THANKSDAY #98

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Well, well, well. So we meet again. It’s been a minute, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s always so weird to come back to this blank page. I stare and wonder if I’ll ever write regularly again, or if my creative cup is full enough with Be Still Be Free. I wonder if my mind will marinate on words like they used to; or if God and I will process issues together through written words like we used to; or if His word was true to me all those years ago, “Don’t be so focused on the method that you lose sight of the message.”

Maybe there’s a new method now. Maybe written words will come back to me in force when I least expect it. Maybe I should quit wondering about the future and just focus on the here and now. Be present and all that jazz.

So for now I feel like I want to do a Thanksday post, and so I’m going with it. Onward and upward, y’all.

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1. Podcasts. Yes, I do listen to podcasts even though I podcast myself. (Why are people surprised by this?) I’m infatuated with them and listen to approximately three billion different ones. I listen after I take the kids to school. I listen while I’m working out. I listen while I’m getting ready and while I’m cleaning the kitchen. And I’ll be the first to admit they are not all Christian or even spiritual, for that matter. (Gasp, shock, awe.) Be warned: some have some language (especially that Christy Nockles) (sarcastic font). But I’m an adult and you’re an adult and to be honest I’ve heard worse in PG-13 movies, so there you go.

I’m not providing links to these because I don’t know which podcast app you prefer, so you’ll have to type them in to search if you want to give them a go. I know, so old school.

Here are my newest faves right now:

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  • How to Be Amazing with Michael Ian Black. This is an in-depth interview podcast where comedian Michael Ian Black sits down with some of today’s writers, entertainers, artists, innovative thinkers and politicians (similar to Alec Baldwin’s really). They dive into the creative process and the intricate minds of some of these people. Michael (Michael Ian?) is so funny, a great interviewer, and the guests (that I’ve listened to so far) are insightful and entertaining.

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  • Reel Conversations. Bryan Coley sits down with various guests and dissects their top 10 favorite movies of all time, and uses them as a way to gain insight into the values, character and passions of the guests. I am FASCINATED by this podcast and am trying to self-diagnose my own personality based on my favorite movies, of which I only have five on my list right now. (Which of course, says enough.)

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  • Glorious in the Mundane with Christy Nockles. This podcast is as sweet, tender and humble as you would expect. Christy has such a gentle way of speaking, of interviewing, and of talking about the ways the Lord has moved in her life. I love it.

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  • The Popcast with Knox and Jamie. Knox and Jamie admit this is a show about “delightful idiocy,” and it couldn’t make me happier. They discuss all manner of things pop culture, make me LOL and help the time on the treadmill speed up exponentially.

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2. Pumpkin Spice. Let me be the first to say I’m a big fan of pumpkiny things. However, I will absolutely admit that as a nation we have jumped the pumpkin shark. Not everything needs to be flavored or scented in pumpkin. I’ll give you muffins, doughnuts, pancakes and coffee — but outside of that we need to maintain some integrity. #amiright

Now then, since I’ve stated the aforementioned pumpkin-approved foods, I give a kudos this week to McCormick’s Pumpkin Pie Spice. I’ve started adding just a hint to my coffee grounds before brewing, and it warms me to my bones. And then I’m not getting all those pumps of sugary sweetened pumpkin spice. I also use it for making pumpkin pancakes and muffins, which my family reminded me yesterday I haven’t made in ages. To which I replied, get off me.

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3. Decaf Green Tea. So I’m trying to drink tons of water all day, but plain water is so boring. I’ve started making a big pitcher of this as iced tea to keep in the fridge, and then in my water bottle I mix half tea, half water. This flavors my water just  enough, gives me a metabolism boost (because truth in advertising) and now water doesn’t feel like a chore. Bam.

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4. iTunes Radio. You know what I’m sometimes in the mood for? French jazz. Or rather, any jazz where there’s French speaking happening in between songs or French words in the song. And thanks to iTunes Radio, I can just search it and start listening. And if I happen to be drinking french press coffee with pumpkin spice while listening, I can close my eyes and pretend I’m at some little café à Paris wearing red lipstick and a trench coat.

5. An Ode to Autumn. I was texting with a friend the other day and she mentioned how ready she was for fall, which we all know I agreed with wholeheartedly. Thus began a text exchange of fall poetry that both tickled us and made us eager for cooler weather. So I guess this is a two-fer; I’m thankful for both the friend and the poem. Here is the masterpiece:

Dear Fall,

You may now descend like a gentle dove upon us,

Give us boots of pure leather and rich textures like corduroy and tweed.

May your hot toddies warm our bellies like a shared laugh with a friend.

May your colorful leaves reflect the palette of all I plan to partake around a warm fire,

And your crisp nights like the snap of a honey crisp apple drizzled in warm caramel.

Or maybe like the black chimney smoke that roasts when I indulge in s’mores…

And then I don’t eat the marshmallows.

Amen.

6. Books. I went on a reading bender this summer (and all the people said amen), and even discovered how to check out e-books from the library for instant download on my Kindle. Say whaaaa? It was amazing. Out of all the books I read (probably 20), here are two I am recommending to everyone:

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  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows. This book is fiction and written entirely as letters back and forth between the main character and the others in her world. It takes place in London just after the WWII, and is just such a sweet, fun and tender story. I was grieved when it was over. I wanted to keep reading forever.

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  • The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. I’m late to the Liane Moriarty game, but I can tell you that I’m fangirling hard and already devoured three of her books this summer. This is my favorite so far. It’s the most fun, delightful and fun read — I think I finished in 36 hours — and almost fell into a depression that it ended.

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7. Cold Brew Iced Coffee Maker. I’m pretty sure this is supposed to make a concentrate that you dilute with water for your iced coffee. But I don’t like it diluted. So I have a cup of this in the afternoons and am WIDE OPEN for the rest of the day. I ordered mine at Amazon. #mountainlife #ifcoffeeiswrongidontwannaberight

8. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I’ve mentioned this before, but I just noticed the other day that season 8 is out! It includes Jim Gaffigan, Lorne Michaels and Judd Apatow. It’s a web show, so just go to the website to watch. Each episode is about 12-15 minutes so it’s a perfect mid-day pick-me-up to watch with your pumpkin spice or iced coffee.

9. Celebrating. I love to celebrate the little things, the big things, and the little things that feel like big things. And so when my husband or my friends celebrate those things with me, it feels like the biggest gift. Being able to shoot a text to say, “This just happened!” and to get responses that show how excited they are for me is the greatest. Even though in the grand scheme of things the thing we’re celebrating isn’t a huge deal, the fact they’re supportive and care is a huge deal. You can’t put a price tag on that. I just hope they think I reciprocate in the same manner.

10. NASA’s Instagram Account. You guys. If you’re not following NASA on Instagram, you’re missing out completely. They’re incredibly consistent about posting images of real live things in space, and if after seeing these images you don’t believe that there’s a Holy God who created the universe, then there’s no hope for you. The images are stunning, almost mystical, and take my breath away. It might have something to do with the fact that I’m a wannabe astronaut (that couldn’t hang with the math or science). Here are a few of my recent favorites:

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Saturn’s shadow stretched beyond the edge of its rings for many years after our Cassini spacecraft first arrived at Saturn, casting an ever-lengthening shadow that reached its maximum extent at the planet’s 2009 equinox. This image captured the moment in 2015 when the shrinking shadow just barely reached across the entire main ring system. The shadow will continue to shrink until the planet’s northern summer solstice, at which point it will once again start lengthening across the rings, reaching across them in 2019. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

 

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A maelstrom of glowing gas and dark dust within one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. This stormy scene shows a stellar nursery that’s over 150 light-years across. It contains many hot young stars. These stars are emitting intense ultraviolet light, which causes nearby hydrogen gas to glow, and torrential stellar winds, which are carving out ridges, arcs, and filaments from the surrounding material. At the heart of this cosmic cloud lies the Papillon Nebula, a butterfly-shaped region of nebulosity. This small, dense object is thought to be tightly linked to the early stages of massive star formation. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

 

Alright, my friends. That will conclude my bi-annual revival of Thanksday. I hope you enjoyed it.

I’d love to hear the things you’re thankful for this week! Leave a comment and share the love!

A Few Favorite Things

I have approximately a bajillionty big projects I need to be working on, and naturally that means Procrastination has shown up at my front door with coffee and distractions. I welcomed her in and we’re totally hanging out, pretending we’re ostriches with our heads in the sand about said projects and looming deadlines. So as I imbibed in my umpteenth cup of joe, I decided now would be a good time to share a few of my most favorite things.

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1. Here’s the Thing Podcast with Alec Baldwin. Where has this been all my life, and why am I so late to the game? First of all, if Alec Baldwin could come to my house and read recipes to me every night I might actually fall in love with cooking.  He has the best voice in the history of all voices. Second, he is an incredible interviewer. Each episode is  exceptionally conversational and off-the-cuff, and he has a way of asking the exact question I’m thinking in my head. Some of my favorite episodes are the interviews with Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Julie Andrews and Jerry Seinfeld. Click the link for the website, or find it on iTunes. You won’t be disappointed.

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2. Bluetooth Wireless Headphones. I’m not talking about the robo-earbud-necklace that everyone walks around wearing — because ew (and also, I don’t talk on the phone) — but just regular ol’ wireless headphones. Mine are blue like these, and I love them because I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have dropped my phone when running on the treadmill. My hand catches on the earbud wire that’s connected to the phone and knocks it to the floor. Cannot tell you how often this has happened. These have been a joy to work out with, and I can go from machine to machine and leave my phone on the counter in one place and still listen to my podcasts or audio books. Which brings me to…

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3. Audible. I’m addicted. Like, addicted. I have resisted audio books for ages and ages — how on earth could I possibly listen to a book and not highlight or underline or get distracted? Then one day it hit me that if I can concentrate enough to listen to a podcast, I can listen to an audio book. Amazon has a 3-month free trial for Prime members, and I signed up…and I’m basically going to pay for this the rest of my life. So far I’ve listened to three books — Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert; Accidental Genius by Mark Levy; and The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. I will be honest and tell you I haven’t finished Accidental Genius, because it’s narrated by Bronson Pinchot and unbelievably, he is absolutely monotone and quite boring. I truly cannot bring myself to finish. The other two books, however, are narrated by the author, and that has been a delight. I LOVED both books fiercely, and honestly not sure if I would have as much just reading them. Listening to Elizabeth and Shonda (first name basis because: BFF’s) read their own words was captivating and I listened to both in the span of 2 days each. Warning: each book has some language and definitely some beliefs I don’t agree with, but neither detract from how fun it was to readlisten. Also, you can press a button and bookmark anything said which is awesome.

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4. Burt’s Bees Renewal Firming Night Cream. This came recommended by a friend of a friend, and I think I love it. It took me a minute, because it’s pretty thick. But it takes just a few minutes to soak in and has a very pleasant smell. I’ve used it faithfully for about a week, and have to admit I do notice a bit of a difference in my skin the next morning. If you’re over 40, this is breaking news, and now I want to buy it in bulk to bathe in every night.

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5. Cadbury Mini Eggs. Because it’s getting close to Easter, and these are already out in stores. And because my darling daughter put some in a little Valentine’s present for me and now she’s my favorite. There’s no link. Just get thee to the grocery or Walmart so you can stock up and enjoy.

Okay friends. Those are a few of my favorite things right now. Except I don’t feel procrastinationally-fulfilled enough, so I think I might need a game of solitaire on my phone or a quick episode of something unfulfilling and mind-numbing. Oh look, squirrel!

Dollar Store Christmas

 

The house is still…I’m the only one awake at 6:15 on a Saturday morning and I’m flummoxed as to why I’m even awake, yet here I sit — taking in the quiet, the peace, the reflection.

Our stockings are hung carefully over the fireplace and the tree bears the fruit of ornaments that survived the Great Crash of 2015. It’s sparser now, but I’m endeared to it more. Now we have a story to tell every Christmas and can hoot and holler as we “Remember that time our gorgeous and enormous 8-foot tree fell and Paxton cried that Santa wouldn’t come anymore?” And Greg will do a (not so) hilarious impersonation of my reaction as it fell which will tickle the kids to no end, and then Jaana will pretend to slow-motion run to catch the tree like Greg did, and Paxton will pretend to spill his hot cocoa like Jaana did when the tree crashed just a foot and a half from her. And we’ll all have a good laugh at each other’s expense in the best possible way.

The nativity set includes shepherds whose heads have been superglued back onto their bodies and most of the animals were too busted up to keep. Sometimes Simon, our elf, hangs out in the crèche to be a part of the scene and sometimes a Storm Trooper battles the boy and the sheep. One of the wall hangings that boasts a deer in a winter scene came from the Dollar Store, as did the red mercury glass candle holder, some of the replacement ornaments and picture frames for the kids’ Santa pictures. My pine candle that smelled so good in the (not Dollar) store now gives off no scent at all, but I light it all day anyway, because that gentle flicker is calming in a way I don’t quite understand.

The train in the snow-covered Christmas village stopped circling years ago and now makes a clicking sound when we turn it on, and yet we always do because it lights up so prettily and the clicks become a part of the everyday chatter in the house. There are still no Christmas throw pillows or special Christmas dishes, despite resolutions annually that “I’m totally buying them this year no matter what.”

Yes…it’s all busted up and piece-mealed and not Pinterest-worthy in the least. But it’s home and it’s mine and just sitting here on a Saturday morning at 6:30 taking it all in fills my heart to overflowing. Another imperfect Christmas — just as they’ve all been since the first one 2,000 years ago.

I realize, on this quiet, reflective and peaceful morning, that’s exactly what makes my heart burst with joyful tears every morning as I gaze at our manger-ish living room. As I soak in all the imperfections we’ve collected from year-to-year, I see the not-so-catalog-worthy presentation…the amateurish hodge-podge passing as “decor,” and I realize I love it simply because it’s not perfect. It’s not at all how I would design it if I were starting from scratch with a Restoration Hardware catalog…and yet, is that not the entirety of the Christmas Story? Jesus — God Himself — came into a Dollar Store knock-off of a kingdom and dwelt among us. He came to fix his home, His tabernacle among us — not the perfect, the beautifully-presented or the worthy ones. He came to us — that Greek word being ego: He came to make His home amongst our egos and set us free from a Pottery Barn-perfect Christmas and life; to shatter the pride we get from a self-made and high-priced kingdom; to bestow on us peace and contentment in an imperfect presentation, available to all because He simply walked in and declared, It’s on the house. Bill paid in full.

Maybe today, you look around your house and notice your tree doesn’t look like it belongs in a store window, and your nativity has been replaced with Barbies and Superheroes and your flameless candles don’t flicker like they’re supposed to. Maybe today, instead of feeling less-than because it’s not perfect, you feel a kinship to Christ because His living room wasn’t perfect either. Maybe that candle that doesn’t smell still burns to remind you of the Light of the World, and you suddenly (finally?) understand why it’s so calming.

Maybe today, your heart begins to fill to overflowing because you realize the spirit of Christmas isn’t in the items themselves, but in the stories they carry, and how they all point you toward The Story of the season and all year through. Maybe today, you embrace your Dollar Store Christmas because you’re in good company — Jesus had one, too.

Thanksday #97 :: Stocking Stuffer Edition

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YA. ALL.

My name is Monica, and my last Thanksday was ONE YEAR AND 10 DAYS AGO. I haven’t blogged here in general in NINE MONTHS. I’m not sure what to say about that, other than my creative cup has overflowed because of Be Still Be Free, and there were no words left for over here.

However.

I’m starting to feel a shift coming…thoughts and such have been swirling around in my mind and heart, and my fingers have been itchy, and I’m starting to gravitate toward writing again. Maybe that’s because it’s quiet in my house during the day now (thanks, Kindergarten!) and so I have time to think the thoughts.

At any rate, I can’t make any promises about what the future holds over here, or that I’ll have any sort of consistent writing schedule. What I can promise though, is that once a year I’ll do a Thanksday. (I’m all about setting realistic goals.)

That being said, I thought it would be fun to do a Thanksday that is focused on items you could consider for stocking stuffers for your daughter/sister/mom/friend. I don’t know about you, but stocking stuffers are the HARDEST things to buy. You don’t want to give 500 packs of gum and candy canes, right?

So as I was thinking about it, I realized there are some various items in my life right now that I ADORE, and would be darling for Christmas stockings. These run the gamut in prices, so there’s something for everyone…and in case there’s something here you might like for your own self, you could always accidentally send the link to this post to your husband.

Ahem.

Without further ado, here are this year’s Thanksdays!

1. Dead Sea Minerals Dead Sea Mud Bar Soap ($4). Okay, guys. My skin has never looked better since I started using this as my daily face soap. Perhaps my clean(er) eating has something to do with it, and maybe my spinny-face brush too, but from the first day I started using this I noticed it looked and felt a bazillion times better. And I was able to buy it at my local grocery storewhich for the mountains is a huge win.

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2. Burt’s Bees Pomegranate Lip Balm ($3). You can tell me all about your EOS, your Susie Chapstick, your Carmex and your Vaseline, but I will turn up my nose and shun you, because this is the only chapstick I will ever use, forever and ever amen. I do not want the original beeswax, the tropical, the Acai or even the Blueberry and Dark Chocolate. Give me Pomegranate or give me death, I say. (Not literally. You know what I mean.)

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3. Peter Thomas Roth Pore Putty Pore and Wrinkle Reducer ($38). Straight up, here’s where I’m at: I’m officially “in my 40s” now and cannot, any longer, rely on grocery-store makeup to do the trick. I could get away with it in my 20s for sure, and slid by in my 30s…but the time has come when my pores are enormous, the wrinkles are coming and Maybe it’s Maybelline isn’t going to help me. I can’t remember where I found out about this product, but I have to tell you it’s easily my most favorite facial product ever. It’s extremely lightweight and non-greasy (don’t let the name “putty” deter you), and can be worn alone, under make up or even over makeup. Between the Dead Sea Mud soap and this, I literally use nothing else on my face most days — not even powder. Supposedly, the longer you use it, it “provides long-term clinical benefits to help reduce the appearance of pores to impart a smoother, more youthful look.” I haven’t used it long-term enough to verify this, but I will tell you I am very well pleased.

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4. Yankee Candle Mistletoe Car Jar ($5). Forever and always and all the year through, Christmas tree smells will always be my most favorite. I grabbed this little number over Thanksgiving and immediately put it in my car and have driven with happy grins ever since. Granted, my brother-in-law may have nicknamed me Buddy the Elf because of how gleeful I am over the whole thing, but I just called  him a Cotton-Headed Ninny Muggins and carried on with my pine dreams. (There are other scents too, of course, but why even bother?)

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5. Nordstrom Gift Card (Any Amount!). Did you know that you can use a regular Nordstrom Gift Card at a Nordstrom Rack store? ‘TIS TRUE. Is there anything better than having a gift card for a great pair of boots you find on sale at the Rack? ‘TIS NOT.

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6. Starbucks Christmas Blend Espresso Roast (on sale right now online for only $10.46, regularly $15). This will always make my favorite things list each year, because it’s amaze. The regular Christmas Blend roast is delicious too, of course. Who wouldn’t want a stocking that smells of coffee?

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7. Darling Magazine Subscription ($64 Yearly Subscription). If you don’t know about Darling magazine yet, you need to get thee on the ball. Started by a former Christian book publisher, it’s an oversize, gorgeous quarterly magazine that prides itself on celebrating “The Art of Being a Woman” and proudly boasts in NO RETOUCHING EVER. Just read their mission statement which is on the back cover of every issue:

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Their photography is breathtaking, no advertising ever, and every single photo, article and fashion item is modest, uplifting, encouraging and delightful. You know what it’s like to read this magazine? It’s like your eyes take an enormous deep breath.

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8. Return to Tiffany Round Tag Key Ring ($135). OKAY YES, I PUT SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY ON THIS LIST. A girl needs to dream, right?? And this is fairly affordable (by Tiffany standards) and I just adore it. There’s also a plain tag that’s engrave-able (wouldn’t a nice BE look sweet on there??) and the best part of the gift is that darling blue box and ribbon. Can you imagine my her sheer delight pulling that box out of her stocking??

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9. Victor & Rolf Flowerbomb Travel Spray ($26). My favorite scent, hands-down, is Rosewood by Banana Republic. I’ve worn it for ages and never once thought to look elsewhere until I discovered it’s now discontinued. Soon after my tears dried up, Nordstrom sent a booklet in the mail with samples of current fragrances, and lo, I fell hard for this one. I have no idea what it would actually smell like on me, but it’s “a floral explosion, a profusion of flowers that has the power to make everything seem more positive.” I don’t even normally like florals, but something about this was spesh. And the travel size of this lets you give it a good try without committing to the full size.

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10. Live Inspired Write Now Journals ($7). I found one of these journals years ago at some cute store in Nashville, and fell head-over-heels. The paper is great quality, the lines are light and not too bold, it’s an odd-over size,  yet has just a small number of pages. I don’t know what it is about these, but I can’t get enough. There’s a wide variety of cover options, sure to make your journaler’s day.

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Well friends, that felt good. I hope you’ve been able to get some new ideas for that special loved one in your life, and I think there’s just enough time to find something and get it ordered!

What are some of the things you love to give? Leave a comment and share the love.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

I Need a Resurrection

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I need a remembrance.

I need a table in an upper room with bread and a cup sitting as a centerpiece. Where I can leave the parts that have been taken and broken and betrayed — the parts where wounds bleed and bitterness grows — under the table at my feet.

Where I can bless the wounds and break the bitterness and give thanks for it all and do it in remembrance of Him.

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I need a ruin.

I need a cross high up on a hill with salvation pooling below. Where I can leave the parts of me that have been beaten and flogged and accused in its shadow. Where I can be saved not just from sin but from myself.

Where I can receive the forgiveness He offers me, and offer forgiveness of my own, in remembrance of Him.

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I need a resting place.

I need a tomb in the cleft of a rock where shelter and protection hide me. Where I can shed the blankets of isolation and loneliness that have become too heavy for me outside the door. Where I can receive living water and not just sour wine and be truly quenched.

Where I can wrap up the broken pieces and prepare them for burial, laying them to rest in remembrance of Him.

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I need a renewal.

I need a stone that’s rolled away and old rags folded and left behind. Where I am new in mind and spirit and body and soul, and I can walk out healed. Where thirst has no hold on me, and where isolation and brokenness and loneliness have no more victory.

Where I can roll away the stone that seems impossible to move and emerge free, showing my scars as a remembrance of Him.

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What I need is a resurrection.

I just desperately need Jesus. I need to let walls I’ve erected crumble and let Him to take these gray ashes and flickering embers and create something beautiful out of them, as only He can. I need the table and the cross and the tomb and the stone in a way I haven’t before. I need His body and His blood and His prayers and His forgiveness in an entirely new way.

I need a resurrection.

So today, I lay down my garments of distrust and cynicism and frustration and I wave my open palms and I welcome Him in. I shout Hosanna because blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, bringing faith and hope and love. I pray I remain close to the vine and not deny Him or betray Him. I pray I remain steadfast and faithful, and on that third day I will be among the first to see that He has risen just as He said He would, and that through my tears I will see Him, as if it were the first time.

I need a resurrection.