How Am I Handling This? A Few Quarantined Thoughts

Duck #124

I groggily drag my feet from bed and make my way to the bathroom. As a chronic over sleeper, mornings have never really been a time of slow or stillness for me. There is something about the morning sun that beckons me to move at a glacial pace, to notice the way the light reflect off of apartment surfaces through a dirty window. It’s lovely.

And yet, morning by morning, I turn from one side to the next and ignore the call that asks me to rise, to come play, to sit, to begin. Later and Tomorrow are friendly foes I know well. They found me at a young age and have been faithful to stay close. As I grow, however, I Right Now and Today are strangers with whom I hope to become better acquainted.

Time, the precious and precarious little pest seems to be irrelevant these days. In the wake of the ever changing reality that is living through a global pandemic, so much of the ticking against the clock feels both everlasting and rapid. There seems to be a tacit pressure in the air–one that urges me to become more productive than before, one that pulls me to practice downward facing dog until I’m blue in the face.

Admittedly, as someone who struggles with what is technically diagnosable as an anxiety disorder, this time has been weird. Surprisingly, the beasts of panic attacks and heart racing haven’t come to visit much during this period of quarantine. I would be a fool to say that there were not times when “this all” felt like too much. That is to say, whatever “this all” is, in its unprecendence, has caused me to feel more sad and angry than I would like to admit.

I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to hang out with my chosen family here in Atlanta in the ways and regularity I was used to. I was angry at the ways President Trump was generally answering questions during his press conferences. I was sad that there are so many of my friends that are worried about family members with compromised immune systems. I was angry that I was being told that I effectively wasn’t allowed to leave my home. I was sad that arguably one of the best events that my job puts on was being cancelled. Sad and angry, angry and sad. Over and over again these emotions slap against each other as the morning sun playfully sings my name and my bed sheets seductively whisper for me not to move.

How am I handling all of this? It’s hard to tell. I’m afraid I won’t know until “living through a global pandemic” is a phrase of the past, and touch isn’t illegal. I like to dream of what that will be like, the time to come, the what’s next of it all. As a follower of Jesus, my heart and my hope thinks of The New Heavens and The New Earth.

I think of the words sung by Phill Wickham–“when we arrive at Eternity’s shore/ where death is just a memory and tears are no more / we’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring / Your bride will come together and We’ll sing, “you’re beautiful.”

I think of the father–dancing and running towards his prodigal son–eagerly awaiting the feast that will soon be prepared to celebrate his love’s return.

I think of Jesus boldly and joyfully saying, “Let the little children come to me.”

Shifting in position as I sit on the carpet, I let the blood circulate in my legs. I stare out the window and watch the trees converse in the wind. I wonder what Later and Tomorrow are up to. I remember to pay attention to Today and Right Now.
Everything has shifted at such a rapid pace. So much is relative. Perspective feels just out of grasp. How do we get used to the different?

I’m not sure.

But God.
But God.
But God.

He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Has has been kind and will continue to be. His character is immutable. His mercy is new every morning. His love is everlasting. He is working to make everything sad come untrue. His promises never fail. He sees. He hasn’t forgotten. He is sure, we don’t have to be.

The Most Vulnerable Emotion

Duck #123

“Jayna, what do you think is the most vulnerable emotion we can have?”
I paused, shrugging my shoulders.
“Would you believe me if I told you that it was joy?”

I paused again, looking at my therapist trying to understand why she would ask me that. I asked her to explain.

“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion because we’re afraid to lose it. Think about it, we’re not worried that fear will go away or that anger will go away, or sadness—but joy…we’re afraid that once we get it, it won’t last.”

Loose wires started to connect and unscrewed bolts began to tighten.

I nodded.

She continued, “Jayna, for some reason, you have this inner narrative that keeps you afraid of joy. It’s like your shame is trying to protect you from the devastation of losing joy. Once it comes, you struggle to enjoy it, not wanting to get attached, because you ‘know’ it’s going to leave.”

My inner child felt both seen and also extremely sad.
I don’t remember if I cried at this point, but it is very likely. Therapy does that too ya. It just hurts so good, ya know?

_________

That was a few weeks ago.

Earlier this week, at my appointment, my therapist said, “Jayna, can you take note of the times that you’re laughing? Can you take a few seconds to realize how that feels, to realize that you’re safe?”

I nodded. “Yes, I can do that. I love laughing!”

“I know you do! Pay attention to your body when you’re laughing, like really laughing.”

What I’ve realized through this counseling process is that the body really does keep the score. Apparently, there’s a fire alarm in my brain that’s been going off for months now. Essentially, my body has felt like it’s under threat and so my brain is sending off signals alerting me of danger and is doing everything it can to keep me safe. This is all happening in my amygdyla. Brains are bananas, y’all.

As I’ve continued to work through past trauma and experiences, the fire alarm doesn’t go off as much, but it’s still fairly sensitive.  Making toast in my mind is precarious work. But I’m not in danger anymore. I know that, I really do…there’s just still a part of me that’s trying to catch up to that fact.

I’m safe.

And whether I realize it or not, I feel the safest when I laugh. If you’ve ever seen me laugh you’ve noticed at least these 2 things—

1)It doesn’t take much to get me going

2)Once I start, my knees “give out” shortly thereafter

It’s quite the sight to behold. People whom I’ve just met are always concerned, but my friends are faithful to immediately say, “She’s fine. She just does this.” If there aren’t any “new” people in the mix, my friends will just say, “Oh! There she goes!”

I can’t help it. I’ve seen video of myself when my laughter “takes me”, as I like to say, and it’s pretty funny. I look ridiculous, but you know what else I look? Safe. Safe and Free.

__________

As I was getting out of my car for work this morning, I dropped an orange I’d brought with me. Immediately, the orange started to roll through the parking lot and like an animal I ran, bent over, after it. Realizing how silly I looked, I started to laugh. In doing so, I remembered another time I was doubled over in laughter outside, near a car. I was with a good friend. He was talking about something, and then all of a sudden he wasn’t. He had slipped and fallen in the wet grass. Where I could once see his head above the car, I saw nothing but black. You truly had to be there (or be me) to find all of this as funny as I did/do.

Anyway, I immediately sent this friend a video of me recalling the story. In the video, I was laughing (who’s surprised, honestly?). I walked into work still giggling to myself and thought about my therapist’s words. I tried to take notice of how my body felt.

Calm. Relaxed. Shoulders down. Jaw unclenched. Mind swimming down a stream instead of its usual race through the rapids. I smiled and thanked Jesus that for my frequent laughing fits.

________

Even though I laugh frequently, I always worry that maybe one day I won’t be able to. Maybe one day I won’t be completely overtaken by my laughter. Maybe one day this joy will be gone. Of course, the Lord is faithful to let me laugh. He lets me laugh big, hearty, loud, and body encompassing laughter. And it’s beautiful. It’s precious. When I laugh with all of who I am I’m not worried about who I am, how I’m perceived or what might happen. I can just be. I can be full of joy.

What I’m realizing now is that true and genuine laughter only comes out when I feel safe. I give the specifications of true and genuine because we all know what it’s like to nervously laugh. (Think: the awkward laugh that happens when unwanted, sexual attention is given. Laughter and consent aren’t the same, people!) But true and genuine laughter—the kind that steals your breath, the kind that puts your stomach in a tight knot, the kind that can’t possibly sound attractive because it doesn’t have the time—is the kind that tells our bodies, “Hey. You’re safe. It’s okay. Lean into this moment.”

_______

The book of Nehemiah says that it’s the Lord’s joy that is our strength. What good news that is! My joy isn’t my strength. It’s His. Sealed by the Spirit, hidden in Christ, my Father holds both my strength and my joy. He is my safe retreat and the gift of laughter is a reminder of that.

And joy, while a vulnerable emotion, can’t ever be lost. It doesn’t be long to me. At least, not entirely. I’m not responsible for it…my Jesus is. And he’s the best keeper of all things sacred and vulnerable. He’s the best at details and intricacies.

So here is this joy, Lord. It belongs to you. You’ve allowed me to hold it and it feels frail. Help me to remember that my hands aren’t strong enough and that I have to let you hold them. You give and take away, yes, but there is a guarantee that you will never leave. And in your presence is fullness of joy. So, my sweet Jesus, abide with me. Abide with me, and let’s laugh.

The Sound of Joy & Gladness

Duck #116

“I can literally feel the Holy Spirit right now…” 

Those were the words my roommate, Emily,  said to me last night as we relaxed in her bed, watching a video of Cynthia Erivo sing “I’m Here” from The Color Purple on The Late Show. As Cynthia lets the notes leave her body, she shares a part of herself. To hear (and watch) this performance feels like a true gift. As my roommate and I lay horizontal in her bed, smiles crept across our faces and breath returned to our lungs. I looked over to Emily and said, “Isn’t she amazing? Wasn’t that so good?!” She simply nodded, nearly having tears in her eyes. I crawled off the bed, knelt down and with eyes closed said “Ugh! I just…I will say this over and over again until he returns, but I’m just so thankful that God created music. He didn’t have to. It’s for our joy! And the fact that Zephaniah says that he sings over us?! I can’t. I really can’t.”

If you’ve ever hung out with me in person while music was playing, then you’ve heard me say similar sentiments before. You’ve seen my body contort or simply go limp because of particular notes and lyrics in songs. You’ve heard me scream over an unexpected harmony. You’ve seen me immediately get up and dance because the bridge of a song is just so catchy. You’ve seen close my eyes and lip sync the mess out of “Big Girl’s Don’t Cry (Personal).” I can’t help it.

There is something about the experience of listening to music that is truly euphoric. In the same way that poetic diction enhances a story, the notes on the bass and treble clef scales enhance the way we see the world. Music has a way of taking an ordinary sunny day and making it feel like it’s the best day you’ve lived so far. It also has a way of making a break-up feel like you’re drowning in the flood while your ex is sailing away on The Ark. How can it do both?! Maybe even in the same day! Music changes the way we watch movies, get through the work day, recover from trauma, study for finals, pick out an outfit, take a road trip…

As Christians, I think music also changes the way we understand the person and character of Jesus. Psalm 51:8 says this, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” To give some context, this verse comes in the middle of David’s lamenting and repenting after having been exposed in raping Bathsheba. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do after having been exposed in my sin is to beg God for my broken bones to make noise. But he’s a God who will always woo us back. As his children, there’s a melody that’s just for us.

In re-reading verse 8 this week I was struck with the auditory language–hear and rejoice. I started thinking, what exactly does joy and gladness sound like? If broken bones could literally rejoice, what would they scream? I’m no theologian, but I’d like to believe that joy and gladness sound a lot like singing and rejoicing bones sound symphonic. I imagine the harmony of salvation and forgiveness is like that one time Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson sang together on Soul Train.

How kind is it of the Lord to let music be a means to point us back to him. He could call us to himself or back to himself in so many other ways, ways that are far less enjoyable. But God! Throughout Scripture the Lord calls his people to sing together, to shout, to dance, to play the harp, to blow the horn, to beat the drum, to praise the name of Jesus for all that he’s done.  The King gets all the glory and we get drenched in joy.

Gosh. I’m so thankful for music. I’m thankful for the ways it allows me to know Jesus better. I’m thankful for the ways it’s fostered beautiful relationships with friends (and strangers!). I’m thankful that it lets me feel seen. I’m thankful it consistently moves me to tears. I’m thankful that sometimes it communicates what “just words” can’t. I’m thankful that with music,”the LORD [my] God…will rejoice over [me] with gladness…he will exult over [me] with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

[Dear Jesus,
Ugh. You’re so kind.]
<3Amen

This Place

Duck #115

Growing up is a funny thing. I’ve never really wanted to do it. My childhood was lovely. Any time I spend looking back over it brings nothing but a smile to my face. It was filled with adventure, dancing, laughter, imagination, color, love…
This all took place in a home that I loved, in a neighborhood that felt like something made of magic. Moving away from that childhood home was harder than I ever anticipated. I was eleven and I remember crying for a good portion of the drive from New York to North Carolina. Since then, I think little Jayna has been in search of another place to call home. Not one to replace the former, but one where I can settle and rest and let my roots establish themselves in the earth.

I thought, as I got older, that perhaps I would create this home. That it would be the place where I lived that felt the most safe. The Lord is funny and kind, though. Sometimes he gives you what you need in a way you didn’t know you needed it, in a form you weren’t expecting. A soul sister of mine lives in a house she’s created to be a home. Not just for me, but for all who enter. It feels like a fairytale, but it’s so much better because it’s real. I thank the Lord for this place and the friendship that sustains it.

Sadly, the writing of poems is not my forte. However, the way I know how to best describe the way this place makes me feel is through poetry. So, here it is…

——
This Place

near the end of the street clad with age
it sits
light blue, candle lit
quiet
unassuming
robed in welcome
a screen door that whispers the secret of hospitality
yes, You may enter
“please, sit. stay a while,” the walls hum
light rushing in to meet a scent familiar and sweet
cool air
wood floors
opened windows

a crooked chimney makes its debut
an invitation for crooked hearts
(masks removed. it’s okay.)
even the backyard’s greenery beckons to be inside
it longs to be a part of the magic
there’s a rhythm in the baseboards
“won’t You dance with me?”
of course
one, two, three
hours pass
island time vacations here
water & wine play together
hurt & hope converse
mirth & misery swap stories
together…
this place is meant for Us
together
papa in a frame
ink stained on glass
fresh fruit
coffee poured over and over and over

the sun!

oh, how the sun warms this place
oh, how the sun warms this heart
oh, how the sun warms
“look up, Love.”
“how?”
“just as You were always meant to.”

this place
drenched in a thousand exhales
flooded with a New Song

near the end of the street, safely clad
it sits
“You’re home.
breathe, Dear.
You’re home.”

 

The Night We Met

I wasn’t expecting much when I walked inside. I like making people happy and ensuring that they’re comfortable—I especially felt inclined to do so for Alex. There isn’t anything I can do to bring his mom back, but if accompanying my friend to a party full of strangers would bring him some joy, then I’m happy to oblige.

Talking to people is usually pretty easy for me. I used to meet people for a living, after all.

The door opened and the host greeted us. Kind. Charismatic. An older gentlemen with just a touch of gray. It was as if his hair were the only indication that he was no longer 25.

“Mmm…he seems great,” I thought to myself.

Normal introductions followed. “Hi, this is my friend. She’s visiting from out of town.” I shook a series of hands and heard a number of names I don’t remember. But I remember yours. How could I forget? We met in the kitchen, technically. It was an awkward encounter actually because when it was our turn to shake hands, your eyes darted to the friend behind me. Apparently, you both weren’t expecting to see each other, and so your interaction was a literal pleasant surprise. But I hadn’t been forgotten.

“B, this is my friend, Elena.”

“Hi, Elena. I’m, B. Pleased to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

I don’t remember anything about the handshake. I don’t remember how your hand felt in mine, but I do remember your eyes—dark and warm, framed by glasses that added just the right touch of sophistication. I also remember you hair—styled and silky. “I wonder if it’s as soft as it looks,” I thought. I remember your face, clothed in skin that was familiar with the sun, caressing a smile that invited me to look just a little too long.

But then the moment passed. Everyone started mingling and I got lost in the shuffle. I found myself at a table of women who I didn’t care to necessarily engage. They were nice enough, of course, but our common interests extended as far as the latest Rom-Com that was recently in theaters. I’d seen the movie and was internally begging to connect with someone at this party, so I chimed in. “Yeah, I saw it. It was okay. Funny enough, but a little too raunchy for my taste.” The women agreed, reciprocating my words in a different order. It’s funny that we do that, isn’t it? Repeat what we hear as if we’re saying it for the first time. Everyone just wants to relate and be related to, I suppose.

As I was sitting at the table, my eyes kept darting across the room to find you—first, the kitchen, behind the island, enjoying the buffet of food; next the living room, near the couch, enjoying the company of men that I assumed were your friends, but maybe not? Perhaps you were just being polite and friendly; finally, the space in between the two rooms, across from me. You were holding a goblet of whisky, or maybe it was bourbon. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but I do remember thinking how childish I felt as I sipped on my ginger ale in a styrofoam cup. I wanted to be drinking alcohol. I wanted to join in the fun, but my stomach wouldn’t allow it. There was even a moment where I wished I had indulged before I’d come to the house, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so skittish and aloof in the corner, alone.

But I’m glad I was sober. I’m glad I wasn’t influenced by anything other than you. I’m glad the most intoxicating experience I had that night was our conversation. But maybe I was inebriated. Maybe something had been slipped into my drink. It was all too enchanting; it didn’t feel real. Maybe you meet people in this manner all the time. Maybe having such riveting conversation with strangers is a hobby of yours. I’m sure people try their hardest to talk to you wherever you go. Americans are funny that way. We love foreigners, but only the right kind of foreigners. Your British accent was exactly right. But how cliche, huh? Of course I’m attracted to your accent. How could I not be? It doesn’t matter that I’ve always had an odd affinity for England. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been to London, but have spent several days in Newcastle (a town not known for tourists). It doesn’t matter that my heritage can be traced back to England and that my last name sounds like it could be on the front of a beautiful stone building with the word “Manor” following it. Whittemore. None of it matters because in every other scenario you are the character that all of the girls fawn after. You are the character that is fascinating and intelligent and witty and winsome, but that’s it—you’re just a character.

This wasn’t every other scenario. And I’m writing about it now, because there is a part of me that feels as if I dreamed all of this up in my head. So I have to record it. I’ve been afraid to, though. Usually writing something down is what gives it life, but when life has enough to sustain itself, how can my mere words capture a night that feels too charming to explain?

“But that’s the narrative we’re told, right? As millennials…” I don’t remember the first part of our conversation because I was trying to remind myself to breath. “Yes, Elena. He’s talking to you. Speak to him. You’re fine.” Deep breath. Why were you talking to me? Did you see me staring? “Forgive me, I couldn’t help it. I was just so curious,” I thought.

“I have a theory about our generation, actually…”

“Really?” You paused. Interested? “I’m going to take this seat.” Right next to me.  “Okay, go on.”

I explained my theory. I fumbled over my words a bit. Admittedly, I was nervous. I know what I had to say was of value and merit, I wouldn’t have brought it up otherwise. But I wanted you to remain interested. I wanted to keep talking to you.

You nodded. You smiled. You agreed. Safe.

And so we continued to converse. Back and forth. You would speak and I’d feel the same way you did. I would share my thoughts and you’d enthusiastically respond in agreement. There was a consistent serving and receiving. Surely, our understanding would end. Surely, you’d get bored. Surely, I’d realize that you weren’t actually as intriguing as I’d thought. The hammer never fell. The curtain was never pulled back. Intricately, delicately, intentionally, we pursued a myriad of topics—literature, film, music, politics, psychology, religion, human relationships.

“Elena, let me ask you a question…” The words fell off your tongue and spun around my ears. I was on the edge of my seat. “Ask me anything. Let me in on what’s peaked your curiosity,” I thought.

“Do you think opposites attract?” you finished.

I wasn’t sure how to respond. What answer were you looking for? Surely, you didn’t see us as opposites. We’d found so much common ground. Do I say, “yes” because that’s how the age old adage goes? Do I say “no” as to seem unmarked by what culture tells me is fact?

“Let me think about it.”

“Okay.”

I had to be honest with you. I couldn’t lie. I didn’t want to lie. I’d been honest up until this point, and it had worked in my favor. There was no need to change who I was so that you might find me more attractive, and I wanted you to find my attractive. You seemed to be attracted to my honesty.

“Yes and no.” I concluded.

Your eyes turned toward me and seemed to ask, “What do you mean?”

Before you could audibly inquire, I answered. “Let me explain myself.”

“I think opposites attract to some degree. I mean, they have to. We’re so interested and curious about other people, people that are different than us, right? Its fun. So they attract, yes, but they don’t sustain. Beauty fades and looks don’t always say the same, but companionship, common interests, that lasts. There needs to be some level of common ground in order for a relationship to work.”

“Oh, that’s brilliant.”  You let those three words escape and then you let them escape again.

“I think, you’re absolutely right. You’ve put it brilliantly. Opposites attract, but they don’t sustain. And it’s that sustainability that a relationship needs, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” I said.

I’d hooked you. No traps, no nets, but you were now engaged in our conversation differently than before. I’m glad I was honest. I wanted you to be hooked because you were pulling words and thoughts and ideas and narratives out of my broken barrel of a mind. You were pouring water on a garden that had seen a rough winter. You were tending to my curious flowerbeds with questions of of care and weeding out unnecessary small talk with poignant subject matter. I was growing and changing. There. As we sat in two chairs in between the living room and kitchen I was reminded of what I love, what inspires me.

I wish I could make this sound less dramatic. I wish I could make this sound less poetic. Sort of. I wish these things because I want to be believed, but I’m not lying. There’s no over exaggeration, but I suppose until you have an unexpected encounter such as ours, this will all sound as farce.

I don’t know what you do for a living. I don’t know how old you are. I don’t know the name of your English hometown. I don’t know what kind of car you drive. I don’t know what your favorite sports team is. I asked if you liked sports, and you said yes. I asked what your favorite sport was and you replied with “politics.” I smiled. You’re a fan of mind games—not manipulation, but you enjoy engaging in thought. I do too.

As we continued to talk, I did my best not to look at the clock. But we were at a party for a purpose. There was a big sports match. Pay per view. America vs. Europe. Us. But we weren’t rivals, we weren’t opponents. We weren’t trying to best each other…

It was almost time for the fight to start and I found myself begging for time to turn back. Internally, I was pleading for everything to slow down. All I wanted to do was keep talking to you. I wanted to keep asking you questions and I wanted to keep answering yours. I wanted to know more about your mom—it’s obvious that you care for her deeply. You said she was “your heart.” I wanted to learn more about your brothers—you’re all close, yes? I wanted to understand why you didn’t have the best relationship with your dad—do you want that to change? I wanted to know why you studied engineering in college when your heart rests with psychology and literature. I wanted to know where you personally stood when it comes to matters of God an the Bible—you know much about religions and faith, but what wakes you up in the morning?

I wanted to know why, in the most random of places, in the most spontaneous of manners our moments in time intersected. I wanted to know why talking to you felt like listening to my favorite song and why being near you, while entirely new, was as comfortable as my favorite sweatshirt (the one that’s been with me through a lot, the one that I know is reliable, the one that makes me feel good about myself even if I’ve just rolled out of bed). I had so many questions for you, B, and I still do. I have an aching desire to know you and I’m undone because I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to truly do so.

But I want to.

It’s been five days since we’ve met and you’ve been on my mind for every last one of them. I feel silly. You’re just a boy and I’m just a girl. We met and shared a wonderful evening. That’s it. Then why has my mind begun to create pictures and scenarios and stories that star us as the protagonists? Why do I keep checking my phone to see if you’ve written me a modern day letter, (as you called it)? Why do I want to share and experience my life with you? I hardly know you. Are you even thinking about me? I don’t think I believe in love at first sight, but the last boy that I connected with in this way had a heart big enough for me to fall into and I loved him with everything I had. I never told him, though. He’ll probably never know, actually. But my connection with him wasn’t anything like ours. Ours was better; richer; more thoughtful.

B, I hope I talk to you again. I hope I see you again. But if not, thank you, thank you for a wonderful evening.

Excited. Expectant. Unafraid.

Duck #113

Have you ever re-fallen in love? With a person, a thing, a season, a song? I feel like that’s where I am right now. I find myself re-falling in love with charms and treasures of this life that had seemed to lose their…shine. Truth be told, they were still just as shiny, I was just scared. And when looking at anything through the lens of fear, all you see is dark and gray. It’s quite miserable.

But the thing about the human body is that it is capable of far more than you think–even when it comes to the unpleasant. For nearly two and a half years, fear and I had become good pals. The glasses it shoved on my face, while heavy and uncomfortable, just became a part of my normal routine. Every where that Jayna went, fear was sure to follow. Much of this fear took shape as my unwanted partner in crime–anxiety. In fact, my last blog post (written over 6 months ago) was the aftermath of a panic attack. It has been so hard for me to blog since then because there’s been so much swirling around in my head. I wasn’t much able to get a grasp on my thoughts. My counselor has since told me that it’s called obsessive thinking. I just called it the loop. And I thought it was normal. It just happened. A lot. But like I said, the human body is capable of far more than we think. So I would just obsessively think myself into a panic. Often.

Shortly after I had written that last post, I got tacos (my favorite) with a friend. I was trying to explain to her how I was feeling and what was going on in my head. I kept saying, “I can’t tell what’s the Lord’s voice and what’s the enemy’s. They sound so similar.” It was unbelievably isolating. The friend I was sharing with has become a safe haven for me in Atlanta. I can’t thank the Lord enough for her. As I cried and spilled my fears to her and explained how absolutely horrible I had been feeling (for the past 2 years), she met me where I was. With kindness and love. What a gift it was to let a bit of my burden go.

….and after that everything got better. I never had another panic attack. And all my fear dissipated!!!!

 

 

 

 

FALSE.

I had a panic attack two weeks ago. On my birthday.

And that brings me to the meat of this post. My birthday. Number twenty-five. For the first time, in a while, I have great anticipation and expectation for this upcoming year. I’m looking forward to what’s next, not because I need the previous year to be over, but because I’m excited and I’m not…afraid. Like I said, i’m re-falling in love.

On the eve of my 24th birthday, the Lord clearly told me that I was going to be entering a year without fear. This absolutely terrified me. Fear and I were basically best pals, remember? I didn’t really believe God. My argument? I wasn’t worth the time. It was too much to remove fear from me. I was convinced that if God was going to remove fear from me, the way he was going to do it wouldn’t be kind and it wouldn’t be loving. It would be full of suffering and surprises and “see, I told you so’s.”

So for about 11 months of my 24th year, fear gripped the mess out of me. My anxiety was manifesting in new ways (yeah, apparently that can happen) and I was overwhelmed.  Throughout these 11 months, I would kind of snidely bring up to God that promise He’d made me. Where’s this year without fear, huh? I’m almost 25, Lord? Where you at? 

His response. “Right here. As I have been all along.”

Over the summer during a worship night that a friend invited me to, I prayed a prayer. A bold one. Why? I don’t really know. Call it desperation, call it the prompting of the Holy Spirit. But I prayed. Lord, I need you to show me who I think you are, who you really are, and how the two are different.  Almost immediately, my prayer was answered. If we meet for coffee, I’ll be happy to share with you the specific answer.  (It’s intimate, so I’d rather save it for a face to face convo. Plus, I’d love to get coffee with you!) In sharing this with my counselor, she said, “…I don’t even know what to say. That feels too holy to step on.” I wept. The answer the Lord had given me was completely uprooting my categories for him. It was rearranging “truths” about his character.

Part of what he told me was, “I’m so proud of you. You’re safe with me.” I wept. Again.
What I hadn’t realized is that so much of my fear and anxiety stemmed from a belief that God is not safe, that he couldn’t be trusted. I had no idea how far down this belief went.

Since that moment of clarity over the summer, Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been in cahoots to capture my heart. I know, I know how cheesy that sounds. I just honestly don’t know how else to describe it. Purposefully, passionately, and persistently I am becoming more of who the Lord is calling me to be. I have stood up for myself, I have stayed quiet when I would normally feel the need to speak, I chased a BIG dream and published a book, I let myself be seen by my friends and let them know it means the world to me that they see me, I have apologized, I have repented, I ran a 5k (lol. I consider this a big deal), I started to believe that God is who he says he is and not who I had formerly thought him to be. And oh, am I so thankful. He’s good, y’all. And kind. And BIG. And loving. And hilarious. And adventurous. And faithful. And EXACTLY who Scripture says he is.

Never before had the lyrics of “I asked the Lord” made so much sense to me. In my begging and pleading with the Lord during my deep fits of anxiety and fear, I didn’t realize that what needed to happen was that I needed to see the depths of my heart. I needed to see what I was projecting on the Lord. I needed to see my need to find my all in Him, not who I thought of Him to be.

…I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

I’m still learning. I’m still processing. But I am so excited. I am expectant. I am re-falling in love with Jesus and with myself and with this life that He’s given me. I’m no longer a slave to fear. Sure, I know that I will again be afraid, but I also know that fear is not my God. Hallelujah for that!

All right year 25, let’s get it!

 

[THANK YOU, JESUS!]
❤ Amen

SOS! All of My Friends Are White!

Duck #111

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. . . . Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” – Zora Neale Hurston

I’ve gotten compliments on my skin for as long as I can remember. It’s not abnormal for strangers in grocery stores or coffee shops to comment on its clarity. My mother would tell me how much it reminds her of her mother’s skin. “You have such a pretty pecan color–just like my mom,” she would say.  When I was a teenager this lead to me freaking out if I noticed a pimple on my face. I’ve never struggled with acne, per se, but I’m not immune to biology. Blemishes don’t play favorites.

As a young adult, my blemishes are probably the worst they’ve ever been. My pigmentation is even, but there are some marks and a few scars on my face. Sure, they’re small, and I’m thankful for that. But because my skin was so complimented (and often still is) I learned to wrap up much of who I was in my skin tone. Not too dark, not too light, but a “pretty pecan color.”

My identity as a Black person became wrapped up in my melanin level. This, of course, led to the sin of colorism. A sin to which I thought I was immune, but was lovingly shown that I, in fact, am not. That is hard to admit. I don’t want to admit it. Even after repentance, I still struggle to own up to a way of thinking that labels me as “sinful,” or more currently, “un-woke.”

When I was 11, my parents and I moved from New York to North Carolina. It was then that that the conversation really started. If you’re also Black, you know exactly which conversation I’m talking about. The, “you have to work twice as hard for half the credit”, and “be sure to always use your manners when speaking to adults,” and “your friends might be able to do things, but you can’t,” and “if people say the N-word to you, don’t fight back, ignore them and tell a teacher,” conversation. I don’t remember all the details of this particular conversation, but I do remember being shocked by it. Up until that point in my life, I had absolutely no category for racism. I’d grown up in a beautiful and ethnically diverse neighborhood. In fact, in elementary school I could count the white friends I had one one hand. Never once did I look in the mirror and feel shame because my skin wasn’t white.

But in the same way that I freaked out about blemishes in high school, I freaked out about coming across as “too Black.” On the first day of school in North Carolina, I was hit with the harsh reality of being the only black girl in 7th grade. There was one other Black boy whom I avoided like the plague because I was afraid that everyone would assume we liked each other (which they did). The idea of liking boys, while appealing, was not something I wanted thrown onto me. However, part of being Black in America is learning that so much of what you don’t want is thrown on you for no other reason than that you exist.

One day, in math class, a boy stood up on his chair and proceeded to make a declaration to everyone in the room. He said, “Jayna, I know who you like! You like ______ because you’re both black!” The class erupted with laughter and I was mortified. My teacher told my classmate to sit down and I awkwardly smiled, not because his accusation was true, but because I was uncomfortable and didn’t have anyone else in the classroom that looked like me to back me up or at least empathize with how I was feeling.

*Side note: Sometimes women smile in awkward  and uncomfortable situations. This doesn’t mean that we are necessarily enjoying the current situation we’re in. If you’re unsure, ask. We’re certainly happy to clarify if you give us the chance.
**Another side note: the only other Black kid that everyone thought I liked and I avoided like the plague throughout most of middle school is now one of my best friends.  Naturally, we were voted “Cutest Should Be Couple” our senior year. We loved it though, because of how close we’d gotten. Now that we’re older, we can laugh about the silliness of our adolescence. This summer I get to watch him marry the love of his life and I couldn’t be more excited.

Throughout middle and high school I became obsessed with fitting in. Sometimes that looked like going along with racial pejoratives thrown my way. I wore a baggy jersey to a friend’s 13th birthday party. It was a costume party and there was  going to be a prize for the winner. I went claiming to be a “gangsta” instead of wearing my 70s hippie costume. My mom suggested I wear the tie-die shirt and pant combo, but I made a fuss about how I didn’t want to. I never told her why. I let a friend borrow the costume and she ended up winning the contest that night. Other times that looked like researching bands my friends liked and trying to know their music so I could talk about it at school the next day. I don’t want to thank assimilation for my deep, deep love of pop music–because I probably would’ve fallen in love regardless– but the thrill I got when listening to America’s Top 40 on Sunday mornings before church was not a passion my parents fostered, I can tell ya that much!

Regardless, as I navigated the waters of junior and senior high I swam mostly alone doing whatever tricks necessary to make sure people liked me. (I say mostly because in 8th grade another black girl joined the school and by senior year there was a grand total of 6 Black students in my class!! Alert the media!!) And so began my overwhelmingly white-washed friendships. These relationships, at the time, felt normal and good. I realize now that they were good, but not normal. In college, I would brag about how wonderful my friends were…are. Some of the bonds I made during my time at Appalachian State University are ones that I am confident will last a lifetime. (I’m the Maid of Honor in my best friend’s wedding this spring. I met her during my first week on campus.)

I didn’t understand my need for black friendship until I found it. The summer after my sophomore year, I became a Student Orientation Undergraduate Leader and quickly bonded with the two other black SOULs. We’d all grown up in similar environments and been told similar things by our white peers. These common experiences led to conversations of empathy, nostalgia over common black childhood memories (a personal favorite being seeing the movie Set It Off at far too early an age), and endless nights of watching Kevin Hart’s stand up comedy on Netflix. I loved it! I had found a group of people that got me without me having to explain myself. They understood a part of me I didn’t realize was begging for someone to listen.

But we each had our already established friend groups. While the three of us did hang out outside of Orientation, our home bases were amid our predominantly white relationships. Often times, that’s where I felt the most comfortable. I had been navigating having mostly white friends since I was 11, I knew how to do it.

I’m 24 now, living in the city affectionately called “The Black Mecca,” and I have two Black friends. When I moved to Atlanta, I had all these expectations of finally being able to be in consistent community with people that look like me. Since graduation I’ve learned so much and I need my people to help me process through all of this. In college, I wafted between wanting to join the Black Student Association but thinking I wasn’t Black enough and thinking that BSA was altogether stupid.  Now I wish there was an all Black organization I could join.

I attend a trans-cultural church under the pastorship of a Black man, and yet the majority of people I’ve connected with since attending are white. My roommates are white, all of my co-workers are white, and most of my seminary classmates are white, too. Are white people just drawn to me? Do I have a scent that attracts them? Is there some invisible beacon I posses that repels Black people? Why do I have to work so hard to find community amongst people that understand the hesitancy I had in wearing a head wrap to work the first time without me having to explain it? Am I not Black enough to have Black friends?

These are questions I ask regularly, to myself, and to the Lord. I wouldn’t trade my friends for anything. Please don’t hear me shame them. They are beautiful and wonderful and have been with me through some of my best and absolutely worst times. And I don’t wish they were Black. I think I more so wish that I felt confident to be who I am in the spaces I frequent. In middle and high school I ran from anything that would make me too Black, but at 24 I find myself running towards those things. The changes I’ve made have been minimal, but to me they feel life altering. I love being Black and I want people to know that, but sometimes I fear that because I’m rarely seen with other Black people, my love is illegitimate.  So to counteract my lack of melanin filled friends, I feel like I constantly have to prove my blackness.

The thing about trying to prove yourself, though, is that eventually you will grow tired. I’ve realized recently that I’m not trying to prove my blackness to other people, I’m trying to prove it to myself. It’s not that other people don’t believe I’m black enough…I don’t…and I’m exhausted.

A good friend asked me what I thought it meant to be Black. I haven’t come up with an answer I’d be willing to die for just yet, but here’s what I have so far:

Maybe being Black doesn’t have to do with the friends that I have. Maybe being Black has nothing to do with the way I dress or talk or what music I listen to. Maybe being Black isn’t something that must be achieved. Maybe being Black is just being me…because I am Black. No questions asked.

 

But if ya know of any Black people in ATL that are lookin’ for a fellow, Black gal pal (who’s young and fun) , let a sista know! 😉

[Dear Lord,
Thanks for making me Black. Thanks for choosing my specific skin tone to be one that reflects a part of your nature. That’s pretty cool and kind. I love you.]
❤ Amen

The Greatest Showman: A Celebration of Humanity

Duck #110

If you know me, you know that one of my favorite pastimes is going to the movies, preferably alone. I often refer to the theatre as “my happy place.” It’s a place where, yes, I can escape my reality momentarily, but more so live in the juxtaposition of my world and the one I’m watching on the screen. Art imitates life and life imitates art and there’s something magical about experiencing the marriage of the two. I go to the movies often because I want to to laugh, I want to cry, I want to think, I want to dream… If I could bottle up the feeling I get as I settle into my seat, the lights dim, and the first preview starts, I would. I would bottle it and drink it every morning like a doctor ordered prescription. To me, the movies hold a magic that remind me of how exciting it is to be alive, to be human. I love it.

Recently, my parents and I went to see Michael Gracey’s The Greatest Showman. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the film, TGS is a bio-musical that somewhat details the life and early career of P.T. Barnum, the man we know and love as the “founder” of the American Circus. Barnum was a lover of the arts, entertainment, hoaxes, the peculiar, and certainly a lover of money. Born a poor boy, Barnum worked hard to build a life for himself and his family, most notably via a show starring men and women that were considered community pariahs.

With music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, The Greatest Showman, elevates the exciting and highlights the hideous. A movie released at the end of a polarizing political year, the messages it communicates are ones of inclusion, family, love, and friendship. In many ways, TGS drips with a classic rags to riches plot, akin to the Cinderella story our country loves to rally behind. The scenes pull at your heartstrings. As an audience member your heart soars when Barnum marries his childhood sweetheart, when he creatively builds a present for his daughter’s birthday after he loses his job, when patrons attend his show and give a standing ovation. And how would you not? Hope lives in our core and we believe a little more that maybe—just maybe—we can make it through this thing called life if there’s evidence of someone else’s hope coming to fruition, even if it’s just on a movie screen. We all want a hero we can root for, someone we can cheer on, someone we want to do good. Early on in the film, Hugh Jackman (Barnum), slips into this role. With vocals and acting, that I think surpass his last Christmas blockbuster, Les Miserables, Jackman convinces the audience that “…the world becomes a fantasy/ and you’re more than you could ever be/ ‘cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open/ so, come alive!” per the pivotal fourth number in the film, “Come Alive.”

However, while the spotlight obviously shines and Jackman’s portrayal of P.T. Barnum, I believe the real heroes lie in the characters that star in the circus—The Fattest Man, The Tallest Man on Earth, Dog Boy, an African American brother and sister trapeze artist pair, The Bearded Lady, among others. Without them, Barnum’s show falls flat. When trying to get a loan from the bank to open his show he says, “people are fascinated by the unusual and the macabre.” Of course, watching this, I’m torn. The saying is trustworthy, people are fascinated by the unusual, but these “unusuals” are people, people being put on display for the entertainment of others. Barnum’s character puts it this way, “…people are going to be laughing anyway, so you might as well get paid, right?” It’s a fascinating scenario, to exploit the odd and yet simultaneously give them a place to belong.

What is so beautiful about these “unusuals” though is that while Barnum gives them a platform, they take that platform and make it home all on their own. It’s almost as if they take back what it means to be exploited. Together they form a family and accept one another. Each night they come together and put on a show that brings joy to an audience of curious, skeptical people. How? By celebrating exactly who they are, no apologies. There is a particular moment in the film when this theme shines brilliantly. As not to spoil the build up or it’s impact (because you should most certainly go see this film for yourself), I won’t go into detail, but I will quote the second verse and chorus of This Is Me, the song that director Michael Gracey considers the movies’ anthem:

[Verse 2]
Another round of bullets hits my skin /Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in / We are bursting through the barricades / And reaching for the sun (we are warriors) /Yeah, that’s what we’ve become

[Pre- Chorus}
Won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

[Chorus]
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down/ Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out/ I am brave, I am bruised/ I am who I’m meant to be, this is me/ Look out ’cause here I come/ And I’m marching on to the beat I drum/ I’m not scared to be seen/ I make no apologies, this is me

The first time I saw the film (yes, I saw it twice within a 3 day period. It’s fine.), I cried. I cried the second time, too, actually. If I’m being honest, it’s hard for me to listen to the song and not get emotional. I couldn’t help it. This anthem wasn’t just for the characters in the movie, it was for the viewers as well. It was for the teen that’s long been ashamed of his/her body image, it was for the kid that would rather sing than shoot hoops, it was for the person that’s been picked incessantly, it was for those that have never felt like they fit in anywhere. It was for me, a young, black, Christian woman learning what it means to be proud of who she is. This song, as well as the film itself, is truly “a celebration of humanity” as stated by one of the theatre critics in the movie.

In its essence, what TGS communicates, isn’t a message of fitting in, per se. It’s message is more about finding a place in the world to call your own, a place where you feel safe to unashamedly be who you are—human, uniqueness and all. I left the theatre proud and inspired. Proud to be human and inspired not to hide that.

Entering the theatre human, but leaving proud to be so is a great feeling. As I took to social media to sing The Greatest Praises, I commented to a friend about how timely it was for the movie to be released at Christmas. Sure, the aforementioned themes of acceptance and family fit in well with the holiday season, but as Christian I couldn’t help but whisper a silent prayer of thanks. Christmas is the day that we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the day we marvel at the dual nature of our Savior–God and man. He is a Savior that empathizes with our human condition not only because he created it, but because he lived it. He understands what it means to be human and celebrates that our humanity reflects his nature. Together, we are broken fragments of his glory, created for his good pleasure.

It was both empowering and convicting to watch a spectacular joining of peoples of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds coming together to create something beautiful. Sometimes it takes a dark room, popcorn, and a spectacular movie with lively music and striking colors to remind us of who we are. We are brave. We are bruised. We are loved. We are human.

Here’s to you

Duck #108

In the back room of my Atlanta home, there are two walls that are made almost entirely of windows. It’s my absolute favorite room in the house (even if it is the coldest). My backyard is composed of trees big and tall, small and thin. Their branches create big shapes in the sky that canopy over the grass beneath my deck. During the summer, as the sun would set, streaks of yellow and pink would squirm their way through the leafy shapes. I thought to myself, “I can’t wait for winter, when the trees are bare and I can see the sun setting through their limbs.” I have a front row seat to one of the best shows nature has to offer, and I get to watch every evening from the comfort of my own home.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future recently. And the past. And the present. I’ve spent moments dreaming of what I hope my life will look like in years to come, I’ve used moments dwelling on circumstances of the past that I cannot change, I’ve enjoyed moments of trying to soak up each day as it happens. There’s something about the beginning of a new year that does that to you, I think. Tomorrow I turn 24.

A piece of me begs to hang on to 23, to hang on to an age I won’t ever get back, a youthful bliss that only comes with being exactly 23, but tomorrow I will be 24. I don’t suppose that suddenly aged wisdom will descend upon me at the stroke of midnight, but something will change on November 30th. All year, I have been like the trees in my backyard. I have been going through seasons. Budding, then blooming, and finally laid bare. Bones exposed, through the shapes that my lungs create over my heart. I can feel the beating in my chest.

I like to think that sunsets tell stories. The brighter the colors, the more adventurous the day, perhaps. An invitation to laugh. Duller hues, a call to be quiet. To be thankful, to pray. These days my heartbeat is telling me a story, too. For so long I’ve been afraid to listen–it’s been loud, but I’ve chosen earplugs.

No longer.

Twenty -four, here’s to you. Here’s to my heart. Here’s to being comfortable bare. Here’s to listening. Here’s to praying more and laughing louder. Here’s to dancing in the kitchen. Here’s to tattoos. Here’s to memorizing Scripture. Here’s to the inevitable tears. Here’s to the sleepless nights. Here’s to long naps. Here’s to corporate worship.  Here’s to bold coffee. Here’s to loud concerts. Here’s to waffles.  Here’s to red wine. Here’s to crosswalks and cityscapes. Here’s to commuting to work. Here’s to friendship–new and old. Here’s to family. Here’s to you. Here’s to me. Here’s to hope. Here’s to love. Here’s to freedom.

[Dear Jesus,
Thank you for sunsets, for you love, and for my life.]
<3Amen

trying not to flee

Duck #104

The thing about cities is that there are a lot of people. Mmmm, let me rephrase that. The thing about cities is that there are a lot of lonely people. Yup, I said it. Lonely People. Maybe saying that isn’t politically correct or maybe it’s just too honest. But that’s the point. No matter how many articles and books we read, no matter how many seminars we attend, no matter how many conversations we have, there is something about the word “loneliness” that makes us want to avert our eyes. There’s something about it that makes us want to nervously play with our hands, shift positions in our chairs, and say sentences that start with phrases like “Well, I think it’s because…” or “I mean, it’s just a matter of remembering…” Loneliness makes us nervous. We treat it like a plague that we hope we won’t catch, but it’s slowly taking our energy and leaving us bed ridden.  We’re all susceptible, from Manhattan socialites to your mom’s cousin’s best friend’s boss’s brother Billy. Loneliness is not akin to favoritism.

As pointed out by a friend, Jean Vanier puts it this way,

“We all carry our own deep wound, which is the wound of our loneliness. We find it hard to be alone, and we try to flee from this in hyperactivity, through television, and in a million other ways. Some people think their wound of loneliness will be healed if they come into community. But they will be disappointed. While they are young, they can hide their disappointment behind the dynamic of generosity, they can flee from the present by projecting themselves into the future, into a hope that things will be better tomorrow. But towards the age of forty, the future is past and there are no more great projects; the wound is still there and we can become depressed, especially as we are now carrying all the guilt and apathy of the past. Then we have to realise that this wound is inherent in the human condition…”

I was watching Gossip Girl the other day, because television (Netflix) is an easy way to temporarily escape loneliness. I’ve seen the series before, but I wanted to dive into something familiar. Loneliness will do that to you, make you ache for familiarity. Anyway, I was watching the episode where Dan realizes that he loves Serena. He tells her and she says “Okay.” Shocked, they both stand there and eventually Dan walks away, admittedly embarrassed. Later, we learn that the reason Serena didn’t know how to respond is because she has trust issues and is struggling to believe that Dan actually feels that way about her. Fast forward to the last few scenes of the episode and Serena shows up at Dan’s home. She asks him to explain to her why he loves her–and he does. He explains in detail all of the quirks and mannerisms and personality traits that make Serena who she is. Her countenance changes. Her face softens and her eyes relax. She laughs. Dan stands there confidently, like he has for the whole interaction and Serena’s movements become airy and giddy and light–almost as if her insides are suddenly made of cotton candy. She begins to take take on Dan’s confidence because she now understands that he really does love her. The understanding even compels her to leave the moment and go help her friend Blair. She can leave because she knows Dan’s love isn’t contingent upon what she does next–saying the right thing, kissing him the right way, looking at him perfectly. Dan loves Serena, no strings attached.

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As I sat on my bed, wrapped up in the scene, I had a thought. “Man, I want a love like that…one where I’m secure and safe and confident and unafraid to be me because I’m so sure that I’m loved.” And then I immediately had another thought. “Wait, I already have that love. I have it and more.” I have that love in an irreversible, couldn’t lose it if I wanted to, stay up all night with you, plead for me to be safe, die a horrible death in my place kind of way.” I’m not sure if I started crying or not, but there’s a chance I did.  Regardless or whether or not I shed a few tears over what I realized, whether or not I actively believe that I am loved beyond compare, that GREAT love still exists. It exists and is going to keep on doing what it’s been doing since before time began: love. That’s just who God is.

The end of that quote by Jean Vanier goes like this,

“… and that what we have to do is walk with it (our loneliness) instead of fleeing from it. We cannot accept it until we discover that we are loved by God just as we are, and that the Holy Spirit, in a mysterious way, is living at the centre of the wound.”

So, here I am: wounded, so loved by God , and trying not to flee.

[Heavenly Father,
thank You for sending your son Jesus to dive for me, to love me so tangibly.
Grant me the understanding of that love. May I be confident in it and accordingly.
Thanks for being patient and loving me even when I ignore You. You’re really kind.]
<3Amen