Encourage and Build Each Other Up

Tucked away in an alcove of pine in Door County, Wisconsin, there is what many consider a treasure. Towers of precariously stacked stones populate this short stretch of shoreline at Lake Michigan’s Cave Point County Park.

Some towers are short and dainty looking, assembled quickly by someone passing through. Other structures clearly showcase much time, effort, and of course, patience. They are miracles of height and structure, balancing at six feet or more.

I visited this shoreline on a cold and windy autumn day. There were no builders in sight, just this evidence that many had been here and worked with their hands. Carefully, I made my way around the towers and down the shore. I wondered what inspires the visitors here to stack stones? What do they gain from building? Could this process of stacking represent anything similar in our own lives? Consider this verse:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV 

Therefore encourage one another…

In this passage of Scripture “encourage” translates to mean comfort. The apostle Paul wrote this verse in a letter to the Thessalonians who were persecuted for their new Christian faith. Their loved ones were punished and killed daily for their beliefs. In his letter, Paul reminds them to comfort one another and to live knowing their future is secure with those they have lost.

Our problems may not be as dire as the Thessalonians, but we still understand hardship. Everyone has problems, even the people who visited this rocky beach. Perhaps they walked next to the water like I did and tried skipping stones. Maybe seeing the towers around them calmed their spirits or inspired them to build too.

Whatever issues we face, knowing we are not alone helps us cope. Our faith comforts us and helps us comfort others. As companions in faith, our presence can encourage (comfort) others through hardship with compassion, hope, and thoughtfulness.  

and build each other up,…

Throughout his letter, Paul likens the members of the church to the parts of a body. Each person or part contributes to the welfare of the whole. His request to “build each other up” means to edify or improve each other intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

Our faith is always growing and in need of tending. We build each other up by praying together, discussing the Bible, and sharing how God touches our lives.

When we work with others, whether it is on faith…or stacking rocks, we soon learn people think and do things differently than we do. Comparing ourselves to others or judging them limits the learning and growth we can gain from them.

In the relaxed setting of these open waters, I imagine strangers building towers side by side. They learn from each other, share balancing tips, laugh, and cheer each other on as yet another huge rock remains in place.

It is not our job to fix or change people, but to build each other up (edify) as a community growing in a faith which benefits us all.     

just as in fact you are doing.

In this last part of the Scripture, Paul recognizes the Thessalonians for their supportive efforts. He gives them praise for holding on tightly to faith in the midst of tragic and challenging circumstances.

In today’s stressful and troubled world, confidence in our faith and purpose can become wobbly as well. We question if we are doing the right things for God and struggle to keep our balance.

Taking time to slow down and giving ourselves space to think about how we show up to love others brings meaning and purpose to our lives. For some understanding may come while on a walk, studying the Bible, or looking at the stars. For others, it may come stacking stones on a desolate shore. Paul’s words travel to all those places and more, imploring us to go a little higher.

Stacking Stones
by Jamie Trunnel

Wandering souls sometimes stack stones.
Marks of patience,
Balance,
And time free from phones.

Expressing their bliss
With careful luck.
Escaping from problems,
Or calamities which have struck.

What if each placed rock
Represented a problem someone had?
And, the stacking process made him feel…
Not so bad.

Standing back and taking a look
Put things in perspective;
Told him he had what it took.

Life could be organized
And balanced as such.
See all these other souls
Who thought just as much?

We all have problems.
We all struggle.
If we saw others’ towers,
Maybe ours would not crumble.

Standing vulnerably tall
With our problems on display,
Maybe we could all find
Peace,
Hope,
And a little less judgement along the way.

Stacking Stones is a poem from my new book Simple Wishes which releases in early September. Be sure to join my email subscriber list to receive upcoming sneak peeks of the book and other special offers!

Related Posts:

Love on Ordinary Days

A New Kind of Resolution

Judged Instead of Loved

Some Clowns Showed Me How to “BE” the Church

And Just a Note: Some outdoor enthusiasts consider rock stacks like these an unwelcome reminder of humanity. There are concerns about the natural erosion process and the habitat of insects or mammals which burrow under the rocks. This blog post is not intended to support or discourage rock stacking. 🙂

Bucket lists, God’s Plans, and the Redwood Forest

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

When is the last time you checked something BIG off your bucket list? This month, after years of dreaming about walking through the redwood forest in California, I finally did it. It was awesome.

Did you know California’s North Coast redwoods are THE tallest trees in the world? They are also some of the very oldest living things — some species are over 3,000 years old! Just let that sink in a minute…

The forest I visited was part of California’s Redwood National and State Parks. Wandering through this forest of towering green giants certainly provides a real life perspective on our small size in this big world.

On my trip, I learned some interesting facts about redwoods to share with you. These facts helped me think about God’s plans, not only for these redwoods, but for each of us. Come along, walk with me.

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. 

Coastal redwoods are hardy trees. They can grow just about anywhere. But, they only grow into their massive potential along the California coastline. Why? In California, the cool, wet, and foggy conditions allow the tree’s needles to draw in necessary nutrients from the air’s moisture which nurtures the tree to grow up, up, up. In other climates, these redwoods can only get nourishment through their roots. Tree circulation systems cannot pump high enough to sustain a huge coastal redwood elsewhere. Nutrients must also come from the environment to grow that tall.

Like the redwoods, God also places us in conditions for ideal growth. If we think back upon the events of our life, we can see how relationships, opportunities, and challenges occurred to strengthen us. We are different from trees because we can choose whether we soak up the nourishment around us — whether we look for and pursue God’s direction in our days. God provides the climate for us to grow into the tallest plans he has for us. He puts us in places that can help us reach our true potential. 

They are plans for good and not for disaster

With bark up to a foot thick on some trees, the coastal redwood is strong and tough. The denseness of its bark is just one trait among many which make this tree so unusual. When exposed to fire, the outer layer chars into a barrier or heat shield, protecting the tree from destruction. Pests, like ants and termites, find redwoods unappealing or poisonous, so they do not harm it. Even damaging floodwaters and creek beds are no match for this wood’s survival. Redwood resists water-related rotting; wood that is thousands of years old is found underwater by well drillers in sturdy shape.

California’s redwoods face enemies of fire, pests, and water, but they thrive regardless. Their natural composition allows them to survive and grow into the world’s tallest trees. Similarly, our lives are full of difficult conditions. But our God, the God who equips the redwoods for their good destiny, equips us to withstand this world’s trouble as well.

God does not wish disasters upon us. In this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). But, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). God created us out of love and for a relationship with him. The strength of this relationship comes from faith in him. Faith gives us sure hope and prods us to seek God’s good through everything that happens to us.

To give you a future and a hope. 

Okay, so here’s the clincher: when a live coast redwood tree (Sequoia Sempervirens species) falls in the forest it can regenerate itself into new life. The fallen tree can keep growing through its limbs or branches. The upright limbs eventually turn into a new row of trees. Similarly, circular groups of new trees can grow out of redwood stumps. The genetic information in the cells of a new tree is identical to each of the others, and to the tree they sprang from. The fallen tree truly has everlasting life.

If God’s plans for the redwoods are good and full of hope, how could they be anything less for us? He has plans for our future, and he is never unsure about how to get us there. We can trust him.

As we grow in faith, the care and guidance he provides become more clear. He stays beside us when we muddle along, when we celebrate, when we endure, and when we mourn. God delivers hope through all conditions and ultimately, through Jesus’ sacrifice, he promises us an eternal life.

Do you think maybe the things we write on our bucket lists arise from inside us for reasons greater than we can imagine? I went to the redwood forest to see the tall, beautiful trees. I left inspired to think about God’s plans and the way he cares for us. He delivers messages in the most amazing ways.

I think God must smile big when we check something off our bucket list. Like he is checking something off too. Perhaps he planned it that way? He is so good. Press on in faith, my friends!

Dear God,

Thank you for the plans you have for us and for the many blessings you give. You place us in the best conditions for maximum growth. The people, events, and opportunities you place in our path encourage us to keep moving ahead. Help us stand tall, strong, and steady as we grow in relationship with you. Give us the courage to do what we need to and the patience to hope in your ways. Grant us wisdom to see how you are always working good, even through hard things. May we live our days here full of your peace, and forevermore in the glory of your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen 

Note:

I would love to hear about something on your bucket list. If you have checked something off recently, were there ways you felt God was there with you? Write me a note in the comments or on my “Contact Me” page.

Related Posts:

Embracing God’s Plan

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Where Joy Flows From

Inspiring Resources:

treesofmystery.net

Do We Disappoint God?

Perfection is a tall order on this broken planet. This becomes very clear in the middle of January when goals for improvement start veering off the course we charted for 2017. We cheat on diets, take a break from the gym, skip a weekend at church, spend money when we shouldn’t, drink too much caffeine, stop trying to meditate…(um, feel free to contribute at any time so I don’t feel so alone).

We are an odd species. One day we are full of optimism and vigor, and the next we are easily derailed by unexpected challenges or our own behavior. Letting ourselves down by breaking resolutions can easily lead to some disappointment. Often, we even grow accustomed to this feeling and shrug it off.

But, what about deeper flaws in our character that persist over the years? What if we make some big mistakes that change the course of our life and maybe even the lives of those around us? What if our mistakes are considered sins? How do we cope with those levels of disappointment? Does God feel disappointed in us too? Will he give up on us if we make a really big mistake?

God understands how hard this life is.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15 New Living Translation (NLT)

When God chose to reveal himself as Jesus he took on the hardships of human life. He sympathizes with our feelings and temptations because he endured them as well. He knows firsthand how difficult this life is to maneuver. He provides us hope because he faced the things we face, and he got through them without sin. We can look to his life for encouragement and strive to follow the example he set.

God chose to forgive us.   

Christianity believes that God wipes away sin and reconciles his relationship with us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Certainly, not every setback or mistake is a sin. Sin is an ugly, tough word. I don’t like the way it feels when I write it. But, the fact is we all sin. Jesus was the only perfect person to walk on Earth. It was his sacrifice that brings us forgiveness when we acknowledge, confess, and repent our sin to God.

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT

Jesus took God’s wrath on the cross and called it done, finished, paid in full. Sin no longer separates believers from God. Trusting in his care provides a fresh start and secures our future with him.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30 New International Version (NIV)

God loves us. He has plans for us.

What remains for us as a result of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for sin is God’s unconditional love. We can’t earn it. We can’t change it. We can’t lose it. We don’t deserve it, but we have it. Forever.

We cannot surprise, frustrate, or let God down. Because he already knows what is ahead.

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. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

God may be disappointed for us, but not in us.

 

Of course, we have free will and therefore, we will probably make choices that lead us off course from time to time. In those instances, God may be disappointed for us, but not in us. He wanted something better for us because he loves us. But, in those moments when all we see is failure, God still sees opportunity. He uses our trouble to bring about good and to draw us closer to him. He extends grace.

And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV

We are flawed, but not forgotten.

God never forgets or dismisses us in times of trouble. It is never too late to seek his help and reassurance in our lives. We can start viewing problems as alerts for prayer and build a stronger relationship with him. An insightful look at our past experiences will show us how his good works pulled us through. We can reference Scripture for wisdom in any circumstance, temptation, and emotion we face. Lastly, we can obediently act when we sense his guidance encouraging us along a certain path.

This year, like every year, difficulties will come our way. We need willpower, forgiveness, and stamina among many other things to make it through. Sin, mistakes, and unwanted flaws will persist. We will make choices. What a blessing it is to be able to make choices!

One choice we have is whether or not we will work on our relationship with God. We can choose if we allow our trouble to lead us further away from him or draw us closer to him. He has a preference in that choice, but he loves us either way.

God will always pursue you. You are not forgotten.

 

A Prayer for Your Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for seeing me as I am and loving me unconditionally. I sin, make mistakes, and I am full of flaws, but you never forget about me. When I feel disappointed you stand beside me and encourage my heart to constantly seek more of you. Help me find the reassurance I need through past experiences, prayer, Scripture, and the opportunities you send my way. I trust you and patiently wait as you work in and through me, ultimately bringing all things together for my good. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

 A Few Scriptures of Hope to Battle Messages of Defeat:

  • When we say: “I really messed up today.”

Scripture tells us to try again tomorrow: Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:23 NLT

  • When we say: “Everybody is doing more or better than me.”

Scripture reminds us of our unique abilities: Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. Galatians 6:4 NLT

  • When we say: “I’ll never get it right. I can’t do it. It’s too hard.”

Scripture offers a lighter load: Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29 NLT

  • When we say: “I’m confused, lost, broken, and giving up.”

Scripture provides hope: Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Matthew 10:27 NIV

Inspiring Resources:

Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

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Yesterday, I caught myself smiling because I felt grateful for grasshoppers. Yes, strangely enough, grasshoppers. These hopping creatures have taken over my walking trail recently. Randomly popping up out of the long grasses, they bounce high across the sidewalk – in front of me, beside me, behind me, and sometimes even ON me!

Not long ago, I would have merely found them an annoyance and kind of creepy looking. But, as I walked with them yesterday, I saw them differently. Studying one that sat still, I photographed it and admired its construction. Remembering that I saw them last year, I wondered if they are a sign of the seasons changing. I considered how happy and free they seem, in spite of their relatively short life span.  In my mind, I compared them to guests at a surprise party, eagerly waiting to jump up and yell, “Surprise!” As I was thinking these things, I did not think about anything else. The grasshoppers held me captive in the present moment – no worries, no hurries, no deadlines, no cares. So, yes I am quite grateful for grasshoppers.

Upon returning home, I scribbled down one simple word in my gratitude journal – grasshoppers. In October 2012, almost four years ago, I started a numbered list of things I am thankful for in a gratitude journal. It began as an experiment after I read a book by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts. In her poetically written book, Ann describes how jotting down simple blessings or gifts noticed throughout her day (like grasshoppers) enhances her faith. She challenges herself to reach one thousand gifts, thus her aptly named book.

After reading Ann’s book in 2012, I aimed to record my own one thousand gifts. I bought a journal and started recording: 1. Bright fall colors, 2. Leaves falling down, and 3. Dinner together. Each day, my goal was to record at least three to five gifts in my journal. I missed some days. And, sometimes I found it hard to come up with three things. Other days, a tidal wave of gifts would sweep over me. Each day I tried to think of brand new gifts, but I did not make it a requirement. There were many days I repeated writing the same gift such as gratefulness for my family. I decided there was nothing wrong with that. As far as I know, there are no rules or boundaries with gratitude.

When I began this practice, I didn’t know if I would stick with it. I tried an online thankfulness journal in the past and stopped. I tried naming blessings before getting out of bed in the morning, but too often my to-do list would take over my thoughts. I liked how I could easily open this journal and focus on quickly writing something down. Later, paging back over my gifts reminded me of prayers I had at that time as well. Slowly, over the next four years, I noticed a boost in my faith.

Here are three ways gratitude boosts faith:

1. Gratitude teaches us to enjoy “present” moments

This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 New Living Translation (NLT)

The word “present” means a few things when discussing gratitude. First, living in the present refers to enjoying the period of time occurring right now. Second, being present is an attitude, meaning we pay attention to our life; we are aware of our surroundings. And third, a present is a gift or something given to someone free of charge. All of these meanings come into play as we relate gratitude to faith through the Scripture above.

Practicing gratitude boosts faith by reminding us God gave us life for today – in this moment (period of time). Making gratitude a habit teaches us to intentionally look for and be aware of reasons to rejoice, even on days when we don’t feel like it (attitude). Faith grows as we see and appreciate all the loving offerings our God provides (gifts). Because of gratitude, I was present enough to notice the grasshoppers, look for reasons to appreciate them, and consider them as a gift for my day.

2. Gratitude delivers peace when combined with prayer

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (NLT)

A daily practice combining gratitude and prayer helps us gradually experience God’s peace. We start by turning our worries into prayers. And, we work on accepting that we cannot control or fix some of the problems in our lives. Instead of letting issues rule our emotions, we tell God about them and keep gathering strength to move ahead through gratitude.

Practicing gratitude brings gifts or blessings to our attention which encourages us. Thanking God for these gifts we see, in spite of our trouble, fills us with hope. Peace or faith in God’s care increases as we become more aware of all he does for us each day.

3. Gratitude brings enough.  

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (NLT)

It is hard to feel grateful and lacking at the same time.

As we get better at noticing God’s blessings in our lives, desires for more material possessions wane. We learn that having the latest and greatest stuff does not keep us satisfied for very long. We evaluate wants versus needs more than before. Often after consideration, gratitude brings us to the conclusion that we are content; we have enough.

In a similar way, gratitude also teaches us that we are enough. The world constantly messages us that we should be better looking, more successful, and always upbeat. But, gratitude says, “Hey, we are doing okay.” Becoming more thankful for how God made us unique teaches us to care less about being judged by the world. Our motivation changes. We stop living to please others, and we start living to please God. Filling up our hearts with gratitude inspires good and healthy action.

Boosting faith through gratitude takes time. The three boosts to faith of living in the present moment, finding God’s peace, and having/being enough certainly do not show up the first day we practice gratitude. Like any good habit, gratitude requires routine commitment. If writing in a journal each day doesn’t work, brainstorm for something that might. Everyone can practice gratitude each day in some way. For example, gifts from the day can be shared over a meal with family or friends, photographed during a walk, thought about at soccer practice, or whispered before sleep at night.

This week, as I wrote grasshoppers down in my gratitude journal, I passed a mile marker of three thousand gifts. This astounds me. Four years ago, when I wrote down my first few blessings, I had a hunch gratitude might improve my life. I had no idea it would become one of my lifelines over the next several years as our family coped with health challenges. Of course, God knew then my faith would need a boost. He brought me to gratitude. Thank you God.

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The Grasshopper Gift by Jamie Trunnel 

Grasshoppers, you both scare and delight with a greeting so hearty;
Jumping out like eager guests waiting for a surprise party.

A quiet walk turns into a celebration every few steps,
As you pop across the pavement giving my gait greater pep.

Keep me on my toes, my eyes aware to see
Brief miracles of life around, hopping free.

You remind me within each day lies a gift.
Even an abundance of insects can give spirits a lift.  

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Other Resources:

For more on materialism read the previous post Kick Materialism to the Curb

For more on blessings read the previous post Defining Grace

For more on finding joy read the previous post Joy > Happiness

Find Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts on Amazon right here

Note: The grasshopper photos shown in this post are courtesy of Pixabay.com

Judged instead of Loved

The Secret

Did you see Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens to You” at the Oscars? Wow, what a powerful song. Written for a documentary film called The Hunting Ground which highlights the issue of campus rape, this song speaks volumes to the hearts of survivors. The message of not understanding what someone is going through until it happens to you certainly touches those impacted by sexual assault, as well as anyone who has felt judged instead of loved. And, haven’t we all been there?

The judgements coming at us on a daily basis are made by people who have not walked our journey or worn our shoes. It’s impossible – because we are all unique. Each individual has their own experiences, fears, and expectations which contribute to how they process others. For example, a co-worker may negatively judge your decision to make a career change on the basis of their own unfulfilled dreams. A friend may criticize your appearance because of their own fears regarding acceptance. Yes, we have all felt the heavy weight a package of judgement delivers. I venture to guess we’ve also all felt the guilt that comes after we deliver such a package to someone else.

On a trip to Disney World last Christmas, our family enjoyed a night time fireworks show. Cinderella’s Castle was illuminated in alternating colors, the spectacular display in the sky danced to music, and the mood was Disney magic. Perfection in my eyes…except for a little boy, in a stroller, gazing intently at his Gameboy device instead of the wondrous sky. His father nudged him from time to time, encouraging him to look up and take in the sights, but the little guy remained unmoved by the experience. This bothered me. I was annoyed that the father did not get his son to watch, what is to some, a once in a lifetime Disney fireworks display. I mentioned this to my daughter on our way back to the hotel, and she stopped my judgement in its ugly tracks by saying, “But, you don’t know their story.”

She is wise, this kid, sometimes much to my chagrin. I had no right to judge that father’s situation. I did not spend the day in his shoes, and I have no idea what challenges his life includes. My annoyance and judgement was based purely on my own experiences, fears, and expectations. I was not able to go to Disney World as a child. I try too hard to be a perfect parent. I want my children to treasure everything I think should be a precious memory. Fact is, my judgement of this father was really all about me.

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” – Wayne Dyer

Trying not to judge others is a war against our own human nature. We seek to raise our sense of self-esteem by fixating on finding faults in others. Yet, following this path of judging others leaves us feeling unsettled and just plain awful, doesn’t it? Deep down, we sense there is a way to feel better about ourselves without negating others.  

“Our perceptions of other people often become a battleground between the ego’s desire to judge and the Holy Spirit’s desire to accept people as they are.” -Marianne Williamson

The Holy Spirit watches as we hustle about, flinging judgements here and there. He waits hopefully for the realization of what we are doing to strike us. There is a way to feel better about ourselves without negating others; we know it, but we can’t put our finger on it. The Holy Spirit can name it for us – it’s called love.

The Holy Spirit helps us stop judgement in its tracks by teaching us to respond with love. While the thoughts are still forming in our heads and the words in our mouths, we can change direction by involving our hearts.

  • We can remind ourselves, “But, you don’t know their story.”
  • We can encourage instead of discourage.
  • We can pray for them to find direction instead of assuming we know what’s best.
  • We can walk beside someone instead of running ahead.

In doing these things, we love instead of judge. We involve God in our story and in theirs, which I’ve never known to be a bad thing.

Elaine Weinstein, the wife of recently killed American hostage Warren Weinstein, made countless difficult decisions in private negotiations for her husband’s release, over the course of his four plus years in captivity. In an interview with CBS news, she talks about feeling like she held her husband’s life in her hands, and how people, friends, and family were always weighing in on her decisions. They would ask her, “Well, why didn’t you do this? And why didn’t you do that?”

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 New International Version (NIV)

One certainly cannot imagine what Elaine Weinstein’s situation would feel like. I pray that God placed someone in her path to encourage her and hold her hand as she made those agonizing decisions. I pray that there was someone there to help her feel loved instead of judged.

Prayer for this Week:

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide me in my relationships with others. Whatever comes my way this week, help me handle it with your grace.  When I feel judged, help me remember that every person has their own hurts and hang-ups. When I feel tempted to judge others, show me instead how to offer a response of love. You are the only one who knows someone’s story. Lead me to learn from my experiences, fears, and expectations so I recognize why I think the way I do. Open my eyes to the judgements around me every day, and make me a servant of your love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Resources:

Watch Lady Gaga’s incredible performance at the Oscars right here

Watch CBS 60 Minutes’ interview with Elaine Weinstein right here