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December 13, 2012 / faithofmustard


Yesterday marked the my second blogging anniversary, although it seems a bit stretched to say I’ve been blogging for two years. My posts have been scanty at best lately. Nevertheless, it has been a wonderful adventure, especially considering the state I was in when I first set up this blog.

Two years ago I was struggling to get out of a toxic relationship. I was questioning my faith and trying to complete a theology degree in the midst of it all. This blog kept me focused on various parts of my journey over the last 24 months.

I made a committment to stay single, and while I did not intend for this vow to be a lifelong committment (and I still don’t), I am pleased to say that two years later, it’s still just me. I needed to be alone. Over the last two years I finished my degree, doted on my children, advanced in my career, traveled all over the U.S. and internationally, and dedicated myself to wellness. Most importantly, I reconnected with God and committed myself to following his direction for my life.

Over the last two years – more specifically, the last year – I also reconnected with my writing. I finished the book I started in February and now I am moving on to the querying and marketing phases. I found an amazing writers group and I have met so many wonderful, supportive, interesting and fun people.

And now my life is entering into a new phase. This blog is filled with posts chronicling my journey toward acceptance. I’ve had to learn to accept myself, my place in life, and this road that God has set me on. My journey has not been without hiccups. In fact, it was made of hiccups and I stumbled my way through it.

But now I’ve come to a fork in the road and I know it is time to move on. This will be my last post on this blog, because in two days I am taking it down. I will always treasure this time, and I am so grateful to those of you who supported me and made this community such a joy to be part of. I am even grateful to those who challenged me on some of the more controversial topics I’ve covered, because you forced me to dig into my faith and ask myself the tough questions.

I am in the process of revamping my online presence, which will include a website and blog wholly dedicated to my writing and ministry. The focus of my new blog will be on brokeness and redemptive healing, with some theology tossed in from time to time 😉 I will still delve into some of the topics I’ve posted here, and I will still use some of my personal experiences in my new blog, but not at the depth I have done on this site. I’m also going to jump into the world of twitter, as I intend to use use social media to connect with other writers and my readers (I’ve been dragging my feet on that for a while! lol).

I hope that all of you will join me on my new endeavor. If you would like me to send you the link to my new blog (which I hope will be up and running by mid-January), please email me at

Thanks again and love to all!!


October 3, 2012 / faithofmustard

Empty Churches

I like empty churches.

Maybe that didn’t come out right. Allow me to explain: I like full churches. Full churches mean that people are finding fellowship, engaging with the community, and getting healed in any number of ways.

But I like empty church buildings. Empty churches, after everyone has gone home, have a certain hypnotic quality that I find soothing. The echoes of footsteps. The scent of old books and wood polish. The subdued light.

The quiet.

The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, that there is no place we can go where God can’t find us. And so, I don’t believe that God is more present in a church than he is in my living room or my car or the scary elevators of my office building. He is just as present at church as he is at the local bar or liquor store, in the dirty ghettos or the mansions of Malibu.

When I’m standing in an empty sanctuary, it is me who is more present. In those moments surrounded by silence, alone in a big room where I have rejoiced, cried, worshipped, and silently expressed my anger. Sometimes all of the above at once.

There is even more to it than the sentimental recollection. Being alone in a church sanctuary, when no one else is there, reminds me that I matter to this church.

I loved Wednesday nights as a child. On Wednesdays the youth group met at our Lutheran Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. Sometimes we would practice for the choir performance coming up next Sunday, or we’d rehearse the annual Christmas Pageant or the summer play. I loved running up and down the aisles between the pews and beneath the massive stained glass. There was a wicked sense of adventure in it all, in doing something that was forbidden on Sundays, but encouraged on Wednesday. Wednesdays were for the kids, when we got to be in church without being outnumbered by grown ups, when the pastors paid attention to us.

In these moments I knew that I wasn’t just some person’s kid. I wasn’t just another person standing in a choir robe. When I spoke my voice echoed off the walls of the sanctuary. When I walked in the corridors leading from the sanctuary to the classrooms, those were my footsteps making all that noise.

I didn’t realize then, of course, but now I believe that was when I began to realize that there is a God-given need in me – in all of us – to make a difference. To be heard. To matter.

I think this is the challenge of churches in today’s society: to give every person in the church community the opportunity to be heard, to make them severely, acutely and explicitly aware that they are not just a face in a crowd. And then to teach them the true meaning of servitude. To place on them the God-given burden of responsibility and equip them to use their gifts for the purpose of the Kingdom.

My current church does a great job of this. I have been embraced by wonderful people, given encouragement when I needed it, and led to step out boldly when my first instinct is to shrink away.

But sometimes I feel lost in the crowd.

I still remember being eight-years-old, walking between the pews with my choir robe swishing around my legs. I remember standing in another dark, empty sanctuary many years later. I was 29, and I had just received my call into ministry a few months earlier. I still wasn’t sure I’d heard it right. I still wondered why God would choose someone like me: weak, shy, afraid.

And alone in the darkness, surrounded by empty chairs and a quiet stage, I fell to my knees and said “yes” to God. I was instantly overcome by the enormity of that decision, and humbled by the knowledge that God didn’t really need me. But he still wants to use me.

I matter to him and I matter to his Kingdom.

But he didn’t just hand me a crown, sceptor and robe. There was still much work to be done before I would be ready. If I had been handed my ministry right then and there, it would have been all about me and not all about God.

After six years, I am still not ready. I have fallen. I get lost in the crowd. I get discouraged because it sometimes feels like I’m raising my hand and the teacher isn’t calling on me.

Sometimes I want to walk away. My blog isn’t getting read as much as I’d like. My books aren’t published. Non-Christian friends think I’m a religious freak. Even some Christian friends think I’m too evangelical. I’ve never brought anyone to Christ. I’ve tried serving in ministries that I have failed miserably at. My faith has destroyed some relationships. God has kept me single, and I am faced with rejection on an almost daily basis in this cruel, secular dating culture.

In these moments, when it all seems so fruitless, and when I feel like just a spot on the floor, I remember what it feels like to stand in an empty sanctuary and to know that I am only one voice, but I still matter. One voice can make a difference, but only if we let God be the megaphone.

September 29, 2012 / faithofmustard

Our “Barbaric” God

God has a terrible reputation among those who view him as an illusion. And I must admit, when I look at him from the perspective of those who don’t believe, I see how he can be viewed as cruel and barbaric.

Why should anyone follow a God who kills innocent women and children?

Why would a God who is good send people to hell?

Wouldn’t a wholly good God be tolerant of people who don’t believe in him?

Each of these questions can be answered with a study of the Old Testament account of the destruction of the Amalekite people in 2 Samuel 15:2-8.

This event is often referred to as an atrocity because unlike God’s orders to kill the Canaanites, Hittites or other “ites” throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites are told to not only kill the men and soldiers of Amalak, but to kill even the women, children and infants. By all standards of morality, this is wrong. It mirrors what is happening in Somalia and the Sudan, the massacre of the Jews in World War II, and the slaughter of innocent people at the hands of Islamic Terrorists.

All done in the name of religion.

Is it justice to slaughter babies for the wrongdoing of their parents? To kill those who believe in a different faith? To any sane person the answer is a definite, resounding “No.” So how can the account of the Amalekites prove anything but that God is a cruel barbarian, and not a God of love and justice? Or in the very least, perhaps he is merely a concoction, made up by man as a scapegoat for these barbaric actions. I will not go into the academic and logical arguments for the existence of God in this post, but if you’d like to read more on that topic, see my post God Does Not Exist.

Now that we have established the problem, let’s pause for a moment to consider one fundamental truth of Christianity: Man’s sin separates him from God. The Bible tells us that all sin is equal. Whether you tell a lie or steal or murder someone, it is all equal in God’s eyes. We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We all miss the mark.

The Bible also states that sin is punishable by death, first a physical death and then a spiritual death. In the Garden of Eden man was not meant to die. Physical death is the result of the entry of sin into the world (i.e. the apple thing). Furthermore, the banishment of man from Eden symbolizes the banishment of  man from God’s kingdom. We are forever separated; and so, in addition to a physical death, we all face a spiritual death.

While we are all still subject to a physical death, Jesus came to save us from the spiritual death. By dying on the cross he took the penalty that we deserve. Remember, by God’s standards we are all guilty, but acceptance of Jesus’ sacrificial gift saves us from having to serve the sentence. It is a “get out of jail free” card, and we get to live for eternity in heaven with God.

Another perk of accepting this gift is that we get to partake in God’s grace not only in eternity, but here on earth. Once you are welcomed into God’s kingdom, you can partake in the peace of God, the joy his spirit instills, and the provisions of his providence. Not to say bad stuff can’t still happen – and I won’t get into that topic in this post (see If God is good, why do bad things happen? for more on that) – but God clearly says that if you mess with God’s kids, you mess with him.

When Cain was exiled for murdering his brother, God was still with him. He said that anyone who blesses Cain will be blessed, and anyone who curses Cain will be cursed. He provided the same provisions for the Israelites, God’s people, only this time it extended to the blessings and curses of nations.

Which brings us back to the Amalekites….

The Kenites were living among the Amalekites at the time of the “incident,” but because the Kenites were kind to God’s people, they were told to flee and be saved from the wrath that was to fall on their neighbors. The Kenites were blessed. However, the Amalekites set themselves against Israel, and so God cursed them the way they cursed Israel.

But that still does not explain why it was okay to kill the women and children, who did nothing wrong.” 

First of all, they did something wrong, as we all do. We all fall short, or as pastor and author Chuck Smith once said, “We are all born dirty little sinners.” For the record, I do not believe in original sin. Yes, there was an original (i.e. first) sin, and it was the start of man’s sin nature, but I do not believe that I am directly held responsible for Adam and Eve’s sins. Likewise, I do not believe my children will be held responsible for my sins, or that I am paying for my parents’ sins. The fact is, we all have enough of our own sin that we don’t need to be held responsible for the sins of another person or for that of humanity.

Having said that, there comes a point in every person’s life when they become cognizant of their wrongdoings. A three-year-old who bites his brother might know that mom doesn’t like it, and that may be enough to change his behavior, but he lacks the cognitive awareness to know it is wrong.

Young children respond to their environment with instincts and conditioning. Babies know that crying gets them fed. A toddler bites because he is angry. Conditioning can either encourage or hinder that behavior.  I hesitate to use this comparison, but the same can be said of animals, who also lack cognitive awareness.

At some point cognitive awareness develops, and I believe that this is the point at which we become responsible for our sins. I believe that when babies and children die they go to heaven. Even if they haven’t accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation, because they never had the cognizant capacity to either accept or reject it.

The Amalekites performed child sacrifices. They were a cruel people, and God’s purpose in destroying them was not solely to punish them for being mean to the Israelites, but to banish this behavior from the face of the earth.

Above I mentioned that all are guilty, except for the children who lack the ability to be aware of their sin. God wiped out a people whose sin was great. And I look at the death of the children as a sort of salvation. They lived in an environment where they might be raped, tortured and sacrificed. Now they are with God for eternity. That might seem cruel, but only if you look at it from man’s perspective, and especially if you believe there is not God and no heaven. Look at it from the perspective of an omniscient, loving God, whose ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9) and a lot less limited. He sees the whole picture. We see a mere pixel. What is cruel to us in a blip of time is part of the whole of eternity.

You might ask if this means I approve of the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades, or the Islamic militant action. After all, weren’t all those things done in the same spirit? No. Not even close. I could do several posts on each of these to discuss the motives behind the killing and how God’s Word applies, but I’ll sum it up by saying that often we blame God for the things that people do. The fact is, only God alone has the right to judge. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away (Job 1:21). Man does not have that same right.

And so, is God barbaric? Websters dictionary defines “barbaric” as savagely cruel, exceedingly brutal, primitive and unsophisticated. And I suppose, by human standards, that makes sense. If one man scorges another and hangs his skin to dry, we would call it barbaric. It is a cruel, uncivilized and unnecessary act because the motive is the act in and of itself. Any justification (he was hungry, angry, insane) is not good enough. There is no earthly reason why such a thing had to happen.

In the case of the Amalekites, there was an earthly reason for them to die, as I’ve explained here. But what if there is also an unearthly reason? What if the reason was bigger than what we can comprehend? We may see God’s action against the Amalekites as barbaric, but only if we look at it from our limited perspective.

Our definition of “uncivilized” cannot apply to God, because we cannot compare God to our earthly civilization and culture. To an atheist who is unwilling to believe that there is anything beyond the physicalities of this life, or to an agnostic who views ethics and spirituality as relative to ones own experiences, an all-powerful, just, and loving God is a foolish notion. His is uncivilized, cruel and unnecessary because the accounts of him are painted within the tiny box of human understanding.

We must look beyond the brush strokes, beyond the colors and words and phrases of the accounts of God, and seek to know the heart of God. He uses his creation and the world he created to reveal himself to us. He chose to use human history, as told in the Bible, to unveil his plan for us.

If we look at sunset and see only light, but fail to realize its source, it will never be anything more than a fleeting moment that is easily forgotten. If we feel our hearts pumping blood through our veins and think of it only as a lucky accident, our lives can never be anything but meaningless.

And if we choose to criticize the nature of God from the limited scope of human understanding, we’ll never be able to truly experience the harmony of eternity and the glory that God has in store for us.

July 9, 2012 / faithofmustard

Being vegan: a biblical perspective

For most people, the idea of Veganism evokes a strong and definite opinion, one way or the other.

For years the mere thought or mention of the word conjured up for me images of sickly, granola guzzling hippies. I could almost understand how someone could give up meat. But dairy? Eggs? What was left to eat but granola, spinach and apples? Bleh 😛

And then I became a vegan and my perspective changed drastically. It’s been two months and I am still amazed that I’ve actually gone and done it, and even more amazed (and shocked) by the results.

My holistic journey started in March, when I began seeing a homeopath for my depression. It was a hard decision to make that appointment, and I only did it when heart palpitations woke me up every morning for two weeks straight. And only after I realized that if I didn’t do something I was going to die. Perhaps not a bodily death, but an emotional and spiritual one. Everything God called me to do was being buried beneath the rubble of my deteriorating emotional state, so something had to be done.

Western medicine had failed me. After a series of expensive and invasive tests doctors could not tell me why my heart was beating so erratically. What’s worse is that they didn’t care.  I was told that science couldn’t find anything wrong with me, so I was fine. But I knew something was wrong. I had tried half a dozen antidepressants, only to end up worse than before I started.

And so, I tried the natural path to wellness. It wasn’t such a stretch. Afterall, I have been into yoga for years and I’ve written much about the correlations between eastern philosophies and Christianity. But I will admit, sitting in that office for the first time I knew I was there as a last resort. I was desperate enough to try anything, but I had also lost the hope that I would ever break free from this prison. When you have nothing left to lose, you will try anything.

I’d prayed for healing from this malady. I have had people pray over me. I have screamed at God, demanding that he fix it. Every step forward would result in two steps back. And I am so eternally grateful that I was brought to that place of desperation. Sometimes we have to be driven to our knees before we start trusting God. I consider myself a mature Christian, but I will always be learning, always maturing in my faith. One of my faith struggles is in letting God be God, and trusting him to handle a situation completely. I had to lose my mind before I was able to give it to him completely.

Homeopathy is working. It’s been four months and my depression is about 80% cured. It’s a long journey and I’ve had setbacks, but I’m on my way.

My treatment isn’t just about taking an herbal remedy to reduce the symptoms. It is centered around holistic wellness; the body as a complete formation of mind, body and spirit. My depression is just the outward indication of an inward imbalance. Western medicine treats the symptoms of the imbalance. Homeopathy treats the imbalance.

And so, with my homeopath’s guidance, I have reconsidered my diet. I did not go vegan because of ethical reasons, but because after much study I’ve discovered that western diets are so far removed from what God intended it to be. Our bodies are not designed to eat meat. We have flat herbivore teeth and lack the natural ability for ripping flesh (that’s why we need knives for eating meat!). Our bodies must also create enzymes to digest animal products, the same way it produces enzymes to fight off bacteria and other foreign particles.

In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam and Eve “look, I have given you all the plants that have grain for seeds and all the trees whose fruits have seeds in them. They will be food for you. I have given all the green plants as food for every wild animal, every bird of the air, and every small crawling animal.” (Genesis 2:29)  Notice that he did not say he had given cows and chickens for food. Even the animals were intended to eat only plants.

When Adam and Eve sinned everything changed. God put a curse on the ground, so that they would “have to work very hard” (Genesis 3:17) for food. Sin brought death, a new and terrifying concept to a post-Eden Adam and Eve. This affected the animals as well, which became carnivorous after the fall. However, in God’s admonition to Adam he still declared “you will eat the plants of field” (Genesis 3:18). Not the beasts, just the plants.

The first record of animal deaths in the Bible were for the purpose of sacrifice, not food. In Leviticus 17: 3-4 God says “If an Israelite kills an ox, a lamb, or a goat either inside the camp or outside it, when he should have brought the animal to the entrance of the Meeting Tent as a gift to the Lord in front of the Lord’s Holy Tent, he is guilty of killing.” Some say that this verse is in reference to sacrifices to other gods that the Israelites were engaging in, and I think that is certainly true when you look at the context of the passage. However, the fact that he refers to this as “killing” is a very strong indicator that there is a deeper, multi-faceted meaning to this passage. God also goes on in Leviticus to say that anyone who eats the blood of an animal will be cut off from him, because “the life of the body is in the blood” and “it is the blood that removes the sins, because it is life” (Leviticus 17:11). By the way, this is a precursor to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, maybe I’ll write more on that later, but I digress…

God also gives very specific directives for eating animals in the rest of Leviticus, and often the practice is referred to as “unclean.” God may allow it, but that does not mean he endorses it. Remember that these were instructions given to a fallen world.

In the same way, God did not want husband and wives to divorce or for men to marry multiple wives. In the pre-fall Eden he made it very clear that marriage was between one woman and one man, and that it was a binding committment. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, ASV). The Hebrew word for “cleave” is Daw-bak, which means to be glued to. Jesus added to this sentiment in Matthew 19:6 when he said “So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Yet, God’s people had multiple wives and Moses gave them instructions for divorcing. If God is so clear on the subject, why would he allow this sin? The same reason he allows all sin: because we live in a fallen world and we are subject to the curse. We are wont to treat each other poorly. We devalue life in all forms. God’s instruction for dealing with these things is not indication of his approval, but of his understanding of our sinful nature. Paul said “Everything is permissible–but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible–but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Just because God doesn’t strike you down with a lightning bolt doesn’t mean he’s cool with it…the same can be said of all sins. And even though He allows sin, the sinner must still must face the consequences. One look at epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in America is indication that we are paying the price.

The fall brought death, but God offers us life. Eating dead things, whether from animal products or chemically treated and processed food, brings death into our cells, the very makeup of our earthly bodies. And as Christians, the Spirit of God dwells within our bodies. And so, when looking at wellness from a holistic perspective, it makes sense that our spirit cannot be brought into balance, or into harmony with God, unless our physical bodies are brought back to the state that God intended (or at least as close as we can get on this side of Eden).

There are loads of scientific evidence to support that a plant-based diet is healthy and animal protein diets are harmful. Many of the “studies” stating otherwise are funded by powerful lobbyists who profit big time from the consumption of animal products. If you want more information on this, I highly recommend reading “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell.

As for me, I know that this is working and that’s all the proof I need. My depression is in remission and after a lifetime of suffering I am expecting a total cure. The homeopathic remedy and my vegan diet have a lot to do with it, but ultimately I give all the credit to God. We are “wonderfully and fearfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and God has provided everything we need to be well. When I first prayed for healing I expected a miraculous poof, but that’s not always God’s way. Jesus could have healed the blind man in John 9 with a single thought, but instead he picked up some dirt, spit in it and rubbed the mud over the man’s eyes. Then he told the man to wash it off in the Pool of Siloam. God could have miraculously abated Elijah’s hunger, but instead He commanded the ravens to feed the prophet. Jesus could have made wine without having to create it from water…you get the point…

We are connected to this earth  by the roots we have in Eden. The key to healing is to eat according to the way God created us. We need to be intentional about the food we put in our mouth. Every particle of our bodies is affected by what we eat. God ordained it. Science has proven it.

May 28, 2012 / faithofmustard

Holding Out

Photo courtesy of VisualizeUs

Holding out is hard. You find yourself with your feet stuck in the mud, while your head and heart are soaring in the clouds. If you try to soar too far, you are painfully reminded of the fact that part of you is still anchored by reality. And if you give in to realism, the fall to the hard ground from the weightlessness of the clouds is shocking and hurtful. Staying poised in between the two is a frustrating contradiction between the desire to move forward, and the necessity of staying put.

Ah, the battle between realism and hopefulness. I lack the patience to see it through, yet here I am: my feet anchored and my heart still hoping for dreams that have already fizzled out.

Sometimes I wonder if I should just accept defeat and let myself fall, because it’s difficult to have my sights set on the dream, while my feet are stuck in the mire. What if I let myself lie down in the muck? Would I be able to build something there, or would I spend the rest of my days looking up to the clouds, remembering what never was?

Some would say I am stronger than others. I kept writing when practically the entire publishing community told me I was horrible at it. I have remained single, holding out for a Christian man, when other viable possibilities (according to the world, not to God) have been right in front of my the entire time. I watched as friends have gotten agented, published, and married. I sat on the sidelines and smiled, genuinely happy for their successes, but I am silently crying to God, wondering when my time will come. If my time will come.

I don’t see myself as strong. I know the strength is not my own. I would not be here if I chose it. Still, I am beginning to acknowledge the things my time of waiting has made me see. It has forced me to be patient (or try to be), to see beauty in mundane things, to focus on myself and on getting well, to thoroughly enjoy my children and lavish my undivided attention on them, to focus on the art of my writing. And to know that even if the strength is not mine, I could have walked away from it at anytime, yet I chose to stay. I chose to hold out for more.

I still wonder how this story will end. Will I be the tragic old lady with ten cats, begging her children to come visit because she hasn’t seen another living person in too long?  Will I be regretful of the dreams that I followed, because none of them came true and my life is the result of the scars they have left behind?

Or will I be the woman who followed dreams she never knew she could have? Will I be grateful for never getting the things I wanted, because it allowed God to give me the things that He wanted for me? Will this time of waiting soften my heart, making my kinder and more accepting, so that even if I die without finding love again, I will never be wanting for companionship?

I could be either woman. I am prone to pessimism, which is exacerbated by the frustration of trying for my dreams and having them fizzle in my face again and again. But I know that this is molding me into that second woman, who will one day see the value of this life, and all the wayward paths it has led me down.

And so, today I choose to be still and let God be God.

Have a wonderful week, my friends! I leave you with some wonderful Bible verses on perseverance that have come to mean a lot to me in recent months:

Romans 5:2-5 Through him we  have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we  rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our  sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces  character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame,  because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who  has been given to us.

James 1:2-4 Count it all  joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the  testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its  full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Read more:

March 27, 2012 / faithofmustard


Some dating dealbreakers should never need to be spelled out (i.e. can’t read, has body odor, considers brushing teeth optional). But unfortunately, I now have a reason to put all 3 of those on my ever-growing list of dealbreakers.

I still believe there are good single Christian men who are emotionally AND financially stable, intelligent, confident and nice. I just don’t believe they are ever interested in me. On the other hand, I am a magnet for atheists/agnostics, men with hygiene issues, or men that either can’t read and/or cannot carry on an adult conversation. Or, they may be nice, but not confident or intelligent; emotionally stable, but not financially stable, or vice versa.

My ex-husband blamed what he called my lack of flexibility on the fact that I write romance. Of course, his idea of “flexibility” was letting him lie to me as much as he wanted, and I had to either pretend I didn’t notice or agree with his justifications when he got caught. But he had a point. If I spend my evenings and weekends dreaming up the perfect resolution to a fictional love affair, reality is just that much more difficult to accept.

A friend claims that I am a magnet for lost boys, and they are drawn to me for spiritual guidance and influence. In one of her classic pep talks, she tells me that I can be the light in their darkness. I can teach the unteached. After all, one of my ex’s now wears deodorant thanks to the extremely uncomfortable conversation I had to have with him one evening. Another ex is now a Christian man married to a wonderful Christian girl, and he credits me for helping to make him a better man by introducing him to God. Unfortunately, that happened after I kicked him to curb for being a complete jerk to me.  So this ended up being great for him and his wife, but it sort of sucks for me. I know it matters in the big scheme of things, just not for me at this point in my little life.

Bishop T.D. Jakes says that dating was never part of the biblical model for marriage. Our culture has made courtship something that contradicts the model that makes God the ultimate matchmaker; and since God does not make mistakes, dating isn’t necessary. When we go our own way and date multiple people throughout our adult life three things happen:

  1. We are seduced by the concept that there are plenty of fish in the sea. We know that if the current fish falls below our standard, there are plenty more to choose from. This makes us put forth a lot less effort in making it work.
  2. We take all the good parts from each of the people we have dated, and compile a list of our expectations for a perfect mate, which no one person can ever meet. When they fail in one item on the list, we throw them back (see #1).
  3. No relationship ends without baggage. The more relationships/dating experiences we have, the more we learn to fear the very concept of dating. Dating under the umbrella of fear only causes more baggage in the long run, and it makes us more aware of how important that list of unrealistic expectations is to our overall happiness in life (see #2).

This is where I am, at the edge of all these things, carrying more baggage than I can manage, and trying to make sense of it all. I can see the damage this has caused in my life. I have become comfortable with being single, which I believe was God’s plan for me. But as I venture out into the realm of dating once more, I can barely muster up enough courage to dip my toe in the water.

I haven’t accepted a second date in more than two years. I have had multiple first dates that went really well. We clicked, had plenty to talk about, time flew by, and there was intellectual and physical attraction. As we say goodbye I have every intention of waiting by the phone for the next two days, being all giddy and hoping he’ll call. But then, I drive home and begin to think of all the reasons I should not go out with him again, which, to me, seem perfectly reasonable. So was I out of my head during the date, or am I letting my fears and doubts interfere after the fact?

I wish I could put all the good parts of all the men I’ve dated into one perfect man. Michael was artistic and intellectual, Chris was strong and stalwart, Tim was adventurous and fun, Gary was a Christian and he wanted to take care of me, Dave was nurturing and protective, Derek was financially secure. And I’m still (stupidly) holding out hope that this perfect man, with all of these attributes, still exists.

And I guess I have to decide what is worse: being alone for the rest of my life, or settling for someone who meets only a few of these qualifications? Because honestly, right now I’m standing in my boat and looking out into the water, and I’m trying to decide whether the problem is the scarcity of fish in my part of the sea, or if the problem is with my net. At the same time, I am surrounded by people who have found signficant others with whom to share their lives. And I’m thinking I must have missed that day in school when the secret to all of this was explained to everyone but me.

March 11, 2012 / faithofmustard

Understanding Addiction

Dark things pop onto the page when I write. I never mean for them to be there, but I often surprise myself when I read something I have written.

I know many writers that outline before ever writing that first word in Chapter 1 . I sometimes envy them for being able to do that, but I’m also glad that I can write without an outline. Outlining gives the writer more control over the story, but in my opinion it can also impeded the creative flow. I’d rather let my characters take the reins and tell me what their story is, rather than the other way around.

I love that moment when my fingers are typing so fast and the character is a living, breathing person. I’m no longer aware of what I am writing and it’s like the ideas are being fed to me, instead of coming from within me.

The problem with all of this is that I don’t always know how to get my characters out of the situations they have put themselves into. And since the dark pieces are actually bits and pieces of myself, digging around in my characters’ lives is the same as digging around in my own life and dealing with my own issues. Digging up skeletons is always painful.

For example, the protagonist/heroine in my new manuscript is dealing with depression. I knew that much when I started the book. I didn’t know the extent to which it could impact her, or how it would be revealed in the story. I just knew it was her cross to bear in some form. I’m 35,000 words in and she has revealed to me that depression is not the core issue. The issue is addiction. Now, I have no history with substance abuse addiction. I tried really hard to get addicted to cigarettes as a teenager, but I just couldn’t. I tried pot once, got horribly sick and never had the desire to try it again. And drinking just isn’t worth the effort of dealing with the morning after. I had my party days, but drinking was never something I felt I had to do, and it was never a problem for me to resist. My parents, siblings, and friends have never done drugs and never abused alcohol in the traditional sense of what is considered alcohol abuse. And so, I am fortunate enough to be able to say that the world of substance abuse addiction is not part of my world.

So I would never decide on my own to write about a character dealing with addiction. My characters, however, make up their own stories.

I was just as surprised as the hero to learn that the heroine had just gotten out of rehab before the story begins. And I was appalled when she accepted the pill that was offered to her in the alley while she was facing down her demons. She was facing her issues, she was getting somewhere, and things looked good for her and the hero. But then she went and screwed it all up and now I have to dig her out of this hole.

In the process, I’ve discovered that I know a little something about addiction, after all. Or, more accurately, I know about the state of mind that leads people to turn onto the broken path. I know about losing hope, but still hoping for peace in whatever form it may come in. I know what it is to make a destructive decision, and to forcibly turn off the voice that tries to guide you to the right path. And I know the underlying, self-defeating thoughts that lead to those bad choices.

I’m learning that addiction is, at its core, a search for love and acceptance. There is something ingrained in all of us that is intended to be our beacon home. A God-shaped hole that only God can fill. I felt it as a younger adult, when I had everything I had ever wanted and still felt like life was missing something. And over the years, as I have struggled with my faith, I may not have tried to fill the hole with hard drugs, but I had my moments of drowning out the pain in a bottle, or taking a Valium just to shut off my mind.

And I have tried to fill my life with a man. One after another, just hoping that this time I had finally found someone who would love me the way that I needed to be loved. And then he would go away and I’d be empty again, until I found my next fix. The next man who could fill the hole only God can fill.

While all of this was happening, I knew about God. I had accepted Jesus as my savior, and I read the Word daily. I even watched the TBN channel and went to church. But there was something rotting inside of me, and Christianity is not a quick fix. When I accepted Jesus and invited him into my heart, it was only the beginning of what would be a lifelong journey.

Eventually and by the grace of God, my addiction, and my need for love and acceptance, started being revealed to me. First it was when I realized that I had dated four different men in my small Bible study group. And one of those men I started dating just after he and a good friend of mine broke up. I needed him to love me more than I needed my friend. And I turned my back on her and what I knew was right, just to get that next fix that I felt I couldn’t live without.

When I was dating a non-believer who was leading me down a very dark path, another friend of mine called me out on it. She criticized me cruelly and I still don’t agree with the way that she handled the situation. But although she was wrong in how she went about it, her message was spot on. And I knew it. I went out that night in a slutty outfit and slammed shots, just hoping to turn off the conviction. Then I deleted her and most of my Christian friends out of my life and continued with my destructive behavior.

And since nothing can fill the hole, it is like a bottomless pit. You keep filling it with more drugs, more sex, more men, more dangerous situations, whatever your vice may be, and it is never enough. You can never be satiated.

God healed me of my addiction by forcing me into detox. I haven’t been in a relationship for more than a year and a half. I’ve had my setbacks, and there were times I started to wander back to a man because I needed it as a salve. I didn’t know how to survive without my fix. Sure, I knew God loved me more than any man, but I couldn’t feel God’s arms around me, or see the look in his eyes when he told me he loved me. I couldn’t laugh with God or cuddle up with him on the couch. And each time God took a potential mate away from me, and as the loneliness continued to consume me, I fell deeper and deeper into depression.

I’d say bitterly, “If it wasn’t for God, I’d be married by now.”

And then, I began to remember how he first revealed himself to me. With seven years of my devoted walk with God behind me, I could also see the way he was woven into my life, like the threads of a tapestry touching every other thread to make a picture that was just starting to come into focus. Through all those lonely nights and moments when I had nothing and no one else to cling to, I had no choice but to cling to the only love that was available to me. And I came to realize that his arms have been around me the entire time. I sought his face, and knew the way he looked at me. He had laughed with me in my times of joy and he cried with me in my times of sorrow. I had been told these things many times, but I needed to be brought to that place where I actually experienced it.

Little by little my perspective changed and I finally got to the point where I could declare victoriously, “If it wasn’t for God, I’d be married right now.” And I’d be miserable and more lonely than ever before because I would have married hoping he could fill a void he could never fill.

Detox is hard, whether it is physical or spiritual, and there are moments of backsliding. But once the gunk is cleared out, the healing can begin.

The protagonist in my book is still detoxing and I’m still rooting around in her issues and finding my own in the process. But I know that the only way she is going to be victorious is by letting God fill that hole. I know how to get her out of this now, because it is exactly the same process God used to get me out of my addictions. First I have to let her go down the rabbit hole, and it’s hard for me. I don’t want to understand the things she is going through, but I know that I need to understand them. This is just another step in a long and arduous journey. But I know it will be made right, for me and for my protagonist.

February 12, 2012 / faithofmustard

My New Adventure


I’m writing again. And not just blog posts. I have started a new novel. (cue the girly screech)

It is terrifying and exhilarating all at once. I spent so much time on Back to Grace (10 years!), and although I wrote other stuff intermittently during the first part of that decade, starting anew after years of working on nothing but Grace is a bit foreign. In a way, if feels like I’m cheating.

But alas, I have to come to the painful conclusion that Back to Grace has served its purpose, and unfortunately, that purpose did not include getting published. Its purpose was to chronicle my spiritual and personal journeys as the book changed and grew with me. The manuscript’s evolution was my life script, rewritten over and over as my life was rewritten.

I’ve been trying for more than two years to come up with a new idea that speaks to me, something that makes my fingers itch to hit the keyboard. I was beginning to think I was completely dried up, but it turns out that I had to let go of Back to Grace before I could give myself to another story. I’m seeing a recurring theme, because God has been saying the same thing to me about my past relationships. It is hard to move toward the future when you still have your feet planted in the past.

And so, Back to Grace had to first meet its end. I completed one last rewrite last year, received one last round of heartbreaking rejections, and my experience of writing the manuscript and evolving along with my characters was used to complete my final thesis-type paper for the last two credits needed for my Christian Studies degree.

This new idea started to nag at me during my trip to Australia last October, and I even tried to start the novel on the plane ride home. But it was like a lump of too-soft clay and it would not take form.

Then, as He often does, God hit me with it when I least expected it, but I don’t think it is an accident that it came to me the very same day my Bachelor Degree certificate was delivered and waiting for me in the office of my apartment complex. I didn’t know it had been delivered because I was out of town, but God has a funny way of putting punctuation marks on our lives, those little tidbits of confirmations that let us know we truly are on the right path or entering into a new phase.

I’m a bit overwhelmed, I’ll admit. As the book begins to take form, I am being called to use my experiences with depression. Writing about a character who suffers from such a thing is never an easy task. The writer runs the risk of making her character too unlikable (because, let’s face it, depressed people are not liked or understood very well in this society), and the writer has to be careful to not go the other way by handling the situation with trite.

Another challenge is that God and spiritual themes are going to be threaded all throughout. This book is about redemption, salvation and spiritual healing, and God is the main character. But this will not be a “Christian” book. The name of God will not be mentioned and spiritual matters will be handled undercover, because it will allow me to reach the audience I want to reach and to deal with topics that are usually taboo in true Christian fiction.

I’m also using a heavy amount of flashbacks. In fact, the story flips back and forth between the present and the past. This is usually a huge huge huge no-no and the hallmark of a newbie. Unless it is intentional, rather than used as a safety net. And it must be extremely well done. Geesh. No pressure, eh?

Regardless of my worries, I am so excited to start this new adventure. I’m looking forward to unwrapping Kaitlin Taylor’s story and digging up her skeletons (I never outline…I only have a brief idea of how the story will end and the things that might lead to it).

I might just post a word or two of it on this blog 🙂

February 4, 2012 / faithofmustard

In the Depths of Mount Horeb


I have made no secret of my struggles with depression and anxiety. Dealing with these issues is a constant life struggle for me, and anyone who knows me has to accept that part of me.

It often feels like I’m stuck on a little boat with no motor, rudder or oar. I am at the mercy of where the waves take me. Sometimes I am left on the shore at low tide, where I am stagnant and rotting in the heat with no one around for miles. Other times I am drifting easily along on calm waters, flowing with the sea around me, content to enjoy the ride, and seemingly unaware of what lurks beneath.

And sometimes I am caught in the middle of a storm, tossed about on the violent waves. My boat rises and falls on the crest of my emotions; it is at the mercy of the sea’s violent reaction to storms overhead.

Of all these scenarios, none are as terrifying as being swept away by an undercurrent I cannot see; I am pulled under by the lurking things I tried to ignore.

At least when the tide is low the heat forces me to get out and push my boat to the water. It forces me to action. And when the storms come I can hunker down and hold on. But when the undertow takes me while I am easily drifting along, it never gives me enough warning and I am knocked off balance. And as I’m pulled down deep, into the darkest part of the sea, I lose sight of the sun.

Source: Wikipedia

This is where my anxiety lives, down deep under the surface, pulling me under when I least expect it.

In some ways I am grateful for it. It becomes a wakeup call, forcing me to focus on the things I have tried to bury beneath false strength when they are too painful to deal with. It’s like digging up an old grave and being forced to examine the contents. I would much rather turn from the grave and move on to other things.

But living on the calm surface of the ocean is not where we grow. We grow in the storms, and we learn in our times of rotting on the shoreline. And being forced to go deeper, to delve beneath the surface to examine what lies in the darkness is how our character is shaped and defined.  

And even if we can’t see the things deep below the surface, our boat is still being moved by the currents of the deep. It becomes a part of our direction and drive. Sometimes it drives us into the storm, or onto the desolate shore. Other times it drags us under. But ignoring it does not give it any less authority over our lives – letting it guide us unhindered gives it total authority.

That’s probably why it becomes such a shock when we are faced with it. But this is how we find the breakthrough.

So today I am focusing on what has caused me to wake up in the middle of the night for the past 8 nights. I am reminding myself that my heart palpitations are not because of a defect of the heart organ, but because of a defect of the spirit of the heart.

I’ve been reading a lot about Elijah lately, and how he continued to be depressed even as God’s angels cared for him. And even as he wallowed in his depression, God continued to lead him away from the wrong path and toward the path that would have profound impacts on the nation of Israel.

I think one of the most inspiring things about that story, found in 1 Kings 19:1-18, is that God did not deal with the situation by taking care of Jezebel (who wanted to kill Elijah, which was the source of his depression). Instead, God dealt with the heart of the issue. He took Elijah deeper by forcing him to question the path he had taken. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9b) God asks when Elijah went to Horeb, although God had told him to go to Kerith (1 Kings 17:2-3) and Zorephath (17:8-9).

God could have had Jezebel killed, or he could have placed a hedge of protection around Elijah, promising him he would not be harmed, or he could have altered Elijah’s path before he embarked on his 40 day journey to Horeb. But instead, God let Elijah take his own journey. God even fed him to prepare him for the wayward journey (1 Kings 19:7-8). And then, when Elijah was tired from the long journey and sleeping in a cave, God asked him what he was doing there.

God knew what Elijah was doing there. He was hiding from his fears, convinced that God had abandoned him, and that Elijah’s successes had amounted to nothing and his life was a waste. But by forcing Elijah to answer the question, God brought it to the prophet’s attention. That was when Elijah admitted that he was weary and lonely:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. the Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:10)

 I believe this was a breakthrough for Elijah. This admission enabled God to move in his life:

“The Lord said, go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (1 Kings 19:11). Up until this point God had sent angels, now God was about to intensify his dealings with Elijah in a big way:

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11b-13)

Notice that Elijah did not come  out to meet the Lord until he heard the whisper. He was discerning enough to know that the might of God is best revealed in the intimate whisper that comes from being in a close relationship with the Lord of the universe. I believe Elijah was taught this through God’s provision for him during the 40 day journey to Horeb and by the provision of sending the angels to feed and care for him. And the breakthrough came by God’s gentle coaxing to encourage Elijah to admit that his depression was not just a result of his fear of Jezebel, but that it went much deeper than that. The fear had sprouted from a field of weariness and loneliness, and that was the true heart of the issue. 

It may also be that once we experience the storms of life, we are better able to hear the whisper of God. God had to show Elijah the destruction to make him listen to the whisper.  And since much of Elijah’s ministry is marked with fire from heaven and other dramatic acts of nature, I believe God was showing Elijah another side of God’s involvement with mankind. It was a gentle touch after the wrath. 

Elijah had been through a lot by this point. He had taken a long journey, received God’s provisions, experienced the reproach of God and had an intimate moment with him in midst of the reproach, and he was forced to examine the depths of his emotions and motives. And when God asked Elijah again “What are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:13b), Elijah answered with the exact same words.

Obviously, Elijah still had a lot to learn. God’s answer to this was to send Elijah “Back the way [he] came.” (1 Kings 19:15). He had another journey to make, but this time he took it with a new perspective that came from his renewal on Horeb. And he was not being led to a mountaintop of isolation, but instead to a place where he would anoint three more people to help him carry on God’s work.

Sometimes God allows us to take a journey into solitude as we deal with the things in the depths of our emotions. This is where we are stripped naked, to deal with God and ourselves in a real and profound way. And then other times he takes us back the way we came. Here is where we retrace our steps and look at our lives through a renewed and refreshed perspective. This is when we rise back to the surface and find that the currents had shifted. We are taken on new journeys, and we can see the results of our breakthrough.

At the beginning of his journey Elijah was lonely and weary, but when his renewal was complete, God gave him a different course and a companion in Elisha, who would be with the prophet until the very moment God took Elijah up to heaven.      

I am still on top of Mount Horeb today, and I am being dragged through the depths of my emotions and the things that have driven me to this place. I have felt the wind, the earthquake and the fire. I have admitted that I am weary and lonely, and as I sit with the full weight of this depression and anxiety, I have hope in knowing that I will hear the whisper of God, and even if I am not yet fully renewed, God still has a purpose for my life. And in this time I am gaining a new perspective that will enable God to do greater things through my life.

How is God drawing you deeper today?

January 29, 2012 / faithofmustard

Beauty for Ashes

Last night I was reminded of my recent past in a series of stark sensory awakenings. And while many were painful, I cannot help but be glad for the pain and the barrage of things I would not have chosen to recall, had I the choice.

The sweet coconut and vanilla scent of the salon – after more than 6 months away – was an assault to my heart. Like a movie, the scenes of my time with Tim flashed quickly through my mind; an entire year lived in the span of seconds. I remembered when we used to go there to get massages together, and then after it ended and I consoled myself with spa treatments. The rush of the waterfalls in the serenity room, as I waited for my masseuse, no longer soothed. It reminded me of my broken heart and for a moment I forgot about the last year, and the lonely seclusion of my bitter heart. It was as if not a single day had passed.

The pain broke through, a crack in the hard shell I had formed around myself bit by bit. But instead of tears, I found a sort of wistfulness, and perhaps also some joy in knowing how far I had come. I was seeing the scenes of my life with Tim – and the heartache that followed – through different eyes. And although I laid fallow this past year, the soil beneath the surface of my life had become rich and renewed.

For a moment I considered texting him. To tell him that I missed him, to ask him to meet for coffee. But then I realized I had no desire to see him; not because I was angry or hurt, but because I realized that his purpose in my life had been fulfilled. The love and hurt were both part of some grand purpose, the details of which I am just beginning to see and understand. And God is done with that part of my life.  

And then a strange sort of sadness overcame me as I drove down a familiar street, and I passed a church that I attempted to attend five years ago. I had wandered then as I wandered last night, not having anywhere to go. I remembered when that church had seemed like a beacon, beckoning me to the safety of its walls. It was raining when I first saw it after an hour of driving around the city in a downpour one afternoon, my tears matching the droplets on the windshield.

It was another time of heartache, this one fresh and more raw and years before I would come to know heartbreak as I know it now. It was my first real heartbreak, back when such a thing was still a surprise. Driving by that church last night brought it all back, and another movie played. This time I saw Chris and I together. When we were happy, when he hurt me. And again I found that my anger had dried up, out of which grew a sort of resigned acceptance and peace.

When I finally went to that church one sunny Sunday morning five years ago, I could not make it to the door. I stopped short in the parking lot, the burden of my pain preventing me from taking another step. I couldn’t bear the thought of rejection, because I had too much of it already. And so, I retreated and drove 45 minutes across three cities to go to the church I had called home before moving to Phoenix. 

And so I walked into this other church, the one that had been my home and the place I had been when I rededicated my life to Jesus. But it felt so far from home that day. I felt so unwelcome that I took a seat in the back and hunched down, struggling to blink back the tears.

The performer on stage was singing Nicole C. Mullen’s  “Redeemer.” It somehow felt like a personal message to me, but I was too lost in my pain to listen. And then, during communion, I sat with my barely bridled tears, holding the bread and cup of grape juice in my hand. I couldn’t bring myself to take communion. I couldn’t bear to think of God or salvation or redemption. What was the point if all there was in life was pain? Why bother? 

And then something miraculous happened…I had my first vision.

It wasn’t a vision, per se, not like some of the others that I have had since then. But this was just as powerful. It was more like a memory. Jesus knelt in front of me, not only as my Lord, but also as a servant. He said “Take what I have to offer instead.” He held the elements of the communion out to me, inviting me to delight in all that he had done for me. To rest in knowing that I am not alone in my pain and that he has already redeemed me.  

A week later I joined a small group at that church and met some of the dearest friends I have ever known.  

These memories were bittersweet. Since the beginning of this year I have been dragging myself out of the depression and isolation that plagued me over the previous year. And like a lotus seed that had laid dormant, my task is not easy. There is a lot of muck and mire to work my way through. The saddest part of all is realizing as I break through the surface of the deep, that a new season of loneliness awaits me.

In the past when I experienced romantic heartache it was with a derisive passion, an angry sort of hatred, almost primal and raw. It was the passion that encouraged me to fight, even as it left me crippled and beaten. Each time I would jump up eagerly, determined to right all that had been made wrong.

But when God pulled me out of my relationship with Tim in August of 2010, the pain went beyond anger and hatred. It took me to a place where passion died. It was with a cold and detached acceptance that I fell to my knees and gave my life back to God. I was empty and needed him to fill me, but I had forgotten all about his grace. I was coming to him as a sinner, lost and wandering and needing God’s forgiveness. But the very love I sought had already made me a fool. I counted myself blessed that God should take me back after all I had done, but I did not feel worthy of his love.

The next year would be a difficult one. It would be filled with stoicism and doubt. I finished up my degree in Christian studies, questioning my path every step of the way. I joined another small group and tried to make new friends as my old ones slipped away. But I couldn’t find the strength or stamina to cultivate new friendships, much less nurture the friendships I already had.

I knew that God was shaping me in the midst of my apathy, and that beneath my hardening surface I was being cultivated. He was building me from the inside out. In the moments when I allowed my pain to break through, when I cried out to God, I knew he heard me. And I knew that as I slipped back into that cold abyss of depression he was still working.

But it was all sort of hollow, like I was living my life in the echoes. Waiting and hoping, yet also hoping God would take away my hope and allow me to live for the sole purpose of breathing. Because every time the hope arose, the fear of pain was not far behind.

Loneliness filled my days and I was glad for it. Other times I hated it, and willed it away as I crawled back into that hollow shell of the person I had become.

And then, out of nowhere, I started to push through all of the mud. I started to seek the sun (and the Son) again, eager to see the blooms that could result from my time in dormancy.

As I continue to break through the surface I am discovering how empty this journey has made me.  But I am also discovering what was gained from the pain.

Icon Productions

Last night God reminded me of the pain, but also of the renewal that has come from it all. As I laid in bed I read a bit from Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” the part where Toohey says “Be emptied in order to be filled.”

There is so much beauty in the pain, and so much to be found in the emptiness. God’s pruning shears are sharp and relentless. But his plow is mighty and merciful.   

Jesus will “provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3)