Taking a cue from the kids

This morning I read to my 2-year-old daughter from Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible. 

We read about Daniel in the lions’ den, then flipped to the story of Jesus admonishing the disciples when they turned away the little children who had come to see him—here, titled “The Friend of little children.”

My daughter chimed in with comments on the illustrations, namely the disciples’ wardrobe choices: “He’s wearing a purple dress!” Pointing with her still-chubby fingers, “And yellow! And green!”

As she chatted, I scanned the next couple of paragraphs. The disciples are discussing who they think will be the greatest in God’s kingdom (from Matthew 18). What had they each done to earn a special place? Who deserved it most?

I paused at the following words, and my heart caught in my throat:

“But they had forgotten something. Something God had been teaching his people all through the years: that no matter how clever you are, or how good you are, or how rich you are, or how nice you are, or how important you are—none of it makes any difference. Because God’s love is a gift and, as anyone will tell you, the whole thing about a gift is, it’s free. All you have to do is reach out your hands and take it.” 

Sometimes it helps to read something ever-so-familiar in a different way, doesn’t it?

No matter how clever you are

No matter how good you are

No matter how rich you are

No matter how nice you are

No matter how important you are—

you can’t earn God’s love. It’s a gift. It’s already free.

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I know this. Of course I know this. But do I always live like I believe it?

The disciples were about to learn another lesson: The lowly in the eyes of the world—children—matter deeply to Jesus. Not only that, but we should all take a cue from the little ones. A little more faith, hope, and trust; a little less trying so dang hard to earn and achieve.

I’ve heard this story countless times and thought, Oh, you disciples. Will you ever get it right? Let those kids see Jesus already! The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these, you guys! 

But sometimes my actions and thoughts say otherwise. They say I need a little admonishing from Jesus, too: Hey, Rebekah. Remember my words? In God’s upside-down kingdom, things are not as they are on earth: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
—Matthew 5:3-10

Jesus told us we’ve got it all backwards here. He kinda tossed the world’s rules—the ones we’ve established for ourselves on what matters and what doesn’t—right out the window. I can’t earn my place. His kingdom doesn’t work that way.

You’d think that would make me feel a little panicky—the rules! I need them! But instead it makes me feel a little lighter, a little more free. It’s a relief. It’s hope.

The kids in the last illustration from this chapter in The Jesus Storybook Bible look pretty light and free too, smiling and holding hands with Jesus. They don’t look burdened with the pressure of earning his love or attention. It’s clear they trust him. They’re spending time with him. They’re just being with him.

I think they might be onto something.


Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

 

I’m a closet people-pleaser.

This is new. I’ve never described myself as a people-pleaser before. For some reason I equate people-pleasing with saying Yes all the time—and I’m actually pretty good at saying No. I’m a homebody who’d generally rather be curled up on the couch with Harry Potter than dressed up, out at a restaurant with a group of people. Now, the former comes more easily to me than the latter, but I’m not saying that’s always such a good thing. In fact, part of discovering what it looks like to be brave this year has involved saying Yes more—and it’s been instrumental in building wonderful new relationships.

That said, people-pleasing isn’t necessarily about accepting every invitation or volunteering for every opportunity I’m presented with—though that can be part of it. I’ve found that hidden within my own heart is a desperate need for acceptance, and that need translates into a few different things that all fall under the people-pleasing umbrella:

  • Faking agreement with someone in a conversation (or my go-to, remaining silent) if I sense my differing opinion would be outnumbered by the rest of the group.
  • Pretending I know what someone is talking about even when I have no idea. (And then looking it up later on the internet. “Ohhhh.” Risky, right?)
  • Allowing what the rest of the group is doing to influence my decisions. Alas, peer pressure still rears its ugly head even though I’m 35 years old, for the love.

It all comes down to believing the lie that if I disappoint someone by not falling in line with what I perceive is expected of me (there’s that list again), I will lose their affection.

The weird thing is, I have absolutely nothing to found that statement on. I can honestly say that no one who loves me has ever turned their back on me forever simply because I let them down at one point or another. (If I’m wrong, don’t tell me, ’kay? I’m working through some stuff here.) And I am 100 percent certain that I have disappointed every single person I love at some point. It’s that inevitable truth—I make mistakes.

I remind myself of two simple but powerful truths when insecurity and craving acceptance start to get the better of me, and I’ll end with these. They’re for me, and they’re for you.

My worth and my sense of belonging don’t lie in other people’s opinions—God’s opinion of me is the only one that matters: 

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. —Galatians 1:10

But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. —1 Thessalonians 2:4

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. —1 Samuel 16:7

And to top that off, nothing, nothing, nothing can separate me from God’s love. No matter how much I fall short—and there is no doubt, I fall short—he will never turn his back on me:

… so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. —Ephesians 3:17-19

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:38

I will never leave you nor forsake you. —Hebrews 13:5

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Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

Coming out of my shell

I grew up in a church—literally. The church my family attended when I was born was the same church where I would attend Sunday school, children’s choir, youth choir, youth group, college ministry, and even a young marrieds class. I was in all of the massive productions they put on at Christmas and Easter from 6th grade on up. I attended the private school founded by that same church, on the same campus. Six days a week and many evenings for most of my upbringing were spent there, home away from home.

With that came all the retreats, camps, mission trips, and choir tours typically available to us church kids. I signed up for all of them. And I discovered that on those trips, I could let myself be whoever I wanted to be.

Maybe it was the lack of constant adult supervision, the excess soda and candy being consumed, the change of environment, being confined to a bus for long periods of time, or the influence of my peers (probably a perfect storm of all of the above). But those trips brought out a different side of me—a side my family was well aware of but that friends and other adults in my life hadn’t witnessed.

For example, there was the time on a high school choir trip (to D.C., I believe) when my friend Amber and I donned denim overalls (with boxers sticking out underneath, because why not) and backwards caps and performed “Ice, Ice, Baby,” complete with ’90s dance moves, in the hallway of our hotel.

Can you even picture it?

It was totally silly and completely harmless (except maybe to other hotel patrons), but boy did I feel like a rebel, rapping Vanilla Ice in front of a bunch of people on a church choir trip.

It’s a goofy story I know, but I felt free in that moment, being someone different than the girl everyone had pegged me to be. It was fun to shock people.

Quiet, reserved Rebekah had a “wild” side. (I use that word very loosely for obvious reasons.)

I would grow to dislike the phrase I used to title this post. I heard it a lot after that trip, mainly from adult chaperones talking to my mom. “Rebekah really came out of her shell this week!” “We got to see a whole new side of Rebekah on this trip!”

Hearing that made me feel… yuck. I came out of my shell? Had I been hiding in there for the past 15 years? Those bits of my personality had always been there—this can be verified by family photo albums. They were just unfamiliar to this particular audience.

I wondered why adults always had to say things like that. If I did have a shell, maybe I should retreat back into it.

I’m hyper-aware of putting labels on my kids, even positive ones. Yes, I definitely still do it. It’s a hard habit to break. I’m sure if you and I have had a conversation about my girls, you’ve probably heard me say how different they are—one more cautious and reserved, the other… well, not. But I am trying hard to not describe their current traits, in front of them, with the same terms over and over. I want them to know they are free to change and grow and explore their personalities. My parents did a good job of this, but not everyone got the memo.

Growing up, these were the most common words I heard to describe me—from adults, and as I got older, my peers as well:

quiet
nice
good
reserved
well-behaved
responsible

There’s nothing wrong with this list at all. In fact, I’m certain I was proud of these labels.

Maybe a little too proud.

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A child of the ’80s, I had a small button collection—you know, the ones with cheesy sayings you’d pin on your backpack? One of my favorites was one that read, “Not perfect. Just very good.”

Just very good. I liked that. I wasn’t being prideful—after all, I was saying I wasn’t perfect! But I could sure be close, right? Ha.

Those words in the list above would have been harmless, except that over time, even more so as an adult, I adopted them as a definition of who I was. And if I was faced with a situation in which I might feel led to act in a way that didn’t fit? Until the last year or so, I’ve quietly declined, stuffing down the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

That’s not very good at all.

Truth:

I can be quiet and outspoken for the sake of the gospel. 

I can be nice and speak truth in love. 

I can be good and aware of my inherent sinful nature and desperate need for God’s grace. 

I can be reserved and bold. 

I can be well-behaved, responsible, and free to worship—even free to make a fool of myself for God’s glory. 

Do you have a list? Do you feel confined to it?

God made me who I am, down to the quirkiest quirk in my personality, and I praise him for that. (And God bless my family for loving me.)

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
—Psalm 139:13-16

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. But this passage also tells me there’s more to me than meets the eye. I’m capable of being so much more than that little list I confined myself to. He calls me to be more.

When I truly believe that, I can cast the labels aside. And that is freeing.


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Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

Admitting the inevitable: I make mistakes

As I worked through my last post, I was smacked with the realization that while I’ve claimed fear of “getting in trouble” as the main motivation for rule-following most of my life, I’m not sure that’s really ever been true. But if that’s not been my reason, then what has?

I’ve come up with three, which I’ll dive into over the next few days:

1. I hate admitting I’ve made a mistake.

2. I don’t want to step outside of the labels I’ve been given and therefore draw attention to myself.

3. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.

My first job out of college was a copy editor position at a local Christian publisher. I was green as could be. My senior-year internship had been an editorial assistant role in the communications department of a large corporation—an invaluable experience (and one that would serve me greatly in later positions). But it wasn’t a publishing job per say, and to be honest I was clueless as to how things worked at a large publishing house.

But they hired me anyway, so I did what I had done best for most of my life—I faked it. But there was a woman in another department who, unbeknownst to me, was keeping an eye on the new girl. She was once a copy editor too, and she’d been at the company for years.

She re-edited everything I edited. Then she’d have me come down to her desk, and she’d explain all of my errors. Lots and lots of them. I’d just sit there and nod, vowing to myself that I’d never make that mistake again—or that one, or that one.

Total embarrassment.

I loathed being summoned to that desk and seeing everything I’d missed laid bare. There was no escaping my imperfections because they were on paper right in front of my face! I wasn’t everything I thought I was. I needed to practice and learn and grow. I needed a good dose of humility, too.

Eventually this woman would become a cherished mentor. It didn’t take long for us to develop a mutual respect for each other that grew into fondness. To this day, I credit her with helping me hone the valuable skills that I would carry with me into future jobs. Under her watchful eye, I became an asset to my team. I’m able to see clearly now that she didn’t resent me and my lack of skill at the time—she wanted to teach me. And she did. And I am grateful.

This is key.

A couple of years ago, I was working part-time on staff at a church as a writer-slash-editor. There wasn’t another editor on staff; I was it. If a mistake made it onto a handout or pamphlet or the website or the magazine we published twice a year, it was on me.

No pressure.

So how about that one time when I referred to a church board member’s teenage daughter as his son—smack in the middle of our fresh-off-the press magazine?

Not one of my finer career moments. Other errors have made it into print over the years, but that one takes the cake. When someone noticed it and pointed it out to my manager, she didn’t even want to tell me. She knew it would crush me. (She knows me well.) In fact, I don’t think I learned the board member had a son and a daughter—not two sons—for at least a month after that magazine issue had been in circulation.

You can bet I’ll never make that mistake again, but that’s not really the point.

I had seen a [unisex] first name in a bio and made an assumption, and in a quick edit swapped out the words “kids” for “sons.” It was my mistake; there was no way around it. But I did not in any way shape or form want to admit that to anyone. Instead, the first words out of my mouth were those casting blame on others who in my opinion, should have caught my error.

MY error.

I hate admitting my propensity for making mistakes; therefore I don’t want to make any mistakes in the first place; therefore I strive to adhere to whatever rules are placed before me; therefore when I inevitably fail because alas, I am human, I am ashamed and try to direct blame elsewhere.

It’s a sin issue, no doubt. It’s pride at the root. And that’s not what should motivate my obedience, especially when it comes to my relationship with God.

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Elisabeth Elliot once wrote that our attempts to keep God’s law will in itself be “sufficient to humble us, for the ‘straightedge of the law’ (Romans 3:20) will only show us, as Paul found, how crooked we are. We will find, in fact that we cannot keep it.”

I must be willing to admit that I am not capable of flawlessly following every rule because I am not perfect. If I was perfect, I wouldn’t need Jesus. And believe me, I need Jesus. Oh, how I need him! And it’s God’s beautiful, perfect law that reveals this truth.

I don’t have to just be okay with this. I can be grateful for it. And in my gratitude to God for his gifts of grace upon grace, I can freely say, “I make mistakes. Glory to God!”

We’re not done here yet.


Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You might notice I’m a bit behind. Consider it an exercise in giving myself grace!} 

I hit a parked car in 1997.

I can only recall one occasion when my dad picked me up from school. There might have been more, but typically my mom was the taxi driver of the family (and between five daughters spanning 25 years, there was a lot of taxiing). I was 16, and Dad pulled up to school in a car I didn’t recognize—a maroon, 2-door 1988 Acura Legend. It was mine. My first car.

I loved that car. I could squeeze four friends into it, the tape player (yep) worked just fine, it had automatic windows (not too shabby for an ’88), and it had great pickup. (Not that I was a speed demon or anything—rules girl, remember?)

As a new driver, I was extra careful. I didn’t want to do any harm to my car, and I certainly didn’t want any tickets sullying my beautifully clean driving record.

Back then I took dance classes—ballet and musical theater—at a local studio. The dance studio shared a parking lot with several other businesses that have come and gone over the years. There was often this boat of a car parked in the lot that drew a bit of attention. It was some type of sedan, and the outside was covered in carpet. Carpet. (Why?) To this day I have no idea who it belonged to.

All I know is that the very first time I drove myself to dance, I slowly guided my steering wheel to pull into a parking spot, and I hit it.

Oh my gosh, I hit the carpet car. 

I had no clue what I was supposed to do in that situation, only that I needed to get myself and my Legend away from the scene of the crime as quickly as possible. So I threw the car into reverse, circled the lot nonchalantly, and parked on the opposite side, praying fervently that no one had seen anything.

Heart racing, I climbed out of the car and casually examined the front bumper. Some paint had scratched off, but that was it. So I casually took a little stroll past the carpet car and gave it the side eye. There was no evidence anything had happened to it. Exhale. 

I walked into the studio to put my ballet shoes on and tried to just be cool.

No one saw. I never confessed.

Should I have left a note for the owner of the carpet car? Should I have at least told my parents I was the one who scraped my bumper? Probably, yes.

But I didn’t do either of those things. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

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I’ve spent the better part of my life explaining to people that I’ve just always been a “good girl” who didn’t like to break the rules because I didn’t want to get in trouble. But now I don’t think that’s entirely true. My parents trusted me and gave me quite a bit of leeway when it came to rules. I didn’t ever have an established curfew; I just knew how late was too late and to always call when I was on my way. Disciplinary action never really took much more than a “Go to your room” to get the point across.

(This is ridiculous, but I remember one time asking to be grounded because I wanted to know what it felt like. The cool kids in books I read were always saying things like, “I can’t this weekend, I’m grounded.” It’s okay, go ahead and roll your eyes.)

They probably wouldn’t have been mad had I told them about the parked car incident. And there hadn’t been any damage to the carpet car, so I don’t think the owner would have called the police or even asked for my insurance information. Still, I kept silent.

No, I don’t think my adherence to the rules had much to do with fear of punishment at all. I wasn’t afraid of getting in trouble. I was afraid of having to admit that I made mistakes. I couldn’t bear the thought of revealing that in fact, I was not the perfect, quiet, good girl everyone thought I was.

That’s not rule-following for the right reasons.

Again I wonder, Have I changed at all? Because I don’t think I’ve ever felt afraid of God’s discipline, as though that was something reserved for Old Testament figures who did the really bad stuff. My first problem is using the words punishment and discipline interchangeably, when they are two very different things. Christ took our punishment on the cross, but God still disciplines his children, whom he loves, because he loves:

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? —Hebrews 12:5-7

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. —James 1:2-3

So if I’m not afraid of getting in trouble, what is so horrifying about admitting that I make mistakes? What scares me enough to keep me tethered to the rules?

I think I already know the answer. It’s something I want to explore further and with God’s help, kiss good-bye.

More to come.


**Thank you to everyone who prayed as we prepared for Hurricane Matthew. God answered our prayer and the storm shifted off-track just enough to spare us any real damage here in Central Florida. We are so grateful. Please join us in praying for those in areas hard-hit by the storm in Haiti, the Bahamas, and the northeast coast of Florida. 

Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.}

Living free in a {literal} hurricane

I knew the enemy would be lurking when I decided to start the Write 31 Days challenge, because he always pops up in obnoxious ways when I commit to tackling something writing-related and (Lord willing) kingdom-building.

But seriously. A hurricane? 

The windows are boarded up, the a/c is cranked in anticipation of a power outage, snacks are ready (and hidden from the kids), and board games are stacked. We’ve rearranged the living room in case we decide to drag our mattresses out here tonight, and there are already toys everywhere. The rain and wind are picking up.

I’ve been fighting a pit in my stomach all day. Yesterday I shared over on Instagram the scripture I’ve been praying through and dwelling on to calm my worries:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. —Joshua 1:9

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. —Psalm 46:1-3

For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. —Psalm 27:5

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. —Ephesians 3:20-21

Stacey Thacker posted this morning about the coming storm and taking God at his word, because even the winds obey him (Matthew 8:23-27). Yes and amen. I needed to read that.

There’s nothing quite like the Word—Truth with a capital T—to combat fear and lies and tell the enemy to take a hike.

hurricane.jpgIs this the post I had in mind for today? Nope. But oddly enough, I think it fits. As I’ve been cleaning and gathering and laundering and preparing for Matthew today, I’ve been thinking about what living free really looks like. Am I living free today? On a day when everything is out of my control, what is my response? Am I held captive by fear and worry? Or can I calmly face the storm, taking my God at his word and wholly trusting that he reigns, no matter what?

It is the latter that sets me free.

And the good news about the enemy is that he has no stronghold here!

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption… —Colossians 1:13-14

If you’re in the path of the hurricane too, please stay safe. Pray Truth with me, and let’s tell the enemy we won’t succumb to worry and fear, because he has no power here. We are free, even in the midst of an oppressive storm.


Don’t count me out of Write 31 Days, either—I’ll keep writing, even if it’s on paper and by candlelight! 

Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

 

Freeing up my to-do list

I’m the queen of setting ridiculously high expectations for my day and then feeling like a total failure when I realize at 8pm that my goals might have been a little unrealistic. Sometimes I get the impression that all of my peers are accomplishing SO much, and I’m falling behind. I’m not doing enough! Must do more! Must be better! Must be Super Mom AND Super Writer and Super Wife!

How quickly resulting feelings of failure, disappointment, and stress spiral out of control.

For the last year I’ve been using a planner to keep up with my family’s schedule, manage to-do lists, and meal plan (I try, at least). I’d be kinda lost without it. I used to have a mind like a steel trap, but these days I tend to forget basics like my kids’ names and the fact that the mortgage is due on the 1st of the month. Things got a little mushy in there after the second baby.

I love to-do lists, maybe a little too much. There’s something I find satisfying about using up every line provided—as though somehow it affirms the fullness of my day as a stay-at-home mom. (Perhaps that’s a topic I’ll need to tackle another day.)

The thing is, like I said before, I tend to have unrealistic expectations for my day. I’m counting on my preschooler taking a 3-hour nap, the words I need to write flowing freely and easily, and no phone calls, cats getting sick, or texts interrupting me.

Guess how often it actually works that way?

I’ve found something that helps, and have been experimenting for the past month or so. I set flexible daily goals—this involves deciding to be okay when items get shuffled to another day or even the next week—but I also add, after the fact, anything I accomplish that wasn’t on the to-do list. And then I check it off of course, because we all know that’s the best part!

It’s been freeing. Now I’m able to acknowledge and appreciate the time and energy that go into the little things that seem too insignificant to make the to-do list, but matter nonetheless.

For example, a few things I’ve added lately: Mailed a card to a friend—check! Put together a puzzle with my kid—check! Laundry wasn’t on the list, but I threw in a load—check! Helped my other kid with her homework—check! You get the idea.

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Instead of being discouraged by other people’s accomplishments, I’d much rather 1) cheer on my friends and peers, celebrating wins and encouraging each other through the failures; and 2) keep my eyes (and my to-do lists) focused on God, knowing that he keeps in perfect peace those whose minds are stayed on him and who trust him (Isaiah 26:3).

The truth is, we’re each uniquely equipped for both the number of tasks and the types of tasks God puts before us. Taking note of the unplanned or seemingly small accomplishments each day reminds me that all of it matters, and that sets me free to approach my day joyfully, with open hands and an open mind.

{I shared some of these thoughts earlier this week via The Drafting Desk, a monthly email newsletter for anyone wanting to trade in the pursuit of perfection for grace, joy, and freedom. Lindsey and I would love to have you join us! Learn more and subscribe here!}


Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.}