The Struggle is Real: An Honest Look at Anxiety and Depression

It’s a subject no one really wants to talk about. We whisper about it. We know it exists, but no one wants to acknowledge it. It’s hard, but we struggle with it behind closed doors. Here’s the truth: we’ve all lost something, and with loss, comes grief. Some of you, like me, have lost a husband. Some have lost a child. You may have lost a job or a friend. We’ve all lost or had to modify dreams. When we lose, we hurt.

I’m not much of a numbers person, but I think they’re important to emphasize a fact here. 15 million people in America struggle with depression, and most of them are women. However, only about a third of those people will actually get help with their depression. One in every four women will suffer from major depression at some point in their life. We don’t want to talk about it, but depression is real; many women struggle with it at some point in their life.

Depression isn’t just sadness. It’s lack of energy, trouble sleeping, and loss of interest in the things we previously found joy in doing. It may include frequent crying, but it can also include irritability. We may overindulge in food or we may lose our appetite. It may be hard to concentrate. Depression doesn’t necessarily look the same in every person.

Anxiety is often linked to depression because worrying about things can naturally lead to depression. Many people struggle with both. In fact, more than 18% of people struggle with anxiety. Again, women are twice as likely to struggle with it as men, but yet, only a third of people seek help with anxiety. We’ve been taught and trained that women can do it all, and the truth is that we can’t, at least not long-term. Eventually, we break down. If you’ve lost a spouse, like me, you may have tried to do everything you used to do AND everything your husband used to do. Then, I wonder why I am so exhausted all the time.

I struggled with both depression and anxiety in the early days after losing Trevor, but even now, I still struggle with depression. I wish we would all be more open about the fact that it’s OK to not be OK. In fact, I quit taking an antidepressant at one point and a few months later, I decided I needed to go back on it. Life is hard, and it’s OK to get help if it helps you to be a better woman and a better mom. Counseling can be helpful. Exercise can be helpful. A regular bedtime and waking up time can be helpful.  Getting your thoughts down on paper (or a computer) can help. The point is, it’s OK to be intentional about doing things that help you to cope with the up’s and down’s of life.

Let me encourage you if you’ve ever struggled with or are struggling now with anxiety or depression. There’s not “something wrong” with you. We don’t have to hide what we’re going through, and we can certainly be open in prayer with God about how we feel. He knows anyway, and he wants us to come to him with our pain. In fact, he tells us to do just that. He wants to carry our burdens because he cares for us. When we go through the valley, he doesn’t promise a quick fix, but he does promise us his presence. Always. And he never, ever breaks his promises. In fact, David struggled with depression. We can tell from the words of his psalms. He says in Psalm 42:6, “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you.” In the very next psalm, he asks why he goes around mourning. It’s not wrong to feel depressed, but during these times, we must cling to the promises of God and stand on the truth of His word, even when we don’t feel it. If you struggle with depression or anxiety, don’t trust or depend on your feelings; trust and depend on the word of God. If we speak truth to our heart through daily reading of the Word, through prayer, and through other believers, that truth will eventually seep back into the fibers of our soul. Until then, know that our Lord is holding you, and he will never, ever leave you alone.

 

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Choose Happy

 

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What do you do when you’re in the middle of hard, and you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel? You are overwhelmed with responsibilities during the day and constantly feel distracted because you are juggling so many things. You lie in bed at night, second guessing everything you do and recounting your failures. You end each day spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. What do you do when life doesn’t seem to be getting better? Choose to have a happy ending.

 It’s difficult when the end isn’t in sight, and we don’t know how everything will turn out. It’s now that we must trust God. In the Message, 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “it’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.”  We will believe even though we can’t see the end yet. We must fight for joy each day, in the midst of the hardship and pain. We plant our feet and claim God’s promises. We decide that our husband’s death wasn’t the end of our story but rather the opportunity for a new beginning. It’s not easy when we didn’t want a new beginning or a new story. We must remind ourselves that God is making us new, and that these trials are achieving something. Tell yourself right now, as often as necessary, that you WILL have a happy ending. I’m not sure what that will look like for you. I’m not sure what that will look like for me, but someday, somehow, God will give us a happy ending. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

 Sweet friend, through the loss of our husbands, God is teaching us a whole new level of faith. We’ve experienced strength and grace from the Lord that we didn’t even know was possible. It’s still hard, but let’s plunge headfirst into this new life that God has given us. It may be messy, and it may be a little crazy, but let’s choose to make the most of it.  We will say to the Lord, “This is hard and chaotic and uncertain, but I will keep pressing on and keep pressing into you because I trust you.” 

 My kids have a tendency to whine and complain. Can you relate? I always tell them they can concentrate on the negative, or they can look for the positive. You will find what you look for. Look for the positive. Trust that life will become easier, better. We will get our happy ending, even though we don’t know what that will look like exactly. In the meantime, forge ahead without giving up. Do things for yourself to keep you going. Take heart. The best is yet to come.

 P.S. My counselor told me about Christian meditation. It’s something that can help you slow down and unwind for a few minutes. If you don’t know where to start, subscribe to a podcast called “Revelation Wellness.” The ones that say “Be Still and Be Loved” are the meditation podcasts. Give them a chance. They seem a bit weird at first, but it really is relaxing to listen to Scripture as you breathe deeply. Even if your children are yelling in the background. Enjoy.

Putting Out Fires

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Every summer, I enjoy my precious bit of free time by reading a few books merely for enjoyment or my own knowledge.  I like reading other people’s stories or losing myself momentarily in a work of fiction. 

I’m currently reading a book called Little Fires Everywhere.  It’s been good so far.  I feel as if that title describes my life most of the time.  I am constantly putting out fires everywhere.  Breaking up a fight between two boys.  Cleaning up a mess that Bo made.  Hurrying the kids into the car because we’re running late to a dentist appointment. 

It’s exhausting being a solitary firefighter, but God can also use the fires in our life to reveal to us his presence.  Moses had been in the wilderness of Midian for forty years.  Growing up in an Egyptian palace, this was probably not how he imagined his life would be like.  However, God spoke to him from a burning bush and used him to deliver the nation of Israel.  The people would wander in the desert for forty years because of their sin, but God lead them by night with a pillar of fire. 

You may be in a wilderness yourself right now.  Legal struggles with no end in sight.  Financial difficulties that don’t seem to ever get better.  Battles with depression or anxiety or insomnia or all of them.  Loneliness that threatens to crush you under its weight. 

Our gracious Lord wants you to know that this is all doing something in our lives.  These difficulties are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  (2 Corinthians 4:17)  Sometimes it feels as if God doesn’t see or care what you’re going through.  However, Scripture tells us over and over again that God sees, and he knows.  (examples – Exodus 2:25 and Genesis 16:13)  James 1 says that our trials are making us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

There’s a catch though.  God can’t do this work in an angry, bitter heart. 

It’s hard to accept the way our lives are versus the way we wanted them to be, but what if God is preparing you for something greater?  Joseph’s situation seemed hopeless.  For thirteen long years, he was trapped in slavery and then prison, but he didn’t turn against God.  One day, after he became ruler in Egypt (second only to Pharaoh), he was faced with the very brothers who had sold him into slavery.  He could’ve punished them, but he didn’t.  Joseph recognized that God’s hand had been on him all along, even in the darkest of times. 

If you’re struggling right now, maybe the best thing is to worship, do the best you can, and trust God with the outcome.  Remind yourself that this is hard, but it’s just a season.  Someday you’ll be past the hard times, and you’ll be able to look back and see that God has given you a story of his goodness and his grace. 

 

P.S. I occasionally treat myself to something pretty to lift my spirits.  If you need a little pick-me-up, here are links to two things I like.  Enjoy.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/639275791/blue-galaxy-theme-necklace-925-sterling?ref=yr_purchases

https://www.beautyandtheboutique.com/Daniel_Sandler_Luxury_Lipstick_p/ds-luxury-lipsticks.htm

Letting Go of What Would’ve Been

I love the movie Titanic, even though we know how it ends.  I love all of Kate Winslet’s dresses in the film.  I really could’ve lived in that day and time, as long as I was wealthy enough to dress like that.  There’s an iconic moment in the movie where she lets go of Leonardo Dicaprio’s hand so that she can be rescued.  There’s a lesson to be learned in that.

It’s a weak analogy, I know.  Her losing her love that lasted a few days is not nearly the same as losing a husband of 15+ years.  However, she had to let go to survive.  She had to let go of the past in order to move on.  To some extent, we must do the same thing.  We must make the tough choice to let go of the life we had, as well as the life we were going to have.  If we live in the past, we can’t live in the present.  If we hold on to the darkness that enveloped us when we lost our husband, it robs us of joy in the present and of hope in the future.

Letting go doesn’t mean we don’t cherish the memories we had.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t still miss our husband.  It simply means that we accept the life we now have instead of clinging to how life used to be.  Letting go means choosing the joys of each day in the here and now.  Life is certainly different without a husband, but it doesn’t mean that there’s not things we can still be grateful for and find happiness in.  It’s not the same, but in order to survive this thing, we have to quit holding on to the future we used to have and start shaping a new one.

Some days, it feels that all the cards are stacked against us.  We can take comfort in the fact that God still has a plan for us, and he also holds our future.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzkRjangfp8

 

When Mosquitoes Attack

 

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I have problems with mosquitoes.  I can be the only person in a room that’s bit by one, and I’ll end up with five bites.  They swell up like blimps and itch like crazy.

Last night, I went out to my backyard to pull weeds around my roses and lilies.  (There’s only 2 of each.  Don’t get carried away thinking I have some enormous flowerbed!)  I have a large citronella plant in close proximity to me; it doesn’t help.  The first problem was as I cleared weeds away from a tomato plant, I found a snake skin.  Now, this is actually worse than finding a snake.  Why?  Because it’s not a snake, just a sign that there is one nearby.  So what did I do?  I bribed my ten-year-old son into protecting me from snakes.  He stood guard with a large shovel and kept a lookout while I pulled weeds.  He did his job.  As I was clearing away weeds (quickly!) from a rosebush, he yelled and sure enough, there was a tiny snake behind it, up against the house.  I still have no idea where he went.  Luckily, it was just a garden snake.  I wonder why the Snake Away pellets I bought and dumped liberally around my house last month are not working with this little guy.  I finished pulling weeds without ever seeing the snake again, but not without incident.  You see, I wore some short shorts outside to pull weeds because it was really hot.  I was in my backyard where no one could see me.  The problem?  A mosquito bit me three times on my behind.  It is uncomfortable to say the least.

What does this have to do with anything?  First of all, take a lesson from me.  Don’t wear shorts if there’s mosquitos around, and have a brave boy to guard you from snakes.  Next, find humor in ordinary circumstances.  A mosquito bite on your bottom is humbling and annoying, but I have to admit, it’s also funny.  Life is hard.  It’s exhausting, and it’s difficult, and it’s hard to know what to do sometimes.  Don’t forget to find joy and humor in the throes of ordinary, everyday life.  Sometimes you have to laugh when your toddler comes in with eyeliner drawings all over himself.  I laid my two littles down with me for an opportune Sunday nap and had to smile at them playing and giggling together before they fell asleep.  It is easy to get frustrated or worn down by the struggles of single motherhood.  Don’t forget to see the joys in it too.

There are so many joys around us, if we just take the time to recognize them.  The sound of birds early in the morning.  A hug.  The smell of fresh bread baking in the oven.  Someone saying “I love you.”  All the kids staying in bed and no one getting up for an extra cup of water.  These are the things that sustain us.  Relish them.  Nehemiah 8:10 says that “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” He was talking to people whose life was difficult.  They were rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem amidst great opposition.  In fact, danger was so imminent that they worked with swords in their hands, just in case they were suddenly attacked by the enemy.

Life is hard, but gratitude and praise can be our greatest weapons against our enemy.  Sweet friend, use them.  They will be your strength, and they will keep you sane.

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Clutter and Chaos

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As I write this, my linen closet won’t shut because the blankets and sheets are strewn in the doorway and down the hall.  Why?  Because my toddler likes to play on the shelves where he climbs up and squeezes himself onto them to play.  Yesterday, he dumped oats all over the kitchen floor and distributed water all over his bathroom.  And you want to know something?  I sometimes clean these messes up when I find them (like the bathroom so nobody slipped and fell), but I sometimes leave them for later because I’m too tired to deal with them right then.

Before T died, I would do this mad scramble before he got home and tell the kids to pick up the common areas of the house so he didn’t trip on a toy as he walked in the door from work.  I still make them pick up each morning, but I’m not nearly as concerned about having a clean house as I used to be, and that’s OK.

My days are busy running kids to appointments, practices, and activities.  In between, I have to pay bills, meal plan, homeschool, cook, and do laundry.  Life feels chaotic at best, and overwhelming at worst.  I had a very structured routine and orderly life that was taken from me with the news that he was gone.  When we’re trying to do the jobs of two people plus grieving, is it any wonder that our days seem cluttered and chaotic?

So what’s the solution?  We embrace the clutter and chaos.  It may seem crazy to embrace the very thing that reminds us time and time again that our lives are different now, but in doing so, we may find precisely what our soul needs.  The clutter and chaos mean we’re still going.  It means we’ve survived.  Life is messy, but the clutter and chaos can serve as a reminder that we are honoring our husbands and our Lord by continuing to put one foot in front of the other.  We give and give and give of ourselves so that our children can have as normal of a childhood as possible, and that is something to be embraced and applauded, despite the chaos.

Today, instead of feeling guilty or discouraged because of the clutter and chaos, feel encouraged.  Smile.  Embrace it, because as we know, life is short.  The clutter and chaos mean we’re still alive, and that’s something to celebrate.  Here’s a toast to us – those of us who are fighting the good fight and still going, despite the pain.

Feelings

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You feel like you’re on a perpetual roller coaster.  You’re fine one minute, angry the next, and crying the moment after that.  It certainly doesn’t help that stress contributes to hormonal fluctuations which causes mood swings.  Your feelings are all over the place, so what do you do with them?

I didn’t struggle with depression or anxiety until after I lost Trevor.  I was pretty even-tempered, so my emotions often shocked me by how strongly I felt at times or how quickly my feelings could change.  It took a very long time (and medication) to feel anywhere near normal again.  It’s been almost two years, and yet I still struggle with mood swings.  Fortunately, they don’t occur as often, but depression is still a struggle sometimes.  When circumstances get tough or I haven’t gotten enough sleep (child #4 is still not consistently sleeping through the night!), I tend to have a relapse.  Sometimes it’s just being down or feeling overwhelmed.  Sometimes, it’s a complete, laying in my bed, sobbing for a long period of time meltdown.

First of all, it’s OK to have feelings, whatever they may be.  After going through the trauma of losing your other half, it’s perfectly normal to feel all sorts of things and to feel them intensely.  However, we have to be so careful what we do with them.  It’s easy to sin in our anger, especially by snapping verbally at our kids since they’re the ones we’re around most of the time.  It’s easy to become self-centered when we’re struggling with depression and neglect our responsibilities.  Don’t ever make a choice based solely on feelings.  According to Jeremiah, the heart is deceitful above all things.  It’s OK to feel your feelings, but don’t be lead by them.  Be lead by what you know is true.  Be lead by what the Bible says, not by what you’re feeling at the moment.

The next thing that I’ve come to realize is that I’m an emotional wreck if I feel all of my feelings and those of my kids.  I finally figured out that I was allowing myself to become depressed when one of my kids was or to become angry when one of them was upset.  Not only can I not speak wisdom into the situation when I do this, it also adds chaos to the moment.  I can help them so much more if I take a step back emotionally.  I can validate their feelings and talk through a situation with them without feeling all of what they’re feeling.  I can identify with them without taking on what they’re struggling with myself.  This may seem obvious, but I think as moms, especially single moms, we’re prone to doing this because we hurt when our kids hurt.  We have to be careful to empathize with them without taking on all of their emotional baggage.  We can talk openly with them, pray with them, and pray for them without taking on their feelings.  I have found parenting a lot less exhausting once I realized this.

Finally, there’s a few things that can help you sort through your feelings.  You can pray and ask God to help you identify what you’re feeling and why.  I have found journaling especially helpful for this.  It also can be helpful to see a Christian counselor who is trained to help you talk through your feelings.  Whatever you do, don’t stifle and ignore your feelings.  They have a way of coming out.

You can also refer to this earlier blog about things I do to help me when I’m down:

rekindlingjoy.com/2018/08/15/ways-i-coped-after-losing-my-husband/

 

For Such a Time as This

The Poltimore Tiara, estimate $260,000-350,000, is displayed

I wonder if Esther ever questioned why she was chosen to go to the king’s palace.  After all, she spent over a year there before she ever met the king.  In that day and age, living in the palace probably wasn’t as wonderful as we imagine.  Only one of those women would become queen.  The rest?  They would live their days out in the palace, possibly with only seeing the king once.  Unless he called for them by name, they would never see him again.  Just imagine that for a moment.  Most of those women knew that they would probably live their lives out in solitude – sure with other women – but without a real husband and without children.  Realistically, the king would only continue to see a handful of them; it wasn’t good odds.

However, we know why Esther was there.  We know that she had a very special role to play – to save God’s people.  The king of Persia was ruthless; it took an unbelievable amount of courage to go before him, but she did.  We know it, and God knew it, but she didn’t – not until afterward.

What if God has allowed all of the pain and hardship in your life so you would be right where you needed to be?  What if he created you for such a time as this?  I feel so horribly inadequate at times trying to parent children on my own, especially hurting children who have lost so much when they lost their dad.  But what if, somehow, I was the right person for this job?  I definitely don’t feel that way, but God put me here, and I know he doesn’t make mistakes.  What if I have more compassion for others in the future who are struggling with their own difficulties?  What if I’m better able to relate to other women who have had their worlds torn apart and minister to them because of what I’ve been through?  What if there’s a role in the future that I could only play if I’d gone through what I’m going through right now?

Ruth didn’t know she was going to marry Boaz and become one of Christ’s ancestors.  She just knew that she had to go out and do the back-breaking work of gleaning in the fields so she and her mother-in-law didn’t starve.  Joseph didn’t know he would save his whole family and the nation of Egypt from starvation.  He just knew he’d been sold into slavery and that he’d spent years in prison after doing what was right.

Here’s the lesson for us.  We’re stuck in the middle of the story right now.  We don’t know how it will turn out, but we can trust that God does.  We can trust that He has a plan and is working even now for our good and to use us for the good of others.  Sweet sister, take heart.  Even if you’re bone weary today or struggling with depression or angry with God himself, God loves you and has a plan for you.  Perhaps he has placed you right where you are today for such a time as this.

for such a time as this

It’s OK to be that Mom

Three Baked Muffin With Strawberry Filling on Top

We’ve all done it.  Stayed up late folding laundry or baking cookies or otherwise serving our kids.  We’ve also not done it.  We’ve been the one to swing by the store and pick up store-bought cookies instead of baking cupcakes ourselves.  We’ve also completely forgotten to send the treats.  Before Trevor died, I was so organized and never recall missing an appointment.  Things change when you’re suddenly responsible for everything.  Every appointment, phone call, grocery trip, sports practice, dress rehearsal, etc.  Everything falls on your shoulders.  You will forget things, and that’s OK.  Sometimes you won’t forget things, but you’ll pretend to forget them so you can just sit at home for a night and have a moment to catch your breath.  That’s OK too. 

Some evenings I’ll watch TV with the kids or play a game with them.  A lot of nights, I am cleaning the kitchen, folding laundry, or paying bills.  Some nights, I just sit and read or watch TV in my room because I just need a minute to myself.  All of those are OK. 

Do what you can, but sweet friend, don’t beat yourself up for the things you can’t.  It’s exhausting to be a single mom.  It’s exhausting to grieve.  But doing both?  Nothing short of a miracle provided by our Lord.  If you get out of bed each morning, you’re doing great.  Even if you are still in your pajamas come afternoon and haven’t showered yet. 

Be careful about things you commit yourself or your kids to.  Every time you say yes to an activity, you’re saying no to a lot of other things, including your sanity.  Know your limitations.  If you’re having a particularly tough time emotionally, you won’t be able to do as much without wearing yourself out.  Don’t overcommit.  It’s better for your kids to have a healthy mom and do fewer activities than getting to do all the classes and lessons and sports, but having a mom who is stressed and exhausted all the time.  I know that for me, when I’m extremely tired, I’m much more likely to lose my patience with my kids or struggle with depression.  Lack of sleep or wearing yourself thin during the day can also cause you to get sick more easily.  Since it’s just you, it’s vital to balance things.  It’s always a juggling act, but if you find yourself constantly overwhelmed or stressed, reevaluate what you’re doing and cut out things that are not absolutely essential.  Before you sign your child up for an activity, know exactly what you’re committing to and whether or not you can handle it.  Think about the times and what you’ll do with your other kids and how you’ll prepare meals and make sure it’s worth it.  There’s always other activities they can do. 

Make sure that you allow time in your schedule for you, doing things that recharge you and give you the emotional energy to keep pouring into your kids.  It might be one morning a week at a coffee shop by yourself.  It might be getting your nails done or going jogging.  It could be reading a book in a favorite spot without the kids.  It could just be time when a friend takes your kids to the park so you can take a nap.  Whatever it is, make time to do it.  The most important thing you need to have in your daily schedule is time with the Lord.  It’s essential for any believer, but particularly as a single mom, you need to stay connected to Christ in order to gain the wisdom, strength, patience, and grace it takes to walk through this season of life.

I listened one day to a podcast by Sally Clarkson, an author I absolutely love, and her daughter Joy.   They spoke straight to my heart.  One of the things they spoke about was living in the story God is writing for you.  Don’t try to live in another story.  It’s hard when you’re living a story that feels more like a nightmare than a fairy tale, but remember – Cinderella’s life seemed like a nightmare until the prince came along.  God is writing a beautiful story, even if you can’t see any beauty yet.  You just have to trust his plan.  Live the story God’s put you in; you’re the heroine, sister, which means you’re going to make it.  There are days that may seem chaotic and messy and absolutely insane, but that’s life.  Live it.  Embrace those days because, without them, the good days wouldn’t seem nearly as bright. 

Remember – it’s OK to be that mom, whichever mom you are, on any given day.  Yesterday, my three-year-old ran outside naked and unashamedly played “bad guys” in the driveway.  He’s my superhero, taking on villains in the nude.  This morning though, he leaned over where he sat watching cartoons (while I tried to do my Bible study) and laid in my lap and said, “I wuv you, Mama.”  Don’t worry about what others think of you.  Embrace the story God is writing for you; after all, he’s the master storyteller. 

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”  Psalm 30:5

Then Jesus Called Her Name

In the darkest days of her life, when grief and loss were new, she got up before the sunrise to anoint the body of the one she loved for burial – the one who had saved her.  She was broken, confused, hopeless…until Jesus called her name.  She was weeping so hard, she couldn’t even see him, but she recognized his voice.

How beautiful it is that Jesus appeared first to her.  In a culture where women were second class citizens, not even able to testify in a trial, Jesus appeared risen first to a woman.  Jesus loves you too and knows your name.  This is the hope of Easter – that because of what Christ did on the cross and at the resurrection, he speaks into your deepest hurt and redeems it.  He pieces back together the shattered parts of your heart and says he will use it for good.

Jesus descended to the depths of hell and bore the wrath of God for your sins.  He took your husband, but he loves you and has a plan.  He walks with us, especially on our darkest days, and calls our name out in the middle of our hopelessness.  He has a plan that we can’t understand but we definitely can trust.  We can keep going because he’s already defeated sin and Satan and death forever.  It’s not just a cliché line of a song, it’s a truth: Because he lives, we can face tomorrow.

This Easter, praise the one who gave his life for you.  He’s calling your name.

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