Melancholic Joy

 

 

This week marks the four month anniversary of the death of my sister, Kimberly. It’s hard to believe that it’s already a third of a year. I seemed to experience more melancholy last week than this week. It’s probably because I was remembering the days that led up to her death. On the anniversary day of this week I woke up feeling great serenity, until I went to Yoga.

Tuesday during my Yoga class I discovered something new in my life: a melancholic joy. That’s kind of an odd place to discover this, and yet as I think about it, it’s not odd at all.

I tried Yoga a few years ago and wasn’t too crazy about it. Some of the poses were strange and I couldn’t achieve many of the positions to which our instructor guided us. I saw nothing relaxing in it at all, so decided it wasn’t for me. The time of the class didn’t work very well in my schedule either, so that too affected my decision not to go back. It’s funny though, how we change and how God uses all kinds of ways to take care of us in areas where we are unaware.

My renewed interest in Yoga came because a friend in another city began attending a Restorative Yoga class. I became intrigued and quite curious again about Yoga when she told me of the many benefits she is receiving. By the time each class ends she knows her body has let go of an incredible amount of tension which can build up so quickly in just a week’s time. When a new Yoga class opened up at our church’s family ministry center, at an optimal hour for me, I knew it was time to try this type of workout again. I was open to anything that could take me to deeper places of serenity.

The types of stretching, interesting poses, and focus upon deep breathing all are important components of the de-stressing processes of Yoga, but for me, the best thing about this class is the relaxing and spiritual environment that presents itself each week. Of course, I know this wouldn’t be possible without the incredible instructor God beautifully placed to lead this class. It’s evident that the Spirit of God is leading through her. When we’re in the pose with our hands together she often says, “Lift your hands in prayer to God.” This place becomes a worship workout with directions like that. The music she chooses to play during our class connects me to the heart of God. That’s where it dawned on me that there is a place of rest and serenity that is a melancholic joy.

It’s good the lights were low on Tuesday because my face got all scrunched up, my eyes became teary, and my nose sniffled with the closing music. The instrumental music that closed out our workout was Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. Later that afternoon while doing some things around the house, I tuned into my favorite Pandora station: Lullabye Radio. Two instrumental songs played: Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. I sobbed. I knew it wasn’t accidental that I was hearing those two songs again.

I thought, “God, why am I hearing both of those songs again?” It’s like He said, “It’s not the beauty of the melody that is bringing on the tears of melancholy, but there are some of the words of the songs I need to remind you of.” This phrase from Amazing Grace captured me, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” From Be Still My Soul, I focused on, “Bear patiently the cross of grief and pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide. Through thorny way leads to a joyful end.”

I experienced a melancholic joy because even in the sorrowful place of missing my sister, Kimberly, I was overcome with joy because God’s goodness and graciousness was all around me. I had only to open the eyes of my heart, soul, and body to see it. It is in that place that I choose to continue living.

I will continue loving the One who loved me before I was ever born. I will continue being on the look out every day for things to write down in my thankfulness journal that come from Him. I will continue deepening those relationships most dear to me and cultivate the new ones that God brings into my life. This community of family and friends brings incredible meaning to my life.

I will be comforted everyday in the hope that I will spend not only 10,000 years in the perfectly prepared Home awaiting me, but will stay there forever. It’s in that place that I can gaze on Jesus who redeemed me, my sister, my mother and all others who put their faith and trust in Him alone. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully… I Corinthians 13:12 The suffering of Jesus made possible the joy in sorrow I am now discovering which will one day be made perfect.

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Joy Out of Despair

A while back I had the joy of leading my Bible study group since our leader was out of town. The lesson was from 1 Samuel 1. Many of us who were brought up in church are quite familiar with the story of Hannah. She was barren, prayed for a son, and God answered. Many times in our study we spend most of the time focusing on the main character of the story. Usually this would be Hannah. In reality, however, the primary character is God. In my study, I focused on the character of God and how he responds to someone in great distress and need.

This story takes place in a time when polygamy was the norm. This was not God’s perfect plan, but the culture embraced it. And, it always made life messy for everyone. Hannah’s husband had two wives. The other wife, Peninnah, had children, Hannah had none. It appears that Peninnah’s main goal in life was to make life miserable, even unbearable for Hannah. She wanted to crush her.

The Message, I Samuel 1:6, reveals the true environment for Hannah, “But her rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year.” All of this finally took its toll on Hannah. She stopped eating. She was despondent. She wept. She was crushed. At least she felt crushed. But, she wasn’t.

She went to the sanctuary of the Lord and she cried out to God in prayer. “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” (v 10, NIV) I read this verse in 13 translations and this is what I found about her emotional and physical condition:

  • She was in deep anguish
  • She was in bitterness of soul
  • She was deeply hurt
  • She was crushed in soul
  • She was in great distress
  • She was resentful
  • She was sad
  • She cried bitterly
  • She was brokenhearted
  • She was bold enough to ask for something big.

This was severe hurting and she did severe crying! She was in excruciating emotional pain. She came as she was. She was even vulnerable enough for Eli, the priest to see her in this condition. She was desperate. She was broken. What did God do? He heard, He comforted, He restored, He understood, He answered. He blessed. He restored her physically and emotionally. Verse 18, 19 says, “She went on her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord.”

Four weeks ago I found myself in the midst of all the emotions that Hannah experienced. My despair was different from hers, but every bit as intense. My sister died. She lost her battle with cancer. Kimberly was 6 years younger than me and what joy came to my life when she was born! We loved each other deeply. We valued this special relationship and honored each other in ways that allowed us to nurture one another in the good times of life and in the bad times of life. We mothered each other, we were best friends, we were blood sisters, but more than that, we were soul sisters. We understood each other. We could be real with each other. We accepted each other even though we were very different.

SO many gifts received through this amazing woman! My loss is deep. My hurt is deep. My grief is deep.

I am greatly blessed to have family and friends who understand this deep agony. None of them have the attitude of, “Get over it.” They let me talk. They let me feel. They let me cry. They check on me. They pray for me. Oh, how this helps! God is using so many to help me walk this journey.

Even though these precious ones are helping me walk this journey, I know that no one can comfort me in those deepest places where the deepest pain resides in my soul like Jesus. He knows every little thing about me. He knows what each pain is connected to. He has perfect understanding of all the inward workings of my heart and soul. He knows how to give me the comfort, restoration and healing that needs to ultimately come. He is present. I must be aware of that Holy Presence and spend lots of time resting in that place.

What are the results of going to God in our brokenness, pain, and desperation? What happens when we come to him with sobs of grief and hurt and pure honesty? It takes us to a deeper place of knowing God. It takes us to a deeper place of trusting God. It takes us to a place of humility. It takes us to a deeper place of surrender. It takes us to a deeper place of worship. It takes us to a place of hope and healing.

We are always welcomed into God’s presence just as we are. These words penned by David Crowder in the song “Come As You Are” express this place so well.

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken-hearted, let rescue begin
Come find your mercy, oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal.

My sister found Heaven’s perfect joy and healing when she took her final breath here on Earth and went safely Home to live forever with her Beloved Jesus. For us still here, we can be assured that mourning doesn’t last forever. It is for a season. There is an ebb and flow to this time of suffering. The time of tears will be further and further apart. I have faith and hope because of the Words of Life that I find in the promises of scripture and because of the One I’ve put my trust in.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” David’s words in Psalm 30:11-12. These are words for me . . . and perhaps for you today!

Don’t Worry about the Didn’t

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Last year at the beginning of the New Year I was proud of myself for sitting down and working on some goals. One of those goals was better time management. I didn’t do as well as intended but one thing I’m learning through this is – there is no reason to beat myself up over it. Life happened. That life event that I had no control over knocked the wind out of my sails. Some could shake their heads at me and think, “You’ve got to be kidding! That’s nothing. Pick yourself back up and get going.”

Well, I did keep going but my journey for awhile was hard. It affected every part of me: It affected my sleep, my inner peace, my joy, my outlook on life. Part of my “time management” plan was that by such and such hour of my morning I would have accomplished some intentional and specific tasks and then get on with my day.

It looked good on paper. I know getting things down on paper is extremely helpful. Many times it’s the thing that moves us toward success. But, when life circumstances affect the deep parts of our soul, we have to ride it out.

We have no idea what it’s going to look like. We have no idea how long it will take. We have no idea how long the unpleasantness will last. But, as believers in Christ, we know one morning we will wake up and restful sleep will have returned. Sweet rest, deep rest will again be a reality. The day will be lived in a place of order and peace. The day will close and there will have been joy.

As the first month of 2017 comes to a close, I don’t have to worry about that specific “didn’t”. I can be content with the “did” because God did a work in me. There’s joy after the struggle because of the new work that took place within me. It took me to new places of dependence on God, new places of transformation, new places of knowing more about myself. Places that needed to be tended to and listened to.

Difficult times will come again that will hinder “my plans” that will hinder “your plans.” What do we do? We ride out the storm knowing Jesus the living water, loving water, and lasting water is with us. He doesn’t let us go – because He can’t. It’s not His character. In Isaiah 61 we are told that He gives good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, comfort to the hurting, bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. (The Message)

How will you ride out the storm this year? How much deeper do you want to go with Him in 2017?

Your Hardest Task

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A couple of weeks ago I went by our local used bookstore and came across a book I heard about from a group of women who had read it in their book club. I’m always on the lookout for a good deal, so grabbed it. Three dollars is not bad for a like new hard-back book! In The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith, I again am reminded of a gift we can give ourselves everyday of our life. It’s the gift of silence. It’s something our soul desperately needs in order to find a place of rest and peace in our soul, if only for a few moments. It’s a gift we can give ourselves everyday and it is restorative medicine for our soul.

However, there are just too many reasons we find to not do it. There are too many electronic devices calling our names to pick up. There are little ones calling our name. There may be a spouse calling our name. There are voices in our head vying for attention. There are errands to run, jobs to get to, appointments to make, etc. The list of what someone called the tyranny of the urgent is endless!

Here’s an idea – what if we made sure to find in our day only 5 minutes to practice being still with God without any distraction. It might surprise us what that gift of silence will do.

It will help us get “centered”. What does “centered” really mean? I love this definition: having the specified subject as the focal element. We’re not to just empty our mind of everything. We’re to put the most important One at the center. Out of the right “centering” our day will find more peace and order, even when surrounded by chaos.

In this book the author has some practical tips on ways to find those 5-10 minute quiet moments during the day and what to do with them when found:

  • Look for little free spaces in your day, such as a break between activities.
  • Get up a little earlier.
  • Leave for you next appointment a little sooner so that when you arrive you will have extra time to find a quiet place and “just be.”
  • If struggling with thoughts running to and fro during this time of silence, have a notepad nearby to jot things down that may come to your mind. Examples are: a phone call you need to make, laundry that needs to be done. Writing down these things can help quiet your mind.
  • Reading the Bible for a minute or two can help us usher in this time of quiet.

What’s the real purpose of this quietness? It’s a place where I can hear from God. I desperately need to hear. The distractions of life will not allow me to hear from Him. My life will spin out of control if I don’t hear from Him. I will not love others well if I don’t hear from Him. I will not enjoy this life to the fullest if I do not hear from Him. As James Bryan says, “The God who is good can only reach us when we are quiet.” Let’s do whatever it takes to find that place of quiet today, tomorrow, and every day ahead. It’s a treasured gift I can give myself today, tomorrow, and all my days. The cost is pretty small when you think about it. But the dividends are unbelievable.

“Your hardest task—do you even know what it looks like? It’s being still. Still does not have movement, still does not have sound, still does not have a committee meeting in your head, still is peaceful, still is quiet, still is open and ready, still is at ease, still is waiting peacefully, still is available to receive.” Allie Frankfurt

Lord, help me to find space in my day to unplug from noisy distractions. It’s here  I become more and more aware of your goodness and love that nourish my soul.

Five God Given Gifts That Bring Serenity

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Being a Transformational Life Coach brings me great joy! I get to see how God is already at work in the lives of those I coach. I leave sessions in a greater awe of who God is and Who He is in the life of the person being coached. To see a person made in the image of God discover how to move forward in those areas where he or she desires growth – what an opportunity! Coaching empowers them to live in a way that brings more life satisfaction and ultimately more joy.

A few weeks ago, I came away with something new. The person I coached shared with me an excellent way of refocusing on those days when we’re in need of a “soul lift”. It’s a way of “grounding” ourselves in those moments where we may feel stressed, overwhelmed, or just in the pit. It’s a way to find relief using gifts that God has given to all of us. The gifts are our five senses: hearing, feeling, tasting, seeing, and smelling. It’s tuning in to all of these senses within the same moment of time.

I am practicing being more mindful of the good things that come from harnessing those senses.

This morning the taste of vanilla coffee, the warmth felt from our gas logs, the scent of peach lotion on my hands, the satisfaction my eyes received from my made up bed, hearing my husband’s voice all bring me to a serene place. They are gifts I will thank God for and know they will be there for me another day.

Today let’s discover, through tuning into our senses, the places we can find tranquility. Why not take out a pen and paper and get creative! Using the last paragraph as an example, practice this right now. How can you use your five senses, hearing, feeling, tasting, seeing, and smelling to create a place of serenity?

Let me know what you discover. Your comments are invaluable!

 

 

21 Ways to Loosen Up

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Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/mrbeck/2720291649

February 7, 2015, is a day that will stay etched in my mind forever. It was the birthday where two digits turned and the day we decided to start looking at selling our house and buying another. It was an emotional day! So, in two months we sold the house where we’d lived for fourteen years and bought another. Moving and purging a house where we lived for fourteen years was a rough and rocky journey. But, it got done through the strength God gave and the help that came through family and friends.

Something I found while purging was a square, rubber gadget used for gripping the lid on a tight jar so it could be loosened enough to open. It just happened to have words written on it that said: Getting a Grip on Wellness. Needless to say, I was wound tight and needed help! I love the hints that are listed on this little yellow gadget:

  • Laugh
  • Share your feelings
  • Pray often
  • Spend 30 minutes a day doing something you like
  • Think “hope”
  • Stop global whining
  • Exercise regularly
  • Have a positive attitude
  • Hug a child
  • Read a book
  • Tell the faith story
  • Forgive an enemy
  • Pet a dog or cat
  • Encourage a friend
  • Celebrate life
  • Say “Yes”
  • Thank and praise God all day long
  • Pray for someone
  • Smile at a grouch
  • Sing along with the radio
  • Study the Bible

I know I was running on adrenaline for weeks, so by the time we closed on the sell of our house, I was wound tight, and had to figure out how to get a “grip” on myself. This goal became the topic that my life coach and I discussed last week. Quite a few of the suggestions from this list surfaced as the way to get back to where I needed to be. Stillness with God, taking daily walks, and working on a loved hobby were the three things I am making sure are included in my day. It’s amazing to see and feel the tension leave that built up during this stressful time. Being intentional about priorities takes discipline, but it is the way of getting a grip on life and overall wellness that result in joy and freedom.

Help! I’m Coming Undone

In the stillness-He is there

My emotions have been all over the map for many months, and with good reason. My mother died a few months ago, my sister is on a difficult cancer journey. I’m twelve hours away from her, and seventeen hours away from my grieving daddy. I also let go of some ministries I dearly loved. And, now we’re in the process of selling our house and buying another. So, there are many mornings I get up feeling crazy!

What’s kept me from totally unraveling is falling on my face and having a talk with my heavenly Father. That conversation goes like this:

  • I’m overwhelmed. God says. “I’m here.”
  • I’m sad. God says, “I’m here.”
  • I’m anxious over a big decision. God says, “I’m here.”
  • I’m scared. God says, “I’m here.”
  • I don’t understand. God says, “I’m here.”
  • I’m exhausted. God says, “I’m here.”

The Lord God, the great I AM – He meets me where I am.

My sister’s house is adorned with scripture plaques. Almost every wall is decorated with something spiritual. I love being surrounded by such beauty! My favorite plaque has these words:

In the stillness, He is there. 

These words are taken from I Kings 19 when Elijah is fleeing from Queen Jezebel who is ready to take him out. He is running scared. He is exhausted physically and emotionally. God miraculously fed him on the journey and gave him rest. With his replenished soul and body, he travelled 40 days and 40 nights to meet with his God on Mt Horeb, the same place God manifested his glory to Moses. After spending the night in a cave, God commanded him to present himself on the mountain for the Lord was going to pass by. God sent a powerful wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but He was not in those manifestations of nature. God came to him in quietness. “And the word of the Lord came to him…a gentle whisper.” F.B. Myer says of this encounter: There the forces of Nature spoke to Elijah’s varying moods. In the fire, the earthquake, and the tempest he heard the voices of his own soul. ….Then the accents of the “still small voice” fell upon his ear, calming quieting, soothing.

F.B. Myer also says that God does not judge us by our moods. I say, “Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!” I can pour out my soul to Him sharing every emotion imaginable and in His still, soothing voice He says, “I am here.” The great I AM is with me. That is enough. I am helped. I am calmed.

 

Words I Needed to Hear

Cherry BlossomsThere have been times in my life when I have said the words, ” I can’t handle this any more.” Those times have been few, and when I said them it was with fear and trembling. I hated to hear myself say them, but I did. Those times are forever etched in my memory. I can remember the place, the time of year, and  what precipitated those moments that brought me to my knees in despair before God. They are as clear as a bell. During those times I felt as if I was drowning and couldn’t find my way out. There have been only three times that those words have come out of my mouth. One time was just a few weeks ago. I was on a trip to Texas where I was combining seeing my sister with a trip on to my parents. This trip to see my sister was such a special one for me. In just a few weeks she would face having a serious 10 hour surgery to remove cancer in her body. What she has already been through and what she had ahead of her in just a short while is excrutiatingly painful for her and for us who love her so. Our sister time visit was delightful. The day before I was to fly to see my parents we phoned our dad to check on him and Mother. There was sadness in his voice as he shared that Mother had stopped eating. She was in her 8th year of Alzheimers. We knew the day would come when this would happen, but we were not ready for it.

Daddy has kept Mother at home all these years and taken good care of her. She was now bedridden.  A ten day trip eventually turned into twenty-four. Hospice was coming every two days and each time they came they sensed that that was probably the last time they would have the privilege of caring for her. Because Mother stopped eating and drinking we believed she would be leaving us within the week. However, our days are numbered and only  God knows the day we will draw our last breath. Mother lingered two weeks. Those were some of the most emotionally difficult days of my life. It took a physical and emotional toll on me. After returning home, I realized I was totally depleted in every area of my life. I was an emotional wreck and a physical wreck because I hadn’t slept well in weeks. A friend texted to check on me and asked how I was doing. My reply was pretty much, “I’m a mess.” I couldn’t visualize coming out of this. Her words to me were, ” You will be fine, Kristi. God will take care of you.” She also said, “Please rest and make “selfish” decisions so you can heal.” I said, “Thank you. I needed to hear those words.

How could she be so sure I would be fine? Those are pretty bold words. First, she has experienced loss and pain in her own life and second, she knows her God. She has studied the Word of God. She knows His character and therefore, her faith is in Him. He promises He will never forsake us or leave us. He promises that He will hold us with His righteous right hand. He promises to take care of those who trust in Him. You know what else? She knows me. She knows where my faith and trust and security lie. It’ s in the living God. She knows too, the trials I’ve encountered  and that God has always given me the strength and grace to get back up and keep going. She reminded me of what I already knew but needed to be reminded of. Yes, I was going to be fine because of the Who in my life. It’s so easy to get caught up on the what, the how, the why instead of the Who. That’s where I must focus. I needed to get my eyes on the God who loves me so and just happens to also be crazy about me! And, yes, He sometimes says, Come Away My Beloved and take special time to care for yourself. I also took my friend’s advice and began doing those other things of self care that were also needed in order for the healing to begin. Again, God has shown His faithfulness.

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

Man and woman painting wall.

The walls in our bedroom were freshly painted and the color was perfect. Now it was time for the really fun part: painting the baseboards and crown molding. I really hadn’t put a lot of thought in to the type of sheen of the paint we’d be using for the trim. I just took the old can of paint we’d used many years before and told the man I wanted the same color and type of paint from that can. I realized we were using different brands of paint, but didn’t really think that would matter. So, he mixed it up. We began painting. My husband graciously did the crown molding and I did the baseboards. After it dried I realized it was really shiny and I wasn’t too happy about it having such a glossy look on the crown molding.

I found myself feeling very guilty about my discontent and dissatisfaction and felt I was being way too picky. I knew I needed to pray about it, asking God to forgive me for my ungrateful attitude and to help me change it. I thought I’d also verbalize a prayer of thanksgiving which was truly an act of my will. My prayer was: “Thank you God, for that shiny trim.” Then my husband came in and said, “What do you think of the paint job?” Desiring to be honest in our communication, I said, “The trim is a little too shiny for my liking, but it is okay.” He blessed me by replying, “Go buy some more paint. I think it’s too shiny, too.” I was elated! I believe my husband’s understanding and willingness to re-paint what he’d already done was somehow connected to the choice I’d earlier made to be grateful and choose to find contentment in the semi-gloss that really wasn’t too “semi”. I’m also very grateful for a husband whose desire was to please me even if it cost him extra time, energy, and money. And, he did it all with joy!

All situations may not always work out quite as positively as this did, but this was an opportunity to practice being thankful for something I wasn’t happy about. I pray that this kind of thankfulness would become easier for me. I need to grow in realizing that what brought discontent was something of temporal value, not eternal.

Holding On In The Storm

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Photo courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/panduadnyana/12168475944

On Sunday nights my husband and I host a home Bible study. We are using a very effective method of study called “Discovery Bible Study”. It is one of the most simple yet powerful study methods I’ve ever seen. We use 5-15 verses of scripture, read them in two different translations, close our Bibles, mention everything we can remember from the passage, and then look at the scriptures again. A DBS is built around 3 questions: What does this passage teach us about God? Then, about man? Then, what is there in this passage to obey? The last and most important thing we share is our personal application statement that is called the “I Will” statement.

Sunday night, May 18th, we were studying Acts 27:27-44. This story is about Paul and 276 others being on a ship that was caught in a great storm. They had to abandon the ship and get to shore by swimming or grabbing onto a plank or other type of broken piece of the ship. All made it to shore safely. I really wasn’t in much of a frame of mind that night to be in Bible study. I was in a deep storm of my own and would have preferred to have just been alone. I’m sure I didn’t enter into much of the discussion. I was in a place of deep emotional sadness. My sister, whom I love dearly, who is also like a best friend, and at times has mothered me, even though she’s younger than me, is battling cancer. I’d just received word that the present chemo wasn’t working so she’d have to begin a stronger chemo. Then, after three more months, she’d have to have to endure a very serious 10 hour surgery to remove the cancer that’s in two different places. I was overwhelmed with despair and in the pit of anxiousness

I knew what my “I will” statement “should” be, but I was struggling to verbalize it. Just as Paul and the other passengers had to let go, jump out of the ship and do what they could to get to land, I knew I too, had to let go of my despair that night and grab on to Jesus in my storm. So, my statement: “I will grab on to Jesus and hold on in this storm. My sister is doing all she can to weather this storm, which is much harder than mine, so and I must do the same.”

I read a quote recently that said “circumstances test our faith.” My faith has been tested many times before, but this is a new journey and my faith is being tested again. I’ve had many more days of weakness and tears since those moments in May, but I know what to do when those storm clouds start rolling in. I hold onto Jesus. I know He always holds onto me and that He’s holding onto my precious sister.