On the Rock or Sand?

I really think our generation struggles with wanting to fit in and be accepted. So many of us live to get over 100 likes on an Instagram picture. We’ll take it down and repost it if we don’t get enough likes the 1st time around. We love seeing our tweets retweeted and favorited. Some of us long to be the next YouTube makeup guru while others vie to be the next Vine comedian. We spend countless moments of our days taking and re-taking selfies, usies, crafting the perfectly worded tweets, and finding just the right lighting for that next video upload. All in the name of catching the attention of other people. We’re in the constant pursuit of being liked, retweeted and subscribed to because we place so much value in what other’s think of us. We love the status that comes with having over 1000 followers on a social media site. We feel good when others seem to like us and approve of us. And slowly but surely, many of us have become so caught up in the pursuit of creating social content to gain people’s approval that we’ve forgotten to pursue the One who created us.

It reminds me of the passage in Matthew 7:24-27, where one man builds a house on sand, while the other builds a house upon the rock. I’m sure you know how the story goes. The man with the house on the sand ends up in ruins when the storm rolls in and washes away the unstable and weak foundation. The man who builds his house on the rock, however, is able to withstand the storm. Now there’s nothing wrong with social media, in and of itself, but when we use it to feed our obsession with being liked and validated by others, we become just like the man who built his house on the sand. We get so caught with trying to become mini-celebs that we lose sight of the fact that what we’re chasing after isn’t stable or reliable. When we let our self-worth become based on people’s opinions and not on God’s opinions of us, we’re destined to end up in ruins just like the house built on sand. People’s opinions sway back and worth just like the waves of the ocean and their criticism can come crashing down on you just like a high tide. When you base your life on gaining the approval of and being liked by people, you will forever be at the whim and mercy of public opinion. If your self-worth is caught up with how well-received the image of yourself that your portray on social media is received, you’re bound to be crushed time and time again when the tides change and you aren’t receiving the validation that you used to.

That’s why as believers we are called to build our life on the rock that is Christ. God knew we needed something solid and strong to base our life and self-worth on. And what better source to find approval and validation from, then from the One who’s opinion about us never changes. He’s the One who still thinks we’re fearfully and wonderfully made even when we only get 5 likes on that selfie we posted 2 hours ago. He’s the One who still values us even when nobody retweets that tweet we took 10 minutes to phase perfectly into 180 characters. He’s the One who loves us whether or not we ever become that YouTube or Vine sensation. Even when people don’t give us the approval we hoped for. Even when they don’t seem to like us or subscribe to us. Even when their opinions of us crash down on us in a negative subtweet or comment under our video. His opinion of us always remains the same. We are His precious children and nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love He has for us. Not death or life or having less than 100 friends on Facebook. Nothing.

So what are you building your house on? What are you building you self-worth on? What are you crafting your image around? What are you pursuing daily? Is it on the shaky sands of posts, popularity and people’s opinions? Or is it on the solid foundation of a relationship with Christ and His opinion? (Which, by the way, is the only one that really matters.)

A Lion on the Prowl

Watch a documentary on the Discovery Channel and you’ll see this time and time again. A lion is prowling the savannah looking at a heard of unsuspecting antelope. The lion doesn’t just run out and chase every single antelope. No, he sits back and observes the heard for a bit. He looks for an antelope that is injured, that is sick, that is very old or very young. He looks for the weakest link in the heard and then he pounces. He wants a meal that isn’t going to fight back. He knows that when he goes after the weakest one in the heard, he has a better chance of catching and killing his prey. He wants something that he can easily devour.

We’re not out on the savannah, but we definitely face the same threat. The Bible says the devil is like a ravenous lion, seeking whom he can devour and just like a lion he always attacks the weak. He looks for those injured by the pains and troubles of life. He searches to find those sick with bitterness, hatred, and resentment. He loves seeking out those new in their faith or those who have grown complacent and stagnent in their faith. Now, of course, the devil isn’t walking around in a red suit with a pitch fork making himself apparent in his attacks on us. Just like a lion hides among the tall grass and tries to blend in to the terrain of the Serengeti, the enemy often blends in to the everyday situations in our lives. He often comes subtly through people and situations in life. I notice that when I’m at my weakest spiritually, emotionally and mentally that I get bombarded with attacks. When I’m already having a bad day, I’ll overhear someone talking about me. When I’m stressed out, I’ll end up having a fight with a loved one. When I’m worried about money, I’ll face an unexpected financial hardship. Trust me, it’s not happening by mistake. The enemy sits back and observes. When he sees you at your weakest, he knows it’s time to pounce on you by sending people and situations to further discourage you, depress you and break you down.

Now there’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is, there is absolutely nothing you can do about your weakness, but the good news is it doesn’t matter because you don’t have to be strong if you serve a God who can be strong for you. The Bible says in our weakness, He’s made strong. Not only that, but He will fight for you every time you’re attacked if you allow Him into you life. You’re not like the poor antelope, left without a protector to defend it when it’s attacked. You have the ultimate protector in Him and He will not allow any attack to destroy you. Now let me give a disclaimer: this doesn’t mean that you won’t face attacks and that they won’t hurt when they happen. They will happen over and over again throughout your life and often they will hurt you in ways the feel to hard to bear. However, God will allow those attacks to strengthen you and increase your faith in Him. Remember, all things work for the good of those called according to His purpose. Those attacks may shake your confidence, scare you, and they may even scar you but they will never take you out, as long as you have God on your side.

The Struggle with Forgiveness

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Forgiveness is something that I really struggle with. And when I say struggle, I mean STRUGGLE. I am a queen of holding grudges and not letting stuff go. I could give you a wrap sheet of people who I have cut off and cut out of my life for hurting me or doing me wrong. That list includes colleagues, friends and even family. (No, I don’t discriminate) And I’m the type that will cut you off and never speak to you again in life. The type that will see you in the street, at the store, or at your mama’s house and won’t speak. The type that would keep riding if I saw your car broke down on the side of the road. Okay, maybe I’m not that bad, but you get my point. My struggle with forgiveness is so real. But God has really been working with me on this issue lately and forcing me to face my issues with forgiveness head on.

I’ve been seeing that my issues with forgiveness come from the fact that I heavily value justice. I hate when things aren’t even and fair. I feel like if you do something wrong then you should make it right. If you hurt someone, then you should do everything in your power to make it up to them. It’s a standard that I hold myself and others to, and it’s that way of thinking that’s made it so easy to hold grudges and bitterness in my heart against others. Whenever people have wronged me in the past my automatic response has been, “They did something to hurt me, so if they want my forgiveness then they should come to me and make it up to me by apologizing. That’s only me being fair.” I felt that if I forgive them without them taking the steps to make it “right”, then I was letting them off the hook. I thought that if I didn’t hold a grudge then what they did had no consequences.

While it may sound fair and even sound right on the surface, the way I was thinking, and the way many of us think about forgiveness, isn’t based on truth. I think what’s at the core of our unforgiveness is the lie that our healing has to come from the same place that our hurt came from. We feel that since a particular person was responsible for hurting us, then by default, they are responsible for healing us. We hold on tightly to anger and pain from past hurts because we falsely believe that the people who hurt us are the only ones capable of setting us free. Forgiveness frees us from that way of thinking. It allows us to realize that even though someone hurt us, we don’t have to wait around for them to heal us. We don’t have to walk around day after day holding onto grudges, waiting around for an apology that may or may not ever come. Forgiveness allows us to see that our healing is not dependent on the person that hurt us. It opens our eyes to the fact that it doesn’t matter where our hurt came from because our healing ultimately comes through Christ. That’s what makes forgiveness so freeing. It turns our attention away from the ones who hurts us, and sets our eyes on the One who heals us. He is the only One capable of tending to the wounds from our past. He is the only One that can take the sting out of the slights we’ve felt. He is the only One who can piece our heart back together after it’s been broken by others.

And realizing that forgiveness hinges on Him and not on human beings, reminds me of why Christ died on the cross for us. His death was the ultimate act of forgiveness. It was the recognition that no human being would ever be capable of apologizing, sacrificing or paying God back enough to cover the wrongs of our sins. It was the ultimate recognition that there was no way a human being could heal the agonizing hurt we cause God whenever we disobey Him through our sin. Christ’s death was the realization that human beings were incapable of undoing the damage our sinful ways cause. I hurt the very heart of God every single time I sin. We hurt the very heart of God every single time we sin. Every single time. Yet He doesn’t hold grudges until I make it “right”. He doesn’t make me, or any of us, pay Him back for wronging Him. He forgave each of us and tangibly showed us that forgiveness by sending His only begotten Son. Looking at His incredible forgiveness of all of my sins, makes my unforgiveness seem really petty, childish, trivial, insignificant…well you get the point.

So maybe you’re like me and struggle with forgiveness. Maybe you’ve been holding grudges with the false hope that the people that hurt you were the only ones capable of healing you. Maybe somewhere along the way you forgot that the same forgiveness God extended to us over 2000 years ago on an old, rugged cross is the same forgiveness we’re called to extend to others. But as you go into the new year, start off by taking your eyes off of the ones that hurt you and fix them on the only One who has ever been capable of healing you. Go into this new year letting go of pain and bitterness that unforgiveness causes, so you’ll be able to fully embrace the healing and comfort that God’s forgiveness brings. Pick up that phone, send that text, write that e-mail or letter (Shoutout to you if you still write letters) and let someone who hurt you know that you forgive them because you know the One who has forgiven you.

I Know Depression

I know depression.

I know what it feels like to hurt and hurt so deeply that it reaches the depths of your soul.

I know what it feels like to have that nagging pain that won’t seem to go away.

I know what it feels like to lay in the bed at night crying your heart out.

I know what it feels like to pray to God, begging Him not to let you wake up in the morning because you can’t stand the sadness anymore.

I know what it feels like to smile and pretend that everything is okay, even though you’re dying inside.

I know what it feels like to try to hide what you’re going through from classmates, coworkers, family and friends.

I know what it feels like.

I know depression.

I’ve dealt with depression since I was 13 years old. And over the past 10 years, I’ve struggled with it in silence, for the most part. I struggled with it alone, silently drowning in pain and soaking in tears for a lot of reasons.

I was afraid of the stigma that comes with depression. Afraid of being judged by others and being called “crazy”.

I didn’t want people to think I was weak or could not handle everything on my own. And a lot of times, I honestly did think I could handle it on my own.

I thought that depression meant that I was ungrateful. I mean, my life hasn’t been picture perfect, but I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a lot to be happy about, so why couldn’t I be? Why couldn’t I just snap myself out of it and be “normal” like everyone else?

I also always placed extremely high expectations on myself and felt that I had to be perfect. Depression got in the way of me being perfect and reaching the incredibly high standards I set for myself. Admitting that I was battling depression, felt like having to admit that I didn’t always have it together and perfect, and that was something I wasn’t ready to do for the longest.

But over this past year, as I’ve grown in my relationship with Christ, I’ve started to realize that depression is not my destiny. John 10:10 tells us that the enemy came to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus came so that we could have life and have it abundantly. Depression isn’t a life of abundance. It steals your hope. It kills your joy. It destroys your peace. That’s not the life any of us are meant to live. We’re meant to live an abundant life. Occasional sadness is a natural and necessary part of life, but when sadness lingers for too long and starts turning into depression, it’s okay to reach out and get help. I know that I’ve spent the past ten years of my life, suffering with depression and struggling to hide it from others, because of fear and shame. But, I’m finally in a place where I’m ready to heal from my depression. And I’m starting that healing process with a caring professional and deciding to share what has been an incredibly painful part of my life with others.

So if you’re going through depression and you’re reading this, know that you are not alone. The sadness, emptiness and hopelessness that you’re dealing with is something that I’ve dealt with, and so many others have, too. It’s okay that you’re hurting but know that you don’t have to continue hurting for the rest of your life and God doesn’t want you to hurt for the rest of your life. Please don’t let the fear of being judged or the shame about the pain that you’re feeling keep you from getting the help and the healing God so desperately wants you to have. No matter how it feels right now, understand that He sees the pain that you’re going through, just like He saw all the pain I’ve gone through over the past ten years. He sees your broken heart and He’s close to you. He sees how depression has crushed your spirit and He’s more than willing to rescue you. (Psalm 34:18) He loves you so much and He wants you to heal and be whole. Some of your healing will come from praying and crying out to Him, but often times healing will also come through the help of a trained counselor or therapist. That healing may also include taking medication until you start feeling better. And if it does, that’s perfectly okay. It took me an entire decade to realize that, but it doesn’t have to take you that long. I know that it’s so hard to deal with depression, especially when you’re hiding your pain in the darkness of fear and shame. But you don’t have to deal with depression alone. You can reach out to get the help that you need, so you can start living your life, and live it more abundantly.

Perhaps…

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Perhaps you were born for such a time as this. Perhaps your life is meant to show God’s love in radical ways. Perhaps you were created to look out for the poor, the lonely and the oppressed, rather than the rich, the popular and the powerful. Perhaps you’ve been called to live out the Gospel in ways that challenge the status quo and make people uncomfortable. Perhaps you were created to change the business-as-usual practices in the world and in the church. Perhaps…

Authenticity > Perfection

God doesn’t want your perfection, He wants your authenticity. God’s people don’t need image and branding right now, they need realness. The world desperately needs those who can expose their flaws, their hurts, deepest shame and secrets even when it’s uncomfortable and painful. They need those who can share their testimonies to set other’s free even if it means they’re not always popular or accepted because of it. They need those who are willing to preach the Gospel even when it means losing friends, connections, and money. He wants those who are truly willing to take up the cross for Him not just those who want to use religion for their own personal gain.

Being a Christian is Hard

Being a Christian is hard.

I grew up in the church. I’m the daughter of a pastor. I was baptized at the age of 3 or 4. But being in the church and being in a relationship with Christ can be very different things. There’s a big difference between practicing the religion of Christianity and embracing a life-long love with Christ, and it’s safe to say I’m learning that difference now at 23 years old. It wasn’t until the past year or so that I got serious about my relationship with Christ. I got to the point where I was tired of the occasional conversations with God that I had via prayer. I was fed up with living “good” Christian life in public, but living a different life behind closed doors. I was tired of carrying around the guilt of living a double life. A life full of fornication, alcohol abuse, profanity, gossiping, lying, disobedience and rebellion to God’s will for my life. I’d had enough and I was ready to give my all to Him. I finally wanted to live a life that was pleasing in His eyesight, both inside and outside of the church. I wanted to live a pure and righteous life, both in public and private.

So I started making changes. I went to a Christian counselor to help me with my unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I ended the relationship that was causing me to continually have pre-marital sex. I distanced myself from the friends, TV shows, music, or anything else that would influence me to turn away from God. I joined a prayer group of other young women with hearts for Christ. I started delving into the Word more and more and praying everyday. I even enrolled in seminary school so I could learn more and discern the call that God has for my life. When I did those things and started taking my relationship with Christ more seriously, I saw drastic changes in my life. I felt so much better. Much of the guilt and pressure that came with trying to live two lives at once was gone. My relationship with Christ felt so much deeper. I experienced His presence in ways that I never had before. But what I didn’t realize was that what I was feeling was the honeymoon phase.

Our relationship with Christ is a lot like a marriage. As a matter of fact, we are the bride and Christ is the bridesgroom. Unfortunately, many of us, have been cheating on Christ with the world. Granted we may go on dates with Him occasionally by going to church or praying when we need something, but as soon as we get what we need from Him, we’re back out in the world doing the very things that break His heart. That’s exactly what I had been doing for most of my life. I’d been locked in a cycle of getting my heart broken and shattered by the world, running to Christ to get Him to mend all the broken pieces, then running right back out the world only to get heart broken again. I had been using Christ. Exploiting His love for me and getting “closer” to Him just long enough for Him to patch me up, so I could go back out in the world and do what I wanted to do. Thankfully, He brought me to a point where I could see that the cycle of make-up and break-up with Him would not sustain me, and that what I was doing was breaking His heart. He showed me that He loved me so much. He loved me so much that He would heal my broken heart every time I came to Him hurting, even though He knew I would turn my back on Him as soon as I started feeling better. He loved me so much that He still wanted me no matter how many times I cheated on Him with the world. I finally saw that and wanted to commit my life to Him and stop cheating on Him with the world. I decided to finally be the bride of Christ and spend the rest of my life with Him and not the world.

This past year has been wonderful. I have grown a lot closer to Him. I received so many blessings from Him. I started feeling the joy and fulfillment in Him that I had been hopelessly searching for in the world. But now I feel like I’m coming to the place where the honeymoon is over and the very real work of marriage starts kicking in. Lately, the Lord has been showing me that while the initial things I gave up to be completely committed to Him were great, there still is more work to do. He’s showing me more and more that I have to die to my flesh every single day. I have to give my all to Him and serve Him every single day. Even on the days when I don’t feel as close to Him. Even on the days when I haven’t received tangible blessing from Him. Even on the days when I feel tired or sad. Just like a marriage isn’t always fun and filled with ecstasy, neither is our relationship with Christ. Just like a marriage can be hard, our relationship with Christ can be hard, too.

This phase of our relationship can be so tricky, because for many of us, we assume that because it doesn’t feel like it initially felt then something must be wrong. Maybe we’re just not cut out for this Christian life. Maybe life in the world wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe it’s okay to start compromising our faith just a little bit. Maybe we don’t need to pray or read our Bible today. It’s not like we’re getting the same feeling that we did before. I know I’ve struggled with thoughts like that. I’ve been tempted to go back to things in the world and have fallen into sin because I felt that maybe it wasn’t really a big deal like I thought it was. However, the Lord has been showing me the importance of this phase of our relationship. Being a Christian is about far more than being on a continual spiritual high. It’s about more than always being happy and always being blessed. Being a Christian is about loving Him with our all and having the endurance and discipline to stick with our relationship with Him even when it’s not easy. Hebrews 12: 1-11 lays this out perfectly. In our relationship with Him, we have to have discipline so that we can gain endurance and righteousness. Having to face discipline is hard. Gaining endurance is hard. Being righteous is hard. Being a Christian is hard, but it’s well worth it. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself leaving the honeymoon phase of your relationship with Christ. Remember, this is where the work happens. This is where you will grow and become more and more of who God wants you to be. Don’t give up and don’t turn back. The hard work of your marriage to Christ starts here, but the crown you will receive from it one day will be well worth it.

Tried and Refined

Psalm 66: 10-12 says, “For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.”

Every storm in life is not an attack of the enemy. Sometimes it’s God washing away the things that you can’t carry with you into your destiny. Sometimes He lets you go through the fire to burn away those bad habits and character flaws you never took the time to notice when things were going well. Sometimes your difficulties are just God’s way of purifying you before you reach the next level of life. Embrace the hard times and learn everything you can from them. If you’re going through it right now, it’s only because God is trying to prepare you for greater, but first He has to purge you of the things that are keeping you from receiving His full blessings.

A Case for Sadness

We live in a society obsessed with ridding itself of sadness. Countless books are published year in and year out describing how to think your way and believe your way to happiness. Dozens of sermons are preached Sunday after Sunday telling us that God desires nothing more than for us to be at our happiest, because it is the indicator that we are living our lives in the way that makes Him more pleased and garners His favor. However, we live in a culture plagued with depression. We see this deep sadness that so many of us bear, manifest itself through substance abuse, acting out in violence and anger, and even suicide. We’re a people running as hard as we can from sadness yet unable to outrun it. We suppress our sadness, ignore our sadness, trying to pretend our sadness doesn’t exist, attempt to positive think and pray and meditate our sadness away but it always finds itself circling back into our lives (or never really leaving in the first place). Why can’t we break free of the curse of sadness and depression into a utopian state of bliss and happiness that God intended for us? But wait. Did God really intend for us to constantly be happy?

When we look throughout the Bible we see examples of sadness throughout the Bible. Job’s testing caused him deep anguish and the book of Psalms is full of David’s cries to God during times of profound sadness. While these aren’t the only examples, the common thread that we see throughout the Bible is that sadness and pain was not an unusual occurrence, and it was actually something that was allowed in moderation. Sadness was openly expressed and acknowledged in the public. It was not something that was relegated to be dealt with behind closed doors. Expressing grief and anguish was an act that was acknowledged and respected by the entire community. And maybe that’s where we have it all wrong.

Sadness and pain are not a plague that should be avoided at all costs, as our culture has pushed us to believe. It is a natural and healthy part of the human experience. There are times in our lives that truly warrant sadness. When life deals us a blow, it is perfectly fine to feel the emotional, mental and spiritual pain that comes with hurtful experiences. It is okay to take a step back, not pretend that you are happy and deal with that sadness in healthy ways. When we have the space to openly express sadness AND have a community that embraces us and respects us as we are dealing with that sadness, it leads to full recovery and healing. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a culture that allows us to do that anymore. We don’t live in a society where we can literally and figuratively tear our clothes in anguish and adorn our head with ashes to express our grief. We’re often told to deal with our pain in private, move on quickly and show the outside world that we’re happy, even if we’re not.

Although I think that those who preach the message of always being happy mean well, I think the message has very negative consequences and does far more hurt than it does help. Constantly being told that we should always be happy, makes us feel guilty and ashamed when we’re not. We often are made to feel that something is terribly wrong with us for not having enough gratitude, or not having enough faith in God, or whatever. When in all actuality, sadness may be an indication that we’re on the right path.

Sadness is something that has to be worked through. There are no shortcuts. There are no easy ways out. Sadness brings us to the depths of our souls and allows us to find things there that we could never see at the heights of our happiness. Sadness teaches us lessons and transforms us in powerful ways that happiness simply cannot. That is not to glorify pain and suffering or to say that you should always be sad. Too much of anything is bad for you. However, sadness is a part of the natural ebb and flow of life. And in a world that seems to be in the constant pursuit of happiness, that can be a particularly tough pill to swallow. Happiness feels great, but in excess it breeds complacency and inertia. There’s no need to change and self-examine if we’re in a perpetual state of bliss. When we find ourselves in a state of happiness we often do our best to maintain that state. We often try our hardest to keep things exactly how they are so that we can continue feeling happy. However, our purpose in life is not to remain happy at all times, it is to become the person God created us to be and remain obedient to His will for our lives. Doing that means constantly growing and changing, and sometimes sadness is the only that will catapult that necessary growth.

So here’s my case for sadness. Maybe we should look back at and model King David and Job, and others who openly expressed their deep sadness and pain to God and to the community around them. Maybe we should make the effort to be more like the Israelite community that allowed people to express their grief and hurt without telling them to “just get over it,” or consider them to be weak. Maybe we should come to terms with the fact that God created us to have a life that is sometimes filled with unspeakable happiness but is also etched with unbearable pain. And maybe, just maybe when we do that, we will be able to truly heal from the pain that so many of us deal with, rather than just hiding it.

Words Like Honey

“How sweet are you words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.”- Pslam 119:103

I’ve been reading the This Is The Bible devotional, which has been taking me through Psalm 119, as well as, related Bible verses (I LOVE the She Reads Truth app, btw. I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already). Psalm 119:103 was the verse to memorize. If you’re familiar with She Reads Truth, then you know there’s a comment section at the end of each devotional for readers to speak out on. One of the readers mentioned that she’s taken a culinary arts course and had to write a paper about honey. She was shocked to learn that honey is far more than a sweetener. It has many healing, rejuvenating and beautifying properties. It is used in hair products to restore moisture and luster to locks. It can be used as a facial masks to brighten and soften dry and tired skin. It can be put in tea to soothe a sore throat. Honey also never spoils. When archeologist found honey in Egyptian tombs, not only was the honey unspoiled but it was just as good as the day it was placed in the tomb. Even after being relegated to harsh temperatures for thousands of years, it still retained its potency.

What this young lady pointed out was so true. Just like honey is far more than a sweet treat, the Word is much more than a good read. As we take doses of the Word daily, we also benefit from all its healing properties. The Word restores our mind, it rejuvenates our weary and tired souls, it brings relief to our broken hearts and it is an antiseptic to infections from the outside world. And just like honey never spoils, neither does the Word. Its sweetness never wears away, its potency never fades and its ability to heal and restore never die even throughout the ages. It’s truth is just like honey. It endures even the harshest elements and lasts century after century. It never fails, never fades and never loses its flavor. The Word endures forever. It is just as sweet, powerful, and purifying as when God inspired it to be written over the years.