Awkward Catholic

Living my faith as the awkward man of God that I am.


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Leaning In Deep

Our Lady of Fatima

Two weeks ago Gabriel Rodrigues took his own life.

One week ago I found out that my beautiful wife is pregnant with our fourth child.

Two days ago I received word that a number of parents are unhappy with what I am teaching the teens at Life Teen (high school youth ministry).

Each of these events are uniquely different and yet profoundly world shaking to me. Each, in its own right shatters my world.

Vulnerable

Gabe is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of kid. He promised, after the Marines that he would come back and take my job as youth minister. He had potential to be amazing. He was amazing. But something… I can’t bring myself to even write more about it. My heart is shattered.

We weren’t expecting to have another child anytime soon. We both wanted another one, but because of our circumstances, we discerned that now wasn’t the best time to bring another child into the world. But God had other plans in mind. We weren’t fertile when we chose to renew our marital vows. Every time we engage in the marital embrace we pray for the Holy Spirit’s presence and work. And now our hearts are an explosion of unexpected joy and a flurry of other thoughts and emotions at His creative presence, like a person afraid of heights getting on an extreme roller coaster for the first time… trusting in the creator’s ability to build and guide the coaster’s course despite the wild ride.

The most important thing in my world is my wife and kids. Second only to that are my teens. The teens in my youth ministry… I love them, they are my kids. I’ve given my life and everything I am to them and their families. I’ve made mistakes with them, for sure. I’ve had teens and families walk away because of something I’ve said, done or taught. But each time it tears me to shreds. I know the surpassing love of God, the unfathomable joy of a life united to Christ, and to have a teen or a family walk away because of what I’ve said or done… shatters me.

The grief…

The uncertainty…

The sorrow…

In these moments I survive by leaning in deep. I look to my Savior and kneel before his broken, bruised, bloodied body on the Cross and lean in, pressing my lips to his bloodied and pierced feet… allowing the mercy of his spilled blood wash over me.Wounds of Christ

When these trials beset me I run to my blessed Mother, hold her like my 3 year old runs and wraps her arms around my waist and presses herself against me. I lean in deep and allow her to wrap me in her mantle of grace.

john-paul-n-mother-mary

Beyond my imagination, in reality, I am the beloved disciple leaning against the breast of my Lord, hearing that

one will betray him, knowing that I have done as much, hoping that others will not, asking if it is I.

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Jesus I trust in you.

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Jesus I trust in you.

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Jesus I trust in you.

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Divine Mercy.jpg

In all of this and more, I choose to lean in deep. Each moment I choose to lean in deep. I lean into the grief, the uncertainty, the sorrow. I lean in, knowing that I am not alone, that I am carried and redeemed, that I am on certain ground. The standard of the victor has been planted on a mountain for all to see and I am counted as his very own portion.

I don’t see a way forward.

He does.

I don’t understand.

He does.

I doubt.

He doesn’t.

There is One to whom I can go. There is One answer, One hope, One love. There is One God and I am His, you are His. All is His!

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”… it is here where we lean in deep; it is here when He leaned in deep. Have you ever read the entire Psalm 22? Christ was not crying out in despair! He was leaning in deep! In the greatest moment of his affliction, in the most horrible moment of all history, He leaned in deep. He gave himself over to the affliction and suffering, he took upon himself the weight of our sins and cried out to His Father for mercy! Not mercy for himself, but mercy for you and for me! He opened wide his arms and took in all those who are willing to lean in deep into his embrace.

Be washed, be cleansed, be healed, be, within His embrace. Lean in deep.

sacred-heart-of-jesus


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Dad, is God real?

While driving my three children to school a few weeks ago (it’s a 30 minute drive), my eldest who turned 9 years old recently, asked me, “Daddy, how do we know our God is the real God?” and immediately followed that up with, “And how do we know everything our religion teaches is right? And how do we know Jesus was born from Mary?”

Questioning

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

I mean, woah! These are the same questions the teens in my high school youth program ask on a regular basis and here’s my 9 year old asking them casually on the way to school one morning! How awesome! You see, I think we all ask these questions, and many others like them, throughout our lives. Seeking the truth isn’t just regulated to school aged children, but is one of the most deeply lived pursuits of every human life. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, the three deepest desires of the human heart are for truth, love and life. And as Christ once said, “I am the way (love), the truth and the life.”

Throughout my 18 years of leading teens closer to Christ (or trying to), I’ve been attempting to answer my son’s questions in ways that lead them to a deeper understanding and experience of Christ and of faith. It’s not easy. For one, we tend to hear what we want to hear and reject that which we don’t want to hear; or we dismiss it as nonsense because it doesn’t match up with our personal world view. Which, I think is why I was so delighted to hear my 9 year old ask these questions at such a young age; he’s less jaded and more open to truth.

On the other hand, I’ve also often watched as teens, and adults, hear and accept what I say only to walk away like the rich young man in the parable of Jesus, who walked away sad because he had many things. We don’t want to give up those things that bring us comfort and escape, or our grudges and addictions. Because if I become convicted of the reality of God and his love for me, that’s going to demand a change. And change is scary, uncomfortable and frightening.

But as Pope Benedict XVI said, “You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” And so, I answered my son as best I could in a car also carrying a 6 year old boy and a 3 year old girl. I’ll post some links for the answers to his questions, but this post isn’t meant to be an apologetic one. It’s meant to challenge you (and me).

As the new year rapidly approaches, I think it’s the right time to take a few moments / days and reflect on the reasons we respond the way we do when our world view is being challenged, whether you’re a saintly Catholic, mediocre Catholic (like me), fallen away Catholic, Protestant, atheist, Muslim, etc. When confronted with questions, or more to the point, when confronted with the Truth, why do you respond the way you do?

Over the Christmas holiday I had a conversation with a family member who’s a fallen away Catholic. He off-highhandedly comments to me that the Catholic faith is simply a rehashing of the Egyptian worship of the god Horus. I roll my eyes and begin trying to respond with answers only to be shouted down as he walked away. I truly believe this family member is yearning for truth, for meaning and hope in their life, but isn’t willing to listen to what Christ offers because it’ll mean making some seriously significant changes.

But even for those of us who have accepted Christ as Savior, what holds you back from responding more generously like Zacchaeus and less like the rich young man? Even those who are living a moderately religious life can walk away from Christ by rejecting his call onward and upward.

What is holding you back? What are you afraid of? What lies or sinful strongholds have you allowed into your heart?

New Creation_Pablo_Heimplatz

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz

Links to some of the above questions about faith:

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-real-thing

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/ricky-gervaiss-atheism-claims-answered

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/jesus-and-the-pagan-gods

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/mary-full-of-grace

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/no-contradictions-in-truth

 


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Where Was God?!

Abandoned-Andrew_Amistad

Photo by Andrew Amistad

Where was God last Sunday night in Las Vegas? Why didn’t he stop the bullets? Why didn’t he stop the gunman, give him a heart attack or stroke, or somehow alert the authorities? If God was so good, so loving and tender, where in the heck was he?! Doesn’t that prove that God doesn’t exist, or even worse, that he doesn’t care?

It’s natural to ask questions like these in the face of tragedy. And we could extend it even further, where was God when Hugh Hefner got Playboy started? Why didn’t he stop him from doing so much to destroy our culture and the countless lives of women, men and families? Where was God each time a baby is destroyed in its mother’s womb? Where was God when the hurricanes were destroying the Caribbean? If God so loved the world, then why in the heck does he allow such pain and suffering?! What kind of God does that?

These are impossibly difficult and painful questions to answer, but there is an answer, and no, it’s not a comfortable one either. Sure, there are the unhelpful answers that God gave us free will and loves us too much to take that free will away. Thanks, but not much comfort there. Well then, God was there because look at how some people are turning their hearts to him now. Again, nice thoughts and probably true but not a whole lot of comfort. Fine. Then how about God was there in the heroic choices people made to give their lives for others. Yeah, that’s great, tremendous and beautiful, but still, wouldn’t he be more loving to stop the bullets in the first place?

Well, no, because I believe that God calls each of us home when we are most likely to get into heaven. You see, God loves us so much and he knows that this earth is not our final destination but just the desert in our own personal exodus. Heaven is our home and he desires that all be saved! And so he’ll do whatever he needs, he call us home whenever we are most likely to make it. OK, that’s a little comforting, but still, it hurts too much to make sense!

I have one final answer for you then. Let me tell you a story about a young teen who had no friends, he was constantly mocked and ridiculed and laughed at, even by some of his own family. He was neglected and alone. His mom loved him certainly, but that was about it, and she worked so hard to support the family that she was hardly there. And so the only other being in existence he knew loved him was his dog, Max. He’d come home every day from school and rush to his dog and hug him thightly, and his dog would jump up and down and run around so happy to see his friend. But his dog got sick, he got arthritis and eventually couldn’t get up to go pee. He’d just lie there all day and when his best friend arrived home his tail would slap the floor with all the energy of a healthy dog and he’d pant with excitement; and the boy was loved.

Darkness_meta-zahren

Photo by Meta Zahren

But one day the boy arrived home and Max couldn’t be found anywhere. He was gone. “I’m sorry honey, we took Max to the vet. We put him to sleep.” This boy’s only friend in the world was gone, and he was alone. Have you ever hurt so deeply, mourned so deeply that it physically hurt? This boy began heaving, feeling like he was going to throw up. His heart literally hurt… betrayed, abandoned, alone. I ask you, where was God in that moment?! Let me tell you, it felt like there was no God, but in fact the God of the universe was right there, his heart aching with every torturous beat of that young man’s heart. He was there in the nights filled with tears, in the dark, in the loneliness and hopelessness. He was there as the young man wrote a letter saying goodbye to the world. He was there as he contemplated throwing everything away and ending the pain. He was there, weeping with his hands nailed to a tree, pouring out his abandoned, broken, and pierced heart.

That young man couldn’t see it, he couldn’t feel it, but he wasn’t alone. He was held in the hands of the Father. Caressed with the kisses of angels and his heart slowly healed and day by day he found peace and hope and light again; not through the passage of time. It wasn’t the simple fading memory of the pain that healed him. It was the love of the Father poured out through the pierced heart of the Son and given with the breath of God that healed his soul. And that my friends is the only real answer that can be given, the only answer that truly satisfies. It is the Face of Christ, the bloodied, bruised and broken Face of Christ in which we find peace and hope.

Where was God on Sunday night? He was there with his blood being poured out like a libation, just as he is in every abortion clinic and every school hallway and every lonely kids darkened room, pouring out his love, often unseen, but always and unfailingly there; transforming broken lives and broken hearts into gloriously new creations.

New Creation_Pablo_Heimplatz

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz


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When Roots Run Deep

In Remembrance

I woke up this morning to terrible news of yet another mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas. You know by now, it was the worst (most number of deaths) mass shooting in U.S. history. And right away there were calls for stricter gun control and responses of the need for more guns and blame being shot all around the internet and people yelling at each other.

Dog fight

Here’s the thing, this is the wrong argument to have. The reform that is needed has nothing to do with more laws enforced by a government that half of us don’t trust anyway. What’s needed is a reform of the heart and mind. You see, the escalating violence in the U.S. and around the world has nothing to do with the proliferation of guns and everything to do with the proliferation of hedonism and the inherently selfish worldview of the modern materialistic atheism.

In other words, we are the proverbial frog boiling to death. We’ve slipped so far down the ever deepening slope of narcissism that don’t even realize our own hypocrisy! Hugh Hefner just died and the country mourns his death as a national hero! The man was one of the root causes of the sexual revolution which has subsequently enslaved (both literally and figuratively) untold numbers of men, women and children. Practically, it is well known that he hated the women he used and abused them mentally and emotionally and treated them like play toys he didn’t care about. And this man is an idol in our nation!

Is it any wonder why so many people in our culture turn to violent aggression when they feel unloved, ignored, misunderstood, slighted or any other number of feelings that deeply wound the ego? When you are constantly told that what matters most is your own personal feelings and that you deserve comfort and pleasure, and the world is supposed to give you that pleasure, but then reality happens and you are wounded, whether real or perceived, you lash out and try to take what’s due to you.

We live in a world where, if someone else is an inconvenience to you, whether it’s their fault or yours, then you have every right to dispose of them however you see fit. So, as I saw someone else post, talking about stricter gun control is like lamenting abortion rates and then passing out contraception pills trying to prevent more abortions. What happens is more people have “consequence-less sex” and when the consequences come anyway, they go remove that unintended consequence through abortion.

We need to talk about the real root of the cause. Our violent culture (gun or otherwise) is a symptom, not the problem. Like modern medicine, we throw out countless drugs and solutions at someone’s health problems while ignoring the real cause of their sickness. Whether you want stricter gun control or greater access to firearms, we each need to stop and pray about how to actually make a difference.

compassion

Ultimately, that difference is to be found in the only One who can do anything about all this — Jesus Christ. Only through Him do we have a chance. Rather than defending our lives and fighting against those who fight against us, we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We are called to put others first, always. Love is the answer. Love is always the answer. Love is the only answer. Pray for the man who killed so many innocent people in Vegas. Pray for Hugh Hefner, pray for those who follow in their footsteps. Pray for your rival or enemy at work. Pray for your boss. Pray for your spouse, kids, family, friends. Ask God’s blessing upon them. Don’t give the finger to that annoying driver in front of you, give him a blessing and a smile instead.

“Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort me and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in the hearts of all that love me, Christ in the mouth of friend and stranger.”   – Prayer of St. Patrick

Wounds of Christ

What if you’re not Christian, like so many of our fellow Americans? What’s the answer for them? Ultimately, it’s the same, Jesus Christ. But practically, it’s the same, Jesus Christ. OK, but if they don’t believe in Christ, how can he make a difference in their lives? What are they supposed to do? First of all, it’s not like the Holy Spirit is absence from their lives. Secondly, Christ can work through even those who refuse to acknowledge Him. Furthermore, each act of love, whether by a Christian or an atheist or Muslim, is nonetheless an act of love.


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Heart of the Father

Tonight we (my family) sat at the dinner table, eating, joking and having a good time. I told a bad joke, everyone rolled their eyes, and it was good. I’d cooked BBQ chicken tenders, potatoes au gratin and garlic/butter smothered green beans. It was delicious! Near the end of the meal Maria hushed the children and asked each one to share something they loved about their daddy (me, just in case there was any confusion). My wife and children then proceeded to go around the table, one after the other, naming things they loved about me. It was inspiring and humbling. I’m not a perfect dad, not even close. Yet, for some reason my wife and children love me. My three year old princess summed it up simply by saying “I love loving Daddy!” WOW! From the mouth of babes! I can’t really describe what this does to me, what it teaches me… but I’ll try.

She has a heart for her father, that little angel. And her father has a heart for her! She is my precious angel, my prima ballerina, my sweet girl. I love her with a passionate and tender love that I can’t possibly find the words to describe, and I’m a wordsmith. My heart expands each time I look at her. It doesn’t matter if she’s giving me a “bear hug” with her arms thrown around my neck or if she’s throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store. I may be angry and impatient but my heart nonetheless grows three times larger, like the Grinch, with each gaze upon that precious little girl. This, I imagine, is what happens to the Father each time he gazes upon his beloved children.

It bears repeating that every breath we take is an unmistakable sign of the love of the Father. The Father’s heart beats with and for his love for us. And every breath we take is the Father saying, “I love you!” If, for one beat of His heart he ceased thinking of us we would cease to exist. Each breath you take and every beat of your heart, therefor is proof of His love! Your heart beats therefor, not with mere blood but with the very love of the Father! And with each beat of His heart, it expands three sizes bigger with love for you. Think about that. Heaven is an eternity of the ever expanding love of the Father for you, his precious child! That’s a difficult thought to contemplate, to be sure. But then again, anything dealing with eternity is difficult to really conceive. I think it’s natural to imagine a balloon being filled with water. Eventually it’s ever expanding shell will burst. That’s how our brains conceive eternity. But the reality is beyond us to fully conceive… a balloon that never bursts, that cannot burst.

Here’s what I’ve learned the last eighteen years of being a father (my oldest son is eight years old, but as a youth minister of eighteen years, I have countless sons and daughters). There’s nothing I wouldn’t do, nothing I wouldn’t give for any one of my kids (all 1000+). I have kids who are my “pride and joy” and others who break my heart with each post on Facebook or Instagram. But they are each one of my kids and I love them with each beat of my heart. Every single one of them has let me down and every single one of them has brought me great joy and hope. And I want nothing but the best for them… to each have a truly noble vocation, to respond with joy and faith to the vocation God has called them to, to become the person they were each created to be. That is my great hope and joy… to see my kids reach their fullest purpose, to become saints! And I have a few on their way, that’s to be sure.

Back now to the dinner table tonight. “I love loving Daddy!” Therese cries out. Wow! Why? Why does she love me? Why would she love loving me? What exactly is she trying to say? Well, in her three year old mind and vocabulary, she loves the snuggles and the hugs and kisses and joy she receives from her father. And it’s clear (I hope) that her father finds true joy in all this as well. That’s a lovely thing, certainly. But I think it’s much deeper than that. She literally has a piece of my heart, in that half of her DNA comes from her father. And furthermore, half her upbringing comes from her father. So, in a certain sense, her very heart is the heart of her father and mother. So, it seems to me that her heart naturally reaches out for its home, for the source.

And do not each of us long for the same, not just for our earthly fathers and mothers, but for our heavenly Father as well? He is the source of all life and love. His heart is the heart of every heart. As my favorite marriage prep course says, “It takes three to get married.” When I stood upon the altar with my soon-to-be-bride, we were not alone there but the Holy Spirit, the outpouring of the love of God, filled our space and actually united us together. This great, overflowing love of the Father draws us to Himself and every breath we take is our response to this overflowing love of the Father.

My daughter loves loving me because her very existence is nothing less than the manifestation of love itself! She is the outpouring of love between her father, mother and God! And love loves to be loved! Love loves to love!

This heart of the Father calls us forth and calls us out of our stupor and into the light, into the joy of eternity and the ever-expanding love of his heart, one that explodes with more love and greater joy. And this heart of the Father is tender, oh so tender; one that calls us forth that so gently leads us back into union with His love until our hearts beat as one because they are one. As God himself speaks to each one of us:

“I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, come forth from them and be separate,” says the Lord, “touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Cor. 6:16-18

Is that not the most comforting words you’ve ever read?! We shall be His sons and daughters! We shall be like David, a child after His own heart! And He will live with us! Move among us! And you and I will be his son, his daughter, coddled upon his lap and Consumed in His tender love.


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Deep Breath – Dark Night

Eucharist

It is almost Holy Week!! I can’t believe it. Usually Lent seems to last forever for me. But somehow, this year I find myself staring at Holy Week and I’m all I can think is, where did it go? Right now it’s late Friday night, the house is beautifully silent as the wife and kids sleep peacefully upstairs and the only sound is the humming of the fridge and the twirl of the fish tank filter. It’s a cool night in north Georgia and quiet.

I reflect on Lent 2017 and wish I’d done more, wish I’d done better and begin to congratulate myself for all the successes I had, but I stop short and thank God instead. And I reflect on what we are about to experience this next week, Holy Week… it feels like the world is holding its breath in anticipation. I don’t mean the world of man, with all the war and violence and pride and business and unnoticed suffering going on. I mean the grand silent night, the flickering stars, the trees and lawns and birds that are just beginning to wake up from their long winter’s nap.

The world of man rages on, ever and endlessly on in a mad screaming dash towards it’s own ends, without ever really stopping other than to give a passing glance at the man dying on the side of the road, shrugging its shoulders and congratulating itself for not being the one dying. It happened to Christ on the cross and it continues happening all around us, to us and because of us and despite us.Syrian Refugee

But the world of creation, of stars and waterfalls and little crickets pauses every now and then, and holds its breath in anticipation of something extraordinary and world-shatteringly amazing. It did thus on the 1st Christmas (and I suspect it does it every Christmas if only we’d pay enough attention) and it does it each year as we approach Holy Week and the death shattering events of the Paschal Mystery.

Can you feel it? It’s the deep breath before the long night.

SONY DSC

Have you ever held your breath in anticipation? The world does so now and awaits the outcome as if it were the first time, because really, it is the first time. At the Mass the veil of time is torn asunder and we recline at table with the Apostles as Christ celebrates the last and first Passover, and we kneel on Calvary as Christ consummates the new Covenant in His Blood. This isn’t just a nice image to think on. It’s literal and true. Our elder brothers, the Jews, experience this each time they celebrate the Passover and we continue this tradition at each and every Mass. And especially in Holy Week the world and all those blessed to see it, hold their breath in anticipation of reliving the event that shattered the world and made it new.

I invite you now to breath deep this wondrous stillness. Pray to look past the surface level chaos and noise, whether it’s an office or classroom or grocery store you find yourself in. Breath deep for a long dark night is about to fall around us; a glorious night, a sad night, a beautiful night, made beautiful by the Morning Star that rises once more.

Why is this night different from all other nights? Because once we were slaves and now we are free.

Sunrise Cross


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Singing Out of Tune

song-to-singThat awkward moment when you’re at Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and of course all your favorite Marian hymns are being sung, and you just can’t hold it in and you let your heart sing (via your voice) and you look around and realize that everyone around you looks like they’re in pain. Then you realize that your singing is at fault. You feel sorry for them but no force in the universe can hold in your song.

Yeah, that happened to me the other day. I love my Momma Mary and I just can’t hold it in. I also love to sing! I’m also tone deaf and can’t carry a tune. God and I have a deal though. When I get to heaven He’s going to give me, even if its just for one song, a most beautiful singing voice and I’m going to get to do a solo in front of all the heavenly host to honor his (and my) Mother.

Here’s my point: God has created you, unique and amazing, even when you don’t feel like it; you are more beautiful and resplendent than the stars in all their glory. And you have a song to sing; a song that only you can sing. And it’s not easy as we are each so deeply flawed because of our sin. It’s like my singing voice. I know I have a song in my heart that wants to burst out of me, but it sounds so awful when it comes out. I think all of our good works, all the holiness we strive for… in our hearts and heads it seems so beautiful and good but in reality it’s still so out of tune with perfection. AND. THAT’S. OK. God doesn’t ask us for perfection, he simply asks us to sing. It’s up to him to make the music beautiful.

cat-screechingI honestly don’t know how he could ever make my song into something beautiful, but somehow, through his grace he transforms it from a screeching cat into a masterpiece. Because, well, he’s God. And because as a great saint once said (I think it was St.Therese), “One act of pure love is worth more than all the sacrifices of all the saints throughout the world.” In other words, the smallest, most insignificant act of pure love overwhelms the heart of Jesus, who is love itself.

And ultimately what is at the center of this act of love is a simple yes. A simple yes like Mary’s, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your word.” When we say yes at the deepest part of our soul to whatever God wills, even in the smallest of actions, we overwhelm the heart of God. I can only imagine he looks on us as I do my beautiful 2 year old little girl when she tries to sing the Happy Birthday song, I’m simply overwhelmed with joy and love for her.

kid-singing

So I encourage you not to worry what the people around you may think of the song you sing, whether you’re feeding the homeless or simply walking away when the office gossip starts. Sing that song with all your heart.

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* Whenever this song is sung at church I can’t help but imagine myself singing like Carrie Underwood. Those poor people around me suffer so much. But my soul MUST sing!!