Archive | hope

I’m a Perfectly Normal Person (with Trichotillomania.)

One girls story of plucking, praying and finding peace.There is something I have never told anyone outside my immediate family and a very, very small circle of friends. As a matter of fact, as I once heard a little girl say, “I haven’t even told myself.” Or, I hadn’t until not long ago. Turns out, “telling myself,” and then others, was the absolute best decision.

There’s this thing I’ve dealt with nearly my entire life that I thought was just me. I thought I was alone in this, I thought it was a character flaw. I thought I was just a freak, and I used to cry myself to sleep over it, frequently. Good girls don’t have character flaws like this. They control themselves. They get over it. They grow up. I told myself.

And grow up I did. And yet, this thing stayed with me. As a matter of fact, it grew with me. It grew until it had me in a tizzy. It had me on my knees in prayer, it had me staring at myself in the mirror asking hard questions and (don’t laugh,) googling “what is wrong with me?!” Now, I’m not claiming to have been officially diagnosed. I have not sought psychological, professional help (more on that later,) but I know that I have Trichotillomania, because I live with it every day.

What is that?

Trichotillomania (trick-o-till-o-mania) is related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is a disorder that causes people (like myself) to obsessively, compulsively pluck their own hair. According to the inter-webs, it’s “chronic and difficult to treat,” the peak age of onset is 9-13 years of age, it may be triggered by depression or stress, but this is unknown. It is estimated to affect 2-4% of the world’s population, and out of those, 80-90% are women.

When did it start?

The first time I can remember plucking is when I was about four, but my mom tells me I started earlier than that. I became extremely aware of it when I was about seven. Ten and eleven were awful. Periods of stress during my teen years were also traumatic for my hair. I always thought it was just a bad habit, so I tried my best to stop, but I couldn’t.

Why do I do it?

Well, it’s an obsessive compulsion. For me, it’s primarily my eyelashes that take the hit. I used to think stress was my biggest trigger, but I think boredom is an even bigger trigger. Do you ever mindlessly scroll through Facebook or Pinterest when you know you should be sleeping? You just keep scrolling and scrolling, even though your mind is half-asleep. You are in a bit of a trance, and you’re decision-making is dulled. That’s exactly the same state that finds me pulling my eyelashes. We revert to these self-comfort, mind-numbing activities frequently when we’re stressed, so stress is related, but it’s the trance-like boredom that triggers the mania.

And by “mania,” I mean that quite literally. I go on plucking sprees against my better judgement. I often start without realizing it (especially when I was kid,) and then I have irrational thoughts like, “I’ll just get one more, then I’ll be done.” But you know how your brain is in that state. There’s never just one more. You have to put your foot down, or it will go on and on. And I desperately want to put my foot down, but I’m arguing with myself. Like you might say, “Gosh, I have to go to bed. This is ridiculous.” But your body just stays on the couch, flipping through the channels.

I sometimes cry while I’m plucking because, 1. it hurts! 2. I know, deep down, that I’m going to regret this “spree” in the morning, but I can’t bring myself to stop. But the more I pluck, the more sore my eyelashes become, and the more sore they are, the more I feel the urge to remove them. Some folks with Trichotillomania report an irrational notion that certain hairs are “evil” and must be removed because of this. For me, it’s more like, I just don’t like that one and need it gone and think I will feel “all better” once I pluck it. Of course, I don’t. I feel deep remorse and a stronger urge to pluck.

I have spoken to people with O.C.D. who cut themselves in this same way. It is not the result of self-hatred. It is more like scratching an itch, only the itch is in my mind. We simply have a irrational notion that we will feel relief if we cut or, in my case, pluck. And, in a way, that relief is there. Sometimes I even convince myself that it’s a good idea, in this “special case.” That’s why it’s a mental disorder. But I wake up the next morning and look in the mirror and cry, because no woman wants to go to work or to hang out with friends and have no eyelashes. It’s painful to see yourself and think, “I made myself hideous.”

What helps?

Like I said, I haven’t been “officially” diagnosed, but reading about the disorder has already helped me more than words can say. The most helpful thing I read was that this isn’t a character flaw, but a disorder and I’m not the only one who struggles this way. That may seem overly simplified, but it’s true. It helped me in leaps and bounds. The second-most helpful thing I learned is that triggers are very real. I try to avoid that mind-numbing twilight time when I’m most likely to start plucking. I try not to be alone during this time, because it is embarrassing to pluck in front of people and, if I catch it that early, I am still “in my right mind” enough to take heed.

Another thing that is helpful is keeping my finger nails long because it’s very difficult to pluck anything that tiny with long nails! Simple and almost silly, but very real for me! Also, wearing mascara, as finding the mascara under my nails grosses me out and tips me off that I’ve been plucking. Touching my eyelashes every once in a while, without plucking seems to help. I think about my eyelashes, I acknowledge them physically, and instead of plucking, I think, “Wow, it feels like my eyelashes are getting really long and thick. That’s great. Let’s keep it this way!” And move on.

The other thing that is hugely helpful is refusing to abuse myself for my own self-abuse. I used to get stressed or bored or what-not, start plucking, go on a plucking spree and wind up bawling my eyes out in the middle of the night, thinking about what an embarrassing failure I was. I felt ugly and out of control and deeply ashamed of myself. Now that I know it is a disorder that lots of other people have, I still sometimes pluck, but then I think. “Okay, I wish I hadn’t done that, but it happens sometimes. I’m not going to dwell on it. That will only cause more stress. I am going to move on and put that behind me. Maybe next time I’ll be able to resist.”

Other things you should know:

It helps me give myself some slack when I think about how many other people have Trichotillomania. I mean, I don’t want anyone else to go through what I go through, but seeing them live normal lives helps me live mine. Or their not so normal lives. Many famous people have Trichotillomania, such as actress Megan Fox. She has been treated in-hospital on three occasions and is very open about her disorder. Singers Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry have both “confessed to being trichsters” in interviews. (At least according to the internet…I’m not that great at keeping up with celebrities!)

There is not a defined way of treating Trichotillomania, such as a pill, but because it is thought to be a type of or closely related to OCD, help can be found in various types of therapy and anti-psychotics.

One girls story of plucking, praying and finding peace.

The rest of my story…

After years and years of struggling with Trichotillomania and not even knowing it, I finally made a Google search that changed my life and learned that I am not a freak. At this point, I talked to my sisters and, later, my parents. They all knew I had struggled with plucking as a child, but didn’t realize it was a disorder or that I still struggled with it as much as I did. (Though there were definitely times when the results were very noticeable, more often than not I was hyper-aware of how my eyelashes looked. It wasn’t as noticeable as I thought!)

At this point, my parents talked to me about getting help and, if recommended, medication. As of now, I’ve opted out. After all, this doesn’t really have a negative effect on my health and I am better controlled now than ever. I still pluck, but I don’t freak out when I do, and I think I do it less and less. I have thought about wearing false eyelashes, but I haven’t had a serious bald spot in a long time! For now, I want to do three things:

1. Blog about it and raise some awareness and simply let people know that I’m a perfectly normal person (with trichotillomania.) There is no shame in being diagnosed with a mental disorder, because it has nothing to do with the awesome person you are. My sister is diabetic, my brother has asthma, I have trichotillomania. If anyone has more questions for me, please feel free to leave a comment! If you are a fellow “trichster” who wants to talk, leave me your email address.

2. Donate to Wigs for KidsBecause the hair on my head happens to go untouched by my disorder, I have plenty of it to spare! I have donated my hair several times and, most recently, to Wigs for Kids. I chose them because they donate wigs to kids who experience baldness due to trichotillomania. Yes, I think it’s very sad when children lose their hair due to cancer treatments, but I also find it very sad to think of the shame a little girl feels at pulling her own hair. It is self-inflicted, but also unwanted, and those kids deserve wigs too!

3. Live my life without stopping every five minutes to worry about not having enough eyelashes! Like I said, I have more control now than ever, but I will probably struggle with this for the rest of my life. I might as well make the best of it and learn to live with it, rather than to constantly fight myself about it. Avoiding triggers, helping myself when I can and, when I can’t, not beating myself up about it—these are the things that keep me going. Life’s too short to worry about if my eyelashes are. ;)

“Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:30

resources:

The Trichotillomania Learning Center

Wigs for Kids

What Christians Need to Know about Mental Health by Ann Voskamp

Any and all kind and helpful comments are welcome. I would love to hear from folks who have overcome this or similar struggles! 

 

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who is invited?

Is the family of God exclusive or inclusive?

When I was about seventeen, I was attended a soiree. That’s right, not a party—a soiree. “Who is invited?” I had asked. My brother and sister who were sure the invitation included me, though that wasn’t completely evident. They were friends of the family hosting the event and I was an acquaintance of theirs. I put on my satin skirt and a black top, my mom gently suggested I put a little effort into my hair and we took the long drive to their secluded home.

It was Christmastime, there was wassail on the stove and horse devours on the coffee table and a shining grand piano that it would seem every guest knew how to play, but me. Everyone was very nice and I enjoyed my wassail and the live music, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I was out of place. The group seemed very exclusive and I couldn’t help but wonder if I hadn’t been invited at all.

Have you ever felt that way? It’s not the most pleasant feeling.

Now imagine receiving an invitation to a big, wonderful party (or soiree!) There is sure to be food and drink, live music and games, lots of laughing and talking and good times. Anyone is welcome, but you have to bring an invitation, and invitations are sent out at request. Would you consider this an exclusive party?

This is similar to a question a lot of people have about Christianity. If God is good, if God is love, how can He “send people to hell”? If you really loved people, you would be more tolerant, more inclusive. All people should be able to go to heaven when they die, right?

First of all, don’t take my word for this. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, emphasis mine.) It doesn’t take a scholar to interpret that verse. The great news is, everyone is welcome into the Kingdom of God, but there is only one road, one gate, one key that we all must use.

The Bible doesn’t just say, “God is loving,” it says “God is love.” (1 John 4:8.) That means that everything He does is love, even his “severe mercies” as Elisabeth Elliot called them.  Making only one “key” to heaven’s gate, that excludes all of the other keys we could possibly try, and that’s done out of love for us. He isn’t trying to trick us, there is no riddle. There’s just one key. And the other keys? The key we make ourselves, the key someone else presses into our hands, the key we found somewhere along the way–they won’t turn the lock.

There was a time when God spoke to people only through occasional prophets on misty, glowing hilltops. He gave us the law carved in stone, there was no “buts” about it and we were swallowed by the earth if we failed to live up to those expectations. He was already Love, but His love for had not been consummated on the cross, yet. Out of love, He showed us that we cannot work for love. Love that we have to work for is not love at all. He chose a high priest, a Jewish man of a certain line, to communicate with Him. Communication was more tense than any meet-the-parents dinner. The priest entered God’s presence only once a year, and with so many particulars, Moses wrote an entire book of instructions based on God’s words to Him. The priests wore a rope round their waist when in God’s presence so their dead body could be dragged out if God struck them down for some reason (no one else could enter The Holy of Holies to retrieve him.)

When Solomon built the temple, the people who wished to worship were segregated into several sections. The Most Holy Place was for The High Priest only. Beyond that was the Court of the Priests. Beyond that was a court where men were allowed. Then there was a court outside of that for women. Beyond that was The Court of the Gentiles were non-Jews were permitted to enter. (Here’s a little diagram.) The curtain that hung in front of the Most Holy Place was a physical and spiritual barrier between God and you and I. (Personally, I am not a priest or a man or a Jew.)

However, when Jesus died, a miracle occurred.

And then Jesus cried out once more, loudly, and then He breathed His last breath. At that instant, the temple curtain was torn in half, from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:50-51)

I can’t get over the way the author of Hebrews puts it:

So, my friends, Jesus by His blood gives us courage to enter the most holy place. He has created for us a new and living way through the curtain, that is, through His flesh. Since we have a great High Priest who presides over the house of God, let us draw near with true hearts full of faith, with hearts rinsed clean of any evil conscience, and with bodies cleansed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

The curtain that God Himself instructed man to create, was torn in half by the power of God’s love. His message was loud and clear: all are welcome in His presence, in his family and in His unending love. Men, women, Jews, Gentiles…absolutely everyone. 

That doesn’t undo what Jesus said about Himself. He is still the only way into God’s presence. We must come through he new and living way, through His flesh. That’s the only way we can have “true hearts, full of faith…rinsed clean of any evil conscience.” The party I was speaking of, is still invitation only. But there’s a catch: the invitation is open to anyone. As a matter of fact, when you come to the door empty handed, Jesus opens the door and gives you His own invitation to use as passage.

All you have to do is come to the door, knock and say, “I don’t have an invitation, I can’t get one on my own. But I want to come into the party and I know you can help.”

“It will not be just the children of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob who celebrate at their heavenly banquet at the end of time. No, people will come from the East and the West—and those who recognize Me, regardless of their lineage, will sit with Me at that feast.” -Jesus Christ, Matthew 8:11

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how to be the fairest of them all

I open the box the mailman just delivered and begin to grin. I pull out a beautiful bronze necklace and hold it up for my sisters to see. I think it’s charming, so I plan tomorrow’s outfit around it. I wear my new necklace to the office, post it on Instagram. necklace from FTFThe jewelry, along with the tote bag, are all handmade by women in developing countries. They create these accessories as a way to support themselves and their families. In 2007, The Ministry of Women and Child Development reported the presence of over three million female sex workers in India. 35.47 of these “workers” are thought to enter the trade before the age of eighteen. An estimated 1.2 million children are kept as sex slaves in India, though all prostitution is technically illegal there. Dignified work is hard to come by.

New jewelry complements my nice outfit, including the t-shirt I bought at Forever21 before I knew that Forever21 knowingly uses slave labor to manufacture their merchandise. Something new to wear can make you feel like “the fairest of them all,” but when I look at the dimly-lit image of my torso, toting those three pendants, my heart begins to beat a little harder. I think of the tawny hands, pressing those clasps together. The pendant reminds me of coins dropping into a worn palm, being carried to the market to buy food for her babies, her elderly mother, herself.

Sam Levenson Quote

Fair Trade Friday isn’t a gimmick, because 100% of the profits go straight to the hands of the artisans. If you believe in teaching a man to fish, do you also believe in teaching a woman to sew? Most of these women do not have a man in their life to support them in anyway, some of them were sold as slaves as children, all of them face extreme sexual discrimination, and those are the girls who survive the “gendercide.”

I’ve talked before about what fair trade means to me, and I still lie awake at night, shaking my metaphorical fist in the air, complaining that “life is not fair!” But what is fair? Paying for what we’re getting is fair. Being paid for your work is fair. Being able to use your wages to support yourself and your family is fair. There is a great shadow over our planet, but there are sunspots on the path, little spots of hope, little spots of justice, little spots of fairness.

FTF club tags

My fair-skinned hands hold the same cords that were crafted in the hands of my Indian sisters, Hem Lata, Yogesh and Karma, and didn’t Solomon say that a threefold cord is not quickly broken? So how about you become part of the cord? The three folds can be you, the Fair Trade Friday Club and a hardworking woman across the ocean like Hem Lata, Yogesh or Karma.

Does that sound fair? 

The Fair Trade Friday Club exists to empower the women at Mercy House Kenya, as well as women in Ethiopia, Zambia, Costa Rica, India, Uganda, Rwanda, Honduras, Bangladesh, Haiti, Swaziland and Nicaragua. 

When someone says, “where is that necklace from?” we answer with the name of a store, and maybe a quick mention of what a great deal we got on it. But that’s not where your necklace is from. We’ve long-been wearing slavery around our necks, donning oppression and adorning ourselves with exploitation. We have bought the poor for a pair of sandals, not stopping to ask how those sandals could cost us so little. The truth is, we aren’t paying full price.

The single mom in India is paying your share. The nine-year-old slave in Bangladesh is paying your share. The woman with AIDS, the woman who is pregnant again because her customers refuse to use condoms, the woman who just buried her fifth child—she is paying your share, and that isn’t becoming. It doesn’t wear well. It doesn’t flatter.

It’s time we paid for our products. Next time you see a great deal, think of Proverbs 22:16, “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” And when you see the true price of the product you want to buy, don’t balk. Think about Proverbs 14:31, “But whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him.”

A beautiful hand is one that reaches out and gives to the poor, a beautiful eye is one that sees the dignity in another, a beautiful body wears justice and the woman who doesn’t cheat and steal for the things she wears, she is the fairest of them all. 

Audrey Hepburn Quote

Would you consider partnering with us in this three-fold cord? The Fair Trade Friday Club is run by a handful of folks, so please forgive the fact that a waiting list is currently in use. Sign up now, and you’ll be notified when you can be accommodated. Also consider joining our Earring of the Month Club or donating to the empowering work being done at Mercy House Kenya

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on being “desperate”

 

desperate

Once upon a time, I swore I would never write about singleness. After all, nothing screams “desperate” quite like blogging about wishing you were married. However, in the past couple of years, I’ve received so much encouragement from my friends who are not ashamed of their relationship status and are bold enough to write about it, that I thought I could share my two cents without labeling myself too blatantly.

Since then, I’ve written about how singleness is not a disease and the real reason it’s hard being single. 

I defended myself in the first one. Singleness is not a disease…I am happy being single! In the second one, I confessed…it’s hard being single. Both are true. It seems that no matter how happy, fulfilled, busy, purposeful and content I am, there’s always an undercurrent of wishing I could marry. I don’t know yet if that’s a hidden form of discontent or a God-given instinct that will one day manifest itself in a real marriage or some of both, but it’s there nonetheless.

Still, the fear that I’ll seem “desperate” is so strong, it kicks the breath out of me at times. I feel like “single” is a name tag stuck in my hair. No amount of smiling and assuring people I’m happy will distract them from that sticky label.

What has surprised me most, however, is that as the years pass, I become happier and happier and more and more desperate. It’s true. The other night, I covered my face with my hands and cried real tears over this. I told God for the first time that I am, in fact, desperate. Desperate in the sense that I cannot shake this desire to be married, but it’s so much more than that. I’m desperate for God to write my story, whether it includes marriage or not.

Only He can fulfill me, only He knows what is best. I have become desperate, alright. Desperate to see Him move in my heart and my future. Desperate to know He’s working on this. Desperate to feel Him close when I feel lonely. Desperate to put all of this—the contentment and discontentment, the tears that come with a wrenching heart and the joy that makes me wonder why I’d ever want any other kind of life, all of this—into His competent hands.

I’m studying The Book of Numbers right now in my Bible study and it’s far from boring. Something really impressed me about Chapter 11, in which the wandering Israelites beg for meat. They “grumbled” and “wept” at the doors of their tents. In other words, they whined and complained to anyone who would listen, but they did not take their desires to God. When Moses could take no more, he addresses God in what sounds like an equally whiny and disrespectful speech:

Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” Numbers 11:11-15

His plea is sprinkled with questions of God’s faithfulness and the idea that the burden is entirely on Moses himself. You might think this is the point when God smites them all, Moses first. But that’s not the case. Though the people are punished, God takes mercy on Moses. He actually raises up seventy men to help bear the responsibilities as spiritual leader. God honors Moses for his honesty and the fact that he brought his weaknesses and needs to Him, instead of just complaining to his friends and family.

The people get what they asked for too, if you’re wondering. They get their meat. So much meat, that it oozes out of their nostrils (gross, huh?) and, “while it was still in their teeth,” it gives them a great plague and many die. The place where they fall is called Grave of Craving. Ouch.

That day in my Bible study notes, I jotted: “We can crave our way into the grave if we refuse to be satisfied by The Bread of Life.” 

Katie Davis, a missionary and woman of God I greatly admire, recently married. After living several years in Uganda as a single mom to fourteen, she finally has a husband (something she says she wanted all along) and a dad for her daughters. She writes,

“The Lord who knows my heart has been whispering to me of a new season for a long time, and my flesh has worried that this new season might take me out of my secret hiding place with Him, that somehow a physical, tangible relationship with another might take away from my relationship with my Builder, My Lover, My Life-Giver. Little did I know that this new relationship would only enhance the other.” (from Katie’s blog.)

My first thought was, “Yes! That’s what I want, too. I won’t settle for anything less than a marriage that enhances my relationship with God.” But later in the week, I started thinking about her words again, and I realized one horrific thing about my heart: There are moments when I would gladly trade my relationship with God for a “physical, tangle relationship.” And I don’t have the kind of relationship with “my Builder, My Lover, My Life-Giver” that would make me hesitant to receive a new relationship into my heart.

The words from the Rend Collective song came to mind almost immediately:

But I want to love You more
I need You God
But I want to need You more

I’m lost without
Your creative spark in me
I’m dead inside
Unless Your resurrection sings

I’m desperate for a desperate heart
I’m reaching out, I’m reaching

All that I am is dry bones
Without You Lord, a desert soul
I am broken but running
Towards You God, You make me whole

You are exactly what we need
Only You can satisfy

Maybe I am desperate, but not even close to as desperate as I want to become. 

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yearning for heaven (unashamedly)

prepared a heavenly city I have been thinking about baby names. My niece or nephew inspire such topics. It’s weird to think that, if you were named after someone, you were named after an imperfect person. Even Biblical characters (except Jesus, obviously) were sinful. Name someone “David” and you’re naming them after an adulterer and liar. Name someone “Moses” and you’re naming them after a cowardly murderer. Noah and Abraham both participated in gross failures. The “heroes” of the New Testament are no better.

I used to read history books written for Christian schools, and I don’t regret those lessons because, as a little girl, I did learn a lot of good things. But as I get older and realize those mini-biographies were not complete, that the founders of our faith and our country were riddled with impurities and moral failures, it can be depressing. Like learning your pastor or your favorite teacher or your parent have let themselves slip in some crucial area. It’s disheartening. Like when my sister found out Emma Roberts is not exactly like Nancy Drew. Bubbles burst.

And yet, what good would it do to pretend someone was perfect? And what good would it do, to pretend I was perfect? Would that point anyone any closer to Jesus?

We idolize good people, strong people, brave people. We search high and low for pure things, true things, excellent things. But we so often come up empty-handed. Oh the contrast that heaven will bring! We will not miss this place, where good things were splattered with the mud of the earth. I nod along with Jeremiah who cried out, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9.)

We think of newborn babies as the most pure, unadulterated, innocent creatures. But where do they come from? The bodies of sinful parents. And how long before they make a name for themselves in this sinful world? No time at all. We dive for pearls and come up with seaweed. My heart hurts when I see babies born with maladies, children taught to hate, people used as slaves, beauty disgraced and bodies sold for service. But that’s where the hope comes into the picture, hidden and oft-passed-by like gold veins laced through the rocks. My heart hurts when I see these things. 

As long as we care, as long as we feel the pain, as long as we lie awake at night thinking this is not the way things should be, we have hope. Because that means that this is not our home. That means that Heaven is right around the corner. That means that the things we thought were good and pure and holy are going to pale in comparison to the things we see next. That means that, though parents and pastors and teachers and leaders will fail us and break our hearts, our hearts will be mended and we will never be disappointed by treachery of hellish schemes again. We will never receive bad news again. We will never bury children again. Children will never have to “be the grown up” again. We won’t have to wonder if war and violence are ever permitted. We won’t have to debate women’s choices. We won’t have to feel guilty for the things we have. We won’t have to look away when we feel someone is peering into our own soul.

We’ll hug each other’s souls. 

There will be no cowardice and no slavery and no violence and no disgrace. Just this grace: “But such saints as these look forward to a far better place, a heavenly country. So God is not ashamed to be called their God because He has prepared a heavenly city for them.” Hebrews 11:16

Sometimes it sounds negative or grim or even suicidal to long for heaven, as if we cannot bear another moment on earth. But when I hear little children talk about heaven, their eagerness is truly pure. They are not embarrassed to say they are excited to walk on streets of gold and see those saints they had to say goodbye to. It’s real to them, and God is not ashamed of them.

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