Christian Social Justice

Last Saturday, after a happy hour meeting centered on social justice, four educators and I sat and discussed our schools and the diversity work happening within them. After some extended sharing about my school’s programs, racial demographic, and religious climate, a new acquaintance craned his head toward me in a sort of gesture mixing kindness, solidarity, and pity, and said, “You are in an odd place to be doing diversity work.”

I have been thinking about that comment more and more this past week as I think through the beauty and the complications of having a passion for diversity and social justice in a predominately white, conservative, Christian high school.

Today, I attended this year’s Educators for Social Change conference, and the first keynote speaker Keith Catone said, “I cannot keep calm and carry on, because I am filled with anxiety!” He laughed as he shared this statement. “Who here has felt anxiety recently due to the current political climate? Who has felt anger?” I raised my hand for both.

As Keith spoke about advocacy and agency, especially for the youth in our classrooms, he gave an example of a student-led walkout in Rhode Island, which occurred at 11:08a.m. the day president Trump was inaugurated. He spoke highly of the students’ decision, praising them for their ingenuity, their willingness to walk out during class time and take unexcused absences, their intelligence in asking adult leaders in the area to support them and meet them outside with supplies as they encountered police (presumably there for their protection). He said, as adults, we should not criticize them and ask each other whether they took the right action and what the consequences should be; we should instead be actively embracing the pedagogy of walking out. If we as adults did not “get this election right,” and they as students were not old enough to cast their vote, we should be paying attention to them. We should allow students to teach us about what they’re doing and why. We should let them take the lead and listen in to what they want for their future.

Keith spoke freely about his reservations, fears, and anxieties about a Trump administration. He joked with relative ease, seeming to hold an assumption that each person in the audience was anti-Trump and stood with him. And I understand this assumption in the sense that Trump’s presidency (thus far) and presidential race (in its entirety) has had little to do with inclusion and social justice, which was the purpose for our gathering today. However, I teach classrooms filled with a seeming majority (or a loud minority?) of Trump supporters. I teach in a place where students proudly wear “Make America Great Again” hats and Trump socks, where some scoff at the mere though that someone could be pro-choice or a feminist or support stricter gun laws. Sure, there are students who are pro-choice and who are feminists and who are supporters of stricter gun laws, but they seem to be a quiet minority – or at least don’t relish the idea of locking horns with a boasting Trump supporter in the middle of their school day.

This makes me ashamed and angry sometimes, quite honestly. This makes me reflect.

I have thus far endeavored to be a teacher who does not share my political or social views in the classroom – other than to help them critically think from different angles and play devil’s advocate to their ideas. When students tell me they want to write a research paper advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, I say, “Sure. Why are you passionate about this?” When another student wants to research transgender issues and says that everyone should just “stick to their born gender because all this transgender stuff just makes people uncomfortable,” I nod and say, “Okay. I’ll look forward to seeing what you find in your research, especially the opposing viewpoints.” Students all day contradict each other’s opinions, and in many ways, this is the beauty of America’s fabric. We are a United States who believes diverse views help create a vibrant and functioning democracy. However, I raised my hand today when Keith asked who else had increasing anxiety over the country’s current political climate. I raised my hand when he asked who was angry.

Those who doubt, question, and naysay about social justice work in my school community are probably not as high in numbers as they seem – just loud, persistent, and ever questioning our “agenda.” Yet, their voices make them seem more heavyweight than they are. So to support, for example, a student walkout at the time of a presidential inauguration seems extreme to me in my current teaching atmosphere. And yet, in the audience that surrounded me today, this stance was applauded, seemingly condoned as normal and right. Educators for Social Justice seemed clear in their convictions. But do they share those convictions in their classrooms? And is that right? And why do I stay quiet in mine? Is that right?

The challenge for me in vocally or actively supporting a walkout or any other form of student democratic resistance is this: to defend it asserts that the resistance is right. It assumes that the students are clear in their opinions and well informed and that we stand behind what their voices are saying, that we trust they have thought through it well. And on top of that, to share my political views would embolden some students and parents to think, “Yes! I knew that’s what she thought!” while very likely creating walls between myself and those students and parents who disagree with my views, breaking down relationship and limiting their full engagement and growth in my classroom. And for the record, I am not a proponent of walls, at least when it comes to countries and relationships…

Maybe I was raised not to act as an adolescent without parental and teacher permission, or maybe it is just me, but I know now that there is a moral – even more, a fundamentally Christian – lens with which our school (and I) view resistance and frankly any other earthly action. This lens asks us to analyze our and our students’ actions by filtering them through God’s laws and commands. If one of my students wants to publicly support Trump’s immigration ban, I must ask how that fits within a Christian view. If another student wants to protest the ban, I must critically assess how that fits. I suppose it depends upon how one interprets the Bible’s commands or if they are even thinking about them in the first place… However, with my faith as a guide, I do not believe that I can just support any old opinion that my students form and say, “Bravo! I stand with you! Use your voice and your agency!” I cannot condone just anything that they are swept up in as part of a cultural or political movement. My job is to help shape them, to help them see both sides (or even better, to change the either/or, us-against-them political narrative. Why must that be so?). My job is to sharpen them in such a way that they can make their own decisions in due time, teaching them to do so with their faith and their community in mind.

So, here is what I know:

  • Donald Trump is our president. I am praying for him and need to do so even more often.
  • I am a feminist.
  • I largely don’t worry about our safety as a nation; though I acknowledge that I have no idea what it is like to have my personal security seriously threatened.
  • I do not agree with Trump’s immigration ban.
  • I do worry about our gun laws.
  • I do want to love and embrace the LGBTQ community and let them know that even though their sexual orientation and lifestyle is not condoned by my faith, they have just as much inherent worth, value, and beauty as any other person in God’s creation.
  • I do think there is a huge racial wound still festering in America.

Here is what I don’t know:

  • So much.

 

But I’m willing to learn and to listen to both “sides,” and I want my students to do the same.

And I am left pondering two questions tonight – because I don’t actually think that I’m in an odd place to do diversity work. The one who created diversity – of landscape, of wildlife, of skin tones, of genders, of personalities and opinions – is the very God who I worship. And the Lord expects more from me, from my students, than just for us to be who we feel like being or to say and act on what we think and feel within a cultural and political climate. For that reason, I cannot and must not approach social justice and political resistance the same way that every other school does.

So here it is:

For a faith community built on the belief of Holy Scripture, a community for which unity in the body of Christ is paramount, a community in which any stance “in the minority opinion” sparks (or would very likely spark) criticism or an engulfing divide, how do I help my students take a stand? And how do they speak up and resist injustices without doing more harm to their community than good?

Here is what I have so far:

With love.

Please help me from there.

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For my black brothers and sisters

 

I can only relay what I hear from black members and their loved ones in our fractured society – from those most publicized and from those most known and dear:

Fear, so much fear. For yourself, for your family, for especially your beautiful black sons, for your future, for your increasingly bitter heart…

Anger, sadness, profound disappointment, numbness, hopelessness… I am unable to encapsulate all you feel or know to be true. My words are too meager, too removed. However, I was reminded last night at a prayer vigil and this morning in reading the Word that God has much to say, Himself and through his people, and those words are strong and true and will come to pass.

In Psalm 6, while being pursued by enemies, David cries out in prayer:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
    But you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
    save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who will give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
    it grows weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.

He hears your pleas, too.

If it is of any encouragement, I have been praying Psalm 9 over you this morning, my dear brothers and sisters. May you be strengthened and your heart reoriented:

But the Lord sits enthroned forever;
    he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
    he judges the peoples with uprightness.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
    Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord!
    See my affliction from those who hate me,
    O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises,
    that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
    I may rejoice in your salvation.

15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
16 The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion.[d]Selah

17 The wicked shall return to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.

18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

19 Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you!
20 Put them in fear, O Lord!
    Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

Take heart that the Lord hears you. He sees you. He knows your heart. You are not forgotten. Our God is one of equity, of justice, of caring for the afflicted and oppressed. I will seek justice and reconciliation with you now, here on this earth that I am called to help renew, and I know while we struggle for that realization, ultimately full justice, full equity, full judgment will be realized, without the mar of sin or error. That is the character of our God.

For now, while you respond with your family or publicly through prayer, protest, or other activism, hear the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

 

Standing with you,

Lauren

 

On Fight and Flight [or Beauty in the Breakdown]

I’ll cut right to the chase. This morning, I burst into tears in my classroom. In front of my kids. At 7:56am. One minute after class started.

Allow me to give some context and explain.  

Last weekend – beautiful, redemptive conversations and hugs, LOVE abounding and refreshing, best friends

Monday – unpreparedness, OVERexposure, emotional wreckage (in private)

Tuesday – good and busy

Wednesday – fine and fun and fast

Thursday – The phrase “The day got away from me” is not accurate enough. The day flew by me and around me. It FLEW, and I was building the plane while flying it. Work from 7am-11:30pm without ceasing.

Friday – Wake up. GO. GO. Go. go. gooo… CRASH. Insert Gina, amazing teacher partner, who gave me a breather and took over my class while I cried in the empty hallway and in her room, and I prayed.

It’s wild to me to think about how we fight and flee. When we do. If we do. It’s also amazing to me to see how God REDEEMS, because boy, does he ever… ALWAYS. Here are five things I noticed after my 3rd hour when I got a breather.

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Fable & Lore necklace, made here in St Louis. The pattern speaks to me – partnership, gold, shining, waves, dips, doves, peace.

Camo “battle” shoes – I seem to always wear these when I have a spiritual battle ahead. I wore them to the store two summers ago when we heard that Grandpa Alex was in the hospital. I wore them to Chick-Fil-A that same week when I mightily ate some chicken and made my father-in-law belly laugh to lift some grief.

“Hunger Games” arrow rings with chain from Standard Style in KC. I feel powerful, alive, and GUIDED when I wear this. I could stab the devil with this and inflict some damage as well.

Ring wrapped in thread from local store in LA. Handmade. It speaks to me of binding, protecting, adorning, and unraveling over time, the need for redemption.

Ebony heart earrings from the annual family Hen Party. I wore my heart on the outside today; edged in gold and passed down to me from family, it was.

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I’m a lover of jewelry. I love to make a statement and decorate myself in things that make me feel bold and strong and unique.

After my 3rd hour when I got a breather and walked down that same empty hallway to get some tea, I saw adornment. I saw adornment and purpose and reasons to praise.

God loves to adorn me as well… and how odd it is (and INCREDIBLE) that it seems subconsciously (or miraculously) God guides me to dress myself in things that give me power and strength on days that I REALLY will need it.

Before first hour, I felt the stress building. I rushed. I tried to help kids who desperately wanted my attention. I did not get my plans cemented. I did not get the objectives or agenda written on the board. I did not play music as they entered like I normally do. I was not relaxed and full of peace, and I know (because God spoke to me yesterday and this morning about it, that peacemakers who sow in peace build fields of righteousness (James 3:18). Yet, I was not full of peace. I was full of exhaustion and anxiety and the need for control, and yet I was spinning out of it. I was full of selfish ambition (James 3). I would strive and strive, do and do, work and work, and I (key word: I) would get it all done and do it all well. Friends who know me, do you see a pattern?! Oh my good GOD, what you must be thinking when you look at me and see me repeating my same sins over and and over again, stubbornly fleeing from you and relying on my own flawed ability to perform. God, what must you think…?

I know what you must think, because when I returned from getting tea, I opened my Bible and flipped to the next passage in James and read this:

James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

And l listened to this: “Healing” by Ben and Noelle

And suddenly, it all fell together. I nodded and laughed and smiled and prayed, and then I blogged. Because God knows what he’s doing. Because there’s beauty in the breakdown. Because when I felt the emotion rising, I asked a kid to pray for me, smack-dab at the start of the class, and he did. And when I turned around to turn on the projector RIGHT after that, I was locked out of the system because of the storms and power loss yesterday, and that’s when I lost it. The tears started flowing, and I squeaked out, “It’s been a really hard day already, and someone needs to go get Mrs. Bush.” And they did. And she did what she did, and I did what I did.

And the kids were gracious, and they all said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Simpson. We’ve all felt that way. And we get it, and you’re not the first teacher who we’ve seen cry.” And class was better.

And 2nd hour, class was better. And by third hour, when the technology was breaking down again, the video projects the kids had prepared were not uploading and were not playing and were not using sound, and the computer kicked me out of Power Point and kids were getting flustered, I stopped class and said, “Listen.”

“Listen, Satan is the worst. And you might think it’s funny, and it kind of is, but there is some REAL, supernatural, technological difficulty going on here. There is some real spiritual battle happening in my heart and in this classroom today, and Satan’s not going to win. God is bigger and stronger and better. Amen?” The kids laughed and clapped, and I said, “Let’s be honest. That might sound weird to you, but there is a reality to the fact that Satan doesn’t want us to flourish. And he’s a butt-hole. I HATE him. Don’t you?!” [insert shocked student laughter] “I absolutely hate him, and I believe that when you call upon the name of the Lord and you tell Satan to flee, he has to. He has to flee, because God is greater, and Satan sucks. Yes?” And they all echoed yes. And we went on with our class, and we played some of the videos and solved some of the technical difficulties, and we ended class in prayer, going on with our day.

Guys, Satan is real. God is REAL. And we have POWER and ACCESS and PEACE in the Holy Spirit. God is willing and able to redeem situations and overcome evil when we ask and even sometimes when we don’t. But He wants us to ask and ask boldly. And he will fight with us as we tell Satan to flee. And he will. And now, here I am, using TECHNOLOGY that has failed me all day to share this message with you. God is a restorer and a redeemer. God is a warrior and a comforter. God is a HEALER.

I am fighting against Satan’s temptation to despair today, and I’m telling Satan to flee. Will you join me in the fight? Will you allow God to speak to you and heal you and do powerful things in your life? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to enter and move in power?

Amen. May it be so.

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There’s a Hole in my Soul, I Can Feel It, I Can Feel It…

Oh, the tangled webs we weave.

Bastille in their song “Flaws” sings, “You always wore your flaws along your sleeves. And I buried them deep beneath the ground. Dig them out. Let’s finish what we started. Dig them out, let nothing be undone.” I played this song for my students yesterday and we talked about flaws, about vulnerability and being gentle with ourselves and others. It’s fitting that my own devotion would apply to me this morning, and perhaps to you. Do you wear your flaws or your sleeve? Or do you bury them deep? Are you weary this morning? Or are you relying on the Lord’s strength? Your own? Perhaps you’re like me and you think you’re good to go, but you just haven’t crashed and burned yet. I’m trying to coast to a stop more easily than I used to, to settle into a slow jog, a trot, then a walk, rather than having an epic crash with skinned knees, concussions, and other various hazardous injuries that occur when you just. won’t. stop. Because that’s me. I just won’t stop, much of the time.

That persistent voice keeps telling me to slow down, you know… that “pesky” ever-so-wise Holy Spirit. He keeps saying, “Be gentle with yourself.” He keeps saying, “Rely on me, not yourself.” He keeps saying, “Whoa girl… you know you can’t run on your own steam forever. Or even for a second… You have to come refill. You have to come to me. To the Lord. Only my Word has life.”

And yet, I often don’t listen. Often it’s the last thing that I do. I’m getting better at it, but boy, am I a stubborn, hard-headed one, and I know I’m not alone. We’re a hard-headed people… often a hard-hearted people.

There’s a hole in my soul. Can you feel it? Can you feel it? There’s nothing else that can fill that hole in my soul other than the Lord. Only the Lord. Only Christ. And yet, I try to fill it or ignore with so many other things, mainly myself, my work, my efforts, my, my, MY. So selfish am I in my pursuits to care for others or to do my job. The devil is a sneaky one, prowling like a lion, clever like a snake. But I will crush his head. I will turn his plans to ashes. I will cry out to the Lord, and I will tell Satan to flee, and he will flee from me. For what Satan plans for evil, what we do to ourselves is turned to evil, but God works it for good. ALWAYS. (Genesis 50:20)

So let’s wear our flaws on our sleeves. Let’s finish what we started. Let’s let nothing be undone.

Lord, Finish this work that you started. Forgive me for trying to do it all on my own. Thank you for making me learn this lesson over and over and over again so that I have to keep coming back to you, so that my efforts are in vain, and you are glorified. Thank you that you are strong and powerful and the source of my strength. Strengthen my weak knees, lift my weary hands to you, and make straight paths for my feet, Lord, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Heal me, Father. Amen.

(Hebrews 12: 12-13)

Delivery

I took a break the other day, and it was very, very needed. Suffice to say that I brought myself to a new low, one that I did not realize I was capable of spiraling into, a new level of exhaustion that I had previously left untapped… It makes me wonder about even lower levels, but that would be another exploration into anxiety, and I need no more of that.

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So I took a day… I was given a day. And, it was so, so needed.

And, I suppose that I should clarify and say that it wasn’t a whole day. It was really just a morning because after that I worked eight hours on my schoolwork to prepare for the following day because I felt that that might also help me to calm my brain, if I finished a few tasks.

So I took the morning. And I ran. (I HATE running…) I slept in, I cuddled up to my husband a little, and then I laced up my tennis shoes, and I RAN, and I breathed, and I RAN… And before I had left on this run, my head was feeling still pretty cloudy, but I had learned that it was my dear friend’s induction day, and she was in a lot of pain too, of a very different sort.

So, I took my phone with me, and I RAN.

And what I felt almost immediately was relief. Warmth on my skin, energy in my legs, calm in my head, and focus because all that I had to do was let the music flow into my ears, keep my eyes mostly open, and just keep running forward. That was it. Keep pressing on toward the goal… and that day my only goal was to GET OUT of my mind and RUN.

I didn’t run the whole time. Let’s not pretend that I’m some sort of athletic prodigy (that’s almost laughable!). But it felt good, and at times, I closed my eyes, and I sang out loud, and I pressed on and challenged myself to keep going. And I prayed for myself and for my friend.

“God, help us in this. Help us to get through this. Help me to get through this. Lord, I’m so tired and so confused, and I just want to be able to focus, to get through this day with clarity. I just want peace, Lord. Help me, help me, help me.” And I cried out in my mind to Him as the music pounded in my ears and my tennis shoes pounded on the asphalt. “We look to Yahweh, Yahweh! […] And He will reign forever, He will reign forever, HE WILL REIGN for-EVER and EVER!”

God spoke through my headphones via his people in Hillsong. Keep going. He’s with you. He’s yours. You are HIS. Your brokenness does not define you. You can emerge from this darkness. He is with you. He is WITH YOU! He is WITH you!

My feet kept going and my heart kept pounding and my ears kept singing and soon my mouth was singing his praises, out loud in my neighborhood, past the tennis courts and around the bends and up the hills and on the sidewalks past the streets and into a field. I watched the leaves fall, yellow and dying, onto the ground, and I prayed in my head, “Not yet, Lord. No, not yet. While I still have breath, I will praise you.” And I thought of Erika and Justin and baby Shepherd Alexander, and I prayed for them too. “She is yours, God. He is yours. That baby is yours, God. Help her through it. Bring life. While we still have breath, let us praise you. All of our energy and our might and and our breath is for you, God.”

And soon I came to a field, and I felt I should slow. Or dance.

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So, I jogged in a few funny circles, and I tried to decide whether to keep singing aloud or twirl in circles, to make myself even more undignified than this… to revel in this freedom.

I looked around to see if anyone was around, but the trees were high and shielding this place, so I just sat down. And Hillsong sang on, “My hiding place, my safe refuge, my treasure, Lord, you are. My friend and King, Anointed One, Most Holy.”

The words subsided and the music lingered in my ears, lulling me… so I texted Erika some words from the Lord that I was receiving too, and I lied down on the asphalt with my eyes turned up toward the blue sky, and I closed them too. I let the heat and exhaustion of my body fade as my chest rose and fell, and I let the sweat pour down my face and the world swirl around me, and I allowed the words to sink in. “I will exalt you… I will exalt you… I will exalt you. You are my God.” And after a few minutes, my eyes opened and adjusted again to the day I was given, and I stood up stronger. I breathed in, I breathed out. I breathed in, I breathed out. I looked around. And someone else was coming, now, after my respite. So, I turned and walked up a VERY steep hill (that didn’t feel quite as difficult as it usually does), and I walked home.

I showered, got some grub, and I got to work. And I wasn’t perfectly healed, but I was IMMENSELY better than I had been. And each day since has been a little better as I have learned to rest and to start my days with grace and a good Word.

Each day has been a struggle lately. Some worse than others. Fear and anxiety and confusion has overtaken me. It almost felt like it took my under. But, I’m emerging, delivered, just like beautiful Shepherd Alexander did that day, at 1:50pm (just shortly after I finished nourishing my body with a good meal), and he was 7 lbs, 13 oz, and 20.5 inches long.

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He is gentle as a shepherd and strong through his King, just like me. He has weaknesses and fears and need of care, just like me. But he has a Redeemer like me, a God who does not hear his people cry out continually, over and over in anguish and despair, and not answer. Our God is a restorer, a hiding place, a safe refuge, and we will exalt Him, Shep and I. And his parents and their families too. We will cry out into the world and find the Lord drawing near, and we will find peace and deliverance, again and again. We will emerge into the world stronger and braver because of our strong, strong God. We will fight, and He will redeem us. We will be brought to places of peace of respite. We will carry on. I’m trusting that today.

971791_10103708366006674_616554872_n“I will exalt you. I will exalt you. I will exalt you. You are my God.” It’s been ringing in my ears for days.

I will exalt you, God. You are my God, indeed. I will try to get my mind out of the stubborn place where it lies and the overworked, perfection-laden spiral it shatters into, and I will try to trust you, to exercise my faith in you, to believe you when you say, REST, before I am brought low. To believe your commands and follow them. I’m trying God. I know you’ll stay with me. You are near, God. You are mine. I am yours. I am your joy and your crown, whom you love and long for. And I will try not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present my requests before you, and your peace, which transcends all understanding will guard my heart and my MIND in Christ Jesus.

Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Amen.

Thank you.

Now, I’m ready to take on this day.