In the Silence of Saturday

It feels wrong to say that Saturday is my favorite day of Holy Week, but it’s true. It is a day that feels sacred to me, sitting in the gap of tragedy and triumph, resting between death and victory. Perhaps it is my favorite because it feels so familiar. It feels like most of our lives. This is the day when I feel so small and helpless, standing with the cross behind me and watching the tomb before me where hopes and dreams are buried.

I don’t think I’ve ever yearned for the resurrection more than I do these days.

Friday is the day of deep loss and confusion. Sunday is the day of fulfillment and joy. But Saturday leaves me sitting with the question: Will God fulfill His promises?

The answer seems obvious, but it never feels obvious. What it feels like is a pit in your stomach, a tightness in your chest. It feels like a dry mouth and swollen eyes. It feels like an impossible choice: stay or flee. Stay here staring at the tomb where hope is inseparable from reminders of loss and pain? Or flee from pain and loss–and also the possibility of seeing God do something miraculous?

The day between crucifixion and resurrection was the Sabbath–a day built into the rhythms of Israel to remind them to soak in the knowledge that they were not the gods of their lives, operating under the illusion of control and comfort built by their own hands. The Sabbath was a reminder that even as God rested, He ruled. That even when it felt like nothing was happening, in the lack of activity and plans, God was still at work.

I think the Sabbath trained their hearts to wait and trust in the silence. Between the anguished cries of Friday and the jubilant rejoicing of Sunday rests the silence of the grave.

Our lives are filled with so much noise and activity because we are scared of the silence. In silence, we don’t yet know the ending. In silence, we are waiting for a response. In silence, we are not in control.

It is far too tempting to fill the silence and move past the discomfort of Saturday. Yet Jesus chose to wait silently for Sunday, separated from those he loved by a boulder and a guard. But it wasn’t the first time Jesus chose to wait for a resurrection. When he tarried before, he told his disciples the delay was “…so that you may believe” (John 11:15).

Silence has its purpose. Saturday intensifies our experience of the injustice and pain of Friday. Saturday deepens the joy and triumph of Sunday. Saturday is so that we may believe.

As Christians, we are defined by Sunday, marked by Friday, but we live in Saturday… waiting, and as we wait, lamenting that things are not as they should be and living (and acting) with defiant hope that one day they will be.

Saturday is the day we each must answer these questions:

Do you believe a resurrection is coming?

Do you believe God is who He says He is?

Will you live and obey in the tension–awake to the pain of this world and anticipating the hope of the one to come?

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6

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Chivalry

Note: I wrote this five years ago in a season of disappointment and discontent. Partly as a defense of men–that I would choose to not let one (or several) bad experiences define my view of all men—and as an encouragement to those who strive to be good men that they are seen and appreciated. I also wrote it for the women in my life who, after long seasons of waiting, were tempted to believe that there was nothing better out there. But more than anything, I wrote it for myself, as a reminder that no matter what we experience in this life of earthly relationships, the worst will seem barely a shadow and the best only a whisper of what is to come. Today seemed as good a day as any to share it.


I still believe in chivalry. I believe in knights and heroes. I believe that there are men who will live their lives to restore honor and integrity where it has been forsaken. I believe in men who will open the door, who will walk women home, who will give up their coats, who will lay their hearts on their sleeves. I believe in a time when the value of a heart will be understood in full, when pursuit of the heart is no longer a game. I believe in a man who is willing to risk his reputation, his pride, his ego to share a piece of himself at the potential cost of rejection; a man who does not live half-heartedly, easily swayed by his changing moods, but wholeheartedly.

I believe there are men of passion–not the passion that overwhelms and destroys everything it touches, but the type that does not fade, passion that rests firmly on loyalty and unwavering commitment. I believe in a man who is not only willing to die in a blaze of glory, but who is willing to die to himself each day… not to just give up his life, but to give up his days, his time, his preferences, his money, his comfort, his energy… for this is the most difficult and prolonged of deaths, and certainly the most meaningful.

I still believe that these men exist. And so I’m holding out for a hero. Not because I am a damsel in distress, not because he will fix all my problems. Not because I need saving–for I have already been saved. I am holding out for a hero who will fight dragons–not for glory or honor but to protect the vulnerable and to do what is right over what is easy. I am holding out for a hero who will not just tell my children about God, but will stay through the coldest of nights and the harshest of seasons and show them how much a Father loves. I am holding out for a hero who not only knows how to lead the charge, but also how to humble himself to serve. I am holding out for a hero so that, when he storms the castle walls, I will have no hesitation whatsoever to fight alongside him, to defend him, to lay down my own life for his, just as he so willingly does the same. Because there is no greater love than to lay down your life for another. Because love never fails.

So I’ll wait for a hero. And if I never meet him in this life, I know that in the next I will run straight into the embrace of the One who has taught me that this kind of man exists—my true Hero, my only Savior.

Untraditional

Last Christmas, I had a meltdown. I sat in tears on the floor of my friend’s bedroom in San Diego, her relatives chattering noisily in the living room, as I tallied up all the places where I had spent Christmas over the years. Coming to the US as an international student and from a family that didn’t celebrate Christmas, I have been adopted by the parents of friends, boyfriends, and coworkers over the years. And finally the impermanence of it all caught up to me.

Eight Christmas vacations spent with ten different families that have been everything from joyful to painful. So much love, always mingled with a little sadness because each family’s traditions and tree and living room were not mine to keep but merely a stamp on my holiday passport.

When people talk about Christmas traditions, I feel an ache and longing for ones I can keep as my own. But my anchor is this: the one constant in my Christmas has been Christ. He has been, is, and always will be present no matter what roof I wake up under on December 25th. And as difficult as it may be to celebrate the holidays always moving and never home, I am thankful the shifting settings and chaotic circumstance help reveal this one permanent thread. In a season where joy and peace are emphasized, what could be a greater reminder of why we celebrate?

As much as I love candy canes and gingerbread houses and presents, I take comfort in the fact that like my savior, many of the homes that have welcomed me have been temporary. No less loving or hospitable for that reason, but never permanent nonetheless. My Savior spent that first Christmas morning in a borrowed bed, having journeyed from far away to make a home with those who did not know him.

The first Christmas didn’t consist of Jesus surrounded by a turkey dinner and a well-lit tree with all of his relatives beaming at him, although He could have chosen that. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:11).

And that day was called holy, and that is the day we celebrate, because the only perfect and permanent thing about that Christmas was the One who was born into it. To bring us together, to make us all family, to remind us that there is a perfect and permanent Home where we can one day celebrate together.

As I’ve participated in the joy and traditions of many families, I’ve also witnessed heartache and unmet expectations. Travel is stressful, seats that were once occupied are now empty, changes from the past year leave things bittersweet. And yet in all of it–the joy and the ache–we can choose to rejoice with a Savior who is with us in every emotion, every wound, every moment. A Savior who left his Home to be with us, no matter where we may be celebrating.

Small Glories

Big decisions paralyze me. My senior year of college, I spent countless hours scouring my Bible, asking people for advice, reading books on God’s will, just trying to figure out if I was making the right decision or the biggest mistake of my life.

There is something about the “big moments” of life that excite me and draw me nearer to the Lord. I have an increased awareness of my dependence on Him, I end up praying more, and everything becomes more significant. Whether it is a big decision, a season of transition, an opportunity to do something that scares me, heartbreak, or a joyful occasion… big things make me pay attention to God.

Our world loves big things because they feel glorious. We flock to movies about bloody wars, star-crossed heartache, zombie apocalypse, life-or-death decisions. We celebrate achievements, mark milestones, honor loss. When we catch up with old friends, we want to know what exciting new developments have happened in their life–not what was for lunch or if they’ve talked to their mother recently.

I’ve been wrestling with restlessness recently. I’ve been afraid of smallness. Are the things I’m doing big enough? Is the life I’m living significant enough? Are the decisions I’m making the right ones?

But the Lord has been teaching me something–to not discount the glory of the small. Because the small is so closely linked to the big. The person who is making those big decisions is the same person who is making small choices. The person who shows up for those big moments is the same person who is showing up for the small ones.

A quote that has haunted me since college is Annie Dillard’s admonition: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” My small hours add up to my life. My small decisions add up to big ones. And at each moment, I am moving closer or further from the person God desires me to be. What kind of person will I be when the big moments come?

My family didn’t have much money when I was growing up. But we would save up every week so that without fail, when Friday rolled around, we would indulge in our favorite meal: crawfish. It is not the most glorious of meals, if you’ve ever witnessed it. Crawfish is called “poor man’s lobster,” and many people I know would be deterred by the fact that you have to peel and eat crawfish (like shrimp) with your bare hands. Juice would run down our arms and our hands would smell like garlic for days. But we loved it, and it was a sacred tradition for our family. Every Friday, we sat around the table together and ate until we couldn’t eat any more.

What probably seemed like a small decision for my parents–to save a little extra bit of money, to spend it on crawfish, to eat it together–became a core part of my understanding of family and life. Those small moments, repeated over the course of my childhood, instilled in me an understanding that family matters, that love and food are often inseparable, that the best way to share life with someone is at the dinner table. Those values are part of who I am today and have withstood the divorce of my parents, moving to a different country (twice), and all of life’s transitions. The small counts.

Small is the way God often chooses to build His Kingdom. Jesus came quietly as a small babe under the cover of night. God speaks to Elijah not in the earthquake or the fire or the rushing wind, but in a whisper. Jesus’s ministry with the disciples is recorded as a series of teachings and miracles, but perhaps equally valuable in their eyes were the countless hours he spent with them doing the small things–eating, journeying, and laughing together.

[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” [Matthew 13:31-32]

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” [Luke 17:5-6]

Most of our time is spent in the smallness of life. In the small, God prepares in us a faithfulness that can persist in the big moments of tragedy, that can choose wisely in the big decisions, that can withstand the allure of success. And small faithfulness is not sexy. It doesn’t often make the headlines. Biographers don’t record the small faithfulness of day-to-day living for the glory of God–keeping promises, watching our words, choosing thankfulness over bitterness, confessing our sin, conversations that matter to just one person, choices made when no one is watching. But it transforms us, from one degree of glory to another, into people who see God present and active in every moment. Our faith begins to grow like that mustard seed.

The God of incomprehensible glory is also the same God who dwells with us in the small. And while our eyes are scanning the horizon for the next big thing, while our hearts are evaluating worth and success based on what our hands have accomplished, God gives us an invitation: will we meet with Him in the small moments of our lives?

“Slowly, I was beginning to understand that it wasn’t my productivity that God desired; it was my heart. It wasn’t my ministry God loved; it was me. God was glorified, is glorified, when we give Him our hearts, give Him ourselves, and faithfully do the thing right in front of us, no matter how small or trivial.” – Katie Davis

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” [Luke 16:10]

Instead of Guacamole

A week ago I was searching for some medical records when I came across a sealed envelope with my name on it. It was a prayer I had written in the fall of 2012. I had just graduated, moved to a new city with no friends, was wrestling through the loss of a relationship, and felt so frustrated with God and so lost that I had to write out my prayers just to get a complete thought out. So much pain captured on one piece of paper that was hidden and forgotten for five years. But upon rereading it, I realized God had turned that pain into something greater.  

C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Pain in our lives functions as a wakeup call. Whether it is the sharp, stabbing pain of sudden loss or the less defined, stretching ache of emptiness, pain forces a reaction out of us.

Common reactions include distracting ourselves with busyness or comfort, offloading it onto others (consciously or subconsciously), or channeling it into something we consider “productive” that we think will either make us invulnerable to pain the next time around or speed up our recovery.

My favorite reaction involves Netflix and eating a tub of guacamole for dinner. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

My job description includes walking people through pain. Seasons of loss, questions about identity, doubts about what they believe. You would think this would prepare me for hard things in my own life. But I am an absolute child on the scale of pain tolerance (see Netflix and eating reference above).

Question after question filled the page of the prayer I found. Over and over the questions that surfaced began with “why,” “what,” “when,” and “how”–the questions we ask in suffering.

Why is this happening? Why are You allowing this?
What is going to happen next? What should I do?
When will You answer me? When will I no longer feel this way?
How could You allow this to happen? How do I move past this?

Some of those questions, five years later, have been answered. But for some, God has remained frustratingly silent. But as unsatisfying as it is to not have an answer, I must admit that in the face of pain and suffering–especially that which personally affects us–there is no such thing as a satisfying answer. Christianity is not faith in satisfying answers. It is faith in a Person.

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). [John 1:35-42, emphasis mine]

When the two disciples begin to follow Jesus, he cuts to the chase: “What do you really want?” And they ask him a question. But instead of giving them an answer, he gives them an invitation to his presence. He gives them an invitation to relationship.

I read that and think, there goes Jesus being awesome and witty and subversive. But when I ask him my questions and get a, “Come and see,” I find it much less entertaining. Just give it to me straight, Jesus. Why and what and when and how.

Come and see, he says.

Jesus knows the answers to those questions will never satisfy. Because even if they are answered for now, there will always be more questions. The answers will never satisfy–not if that’s the thing we’re looking for. We want a good answer, but we are only promised a good God. Only God will ever satisfy us, and we may get some answers in the process of looking for Him. But if we look for answers, we may miss Jesus altogether.

It is not the why or the what or the when that will placate us. Jesus doesn’t despise those questions or judge us for asking them. But we are missing out if we allow our faith to be defined by these questions. In the silence at the other end of the line, the nagging question that arises is: Who?

Who is God in the face of my pain?
Who am I when things that once defined me are stripped away?
Who am I becoming through this experience?

Who is God?

Although circumstances change, God does not. This is what I cling to when the past seems confusing and the future feels overwhelming. And who is He?

The God of my pain is “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3). He is the God of the resurrection, who promises–as Frederick Buechner so beautifully penned–that “the worst thing is never the last thing.” He is the God who sees (El Roi–Genesis 16), the God who provides (Jehovah-jireh–Genesis 22). The God of all comfort (1 Corinthians 1:3-4), the Father who delights to give good gifts (James 1:17), the definition of love itself (1 John 3:16). He understands what we cannot (Isaiah 55:8-9). He simultaneously rules over nations and authorities and oceans and stars (Psalm 47:7-8) while still caring deeply about every sparrow and every flower He ever created (Matthew 10:29). He is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

And maybe in times of pain or suffering, you read all that and think, yeah right. I don’t know if I believe that anymore, or if I ever did. And that’s okay. One of the worst things we can do in suffering is shame ourselves or shame others for experiencing doubt. In Matthew 14, Jesus walks on water and calls Peter out of the boat to join him. “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus tells him, “Come.” Peter boldly steps out of the boat, only to be overcome by fear of the wind and the waves that surrounded him. He takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to sink, crying out to Jesus as the waters pull him under. And how does Jesus respond?

“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”

Jesus’s first response is not to teach Peter a lesson by letting him struggle. His response to Peter’s honest cry was immediate compassion. He gently rebukes Peter and asks him about his doubt–but I believe this is more for Peter’s understanding than anything else. “Why did you doubt? What happened? Who do you think I am, that I would let you drown?” Jesus wants Peter to wrestle with his doubt, not deny it. But his compassion and loving response came first.

It is easy to believe God is good when it’s smooth sailing. But storms have the potential to take our thoughts about God and transform them into an experience of God. And sometimes that requires using our last bit of breath to turn towards Jesus and cry out, “I am drowning”…and wait for a response. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that whatever we may believe about him, however we may feel towards him, he is still there–waiting, keeping watch, and eager to respond in compassion.

Who am I?

I could list all the verses that talk about my identity in Christ, but like our beliefs about God, we don’t know what we truly believe until it comes under attack. Pain has a way of revealing the fragility of all the identities and accolades we’ve spent our lives accumulating. When all is stripped away, the simple fact is this: who I am is not determined by me, but by God. The God I described above? That’s the God who loves me. That’s the God to whom I belong. Regardless of what I do, regardless of how I feel about Him in my suffering, regardless of whether or not I suffer well. The most defining thing about me is I belong to that God. A God who is willing to experience pain, humiliation, and death so I would know nothing can separate me from Him, and nothing can take that identity away from me. Not even my lack of belief.

Who am I becoming?

One thing I love to do with the women I work with is have them write out a vision for their life. Who do you want to be in fifty years? What do you want to be true? What do you want to be remembered for?

The funny thing is I’ve never had someone write things like “I am the hardest worker in my company” or “I am financially secure” or “I have a six-pack you could bounce quarters off of.” Yet these are the things we spend our days striving towards. No, what people want to be remembered for are things like faith, character, courage, and love.

I make them write their life vision in the present tense and in third person, as if it were true right now and as if someone else was describing them. “If this is who you want to be in fifty years, you can start becoming that person right now,” I tell them. “Put it up somewhere you can see it every single day, as a reminder to make your decisions out of who you are rather than what you fear might happen.” And I am trying to take my own advice, to make more decisions out of conviction than fear.

When Peter comes to Jesus, he receives a new identity and a new name. Jesus receives the man that he is and gives him a promise: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). There is a rather large gap between who Peter is in the present and who Jesus is making Him into. But Jesus is committed to filling in the gaps.

I’ve been praying lately, “God, make me the woman I’m supposed to be.” I used to pray this when I first started walking with Jesus in college. But then I think I got lazy, I became more concerned about what I was doing than who I was becoming, and I got swept up in the idea that I could change myself. I believe that discipline and a plucky can-do attitude can get you results, but only God can truly change someone’s heart… a lasting change at the deepest level of who we are–the stuff we want to be remembered for. And He uses the raw material of our lives to do it.

I think I am more of the woman I am supposed to be today because of the pain I had to walk through. Do I wish I could’ve avoided that experience? Of course I do. But as I read the prayer I wrote five years ago, I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude. I am not the same woman I was five years ago. I have changed (hopefully in more good ways than bad ones), God has somehow made my heart softer where there was once bitterness, and I walk through pain differently than I did then. Still not very well, but better.

I don’t know why God allows painful things to happen. I don’t have an answer to how God used every instance of evil or hurt for good. But I do know enough about God’s character to be confident that He doesn’t despise broken things. And when there is more brokenness than you can handle, when the world looks at your circumstances and sees a wreckage, God rolls up His sleeves and holds out His hands and says, “I won’t let this be wasted. Just keep your eyes on me.”


Patreeya is a woman after God’s heart, a daughter of the one true King, the beloved of Christ. She leads a life of joy that is rooted in the wonder of the gospel instead of circumstances. Just as she is filled with the knowledge of God’s character, she knows herself and wields the life, talents, and treasures she has been given to decisively and strategically tip the scales for the Kingdom of God.

She does not make decisions out of fear, but out of faith and confidence in God’s goodness and sovereignty. She praises God for every good gift He has bestowed, instead of dwelling on what she does not have. She savors each moment, season, relationship, and interaction. She is brave, adventurous, fun, and free of shame, condemnation, and self-obsession.

Patreeya dedicates her life to raising up women of God, being a nurturing and safe presence for women (and men) to experience the love of Jesus. She is adept at seeing people through the Lord’s eyes and bringing out the parts of them that uniquely reflect His image. She is committed to sowing love where there is hatred, grace where there is injury, peace where there is discord, faith where there is doubt, hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness, joy where there is sadness. People feel loved and free in her presence because she loves them by faith in Christ. She loves the people God has given her to steward fiercely, generously, and without holding back. And, when love calls for it, lets them go. She leaves people better than she found them.

Come Alive

We are a forgetful people. The other day, someone asked me how old I was and I told them the wrong age. I had a three second moment of panic where I couldn’t remember, and I blurted out the first number that came to mind.

Monday is perhaps the most forgetful day of the week. We live much of our lives with this escapist drive toward the weekend, thinking those two days will fulfill all of our needs and fantasies. More sleep! More time to work on those assignments! A chance to have clean pants again! Time with people I like! Time with God! Time with my good friends Leslie Knope & Ron Swanson!

Then Monday rolls around. “How was your weekend?” someone asks. My mind goes blank. “Church was…really good,” I mutter. “What was the sermon about?” And the Monday amnesia hits me like a cartoon anvil. I remember the peace I felt. I remember thinking, this sermon was written just for me! And yet, I cannot truly recall why it was so life-changing.

As Christians, we have spent the past few weeks in anticipation of Easter. We prepared our hearts. We reflected on the cross and its significance. We felt the long, heavy pause between Good Friday and Easter Sunday–waiting for the discovery of an empty grave and a risen Savior. And then it comes. He comes. And then it’s Monday.

A New Normal

The temptation is to treat Easter like it’s an ending. The eggs have all been found, Jesus is risen (*raised hands emoji*), we went to church, I can finally eat sugar/watch Netflix/go on social media again…and now it’s back to “normal life.”

But nothing was normal after Jesus. Easter was a revolution. It was the day after which nothing was the same ever again. When a man who claims to be God rises from the dead, “business as usual” isn’t a thing. From that day forward, you spend your entire life either affirming that he is risen or denying it. Easter isn’t just a time to pause and reflect on some nice truths we tend to forget about the rest of the year. It is the entire crux of our faith. It is the only reason we have to hope.

Perhaps you’ve been feeling the trudge of April. We are a third of the way through 2017, and maybe the “blank slate” you thought this year would bring has already been tainted with disappointments, mistakes, failures. Why do we think flipping a page on our calendars gives us the ability for a fresh start? From experience, I know a new year rarely brings the willpower needed to finally stick to that exercise routine I’ve been promising myself for the past five years. January 1st may bring with it the conviction that I need to love people better, but it never brings me the sustained ability to do so. January 2nd rolls around–and I’m still the same old me who couldn’t keep those resolutions last year.

A New Life

But Easter. If there was ever a time for significant life changes, it should be the Monday after. Because Easter isn’t an ending. It’s a beginning. It’s THE beginning, the fresh start all of our hearts long for. It isn’t about fluffy bunnies and pastel colors–it’s about the radical death, relentless love, and revolutionary power.

The cross, the empty grave, and the resurrected Jesus not only give us a reason to hope for change–they give us the power to change. Rather than us trying to change from our own efforts, the resurrection changes us.

In Romans 8, Paul reminds us: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

In 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Easter Sunday is unlike any other Sunday. We come into the Monday after a changed people. Not because we finally got to catch up on sleep. Not because we feel shiny and new and different. Not because of what we have accomplished. But because of what was done on our behalf. Because Jesus’s resurrection gave us a new identity. My identity is not in the choices I make or what I accomplish, but in who Christ’s resurrection has made me to be.

A New People

The life of the disciples after meeting the resurrected Jesus reminds me of this. “On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:19-20).

It was the first day of the week. The disciples had locked themselves away out of fear. Everything Jesus had taught, everything he had said or done…it all seemed like a distant memory now.

We see these disciples again in Acts 4, preaching to the Jewish leaders they had been hiding from. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13).

Something happened in that locked room that radically transformed them from fearful, anxious men into witnesses that would not be silenced, would not be ashamed, would not stop sharing what Jesus had done–even at the cost of their own lives. They began to live, not out of who they were, but out of who the resurrection had made them to be. Their encounter with Christ was so ingrained into their hearts and minds that they never forgot it. It was the story they told, over and over again, for the rest of their lives.

The resurrection was everything for them. The cross was the death of everything they had hoped or believed was true. But it wasn’t the end. It was the end of who they had been, and the beginning of who they truly were meant to be. When Jesus came back to life, they came alive.

As I sat on the floor at church yesterday, I closed my eyes and prayed, “Jesus, don’t let me forget. Please don’t let me forget.” Because I knew Monday was coming. It sounds strange, but my ambition is this: some Easter Sunday many years from now, I’ll be sitting in a corner watching my grandchildren running around, hunting for eggs. And someone will gesture in my direction, as if to ask, why does she look so happy? Then someone will shrug and reply, “That’s grandma. She’s not just like this on Easter, she’s like this every day. If you ask her why, she’ll say she met Jesus and that she’s never been the same.”

Winter

I sat down in the snow and cried. I’d spent so much energy and effort trying to learn, and all I had to show for it was a bruised tailbone, sore legs, and rentals I had no desire to put back on. As I watched people cruise down steeper slopes with such graceful ease, I took a deep breath and mentally rallied.

You can do this, Patreeya, I told myself. You are made of tougher stuff than this. You don’t quit. You’re not a quitter. Just suck it up because you can do this.

Then I felt something else whisper: You can’t do this right now. And you don’t have to. You don’t have to keep trying harder. Who told you you couldn’t have limits?

And I knew that second voice was right. As much as I wanted to, as much as I thought I could mentally muster up the energy, I had reached my physical limit. I had reached the end of myself, and if I went back out there on sheer might alone, I was probably going to seriously hurt myself.

I hate admitting my weaknesses. I hate being faced with my limits.

I began seeing a counselor for anxiety in January. Although I’m a normally introspective person, towards the end of last year I found myself stuck in my head and trapped by my fears and my thoughts of worst-case scenarios. I’d feel myself spiraling–a weight in the pit of my stomach, a fluttering in my chest, and an inability to tell which way was up. Something is off, my soul was telling me. And now my body had finally caught up.

I wanted a quick fix. An Oh-just-exercise-and-take-some-vitamins-and-you’ll-feel-better kind of cure. But like all true healing, you have to dig deep to get the debris out. Sometimes you have to reopen old wounds or break things that have healed incorrectly. And there’s more brokenness before there’s restoration. There’s pain before there’s relief. It isn’t a bandaid sort of thing. And my anxiety was telling me, you’ve spent too much time on quick fixes and slapping on bandaids, and now you need to commit to some serious surgery.

So I’ve had to accept that this is the season that I am currently in. A season of limited capacity. A season where my makeup doesn’t often make it until the end of the day. A season where I have to relive things I never wanted to think about again, for the purpose of asking, Jesus, where were you in that moment? A season where I feel exceptionally weak, where I am confronted with my brokenness moment-by-moment, where I do things because “they are good for me” rather than “because I want to.” A season where I feel like my soul is laid bare before God and He is rearranging and removing the things that don’t belong.

A friend sent me this video about the necessity of seasons, particularly winter. It has brought me so much perspective and hope. As the woman in it shares, it is because the trees are barren that you can see so clearly. You can see the sun shining through the empty branches. You can see miles into the forest. There is less to distract you in winter, and you can see further than you could before.

I can see now. The irony is when I am experiencing anxiety, my vision is so distorted and one thing or one belief becomes greater than everything else. But between those moments, I can see further than I ever could before. I can see myself more clearly; I can see God more clearly. One of my favorite quotes from The Hunger Games comes when Katniss finds herself confused by losses and lies, and she reminds herself: “Start simple–start with what you know is true.”

So let me start with the simple things–the things I lose sight of in the hustle and bustle of never doing enough, never having enough, never being enough. The things I am forced to lean into with the full weight of my heart, mind, and soul in a season of waiting and stillness. The things I hold onto tight as a compass, when I am stuck in a snowstorm of thoughts and can see only an inch ahead. These are the things I couldn’t see before, things I knew in theory but am now learning by touch and taste and sound and smell:

  1. I am not my anxiety.

This has been a hard one to hold onto. There are days where anxiety has felt pretty incapacitating. I don’t always feel like I’m in control of my thoughts. I’ve also shared pretty openly with anyone who has asked about what this experience has been like. And so there is this fear that this–this struggle, this weakness–is all they see of me now. This may be stating the obvious, but I care a great deal about how people see me. More than I should. And now, gone is the Patreeya who was able to handle everything without batting an eye. Gone is the girl who prided herself on taking the lemons people handed her and making lemonade, lemon bars, and lemon meringue to pass out. Gone is the Patreeya who could care for other people without needing to be cared for herself.

At least, that is who I told myself I was and who I needed to be. But that has never been who I truly am. My value has never added up to how much I was able to do, how well I was able to hold it all together, or how many problems I was able to solve. But it’s a lot easier to hold onto false identities when they look so shiny. This other “identity”–the anxious girl, the one with the problems, the one who is needy–is not nearly as fun. Anxiety has forced me to wrestle with where my identity truly lies–and how neither my capacity nor my limitations define who I am. Neither make for loving masters. My identity must lie elsewhere.

  1. I am not the Messiah.

Similar to my first point, I have had to accept my limitations. I am not God, and I was never meant to be. I recently listened to a sermon about the gift of limitations, and the pastor shared about how John the Baptist knew his true identity. In John 1, when people were asking him who he was, he first confessed freely who he was not: “I am not the Messiah.” They kept trying to pin him down, asking if he was Elijah or the Prophet. “I am not,” he told them.

Finally, after they pressed him, he said, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'”

When I live as if I have no limitations, I try to be God in my own life and in the lives of others. But I am not responsible for saving the world. Someone already did that. I am not responsible for saving myself. Someone already did that. And while I am called to steward my life wisely and to live it loving others, I cannot control how people think/feel/act. And that is okay. I am not the Messiah, I am simply a voice called to say what the Lord has told me to say.

I don’t have to be anyone other than who God has created me to be. I don’t have to be perfect. Which means even when I can’t hold it all together, I can trust that Someone Else already has that job description.

  1. I can trust God.

For most of my life, I’ve been fairly self-aware. Not only do I usually know what I’m feeling, I can also tell you why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, rationalize it, and spit it out in a coherent and relatable anecdote. But now–I don’t always know why I am fine some days and other days wake up with a slew of anxious thoughts. I don’t always know what has triggered the things I’m feeling. Sometimes I lack the words to explain it.

If you have spent all of your life trying to be “reliable,” being the one who gets things done, being the person you have always been able to rely on the most–then this is terrifying. This is why, even when I wasn’t immediately feeling anxiety, I was scared that the feeling would come back. I didn’t like feeling helpless. I didn’t like not being able to rely on myself.

But here is the beautiful thing about reaching the end of yourself: you realize that God has been there all along. Not only can I trust God–but God has always been more trustworthy and more capable than I have ever been. That seems so simple to admit, but how often to do I try to take back control of something, as if God will screw it up unless I do it myself?

The Lord has spent the last couple of months shattering my illusions of self-sufficiency. It’s like I’ve been living life in a room with a two-way mirror, unable to see God on the other side waiting for me to know He had it under control and had much bigger plans than for me to stay in that tiny room. But I put the mirror there. I was the one who wanted to do it by myself. I preferred the safety and predictability of the four walls I’d put up to the unknown and uncertainty of trusting a God and a plan I couldn’t control. 

Our need for control traps us. But He loves us too much to leave us there. And when you finally get to a point where you cry out, “God, I cannot do this,” He responds, “I know. I’ve been here all along. I’ll take care of you if you let me.” My eyes have been opened, I can see God in the room with me, I can see the door is open, and I don’t want to go back to living the way I did before. Under the illusion of safety and control, but in reality imprisoned by fear, burdened by things I was never meant to carry, and isolated by my own choosing. 

  1. Spring will come again.

Two months ago, I never thought I would thank God for my anxiety. It felt like a curse, like something I had to go through alone. But there is a beauty in the harshness of winter. There are gifts in every season. 

My prayer life has always been a struggle. But I have been praying more than I ever have, praying in faith and hope, simply because it is all I can think to do. Sometimes, it is all I can trust to help me see clearly. I have also been memorizing more scripture, carrying around a stack of flashcards like a vampire hunter carries garlic, because I am clinging to the promise that God will renew my mind and guard my heart. I am clinging to the knowledge that trusting in Him is far more powerful than leaning on my own understanding. I am clinging to the hope that He is creating in me a pure heart, one that is not stockpiling hurt and distorted thinking, but one that is clean and whole and knows Him better than anything.

I’ve received love and kindness and tissues and a listening ear from people in my life who love me in my weakness. I’ve realized some of the beliefs I have about God are untrue and even detrimental to experiencing who He really is, and am forced to do the hard work of confronting them head-on. And I’ve experienced moments of a deep awareness of God’s love and presence in my life that are punctuating and rewriting my story into something deeper, something sweeter.

And because of these things, I would not trade the last few months for anything.

Don’t get me wrong. I am still sitting, staring up through the empty branches of winter and waiting for signs of life. And it sucks, it is exhausting, it is not fun. I wanted to punch that dumb groundhog for predicting more winter. Everything in me is longing for spring. And I know it will come.

But God is still present in winter. So I will sit here with Him and ask that He would help me see Him clearly. That I wouldn’t waste this season. That I wouldn’t forget when spring comes. 

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.

Hosea 6:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

 

We Found Love in a Hopeless Place

I grew up surrounded by unhealthy relationships. Up until the age of ten, I thought it was completely normal for dads to sleep on the couch and moms to cry in the closet. So I have spent my whole life trying to figure out what love is.

Disney ruined me early on with its picturesque happily-ever-afters where there’s a handsome prince and a beautiful princess and all they have to do to get together is defeat a dragon or an angry town mob. This is love, I thought: beautiful, perfect people finding each other in a hopeless place.

But in all the friendships and romantic relationships I’ve been in, I’ve found the biggest obstacle to happily ever after isn’t outside of the relationship, it’s within. The hopeless place is inside of me–it’s my mess, it’s the other person’s mess. And when two messy people come together, it doesn’t make for a perfect fit. If anything, two messy people magnify each other’s messiness.

There is nothing like relationships (familial, romantic, platonic) to make you realize just how flawed you are. Finding love can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack with both hands tied behind my back and the wrong contact prescription–I end up getting poked in the eye a lot and nursing a headache the rest of the day. Love is already messy, and I bring into it an even bigger mess of my beliefs, insecurities, expectations, desires, and habits that distort how I see others and how I see myself.

So rather than giving you my personal, distorted definition of what love and healthy relationships look like, let’s look elsewhere:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 4:7-10

This is a pretty audacious claim, that “God is love.” Whether or not you believe that to be true, we can still find two key elements in the passage that help us understand what love looks like.

Commitment (AKA “What we all want but are scared to give.”)

God demonstrates His commitment towards people by initiating even after He had been rejected time and time again. God sent Jesus not because we loved him (in fact we did the very opposite), but because He loved us and was committed to us. And moreover, it was not a one-time decision to commit, but a consistent action. It says that because of what Jesus has done “we might live through him,” implying an ongoing relationship rather than a one-time transaction. God’s grand gesture of dying on the cross isn’t just about a one-time forgiveness of sins or a get-out-of-hell-free card… God’s love comes with an invitation; He doesn’t force His love on anyone but recognizes both parties have a choice. They have to choose to be in this ongoing, committed relationship.

We have so many relationships built on convenience or passion—we became friends because we have five classes together, we fell madly and wildly in love, we’re family because we share DNA. But if you’ve ever moved and seen close friendships disintegrate, or realized that shared DNA doesn’t necessarily make for a good relationship, or had the painful experience of falling out of love, you’ll know these things aren’t enough.

Commitment says, “At the end of the day, I’m still in this. I am choosing to be in this. And even if circumstances change or you gain twenty pounds or have a really bad day or bad month, I’m still going to be here.” And in healthy relationships, both parties are equally committed. Not just once, but day after day, they choose to be dedicated to the relationship.

Commitment is a scary word in our culture, because it isn’t easy and comes at a cost. But I think, deep down, we all desire to know that there is someone at the end of the day who won’t walk away, no matter how hard things get.

Vulnerability (AKA “I want the ground to open up and swallow me, please.”)

Vulnerability is risky because it means giving someone the ability to hurt you. It is where you let yourself be seen, flaws and all, not knowing how the other person will respond. For me, vulnerability is allowing someone to see the parts of myself that I hate the most—the insecure, the selfish, the ugly–the parts I don’t even have the capacity to love.

Vulnerability is also risky because you are investing–time, emotions, money, effort–without the assurance of a return. It means giving, not to get something in return but out of love for the other. It is putting the well-being of the other person above your own, seeking to honor their needs above your own. The problem with this is I usually only like meeting the needs of others if my needs are met first. But vulnerability means investing and giving and allowing yourself to be seen–no strings attached.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we grow up collecting data about what it takes to be lovable. Be kind. Be beautiful. Be strong. Be independent. Be accommodating. But rather than having to do/say the right things to earn love, the Bible’s definition of love says that it is freely given. While we were huge messes, seeing all of our ugly, Jesus still chose to come and love us and pursue a relationship with us. And not only did he acknowledge and accept our vulnerability, but he brought to the table his own: God allowed us to reject Him, call Him names, to put Him on a cross. And being God, He knew that was going to happen. He chose to love, knowing that he would be rejected–I don’t think there’s anything more vulnerable than that.

Healthy relationships exist when commitment and vulnerability are present in equal measure from both parties. No relationship is perfect. Because we are imperfect and broken people, we are bound to slip up, to be selfish, to make mistakes, to fail each other. That’s why the best relationships, the most rewarding ones, will take a lot of work. But it pays off.

In healthy relationships, two things happen:

1. The best relationships leave you better than before.

This isn’t the “Man, I wish he would stop wearing socks with his flip flops” kind of change, or the long list of things we find annoying about the other party. I believe love does change people for the better, but true change never comes from the other person demanding it. It’s only when we have the security of knowing we are loved in spite of our imperfections–only when you can let go of who you think you need to be for people to love you)–that you start becoming who you actually are.

In a healthy relationship, the best parts of you get magnified, and the rougher edges get smoothed out. You change, not superficially, but in the deepest sense—you become a little less selfish, wiser, kinder, more hopeful, more aware of your passions and purpose and place in this world.

2. Healthy relationships multiply your capacity to love others.

They don’t leave you drained with no energy to give to anyone else or demand all of your focus and attention. They don’t leave you more insecure about who you are and what you have to offer. The healthiest relationships are the ones that give you energy and hope and purpose that you want to share with others around you. They don’t just exist for the pleasure of the people in the relationship, but they are about a shared purpose, vision, or passion. A healthy relationship doesn’t just transform the people in it, but it transforms the world around it, leaving it a place that is a little more hopeful, a little more loving, a little less weary.

I believe the best sorts of love we get to experience—through family, friendships, romantic relationships—are really just echoes of a much greater love that we are invited into. I’ve been in a relationship with God for thirteen years now, and I can truly say that there is nothing like it. And when I’m faced with chaos that is in my own heart and the world around me, God’s commitment and demonstrated love for me in the midst of my mess gives me hope for all the other relationships in my life.

Freeze Tag

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1 John 4:18

I was a child raised by fear. I am the daughter of calculated risk and safety. Ever since I can remember, I have been cautious, reserved, fearful.

Maybe I inherited it from my parents or maybe my story has rewired my brain to more easily see the dangers in life–or maybe it’s both. Either way, fear dominated the way I made decisions growing up. The people I hung out with. The hobbies I took up. The sports I played (or rather, didn’t play). The things I said. The person I wanted people to think I was.

When an opportunity presented itself, I always searched for the dangers, the pitfalls, the worst-case scenarios. When people showed up in my life, I treated them with suspicion and examined their motives–waiting for them to either hurt me or leave. I always asked, “What might I lose?” rather than, “What could I gain?” Even when I took risks, it was out of fear that I would miss out or that an opportunity would pass me by.

Fear became a safe space to me, drawing boundaries to keep the bad things out. But what I couldn’t see most of the time was that my fear grew into a cage–it kept the bad things out, but it also locked me in.

I don’t think I always knew when fear was taking the reins. When the movie Inside Out premiered, some friends and I had a lively discussion about which emotion ran our “command center.” When my turn rolled around, one friend said nonchalantly, “Oh, that’s easy; you’re fear.” And I felt so exposed.

Now, I’m not talking about the healthy fear that warns you when something isn’t right… like the fear of a burning building or the fear that eating a package of bacon by yourself every morning might result in some complicated health issues. In some ways, we might even call that brand of fear “wisdom.” But I’m talking about the fears that are always there, regardless of the circumstance–fears about who you are or about others or about God. Those fears that you sometimes don’t even register because their voices are so familiar you mistake them for your own.

I am afraid of living my life out of that sort of fear. Ironic, isn’t it? But the more I examine my life (and something about January 1st makes you examine life a little more than usual), the more I can see the veins of fear running through it.

The fear of missing out.
The fear of what others think.
The fear of getting hurt.
The fear of letting people down.
The fear of failure.
The fear of being unlovable.
The fear of the future or the unknown.

These fears have been my loyal companions throughout the years. They have dictated what I say yes to, who I date, what I wear, what I say, who I hang out with. They are intimate voices in my head, telling me when I have screwed up or missed out, telling me the worst will always happen and people always leave, telling me control and comfort are the safest places to land.

But the more I look my fears in the face, the more my loyal companions begin to look like prison guards and my “safety” and “comfort” start to resemble bars of a cage. A self-imposed prison.

I am learning love and fear cannot coexist. I used to think they could at least be mild acquaintances, sitting on opposite sides of the room at an awkward party, sipping punch and yelling across people about the weather. But now I see fear cannot tolerate love. And love will cast out fear.

Because fear is about me. And that’s what makes it so seductive. We love when things are about us. And fear loves to talk about me. She talks about what I need to do to stay safe. She tells me what other people will think. She helps me do a thorough analysis–always grounded in the most objective research, of course–of all the things that could possibly hurt me or go wrong in each situation. She warns me to stay safe, because the world is a scary place and people are unpredictable and only looking out for themselves. And I listen, and I thank her, and I keep coming back.

But love. Love is not about me. “And this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Love is laid out for us on the cross. Love is costly to the giver. Love values the good of the other above personal comfort, safety, or preference. When we love, there is always a high possibility of getting hurt. Which is why fear seems like the better option. If it weren’t for the cage and bars and all.

Because the only thing that will free us from fear is to experience love. The only thing that will emancipate us from a life of looking out for ourselves and our best interest is to know that someone else already is doing those very things–with no strings attached. And Jesus says, “This is what love is. That I gave up my comfort and my safety and my rights so you might experience the comfort and safety of knowing that you are loved more than you could ever imagine. Now go, and do likewise.”

Love is what will set us free–cliche as that sounds. It is the long-awaited tap on the shoulder in a game of freeze tag. We stand there, frozen, locked in our own little worlds, unable to live lives of unshackled generosity and grace because of what we need from people or what they might think of us or what it will cost us.

And then love crashes into us and yells, “You are free! You are free to go and live and see and fail and get hurt. You don’t have to stand frozen any longer. You don’t have to be afraid. If you get frozen again, I’ll come back for you.” Love frees us to go and liberate others, to tap on the shoulder those who have been standing frozen in fear. And if enough of us are running around unfreezing others, then fear will never win.

So this is me, hoping to live more of my life unfrozen. And I know the fears will come, I know the voices will continue to whisper to me. But here I am, giving you permission to tap me on the shoulder if you see me standing still.

But for now–tag, you’re it.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners…

Isaiah 61:1

…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7

After

The morning after is always a letdown.

You look forward to something big–an event, a milestone, a day. Anticipation and expectations soar. And after it’s all over–things remain disappointingly unchanged.

No matter who I kiss on New Year’s Eve or what massive lifestyle changes I resolve to make, the person who wakes up on January 1st is still the same person who failed to keep those resolutions the year before, whose resolve crumbles as soon as chips and dip are placed in front of her.

I used to look forward to my birthday all year long when I was little, but the day after was the biggest disappointment. My birthday came and went, and now I was simply one step closer to “old” and 364 days away from more presents.

We spend all year looking forward to Christmas. Advent calendars count down to the long-anticipated coming–of Santa or of Jesus, or maybe both. But the day after Christmas is an awkward one. Wrapping paper lies crumpled in the trash, presents have been opened, played with, and have already started to lose their shine, and festive decorations a day ago have now become clutter to pack and put away until next year.

December 26th feels hollow: the magic has come and gone, Santa ate all my cookies, I am one day closer to going back to work/school, and I didn’t get you for Christmas after all.

I can only imagine what it must’ve been like in Bethlehem after the Magi came and went. The frankincense and myrrh sat opened and untouched, while Mary and Joseph were left with a newborn baby who kept them up at night, who cried and pooped and made messes, who landed on a hit list that forced them to pack up and flee.

They left the presents and took the baby. December 26th is the day where we tear down the trappings of Christmas and find ourselves left with the real deal: Emmanuel. God who is with us, whose arrival we celebrate, but whose presence fills our lives every day thereafter.

I think Christmas is a lot like a wedding. A grand day to gather with loved ones and celebrate and commemorate. But always bringing with it the dangerous temptation to elevate the day and miss the person. The wedding isn’t about the wedding. It’s about the marriage. It’s about the morning after the wedding. And the morning after that. And the lifetime of mornings you now get to spend with this person.  

December 26th is a letdown when we elevate the day and miss the person. Christmas isn’t about the day you open presents and gather with family and sing “Joy to the World.” Christmas is about the morning after. And the morning after that. And the morning after that.

Christmas is about God’s relentless, undeterred pursuit of us, His commitment to be with His people, His commitment to love His people that led Him to make His presence known–and permanent.

God is with us on December 26th. And every day after that. He is there when the lights are taken down. He is there when your tree is dried up and becomes a fire hazard. He is there on the days that aren’t so filled with cookies and glitter and bows. He is there when “Christmas cheer” has worn off and we are petty, disappointed, disillusioned, or selfish. He is there the morning after, and the morning after that, day in and day out–and even death can’t part Him from us.

So let’s celebrate December 26th with as much gusto as we do the 25th–because it’s the morning after, and He is with us still.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-19