Category Archives: Christian Life

Three Words

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This time of year has always been the most important time of year to me, even more so than New Year’s. The end of December/beginning of January never really felt like much of a transitional time. Growing up, it was a time to attend a ton of church services, having to say no to friend functions (for the church services), and family gatherings (that often followed stomach-clenching guilt–but that’s another story for another day). As an an adult, New Year’s is more of a time to see friends, drink something bubbly, and watch the ball drop more out of habit than excitement.

Instead, this odd window of time between Summer and Fall feels the most renewing, as if anything between now and next summer can happen.

Perhaps this feeling comes from the back-to-school rush, as I’ve always been excited by fresh school supplies and the new school year, because to me it mean relationships, learning, and new memories. Or maybe I started to love it when I left California for the first time and my mentor, over coffee on a hot San Diego day told me “you can go to Washington and get a fresh start and be whoever you want to be.”

Either way, the end of August, the window between Summer and Fall is as good as holy ground.

Three years ago, two very important people introduced me to the author Shauna Niequist who I highly admire and respect. Niequist, in a blog, penned the idea of four words that she hopes to focus on for her New Year (find that blog here). The idea would be that these words would guide her throughout her year.

As for me, my new year always starts in August. And, instead of four words, I have three:
Dare. Savor. Honest. 

1. Dare
This will be the first time in my academic career in which I will no longer be a student, as I finished up my Master’s Degree this July. Earning that degree was probably the hardest thing I have ever worked on or achieved. In doing so, I had to say “no” a lot. No to friends wanting to go out because I had to study. No to being with family for the holidays because of my tight school schedule that interfered with the days I could work. No to taking care of myself because my anxiety dictated that school mattered more than my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Also, my anxious tendencies often result in me saying no to the things I’d love to try.

So, for this year, my word is dare. Dare to say yes. Say yes to being a twenty-something with a new full-time job, but reconnecting with old friends. Dare to take the chance on a new job (which ironically keeps me on the August-June school calendar as I will be a school-based therapist!) and leave comfort behind. Dare to be honest about who I am and who I am not and sharing my heart. Dare to do the things I only dreamed about. Dare.

2. Savor.

The past two years of my life have been strictly scheduled because of Grad School. With that schedule, I operated in a fast-paced motion of “go, go, go”, constantly working on a new project, paper, study guide, or getting chapters read for the next class…on top of working full-time (year one of grad school), or work and internship (year two). Eating was done while catching up on paperwork, and meal prepping was done while reading a textbook, and unfortunately, life flew by.

So this year, I’m focusing on savoring the present moments. Of enjoying every last minute of this life I get to live by being around people I love and doing the things I love. And for the difficult times that I know will happen, because life isn’t gumdrops and rainbows, I still hope to slow down and allow myself to be present in the moment, wholly committed to living the life I have been given, because, as Gretchen Rubin one pointed out: the days are long, and the years are short. Too true, Gretchen, too true.

3. Honest.

I want to be honest with myself and my feelings. I hope to be courageous in facing my limitations and acknowledging the things I am gifted in. I hope to show the people I love that I love them with honest action instead of keeping the words rolling around in my heart. I want to be honest about my responsibilities as well as hold people accountable to their own responsibilities. This year, I hope for more honesty, both my own and the people around me.

This will be a very big year for me, and I hope to see the words dare, savor, and honest, play key themes in my story.

What words do you hope will inspire your year?

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Filed under Christian Life, Memoir, Personal, Post Grad, Relational

Catching the Bouquet

The sun set quite eloquently behind tall trees with changing leaves. The air was warm–almost unusually so at this time of year in the pacific Northwest. Sounds of merry laughter filled the courtyard as people hugged, took selfies, and hashtagged the joyous celebration. Glasses of white and red wines reflected off the light, making the deep purple tablecloths even more elegant.

There are few things more exciting to be a part of than a wedding.

My dear friend Danielle looked radiant in her sparkly off-white wedding gown, and Zack looked every bit the gentleman with his freshly trimmed beard and hair. It has been a beautiful journey watching Danielle grow into a wonderful woman of faith (I’ve known her longer than I have known Zack–by a couple months haha), and it was an even more wonderful memory to celebrate her marriage this past weekend. Of course I cried at the father-daughter dance, and of course I toasted with gusto at every speech and kiss.

As the formalities of the wedding trickled to a close and we would soon dance the night away, there was only one thing left to do: toss the bouquet. As Danielle glided across the courtyard, a vision of class, I jokingly told her, as I tell every bride, “remember to aim for me!”, as do all the other single ladies. I took my place amongst all the other eligible bachelorettes, somewhere in the middle, hiding behind very tall people (because I am fun-sized, even in heels), expecting not to catch the beautifully crafted (and heavy) bouquet.

One, two, three. Danielle flung the bouquet behind her back and all hands were in the air. Six pairs of hands reached for the bejeweled prize, and somehow, my hand was the one that gripped the tightest. For the first time, I had caught to bouquet.

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I stood there laughing with my friends as I held it up victoriously before I sent a picture to several other friends. For the remainder of the night I carried my prize with me, enthralled by the creativity put into it, and slightly afraid someone would steal it.

Which brings me to the main topic of this post. Though I jokingly tweeted “I caught the bouquet, you know what that means….” in the deepest corners of my heart, I am so tired of being single. Since I was 20, I have been invited to at least 10 weddings, and know countless more friends who have gotten married. I have been single for a very long time. I will not lie that my heart has been emotionally compromised many times since I’ve last kissed a boy.

And I am tired of being single.

There, I said it. Out in the open. I am tired of being single. I’m tired of my heart being mangled and bruised by countless infatuations, because I don’t know how to separate my heart from desire. I am simply tired of “waiting for God’s perfect timing”. Every winter and summer has looked the same since I turned 20. Couples getting engaged then getting married. Now, all of my married friends are starting to get pregnant.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled so see Jesus continuously weave the most amazing love stories, and I am excited to see where He takes all these beautiful people. But I cannot deny that part of my heart that breaks a little knowing that I still have to wait. Being in grad school right now, you’d think the wait would be easier–as I am working full-time and going to school full-time. In all honesty, I probably don’t have time for a significant other right now, because I barely have time to put on mascara in the morning before I have to rush to work or class.

Either way, I am tired of the wait. I know there are young women out there, many of which I get to call friends, who are honestly very happy with being single. While I cherish my time with my beloved girlfriends and living with a roommate, and learning more about myself, I want to do all these things with my plus one. Not just anyone else, mind you. But the someone to end “the someones” and nights when my heart is so heavy I swear I can hear the sound of my heart breaking.

Overall, this post is just me being honest. Because for a long time, I strongly believed it’s weak for a girl to want to be married so badly when she can be her own heroine. But I have come to learn it’s not weakness. It’s okay to desire marriage. If you’re like me, I want you to know it’s okay. I hope and I pray that I’ll one day get to embark on a journey to make Song of Solomon’s envious and raise a whole tribe of children, and I hope you do too. I really, strongly hope and pray I get that. Until then, I’m moving forward. I’m recognizing my wants, and I want to actively leave them at the feet of Jesus everyday, because I’m learning to be a heroine in my own story still. I’m learning to be brave and move forward and believe in the beauty of my dreams.

Also, for those of you curious, here is the happy couple, me, and a couple of our friends. <3

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Strawberries & Chocolate

#GPCFamily 2013-2014

#GPCFamily 2013-2014

For Lent this year I decided to give up sweets.  It was a spur of the moment decision (probably not the best way to do it), and sweets were the first thing I decided to give up.  It was stupid.  I love ice cream.  Tonight, I broke Lent.  Before I dive into why I gave it up, let me tell you what I learned about myself in these last few weeks:

  • I mindlessly eat sweets too much
  • My life without sweets isn’t that bad; it’s the knowing that I cannot have them which is the worst.
  • Lent, for me, had become a legalistic practice.

I have never participated in Lent before, and I wanted to do it just once.  However, somewhere between resisting a muffin and taking my first bite of delicious “Jesus-moment” chocolate, I realized Lent had become a legalistic practice for me–I was completing this more out of religious pride than reverence and remembrance of Jesus.

So tonight I broke Lent.  I ate wonderful, sweet, juicy strawberries (fruit didn’t count as “giving up sweets”) and a square of delightful milk chocolate. As I ate the chocolate, I looked around the room. I was surrounded by the sweet faces of my res life team–the people that have become so dear and familiar to me this past year.  These people, these friendships, these moments…all of these moments will be held dear to me for the rest of my life.

I saw their faces, enjoying the fine sweets before us, being totally present in the moment and laughing together.  In that moment, I felt Jesus.  He was in the faces of His followers that sat around me.

In that moment of breaking Lent I was reminded more of Jesus than I ever was during the weeks of Lent I participated in.  I don’t know if I’ll ever try to do Lent again, and if I do, I hope it will be for all the right reasons.  But I do know I want more moments like I had tonight.  Moments in which I will look around the room, breaking bread (or eating strawberries and chocolate) with the people I love so much, laughing, living, loving, and seeing Jesus.

chocolate

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Filed under Christian Life, Christianity, College Years, Food, Personal, Res Life, School

To Love and Be Loved

To loved and be loved is a vulnerable thing.

To loved and be loved is a vulnerable thing.

Last week, my res life team celebrated my half-birthday.  My AC LOVES to celebrate, so it’s only natural that birthdays (and half-birthdays for those that are summer babies) are appreciated.  Per tradition, we are to wear Mickey Mouse’s wizard hat and have the res life team bless us.

On the night that it was my turn to allow my team to bless me, I sat on the floor, wishing I could disappear into the strange hat, and trying to melt away into the ground, making myself as small as possible.  My arms were wrapped around my legs, protecting myself as the words of my dear, sweet team started flowing over me.  As their words came to me–calling me loving, sweet, genuine, sincere, quirky, courageous–I found myself lost in my tears.

Their words rolled over and around me, like a crashing wave, and my tears fell, blinding me as I sat paralyzed in my spot, I realized the full extent of how hard it is for me to believe I am loved.  I know that I deeply love others, but I can’t allow myself to be as deeply loved–because it hurts.  Because it requires letting people see me, and I’m afraid they might not like what they see and leave me.  Because I don’t give myself permission to love me.

I don’t give myself permission to love me.

That’s the weirdest thought. I need permission to love me? What?

I know that God loves me.  The Bible says it. He has told me.  Pastors, counselors, mentors, friends, family, etc…they’ve all told me.  You can tell a person something a million times, but when does it finally hit home and become real?

It became real the other night.  The other night when I sat across from someone I often feel the need to prove myself to.  I found myself hunching over, hiding myself, making myself smaller because I felt so unworthy–and he hadn’t said anything.  Then somewhere it clicked.  A still, small voice echoed in my mind.

The voice called out from the dark place I was heading to, “Why are you doing this? Why are you hiding? Sit up straight because you have confidence, you’re not the same girl you used to be.  You have authority, and you are just as worthy as anyone else in the room.  You don’t need someone’s permission to love yourself.  Give yourself the permission to love yourself.”

I wish I could say that in that moment, I was healed of every last insecurity in my heart, but I know I’m not. I know I still have a long way to go–and I give myself permission to say that’s okay.

I don’t know if there’s another girl (or guy) reading this, thinking the same thing–believing in your “unworthiness” and refusing to let others love you.  I wish I could give you three simple steps in loving yourself, but I can’t because I’m still figuring out this journey. I can suggest this:

Look in a mirror.

Look yourself in the eyes.

Remember the love others have for you.

Remember the love God has for you.

Finally, let yourself love yourself.

Give yourself permission to be loved.

Love yourself the way you love people–wholly, with everything, unashamedly.  Allow yourself to be seen through the eyes of God–as someone worthy.

To love and be loved is a vulnerable thing, but it is well worth the effort.

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Tangled Lights

lights

I once read a quote that read: “you can tell a lot about a person by how they react to tangled Christmas lights and sudden rain”.  This is one of the truest quotes I have ever read.  What if we applied the same idea to people?

Earlier today I got to have one-on-one time in a loud Mexican restaurant with a friend I don’t get to see very often.  I don’t get to spend time with him because I’m in school and he’s busy being innovative.  So in the time I’m back in California, he’s one of the people I often try to spend time with at least once.

During our conversation, he said something that got my wheels thinking unseasonably about tangled Christmas lights.  He mentioned how at one time, people forgot to ask him “how are you”, and because of this, he forgot to ask himself how he was.

Do you ever find yourself hurrying along on a busy day and you pass someone you know.  You both nod at each other and say “hey, how are you”, and that person says “I’m well”.  As soon as the answer is out of their mouth you quickly respond “that’s great, have a good day!” and hurry along on your way?

I admit I’m guilty of this as I walk to and from class, to meetings, and from class to the quiet peace of my room behind a closed door.  In these passings, I am only thinking about myself and what I have to do.  In these instances I am missing the words that are unsaid and overlooking the emotions that clearly say that someone is feeling anything but “well”.

I know that life is busy and we can’t always stop and spend hours with a person delving into their life story.  But life is also messy, and there are minutes in a day that we are free to ask someone how they’re doing and really mean it.

When it comes to tangled Christmas lights, I go into the task of untangling them with dedication and determination.  After two minutes I give up and throw them away and wait for someone else to do it.

I clearly remember doing this last year in my apartment with my 3 roommates.  The stupid lights would not untangle and I got so frustrated that I left them on our living room floor and caught up on episodes of Downton Abbey instead.  My roommate came home and I told her my frustration.  After she put her stuff away she came to the living room the right the mess I had made.

I watched her as she patiently considered the lights before gently unworking the tangles without complaint.  Slowly but surely she got them done.

“I hate untangling lights,” she said as she carefully laid them to the side so we could decorate the tree later.

I hate untangling lights too, but what set my roommate and I apart were our levels of patience.  While I cursed in anger, she worked in silence only sighing in annoyance a few times.

People are a lot like tangled strands of lights, poetically speaking.  We are all a bunch of messy and jumbled hearts filled with knots that require patience to unravel. I know I am, and I know you probably are too.  And when someone takes the time to unravel us, to patiently regard us despite all of our twists, we are allowed to glow in the most beautiful of ways.

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Changes and Transitions

Fall leaves

Autumn has always been one of my favorite seasons.  I love the gradual change from hot weather, to warm weather, to cool weather, to brisk and foggy mornings that I finally have a warm jacket for. I love being able to see my breath in the mornings as I trek up my school’s hills to get to my classes.  More importantly, I love the colors and the way things change from bright green in vivid bursts of reds and yellows.  I love the general feeling of autumn as the world around me prepares for the roll of holidays–Halloween, Thanksgiving, and finally, moving into winter, Christmas.

I’ve always associated Fall as a time of change–the leave change color and it’s a new school year which always means the start of a new beginning.  Recently in light of the circumstances I find myself in, I now see Autumn as a time of transition–a necessary beauty between lazy summer days to cozy winter nights.

For me, at the end of every summer for my return to NU, I have always been excited by the prospect of being with some of my best friends in a place that I love.  I would look forward to the joy of the start of something new with my best friends by my side to share all the moments in between.  As I geared up for this year at school, I knew that it would look different, but I never imagined it would be like this.

As I sat in my weekly one-on-one meeting with my AC (also known as an RD at other universities), Alison voiced something I had not quite formulated into words: “Serena, it sounds like this is a transitional year for you.”

Transition.

It is a word very similar to “change”, but not quite the same.  Change is something very different from what you are used to.  It is changing from point A to point B. Transition is the action in between.  Often times when we’re telling our life story we think about the “drastic changes” in our life, rarely thinking about the significance of the transition between, when in fact, the transition is the whole story.

This year is vastly different for me.  My two best friends at school are married to each other, and while they live on campus, due to conflicting schedules I don’t get to see them often.  My usual group of friends have all graduated.  This year I am in a position of leadership (an RA), and I’m working, and I’m a senior, and I will soon be applying to Grad school.

It’s hard to imagine that this time next year, I honestly don’t know where I’ll be.  I don’t know if I’ll be in San Diego– feel as though God has told me that my time there as a resident might be over.  I have fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest, but I have no idea if this will become home quite yet. Next year will be a year of change for me, and for the time being, I am living the transitory moments.

They are painful.  They are difficult.  They are very much unexpected.  I long for the days of yesteryear in which everything was familiar, just as much as I embrace the challenge before me.

This time of year is often difficult for me.  I have a tendency to get more melancholy (seasonal depression–but not that terribly), and it is difficult when I feel as though I’m not being poured in to, but as I tell everyone and anyone who asks: I would not change it for the world.

Transitions are hard to live, but they are what bind my story together: from who I used to be to who I will be at the end.  For now, I am becoming.

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Another New Beginning

Summer vacation is officially over. I have been back at school for a little over a week and I am in the midst of Res Life training–uh was it really only two months ago when I said “I have all the time in the world to do _____”? Where has that time gone?!

My days are filled with information, people, more information, activity, and more information–I know you’re pretty jealous, right? Sometimes I find myself in these informational meetings just thinking “wow, man, I’m going to be an RA.” I know for many people that’s not a big deal, but for me it is! Here’s the thing: everyone who knows me on a somewhat semi-deep level know that I am very introverted and reclusive. I want to spend my entire life reading books, attempting to write books, and going on long roadtrips. What’s an introvert and recluse like me masquerading as an RA for? I mean, the scholarship is great, but seriously is it worth it?

So here I am, in this private room (a room to myself for the first time in 3-4 years) with tape, scissors, papers, and other decorating paraphernalia cluttering my space preparing for the 35 girls I will be blessed to do life with for the next school year–my senior year.

A lot of the time I will confess that I feel nervous as I anticipate the craziness that will surely follow this next year. Often I find myself asking “Lord, do I have the strength and capacity to do this? God, am I good enough?”

Then I remember as I enter this new year–a time in which anything can happen…I have been called to be exactly where I am.

For two years the Lord has put it on my heart to be an RA. I ignored the first call, and the second time I was called, after much internal debate, I listened.

There’s a quote I once heard/read that goes as follows:

“God did not call the equipped, but He equipped the called.”

A few paragraphs ago I mentioned all I want to do is read books, which is true, but to be honest, do you know what my greater dream has always been? My life dream is to meet with one new person every day and hear their life story. No distractions, no judgement, and plenty of vulnerability. I would hear this new person’s story and I would tell mine, that is my real life dream.

With this new school year quickly approaching, and as apprehension butterflies through my stomach, my feet are steady.

My hands might be shaking, but I know who I am and I know I have been called. If I am not equipped to do the job I have been called to do then God will be glorified as He strengthens me to be the leader/woman of faith/warrior I know I am behind my quiet shell. And if I have been equipped with the exact talents needed for my floor then God will be glorified still because it is my intention to make Him known with every step.

Sometimes, I refer to my life as a YA novel or some television show. Even though it is my life, I often cast myself as a side character as I give myself the role of the supporting friend. This year though, I feel that this “show’s” season or this “book’s” sequel will finally be my own story. God will always, as He has always been, the main character, but I have a feeling that this will be a year of growth for me.

I don’t know what to expect on this journey, but that will not stop me from going–steady feet with shaking hands and all.

So, pray for me as I embark on this new year. Pray that I will always remember where and Who my help comes from. Please pray that I will do well in my final year of school as I prep for Grad school (eek!), be an RA, work at my DCFS job, and make new genuine and deep friendships (I will admit to being kind of lonely when I don’t have a close friend or two by my side).

With all that being said….Lessgo!!

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Dissonance is Bliss

We get so caught up in our imperfections that we forget to see perfection. It’s kind of weird for me, a perfectionist, to think about something like this. I mean, if I want my projects to be perfect, shouldn’t I be striving for perfection in my body, in my relationships, and everywhere else?

There is a saying that goes as follows: “dissonance is bliss”. My friend has it tattooed on his back. Dissonance is a term that is commonly used in music and in psychology (and for my friend he has used it musically).

I don’t think I’ve truly understood the concept until recently.

In all my perfectionist ways I still have a love and appreciation for things that are so wonderfully imperfect. I love the gap between the teeth of a boy who is self-conscious about the rather large spacing. I love the chaotic loudness of a bunch of friends I’ve known for the past several years yelling and rambling about rather geeky and vulgar topics. I love the imperfection that is clear all over my body and heart because it screams SO loudly of the redemptive and perfect grace God continues to weave into my life.

As a perfectionist striving for “the ultimate” in everything, I have become quite happy with the imperfect dissonance that I have.

I wish so many people would begin to find such joys too. It’s a waste of time, breath, and emotion to berate ourselves chasing these ridiculous ideas of what the perfect body, boy, girl, insert every other thing we try to perfect, is.

To try to perfect what is already made perfect by Christ is a waste of energy and an insult to a perfect gift (my friend would say the same every time she cooks an amazing meal and I douse it in Siracha sauce—I’ve ruined what didn’t need to be ruined, apparently) already in our hands.

So, this is my plea to love. Love the heck out of what you have and who you are, because that is among the most perfect things you can ever do.

Dissonance is bliss. I finally understand.

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More Than Conquerors

For the past few days I’ve been in a bit of a slump. I sometimes get to this place in which I just have a lack of motivation for everything–especially reading my Bible and praying and everything I should be doing. Tonight, I brought my Bible to a coffee shop and spend some quality time with the Lord.  I want to have my passion returned to me, and I want to once again feel close to the Lord. Tonight I read through Romans 8, a popular, but still good chapter.

The verse that stood out to me the most was the following:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37

It is in this verse that I am reminded that from the moment I gave my life to God, that I became filled with His love and His spirit.  Even in the moments in which I don’t feel it. In the moments when I am plagued with despairing thoughts, I am more than a conqueror, not because of anything I do, but because of the One who lives in my heart.

Wherever we are, if we are filled with the Spirit of God, we are more than conquerors. We are filled with a power that gives us courage and a strength to push through all trials.

Finally, in closing thoughts, if I were a musician, I would start a band called “More Than Conquerors”.

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Stories and Storytellers

stories

It is no secret that I possess no visual artistic talent. Watching me draw a stick figure is a pretty pathetic sight. Although I want to get better at the crafty arts, my talent lies elsewhere. This talent is visual, but not in the way that most think. When considering the arts, this talent is the unsung hero with an unmarked grave. This talent is writing. For as long as I can remember, I have been praised for my writing (handwriting, especially cursive, is a different story. I have terrible handwriting).

For a long while it was my dream to become a young adult fiction writer though people tried to discourage me by telling me “there’s no money in writing! Writers are all starving artists! You just get lucky!” Vehemently I would protest against them saying that it didn’t matter–all that mattered was that I followed my dream! In recent years, I have decided that I have  a bigger passion and heart for people, and I would pursue Social Work and Psychology and leave writing to be a passion I would keep to myself…until I publish the next best seller.

What I’m trying to say is that first, my art is storytelling. For the painters, photographers, sketchers, and all other artists that read this blog, do you know what it’s like when you see something beautiful? Do you remember those moments where that beautiful thing burns into your brain and it remains there, itching and scratching until you get it out on paper or capture it in the right lighting? As a storyteller, I see those things too. I see it in the stars in the sky. I feel it in the chilling breeze on a crisp autumn morning. I see it in the hands of a beautiful boy playing a guitar, forgetting the world around him as his fingers stretch expertly across six strings. I see it in the way a girl throws her head back in unabashed laughter and joy. These images burn in my brain until I write it. Like you, they never leave my mind until I recreate it.

Secondly, I am privileged to get to hear the stories of others. It can be story of a best friend telling me a funny memory of how she flipped someone on their back, or another best friend telling me when she nearly stole some kid’s little red wagon just because she didn’t want to carry her books anymore (she was 17 at the time). Or it can be a story of dearly loved people battling with substances that spiral beyond control or life decisions that completely altered the course of their history. They are beautiful, be they painful or hilarious. What makes them beautiful are their unique qualities.

As for me, I am a storyteller. That is my art, and I am so thankful to be so blessed with such a talent. Some stories given to me are told in confidence, and some stories, I have been given permission to make them known to the world.

As I write, specific faces and specific names swirl about my mind as I rush to get their story on paper, or in this case, in a place on the Internet.

Ultimately I hope that for anyone who stumbles across this story about stories…I hope you are encourage. Be encouraged to listen to the people around you and the stories that float about in their hearts and in their lives. Everyone around you is a walking masterpiece, and as with all great artworks, there’s a unique story behind it. I encourage you to be more than just a person with a story. Be a storyteller too.

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