Skits of My Past and The Road I’m On

wpid-img_20150312_2137172.jpg.jpegI don’t know if this is still a thing, but when I was in high school youth group, musical skits were all the rage. Think of a live-action music video to a popular “secular” song with a story that illustrates the Gospel, something the speaker could use as a jumping off point for the night’s talk.

I’m actually really grateful that I came across an art form like this in those tumultuous years of grieving, moving, starting over, and figuring out high school all at the same time. I don’t remember the first one I saw, but the first one that really spoke to me was a skit written by a senior named Julia Owens set to Frou Frou’s “Let Go.” This was not too long after Garden State had come out, and I already knew and loved the song. I had just started going to a new church and thought I’d check out skit practice. I got to watch them practice this one over and over again, and I loved every moment of it: A boy scribbles in a notebook, too focused on “writing his tragedy” to notice the vibrant girl in front of him who laughs at life and dances with joy. She tries to get him to “let go,” but he won’t. It starts to rain (we actually had a bubble machine, it was pretty awesome), and the girl lifts her face to the clouds but the boy grumbles and hides under cover. There’s a scene where the boy stands center stage with his notebook and passersby each rush past him in a chaotic frenzy and rip out pages of his story. The girl tries to help him, the boy keeps pushing her away… Eventually, he decides on his own to “let go” and sit in the rain, he even opens his mouth to catch it on his tongue. It was one of the most moving stories I’d ever seen, and I said to my freshman self, I can write stories like that.

I’d been making up music videos in my head ever since I was a little kid (back when MTV was actually Music Television). I loved setting story to lyric and music. I would choreograph them in my bedroom and listen to the songs over and over again. I think the first one I consciously created for the purpose of sharing Gospel hope in high school was set to Coldplay’s “Fix You,” and I based it on myself and how I felt “broken” without my mother. The skit was about people carrying around photographs that each represented something broken in their life (relationships severed by death, hearts broken, etc) and finally realizing that they couldn’t fix themselves, but instead had to let go of the darkness and walk into the Light. It’s still probably the most personal one I wrote, and I should think about it more often.

I couldn’t do anything until I was a senior, and I pushed for the storytelling skits to make a comeback. Finally, I got to do it, and I felt like I had found my niche. I did the “Fix You” skit. I redid the “Let Go” skit that had inspired me so much. My favorite skit, however, the one that I think touched the most people, and the one that still gets me today is the one I wrote to Coldplay’s “White Shadows.” Like the seeds that fall amongst the thorns/weeds in the Parable of the Sower, this skit follows a boy who starts out at home with God and his people, full of light, then the pressures of life pull him away (literally, in an assembly-line reminiscent of Across the Universe‘s “I Want You” scene). I had the help of one of my choreographer friends, and my cast executed the moves to perfection. There was also light-dark symbolism: His colorful clothing gets covered in grey and he falls in line with the robotic movements of the rest of the people living in the darkness. He’s tossed about by the crowd and tangled in grey, but when he’s finally left alone, he falls to his knees, lost. A light shines on him, and he looks up. Slowly, he rises and throws himself into the arms of Christ, the colorful people surround him in hug, the song ends and the lights fade.

I was really good at this. That’s why it’s hard for me now in the midst of my unraveling to hear a song come on my shuffle by 3 Doors Down and think about the unfinished skits in my head. You see, just like how my youth pastor had once set a musical to all Coldplay songs, I had started devising my own musical to 3 Doors Down. I think I chose them because they were the musicians behind the first ever skit I managed to get performed at my church, “Away From the Sun.” I honestly can’t remember all the details to this one, but I remember it involved a boy (I always thought that boys were a good choice because girls tended to be empathic to the skit regardless of who’s playing the lead, and boys find it easier to see themselves in another boy. This is a viewpoint that I find problematic for a number of reasons now, in my twenties, but it seemed worked okay at the time). Anyway, the boy was again dealing with peer pressure, and I used the most after-school special topic of them all: alcohol use. He was lost in the “party world,” and I remember there was a devil character who kept tying black strings around his arms and legs… I think there was a moment where the strings came off/ were cut off and the light blinded the devil, but I can’t really remember. I know though that it was another story of the pressures of life pulling someone into darkness, but at the end Light always won out.

I think my story-lines say a lot about my age at the time of writing and my worldview that encompassed only high school. I hope they were beautiful and moving, but sometimes I fear they were a bit contrived. I really was sincere when I wrote them, though, and I really believed in the power of the Light.

That’s why, again, it’s hard for me to listen to 3 Doors Down’s “The Road I’m On.” I had started making up skits to a few of the band’s songs that I had on my ipod– yes, I even had one written for “Kryptonite,” and no it didn’t involve Superman. It was great, but I could never really think of one for “The Road I’m On” except as a transitionary song between a dark skit and a light one. I thought it was an okay song, but there was no hope in it, just solidarity–what was I supposed to do with that?

I listen to it now and it hits me, hard. Those other songs were my high-school life. “The Road I’m On” is the song I’m living now, and I don’t have an ending for it. I’m not any closer to finding a good ending for it than I was six years ago.

She said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you’re living in between the lines … He said life’s so hard to move in sometimes, when it feels like I’m towing the line, and no one even cares to ask me why I feel this way.

Much like how I didn’t understand Bono’s “still looking” notion in high school, I didn’t understand living between the lines either. That wasn’t something that made sense to me. You either stumble in darkness or you thrive in the light; grey strangles you. I remember this was even part of the youth pastor’s Coldplay musical, a theme that the people on the fence had to choose where to belong and where to stand.

He said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you keep it all between the lines of everything I want and I want to find, one of these days.
What you thought was real in life has somehow steered you wrong. Now you just keep driving, trying to find out where you belong…

That’s me.

I know you feel helpless now and I know you feel alone,
That’s the same road, that same road that I am on.

That’s the song’s only comfort: Life is hard. Seeing it shatter is devastating. Grey is everywhere, and I don’t know where the road will lead, but I’m right there with you.

That’s all I can have right now. It’s not a drastic transformation, it’s not a chain-breaking, darkness fleeing, light encompassing, grey suddenly flooding with color story right now. (It’s not somebody who’s seen the light, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.) Right now, it’s a long silver stretch of road that often leaves me feeling helpless and alone. And maybe I am driving towards the light, but it seems too far off and dim to be coming any time soon, though I hope it’s really there, I hope I’ll find it again someday.

wpid-20150415_175804.jpgRachel Held Evans writes in Searching for Sunday: “Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive.”

Maybe now “I’ve found myself so far down, away from the sun,” but it’s not from anything as concrete as what I used in my skit, black ropes and beer bottles… It’s something else, and the way to “fix it” isn’t as simple as I thought in my old skits. It’s powerful, yes, and divine, and hopefully possible, but certainly not quick and simple. I turn to another song:

Somewhere in this darkness, there’s a light that I can’t find.
Maybe it’s too far away, or maybe I’m just blind.
Maybe I’m just blind.
So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
Hold me when I’m scared, and love me when I’m gone.

Hold me, Light. Love me, even when I’m gone.

Mingled.

As I approach June 10 2014, I don’t know how to feel. Once again, I let the words of Josh Garrels speak for me:

We wait for downpours
A drenching joy
A carnival sky

But what I don’t say,
What I can’t say,
Is that with this joy
Comes a mourning…

Something left behind
Blue lined, teary
Mingled, I move on…

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Mingled, I move on. I really don’t like the term, “move on.” It sounds so final, so simple. It’s something you only do once, and once you’ve done it, it’s over. You’ve moved on, life is normal again. Also, the word “move,” implies a moving away from something, leaving something behind. I don’t want to “move on.” I like better the phrase my grandmother used to say to me for a while after my mother died: “Keep on keeping on.”

Mingled, I keep on. This year has been one of survival. I’ve had a few people ask me recently what I plan on doing with my future, and I cannot answer them. I cannot answer them because all I’ve been able to do is focus on surviving, and that is what I plan on continuing to do.

I do know one thing I want from this life, though. I want not only to survive, but to thrive.

Whatever that means, whatever that looks like, I want it. And I know for certain that my mom and dad would want that for me too.

Mingled. The year is over, but the grief and the mourning and pain are not. There will still be times when I am not anywhere near “okay.” I will keep writing about it, because I have to, because I want to share with others, I want to cultivate roses in this wasteland, as I walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Let there be light. Let there be beauty. Let there be joy. (And let there be recognition of sorrow, too.)

Let. There. Be. Life.

All things will change
We wait for the rain
And the promise remains.

Against my ruins

My sense of smell is intricately (and sometimes quite inconveniently) linked to my memory.

The other day I caught a whiff of new-carpet smell, and I nearly burst into tears. (My dad used to work in a carpet store. That smell clung to his being all of my childhood life.)

And yet another day, the air was warm and heavy. We opened the windows. As I walked down to my room at the end of the night, I caught the smell, that outdoorsy, windows-open, fresh air, summer smell. I can’t handle that smell, the smell of summer…

Because my last summer was so awful. Daunting. Oppressive. Dark. Suffocating.
It can’t be summer yet. It’s too soon.

T.S. Eliot says,
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Did winter keep me warm? Winter was awful too at times. But the cold was so long and permeating that perhaps I forgot about the passage of time. And now it is April.

More Eliot,
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

I never agreed with Eliot’s description here before. Who could call ever call the breath of April cruel? But now I think I am beginning to see what he means. Yes, spring is the season of the poets, but in the joy of new life, there is also sorrow. It is this very juxtaposition of the blooming April against the decaying winter that makes it so cruel.

The world is still slow, silent, dead, when spring tries to grab hold of us and thrust us into the life.

Pablo Neruda,
How do the seasons know
they must change their shirt?

Why so slowly in winter
and later with such a rapid shudder?

What will it be like this time around? Can I handle that rapid shudder?

And how do the roots know
they must climb toward the light?

And then greet the air
with so many flowers and colors? -Neruda.

Am I climbing towards the light? I need it so desperately.
But when my dried roots reach that light, will there be any flowers to bloom?

I have lost my train of thought. Eliot: These fragments I have shored against my ruins… What does it mean? What will it bring? I need to climb towards the light. Lilacs, I want lilacs. I cling to the promise of the lilacs, of the spring rain. This dead land, this waste land, needs water to quench it and color to save it.

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)
-Eliot.

Jumbled thoughts on the new year

So what I wrote in my last post about choosing to take joy is very much easier to write about than to do. It seems that every time I proclaim that I will take joy, darkness rushes in to try to steal that joy away. I have decided that I have to change the notion to: “I will take joy — and I will not let it be stolen from me. No one can take away my joy because my joy does not come from within me, it comes from the Father who holds me, and no one can snatch me out of my Father’s hand.”

Still, easier said than done, but I have to start by saying it or I will never do it.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about church recently, mostly because it seems impossible for me to find one. For the past few months, I’ve been working most Sunday mornings, and even when I do rarely get the morning off, it’s still difficult to get to a church because of sudden illness or necessary babysitting. When I do get the chance to go, community is hard to find, and it doesn’t come about as instantly as I’d want it to. (And why, oh why, is it so hard to find people my own age in church in middle America?) I miss my old communities. I miss how easy it was to form friendships at Crossroads in Scotland. I miss how quickly the people of Metanoia in Maryland embraced me.

You’d think that if I needed church and Christian community at any particular time in my life, it’d be now…right? Now that I’m in a new place, orphaned, directionless… But God doesn’t seem to be bringing me that community as quickly as He has in the past.  And I don’t understand it.

I am grateful, however, that I still feel Him so close, that I still worship Him and learn from Him, even if it’s not in the midst of a congregation. I am lonely, and sometimes I ache for a community like this, but I can still sing with the earth. I don’t know exactly what He’s up to right now, but He hasn’t left me, and that is good.

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On the first day of 2014, I glanced back through my journal and found a verse I had written down back in July. The verse was Isaiah 51:3, and I wrote about it on my Facebook status that day:

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; He will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” -Reading Isaiah 51:3 at the start of this new year, when the passage of time seems depressing and daunting rather than “happy,” but my God is in the business of turning wastelands into gardens.

Yes, amen. Wastelands into gardens. But wasn’t that the same tune I was singing a year ago? Two, three years ago? A way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Is this the tune I am to sing all my life? Am I to move from one wasteland to the next, following the Way, sipping from the streams that miraculously burst through the ground at just the moment when I feel I can’t go on any longer without a drink? If that is to be my journey, at least I will not be making it alone.

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The LORD will comfort His people, He will look with compassion on His daughter, and He has comforted me. He has made streams appear in the desert before, and He has made a way in the chaos and the wasteland, so I will trust Him to do so again. And again, and again, for all my days.

But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of the God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
for ever and ever.
-Psalm 52:8

Fruitful in Exile

IMG_0975Ever since I started going deeper into my journey of faith, I’ve been obsessed with the symbol of exile. I remember how in middle school, after reading The Lord of the Rings and geeking out over spiritual themes, I made this entire AOL instant message profile (remember those days, guys?) about being in exile. My username was “RangerInExlie” and I remember quoting something about Aragorn, a king, living willingly in exile while protecting secretly those who think he’s a scoundrel, and I also quoted the Bible calling us “strangers” and exiles in this land (1 Peter 2:11).

Yeah, it was a big deal to me. We are exiles. This is not our home, but we have work to do here. But then I got older, and I guess I kind of set that idea on the shelf. I still thought it was cool, but I stopped thinking about it.

Well, now I’m reading Jeremiah and his prophecies about God carrying the Jews into exile to Babylon, and the symbol of exile has been making its way back to the forefront of my mind, and God has been helping me to see it in new ways.

I love the history of the Old Testament, so here’s the deal in Jeremiah: Israel, the northern kingdom, has already been lost to Babylon, and the southern kingdom of Judah is about to be. The timeline skips around a bit, but in the chapters I’m speaking about in this post, King Jehoiachin has been captured, and a host of Jews have already been carried into exile, but Jerusalem remains under King Zedekiah and faces a two-year siege by the Babylonians. So Jeremiah prophesies. He doesn’t say that everything’s going to be okay, he says that the siege of the city is going to be successful, and the Jews are going to be carried into exile, no matter what other false prophets may say. But in chapter 29, he offers hope for the future. After seventy years, declares the LORD, the Jews will return. God will bring them back from captivity and restore their fortunes.

Okay, so you’ve been carried into exile, away from your home and the promised land of God, and now a prophet tells you that you will return …in seventy years. I’m trying to imagine what Jeremiah’s listeners must have thought. Surely most of them wouldn’t be around in seventy years, so they’re stuck in exile, where life seems worthless and unimportant. They’re captives of a foreign empire, and they know things aren’t going to change any time soon, so I imagine some of them would give way to despair. I probably would.

But what does Jeremiah say?

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

He tells them to settle, to make a life in Babylon, to make their time in exile purposeful. They are not wasted, their lives are not wasted. And they must rejoice. In chapter 31, the LORD calls them to praise, to sing with joy about His promise to save them, even if it won’t happen during their lifetime.

Reading Jeremiah has been an immense encouragement to me during this season. I don’t know what’s going on right now. I know that eventually, my future holds the fulfillment of some pretty awesome promises, but I don’t know how to get there yet. Unlike the exiles in Babylon, I don’t know if it’s going to take seventy years, or ten, or twenty, but it is comforting to trust that this time of waiting can be just as fruitful.

The name Jeremiah means “He will uplift,” which I find incredibly interesting, since most of his prophecies are about the destruction of Judah. But God promises, through Jeremiah, that after that destruction, He will uplift His people. In exile, He is with His people (30:11), and He will uplift them. For His plans are to prosper His people, not to harm them, and He will bring them back to Him.

In the time of exile, don’t despair.

Thoughts on Leaving

It’s like leaving Edinburgh all over again,
except this time I don’t have anything to go back to.

I’ve found my home, again, here among my family, and now I’m leaving it, for a place that I don’t even consider as home anymore.

As i sit here and think about my last two days in Colorado, I’m hit with vivid flashbacks of my last days in Edinburgh–

Of waiting for the bus on George IV Bridge on my very last day and crying at the golden-rosy-hew Old Town gets when the sun sets. I was crying because I had fallen in love, and that was the last time (hopefully only for a while) that I was going to be in the city that had captured my heart.

I start crying right now just thinking about it.

But I’ve got that same feeling now about leaving Colorado. Only I think this one’s worse, because I don’t really have anything to go back to.

My dad’s staying here, and I’m leaving my family to return to Maryland, live in a friend’s basement, and finish the last semester of school.

Not because I have a strong conviction that God has called me to do this,
Not because I have any kind feelings toward Maryland or a desire to serve there,
Just because that’s the way life’s going. Because God didn’t give me peace about transferring or dropping out with only a semester left, but he did give me peace about my dad needing to move to Colorado and me finishing what I’d started.

But I still don’t want to go back to Maryland. Sometimes my flesh and the devil like to tell me that I messed up somewhere along the way, that I took to long too finish school, or chose the wrong school in the first place, or the wrong location or vocation, and so now I’m being punished and have to finish out my sentence in misery.

But that’s not true. That’s not the way my God works.

Just because I don’t have this humongous assurance that I’m “supposed to” be in Maryland doesn’t mean God isn’t going to do some glorious work there in me and through me. I can’t always trust my feelings.

People tell me all the time, “Faith is not a feeling.” And I’ve always agreed with them. I’ve said, “Yes, that’s true. You have to have faith even when all hope feels lost.” I thought I was good at that, in believing in God even when I don’t feel Him.

But only now, I think, am I actually beginning to understand what that truth means in my own life. I don’t feel any strong conviction or desire, I don’t feel hopeful because of any promise or prophetic word. And yet, God has made promises. God has spoken over my life.

God promised me that all things would work together for my good, and for His.

God promised me that He would never leave me nor forsake me.

God promised me that Maryland would be a spring, a launching pad. (And I have to believe that that means I won’t be stuck there forever.)

God promised me that He would make a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

God put a desire for the nations in my heart, and He promised me that He is the One who satisfies.

I don’t want to go back to Maryland. I can’t see the road in front of me. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a plan for after graduation. I don’t even know what my new house looks like. And I don’t know how I’m going to thrive alone and separated (by states and oceans and busy lives) from the people I care about most.

But I do know that God never goes back on His promises. He never changes His words. He is not sly or deceiving. He is good, and He loves me, and He is with me wherever I go and whatever I choose.

From following God Beyond the Blue to waiting on my Desert Father

I’m so very bad at waiting.

Seriously, this is not the way I usually live my life. If I want something, I go out and grab it and push my way through the obstacles until God slams a door in my face. Most of the time, He’s left those doors wide open, and I’ve plowed through, following after Him. But right now, in the immense hallway of life, I’m not even sure which door to start at anymore.

Last year, I was running through open doors at amazing speeds. Before I left to study abroad in Scotland for a semester, I wrote this post. I had been enjoying my free copy of Josh Garrels’ Love & War & The Sea In Between, and every song on that record seemed to speak to my situation in some way. Specifically, “Beyond the Blue” was my summer theme song, and I held on to truth that I had no idea what awaited me on the other side of the ocean, but I knew my God would be there and whatever He had would be amazing. In the post, I quoted these lyrics:

All things will work by a good design
For those who will believe
And let go of all we cannot hold onto
For the hope beyond the blue.
Said I let go of all I could not hold onto
For the hope I have in You.

As I wait here in America during this uneventful, confusing season in my life, I feel like I don’t even know how to get beyond the blue, let alone where it would lead. I don’t even know if I’ve found the right shores yet. My music preference has changed to Garrels’ Jacaranda, and his songs about waiting and promises and glory speak to my heart. For example, today I was listening to “Desert Father–“

But we run free, and weep gracefully
In a world dark and cold.
Hold on, all you who wait by the blue shores
For Him to part the water,
Desert Father,
Show us a new way,
The impossible dream
Through the deep and the unseen–
Carry us home,
Please.

Last year, I was ready to let go and jump into the unknown beyond the blue. This year, I want to do that so desperately, but first I have to find the blue shores at the edge of the desert and wait for God to part the waters.

Today, my dad said to me, “I just think it’s amazing that God’s brought all these people into your life from all over the world, all these connections, so that you can stay with them when you go abroad….” And I just stared thinking about how, yes, I do have a lot of friends in a lot of different places, and I wish I could go spend time with all of them right now, but I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean for my life at this very moment.

But I do know it means that God is up to something. He’s up to something crazy. And it probably won’t play out into my summer plans, but it might play out into something ten years from now, who knows? My God knows. But I don’t.

He’s up to something. And meanwhile He’s caring for me in the desert and teaching me about promises.

Caleb was forty years old when he first laid eyes on the Promised Land. Ready to rest after the escape from Egypt and the trek through the desert, he saw the land flowing with milk and honey and proclaimed that it was good and that God would deliver it into Israel’s hands. For his faith, God promised him that he would receive the sweet land on which his feet had tread as his inheritance.

But Caleb had to wander thirty-eight more years in the desert with his disbelieving brothers. Then, he fought for seven more years in the conquest of Canaan. And then, at age eighty-five he had to drive out the remaining Anakites from the territory before he finally got to rest in the land God had promised him.

Forty-five years.
Caleb received a promise, and forty-five years later, after much suffering, hardship, and toil, it was fulfilled. And the whole time, Caleb is praised as following the Lord “wholeheartedly.”

I have no idea how long it’ll take for God’s promises to me to be fulfilled (I’m not even sure I’m clear on exactly what they are) but I do know that in the midst of it all, I want to follow my Lord wholeheartedly. I will wait for Him to lead me to the sea, part the waters, and take me beyond the blue again.

I took a walk in the rain today…

Tonight, I dawned my sorely neglected red-tartan wellies and took a walk in this cold March rain.

And it was glorious.

I know, you’re going to think I’m crazy. While everyone else has been wildly excited about this freakishly warm end-of-winter-beginning-of-spring-time, I have been moping around, still bringing jackets everywhere and wearing tights out of protest. Because I’m not ready for warm weather. I’m still a bit whiny about not really getting to wear my snow-boots.

And so today, I thank God for the rain. I think there’s a little more to it than just a random change in the weather. I think He did it for me (and for a host of other reasons, because my God is big enough to make it rain for a million reasons at once, including to show me that He loves me.)

Because, you see, I’ve been feeling a bit…desert-y. I know I’ve already shared this in a couple of posts, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but this is my life right now, so I’m going to blog about it. This time in my life feels like a wasteland, but God has been showing me repeatedly in Scripture that He brings water to the wasteland, He shows up.

Just this week, I encountered Psalm 68:7-10:
When You went out before Your people, O God,
when You marched through the wasteland,
the earth shook,
the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
You gave abundant showers, O God;
You refreshed Your weary inheritance.
Your people settled in it,
and from Your bounty, O God, You provided for the poor.

Last night, after a long discussion with friends, I was counseled to earnestly seek the Lord, to ask Him why He would do radical things for me like He did for Joshua when He stopped the earth and made the sun stand still because Joshua asked Him to (see Joshua 10). My question wasn’t could He stop the earth for me, it was why would He? So I asked Him. I went to bed telling Him I didn’t want to sleep without Him, and I didn’t want to wake up without Him.

And today He poured down abundant showers. He marched through my wasteland and brought a piece of the Scotland I was missing so much. He refreshed His weary inheritance.

So yeah, I took a walk in the rain today.

And I enjoyed every minute of it.