God doesn’t need your prayers

I was a junior in college when a friend of mine and I set off to find the haunted house that everyone had been raving about for Halloween. We had forgotten our phones but we had a pretty good idea where it was. Now, let me set the scene.

I went to college in Idaho. It’s not exactly the state where you should set out without a GPS. We were literally a speck in the middle of wheat, potatoes, old gas stations, and dark unkempt roads. There are side roads that lead to nothing and main interstates that lead you to towns smaller than shoeboxes. But we had been there three years and were confident we’d find the place.

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An hour went by and we were still on a dark road. My friend shifted in the passenger seat uncomfortably and we both exchanged nervous glances.

“I thought it was just a half hour away?” she said rhetorically. I shook my head and turned the wipers on. It had started to snow. Maybe it was further than we thought, I rationalized. But with each mile marker the streets became darker and suddenly the names of the towns didn’t look very familiar. No map, no GPS, no phone to call my room mates and double check where this thing was at. Needless to say, we meandered the dark streets until the haunted house was well past closed and we decided to just turn around so we didn’t get stuck without gas on top of it all.

We laughed until we cried that night and chalked it up as a crazy college memory. But looking back, sometimes I feel like that scenario is all too familiar in my life. Forgetting the map. Being completely in the dark with no direction.

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How many times in my life do the roads get dark and I’m utterly confused and taking all the wrong turns, and I still don’t ask the guide for help? How many times do I not use the tools given to me? How many times, I wonder now, do I not pray?

I struggle with pride sometimes because I like to feel like I have a good grasp on my life–that I can literally handle it ALL. I can balance 11-hour work days, house upkeep, my small business, my pets, my husband, my friends, my family, my scripture study, my insane LIFE because I just CAN. And then two days will go by and I’ll realize with shame that it could have been so much easier if I had just asked and taken the time to get on my knees. In shame I realize that “taking it all on” and “knowing” all the turns and all the steps forced me to not communicate with my guide, my built-in GPS–my Father.

So many of us I think have prayer on a checklist. Scripture study? Check. Visiting teaching? Check. Prayer? Check check.

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And we treat it as one of the duties we have to be right with Heavenly Father. We say our prayers and we thank Him for the food and suddenly–BAM–we feel good about ourselves for getting it all done and still managing to be a saint.

I’m guilty as charged. But it has to change. Yes, even for you.

To put it simply, God doesn’t need your prayers. He has always existed and will continue to always exist without you. He loves you and hurts when you don’t talk to Him, but He doesn’t wilt. He doesn’t cease to be working and creating and blessing lives. He is there whether you turn to Him or not. So prayer on a checklist doesn’t satisfy Him for the day or open the gates of Heaven. No, prayer is all for you. It’s for me.

Prayer is the only way we can get the guidance we need when our lives are void of streetlights and we’re running out of gas. We need to nurture our relationship with Heavenly Father just as much as we need the air we breathe.

I went back to Idaho this past Christmas to spend the week with my best friend and her family and to also surprise my sister who I rarely get to see. I hadn’t been back to that part of Idaho in two years and I felt my heart warm at the view of the endless fields, the snowflakes big enough to fill the palm of my hand, and the sky uninterrupted by cityscape.

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It occurred to me while I was there that life kept going on without me, of course. My best friend existed just fine, had a baby, and looked just as beautiful and talkative. My sister still worked every day,  my nieces getting so tall, going through life without me. Nothing needs me to exist. But boy, do I need them to live.

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It takes effort to nurture relationships, to be part of lives, to glean joy and strength from the people you just can’t handle living without. Could we exist without each other? Sure. Do we want to? Never.

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The same goes for God. Sometimes, I think, that goes unnoticed. Life propels forward, and we forget to ask Him questions, tell Him we love him, or thank Him for the strength to keep moving. We forget to ask for directions.

The road is dark. It’s endless. There are turns we shouldn’t take and turns that we miss. But we have the map.

He doesn’t need my prayers, I realize now. He doesn’t need anything.

But boy, do I ever need Him.

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When the “wings of eagles” aren’t yours: Dealing with mental and physical illness

I write this while flat on my back on the couch.

The World Cup buzzes in the background and I catch myself just staring at it every now and then, almost too weak to type. I’ve been laid up in bed sick for three (maybe four?) days now and it’s close to the sickest I’ve ever been…aside from getting salmonella that one time. *Not fun, by the way.*

It’s been downright depressing. Being held hostage by your body–being completely vulnerable to a stomach that won’t hold anything down, crippling headaches, and a fever that keeps you huddled under a Mt. Everest of blankets is just enough to make the average person’s heart completely weak.

And I’ve wondered–what about the wings of eagles that the scriptures talk about? Aside from my battle with hypothyroidism I’m relatively healthy with little complaints. This illness in particular is temporary. Within a few days probably I’ll be able to continue a normal routine, picking up work right where I left off, writing that book review I’ve had to hold off, and mingling with family and friends who I’ve been quarantined away from this week.

For me, it’s a temporary state of “disability”. But what about the others? The others who write to me about their struggles with mental illness, their battle with autism, their fights with cancer, or Crohn’s disease, or their lives strapped down to wheelchairs or crutches? What about those who have weekly dialysis treatments or have to watch the world go on past them outside hospital windows?

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It’s been a question that’s been hard to shake. I’ve always heard this scripture repeated:

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.”

But from a young age it was hard to swallow.

At the age of 7 I watched my mom deal with clinical depression–watching as she heaved into paper bags, wrestled demons, contemplated suicide, and spent nights crying out loud for it to stop. Later in life I watched my Dad–a healthy man with a healthy lifestyle–dwindle away little by little every day by cancer. I’ve watched friends drag heavy chains of manic depression or bipolar disease, whispering over the phone that it NEEDS to stop. And I’ve always wondered why these people–people I love–aren’t granted those wings of eagles. Now as I lie here sick in bed, I repeated these questions to myself.

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But the truth of it is clear. None of us, upon coming to earth, were promised to be untouched. On the contrary, actually. We were aware that we were coming to a fallen world with sickness, sadness, brains that could malfunction and chemicals that could go out of whack. We knew we signed up for limbs that could fail us, hearts that would stop beating, and eyes that would grow blurry over the years. We willingly said “Yes, Lord” before coming to a world that promised we would need to “wait” upon our strength and trust and hope in the Almighty before every gaining the strength to get through it and eventually get home.

I’ve begun to unravel–bit by bit–why we would do that. The world often preaches that when you have your health you have everything, but this makes more sense to me: “None of us will escape tragedy and suffering. Each of us will probably react differently. However, if we can recall the Lord’s promise, ‘For I the Lord am with you,’ we will be able to face our problems with dignity and courage. We will find the strength to be of good cheer instead of becoming resentful, critical, or defeated.” That was said by a leader in my church, Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1986.

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It’s comforting to me that although we don’t have a choice what we face physically–or even mentally–in this life, we do have a choice in who we place our trust in and who we choose to help heal us or hold our hand through the often grueling and painful journey. It’s comforting to me that we don’t ever stand comfortless– and that there is always someone there who has taken it all upon himself, hundreds and thousands of years before we ever took a breath.

Your strength will be renewed within the grand scheme of eternity promised to you.

It might be in this life. It might be in the next. But the promise is clear.

We’ll all mount up with wings as eagles–simply because He is our wings.

And for now, that is enough.

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“Blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. …For this cause I have sent you—that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come.” (D&C 58:2, 6.)

The Mormon Controversy: And why it’s hurting more than feminists

The headlines are everywhere. You seriously can’t miss it, even if you deliberately set out to NOT find it.

It’s a Mormon feminist controversy that’s triggering debates, memes, articles, furiously-written status updates, and doubts. It all started with a movement called Ordain Women, and since then it’s transformed and morphed into conversations about possible pending excommunications, human rights, sexism, and faults within the way the Mormon church is run.

I’ve sat back since writing my first article regarding Mormon feminists and have simply watched it happen, realizing that if I stay on board this train it might negatively impact my readers. And from the looks of other blogs, other Mormon writers, and even other friends who simply continue to voice opinions on how the church needs to change, I can see that I was right. This conversation is not just a church conversation now. It’s a world conversation. And it’s hurting more than Mormon feminists.

On what started out as a cry for understanding among church leaders has now taken a turn to be a cry into the world, prompting non-members and those of different faiths to feel sorry for us, fight harder against our teachings, and look toward the Mormon church with distaste. Friends of mine who at one point took genuine interest in learning about my church now see the articles and the heatwave from this controversy and say beneath their breath, “Looks like I was right all along. It’s a man’s church.”

And it’s not. We’re spreading lies–most of the time unintentionally.

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Now I’m an advocate for questions. As a journalist it’s in my nature to be quizzical *and often skeptical* and to always ask “Well, why’s that?”. But I also firmly believe that you need to pay attention to who you’re asking the questions to, and what your motive behind the question is. Your question might be someone else’s stumbling block.

The group of women who first rose up with this question had every right to ask the questions within their church community, to their bishops, counselors, home teachers, or spouses. They had every right to pray and ask of God and to do scripture searching and soul searching to identify their pains, seek answers, and find peace. But the opportunity left as soon as packs of people demanded to be let in to priesthood session, held signs in public that non-members in passing could read and shake their heads at, spoke to newspaper reporters about the oppression of the church, and spoke negatively about a church they often say they love. Questions turned into protests and backlash and anger that were soon fanning the flames of contempt against an already misunderstood gospel.

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And it breaks my heart.

I’ve seen bloggers and columnists say that it breaks their hearts that these feminists are hurting. I understand that.

But it breaks my heart even more that these personal struggles are thwarting God’s work. What should have been a personal journey for answers has turned into a hiccup for my friend who had one foot in the door and now hesitates to believe me when I say that I’m an equal with my husband. It has turned into debates about equality instead of conversations about a loving Heavenly Father who values his daughters and sons equally and gives them such significant roles in life. It has turned missionaries away from doors because of misconceptions, and it has turned active members into bitter, saddened skeptics who listen to the voices screaming from the internet rather than the gentle, truthful voice of the spirit.

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When Christ walked the earth, not once did he sit before his disciples and spark doubt by asking one of them why something had to be. In fact, in the darkest of times, even the times when he felt betrayed by God, he went on his knees before anything–privately communing with the One who gives answers to all questions. It’s okay, obviously, to discuss issues among those whom you trust or who might have advice or an answer to help you, but why discuss things among those whom you’re trying to uplift, strengthen, or teach? Especially on social media, when countless eyes are watching you and learning about your religion through what you say?

We’re forgetting who we are.

We’re forgetting why we’re here.

And worst of all–we’re hurting those we’ve been sent to help. And that’s the biggest shame of all.

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I can do without: Lessons from a one-legged crow

Mother nature can be a funny thing.

I don’t think it means to be smart or inspiring, even though it often is.

I mean, think about it.

The sun doesn’t set out each day to look absolutely breathtaking and I don’t think the mountains realize they’re being painted and hung in living rooms. Rivers don’t mean to be calming and the clouds don’t mean to form shapes. They simply obey the commands of time and of motion and of the hand of God, not pausing for a second or considering what it means.

And it’s inspiring somehow.

Today it wasn’t anything very beautiful that got me thinking–actually, it could be considered anything but. It was a one-legged crow.

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I was sitting at a traffic light on my way to work this morning with my window rolled down, thankful that the mornings are beginning to grow warmer. My thoughts were wandering when I spotted a crow, smaller than the rest of the pack on the other side of the street, who hopped across two lanes of traffic toward where my car sat. From a distance I noticed he was slower, and one of his wings worked unusually hard to somehow give him the balance he needed to make the short little jaunt. It wasn’t until he was an arm’s length away from my arm that was draped out my window that I realized he only had one leg.

So, something to know about me: I’m an animal lover. Sometimes to a fault. I make my husband brake for packs of pigeons that are a little slow to fly out of the way and if I had the space to house them all, I’d probably become a puppy hoarder or keep adorable rodents in my cupboards, each with personalized little beds. But alas, I am realistic–even when it comes to simply watching a one-legged crow struggle to eat his half-eaten carton of fries in the median and restraining myself from scooping him up and making him a crutch. I watched him, saddened a little, until I saw another crow *with both legs, might I add* swoop down beside him to share the treat. But the one-legged crow wouldn’t have it. He snatched up the box and hobbled away, finally breaking into flight after a few failed and clumsy attempts.

I can do without, I almost heard him whisper to me.

Touche, little crow, I almost said back.

We can all do without.

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How many times do we sit back and feel sorry for ourselves when our car breaks down and public transit is the only option for a few weeks? How many times do we complain when our friends always seem to have the bigger house, the better job, the more picture-perfect life? How often do we struggle with being the “less-attractive” one, the one with the speech impediment, the one without the college education, the one without the leg? And to each of us, there’s a whispered lesson from the spirit simply saying: You can do without.

I’m often inspired by stories of triumph by those who have lost a limb in a war and then go on to compete in the Olympics or by those who are entirely burned and stripped of their physical beauty, only to find love again and go on to be a motivational speaker and inspiration. But then, when it comes to the little, unfair disadvantages we sometimes freeze in place.

You have a learning disability. You’re diabetic. You grew up with just one parent. You’re twice divorced. You’re living paycheck to paycheck. There’s that one something that threatens to make you hobble and complain and slow down.

We’re all a one-legged crow.

Moses–one of the greatest prophets of all time–complained to God about a speech problem he had.

“O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” Moses said in Exodus 4:10. But Heavenly Father assured Moses, and he’s assuring us every day, that despite a speech problem–despite any problem or hindrance or setback– “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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I’m grateful for little reminders in nature and in life that testify to God’s law. I’m grateful for one-legged crows whose wings grow stronger and whose one remaining leg takes compensates for the lack of the other, lifting off in flight, proving that it simply takes determination.

And it only takes His strength.

I’m grateful that his grace is sufficient–and because of that, I can do without a lot.

It’s your turn to rise again: A letter to a sinner

I thought of you today.

It’s a day before Easter Sunday and I was finally able to see “Son of God” in theaters. A fitting time, if you ask me.

Throughout the movie I tended to focus on a particular person: The sinner.

Judas, who betrayed Jesus all for a handful of coins and ended his life because of the shame of it. Peter, who denied Christ three times and couldn’t even bear to sit at the foot of the cross because of his shame. The woman caught in the act of adultery, who cried at Christ’s feet and expected nothing except a stone.

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The woman in the crowd who reached out to simply touch the hem of His garment–hoping that it would simply make her clean again. The pharisees, who within their doubt and corrupted laws, hammered nails through the purest hands that ever came to earth and then fell to their knees when the skies went dark and they realized they had killed the Messiah. Thomas, who doubted that Jesus would rise, and then fell in a guilty heap at the master’s feet when he saw for himself the holes in His hands.

The sinner is also you. Me. The man next to me who I’ve never met.

We often talk about Christ and his atonement and we praise faithful acts of John and Matthew while also scoffing at the fear of Peter. We shake our heads at the Pharisees who refuse to believe. We wonder how Thomas could doubt.

But then– ahhh yes. We come to a point in our lives when it hits us harder than usual that we too have sinned. That we too have slipped so far away. That we–just like Peter or the adulterous woman or the tax collector within the temple–have messed up horribly.

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Sometimes that realization and the shame of what we’ve done is enough to keep us away from the foot of the cross. Sometimes our sins seem “so dark” or so beyond recovery that, like Peter, we decide to step back. That might entail skipping church every sunday morning. Maybe it means we stop praying. Sometimes we decide we’re too far gone and we let other mindsets or beliefs take the seat of what once was reserved just for Him. Then there are the times when we decide to put our scriptures in a drawer that never really gets opened again.

Sometimes we just stop believing altogether.

I write this to you, Sinner, because I’m a sinner too. And maybe, just maybe, this is more for me than it is for you today. Maybe not. But either way, I write this because I think that as humans we have the habit of seeing the beauty in the gospel and the faithfulness and power in others while telling ourselves beneath muttered breaths that we’re no good. That we’re lost. That we don’t fit in with the mold. That we’ll never be up to par. That Christ is beyond disappointed with us.

And I think that when we buy into that thinking, we step so far back that we trick ourselves into thinking that Christ was the one that stepped back first.

This painting was my Dad’s favorite.

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While he was hospitalized during the last month of his life before coming home to hospice, this painting was hanging on the wall opposite of his bed, and I would catch him staring at it often, amidst the muffled beeps of machines and the chatter of visitors. The one time I asked about the picture he told me that it’s his favorite because he feels like he’s the man in the picture. No matter what I’ve done or how bad I’ve messed up in the past, he said, Jesus will welcome me home with open arms and say ‘Well done’.

I wish, especially this Easter, that you’ll remember the same thing my Dad did.

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I don’t know what kind of mistakes you’ve made. You might be a teenager who slipped up in a relationship and didn’t quite wait for marriage. Maybe you’re a victim of something that made you feel less than what you are. Maybe you’re overcoming an addiction or have spent the last fifteen years convincing yourself that church isn’t a place for you. Or maybe–I’m actually quite certain–you’re a sinner just like me who sometimes pushes Christ away when all He really wants to do is give a hug and show us the escape. We’re forgiven.

Christ came for the sinner. Not for the perfect. That’s my cue that we can let him into our damaged, fragile, beaten and bruised hearts. We can let him see into those dark shadows of our minds and those painful remnants of the past. He can see our scarred hands and tear-filled eyes and he can see all of our second, third, fourth, fifth chances and all the times we fell short. We can rise again out of the ashes and still be confident that he loves us. Each and every time.

Let him rescue you, fellow sinner.

Let him be your Savior.

 

God will give you more than you can handle: I guarantee it.

There’s a certain phrase I’ve come to really dislike.

All my life, I’ve heard this phrase whenever I go through a rough patch. *And by rough patch, I mean a prickly, gnarly patch that leaves me bleeding to near death*. You’re probably familiar with those kinds of “patches”.

“God will never give you more than you can handle” is the phrase I’m referring to.

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And it’s a sweet sentiment, really. The people who say it are speaking from caring and concerned hearts.

BUT–it isn’t true.

I know that sounds harsh, but I promise I haven’t suddenly lost my mind or have become an angry-with-God bitter woman who hates the world. Actually, when I realized the simple fact that God can–and will–give us more than we can possibly bear, it got easier.

And it all started to make more sense.

I’ve often trudged through trials that overwhelm me. Ever since my childhood there have been trials that have made me “grow up” pretty fast. But granted, I know for a fact you’ve had your own fair share too, because that’s the reality of life. But this last trial is the one that shook me to my core and had me searching like a mad woman for answers as to why it was happening–and how I could possibly even survive it.

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I lost my Dad to cancer last month–if you’re a follower of mine, this is old news. But–it was absolutely horrific.

Every day leading up to his death was like walking through every level of hell–slowly– for lack of a better term. There’s no other way to describe it. The images…the sounds…the sleepless nights…the cries for God while we look on, helpless…the torment of rubbing morphine in his cheeks, praying it’ll absorb–but to no avail. The horrible, wrenching pain that came with lifting him up, laying him back down, lifting him up, laying him back down…because he became so restless and cried out for “home” every few minutes. And all along, in the back of my mind, I reminded myself that millions of people go through this, and have already gone through this, very thing. And it is simply unbearable. If you disagree–it’s because you haven’t been there.

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This trial was so consuming that I hate to even put it in the past tense–sometimes it still consumes me. Yesterday, at my Dad’s memorial service, it consumed me all over again.

I’ve suffered from nightmares where I relived the memory over and over mercilessly–I sometimes see his face on strangers that pass and worry that I’m going crazy. I cry over sad songs in the car and torture myself with stacks of pictures and yellowed photo albums. It’s beyond just missing him. And even with a firm testimony of the gospel and with peace that he is exactly where the Lord prepared him for, it is still too much for me to handle at times. It steals my breath–and it can steal my joy.

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So, the other day, I turned to the scriptures. I needed help.

I wanted to know where that phrase was that people kept repeating to me in church and at work and over the phone. Why did the Lord “trust me so much”?! Why did He think I could handle these kinds of trials?

And then I realized: I couldn’t find that quote because it isn’t there.

It never mentions anywhere in the scriptures that the Lord won’t give you more than you can handle. Yes, in 1 Corinthians 10:13 it speaks of Him giving us an escape from temptations so that it’s not too much to bear. But when it comes to pain, trials, heartache, and burdens– not once does it say it won’t be more than we can bear. Instead, it beautifully says this instead:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11: 28-30)

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The words struck my heart, as you can imagine. Christ is speaking to those of us who are carrying burdens much too heavy for our own shoulders. And in that one verse he simply states the reason why we are given more than we can handle: It’s so we can come to him. It’s so we can trust him enough to hand over our heavy, crippling burdens and let him carry the load.

You might be heavy laden right now like I was before reading and re-reading and re-reading once again this scripture that has never stuck out to me as much as it has lately.

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You might be shrunken with sadness or drowning in debt. You might be overwhelmingly angry at someone at church or aching under the pressures of raising children or maybe the inability to have them. You might be dealing with a terminal disease and you still have young children. And chances are–you might need your Redeemer to find you on the path and take up that heavy cross you’re dragging. Besides, even he tells us that he’s more equipped to carry it, so why not hand it over?

I’ve come to learn–slowly but surely–why I need Him.

I suppose it’s because of pride that I always thought I could just do things on my own. I’m strong, I’d say. I’m a tough cookie. I can help others through their tribulations while carrying mine all by myself. Well…wasn’t I wrong.

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I didn’t really know what needing him meant until I had no other choice. I didn’t know what it meant until I wrapped my arms around my middle so I wouldn’t fall apart–or the time I choked on tears and yelled toward Heaven. Or the times when I was utterly alone, and the silence was too much to bear. Those are the times that taught me he’s not just a want or a convenient symbol of love or a reason to do good deeds.

No, he’s the very air we breathe.

And he’s the only one who can make it bearable when life is simply anything but.