Holy attention

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about attention.

Lately it feels like everything is scrambling for my attention. Unread emails. Missed text messages. Facebook notifications. Shows to watch. Articles to read. New podcasts to play. The pull of infinite content, waiting to be consumed.

Do you feel it too?

We have work to do, bills to pay, children to raise, relationships to nourish, bodies to feed/exercise/clothe/rest. We belong to faith communities and organizations and gyms. We have second jobs and side hustles and volunteer gigs. Lunch dates, dinner dates, brunch with friends. Never stopping. Never slowing. Go. Go. Go.

Our lives are full. Our attention—limited. We feel overwhelmed.

I have this theory about attention. It’s kind of like water from a well. The well is deep and expansive, filled with cool, refreshing water we can share with others. On good days, we share water generously and have plenty left to nourish myself. Sometimes we hoard water, and we become bloated. Sometimes we waste water and only have a little left for ourselves. If we’re not careful, the well can run dry.

In this moment in time, I believe we’re all thirsty for something better. We are all parched.

So what do we do? How do we fill up our well?

First, we need to examine what true attention really is. Ever been in a really good conversation with someone where it felt as though you were really seen and heard? They allowed you to talk as much as you needed without feeling ashamed or embarrassed, nodded their head at all the right times and asked engaging questions. Didn’t that just make you feel warm, cozy and joyful?

My late grandpa was a lot like that–an attentive, compassionate listener. If he engaged you in conversation–and chances are certain that if you looked like you needed company he would–he’d give you his undivided attention, nodding his head and asking questions.

My grandma told me recently that often when new members of their congregation, Christ the King Lutheran Church, were asked why they joined, most had the same answer. (No, it wasn’t Jesus.) They said they came because of Richard (my grandpa). Imagine that!

I think one of the joys of my grandpa’s life was learning about others and encouraging them. He was warm, kind and generous to everyone he met.

There are a lot of things to pay attention to these days–but certainly paying attention to people seems like a good place to start.

Whatever it is that clamors for your attention, consider this: Paying attention is an act of love.

That’s what the award-winning film Lady Bird asserts in this exchange between Christine (Lady Bird), a senior at a Catholic high school, and her teacher, Sister Sarah Joan:

Sister Sarah Joan: You clearly love Sacramento.

Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: I do?

Sister Sarah Joan: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.

Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: I was just describing it.

Sister Sarah Joan: Well it comes across as love.

Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: Sure, I guess I pay attention.

Sister Sarah Joan: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?

Amen, sister!

This scene is wedged within tense moments between Lady Bird and her mother, who relentlessly criticizes her. We see her mother’s behavior throughout the film and notice it is a demonstration–though a harmful one–of her deep love for her only daughter. That difficult relationship comes to a head when Lady Bird’s mother finds out her daughter applied to and was accepted accepted into a college outside of Sacramento she was forbidden to attend. As punishment her mother stops talking with Lady Bird and ignores her completely.

Lady Bird’s mother vengefully rescinds her attention, her love, from her daughter and gives her the silent treatment. It is painful for Lady Bird and painful to watch.

An aside: Ever given someone the silent treatment? Ironically, this ‘punishment’ takes an incredible amount of attention to pull off–and for Lady Bird’s mother to do so for a long time indicates the depth of her disappointment and love for her daughter.

Although we never see Lady Bird and her mother reconcile, there is a moment at the end of the film when Lady Bird calls her mother and pours out her heart to her over voicemail, making me hopeful that they someday will.

I wholeheartedly agree with the writers of Lady Bird: attention is an expression of love. And I’ll add–sometimes, attention is holy.

Ever have a heart-to-heart with someone that leaves you feeling relieved and understood? Ever lock eyes with someone and feel like they saw your soul? Ever receive public or private praise for something you worked hard on—even when you thought no one was noticing? This is holy attention. This is love in action, life-giving and nourishing and focused and pure.

I have a hypothesis about our current technology-ridden context. What if we are all feeling so exhausted and scattered because we’re not being intentional with our attention? What if we’re not using it wisely?

How many of us struggle with the dance of dividing our attention, knowing we have, on occasion, failed in our relationships or commitments or even our self-care simply because we feel as though there isn’t enough time?

Here’s the hard truth: Our attention has limits.

We’re only human after all.

If I do a time audit of my day, what might I find about my attention? I think I would be surprised to find the amount of attention I waste on social media–on my phone–rather than noticing the world around me. I want to spend more time cultivating relationships, including the most important relationships–with God and family and myself.

So how do we start living in away that honors what we really love?

We remember attention is holy.

We understand attention is a gift.

But here’s the secret: there is a way to deepen your reserves of attention. And that means giving that holy attention right back to yourself. Nourishing yourself with water from your well.

Listening to the voice inside of you that declares: THIS is what makes me happy. THIS is what I really want and need to do today.

I have this nagging pain, can you heal it?

I have this burning desire to dance, will you let me?

I am feeling stuck, can you help me get unstuck?

Will you pay attention?

Here is a new definition of self-love for you. It’s not getting a pedicure, taking a bubble bath or winding down with a glass of wine–though any of those things are justifiably nice. Self-love is paying attention to the voice inside you that is wild and free, and really listening to it, and seeking to align your actions with your innermost healthy desires.

When we give ourselves the kind of holy attention we crave from others, imitating the kind of holy attention only God can give us–pure, adoring love–it is easier for us to then share our attention with others.

I think about the way, as a mother and on my good days, I give holy attention to my son. How can I give more of that away to people who matter (and less to social media, to my worries)—including me? How can I spend holy time and attention immersed in prayer?

Notice–without judgment–where you spend your time this week. How can you redirect it so that you are giving holy attention to yourself–and to everyone and thing that matters most to you?

My call story

Recently I was asked to share my call story with some young people in the church. Because in my professional life I usually write stories about others, it was a fun exercise to spend time reflecting on the course of my life, my faith and my sense of vocation.

Oftentimes I choose to blog about my call to mother but I rarely discuss my call to serve the church in my professional career. Here’s a short overview of what brought me to my current call as a content editor with the national office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

  • I grew up in the Lutheran church. My mom is an organist and Lutheran school teacher. Some of my earliest memories of church involve either me sitting nearby the organ bench where my mother was playing or singing my little heart out in the children’s choir.
  • For me, faith and music are intertwined. Singing in the choir was always a big part of my worship experience. (Being the daughter of the music director–also my  mom–I had no choice.) Luckily, I loved it. I adore music and continued singing in church through college at Valparaiso University. I have a special place in my heart for the Holden Evening Prayer liturgy, which I sang as a cantor on occasion at Valpo’s candlelight services.
  • I’ve been passionate about reading and writing since childhood. At Valpo, I studied English literature, journalism and the humanities. I also worked at the writing center and the school newspaper.
  • I never thought I’d work for the church. In 2008, when I graduated, paying jobs in journalism were difficult to find. The chair of the English department connected me with a job at Fourth Presbyterian Church, a large, progressive congregation in downtown Chicago. They have about 4,000 members and a full communications department.
  • But the day I interviewed, I realized God was calling me to serve. I remember sitting in downtown Chicago in the office of the head pastor of the congregation and chatting with one of my future colleagues. I suddenly knew this was where I wanted to be, I wanted to use my gifts in writing and editing to inspire others in their faith. This has been a theme in my career ever since. I spent five years working for this church.
  • The first few years I lived in the city, my husband and I had trouble finding a Lutheran church. We found my current congregation, Resurrection Lutheran Church, through good friends. Resurrection was a lifeline for me in the city, it’s where I grew in my faith as a young adult and met close friends. I became very involved in our young adult ministry and started a Bible study with my friends. We continue to meet today and that has been such a blessing in my life.
  • While at a Bible study one evening, I met ELCA Bishop Hanson. When I told him I worked for the Presbyterians, he said, “Why don’t you come work with us?” I laughed him off, but I didn’t realize his voice was the Holy Spirit calling me again.
  • A few months later I found a job posting to work in communications for the ELCA. I applied, praying they’d consider me for an interview. That was nearly five years ago in March.
  • Since seventh grade, I’d dreamed of working for a magazine, but one that mattered. I’ve been through two department restructures since starting at the ELCA and I honestly feel like I’ve landed in my dream career.
  • Faith stories are the best stories. I’ve interviewed a woman who was baptized at 100-years-old, a pastor and roller derby announcer, veterans, liturgical dancers, teens at ELCA Youth Gatherings, 30 millennials on why they’re still attending church and more. It’s a privilege to amplify voices across this church who are living out their faith through service to others. I’m grateful every day that my job allows me to express to others the healing, transformative power of God’s grace.

Fear and great love

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” ―Frederick Buechner

If we were having coffee right now, I’d tell you the emotion I’ve been battling most lately is fear.

Fear is an uncomfortable emotion to harbor: Fear tells us we are weak and insignificant. Fear makes us believe are powerless. Fear can paralyze us from taking action, the very thing that can save us.

Until I went to therapy a few years ago I wasn’t emotionally aware enough to realize how often I felt scared. I think most of us are more fearful than we let on in our carefully captioned Instagram posts and casual conversations. Everyone’s afraid.

Lately the fear has been acute, like hunger pangs in my stomach I can’t seem to satisfy.

Maybe it was my recent discovery that I’m an enneagram type two, motivated by a deep need to love and be loved by others. (If you have not checked out this personality framework, do it now. It’s my new obsession.) This realization was terrifying and affirming and, like a true two, I immediately wondered what I could start or stop doing so that people would like me more (face palm). I’m afraid I can’t change or work around my weaknesses.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t had many writing “wins” lately and I’m feeling like an imposter. Sure, I’m an editor and I work with words every day. But to claim I’m a writer? Some days I’m not sure I have what it takes. There are so many writers out there who are more talented and have more interesting stories to tell. I’m afraid no one wants to hear what I have to say, that my work won’t be of service to others.

Maybe it’s because my son just turned one and it seems like yesterday we were taking him home from the hospital, nervous and excited. Sometimes I worry I’m missing out on his life, on raising him while I work full-time. I need to work to provide for our family, but I desperately crave more time with my son. What if I regret this choice later? I’m afraid of regret.

I’m afraid. I’m afraid. I’m afraid . . .

Last week on Valentine’s Day I was determined to shake off my anxiety and make this a special day for my family. We had heart-shaped pink pancakes for breakfast. Jack sent his grand and great-grandparents valentines. Jay got me the roses. It was a good day.

It was also Ash Wednesday, so I went to midday chapel. I received my ashes. I prayed.

Then I heard about the Parkland shooting. At first, I felt nothing. I was numb.

As the news rolled in, all I could think about was our son. I imagined him 15 years later, in high school. Jack the teenager cowering under a desk, fearing for his life. The baby I carried in my womb for nine months and nursed for a year shot dead in a hallway, blood splattering the floor. I thought of all the parents who woke up to this nightmare Wednesday afternoon. I thought of my mom an sister-in-law, both teachers. I sobbed and sobbed.

One of the worst parts of being a parent is realizing again and again that no matter how hard you try you cannot protect your child from everything. As any mom or dad will tell you, from the moment your child enters your life you will learn to live with the gut-wrenching fear that your precious son or daughter could die at any moment for any reason. Your child gets older, but it never gets easier. In our current cultural context, I think it’s only getting worse.

Places I have to worry about my son getting shot:

  1. Church
  2. School
  3. Mall
  4. Movie theater
  5. Concert
  6. Sporting event
  7. Airport
  8. Basically anywhere

We shouldn’t have to live with this. We shouldn’t have to die like this. And we definitely shouldn’t throw up our hands and say, “I guess since we all disagree on the root cause of gun violence in America, we should just do nothing. This problem is just too complex for us to solve.”

Fear continues to creep in and cripple us—and the very people we elected to protect us—from taking action to address this issue.

In her recent statement on the Parkland shooting, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said, “We acknowledge our own failings and ask God to guide us in finding new ways to turn the tide together on both the availability of assault weapons and the lack of mental health care.

But we know that those things alone won’t solve this epidemic. All of us, including the church, must take a close look at ourselves. How are we cultivating a culture of violence, hatred, anger and fear, and how can we participate in building a counter-culture where people can experience God’s intended peace and life abundant for all?”

Amen! Yes, in the U.S. we have a serious culture issue at hand that’s playing a big rule in this mess we’re in. We glorify guns and violence in our media. We socialize our boys to suppress their emotions, to objectify women, to value “winning.” We play violent video games and watch violent movies. We stand idly by as others are bullied or isolated, too absorbed in our own lives, too afraid to show them compassion.

We are broken people. But my faith tells me that we can change. That the church—whose membership continues to be in decline, especially among younger generations—is relevant today because it offer tools for change. The church teaches a powerful, countercultural message of hope, healing, forgiveness and love all wrapped up in the story of Jesus.

I’m terrified of what we Americans have become. But I also have hope. God is calling us, as he always has, to love one another. What would it look like for us to let go of fear and live in great love instead?

Great love means seeking to listen and understand our neighbors before choosing sides. Great love means noticing our own complicity in the problem and resolving to change. Great love means honoring our neighbor’s emotions and stories. It means caring for everyone’s children–not just yours and mine. It also means: Reclaiming our schools and public spaces. Prioritizing people over weapons. Seeking common ground. Resolving our conflicts without violence. Prioritizing peace. Cultivating respect. Loving our neighbors as ourselves.

I’m outraged by the Parkland shooting. And I’m especially outraged because we know it won’t be the last. But we must do everything in our power to stop this senseless, savage violence in our schools and other public spaces. And although we aren’t all politicians or activists, we are all citizens and have an influence on our inner circles. Just look at the brave teens from Parkland who are working tirelessly to persuade our lawmakers to take action on gun control. Together we *can* affect change.

So here’s how I’m choosing to act: I’m choosing to raise my voice and shout, “Enough!” especially to our legislators. I’m choosing to get involved. I’m choosing to raise my son in a way that defies toxic masculinity. I’m choosing to keep praying, to vote conscientiously, to act conscientiously, and to look for the people around me who might need a little extra love.

I can choose to live life afraid. Or I can choose to live courageously in love.

I choose great love. What do you choose?

Ashes to ashes

Valentine’s Day: here we are writing love notes/smelling roses/eating candy and then we hear about another senseless school shooting. The news shakes us. It breaks us. It reminds us we are but dust, and to dust we shall return. Our parents, our friends, our children — dust.

We are so hungry for good news… and there is good news that comes to us on Ash Wednesday: God is with us in our pain. God loves us so much that he sent his son to live with and die for us. To save us from our brokenness. And if we dare to love others in the big way God loves us, we can begin to heal.

Highs, lows of 2017 + my 2018 intention

Strybis 36
Credit: Monamie Photography

Happy New Year! As I write this, I’m hiding out in my bedroom while my husband entertains our 11-month-old. I have my laptop, my coffee, a cozy blanket and snuggly dog, and I’m feeling especially grateful to be indoors on this chilly day in the city. It’s heavenly.

It’s been pretty quiet on this blog the past few months. Jay and I are on the other side of a particularly difficult parenting season. To keep things simple and maintain my sanity, I gave myself permission to take a writing break both professionally and personally during that season. In doing this, I was reminded of a valuable lesson: Sometimes, the only way to find inner peace is to let go of the expectations you set for yourself.

I missed writing. I missed this space.

I often found myself composing blog posts during my commute home only to arrive at my doorstep with an overtired baby, overtired mind and daily chores to complete. Once I had a free moment to myself, choosing to consume content versus create it was the easier course of action. After a difficult string of sleepless nights, I was reminded of my therapist’s advice to be gentle with myself. I stopped feeling guilty about getting lost in a good story or scrolling through my phone and just enjoyed it—particularly season two of The Crown, this YA novel, this bookthis podcast series and my fair share of Instagram stories.

In 2018, I want things to be different. I don’t want to stop reading and watching and listening and learning, but I do want to start creating and sharing more with all of you, friends. God has put a deep, burning desire to write on my heart–and I’m eager to lean into this passion and see where it leads me.

I won’t call this a resolution. By now, I know myself well enough to know I am not a resolution maker. (Frankly, the barrage of life and health and wellness challenges for the new year on social media this year is a bit overwhelming!) Instead, I’ll borrow from the yoga world, as I have done in the past years, and set an intention, a focus, going forward.

This my intention for 2018: to use this space and all the other channels available to me to tell my story, to create + connect with you. I intend to write and post more regularly, to not let fear, excuses, overwhelm and busy-ness get in the way of carving out a little space to reflect and share. The connect part is important to me too—this is my way to make my small corner of the Internet a more positive space, to find common ground with others, to keep in touch with friends, to inspire and encourage you on your journey. Speaking of which, I’ll start with some thoughts on the past year.

My year in review 

For me, 2017 was a year of change marked by the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever felt. The biggest change? Becoming a mother, which involved learning to get comfortable with change and challenges as our son moved through various stages of infancy. He’s on his way to becoming a toddler right now and I am amazed by the growth that happened right before our eyes. It seems like just yesterday we were bringing Jack home from the hospital, and now he’s on the verge of taking his very first steps.

As for highs and lows, here’s my list . . .

Highs: Giving birth to my son, breastfeeding and nurturing him, watching him grow and hit major milestones, growing closer with husband and other family members through parenthood, reuniting and connecting with Valpo friends, witnessing our goddaughter grow older, sharing in our godson’s baptism, getting back into yoga, publishing a couple essays, leading Living Lutheran‘s first theme issue, writing about Millennials and the church, sharing stories through this blog.

Lows: Processing postpartum trauma, transitioning back to work after maternity leave riddled with anxiety/heartache/doubt, vacillating from worry to disgust with the current U.S. administration, feeling lonely in our new neighborhood, struggling to keep up with work and home, dealing with my own newfound forgetfulness, receiving rejection emails, sleep-deprivation, illness, grieving the loss of innocents to more mass shootings, grieving the loss of two beloved grandfathers.

Undoubtedly this was the most challenging year of my life and my marriage. And it was also the most rewarding. Becoming a mother opened my eyes to the simple beauty and wonder of childhood and the deep joy and love of parenthood. It also pushed me to build greater resilience and grit.

Although I was at best an intermittent church-goer, I continued to pursue my faith in other ways, through reading and listening to podcasts and praying. I’ve prayed a lot more since becoming parent, and I’ve found the simple word, “help,” (of Ann Lamott’s “Help. Thanks. Wow.“) to be my particular Hail Mary in times of stress.

Our family lost two incredible men of faith this year–my Grandpa Joe and Grandpa Richard. Grandpa Joe was the strong silent type, but he loved baseball, square dancing with grandma, tending to his garden and going to church. Grandpa Rich, too, was an avid church-goer and he sung in the choir. He was incredibly outgoing, a good listener and a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan. Both were dedicated husbands, fathers and, first and foremost, Lutherans. I really miss them both, but know they’re smiling down on us from heaven.

All in all I’m deeply grateful for the rich blessings God has bestowed on our family this past year, especially the gift of our son. That God entrusted this little wonder to our care never ceases to amaze me. Just today I found myself changing the diaper of my wild baby who would prefer to be naked wistfully wondering when the “real” adult/parent would step in and rescue me. While washing my hands, I looked at myself in the mirror and remembered, “Oh yeah, that’s… me. I’m the parent. I get to deal with this poop on my son’s leg. On my own. (Also, when did I start looking so tired? Have I looked like this all year?)”

This may sound trite, but the poop, the tears, the sleepless nights, the dogged tiredness, the doubt, the forgetfulness, the frustration, the annoying pump sessions… they’re all worth it. All it takes is a giggle, a smile, a snuggle, a hug from my son and my heart just melts. This joy, this love, this wonder–I never knew life could feel so full of brightness until I became a mother.

And that is what I’ll take with me from 2017. I’m leaving behind all the other icky stuff (I know, there was a lot of it) and remembering this: 2017 was the year I became a mother. It was the year Jay and I received the greatest gift of all, our son.

Help. Thanks. WOW.

Blessings to you in 2018.


We gave up church for Lent

credit: Resurrection Lutheran Church, Lakeview – Chicago

When our son was born in January, my husband and I, like many first-time parents, were so wrapped up in getting used to our new reality that we barely had time to eat or sleep or clean or think. Naturally many of our pre-baby commitments ended up tabled for a while – me, book club, my husband – lifting, both of us – church. Eventually he made it back to the gym, and although I still haven’t made it to book club I did make it out of the house (book club ladies, I’m coming back soon–I promise!). There were a few Sundays early on on which we tried our best to get back to church, but, alas, baby had other plans.

Days ran together in a haze of feedings, dirty diapers, dirty laundry, dirty dishes. Suddenly it was April, and looking at the calendar we realized that we’d nearly given up church–of all things–for Lent. Oops. That had not been our intention.

It was time to go back.

So two weekends ago when we approached the front doors of our church, a place that had once been so familiar but now felt a bit foreign, I was a little afraid of what to expect, namely, because I had an unpredictable infant to worry about, but also I worried I might not like it anymore after being gone for so long. My diaper bag slung over my shoulder, I followed my husband, who was carrying our son, up the stairs. I peeked over my shoulder across the street at the soccer players skittering back and forth, envious of their seemingly carefree morning. I stepped inside.

A familiar tune filled the familiar space, familiar faces, words of grace–all put my heart at ease and made me feel at home.

It was Palm Sunday, the day on which the church observes Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion and resurrection. My congregation’s Palm Sunday practice is to process into the sanctuary while singing, palms in hand, imitating the crowds who rejoiced for Jesus years ago. We then read aloud the Passion story–full of drama, intrigue, betrayal, darkness–and remember Jesus’s great sacrifice for us, God’s beloved, broken people. This is how Holy Week begins.

This story is exactly what I needed to hear after such a long time away. It wasn’t the melodic hymns or the thoughtful prayers or the beautiful, homey space, it was hearing the Bible, getting uncomfortable, getting back to the basics of my faith–why we need Easter, why we need a Savior–that reminded me why my family makes church a priority. (To answer the former “why”: I know I mess up a lot and I can’t save myself, I am a broken person without Jesus and I desperately need God’s grace and forgiveness.)

The world, however, would have you believe that the road to Easter Sunday is paved with jelly beans, pastel-colored eggs and sunny spring outfits. If that’s your Easter–that’s OK, but sorry, it’s not the original Easter. The Easter story is *not* for the faint of heart.

I bought a children’s book for my son’s Easter basket, which was so aptly titled, “The Easter Story.” I read it to him the other night, the Passion story fresh in my mind from Palm Sunday. I kept commenting along the way, “Jack, they left out this part, that Jesus was betrayed–and we are all culpable.” (Pretty heavy stuff for an 11-week-old, I know.) And “Jack, the interesting thing here is that only the women who followed Jesus came to his tomb that day.”

Yes, there are so many details about Jesus’s death and resurrection that can’t be captured in a simple children’s book. We seek to shelter our children from the darkness, but the darkness–when the people demand Jesus’s crucifixion, for example–is an important part of the Easter story.

There’s no shortage of darkness in our world today. During these past few months, I did my best to take a break from the news and the worry it brings because I wanted to focus on bonding with my son. But leading up to Easter I could not ignore it. Recent events instilled in me a new, sharper (parental) anxiety about the future.  I’ve been thinking about the Syrian man whose twins died after being gassed, the horrific terror attack on Palm Sunday in Egypt, the acts of terror and acts of war that persist in the U.S. and across the world today. We are all culpable, we are all victims. This is why we need a Savior. We need mercy. We need grace. We need healing.

Because I hadn’t been to church in so long, I’d forgotten this. 

Back in church that Palm Sunday I let the words of the Passion story wash over me, the hymns of praise, the prayers of the people. I thought about how disconnected from my faith I had been this Lent, caught up in the day-to-day activities of life with a newborn. How that morning I had come to church a little afraid.

That morning, church started to fill up my empty tank. Hope–for something bigger than my small life, for divine intervention for a broken people, for a Savior–filled my heart. 

It felt incredible to be welcomed home by our fellow members the last two Sundays. I am deeply grateful to belong to a church of open arms, love and no judgment. One of my favorite moments on our first Sunday back was bringing little Jack up to communion with us and watching our pastor as she made the sign of the cross on his forehead and blessed him. 

Now Easter and Palm Sunday have since passed and for the majority of folks that means to back to “normal.” As for us, though life with a baby is never predictable, we’re attempting to find a new normal that includes more regular attendance at church each Sunday. One thing is certain: in this season my faith life has been reinvigorated and for that, I’m grateful.

Have you ever lost your way from something that was important in your life? What brought you back?