Yet God

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Yet God was with him.

Acts 7:9 

These words leapt off the page as I was reading. I’m trying to move past them, but I can’t.

Yet God.

I keep thinking back to two years ago to when my husband left me. I’ve never known harder, darker days. And the nights were even worse. The minute my head hit the pillow every night 6 million thoughts simultaneously filled my mind. I was so overwhelmed with grief I was often physically ill. Many nights the only thing I could do was grab my Bible and hold it to me like my life depended on it. And it did.

During the day I would spend hours reading the Word. Psalms mostly. But at night I just needed to feel the weight of it. Night after night my leather bound, extra-thick study bible would find its way from my bedside table into my arms. Most nights I fell asleep with the Word pressed down upon my heart.

It’s been a long time since those dark nights. The Word slowly and methodically washed my wounds and healed me. But some nights my heart still hurts. Some nights I still need the Word thick and heavy on my heart.

Tonight is one of those nights. Tonight my heart hurts, but not for me. It hurts for the nameless girl I drove past today. Weeping over coffee as her friend held tight to her arm. It was all I could do to not stop the car and rush to her.

It hurts over the news of another strong, Godly woman in ministry who is facing divorce. The news of it so crushing to me I had to stop my car and weep in the parking lot.

It hurts for the friend holding the hand of a mother fighting cancer. Hurts so bad it’s hard to breath. Hasn’t she endured enough trouble in this life already?

It hurts for the girls I’m praying for every day that I’ll be leading a retreat for next month. Girls who have never known love. Never known home. Never known what it means to be wanted.

Sometimes the pain of life is tangible. On those days I feel so small. So unable to help. I long for arms big enough and strong enough to hold all the hurting ones until the pain goes away.

Since I can’t, I do the only thing I know to do. I grab the thick weighty Word of God. I open fragile pages filled with strength and read the Words of hope… Yet God was with him.

Yet God. With us.

In the darkness. In the grief. In the waiting. In the wondering. In the weeping. God-with-us. Emmanuel.

He came. Came so you wouldn’t be alone. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He dwells with us now. Word made flesh. Thick, strong, weighty words wrapped in skin, crucified and brought to life so you wouldn’t ever have to face the dark night alone. Words that hold us when we’re reeling through life. Words that refresh us when we are dried up and dead inside. Words that sustain us when all strength has been stolen from us. Words that carry us when we are too weak to walk.

Yet God is with you.

I don’t know how alone you feel tonight. But I do know that no matter how alone you feel you are not alone. He is with you. He will never leave you or forsake you. He will never let go. His love never fails. Sweet daughter of God, hold tight to that tonight.

Yet God is with you!

~Keri

Link

Washing the feet of a little princess while a cancer survivor washed the feet of a beautiful girl in the fight of her life sat beside me.

Washing the feet of a little princess while a cancer survivor washed the feet of a beautiful girl in the fight of her life.

This weekend our church hosted an outreach called Samaritan’s Feet for children and teens in our community. My husband wanted our church to provide shoes for four hundred students with the understanding that twenty percent of the children who signed up would never walk through the doors to receive a new pair of shoes. We aimed higher hoping to reach at least four hundred who needed new shoes for the school year.

My job was to help assist the workers washing feet and fitting the children for shoes, I secretly hoped that I would get this station. I had some pretty incredible encounters with little people, but when I noticed a teenage boy walking towards me I wondered how he would respond to me or if we would connect. He sat down in front of me and I asked him if he was okay with me washing his feet or if he would prefer a man. Our youth pastor was right behind me and I knew I could recruit him if he was uncomfortable.

“I’m good with you doing this…ma’am, you really don’t want to wash my feet. I just got off work…”

He was worried that his feet were too dirty. I worried that mine weren’t dirty enough. I know how to work hard and I certainly remember what it’s like to live in a place of lack. But now I live in the land of more than enough and I long for a risky faith that reaches outside of comfortable Christianity and clean feet. I don’t want to just read the Word; I want to live it.

I smiled and looked down at his worn out shoes covered in grass and dirt.

“You mow lawns?”

“Yes, ma’am, I mow lawns to pay the bills. My brother and I work together.”

“I’m not worried about your dirty feet, I just want to serve you.”

He took off his shoes and socks as I asked a few questions about this man-child with sparkling blue eyes and dirty feet. He was fourteen, respectful, and working hard to pay bills. His mother came up in conversation two times and the third time he lovingly referred to her I wondered where his father was. Where was he and did he know that he should be beaming with pride?

I began washing his feet and my words spilled out, “I’m so proud of you and impressed by you.”

His eyes met mine filling up with tears as he lowered his head. I continued to speak softly as I finished drying his feet.

God is a father to the fatherless and advocates for the woman widowed by the one with a wondering heart. He fills in the gapped places and crevasses when daddy’s walk out. He stands in tattered places when daddies take their final breath and meet eternity leaving a void and emptied, priceless position.

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows–this is God, whose dwelling is holy. (Psalm 68:5 NLT) 

This is our God, the defender and provider for those who walk in lack and worn out shoes. He lifts up the head of the lonely woman and makes her strong enough to do the job of two, working  hard to make up the difference for the absentee father. And He hears her cries in the night as she wrestles with guilt wondering if she’s doing right by her children.


He put on his brand new shoes and put his worn out shoes in a plastic bag. I wanted to give him so much more than new shoes. But I gave him love from on High and gave him my words to affirm him, applauding him for being someone who stepped up to the plate to honor his mother and help pay bills.

I asked him if I could pray with him, over his future and his home. And I did what comes so naturally to me; I mothered him. I took his arm that had the wristband with his name, age, and shoe size on it and prayed. And I cried as I asked our Daddy God to take my prayer and allow it to carry him through this tender transition from a loss of carefree boyish things to manhood as he shouldered responsibilities most boys his age couldn’t handle.

I wept for the fatherless gap so in awe at the human condition that takes a broken boy with empty pockets and makes him stand shoulders above the rest. This is a boy that could change the world. If he is our future we are in very capable, calloused hands. I want to be like that boy, bright-eyed and humble. I want to work just as hard as he does never expecting things to be handed to me.

I think we are barely scratching the surface of what we could do with our hands and feet extended to those in need, but I think we really tapped into something huge this weekend and I hope we continue to fill our church with families crying tears of gratitude over the way we loved on their children. I’ve always said that if you love my children, you are loving me…and I guess that is what Jesus was trying to tell the disciples

He asked him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was deeply hurt that he had asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” So he told him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you!” Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17 NIV)

If you really love me, then you will love my people in a way that makes you uncomfortable at times. And when you get this, I’ll stop asking you to confirm it because your servant hood will prove it with actions that run so much deeper than what you think is above or beneath you.

In the end it’s all about obedience, not job requirements or comparing lesser, unglamorous roles to those we deem more important and make us feel like we are God’s gift to humanity. It’s not about “arriving” or seeing your name next to big, lofty titles and accolades. It’s about kingdom work and being the least and really being good at that.

26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:26-28 NIV)

As I watched my church family serve and work so diligently, I fell in love with our congregation all over again. You made God proud and I just love you so much that I want to lock shields and continue to walk uncomfortable, uncharted places with you. I pray for dirty feet and diligent hands eager to tend to the tattered places in those who feel forgotten and orphaned. I really want to be good at being the least, never expecting life to be handed to me on a silver platter. I’ve learned the best way to get over brokenness is to tend to the broken. Today I just want dirty feet as I ask God to help me with the things that often distract me in this world, allowing them to grow strangely dim fading into starkness of selfish pride and ambition.

Much love to you,

Jennifer

Risky

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I ordered a London Fog, she ordered an iced mocha. We sat across from each other sipping our respective drinks wondering if it was safe to just unload or if we needed to do the whole “small talk” thing first. Thankfully, neither of us are all that good at small talk so we just jumped in.

She started, “you know that blog you sent me? Yeah. I feel that way too. Why are we like that?”

She was referring to a blog I had sent her earlier that morning. The blog itself was about singleness, but there was one paragraph that jumped out at me that I just had to share with her:

Typically when I have a bad week, I hate to burden anyone around me so I keep it to myself. Part of how I walk in pride is that I compare my situation to others around me, and to the onlooker if my trials are seemingly small and trivial, I tend to play down my emotions and feelings. (the rest of the blog can be found here)

Why are we like that? Why do we feel like we’re a burden when we unload on the people who love us the most?

After an hour or so of conversation my sweet friend and I decided that the main reason we downplay our feelings is because we’re afraid. Afraid that you’ll reject us if we tell you all the ugly. Afraid that you’ll grow tired of us. Afraid that our bad day will infringe upon your good day and you’ll be calling us “Debbie Downer” in your mind.

The truth is; we’re afraid because we have faced that kind of rejection. You too? A child learns not to touch a hot stove by being burned. And women learn not to trust people with their emotions the same way. Sadly, the world is full of people who will reject us, or grow tired of us, or just flat out stab us in the back.

Thankfully, the world is also full of women who will love us fiercely! Women who will walk through fire with you and pick up the phone every time you call no matter what the hour. Women who will guard secrets and share tears and hold hands and lean in close and whisper words that give life to weary souls. To keep these women at arm’s length because of fear is an injustice. To choose safety over vulnerability is a disservice to yourself. To choose isolation over companionship is just plain foolish.

We need each other. Plain and simple. We were created to live in relationship. And relationship means the messy days too. It’s not easy. It’s really hard to interrupt the dinner conversation with a quiet “y’all, I’m having a really rough week and need encouragement”. We convince ourselves that whatever it is that’s troubling us isn’t really a big deal, and that no one really wants to be bothered by it anyway. And instead of opening up our hearts and risking transparency with friends we smile and nod and wait until dinner is over to cry alone in our car.

And I don’t want us to live like that anymore. I don’t want us to consider ourselves a burden just because we’re wrestling with the deeper issues of life. Life is hard, and complicated, and sometimes frustrating. Let’s rejoice in the fact that God allows us to have relationships where we can love and support each other through all we walk through.

For me to act like I’m okay all the time doesn’t do me or anyone else any good. How can I minister to others when I fail to minister to my own heart?

Letting others walk with me and love me and know the real me ministers to my heart. It makes me healthy. It fills me up so that I can be poured out. It gives me perspective and strength and encouragement. Why wouldn’t I be willing to risk for that?

Friends, let’s be safe places. Let’s be vulnerable. Let’s risk being real. Let’s love each other well, even when its hard.

~Keri

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Soul Stitches & Mouthy, Moody Woman

Lip Injury Hospital

Sunday I was a hot mess with a nasty lip. After my “little” accident that wasn’t so little. I split my lip front-to-back, had black-nappy-stitches, and a strict diet of liquids only, which was easy for the first three days. I was feeling vulnerable and really didn’t want people teasing me or pointing out what I was just trying to get over. It’s all fun and games until I noticed the gash, blood started pouring, and an attractive ER doctor came at me with two syringes to fix my bloody lip. Back away, pretty boy. I’m not ready for you to jab me in the lip twice with a syringe. You need to sedate me first. Please send in a Grandpa-like doctor that won’t feel awkward when I ask my mothering-mentor to hold me. He didn’t sedate me and she didn’t sit me in her lap or anything. But she held my hand and hovered just like I had expected. She also swerved a little while putting on lipstick and lip liner while driving me to the ER, made me laugh multiple times which hurt, and raised her eyebrows when Dr. Hotness walked out of the room and said, “Well, at least he’s cute.” Which I was in too much pain to care, but did absolutely notice. And that, my friends, is why I love her enough to help her pack and sustain injuries for her. (I hope you are not having lunch right now.)

Close up of nasty lip

Back to my lip that was reopened to get the embedded stitches out and now is surgically glued shut. Thanks to the stress and lack of sleep I now had fever blisters on the lip that was split. Brutal and unattractive. Putting topical treatments on the blisters before church hurt so bad that I wanted to curse like a drunken sailor. But I stuck to words like “crap” and “dang my hide” and a few others words that reflect a lack of creativity on my part. My bad. Truth is, I’m super sweet except for when I’m not. And if I’m in a mood there’s usually a pretty good reason and thanks to all those counseling, psychology classes, and WebMD I can pretty much self-diagnose and come up with a pretty good solution like self-medicating with chocolate, refined sugars, and shopping trips with my Mom. I’ve never been drunk before, but I’ve thought about it more than once this week. You can put me on your prayer list, or laugh, whatever. And because I never do things halfway when it comes to life in general, I also have low-blood sugar and can make grown men cry when I’m hungry and hurting. (Sorry about that Big Daddy.) Telling me to not eat solid food is just mean. I get it, but I get panicky and want more than just pudding and milkshakes.

Dealing with all of these things while grieving my Grandma might be a very good reason to be cranky, I guess. But, my momma raised me better than that. Mom taught me how to control my temper and that if I didn’t, she was going to control it for me. Mom taught me that being a “mean girl” was not acceptable and to not listen to the crowd or join in when mean boys and girls were bullying the underdogs. The worst spanking in my life was because I “joined” in when I should have “jumped in-front” of my classmate in elementary school and protected her from the mudslingers. I still wish I could have been strong enough to fight all of those boys, but I wasn’t. I still loathe being the runt in the family.

This Sunday morning I wanted to skip church. I wanted a body-double and someone to take my place so I could just worship from a needy place and not be a leader. I wanted many things, but the tug on my heartstrings is always for a church that we call family and home. I want to make a difference. I want to press through the pain and my flesh to be what God wants me to be and sometimes I just bomb the whole time while people watch me. I wanted to hide so I sat in the balcony and didn’t stand in front to pray for our people like I normally do. When preacher-man (AKA Big Daddy) is in the doghouse or I’m not feeling well; that’s where I sit so people can’t watch my facial expressions. (I’m not a faker or a show dog, but I am a drama queen. That much I own.) I let someone else do the upfront ministry for me and I prayed silently and watched the people I love so much weep and pray. I didn’t know what they were asking God for at that moment, I just saw hurting people and I wanted to wrap them up in my arms and cry with them because I was hurting too.

I epically failed Sunday. I had to email someone and apologize for being mouthy. I would never intentionally hurt someone and they had no idea what I was going through. My BFF and short bodyguard had to protect me and drag me down the stairs so I could pick up my girls and rush to the next thing that I needed to be at. And after I shoveled in solid food not caring that I hadn’t been cleared for it till Monday…my evil twin left and I wished that I would have said less not more. I had to text my short bodyguard and apologize for being unfiltered and even though she said I did just fine I knew in my heart that being in pain is never a good excuse to be a overly moody, mouthy, mean girl. EVER. I have very little respect for people who can’t control their tongues and hurt people with “honesty” and deeply distain it when I’m the one who opts for an unfiltered, default setting.

It’s one thing to speak the truth in love…but it’s another thing to make that person feel so loved that you have a right to speak the things that will be so difficult for them to swallow. So until that person is standing, or sitting, in front of you with their heart in their hands…always say less not more. Speak the truth in love, not when they are bloody and bruised, but when they are healing and ready to hear the hard things. I love the truth-speakers in my life. I love them more because they are experts in life and in loving others well. I’ve given them an open door to speak into my life because I want to hear what they have to say…and I need them.

In that tender moment, face-to-face, say more of all the things they do so well and how proud you are of them. Make sure they believe you, not just the words but the love and actions that serve as the foundation and give your words meaning and truth. And then end you can end with, “Now here are some things that I can’t omit because I love you so much it hurts and I want to be the iron that sharpens you and makes you more useful.” When iron sharpens iron sparks fly so don’t be afraid of that. Be intentional about it. Say less until you have earned the right to say more. Say less until it is the absolute word of God and you can back it up with scriptures that you haven’t twisted to drive home the point.

Say less of the things that are just ridiculous opinions, traditions, and all the little things that make you seem a little uptight and aloof. And wait awhile until your ugliness has been spilled out in salty form, you’ve hit your knees in prayer, and you’re ready to stand up symbolic of a change of heart. Then forgive yourself and receive His grace and forgiveness that never has an expiration date on it. Write your apologies and leave nothing unsaid that you are going to regret later. Find yourself toe-to-toe with the real enemy of your souls, not people, and love until it hurts. Give grace and love graciously. Say less until you are in a healthy place to say more. Tame that beast of a tongue and that rudder that steers a beautiful ship that God wants to take to lush and exotic places.

Sunday I bombed and disappointed myself. Today I’m killing it and walking in lavish grace. Today I’m still and quiet with eager ears ready to listen to what God has to say. I’m not sure what has your knickers in a wad like mine were on Sunday, but please learn this now and let it go. Forgive yourself and forgive others and receive a grace that none of us deserve, but I’m so thankful that Jesus paid our endless, ever mounting deficit of soul-stitches and all things ugly. I’m overwhelmed by His lavish grace daily.

Sitting here with a busted lip, reading James 3, and loving you fiercely. If you read James 3 today, will you leave a little comment and tell me what jumped off the page to you? Just for fun and because we might need it.

Jennifer Renee

Here’s a picture of me trying not to cry with my Grandma on Saturday. She didn’t know who I was until she had my business card and said, “This is his daughter?!” And then we cried again. Chelsea Rustad, thank you for making my business cards for this very reason. When she saw my face and name on the card, she knew me. Words can’t express how much that meant to me. Thank you gorgeous friend. May blessings overwhelm you and your many talents and God-sized dreams.

Me & Grandma

Letting Go

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When I brought you home from the hospital you each weighed just a smidge over 4 pounds. You came home needy. You needed to be fed every 2 hours round the clock and needed to be weighed every 24 hours. Heart monitors and home health nurses were constant companions.

The first five weeks of your life were the hardest for me. Leaving the hospital every day without you almost ripped my heart out. When you finally came home I spent the next 12 weeks of your life sleeping on the floor of the nursery with my hand on your crib. Countless times a night one of your heart monitors would beep signaling that you’d forgotten to breathe, I’d wake up in a panic and shake the crib to wake you up enough to breathe again. Then every two hours we’d all wake up and eat and cry together.

6,855 days have passed since the first day we shared together as mother and daughter. So much has changed. You’re not needy anymore. And I’m not quite sure how to let you go. For almost 19 years I’ve purposefully prepared you to leave the nest, and now that your time to fly is here I’m not sure that I’m ready to watch you soar.

The truth is, there’s nothing in all the world more that I’ve loved more than I’ve loved being your mom. That Jesus would choose me to have the honor of sharing life with you is the greatest of all gifts. So how do you let go of the thing you’ve loved most?

But letting go is what mothers do. We let you go from our bodies and bring you forth into this world. We let you go from our arms and watch your feeble first steps. We let you go from our homes onto that big scary yellow school bus. We let you go from our driveways with the keys to our minivans. Every day from day 1 until day 6,855 is a day that we learn to let you go just a little bit more. Letting go is what mothers do.

And even though there have been too many moments of letting go to count it doesn’t make this moment any easier. The letting go is always hard, always an exercise of trust. Only two things make this letting go any easier. Jesus and you.

Jesus because He has proven to be a better parent than I could ever be. Because He has been our constant companion through all of the letting goes. Because He has been faithful through every moment. Because His love for you overshadows mine. Because He goes before you and prepares a way for you.

And you. Because you amaze me. Allison, with your joy and humility and deep trust in Jesus. And Alexa with your sweet, gentle, yet fiercely strong spirit. I look at you both and know that even though you may falter, you will soar! You will run your race and hear your “well done” at the end of it all.

I can’t wait to see it all unfold. Though my time of running with you holding your hand has come to its end; I’ll always be here. Watching. Praying. Cheering you on. I’ll always be here to shake the crib and remind you to breathe. I’ll be here when your body (or your soul) is in need of a good meal. I’ll be here when the next step is bigger than the first step of the bus to a kindergartner and you need someone to tell you that “you can do it!”.

The Twins -1-25

So, baby girls of mine, I release you into this great big amazing world. Go shine for Jesus! Go soar!

My Broken Girl Story, Sometimes It’s Okay To Runaway

Band-aid pic

My daughter came to me wearing a frown as she carried her favorite stuffed animal, Chickie. When you love something hard it’s bound to fray, sometimes in the same place where the first wound originated. Chickie has required multiple surgeries and so have I. What I have been through physically is a drop in the bucket compared to dear friends who have wrestled with cancer and won. I started writing seriously seven years ago, before then I was just playing. Prayer journals and angry poetry placed at my bedside as I dealt with miscarriages, surgeries, and tests that hurt so badly that I would fold in the elevator only to stand when the door opened. I never wanted anyone to see me folded and weak. I always found a way to stand back up, sometimes only in my spirit. And sometimes I had to receive a hand and help to stand upright. Sometimes we just need help.

Six years ago I was recovering from an emergency surgery. I had two weeks to prepare beforehand and I was trying my best to figure out another option other than what my doctor strongly suggested.

“It’s now or later…how long do you want to suffer?” I would never recommend this surgery to a thirty-one-year-old unless it was needed.” I nodded; scared to death as he set the date and I emotionally ran away.

With several staged interventions of loved ones and friends, I folded again and surrendered to the cutting of surgery and process of healing afterwards. But I wasn’t ready for the fear that was surfacing and the nightmares that happened as I drifted off to sleep. This peaceful sleeper began to fight and scream with terrors. My husband would rush to my side and one time had to physically pick me up and put me back in the bed. We were both terrified and knew this was not normal for me; I was running scared even in my sleep. I had just finished my second novel and had found an editor in California that I was going to work with. But I was a rag doll who needed to be fixed with torn places no one could see, both on my heart and in body. I had started loosing weight yet looked like I was with child. What once brought death and miscarried dreams, brought forth life in abundance and my body was worn out from the aftermath. Something had to give.

So I stopped writing fiction all together because the first novel that I wrote awakened memories I wasn’t ready to deal with, so I put it down and declared it an ADD train wreck on paper. The surgery happened, I recovered slowly and ended up back in the hospital fighting an infection. I’ve always been the girl who never liked to slow down, especially if it was forced. Yet being forced to slow down was the best thing for my health and my heart. Now I make rest and taking care of myself a priority. I stopped running, I asked those really hard questions like…how old was I when my mom placed two brown-eyed-girls in a car and drove off to find the three of us a safe place? Where was our family in all of this? Where was God?

I acknowledged that what happened to her and to us was not okay as I forgave again and rejected bitterness. Again. God was always right there leading my mom, carrying her as she cried and fought for her girls. It seems like there has to be a good reason for running and hiding and pauses for healing both physically and spiritually. And so I did all of that really well and gave myself room to retrace broken places in my past. I kept a few people at arms length until I healed. I gave myself permission to not be okay until one day I really was okay and better than ever. And as I sit here with the sun on my face and joy in my heart, I can tell you with confidence that God heals your broken past and gives you a stronger, clearer voice with beautiful things to say if you let Him.

It’s okay to run from the things that hurt you, or the people, as long as you always find yourself running to God who makes forgiveness actually attainable instead of a nice thought. God can mend broken homes and hearts and sometimes He gives you an open door and a trusted friend to wrap their arms around you and help you cry a little, or a lot, as you come up for air before you lace up your running shoes.

Broken Girl,

Please don’t stay broken. Ask those hard questions, let God mend your torn places. Do it for your daughters, do it for your sons. Do it for you. I’m convinced that we travel back and forth from broken places and seasons, we are never really exempt from hard, tattered places…and so we run like rag dolls and let God do His surgery. We let Him unfold our fetal position posture and we stand stronger and there we find Him waiting with healing in His wings.

Praying over you today, we love you so much.

Unfolded and free,

Jennifer Renee

Mom,

Thanks for running away, because you were brave enough and always put us first…we have a pretty stellar life. You’re worth more than rubies to me and still a total fox. I love you. I plan on taking good care of you when you’re an old lady. It was always the three of us against the world, The Three Musketeers with cute hair and a God who never failed us. We are so blessed.

Love,

Your Firstborn

The Cage and The Songbird

Originally posted on Broken Girl:

I’m not sure why exactly, but growing up I would hear these words with a gentle pat, “Be sweet.” Most of the time it meant that I said something snarky or sarcastic, probably something terribly funny and honest with a bite. Either way, a gentle reminder was needed to “be sweet.” I think you naturally see certain traits in your children, I get that now I as soak in the gifts God has placed inside of my daughters. Mom loved that I was sweet spirited (most of the time). So when I was acting outside of a trait that suited me, I needed a reminder. But, just for a few seconds…maybe minutes, would it just be okay for me to be a little sour? I would think.

Weeks ago I needed a reminder to be sweet. But, I didn’t want to feel that gentle pat when all I felt was soured…

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