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Watery Glory

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One of my favorite activities as a kid was to traipse around in the woods on the back part of our property. We didn’t have a lot of land, a small acreage, but it was plenty for us. There was a nice deep woods that outlined a good-sized field. There was a terrific trout stream that followed the property line, and my Dad used to say that it was the finest Brook Trout stream in Northern Michigan. That’s debatable, I’m sure, but the water always ran clear, and cold. A beautiful golden color.

I was just in Northern Michigan this summer, and had a chance to bound around my old tromping grounds in my Jeep. There was no hurry, really. In the early morning hours, I sat at the edge of the deep Black Lake and listened to the waves lapping the shoreline. Just like the streams that fill it, the lake water has always been a brilliant gold.

When I was young, my parents would take my family for Sunday drives out to different points of interest along the shores of the Great Lakes. We’d make a summer day trip up to the dunes on US-1, along the lower portion of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Other times we’d head further up into the UP, to Neebish Island, or to locks at Sault Ste. Marie. No matter where we went, each destination was packed with different meaning. Sometimes we’d picnic on the sand dunes. The sun was so close and hot that we’d burn like bugs on a windshield. Wave after pounding wave, we’d dash into the frigid cold water and then dance around in the piping hot sand, burning our feet. Later we’d eat the fabulous meat pies for which that region is known. Wrapped in sandy blankets and still sticky in our swimsuits we’d tuck into the truck and head for home.

A girl raised in Kansas might not be able to explain the way a Kansas wheat field is an inextricable part of her. It’s in this way that water is truly a part of who I am. It’s also a part of how I perceive God’s glory. God’s creation is a way in which He expresses His glory. He shows us who He is. There is nothing quite like watching a strawberry sunset on the rolling hills of Nebraska. It’s like He’s saying, “Ask Me to tell you who I Am, Samantha.” And so I respond, “Well, Father. Who are You, and what do You want me to know about You today?” And He says, “Watch this.” And without delay, He unfurls this array of colors in the sky, and the naked branches of the trees dare to impose themselves on the horizon. And I am overwhelmed.

And so it is with the lakes and the Great Lakes, and the seas…

God spoke to Job after he’d been through much trial and terrific suffering at the hand of satan. It’s the most prolific conversation between God and man, that we see in Scripture, aside from the Son’s 33 years here. And, even though Job was generally found to be righteous, he made the mistake of minimizing God’s holiness. God is like no other. That’s what holy means, set apart. It’s in this conversation that God chooses to tell Job about Himself through a series of questions. Part of it goes like this..

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding,
… Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Or who enclosed the sea with doors
When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb;
When I made a cloud its garment
And thick darkness its swaddling band,
And I placed boundaries on it
And set a bolt and doors,
And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther;
And here shall your proud waves stop’?”     Job 38

And then I read it as though the Father is asking me the same questions. “Where were you, Samantha, when I laid the foundation of the earth?” I think about the magnificent creative expression God has given with just the shoreline alone… “Or, who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth it went out from the womb…”

Oh we’ve so much to learn about God and to let Him be God.

Our God.

You see, when you are in relationship with this God who longs to know you personally, it’s okay that He’s big. And magnificent. And that you’re small. I am small. I love to be small, and to show you my giant God. He’s huge! Ask Him to show you who He is. Then stand back and be amazed as He unfurls a sunset, or a captivates you with the wonder of a single snowflake as it lands on your nose. Allow yourself to be amazed at His glory.

Living in the Moment

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I’d just exited the freeway, and was driving down the little highway leading to my sister’s home. I was looking forward to seeing everyone, and knew that we’d laugh, share stories and Thanksgiving dinner as soon as I arrived. I had a few moments of quiet ponderings yet, and I looked out across the horizon.

The afternoon sun shone across the plowed fields, with a few head of cattle here and there noshing on the leftover cornstalks. It’s not unusual to see a good-sized train making its way across the country, and I’ll recognize cargo from San Franscisco Bay. Where is he headed? I passed the beaver pond with its piles and piles of wood heaps. Marshy waters, tired cat-tails and yellowed prairie grasses stood in the stillness. I didn’t stop but I let the peacefulness of the sight wash over me.

Some gals dream about the future, and want things to be just so. They find deep satisfaction in planning how it’s all going to go. She’ll wear the red dress with her black heels, and have her hair up. And there are men who will be satisfied when they get that shelving unit installed or the spare bedroom carpeted. Some girls insist on roses but why won’t a daisy do? I’m kind of funny, I guess. I don’t know if it’s because I need to learn to dream or if I so absolutely live in my moments.

The hubbub of my days is consumed with my search for a bit of something for my spirit to nibble on. A strawberry sunrise while in a traffic jam…how else do you get strawberry jam? Snowflakes…just because. Napping with my cats in the sunshine. Seeing the look in a friend’s eye when you have shared with one another, deeply from the heart. 

Beauty, yes. Or is it life?

Finding Safety

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We’ve had some issues with safety in my neighborhood this Fall. Mostly attempted break-ins. Thankfully none have been successful or I probably would not be writing this. It has taken me a few weeks to collect my courage after one upsetting situation. Yet, when these incidents occur in my sleepy neighborhood of retired airforce veterans, it makes me think about my expectations, and even the things I take for granted.

When I was younger, 19 or so, I lived in Washington D.C. for a summer. Not yet equipped with city-smarts, I stopped at a department store enroute home from work. After my jaunt, I discovered that my commuter van was no longer running and I would be unable to take my usual way home, via the metro. It was after dark, I was downtown near F Street and determined I would need to ride the bus, commonly referred to as the chain-gang bus. Walking toward the bus stop I asked a lady for directions. She was dressed professionally, walking at a clip that didn’t invite conversation. She proceeded to lecture me within an inch of my life, “What was I doing here at this hour?” “Where was I going and why wasn’t I there?” “Walk like you mean it, and don’t talk to anyone.” She installed me on the bus, directly behind the driver’s seat, and gave him instructions about my destination. I sat beside some of the grisliest men I’ve ever encountered. They didn’t want to chat either. The bus took me up 13th street, through the red light district, to my apartment, where my roommate took up where my guardian angel had left off. I obviously knew nothing about personal safety.

Years later, I remember landing in Panama City in 1994 and, again, being confronted with a different definition of ‘safety’. There’s no effective way to describe how it feels to walk in front of 50 or so Panamanian MPs armed with machine guns aimed at you. “Moi?”, I thought to myself, as I nabbed my bags and scurried on. Then, too, when returning from Africa and having landed in Atlanta, I will still wearing my completely rank missionary fatigues and I glimpsed the podium at the U.S. Customs gate bearing the seal for the Department of Defense. I burst into tears. How good it was to be on American soil! Whether I observed British Constables, the border patrol in Ecuador or simply passed the U.S. Consulate enroute to my destination, every adventure outside the U.S. has made me keenly aware of my personal freedoms here in the States.

Getting back to my neighborhood, the fellow rang my doorbell late at night, looking, for all the world, as though he was armed. I made it known that I was home but did not answer the door. He turned and walked away. There was no good reason for him to walk away, unless he saw something that I couldn’t see. We sometimes speak lightly about angelic protection but if you’ve ever seen an angel – or even sensed an angel – you are not reminded of Cupid with a bow and a naked bottom. We have an unbelievable arsonal of protection when we are in relationship with the one true God.

In the end, personal safety is no different in my home than it is anywhere else in the world. It’s not about having the right locks, lights or by installing an alarm system. It’s not about owning a dog, nor living in a state of vigilance, which will completely exhaust us. Living safely and still being peaceful at heart requires that my trust be placed in the One who watches over me. I must lean into Him, let myself need Him, and let Him cover me, guard me.

Psalm 91 says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty… Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.”

Do you know the Father? More importantly, does He know you?

Family Life

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Do you ever stop to think about your adult siblings, and compare them with the awkward, pimply teenagers you grew up with? (Note to self: do not alert family members to this post.) It’s really hard to believe that those adults-in-the-making became the professionals that I interact with today. Seriously? You’d hire my brother as your engineer, or let my sister near your baby with a needle? Why, exactly? And when did they become experts in their field, and where was I? Believe me, they’re saying the same thing about me. “That’s my little sister! You’re not going to let her consult on anything, are you?!” What was really happening while we were so busy coping with one another?

My intent in focusing on family is not to define what a family is. As a single, I’ve been adopted into a family or two, and I’ve been incredibly grateful to have the lines re-drawn to include me at the table and, in some years, under the Christmas tree. I know the quiet desperation, at times, of wanting to have my own family, so I do not take any relationship lightly. But families are different from friendships, even the best of friendships. As adults we are in a family paradigm as a result of choices we’ve made. We choose to stay relevent to one another, or we allow our loved ones to be cast aside like a paper boat,  listing and taking on water.

I have had the amazing and wonderful blessing, in these last few years, to connect with my sister’s family now that I live here in the Midwest. As the interactions take place, I see family from a different perspective. There is simply nothing to prepare you for what comes next: a crisis with tears; a question; a deeply profound insight from an unlikely source; two more questions; an argument over an undetermined, yet coveted item interrupted by the bleating of an abandoned toy and the repetition of the first question, only louder. There’s nothing extraordinary about repeated questions, howls of distress or the “Shh, I’m on the phone.” What’s extraordinary is that before we have the chance to ponder it twice, these family members will be conducting teleconferences in the middle of La Guardia and flying stand-by in order to get home for Thanksgiving. They’ll be doing our dishes and reminding us of doctor’s appointments because we’re not as razor sharp as we once were. Oh, believe me. I’m thankful for the moments.

My growing up years were more about relationship than I realized. I learned how to live with my siblings, in spite of their inane, absurd, highly annoying, arrogant or antagonizing ways. And they with me. It’s true that my parents taught a great many life skills, e.g., cooking, and gardening, etc. but maybe those were the superficial lessons after all. Is it possible that conflict resolution, forgiveness, patience, listening-while-frustrated, and peacemaking were the lessons they were modeling but not really discussing? I wonder if there was anything else they were saying?

The Next Thing

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In my last blog entry I talked about Being Youfor such a time as this. For the last year or two, I’ve been observing friends and family members who, just like me, are in transition from one season to another. It seems like so many of us are on the brink of the next thing, as we wait with breathless wonder on how things will work out. Where will we be in our careers? Will we get that promotion? Do we even want careers? What will our ministry look like this time next year? Will we be in Africa? In Nebraska or North Carolina? Married? Enrolled in a graduate program? So many questions and not enough answers. As I continued to ponder Esther’s life, it seems like her story is more significant to me than I realized. Entertain a corollary, if you will.

Each of us has questions about what the future holds, and certainly the economy and ideological changes in our country encourage that sense of uncertainty, or at least confirm it. No longer can you assume identity with a company to the extent that you *know* you’ll be with them for 30 years, and then retire. Even more challenging is when life throws a curveball and you find yourself struggling to put food on the table. I’ve been there. Suddenly, the focus shifts from the future to making it through the day, and the goals become more short-term, like paying rent this month, or avoiding shut-off notices.

The reason Esther found herself in the king’s palace to begin with was because the king was seeking a woman who would set a godly example for women throughout the Persian empire. Esther’s beauty surely played a part … natch, the king wanted a beautiful chick. But it was Esther’s character that caused her to find favor in the eyes of all who saw her. The thing is, Esther stepped into the position of queen long before she was ever acknowledged and crowned. She had one requisite visit with the king, as a part of the campaign, but “she would not again go into the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name … So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus to his royal palace in the tenth month… The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” Esther 2:14-17 pp.

Esther spent four years in the king’s palace before something happened.

God leads us in ways that surprise us but He doesn’t leave us hanging…for long. Imagine how Esther must have felt, waiting four years to meet with the king and then having just one chance to make a good first impression. Somehow Esther must have understood that the crown would be hers and she stepped into that authority, that confident knowing where she was headed, and the position that would be hers. Amazing. Yet the same is true for each of us. We can prepare ourselves, we can knock on doors, we can try different things to make our destiny happen. But there comes a point when we have done all that we can do and we must simply stand. Ephesians talks about being strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might, putting on the full armor of God … and, having done all these things to stand firm. It’s really a profound concept because it forces the realization that the journey that we’re on is in the Lord’s hands. Sure, we make choices and influence the twists and turns that it takes but if we have a truly yielded lifestyle with the Lord, He’ll take us into king’s palaces and other places of influence. Then we can only humbly stand back and be amazed at His goodness. Psalms reminds us also, where it says, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Do your homework, prepare yourself. But when the time is right, take your position and simply stand.

Being You

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Have you ever thought about your childhood dreams, and the person you thought you would be? Were you going to be a fireman, or a doctor? Maybe you were like me. My dreams were full of corporate suits and fancy clothes. I always imagined I was a sophisticated jet-setter and a mother. Well, I haven’t lived out the mama part yet, but one of these days it will be my turn. But the career girl… check. I laugh, though, because I was pretty sure that having a career meant I’d get to wear heels all the time. And I do love my high-heeled, pointy-toed girl-shoes! But at the end of a long day, I am longing for my beater Birkenstocks or my frumpy-suede-garden-shoes. (Poetic, don’t you think?)

So childhood dreams, and great heels.

I feel like I’ve come into this place in my life where I have a deep satisfaction with who I am. And I think it’s because I have fallen in love with being me. While I really do need connection with people, especially good one-to-one conversations, I could go for a couple of days just puttering, writing, working out, gardening or being outside, reading … just living life. I love connecting with the Lord, and with my friends and family. I enjoy my work. But that deep satisfaction has come about because who I am is not tied to what I do.

I think of Esther, just after she was made Queen of the Persian Empire. She learned of a horrific plot designed to wipe out the Jewish people. Her uncle, Mordecai, was quite insightful when he said, “‘Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?'” (Esther 4:13-14)

Do you really think that you were meant to lead a so-so, no-big-deal life? When I talk about destiny, I’m talking about the plans that Father had in mind when you were born. Stuff happens and sometimes those plans get derailed. But, when you were just a twinkle in your Daddy’s eye, He had rocket science in mind. He was thinking of writers that change the world with the stroke of their pen. He was thinking of orators like Martin Luther King, who nearly shifted the world off it’s axis with the power of their words. He was thinking of chefs that could make you weep with delight over their culinary creations. He had *you* in mind.

Be you….for such a time as this.

T is for Technology

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Recently I began a new project at work. The purpose is to design a document management, collaboration, and workflow system using a platform comprised of Microsoft SharePoint, Workflow Foundations, and SQL Reporting Services. Nice. Fun, actually! I haven’t been this excited about something at work in a while.

The combination of technologies is somewhat new for our department. I’m not sure why, but it seems like my name is associated with phrases like, “We’ve never done this before” or, “We’re the first in the industry to attempt this.” and my favorite, “This isn’t technology anymore, it’s art.” Yet, implementing new technology and automating business processes are what make my world go around so I’m game for trying something new.

So, technology as an artform. Discuss.

The thing is, technology is art… except that it’s beauty is nearly always hidden. A well-designed system or application rarely gets much attention. A poorly designed system gets negative publicity and rarely recovers, like Vista without service packs, for example. Or what about the systems that we use everyday, i.e., Internet Explorer 6 or the new 7 (slick!). Mozilla Firefox and the latest version of iTunes — will they ever reach a steady state? I digress…

I’ve heard it said that many do not acknowledge beauty in their work because they do not perceive themselves as artists or their work as art. Engineers, architects, programmers, and a myriad of others in the geek squad, daily make bridges stay put when I drive over them, make buildings stand up, and make things work when I click the [Enter] key. But the thing is, I expect the bridge to be there. I don’t know why but I expect Starbucks to have an ambiance that invites me to sit and chat…never realizing that the midnight oil was burned in order to achieve it’s design. And, lastly, I’m not interested in artistic aspects of my online banking system when I’m checking my bank balance. I just want it to work. And yet, the crisp fact that it calculates my withdrawals correctly implies that a DBA has been hard at work. For all you techies out there… there are fewer things more beautiful to behold than a good ER diagram plastered across your wall.

I would say that we fail to perceive the beauty of our work because our work lacks exposure as a thing of beauty.

And beauty is still found in the eye of the beholder.

Grams Teaches Identity

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I recently heard someone say that parents form their children’s identity by reminding them of who they are, moment by moment, day after day. This is such a mystery to me. At what point does a young girl or fellow grasp what’s been instilled? And how does this feedback manage to so vividly shape the who of our identity? I remember well the verbal instructions, “Ladies don’t slouch. Stand up straight.” Surely my brother and sisters remember the imaginary plumb line Mother would draw from the tops of our heads. At what point does a parent stop saying the words and begin twinking their brow, a telegraphed message across the room, to pull yourself together? Yet my parent’s instructions were mild compared to my grandmother’s.

An expert seamstress and cook, Grams taught all her children and grandchildren a myriad of skills. My earliest memories were of watching my Mom and Grams cook and quilt together. They would nod sagely, wordlessly consulting one another, dismantle, re-assemble until a beautiful masterpiece was born. Their tireless work always seemed so effortless. Year after year, I would prepare my 4-H sewing projects beneath their watchful eyes. My wobbly seams were doomed. “Rip it out, child. It must be straight.” Heartbroken and frustrated, I would tug out the stitches and then battle with my temper and the sewing machine until a worthy outcome was produced. I basked in their hard-won pleasure with my work.

Grams always kept a charming home. It was where she wore her heart on her sleeve, with momentos and photographs of treasured places in Germany. The nostalgia and tchotchke always left you feeling like you had visited a place in her heart. That time had stopped for a moment and you had really lived. I did not realize that Grams’ standards for me would endear her to me. Her lectures I endured wordlessly as I learned she just needed a snuggle from me to stem the tide of words.

Though I’ve lived in many places through the years, it occurs to me that the walls of my kitchen have always resounded with the rumble of Grams’ deep German voice. Growing up, I perceived her to be stubborn, opinionated and, above all, outspoken. Yet she loved me. Deeply. I memorized the look in her eyes, her beautiful skin, and the wrinkles on her hands. I would hold hands with her just because I could and, over a cup of heavily sugared tea we would discuss all the world’s problems. Though she enjoyed people very much, it was in the quiet moments together that she showed me who she was. She would talk about her family in Germany, and history, and about her sons, and her daughter, my Mother. She would talk about the neighbor boys who had tragically died in the war, and how she taught herself to drive. While I wish that I could remember the stories, for I did not write them down, it occurs to me that it is not so much the historical accuracy that matters. What matters is that she told me, and I listened. And I carry within myself a part of who she was.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken on a sewing project. Yet, it’s pretty safe to say that the work that I produce today as a software developer bears a strong resemblence to those straight seams that Gram required. I think what surprises me even more is the motherly manner in which I exact straight seams from those I mentor in the office. Stubborn? Outspoken? Surely you jest! Let’s have a cup of tea.

Fully Known and Fully Loved

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There are women and men who stand like sentries around the periphery of my life, with whom I share an uncommon depth of relationship. Some have been there from the beginning of time, and some have only recently taken their place on the wall of my life. This is not an exclusive club with costly membership dues. Days turn into weeks, and they tirelessly listen to my dreams and breathe hope on them. They believe in me and remind me of who I want to be. The visceral strength they infuse is not something I can extract from them and, as a result, I cannot control who stands on the wall. You see we make the choice to love another unconditionally. We make the choice to shout down the mountains in their life, to stand with them in the floodwaters, shoulder locked with shoulder.

You might think I’m a relational ogre following this, or if you’ve known me for many years you may try and understand where you fit in to the schema. Nevertheless I must tell you that there have been times when I have tried to decide who would be my closest confidantes. I have intended to trust only those that seemed incapable of hurting me, only to be bitterly betrayed. I tried to care and feed for the few that seemed most advantageous to me with the result that I was left alone. To pour salt in my own vicious wounds, I wrecklessly wounded those who loved me dearly. You know who you are.

Why this confession?

Most of us want to arrive at the end of our lives with the confidence that we have loved deeply and been deeply loved. To be loved implies that we are known, for you cannot love someone without really knowing the ugly parts of them. If our life-goal was happiness we’d be sorely disappointed for happiness is merely a by-product of being fully known, and fully accepted. Some of us misunderstand the objective and clang around the countryside ‘looking for love in all the wrong places’. I know. I’ve done it. It’s as though we’re holding out a beggar’s cup with the words “LOVE ME” taped to the side.

There is only One who perfectly loves. Until we allow Him to know us fully, to see inside the crevices of our lives, even the uglies, we will always wonder if we are truly loved. Not only do we fail as friends and lovers, but our friends and lovers will fail us. It is not in our nature to perfectly love as the Father perfectly loves us. Even our best efforts will fall short. I’m reminded how the Perfect Lover knows when He’s been in intimate relationship with a man or woman and to some, with the deepest regret He says, ‘Depart from me. I never knew you.’ 

There is simply no mistaking intimacy, whether with the Father or a person. It’s intentional. We choose to maintain a soul connection with someone or we choose not to. But when we choose to make this step, the cost is paid from the heart. I was looking the other day at the story of Jonathon and David. “…the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him [David] as himself.” The king’s son put himself on the wall of David’s life, with complete disregard for what others might think as to rank or motive, timing or propriety. He stripped himself of his robe and armor, his sword, bow and belt, and placed it on David. Talk about making oneself vulnerable, I’m not sure that he had much else on after that. Jonathan knew that David was to be king one day and acknowledged it long before David’s time.

There is a grand lady who is in the latter seasons of her life. Though her memory is not what it used to be, its evident that her heart is given over to selflessly care for others. I want to be like that. I want to be known for “…loving [one] another deeply from the heart. For love covers a multitude of sins.”

What Are You Prepared to Do

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The movie, The Untouchables, might not be to everyones’ liking in terms of entertainment and yet it teaches valuable lessons about life. One of my favorite movie quotes is by Jimmy Malone, the Irish beat cop, played by the one of the darlings of my parents’ era, Scot Sean Connery.

In the very violent scene depicting Malone’s death, he is discovered by his protege, Elliott Ness (Kevin Costner) and George Stone (Andy García). Seeing Malone stopped in his tracks is heart-wrenching because it is not just the death of a friend and colleague, there is an un-premeditated passing of the mantle from one generation to the next. Enforcement of the law is no longer an assignment that Ness can walk away from. Losing Malone makes the battle become personal. Malone’s last words contain the answer to Ness’ conflict as well as a missive to become fully engaged in this fight. Malone, with a raspy voice, challenges Ness, “What. are you. prepared to do?” This is the second time they’ve had this conversation. And this time Ness is prepared to do an end run for justice.

If you remember the movie, when Ness and Malone first have that conversation, Ness is very philosophical about his involvement. He’s prepared to do anything within the law; yet the objective of his mission is to enforce the law. He soon learns that his oppponent doesn’t operate within the confines of the law, and Malone instructs him to bring a knife to a gun fight, and so forth. Somehow this movie says a lot about our western culture. We’ve been taught to color inside the lines, to drive the speed limit, to make a career with a single company, and dream about a home with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, a 52″ television, and a dog. Yet, like Ness, we are completely unprepared when it turns out that the rest of the world doesn’t think the same way. Seriously.

I can’t help but think about destiny these days, and calling. What kind of a legacy will I leave? What kind of a mark will I leave on the world? Will I have told you about the things that compel me? Will I have told you how much your Heavenly Father loves you? Will you know a journey of your own with the Father? Will you know about the orphaned children in Africa, and how they sing before daybreak? Will you weep with me as I tell you about the Mozambican babies scandalized by AIDS, left hanging on fence posts in a plastic grocery bag, abandoned by their mothers?

Engaging in this war we call life is not an assignment we can walk away from. It’s deeply personal, and our opponent doesn’t operate within the confines of the law. Yet neither do we. Our most powerful weapon is love. And it changes everything. Love beckons us to lay down our lives, sell our possessions, and live life on the edge.  Dare to look. Dare to be affected.

What. are you. prepared to do?”