Lost Along The Way

It’s so easy to get lost along the way. I bet that’s why God places so many reminders in Scripture that he has our best plans in mind, that he is watching out for our hearts and lives with all of these “rules and regulations.”

It’s so easy to get discouraged and to give up, to let pain have the final say.

It’s so easy to decide that since you’ve failed a few times that means you are now a failure and will never measure up to anything.

I saw a quote recently that went something like, “The Enemy cannot take your oil (anointing) but if he can convince you it’s not worth anything, then he ends up stealing it’s power.” How many times have you and I been convinced that our gifts are meaningless?

How many times have I had words on my lips or ready for the keyboard and left them unsaid or avoided typing them, fearing they lacked significance?

A world filled with pain…and there is hope – yet, I am afraid to admit that I have it.

Someone asked me this week – “Justin, why are you always so positive?” I was honestly kind of shocked by the question. I thought I’d been kind of a bummer the last few weeks wrestling through the murky, suffocating waters of depression. I thought a moment about my answer and then I said, “I guess, despite all of my shortcomings, I know Jesus and he’s my hope.” The gentlemen said, “I figured that’d be your answer – me too – well, I just want to let you know it makes a huge difference and that your impact is felt here…” and then he walked away.

What a wonder…making an influence even at my weakest. Brings new meaning to the biblical idea that he can make me strong in my weakest areas. He lifts up the humble and humbles the proud. If only we grasped that concept.

You, my friend, are not a failure if you are not on a high in life right now. If you’re not where you want to be, you don’t have to stay there. And admitting that you’re struggling is the first step to recovery in any situation. Simply accepting the status-quo will get you the status-quo. If you want change, you need to be the change – and you need to surround yourself with people that are going that direction and are going to take you there with them.

“Who are your change-agents?” Dr. Henry Cloud asks in “Necessary Endings” (what a great book, by the way). We all have those 2 or 3 people in our lives that challenge us and push us to the next level. Chances are if you’re in a season of stagnancy, you’ve been avoiding the coffee-dates and gym-sessions with them for a little while now. You know they’ll call you to something greater and that means you’ll have to give up the old “comfortable” situation that you don’t want to admit you love.

When someone is in sin and they “can’t seem to get out of it” – it’s really not THAT complicated. They have fallen in love with the sin – the lust, the greed, the anger – it has become their comfort zone – that is where they would prefer to live.

If that’s you, I pray that you’d find those 2-3 people to pull you out of the backwards slide and into the light. There is hope in the daylight. Hunkered down in your own loneliness, isolation, and the darkness of night with your bottle of tequila, browser filled with porn, contact-list full of affairs, pantry filled with Oreo’s, books filled with delusion, and mind addicted to sadness…there is no hope. What a terrible, sad, horrendous place to be.

You will be amazed what that one phone-call has the power to do. You will be amazed what cracking open the dusty Bible on your book-shelf can do for your heart. You will be awestruck and shocked at how integrity and honesty, while it may hurt a little at first, will become your building blocks for success and that even little white lies will start to make you sick to your stomach, because they just aren’t worth it anymore.

Friends, you may have gotten lost along the way, but you do not have to stay there. Where you are today does not determine where you will be tomorrow.

Call the “change-agent” in your life and admit where you are weak, they will make you strong.

Say the prayer that you are afraid to pray and He will answer.

Share your fears and struggles with your wife and she will love you.

Set goals for yourself and celebrate your success, even if you only hit the 50% mark the first time. At least you started growing again.

Jesus told the parable of the shepherd that would leave the 99 sheep to save the 1 that got lost. The prodigal son squandered all of his father’s wealth and was still welcomed with open arms and celebrated for his return to the Kingdom.

How much more will he pursue your heart? How much larger a feast for the lost, hurting heart that discontinues their pity-fest and pursues freedom in Christ’s name?

He’s left the 99 to come find me…I’m confident He will rescue you, too.

Call, and he will answer. Knock, and the door will be opened.

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Labels, Pretzels, And Feelings.

Labeling things always seems so dangerous to me. I’m sure you can relate. Do I really want to label my issue with such-and-such an addiction? Do I really want to label this relationship abusive? Or the ones that I struggle with presently would be…do I really want to admit that I’m 50 lbs overweight and living in depression?

I suppose admitting you have a problem or placing a label on something can be freeing as well. For me, deciding Allie was the one I was willing to give my life for and to has reaped the benefits of freedom and love that I could have never fathomed before. The label of faithful commitment called marriage has been well worth the cost.

However, for many of you, in the present-world of dating, everyone has so many options. Swipe right, swipe left – go on a few “dates” and watch a little “Netflix” – okay, now I’m bored – let’s swipe some more. Placing a label on things seems…dangerous…to some. Placing a label on things may cause someone to avoid making a decision altogether (perhaps that is why some people date 5+ years or end up in 3+ year engagements). Committing to another now takes all the other options off the table and that risks making a bad decision.

I don’t know about you, but I hate failing.

Failure is one of those things that drives me crazy. If I put myself in an unfamiliar scenario and say “I’m going to lose x-number of pounds by y-date,” or “I’d like to make z amount of money by 2025,” then I feel paralyzed. Admitting that I have a goal or getting it out into the light is one of the most proven methods for success. Let others know where you’d like to go and surround yourself with an energetic team of others that are already going that direction – be okay with leaving the stragglers behind, because that’s not where you want to be anymore, yourself.

If that’s the method for success, then why is it so difficult?

To place the label on oneself as writer would probably mean that one should write something…right? Hence this silly blog airing out my internal spider-web of feelings.

And feelings…aren’t they just so complicated? I really, truly wonder how anyone makes it through life without therapy/counseling and some kind of stress-release outlet (for me, it’s coffee and reading or disc-golf on my days off). If it weren’t for my own weekly counseling and “me-time” outings, I’d be a pretzel of feelings. I pray for those of you that have yet to have the courage to admit that you need help.

It’s insane that we all thought at the age of 18 that we knew so much and would be conquerors of the world. To have some of that confidence back would be amazing, but perhaps tempered with the wisdom of years of realizing just how much anyone always has left to learn. Remain humble and you will be lifted up, in due time.

One simply has to be themselves to get anywhere in life. You are unique and different and important and you add value to the world around you.

As my counselor put it – “you don’t really have to change or be any different for anyone other than yourself, if you want to.”

Another friend put it growing up, “you will always do whatever it is that you want to do.” It may have been his way of spurring me on toward a more obedient faith during times of abundant apathy and cynicism, but that truth remains.

You will do what you want to do.

What is that, exactly?

I’m still trying to find the answer, for myself. I think I grew up in such a way that I wanted to be perfect and pleasing for others. Focusing my energy on ensuring I was setting the right example – or rather, obsessing over the times I obviously had not set the correct one. Being the oldest of 5 siblings places you in that sort of dynamic by birthright. It’s no one’s “fault” really, more so just where you end up.

Wasting all this energy on wondering what others want of me has proven unsuccessful. So I now find myself beginning to ask the question of, “what do I want for me?”

Sounds selfish. But it’s not. The times that others have been the most blessed and enthused by my presence are the times that I’ve loved myself.

What are your thoughts? How have you personally come to peace with who you are and decided what you wanted for yourself? How can I pray for and encourage your own life-journey?

pretzel

A Look Inside (My) Depression

“When was the last time you thought to yourself, you know what – I’m actually pretty good. I kinda like who I am,” asked my well-meaning counselor.

“What would it take for you to love yourself?”

“I don’t know – if I could lose weight, write a book, actively accomplish something that I’ve set out to do, like if I want to wake up early in the morning then to actually get out of bed at 5:30 AM when I’ve set my first alarm. To have finally completed the 12 Steps of my addiction recovery program.”

My counselor then proceeded to show me the places in which I’ve grown over the last year. “Justin, you’ve gone almost a full year without a relapse into your former pornography addiction. You’ve successfully had financial discussions with Allie without getting defensive and allowing it to turn into a fight. From what I can tell – you’re becoming rather successful at work, you’ve built healthier friendships and your relationship with Allie gets sweeter and sweeter.”

“So what is it going to take for you to love yourself?”

“Where would you say you are on your fantasy scale of who you want to be – on a scale of 1-10?”

“I don’t know – a 5, maybe.”

“And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with being a 5 and telling yourself, “you know what if I improve to a 6 or 7 over the next few years, then I’m a champion. I’m overcoming my sinful nature and becoming a stronger man of God,” and maybe by the time you’re 40 you’re an 8, and so on and so forth.

I found myself far more engaged this session than previous ones. Often distracted by wondering if someone from work has texted me or if my wife is doing okay, or whatever other anxiety-ridden thing I might be missing out on – FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), I found myself listening, emotionally there, and nearing tears of gratitude.

“Justin, I think you’re okay. You’re doing a great job. You’re doing some really hard stuff. You can’t take on the whole world all at once. What if you took your goals – let’s say you want to drop 40 lbs and we cut that way down and we say you want to lose 10 lbs in the next 6 months. That’s doable, right? And what if instead of beating yourself up every morning when the scale still reads 2** – you decide to celebrate the victory of going on a walk a couple times a week. Because that’s better than what you’re doing right now, right?”

You get the idea.

You’d think I was in 1st grade. The concepts were so basic, so simple, so “easy.” And yet for the last few months I’ve barely been able to get myself out of bed, get dressed, and accomplish anything. I’m convinced I’ll fail – I won’t reach the fantasy self (230 lbs, New York Times Bestselling Author, freed from shame and living in joy), so why try? I’m gonna snack, so why not have three snacks? I’m gonna get distracted, so why even take the laptop and the book to the coffee-shop with me?

Round and round goes the cyclical cycle of shame. Satan’s henchman whispering in my ear at night all the reasons I’m useless for God’s Kingdom. My neural pathways strangely trained to think the worst possible outcomes will occur in my life.

I could blame it on being introduced to pornography in my young teens. I could blame it on the way that’s affected my relationships and the shame and pain of doing things I regret because of that former addiction. I could blame it on the way loved ones reacted to my being found out – seen for what I was. I could continue to lay in bed and wait for the day of the dead to come knocking at my door, to take me home from the suffering.

Or.

I can wake up with a purpose – the purpose of loving being a 5 and becoming excited about the journey to becoming a 6. I can honestly share my story and my heart with others, knowing that there’s nothing to hide anymore – and as high and mighty as some may pretend to be, they have plenty of their own skeletons. Having always admired the authentic, why try so hard to be the polished?

So that’s why I’m writing today. I’m not so sure this blog even has all that much cohesion and I’m certain it’s not my best work; confident there’s much to be improved. But for someone that’s been sinking in depression for the last several months, simply externally processing and sharing my feelings and heart with my community is a win. Hitting “Publish” is a victory. It’s one small step toward becoming a 6. One step closer to becoming more like Christ, regretful to radiant, sorrowful to serendipitous, grave to grateful.

Let’s dust off the keyboard and see if I’ve still got it.

Until Next Time,

Justin

depression

No Pain, No Gain (Like You Haven’t Heard That Before)

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that one of the connecting points for many lasting friendships in the world is the endurance of pain, together. There I was sharing a margarita with a friend I hadn’t seen in several months and the conversation drifted to the tougher moments in life and how he could relate to x-y-z and I could relate to a-b-c. Perhaps that’s too simplistic a view, but being the sinful humans we are, we’ve all been hurt and we all have hurt, others. It’s our nature to be selfish, inflict pain, and to find ourselves in the crucible of sanctification, given the choice of asking for forgiveness and saying “F*** them, they’re not worth it.” We’ve all been guilty of choosing the latter at some point in life, but it’s never led anywhere fruitful. Bitterness and hatred is only serving yourself the poisoned wine, rather than giving it to your enemy. You’d be better off attempting to kill them with kindness, wouldn’t you?

Anyways – back to my point – in a world of filtered photos, edited texts, and Facebook posts that are a highlight reel of life…we need that one person to share that one painful story of rejection, anger, pain, hatred, betrayal, longing, addiction, abuse, etc. – and that’s all it takes – and then there’s an iconic moment in every redeeming friendship – a “me too – I’ve been there as well.”

I talked with a coworker about depression this week. Opening up about my need for counseling, I found myself given the opportunity to minister to his soul and providing him with helpful options that I’ve utilized for my own personal growth and journey towards freedom from the hatred and loathing of self.

All it took was an opening up, and a “hey, me too man.”

So I guess all of that is to say, you can filter your pictures and keep your Facebook as clean and crisp as you want, but my life is about to get as real as it gets.

I’ve spent enough of my time worrying about reputation, status, money, and what other people think about me, but as long as God says “well done, my good and faithful servant” and my wife is excited to see and kiss me when I get home, then I’ve lived life well. The rest doesn’t matter and it always works out in the end.

It’s amazing how much time we spend chasing peace and perfection, and some of the most peaceful, perfect, love-filled moments are those that are spent being honest and broken, and allowing love and grace to cover over them.

Tim Keller writes of a czar who adopted a son. The adopted son had squandered his wealth and was contemplating suicide due to his recklessness… (sounds like the Prodigal Son in a way)

“Because he couldn’t cover his gambling debts, he began to embezzle from his regiments funds. One night he was sitting in the tent looking at the books and he realized that his embezzlement was about to be discovered. He could hide it no longer from the accountants. He sat drinking heavily and prepared to kill himself. He had the revolver by his side and he took a few more drinks to strengthen his resolve for the suicide. But the drink was too potent and he passed out on the table.

That night the czar was doing what he often did. Disguised as a simple soldier, he was walking through the camp and the ranks, trying to assess the morale of his army, hearing what he could hear. He walked into his foster son’s tent and saw him slumped over the book. He read the book and realized what he had done and what he was about to do.

When the young man awoke hours later, to his surprise the revolver was gone. Then he saw a letter by his hand. To his shock, it was a promissory note, “I, the czar, will pay the full amount from my own personal funds to make up the difference found in this book.” And it was sealed with the czar’s personal seal. The czar had seen the young man’s sin clearly, the full dimensions of what he had done. But he had covered and paid for the sin personally.”

The crazy part is that Jesus does this for you and me, daily. We constantly squander the wealth and the gifts that He’s provided us with. We hurt our wonderful parents with our insensitivity to their wisdom, we hurt our spouse with our stubbornness to their pleas for wiser behavior and moral conduct, we disappoint our elders as they prod us toward holiness, and we discourage our brothers with our apathy – yet Jesus PAID our debt. He said, “I see what you’ve done and I know it fully. The price has been paid. Now come back home.”

I think my life’s calling is to call other’s home. I see what you’ve done – I’ve done some stupid shit too. Now let me pay the price for you, so that you can come back home. You don’t belong in the underworld anymore. Let me provide you with some clean linens and prepare a guest-room for you. You’re an esteemed guest, a high ranking official, and adopted heir to the King – grace and peace and love covers over you.

So friends, come home. Stop running. Stop hiding. Stop chasing success. Stop searching for happiness at the bottom of the bottle or at the sound of any empty pill bottle. Stop clicking through videos and images of women that don’t belong to you (I shouldn’t even look at my wife that way). Stop shopping until you drop. Stop buying friendships with your money. Stop connecting with others through your self-loathing.

Just stop.

You were worth it. You are worth it.

So worth it that he paid your debt in full and covered you in the finest clothes. “What we should say to each other on our wedding day is, ‘As great as you look today, someday you will stand with me before God in such beauty that it will make these clothes look like rags.” (Tim Keller, “The Meaning Of Marriage”)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Thought outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our slight momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

no pain no gain

The Darkness Took Over (And Something About Gold)

At some point, the darkness took over. It convinced me I was worthless, incapable, and not strong enough to go on. Satan’s whispers that my past wrongdoings were in fact my true identity and that the righteous man I’d masqueraded to be was simply a false identity. I’d been found wanted and I’d never amount to anything ever again.

I wish I could say that I told the devil that he was wrong and quickly reclaimed my true identity in Christ, trusting and leaning into the light. But I didn’t. I stayed there in that dark place, allowing myself to remain imprisoned by the past. The darkness took over.

The Bible talks about how if we give in to sin long enough, God will hand us over to it and I believe the last decade of my life was a sort of testament to that. I tried to outrun and out-think the Lord, as if that were possible. I convinced myself that lies were the truth and that the truth was a lie and I believed whatever tickled my ears and my ego.

Something interesting happens when you get married. You may have been able to lie to yourself all those years, but now you’ve got the accountability of another that is relying on you as much as you’re relying on them, and eventually they end up knowing you better than you know yourself. With Allie’s loving, loyal, strong, constant companionship by my side, I began to have to face my emotional weaknesses and my past.

I discovered that I couldn’t keep secrets from her and I couldn’t pretend I only spent $30 that week if I truly spent $50 and went over the spending budget. I learned that a half-truth isn’t the truth and it’s always best to be open, honest, and sincere regarding everything, even if it’s “not a big deal.” With our lives intertwined and every decision we both individually make affecting both of us, there’s a lot more at stake and our individual “liberties” cannot be taken lightly. Self-discipline becomes all the more important when your lack of self-control in any area of life no longer affects just you, it begins to affect another person as well.

In roughly 5 weeks, Allie and I will have been married for a year. We will get to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. February 4th will be an amazing day to look back and remember all of the growth that we’ve experienced together. I am so proud of the woman she is today compared to the woman she was when I married her – not that she wasn’t already impressive then, just that I’ve seen her endure and remain steadfast through a whole year of highs and lows.

One of our favorite artists has a line that goes something like this, “It’s not about the mountain-tops, it’s about the walking in-between.” Ben Rector is right, it’s about walking through the valleys of life, together, that matters the most.

So yes, I let the darkness take over. And yes, I’ve been in a sad, depressed season – but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a valley. The sun will shine again. Spring will come. We will experience new highs and new lows in 2018. But most important of all, we will always be together. And the past for either of us, the darkness from our sin past and present and future, does not define us. It’s simply a part of the growing process.

In “Love Lives Here” written by Maria Goff, she talks about life being similar to a gold mine. We often hope to find gold laying around on the surface, easy to pick up and cash in on. But often, it’s found deeper in the mine, under lots of ugly rocks and dirt. It takes a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of time, but eventually we can all find the right within our hearts. And we’re wasting our time if we’re trying to dig up someone else’s gold because that’s not ours to have (gossip/envy). It’s when we’ve put in the hard work to discover the gifts within the cave of our hearts that we may come across treasures that could be passed on for generations. No longer do we have to be cursed by generational sins and struggles, but we can pass on the gifts of freedom, unconditional love, and refreshing joy.

So as we enter 2018 with our figurative and literal picks and shovels, may the Lord bless our digging, and may we all find some gold in the darkness.

gold

Insecure – A Social Experiment

A few days ago, I conducted a social experiment. Without much of a reason why, I posted this question – “What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of me?” My friends graciously provided over 20 honest, thoughtful, kind responses. My brother said, “Perfect!”- but we all know that’s simply not true; but my family has always been my greatest fans and cheerleaders. I’m grateful for them.

So why would I pose such a question? The truth is, I was feeling “insecure” (probably the most prodding response I received – but it was very accurate).

I needed to prove to myself that my own perception of myself was wrong – that the negative lies swirling around in my head that night did not define me. Some of them were true, but they did not define me. Yes – I’m not fiscally secure (yet), I could stand to continue watching my fitness (but I’ve started keeping a food/exercise diary on MyFitnessPal and I’ve cut back on “going out”); I could have more reinforcing conversations with myself, rather than fighting myself, etc. But those irritating moments and bad days do not define me.

There’s a scene in the movie Creed where Rocky is instructing Creed on shadow-boxing. He turns Creed to the wall of mirrors in the gym (probably my least favorite thing about any gym or bar I’ve ever been to) and he tells Creed that his toughest opponent is the one staring back at him in the mirror. You then – slightly humorously – see Creed intensely throwing punches and ducking to avoid them as he faces himself, his greatest threat yet.

I think that’s the greatest struggle a twentysomething has to face. I’m fairly certain that’s why we see so many people in their twenties lose their faith, walk away from the church, turn to destructive lifestyles, and turning their wheels for a period of time – until they finally reach the day entering their mid-to-late twenties (shoutout to my 26th birthday, fastly approaching!) and realize it’s time to fight their demons.

So I was sitting in my car outside the Library. Because I’m a nerd. Loud and proud. I love to read and learn and write. But mostly, I love stories and emotion.

I’m sitting there in my car, questioning life and doubting myself. And I asked my friends what they thought defined me, what they valued and believed to be true about their relationship/interaction with me and it turns out, they want to call out the brave, courageous, writer within that’s good at relationships, witty, goofy, Christian and yes – occasionally insecure. But the overwhelming theme was that they loved me for me. That I was enough. That I was indeed, worth it.

I’m Justin Meyer and I struggle with insecurity and occasionally retreat to poor habits or shut-down when confronted due to a sensitive heart. But those do not define me. That is not who I am.

I am enough. I am loved. I am, for the most part, respected and talented.

So thank you for contributing to my semi-vain study where I conducted a social-experiment regarding the lens through which you see me.

But at the end, I’m still holding to the belief that this life is for an audience of One. And I’ll continue sharing matters of the heart. Because in the end, that’s what counts. And the One thought I was worth everything – even His Son.

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(For the record, I hate cats. But this one looked pretty insecure. And I figured Allie would be thrilled that I featured a ‘cute’ kitten at least once. Enjoy it while you can – it won’t happen again. :P)

Winter

I hate Winter. It’s dark outside all of the time and it’s the easiest season of the year for me to become depressed in. Technically, I believe it’s still Fall out, but it’s dark when I go to work – and dark when I go home – so I consider it Winter. And I hate Winter.

Winter is cold, bleak, dangerous, rigid, and dark. Sometimes I think it has that exact affect on my heart – engaging a torrent of emotional angst and anxiety that closes in on me like the darkness outside tonight.

But it’s okay – I fight for joy. And I’m a lucky man, dating a pretty girl, that really values me beyond belief. In fact, I’m presently writing this on her MacBook Pro because my laptop has long since seen the grave and she was gracious enough to let me borrow this for a little while.

Something weird happens when you hit your mid-twenties. You grow increasingly restless with accepting the status-quo – the norm – what everyone else is doing and what everyone else wants for you. Your heart begins to ache for meaningful work and a meaningful life, filled with meaningful relationships that have a lasting impact.

You discover that if life is entirely about the rise and grind of a 9-5 job, then is it really worth living? Probably not. So you yearn to make an impact, to find your niche, to reach the heights the dreamer within you believed you capable of at the age of 18 (but then you let fear and anxiety rule your heart, rather than prayer and planning).

It’s a weird season of learning your parents were right, the young-adults you admired as a teenagers were just as scared as you are now, and there is no glory without struggle. No good man that has not wrestled with his inner demons first. The struggle yields perseverance; and perseverance develops character; and character calls out the Great in everyone.

Basically, we’re all human and make lots of messy mistakes. The men and women that we admire were not any less messy per se – they’ve simply learned how to overcome their struggles – how to not get psyched out by the competition – and how to always keep their eyes on the prize. In the end, it’s often their weaknesses that have become strengths, that make them more relatable and a more effective witness – God ends up using even our thorns to make the rose-garden of his Kingdom beautiful.

There are consequences for your actions and for your inaction. Whether you speak or remain silent – whether you fight or remain passive – whether you exercise or remain dormant – whether you indulge or go without; all of these things have a string of consequences. We are the sum of our yesterdays. There’s grace. There’s overcoming power. There’s freedom. There’s strength. There’s endurance. But you absolutely have to take responsibility for, and accept and love, the man (or woman) staring back at you in the mirror.

You have to forgive yourself and find yourself worth loving.

I’ve lived much of the last few years with clenched fists. I’ve hated the anxious, scared, tired, frustrated, unhealthy, unfit, victim of a man that I’ve been. I’ve stormed out of rooms and cussed in my car and cried shaking sobs of depletion, sinking to the floor in my bedroom.

But I’ve forgiven myself; I’ve decided I’m worth loving.

I’m worth fighting for.

And I will fight. I can and will live again. I’ll set out and accomplish my goals. I’ll become something, because I am something. Chosen and loved before I was even worth being chosen and loved – and far after I’d dismissed revelation for ‘discovery’.

Winter can be as dark and cold and crappy as it wishes. Because I’m a man on a mission to see the light, feel the warmth, and to cling to the joy around me.

I’m grateful for your tender love as you’ve taken the time to read this. Reach out to me if you need someone, because I promise you’re not the only one sometimes silently wrestling in the dark.

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