What Do You Need to Know When the Boogieman Comes?

The Boogieman.

Boogie-man?

I don’t know where the name comes from, because I don’t feel like asking the Google, but it looks innocent enough. Why is he so scary? Maybe he would seem less scary if we pictured him in a white polyester suit, a la John Travolta. “Hey, fear not. I just came to boogie.”

But no. The Boogieman, while totally fictional, represents any number of hidden, unforeseen dangers that might sneak up on us at any given moment. And we don’t outgrow our fear of him just because we grow up. Our fear just takes on a more “mature” form: concern, worry, dutifulness, being careful or vigilant.

Our kids used to love to watch the Veggie Tales movie, God is Bigger Than the BoogieMan. They mostly loved the song of the same name, because of the funny dance Bob, Larry and Junior Asparagus do while they’re singing.

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It was entertaining but, at the same time, it bothered me. I felt like the overall idea communicated was that because God is bigger, bad things won’t happen. One thing I don’t want to do is give my kids false ideas that will eventually cause them to question God’s goodness if things don’t play out the way I promised them they would.

As for me, I had seen the boogieman come to someone I loved dearly, and to her family. For them he came in the form of cancer. After watching her endure ten or so months of treatment, and her eventual death, I could most definitely not tell my kids that bad things don’t happen when we trust God.

I never believed that, anyway. All we have to do is look around to see the truth in that.

So, what do I tell them? What do we tell ourselves, when the proverbial boogieman comes?

I think what we say is that God is with us when we suffer. He draws near to the brokenhearted. He is Immanuel, God with us – really. He is a real person, with real thoughts and emotions. He wants us to talk to Him, honestly, about our pain and anger and fear.

I think we tell ourselves that He is slow to anger and rich in mercy. He is faithful when we are faithless. He stands in the gaps for us when we are weak and questioning.

I think we tell ourselves that God suffers when we suffer. This world isn’t what it was made to be, or what it will be one day. We are caught in the in-between, where life is crazy beautiful and sometimes crazy painful. But, He isn’t standing aloof, uninterested in how things are playing out. Never forget that Jesus is a suffering savior, and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen God.

I think we remind ourselves that across the finish line is the fullness of His presence and joy. This isn’t the end…it’s barely even the beginning. God actually is bigger than the boogieman, and He wins.

I think we remember that He gave us each other. We are the human embrace of Christ to those in pain. We cannot survive alone. It’s hard, really hard, to sit with people who are suffering, sometimes, because we feel helpless to fix it. The good news is, they don’t want us to fix it – that’s the opposite of what they need and want. All we really have to do is be there. In some cases, we meet practical needs, or feed them, and that can be a ministry to the soul. But, the deeper things are left to the Lord. The bottom line is that we are God’s plan to care for a broken world. Love and sacrificial service are the highest callings.

I think we declare that God is good. At His very core, He is love and goodness. Everything He does flows from that place. We can trust Him.

And, we do pray. We do ask God to intervene. We ask Him to comfort, to heal, to mend broken hearts, to speak life to dead situations, to bring justice, to help us in our doubts or anger. He is our source.

I wrestled for a long time after Summer died. It wasn’t because I was disappointed with God or because I expected healing and didn’t see it. I never doubted His goodness or faithfulness or nearness.

My wrestle was with how He interacts with us here, and what we can and should really expect from Him. What are the promises we can cling to wholeheartedly? What can I teach my kids about His character? What does His goodness look like? What can I pray for with bold faith?

I don’t think my wrestle is fully done – I don’t have all the answers – but the things I listed above are solid for me. Those are the things I believe with my whole heart and they’re all I need for now.

I think what I want my kids to know about God and the Boogieman, is that God always wins. Love wins. And, if we turn toward Him, we win.

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed

**Note: the Giveaway has ended**

Hey friends, today I have something a little different for you: a guest post from Sara Hagerty and a GIVEAWAY! I recently finished reading an advance copy of Sara’s new book, Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed.

Y’all, it’s good.

If you know what it is to feel uncelebrated or misunderstood, to grieve or to be stuck in a hard situation with no end in sight, this is your book. It’s an invitation to pour ourselves out before God, in the midst of pain, and find our definition in Him.

Let’s go ahead and hear from Sara and when you finish reading, scroll aaalllllll the way to the bottom, enter your email address in the box and click “subscribe” (you are not actually subscribing to anything, just entering to win. I promise). A winner will be chosen at random on Monday night, and the book will be shipped by Zondervan.

Now, here’s Sara…

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Still in the fog of morning sluggishness and with a thinly veiled air of motherly annoyance, I dropped my four older children at soccer practice with water bottles and balls and snacks in baggies. I thought perhaps I could use a few laps around a field to clear my head. So I put two-year-old Bo in the stroller with no plan for where to walk, just knowing I needed to pound it out on the pavement.

The chaotic early morning rush to get everyone ready and out the door had shredded my nerves. I struggled to like my kids in that single moment, and I surely didn’t like myself. I was remembering why we didn’t do these early morning activities very often.

On days like this, I have to whittle life down to one passage, which is part of training my eyes to see wonder: “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on yourvwondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness” (Ps. 145:5–6 ESV).

I pushed and pounded harder than necessary to move the stroller, but with as much exertion as I needed to work out the morning’s frustrations. I recited these verses in my head a dozen times while replaying the last forty-five minutes of trying to hustle everyone out the front door. The flustered child whose water bottle didn’t have as much ice as she wanted. The missing shin guard. The squealing baby and the car seat stained from last week’s takeout that I’d forgotten to clean.

Then this one phrase interrupted my venting: “I will declare your greatness.”

The morning wasn’t great. They were grumpy. I was terse. They were late. I was unforgiving. They joined a field of players who had lily-white skin and families that from the outside certainly looked more intact than ours. This morning held so much more than soccer, and very little of it was great by my standards. But I would find Him, here.

Is this a time to reach back and remember? I wondered. To declare the greatness of the God who hurdled mountains of paperwork impossibilities to bring our children home? The God who brought them today onto a soccer field with breakfast in their bellies and a mommy who would ask their forgiveness when practice was over? The God who made this toddler in the stroller in front of me, after my womb was empty for twelve years?

A small flash of color on the path caught my eye, and I swerved the wheels of the stroller to miss a brilliant blue eggshell.

“Look, Bo!” I said pointing, still halfway lost in my thoughts. “A birdie was in that egg!”

“Egg. Egg. Eggie!” Bo’s voice grew louder with each repetition. I set my feet back on the path and my mind back on the Psalms: “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate . . . I will declare your greatness.”

With each phrase of the passage, the erratic pounding of my heart was recalibrating, finding its steady rhythm again. I was telling my soul what was true as if it were undergoing CPR. The morning still felt messy. I was relieved our long-term houseguest hadn’t witnessed my behavior, and I didn’t really want to tell Nate about it later. But I did want to repent to my children. I had spent long years without ever asking for forgiveness from Nate in our early married days, so my desire to repent was significant. God was doing a work in me.

As we continued on the path, Bo intermittently interrupted my thoughts with “Oh!” pointing in childlike wonder to a tree and then a car and back at the eggshell as we passed it on our return trek. And now I couldn’t seem to get my mind off it. This shell struck me as so much more than a discarded home for a baby bird. This small piece of God’s created order evoked a question I’d been asking with my life but hadn’t put into words until this morning: What is greatness to You, God? What are Your wondrous works?

I’d seen God’s greatness in the miracle ruling in the Ugandan court system that granted two children a home in our family. My marriage is a wonder—we made it through the rise and fall of a business and the rise and fall of our stubborn hearts. My children, though I might have thought them ruffians that morning, were having parts of their broken hearts restored. All of these were glorious wonders.

But the eggshell. And the soccer practice down the street. Wonders?

God was inviting me to reconsider the ever-unfolding opportunities for wonder around me. There were opportunities for awe at God in even the most unlikely moments, and my eyes needed to be trained to see them as much as my heart needed to be trained to engage them. God was available, infused into my every minute, but my flesh was bent toward independence. I hadn’t been trained to see Him in the eggshell. Or at soccer practice.

I could see the wonder of God in the knowing look Nate gave me across the kitchen island the night before when he heard me encouraging a child he knew would be easier for me to critique. I was in awe of God as my daughter, who has a painful history, slid her hand into mine at church while we sang, “I see heaven invading this place.” I was invited to wonder later that day when I shut the door to my bedroom to ask Him for help with a different (presently difficult) child. He was wondrous when I didn’t have time to text friends for prayer but paused to talk to Him in the midst of chaos and felt that permeating peace that could be attributed only to God. And wonder was in my children who were merely players on a field to most spectators of the game, but who were beginning to understand that they are a son and daughters when no one but God, Nate, and I are looking.

Yes, the eggshell and the soccer practice are wonders. These things are beautiful because they point to a Creator God who both sees and orchestrates the glorious details of life. Who reaches into my minutes. These things have the power to cause me to look at Him, if I step back and let them. They have the power to move my heart, if I let it engage. Dozens of minutes every day are shot through with this wonder, pregnant with potential to draw our eyes up to God. Our flitting eyes, with just as many opportunities to behold things that won’t nourish our souls, need to be trained to see them. They need to be trained to see the face of Jesus.

The house fills with the fragrance of oil. The whole earth fills with His glory. My soul fills with awareness of His wonder. Today.

And before long, I’m unwinding, sitting before Him in the small moments of the day, sliding my watch off my wrist and looking up to Him alone.

Concentric learning

I just recently heard the phrase, “concentric learning.” It was attributed to J.I. Packer but I haven’t been able to find out where exactly it comes from, as far as which of his books, or else I’d give proper credit.

The idea, as I heard it, is that we are continually cycling through phases of learning, coming back to the same things again and again, but going deeper each time around. We grow in competency with every cycle. This made total sense to me.

Have you ever wondered why you keep circling back around to the same issues, situations, or questions, which you previously thought you had resolved? Have you noticed that each time you have to wrestle something out with God, you come away with deeper understanding than you had before?

I certainly have.

I’ve discovered that there are deep places in me where I thought I had come to resolution, only to find that, no, I still had more work to do.

We are also prone to hide from pain or temptation or seemingly unanswerable questions, thinking we have successfully dealt with it if we don’t think about it any more.

That’s not how this thing works.

Our ultimate goal is to know God, and to know Christ. That’s the definition of eternal life in John 17. We can’t really know Him if we don’t seek Him out, let Him dredge up the stuff down at the bottom of our hearts, and dialogue with him (pray) about it.

I’m beginning to see that my deepest fear has not so much been what others could do to hurt me, but rather, my own darkness.

Maybe I’m not the only one.

We wonder, “What am I capable of? What could have become of me? What if people knew the depths of my own past sin? Why can’t I get rid of that temptation? Am I forgiven?”

“What if I never change? Is something wrong with me? What does it say about me that I was treated that way? Did I somehow deserve it or cause it?”

I think that’s what many of us are hiding from, whether we’re conscious of it or not. It’s shame.

Some are better than others at compensating for it, by performing and being perfect. I have no such capability. I’m coming to see that as a gift.

Others get trapped in addiction. There are many ways to mitigate pain, but none solve the problems. Usually we end up creating new ones.

The good news is that if we are allowing God access to our hearts, there’s no way we won’t change and begin to see more clearly. There’s no darkness too dark for Him (even the darkness is not dark to Him – Psalm 139). “There’s no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still,” says Corrie ten Boom. Even a pit of your own making.

Maybe the reason we keep circling back around to the same old hurts, temptations, situations and questions is that He is diving deeper and deeper into our dark hidden places to bring greater healing and cleansing.

Maybe?

If we are wise we will pay attention to these stirrings and turn to God in them. We’re free to come boldly to Him, like brazen toddlers who won’t be deterred. He’s a good father and wants to heal us and make us whole. He wants us to see like He sees.

We can trust the Holy Spirit to do his work. (We need to remember that for the other people in our lives, too.)

If we choose to ignore these opportunities, they will come back around. Might as well just face them.

Looking for the gifts

I wrote the following six years ago. I had no idea what was coming and how I would experience this, personally. Or how to really live it.

Long seasons of difficulty, with no end in sight were ahead. We all have those things in life, to varying degrees.

I’m still learning to see the gifts in hardship, but I’m more convinced than ever that they are there. Not every situation is good, or is caused by God – I don’t believe that – but would He be God if He couldn’t give us good things despite our pain?

He is and He can. Give us eyes to see…

The Riches of His No (Jan. 21, 2011)

The kids and I were in the car the other day and we were listening to “Forever Reign,” from Hillsong Live. There’s a line that says, “the riches of your love will always be enough…” Riley asked me what “the riches of His no,” was. She had heard it wrong.

I was thinking about that this morning because the song was on again on my way to the grocery store, and something hit me…the riches of His “no.”

Have you ever thought about that? That there are riches, things to be gained and won, when He says, “No,” or when He seems slow to move to answer prayer or rescue us from situations that are uncomfortable, stressful or painful?

Listen to these:

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1

My natural tendency when I am in distress is to ask to be rescued. “God, make it go away!”

But often, He says, “Not yet.”

When those not yets come, what then? “Consider it pure joy.”

Say what?

According to these verses, there are some good things that come from suffering and trials…perseverence, wisdom, patience, maturity, character, and even hope, of all things.

Hope in the midst of hardship? Absolutely.

Our hope is not in circumstances changing, but in the One who has the power to change them…or not change them. When you shift your focus off of feeling better, and shift it toward God, toward bringing Him glory in all things, you gain an eternal perspective.

And that’s where hope is…in the joy set before us – ahead of us – and that can give us joy now.

We are not completed works. We are in process…we haven’t become, but are becoming. In order to become something beautiful, something pure and spotless, without mixture…24K…we have to go through the fire – the Refiner’s fire.

Don’t serve your circumstances; make them serve you. What the enemy means for harm, God intends for good. Stay in the process and plunder the situation for its riches – take everything out with you that you can.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

Becoming real

I’ve been thinking about how sometimes it takes us a long time to grow into things we know to be true.

Maybe I should say, it usually takes a long time.

It’s one thing to understand Christian life, in our minds, but it’s another thing altogether to get to the place where we can live it consistently and demonstrate that understanding.

It’s not because the power of God is insufficient, it’s just that we are humans. With issues. And habits. And pains. And histories. And we live with other humans.

And by the way, it’s not bad to be human. Humanity is what God made to reflect His image. We just aren’t fully, perfectly, human yet.

God is patient. We know it’s a process to grow and change and learn to love. What we don’t always know, or want to know, is that pain is often the way we become more human.

It’s how we soften, and become kind, and gracious, and strong. It’s how we learn to really love.

Jesus suffered. We will suffer.

What we need to know is how to suffer well. How to live with pain. How to find the gifts in it. How to find gratitude despite ongoing difficulty. And it may not happen quickly.

It’s after our eyes are opened to seeing these things that we begin to display the life of Jesus. If we can’t suffer well – and suffering doesn’t have to be the excruciating variety; it can even be small annoyances – we won’t know in our experience the things we know in our heads.

As my counselor said, you can tell who has suffered. Who’s allowed themselves to grieve, to feel loss and pain, and hasn’t tried to cover or avoid it or overcompensate for it. Who’s allowed others into it. Who’s allowed God into it and gotten to know Him.

They’re usually kind and understanding people, slow to anger. Pretense and legalism are no more. They’re just real.

I want to be one of those people.

Out past the fear

Caeley said she wanted to swim out to the sand bar, so without hesitation I said I wanted to go, too. We walked along the beach to a place that wasn’t crowded, but decided that swimming out into the deep without other people around to scare away and/or distract sharks and rays was a bad plan.

We walked back into the crowd and found a spot to begin our swim out to the sand bar. She had been out the day before and it was covered with live sand dollars. I’d never seen them alive so I wanted to experience it for myself. It seemed like a fun adventure.

Between the shore and the sand bar was a stretch of deep water. We pushed our way past the waves in the shallows and started swimming when we could no longer touch bottom. As I swam I had a thought, a revelation, if you will:

I can’t touch the bottom.

Like, it’s not an option. If I get tired that’s too bad. Oh, and remember that video on Facebook last week of those sharks that were really close to shore? And those people who got stuck in the undertow? Yeah…what were you thinking?!

As near as I could tell I was about halfway to the sand bar. It was the same distance in either direction to a place I could put my feet down. I nearly panicked because I did not think this through at all and the distance looked much shorter when I was standing on the beach. Also, I’m not much of a swimmer and I’m out of shape.

I wondered if the two or three Barre classes I had taken would help. Ha.

Caeley said if I got tired I could just float on my back to rest. I decided to keep pushing on and breathed in a very controlled way so as to stave off the very real panic that was trying to take over.

I talked to God about my hope to survive as I swam. I floated/paddled on my back a good bit and eventually we made it out to the bar. It took a while to find a place we could touch because though it appeared shallow, it wasn’t. The water was just really clear.

Once we did, though, it was really fun to be out there. We could see lots of brown sand dollars strewn around. Caeley had a pair of goggles so we took turns diving down to look around. I haven’t just enjoyed playing and swimming in the ocean that way in years.

As a mom I’m usually busy playing lifeguard, but it was good for my soul to sort of feel like a kid again.

We stayed out til we had our fill and as we swam back in I was feeling like this was a spiritual experience. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt like God was near and I needed to learn something.

It was much easier getting back to shore because we had the incoming waves on our side. I floated on my back and paddled most of the way in and thought about how sometimes we just need to go with the flow, and let ourselves be carried.

Getting back to dry ground left me with a sense of relief and accomplishment – I didn’t drown and I got to spend some quality time with Caeley.

That was a couple of weeks ago. This morning I ran across an update from Audrey Assad. She’s one of my favorite Christian artists – her music is deep and thoughtful and moving.

She’s working on a new album, which I’m excited to hear. Her story is that these new songs were born out of a hard season, in which she was confronted with doubts and uncertainty, and her faith was shaken.

She shared a screenshot of some lyrics and as I read them, my mind immediately went back to my swim in the deep waters, and the fear I fought on the way.

This is my story, not just of an ocean swim, but of my life the last few years. In the wilderness, though dry and lonely, I’ve found water, friendship with God and kinship with Jesus.

There is no death here in the ruins.

Diving headlong into my fears, sadness, questions, and even anger, I found Him. If I had turned back, where would I be?

If we push past our fear of uncertainty and choose to face our doubts, they really can turn into wonder. It’s happening for me.

I’ve been saying for a few years now that we can’t be afraid of our questions. We need to ask them, we need to ask God, we need to step out where our feet can’t touch down and trust Him to carry us.

In the same way that I had to decide whether to swim on or turn back, we come to places with God where the decision is essentially that: swim on or turn back.

There’s adventure and wonder and life on the other side, though, if we keep going. Sometimes we swim, sometimes we just try to stay afloat, sometimes we get carried effortlessly.

Trust Him with your heart – the joy, the pain, the grief, the anger. Dive out into the deep and go on an adventure with Him.

Out past the fear, doubt becomes wonder.

**FYI, Audrey Assad’s album will be called Evergreen and it will be out in the Spring of next year.

Who told you that you were naked?

I chose one of my baby pictures because it’s easier to tell this to my cute younger self, than my adult self. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  Genesis 3:6‭-‬11 ESV

This is a really familiar story for most people, even those who aren’t Christian (or Jewish), but this morning I had a thought I hadn’t really pondered before.

I’ve been trying to digest it and ask God what, if anything, He has for me in it. This is one I’ll probably need to chew on for a while, but I thought I’d go ahead and throw it out there. 

The question, “Who told you that you were naked?” is an important question. “Did you eat some fruit from that tree I told you not to eat?”

The thing that struck me was that they had always been naked. Satan didn’t lie to them – it wasn’t untrue that they were naked, they just had never noticed before. They had been naked and not ashamed of it. 

But now, they were painfully aware of their nakedness, felt ashamed and tried to cover it. The lie was that nakedness, in and of itself, was shameful. 

The act of covering is a sure sign of shame. And it’s not the fruit of the tree of life. In their case they had sinned and truly had moved into a state of disconnection from God.

But, as followers of Jesus, who have moved from death to life, who are hidden in Him, who are called righteous, we should never have the shame that causes us to hide from God and others.

Yet, we often do. 

The story of Genesis 3 is the story of humanity. It’s my story and it’s your story. 

As ones who have been restored to relationship with God, we too, at times, find ourselves hiding in the bushes trying not to be found out. But why?

Who is tempting us to eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil? 

We know we have an Enemy who is called the accuser of the brethren – he’s constantly telling you that you’re failure, a lost cause and pointing out your faults. 

But, I’m afraid we do this to each other sometimes, too. There are people who are walking around carrying baskets of fruit from the tree of knowledge, wanting you to eat, and believe again that you’re actually naked and wretched before God.

Those who’ve been eating bad fruit want you to eat some, too. 

She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6

I can imagine God coming to look for me: 

“Ashley, where are you?”

<leaves rustle> “Uh, I’m in here.”

“Why are you hiding? Who told you were in trouble? Who told you that I would disown you? Who told you that you are naked?”

“Well, first, ‘she’ said I’m not a good mom and that my house is a mess, and it’s my fault my kids are misbehaving, and I’m not spending enough time with you and I probably don’t really know you after all. And then…”

“So, you ate the fruit from her basket again?” 

“Uh – huh.”

“I thought we had a good thing going. We were hanging out, I was teaching you things, you were growing and changing and maturing. You were letting me tell you who you are, and who I am and that was enough. We were tracking together. I know you mess up – I’m not blind – but we were working on it. Weren’t we working on it together? How did this happen?”

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Galatians 3:3

I find myself in the bushes sewing fig leaves more than I care to admit. 

You know, the Pharisees were on every street corner handing out fruit, and Jesus had strong words for them. They placed heavy burdens and demands on the people and offered no help in carrying those burdens.

We have to be careful in making “helpful” suggestions, or offering criticism to others, and assuming we know their hearts. None of us is the Holy Spirit. 

God is the only one who knows the heart, even our own. We think we do, but there are still corners left unseen and untouched. And when he’s ready to go into them, He will. 

We should listen to input from our friends, but the final word belongs to God. We have to take everything to Him and ask if it’s true. 

And, if it is true, we need to know what He wants to say about it and about us. We need to stay connected to Him and not allow another human to take His place. 

Remember that you are covered in His righteousness, not your own. You are not naked and ashamed before Him, you just feel like you are, at times. Just as in Genesis, it is not shameful to be “naked,” before God. It is necessary.

This has been my journey for quite some time. The truth is that God is happy to be with me even when I’ve sinned. I am more important than whatever problems I am causing (thanks to John and Sungshim Loppnow for that new way of thinking).

My life needs to be laid bare before Him. There should be no shame in that.

If I remain close to, and open with, Him, I will grow and change, and my shortcomings will become cause for celebration of a love big enough to embrace me and cover me, not in spite of my failures, but because of them.