of Worship and Watermelon

where God, Creativity, and Health collide

I cannot get the thought of flood gates out of my mind today.

We often hear the phrase “open the flood gates of heaven” whether in song or in a sermon. This idea is beautiful because who doesn’t want a steady flow of God’s presence, glory, and power in our lives? It seems like a no-brainer, so why doesn’t God just let this flow all the time?

Have you ever seen a flood gate open? If not, go look it up. The power and force of the water as it released is unmatched. Water seems benign, but it can easily become destructive wiping out everything in its path. Watching the coverage of the flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in NC or Harvey in Houston, Katrina in New Orleans, will confirm the power of water.

If God actually opened the flood gates of heaven, would we simply be consumed?

This led to the thought that maybe God isn’t the only one with a flood gate. Maybe, just maybe we have installed our own flood gates to control the flow of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Could we have it all wrong? As we sing and pray to God to open the flood gates of heaven, maybe we should be asking Him for the courage and the strength to open our own flood gates that are stifling the movement of God in our lives.

Who controls the flood gates?

Today, look at your heart and ask yourself if you are trying to control the flow of Living Water in your life.

For me, this reflection brings repentance and I am asking God to destroy the flood gate I have put in place to control God in my life.

Jeremiah 10:23-24  I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. Correct me, Lord, but only with justice – lest you reduce me to nothing. 

Be Blessed!

 

I posted on Facebook this morning about this tree that stands in my front yard. Two weeks ago as I packed up my cats and kissed my husband good bye, I took one last look at that tree. I wondered if it would still be standing when I returned, knowing it would take the brunt of the hurricane that was looming off shore threatening my city… my home.

I love this tree. The first moment I saw it I was captivated by its beauty. Perfectly shaped, strong and tall, providing shade under its proud branches.

Now, two weeks later, I have driven through the wind and flood ravaged city to return to my home. The fact this house remains untouched by the hurricane is a faith builder for me. Oh, how I prayed for our home to be spared, and the vision God granted me of Angels standing guard over it was a source of peace. Here I am, sitting in my home, surrounded by neighborhoods that didn’t fare so well, and I know that I am blessed.

So, what is it about this tree that made it able to withstand that storm?

Roots.

I have been thinking about the importance of being rooted. If this tree had a weak root system, it would have weak branches and the storm that crept through would have toppled it. Now I look at it and I see how the winds have affected the branches, stripping them of their leaves. I see the debris and leaves and branches from other trees all around it, yet there it stands – strong and proud.

I understand what this tree has been through. I have been through a few hurricanes in my lifetime and they have left scars on my soul. Yet, here I stand. I have been tossed to and fro from the winds of heartache many times. Yet, here I stand. I have questioned my purpose and wondered why the comfort and shade I provide for the world is so limited; what would it be like for a moment to be a cloud and provide shade for a larger area? Yet, here I stand.

I am rooted. While this tree is rooted to the earth and is fed by the water from the sky, I am rooted in the Word of God and I am fed by Living Water. But, roots are roots and without them we cannot sustain life. Without roots we have no way to retain the water that nourishes us. Without roots we cannot hold firm when the winds of life blow. Without roots we are weak and easily moved.

My root system was established as a child and has continued to grow stronger and wider each year. I tried to run from my roots after a particularly bad storm. For nearly 10 years I worked to disconnect myself from my root system. I wanted to be free, like a cloud, but I never got far. Someone would speak life to me and sprinkle a little Living Water over me and it would pull me back to my roots. Then I would try to run again. Over and over this continued until finally I opened my eyes enough to see the beauty of my roots, and I stopped running, stood up and allowed my roots to feed my spirit once again.

Now I stand like this tree: tall, strong, proud of my roots. I try to feed my roots daily with the Word of God and Living Water making them stronger all the time.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

How is your root system? Is it weak or is it strong? What are you feeding it?

I pray you are feeding your roots Living Water, for they will hold you firm in the storm.

Be Blessed!

At the start of this year, as my life was changing completely, God gave me the focus word of Honor. I grab onto a new focus word each year to study and ask God to reveal what it really means. When I was given the word honor during prayer, I must admit I wasn’t excited about it. Last year my word was hope, which is so much easier to understand and study. But, honor would be my focus this year.

As usual, I thought I knew what direction God would take me with this focus word, and as usual, I was completely wrong. I assumed it would a year of learning how to honor God, my husband, those in authority over me, and myself. As the year has progressed, however, I am seeing a connection I didn’t realize was there. I thought I did a fairly decent job of honoring those around me, but what I’m learning has less to do with what I’m giving out, and so much more to do with the state of my heart.

Recently, I have been plagued by the tenderness of my heart. I am easily moved to tears, and my empathy is through the roof. I have always loved others, but in the past 6 months I have found myself crying out to God on behalf of others in a way I have never done before. This is a beautiful change in my heart, but it also leaves me vulnerable to feelings that I have never experienced.

At first, I chalked up this emotional response to the change in my life and my circumstances. I am in a new city, without the support of my family back home, and without the support of  my church family and friends to hold me up when I am weak. I have asked God on several occasions why my heart is so tender, and I have prayed for it to stop, or at the very least, for an explanation.

Tonight, I got that explanation…. humility.

You see, as I have been studying honor, it has changed my heart and broken down walls of pride I had built up over the years; walls which protected me from being vulnerable enough to get hurt. Those same walls, however, kept me from making real connections with others. You can’t have one without the other. So… as these walls have come down, I have been humbled before God which has led me to a deeper understanding of honor, and greater ability to truly honor God and others.

You cannot truly honor God or others in the absence of humility.

This is the truth I have learned as I study honor, and in my time of waiting on God to open the door to the next season He has for me, He has stripped me of my pride. The hidden arrogance and ego, that dictated my decisions and interfered with my relationship with God and with others, is being chipped away bit by bit. I am learning to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to be truly humble before God. This is the most powerful lesson I have learned in my life thus far because it is changing how I approach every aspect of my life, beginning with my walk with God.

I am still struggling with patience during this waiting period, but one thing I know – God is God, I am not, and He is Faithful. For now, I will embrace this tender heart, this time of waiting, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide me each step of the way.

What is God doing in your life today? Are you in a season of waiting?

Be blessed!

 

 

Sipping my coffee in my backyard oasis, I notice life everywhere I look. Butterflies glide through the patches of flowers, floating on the breeze. Bees hover over the grass, occasionally landing for just a moment before continuing their flight path. Squirrels chase each other through the yard, then stop to eat, or to bury their food for later. Crows sit on the fence letting out their sharp caws as they communicate with one another. A lone cardinal is at the bird feeder, chirping until his mate joins him. Over the fence I hear a flock of geese honking as they splash in the retention pond. So much life happening all around me, and I smile as I absorb the beauty.

I walk to the front yard, and see a strange car driving slowly down the street. Immediately I stop and watch, more suspicious than curious. A woman runs down the road with her dog, which is her daily habit, and I notice the shape of her body, quickly assessing that I will never get to that size and judging myself. A group of men stand in the driveway a few doors down, and I bristle at their boisterous conversation, wondering who they are and what they want. A peal of laughter from a child across the way causes me to pause and decide if that was a laugh or a cry for help. No longer relaxed, I go back inside my house.

Why the disconnect?

I can’t help but realize how differently I approach humans than nature. The back yard was just as noisy, bustling with activity, yet I was able to simply observe all that life with love in my heart. When faced with humans, however, my heart changed. Suspicion, comparison, and alertness filled my mind instead of love.

If I am being honest with myself, I need to acknowledge this disconnect and understand it is not healthy. Why is it so much easier to accept and love the life I see in nature than the life I see in the human being in front of me? When I look at the butterfly floating slowly through the yard, do I get suspicious of his motive? When I see a bee hovering over the grass, busy working hard, do I compare myself to her and judge myself for not having that kind of stamina? The gathering of boisterous crows on the fence does not make me wonder what they want and why they are there. When I hear the honking geese splashing in the water, I don’t freeze and try to determine if it is joy or distress.

The last example is not a flaw, but rather a desire to help if needed, but from where I sit, I need to work on the rest. Why do I interact differently with humans than I do with nature? I suppose it can be argued that nature won’t hurt me that way a human can, but that isn’t a solid argument. I have been stung by a bee, bitten by a spider, and pooped on by a bird above me, but that doesn’t make me distrust or stop loving those creatures. So why is my judgement on humans so harsh in comparison?

I will admit I don’t have the answers to the question, but I do have an understanding that human beings are creatures, created in the image of God, and deserve to be admired and loved without all the suspicion and judgement that comes so naturally.

I want to do better. I want to be better. I want to love better.

Who is with me?

 

1 John 4: 7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

 

Colossians 3:14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

 

1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love.

 

Be blessed and abide in God’s Love!

Save the Bees!

I see this phrase everywhere, and I stand with those that fight for our bees. Bees are vital to the beauty and vegetation all around us. More importantly, they are necessary for the food that we grow.

Recently as I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw a picture of a bumble bee, reminding me that we need to preserve our bees. As I paused and looked at that busy little insect hard at work, I marveled at what a bee can accomplish in a single day. By flying from flower to flower it spreads pollen all around, ensuring life and reproduction to the plants it encounters.

There is a lot we can learn from the bee. As Christians we need to get busy as a bee and spread the gospel all around us. We don’t need a platform or a giant audience. All we need is the environment in which we live our daily life. Just like the bee spreads the pollen from flower to flower, we can spread the good news of Jesus Christ to each person we encounter. We can bring life to the people in our environment, and in turn those people can bring life to the people in theirs. This reproduction of the life giving gospel can change the world, but we need to get busy. The bee doesn’t rest. The bee doesn’t say he is too tired today. The bee doesn’t binge-watch Netflix and put off the work until tomorrow. Nope… each morning he leaves his hive and gets to work. When he returns home in the evening, he carries with him the pollen and nectar necessary to maintain the hive. And he doesn’t complain about his position in life. He doesn’t wish that he was a queen bee, or that his job as a worker bee was different. He simply works.

How beautiful would my life be if I remembered that daily? Be like the bee. What if I could treat the church – the building – like the hive, and spend my time outside of the building working for God, pollinating my world? I want to remember that the hive is not what creates life, it is simply what houses and nourishes the bees.

This thought process was a reminder that church doesn’t only happen on Sunday. There is an entire week for me to BE the church, not merely dwell in it. Just as the hive cannot sustain itself without the bees putting in the work, the church building will not survive without the church people sharing Jesus with the world.

Mark 16:15  Then He (Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.

I pray this week God will reveal opportunities for all of us to be the church to the world around us. May the Holy Spirit fill us with boldness to spread the gospel, and the words to say in each moment.

I’m ready to ‘Bee’ the Church… How about you?

Be blessed!

 

 

I have this thing about going to bed with a dirty kitchen sink. Something about dirty dishes sitting there all night keeps my mind from relaxing enough to fall asleep. I’m not judging those of you who can turn that off and deal with it in the morning! I wish I could do that.

I returned home from my trip yesterday. As is my usual routine before bed, I began tidying up the kitchen. I reached for the sponge at the sink and cringed when I grabbed it. It was sopping wet, and hadn’t been wrung out from its last use. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I mean, it’s simply unsanitary. I can’t seem to convince the other people who live in this house of the importance of wringing out the sponge. I squeezed out the water and put it to my nose; the stench was overwhelming. A stale, half mildew, half musk smell had settled into the fibers of the sponge, so in the trash it went. It’s possible to get that smell out by putting the sponge in the dishwasher and giving it a good sanitize session, but after being gone for four days, I have no idea how long it had been stewing in its own dirty juices. It wasn’t worth the effort. Besides, I love a fresh clean sponge… it’s one of those adult things that makes me happy.

As I began cleaning up the kitchen, I decided to wash the counters because they, too, smelled like the dirty old sponge. Then I moved onto the stove top, and the kitchen table. Basically anything that could have been wiped down by that nasty sponge got cleaned. 30 minutes later, I was finally ready for bed, but now my mind was wandering – what other little germ cities had popped up while I was away?

I decided to spend a little time in the Word of God to clear my mind and help me get to sleep. I was exhausted from driving all day and my body needed to recuperate with a good night of sleep. As I was praying and reading, I felt the tension in my shoulders leaving, the anxious feeling being replaced by peace, and my mind went back to that sponge. I pictured the heavy, dripping, nasty sponge. I pictured the dirty water being squeezed out of it. Yet still, the stench remained in its fibers because it had marinated in that filth for too long. Then I thought, that’s me! I’m the sponge!

I normally start my day with prayer and quiet time, but it isn’t often that I finish my day that way. I begin each morning fresh and clean, like a new sponge, ready to soak up the day. As the sun moves across the sky, I encounter situations, people, problems, and my fresh clean sponge soaks those up. It prevents my day from causing an emotional mess for me, and prevents my day from spilling out onto anyone else. By evening, my sponge is filled with negativity, angry thoughts, and nasty people or situations of life. Just like the sponge in the kitchen sink, it needs to be wrung out or it will marinate in that filth and begin to smell. My normal routine of saying a quick good night prayer before bed wasn’t wringing out the sponge of my day. It’s no wonder I have trouble sleeping at times. It’s no wonder I often wake up in a foul mood and have to force myself to seek God during quiet time. It’s no wonder I walk around with a heavy heart and troubled mind most days. The sponge of my soul is carrying around the extra weight of yesterday’s filth. It can’t soak up any more today, because it is still full… and it smells.

So how do we clean our soul sponge? We go to God. Through prayer, reading the Word of God, and worship and praise, we can wring out our sponge right at the feet of Jesus. He is faithful to wash us clean. I have committed myself to seeking Him before going to bed at night as well as the start of my day. I’m willing to bet I will see a difference in how I sleep and also how effective my morning prayers are when I’m waking up with a freshly sanitized soul sponge.

Psalm 34: 4-5

I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. 

Tell me, when was the last time you went to God to wring out your sponge? I encourage you to do so daily. He is faithful to take our discarded filth and shame, replacing it with the sweet aroma of His presence and faces that radiate the Joy of the Lord.

Be Blessed!

Psalm 34: 1 I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.

I have been in Florida for a few days visiting with my children and attending the Celebration of Life for my nephew. This is a new season for me; getting to know my kids as adults is incredible. I truly love who they have become. They are just starting their life journey, filled with the ups and downs that will be a constant through the years. Watching them navigate the world with fresh faces and attitudes free of cynicism is refreshing. I remember those days in my own life, before struggles and tragedies clouded my thinking. Today as I write this, I am keenly aware of how much bitterness has settled into my mind. What happened to the fresh faced girl I used to see in the mirror?

Don’t get me wrong, my life has been beautiful thus far. I have had my share of trouble and heartache, but it has been intermixed with so much joy and love that I wouldn’t trade for anything. And now? Now I wonder what is next.

What do I want to do with the rest of my life? Who do I want to be? What dreams am I harboring that I am afraid to chase?

I know what I want to do if I could do anything, but I have difficulty seeing just how that can come to pass. Those things that make my heart swell are my heart’s desires. Most of the time they seem like pipe dreams, but I just can’t let them go. At the same time I find myself wondering if God will ever partner with me in these desires. Sure, I could go for it on my own and possibly succeed through my own ambition, but that is not what I truly want. I long to be a vessel to be used by Him, and if I chase my desires without the anointing of God, I will never find true satisfaction and contentment.

But… will it ever happen??

As I prayed over this question, God quietly asked me two things: How much do I love Jesus, and is Jesus enough for me? On the surface these seemed like easy questions to answer. Of course I love Jesus with my whole heart, life, mind, and being. He is more than enough for me.

As I began to unpack these questions, I realized the answers weren’t so simple. Is Jesus really enough, or are there strings attached to my love for Him? What if God told me that I would never see the desires of my heart come to pass? What if He told me that my role here on earth was something as simple as working a job that I didn’t love for the rest of my life, never seeing or knowing the impact my life would have on the kingdom of God? What if God allowed everything be taken away from me as happened to Job? If I was alone, homeless, and hurting… would Jesus still be enough?

The answers I had to face were not pretty. It was as if the Holy Spirit sprinkled powder on my life and all the invisible strings that I had carefully placed on my relationship with Jesus were now visible. It was a humbling sight to behold. My true answer to the question was “Yes, Jesus is enough if… (fill in the blank).

As I drove the nine hours to Florida, I heard a song I hadn’t heard in years. It was Shane and Shane’s song, Though You Slay Me, and I was brought to my knees in repentance.

Now I am facing this season with a fresh perspective. I no longer definitively say that Jesus is enough for me. Instead I humbly pray for God to change my heart daily so that Jesus is all I need. This attitude shift has opened my eyes in a new way to what it means to be Christian; a Jesus follower.

If Jesus is truly enough and everything else is secondary, the mountain top moments are more glorious, and the days in the valley are less tragic. It is what walking through life in the Peace of God really means.

Jesus is enough…

Jesus is MORE than enough.

Take a moment and ponder this question: Is Jesus enough for you?

Be Blessed!

IMG_4709

My Current View

It’s a dreary day here in Wilmington. The rain began over night and the forecast shows a wet day ahead. Normally I love a good rainy day, but I have errands to do as I prepare for a trip back to Florida. Road trips are something I love, but this one is different. I am heading down to attend the celebration of life for my nephew who lost his life a little over a week ago. He was an adventurous, intelligent, and spirited young man who had a gift for talking to anyone and making even the most stoic person laugh and feel joy. Tragically, he lost his battle with his addiction. This addiction did not define who he was, but it did cut his life short and robbed him of living his best life.

As I sit here at the computer, looking out at the rain falling against the window, I am reflecting on how short life can be and how easily we can get swept up in things that rob us of living life well. Five months ago, my husband and I packed up our house and moved to Wilmington to live with my mother-in-law. She was not thriving here alone, and she needed a little extra help. It was the right move for us, and we had true peace about this life transition. Our children are grown and living on their own, and we were in the position to change our life for the sake of our family in need.

Five months later and I am struggling a bit. I am still at peace with the knowledge this was the right move, and God has a plan for us here, but the daily grind and loneliness of a new city is wearing on me. Thankfully I have found a church I love here in Wilmington, and I have enjoyed exploring the city and finding my way around. However, lack of purpose, insecurity, and self doubt have crept their way into my daily routine. It has stifled my adventurous side, and convinced me that lying around, binge-watching Netflix until it’s time to cook dinner, is a great idea. I have been on the edge of a black hole, allowing myself to be pulled into a downward spiral. I have put on somewhere between 15-20 pounds since we moved, and I have let go of any self-care that was normally my routine. What is going on inside me clearly shows on the outside. My clothes don’t fit, my hair is dry and frizzy, my face is ruddy and dull.

While the physical aspect of this downward spiral is obvious, the spiritual aspect is suffering just as much. From the outside you can’t tell, as I head to church each Sunday and look for ways to get involved, but my daily routine tells a different story. I have stopped my daily bible reading and writing. I have stopped praying more than a few minutes of petition type prayers, and I have stopped worshiping daily. I replaced all those things with food.

Food has long been my addiction. My relationship with food is rocky at best. It’s easy to see when I am struggling on the inside because my waistline expands as I use food to bring me comfort. When I use food as comfort, I stop seeking God first for nourishment and peace. When I stop seeking God first, I fall into the spiral of gloom and stop taking care of myself. When I stop taking care of myself, I become a hermit because I don’t want to face the world and the cycle repeats.

Last year I did a 90 day vegan/gluten free/sugar free fast. I lost a fair amount of weight, but that was just a happy side effect. The purpose of the fast was to change my relationship with food, to break the addiction and the chains that held me down in that area. I learned a lot from that fast, and God revealed so much to me regarding nourishment both physically and spiritually. However, I never prayed for that bondage and oppression to be lifted. I never prayed for those chains to be broken. Now is the time.

As I sit here writing, heavier than I have been in years, living the life of a hermit, filled with self-doubt, loneliness, and insecurity, I know that now is the time to pray for deliverance. Once and for all, to be freed from the chains of bondage and addiction when it comes to food. It may not happen instantly, it may take perseverance to continually pursue God in this area, but I know… I believe… deliverance will come.

mgThis is me now. It isn’t who I want to be. It isn’t who I am designed to be. It isn’t who I will be because my struggles do not define me. Jesus Christ defines me and I know as I start putting Him first in my life again, the rest will come.

Is there something in your life keeping you from living it to the fullest? God wants so much more for you than that! I will be praying Psalm 34 over my life daily. Would you join me? If there is something you need deliverance from in your life and you are ready to seek that, please let me know in the comments. I would love to join you in prayer for your deliverance as I pursue God for my own.

 

PSALM 34

1 I will praise the Lord at all times;
His praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will boast in the Lord;
the humble will hear and be glad.
3 Proclaim Yahweh’s greatness with me;
let us exalt His name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and He answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to Him are radiant with joy;
their faces will never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him from all his troubles.
7 The Angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear Him, and rescues them.

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good.
How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!
9 You who are His holy ones, fear Yahweh,
for those who fear Him lack nothing.
10 Young lions lack food and go hungry,
but those who seek the Lord
will not lack any good thing.

11 Come, children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Who is the man who delights in life,
loving a long life to enjoy what is good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from deceitful speech.
14 Turn away from evil and do what is good;
seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and His ears are open to their cry for help.
16 The face of the Lord is set
against those who do what is evil,
to erase all memory of them from the earth.
17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
and delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near the brokenhearted;
He saves those crushed in spirit.

19 Many adversities come to the one who is righteous,
but the Lord delivers him from them all.
20 He protects all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
21 Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
22 The Lord redeems the life of His servants,
and all who take refuge in Him will not be punished.

Be Blessed in Christ! And don’t forget to check back as I walk through this journey.

 

Being a mom is difficult and, at times, devastatingly lonely.

For all the moms out there who are still in the trenches, please remember you are not alone! Lean on your sisters and let us help you in the battle of motherhood. We are here for you: to pray with you, to speak words of wisdom, to make you laugh in the chaos.

And for those moms out there (like me) whose children are grown, reach out to a mom who is still on the battlefield. Hold up her arms as the war for her home and her children is waged right before her eyes. (Exodus 17: 9-13) She may not even know how to ask you, so offer your love and support without being asked. She needs us to remind her she is not alone.

Below is a poem I wrote especially for those still in the battle on this Mother’s Day. I understand… I have been there. And my prayer for you is that you will never feel alone and you will remember that God’s Mercies never end, they are new every morning, and you can put your hope in Him. (Lamentations 3: 22-24)

Standing Trial     

vintage style bathroom mirrors  floor tiles designs for living room wall mount bathroom sink faucet

Door locks behind for the mirror to mock.
Darkness outside strips away the smile.
White knuckled grips on the sink, taking stock;
All failures of day now standing trial.

Dark-circled eyes dropping tears down the face
reflected in glass; the guilt has begun.
Harsh words,  impatience – the facts of the case.
Defendant and judge all wrapped up in one

Small faces of angels asleep in bed
with pillows still damp from cries of remorse
No stories or songs or prayers have been said,
leaving heartache unleashed to run its course.
An exhaled sigh starts restoring the calm.
New Mercies arrive with the sun for Mom.

© 2018 Mary Grace Sepik

The Trap

Who determines the course of life?
From birth, a predetermined map 
with expectation causing strife
and dreams of how to break the trap.

Some too young to take serious,
others too old to start again.
No room for hearts too curious
in Society’s iron pen.

The brave create a different form,
carving new paths with sharpened knife.
Pursuing joy against the norm,
embracing love, and finding life.

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