things. Jesus said that His people would do greater things than He did while on Earth. Believe that. You are His masterpiece. Let Him breath life into your tired bones.

And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them. Ephesians 4:29

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and the evolution of my painting. Like most of my paintings and writings, the end result was similar yet worlds different than my initial vision. Just like our lives often are.

I struggled with the clouds and the grass, trying to manipulate the paint to my will. I used different tools, brushes, paints, and techniques. I layered and layered. And as I neared the finish line, I realized that each layer added a definition to this work. Each supposed mess up created depth. If I’d quit, then I never would have come to this final result. And I wouldn’t be sharing this now with you all. There’s lessons to be learned everywhere. Even at the end of a paint brush.

Be encouraged, and live your life to the fullest! Until next time, look for the art in life. 🙂

Art Parallels Faith

Let me start by saying this blog post will be a little different. It’s meatier than my usual inspirational messages. It’s a challenge. A thesis if you will. A call to action. And an algorithm of our souls. It stems from the language of a faith-filled artist. And I hope my words make sense as I relay the pictures in my mind.

Art imitates life and sometimes life imitates art. I tackle a painting like I’m embarking on an adventure, because art helps me to appreciate the adventure in life. I never see it as a coincidence when something God created mirrors itself.

I hit creative slumps quite often. One week I’ll be flowing with ideas with three paintings, four chapters, and two new character arcs. One sleepless week later, I wake up to dishes and laundry piled as high as the Alps. Then I’ll have weeks where everything I do is a struggle: no art, no new chapters, and deleting last week’s characters.

These are the weeks where I need to get back to the fundamentals of survival. The basics of life that help us remember our foundations. To not over-complicate our lives, but remember why we do what we do. The basics of who we are in Christ, and why we create/live/breathe in the first place. For an artist, this means remembering the fundamentals of art so we can be inspired once more to create. For a Christian, this means to remember His word. Because when we read His word with faith, it’s actually quite simple.

As an artist, our basic are the 7 elements to any artwork: 1. Line 2. Shape 3. Color 4. Space 5. Value 6. Texture 7. Form

Every great piece of art has all 7 elements. It’s a common language every artist knows by heart. Art can’t be created without at least a few elements. No elements equals no art.

And every healthy believer in Christ has 7 elements of faith. Every believer can’t thrive unless they have a few of these elements. No elements of faith equals no life. It’s a common language we know in our hearts. Here, let me show you how you can remember to get back to the basics…

  1. Line = Forget

In art, it’s the marks and signs necessary in design. Thick or thin, line helps form structure, create a drawing, and it’s the most basic component of a picture. A point moving in space. This can be two or three-dimensional, descriptive, implied, or abstract.

A line connects two points, but you NEVER connect to the beginning. You move on. Whether it’s dashes where you stop and start anew each day, or flow in one smooth motion, the important part is to look to the next point. A line can’t be created by looking back at our history, but plunging forward to our destiny. Only when we forget our hurts, tragedies, and past condemnations, can we fully grasp the finish line. The line drawn in the sand. Will we cross it by forgetting what lies behind? “Forgetting what lies behind, and straining for what lies ahead.” (Philippians 3:13)

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2. Shape = Forgive

Shape cannot exist without the other basic elements of art. It’s also in charge of creating the subject matter, whether in figurative or abstract art. It can emulate any of the outlines found in nature. A shape always connects back to itself.

There’s no moving forward without forgiving. Forgiving a loved one, a friend, a stranger, and ourselves. No matter who it is, it’s impossible to connect with others if we don’t forgive. Just like a two-dimensional shape, forgiveness has two attributes: forgive others, and “your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)

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3. Color = Pray

Without color, there would be no art. Color sets the atmosphere in a painting, it describes emotions best, while styles such as Impressionism are based almost solely on color. Color is the reflection of light. Color hues come in a scale, but there are three basic colors – blue, red and yellow. When mixed, these three colors produce all other nuances of the spectrum.

Prayer is the brilliance of THE word manifested. We can enter into the throne of heaven. The vibrance of heaven isn’t black and white, but a spectrum of colors depicting joy to the fullest.

Color has 3 characteristics: 1. Hue: name of color 2. Value: hue’s lightness and darkness 3. Intensity: quality of brightness and purity. Or, how about I put this a different way… 1. Hue = The type of prayer (salvation/healing/wisdom) 2. Value = Power/sincerity/motivation 3. Intensity = Our belief put into action

4. Space = Believe

An area where positive and negative areas are defined or a sense of depth. Space is an area an artist provides for a particular purpose. It refers to the distances or area(s) around, between, and within things. There are two kinds of space: “Negative space” is the area in between, around, through or within an object. “Positive spaces” are the areas that are occupied by an object and/or form.

Whether negative or positive, this emptiness causes us to use a degree of belief. We believe God will come through because of what He says through His word. Through our prayer. And through the space in between our answered promises. “All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” (Mark 11:24)

5. Value = Worship

The lightness or darkness of tones or colors where white is the lightest value and black is the darkest.

I just touched on value in the color element, but let’s expand on it. Value is more than power, sincerity, motivation, and the amount of light and dark, it’s worship in its rawest form. Some people don’t understand the true value of worship, and it can kill us as believers just as it causes a picture to remain flat and lifeless. Even if it’s one syllable, one stroke of light, one note, or a single shade, it showcases the amount of light or darkness in our lives. When we worship, we determine its value. I’m not saying entertainment. Not a show of lights. But praise in its most sincere form. Power. Sincerity. Motivation. And praise.

6. Texture = Give

The way things feel or look as if they could be touched. Texture provides richness and natural characteristic to the artwork. It’s achieved by combining other basic elements of art.

Giving isn’t about what we have. We don’t give simply because we have an over-abundance of stuff. We give because it comes from a heart of love. A heart full because it includes all the other elements of faith. We’re open to not just give money, but of ourselves, actions, time, and our spiritual gifts. As we give, we need to be mindful of the texture we give off. We don’t give because we feel fear or condemnation. But we give because we feel love. God’s love.

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

7. Form/Depth = Witness

The most prevalent of the art elements is form. These are three-dimensional elements that enclose volume. And they include height, width, and depth. For example a cube, a sphere, a pyramid, or a cylinder. In some paintings, you can see that these forms are free flowing.

Free flowing. YES! This is the element I personally struggle with the most. But if we embrace all of the other elements, form takes shape. Form is a 3D effect of sharing our faith with others. Showing and telling the good things God has done for us. Showing the depth of our faith.

I’m often tongue-tied and struggle with forming the right words when I talk in-person. One of my biggest quirks is miss-speaking the wrong phrase or word. I love talking, but it’s not my strongest feature. Writing is. And I use my writing to witness. I’m using it now.

God gave me these art/faith element parallels today in church. These basics are as much for me as they might be for you. An algorithm is a language we all can relate to. An element of speech. It helps us remember. Helps us to grow. And helps us connect to each other. I hope this algorithm connects to you. And blesses you today.

Remember the fundamentals. Create art with your life. And use these faith elements to change the world!

A Superseding Hope

I warm my tired hands on the sides of the mug, and inhale the coffee aroma hugging my face. I take a sip, stare at my blank computer screen in the morning light, and hope today brings success instead of rejection letters.

Hope. Some days it feels like hope is all we have left. It’s a word we take for granted. “Hope you have a good day!” the cashier says. “Hope you feel better,” we tell a sick friend. We honestly hope these things happen. Who wouldn’t want a good day or a loved one to feel better? (Assuming you don’t exist in a mystery novel where you hope a loved one dies so you can inherit their great wealth. That’s a different kind of hope. But I digress.)

Hope springs when we dream big. Bigger than our circumstances. We hope our children grow up to be better than us, our marriage lasts, and the sun breaks through the storm clouds.

When I searched for quotes about hope, I found a surprising fact. There are over a dozen hopeful quotes from a man I didn’t expect: Christopher Reeve.

If you’re not familiar with this name, let me give you a brief bio: Christopher Reeve was an actor who played Superman/Clark Kent in the first blockbuster Superman movie in 1978. He played this role in proceeding movies and starred in other famous films such as “Somewhere In Time.” Sadly, Reeve fell off his horse in 1995 during a race and became paralyzed from the neck down. He would no longer be able to walk, move his hands, hold his children, or do anything by himself. But he never lost hope.

Despite being paralyzed, Reeve became a better husband and father than he was before. He continued to act, and started a foundation with his wife to help other paralyzed people. He’s quoted to say although he doesn’t believe in the Lord, he tries to live as if God is real. He HOPED God existed, though he was taught otherwise. Just like he hoped to regain feeling in his limbs again.

The Bible says “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” In other words, when the thing we hope for gets postponed/delayed/canceled, it sickens us worse than if we never hoped at all. Hope is a risk. It’s probably why so many choose to wallow in current situations. We push that hope aside, laugh, and say “yeah, maybe one day.” We build walls around ourselves, protecting us from our hopes crashing.

We hoped we’d get those amazing jobs, but get rejections instead. We settle for lower paying jobs, or even accept unemployment life. We hoped for a lasting relationship. But it breaks apart. When more fail, we resign to live alone. We hoped the lockdowns would end in April, June, November, after the vaccine, then we resign to call this the new normal.

We don’t start with a give-up attitude, but after enough rejections we choose to believe giving up is what we’re supposed to do. We tell ourselves we’re not actually failing; if we were meant to do it, we’d have succeeded long ago.

“Sometimes God closes a door.”

“God closed that door and will open a window.”

Neither statement is biblical. When God leads you somewhere, He NEVER goes back on His word. His promises are “Yes and Amen!”

When our hearts are sick, they don’t need to stay that way. The scripture I half-quoted earlier is from Proverbs 13:12, and finishes by saying “but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.”

For every story of failure, there’s a story of triumph. An author getting a contract on the one hundred and first try. A third marriage lasting twenty years.

Even though Christopher Reeve died at the young age of 52, at the time of his death he regained partial movement in his fingers and toes. He even said he could feel a pin prick anywhere on his body as well as differentiate hot and cold temperatures. I hope he found God in the end too.

Hope supersedes our circumstances. It doesn’t listen to our lack, but dreams about a bright future. It gives us a vision of our possible reality. Hope can make any of us feel like superman.

When I breathed out my hopes this morning, I said it as a prayer, and acted on it. I hope for a good day, then I have a good day. Regardless of my circumstances. It’s not living in denial or a fantasy world; it’s living a life of faithful hope.

I’ve received rejections brimming with “deferred hope” over thirty times in the last two months concerning my latest book. Email rejections from literary agents, well-meaning fellow writers saying my genre doesn’t sell, and a few depressed people telling me I should give up like they have. (Honestly, I’m not making that last one up. I’m saddened for those individuals.)

I also have many friends giving encouragement, hugs (yes, I still relish hugs!), and uplifting advice. I’m thankful for it all!

I’ve been dealing with a lot lately. Situations I don’t care to burden the rest of the world with. But I say this to assure you I’m not someone living a stress-free, prosperous, healthy, joyful, no-problems life. And yet…that’s also the exact life I’m living. Through God. Through faith. And through hope.

I could wake up full of pain, alone, broke, and no end in sight… nevertheless, I hope. We don’t know which day will bring success or breakthroughs. When this pandemic will finally cease. And I don’t know when my books will be published.

But we keep trying. Keep living. Keep hoping.

Living Blessed, even in 2020

It’s been one year. One whole blessed year. Like marriage or a child’s age, it feels like a lifetime and yesterday all at once.

On December 11th, 2019, I was being prepped for surgery. My surgeon prepared my mind and body for the worst. A 17 cm mass engulfed my left ovary, hemorrhaging my abdomen, and causing me to bleed at an alarming rate. Cancer. An egg sack tumor the size of a grapefruit. Forever altering my probability of having more children. And scarring my body.

You can read more about my experience in last December’s blog post here.

My Pennsylvania friends. I miss you all!

I’ve had ghost pains the last couple of days. A body’s memory is a funny thing. But it’s only fear playing tricks on us.

I had so many fears last year. Fear of dying with unfinished business. Fear of leaving my family. Fear of the darkness. And fearing my life would remain the same. I had so much stress too. I had the most anxiety I’ve ever had. But I also had hope. Hope for a bright future. Hope that all this darkness would soon be behind me. Hope that the cancer would never return. Hope that our move south would change everything. And hope that God had the BEST in store for us.

The next few days of 2019 were a whirlwind to say the least: mountains of moving obligations, visits with family on all sides, goodbye visits with friends, and bidding farewell to all of our Pennsylvania life. 3 days before Christmas we journeyed to our new state. 11 hours of driving with only 3 short stops because we were so excited to go to our new home in South Carolina. You can read more about our move here.

I took things easy in January and February since I was instructed to not lift anything for 6 weeks after my surgery. Yeah, that was an interesting move-in to say the least. lol My 6-inch scar took a while to heal, but it closed with time. I became strong enough to walk the 1/2 mile to Riker’s school each day to pick him up. I met several amazing new friends as we waited for our kids at what’s called “the back path.” We had play dates, ice cream gatherings, and excursions to the local parks. I enjoyed a stress-free life for the first time ever!

Then covid hit. And fear crept its ugly head back in.

After my surgery, I had 3 doctors tell me I should get chemo “just in case.” But all 3 agreed that my blood work showed the cancer was most likely gone. “But,” they said, “there’s an 80% chance the cancer could returning within the first year. After that it goes down drastically, but, don’t you want to be sure?”

I always want to be sure. I’m a planner. A scheduler. I say I like surprises, but honestly, I just want to know everything. So, sure, I wanted to KNOW the cancer was gone for good. But, something didn’t feel right with these doctors’ words. I heard God plain as day to NOT get the chemo. So, I said no. No to the chemo. All 3 times. Once in December. Once in February. And once in June.

When the first rumors of covid hit the media over the winter my immune system was strong. Sure, I’d just been through surgery, but I was eating healthy, no crippling radiation coursed through my body, and the southern sunshine does wonders for the spirit! In fact, in all of 2020 my little family and I weren’t sick once. Not even a sniffle. Until a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks to living in a state with few lockdown regulations, and our thriving immune systems, we actually ENJOYED this year. We’ve climbed mountains, splashed in waterfalls, traveled to neighboring states, vacationed on the beach, sailed on ships, saw dolphins, went to small parties, enjoyed neighbor’s campfires, kayaked a river, refinished my dining room set, held a birthday swim party for Riker, toured a vineyard, tried countless different foods for the first time, had friends over, went to friends’ homes, went out for girls’ nights, and joined my church band. I wrote a novel, a picture book, and a short Christmas play. Riker learned to swim, then competed in several swim-meets and won a couple! Riker played flag football and scored a few touchdowns. We lived despite 2020!!!!

Then for Thanksgiving we journeyed back to Pennsylvania to visit our families. We were so excited to see everyone, but had anxiety about passing over the forbidden Pennsylvania boarders. You see, PA just instated a travel ban asking all travelers to quarantine for 2 weeks once entering the state or have a negative covid test within the last 72 hours. We don’t trust a 40% accurate rushed covid test, so that option was out of the question. We were only going to visit for 4 days, so 2 weeks quarantine didn’t make any sense. We didn’t know if we’d be met with a string of checkpoints from police officers checking out-of-state plates. We didn’t know if we’d be turned in by a whistle-blower. But I felt strongly about going. We hadn’t seen some of our family members in a year, and I feared we wouldn’t get another chance to see them again for awhile. -There’s that fear again.-

We stressed for several days whether going would be the right decision. We agonized over it. I could feel my immune system compromising as anxiety raked my body. On our drive up, a sore throat formed. The soreness stayed for the entire trip, but that was my only symptom. It forced me to not eat as much junk at Thanksgiving at least, but I worried that I might be coming down with a cold soon. Sure enough, the day after we got home a cold hit me full-force. I was tired to my bones, no appetite, and zero energy. I was couch-ridden for almost 3 days. But I never got a fever, no cough, and no congestion. By the evening of the 3rd day I felt like myself again. And that was it. A whole year of health except for a 3 day cold. I think that’s pretty impressive for a cancer survivor. But I wonder if I wouldn’t have been so healthy in this crazy year if I had accepted chemo. Guess I’ll never know for sure.

Fear stems from the unknown. I didn’t know if the cancer would return during my first year. I didn’t know what would happen when we crossed over the PA boarder. We didn’t know if we’d have to battle covid.

Instead of fear coursing through my veins this Christmas season, I’m so extremely thankful. I’m thankful the cancer is gone. It didn’t return this year. And I’m believing in Jesus my healer that it’ll NEVER return. I’m thankful we never hit a single obstacle during our Pennsylvania trip. It truly was a wonderful time with family. I’m thankful the cold, or whatever sickness I had, was short-lived and didn’t stay in our house for long. I’m thankful that Jesus is Lord over all. It’s been a blessed year of living. I pray you all had a blessed year too. Despite the obstacles of 2020.

This year had its challenges too. I got a few more scars, several sleepless nights, battled some surges of depression, got numerous book rejections, and struggled to keep it together. My life isn’t all roses and sunshine. But like I’ve said many many times before: it’s about perspective.

Near-death experiences definitely give you perspective on life. But like children, marriage, and a year of living in a pandemic, it can pass by in a blink or feel like eternity. It depends how much you live. I pray you all take the time to live.

“It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.” ~ Galatians 2:20

Perspective Is 2020

Boo!
It’s 2020.
For most of the population, I can think of nothing scarier on this Halloween. I venture to guess there will be many costumes dedicated to something related to this insane year. Miss Corona. A Karen. Hazmat suites. Trump. Biden. A boozed mother. To name a few possibilities.

I, for one, am dedicating my costume today to my 6-0 Pittsburgh Steelers. (woohoo!!) But that’s besides the point.

Who would have though a number that means perfect vision would be a year of chaos, distortion, calamity, and division? F—2020 is the most popular new phrase to type or say. Most people have just given up. They expect the worst. I’m already seeing memes of what new disaster November will bring. From burning buses to alien invasion. There’s a meme going around depicting us being attacked by Christmas trees in December (although, I will admit to loving the Doctor Who reference).

I admit this year has been full of the unexpected in the worse way. Some have experienced this more than others.
Kind of like the past two days have been for South Carolina (and the rest of the southern states): the high winds of tropical storm Zeta past through early Thursday morning. We lost power. Some still had power. We thankfully have a gas water heater, so retained hot water. Some didn’t have water. Some lost trees. Some had trees fall on their house or car. Some actually had a tree fall on them. Some complained over not having internet. Some invited neighbors over for a hot cup of coffee and generated-power to charge dead phones.

A disaster affects us all differently and in different measures. But it still affects us all. It’s about perspective.

I can hear you now: “Here it comes. She’s going to just tell us to think positively AGAIN. Doesn’t Laura get sick of staying positive during the worst year on the face of this earth?!”
Short answer: no. I don’t tire of giving a positive spin when hope merely appears lost.

I’m an observer. It’s the writer in me, I guess. I’ve observed many negative leaning people during these bombarding events. They complain constantly. They’re afraid. They’re actually TERRIFIED.

I’m not talking about the people that’ve lost loved ones either. My immense love and prayers go out to each of you who have lost someone close to you. I’m not referring to you, because your strength is immeasurable.

I’m talking about the people that have no more to fear than what they hear on the news and concoct in their minds.
The mind is a scary scary place. I should know: I’ve created fictional serial killers & psychopaths in mine. Lol

Our minds can trick us into thinking a second shadow is there, when it’s not. Hype us into being afraid of a pain in our abdomen that could be cancer returning, when it’s only stress twisting our gut. Our mind can tell us a friend said something evil and hurtful with her tone, when she never meant anything with that innocent sentence. Our mind can wake us up with the thought “I wonder what disaster will happen to me today?” or “What joy can I bring out of this new day?”

I grew up hating Halloween. I know, I know. It’s a lot of people’s favorite holiday. But you have to understand that I wasn’t allowed to celebrate it. I never went trick or treating. I never dressed up as my favorite character. – Although, I did get to dress as Ruth in first grade. At the age of 13 my sister and I dressed up in anything exotic we had in our closets and danced around our house. When I was 15, I participated in my church’s “Judgement House,” which was fun in a sense. It’s an outreach program. I played a demon. I had fun scaring people. lol – But since my family didn’t eat chocolate and white sugar (long story), or celebrate because of religious reasons, the fun was lost to me. My husband was raised the same way (just add chocolate back into his life, hallelujah!).

As adults, we were continuing our parent’s tradition of not celebrating this holiday. Until I heard a message that twisted my mind into a new perspective. This article was written in 2014:

Actor Kirk Cameron is urging Christians to celebrate a holiday many fundamentalists shun: Halloween.

“Early on, Christians would dress up in costumes as the devil, ghosts, goblins and witches precisely to make the point that those things were defeated and overthrown by the resurrected Jesus Christ. The costumes poke fun at the fact that the devil and other evils were publicly humiliated by Christ at His resurrection.”
Cameron said the “real origins” of Halloween were related to All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve. According to anthropologists, the true origins of Halloween go back about 2,000 years to the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which celebrated the end of the harvest season. Ancient Celts believed the day marked the beginning of winter, a time of year when ghosts returned to earth to wreak havoc on their crops and possess the living. To combat this, the Celts would don animal heads and skins as part of their interaction with the spirit world. But Cameron claims Halloween is not about death, as often depicted these days, but about life, and he urges Christians to throw “the biggest party on your block” as a way to convert the masses. “Halloween gives you a great opportunity to show how Christians celebrate the day that death was defeated, and you can give them Gospel tracts and tell the story of how every ghost, goblin, witch and demon was trounced the day Jesus rose from the grave. Clearly no Christians ought to be glorifying death, because death was defeated, and that was the point of All Hallows Eve.”

Perspective.

I’m not scared of Halloween. I’m not letting the devil own a holiday like the old church used to believe. For the first time in my life, we’re going trick or treating today. I’m getting dressed up. Riker’s going full spider-man and gets to eat as much chocolate as his little self would like (within reason), and Andrew’s staying home to give out candy and Gospel tracks.

I’m not scared of 2020. Sure, it looks glum. Full or evil, darkness, and disaster. But I’m taking it back from the devil. He can’t have one single day, let alone a year. I’m choosing to have a new perspective.

I’m waking with a smile. I’m expecting blessings out of November. Not curses. There’s still time for this year to be the best yet. Oh yes, you heard me right. Two whole months. A lot can happen in two months. A pandemic could start. But healing can also take hold. Fires can be extinguished by a single rain storm. A year of poverty can become prosperity with a single job, sale, or gift. YOU have the power to turn this year around.

“And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because of what God had done for the people, for everything had been accomplished so quickly.” – 2 Chronicles 29:36

“Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.” – Matthew 15:28

So, what are you going to do with the next 2 months of your 2020? Are you going to see clearly? Or will you look through darkness? There’s a light at the end of this tunnel. God has great things in store, if we just choose to see it.

The Color-Filled Life

Art.

It’s in us, coursing through our veins and capillaries. It surrounds us in the very air we breathe, the words we say, and through our fingertips as we type. Our eyes suck it in without us even knowing it.

We’re all artists. Whether we choose to be or not. You’re an artist when you prepare a meal. Clean your house. Garden. Do your hair. Pick out an outfit. Type a social media post. Write a love note to a friend or spouse. Or give a simple smile.

You are a piece of art. A masterpiece in fact.

So, why is the world trying to squeeze all art from existence?

I’ve heard it in the news and witnessed it first hand the last several years. Schools cutting art programs. Artists labeled as “non-essential.” It was more prevalent in my previous states (NJ & PA) than my current residence (SC), but it’s no more heart-wrenching when I witness it.

I’ve taught students with massive art talents who’ve opted to pursue opposite fields because it’s more “profitable.” I, myself, have doubted my chosen art career because of the pennies (or non-existent pennies) I make. There’s a reason the term “starving artists” sticks. It’s all too difficult to make a living for too many of us.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Even though I’ve painted a dystopian world starving from color in my latest novel, it doesn’t mean our world is doomed to follow these footsteps. We’re not sentenced to a life thirsting for artists.

I meant what I typed earlier: we’re all artists. Whether we call ourselves one or not. We’re all responsible to bring the seven elements of art into the world around us.

When I taught art, I’d always start the year with breaking down the seven elements of art with my students. Kids ages 5 to 18 would learn the ins and outs of what makes art. Have you heard of these elements? The list pertains to art, but I believe they are also metaphors, analogies, and symbolism of life. I wonder what would happen if these elements described our lives…


Line: a one-dimensional path made by a point moving through space. It varies in width, direction, and motion.

Lines are nothing without motion. Motion isn’t able to be shown without line. They meld together like a series of curved lines shows someone is shouting in a silent cartoon. Our lives are a series of lines. A series of conversations, marathons, events, and taking one step, one word, at a time. When we cease to talk or walk, our lives become void of movement.

Shape: a closed two-dimensional area. Length and height.

When lines close, they become shapes. They having meaning. When we finish our goals, embrace our dreams, marry that person, have that baby, take the job, call a friend, we’re making our motions matter. Finishing chapters. Resolving issues. Bringing another dimension to our world. Motion in a race is hard without goals and checkpoints. A relationship dissolves without commitment. Shapes give us purpose.

Form: an enclosed three-dimensional area. Length, height, and width.

Width is another word for depth. Strength. Intelligence. Discernment. Why are we running this race? Why does your job matter? Why are you choosing to live this dream over someone else’s? If shapes are your goals, form is what gives them a reason for existing.

Space: the area between and around objects. Positive, negative, or three-dimensional.

Space shows the depth between objects. It shows us if something is up, down, far or near. It shows us how close we really are. Are we six feet apart, or hugging a friend? Without space, we won’t know if we’re alone or together. No one should have to face life alone. And no one is meant to.

Texture: the surface quality of an object. Both how they actually feel or how they appear to feel.

Touch. It sends electric shocks through our fingertips. When we hold hands, we know warmth, love, hate, kindness, and gentleness in a single second. Touch is being lost in our present state. We can only guess how something appears to feel. But without physically touching something we lose a key aspect in understanding the people around us.

Value: the amount of light or darkness.

Light and darkness. Good and evil. When we do good, our light shows through our faces. Joy emits off of us like we are the sun itself. It’s the smile I referenced earlier. The thing we’ve been covering up with masks. We’re forced to give the Tiara Banks “smize,” but with poor results. In art, light is shown through strokes of shade. It’s through darkness we know where the light comes from. Don’t let life’s dark moments bring you into despair, because it’s during these times that we can follow the direction to the source. Jesus.

Color: the hue, value, and intensity of how light reflects off a surface.

Color. It’s the element that brings vibrants to all the other aspects. Without color, there’s no depth. Without color, there’s no obvious light source. Without color, there’s no joy. No love. No emotion. Each color brings it’s own feelings. The primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) invoke the strongest emotions. Red = love or hate. Blue = peace or sadness. Yellow = joy or disgusts.

Our world has been trying to remove the colors. We’re not allowed to discuss a person’s skin color. Our God-given hue. When we put white through a prism, it turns to a rainbow of colors. When we mix every color on the spectrum, it creates a brown almost black creation. Every color is black. Every color is white. Both are mesmerizingly beautiful. But without these variants our lives are stripped of meaning.

Without color, all of what I say becomes empty words. Imagine this post without pictures. Imagine our homes without photos or paintings on the walls. Imagine a world where every person looks exactly the same.

Imagine an existence without motion, goals/dreams, achievements, depth, touch, values, or emotion? Don’t let society dictate what’s essential. You’re essential. Never stop creating art with your life.

Never stop living.

This, in a nutshell, is the mission statement for a new career endeavor I’m creating. My life has always been consumed in creating art – Chef for 11 years with my own catering business, art & theater teacher for 3 years, writer (with no income YET) part-time for 5 years & full time this last year. I love creating. I was born to create. Through food, words, and canvas. As I strive to be a successfully published author, God’s been laying on my heart to create an art business as well. My goal is to bring the joy of color into people’s homes. Your home. I’ve never sold my art pieces before, but that’s soon going to change.

You’ll be getting updates from me soon. In the meantime, never stop creating. Never stop breathing art. Never stop living a color-filled life!


A Joy-Filled Pandemic

“How are you fairing during these trying times?” seems to have replaced the usual “How are you?”

I learned this month that 1 in 4 young adults have considered suicide this year. Depression rose 102% since February. Wow. I can’t say I’m completely surprised, but still… That’s quiet a number.

With all of this in mind, I’m going to be vulnerable with ya’ll right now. I’ve dealt with depression most of my life, and even considered suicide a few times. I’ve submitted to the doldrums of loathing myself, self-pity, not being able to get out of bed/couch for days, eating my sorrows, drenching pillows/blankets/clothes/etc. in tears, making myself sick, and consuming myself with a negative spirit.

That might or might not surprise some of you.

It’s a horrible place to be, and I’d return there too many times to count. It started when I was 14 years old. I believed I was fat (when I wasn’t), no one loved me (when they did), and I was worthless (when I was). Ages 18, 21, and a few other years were my lowest points. All these times had common denominators: I was stuck at home, very little social life, couldn’t see a future past that day, and I concentrated on what I didn’t have. Does this sound familiar to societies present situation? I think so.

Most people in our country, and world, are stuck at home, away from friends and family, unable to perform their God-given talents, and stuck in a routine they didn’t ask for. The refrigerator is always in sight. Kids are never amused. The couch is our only friend. But, it doesn’t HAVE to be this way.

“You’re crazy!” you might have said aloud. “I don’t have a choice. The governor/mayor has put us on lock down. Everything is closed. I have nothing to live for until a cure is found!”

It might anger you then to find out I just got back from a romantic anniversary vacation with my husband to the beach. It was absolutely beautiful. Five days and four nights exploring and enjoying Hilton Head Island and Savannah. Masks and no masks. Laughing, enjoying the sunshine, and not one ounce of depression. In fact, I haven’t had one suicidal thought or extreme depression this whole year. To top it off, I haven’t been staying home more than normal (being a writer, I tend to be home about 80% of the time to write anyway), we’ve had friends over, been out, gone to church, ate at restaurants, and hugged countless people. We’re actually living a more joy-filled life than ever before!

Huh. You might be fuming. You might be about to message me to tell me how irresponsible I am. I could have caught something or spread something. How could I leave my son with my parents, during the first week of school no less. It’s a pandemic: we should be at home!!

Why?

Oh, I just made you extremely mad with that question, I know it. I can see the smoke exiting your ears from here. But, what if I told you that you too could be happy? You too could experience the freedom I’m enjoying?

Being set free from depression has been a process. A process that took years, and then I was delivered all at once. I have down days like everyone, sure, but the difference is I don’t stay down. I’m actually excited about life. I’m excited about tomorrow. Pandemic or no pandemic. Trump or Biden. Lock down or freedom. Fat or thin. Friends or no friends. Rich or poor. Sick or healthy.

Because it’s not about our outward circumstances. The secret is knowing our worth in Jesus. When we TRULY understand this, then the outside situations won’t matter. But, they do actually get better.

I understand God wants the complete best for us. He wants us to be blessed. To prosper. I don’t desire a fantasy world, mind you, I desire what God wants for me. Which is everything we could possibly need.

Think about the book of Exodus. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Stuck in a perpetual existence of payless work, constant misery, and a dim future. Then Moses comes to deliver them, but their king (Pharaoh) won’t give them up. God has to send 10 horrible plagues to torment everyone. But wait, these bugs, pests, diseases, and weather conditions never effected God’s people. They were protected. Untouched by harm.

When we realize our blessings, there’s no room in our life for depression, anxiety, and a world-wide pandemic. We can actually enjoy our God-given lives.

I’m not talking about the feel-good how-to-book “count your blessings.” Gosh, you’ve probably heard that a million times. I know I have. I’m talking about REALIZING your blessings.

“Do you mean my family, what money I have, my job, a roof over my head, my friends, my car, food on the table, etc.”

No.

Although it’s wonderful to remember all we have instead of all we lack, I’m not talking about things. I’m talking about us. I’m talking about YOU. Your immense worth. Your talents. Your voice. Your mission in life. Your dreams. Your personality. Your smile (or your smize – smiling eyes – when wearing a mask). What makes you YOU. What you add to the human race. What you add to your family. But, most importantly, what God sees in you.

Depression is a scary and ugly thing. It stems from low self-esteem. Whether from a lack of something internally or externally. But it’s a disease. A disease that affects our minds and can morph into our bodies if we let it fester. And like any disease, it can be healed.

I read a Christian book recently that I hated the more I thought about it. I won’t say the title or the author’s name out of respect. The book was well written, the characters had beautiful arcs, and the story was moderately compelling. But the central message was dead wrong. The main character suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. She’d attempted to kill herself a few times in her past after losing her spouse. This part was realistic and moving. During the course of the book a new romance blossoms. But she buries her secrets of depression and suicide until they come out in a nasty way. When her secrets are revealed, she believes the man will run away. When he doesn’t, she’s flabbergasted. He loves her no matter what. Then she says a line that I believe wrong to my bone marrow: my depression is a part of me and will be until the day I die; can you live with this part of me? Wow. Talk about depressing. I thought for sure the author would redeem themselves, but the story is left there. This character will always have recurring depression and suicidal thoughts the rest of her life, no matter how good her life may get.

That is NOT what God wants from us. When Jesus died on the cross, He took on all or our sins, diseases, and pain. He doesn’t promise us a perfect life, but He does promise to always lead us into triumph (2 Corinthians 2:14), He will perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish us (1 Peter 5), keep us from stumbling, and instead make us stand before Him with ecstatic delight and endless joy (Jude 1:24).

When I know my worth, I’m happy when other’s are happy. I’m not jealous of what they have, but rejoice that they are relishing in a blessing I too can have. We are ALL worth abundance THROUGH CHRIST. That’s the important thing: our worth is in Christ Jesus.

When we realize that God truly loves us. Loves you. Loves me. Made us special. Made us to have endless joy. Made us to make a difference. TO LIVE! To experience life. To love. There’s no room for depression when we know our worth.

You Wouldn’t Understand

Sometimes I feel the need to take a break from the novel writing and fiction work to express my thoughts through verse. That’s when a poem usually takes center-stage. And I blog on a day I wouldn’t usually be on here.

This is a hard time for even the most positive among us, and that includes me. I’m struggling today. And that’s never an easy thing for me to admit. But our worst days are sometimes better than someone’s best days. It’s hard to comprehend what another person is thinking, feeling, and experiencing. We live in a divided country. A divided world. And often times, divided families. I wonder what would happen if we realize our differences can bring us closer? We’re all hurting in one way or other. We don’t need to experience this alone. We don’t need to be divided as we cower in our homes or trample city streets. If we just communicate, love, and embrace, maybe we can become understood. Please enjoy the poem I wrote today on this topic, and let me know your own thoughts on this subject.

You Wouldn’t Understand by Laura Gibson Kudey

One look at me, and people flee

Not physically, but mentally

I see it in their posture

A disgust all their own

But you wouldn’t understand

Childless and barren

I’ve been told to procreate

You say motherhood completes me

While I cuddle in the darkness

But you wouldn’t understand

My children are wailing

Tearing and pulling my arms

I’m too tired to explain

Yet you gawk at me all the same

But you wouldn’t understand.

The rooms are all vacant

My nest is abandoned

No one calls or writes

I’m ashamed of my own fate

But you wouldn’t understand

I’m lavished in green

Hung by lipstick and Prada

A shell of the hollow man

Called red instead of blue

But you wouldn’t understand

I’ve lived and breathed war

Nightmares and camouflage

Protests and blue zones

A savior to the rest

But you wouldn’t understand

Black, white, red, and blue,

Rich, poor, and in-between

Lonely, crowded, found, and forgotten

Each bleeding the same

But you wouldn’t understand

Consumed in your bubbles

Your life so different, not better

No one comprehends

Which life, which color, must matter

But you wouldn’t understand.

Finishing The Long Game

I achieved something enormous this month: I finished the first draft of my novel! It’s a huge achievement to finish something. Anything. Most of us get a brilliant release of endorphins when we finish an event or great conquest. I know I do. When I complete a project it’s like rising out of the smog and entering cloud 9. Then I crash on the couch because, let’s face it, finishing is a lot of work. That last mile of the race is the hardest point of all. Heck, I think the last several miles are the hardest.

In writing a story there’s an event called the “muddy middle.” Otherwise know as the murky middle, the sagging middle, and the nebulous place. It’s not a fun place to be in, but it’s necessary.

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In the beginning of our lives, events, jobs, friendships, and challenges, everything has that fresh new smell. There’s excitement, adventure, maybe a bit of fear, and a whole lot of unknown. Our bodies are refreshed, motivated, and ready to take on the challenge. We’re excited about the prospects of what could be. When I came up with the idea for my newest novel, Neutral Abyss, on March 27th 2019, I plunged in with energetic gusto. No force could stop my beginning progress as I brimmed with ideas.

Then the middle hits. It’s the time we sputter. A mid-life crisis where we try to reinvent ourselves. We doubt our worth. It’s the middle of a pandemic or race-war where we don’t know which side is right or how to proceed. All roads lead to an event, but which should we take?

In case you didn’t read my opening sentence thoroughly, I’ll say it again: I finished my first draft. The story might be done, but I’m still in the beginning stages. I have a long road ahead of me. Stephen King, and other accomplished authors, recommend to let your manuscript lay dormant for at least 6 weeks before you tackle edits. Why 6 weeks? Well, the goal is to forget the details of your work so you can freely see any flaws. When we breathe, rest, and occupy our mind in other work, we can return to our projects and see their needs/wants/desires. When we immerse ourselves in the media, news stories, propaganda, and fleeting emotions, we can lose sight of how to change the situations we’re in.

Once time has passed, the editing begins. If I’ve done my beginning job well (and I think I have), this time won’t take too long. Maybe a few weeks. Then I give my manuscript to a few chosen trusted readers. I wait for their verdict. When they’re done, I’ll analyze their thoughts, and decide what changes are worth making. I can then choose to give my manuscript to more readers and make more edits, or rest assure my book is perfect. But I’m not done yet.

Life is full of choices. Some think the beginning is the hardest obstacle: deciding which story to tell. They would be right for certain cases. Too few are brave enough to take those initial steps. Even fewer make it out of the murky middle.

When a book is polished and ready to be published, there’s an enormous decision to make. Self publish or traditionally publish? Most writers dream about the latter. It’s a tough, long, yet rewarding road. But few make it to that finish line. Some opt for self publish from the start, others self publish as a cop-out.

Self publishing is not cheap. It’s hard and easy at the same time. Easy because the books are guaranteed to be published within a year’s time. Hard because writers spend thousands on book design, editing, printing, marketing, etc., while these books rarely (if ever) make it onto a bookstore shelf, but instead stay only online. It can be very rewarding for a tiny percentage of authors, but often times these books get lost in the crowd.

Traditionally published is a long, but often times rewarding road. Writers enter what’s called a literary agent’s “slush pile.” They craft an email (called a query) with info on their book, themselves, a few pages of their manuscript, and send this to as many literary agents as they desire. Then we wait. For months. Sometimes there’s rejection letters. Sometimes there’s no response. But If you’re work is good you’ll get requests for a full manuscript which could lead to a signed contract. Once a contract is signed, then the agent contacts publishers. If a publisher loves the book, a deal is agreed upon. The book goes through a series of edits, creative decisions, marketing strategies, etc. before FINALLY hitting the shelves and websites 1 – 2 years after the deal has been struck.

Only 1% of authors make it that far.

There are numerous avenues to give up along the way. You can tire at the first draft, editing stage, but most often times the query stage. This isn’t a career for the faint of heart. But neither are most stages of our lives.

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Crashing on the couch with my kitty.

We live in a world of uncertainty. Maneuvering through the slush-pile of media, news, fears, and multiple road choices. Quarantine/lock-down life appeared to be done, but now the rising covid cases are forcing restrictions once again. Riots continue on. And this year is only half over.

The odds might be stacked against us. The average number of rejections an author gets from literary agents range from 50 – 200. C.S. Lewis received 800 rejections!! It’s tempting to just give up, hide on the couch and eat cartons of chocolate ice cream. Escape to a tropical island and forget this falling world. Or waste our lives by venting on social media.

There’s an underlying theme in Neutral Abyss about not being bogged down by our past and present, but instead learning from them to change our future. It’s easy to get trapped in our hopeless present state. It’s just as easy to be overcome by how this country seems to be set on destroying our history. But how will dwelling in depression or anger on either circumstance bring us to a winning future?

Our country and society are stuck in a muddy middle. We hate rejection and opposition, so we’re consumed in a circle of fighting. The media says we’re living in “unprecedented times,” but all the events in 2020 have happened before: Civil War, Spanish Flu, Great Depression, Civil Rights Movement, Watergate, etc. to name a few extreme events. All of these circumstances in history came before changing tides. Stories that needed to come to completion before new ones could begin.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Don’t give up before you see the finish line.

My son, Riker, also accomplished something significant this month. His nearly 7-years of life has been an up and down battle with water. He was birthed in water. Took his first breath while laying on my chest, immersed in a warm water tub. He hated baths from the start. We took him to the beach as a toddler and he screamed the entire time. At 3 he loved playing in the sink, and finally enjoyed his baths. We took him to the beach again, and this time he played in the shallow waves. Ever cautious to not venture where the water touched his knees. He loved pools as he got older – as long as mama and dada were ever near to hang onto. We’d encourage him to swim, but he insisted on clinging to the side of the pool or our embrace. He’d venture to be brave, but took steps back when friends would splash or be too rough.

This year, I enrolled him in our community’s swim team. He was afraid. Cried on the first day. We encouraged him to try. To take the plunge. The coaches guided him every step of the way. He clung to them with death-grips.

And he paddled through the muddy middle. He didn’t give up. When we went to the pool for fun, I started to notice a change. Instead of playing on the edges or steps, he ventured toward the middle. He said he “was practicing.”

Then, one day I heard him tell a coach “I want to swim by myself.” I watched with pride as he kicked and glided past the middle and to the edge. We erupted in applause.

This weekend was the swim team’s first swim meet. Kids swam in various challenges to win ribbons and show off their skills. Riker swam. He SWAM. And he finished each event. He even took a first and second place win!

To me, finishing means to be successfully published. Traditionally published. To walk into a bookstore and see my novels on the bestseller shelves. To go on book tours, signing events, and continue writing multiple stories. That is my finish line, and I refuse to stop in this muddy middle.

What would have happened if we let Riker give up a few weeks ago when he complained about being in the water? He would never learn how to swim.

What would happen if I had stopped writing in the middle? My story would never be finished.

What would happen if I stop querying due to rejections? My books will never be published.

What would happen if we all finish what we set out to do? We’ll never know the end result until we FINISH.

Risk vs Fear

There’s an image I can’t shake from my mind’s eye. It happened last Friday. My husband, son, and I were having a fun evening of shopping. Life felt almost normal. We were shopping at a local grocery store where there were no floor signs directing traffic, no one yelling that we were going the wrong way down an aisle, no mandatory mask signs, the shelves were full, and we even found toilet paper. We were feeling downright giddy, and laughing as we decided today would be a good day to splurge on some ice cream. We rounded the bend of the frozen section, still laughing at a random joke, and I stopped cold.

“Sorry, sir.” I said with a nervous chuckle as we stopped short of crashing into an older man pushing his own cart.

But he’s not moving. Not matching our smiles. And not tearing his stare from us. His eyes are wide. His knuckles are white from his grip on the cart. They match the pale color of his face mask.

I nervous chuckle again, and try to continue around him. But my heart immediately turns. I can’t shake the image of his eyes. They’re engorged with fear. And suddenly this pandemic is far from over.

It’s amazing how lightening fast fear can creep under our skin. It seems to take forever to get over our fears; years of therapy, countless days in prayer, volumes of books on positive thinking, long-term relationships to prove we can trust, etc. etc. etc. But it only takes a single incident to bring it all crashing back. At least, it seems that way.

I probably looked just as horror-stricken when I had to shop for necessities in the middle and end of March. I sanitized EVERYTHING, made sure Riker stayed at home with Andrew, and hid in my house 99% of the time. Will we be the next victims of this disease? What if we got it? What if this is the new normal? What if we die?? Fear is all-consuming when you give in to its grasp.

Enjoying the pools opening in South Carolina!

Today, our state is one of the minority that have mainly resumed business life. Our restaurants are open to 50% capacity, salons/barber shops/gyms/museums/parks/pools etc. are all slowly opening, and only a small percentage wear masks. Yet, people all over are saying, and I quote: “Just stay home.” “It’s not safe out there.” “It’s time to live in the future and worry about what’s ahead because there will be more deaths.”

I’m not saying these people aren’t right. There’s death and disease all around us. We risk calamity the minute we walk out of our front door.

But there’s also risks inside out own homes. Suicide, abuse, and diseases are in our very homes. So where is it actually safe?!?!?!

The answer: nowhere on this earth.

Have I depressed you yet?

But that’s reality. Nowhere is safe. Nowhere is without risk. There is nowhere that can guaranty you will not die or succumb to an accident.

But when did the risk of falling stop a rock-climber from reaching the top? When did the fear of getting burned stop a chef from flambeing a dish? When did the fear of a car accident stop a NASCAR driver from racing? When did the fear of concussion stop a Quarterback from playing in the Superbowl? When did the fear of contacting a disease stop a nurse from tirelessly entering a hospital everyday? When did fear stop the human race from living?!?!

Many of my readers and friends know that I’ve been through my fair share of near-death experiences. Read part of my story here: Forever Blessed – No Matter What! Last Christmas I had the tumor the size of a grapefruit removed, along with one of my ovaries. The internal bleeding led to me loosing 2 pints of blood during the emergency surgery. It was a scary time. If anyone had a reason to be scared, it was me. If anyone has a reason to continue to be scared: also me. The doctor told me there was an 85% chance of it coming back within the first several months after my surgery due to the internal bleeding.

I lived through January, February, and March, with a false brave-face. Inside I was shuttering. Praying the least little pain or discomfort I felt in my abdomen wasn’t the cancer returning to eat me alive. While the rest of the world was worrying about a virus, I was fearing my own body.

This came to a head in the last week of April. The pain in my abdomen had become more than a ghost pinch. I had a doctor’s appointment the beginning of May and I was scared of what they could possibly find. I was scared of a re-occurrence, the need for chemo, and death itself.

I went to church on Sunday, April 26th (yes, we have a fiscal church service!!), with almost doubled-over pain. But I didn’t let it affect my smile. I still felt so blessed to be out of the house, and around people. I stood, and I worshiped. And in my singing and worship, I prayed. I prayed for healing. For peace. And I didn’t just pray for me. I prayed for those around me. For my family, friends, and strangers. I got my eyes off myself. And without even realizing it, my pain vanished. Completely.

The very next week, I went to the doctor’s office. He ran tests, and completed blood work for tumor markers. The results were undeniable: I’m cancer-free and the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life. Praise God!!

But you could argue saying that I’m still at risk, and you’d be right. You could say I’m living in a delusion: I shouldn’t leave home, I shouldn’t eat anything besides vegetables the rest of my life, that I should take a few rounds of chemo just to make sure all the cancer cells are truly gone, and never leave my house without a mask again. And I would answer you with:

But in the day that I’m afraid, I lay all my fears before you
and trust in you with all my heart.
What harm could a man bring to me?
With God on my side I will not be afraid of what comes.
The roaring praises of God fill my heart,
and I will always triumph as I trust his promises.
-Psalms 56:3-4

God’s promises include never leaving us, blessings, protection, healing, loving us unconditionally, prosper instead of harm, and strengthening us. God’s promises are yes, and amen. That means they are final. All we have to do is accept them. That’s it.

The words at the top of my website read “Writer. Artist. Risk-Taker.” I created that about 3 years ago. Those words are not a coincidence. Risks are all around us. But let me put a “risk” in a different light:

If God’s promises are final, and He promises that we will have His strength, are we truly taking a risk in doing something He tells us to do? I.e. if God tells me that I’m pregnant (which actually happened years ago – God told me through my pastor that I was pregnant 2 weeks before I could take a test), is it truly a risk to take a test and worth the fear of it being negative? If God tells me I’m healed (which He again did through my current pastor one week before the doctor told me I’m cancer free), is it a risk to take a test and worth the fear of it coming back positive? If God tells us to move to a new state, is it truly a risk to make that move? If God says in Luke 10:19 “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” Is it even a risk to walk out our front door??

This is a crazy, crazy world we live in, and seems to get more insane by the day. There will always be something to fear, whether cancer, virus, or murder hornet. There are measures to stay safe, and there are measures to stop living. It’s up to us to listen to what God says, and take the “risk.”

Don’t be the man who’s afraid to even smile. Don’t be like me and waste countless nights in fear of a disease God promised to heal me from. Please don’t stop living because you are too afraid of dying.

Love you all! Be blessed!