Something Beautiful

•October 12, 2011 • 1 Comment

There was once a young girl who sat anxiously on the edge of a stool, riveted by the equipment before her. A master Potter took a ball of clay and placed it on the wheel as she leaned in as close as possible, but still maintaining enough distance to refrain from topping in face first. Her eyes locked with the lump and she was transfixed with all possible attention, as if the gray mound was in fact her own soul hanging in the balance, for indeed, it was.

The wheel spun and the master Potter used His sizable hands to begin the process of shaping the mass. He held steady along the piece’s sides as it began to grow and form under His stable grip. This delighted the girl as a disproportionate smile stretched around her budding face and her eyes lit up with excitement. She was a most engaging fan, fully focused and completely delighted. Her “oh”s and “ah”s bubbled up as she unabashedly wore her emotions plainly, and transparently affirmed the master Potter in His design. She giggled with excitement as He traced His fingers along the edges to create a unique design and she gasped with pleasure as he added unique touches that she considered genius. Overall, she could barely contain her excitement for how the piece was forming under His care and she was beside herself with joy and elation.

When the piece came to what the girl believed to be the crescendo, she clapped her hands with joy and thanked the Potter excessively and expressed her gratitude for His masterful work. She anticipated the slowing of the wheel and the delivery of the shapely vessel, however, as her cordial acknowledgements of indebtedness came to a dwindling close, she began to signal the Potter through polite social cues that she was satisfied with His work and that He may cease. Her heart began to speed as she slowly became aware that the wheel was actually not slowing and the Potter’s fixed gaze on His creation had remained unbroken. She tried to signal His attention that she was done, thank you, but she slowly realized that He has no intention of stopping, and she became even more frantic in her motions to discontinue the shaping process.

Realizing that her efforts were futile, she sat back, unsettled and eyes shifting between the master Potter and the outstanding vessel. Suddenly the vessel gained a new maturity and a beauty that surpassed what the girl had expected. She attempted to engage the Potter in appeals saying, “Sir, it looks fine. No, seriously, this is good. You don’t have to do anymore. You can stop now, I like it like this. Excuse me, I think it looks great. Can you… can you please, um… please, I don’t know what to do with this and… Sir, I don’t understand.” For you see, as the vessel gained curvature, length, and beauty without parallel, and the girl became more and more distraught with the exceptional creation. The vessel had moved beyond her expectations and the beautiful and cherishing flourishes He lavished on the vessel drove her to discomfort. The beauty was beyond what she had hoped and beyond her expectations. Her stomach turned and her breathing quickened. Her toes curled as she uncomfortably shifted on the stool, rationalizing away the beauty and trying to avert her eyes. She continued to attempt to argue away the vessel’s becoming existence as she turned her face away and thought, this is a mistake. He made a mistake. This is not me. He has clearly been mistaken.

She finally felt as though the emanating beauty of the vessel was slowly crushing her and finally, unable to tolerate the exquisiteness of the vessel, in a moment of unrestraint, she leapt from her stool and drove her small hands like claws through the center of the moist clay and the masterpiece collapsed beneath her grip. The wheel came to a halt as she slowly lifted her eyes to meet His, only to find His eyes gazing steadfastly back at her’s. “I’m sorry,” she stammered, “but I could not take it anymore. This is too much for me. It was too beautiful for me to behold and… in a moment of self-defense I believed my only option was to destroy it. I’m sorry, but I believe the shape that it has now assumed is more appropriate. At least, this is what I am more comfortable with.” Seconds ticked by, each one leaving an echoing scar on time and she felt her heartbeat pulsing through her clay-covered fingertips. She sighed sorrowfully and released her encrusted hands from the mutilated creation and slowly sat back on the stool, averting her eyes in shame. “It was too good for me.” She murmured.  Seconds ticked by again as the master Potter stood from His stool and knelt beside her’s. “Do you trust me?” He asked as He searched her despondent eyes and her lips began to quiver. Her eyes searched the corners of the room and she blinked rapidly to guard against incoming tears, avoiding His steady gaze. “But I don’t deserve it.” She whispered to Him and looked in His eyes. “It’s too beautiful for me. It’s too much for me.” He spoke again: “Do you trust me?” Her face tightened with emotion as she tried to hold back from crying. She slowly nodded her head affirmatively. He stroked her rosy cheek and smiled at her with deep acceptance and understanding as He moved back towards His stool and turned the wheel on once again. “Then let me show you the truth, Amanda. Trust me, Beloved. Allow me to shape and mold you, and allow me to show you a beauty beyond your furthest expectation.” With that His hands set to work once again, patiently and without regret, as the wheel spun and the master Potter’s hands shaped the beauty of a young girl’s destiny into a magnificence that she scarcely could tolerate but chose to accept though it felt as though the sharpness of beauty ripped straight through her. The beauty pierced through the shadows of lost hopes and lies and the girl’s soft heart was shaped through His gentle firmness into the likeness of celestial beauty under the careful crafting of her Master’s hand.

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Scandalous Grace

•August 29, 2011 • 3 Comments

She was standing in the corner, pressed against a locker, almost looking like she wished she would disappear. Dark, frizzy and unkempt hair, so thin, barely clothed and when she did walk away, purple and black bruises were scattered down her starving legs.

This weekend I had the privilege of joining up with some dear women and spending my Friday night in the locker rooms of two local “gentlemen’s” clubs. To be perfectly honest, it’s breaking my heart to even remember it, but at the same time, I was on cloud nine all evening that we were there. It was the same story for all of them. Their children were hungry. Their men were gone or unemployed. Their families were not available or not alive. I met two new friends at the first club. I didn’t know exactly what I would say or what would even happen but I know one thing: God’s favor was thick and tangible. When we arrived, we were ushered through the club to the back where the managers told us they were so excited that we were there and that they would send all the girls in to hang out with us. We had cupcakes, brownies, cucumber sandwiches, some soda, and the Holy Spirit. And in walk just the most beautiful women I had seen all day.

It didn’t matter what they were wearing, hair, make up, whatever. It wasn’t who they were and I just wanted to know about them. “Hi, what’s your name?” I asked with an extended hand. “Dream- I mean Chelsea. Haha, sorry sometimes I forget which name I’m using.” “We brought you cupcakes!” “Oh my gosh, I love cupcakes!” And this is how the night began. We talked and laughed and carried on, only interrupted when one had to go perform but she promised to be right back. We laughed about their kids, how they fell in the toilet while potty training and other silly things that kids say. She told me about how she did her make up and I tried on her enormous shoes. We must have been the darnest thing to behold; me dressed like a Stepford wife in training and her unbothered to be completely without any clothes at all. But it was amazing. I know this should be obvious, and maybe it is to you, but I just realized, that ultimately we were, down to our cores, just women. So when I wondered what to talk about, the answer was obvious. What did I talk to my girl friends about? Chocolate. Children. Boyfriends. Our dreams. They all had dreams. One wanted to be a nurse, one wanted to get her Master’s and work with people struggling with schizophrenia, one wanted to be a cosmetologist, one wanted to be a good mom.

As I talked with one woman and she began to confide in me, she started to tear up. “I began this three weeks ago and I hate it. Honestly, I’m a modest and classy woman,” (she looked at what she was wearing and then back and me and I could tell that she hoped I would actually believe her), “I used to be a travel agent and I loved it! But when my Dad passed away and both my children started having serious medical problems, I lost my job and I haven’t been able to get on my feet. I just want another job. I can’t deal with dancing like this. I hate it so much.” Something in my heart just broke. I wanted to just fix all her problems and make it all okay, but I can’t. I don’t have money or a job to offer her. But in that moment, I was glad to be without anything to offer at all because it reminded me of the one thing I did have to offer, which just happens to be the best thing I could possibly give: Christ. “Hey, I don’t know how you feel about this, but do you mind if I pray for your son and your job?” “Yes, please.” “Can I pray with you right now?” “Yes!” She scoots closer and extends her hands for me to hold. She didn’t care if anyone was watching, the woman was desperate, and so was I.

That night, I was full of joy and so ecstatic for the relationships I had made and the opportunity to able to hang out with these women. But my heart still breaks as well because there is this one question I have lingering in my mind for God: “God, why not me? Why was it her and not me? What did I do to deserve being born into a family who loved me and could take care of me? Why not me instead of her?” The honest answer is that I didn’t do anything, and I couldn’t do anything, to earn the grace that the Lord has extended me, and it brings me to my knees in gratitude but also with the burden of my new friends. Here is what I do know: I have a responsibility to pray and shake the heavens on my friend’s behalf and to show her the same love and grace that the Lord has shown me. I can do nothing to earn or deserve His love and I can do nothing to keep it. He freely gives and never leaves. The difference between us was not that I have nice things, or no kids, or that I have a supportive family. There is no difference from those women I spent the evening hanging out with and myself- except one thing: for no reason or thing that I could offer, Jesus redeemed me and has me in process, but now their time has come because the Lord is pursuing them just like He also pursues me. Those are my sisters and I believe He is the God who can solve impossible problems and bring healing to incredible brokenness. So if you think about these hurting women, pray for them. They had been though so much; been hurt by men, family, cops, customers. So go find the hurting in your town, whatever that looks like in your area, and bake them cupcakes. God loves them so much, so could we do any less? The Lord has great plans for them, just like He does for you, and can heal their hurts and provide for them. I believe that.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9

Trailer Man

•August 25, 2011 • 8 Comments

Coming to an internship that doesn’t allow you to date or have romantic contact with anyone for the purpose of focusing on the Lord was tough. It was especially tough when I was suddenly surrounded by the most incredible and godly men I had ever met in my life and they were EVERYWHERE. So the advice I get is, “Just see them as a brother.” Yeah, right! I do not have 200 brothers that are cute and single. “So what do we do about this, Jesus?” Was my question and His reply was incredible.

(Important detail: at the internship, we have a men’s class called Trailer Club (I believe named because they used to meet in a trailer) and women’s class called Risen. The men are called Trailer Men and the women are Risen Women.)

I have one friend who is by far one of the godliest men I have ever met. Actually I have quite a few, but this one guy is absolutely beautiful inside and out. As our friendship is growing, I was having a difficult time keeping my eyes off him and on Jesus. I was being distracted and I didn’t know how to reconcile the two. I can’t run from every godly man on the face the planet whenever I find him attractive, that would be absurd. So I asked God (and pleaded for a long time, mind you) and I felt like He finally gave me a revelation worth sharing, a revelation about how to see my brothers in Christ with pure eyes and a pure heart.

In Mark 10:18, “Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’” Step one of my revelation was realizing that there is no good in us except that which comes from God. We have fallen natures and we are sinful creatures, but Christ lives in us and through us and we are covered with His blood and made clean. With that said, my godly guy friend and really any of the godly people in my life have no good in them. The only good in them is goodness that comes straight from the Father.

So I had to think about it. Anything good that I admired in this man was really from God. So the strength, tenderness, masculinity, passion, and attractiveness were really not from him, but they were from God. It was like when I was looking at this guy, I was almost meant to peer over his shoulder and see Someone else. If the light of God is shining through him, then just like the rest of Creation, he was created not to be worshiped, but to glorify his Creator who is worthy of all worship and honor. So as I peered around the side of this man, I began to understand in part what the Lord offers in full. The beautiful attributes of this man were meant to point me not to him, but to God.

This man served to be like snippets or a preview of the fullness that can be found in the real thing: Christ. And I can have Christ all the time! God promises to never leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:4, Deut. 31:6, Joshua 1:5, Ps 37:5, 2 Cor. 4:9) so I can enter His presence and draw from His deep well and experience the FULLNESS of the strength, tenderness, masculinity, passion, and attractiveness that my heart desires straight from the source.

And that is when it hit me.

This man of God who shines the light of Christ gives me a preview of the real thing. He points me to the spring; the origin. This man… he was a Trailer. A Trailer Man. He is a trailer of the Full Length Film, a preview of something greater to come. We watch a trailer in anticipation for the full length film, but we don’t buy the trailer or love the trailer for being a trailer, we love it for what it represents. We love it for what it means- it means the fullness is coming soon! And soon we will see in full what now we only see in part.

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” -1 Corinthians 13:9-12

Competing with Porn Stars: Part 3 (The Response)

•August 24, 2011 • 2 Comments

Oops. Uhh wow, so it seems that I forgot something really, really important. Throughout this whole search and rollar coaster (which it has been), I forgot and needed to be reminded that I was actually a dead author. What does that mean now? Well, like I wrote in the “About Me”, I have this little problem of “staying dead”. This whole time I forgot something and this is what I believe the revelation of my beauty is coming down to: I’m dead! I surrendered my life to Christ… so it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me! So what does that mean when it comes to figuring out that I’m beautiful and somehow believing this about my beauty? Well, one of my closest friends said it very well in a text I received tonight, “It is CHRIST who is beautiful in you, because you are in Him and He is in you.”

This really isn’t about me. My life isn’t about me, this blog isn’t about me, this really IS NOT ABOUT ME. We can go through the facts, like 1.) If we are made in God’s image and God is not ugly then neither are we. 2.) If I have the mind of Christ and Christ is not stupid then neither am I. 3.) If God said everything He created is good and I’m created then I’m good. Man, we could go on and on about this… but it’s this one thing that hit me and hit me hard. I am dead (yeah, go figure) and I surrendered my life and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. Main point: Christ lives through me and as long as that is happening, stays my main focus, and is cultivated then I’m good. We’re done here. Does He still have more to teach me? Uh, yeah, of course. Do I still need healing? You bet I do. Will I still struggle? Probably everyday. Will it all be worth it? Yes, yes, and YES! As long as Christ lives through me, as long as I make that daily decision to move aside and clear the path for His will in my life, as long as Christ is what is being shown in my life, then I have no other choice to be anything but beautiful… because He has no other choice than to be the most beautiful Man to have ever walked the face of earth and the expanse of the heavens. Lord, I lay myself aside and my selfish desires to want my flesh to be pretty. Please wake me up to what’s really going on here. All flesh will fade like grass, but you are the King who is above every other thing and You live in me. Case closed.

Now will I be attacked in this area again? Of course. Will I need to read my own blog next week, next month, or in two years to remind myself? Yes I will. But will He be faithful to show me the truth again? I would stake my life on it.

{To everyone who sent me encouragement, messages, songs, and prayers, thank you so much. It worked. God is faithful and He answered our prayers.}

Competing with Porn Stars: Part 2 (Enough)

•August 17, 2011 • 3 Comments

My life has been saturated with the message that I wasn’t enough. Not thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough… But what is “enough”?

When I look to God, I know He loves my body and the way it looks. Heck, He made it that way! And, to top it off, I really do feel so secure and confident in my identity in Christ. But it is when I let a man get close to me and become vulnerable to his opinions that I start to feel inferior and wished I looked more like the women on the grocery store magazines.

As I spoke with God, I realized this was no longer just about getting man advice for my friend who was struggling. This was now personal. I didn’t know if I wanted to finish the conversation with my guy friend who would be back soon, and I almost texted him some lame excuse to get out of it, but I couldn’t just run away. When he came back, he asked me why women struggled with understanding their beauty and worth. I gave him the synopsis of “A Special Hatred”, a chapter in Captivating by Stasi Eldredge that explains Satan’s unique assault on women throughout history. Women are made in God’s beauty and are life givers. Satan hates that. Just look at the brutal assaults on femininity throughout history. Don’t even try to tell me women haven’t been universally targeted by something malicious. Media and other mass messages have shaped what we believe beauty is, and now we believe we will not be enough and our beauty will never be what the man wants unless we become a standard of beauty that was created on a computer, not in reality! And certainly not by God. Once I told my friend this, he nodded in understanding and then asked, “So why do you struggle with understanding?”

And then it just popped out before I could stop it: “Because someone already told that I’ll never be enough!”

Oops.

Being the respectful man that he is, he withdrew from my emotional oil spill and then compassionately and sincerely replied, “Amanda, I don’t know what this will mean to you, but on behalf of myself and every other man, I’m sorry. I’m sorry if we have sent you these messages and made you feel like your godliness was not enough. It was wrong.” I realized I was holding my breath and something inside me wanted nothing more than to completely dismiss that apology. “It’s a lie!” I thought. “He might mean it but the rest of them don’t! They meant what they said to me.” “Thank you,” I answered, “But I’m not sure how to accept your apology. I’ll work on it.” I knew God and His healing power were the only thing that would make that apology real to me. Could I really believe that they were all wrong? Yes, their words and actions (or lack thereof) hurt and cut, but ultimately, they were indeed wrong about my beauty. I’m still letting that sink in. Here is the thing, as long as we are plagued by these images in supermarket tabloids and pornography on the internet and TV, we will never have a correct image of feminine beauty and the unique measure of creativity the Lord put into creating us all a little different. It was beautiful to Him, that’s why He made it. We can no longer compete with the messages sent to us by culture. Sorry, but my butt will never fit into that size of jeans. Ever. Even if I let myself die of starvation, the corpse you’d be left with wouldn’t squeeze into a tabloid-approved size pants. I wasn’t built that way. And wow, the sooner we can accept this, the sooner we can start experiencing a love for ourselves and how we are unique and quit hating ourselves for not all looking the same!

…Okay, quick question: how many of you ladies just read that and with fits pumping were like, “Huzzah!” but inwardly you were like, “Nope. I still think I don’t cut it.”

What is up with us? Because honestly, I just wrote that pep rally and many times I still feel the same way too. Where does the answer come from? Good question. How about this: I’m going to go ask Jesus and I’ll share what I hear when Part 3 magically appears in your mini-feed. Deal?

Competing with Porn Stars: Part 1 (Just a Little Smaller)

•August 16, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The other day, one of my godly guys friends from high school showed up for a visit and dropped a bomb on me. “Amanda, I need help, but you’re going to think that I’m horrible. I know this is bad but I don’t know what to do with it. My girlfriend is beautiful and loves Jesus. But, I just wish she was in better shape. I feel terrible thinking that and I don’t know what to do about it. Can you help me? How do I stop thinking this?”

I stopped in my tracks. Immediately I sensed that there was a deeper issue so I asked him to pray about it, and I promised to pray for him and told him we would talk again the next day. So I started to pray…

…But it haunted me.

I started pacing around campus and something just started eating and digging at me. “What is going on??” I thought to myself. And I felt like I was starting to go crazy and everything was spinning. My world had suddenly been shaken and I didn’t know why.

I went and found one of my mature guy friends for advice. I thought it would be a good idea to gain some perspective since I didn’t know what to do with myself and I didn’t understand why I was reacting this way. I told him what was going on with my friend and then asked, “Is this something all men struggle with?”  “No.” He answered, “Not all men. I believe your friend has something deeper going on with his identity in Christ.” My friend had to run to a quick meeting, but asked me to wait so we could finish the conversation.

As I waited, it was late and I sat in the dark and looked up to the heavens and decided to just fight through all the shame and pain that was spiraling in my mind and ask my real question. You know how sometimes its just difficult to come face to face with something and you keep trying to run… but I couldn’t anymore. Something dropped in the pit of my stomach as I looked up and finally confessed what was rolling around in my heart:

“God, I feel like this just confirms my worst fears. I feel like it won’t matter how godly I am or how much you use me. No matter what, my husband will always secretly be disappointed and wish that I was ‘just a little smaller’.”

Bam. There it was. There was so much freedom in this question to realize that my guy friend’s confession pulled at a root in my own life from an eating disorder I suffered from in college. In the end, I didn’t lose the weight fast enough to satisfy a guy and salvage that bad relationship, but I did pick up a nasty mental eating disorder that stuck around long after I stopped throwing up. But now God had decided that the time had come for healing. Now, to this dark and dirty issue that I would rather have left alone and died trying to just live with and forget about, God had decided that the time had come to talk about it. So let’s talk.

I Don’t Like You: Part 5 (Darkest Before the Dawn: Finale)

•August 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

One of the most enormous things I have found to overcoming idols and living victoriously is learning to be content in the present. An incredible book I read about this is Linda Dillow’s Calm My Anxious Heart. It’s spectacular. This is the final installment with some tips for finding contentment and some altering revelations the Lord has asked me.

Finding Contentment in the Now

I had a revelation one time about dying right now and standing before the judgment seat. I realized that will be judged for what I actually did, not what I was planning to do. But how much time do I spend thinking about what I’m planning to do instead of taking a hold of the present right now?

So here are some thoughts:

  • How are you living in the present and thanking God for the season you are in right now?
  • Don’t wait for life to start or it never will. Life doesn’t start when you get (fill in the blank with what you think will make you happy or complete), you have Jesus; this is your life.
  • How are you being faithful with what you’ve been given right now? Without being faithful with the little, the Lord cannot trust you with more (Luke 16:10).
  • Are you becoming a whole person?
    • Rooting junk and strongholds out of your life.
    • Developing character.
    • Having a deep personal relationship with Jesus.
  • Some people say that God won’t give you a man until you get to the point that you don’t want one. I wouldn’t say that is completely true because the desire for a husband comes from God. But you must be in a place where you can trust God to say, “If he comes tomorrow, you are faithful. If he comes next week, you are faithful. If he comes in six months, you are faithful. If he comes next year, you are faithful. If he comes in four years, you are faithful. If he never comes, you are still faithful.”
  • When God calls you to humble yourself during this time DO IT! Obedience is key.

Phases of Freedom

There was a time in October when I believed that the Lord set me free and it felt so amazing! I was so joyful. Then, in January, the Lord took me to an even new level of freedom. I remember walking into the Auditorium and I suddenly realized that I didn’t like anyone… and I didn’t know what to do with myself! I realized that when I walked into a room, I had an agenda: find a guy. And even if I wasn’t flirting with him, I was looking at him and thinking about him and finding a way to get him to look at me and think about me as well. I didn’t like anyone and so didn’t know what to do with myself when I walked in. I had no idea how much it consumed me and effected the way that I lived my life. At that moment, I thought, “Well I guess I’ll just go sit down and pay attention to class.” I had no idea I lived in such bondage until I tasted freedom.

Revelation of the Floating Particle

I had a revelation from the Lord and I saw myself as a floating particle. In my revelation, I had this addiction to finding affirmation of men stuck to me like a massive barnacle. The Lord had finally broke it off and I felt like the question was being asked, “Alright, I set you free, so what do you want to be obsessed with?” I had the choice. I could always go back, but I knew what I wanted: GOD I WANT YOU! And so I started throwing myself and my time into His Word and seeking His face. What you give your time and thoughts to is what you will be addicted to and obsessed with. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you aren’t obsessed with something. We are creatures of worship and we WILL worship, the question is what will we worship? The answer: its what we give our time to.

Revelation of Seeing the Creator

Why do we have these desires and yet we cannot fulfill them? C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” A way to combat having idols in your life is to realize that all of creation is meant to point back to its Creator and glorify God. Seeing the beauty of the created is meant to point us towards God, not towards the creation.

When we see that beauty and we only see the object, we will begin to worship it and move closer to it, instead of moving closer to God. For example: if you see a beautiful tree and you think, “Wow, that’s beautiful” and you continue to gaze at the tree and its exquisite leaves and flowers, you eventually spend so much time looking at that you move closer and closer to until you have your face in the branches and can’t even see anything else. You miss the forest because you can’t see past the tree (to quote an old saying). That tree is beautiful, but only because its Creator is beautiful and when we get so consumed in the item that we cannot see God anymore, than is when He says, “That’s enough” and will take an axe to the root of that tree and remove it from our lives. Why? Because He loves us too much to see us worshipping the wrong thing, the thing that cannot actually fulfill us.

Do not be surprised if God takes an axe to the idols in your life and cuts them out. Its is truly by His grace and although it seems overwhelmingly painful at the time, God will soothe and heal that, but run to Him and do not try to fill your pain with another idol. God is what we truly need and He can satisfy all the longings and desires of out hearts in Him.

I experienced deliverance when the Lord released me from this stronghold. I felt freedom a year and a half after I began praying and asking God for help. There was a freedom that followed like no other. I was so grateful, joyful, and thankful. Keep persevering for freedom, even if it takes years. You won’t regret the journey and will look back fondly as you see how in the darkest times, God came through and He never left your side. It is always darkest before the dawn. Cling to Him; it will be the hardest and most rewarding decision of your life.