Awkward Catholic

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


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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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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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God is Goodish!

That awkward moment when you realize that the mercy you’ve received and will continue to receive is so utterly undeserved and any words you may try to write about it will ultimately fall flat, will fail to grasp…

God is so good! To say that God is good is an understatement of such magnitude that it is actually closer to an insult, if it weren’t for the intention of the one who says such a thing. The mercy of God is likewise. The Divine condescension!! How could he?! Why does he?! Have you ever pondered that? Look into your heart, contemplate your choices, those thoughts that no one else will ever know and how often they come to you, and then contemplate the fact that God has shown you mercy and willingly, longingly wipes those sins away like so much dust on a mantle place.

God is good! How good is he? He allows us to proclaim his goodness, even though the goodness we see and proclaim is but a scratch of the true depths of goodness that he pours out onto his Beloved. To compare it to a child who hugs his dad for giving him a small treat, though the child has no idea how much the dad has sacrificed and given to love his child. Even that falls short of the goodness God has showered upon us!

God is good! His heart overflows with tender love for us. My tender love for my little girl pales in comparison to the tender, fatherly love my Father has for me… for you. The lengths he would go to love us, protect us and bring us back to himself… I can’t even fathom! The Cross. Why did he die on the cross for us? He could have saved us with the first little scratch he endured as a child. But that wouldn’t have shown the depths of his love. And if there were a more profound means of demonstrating these infinite depths, he surely would have chosen it. But as it stands, as He hung, he gave all. He gave more than we could possibly conceive. The mercy and love of God is beyond us, utterly. We speak of the depths of his love but don’t ever think about it more than that. God gave up being God! God experienced death! God felt the utter separation of Him from Himself! I sit here and simply can’t. How do you express this any further? What words? There are none.

God is good. We are nothing. But he loves us still. He gives us worlds, a literal universe! God is good! God is! You, reading this, when you doubt that you are good enough, when you doubt that you worthy, know this… you are not. But you don’t have to be. God is good! And his goodness, his love, his mercy doesn’t care about your worthiness. He cares only for your love. So how do we do that? How do we love a Love that wants nothing less than a perfect love in return? By loving with the Love that loves perfectly! In other words, I cannot be what He wants me to be. So I must let Him be perfect for me! I must let Him love through me. (Thank you St. Therese!)

God, you are good! Give me your heart that I may love you, that I may be good like you. Only then can I love as you will, only then can I be perfect like you, my heavenly Father is perfect.


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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.

microphone

 

 

* 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!!


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The Life Sucking Monster

The Father and Adam

That awkward moment when you realize that for the last three years you’ve been attacked by a life-sucking monster and had no idea.

* The below post is an article published in “Family Foundations” a Natural Family Planning magazine published by the Couple to Couple League (www.ccli.org). It is republished here with permission and some modifications by the author. 

It happened about two months ago, the day our whole world fell apart. It seemed rather sudden, but looking back I can see that life-sucking monster growing in the shadows for months, years even. It grew unnoticed or unchecked and even when the monster did start to reveal itself, we ignored it, pushed it back down and made excuses for it. But the monster of Depression wasn’t going anywhere without a direct fight. Looking back, we see that it was sometime after our 2nd child was born when Maria started feeling the effects of Postpartum Depression. She journaled that  her joy was slowly slipping away as she felt overwhelmed more and more each day and life became a burden, but she soldiered on like a “good wife and mother”. I didn’t notice anything at all; she put on a good front and despite all those communication blessings that flow from using NFP, we never really discussed it.Depression.png

I was consumed in my work doing youth ministry, working 3-4 nights a week… 4-5 nights a week. Maria took on a part time job and then another to help make ends meet while trying to home school our three children and slowly the monster grew. It slowly sucked away her joy, her patience, her hope. She stopped listening to music; she dropped her hobbies and kept trudging along, washing and folding clothes, working on work, feeding and clothing our kids, etc., etc., etc. It was a long day, every day. And I slowly grew accustomed to a joyless wife and began detaching from her as she detached from life. And slowly my joy slipped away too.
After 2 ½ years, she began to cry out in desperation, meekly asking for help. I noticed and tried to accommodate, offering to help, asking what I could do. But we didn’t really sit down and discuss it; neither wanted to burden the other. She started seeing a therapist who suggested depression and possibly medication. We resisted. I resisted. But finally it was too much.

Glass of Water.jpg

If you want to know what it’s like, then pick up a glass of water and hold it straight out for a minute. It’s not too difficult but keep holding it out for 10 minutes, for an hour, for a day. Eventually, your arm becomes numb and paralyzed and it all comes crashing down. That’s what happened, or almost happened. But my beautiful bride cried out and I finally had ears to listen and we sought help, and are now slowly healing and finding our way back to good. I’d forgotten what it was like to hear her laugh, to see her smile. It’s beautiful.

Hindsight is 20/20. I wish I’d probed deeper into her feelings. I wish I’d done more than just ask what she needed. I wish I’d left work earlier. I wish.

I wish I’d used the lessons I learned in NFP and applied them to my life. NFP teaches us to check our wife’s temperature every morning, to record her signs and to reflect on our status; and when one of us is struggling, the other can pick up the slack because we’re a team. And this truth applies to more than just fertility awareness. It applies to all of our marriage… asking not just how I could help, but seeking to understand what is going on inside of her, emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Let’s be honest, most of us men don’t like to do that (stereotypes exist for a reason). We’re often exhausted at the end of our day of work and make excuses as to why I need to “veg” out in front of the TV for 3 hours rather than spend 15, 30 or 60 minutes talking to the woman whom I’ve committed my life to, the mother of my children, my best friend and most trusted confidant. She’s my wife after all, she’ll be there tomorrow when I need her… but when will I be there for her? She needed me then and I’m struggling with the guilt of not doing more when I could have. It’s something I need to come to terms with. Both of us made mistakes. Both of us are in the process of healing. It’s  long road, a hard road, but a road worth going the distance on (if you find yourself on it). We lost sight of who God was calling us to be. We let our immediate desires take the place of our deepest needs. God allowed us to travel on this road and He is is trustworthy; he is good.

God is good… if not predictable in his incessant imaging of himself in his creation. Natural Family Planning doesn’t just help us plan our families. It mirrors life. Theology of the Body is the study of who we are and who God is through our created selves. All of life is a mirror, a reflection of God and our destiny. When we lose sight of that, we lose sight of ourselves. When we lose ourselves, we slowly slip away. The constant daily checkups in NFP are a reminder of a deeper checkup… am I living as God intended, am I being the person he intended me to be?

Maria & I lost sight of these truths over the last few months… years. We lost sight of ourselves as reflected in Christ. But through his grace, we’re finding his vision again, in a greater clarity than we ever had before.

Helping Hand


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A Tedious Time of Prayer

That awkward moment when you’re having a conversation with someone and you run out of things to say. Not that it’s ever happened to me, OK well, it happens all the time. Honestly, I’m not that good of a conversationalist; if you couldn’t tell by the title of my blog, I’m a bit awkward when it comes to social situations. I either say exactly what I’m thinking or I can’t think of something to say, or ask.

Have you ever felt that way? From what Licking EnvelopesI’m told, most people have that experience at some point in their lives. We all seem to know someone with whom we’d like to be friends with… they seem like a great person, with an interesting story, but for some reason whenever you try talking with them it feels like you’re just licking envelopes. If you’ve never sent out over 100 letters before you might have trouble understanding my analogy, but doing a “mass mailing” is one of the most tedious and time consuming things. And having to seal all those envelopes becomes the bane of your existence.

I feel that way in prayer… a lot. I try to pray a lot. I say lots of Rosaries and Chaplets of Divine Mercy, I read the Scriptures most days, I say countless prayers for others, yet I constantly feel as if I’m stuck in this situation where I’m talking to a wall, or when it’s going well, I’m having one of those conversations where neither one of us seems able to find something to say. For me, this is a very frustrating experience.

As I ponder it, I believe it a profoundly good and necessary one. Because of this experience many of us think that we just don’t know how to pray, or that God isn’t listening, or that prayer just doesn’t work. But the reality is, the experience of dryness or tedious prayer actually deepens our souls and connects us to God in a profound way. Just like when a person who is trying to change his diet to eat healthy and get into shape; compared to the sugary, processed foods with tons of flavor, the healthy food is bland and boring. Eventually though, the person realizes that the healthy food is more robust and good than initially thought and those sweet, processed foods are sickening and simply make you feel awful.

In this awkward prayer, God is training us to let go of our addiction to emotional prayer and to trust in his goodness and love. Like in marriage, I don’t love my wife because of all the emotions she gives me, because honestly, they’re not all positive. Rather, I love her because of who she is, for her own sake. And that’s what God wants of us too! He wants a pure love, a pure life, a pure hope! Only in a pure heart, one that loves without thought of self can we truly discover who we’re meant to be.

In the “Song of Songs”, one of the most beautiful and powerful books in the Bible, we are told, “Do not arouse, do not stir up love before it’s own time,” (Songs 2:7). And I think this passage is talking about our addiction to emotional prayer. It is not a bad thing, but when we depend upon it to gauge our prayer lives, it can become deadly. Allow God to stir up and inflame our hearts, in his time, and remain faithful. You will be blessed beyond understanding. That prayer you struggle with will eventually bear fruit, in God’s time. Every night ends, no matter how dark. Before we know it we will declare, like the beloved in Song of Songs, “Before I knew it, my heart had made me the blessed one of my kinswoman,” (Songs 6:12).


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Checking Your List for the Divine Invasion

That awkward moment when you see the horrible things going on in the world around you and you realize that this day, or any day, might be your last and that you aren’t prepared, that there are too many things left undone or unsaid. At the very least, you want to check off a few more things from your bucket list.Bucket

So, what’s on your bucket list? My bucket list has four items on it: To marry a beautiful woman, to have a family, to be published and to become a saint. Thus far I’ve accomplished 3 of my four goals.

What about you? If you haven’t actually made a bucket list, then at least ask yourself what you most want to accomplish in this life before you die. But then ask yourself why you want these things. Most likely there is some story behind your desire or need for each item on your list. Most likely you believe that obtaining those goals will bring you satisfaction or fulfillment of some kind. And most likely they will, to a certain extent.

But now I want to ask you what do you think is on God’s bucket list? The obvious answer is that he wants us with him for eternity. But really, that’s too generic, isn’t it? Your bucket list is most likely specific and concrete, why wouldn’t God’s be?

I’ve said this before but I think it bears repeating: why did God create the world?

The answer is simple: to love you; so that you would be here for him to love. You are the apple of his eye, the treasure of his heart, his precious. What God wants is you; simply you. Nothing else, nothing less, he wants you and you alone. Every star in t he sky exists so that God could love you.

But we resist this, don’t we? We look for our satisfaction just about everywhere else. Why is that I think? Why do we continue to seek the satisfaction of his love elsewhere?! I think a major part of the problem is that, for most of us, eternity is so far away, so distant into the future that it’s hard to think about, to live for. Rather, most of us are just trying to survive this week, or this day, aren’t we?

Yeah, I want to go to heaven but right now, I want more to make it through today without giving up, without being hurt, without hurting someone else or embarrassing myself or messing up or disappointing someone.

This, in a certain sense, in a very real sense, is the war we find ourselves in on an almost daily basis… a war with its most evil manifestations in the mass shootings and terrorism around us, but more importantly in the everyday lives of everyday people. None of us signed up for this war, but we find ourselves in it nonetheless.

Each day we find ourselves simply trying to survive the day and all these fears, hurts, dangers and traps are the weapons of the enemy, the devil. We’re so focused on these small battles that we forget the overall war, the goal. We make concessions saying that I don’t think I can obtain salvation, or I’ll worry about it later. Right now, I just want a little rest, a little peace and something joyful. To be clear, delighting in the everyday joys, the little things that make life good or tolerable are not bad. In fact, they are gifts from God. But the danger comes when we begin to make these little pleasures all we’re fighting for.

That’s why the idea of a bucket list is actually a good one. Typically, a bucket list contains things that are life-changing, life-defining, lifetime accomplishment type goals. They are real and concrete and help us focus on the long term, they help us to keep fighting and moving forward. But make sure those items on your list have the right priority. What is your #1? What should it be? If the love of God isn’t your #1 goal then you’re missing the point.

But let’s get back to this war we’re fighting. We’re getting ready to celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, where the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Think about that for a minute, about how in this Great War, a war that has raged through all time and space, there was a moment when God’s plan had come to fruition and it was time to strike. And so he sent his army of One onto the front lines, a beachhead in the form of a baby in a manger… the Divine Invasion began and continues today.Nativity

In our lives, our minds and hearts, Christ comes again and again, in the silence and stillness. Just like he came the first time as a still, small baby; he comes to us now in a still, small voice. Not with guns or bombs or fanfare but in the silence of a still mind, a quiet, searching heart. Mark my words, strength to survive this week or the day will not be found in those small pleasures of things but rather in the stillness of silence.

Sure, silence is a terrifying experience for most. With all the countless distractions of today it’s nearly impossible to know silence. And this, I believe is one of the most potent weapons of the enemy. I know well the fear of silence. I had a difficult time growing up. My inner thoughts were filled with self-hatred and disgust and the thought of spending time with those thoughts, of wrestling with them was a terrifying one. Why would I want that?

But where else am I going to find healing and wholeness? It is in the silence where I am able to confront my wounds, wounds inflicted on me and those I’ve inflicted myself. Then, in his mercy he enters our hearts and minds, often unseen, and begins to heal those wounds and we find peace and begin living the eternity we are destined for.

This Advent, prepare your heart for the coming of Christ. Wrestle with the silence and hear the voice of God say to you, “You are my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” You are his Beloved! Sit with that in the silence. Let this truth overwhelm your fear and wash clean your wounds, you are God’s entire bucket list.