Brooke Fish

I’m about to share a shocking revelation with you. Being a mom is NOT for the faint of heart. It is stinkin’ hard work, with no days off. Ever. And that is one of the very reasons I love August. Back to School, baby! Families everywhere prepare to send their children back to school. Some with glee and others with tears. For me, it’s full on glee. Don’t get me wrong, my family loves our time together during the summer months, but we love the much needed return of routine and seeing friends daily.

Our school is both hard and good. It is filled with wonderful, God-loving teachers and staff along with amazing families, all dedicated to one thing – the kids. Despite everyone’s best efforts to make our school the best it can be, public school brings its own set of challenges. Many of our students are at or below poverty level, many children live in single-parent homes, and many of our students are refugees from war-torn countries. None of the aforementioned factors are a problem. In fact, they are a large part of what makes our school so great! It’s the challenges associated with these facts that brings about difficulty.

Since 1st grade, my oldest son, Jude, who is now in 6th grade, has lost a best friend due to the transient nature of many families at our school. Other best friends often end up in different classes, due to the sheer number of students in our school. (It’s pretty dang big!) And while this has been the case for our oldest, our youngest, Liam, has been blessed to have a best friend in his class for both Kinder and 1st. Which, praise God, because he is a people person. He does NOT like being alone! His love bank is filled by quality time with friends and family.

Last year, 2nd grade, was our first year without a bestie by his side. While tears were shed upon finding out that all of his buddies were in other classes, he managed to change his attitude and was determined to have a “happy heart” and make new friends. We had good days and bad days. The bad days were really bad. I’m a stay at home mama, so I volunteer up at the school a lot. There were days I would run into him crying and begging me to take him home. He would often go to the nurse’s office complaining of a tummy ache in hopes of going home. Bedtime cuddles were filled with tears and prayers. Mornings became a battle just to get him out of bed. Hearing “please don’t make me go mommy” and “I don’t feel safe there” became more and more frequent. It was heartbreaking. I felt like I was failing him as a mama and protector.

My husband and I prayed a TON that year. We prayed with Liam, for Liam, and for our school. I met with his teachers, counselor, and finally the Principal. His homeroom teacher and I would often text each other to alert of bad days or ask for prayer. The Principal and I came up with a plan for the following year that would ensure he’d be in class with at least one of his best friends. I gave her a list of 5 friends and she promised to put at least one of them in class with Liam the following year. We survived the remainder of that year with full dependence on God and believing that 3rd grade promised to be better.

Our Principal ended up retiring at the end of that school year, and as teacher assignments were mailed out, we discovered that our friend request had somehow gotten lost in the shuffle of the many changes. Our entire family was saddened; however, we had managed to get the teacher we prayed for. We also found out that a new and dear friend we hadn’t requested was in Liam’s class! Hooray! God is good. And then, on day three of the new school year, our friend was transferred to a different class due to necessary schedule changes. “Here we go again,” we thought.

I marched myself up to the school to put an end to this madness! I prayed the entire walk there, “Lord, please calm my heart. Let my words honor You.” I said this over and over while taking deep breaths and fighting back tears. We couldn’t do another year like last year, and I was determined that we wouldn’t! I marched down to his teacher’s room, but she had already left for the day. I marched myself back to the office and asked to speak to the new Principal. He was gracious and kind. He listened to all of my concerns and we came up with a new plan of attack. Option 1: switch classes – which meant losing the amazing teacher that we had prayed for. Option 2: find a few friends in Liam’s class that he wanted to get to know better and have weekly fun activities planned with them and the school counselor. Neither option rang of excitement for Liam.

Not ones to “hand pick” teachers for our boys, choosing another class for Liam and leaving the teacher God had chosen for him was less than appealing to me and my husband. And yet, as a mama, my heart ached at the idea of another year like the previous one. I was so mad at the school and felt so let down by God! How could this happen? Couldn’t He have prevented this? Where was He? My son was hurting and so was I! My husband on the other hand had great peace and insight. Because let’s face it, most husbands do, and it can be real annoying at times. “Let’s go to God’s Word and listen for Him to speak and guide us down the right path.”

Liam took his Jesus Storybook Bible to his room and prayed for guidance. A few minutes later he came back to the living room and exclaimed, “this book didn’t tell me anything!” Haha. Nice. We asked him to go grab his Bible and bring it to us so that we could discuss what he had read together. He opened his bible to 1 Kings where Solomon built the Temple, partnering with Lebanon for cedar and others for labor. Liam pointed at the picture of men working together to cut the cedar and said, “I think these guys are friends and they’re able to do all the work because they’re a team.” Whoa. Wise words, crafted by our sweet 9 year old boy. Then my husband challenged him, “What if they aren’t friends and they’re getting to know one another by working together as a team?” Because I’m awesomely loving and supportive, I rolled my eyes and was filled with frustration. I thought to myself, “I dodn’t want my son in pain again; going through another year of feeling left out and alone! So just shut up husband, with all your wisdom and peace!”

As we put Liam to bed that night, we asked him to pray for the next 24 hours and listen for direction from God. And I promised Liam that I too would search God’s Word and pray for wisdom. I climbed into bed a little later and couldn’t believe it…I opened my Bible to Ezra. Guess what? Chapter 3 talks of restoring the Temple! One would think this seemingly obvious sign would bring me peace, right? But as I read and prayed, I kept getting visions of Abraham and Isaac and a sense of sacrifice. It felt as though God was asking me to trust Him and to sacrifice my plans and hopes for Liam. To make matters worse, my husband shared that he thought God was telling us that our son was God’s temple and He was doing a mighty work in Liam to prepare him for something that was bigger than 3rd grade.

I felt as though I was on an emotional roller coaster and all of my emotions and hormones were just beneath the surface waiting to explode! I dropped to my knees and wailed. Crying out to God, “Please don’t make me do this! Please don’t make me force my son to stay in this class with no friends again this year! Please, please don’t do this!” My feelings prevented me from seeing the goodness of the Lord and the truth of His Word. He promises that He works all things for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28) That He will never leave us. (Joshua 1:9) That He will guide us. (Proverbs 3:5-6) That He is a loving Father who gives good gifts. (Matthew 7:11) But I couldn’t see any of it. I was relying on my feelings instead of God’s Word. (I’m pretty sure feelings alone are not to be trusted no matter how real they feel, or how valid.) That night, I ugly cried myself to sleep, asking God for another way.

The next morning, we prayed as a family. We told our son to pray throughout the day as well, asking God for wisdom and guidance. And that we would support whatever decision he felt was best. Now, some may feel that is a little too much to put on the shoulders of a small boy. But, we truly believe that the Holy Spirit is every bit as much in our boys as He is in us. And that the Spirit can guide them, just as much as He guides us. I mean, how old was David when he conquered Goliath? Or Samuel when he first heard the Lord call him?

At 3:05 that afternoon, I heard boys running in the front door. Jude walked in and said, “Liam’s staying with friends on the playground. Oh, and he made his decision. He’s staying in his class.” Wait! What? All the sudden this was no big deal, and Liam wasn’t even coming home to share the big news with me? Did I hear this right? I asked Jude, “Serious?!?” He was excited to tell me how he walked over to Liam’s pick up line, ready to walk home, and asked him right away, “Do you know what you’re going to do?” He said Liam replied quickly and with a smile, “Yeah, I’m gonna stay in Ms. William’s class” and then ran off to play.

My heart was so full. It was a proud mama moment to be sure, but what had all the sudden given my child so much peace that he didn’t even come home to share the news with me? When Liam came home a little later, we chatted about his decision. He shared that as soon as he walked into his classroom that morning, his teacher gave him a big hug and asked how he was doing. (She knew he was having a hard time and knew all about the previous year.) And that was all he needed. A hug. That simple. Knowing he was loved and that his feelings mattered meant the world to him. He said he knew she was the right teacher for him. Annnnnd, my heart exploded all over the place. Tears filled my eyes. “God is so good isn’t He?” I asked, “He knew just what you needed all along.”

This 24 hour journey immediately went into our family’s Ebenezer Journal. I never want to forget the time my little boy taught me the value of a hug. Or the time that God asked both of us to do something BIG – trust and obey. It’s rarely easy. The sacrifice is often great. God doesn’t always answer our prayers quickly. But, I’ve walked with God long enough to know that He is still working. The story isn’t over yet. God will continue to do mighty works in and through His temple, my son, Liam. I am beyond honored to have a front row seat and an active role in the adventure!



The truth about God, however you have experienced Him, is still the truth about God. His character never changes, He is still the same, yesterday, today and forever. Our perspective and understanding of the Lord is what often impacts our ability to praise Him. So what perspective do you have? Are you looking for God to do something to make your life better or change your circumstance? Are you missing out on the blessings He has already given you and has planned for you? Do you realize your worship is your weapon against whatever comes against you? (the words of Pastor Steven Furtick)

There is life in praising God. Read more to see what I mean. Webster’s Dictionary describes praise as “a warm approval or admiration of.” There are three Greek and nineteen Hebrew definitions for praise relating to similar definitions for rejoice, jump for joy, sing, dance, hold in adoration, and celebrate. Can you perhaps understand what David means when he writes in Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”?

We were made to praise the Lord! Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16) John writes in 1 John 4:13, “This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit.” Did you know we are filled with the same spirit as Jesus was, in Acts 17:24-27, Paul tells us that God made the world and everything in it, that He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else, for in Him we live and move and have our being! God is the ultimate Provider, Healer, and Father. He satisfies all of our needs when we turn to Him and see Him for who He is.

In scripture, even Jesus is documented praising God. We read in Matthew 26:30, at the Last Supper, Jesus sings along with His disciples! After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Jesus knew His Father and was praising Him, even knowing He is soon to be crucified on the cross for each of us, but trusting fully in God’s promises. Turn your eyes toward the Lord, fully trust in His promises, and allow your heart to hear from His tender mercies and lovingkindness. Then you too will be able to praise Him.

Jesus is described in Revelation 5 as the King of Praise (Judah translates in Hebrew to “praise”), the Lion and the Lamb. This passage goes on to explain that Jesus, the perfect Lamb with perfect wisdom, perfect power, and the perfect spirit of God, was slain and His blood purchased you for God. Jesus was worthy to open the scroll described in this passage because He was perfect! We have been redeemed – reclaimed for your original purpose as a child of God through believing in Jesus. In Rev 5:11, thousands upon thousands, ten thousand times ten thousand angels loudly proclaim, “Worthy is the lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.” Then every creature in heaven and on earth and in the sea proclaimed in verse 13, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever.” This passage gives us a glimpse of the purpose angels were created for – to praise God. They only see the perfection of Jesus and in praise they loudly proclaim that truth. What will it take for you to see the Lord this way? Jesus was perfect and the work He did on the cross is finished. There is nothing else we can do to achieve salvation, freedom, or redemption apart from trusting and embracing the finished work of our Savior.

1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” How amazing is that! We have an inheritance, but have we accepted it? Lift up your (proverbial) hands and let your whole heart praise Him for who He is (perfect, loving, Savior, Provider, Healer, Father) and what He has already done (died for our sins, mistakes, choices that did not go well for us and brought us back to God as His children). Praising God is an act of gratitude for all that has been done for you. Just you and Him; no one else. Can you think of something (or many things) to praise God for today?

When we can actually believe that all things are from Him and through Him and to Him, (Romans 11:36) we can accurately give God the glory. Even when things are not exactly like we want, we can rest and have peace, knowing that God gives all good things and He always keeps His promises. He is with us and His Spirit dwells in us.

Here are some lyrics that describe what I am talking about.
Love So Great – Hillsong Worship

Your love so great
Jesus in all things
I’ve seen a glimpse of Your heart
A billion years
Still I’ll be singing

How can I praise You enough?
You are the Lord Almighty
Outshining all the stars in glory
Your love is like the wildest ocean
Oh, nothing else compares

Creation calls
All to the Saviour
We are alive for Your praise
In earth and sky, no one is higher

Our God of wonders, You reign
Not to us, but to Your Name
We lift up all praise

A friend was recently sharing part of her spiritual journey with me and she explained that when she heard the lyrics of Ever Be, a song by Natalie Grant, she was finally able to feel connected with God and her heart was inclined to praise Him for the first time in a long time. She was in a place of dependence and gratitude with the Lord, as she reflected on all that the Lord had recently done in her heart. She admitted that there were plenty of things in her life that still weren’t the way she wanted, and was even grieving much loss. But she felt in that moment of worship, in hearing these words, she could praise Him.

Your love is devoted like a ring of solid gold
Like a vow that is tested like a covenant of old
Your love is enduring through the winter rain
And beyond the horizon with mercy for today

Faithful You have been and faithful you will be
You pledge yourself to me and it’s why I sing

For us to truly believe the words above, our hearts have to be connected to the Lord. We have to fight for this sometimes when we are struggling through hardships or heartbreak, but the truth of who God is, regardless of my current circumstance, allows me to praise Him – no matter what I am going through. He doesn’t leave us in the hard places; rather He wants us to draw near to Himself and show us our utter desperation for Him. “You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble, You surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 32:7.

Is your heart open to hearing the faithfulness of God and what He has been doing in your life? Can you take a few moments to turn off the distractions, whether in quietness and rest or in worship and song, and hear from God enough to praise Him?

You Father the orphan
Your kindness makes us whole
And you shoulder our weakness
And your strength becomes our own
Now you’re making me like you
Clothing me in white
Bringing beauty from ashes
For You will have Your bride
Free of all her guilt and rid of all her shame
And known by her true name and it’s why I sing
Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips
You will be praised You will be praised
With angels and saints we sing worthy are You Lord
Amy Merritt


Emily Hildebrand

During the time of waiting, when we didn’t know if the baby would be one we’d bring home or not, and during the months after the loss, God opened my eyes to so much. I learned truth that I hope I will cling on to forever, and I believe it has changed me for the better – as a mom, as a wife, as a friend, and as a believer in Jesus.

My husband, Joseph, and I learned that we were pregnant with our second child in June of 2016. Of course, in my mind at the time, I felt like it was taking longer than I had hoped to get pregnant, and we were aiming for that “ideal” two year gap between siblings. So phew! Answered prayer and hallelujah to this second baby! After our first appointment, I walked out of the doctor’s office numb and confused about my emotions. The baby’s heartbeat and size wasn’t what it typically should be, so we would need to come back in for another look the following week. We were hanging in the tension of everything being totally fine, or completely not fine at all. Another week and we returned with the same unanswered questions. Still a slower heartbeat, but no real conclusion. I had never experienced that kind of pull before – where my mind was doing tug-a-war with hope and reality. My first response was to disengage, protect myself, disconnect from this baby that may not make it into the world. However, I felt guilt about that, because I felt like I needed to believe for the best. We carried on in this period of waiting and unknown for the first 10 weeks of the pregnancy, asking family and friends to pray fervently for a change of outcome, but feeling unable to celebrate the life of this new baby. At the beginning of August we went in for another sonogram, which concluded that there was no heartbeat. A wash of both sadness and relief came over me. Relief to be beyond the purgatory of the unknown, and of course, devastated over the loss. And, then as is typical for me, I was ready to move forward with what was next and get back to where I “wanted” to be. But God, the One who carves our paths and authors each stroke, wasn’t going to let this suffering go by without using it for His good and His glory.

First, God had to teach me how to allow myself to experience emotion. I tend to be a person that wants to look “put together” on the outside, and will only break apart when I feel like nobody’s watching. So I decided I needed to FEEL it. To give myself permission to be sad and heartbroken and feel like things were unfair. “In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.” Psalm 118:5. The more I allowed myself to be vulnerable and honest, the more healing came. And I think it was most important to be honest with God…He knows my heart anyways! So I began to open up to Him in prayer. I began praying my desires for the future, but also admitting the feelings of loss. This helped to cultivate deeper intimacy with Him. I didn’t have to come to Him with the “right” prayers, just the truth! I have learned that in the act of praying itself, God begins to shape our desires to be more like His!

While we were waiting to find out the outcome of our pregnancy, I began reading the book Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf and I finished it after the loss. They write, “We all probably have a straightforward picture in our heads of what our lives will look like and who we will become. The pictures are of wonderful things that happen at the exact right time, but when something happens that is not inside the four corners of that picture, we view it as a detour and hope to get back on track as quickly as possible.” For me, my first thought was, “Okay, what can I do to get pregnant again as soon as possible? Because I just need to get back to that place that I had already pictured in my head.” But this “detour,” and all the other “detours” I will experience are not off of God’s course, but are actually important pieces of the beautiful picture that God is painting for my life! God sees the entire picture, the masterpiece, and HE DOES NOT MAKE MISTAKES. Proverbs 20:24 says, “My steps are directed by the Lord. How can I know and understand His own way.” He knew this would be part of the story He is writing for me, and for my family. I can believe that God entrusted me with that experience, with that struggle, to bring me near to Him and to allow me to share His goodness with others, even in the pain. So that my hope wouldn’t be for an outcome – the outcome I wanted of having another baby. My hope is in Jesus. When I decided that my #1 goal was not to get pregnant again, but to know and trust and love and experience Him more, I could settle and find a place of contentment in my heart. My mom said to me, “You just rest, and let God surprise you.” I have clung so tightly to that, that calm trust with anticipation that God is doing far more than I could ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

I also had to make a conscious choice to CELEBRATE exactly where God had me after the miscarriage. I couldn’t wait for the version of life that I thought I wanted. As 1 Thessalonians 5:15-16 says, “Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The Lord was urging me to love every second with my 2 year old, and to love what my marriage looked like right in that season where we had a lot of time and energy to give each other. God called me to dive into the life I had RIGHT NOW with gratitude, and not focus on waiting for what I wished things looked like.

The Lord pressed upon me that He designs all kinds of families. My eyes were open to the beautiful, unique, perfectly created families all around me! It was a revelation that His timing and His planning of our family was more perfect than I could ever plan myself. I had a new confidence in the waiting, because what I was waiting for was going to be far better than I could ever guess or request in my wildest dreams!

God didn’t waste a moment in the weeks of the unknown or the months after the loss. When we learned that we were pregnant again in December, my hands were more open than they had ever been. From the moment I took the positive pregnancy test, I knew this baby was entrusted to God. She belonged to Him first, as He so perfectly knit her together in my womb, as Psalm 139:13-14 so beautifully describes. And amazingly, I didn’t feel the fear that I might have anticipated, but instead a freedom to know that He would walk with me through every moment on the road ahead. I could continue to celebrate – celebrate this new life growing inside me and continue to practice trusting in Him because He is good. Always.
Charlotte Wyn joined our family on August 23, 2017, one year after experiencing the loss of our second baby. The Lord keeps inviting me to cling tightly to Him in my fears and worries. We chose the verse Psalm 91:4 to have written in her nursery, to speak and pray over her, “He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” The words remind me that I can look back and see His faithfulness, as well as look forward – trusting Him in His perfect plans and knowing that I am covered and protected by a most loving God in every circumstance.



Amy Merritt

Healing from childhood trauma and sexual abuse

Childhood for me was full of uncertainties and an overwhelming absence – void of love, nurturing, compassion, and tenderness. Whether it was not knowing when my mom would come home, or whether she would come home drunk; if a stranger would be coming home with her at night, or if she would call needing help from jail. Would we have food to eat and bills paid? Would we have clothes to wear to school? How long would I be left alone? From the ages of 5 to 10 years old, I had experienced sexual abuse by 3 different people. At a young age, I wasn’t able to understand what was done to me, nor did I tell anyone. One of the abusers was my brother, who was my mom’s favorite out of my two siblings, so early on I told myself what happened to me would never matter to her. Being left alone and unattended with strangers and with my older brother and his friends never made me feel anything except scared, dirty, alone, and forgotten. My mom’s value of her boyfriends over us kids left me feeling abandoned and worthless. No one cared for me. That little girl felt like a used, tossed out rag.

Growing up, I coped with my childhood in many ways that were destructive. My life as a tomboy teenager and young adult were full of stealing, lying, cheating, manipulating, and being promiscuous. I sought unhealthy attention from men – trading my soul for what I thought was love – only ending up broken and abused again by men I dated and their friends. I was living under deep shame, guilt, and rejection. Not feeling love, not feeling safe, and not feeling significant. I felt like no one saw me or cared, but I just kept going through the pain, choosing the same things over and over again, as if I had no choice. These choices were miserable and devastating. I graduated high school a year early to escape my home life, and chose to get married as I started my first semester in college at 18. Somehow, I graduated with my bachelor’s in psychology, but by the time I walked the stage, my marriage had already ended in divorce. I left home, trying to gain freedom at 17, but instead just led myself into another layer of heartache and brokenness – seeking my worth from relationships.

Blaming myself for a broken marriage, my life fell further apart. I began an 8 year battle with bulimia and my divorce propelled me into a more self-destructive lifestyle. I allowed men to further use me and objectify me. Putting myself into situations with strangers where I was paid to be filmed and/or photographed in ways I hate even thinking about now. Within a few years, I had become a shell of a girl. I hid myself so deep, that I didn’t even remember who I was, or maybe I never knew. I walked through life, working really hard in jobs and school, but never having any real friends. The only people in my life were men. Feeling like trust was so far off the table, my boundaries were invisible and so was my self esteem. At one point in college, I was given the opportunity to fly to the beautiful island of Hawaii and make a LOT of money, something like $20,000, but the job required things I just couldn’t agree to, and thankfully there was a whisper that I heard that day that gave me the answer and courage to say “no.” On this day, I felt strength for the first time and decided I had had enough, and I stopped working in the shadows.

“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.” Isaiah 30:21

Over the next 10 years I went back to school, became a Registered Nurse, and began to live a less destructive lifestyle, but I still struggled with codependent relationships. After a brief six months without a relationship, I met my current husband who was nothing like the other guys I had known. Looking back, those 6 months were a time I started to see what I was capable of, rather than what men made me capable of. After almost 4 years of dating, we got married. My life seemed better and my husband wasn’t trying to manipulate or use me, but because of my lack of emotional skills, I didn’t understand how to function in this new setting. The life I lived had produced in me a hard heart shaped by fear, brokenness, and distrust. It continued into my marriage. I still had no idea how to actually trust someone and believe they wouldn’t hurt me, so I was always on edge – “waiting for the other shoe to drop” as my husband used to say.

Within the first 5 years of our marriage, I had 2 affairs and deepy struggled with anger, feeling unloved and unlovable, and still incapable of trusting anyone. Life was exhausting. I didn’t realize any of these things until I was 33 years old. I thought I’d chosen bad relationships because I was bad and felt I didn’t deserve anything good. I thought I was the reason my life was so hard and that I would never be able to change or have a chance at happiness. I didn’t even know what happiness was, and I felt like all the things I did, I didn’t want to do, but I didn’t know how to do anything differently.

“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate…And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.” Romans 7:15, 18-20

But here’s where the second part of my life begins! Three years into our marriage, while I was was in nurse practitioner school, my daughter was born. She was born perfect (like any mom would say), she was wonderful and lovely, and my heart began to soften a bit. Although I was married to a wonderful guy – kind, caring, sincere, generous, and humble – our relationship was really hard. I had so many struggles with my self-esteem and trusting him; I don’t think I had ever trusted anyone to this point, and I did not know how. I felt like I was a failure and I was dealing with heavy shame from the secret of my affairs and choices I had made as a young adult. After a few years, when our daughter was 20 months old, my husband and I, both frustrated and unhappy in our marriage, finally took some friends up on an offer to go to church with them.

It wasn’t long before I was captivated by the truth that I had never heard before. I had heard something about God as a child – that He existed somewhere. But I had never heard about Jesus. Can you imagine!? Writing this breaks my heart for all those hurt people who feel lost and unseen like I did. I heard for the first time that I was loved unconditionally, and that I was not identified by my past or my sins, but by the sacrificial death and the resurrection of the Son of God – Jesus. I felt drawn to this truth, I wanted to know more about this freedom and over the course of 6-12 months, God opened my heart to hear from Him. I chose to believe that Jesus died for me and it was enough to cover my sins and give me a new life in Christ. I was free from so much shame and guilt I had lived with from childhood – all the sexual abuse, the promiscuity, the ways I’d devalued myself with men, the things I let others do to me willingly and unwillingly, my divorce, my affairs, my eating disorder. I was blameless and clean, without a single fault in the Lord’s eyes. His unconditional love began to cover me and redeem and renew the broken pieces in my heart.

As a mom and wife, I had always struggled with control and perfectionism. But by the time my second child, a son, was born I was able to walk in the freedom of 2 Corinthians 5:17 – that I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. Being a baby Christian of only 2 years, there were still times when I was pretty angry and controlling, especially toward my husband. I decided to learn more about God by attending a recovery ministry specifically for sexual abuse victims at my church. I didn’t think I was struggling with the shame and guilt from my past abuse and didn’t think I needed any “healing” – I had just been baptized! But I did love the Lord, and I felt like this was a place I could go and learn more about who God is. Ha! God is really good at working all things for His glory and in His timing! The very first night I heard a testimony that mirrored what my life was like, with anger seeping out all over, and I truly believed that I was in the right place and that God had something really amazing for me there and my heart remained hungry for truth.

As the weeks went on over the course of almost a year, I began to really see that I still believed so many lies about myself regarding my past choices and behaviors, and that there was a lot of shame and guilt still lingering. I had always seen myself the way the world saw me in regard to my sexual past – a slut – and I felt that was the price I paid for the choices I made. It was firmly planted in me early from my experiences that I was dirty, worthless, and unlovable. No one had even cared for me as a child, and that was the life I lived out over the next 30 years. But God lovingly reminded me through this ministry that I could know the truth in John 8:32 – to know who God is, know who God calls me, and to know what plans He has for me – and that truth can set me free. God comforted me and showed me that I needed to surrender all of my heart, including my past, and my present over to Him. I began to trust the Lord more and began to learn to trust others as well. I allowed Him to truly give me my identity – a fully new creation, instead of just partly new.

I began to see that my anger was related to my need to control, which came out of the fear I had from the experiences of my childhood and family brokenness. The uncertainties, abuse, and abandonment had shaped me going forward. As a child, the lack of control I had when my “no” was taken away (when others defiled me and took something from me that wasn’t theirs to take) came out as control and fear and looked like anger, along with many layers of heartache and broken relationships. That anger would come out anytime I began to “lose control” of others or situations. I constantly feared that I would not be enough for my husband and that fear often turned into anger. God used my time in this ministry to pull off all my layers that were still hard and hidden and I began to feel a tug on my heart to confess about my affairs from 8 years ago to my husband…but that is a whole other Ebenezer!

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16

Do you want to feel how much God loves you? Try being completely honest and vulnerable with Him and let Him comfort you and strengthen you to do some really hard things. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” The time had come for this to be true in my marriage. My old self was so far gone, I didn’t even recognize her – the freedom I had in being the daughter of the King, Who lavishes me with His love, Who is enthralled with my beauty, Who rescues and protects me, that was the woman standing in the living room on the day I confessed my deepest, darkest secret to my husband. By God’s amazing grace, my husband accepted me with open arms and heart, and embraced me. He had also experienced the same amazing love and grace of being a child of God over the last 3 years, and together we stood – once broken and separated by our sin and flesh, but now coming together as one because of God and by the healing power of the Gospel that had seeped into every area of our life now. Healing was not completed overnight, but my biggest fears in confession were shattered by the love of God. A few months later, my husband and I went through a marriage ministry program that truly gave us a solid foundation in Christ to anchor our marriage.

This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long. Now I am leading others through healing in the recovery of sexual abuse at my church. It is the passion God has given me, He has made it beautiful in its time.

Hear more of Amy’s story here: Mom Struggling Well Podcast: Episode 51

or on iTunes: Mom Struggling Well Podcast: Episode 51 on itunes


Last week, Jenni gave insight into the effects of shame, and the freedom that comes from bringing these dark corners of our lives into the light. The key that unlocks the dark prison of shame is vulnerability.

We naturally like to put the past behind us, make sure “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” and “put our best foot forward.” But that’s a dance that will leave us completely exhausted! Sadly, this self-preserving dance can be especially prevalent in the church. We fear we might lose spiritual credibility if we give too many details about our broken past, and even more so if we’re honest about our current struggles. But where did we get this idea? I don’t see any scripture that gives credence to that kind of secrecy and avoidance. On the contrary, I see countless examples of broken people being used mightily by God, and endless instructions to “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7), “confess” (James 5:16), and “go…tell” (Mark 5:19). Holding back from being fully known is not based on truth, but on shame and fear. We fear what people might think of us if we let them see our imperfections, so we keep our polite distance. But “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

This self-protecting façade in the American church is one of the biggest triggers I see for the mass exit by Millennials. They’re not fooled. They (we) want to be surrounded by genuine, authentic, relatable people. So if we Christians believe that God’s Word is true, and if we want to reach this generation, vulnerability has got to become a more normal part of the Christian life, as it was always meant to be. “The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” (1 John 2:10) It’s confusing for the world to look at Christians and see people who seem to have it all together, with no real struggles or problems to speak of. It becomes a stumbling block, giving the appearance that only “good” people belong in church, so they must not be welcome since they certainly have struggles. My pastor uses the phrase “terminally unique” to describe this phenomenon. Until we hear others opening up about difficult situations, habits that are getting out of hand, and rough patches in relationships, it’s easy to feel terminally unique in our struggles.

So what does vulnerability look like? It’s being willing to say “I’m sorry.” Keeping short accounts. Admitting we got something wrong, or we don’t know it all. Reaching out in a broken relationship. Sharing doubts and fears. Being honest with someone who has hurt you. Listening openly to an opposing opinion or belief. Asking for help. Asking forgiveness. Extending forgiveness. Allowing others in when we’re not at our best. Admitting this part of life is harder than we thought. Identifying specific sin struggles we keep going back to. Asking for accountability to guard against that specific sin in the future. Being willing to go first.

Picture yourself starting these conversations in some relationships in your life. It feels uncomfortable and risky, like the other person could take advantage of you and cause more harm than good. It feels weak. But now, reread the list from the opposite perspective, as if someone was reaching out to you in this vulnerable way. Now, it feels more like compassion, authenticity, and initiation. That’s not what I would call weak. In fact, Brené Brown says that “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”

These practices are not only beneficial for living out our faith in a more relatable way, but for our own spiritual, mental, and even physical health. Brown shared some recent research in her book, Daring Greatly: “In a pioneering study, psychologist and University of Texas professor James Pennebaker and his colleagues studied what happened when trauma survivors— specifically rape and incest survivors— kept their experiences secret. The research team found that the act of not discussing a traumatic event or confiding it to another person could be more damaging than the actual event. Conversely, when people shared their stories and experiences, their physical health improved, their doctor’s visits decreased, and they showed significant decreases in their stress hormones.” (p.82) Jesus’ brother James said “confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) So there’s a revolutionary healing that takes place when we’re bold enough to admit our broken places to God, and to others.

That truth is not just limited to extreme cases, but can be applied in our everyday life. One area that I have found healing through vulnerability is in my thought life. I used to replay events from my day, having imaginary conversations with people where I said what I wish I could say in real life. These thoughts I call “spirals” would keep me up at night, distract me from being present with my kids, invade my prayer life, and would sometimes even have physical effects, making my heart race as I got fired up internally. But God’s Word says to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) So I asked a friend if I could text her each time my mind went into spiral mode. She agreed, and I was scared. It was mortifying to admit to someone I love and respect that I was such a mess. I dreaded sending those texts. I was full of shame. But I found freedom and acceptance in her responses. She would thank me, encourage me, and remind me who I am in Christ. I cried every time. My heart needed that truth, and my sin needed that exposure. It didn’t take long for those spiraling thoughts to redirect. At first, it was mostly just to avoid sending that awkward text! But then it became a habit to recite a verse instead of replay a conversation. I found peace, I can sleep, I’m more present in the moment, and most excitingly, I can PRAY without interruption. My mind has been trained to abide instead of spiral, and it all started with a vulnerable text.

If you’re not sure exactly where you’re struggling, or how to put it into words, there’s a tool for that! “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) Studying the Bible exposes our darkness, and points us to the Healer. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) We can trust the Healer, Jesus, because He went first. He is the ultimate image of vulnerability, hanging naked on a cross. He reached out to us in our broken relationship with the Father. He asked others for help. He asked tons of questions. He listened. He cried. He begged the Father for a way out of His hard situation, admitting it was excruciatingly painful.
Vulnerability is vital to our faith. We are fulfilling our role as Christ-followers when we have the courage to admit our insufficiencies. “Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) May we never think we are too healthy to need a Healer. It’s one of the many paradoxical theologies of scripture that we are only made strong when we finally admit our weakness. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Amanda Buccola


Ruthie Hart

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
James 1:27 doesn’t make sense without recognizing that God adopted us into His family. He adopted us out of death and into His Kingdom of everlasting love and life, the greatest form of adoption there ever was. Worship in its purest form is caring for orphans in the eyes of the Lord. Adoption shouldn’t be our plan B if natural fertility doesn’t work…we weren’t God’s plan B. Our Heavenly Father delights in our adoption of those orphans and widows – for through it we are displaying the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I wrote the words above on my blog on November 1, 2012. I sat in church on Orphan Sunday convicted by the Holy Spirit in a way I had never felt His presence before. We had been married a year and a half and on the drive home from church, my husband and I looked at each other and knew that adoption would be a part of our story and how we would grow our family. Two weeks later we got pregnant with our first son and when he was a year old, we got pregnant with our daughter. Over those combined two years, I prayed a confusing prayer. “God did you really call us to adoption? Did I hear that incorrectly?” We wanted to be obedient not only to what we are called to as believers, but also to what we felt God call our family specifically to do. And what did God tell us? Be patient. Trust me. Keep praying, I am not finished with your story. I remember it clearly. I heard a song where the lyrics read “You had a purpose, a rescue plan for me to move from orphan, to move from enemy, adopted in Your blessed royalty.” (My King Forever by Jimmy McNeal). I stared down at my 4 month old daughter while my 2 year old son toddled around. It was time.

Through research and prayer, my husband and I signed on with Christian Adoption Consultants to start the journey of bringing home our third baby through adoption. We spent months preparing our home study, curating our family profile book that would be shown to expectant mamas looking to place their babies with adoptive families, and praying. The world thought we were crazy, expanding our family with two young children, but we knew God was faithful. I quickly realized how little control I had over this process, and felt like God was using this time to strip me of my control idol – my deep desire and need to know exactly what is happening and how it will ultimately unfold. (parenting in general has done such a great job of slowly chipping away at idol!) One thing I have to remind hopeful/future adoptive parents, and even the everyday person, is that adoption comes out of sin and brokenness. We saw things and learned things that we can never unsee. Things that most of the world is sheltered from and ignorant to. A bold prayer we had prayed at the beginning of the process was being answered, “God break our hearts for what breaks yours.”

July 5, 2016, we got the call. We had been matched with an expectant mama, who I will call “M,” who was pregnant with a baby girl due November 10th. We were overjoyed! A sister for my daughter. We spent the next 4 months preparing our home and hearts for another baby and loving on M. One thing that no one ever talks about in adoption is expectant moms. They are scared, vulnerable, brave, emotional….loving on M was easy, but foreign. There isn’t any other relationship I had to compare it to, but I made it my goal to love her well and show her who Jesus was. It was the first time since we started our adoption that it wasn’t about the baby. It was about the mama. The woman who was carrying what could be our daughter, hundreds of miles away from where we lived. And it was beautiful. We Skyped, texted, talked on the phone, got to know each other, laughed when we compared how similar our sassy daughters were, prayed together, and we made plans to be family. I loved, and still love M so hard.

The week before baby girl was due, I knew something was going on when I hadn’t heard from M for a few days. I reached out to our social worker who hadn’t heard from her either. Friday November 4th at 12:30pm is when we got the call. M had birthed a beautiful and healthy baby girl the night before and couldn’t place her for adoption. My knees buckled and I started heaving. I had never known devastation and heartbreak like this, and it was one of the only times I’ve ever seen my husband cry. I felt sad, alone, and so fragile – but never angry. Those next 2 days were a blur. We had a slew of friends and family come over to drop off meals, pray with us, pick-up our kiddos, and with each new face I saw, the whimpering tears would start flowing.

We never saw it coming, our social worker kept telling us this was “the best case scenario” and she knew M would go through with the plan. We didn’t protect our hearts and loved with reckless abandon, and I am so glad we did. I talked to M two days after we got the call and she couldn’t stop telling me she was sorry. I felt so much peace and calmness talking with her. This was not my baby, it was hers. There had been a plan, but nothing was promised. This was always her choice to make, never mine. I had so much joy that this beautiful baby girl would not experience the trauma of leaving her biological mother. She would grow up with biological siblings and parents who loved her so much that they couldn’t do what everyone thought she should do. My joy, my peace, and my delight was not of my own conjuring. It was the power of Christ in me. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.” Yes, Ruthie it was. This was your story all along.

Those 4 months were predestined by God for me to tell M about Jesus! To pray for her heart and for her salvation and that she would trust in her Creator, our God. And she did! That conversation I had with her, 3 days after her daughter was born, she told me something that continues to be the biggest source of encouragement to me in my walk with the Lord. It was that my husband and I reminded her who God was and that He was for her. We had never exchanged last names before and I told her what we had planned on naming the baby girl, “Penny Grace Hart,” and she said, “Ruthie, you are not going to believe this! Can I send you a picture of baby girl?” I cried tears of joy when I looked at M’s daughter and immediately noticed the large heart-shaped birthmark on her leg – dark and 100% visible. The Hart family was always meant to be a part of this little girl’s story.

The next day, November 7, 2016, I posted this on social media, asking for prayers and privacy with the announcement of our failed adoption. I had an overwhelming sense of peace that Monday morning and could feel the Lord helping me pick up the pieces of my heart and put them back together. I could smile knowing that He is sovereign, He is good, and His ways are higher than mine.

That evening, I had a group of girlfriends come over to cheer me up with chocolate and girl talk. There were lots of tears, but so many laughs, and I told them that once we start back up the adoption process, I wanted to get a call that a baby had already been born. I couldn’t bear the thought of going through 4 months of waiting in limbo, or another failed adoption. Oh, and I was sure it would be a boy, because right upstairs I had spent the past 4 months decorating an adorable room for our daughter. God is just funny like that, right? Little did I know what God was up to that very evening.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 at 2pm – my kiddos were napping and a call from our social worker popped up, and I instantly started the word vomit. I don’t think I ever took a breath explaining to her how I felt the Lord healing me in such a miraculous way. I felt Him near me and inside of me. Psalm 103 tells us that God has compassion for us, and in those few days, it was so overwhelming how strongly I felt it. The moment I finally stopped talking she asked me, “Ruthie are you sitting down?” Which of course the answer was “no,” I was pacing around, excited at the thought of feeling whole again. She told me to go get Jon, who happened to be working from home downstairs and the next few hours were again, a blur.

“There was a baby born last night.”

“It is a boy.”


“Are you interested?”

“Can you Skype with the birth mom?”

And the tears were flowing. Not the same tears we had cried just 4 days before, but tears of elation and of truth. God promised He wouldn’t leave us, He is making all things new. That evening we wrote a letter to this boy’s birth mom, and she was shown our family profile scrapbook. On Thursday she chose us to be her son’s parents. On Friday she signed relinquishment and we were on an airplane to get our baby. Seven days. God created the world in 7 days, and in 7 days we lost a daughter and gained a son. This was all a part of His plan. The broken road to lead us to our son.

Jesus, you sit at the right hand side of God on Your throne and are King of kings. You are powerful, glorious, and worthy of all praise. You are a God who suffers with us. A God who came down to earth, took on human flesh, lived the perfect life, and died the perfect death. You suffered in a way that I can’t seem to wrap my head around, and You did it for me. And for my son, and for M and her daughter. You died so You can walk alongside of me in my suffering, because You have been there. I will never again underestimate Your power and what You can accomplish through Your people. Sometimes you do greater things through people than with people. You told me 3 times to name our son “Gideon.” A strong and mighty warrior. Gideon Aaron, you are my Ebenezer stone.

Here is a video we put together about the whirlwind journey to our son Gideon.


Stefanie Spencer

In January of 2016, the Holy Spirit laid the word “trust” on my heart. I don’t say this lightly, as I am a skeptic when I hear people say, “the Lord spoke to me,” or, “God laid it on my heart.” I mean, big eye roll (maybe internally because I wouldn’t want to offend you) and lots of questions swirl in my mind.

However, the verse Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths,” was on repeat in my head. I just couldn’t stop it from playing over and over in the back of my mind. I knew God wanted this verse to mean something to me. And I was annoyed. I thought, “Ugh, why this verse? It is so overused and cliché in the Christian community, God. I want something different!” Over and over, I said “no” and searched for something else in Scripture, and over and over God pointed me to Proverbs 3:5-6.  “Trust me,” He whispered. I finally conceded. I remember sitting in my backyard while my children napped confessing to a couple of girlfriends who were doing a bible study with me about my reluctance to obey God’s leading. This was the first time I experienced God speaking to me this heavily. It felt strange; surreal. I had no idea God was about to show me that He is in every detail of my life. He was calling me to a front row seat where I would see His goodness and faithfulness through provision after provision over the next year.

Psalm 100:3 “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

On March 31st, I held a positive pregnancy test in my hand for our third child. My husband, Nate, and I were joyful, yet nervous. We had a 3 and 1 year old, and let’s just say it hadn’t been easy. Our first daughter cried for about the first 9 months of her life, my husband had a very demanding job, I suffered from postpartum depression after our second daughter, and we were intentionally working to improve our marriage. Could we really do this? Then I heard it. Trust me…

A week later, April 7th, I received a message from Nate that he had just been laid off that morning. I thought he was joking – seriously, that was my response. This was a complete shock to both of us. We knew his company was about to have a mass layoff, but we were confident that his job was secure. The night before, we had prayed for those that would be laid off the next day and discussed how hard it would be to receive that news. The very next evening, we stared at one another in disbelief, while being filled with so many worries. The questions started churning in my mind. “What would we do? How long would it take to have income again? What about health insurance? We had a new baby on the way!” This was out of my control. I could see the weight of providing for our family on my husband’s shoulders. The whisper came. Trust me…

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

I started to see the Lord lead our path immediately. A trusted friend stepped in to encourage my husband with truth and helped fill his days with purpose as he began to sort out the next steps of his career. Then just as I was starting to feel comfortable with our plan, Nate told me he wanted to start his own company. Bam! Fear, anger, worry, control….the thoughts just wouldn’t stop. Nate’s dedication to his career and his desire to work for himself had long been a source of contention in our marriage. Starting his own company felt overwhelming, especially now with another baby on the way. But, I knew this was something he needed to pursue because it had been on his heart for such a long time. I also knew I needed to fully support him. My head screamed no, but my heart heard those words…Trust me.

“Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:17

May 4th,  Nate received an offer for contract work that would provide up to 40 hours of work a week with the flexibility and support to pursue his own venture. What was only supposed to last 90 days, turned into 7 months. It was exactly what our family needed. Provision.

May 12th, at ten weeks pregnant, I felt a gush of fluid and saw blood. I thought we lost our baby. I rushed to the doctor, sobbing uncontrollably and begging the Lord for this baby’s life. One of my dearest friends dropped everything to be with me at the appointment. We heard the heartbeat. Provision.

Over the next 8 weeks, as my body continued to bleed, I fought to trust God and “lean not on my own understanding.” Every morning in prayer, I would acknowledge that this baby belonged to God and that no matter what happened, God was good. This was not in my control. I fought fear of losing the baby, anxiety over more complications for the baby or myself and lies that I was being punished for having doubts on how I would be able to handle 3 under 4 or that I didn’t deserve another child. And every day I heard, Trust me…

Then the bleeding stopped and every sonogram was good news. Provision.

In July, while serving in our church’s pre-married class, Nate overheard a prominent and successful business leader tell his story about starting his own venture, and immediately reached out to this person for advice and was greeted with an invitation to talk. The result of this conversation was not what Nate was hoping to hear – this person wisely advised Nate that starting a business at this moment would not be in the best interest of our marriage. The truth, which was difficult to hear, was Provision…even though Nate didn’t see it that way at the time.

In August of that year, we faced a big decision on whether to leave our community group. We had only been with the group we were in for six months – was this the wisest decision? But both of us kept hearing those words. Trust me…

Through the change we have experienced great joy and growth by moving to a different group. I saw a transformation in Nate’s leadership of our family, as well as in his walk with God.  Provision.

In September, our air conditioner died. A large cost that we weren’t expecting. Trust me. That same week, we received a financial gift that would cover the cost of replacing our unit. Provision.

December 5th, our sweet baby boy was born. Provision.

At this time, Nate’s contract work was wrapping up and his venture wasn’t quite where he wanted it to be. We both felt peace about continuing into the next year without income, but then God showed up in an incredible way. Out of the blue, Nate received a phone call from a company that had offered him a position two years prior. The same position (one that he was very interested in) was open again, and they wanted him for the job. Two years prior, we didn’t NEED the job and he turned it down because we had a newborn and toddler and it required a move across country and travel among other things. Here we were again with the same offer, but now we had a newborn, a toddler, and a preschooler and no income. We prayed and sought counsel. The obvious answer was to take the position, but it still didn’t seem right. After seeking input from our community and mentors, we determined what our counter offer would be. We weren’t sure that it would be seen as viable, but we were content that these were the terms we would need to make it work for us – think of it as our perfect scenario for this position. To our surprise, they accepted!!! This new job was an answer to prayers for our family that I had been praying for years. Provision.

I wish I could list all the small situations where God whispered “trust me” to my heart and then immediately offered provision, because there are so many more. My journal is full of entries where I struggled to trust the Lord and not lean on my own understanding during this season, but every time I acknowledged Him, my path was made straight and He poured out abundant kindness to me. I don’t believe that provision from God is always in the form of a yes, as I have experienced answers in different forms, but He sought my heart in the year 2016 in a way that my eyes were opened to His love for me.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13