Ambushed. . .

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Recently I visited the subject of grief with a description of being “ambushed” by the emotion. The terminology did not originate with me, but was adopted by Daniel’s dear widow, now my true daughter in spirit, as she has dealt with his death. A friend then commented on the post with the observation that, although she had never heard the term used as a descriptor of grief attacks, she thought it could apply to attacks of anxiety. And I began to think. . .

There are many emotional “ambushes” that occur in our lives. The attacks come from a concealed position and strike with surprise (see definition number 3 above), usually, but not always, from an enemy of our emotional equilibrium. Some examples:

  • Grief.  The most benign memory, the most ordinary event, can precipitate the sudden recollection of loss. A photograph, the sight and sound of an ambulance, the smell of a hospital corridor, the sight of the loved one’s handwriting or craft–all can be the stimulus that brings a wave of fresh grief to our awareness. And we feel truly “ambushed” by the surprise attack which often comes from the “concealed position” of a truly innocent occurrence.
  • Anxiety. My friend’s observation regarding anxiety led me to think that a fresh definition of panic attack might be an “ambush” of anxiety, accompanied by the physiological components of the stress response. Performance anxiety can “ambush” us when taking a test or speaking in public. It can be especially problematic when being evaluated in the performance of a physical skill. (I am remembering nursing skill labs!) A good friend says that stress is a reminder that we are still alive. But sometimes I become so stressed with worry about the outcome of a situation or even imagined or dreaded future events that anxiety almost overwhelms me. What about you?
  • Depression. I think one can be “ambushed” by full-fledged depression when vague emotions of sadness or discouragement or futility or fatigue suddenly morph into the overwhelming dark hopelessness of depression. We wonder where it came from, how it got there, and what to do. In the best case scenarios, we have a support network of family, friends, and, if needed, professionals who can rescue us from the enemy that has taken us by surprise.
  • Anger. It may be a sense of righteous indignation. Or it may come from a real or perceived personal attack, insult, or oversight. If anger truly ambushes me, it is the most frustrating of situations, because attempts to express it often result in tears, and I lose all ability to communicate in a logical and articulate way. So then I am angry with myself!

But what about more positive emotions that surprise us from some concealed place within our hearts? Like—

  • Faith. My walk of faith can wax and wane. The times when it grows weak can “ambush” me with any or all of the above negative emotions. Then, through the invisible cord of God’s love and mercy, I am somehow drawn back into closer communion with my Creator, Savior, and Lord. I begin to once again feel a stabilizing presence in my heart and the certainty that I am here for a purpose, for a higher calling. And this results in an ambush of–
  • Joy. Yes, I think we can be “ambushed” by joy. It, too, can be lying in wait for us. It can come at the most unexpected times, times when we are reminded that a higher power is in control and that we are loved. The birth of a child, precious moments spent with family or friends, corporate worship (especially in music), and the gratification of work well done are a few examples.

I wonder. What emotion is lying in wait “from a concealed position” waiting to strike you “in surprise”? Will you be ready to counter it with the stability that faith offers? Where are you in your walk? Can you identify other emotions waiting to “ambush” us?

I would love to read your thoughts.

Heavenly reinforcement…

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This has been me this past week. I tied a knot in the rope of life and have been trying desperately to hold on. But it seemed there were strong, gale-force winds buffeting me, willing me to let go and fall into the dark pit of depression that was waiting below. The week started with Mother’s Day. It’s not the same when you are missing one child. My husband had a minor procedure for some skin cancer. The same day my almost-92-year-old mother had a fall, bled like crazy from  scalp laceration, and required a prolonged ER visit and overnight hospital stay. Two granddaughters are close to the delivery of great-grandchildren for me. Work was just as stressful as usual. A lightning strike messed up internet and cable (still not fully repaired). A criminal made his escape across our field with law enforcement in hot pursuit. The dog ate a roll of toilet paper the night before she was scheduled for her spay. And there were other personal stressors that I shouldn’t share and  just couldn’t understand. Nothing terrible or irreparable happened, but enough, Lord, I thought.

Confession: I got frustrated and fearful and felt rather alone. I felt that my prayers were unheard, my fatigue unnoticed, my burden too heavy. I could relate to David’s plea to the Lord in Psalm 22, verse 1:

…Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

And I was groaning and moaning and whining and near tears! Yes, I read my Bible–a few mornings. And I prayed, most of the time vague, repetitive pleas for help. I felt totally alone and helpless. But then….

First, I must explain a little back story: Two years, nine months ago our middle son took his own life (therefore, the Mother’s Day stress). A few weeks later I attended a Christian fiction writer’s conference,  where I was comforted and blessed to make new Christian friends. One was a lovely lady with a mass of auburn curls and a contagious smile and one of the sweetest spirits I’ve ever known. Since then I have had a text from her occasionally just touching base to see how I’m doing. I hadn’t heard from her for a good while–until Thursday, the day when I was at my lowest. My prayer journal from that morning reads, in part:

Lord, I feel beaten down by too much, too many burdens. I felt like you had turned your back on me yesterday. I’m frustrated. I belong to you. I’m doing my best. Why so many problems?….Please, please help me. I need your strength and your Spirit.

And, God answered. Jerri’s text that day opened the floodgates. I shared. She cared. And I know she has prayed for me, just as promised. If any of you don’t believe in divine appointments, you should. I believe she was inspired to reach out to me that day at that morning hour. As she put it, God knew I needed “reinforcements.” Jerri was obeying the instruction in Galatians 6:2 to:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

I did need the reinforcement of knowing someone cared for my specific needs and was willing to pray on my behalf. And I am grateful that she responded to that little tug on her heart that made her think of me that morning. I pray that I will be more sensitive to those intuitions or hunches or heavenly whispers to do the same for others. And I am grateful to be reminded that although I may feel like God is not listening and doesn’t know my pain, He does. Peter says in the New Testament:

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

I’ve not been very good at that lately. Laying my burdens at Jesus’ feet. Depending on prayer and the Lord’s grace and mercy and unconditional love. I hope to do better. And I’m still holding on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The journey continues. . .

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This is the way my morning begins–on good days. The Bible is only 21 years old this year but the leather cover is frayed from being carried in a “Bible cover” for many years. Virtually every page in it is highlighted and marked with sermon notes in the margins. It is well-worn. Kind of like me.

Having reached that point in life where one reviews where one has been, the things one has done, the accomplishments achieved, I have found myself struggling over the past few months. Have you ever felt that there was something that you were absolutely meant to do through some divine plan but found apparent roadblocks at every turn? That’s me!

My first calling to a profession came when, through a series of unusual events, I ended up in a baccalaureate nursing program. I graduated in 1978 and have spent the past 40 years working in the profession in one role or another. There were some times of turmoil and transition as I found my way to my current role as a nurse practitioner. I stepped into that role 21 years ago and have never regretted the move. Throughout it all, nursing has been very good to me. And I’m not quite ready to give it up, yet!

But hidden in my heart was the dream of being an author. I’ll confess, early on I was just thinking that I could write a romance novel as good as, if not better, than many I read. But somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to put that steamy stuff on paper with my name attached! Then the amorphous dream congealed into a path that truly felt like a calling. That’s the road my journey has taken me down now. But it’s a road filled with roadblocks and potholes and breakdowns.

You see, I have found my niche as a writer.But actually having the faith that success will come is a struggle. I long to rest in 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.”

My goal as a writer? To portray the truth that God pursues us in the ultimate love story, our journey through the triumphs and tragedies of life, wooing us back into a walk with Him whenever we lose our way. Sometimes when times are really good, I forget to acknowledge that all good things come from Him, not just from my efforts. And, sometimes, when terrible pain or loss occurs, the mental and physical and spiritual exhaustion has left me floundering, trying to regain my footing on the solid foundation of faith that this life requires.

For some reason, God has given me stories in my head and heart. Stories that speak to the real problems that everyday people experience. Stories that speak to the only real solution to those problems, a return to faith. But the struggle to be traditionally published, to market the work already done, and to have the resources to continue this journey often gets me down.

A couple of the devotions I read during my early morning quiet times recently spoke to me in a special way. One spoke to the issue of being a “recovering” perfectionist. I qualify. So often I am stalled by the search for perfection, when I just need to be writing and doing. I’m working on that. My house is not as clean as I kept it 20 years ago. I can say “no” when asked to do something that I just don’t have time for. I don’t struggle with my appearance like I did when I was younger.

The other was titled “The Day I Stopped Believing.” It spoke of a time that the author had experienced terrible life struggles and began feeling that, although God answered prayer for other people, He just didn’t hear or heed hers. I haven’t stopped believing in prayer or in good things happening. But the patience to wait for God’s timing is wearing thin. My dad told me many times that I needed to “learn patience.” I’m not there, yet, Daddy.

For those who have read all the way to the end of these ramblings, thank you! For me, it is easier to write than talk it out. Maybe a reader or two can relate to my struggles. Hang in there. As my boss says, “Tie a knot and hang on!”

 

 

 

 

When do I land?…..

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The flying nurse was given to me years ago by very good friends, in honor (I think), of my somewhat long and varied nursing career. For many years nursing was a central focus of my life. In the 70’s I was considered a nontraditional nursing student in my baccalaureate program at a Christian university. After all, I was one of four married students in my class and the only one with two small children. After graduation my love for the profession only grew stronger. I felt called to be a nurse, and nursing has been very good to me. After fifteen years I furthered my education with a master’s degree, and I have enjoyed some of the best years of nursing in my current role as a nurse practitioner.

But the flighty nurse pictured above is rather wild-haired and exotic looking, don’t you think? Which was definitely NOT me in my more sedate past, my nursing-focused past. Not that I’m a wild child now (I guess it would be second childhood at my age?). But I do feel so much more free to just be me. The years have opened me up to other pursuits. Teaching children at church. Singing in church groups. More adventurous, although still classic southern, cooking. Trying to morph into the role of family matriarch.

You might mentally hang some more accoutrements to the nurse figure to make her more like the current “me”. A laptop would be nice. A Bible. Some family photos. A couple of little Schnauzers bouncing around. Some pots and pans. Musical notes, because I really enjoy singing (and do wish I could play an instrument). Grown grandchildren laughing at their Nana. Preschool great-grand and two on the way.

Three things have contributed to the change in me. The first is life lived. I’m not a secretive person, so many of you have read in this blog of the challenges and tragedy that has befallen our family. But the other side of the coin is the grace and peace with which God balances the ledger. There have been victories that encourage and reassure and inspire. The best part of my 67 years is that my faith grows stronger everyday.

The other change agent is writing. The opportunity to share a little of my life with you, to encourage others who may struggle with the same hurts and disappointments that we have faced, to tell stories that come from somewhere in my heart and head–what a blessing that is for me! Because that process has grown my faith, too. I only know one way to survive the things life throws at us, and that is with God, and reiterating that truth through blog and books strengthens my understanding and my resolve to persevere.

And last I must mention the blessing of knowing and working with very special mentors and friends and coworkers. There’s a reason that the last twenty years have been so special, and that reason involves the people I have been privileged to work with (and look forward to working with for a least a while longer!). I do not take for granted your influence on my life. I doubt that I would be able to face the challenges that life presents without your example and encouragement. Thank you.

I intended to share the “flighty nurse” figure to point out that I feel like 2017 has been me flitting from one task, one disaster, one disappointment, one assignment to another. I am hoping that the wild-haired nurse will get her act together and that 2018 will be a bit more organized. But I’m not counting on it.

Happy New Year!

Life goes on for the residents of Four Corners. Read about their loves, trials, tragedies, and struggles of faith in volumes I and II of the Four Corners series, set in fictional small-town Arkansas.

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My life is a circus……..

The classic Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus gave its last performance last month. How sad! But I am here to tell you that the three-ring circus is alive and well, at least in my life…….

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The first ring of my three-ring circus is my role as a tightrope walker. The pressures of living as a baby-boomer, sandwich generation, healthcare professional and aspiring writer keep me precariously balanced. Add to that the pressure of longing to be a Proverbs 31 woman who could care for and provide for her family with the ultimate devotion and skill while serving the Lord and her community selflessly. She lived with a higher purpose, leaving a legacy for her family. She was a master at cultivating family relationships and friendships, old and new, with the ultimate hospitality. And she was to do it all in a 24/7 time frame! Do you think that life is even possible? I find myself constantly longer to be better, accomplish more, live my writing dream. Having impossible goals is not fun! It sets one up for a chronic sense of failure. Even though I know I do accomplish so much, it seems there is always more to be done. My expectations of self set me up to feel inadequate, even as I know that I am doing the best I can. I long to be like a woman of the “greatest generation” who could do so much with so little, for whom hard work was the essence of life. And I have heroes like Mrs. Mildred Sterling, who until just a few years ago was teaching Sunday School as she approached the age of 100 years. Or Mrs. Mary Formby, an extraordinary soul who excelled in intellect, hospitality, grace, and faith. I only hope that at the end of my life I, too, will be able to say as Paul did (and, as Mrs. Formby surely could and as Mrs. Sterling will) :

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV)

th90Z32R6O kissing the enemy

The second ring of this circus is the world we live in, kissing danger (kissing the enemy?) every day. Terror attacks across the globe are common. There seems to be a pervasive streak of personal violence across our land, with daily reports of murders across our communities. And then there is the overarching danger associated with foreign powers trying to disrupt our democracy coupled with the “vanishing American adult” mentality (see Ben Sasse’s book by the same name) that has resulted in the election of a president who has never before served in private office, a president who values his own opinion above all others, a president who makes his own rules, and a president who disregards the time-honored protocols of our justice system, proven relationships with our allies, and simple human decency and honesty. His promise to “drain the swamp” is resulting in the formation of a more ominous swamp fueled by ego, nepotism, disregard for human rights and emotions, and a corporate executive, as opposed to statesman, mentality. The system of checks and balances as envisioned by the founding fathers is no longer checking or balancing power.  Political party lines, instead of ethical and moral truths, have become the guiding force in our nation’s capital. There is widespread lack of understanding of basic civic principles and, therefore, a tendency for many across our nation to apathetically ignore or excuse what is happening in the nation’s capital. Ring #2 multiplies the stresses of ring #1 exponentially. My only hope is to trust that God is in control, and that His plan will prevail.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts. Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9 NKJV)

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Ring # 3 is perhaps the most tragic. For I am seeing in evangelical circles a tendency toward judging others without remembering that we are all sinners, saved only by the grace of a loving God. In the name of Christianity, believers accept the circus in ring #2 as a demonstration of conservative values at work. I am having a crisis of faith. It is not a crisis of whether or not I believe in God. It is not crisis of doubting my salvation. It is a crisis of not understanding how we can call ourselves Christians while demonstrating and endorsing a judgmental and intolerant mentality. It is a crisis of wondering how God’s family can expect everyone to be alike–well-trained Christians who, unprotesting, “go with the flow” instead of demonstrating truly unconditional love for all God’s children, instead of hating the sin, not the sinner, and instead of recognizing the inherent personal rights this country was founded upon. I resist being the well-trained elephant sitting in the pew, obediently accepting everything said and done, silent about my own convictions.  I don’t want to be a well-trained, docile Christian, who never rocks the boat. Maybe sometimes the boat needs to be rocked. I want to be a thoughtful, kind, loving, and faithful member of God’s family, unafraid to recognize, and, if indicated, speak, the truth. Remember, Jesus said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 (NKJV)

AND, when questioned about how to punish an adulterous woman,

…..“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” John 8:7c (NKJV)

I, for one, am not without sin. But I am troubled and concerned and tired of the circus. I pray for a change of heart in the United States of America. I pray to turning back, not only to God, but to the fundamental truths of democracy upon which this nation was founded and to ethical and moral behavior. The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus may have closed. Let us not let democracy be the next casualty.

 

Seeing the big picture……

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See the pretty little girl? Pretty and precocious. See the vertical wrinkle in the carpet and the horizontal shadow from a window? She just told her Mama to “see the T”. She is looking at the bigger picture. From her vantage point it appears obvious that there is an (upside down) T. I can see it. Can you?

I wish I could have her perspective on life. To see the big picture of God’s plan for my life. It might help me understand some of the challenges and trials and grief that He has allowed in my life. I want to be like Joseph, who survived being cast away by his brothers, sold into slavery, rising to power only to be wrongfully accused and thrown into jail, and, finally, achieving a position of power that allowed him to save his people from starvation. And, all the while, he did not grow bitter. He could, at least retrospectively, see God’s hand at work.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45: 5-7 NIV)

I doubt that I would have been as patient, gracious, or trusting as Joseph. Nowhere is it recorded that he whined, complained, despaired, or turned away from God. Nor did he lash out in anger or seek revenge. Somehow, through patient obedience, he was able to see the “big picture”, the overarching purpose of all that had befallen him. I fear that I might have reacted differently.

Then there is the wonderful story of Esther, a beautiful young Jewish girl in captivity, chosen to be the queen of Persia. She was obedient in keeping her family background and nationality secret, following the advice of her adopted father, Mordecai.Learning of an evil plot to kill her people, she feared to approach Xerxes to ask for protection and mercy. Who wouldn’t, knowing that, unless he deemed it acceptable for one to appear unannounced and extended his golden scepter in reprieve, the intruder (even though queen) would be put to death? She reminded Mordecai of this danger as he directed her to seek rescue for her people.  But he had another perspective for her consideration.

When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 12-14 NIV)

Mordecai reminded Esther of her position in the big picture of that time and that place and the responsibility that accompanied it. Do you ever wonder where you fit in the “big picture” of things? I do. We generally think of children and grandchildren and so forth as a type of legacy. I lost a child to suicide. How does that subtract from my legacy? What am I to do with my role as a “survivor of suicide”? My mind struggles to make some sense of it, to detect some purpose that I can now fulfill because of it. I try to comfort others that I meet who have lost children. I reach out to those who have experienced the special grief of suicide. I speak openly and write about it. But is there more that I am supposed to do with my grief?

And, I try to “tie a knot and hang on”.

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The thing is, I’m beginning to recognize that the rope is God. It is Him that I cling to, sometimes with firm grasp and sometimes hanging on by a thread. He is my strength, my hope, my salvation. He sees the big picture, while I see only snapshots. His vision is clear; mine is cloudy. So, I try to make the knot ever bigger and more substantial through Bible reading and prayer, so that it’s easier to hang on to. But, when the rope swings in the winds of life, my emotions swing right along with it.

As a very wise woman has said to me, “It’s those ‘sneak attacks’ of grief that get us.” One moment I’m laughing at a coworkers story and the next my eyes fill with unbidden tears, as I realize that my Daniel won’t be around to write my eulogy. (He was a writer, like me.)  And, what in my life will be worthy to eulogize? Am I somehow lessened by his loss? Or am I strengthened through surviving it? Am I making a difference every day? Am I living life to the fullest by staying in the moment? So many questions.

But, I keep my eyes peeled for glimpses of the “big picture”. And, I cling with every fiber of my being to that rope of faith. And, I will, somehow, keep on keeping on.

Only by God’s grace.

An open letter to the President Elect…

An open letter to President-Elect Donald J. Trump:

Let me introduce myself. I am a 66 year old baby boomer, born-again Christian, nurse with a Master’s Degree. I have worked almost 40 years in the profession of nursing, the last 20 years as a nurse practitioner in a cardiology practice, all in a small city in central Arkansas. I have to maintain a national certification in nursing to do so. I am married and have children, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild, so the future of this country is very important to me. You would be most interested to know that I have never registered with a political party and have considered myself an independent voter for all of my adult life but I found myself becoming an “almost” Republican since it had been decades since I voted  for a Democratic presidential candidate–until this year. I’m sure that puts me way down on your list of anyone with anything of any value to say. I doubt that you will ever see what I write. There are some things that I just am compelled to put out there for your consideration, if by some miracle you should see it.

I wish I knew you better. You have been elected President of this great country. I want to respect you. I promise to pray for you. But, through all the debates and tweets and news reports, I feel I have failed to come to know you as a person. Do you read the Bible? Do you pray–sometimes with every breath–as you are making decisions that may make or break this country. Have you read the Constitution? Do you value the Bill of Rights–not just the one about bearing arms, but the one about free speech? As a New Yorker, do you remember the inscription on the Statue of Liberty–the part about sending us your weak and poor? For, you know, other than our Native American brothers, we all come from immigrants–if you trace our lineage back far enough.

You see, somehow, the performances at debates and rallies never let me meet the man that I hope and pray you are. It is unfortunate that there is no “national certification” for one to be eligible to be President of the United States. I confess that all I know about you is that you make lots of promises, you put on a good show, you resent all criticism (and reply with a demeaning tweet about anyone who dares to voice an opinion other than yours), and you are, as promised, turning Washington “upside down”.

I am afraid of so many things that your Presidency may bring. As you select your Cabinet and make some unconventional appointments, as you are blessed with control of both the Senate and the House (and soon, perhaps, the judicial system)–where is the balance of power that our founding fathers designed? I am afraid of some of your promises. The Accountable Care Act has allowed many people in Arkansas to afford healthcare. Please don’t repeal it just because it bears President Obama’s signature. Sure, it’s not perfect, but citizens can at least see a doctor now and get their medicine and go to the hospital with some hope of avoiding bankruptcy or ruined credit. Hospitals can get paid for care previously written off as indigent care. Fix it, don’t repeal it.

I don’t understand your utilization of Twitter. It just doesn’t seem very statesmanlike. Just as I am letting words fly from my computer keys, words I may regret (if I ever post this), you react so quickly to criticisms that are spoken, printed, or inferred by the press or a gifted actress or a news commentator. Let me give you a little tip–much worse things are going to be said during your Presidency because “you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” Are you going to react to every incident defensively, demeaning the culprit? At first I assumed that you did it because your ego is so huge. Now I wonder if your self-esteem is poor enough that you have to “take down” anyone who isn’t your fan. You do realize presidential ratings are not like the Nielsen’s? Do you not ever regret a tweet posted in the heat of the moment? I hope you do, because then I could relate to you.

All this is said to remind you that the Presidency is not a reality show–it is reality. The reality of this office demands revealing some part of your humanity–compassion, patriotism, self-control, faith, and most importantly, humility–not just brash boasting about how wonderful you are and how you are going to make America great again. I believe it’s going to take more than you.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV

The people of America need to come back to the values that this country was built upon. For too long many Americans have felt that this country owes them something, while they are willing to do nothing to help this country. Too many work the system instead of working a job. Too many protest authority instead of respecting it. Too many take the road of violence to solve their problems, and, thus, create even more problems. Too many have forgotten that “In God We Trust” is this nation’s motto.

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. Titus 3:1-2 NIV

This is my pledge, Mr. President Elect, to try to lay aside my doubts about you, to remember that God is in control and that He, in His wisdom, allowed you to win this election, to pray for you, and to pray for this nation. I pray that others, including you, will join me.