Posts Tagged With: discernment

How to Walk on Water

Dear Pope Francis,

It is no secret that the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water is one of my favourites, and that I find myself returning to it over and over again. Every time, I see myself in a different part of the story.

This time however, I’m struck by what is missing from the story: after Peter sinks and Jesus catches him, the author simply writes: “when they got back in the boat, the wind ceased” (Mt 14:31). Did Jesus catch Peter and then they got back in the boat right away? Or did Peter try again to see if he could do better the second time? Did Peter give up, and that’s why they got back in the boat?

While I’ll never know that part of Peter’s story, it’s the part I am living right now.

For three years I felt Jesus inviting me to step out of the boat and into the storm of big city living, loneliness, and school stress. The final invitation was to move even further across the country. But since arriving, things have been different.

I no longer feel like I’m being invited somewhere new; I feel like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be: I am standing on the water with Jesus. I can see the waves (the physical differences and distance) and feel the wind (the loneliness), and sometimes they get to me. But for the most part there is peace, and I stay on top of the water.

But now that I’m here, how do I walk on the water? Standing here is great, but I didn’t come all this way just to stand on it.

Unfortunately, Google can’t answer that question (but it can tell me how to walk in heels). The only way to answer the question is to take a step, maybe just a little one, but I need to move forward. Then I need to take another one, maybe a little bigger this time. The answer is to just keep taking steps forward, and as I do, without realizing it, I am walking on the water. I am gaining momentum to keep going.

This is a nice picture, painted with figurative language. But what have the steps actually been? Some of them are quite practical, like getting a desk for my room so I have a comfortable place to work at home. Others are more focused on self-care, like making my days off a priority (a big accomplishment for me), and making new friends. In some cases, I have no idea why I’m taking the step, but it feels right, like making blogging a priority again, and starting some other writing projects.

As with most other steps in my life, I don’t know exactly where these will take me, but as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, it gets easier to trust the process and to keep the momentum going. Patience on the other hand, isn’t always easy, but practice makes perfect (eventually).

Skipping on the waves,

Lauren

PS: These are my steps on the water. Have you been taking steps on the water? Share in the comments!

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When Nostalgia is Missing

Dear Pope Francis,

I was in Southern Ontario for my convocation over the weekend. Although celebrating was the goal, I did all the things I did when I was living there: eat sushi, ride the subway, get coffee with friends, and go to lectures. And I loved every minute of it.

There was a sense of returning. It wasn’t like going home (that will always be the East Coast), but there was a sense returning somewhere familiar. As I rode the subway and spent time catching up with friends, I didn’t necessarily have any sense of nostalgia, fondly remembering the adventures of the last three years and wishing I could go back to that time. Maybe it’s because I’ve only been gone for two months, but I think it’s because I know it’s time to move on.

Moving on doesn’t mean I forget, or that I don’t miss people or things (I have yet to find good sushi in Western Canada, and making new friends takes time no matter where you live). But moving on without the sense of longing for the past helps me to know that leaving is the right decision. It also helps me to know that the past has been integrated; many of the changes I underwent and experiences I had while living there are now part of who I am.

A Tree and its Fruit

More than just being part of who I am, the lack of nostalgia helps me to see that these experiences inform who I am, the same way that a good tree is know by good fruit (Lk 6:44; Mt 12:33). But good fruit generally can only come when there is good soil, clean water, and fresh air.

Metaphorically, I am rooted in soil – it is composed of all the experiences that I’ve had. The way plants will absorb nutrients from the soil, I absorb things from the experiences of my life. The quality of the things I absorb shape how I view myself and the world around me. Absorbing positive experiences shapes a positive outlook, and absorbing negative experiences can lead to a negative outlook.

But not all experiences are absorbed right away. Sometimes, they happen and I don’t really pay attention to them. Thankfully those events are generally neutral. They are things like holding the door open for someone else, they happen, but they don’t really register as something important. But there are other things, like some of the personal things I learned while I studied that I can’t ignore.

When I can’t ignore an event, the temptation is to wish that I could go back and relive it over and over again – this is nostalgia. It is wishful, and never going to happen. More importantly, it can get out of hand and be unhealthy because I never get passed it. I am so focused on wishing that I can go back in time, that I’m not open to what is going on right now.

Over the weekend, I felt at peace with all the memories of my time at school. I learned a lot, but they are the lessons that influence my life now. I don’t want to go back and re-live my time in study group, or getting coffee with friends, or eating sushi. It’s not because I don’t miss it, but because I learned important things – like valuing deep conversations, and diversity in my friendships – and I can find these things in new places and ways, with new people. This opens up new possibilities, and that is exciting. The excitement outweighs any nostalgia, and almost balances out the loneliness that inevitably comes with moving somewhere new.

The challenge in the days, months and years ahead is to remember the lessons, and allow them to continue nourishing my life. Let the lessons reveal themselves anew as the seasons of my life change, and I continue to grow and develop as a person. It won’t always be easy, and no doubt the temptation for nostalgia will continue to be present, but focusing on the present helps.

Enjoying the memories,

Lauren

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Discernment is not the New Pixie Dust

Dear Pope Francis,

Discernment has been a recurring topic in many of my letters over the last year (like here, here and here), and for good reason, it’s an ongoing part of my spiritual journey. The fact that it’s a common component doesn’t necessarily mean that it gets easier over time.

Lately, the challenge has been making a decision and sticking to it. It’s not so much that I’m making a decision and then completely reversing the decision, rather I doubt the decision I’ve arrived at through the discernment process. I expect that when I make the ‘right’ decision everything will fall into place effortlessly, with minimal work on my part. If the last few years have been any indication, I know this is crazy talk.

I’m reminded of a scene in one of my favourite TV shows: Once Upon a Time. In “Quite a Common Fairy” the third episode of the third season, Regina, the Evil Queen, is presented with the opportunity to meet her true love and find what has been missing in her life. The catch is that Regina needs to walk into the tavern and introduce herself to the man that Tinker Bell’s pixie dust has identified, a man with Faith Trust & Pixir Dusta lion tattoo. Tinker Bell leaves Regina outside the tavern to follow her heart to true love, but Regina chickens out, and runs away. Despite the use of magic, Regina would still need to do some work in order to win her true love.

In this scene, I am Regina. Not that discernment is magical, but it has helped to illuminate important information for me, the way the magic of the pixie dust led Regina right to her true love. But also like Regina, that doesn’t mean the work is over. Discernment points the way, but I have to walk it, taking whatever the path may bring, be it fun, adventure, or struggle. Like Regina, I feel intimidated by what the discernment has shown me. God, you can’t seriously be asking me to do that? Are you sure you want me? Wouldn’t someone else do a better job?

On the days that I come dangerously close to running away, when things get hard and I’m questioning my discernment, I remember a passage from Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will show you the path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Sometimes it takes a lot of coaxing to stay on the path, but so far, so good.

Inching forward,

Lauren

pixie dust trail

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Finding the Growth

Dear Pope Francis,

Things on the blog have been quiet for a very long time! It’s been two months since my last letter. In that time, I wrote and successfully defended my thesis, which means that I am now done of school. When I had first finished I was ecstatic. I was relieved that all the months of studying and stress had been worth it.

When the relief faded and the celebrations were over, I was left in a vacuum. My whole life had been caught up in my identity as a student for a long time. Spending time with friends happened naturally around class, my jobs had to be a little bit flexible to fit my school schedule, and between school, jobs and extra-circulars there was always something pressing that I needed to do. But the end of school brought lots of free time that I’m still not entirely sure what to do with.

JourneyI doubt I’m alone in dreading the end of things. Endings bring change, and change can be difficult to navigate. Over the last few years, I have come to appreciate endings for two, related, reasons. The first reason is that the end of something gives you a perspective that you didn’t (and couldn’t) have at the beginning. When I started my Masters, there was no way I could know the twists and turns my journey would take, but standing at the end, I can look back, reflecting on the things that I’ve learned, with a clearer perspective of what happened because I can see the whole.pruning

The second reason I appreciate endings is because they show me growth edges. A ‘growth edge’ is a place for growth in my life, and usually come only after some pruning. The pruning can come in a variety of ways, perhaps jarring, as in a sudden death, or more gradual, like childhood friends growing up and growing apart, or some combination of the two. Regardless of how something ends, the pruning that comes with the end leaves space for something new to grow. In my case, I have the time to explore new areas of interest, like social media and writing, because I don’t have to spend all my time doing school work.

We discover growth edges only when we can step back and look the whole, which is why we often find them when something has ended. In reflecting back on my time in school, I realized how much I love writing, and that it is no longer sufficient for me to simply write for myself, so I want to spend my free time honing my writing and communicating skills. Figuring out growth edges is not necessarily as simple as arbitrarily deciding that I want to work on something; it needs to be part of a larger reflection and discernment about where God may be calling me in the future. So I’ve spent time talking with people, and discerning and praying on my own, trying to get a sense of what my growth edges are. It’s been a surprisingly fun process.

Ultimately, the change that is happening is going to push me, but change always does. Focusing on the growth edges helps me frame the end of school, and the changes that go with it, as something positive and life-giving, rather than something overwhelming and life-draining.

Embracing the growth

Lauren

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Here’s to a New Year

Dear Pope Francis,

One of the things I love about Advent is that it’s a time of new beginnings. Yes, its primary importance is that it is a time of waiting and hoping, but it is also the beginning of a new liturgical year. And there’s something so refreshing about a new beginning. While I enjoy the regular New Year celebrations, I find an added layer of depth in the beginning of a new liturgical year.

While the season of Advent is a time of waiting and preparing, there is something so apt in that we are waiting and preparing for the beginning of something new, the earthly life of Jesus, the Messiah. It is the introduction of something new into the world of the mundane, average and ordinary. It is the injection of something totally different, that humanity simply wasn’t expecting, and as time progressed, continued to surprise.

It’s safe to say that I didn’t expect what happened to me over the last liturgical year – the hurt, the pruning, my trip, and now the new growth. It was a massive injection of spiritual growth formula that I wasn’t anticipating and didn’t feel at all equipped to handle when it first came. With the beginning of this liturgical year, it feels easier to close the book of last year, and move forward. It’s easier to share my story with new friends, and to hear their stories with an open heart.

I’m not great at making New Year’s resolutions, but I am good at hoping, even when it’s bleak and dark. So I will hope. I will hope for continued growth, for opportunities, and for courage and strength to follow the path wherever it may lead.

Checking my map

Lauren

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Creating a New Normal

Dear Pope Francis,

As I’m sure you (and perhaps other readers) have noticed, both Meredith and I have become increasingly sporadic in writing our letters. It’s not necessarily because we’ve run out of things to say. Speaking for myself, I have lots of thoughts and ideas that I would love to put into words. However, life happens. Meredith has shared good news Summer Vacationrecently about opportunities taking her closer to her goals. I’ve been home soaking up all the goodness that comes from time at home with family and old friends, and taking a bit of a break.

The arrival of September next week (where did the summer go?!) brings with it more new changes.

There has been some major upheaval in my life, and I hope to be able to share some of that in another letter in the coming weeks. For now it’s enough to say that I am going through a long period of transition, which will likely stretch into the coming academic year.  In the last month, since I’ve been home, I have been very intentional about praying and discerning this period of change.

One of the keys to navigating this change has been to develop a new standard of ‘normal’ for my life. This has involved doing some soul searching and reality-checking to realize that some things really aren’t helpful, and trying to replace them with healthier habits. So far I’ve been having some success.

Case in point, one of the habits I’ve very intentionally been developing is exercising most days of the week. In order to do that, I started following a program consisting of daily 30-minute exercise routines on DVD. At first I had to force myself to show up and do my best, considering it a success if I stuck around for the whole workout. Within the first week, I was pushing myself to do more. I added more exercise by biking with my parents or walking with my friends. Thanks to the exercise and eating right, I had more energy, was sleeping better, and was feeling really good about myself.

junk foodLast night, my mother and I had a junk food binge, enjoying all our favourite treats and watching the last two episodes of Once Upon a Time, season 3. Within an hour of eating the junk food, I felt disgusting. I was sluggish, thirsty and uncomfortably full. All I wanted to do was get my bike out and go for a bike ride to clear my head. In the last three weeks, established a new normal, because even two months ago, I would have napped off the food coma, rather than trying to figure out if I could get a decent bike ride in before dark.bike riding

I have always struggled with change, but focusing on making these healthy habits a new norm has helped me to realize that I can in fact navigate change. I can let go of the bad habits, the junk food of my life, and replace it new habits, the wholesome foods that keep me going.

Going forward into September brings a host of changes: a new job, a new school year (complete with a new role), and new adventures to be had. I’m excited for all of it, but I am so grateful that I have this time of transition, where I am a part-time student with a foot in the world of employment. I have the time to focus on making changes and using those changes to structure the rest of my life. What I hope is that developing some of these healthy habits now as a young adult allows me to carry them into my adult life and whatever changes that will bring with it.

 

Soaking up the last of the summer sun,

Lauren

 

PS: As a result of the changes that are going on, Meredith and I have agreed to a new posting schedule. Watch for letters from me on Mondays and Fridays, and letters from Meredith on Wednesdays.

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Discerning the Puzzle

Dear Pope Francis,

As I’m sure you’ve figured out from my last few letters, I’ve been discerning a lot lately. I think of discernment like building a puzzle. God has given me the pieces that I need, but I need to discern in order to understand how they fit together. Sometimes I need to discern in order to find a new piece, or to know when a piece doesn’t actually belong to my puzzle. The puzzle that I’m building is my corner of the Kingdom of God, and I don’t actually know how it will look on its own, or how it contributes to the larger puzzle, but I know that it does.Building the Puzzle

Then there are the times that God throws a piece in, and I have no idea where it goes. An example of this it LTP. I hadn’t written anything outside of school essays since 2005, and then in 2012, after I moved to Toronto, the words started gushing, like someone had turned a tap on in my head. I did more creative writing in six weeks than I had in six years. I shared some of it with people and received positive feedback. I had no idea why I was writing again, but I knew it was for a purpose. As 2013 progressed, I continued writing and realized that I needed a purpose for my writing to keep me motivated, and the idea of writing regularly for a blog came. When I worried about how I would juggle writing for a blog with school and other activities, God suggested I talk to Meredith (at this point, Meredith and I really hadn’t talked much about writing). It took us a little longer, but finally we did chat and LTP became a reality.

I don’t think LTP is the only reason why I started writing again. I believe that God is lining up lots puzzle pieces to make the grand design a reality, but He’s doing a lot of it behind the scenes. He gives me glimpses every once in a while, but it’s never enough to get a sense of the whole. I can feel it happening though, and I trust that He’s working on it.

These puzzle pieces work on the large scale across months or years of my life, like doing my M.Div. or knowing that after this it’s time to take a break from school. But building the discernment puzzle also plays into daily life.

I’ve been working to develop certain habits in my daily life, and so far, it’s been going pretty well. It would be super easy (and very in character) for me to simply make a list of all the bad habits I want to break and all the good habits I want to establish and then try to make all the changes all at once. However, experience has taught me that this method doesn’t work very well. Instead of making those lists, I’ve been discerning. I’ve been searching for those tiny, daily puzzle pieces, my habits and routines, that aren’t working, that aren’t helping me grow closer to God and his plan. It’s been a process of determining which pieces don’t fit, even though they may look like they do.waking up For instance, I’m a morning person, and I used to be really good about getting up in the morning and starting my day in prayer.  Over time, I replaced that prayer with sleeping in. I realized that, while sleeping in could be part of my daily puzzle, it’s not. However, prayer is. It’s taken some discipline to get up in the morning to pray, because sleeping seems much nicer in the moment. No amount of sleeping gives me the same outlook on my day as starting with prayer.

As I get closer to September, I become more aware of the real potential for these new habits to be derailed, because there will new puzzle pieces in my life, like classes and homework and extra-curricular activities. That’s okay though, because discerning these daily routines and habits, helps me to know that these are truly life-giving things, and that they need to be incorporated with the new puzzle pieces. Again, how exactly will this new picture look? I don’t know yet. I have an idea since there are some school habits and routines that will continue. I trust that God knows the big picture and if I listen, He’ll show me where the pieces go. 

Building the puzzle,

Lauren

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Showing Up… Then What?

Dear Pope Francis,

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the importance of simply letting things go so that wounds can heal. Letting those wounds heal has resulted in some significant changes in my life and new areas for growth. Thinking back over the last few months (really since Meredith and I started LTP), I have come to realize that all of that change and prunning that was required is finally starting to make room for new things to grow. But this growth requires something from me.

At first, mostly in the last month or so, the changes simply required me to show up, to acknowledge that the change was needed. More importantly, it required me to realize that growth is possible, not only possible, but necessary. So I showed up. I set what I considered a few small goals, among them: remembering to floss every night and to pray every morning. Showing up simply meant making sure that I plunked down with my prayer journal for about thirty minutes, and that I took an extra five minutes in front of the mirror at night.

What I have quickly realized is that while simply showing up is an important step, it is only the first step. It is the launching point. It is the gentle push to get started. So that leaves me wondering what my next step needs to be.

After some reflection I realized what that is. The next step it two-fold: prayer and discipline. Pretty near every call story in the bible I can think of has an initial step, taken by God. The person being called chooses (eventually) to respond, but that person needs to rely on God, which inevitably comes with some doubt. imagesI think of Peter walking on water. When Jesus calls him out of the boat, Peter could have chosen to give up his crazy request, and simply stayed in the boat. Instead he followed Jesus onto the water, and then relied on Jesus to save him from the waves when he doubted and began to sink.

If you look at Peter’s whole life, we can also see the progression. He was called by Jesus. He ‘showed up’ by leaving the fishing nets and following Jesus. That initial call led to Peter being sent out to evangelize, eventually becoming the leader of the Apostles, the rock on which Jesus founded his Church. Peter’s first step built a lot of momentum. Yes there were bumps along the way, like denying that he knew Jesus, but they didn’t stop him.

So simply showing up, like I have been doing for the last few weeks, has been a good first step, but I need to build on that momentum. I need to use these smaller changes as the push to tackle bigger changes that require more drastic alterations to how I live. These changes won’t be easy, especially since there are some big changes coming all at once; it really is a massive overhaul of some bad habits. Every day, I need to choose to show up, but I need to let each day build on the progress I made yesterday, even when that means picking up after a mistake or two.

Building on that momentum comes from prayer and discipline. Prayer helps me to discern the changes that need to be made and where God is calling me. Discipline helps me to stay focused and on track, especially after I have hit a bump.

Keeping my eye on the prize,

Lauren

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Looking too Far Ahead

Dear Pope Francis,

First Day of School

All set for school!

It’s happening! It’s the end of July, and I’m ready for it to be fall. While, I am really excited to travelling home today, and wouldn’t want to wish the month of August away entirely, fall is definitely on my mind. It has a little bit to do with the fact that the weather has been fall-like here in Toronto the last couple of days, and that I’ve been scrambling to research for papers I need to write while I’m home (summer courses are a great idea, until there are papers to write…)

I am always the person who gets excited for the new thing. When it’s summer, I can’t wait for fall, and when it’s fall, I can’t wait for winter. When I’m on the East Coast, I look forward to going back to Toronto, and when I’m in Toronto, I can’t wait to go east. To some degree, I love living my life this way, because there is always something to look forward to. Sometimes, I run the risk of wishing away things when I’m bored with them (like every summer break for twelve plus years). When I start wishing things away, I have a much harder time enjoying them for what they are.

In addition to looking forward to the next thing, I love countdowns. At one point in May, I had four countdowns happening, one for my sister’s visit, one for Meredith’s first Toronto visit, one for another friend’s visit, and one for my trip in June. I will countdown how many assignments I have left to pass in at the end of the semester (three before September), how many courses I have left until I finish my M.Div. (seven), and just about anything else that seems relevant in my life (the next installment of my favourite book series, perhaps…). Thankfully, I have never had a countdown until I could start counting down (I don’t personally know anyone who has done this, but I believe someone, somewhere has!).

But all of this looking forward, off into the distance, stops me from looking at the ground right in front of me.

I know when I go for a walk, I’m supposed to walk with my head up to keep good posture, but sometimes, I need to watch the ground right in front of me because there are things on the sidewalk that could trip me (or maybe I’m just kicking a stone along and I need to see where it went). Looking at the ground right in front of me, while preventing an immediate fall, doesn’t give me a very good sense of direction, and doesn’t mean that I will notice when I’m about to run into a pole. So, I need to be able to do both, watch the ground and keep half an eye out for the general direction that I’m heading.

Cracks in the Sidewalk

Don’t trip!

I use discernment to help me keep a general direction. Movements of consolation or desolation help me to acknowledge where it is safe to walk, and when there are poles that I need to avoid. Sometimes they also tell me when I need to wait for something, like waiting for the cars before I cross the street. I will ultimately get to where I need to go, but I need some patience first.  In real life These safe places, poles and crosswalks, could be things like knowing that I to go home for a bit, or knowing that taking a certain job isn’t the right fit, or waiting out a tough time. Having a sense of the general direction that I’m going, allows me to recognize the smaller things that might trip me up, all the curbs, rocks and cracks in the sidewalk. I can avoid them, while keeping my general direction.

I think it’s been safe to say that there’s been lots of discernment for both Meredith and I in the last few months. I have definitely tripped up a little bit in the process, but as with anything else, I get up, dust myself off, and try to avoid running into the same pole or tripping over the same curb in the future.

 

Going for a discernment walk,

Lauren

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Faith Seeds and Hope Dirt

Dear Pope Francis,

I was really excited to hear my hands-down-favourite bible verse in the readings at Church on Sunday: the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32)Mustard Seed Faith. Usually when I think of people who love a bible verse, they quote it a lot, or perhaps they have it tattooed somewhere, or written all over their daybooks, notebooks and cellphone case. I have written down lots of bible verses, especially on the inside covers of my prayer journals, but each of those quotes spoke to me in a specific time, while I was going through a particular set of spiritual events in my life.

What makes the Parable of the Mustard Seed different? Well, it’s one of the very few bible passages that pop up randomly, but I immediately connect with it. The first time I heard it was during prayer about four years ago. I was just finishing my first summer working as a camp councillor and realizing that I may be called to ministry. However, at the time I had no idea how that would happen. The response to my prayer was almost immediate: “mustard seed” and, turning to my friends, I quoted that verse almost verbatim, except that I hadn’t thought of it at any recent point before that moment. Since then, it continues to pop up over and over. Most recently it was on Sunday, when I really needed some peace for confusion I’d been feeling.

Another reason why I love this bible verse is that it doesn’t matter when it pops up in my life, it is always relevant. If there is one thing I really struggle with, it’s having faith; it’s the reason why I most frequently relate to Peter when he questions Jesus and Thomas when he asks for proof of the resurrection. This verse always reminds me that having faith isn’t a weakness; it is because of faith that God will do great things through me. It also reassures me that it doesn’t take a lot of faith. When I’ve been feeling unfaithful, it’s really nice to know that I don’t have to come back with a ten-page essay explaining why I doubted and a fifty point action plan for how I will avoid doubt in the future.

SproutFinally, I love this passage because it reminds me that what seems small to me in this moment, can grow into something massive. In that moment four years ago when I first heard this passage in prayer I was teetering on the cusp of where God was calling me. I had ben profoundly impacted by the events of that summer, and knew that God had something in store for me. In the weeks and months that followed, I started my third year of undergrad, switched friend groups, got involved at the UPEI Chaplaincy Centre and began to seriously consider doing my M.Div. Four years later, that little tiny seed of faith that got planted has grown. I moved to go to school, and I’m almost finished of my M.Div. I have done a lot of things that four years ago sounded absolutely impossible – and all because of one little seed of faith.
The most exciting part is that I have a new seed of faith. I have been praying about next steps and discerning where I might be called. This was really stressful for a while. Not that I have any sort of definitive plan or clear knowledge of what is next, but I have hope that God is going to come through, and do something awesome. Now, I need to plant this faith seed, as tiny as it is, in hope, water it with prayer and let it grow, because I know that as it grows it will surprise and challenge me, but when it’s fully grown, it will be beautiful.

Getting my hands dirty,

Lauren

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