What Your Influence Is For: Sanity Not Required

I know a crazy guy.

He’s so crazy, he’s running 24 miles, rim to rim, through the Grand Canyon on September 15.

He’s so crazy, he’s trying to raise $50,000 to save 50 girls from a life of prostitution in Ethiopia.

He’s so crazy, he imagines himself his own version of Liam Neeson from Taken, kicking down doors in rescue, seeing the faces of the lost and desperate as he bursts in. He knows with every step he takes and every thousand dollars he raises, he is plucking the life of a child from the muck and mire of a life never meant for her and standing her up on a rock of restoration and redemption.

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He doesn’t look crazy, but don’t let that fool you.

He is crazy because he’s inspired. Because he believes he can change something. And it’s catching.

This crazy guy I know is Steve Wiens. And he’s really doing this. All of this. So far, he and his tribe have raised over $31,000 for Eyes that See, an organization assisting with the transformation process for girls and women leaving forced prostitution. And many people are joining in on race day for solidarity runs or coming up with wildly creative ways to support him.

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He’s chasing down a cause worth his time, his energy and his heart. And he’s using his influence.

Steve is a pastor, a dad, a husband, a runner and a blogger. He has a growing base of influence, people who wait for his words to show up in their morning email. People like me who look to him for peaceful, accepting wisdom and inspiration to be as crazy as their dreams tell them they can be.

Steve has a platform and he’s using it, not for self-promotion. Not to monetize his blog so he can take extra long vacations. He’s using his presence for a mighty, great good. He’s gathering the people to war and fight and run and pray. He’s giving his tribe something bigger than themselves, something only our rescuer Father God could dream up.

This is what influence is for.

Influence is for the common good. Influence is for calling forth purpose in everyone, no matter their walk in life. Influence is for giving us all a battle cry and a vision before us. Influence is not for me. It’s not for you. It’s for all of us.

You have influence in your spheres. At work, at church, in your home and community. Maybe you’re big and famous or maybe you feel like no one knows about you. But you have influence, I assure you. And it’s not to make you look cool. It’s to partner with God, make his love evident and enormous to the world, and to give everyone around you a real reason to live and move and breathe.

Use your influence for big things today. Speak kindness, use gentleness, motivate and empower instead of belittling and demeaning. Don’t wait for vindication or revenge. Throw flowers instead. And call the people around you to greatness by the very way you live your crazy, inspired, generous life.

And now that you want to know more about this crazy guy, here’s what you can do: Come throw your hat in with Steve and the great rescue effort, or if you want to learn more about Eyes That See, the organization he’s sponsoring, visit the site here.

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5 Steps to Moving Off the Island of Self-Pity

One of my favorite things to do is feel sorry for myself. It’s so gratifying. So deliciously satisfying. If someone lets me down, hurts me or disappoints me, or if I’m just in some kind of physical pain, I assume no one can understand what it’s like. That no one cares. And it feels so good to tell myself that.

Poor, poor, little me.

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It takes only minutes for me to call my travel agent and get a one-way ticket to the Island of Self-Pity, but it’s huge pain to get back because I start to act like one of the locals. Shoot, at that point, I am the locals. But only if I stay too long.

This is like the Island of Self-Pity, except not as tropical. So don’t get any ideas about how great it is. It is not great.

Why is Self-Pity an island? Why not a bustling metropolis? Well, you know that old saying “No one wants to come to your pity party”? It’s cause it’s true. No one wants to come.

As soon as we feel bad for ourselves, we build a wall. We end up having so much (false) compassion for ourselves, we use it all up and there’s none left for anyone else to give us. Then, from our lonely campsite, we whip out our binoculars and look across the sea to land, where all our friends and family ignore our “obvious” needs and just move on with their lives. Or if we’ve been on the island long enough, it looks like they’re all having a party without us.

Self-pity is lonely because it can’t invite others in. Or it just won’t. It’s stubborn. It is the opposite of invitational, and it sets itself up for rejection and loneliness, the very thing it’s trying to protect you from.

So let’s get real: self-pity is a back-stabbing friend. It soothes you with its seemingly kind, understanding words. “Oh, your friends just don’t understand you. Your family is always leaving you alone. No one cares about you.” But as soon as you bite that line, you’re hooked. You believe. Your brain begins to atrophy. You lose touch with your human connections. Simply put, when you believe a statement that says “No one cares about you”, you stop engaging with the very people who can help support you in your crisis.

How do we move off the Island of Self-Pity? If you’re there, or if you make frequent visits, move fast. You don’t have much time. This is a seriously nasty, toxic, poisonous, accusing, isolating, liar-liar-pants-on-fire voice in your head. It will put you in survival mode and steal your ability to think creatively and use your imagination. (Don’t believe me? This article about how listening to complaining makes people literally dumber will prove my point.

Don’t give self-pity air time or you will never keep friends. Promise.

Here are 5 Steps to moving off the Island of Self-Pity and getting your real needs met:

1. Tell your friends and/or family how you feel. Tell them about your physical or emotional pain. Tell them if they’ve let you down, or just tell them what is going on in your life that’s so hard for you at that moment. Do the difficult work to be honest and keep the communication door open.

2. Tell your friends and/or family what you really need from them. They are not mind-readers, and they do not exist for your every whim. So don’t hold that against them. Instead, tell them kindly what you need most from them: someone to listen; someone to sit with you and not say anything; someone to give empathy, like, “If I was in your situation, that would be really awful/tragic/heartbreaking/lonely.” I usually need someone who will listen and not try to solve the problem, and then who will empathize by imagining themselves in my shoes. That is serious therapy for me!

3. Forgive the friends/family/co-workers/church people/neighbors who have disappointed you. They’re not God, and even God disappoints us sometimes, doesn’t he? People will let you down, guaranteed. If you want friends, you have to accept that. Make forgiveness a discipline. (NOTE: If you feel the pang of hurt and anger about someone or some thing, that’s a sign you have more forgiving to do. And if you’re a Christian, forgiveness isn’t an opt-in or opt-out thing. It’s really the only caveat God puts on his forgiveness of us, but if we choose not to forgive, we choose not be forgiven. No, thank you.)

4. Remember: being alone is a choice. It’s a state of mind. We can invite people into our lives by giving them the benefit of the doubt, telling them what we need, and then making an effort to move forward. No one wants to be friends with someone who spends most of their time talking about their problems, is super negative or obsesses over a relationship that ended two years ago. If you are stuck, that’s okay, but talk with a professional. Your friends are your any-time support, but they’re not getting paid so don’t abuse them.

5. Figure out how to give back to your friendships. Say thank you, even when they don’t do it perfectly, because good friends will at least try to give you what you need. Ask your friends what they need from you when they’re having a hard time, just in case they forget to ask. And offer empathy as a standard rule. It is almost always what people really want, but are unsure of what to ask for.

And finally, if you are mad at me for saying any of the above things, you live on the Island of Self-Pity. I’m sorry I’m not sorry. Take a step to rejoin us over here by telling us what you need. Cause if you don’t tell us, we won’t be able to help you.

{Got any tricks for getting out of Self-Pity mode? Share them with me below.}

Stay connected with me. Subscribe to the blog here, or follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks.

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These stories pump water

I love brand new ideas, really good ones I wish I thought of. Don’t you?

Well, here’s one for you. Have you heard of CausePub yet? If you haven’t, you’re about to.

I just wrote a story for CausePub, an organization creating books for a cause through group-publishing. [Click here to read the story and vote]. [Their current book project is called Couch Rebels, a collection of stories about folks who rebelled against horizontal life and got up to do something, to change something, even if the thing they changed was themselves. The concept is genius. Here’s how it works.

  • CausePub identifies a charity or cause they want their book to support
  • CausePub solicits stories from adventurers and story-tellers
  • After stories are submitted, they approve the stories and post them to their site
  • Story-writers solicit votes from friends and strangers
  • CausePub selects great stories they love with the most votes
  • The Couch Rebel book will be published as a Kindle eBook on August 14. So soon!
  • When anyone purchases the book, the proceeds are divided between the cause, the writers and basic overhead costs.
  • For Couch Rebel, 50% of the proceeds will benefit Blood: Water Mission. The breakdown is in the graphic below.

[Follow CausePub on Twitter here and find them on Facebook here.]

Here’s where I need your help: I wrote a story for CausePub, and I need your vote.

The story is below. It’s a story about a time when God met me and my seatmate on a plane to Atlanta. I didn’t see it coming. I love this story because it makes me like God even more. Please read and take a second to click VOTE. Thank you so much.

What God Thinks About You

“So, where are you headed?” I asked the young brunette next to me to end the awkward silence. She smiled the stranger smile, as if wondering how long this conversation might take. “Somewhere tropical. With friends.” She needed a little prodding, and I wondered if I should just lay off. Instead, I offered my own less glamorous destination: Atlanta.

I attempted to stir the conversation with more questions about her destination, responding with appropriate amounts of awe and jealousy. I hoped we would catch a common thread in our lives and the chatter would take off, giving me an opportunity to eventually talk with her about Jesus.

But no such luck. The conversation flailed, and we politely took up our books. I leaned into the window, pretending to read, but inside I argued with myself, knowing God might have bigger plans for this three-hour plane ride.

Eventually, my discomfort with silence grew larger than my desire to be well-mannered company. “What are you reading?” I finally inquired. She stammered a bit. “It’s a little unconventional. I’m not sure I want to say.” She tucked the pink book cover down toward her lap. I attempted to reassure her I didn’t have plans to judge, but I wasn’t going to push it. But what was she reading?

“I’m reading about artificial insemination,” she offered hesitantly, waiting for the verdict to read on my face as she turned the cover toward me. “I’m not married yet, but I’m 35. And I want to have a baby.”

Oh.

Click the button below to keep reading and vote.

Vote

Unafraid

Yes. To all of the above. One of my big goals this year is fearlessness. I was afraid to commit to it. (LOL.) But seriously, I really was. Being unafraid means potential loss, pain and other things we religiously aim to avoid.

So why put ourselves out there? Whenever I choose to risk, it’s because the pain of regret is bigger than the pain of failure.

May I remember the pain of regret only long enough to make the strong and fearless choice. And may we all live lives unafraid.

What’s the one thing holding you back from taking the leap into living unafraid?

{Let’s stay in touch. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter. And you can subscribe to the blog right here. Thanks.}

[Image cred: found this one from Em and Kat over at The Refined Woman. Love that blog. Those girls are too fun, sassy and they know how to dress. Stop by for a visit and get a few wardrobe ideas from these fearless gals.]

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When it’s all up to you: the value of legacy

{If you found me through my article on Catalyst, welcome. And if you’re a regular or a visitor, please let me share my news: I had the privilege to be featured on Catalyst this week, talking about the church planting life and the value of raising up the legacy of the next generation of leaders. I’m hoping to have the opportunity to write more on church planting and leadership, something Josh and I are growing intimately familiar with. Thanks for reading. Please leave thoughts in the article comments section. Thanks. Now, without further ado…}

Church planting is like parenting. It’s exhausting, and in the beginning, you’re doing all the work. It’s a good thing you love your new, baby church.

But as it grows, it gains independence. It can tie its own shoes. And eventually, you get to go to the bathroom unaccompanied.

Yup, this is pretty much what it’s like in the beginning.

Okay, it’s not a direct analogy, but you’d be surprised by the similarities.

If you’re a church planter, you know: the policy writing, program development, volunteer training and recruiting, preaching and teaching, discipleship of new converts, janitorial duties, midnight counseling, Sunday bulletin design, weddings and funerals and hospital visits and baby dedications are simply all part of the job. Your job.

But this is only the infancy of the church, the stage of greatest need and dependence, and in many ways, the highest level of pastoral involvement. But it’s not supposed to stay this way.

After my son was born, we returned home from the hospital and tried to adjust to life without sleep. I remember hearing him cry one day and wondering when his mother was going to come and help him out. It was dreadful to realize I was the mother. Who gave someone with no parenting experience a new child who has no use of the English language?

Like parenting, church planting is a startling thrust into the fire. When we got the 2 AM call from a local hospital that the husband of one of our parishioners passed away suddenly, we searched about wildly. “Someone should call her pastor,” we muttered in our groggy stupor. And then we realized we were the pastors. We left our three week-old infant with my mom, who happened to be in town, and hurried to the hospital to comfort our friend.

Even if you’ve never comforted a new parent, cooked a casserole for a potluck, or provided the homily at a funeral service, suddenly, it’s up to you. You’re up.

Like parenting, it’s almost a given that whatever needs to be done will fall on you in the beginning. But that’s only the beginning.

Continue reading at CatalystConference.com.

I am the opposite of me

I am a paradox. And so are you.

We are clean and shiny in some areas of ourselves, yet disheveled disasters in others. The real estate of our souls and our yards is impeccable from one angle, and painfully unkempt from another.

How is it that we can live with coexisting brilliance and ignorance, with generous nobility and glaring narcissism?

Sometimes, I feel I’m an imposter, like the real me is the messy version, and the times I act right are just glitches, some kind of cosmic error where the light fell just right, and now the world thinks good of me.

But it feels like a balancing act, until I wreck it again.

So who am I? Can I be the bad and the good, at the same time?

Am I summed up in my moments of fear, panic and rejection or in my faith and courage?

Am I a scared, helpless child, wordless with shame, or a ferociously brave teacher who lives to inspire?

Am I all the times I hate to be alone, or the times I am frantic to get away?

Am I the girl who can’t find her keys or the idea-generating leader bent on improving her environment?

Am I the friend you can count on for everything, or the friend who will let you down?

Am I the blessings and encouragement I bestow, or the curses I hiss beneath my breath?

Am I the rage and anger I release on my very last nerve with my child, or am I the patient nurturer, singing this same child to sleep?

Am I the forgiveness I extend or the grudges I feed?

Am I all the times I disappoint or the times I keep my word?

Am I the girl who finds showers annoying or the girl who can’t stand dirty feet?

Am I everything I do right or everything I do wrong?

Am I the desperate woman wanting children I don’t have yet or the grateful mother to the one I do have?

It doesn’t seem possible, but I am all these things. It’s the conundrum of me. I can stop covering it up now, stop holding my breath so people will think of me as cleaned up and together.

The truth is, I am holy and I am full of sin. I am a work in progress. But at this exact moment, I am the good and the bad. 

I am all the things I’ve screwed up irreparably, the words I want back, and the genius and generosity in between. I am everywhere I’ve been and everywhere I’m going. I am my failure and my success. I am what I know and what I don’t know. It’s part of me. 

I just need to hit “Accept” on all this stuff, on the easy to love and the impossible to love parts of me. Cause it’s all me, and I’m not going anywhere.

Anger management: how it’s going out here

Two weeks ago, I took a crazy challenge. But it was about time.

Inspired by the brave mom at The Orange Rhino, I committed not to yell at my son for 365 days. With certain caveats, like safety and distance, of course. That was 14 days ago.

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So now it’s confession time, right? How have I actually been doing? Well, let’s just say I’m only 10 days in to this thing. May I defend myself? Well, I’m going to.

On Saturday, July 6th, we were visiting my family. My son, in true toddler form, turned into quite a mess from an afternoon of play. So into the tub he went. Being an opportunist, I decided to also wash my hair under the faucet while he took his bath. And what do you think I saw floating toward me as I rinsed my hair? Poo. That’s right. A small, but definitely-there piece of poo. In the bathtub. Where you’re supposed to get clean!

I was upset, disgruntled, flustered, not quite yelling, but I was close. Out went the toddler and down went the water. My hair was now sopping wet so I sat the tot down on the potty so he could finish his business and tried to complete my hair washing, this time in the sink, which is a less likely place to find poo. I peered around the corner to check on him, and at just that moment, he plunged his foot into the toilet. Just to spite me, I’m sure of it.

And then I lost it. I yelled. It was a violent act of regression, and I knew I was going to have to come out here and tell you I did it. But I did.

So the next day I started over. There have been two poo-in-tub incidents since that day, which makes three since I’m counting, but guess what? I’ve responded well to both, no yelling, just redirecting. And whining. Because eewwwww, gross.

I hope you don’t leave my alone on my commitment, but I also promise to keep you updated every couple week so you know I’m not faking it over here. I’m a mom who needs help, but I’m sure trying.

Here’s to more days and years of self-control! And kids who don’t poop in tubs.

No one notices the pillars

No one notices the pillars.

Take a look at the White House. The facade, the grandeur, the elegance, the sweeping landscape. The protesters in front. You can feel the history. But you probably walk right past the pillars.

They cast a lovely shadow, create an ambience to be experienced, but so often we look right through them while they stand at attention in a thankless work. As we enjoy the view, we forget if these essentials supports cracked, buckled or vanished, the place would topple.

This is true for those who support our organizations, our churches, businesses, non-profits. We take great pride in our out-front leaders, the big personalities, the charismatic types who lead rallies and bring in all the fundraising.

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But what about the pillars, the ones who stand behind, the last to leave, the ones with toilet brushes in hand? These are the pillars we walk right past. We don’t appreciate the pillars who stand beside us, who hold the whole place up with their relentless tenacity, who day in and day out take the sideline view to make the vision a reality.

A few days ago, our church said farewell to a family of pillars. They were rarely in front. Their names weren’t plastered on walls. Some people didn’t know them well. But they propped up our community with prayer, guidance and support. They showed up in the beginning, when there wasn’t much to show for the labor, when pieces were hardly in place. 

And they stayed. Because that’s what pillars do.

When pillars are people, sometimes we have to say goodbye when a new season comes along. But inevitably, within a healthy family of people, whether a business or organization, someone else will step in. Will become the new pillar. Will forsake notoriety and fame to build up and support something greater than themselves.

So here’s to the pillars. I see you. I am so thankful for you. May we all see the pillars in our lives, and give them the praise they are due.

A reason to purge

My dresser drawers barely close. I fold, stuff and shove, but they don’t stay shut. Fabric peers out from the top. Too much stuff.

Not my drawers, but they look similar.

I fancy myself a Purger, a lady who lives light, who doesn’t value things too much. But how can that be true when my drawers are half open, contents spilling out?

Mornings are usually a little frantic for me, often because I hit Snooze too many times. But mostly because of all the choices. Too many choices I feel compelled to keep because “What if I want to wear that shirt some day?” (I’m giving away my hoardiness, aren’t I?)

I talked about decision-making last week, and gave a short list of prescriptives for making choices. I am going to stand by all that stuff I said. But this week, I’m working it out. And you know what I found? Waffling in a decision isn’t only from lack of confidence. For me, it comes from too many options.

Whenever I pack for a trip, I take too much. I never wear all of it. But I always think to myself I’m so glad I had options. But am I?

I’ve taken a few trips where I only had a pair of jeans and a couple shirts. I had to get creative or get redundant. But it felt liberating not to try fifteen ways to wear a romper before deciding I don’t want to wear it at all. Like I did today.

You know the feeling, standing in the laundry soap aisle. I just need something that cleans clothes, but I have to choose between something that cleans clothes with fragrance or without, something that cleans clothes that makes them smell like clean clothes, or summer, or fresh-baked cookies. Seriously? I just need my clothes not to smell like sweat and look like I rolled in mud. Why all the choices?

Sometimes I just want it to be simple. Like someone should tell me what to do. Or give me only two selections. I don’t think I can handle more than that.

Now I love my free will and all. I’m not voting for a drone brain implant. But I know my life would be way easier if I held out fewer options to myself.

So thus begins my purge. My drawers need to shut, and that’s where I will start. My motivation won’t come by imagining my clothing will outfit the “less fortunate” because I’m going to give them to Salvation Army and a college girl is going to find them. And she is probably not poor.

But I will feel better. Less clingy, less needy. More concerned with the real stuff of life. The Intangibles.

We all need to get rid of something, lighten the load so we can make decisions with ease. Cause who needs to spend half the day just making up her mind? Not me.

What do you need to get rid of in order to make your life lighter and smoother? How are you going to decide what goes and what stays?

Also, if you have a suggestion for where my clothes should go, I’d be happy to hear it.

I am Jesus’ awkward friend

In college, it was getting easy. I finally figured out how to make friends, not talk too much or make people feel uncomfortable around me. And aside from the tumultuous relationships and the general self-loathing, my relationship with God felt relatively sturdy too.

In the mornings, I propped up my pillow behind my head, then read, wrote, prayed, sang. I poured my dirty, little heart out. And Someone always welcomed me.

Fast forward a few years to a dream come true. I met a man, we dated for a year and a day, and then we married. I love marriage. But God and I aren’t friends like we used to be.

After we married, I went back to school. Then he took a pastoring job. Then we bought a house, birthed a kid, and flung ourselves into the modern whirlwind. I’m studying to be a pastor myself. And I am a working mother and writer.

I just haven’t figured out where God fits into all this ministry I’m doing.

Ironic, isn’t it?

I am so busy saving people from suicide and trying to stitch together failing marriages and regretting nights where I choose anything over playing with my son.

I stay up late and arise early. I pray for people on Sundays and throughout the week. I listen to God for total strangers and encourage them with the proof that he sees them. I use God’s word to guide my life. My life feels busy, quite spiritual, yet strangely empty.

It’s hard to find time to be with God himself. 

It’s easy to coast, to look the part, to impress people with stuff I know. But growing up in a Christian home, the kind where people spoke in tongues and prayed Scripture for prayers, I have an unfair advantage. I know exactly how to sound like I have my crap together.

But I don’t.

Some Sundays, I want to stand on the platform and apologize to everyone for being a fraud. But instead I go home and apologize to God. I tell him I want it to be different. But not much has changed.

The last time I remember feeling anxiously earnest for God and his presence, for Jesus himself, was May 2010. I was a few months pregnant. I was alone and suddenly felt this heavy fear I would burn out on Jesus if I didn’t get some fire around me, the hunger of other people who wanted God too. So I got a group of girls together and told them I needed women to burn with me. We called our meetings Burn Night, and that’s been the name ever since.

I have one friend here who loves God and wants him like I do. But we are both struggling with motherhood and life and where to schedule in time with a Guy who exists everywhere all the time, who knew what I would be thinking about last week, before I even thought it.

How does one be friends with Jesus?

I woke up this morning and realized that I feel awkward around Jesus now because I talk to him often, but it’s small talk, often about other people. It’s not good, quality time. Our friendship just isn’t what it used to be, and it’s my fault.

There is a wall of condemnation guarding heaven, and I just haven’t learned to push through. But I have to.

So today, I sat down and wrote. I told him I feel naked and vulnerable, and I’m worried he’s going to remind me of all my failure, and I will just sit here looking down and then try to leave and act right.

Weird. He has never done that before.

Then I reminded myself what Jesus said a long time ago: “No one can come to the Father unless the Father calls for her.”

I have no right to be here. No right to talk to him. No right to be his friend.

I may be attractive and well-spoken, and that usually works for me when I need someone to think I know what I’m talking about. But that doesn’t impress God. He sees right through the extra make up and the confident posture.

Drat.

So what impresses God? Some might say nothing. Some might say, “Being a good person”. But Jesus said we can’t come to God unless God calls us first. So we are pretty much screwed unless he initiates the conversation.

But has he? Will he? Does he?

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. And suddenly, he’s coming to me. I’m not the sad, little orphan outside of heaven. He’s the one at my door.

And the tables turn. I feel I’ve been discovered. But not in a rock star way. In a “I am so going to jail for this” way. I want to hide, but I’m getting called. He’s at my door! It’s what I wanted, right?

Hello, awkward.

I feel deeply uncomfortable because I so want to qualify myself. I want to earn love, to prove my worth with my talent and labor. I want God to be impressed with me. But he just doesn’t care about that because he’s not looking for good deeds.

He’s looking for people who just want to be with him. I mean, he has everything he needs. And if he needs some work done, the angels are more reliable.

He doesn’t want a work force. He wants friends.

I feel really awkward, like I’m going to start playing with my phone and not making eye contact, because I am not bringing anything to this dinner. All the stuff that I normally bring to a relationship doesn’t matter here.

And yet, I am pretty sure the level of my personal contentment and happiness come with making peace with the fact that I am not really bringing anything except myself. And that is good enough.

By showing up, I am saying, “I want to be here”, and it’s all I can offer God since the only thing he won’t touch is our free will. It’s my will saying “Yes” to him, to all the forgiveness and love and future he hands out, and the humility and love it takes for me to receive it is worth a lot to him. 

Well, that’s a relief. Cause that’s all I have.