I was a week past deadline on this post.

I sat at the keyboard for two days straight while fever swallowed up my hours and I mopped up my nose with a growing pile of tissues, gathering like soggy clouds in my wastebasket. And my fingers hovered over the keys. Backspace gobbled up my words faster than I could get them down and I must have started five or six posts before the letters trailed off and got stringy and anemic like my story was being siphoned off and stolen away. I wanted to blame it on the flu, because who can think clearly and write in a cohesive way when you’re fighting off tiny viruses, but I knew it was more than that. I knew I was fighting more than my body in trying to write this post.

I messaged Kris and told her I was trying, I asked for direction and she offered prayer and so much grace. I reached out to some writer friends who get the struggle to nail down words during hard seasons. Who understand the work it is to show up and say something and the sheer joy it is to produce anything we’re proud of because so often the battle to get to the blank screen means wiping the slate of all the better things we’ve already read by writers who seem to have killed their demons and slayed their obstacles and are rat-a-tat-tapping out their life’s work to their receptive audience of faithful readers.

And I was struggling, folks.

I am the girl who struggles. Flails about, really. Maybe we all do in some way or another, I used to be so much better at hiding it. But I’ve been particularly humbled during this failing season, full of health problems, and mental illness, and life stresses. Hiding it doesn’t really work anymore.

I took a sabbatical from writing due to these mounting pressures, and had hopes that when I came back I would be able to do the work. Writing has always been the thing I do to feel God’s pleasure.

But writing isn’t enough without a life worthy of the words and this is the dilemma. Because our real lives aren’t always enough anymore. There’s a pressure to showcase our service with Instagrams of us serving the poor, or hashtagging causes on twitter, or selfies with the #leastofthese.

corner booth_GT

There’s pressure to be more and do more and we’ve all felt it. That slow churning ache that our one wild and precious life is slipping away and we’ve done nothing to make it matter. I’ve woken panicked that my life will be wasted because I wasn’t paying attention or doing enough.

Social media and blogging is like a catalogue of all the things you too, could be doing. It’s so easy to browse.

I dreamed grand dreams right here in the middle of the ordinary because everyone else seems to be able to pack their kids up and send them off to school or gather them at the table and homeschool them or be up all night with a toddler and still make room to do and go and be. Other people seemed to be able to teach bible studies and write books and travel and speak on stages or pushed up close with their knees almost touching over coffee while intimate confessions are spilled and the gospel is oozing into the cracks. Other people can bake casseroles and visit the sick and sit with the dying. Other people can write about the injustices in the world without the rage of the heartbroken, sagging under the burden of being too sensitive and fragile to hold much at all. A person whose capacity is so low they have to retreat like a child, covering their eyes and plugging their ears while drowning out the shattering pain in the world.

Other people can minister, other people can matter. In these moments I tell God He made me all wrong.

And so I sat here at my keyboard with accusations hurling through my mind- How can you write about hospitality? You haven’t even been able to get out of bed for half of the year? Let alone serve anyone or open your home. You can’t visit the sick, you are the sick. You can’t minister to the needy and the poor, you are the neediest and the most pitiful. How can you write about ministry or strangers or meeting needs? You can’t even manage without help. How can you write about anything at all?

You’ve done nothing to make you worthy of this space.

And so I didn’t write anything at all. I didn’t want to make a mess at the table. I didn’t want my soiled and dirty and wretched offering of not enough to be served up for everyone.

I didn’t want to be pitied or soothed like a petulant child. I wanted to be admired. I wanted people to say, look at how she does all of that, how she pours out over and over and God meets her. Isn’t God good? I want to be like her! I wanted to have something worthy to bring.

So I’ve struggled for days to write a single word, because my flesh wants to tell you of the ways I serve my church, and the hurting people. It wants to tell you of the difference I’ve made in that one person’s life just by being a presence who says, you don’t have to pretend everything’s fine.

I want to tell you of the ways I’ve opened my home and set the table and pulled down the wine glasses and lit the good candles and said come. But I’ve done none of this lately. I would have to stretch my story so far back to tell you of the girl who did.

I’ve barely managed myself most days.

And so tonight I sat on the couch and I cried. Sobbed really. At all the emptiness I feel when I try and just can’t. At the resentment I have in my heart when I will to be someone who can do, and find instead I am someone who just is. And I asked God, why, in the flood of tears. Why me? What could I possibly have to say anymore?

And maybe I didn’t hear it when I started typing. And maybe I don’t even know if I truly grasp it now because I’ve told myself this too many times to count and it’s still ridiculous and too scandalous to swallow.

But this is the gospel, nothing more, nothing less. The grace we find at the table. Come, just as you are.

While we were sinners, wretched and unworthy with no notable Instagrams or achievements, with no accolades or retweets, with more failures than we can count, with baggage and trauma and stress, with ministries that fail and intentions that are full of flesh, so reeking with need for a savior, Christ died for us. He pulled the chair out as wide as the cross and he offered us a seat at His grace table.

And then I typed, I aimed as small as a girl can aim. Just a tear drop in a bucket really. And it was enough.

 

Alia Joy Hagenbach / Posts / Blog
Alia Joy is a storyteller, speaker, and homeschooling mother of three making her home in Central Oregon. She shares her story in broken bits and pieces on her blog and finds community where other’s stories intersect. She's a cynical idealist who is always trying to find the beautiful bits in the midst of the messy and broken. She believes even the most broken stories have a redeemer and she'll always dance to the good songs. She is a regular contributor at (in)courage, SheLoves, The Mudroom, and Deeper Waters and can be found on twitter hashtagging all the things, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and making goo-goo eyes at her husband.
  • SimplyDarlene
    SimplyDarlene
    http://www.simplydarlene.com

    Miss Alia,

    Why is it so hard to extend the same grace to our own selves? The grace God gives. The grace we give others. I reckon you’ve hit on it here – when we whack ourselves with the measuring stick of social media, things get muddled in our hearts, in our walks.

    Thank you for sharing the vulnerable bits – because in doing so – you’ve shined Him.

    Blessings.

    March 2nd, 2016 9:43
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      And here’s the hard part. I want to see the beautiful things. I want my friends who are running their races to post those pictures and share their stories and tell their truths. I want to be the person who cheers the loudest when God moves in neighborhoods and at tables and in the hearts of His people. Those can all be good things. It’s just that without the gospel on repeat, it can get so easy to believe we are made right by the works of our hands and not the position of our hearts in response to Christ’s merciful grace. We forget we can come empty, we can come poor, we can come just as we are. So I’m preaching to myself to stop the idolatry of doing and being more. Obedience in the hidden places and faithfulness to the small. And I’m not aiming at anyone out there who is running their race just as God intends, in whatever lane God’s put them in. I’m staying in my lane, even if that sometimes means I don’t have anything to Instagram. 😉

      March 2nd, 2016 14:07
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  • Elizabeth Marshall
    http://www.elizabethwmarshall.com

    I love you and this. Every word. Every tissue and tear. Caught by the net of grace, His wide and wonderful grace net. Every stitch and thread woven from the blood of the Cross. Caught and held, as liquid reminders, salty like the sea that we are enough in our pain and grief, our suffering and our frozen states of I can’t evens. I know a bit of this. Perhaps not all. Folded up like a card table leaning in a dark coat closet. But more important? He knows it. And He will never leave or forsake. Have I told you.lately that I love love love you Alia Joy. You are named Joy. And you give the gift of that to us.

    March 2nd, 2016 9:47
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      Love you too. Thank you.

      March 2nd, 2016 14:15
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  • Kimberly Coyle
    Kimberly Coyle
    http://www.kimberlyanncoyle.com

    I needed this today. Thank you, Alia. Grace abounds.

    March 2nd, 2016 10:06
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      Because you freaking matter. More to come on that.

      March 2nd, 2016 14:16
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  • Linda Stoll
    http://www.lindastoll.net

    Dear Alia ~

    Let’s forget social media’s empty call and everybody and their brother’s expectations of who we should be … online and off.

    I want to come just as I am. Without one plea. Just like the old hymn sang.

    I’m grateful to know that I’m not the only one. That’s why I love you so …

    March 2nd, 2016 10:32
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      Better together, always. Thank you for being here with me.

      March 2nd, 2016 14:17
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  • Patty Scott
    http://heartshomeward.com

    Alia,
    This is beautiful. I am so grateful you wrote the real. I have committed to do the same. I don’t want to paint false pictures of half-reality (my kids loving home education, my husband and I on date-night and me serving or speaking). Those components of my life exist. I do share them. I want people to see the goodness of God in those positive parts. However, if I don’t write about the day my teen son and husband had a disagreement that derailed our family plans for that Saturday, or my wrestling with pride or feelings of desolation I am not showing the real. I put out a skewed image and that serves no one. We all have ugly woven in with the beautiful. I won’t refer you to posts of mine here – because this isn’t about gaining you as a follower. I do want you to know I’ve recently written about pride that makes us want others to see us as better than we are. I’ve talked about discouragement in other recent posts, coming to the end of ourselves and experiencing desolation when we feel we aren’t enough. I hear you. In my experience, the very discomfort that feels like my undoing is the bridge back to greater perspective and intimacy. I just want to say to you: keep telling it like it is. So many more are with you in this boat of struggling and feeling not enough and wishing for more from themselves than are in the other “well-decorated, perfect servant of Jesus” group. So many who put out the “best foot forward” posts aren’t even aware of how it hits the rest of us sometimes when we are down and wishing we could be doing even half of what they are. Keep it real, Alia. That is where truth is and truth always sets us free.

    March 2nd, 2016 11:18
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      I love that you’re being authentic and sharing the good with the bad. You keep on doing that, it’s so important. And while I do think it’s important to be authentic, not better or worse, in a way, we all put out a skewed image. It’s an image that is filtered through our own perceptions and experiences and what little we can actually communicate through some posts and pictures at a particular point in time. Sometimes I just have really bad days. Sometimes they’re weeks or months and I get especially tender to what others are doing. I do think it’s important too to know that while there’s space to be real and tell the truth about where we are, some people just aren’t ready to do that for various reasons and that’s fine. Social media and blogging has created a whole other pocket of reality that will never show everything and in my opinion, shouldn’t. Readers always say I write very vulnerably and I do. But I also hold stuff close, stuff that’s just for me, stuff that is no ones business because it’s not my story to tell. It’s ok to have a quiet private life and to hold some stuff back and for some people that’s the bad stuff. It can then look like they’re only sharing rainbows and butterflies but we can never really know what someone is going through, smiles or not. And everyone is at a different place even if our job as sisters in Christ is to journey together. So I just want to be super careful not to throw my sisters under the bus who tend towards more optimism and energy and are doers or whose posts or instagrams seem too glossy or filtered. Keeping it real, yes! Keeping it full of grace and gospel for ourselves and others, a must. I just want to make sure no one is feeling what they’re doing is not good enough on either side of the share it all/hold it back spectrum. We each weigh against the gospel the worth of our lives and find we are enough.

      March 2nd, 2016 14:32
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  • Dana Butler
    http://www.danalbutler.com

    You are so dear to my heart. Ugh. I adore you, friend. Thanks for the way you live and the way you love. You move me in my deep places.

    March 2nd, 2016 11:27
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      Shenanigators unite. Love you forever and ever.

      March 2nd, 2016 14:36
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  • Laurie
    http://www.LaurieKehler.com

    I soooo needed to read this today. Just to know, others feel like me at times. It can be disheartening to view social media and watch all the ‘perfect’ people with their perfect careers, homes, and families. Keep soldiering on sister! Transparent, flawed and honest is the way we should all come to the table.
    http://www.LaurieKehler.com

    March 2nd, 2016 12:00
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      I am so glad you feel seen where you are. It can be so hard to stack up a life and feel like it doesn’t even tip the scale in comparison to what everyone else is doing. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I just want to make sure we’re allowing for grace for some of that perfection. It can seem contrary because why would the ‘perfect’ people need it? But I really believe that everyone is fighting a hard battle. We don’t all show it in the same way and this can seem fake, and maybe some people are. I don’t know. But I do know that even the fake ones are needy. Maybe even more so because they haven’t recognized that deep hunger. So I’m so so glad you’re at this jacked up messy table with me with all the chipped cups and paper plates and forks with crooked tines. I am glad to be journeying with you in all the less than perfect and empty. And sometimes maybe we can even visit those spaces where everything is tidy and matching and there are doilies for our teacups and we can find a blessing in being cared for there too. We’re always better journeying together, we all hunger, some just riffle through the fridge instead of waiting for the table to be set perfectly. Still, we all need to be filled just the same.

      March 2nd, 2016 14:43
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  • Andi Cumbo-Floyd
    http://www.andilit.com

    On Saturday, I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber speak, and as usual, she cracked me open. She turned the parable of The Good Samaritan to new light and taught me that the neighbor in that story is the one in the ditch, the one who can’t help herself. And I think of all the ways I am unwell and unhelpful, of the way I most days just need to be alone, not serving, not opening my home, and I feel guilty. So thank you today for reminding me that when I’m in the ditch, it’s okay to just lay there and trust that God will send someone my way and find something good to draw out of it without me having to do a thing. Much love, beautiful woman.

    March 2nd, 2016 12:23
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      Oh yes. I’ve heard a similar sermon once on the same passage and it was so beautiful. The surrounding grace of God to hold weakness and even value it as something precious? Well that’s just something crazy in this world. Everything in us wants to fight it, to fight for value and worth. But I’ve said it before and the years have proved it true, I asked What if weakness is my spiritual gift? and I think God has answered. It’s not one anyone would choose because you feel a fool and a failure and mess. You feel like a ditch-layer and a needy one. Who doesn’t want to be the hero in that story? The one who does the right thing, not the one unconscious who needs to be lifted by the hand of God. But that ditch broken one? That one brought about the compassion and mercy in the world around him and that’s something.

      March 2nd, 2016 14:48
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  • Kristi
    http://Www.theflawedtreasure.com

    Alia- you may not have invited folks to your home and put on a lavish meal with beautiful decorations anytime lately… But you have ABSOLUTELY rolled out the red carpet and made me feel welcomed and loved and accepted – and more courageous to continue being myself.
    You wrote: ” “How can you write about hospitality? You haven’t… serve[d] anyone or open[ed] your home… You can’t minister to the needy and the poor…” That’s not true at all! You have been so utterly hospitable to me and your blog and on your Facebook page. You welcome us all and challenge us all and serve and minister to all of us needy, poor, broken people. It may not look like Martha Stewart style of hospitality – but it’s true heart to heart hospitality. And I love you for it!

    March 2nd, 2016 13:03
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      I love you. Preaching the gospel on repeat. I wander so easily. Thank you, cousin.

      March 2nd, 2016 15:41
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  • Elizabeth

    You are admired by me for having the courage to be open and honest. I can relate to every word you wrote! I empathize!

    Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone.

    “While we were sinners, wretched and unworthy with no notable Instagrams or achievements, with no accolades or retweets, with more failures than we can count, with baggage and trauma and stress, with ministries that fail and intentions that are full of flesh, so reeking with need for a savior, Christ died for us. He pulled the chair out as wide as the cross and he offered us a seat at His grace table.”

    It is enough. <3

    March 2nd, 2016 13:51
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      It is enough. Thanks for joining us at the table, Elizabeth.

      March 2nd, 2016 16:07
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  • Carol Longenecker Hiestand
    http://www.carolhiestand.com

    Alia, I have been following along here – and really appreciate your openess and helping us understand, or at least see more of what you are dealing with. . thank you.

    March 2nd, 2016 17:20
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    • Alia Joy Hagenbach
      http://aliajoy.com

      Thanks Carol. I don’t know if I told you or not because everything was a bit fuzzy for awhile there but your card with the beautiful feather is hanging in my room. I see it every time I look up. It was a gift on a hard day and I don’t know if I ever thanked you. So thank you.

      March 2nd, 2016 20:13
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      • Carol Longenecker Hiestand
        http://www.carolhiestand.com

        i am glad it still speaks to you. I love the thought of hiding under his feathers. And you are so welcome.

        March 3rd, 2016 0:11
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  • Andrea

    On behalf of all of us who flail, who “sag under the burden of being too sensitive and fragile to hold much at all”, thank you. Your heartfelt honesty and vulnerability are more powerful than a lifetime of instagram worthy dinners and acts of service. You are a stunningly gifted writer, and never fail to minister grace to me through your words.

    March 2nd, 2016 18:30
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    • Alia Joy Hagenbach
      http://aliajoy.com

      Oh yes, so you get it too! Thank you for sharing with me. It’s all too much sometimes and that doesn’t mean we don’t care. Maybe we feel too much? Thank you for sitting at this table with me, sister.

      March 2nd, 2016 21:07
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  • ~Karrilee~
    http://abidingloveaboundinggrace.blogspot.com/

    {Insert gushing comment here… honestly – no matter what… every time.}

    Oh and this: check your calendar… April… May… June? Let’s make this thing happen for reals! 😉

    March 2nd, 2016 19:20
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      I’ll check and vox you. I have something every month but I can maybe sneak away for a night or two if it wasn’t on the weekend.

      March 3rd, 2016 0:31
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  • Jody Collins
    Jody Collins
    http://threewaylight.blogspot.com/

    I was having a conversation last night with a mutual F&C friend about the ways the bar has been set WAY TOO HIGH (via all kinds of social media channels) for what is supposed to be ‘normal’ for Christian women and young moms (and the rest of us.) It begs the question that perhaps JUST loving Jesus, hugging husbands, keeping house and blessing/pouring life into our kids is somehow not enough. When, in actuality it may be all that God has called us to do well. It IS all God has called us to do, IMHO.

    March 2nd, 2016 21:17
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      It’s a strange thing because I remember being a new mom back in 2000 and I had really severe postpartum depression and felt so alone and so overwhelmed and my mom was in India and I had nobody to help me out or to say that I would survive what I was going through. I couldn’t google symptoms because we didn’t have a computer, was there even anything much online back then? I don’t remember. Those years were hard and lonely. So I look around and I am so glad for the communities of like-minded people who can support and connect with each other and even with those they’d never meet in person. For those of us who struggle to leave the home and are often irregular at church or flaky with friendships because we never know when we’ll be ill or when we’ll be struggling, it can be a lifeline to feel connected to a body. For those times when I was sick last year and in and out of the hospital, it was pure grace. I think the trouble is that in many ways social media can also amplify the people who do a lot and everyone is prone to comparing. It’s human nature. So you see those who are doing all the things and it’s hard not to feel like maybe you should be doing all those things too. I think the gospel grounds us back into the place where we can have acceptance for being faithful to the small and brave enough to step into the spaces God calls us to, whether that’s speaking or writing or changing diapers or earning a paycheck or anything in between. I don’t think we have to choose, I think we have to live our lives as faithfully as we can in the seasons we’re in and trust there’s grace enough for it all.

      March 3rd, 2016 0:50
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  • Annie Barnett
    http://besmallstudios.com

    Always, always grateful to read your words, Alia. You write right to the gut, and I’m grateful for you.

    March 2nd, 2016 22:40
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      You don’t know how happy I was when I saw your voxer message. I’ve missed you. How about you bring yourself and Ted and the girls out west for a visit? How about that.

      March 3rd, 2016 0:51
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  • Rachelle

    Thank you for this. It resonates to my core. Like a gong being hammered and the sound reverberates in my soul. Thank you.

    March 2nd, 2016 22:51
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      I guess I should listen to my mother more. I struggled for days and could not get a word out but these ones. And when I read them to her in tears asking if it was good enough to just meet the deadline, she told me, there are others like you. Others that need to know they matter too. I couldn’t really hear her that night but I’m swallowing it more now. We need safe spaces at the table to come as you are and be met. Thank you for sharing the table with me.

      March 3rd, 2016 0:54
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  • Leah Adams
    http://www.leahadams.org

    In the past month I have learned that God values our self-care as much as He values our soul care. We cannot do a thousand things to the glory of God and I think He is pained when we try. The first and greatest commandment….love the Lord your God with all your heart. That’s it. So often I try to do other things FOR Him and forget that commandment. He just wants me….He just wants you. Such a beautiful, honest, and transparent post. It speaks deeply.

    March 3rd, 2016 5:42
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      Amen. I so get that internal pressure (and sometimes external) to do more FOR God. He never asked us to perform, only to abide. Thank you.

      March 3rd, 2016 17:04
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  • Jill M
    http://www.IowaHuntress.com

    Love your words. They are a salve to my soul. I am making an effort, to be not fearful to share the imperfect anymore.

    March 3rd, 2016 10:29
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      I love that. Not fearful. And don’t get me wrong, not everything is meant for the internet. We can have grace with ourselves to hold some stuff back without feeling like a fraud or a fake for not revealing all. We can use wisdom to speak our truths in whatever form they come and to know we don’t have to choose between being loved and being known. At least not by God.

      March 3rd, 2016 17:06
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  • Anita
    http://Anita

    A talented and popular Christian singer once said that she was often asked when she would return to her ministry, meaning “You haven’t put out an album or gone on tour for some time.” She responded that no one asked her if she was serving her family well, loving her husband, cleaning the toilet, cooking meals, tending garden and friendships well and for the glory of God. It was her ‘gift’ they wanted to see on display.
    Thank The Lord He does see our hearts. Our broken, weary, over whelmed hearts are valued. He comes up close and personal with those who need a physician, never forsaking even those in the ditch, in the dark corners, or under the pile of blankets and tissues.

    March 7th, 2016 16:44
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      Yes, the faithfulness to small and unseen places is so important and even when we fail at those things, God comes near and lifts our heads. Thank you for this reminder.

      April 4th, 2016 12:36
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  • Luann
    http://thatswritefolks.blogspot.com/

    Your post reflects the reality of my life. You have given me the courage to (maybe) admit I can’t do it all. I want to, theoretically, but my anxiety is a bully that makes me retreat into a corner and preserve every iota of energy I’ve scraped together to care for my family and to do my job. As a therapist once said, I “present well.” So many who know me don’t really know me, and I’m afraid they would be shocked (and disappointed?) to know the truth about how much I struggle.

    March 22nd, 2016 9:54
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    • Alia Joy
      http://aliajoy.com

      Some people might be disappointed. It’s true. But more often than not, I’ve realized that many among us present well. And even more are hurting and tired and would love the space to come and say they cannot do it all either. Sometimes it takes someone willing to go first. I never cease to be amazed at the way God uses our honest hard places to minister to those around us and in turn to ourselves. Grace and peace to you in the struggle.

      April 4th, 2016 12:39
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