Is It A Happy Day?

“Mommy!” toddler breath hit my face and I swam to consciousness. “Mommy! Is it a happy day?!” I opened my eyes to see their expectant ones. My twin toddler boys had padded in on footed-pajamas feet and waited for my response. There were kingdoms to build (of legos), mountains to climb (on the couch), wild beasts to tame (if the puppy didn’t nip too much), maybe even a damsel to save (because otherwise baby sister screamed too loud).

We implemented the rule when they were waking too early: come check with us before unleashing their hooah holler. Somehow, ‘ask us if it is morning yet’ morphed in their brains to “Mommy! Is it a happy day?”

Many a morning during that time, the question gave me pause. Their dad was deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Osama bin Laden was still on the loose, and my husband’s stryker brigade was on the hunt for him in ‘cowboy country.’ Daily news brought scenes of IED destruction, plumes of smoke and dust, planes coming home with flag-draped coffins, tickers counting the wounded.

We wouldn’t hear from our soldiers but once in a while back then, so we recited the mantra ‘no news is good news.’ Mail came sporadically. No cell phones. Static drenched phone calls lasted a couple of minutes with mostly ‘I love you’s’ communicated. Bread crumbs of hope.

Rolling over in bed, declaring it not a happy day, and wallowing in fear and sorrow felt the most right those days. But the bouncing brown eyes under the Lyle Lovett curls were waiting. Their question asked so much more:

Is there reason for hope today, Mommy?

Are His mercies new again this morning?

Can we trust Him now?

Is the Lord still good?

I struggled to find a smile. Not a fake-it-till-you-make-it one. Not a riding the denial river smile. A thread of a smile that recognized the hard in the midst of a good God. One who brought hope and faithful promises and new mercies with happy days.

I struggle to find it now. The events in Afghanistan bring up concern for tomorrow, fear for today, grief from the last twenty years of yesterdays for the military family. My older friends mourn losses again. My younger friends are kissing their husbands good bye, and waking to expectant children’s eyes. 

I am working again to learn the lessons. I try to turn off the news and turn to my God. I work to shut down the voices of worry and shout them out with the words of His voice. I struggle to learn to trust not in the strength of men or equipment or intelligence but in the One who gives all of it.

I am working again to see what my children helped me see back then: the good in the here and now, the sun waking the world, the fun to be had with things as simple as water and dirt, the gifts still given in a dandelion, a lightning bug, a puppy’s lick. I need to feel the Presence in the present.

The question comes again: ‘Is it a happy day Mommy?’ 

Yes—with Jesus. Oh, yes. 

Verses I’m holding onto today: Romans 15:13, Psalms 42-44, Job 13:15

Love Anyways

A Devotional Given for PWOC Women’s Bible Study, January 2021

My friend was talking with her teenage son when he shrugged, “Yeah, when I turn 18 I’ll leave and probably won’t come back. I mean, I don’t really have anything in common with you.”

These words seared my friend’s heart, though they weren’t a surprise. She had actually suffered a thousand little cuts like this over the last dozen years. She and her husband had traveled to another continent, picked this 4 year old little boy, rescued him from the abuse and dangers of street life. They brought him home, gave him their name, met his every need and many desires, held him, encouraged him, played with him, taught him, called him their very own. They loved him.

But their love was met again and again with stiff-armed resistance, calloused indifference, a lifetime of mistrust.

Perhaps it can be blamed on bonding issues since the day he was born. Maybe the PTSD brain that continues to be uneasy with peace. Or is it the cultural difference that was never broken through?

We adopted him, my friend said, but he never adopted us. 

Our verse in I Cor 13:7, tells us “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

We are in a time of great turmoil. Even if you don’t believe we’re in the end times, you have to admit we are getting closer to them every day. The war is stirring all around us and the final battle is coming—of good versus evil, of love versus hate. We need this love that protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres now more than ever.

But like my friend’s child, we find ourselves incapable of love. We barely know how to define it and when we do with I Corinthians 13, we are unable to truly do it.

Perhaps we have bonding issues.

Perhaps our brain has been hardwired to never trust the peace and always be drawn to the chaos.

Perhaps it’s our culture—we rarely see examples of true love.

Yet the God who IS love cries, “Come!”

And sometimes He rages and threatens 

sometimes He begs and flirts

Or He beckons and reminds

and ultimately He goes, He seeks,

He hunts down

and He crushes His very own Son to pay the ransom.

Sisters this world is dying for love. The Covid-lonely long for it. This divided country demands it. Fort Polk is suffocating without it.

And we are incapable of it.

Without God.

He keeps calling Come. We have to have His love. We have to have His filling. We have to be His daughters. His empty vessels.

How?

He holds out the adoption papers. We have to accept.

This isn’t an invitation to the lovely ladies society. This is giving up everything you hold dear, being completely emptied, so He can fill it.

And fill it.

And fill it.

It is impossible for us to spread love and truly love even those most dear to us without loving Him. But Romans 5:5 tells us, “Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

So we are on this lifelong quest to love the Lord. We pray. We hear His words. We spend time with Him. We seek out time with fellow believers who show us more of Him. We look all around us for His love letters—the beauty He gives for our enjoyment and to remind us of Him. Even the hard things are reminders to run into His arms.

Let’s do that.

As we pray this morning, will you turn your palms down to let drop the things you are holding onto, the things you need to have gone from your life.

Palms up, open hands, help us consider what the Lord wants to give us, what He will fill us up with. With hands cupped and open to Him, ask Him to show you the love He has for you, that He has surrounded you with. 

Waiting for Delivery

I sat in the Ob/Gyn lobby in front of a painting of a baby wrapped in a quilt, unable to see the other happy mothers through my tears. “I just want my babies!” my heart begged the God of life. The joy of an ultrasound and hearing the gushing heartbeats of our boys crashed with the doctor’s analyses of the grainy pictures and meticulous measurements. Our 5-month grown little ones had twin-to-twin transfusion, and both were in jeopardy.

My husband checked me into the hospital that day and got me settled in for the night, for the foreseeable future. I had left work in the morning for the appointment, my lunch still in the break room refrigerator. Within a couple of hours, my entire life had changed.

It was early December, 1999. Christmas was quickly coming. The news was full of Y2K analyses: Would the computers be able to flip the date to 1/1/2000? Would all our systems shut down and throw us into chaos? Should we be prepping? Then the theorists began: The new millennium would bring the return of Christ. Several mountain tops had people watching the skies.

Would my babies have a world to be born into?

My worries focused inside the room as the doctors considered amniotic fluid levels, heart rates, oxygenation. It’s amazing how quickly you can adjust to a new schedule of not much. I’d try to wake before breakfast. The cleaning lady came at 9:30. Docs made rounds at 10. The highlight of each day was the ultrasounds. Lunch. Nap. Read. Evening news and supper. Talk to Darrick on the phone if he couldn’t come. Repeat.

I wore heart rate monitors across my expanse and a series of people checked every heart beat on the printed tapes. I saw the Christmas lights turn on in the street below, and off. I force-fed myself as much as I could eat for the little guys. Darrick and I and the staff watched the calendar flip to the new millenium, and the hospital lights and computers and heat stayed on. 

I wrestled with God. I talked to the chaplain. I prayed.

I sat in that hospital room for 2 months before the great birthday came. What seemed like a forever long haul became a tiny, almost forgotten blip on the screen of my whole life. The quiet wait burst into joy and activity and hope fulfilled.

There’s a lot of waiting on the birthing of dreams going on in our house right now. My preemie babies are young men figuring out how to get back to college, along with their baby sister. I’m trying to grow a writing career. My husband and I are working on a God-sized vision of a brand new church. And outside, our world is laboring its hopes for a cure for a virus and hate. 

And I remind myself:

Watch and wait

Feed your dream

Get your wrestling with God done

Pray and pray and pray some more

Listen for every heartbeat. The Lord grows beautiful miracles in the unseen darkness. 

Abandoned

She spoke quietly, dry-eyed, of being molested by uncles, beaten by a live-in boyfriend, of living on the edge of poverty on the edge of the world. Each story revealed another reason her too-tiny body was aged beyond her years, leaving her like a mangled wild flower clinging to life in a shallow crack. But none of the stories seemed to upset her. It was all she knew.

Until she reached down to the bottom of her years, and pulled up the memory from when she was 6, when the world should have still been a playground. She described the day the carving of her life slipped and the chisel nearly broke her. It was the day her mother said, “I am going,” and she turned and walked away, never to return.

Abandoned.

‘Can a mother forget the child at her breast?’ the ancient words ask. Yes, she can, is the destroying answer.

It was the story of when she was 6 that melted this tough woman and brought tears out of the flat eyes because there’s no sting like being left behind, rejected.

IMG_1151“I feel so…abandoned…” texts another friend when her husband separates. The screen silence screams the void. What is the answer? How does one fill this terrible black hole that touches all of us at one point or another? How do we keep on living…alone?

‘Men will always fail,’ I type back, breath held. 

‘Always. People will always fail us.’ I remember my pastor looking directly into my eyes at a young age and telling this truth so I would know it. Because divorce or death, fatigue of patience or painful words, forgetfully or accidentally or purposefully—people will fail. We are all broken and we all break others.

‘But Jesus…’ I start to text back but hesitate. Can a story change by the arrival of the Hero? Can the curse of the ages of humanity be solved by one Man’s appearance? Can that black hole of the soul—the one that is eternally alone—be filled?

DSC_0321‘He’s the only One who will never leave. Never fail. 

The only One who can truly love,’ I hit send.

The Jesus of John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much He gave His only Son, Jesus, that whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life.” That’s the only One who has conquered death and outright selfish sin so He’s the only One who can love and love and love—without fail.

I suddenly can’t type fast enough. It sounds trite—too easy of a solution—yet I’ve seen it and I’ve known it. 

And it wasn’t an easy solution for Jesus. In a cosmic clash of the powers of the universe, God gave Himself up as the sacrifice. Justice demanded punishment for all the hurt, the evil, the sins. Mercy gave Himself to take the punishment. Jesus gave up all the glory and power of the throne of all the world, to become a human baby. 

He came to be with us. But he was hated, hunted down, rejected, despised, disrespected, misunderstood, wrongly accused—and crucified. 

He lived a life that was always loving, always self-less, always perfect, but then took on the sin of all. He died for all. He loves you. He chose you. He wants to be with you in everything.

“But God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”—Romans 5:8

The only response required is acceptance. He is offering a place in the family. We have to decide if we are willing to be adopted. We have to be willing to let go of our filthy rags, and He will help us put on new clothes. 

It’s that simple. 

It’s that hard.

I continue to pray for my abandoned friends. I continue to pray for all of us to rest in the unfailing love of God, no matter how abandoned we feel.

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5 Minutes in the Life of Piper

A puppy’s days are busy…

  1. Be taken outside to go potty. Don’t go potty.  Chase leaves, bite leash, roll in something suspicious and smelly. Eat a stick. This is the ticket back inside. thumbnail
  2. Run to Christmas tree. Pull off ornament. Play chase until they catch you and take it away. Run to the backside of tree. Drink water from the bucket. Get pulled out by tail. Snatch light string on way out and tip entire tree until someone shrieks. Get told no and sent away.
  3. Come back to steal bow off package.
  4. Wake up old dog by jumping on him. Start him barking and chasing you.
  5. Sit down for one–blessed–minute–to fool everyone.
  6. Jump into person’s lap, simultaneously spilling tea, ripping book, and proving you can jump that high.DSC_0127
  7. Run to door. They have to take you out.
  8. Don’t go potty. Pad through puddles to get really wet. Find dry worms and eat them. Person will get grossed out and take you back inside.
  9. Go to Christmas tree and pee on presents.
  10. Repeat.

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Don’t Know What You Got

I leaned over to help my old comrade, unaware the sniper crept closer. My elderly Mastiff’s feet were sliding out from under him on the wood floor, so I bent over to steady his back end. The sniper–a 7-month old Bulldog female–spied the open target of my face.

Forty pounds of front-loaded springing muscle, genetically-engineered solid forehead (or was it forward-thrust jaw and snaggle tooth?) and all the puppy energy of every being in her body smacked my front tooth. And chipped it.

The old adage is so cliche it’s a 70’s song: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” I’ve always had great, no-braces, dentist-complimented teeth. Now I was ready for Halloween as a backwoods redneck. Or a hockey player.

Funny, eh? We don’t even realize how much we treasure things until we are whining and crying over losing them. I dread exercise until my back seizes and I wish I could just walk. I long for 10 minutes minus pawing kids, until they suddenly outgrow Mom-hugs. I think nothing of sleeping in my bed until I go camping. The list goes on…

Is it even possible to be aware of all the blessings of the moment?

Last year, we went to a favorite restaurant to celebrate our twin boys’ 18th birthday. Asking for a table for 5 stung my throat a moment. My husband was about to deploy, the boys about to graduate and leave for a summer job and then college. We wouldn’t be a table of 5 for awhile, and even then, it would be different.

I’m sure the meal was good, though maybe salty from swallowed tears. The conversation skirted the storm on the horizon. I remember laughter. I remember gratitude. I remember being aware; stepping out of self as if in an outer-body experience and most of all…just not wanting it to end. I wanted to never push away from that table.

Annie Dillard writes of the self-awareness she learned to recognize as a child: “How much noticing could I permit myself without driving myself round the bend? Too much noticing and I was too self-conscious to live; I trapped and paralyzed myself, and dragged my friends down with me, so we couldn’t meet each other’s eyes, my own loud awareness damning us both. Too little noticing, though–I would risk much to avoid this–and I would miss the whole show. I would wake on my deathbed and say, What was that?”

I suppose we’re not made to live in that consciousness. Like not having multi-faceted eyes, we can’t possibly realize all the miracles we can be grateful for just to breathe this breath right now. Most of us would probably be incapacitated by seeing Elisha’s angel army.

But some moments seize you, pull you into God’s-eye view. You hold your breath, afraid the scene will pop like a bubble. Time doesn’t stop but it doesn’t matter because for that glimpse you are outside of time. You enter a holy place.

I pray for more of those moments.

Rise of the Heroes

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” —Fred Rogers

Grey the sky.

Grey the waves.

Grey the beach.

Grey the village homes clustered on the beach edge, trying not to be lost to the wind and sea.

Grey the fuzzy images on the TV that morning, jumping back and forth before suddenly showing towers collapsing in the grey, grey clouds of dust.

The Alaskan village, small in number, was still extensive in connections. Daughters, nephews, cousins were studying in New York City, visiting, working. The families headed to the church to pray.

The phone lines shut down. The planes, Unalakleet’s life line to the world, were grounded. But the natives were used to being cut off and to living with tragedy. They returned to their work as the end of salmon season, the closing of a crab opener, the processing of yesterday’s beluga harvest wouldn’t wait for mourning.

And so did I. Being one who focuses on today more than long-term and who avoids conflict at all cost, I was content. We were safe in a forgotten part of the world. I put my twin baby boys in their Carhart overalls, rubber boots past their knees, green anoraks and we went out to splash in the puddles and help pick berries.

But my husband paced the town like a fenced in guard dog. The former Marine turned National Guard Chaplain tried repeatedly to get ahold of his unit, asked everyone what news they had, checked the airport for possible schedules. 

When he had previously toyed with going active duty after seminary, I dismissed him. “It’s all fun and games until there’s a war!” Now, here was war. Instead of feeling blessed to be safe with his family, he was ignited.

“I can’t find out who’s getting called up,” he said while passing by us. “Come play!” I urged, and then pleaded, “Explain this to me.”

“I need to know who is going where and who is talking to those boys before they face hell,” he turned, then turned back, “And no one comes into my back yard, gives us a black eye, and gets away with it!”

There are willing heroes, and reluctant servants. September 11th pulled me into the last category and changed our family’s path, probably for generations. It was clear this was what God equipped my husband to do. A few months later, with a prayer and a signature, my boys became sons of a soldier.

As we immersed into this culture of heroes, I learned quickly the George Orwell quote, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” While my gut churned with, ‘Why mine?’ my chin lifted with “Yes, mine does the dirty work.” At a ceremony before his first deployment, I was pulling those toddler boys out from under the bleachers when we heard the war cry of a thousand warriors. It sears your soul.

I found myself surrounded by strong women who kissed their husbands goodbye and then got up the next morning. They built playgrounds, bought houses, figured out repairs, turned off the news, turned to their children with a smile.

Our children learned this too. As my boys emulated warriors, I worried. Maybe I shouldn’t be yelling “fight for it!” from the hockey rink stands. Maybe I should have taken away their toy guns, drugged them up to calm them down, downplayed their father’s honor, made them play golf, read them more fairytales and less history.

“Will you help me make a ghillie suit?” my boy asked. And so we sewed loops of dull yarn to a hooded vest so he could blend into the weeds while playing with his friends.

I prayed for a way to hide my baby boy in the reeds.

The infamous Spartan 300 weren’t chosen for their strength. They were chosen for their mothers. So goes the theory Steven Pressfield puts forth in Warrior Ethos. If the mothers caved at the inevitable death of their sons, all would be lost in the war for the whole society.

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things,” said British philosopher John Stewart Mill. “The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

One percent of our society will fight in our armed services. The majority of their children will go on to enlist or marry military members.

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Faith

Family

Freedom

Some things are worth fighting for

Most never will

–Read the tattooed forearm of a young soldier eating at my dinner table one night.

I realized in growing my boys into the young men I wanted them to be, I was signing their enlistment papers. So I strapped the ghillie suit on my boy, checked it for weakness, looked him in the eye and said with the Spartan women, “Come back with your shield or on it.”

This September 11th, 18 years later, I have three in uniform. Those baby boys tried returning to the grey waters of Alaska, wrestling with the waves and wind to pull the silver salmon from the sea. But the following summer they stripped down to be rebuilt as a soldier.

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We went to their graduations from Basic Training, gasping at the soldiers standing before us, even if the uniform was still a little big. Their dad, in an arm sling from reconstructive shoulder surgery from carrying too heavy of burdens, ping-ponged with me between pride and concern. 

When we were driving back on post with our baby-bald, too skinny private, the greying gate guard peered in to lock eyes with him. “You got this torch, son?”

“Yes, sir.”

Ben

 

Rest Area Ahead

Busy busy busy busy

How are you? ‘Busy!’ we reply, with a sigh and shoulder shrug to emphasize exhaustion.

But you know what? Secretly, we sort of like it. Because being busy in our culture means we are important. As a friend of mine once said, she has to be ‘useful,’ like on Thomas the Train, because the conductor throws away engines that aren’t useful onto the scrap heap.

We value our days based on how many things we’ve accomplished. Got our list checked off, it’s a good day. Couldn’t do anything at all because the baby was sick and wanted held? Not a good day. We value our days for work done, and our years, and our lives.

We answer a question about our self, our being–how are you?–with a description of our activities.

We become human-doings, not human-beings.

The military thrives on this principle—prove your worth by listing off what you’ve accomplished to get promoted. I’m frequently jealous of my husband’s OER. I’d like to be recognized for all my line items and have the stamp of approval—above mass!

I was at a farewell coffee recently and heard myself say to the ladies, ‘oh, you will be missed, you do so much for us!’ The words went bitter in my mouth. These ladies were friends. I wasn’t going to miss them just because now I’d have to help in the nursery and clean up after potluck. I was going to miss them because they are beautiful images of God. They were fun to be with. They cried with me over my childrens’ struggles. They prayed with me over our husbands. That’s why I was going to miss them.

We teach this to our children too. They quickly learn that to be important is to be busy. We model a life of being overwhelmed. Another friend of mine pointed out she doesn’t want her daughter thinking motherhood is stressful and miserable. Do we model that?

Tim Hansel cut to the quick in the book “When I Relax I Feel Guilty”: “Our prayer life becomes only a time to ask God to do things for us, so that we can be better workers for him. The purpose and privilege of simply ‘knowing him and enjoying him forever’ is considered unproductive. Our marriages slide quietly into what we can do for each other—the husband becoming a lawn mower and garbage remover, and the wife only keeping the house clean and the kids quiet. Children’s usefulness is unclear, and in a culture infatuated with practicality, kids begin to see themselves as worthless. Friends are recognized as opportunities, and therefore a justifiable expenditure of time. And religion becomes a pattern of rules and regulations, a system that helps us tidy up our behavior, somewhat like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic…”

Perhaps it would help us to take a good hard look at why we are so busy. 

—Do I need to control things? Am I not letting others help or take over because I want it done my way? Or am I afraid of failure if things aren’t done to perfection?

—Do I base my self-worth on what I can accomplish?

—Am I trying to please people?

—Am I more interested in rules than relationships? Do I help out at chapel so I don’t have to talk to people? Do I keep the house spotless, working late into the night, so I don’t have to be intimate with my husband?

Honestly, being busy is killing us, body and spirit. May we have the courage to do a gut-check on how busy the Lord would have us be.

The Truth About Lies

“No, it’s fine.” The words were meant to be flippant, but they fell hard—hammered into stone.

I was the youngest in a youth group of 3 girls. As far as I knew these two were the only other committed Christians in my school, in my small town and I desperately wanted to be a part. If a little playing the clown, taking some teasing was the entrance fee, I’d pay. In the classic annoying little sister tale, I earned the nickname off my last name, “Spacey Stacey.”

Sometimes it is hard to recognize that you are choosing a path.

One girl’s conscience was pricked, perhaps by her parents when she got home. She called to see if I was o.k.; if this new identity bothered me.

With a sideways glance at my mom, I pulled the phone’s cord to the end, reaching as much privacy as I could and then fidgeted with its tightening coils. 

Sometimes you don’t realize you are bowing to an idol.

Half-truths. White lies we call them, trying to deceive ourselves about our lies. And our culture seemingly needs this tension belt to run. Somehow it’s too hard to say, “Yes, it bothers me, but I don’t want to jeopardize our friendship.” 

The horse country in Gulliver’s Travels was incredulous that man would use language to deceive, “For he argued thus: that the use of speech was to make us understand one another, and to receive information of facts; now if anyone said the thing which was not, these ends were defeated.” 

“Do not lie,” the ancient scriptures say clearly, authoritatively, with finality. It’s part of the “love your neighbor as yourself,” second-greatest command.

And again in Colossians, it says you used to walk in the life that had filthy language and deceit, but you have taken off your old self.

I wonder about that new life. I wonder what it will be like in heaven when the truth we say to others will not hurt them. I wonder if the truth said to us will not wound us. 

It’s hard to imagine. 

Our culture holds relationships together with little white lies: “No, you don’t look fat. Yes, I’m so glad you called. I’d love to do that.”

Could we truly be set free by truth—hard, ugly truth that we feel in this fallen world?

How’s it going?

Oh, I’m fine.

How’s work?

Oh, fine.

How does your kid like school?

Oh, fine—fine—fine

Someday the truth will set us free. But do I have the courage to pull that thread until it completely unravels and leaves me naked?

Or for now do I continue to say, ‘It’s fine.’

I learned early some of the many places we don’t expose ourselves. While I went on to have a pretty good relationship with those high school girls, it took a lot longer to build intimacy as I was still locked in the self-imposed prison of pretending to be whatever I thought they wanted. 

So decades later, when a friend texted to ask a favor, it sent me into a familiar tail-spin. What she was asking for would require a couple of hours from me—later that day. I very badly wanted to help, but to do so would have disrupted a lot of things. Once again I was faced with a choice between the truth and hiding. I felt forced to put the relationship in jeopardy and tell her, ‘I can’t.’

Blessed are the peacemakers, not so much the people-pleasers.

Days later, she texted for advice on an issue. I was shocked to see the words “I know I can trust your thoughts, that you will tell me the truth.” Our friendship continued, and went deeper because I quit hiding.

The Lord will honor the truth, spoken gently, in love. True friendships and true community can only thrive when the truth is spoken. Telling the truth will move you from a people-pleaser to a God-pleasing peacemaker. Ask Him to correct your little white lies today.