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This post was inspired by the new “I Believe” study available now on the IF:Gathering app.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. {The Nicene Creed}

How do I know God exists? Because He has made himself known to me over and over again in subtle and more blatant answers to prayer over the last 15 years since I became a follower of Jesus.

How do I know God exists? Because He has made himself known to me over and over again in subtle and more blatant answers to prayer over the last 15 years since I became a follower of Jesus.

When I was 30, I cried out to Him and asked Him to show me He is real so that I might believe. He revealed himself to me and walked me through those early, tremulous steps of my faith.

When I was 32, I begged Him to heal my heart from a painful break up and show me how to function in the world apart from my desperate desire for the love of a man and a lasting relationship. He led me to a recovery program at my church, which He used to begin healing me from years of heartache over broken relationships and unhealthy choices regarding men and intimacy.

At 33, I confessed to Him a massive list of past and present sins that were keeping me tied up in emotional knots and preventing me from truly connecting with Him as Father, Redeemer, and Friend. He met me with grace, love, and compassion through women He placed in my path to listen to my shame and lift me up in prayer for complete healing.

When I was 35, another break up rocked my world, and I asked Him if I needed to release my hope for marriage and a husband. He taught me through His word that He is my husband (Isaiah 54:5), and He began to help me make sense of a verse that had confused me for years.

At 37, I beckoned to Him again on the question of marriage and a spouse. Was I valuing the wrong things? Did I even understand love and attraction from His perspective? Why did the men I wanted reject me and the ones I didn’t, pursue me? What was He asking of me and for me? He answered by allowing the gentle, unexpected progression of a friendship into a courtship into a proposal into a marriage.

At 39, when my idols of romance and marriage came crashing down into a pile of disappointment and unmet expectations, God met my desperate prayers with yet another gentle reminder that only He can satisfy the deep longing for love my soul desired.

When I was 41, I lost our first child to miscarriage. An unbearable grief enveloped my soul, and I thought I might live the rest of my days in total despair. But He answered my cries with a deep, inner comfort and assurance that He heard me, He saw me, and that I was not alone, even if He never gave us another pregnancy.

At 44, God answered our prayers for a child with a beautiful baby girl who came to us through embryo adoption. The Lord knew, even when I didn’t want to believe it, that I could love beyond measure a child that did not share my DNA.

These are just a few of the major landmarks on my journey to believe God exists, and they are surrounded by thousands more tiny and mid-sized reminders of His love, grace, and mercy in my life. When I asked Him to make Himself known to me, He did. When I had no idea where to turn, He showed me a path. When I doubted, He met me, and grew me, and changed my heart.

Hindsight is 20-20. In the midst of these prayers I felt lost, alone, afraid, worried, angry, desperate, and a myriad of other overwhelming emotions. I was all over the place. And He was there. Steady. Constant. With no shifting shadows. Only a reminder that my present suffering did not compare to the glory that would be revealed in me (Romans 8:18).

I pray you don’t hear that any of this had anything to do with me. It was all Him the whole time. I merely received what He offered as He overflowed my empty, leaky cup with the healing salve of His perfect love.

If prayer is new to you or if you could use some daily encouragement to talk to God, click here to sign up for 30 days of prayer in your inbox. Starting tomorrow morning, I’ll send you one short prayer each day to encourage you in your relationship with Jesus. And then, download the If:Gathering app, here, and join me and women all over the world in exploring topics of faith, starting with the Nicene Creed.

IF:Gathering App

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I was 30 years old when a budding relationship with Jesus turned my life upside down. My understanding of love, dating, sex, and marriage slowly began to change as God’s word and His people challenged my previously-held beliefs.

I was 30 years old when a budding relationship with Jesus turned my life upside down. My understanding of love, dating, sex, and marriage slowly began to change as God’s word and His people challenged my previously-held beliefs.

I was just a few years into being a Christian and participating in the Celebrate Recovery ministry at my church, when I heard people say they were taking a season of being “intentionally single.” This sounded so strange to me. Since I’d pretty much always had a boyfriend, I couldn’t imagine not dating—or at least not being open to it should someone come along. But God had other plans for me and my ideas about relationships. As a result, there was, in fact, a season in which I chose to be intentionally single.

During that time, an ex-boyfriend approached me to pursue a relationship again. The old me would have jumped at the chance. But, after much prayer and processing with older, wiser women, I declined—to his great astonishment. The decision came not because I was strong. I wasn’t. I desperately wanted to be married, and at least he was a known-quantity. However, I said no because I knew I wasn’t in the right place to be a healthy partner in a dating relationship, much less a marriage.

But what does healthy even mean, right? Well, at least for me, there was a list of things to overcome (or at least address) following decades of dating the world’s way, apart from Christ:

• I had a habit of pursuing men & relationships to fill a deep need in me.
• I was addicted to romance and the “happily-ever-after” I thought I deserved.
• The necessary slow pace of relationships sometimes crippled me emotionally if things weren’t moving fast enough to quench my desperate desire to be married.
• There were people in my past I had not yet forgiven for harm they’d done to me; therefore, I was still reeling on the inside from those wounds.

I couldn’t do any of this healing on my own. Instead, I just showed up at the foot of the cross, confessing my struggles and asking for God’s help. I was so dependent on the feeling of being loved and needed—which I sometimes got from relationships and sometimes didn’t—that it became clear to me that a “break” from dating could be really healing for me.

The truth was, I hadn’t had a lot of dates since becoming a Christian. There were two guys that hung around for short stints at different times, as long as things between remained mostly uncomplicated. But, in both cases, as soon as the relationship hit a bump, they were gone. But choosing, actually choosing, not to date would be huge for me.
I decided six months was a doable length of time. During that season, I focused on my relationship with Jesus. I sought to build intimacy with Him rather than pursing a man. I dove into bible study, scripture memory, serving at church, and investing in relationships with other women. When things were difficult, and they were a lot, I cried out to God about my loneliness and asked Him to meet me there.

As it turns out, those six months turned into a few years. As I waited and wondered and prayed for Jesus to meet my needs in those lonely days, He was with me. And I began to trust Him more and more. It was never easy, but that season of singleness was so good and healing and full.

If you’re considering a season of singleness, I’d love to hear about it. What do you hope God will teach you or show you? What do you need to heal or recovery from? You don’t have to do it alone. The Lord will meet you there, I pray He will make His presence known to you.

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Where {Else} You Can Find Me Online ~ In addition to my blog, I've been dipping my toes in the water on some other social media platforms around the interwebs. So, I thought I'd take a moment to let you know where else I've been hanging out in case any of these avenues appeal to you as a way to connect.
In addition to this website and blog, I’ve been dipping my toes in over on some other social media platforms around the interwebs. So, I thought I’d take a moment to let you know where else I’ve been hanging out in case any of these avenues appeal to you as a way we might connect.

I’m pretty excited about this first one, happening tonight!

BLAB
I’m doing my first Blab (it’s like a live video chat, in case you’re unfamiliar) on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 6:00 PM (Mountain Time) with my friend Alysa Passage from Kitchen Fellowship. We have a product coming out this week to inspire gratitude for anyone who needs it this Valentine’s Week so we’ll be chatting about that and looking into what it looks like to live with a spirit of gratitude and rest. Click here to sign up!

INSTAGRAM
3 to 5 times a week I’m sharing scripture, inspiring quotes and tidbits about my life. You can find me @merrittjo or just click the button under my feed below to follow me there.

 

PERISCOPE
Have you explored this fun new app yet? It’s livestreaming video with live feedback through written comments or “hearts”, which are kind of like Facebook “likes” but you can give hundreds during a broadcast. Currently, I go live on Periscope 5 to 7 times a week. Find me between 5:00 – 6:00 AM (Mountain Time) for a quick 10 minute “scope” in which I read a verse of scripture and pray over you. This has been a beautiful way to start my day. In fact, it’s helped me a ton in terms of getting into God’s word every day. It’s short but powerful, and we’re building a sweet community of people looking for daily biblical encouragement. Will I see you there tomorrow morning?
I'm live on Periscope 5 to 7 times a week. Find me between 5:00 - 6:00 AM (MT) for a quick 15 minute "scope" in which I read a verse of scripture and pray over you. It's a beautiful way to start the day.

TWITTER
Periscope is owned by Twitter so my handle is the same in both places, and Twitter is a great way to get alerted when I’m about to go live on Periscope or, if you’re not an early bird, you can always find that morning’s replay link in my Twitter stream. (I also save my “Scopes” at https://katch.me/merritto).

Twitter is a great way to get alerts when I'm about to go live on Periscope. Follow me: @merritto

GUMROAD
While this isn’t a social media channel, I did want to share my first product with you, which is hosted in my Gumroad store. This downloadable PDF coloring journal was designed in partnership with my friend Alysa Passage at Kitchen Fellowship. We wanted to give you a moment to put “busy” away. To give you an opportunity to pause, create, rest, rejuvenate, and respond to what’s brewing in your heart and soul. You can read more about it here.
I created this downloadable PDF coloring journal in partnership with my designer-friend Alysa Passage at Kitchen Fellowship. Get yours today!
There is a lot more in the works right now in the form of encouragement for you, including a 30 day prayer challenge, so stay tuned!

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Many thanks to all who joined me live on December 2, 2015 for my first-ever Google Hangout On-Air workshop: Embracing Confidence in Your Singleness this Holiday Season and on Dec. 16th for the replay with live Q&A.

In case you missed it, the replay is below.

If you want to connect with me elsewhere, find me on:

Facebook

Twitter & on Periscope I’m also @merritto

Instagram

 

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Mark Your Calendar!
This time of year it seems like couples are everywhere doing their couple-y things. Just one more reminder that you’re single. If the holidays are getting you down, join me for this online workshop and walk away confident and ready to take on the last few weeks of 2015. {Sign up below the image.}

I hosted the live workshop on Dec. 2nd BUT, you have a chance to attend a Workshop Replay with LIVE Q&A – Wednesday, Dec. 16th // 9:00pm EST. 

Workshop1_FINAL

Register for the workshop below, and you’ll also receive periodic emails to encourage you with compassion, courage, and camaraderie in your singleness during every season of the year.

Holiday Workshop Sign Up – Wednesday, Dec. 2nd // 3:30pm EST

and

One-time ONLY Workshop Replay with LIVE Q&A – Wednesday, Dec. 16th // 9:00pm EST

* indicates required


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So, I’m going to get really honest with you.

I dated a lot of guys before I was actually ready to be married. You might have even called me a “serial dater.” These weren’t just a bunch of first dates. These were relationships. Some more authentic than others. But even the ones that were authentic and meaningful were tainted by my attempt to fill a hole in my heart.

It became a cycle of moving from one boyfriend to the next, hoping every time that this one would be THE One. Whether they sensed it or not (and I how could they not??), I put a ton of pressure on these guys to fit my definition of the perfect match. In each relationship, I engaged in fantasy thinking—imagining what our wedding would be like, how many kids we’d have, what their names would be, how far apart they would be spaced in age. Yes, even crazy details like that would wander around in my brain before we’d even hit our six month anniversary.

My Insanity-Med If you had accused me of this at the time, I would have denied it. Or justified it. I may have had some level of subconscious understanding that my choices weren’t the healthiest, but I was so driven to feel loved that it didn’t matter. As long as I was with someone, I thought I was doing just fine.

But in the weeks, months, or years when I didn’t have a boyfriend, the truth in my heart came out. I was nowhere near fine. I believed the answer was in the guy. After a break up, I’d think maybe I’d just chosen wrong. Or, clearly, he wasn’t ready for a serious relationship like I was. My solution wasn’t to look inward and figure out the flaws in my dating strategies. Instead, I looked outward, blaming the one who wasn’t making me happy and still desperately searching for one who would.

It was a vicious cycle. Looking back now it feels like the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. But at the time, it was all I knew. It was just me. I was used to what my life looked like, and I didn’t understand how it could look any different or even why it should.

Until that one breakup.

The one that goes down in history as activating the most significant turning point of my life.

The funny thing was, I broke up with him. We were in a rough season about a year-and-a-half in. We’d moved in together, but we weren’t really happy. Or at least I wasn’t. We’d planned out our life together, and we were walking in step with our plan, but it wasn’t enough for me.

Behind closed doors it was a volatile relationship. We both had a lot of hurt and anger from past relationships. Now, I call them open wounds; they were gushing everywhere and impacting us individually and as a couple.

We were both well-practiced at hiding our hurts. Plus, we were so caught up in the romance and the high-highs of our intimate encounters that we didn’t see (or at least we were willing to tolerate) the low-lows that oozed from our inability to communicate or cope with our wounds.

So, in my dissatisfaction with the relationship, I cheated on him. More than anything, it was an emotional affair. I allowed my heart to go to someone else. Someone who seemed to understand me. Someone who listened to my complaints about the relationship and empathized. Someone who lived far away so he didn’t present any real risk to getting caught.

But after one week of getting to know this new guy, I couldn’t go back and be normal again with my boyfriend. I tried for a while, with some subtle feelings of shame over what I’d done, but it didn’t work. I’d had enough. I wanted what I thought this other guy could offer me. So, I conveniently found a way to work it into a conversation with my boyfriend that I needed a break. We needed a break.

I’ll spare you the gory details that followed, but just a few months later I was back in the same place. Dissatisfied, discouraged, thinking the grass was greener somewhere else. My ex and I still saw each other often. And, as he began dating and pursuing other women, it totally crushed me. I couldn’t remember all the bad parts of our relationship or that I was the one who wanted to leave. I couldn’t see how we were both so relationally unhealthy. I forgot all the yelling, screaming, and door-slamming that permeated our conflicts. I just wanted his attention and affection back.

But it didn’t matter; he was done.

His rejection was excruciating. It felt like the walls were closing in on me. I couldn’t stop crying. My heart was so desperate to feel loved and nothing and no one was enough to fill it.

That was 15 years ago.

I still have a tendency to lean into relationships with people to find my self-worth, to feel loved, affirmed and accepted, but in the last decade and a half, I have changed and healed in so many ways. My marriage isn’t perfect. But it’s far healthier than what I would have ended up with had I continued to walk down the road I was on in 2000.

Maybe your story lacks the drama mine has (I hope so). Or maybe you see yourself a little in it. Either way, you deserve to know you are loved. But not necessarily by a man, though that would be nice, right? No, I’m talking about the God of the universe. He loves you. Do you know that? His love for you is higher than the heavens and deeper than the oceans. It’s far greater than any of us can understand. It is a sacrificial love. He pursues you like no man ever will, and he woos you to Himself.

Do you feel it? Do you see it?

It was His love that changed me. He intersected my life 15 years ago, and I will never be the same. It didn’t happen overnight. But, with time, He has healed so many broken parts of my heart. And I know He can do that for you, too.

That’s why I want you to know Him—God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. And, having walked in the shoes of singleness for 39 years, I think I may understand a little bit about where you are right now. You feel alone. The longing of your heart is unfulfilled. For some women that longing is totally healthy. For me, for a long time, it wasn’t. But no matter which side of that coin you are on, I promise you that Jesus wants to walk through these days, months, or years with you. He is the great Redeemer. He will restore the years that the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).

My name is Merritt, and I want to know your story.

Will you allow me to walk with you through your season of singleness?

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I’ve been a “writer” for as long as I can remember. As child, it began with me running to my room and throwing myself on the bed in tearful convulsions. I felt so misunderstood. So alone. And when I couldn’t stop myself from crying, journaling about my feelings was the only way to calm down.

Today, 30ish years later, I don’t think those early journals exist anymore. But the ones that do, from my college years and beyond, could fill a bookshelf. For decades, writing was my one great solace. It didn’t resolve my problems. No great answers came shouting off the pages, but it was my place to be real, to be me, to be whole, and wholly honest. And no one had to know the depth of my pain.

A decade ago, writing unexpectedly became a career. The words on the page were no longer about me and my feelings. They were public now. And there was relief in writing about something other than me.

Then, in 2011, after a few years of blogging about my new marriage, an opportunity came. A blogger I’d been following, Tamara Lunardo, announced she was compiling a book of women’s stories. She called it What a Woman is Worth.

Having wrestled with issues of worth, value, and identity much of my life, the title captured my attention. I had something to say on this topic. Something raw, vulnerable, and intimate. Something that would take great courage to share but that I knew other women needed to hear—that no matter how they’d been treated by men, no matter the choices they’d made to give their bodies in exchange for the hope that ‘this one would love me,’ that they still have worth. Not because I say so but because God says so.

I painstakingly wrote  and submitted my vulnerable story—all the while wondering if it was fit for public consumption. It was eventually selected and edited, and now, three years later, it’s published. Tamara’s compilation and my vulnerable story are printed in the pages of a book for all the world to see.

When What a Woman is Worth first landed on bookstore shelves, a part of me wanted to protect my loved ones somehow from the shame of my promiscuous past shared on those pages. However, I have long struggled with fear and approval-seeking, so maybe that was actually the bigger issue: What would they think of me if they read this?

Before I could do anything to head it off at the pass my mother-in-law emailed to say she couldn’t wait to read my story. I took it in stride. She was probably just trying to encourage me. I didn’t think she’d really buy the book. But in a matter of days another email from her hit my inbox. It was not at all what I’d expected.

Her words were ones of victory and compassion, as if to someone who’d just overcome a great battle. She marveled at how “lucky” they were as a family to welcome a daughter-in-law with such a miraculous story of God’s grace. There was nothing but acceptance and joy in her response. Not even a hint of shame in learning about who I’d once been. NotAlone-CompassionPost_700x467

My fears of judgment and condemnation were met with love. And, more importantly, they were met with something other than silence. I was surprised at her response, but it wasn’t the first time compassion seemed to come out of nowhere to provide much needed reassurance.

You see, for too many years I stayed quiet about the things that haunted my past. When I began to share them—privately at first with small groups of trustworthy women—the flood gates of healing started to crack open and allow grace to enter in. Instead of pity or disgust I found compassion, hope, healing, and friendship.

Other women answered, “me too,” when I shared the things I’d hoped to take to my grave. And, in those moments, the knowing glance from those who had struggled like I had—or who held their own seemingly un-sharable secrets—began to build in me not only a boldness to continue sharing but also a vision of hope, forgiveness, and healing for others who’ve walked a similar road.

Others, like you.

If you have a past you are not proud of, even if it looks nothing like mine, you need to know His mercies are new every morning. You can trust in that. I promise you, your story is not too big for Him. Your emotions are not too much.

Whatever secrets stand in the way of you being healthy, whole, and trusting in Jesus as Healer, it’s time to call them out of the darkness and allow light to shine on your wounds.

I’m not a counselor, nor am I a healer. Certainly not. But I know One who is, and I pray you’d give Him—and others—the chance to meet you with the compassion we all need to face life in this broken world.

And, when you do, you might just be surprised to find out how not-alone you really are.

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I know a thing or two about waiting.

That long, arduous inevitability of life in which the thing I most desire seems to evade my grasp longer than I ever expected. When that “thing” seems incredibly CORE to who I am or who I expected to be—a wife, a mother—it is excruciating. And when everyone around me seems to have what I want…sure, go ahead and rub some salt in my wound.

I’ve tried to dull the pain of waiting with activities, work, busy-ness, success, volunteering, events—anything to keep from thinking about what it means to be alone or barren. But all my efforts to pretend there was no pain in all those years of unfulfilled longings don’t actually heal me at all.

Instead, trying to hide the pain from myself and others just reminds me that I am isolated and alone. As the world closes in around me, it occurs to me that maybe I’m the only one who suffers in this way. And there’s no lonelier place on this earth.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Romans 8:26 In one of her popular TED talks, Brené Brown says it’s the “me too” response, when we share our story, that makes our deepest pain seem a bit more bearable.  The realization that we are no longer alone.

When I began to share the deepest longings of my heart with safe friends, the pain lessened. It normalized. Became okay. The “me too” came from other women who were also in pain. They didn’t even have to be in the same kind of pain I was in. In fact many of them had completely different life circumstances, but to hear someone say, “Yes, I’m hurting, too,” was a healing balm on a wound that once seemed like it might never go away.

Sure, there were times I wished I could wave a magic wand and make it all go away. But when I really think now about what I was wishing for in those brief moments, I catch my breath.

As painful as it was, no, I don’t wish it all away. While my singleness lasted ages longer than I ever imagined, making it go away means I would have missed out on a deeply intimate experience with my Savior. In those end-of-my-rope moments—when I felt I could not go on—He was there.

After long nights of gripping my tear-stained pillow and crying out, “Why God?” the morning finally came, and I felt His comfort. His mercies ARE new every morning. In those moments, I was aware of His presence surrounding me in ways that I now long to feel once again.

It’s not that He’s not here now or that I need Jesus any less as a wife. I might actually need Him MORE. But that deep soul-ache I once felt as a single woman no longer calls out to Him the way it did then. I do believe it is God’s boundless grace that would make Him feel so present in the midst of my pain.

So, even if it was possible, I wouldn’t wave that magic wand to immediately end your singleness. He’s doing something here. You might not see it. I sure as heck didn’t see it in my own life. But He is present. He is near. He is with you. And He knows your pain.

On top of that, I wouldn’t want you to miss out on learning to be vulnerable with other women and stepping deeper into that “me too” space.

In my singleness, I learned how to share deeply. I struggled—sometimes in really ugly ways—with my emotions in the presence of a friend. I confessed idolatry. I confessed envy. And jealousy. I looked the enemy in the eye and told him he couldn’t rob my joy because I belong to Jesus.

Those moments made me who I am now.

They made me into the wife I am today.

And I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

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Several years ago, I was single and living alone in a three-bedroom house in Dallas, Texas. My most recent roommate had long since moved out (and gotten married. I didn’t even need to say that, did I?).

Due to a recent breakup, this was a painful season. And I’d made a pact with a girlfriend. What we both needed most was prayer—not the kind of prayer that was about the needs and desires of our hearts. No, these were please-God-I’m-dying-over-here-would-you-draw-me-near prayers.

Deep, honest, tear-stained and snot-filled prayers. Gross, I know. But when you’re begging God to occupy the empty places of your soul with His love for you, and asking Him to make sure you know it, sometimes the tears (and the snot) just flow freely.

Thankfully, we’d decided all of that rawness between us was okay. We’d covered enough ground with each other that our Tuesday night meetings became a place of solace where we could come to just cry out to God and be not-alone in our pain. Those were some of the most honest and vulnerable moments I’d ever experienced. Real, gritty, and truthful. With God. With each other. No holds barred.

One evening during that season, I invited my friend to come early for dinner. I was wrapping up my day, and she was coming straight from work. It would be one of those spontaneous we’ll-eat-from-the-fridge kind of meals. The meal I would have eaten alone, but now I’d invited a friend.

She arrived when I was in the middle of sorting the spring mix—that frustrating task of separating the good leaves from the wilty, mushy, disgusting ones. I so wished I had completed this task before she arrived. Or realized it needed to happen in time to make a quick run to the store. But I was stuck. And even after all those weeks of crying and snotting with each other, I was ashamed at the status of my spring mix.

But you know what she did. She walked over, stood with me at the sink and began to wash away lettuce mush from the good leaves until we had a decent salad assembled.

Camaraderie It may have seemed a small gesture to her, but I will never forget it. I wasn’t used to letting others see the imperfect parts of my life. The behind-closed-doors mess that proved I didn’t have all my ducks in a row. I’m certain now that I wasn’t fooling anyone. But I’d gotten so used to always putting my best foot forward, never letting them see me sweat, and covering up what hurt me. So used to it that my desire for perfection was keeping others from seeing the real me. From loving the real me—flaws and all.

And in that interaction, when my friend responded with love to my imperfect dinner offering, I began to understand that her friendship had nothing to do with what I had could do for her.

It marks a moment in my mind when I began to understand camaraderie as a “we’re in this together” type of friendship. It was—and IS—so beautiful. When my salad leaves aren’t fresh and my tears feel like they are too much, she’ll be ‘with me’ anyway.

Even today, it takes practice (and trust) to continue to let people REALLY see me. But every time I pull out a box of spring mix and find even a few mushy, wilted leaves, I’m reminded of the friend who stood with me and labored at the sink separating the good from the bad so we could share a meal.

Have you experienced a “we’re in this together” kind of friendship? How did it come about? What did it feel like?

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