The Story Behind “Our Family” [a behind-the-scenes look at its journey, from awful beginning to unexpected end]

As many of you may know by now, my second published flash fiction came out in March! It is titled Our Family, and it was no easy story to write (as I’ve said numerous times on my various social medias because I cannot get over how crazy this whole process was). Today I want to share more of the behind-the-scenes in hopes that other writers may be encouraged.

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The Set-up

I keep an eye on Splickety Publishing Group’s upcoming themes for their three imprints: Splickety, Havok, and Spark. The theme for their March issue had caught my attention way back last year when the 2018 themes were announced, but I had no ideas for it. And I don’t mean no “good” ideas for it; I mean no ideas whatsoever. But my mind kept circling back to that issue and that theme: Dystopian Disaster.

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Then, less than a week before the deadline, a seemingly unrelated idea I’d had for a while came to the surface, one I’d thought of after all the hurricanes last year.

What about the lag time between the hurricane and when relief starts to come in? What if no relief came at all? What then? What about all those people?

I decided to give this idea a go, to see if it could be worked enough to fit the theme.

Sunday, January 7: 5 Days to the Submission Deadline

I’ve never tried to draft and then edit a flash fiction in so little time. I always want to let it sit and get more distance from it, but there was just no time for that.

I cranked out a rough draft about three teens trying to escape a gang that had gotten control of what little supplies were left after the hurricane. It was violent and intense but with a bright spot of hope at the end. It wrecks the world, I thought to myself.

Tuesday, January 9: 3 Days to the Submission Deadline

After letting the rough draft sit as long as I dared, I cut out the third teen, worked in a twist, and then went in for a little more tightening. It was more intense. More violent. The bright spot of hope nearly nonexistent. It kind of made me cringe.

Out it went to the first line of critique (aka: my parentals). Things were a little confusing with my gang of baddies, so I went in for another round of edits to clarify things. I was also starting to freak out a little about the imminent deadline.

Wednesday, January 10: 2 Days to the Submission Deadline

I finished off draft three, and it took another turn for the worst. Even more violent. Even more intense. And whatever that spot was at the end, I don’t think “hope” is the word to describe it. I was really starting to squirm.

The deadline was so. close. and something significant was still so wrong with it. I had no title and no idea how to fix whatever was wrong. It was something deeper than the violence (I am a firm believer in dark stories because they are truer to reality, more honest about our fallen nature, and they give hope the starkest backdrop to shine against).

But the darkness in this story was just confusing and bleak. The twists and violence were there for shock value more than they told a good story. But off it went to the next wave of critique (aka: my brother Caleb and two others) while I paced and squirmed and cringed, stress levels rising by the minute.

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Thursday, January 11: 1 Day to the Submission Deadline

Two of the three received it pretty well. Some things were still confusing and there were some plot holes that need clarification or removal, but over all they seemed to like it. Which, considering I’d been winging it since Sunday, I thought was not bad. Could be worse, I reasoned.

But the third, Caleb, did not like it. Like, at all. He tried to say it kindly, and I had anticipated such a response from him… but I had only one day left to make changes. Why not just go for more clarification and hope for the best? And, besides, he was just one of several critique people, so why not go with the majority? I couldn’t possibly rewrite it in such a short amount of time and actually expect something good to turn out. Could I?

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This was when I finally started to get a clue. As a little bundle of frustration, conflict, and uncertainty, I finally decided to have a real talk with God about it. Up to this point, I’d just prayed in passing “help me write this story, Lord” or “bless this story, Jesus” or other little nothings in passing when I wrote or prayed, staunchly avoiding really praying about it.

Alas, come Thursday, I was out of options and time, so to God in prayer I went (one would think by this time in my life I would have done this sooner, but unfortunately not).

The rest of Thursday passed more-or-less thusly:

Me: So, um, what’s the deal with this story? Will You help me with it? Should I just send it in basically as is? It’s not that bad, is it?

Holy Spirit: You wrote it by yourself.

Me: Yeah, but it’s not that bad. I mean, I can submit it and get feedback at the very least. The last five pieces have been rejected, so I doubt they’re going to accept this one since it’s kind of a wreck.

Holy Spirit: But what if they do accept it?

Me: Then that would be good…?

Holy Spirit: Would it, though?

Me: Why would it not be?

Holy Spirit: You’re very vocal about Me online.

Me: … Mhm…?

Holy Spirit: But where am I in this story? When people read it, where will they see Me? Are you going to tie My Name to this dark story and call it good? How does this story make My great Name known to the world? If you’re going to say you write with Me, then you need to actually write with Me.

Me: *sinking feeling* So you mean I need to rewrite it? *whining* But I don’t have time for that! It won’t turn out!

Holy Spirit: Are you sure? Do you doubt me?

Me: *grumbling* When you say it like that it sounds bad. *more grumbling* Well, if we’re going to do this, we need to get to it. I have no idea how to fix it, so, um, the ball’s in Your court.

Holy Spirit: You know I always take the weight off you when you come around to owning your weakness and ask for help. Remember, My power’s made perfect in your weakness.

(Sometimes I swear it’s amazing I haven’t been smitten by God for all the times I’m so casual and whining and petulant. Not even kidding. He is so patient, so gracious.)

That’s the basics of what passed between me and God a few times on Thursday, and then I got a breakthrough, a really good one.

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So I sat down at my computer, released my death grip on control, and rewrote the story, and this time it had a heart, a soul that made me smile. This time, I could see a piece of Jesus when I read it, and I had full confidence that this was not a story to be ashamed of or worried about what people would think.

Some people wouldn’t like, but that didn’t matter because I liked it, because it was hopeful and subtly sent arrows pointing to the God I love. I was confident because I finally had peace with it, finally knew that God was pleased by it.

Friday, January 12: The Day of the Deadline

After a few more rounds of small edits to tighten things and reword a few things, I sent it in… But then there were issues with my email, and it wouldn’t go through. At that point, I was done. I wanted to be done thinking about it, but no, it wouldn’t go through. Even after four tries. Four. tries.

Me: After all that, it’s going to get stuck in the submission process, God? What?! Technical difficulties are going to take it down?

Holy Spirit: After all that, you think some technical difficulties are going to take it down if I want it to go through? Trouble shoot and try again.

(As I said before, God pours out His grace and patience on me by the oceanful.)

After some trouble shooting and some untraditional detours, it went through. And a few weeks later, it was acquired. And a little while after that, it was out in the world.

And then God really blew my mind.

People have been so encouraging in their response to Our Family, and while I believe flash fiction has the potential to be powerful, I did not dream that Our Family would touch people as much as it has. I was expecting “Aw, it’s a nice story”, but I’ve been so floored and humbled by what people have said.

God has touched people’s hearts in ways I hadn’t ever thought of, things were huge to people that I never thought were huge when I wrote it, pieces of God so much clearer than I thought they would be. A few people have cried over it. Cried. over. it. WHAT?!?!?!?!?! How did that even happen????

I guess I was just expecting little from God. Again.

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Conclusion

This is a long post, and maybe it’s got far more detail and drama than you ever wanted, but it is what it is.

I want people to know that Our Family wasn’t anything to get excited while I had my death grip on it. I want people to know that it only got its heart because God.

I want other writers to know that amazing, unbelievable things happen when you give a story over to God, when you write it with Him.

I want other writers to know that He is so patient and gracious, especially since I know I should know all this stuff already.

I want other writers to know that God can blow your expectations out of the water, that He can work little miracles in stories that, by all rights, shouldn’t work or succeed.

I want other writers to go out on a limb, go out on God, and keep working even when it’s stressful and tough.

So let’s talk. Is there a story you’re struggling with right now? What does your writing process look like? Tell me about a time when God did something you hadn’t even imagined!

With much love,

Rosalie

P.S. – If it isn’t clear from the rest of this post, praise God. For all of it. Glory to God. For all of it.

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What do you mean this post is supposed to have a title? [it’s something about saying the same thing again and again]

About six or eight months ago, I decided to try to post a God-related blog post every other week so that I would write and share thoughts and findings about God, the Christian life, Jesus, etc. more often because I’d been inconsistent in my posting before. Now, I’m thinking about that decision a little more critically.

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Sometimes I worry that I’m just saying the same thing over and over again on this blog.

Sad to be single? –> Be careful not to listen to your emotions too much. Pray. Focus on Jesus. Read the Bible.

Need some hope? –> Be careful not to listen to your emotions too much. Focus on Jesus. Pray. Listen to some good music. Read the Bible. You need the Holy Spirit’s help. You don’t know everything.

Struggling with sleeplessness? –> Pray. Listen to some good music. Work on memorization and meditation. Focus on Jesus. Read the Bible. Also, the Psalms.

Judging others? –> You’ve got some pride. Think about yourself in relation Jesus. Focus on Jesus. You need the Holy Spirit’s help.

Need an appetite for God? –> Think about yourself in relation to Jesus. Pray. You need the Holy Spirit’s help. Also, the Psalms. Read the Bible.

Self-control issues? –> You need the Holy Spirit’s help. Focus on Jesus.

Giving or receiving writing critique? –> You’ve got some pride issues. Be kind.

Trials? – You don’t know everything. You need the Holy Spirit’s help. Focus on Jesus.

In sum: God, Jesus, the Bible. Emotions = fickle and untrustworthy. Pride bad and you’ve got it. Here’s my current playlist on the subject. Read the Bible. You’re having daily devotions, right? The Psalms. Also, the Holy Spirit.

Anyone else noticing a theme? A few common denominators?

So I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently (aka: the last six to eight months)–if I’m just saying the same thing over and over again, should I simply stop writing about God-related things? Is it useless?

Or is it that maybe the answers to many questions are a lot more simple than we like to believe?

Because, really, how much will our lives change if the Holy Spirit is filling every breathing moment?

Because, really, how much will our lives change if we sit down everyday to carefully read and contemplate the Bible?

Because, really, how much will our lives change if we go daily to our knees and put in the effort to pray like we mean it when we say, “Thank you for this day” and “In Jesus’s name, amen”?

I believe my life, and yours too, will change in ways I cannot begin to imagine.

So while I don’t want to become a broken record on this blog, I don’t want to stop saying what’s true.

1) We over-complicate things, expecting a hundred different solutions to a hundred different problems, but the solution is really quite simple: Read the Bible; pray everyday.

2) We’re creatures who so quickly forget. So, I’ll remind myself and anyone who reads Penprints about the simple truth, the simple Gospel, as long as I need reminding (spoiler alert: that will be a very, very, very long time).

On the other hand, topical blog posts can only take us so far.

I want to start doing something a little different here on Penprints. I want to keep writing topical posts about the Christian life when I have something to say, but I don’t want to speak just to fill the silence every other week.

To balance out the topical posts that seem to all end the same way just with different words, I want to start doing a few more exegetical study posts. I have the four Servant Songs from Isaiah and a few other passages in mind that I want to share studies from sometime this year (“sometime this year” is my way of giving myself an opportunity to procrastinate).

The point of this post.

Some things are worth repeating, but that does not give us *cough cough* me license to grow lazy and simply say the same thing over and over again because I feel like I have to say something but have nothing else new or helpful to say.

It’s just one of those things that’s hard to balance like the Force, but for all our sakes I shall do my best.

What sorts of posts do you want to see on Penprints? What are you up to this happy Monday?

With love,

Rosalie

P.S. – I’m sorry for how last week’s post tried to drag you out of your inbox by giving only an excerpt of the post in the email. I was fiddling with the settings and accidentally hit the wrong button. But I don’t want to be the blogger who tries to up pageviews by not giving her loyal followers the whole post by email as promised (I have unfollowed blogs for that very crime).

P.P.S. – For those of you still trying to figure out if you’re in the 15% that knows what the feature image has to do with this post, there is no 15%. The picture has nothing to do with this post. All our minds = blown. Lol, sometimes I think I’m so funny.

When Hope Is Gone

I shared in this post a little bit of my struggle with hope recently, and we’re going to explore the battle for/with hope in today’s post.

However, I do want to say from the outset that this is not a post about depression—at least not the go-to-counseling, take-some-medication, etc. kind of depression. This is more about the situational depression that most—if not all—Christians will face at least once in their life, the times when hope is gone.

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As Christians, our lives are based on hope—hope in our Christ, hope for the future given to us by our Christ, hope despite the world of death we live in. Our hope is our confidence in Christ, our trust that He is who He said He is, that He’ll do what He said He will, and that in the end, we will be with Him.

But sometimes our hope can falter or collapse altogether. These are the seasons when our hope for the present time is deferred, and our hearts get sick. We get caught in a situation that beats the confidence right out of us—not the confidence that it will all be okay in the end but the confidence that we can make it through tomorrow.

Pain dims our vision, and it makes it seem like Jesus and all His triumph are so far away, too far away. We know in our heads that God is good. We know in our heads that this mess will end up for our good, eventually. We know in our heads that it will be all right, that God is righteous and kind and trustworthy.

Countless situations wring the hope right out of us. The death of a friend. The unfaithfulness of a spouse. The indifference of a child who’s walked away from God. The church that tears itself—you included—apart. The job that’s draining the lifeblood out of you. The storms that just. won’t. end.

The longer a trial goes on, the harder it is to walk through it with hope, and each of us has a breaking point, the point where pain gets to be too much, the point where we reach for hope and it’s just gone, completely out of reach.

I wish I could give five steps to reclaim hope, but it’s not that simple.

It’s never simple when you try to pray but you can only sit in silence or cry at God. It’s never simple when you’re sobbing four different times in one day. It’s never simple when you try to worship but you can’t lift your head past your hurt. It’s never simple when you need to talk about it but you don’t know how.

It’s never simple when you call out to God and beg for good things, things that are in His Word, things that seem like they would bring Him glory, things that seem like they would be His will, and He says “no” again and again and again and again and again until you don’t know what to pray for.

But hope is never truly gone, and that is what we have to remember.

Hope is never truly gone because God is never gone. Yes, it can feel like He’s far away, but He’s not. Yes, sometimes we have no way of knowing when it will get better—or even if it will get better—but someday it will, even if that day isn’t until we go meet Jesus in the clouds.

Yes, eternity can seem like it’s a lifetime away and the present can be like a millstone, but our hope cannot be fixed in the present. We are a people crafted for an eternity with God. We are a people set apart as priests and prophets and exiles always looking toward our home.

Recently, this was hard truth for me to swallow. I wanted hope for now, but instant hope is flimsy hope. I learned that Jesus alone must be enough, and that He is enough because He is all that is sure and steady in life.

When I came to the end of my hope and I sat on the floor trying to pray while I cried, I encountered comfort from the Holy Spirit. At the end of my strength, He had more than enough. When I wasn’t sure when life would get better, that was all right because He’s promised that eternal life will be better than my wildest imaginings. When my faith and hope gave way, there was an ocean of grace for me to fall into. When I failed, He did not.

And He’s where I fix my hope.

Whenever I come up short, in any way that I come up short, He has plenty.

So when your hope is gone, keep your eyes open. Wrestle with God. Look into eternity. Don’t believe the lies your heart tells you; what you feel does not change what’s true. Weep and mourn when you must. Keep moving with endurance. Remember that God is infinite and far too high for us to always see how He’s working it for good. Read and reread Hebrews—it’s all about faith and hope. Learn to sing when there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

Hold fast to your confidence in Christ. Don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. With God, hope is never truly gone. Our Prize is far too valuable to give up now.

With love,

Rosalie

P.S. – thank you to all of you who gave encouragement when I first mentioned my struggles with hope a few weeks ago, especially Gabby and Moya. <3

P.P.S. – this is such a huge subject, and I hardly went into WHY we cannot give up or faith’s relationship with hope, so if you guys are interested, we might be exploring this a little more in the coming year.

8 Songs for Hope

I wanted to do a post about finding hope when hope is gone this week, but I’m not ready for it.

For the past month I’ve been embroiled in the most difficult fight for hope and joy I’ve had so far. It was never about not having hope and assurance in eternity… it’s just that heaven and forever and Jesus seem so far away sometimes.

There are lots of things rolling around in my head and heart–things I’ve learned for the first time and things I’ve had to relearn. I want to offer a helpful, encouraging post to others who can’t see the hope in the dark right now–and I probably will someday–but for now I can’t. I still have to sort through some things first.

Instead, I’m sharing some songs that have helped me (the story of my life is basically throwing a book or a song at my problems).

(Also, I’ve been tracking I Am They for the last week as they’ve released songs from their new album “Trial and Triumph”, so it’s kind of an I Am They post (and when the album is titled “Trial and Triumph” you know it’s basically all about hope)).

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No Impossible With You by I Am They.

Right now I’m staring down a giant,
Right now I can’t see past my pain,
And right now my songs have turned to silence,
And You’ve never seemed so far away.

But I still believe,
I still believe.

There’s no heart You can’t rescue,
No war You can’t win,
No story so over it can’t start again,
No pain You won’t use,
No wall You won’t break through,
It might be too much for me… but
There is no impossible with You.

Find the whole song here.

God of All My Days by Casting Crowns.

Each step I take,
You make a way,
And I will give You all my praise,
My seasons change, You stay the same,
You’re the God of all my days,

In my worry, God, You are my stillness,
In my searching, God, You are my answers,
In my blindness, God, You are my vision,
In my bondage, God, You are my freedom,
In my weakness, God, You are my power,
You’re the reason that I sing,
‘Cause You’re the God of all my days.

Find the whole song here.

Scars by I Am They.

Darkest water and deepest pain,
I wouldn’t trade it for anything,
‘Cause my brokenness brought me to You,
And these wounds are a story You’ll use.

So I’m thankful for the scars,
‘Cause without them I wouldn’t know Your heart,
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are,
So forever I am thankful for the scars.

Find the whole song here.

Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor by Matt Boswell.

Christ the sure and steady anchor,
In the fury of the storm;
When the winds of doubt blow through me, and my sails have all been torn.
In the suffering, in the sorrow,
When my sinking hopes are few;
I will hold fast to the anchor,
It will never be removed.

Christ the sure and steady anchor,
As we face the wave of death;
When these trials give way to glory,
As we draw our final breath.
We will cross that great horizon,
Clouds behind and life secure;
And the calm will be the better,
For the storms that we endure.

Find the whole song here.

Every Giant Will Fall by Rend Collective.

There is hope within the fight,
In the wars that rage inside,
Though the shadows steal the light,
Your love is my battle cry,
The anthem for all my life.

Every giant will fall, the mountains will move,
Every chain of the past, You’ve broken in two,
Over fear, over lies, we’re singing the truth,
That nothing is impossible.

Find the whole song here.

Shoulders by For King and Country.

You mend what once was shattered,
And You turn my tears to laughter,
Your forgiveness is my fortress,
Oh Your mercy is relentless.

My help comes from You,
You’re right here, pulling me through,
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders,
Your shoulders,
My help comes from You,
You are my rest, my rescue,
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders,
Your shoulders.

Find the whole song here.

Move (Keep Walkin’) by TobyMac.

I know your heart been broke again,
I know your prayers ain’t been answered yet,
I know you’re feeling like you got nothing left,
Well, lift your head, it ain’t over yet, ain’t over yet so…

Move, keep walkin’ soldier keep movin’ on,
Move, keep walkin’ until the mornin’ comes,
Move, keep walkin’ soldier keep movin’ on,
And lift your head, it ain’t over yet, ain’t over yet.

Find the whole song here.

The Water (Meant for Me) by I Am They.

There is power, victory,
Hope for the broken-hearted,
Healing meant for me,
There is goodness, justice,
Rest for the weak and weary,
Love that’s meant for me.

This far, He has lead us,
Through the darkness to the light of day,
This far, He has shown us,
Love and mercy and unfailing grace,
When my hope is lost in the shadows,
This promise, You have made,
It’s not far, not far.

Find the whole song here.


That’s all I got for today, kids!

Have you heard any of these songs? Which is your favorite?

With love,

Rosalie

P.S. – I Am They, amiright? ;)

When You’re Sad to Be Single

This is not a post for discontented singles. There is a difference between a sad single and a discontented single. Sadness is an emotion to be felt and processed. Discontentment is a state of the heart to be softened and changed.

A contented single is satisfied in God regardless of their relationship status. They know where their identity and value are rooted. Whether subconsciously or consciously, they know and believe that God is more than enough for them.

A discontented single is the opposite. They are dissatisfied and unfulfilled in God while single. Some blame and become angry with God for their celibacy. Others battle insecurity and lack of identity, believing that if they had a special someone they would be satisfied and fulfilled.

This post is for the sad but contented single.

I’m not going to put up a case for contentment in singleness because way too many others have said it better before me, and if you’re not content yet, another blog post about the joys of singleness isn’t going to get you there. That’s between you and God.

Hopefully this helps some sad, contented singles deal with sorrow, especially since Valentine’s Day is this week.

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Being sad is not sinful, but as with all emotions, we must be careful how we handle it lest it become bitterness and/or discontentment. Different things can set off sadness. I have spent the last year amazingly happy and satisfied with God and singleness. But sometimes things happen, and I get… sad. I encounter a taste of what a relationship can be, and wistfulness and loneliness set in.

So many things can prompt this odd sense of loss, and it’s different for each person.

For those who have not always been single, it may be seeing pictures of a former girlfriend with a new boyfriend on social media. Or it maybe it’s an old anniversary that is an anniversary no longer. Or a song bringing back a wave of memories and feelings in the strange, powerful way only music can work, tying lyrics and melodies to moments and seasons in life.

For those who have always been single, it might be watching a romantic movie that leaves a longing after the credits role. Or it could be the seemingly endless stream of endlessly happy couples on social media. Or perhaps it’s something that comes in a dream from which waking feels like a loss (an especially bewildering thing since it’s a loss of something that was never actually there in the first place).

But what to do with it?

When you’re sad to be single, it’s strange because it feels almost as if you’re missing a specific person. In some cases, maybe you are, but for singles like me, there’s no person to miss but still a sense of loss and a yearning for reunion.

Obviously, I am no expert, so this is by no means comprehensive since I don’t know what it’s like to cope with and process sadness and loneliness after a relationship—whether dating, engagement, or marriage—dissolves.

Take the time to be sad and even mourn, but don’t wallow. This is one of those things that is so hard to balance since emotions—especially strong ones—need to be felt to be processed.

You can’t just stuff them down to the bottom of your heart and muscle your way through. That doesn’t work because the sadness doesn’t go away; it sits and ferments. And sadness left too long doesn’t foster and give birth to healthy emotions. Sadness can be a precursor to bitterness, anger, and depression, and it’s surprising just how quickly that can happen, especially if a rose-colored reminder of a past relationship is what brought the sadness on in the first place.

But wallowing can result in the same thing. If, instead of bottling it up, you sit in it and dwell on it, sadness and what follows will control you. Your thoughts will start to circle back to it more and more until you’re under the thumb of your emotions.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway just in case: the only thumb any of us should be under is the Holy Spirit’s. He should be the guiding and controlling force. He is altogether trustworthy; our hearts and feelings are not (like, at all).

Be honest with yourself and God. Don’t bury it or ignore it. Don’t revisit it again and again. Don’t pretend it’s more than it is. Don’t pretend it’s less than it is.

Pray and do whatever else you must to work through it. Talk to a trusted friend or mentor. Journal. Read some Psalms. Listen to good music. Take a walk. Exercise. Write a song. Paint. Give the dog a bath.

And if you’re not “getting better” after a little while, get a little more aggressive with your dealings with your sadness.

Pray more and suit up. Take time to remember specifically how God has satisfied and met all your needs as a single thus far. Read 1 Corinthians 7 aloud (and when I say read it aloud, I mean actually read it aloud). Tell someone you know will pray with and for you that you’re struggling; this is no time for embarrassment or going at it alone. Read Psalm 16 aloud (yeah, actually read it aloud). If you must cry, cry out to God.

Turn away from sorrow and run towards joy. Run towards the joy of your salvation–Jesus. Race after the lover of your soul–Jesus. Hurtle towards your greatest reward–Jesus. Fix Jesus—His character, His faithfulness in all things—at the front of your mind and go.

Acknowledge and work through your sadness. It’s not something to be ashamed of; it’s a reminder that we are not complete—we are not perfect—until the day we look Jesus in His holy, flaming eyes. Watch out for depression, bitterness, and anger. Remember that sadness is not for forever, and so don’t live like it is.

With much love,

Rosalie