Dear Friend Struggling with Homosexuality

Dear Friend Struggling with Homosexuality

Dear Friend,

I’m told you are a homosexual. Is it gay? Is it practicing homosexuality? Is it you’ve switched sides? I don’t even know how to say it.

First, I need to apologize. We, your brothers and sisters in Christ, have presented you with a religion with standards that we can’t possibly live up to. Instead of trying to fix you from the outside in, we should have been introducing you to a Person. 

To quote one of my favorite theological books, The Jesus Storybook Bible, “Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.”

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Maple Seeds, The Word of God and Christmas

Maple Seeds, The Word of God and Christmas

I love maple seeds. When God designed them, I think He was just having fun. They come with their own little helicopter wing and when you scoop up a bunch and throw them up in the air, they spin and float all over the place with a big wink from God. But what do they have to do with the Word of God and Christmas?

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Why a Good Leader Knows When To Let Go

By Kevin Young

This is a guest post by Kevin Young. I’ve known Kevin since I was a freshman in college, when I volunteered at Cru High School and he was my Director. Since then, he has not only become a trusted spiritual mentor, he is a true father figure to my husband Moses and me. He’s also a very talented writer. You can read his blog here and follow him on Twitter

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I had invited him, along with a small team of others to a school called Thomas Jefferson, in East New York, known for violence and poor graduation rates. The week before I had helped a dazed and bloodied student off the floor after she had been beat up, her blouse ripped, eyes glazed over. This was no place for the faint at heart, and so when I asked him to do classroom talks, I was curious to see how he would be received by some of the toughest kids in New York City. What I saw changed everything. While I sat in that broken school desk, I heard a voice inside. 

“Do you see their eyes, how they identify with him? They know he understands them, they know they have found someone to follow.”

And I knew I had found my Jeremiah.

His name is Moses Sanchez, and he lives with his wife Marilette, and their two children in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The best part of the story is how God led us together, but the most important part is how an older man needed to step aside, and let a Jeremiah take his place.

Moses’ story begins in the Bronx, and a flat out sprint trying to ditch the cops. He had just witnessed his mother’s arrest, and she had screamed to him, “run!” Next stop foster care, but if you know anything about Jeremiahs, they don’t stand still. He would disappear on long subway rides across the city, running, always running—at seven years old. A couple years later he made a soft landing into a Christian home, into the arms of a mom who took him in and adopted him as her own. Moses could have become a statistic, part of a number on a print out—one in four foster kids in NYC end up homeless. But God had other plans. Over the next several years He led him to families who loved him, cared for him, and shaped him. At his wedding, he had four sets of what he calls his ‘mom & dad,’ all for different reasons, and all brought into his life in the nick of time. That ceremony was a baptism of tears, a celebration of God’s amazing grace. I’ll never forget his words to his real mom. “I love you, because you loved me enough to send me away.”

These sovereign foundations give Jeremiahs an early, mature and determined faith to speak to God and man without fear. As Moses tells it, he needed $10,000 for each of the two years remaining at The King’s College. He wouldn’t continue there without it. He prayed. Literally in the same week, not knowing anything about his need or his cry to God, I met with a ministry partner, a long time friend of Cru, who said he “had an idea.” “I’d like to give $10,000 a year to the King’s College to scholarship an intern to work with your ministry.” I immediately thought of Moses. “But should I split the investment,” I thought, “involve more than one?”

The following week Moses and I were standing outside a school in lower Manhattan, and had just met a junior gang member named Manny. He was short, mean looking, and scowled the way kids like that do, in order to keep a healthy distance, command respect. After my attempt at reaching out, I asked Moses to tell his story. I needed to know if he had the stuff to deliver in evangelism. I remember Manny moved his sight from me and stared him down. Moments later, after listening to Moses, he was wiping tears from his eyes. “Your story man, it’s, it’s mine, too,” he said haltingly. This time the little voice was louder. 

“Here is the future of ministry to New York City’s 1.2 million students. And by the way, give him the whole amount.”

All through his internship, Moses told me he was going into teaching when he graduated. I prayed God would show him otherwise. But his vision seemed stronger than my invitation to join our team, and so off he went. It broke my heart, honestly tore a hole in it. I didn’t know if it was selfish, or maternal. We had spent so much time together. While my insides were aching, the voice whispered. “Wait, I have more to teach him.” When I got an unexpected call from him several months later, I thought it was just to catch up. We sat in our favorite spot at LuLu Bean Café in Brooklyn, and he told me through tears he was out of God’s will. He needed to re-engage with us.

For some unknown reason, in that moment I saw several years stretched out all at once, and Moses stepping up to a place of leadership—into my post! I felt threatened, relieved, but mostly awe. Fear gripped me, a wonder in the wisdom and persistence of God upon a young man’s life, and the patience in an old man. When the voice spoke this time, “He is the man,” there was nothing to say.

I didn’t tell anyone what I had heard. It was a lonely burden I kept for many months. A great mission needs a great young soul to drive it, nurture it, call others around it, and ultimately to believe God for it. Today’s Jeremiahs need the older guard to step aside and let them lead. And so, the time came all too quickly, when God demanded that hard step of me. 

“You are asking me to leave the city I love." 

"Yes,” God responded, “but unless you leave, this young man will never fail enough, nor suffer enough to be great enough to carry my will.”

Epilogue: This spring I handed Moses a baseball, symbolic of the way a manager takes the mound and relieves one pitcher and installs the next. It’s his turn now, and I have a hunch he’s going to pitch a better game than me. I’m so glad. He’s already doing things I only dreamed of. This Jeremiah happens to be called Moses, but his story is only part of a larger one unfolding today. We who are older, wiser and more invested must ask God to open our eyes to see how we can give the Jeremiahs around us a place to lead, then get out of the way. They may be untested, but they are undaunted.

QUESTION: In what way is God calling you to let go in order to let Him to have His way with a ‘Jeremiah’ in your own life? Let me know in the comments below.

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Shia LaBeouf: Why Prayers Work

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Most likely, you’ve heard by now that Shia LaBeouf revealed that a woman raped him during his #IAMSORRY performance art exhibit in L.A earlier this year.

Now, we’re not about to sit here and say for sure that it definitely happened or that it definitely didn’t happen. Some people are backing up his claims. Somepeople are insisting that it’s all a publicity stunt.

It doesn’t matter whether Shia’s culpable or not, it’s God’s job to deal with the sin. Ours is to protect our little brother (because he’s younger in the faith). How? Refuse to gossip and choose to pray.

Now, I (Marilette) have been a brokenrecord with this “pray for celebrities” topic. But the truth remains, most of us Christians are more likely to point out Shia’s “lack of fruit” in his Christian walk than pray for him. With fists raised, we demand to know: Is he even a Christian?

I love how Hillsong NYC’s Carl Lentz put it, referring to his well-documented relationship with Justin Bieber. “I tell people grace and acceptance does not mean approval. I can accept you as a human being and not approve of your actions. That’s how we’ve been loved. We love because we were first loved.“

My heart breaks again every time Shia talks about his relationship with his Vietnam-vet, former drug-addict, verbally-abusive dad. Can God remove brain and heart damage caused by abuse in minutes? Yes. Does he always heal instantly? No. He often prefers to cycle through healing because it’s better for our faith in the long run. But if Shia doesn’t have protection from us believers (via prayers on his behalf), there’s no way his pain will ever be removed.

I (Alyssa) have to admit that sometimes I cringe when people say, “The only thing we can do is pray,” because what we really mean is: “Oh yeah, it’s absolutely hopeless, but let’s schluff off a prayer so we feel we’ve done everything we can.

A few weeks ago, I was at a morning prayer meeting at my church. Our leader said God wanted us to pray for a young black girl in a pink coat–the leader could see her face clearly. So we did. A few days later, this story about a Philadelphia kidnapping popped up on the news. Our leader watched the news story about how a young black woman was rescued. He saw her face, and realized it was the same woman he’d seen two days before. The kidnapper had killed other victims in previous crimes, but this woman was rescued within days and had no major injuries.

God’s payment plan for intercessors is answered prayer. When you see an incredible response in the world to something you were praying for, you are motivated to keep praying.

I thought that after I wrote the first article about Shia’s conversion, I would stop heavy lifting in my spirit for Shia. But I keep praying and praying hard. I’m praying because God is demanding that I do.

I have known and loved God for over 20 years. I have a strong faith. I have spiritual gifts to use. So like Romans 15:1 says, that gives me responsibility. And if I don’t take that burden, it’s bad news. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.’” (Ezekiel 34:1-10).

Weak. Sick. Injured. Stray. Lost. Scattered. Sounds like Shia to me.

Well doesn’t he know better? Probably not.

In prayer, I asked God what is plaguing Shia. God revealed to me that Shia is haunted by a spirit of iniquity, literally lawlessness. What happens when you spend your lifetime longing for approval from an abusive dad; when the movie industry is demanding your best work, only to sprawl you out in the public eye; when truth is preached as a flimsy ideal? You want freedom.

But Satan has a good counterfeit for freedom: “anything goes.”

Shia doesn’t really understand moral lines (which, by the way, also explains the chronic plagiarism). It’s the cry of his generation that doesn’t have any anchor to truth.

In this new article, Shia says he looks up to Joaquin Phoenix. My favorite movie of Phoenix’s is Walk the Line, which shows Johnny Cash’s raging, messy journey out of darkness. I’m still praying for Shia because I believe God is going to use him in a parallel journey.

It’s crucial for Christians to speak life, not death, because our words become reality.

Let’s not abandon our posts of covering our weakest members in prayer. Let’s not let Shia slip through the cracks.

QUESTION: Why is it so easy for us Christians to underestimate and even dismiss the power of prayer? Let me know in the comments below.

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Why Justin Bieber Needs Our Prayers, Not Our Gossip

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When controversial videos of Justin Bieber surfaced recently (with a young teenage Bieber spouting off racial slurs), he once again positioned himself in the glare of the public spotlight.

In a previous post, I wrote: “I’ve always felt a compassion for young celebrities, [who], like all young people, are in the awkward transition into adulthood, no doubt making mistakes in the process. The only difference? Celebrities will make their mistakes in the scrutiny of the public eye.” Unfortunately, we treat celebrities not as mere entertainers, but as entertainment themselves. The public places them under continuous scrutiny, and we “regular people” feel entitled to criticize their every move.

The fame cycle is intriguing: celebrities are worshipped one moment, and then become the object of ridicule the next. They live in a constant Catch-22. Placed on a pedestal, they are unable to do anything wrong. Placed under a microscope, they are unable to do anything right.

A deep prayer of mine is that one day, Christians would come to view celebrities as real people who carry their own share of brokenness. Whenever a fellow Christian makes a critical comment about a celebrity, I flinch. It stings especially coming from the pulpit. Gossip is a sin, whether it’s someone you know personally or not (more about that here). As someone once said: “If you spend time praying for people instead of talking about them, you’ll get better results.”

I first considered working for Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) full-time upon learning about its founding. Co-founders Bill Bright and his wife Vonette began reaching out to college students at the UCLA campus in the 1950s. Their main demographic was student leaders, especially members of fraternities and sororities. Bill Bright believed that while churches had plenty of ministries serving Skid Row and jails, they lacked existing outreach towards college students and executive leaders. These were the influential leaders of today and tomorrow. No doubt, Jesus cares for the orphans, widows, homeless and the poor. But I don’t think He ever meant to exclude the cultural leaders (Don’t believe me? Brush up on the stories of Nicodemus and The Rich Young Ruler: both powerful, privileged individuals whom Jesus did not turn away).

Besides the video controversy, Bieber has had a rocky year thus far with his January DUI arrest, criminal vandalism (“egging”) charge, and his high-profile on-again, off-again relationship with Selena Gomez. But soon after the controversial videos leaked, Bieber posted an excerpt from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling devotional book on his Instagram account. Just a few days ago, Bieber and Selena Gomezattended a bible study together.

Someone once said that the Gospel is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread for free. Unfortunately, we Christians are quick to point out the sins and shortcomings of celebrities, yet rarely do we take the awareness of celebrities’ flaws as a catalyst to pray for them. Eighteenth-Century Scottish Preacher Oswald Chambers said that “God gives us discernment not so we can judge, but so we can be intercessors.”

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating that we excuse the wrong behavior of celebrities. I simply want to challenge fellow Christians to choose to see past the fame to the brokenness, and as a result, to extend compassion.

Bieber reminds me a lot of David in the Bible. Both are public figures who committed giant mistakes in the public eye. But even after committing adultery and murder, God still chose to use David as a King. In the same way, I believe God still plans to use Bieber in a mighty way in pop culture, not because he is perfect, or the most well-behaved Christian, but because he is a broken human being desperate for God’s grace.

In my own personal life, I’ve been learning that I don’t give hope to others by having it all together. I give hope by being transparent about my flaws, yet being secure in the love and forgiveness that Christ Jesus provides. It has been my prayer for the past several months that Bieber would have a “Gethsemane” experience. As Christian Author Ken Gire says, Gethsemane is “where we go when there’s no place to go but God” (Source). In other words, we usually meet God at rock-bottom.

It’s my deepest desire to see young celebrities like Justin Bieber to arrive at their “Gethsemane” to truly see their need for grace. I would love to see every young celebrity have a similar experience to what Anthony Evans describes in his song “The Way That You Love Me.”

My way, destroying me / I couldn’t see I was my worst enemy / So You took away till my soul ached / And I knew that it was no mistake / Anything that meant anything to me was gone

You love me so much that You let me fall knowing that / I would lose it all and hear Your call / You love me so much that You chase me / When I ran away You captured me / By letting me run to the end of myself /…This is the way, the way that You love me

QUESTION: Would you join me in lifting celebrities up in prayer, to nudge them towards their rock-bottom, and ultimately towards Jesus Christ?

Resources:Intense Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire

Why I Willingly Gave Up My Dream Career

By Tracy Pierson

This is a guest post by my good friend Tracy. She is a fellow full-time missionary with Cru, serving middle and high schools in Chattanooga, TN. She is also a very talented singer/ songwriter. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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In most cases, you lie down and then you dream. In my case, I dreamt only to find that laying down came next.

From the time I was a teenager, I was passionate about music. A self-proclaimed singer-songwriter from the age of 13, music has been my longest relationship. Even when I changed my major from music to education, my desire to perform professionally never waned.

When I gave my life to Christ in high school, I began to see a pattern develop: God would bring the things I loved to the surface, show me that I loved them more than him, and then ask me to lay them down. That was fine when it was shopping or watching “Friends,” but as my love for Jesus grew, the things that crowded Him out were deeper and more entrenched in my heart. In the back of my mind, I kept saying, “This is all well and good, but I don’t know what I’ll do if God ever asks me to lay down a career in music.” I had judged and resented those that I saw around me that had given up their dreams. I drew a line in the sand and said, “That will never be me.”

I don’t typically subscribe to the whole, “Don’t say you won’t ever go to Africa, because that’s exactly where God will send you” mentality that I hear a lot of Christians peddle. I don’t think God’s character is so simple and vindictive. What I do know is that He is jealous. He will never let anything or anyone stand in the place that He rightfully deserves as the object of my affection. In my heart, I knew this would mean that one day, He would approach me and my dream of becoming a musician.

As part of my calling into full-time ministry, I had to choose between pursuing a music career and following God to wherever He was leading. As I sobbed into the carpet of my bedroom, I envisioned my fists clenched tightly around this career that I always wanted—a life married to music. Unfortunately, without opening my fists, there was no room for anything else. A life with what I wanted most suddenly became a life of misery. Simply to ease the pain, I laid down the career in music that I was convinced I was made for.

You may be tempted to call this a moment of weakness. Maybe you’re drawing a line in the sand already and, like me, saying “That will never be me.” It’s tempting to circumvent this process, and truly, a lot of people do. Following your dream is what every American is already doing. But the way of the Cross is consistently one of laying things down. Every disciple is called to Jesus by being called away from something else that has trumped their love for God: whether it’s their livelihood, their father, or their life of sin.

Is it wrong to dream at all, though? According to my logic, God will ask for and take away whatever He finds there, after all. In fear of what we will certainly lose, we can easily be hesitant to unveil our dreams—even to ourselves. As I’ve wrestled with this exact question, I’ve come to this conclusion: Dreams are a gift and so is laying them down.

Only in the process of relinquishing our dreams can we understand the value of what we receive in return: Jesus Himself. In asking for our dreams, Jesus gives us the opportunity to sell everything to purchase the field of treasure. The bigger the dream, the more valuable the treasure must be for us to forsake it. It’s not that our dreams aren’t important to God—they are. In fact, I think He dares us to dream as big as we possibly can, because He intends to surpass them—by leaps and bounds and wild imaginings—with Himself. If we would only loosen the vice-grip on our dreams, then He would fill your arms with the bounty of His presence. I don’t know about you, but that really is a dream come true. 

QUESTION: What is the hardest thing God has asked you to give up for His sake? What was the aftermath? Let me know in the comments below.

(Photo via)

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How God Redeemed My Broken Dream

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I still remember the day. It was the summer of 2011 in Colorado. Moses and I were two months away from marriage and we sat in a park discussing our future: our pending marriage and my career. The pit in each of our stomachs spoke of the anxiety we were feeling. Unanswered questions flooded our minds. I had no doubt that God was calling us to be married, but knowing that only added to my confusion. God, if You truly wanted us to be together, why would our careers clash like this?

For two years prior to our engagement, Moses had worked at the Christian non-profit organization Cru, developing New York City high school students spiritually via afterschool discussion groups, Bible studies, and one-on-one mentoring. Cru strongly encouraged married couples to become full-time staff members together, because the “job” was not simply a nine-to-five. It required a flexibility to mentor high school students after school, during evenings and weekends. It required swapping a paid salary for a requirement to raise financial support through individual donors. Moses felt an undeniable call to take the plunge. Me? I wasn’t so sure.

I always had a love for helping teenagers develop spiritually, but my deepest desire was to get to the root of the false ideologies force-fed to them via popular music, movies and television. Pop media are the poisoned wells from which teenagers drink their beliefs. Therefore, in college, I made it my life goal to be an entertainment magazine writer.

I’ve also felt a compassion for young Hollywood stars like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers. Young celebrities, like all young people, are in the awkward transition into adulthood, no doubt making mistakes in the process. The only difference? Celebrities will make their mistakes in the scrutiny of the public eye.

As a mainstream magazine writer, I hoped to call out the falsehoods of pop media, and eventually befriend celebrities, helping them form personal relationships with Christ. Many teenagers will also emulate celebrities, oblivious to the discontentment and spiritual emptiness lurking beneath the fame, money and glamour–it’s a vicious cycle.

Soon, I landed internships with a Manhattan television production company, an online fashion magazine and the marketing department of a board game company. I had a growing network of media professionals in New York City; God seemed to be opening doors for me to reach all of my goals.

Yet here I was, weeks before my wedding, anxious instead of excited. I applied for the job at Cru, but grudgingly. Frankly, I was mad at God. All those years of praying, of crying out on celebrities’ behalf, would they all go to waste? Would I even get to meet them, to get a chance to be their friends and really invest in their lives? Why would You tease me by allowing me to progress in my media career just to pull the rug from under me?  

My life verse has always been Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” But at that point in my life, I truly doubted whether or not God was out to harm me. Despite how I felt, out of sheer obedience to God, I decided I would take the job at Cru.

I realized that like God testing Abraham with Isaac (Genesis 22), He was asking me to put my career on the altar. Like the Israelites and Baal, I had forged my own idol to replace God (Numbers 25). Making a name for myself as an entertainment journalist, even with the noble intention of using it as a ministry, was nothing short of prostituting my God-given gifts for my benefit–it was not worshipping God. Nineteenth Century Scottish preacher Oswald Chambers put it this way: “Our Lord calls to no special work: He calls to Himself” (My Utmost for His Highest). I became obsessed with my ministry at the expense of my relationship with God, and it took a toll on the health of my spirit.

In retrospect, I can see God’s sovereignty and foresight; He knew that three years later,  I would be a mom of two. The flexible schedule that Cru allows, especially to moms of young children, would no doubt be absent for a full-time journalist. With this blog, God has provided me with the platform to call out the false claims of Hollywood. Not to mention, if I had worked at a mainstream magazine, I would not have the freedom to be as vocal about my faith.

Hebrews 12:2 admonishes us Christians to look to Jesus Christ as “the author and finisher of our faith.” I know God is far from finished with developing my faith. I still haven’t befriended any celebrities. But after that ordeal, I’ve grown to trust God’s character. I can stand firm on the truth that no matter the circumstance, God always has my best in mind.

QUESTION: What dreams have you left behind in pursuit of following God? 

Boston Marathon’s Aftermath

By Katherine Devorak [GUEST POST]

My sister stretched her pudgy little fingers against my cheek. We both snuggled in my big girl bed counting the minutes until Dad came to tell us it was “really” bedtime. As a six year old, I was not always happy to have an adorable redheaded attention-monopolizing two year-old sister. But at twenty-five, I have come to think of her as the dearest thing to me on this green earth.

My sister lives in Boston. Moments before she called me today, I stood waiting for the door to my workplace to open and I prayed that God would teach me how to live in thankfulness. With a lot of very stressful and seemingly important ongoing events in my life, I had reasons to be unhappy.  That is why I prayed that God would help me to live in thankfulness. I didn’t think I could do it on my own.

“I’m okay,” my sister said to me over the phone. And then she told me what happened. An explosion just outside of the hotel in Copley Square erupted as the first wave of the Boston Marathon runners crossed the line. The blast instantly killed three people, wounding more than one hundred, and within seconds changing the fate of families and friends across America.

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My sister lives about a mile and a half from Copley Square, the scene of the explosion. Her college campus is home to a section of the course of the marathon. Overcome with timely errands, she did not go to the marathon today, thereby very possibly saving her life.

It may have happened to you before today–the realization that we have so much to be grateful for–but for me, it sunk in hard today. It pressed down on my heart like a weight, causing me to cry on both trains I take home from work.

In the few hours on the train home from work, I continued to hear from loved ones who live in Boston.  They were all grief-stricken, but able to hold the phone and speak clearly enough to tell me they were all right. I cannot say the same for the friends of my fellow coworkers, family, and neighbors. I have friends who still have not heard from their loved ones. They are uncertain, still, if they are one of the runners who lost a limb or were wounded in another way.

We were all wounded in one way. Though our hearts are stunned with just a sliver of grief in comparison with others who lost their loved ones, we hurt for those who are hurting.

When things like this happen, I told my mom, “it seems like senseless and pointless grief.” And it does. There exists no discernible reason for what happened today in Boston. What does exist is a call to pray for the loss and suffering of every family and friend who lost a loved one today, or heard the news of their injury.

Though it seems like such a small offering in an ocean of suffering, join me today in lifting up in prayer those who have lost much today. The verse that God has been giving me lately is, “do not mourn like those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). For the Christian, this is key.

Today, God reminded me through a horrible, senseless, catastrophic event that I have so much to be grateful for every day.

It is my prayer that we who were not directly affected would be of use to those who were. May we make ours a shoulder to cry on, and our hands folded ever fixedly in prayer for comfort, hope, and in God’s good time, healing. 

Katherine is my dear friend and college roommate. She is a freelance journalist who has been published in World-New York Online Magazine and national Australian and Papua New Guinean magazines and newspapers.