Adaptability


White water rapids are created when water in a river flows over an obstruction under the surface of the water. I’m not an expert hydrology, but I understand the dynamics of what takes place in a river when water is forced to flow over a rock or something else… I understand the basic premise of this obstruction underwater changes nature, course, speed, direction and behavior of the water. The more water, the bigger the obstructions, the faster the water flows and the more extreme the rapids are.

In September, I had an opportunity to take two young men from the Independent Living Program at Grace Landing on a camping trip as a culmination of a mentoring program we did with them this spring/summer. The second activity of this trip was a white water rafting trip. On this rafting experience we saw first hand how a rock, or other obstruction, underneath the surface of the water impacts and changes the course of the river. The river must bend its will and purpose to the rocks underneath it. The water will flow over the rocks, altering and impacting the rocks as well… but the rocks will tell the river where and how to flow.
No matter how much water flows over it, around it, under it or how much pressure is put on the rock by the water… it will always be a rock. Its shape may change, how the rock looks might change. The rock will be shaped by the water, but it will not be defined by the water. It is a rock, because it is inherently a rock and not because of the water it interacts with.

After we observed this, and we sat around the campfire later that evening we discussed how we are like the rocks under the surface of the water. Life will come over us and even overwhelm us at times, and we will undoubtedly be shaped by the pressures of life. We are like the rock lurking under the surface of the water in a river.

As life flows over us, we will be shaped by life… by the circumstances, stress, pressure, situations happening to us. But we are not defined by them. Who we are at our core is not affected or changed by life. At our core, we are children of an Almighty God. We are his precious children, whom he loves enough to die for our sins. That will never change no matter what experience, challenge, hardship or difficulty we face in this life. We will certainly be shaped by life, but not defined by it.

A key to surviving life, or making it through ‘successfully’, is to be adaptable… fluid… willing to change. Able to make adjustments. On a personal note, I do NOT change well or easily. I hate change. The only thing I hate more than change is surprise change. I need to know what is what. Adaptability is essential in this life. The landscape of our lives is constantly changing and shifting as various aspects or pieces of our lives change. Jobs, relationships, living arrangements, transportation situations, school… most things in our lives are in a constant state of flux. Being adaptable and able to meet the new challenges, to rise to the occasion are critical.

The rock under the water doesn’t change who he is when more water comes down the river bad. He allows his shape to be molded to meet the water. But, he remains a rock. When we face a difficult scenario in life, we must adapt or be shaped by it and meet its demands… but we can not sacrifice who we are at our core.

Productivity vs Stagnation

Version 2

As I wrapped up my work day yesterday at 1am, I read an article on productivity to help me wind down. The headline caught my eye, ’15 things productive people do differently’.

Naturally, I was intrigued. I was hooked, so I read on. Coincidentally, my hours at the office have been getting consumed with what I have referred to as meetings. About midway through this list of 15 things was meetings. Highly productive people avoid meetings like the plague, apparently.

As Ronda & I walked out the door this morning, she commented she has been scheduling tons of meetings which are making getting any legal work done difficult. I referred to article I read. As she thought about the implications of what I read she drew a distinction between meetings and networking appointments, which are in truth what she is scheduling.

This caused me to consider the nature of my increasing meetings. It’s not fair to call then meetings really. Not all of them anyway. They are mostly client-centered individual sessions together assisting them in propelling themselves forward in their lives. Helping them to clarify goals, stay on budget and time management.

This is the true nature & scope of my job. The administrative and detail office-type work is necessary to support the relational aspect which is the actual work of my job. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the day to day work and forget that building relationship and community is what really matters.

Don’t caught in the busyness of life and forget the critical importance of relationship and community.

Fist Full of Guilt

  
“3PO, you tell that slimy piece of worm-ridden filth he’ll get no such pleasure from us. Right?” 

One of all-time favorite lines from any movie. Facing certain death, Han Solo retorts with a smart-mouthed, belligerent comment. No matter what came next, he was going to make sure he had left no stone unturned. He ensures he had no regrets, no guilt of choices he made or didn’t make. 

It often feels as though I navigate through life with a worldview almost the exact opposite. There have been many days long since passed,  I awoke with a strong sense of guilt and regret. 

I no longer wake and face each day this baggage weighing me down. I don’t know that I face each day with the brashness of Han Solo, but I don’t start each day full of guilt and regret either. 

Over the years, I have strived to live the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11-12,

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:11-12‬ ‭

Contentment. 

Being satisfied, happy, content. I would never complain to have attained this, I have moved beyond the guilt and regret. 

How? Jesus. 

Seems like a cop-out answer and it partially is. But it is also true. I have had to allow him to be my starting point and my ending. Not myself or my own performance as a father and husband. I had to learn to find my purpose, existence and meaning in something other than me. 

So, Jesus. I have learned to define myself by the same terms he uses to define me. 

Saved. Brother. Friend. Child of God, covered by the sacrificial blood of the son of God. 

When I learned to define myself as Jesus defines me, the guilt and regret went away. It stills rears its ugly head from time to time. But they don’t consume me. They don’t become who I am, because they aren’t me. 

Now I wake each morning with a sense of freedom. A sense of relief. Knowing I don’t have to perform or act or live a certain way… because it was already lived for me. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I want to let the reality of brokenness and hurt tell me who I am. 

But I can’t. Because that truth isn’t true. It’s a lie. I am not guilt. I am not regret.

I am covered by the blood of Jesus. 

Personality Traits

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I have always been fascinated by personality theory… or at least as long as I’ve be aware of something called personality theory, which in reality has only been about 10-15 years. So not, literally always… just always that I aware of.

At any rate, it is interesting to me to think through the differing qualities and characteristics which make us individual human beings. The intricacies making each of us tick, slightly different than the next person. Understanding who a person is at their personality core will help you to understand how to interact with them in the most effective way. Understanding how they view the world, how they frame and interact with the their internal world and the external world.

I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff and processing internally. Maybe this is why one of my professors suggested I was an introvert masquerading as an extrovert. On a side note – I am not an introvert, I am undoubtedly an extrovert who will at times do introverted things. Make sense? Not to me either. But in these times where I spend time thinking, I think about my personality and the pieces of that are holding me back. Or maybe not holding me back as much as u become aware of them as I attempt to become the person I am seeking to be.  I am a visionary. I dream. Big. A LOT. I have great plans with executable ideas requiring follow through. These dreams require organization and delegation of tasks.

Here’s my dilemma, I have very poor follow through.

My problem isn’t organization or administration. I’m not the most organized or the best admin, but I’m not the worst.

My problem isn’t ideas… God knows I have billions of earth-shattering, ground-breaking, life-altering ideas.

My problem isn’t communication… I am an excellent communicator.

My problem isn’t with motivation, of others… I  magnetic and able to motivate others towards an end.

My problem isn’t even with valuing the dream, idea or end in mind. Or even my commitment to the idea at hand. Admittedly, my actions often (regularly) belie my commitment.

My problem is my personal follow through. I have been aware of this for some time now. This year, 2016, one of the personal goals I am setting is to do a much better job with follow through. I am committing to doing better about finishing what I start. I am also committing to NOT committing to things I know I am not going to be able to finish. There is a beauty in saying ‘no’. I heard it said the greatest enemy of the best is good. Committing to do good things we don’t have time for inhibits us from being able to complete the best things we can. I am committing to my best in 2016.

I am setting several personal and professional goals for 2016 (they aren’t resolutions, so its ok that they aren’t totally in place and rolling on 1/1/16). I am setting goals to move me forward personally and professionally.

2015 in the Rearview

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Ronda (my wife) shared a moving and very sweet post on facebook Tuesday night (you can read it here) that almost brought me to tears. It verbalized and quantified 2015 in an articulate and appropriate way. I love her so much.

She drew out and briefly mentioned many of the struggles which have made this one of the most difficult years we have experienced as a couple. And it has been.

She also pointed out what God has taught her through this year and some of the conclusions she has been brought to. I would like to do the same. There have been lessons I have learned this year. Struggles which have taught me more about myself, my family and my marriage than I knew possible. Things I learned about myself, things I learned about others and things I realized I was doing all wrong.

Not every year is going to be epic. Not every year is going to be a trial by fire. Maybe the year will fall somewhere in between those extremes. No matter what your year is like, there inevitably are moments maybe even seasons of joy and goodness. Focus on those and the lessons learned through the struggles.

So, with 2015 in my Rearview, here are my takeaways.

  1. There will always be difficulty. This seems like a no-brainer, but the reality is this: life will always throw us curve balls. We practically need to expect the worst instead of fearing it. Life is not going to go the way we expect, hope or plan. That is the nature of life. We live in a fallen world which is marred and broken by sin. Since, sin is the dominant predication of this world… there will be hurt. Hurt is a natural byproduct of sin. Not even a byproduct as it is in the nature of sin. Brokenness breeds hurt and hurt breeds difficulty in strife. Its like my ole pappy used to say, if you expect people to let you down, then you won’t be disappointed when hey do.
  2. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade… or freeze the lemons an throw them back! This year, I was constantly making the best with what I had. Hey, even the prophet Ezekiel made a tasty meal once using his own poop to cook it on (Ez. 4:!2). Can you imagine the flavor that bread had? I bet it was fantastic. This year was in no way what I expected it to be, but in the end while I would say it was a very tough year, it wasn’t my worst year I have ever had. It was close, but it wasn’t. Many good things happened this year. My family certainly saw difficulty. Some of that difficulty we have emerged on the other side of, stronger and better equipped for life. Some of that difficulty isn’t quite over yet. Nonetheless, I am making do with what I have. I am making the best out of what I have been given.
  3. Live in the moments. Each day is filled with countless moments of life (I realize there are a finite amount of minutes and seconds in a day), moments for us to live in and make the most of. Countless times throughout the day I am given the opportunity to interact with my boys and help them to grow. Numerous times each day I have the chance to cherish my wife and show here how much she means to me. I have great opportunity each day to build into the lives of the young men I work with. We must find a way to live in these moments. Live in each moment and don’t let the moments we have let slip by us consume us.
  4. Be the change you hope to see. Yes, its a cliche. But it holds some truth. If you want change, then be the change. I have found when I change my perspective and begin working to become who/what I want to be, there is a much greater chance the change will occur. A subtle shift and change in the perspective we have will work wonders for our outlook and the situation we find ourselves in. It doesn’t always make everything, or anything, better… but it is a good place to start. Making the changes and forcing ourselves to be better, be different is a step on the right path.

2015 is over. Thank God for that. But just because 2105 is over is no guarantee 2016 will be any better. For what ti is worth, I am doing my best to make 2016 the best year it can be. I am doing everything I can to learn from what 2015 has taught me so I don’t make the same choices in 2016.

Listening Ears

dog listening

I consider myself a pretty good listener. I try to cultivate a slow tongue and hear what you have to say. I make a conscious effort to allow you to speak, to allow you to communicate your point of view your side. I would like to think I make rational decisions after having weighed all the facts and heard all that needs to be heard.

Granted, I’m not always like this. Ronda will tell you I am an interrupter. And I am… at times. There are moments when I don’t want to listen. When I don’t feel like I need to listen. I honestly don’t believe those times dominate my ears. In my judgment, I listen pretty well.

The other morning, I was having a conversation with a professional who was not a good listener. She interrupted me multiple times and would not stop until I closed my mouth and heard what she was saying. This didn’t stop throughout the entire conversation, even after the second time I said, ‘as I was trying to say’.

This was very frustrating to me. I felt as though this lady would not allow me to get a word in edgewise. Do you ever feel this way? Do you ever feel as though people are some consumed with getting their voice heard, that they don’t hear yours? It almost doesn’t matter what you have to say, because they don’t want to hear it. They are sure what you have to say doesn’t matter. I find it annoying when I encounter people like this.

I have been reading through the book of James a lot lately. At my church, we are going through series of sermons in the book so I have taken this opportunity to study the book as well. This morning I read from James chapter 1, where James encourages us to be ‘quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger’. These are great words of advice for several reasons. I think our interactions with others would be improved if we would make a reasonable attempt to live this out… not just because the Bible says so. Here are three reasons why it is a good idea to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger:

  1. When we don’t listen to others, we dismiss them. Not only do we risk dismissing a potentially good idea from them, but we are dismissing them. Not just their ideas or thoughts, but them as well. When we are dismissive of others, it communicates they don’t matter. We communicate to them they are important, their voice isn’t worth hearing. We communicate t them they have nothing to add or say of value. Nothing that could be important or beneficial to hear. When we are slow to hear, we are dismissive of others and being dismissive doesn’t build relationship it tears it down.
  2. When aren’t slow to speak, we often end up putting our foots in our mouths. We’ve all been there haven’t we? We open our big mouths and say something we think to be informed by the truth, only to find out we don’t have all the information and we were wrong… and we look like fools, idiots really. I always think about the apostle Peter when I think about putting my foot in my mouth. On one occasion, Jesus was telling his disciples he was going to have to suffer at the hands of the religious leaders. When Peter heard this he was, “There’s no way I’m going to let that happen to you! I will take them out! I will introduce them to my little friend!” Jesus responds with the classic, “Get behind me, Satan!” Open Peter’s mouth, insert foot. Peter didn’t fully comprehend what was going on, opened his mouth and Jesus likened him to Satan because to stop the imminent suffer would have been akin to stopping God’s perfect plan. Being slow to speak allows us to gather enough information to speak with wisdom when we do speak.
  3. When are are quick to anger, it has a tendency to be unrighteous anger. Ephesians 4:26 reminds us to not sin in our anger. For me, this is a prescription to not be angry… because I don’t seem to be able to be angry and not sin. I’m a work in progress to be sure. Either way, if we easily anger there’s a pretty good chance we aren’t being angry in a sinless layabout things we should be angry about. Short fuses rarely lead to righteous anger. Again, it is a matter of having enough information to know whether our anger is justified or not, whether it is something ‘worth’ getting angry about. I suppose we need to understand what would qualify as ‘worth’. In my mind, righteous anger is warranted when the issue at hand would also anger God. If it is an injustice or situation where God would be angry, then we can be angry as well. Too many times we et angry quickly, when choosing grace and mercy would have been better choices. If we are slow to anger, consider and think rationally through the feelings of anger we are feeling we will better equipped to be angry at the right time about the right things.

We should be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger… essentially because it promotes the most healthy and best relationships with others. It is the best way to interact with others. I don’t always get it right. I miss the mark, often. James encourages us to slow down and make more of an effort to get it right.

All Saint’s Day

574797_3631959845175_594874501_nEven though I am a day late writing this, I wanted to share it with anyway.

November the first is All Saint’s Day. This is a religious holiday that was created as a response to All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween as we know and celebrate it. All Saint’s Day commemorates those who have attained sainthood as a response to the commemoration of the dead (and presumably evil spirits) which happens on Halloween. Unless you are Catholic, you probably have no idea what this holiday is about.

November 1, also happens to be my mom’s birthday. I was afforded a special treat and had her at my house on her birthday this year and I was able to celebrate it with her. I don’t recall the last time I was in her presence on her birthday. Before you brand me a bad son, keep in mind we live 500 miles a part. We had a joyous time joking that the day is called All Saint’s Day thanks to her being born on that day. We tried our best to make her feel special and celebrate her.

What I want to share with you, is not thoughts on Halloween or All Saint’s Day… I want to share a few thoughts on my mom. As most sons will tell you, their mother is the best mom and I am no exception. She is the best mom I could have hoped for or wanted or deserved. I’m not sure how she put up with me all these years, because if as a child I was anything like I am as an adult I am sure I was challenging. There are many things my mom has taught me, but three things stand out to me.

  1. She taught me to never give up. This may seem simple, but it really isn’t. There are many times throughout our lives where we will want to give in, to throw in the towel, to just give up. I have seen my mother deal with some very difficult situations and to take on responsibilities that are very heavy and overwhelming to her. But each day she never gives up. She continues through the difficulty, through the hardship and through the toughness. My mom taught me, that no matter difficulty or obstacle is in front of you you must overcome it, you take it head on and you must not give up.
  2. She has taught me the power of enjoying the little moments of life. No matter what is going on around you, there is never not enough time to enjoy those you love. There is always time to share an experience, to snap a photo, to slow down and enjoy the little things which bring joy to those around us. Enjoying the little moments keeps us from getting uptight and upset about trivial details which don’t matter anyway. She taught me to not get hung up on little inconveniences when they result because we allow kids to be kids.
  3. She has taught me above all else, never stop trusting God. Each of us have experiences and encounters which lead us to question and wonder where God was in the midst of our pain. Why would he allow us to suffer? Why wouldn’t he step in and stop this from happening? Why? Despite these questions and pondering, we must not stop trusting that he is our father and that he loves us and that is still in control of the things happening around us. She has been an example of trusting God through the good times, the easy times, the bad times and the utterly difficult and unthinkable times.

My mom is an unsung hero in my life. These aren’t the only things she has taught me… it would be impossible to write everything I have learned from her. But these highlight the character and essence of who my mother is: a Godly woman, a woman who is able to find joy amongst the whirlwind and a woman who will never stop. These are characteristics I try to cultivate in my life and hope to cultivate in lives of my boys.

I love you, mom. Thanks for being who God created you to be. Thanks for being my mom.

The Ordeal

strategic therapyOne of my favorite classes in my counseling program was the Brief Strategic Therapy class I took while we lived in Jacksonville. One of the things which made this class so enjoyable for me was the professor. Had I not taken the class at a Jacksonville campus, it would not hold such a high place in my heart. The professor was a straightforward, no BS, cuss like a sailor professor who told you how it was. On the first day of class, she shattered the strongly-held precept of mental health counseling – the client must have insight into the struggle before real, lasting change can be made. The first day of class she comes in and tells us we don’t care if the client understand the why or gains any kind of insight at all… all we want is for their behaviors to change. We don’t care if they understand why they act the way they do or if they understand why they need to change or why the changes work. All we want is for the client to change.

This literally, was a slap in the face to everything I had learned in my program prior to this and it was exactly what I had been screaming in my head as I sat in class. What I didn’t understand at the time, is that you want change first to allow time for the understanding to come. In a brief, strategic scenario you are time-limited and need to change to occur quickly allowing the client time to reflect later. This approach was refreshing and laid some solid groundwork for me as I began to formulate and design my own approach to counseling. Since then, I have become more convinced that real, long, and enduring change can only come when you take time to reflect and understand what the root cause of your anguish is. Having said that, there is also a time and a place for a brief, strategic approach which doesn’t waste precious time assisting the client in gaining insight, but rather forces a quick, necessary change immediately.

This morning, I arrived to work and found one of the youth in our Residential Group Care (RGC) home refusing to go to school. I walked into his room, woke him up and said, “You have two options – 1. Come sit at the conference room table in my office and let me get all the tasks on my list for today done that require me to sit in front of a computer. For this to happen, you don’t have to tell me anything… I don’t care what’s going on, I don’t care why you don’t want to go to school, I will leave you alone to sit at the table and do nothing all day long. 2. Come with me to run some errands, a different set of tasks on list for today. For this to happen, you have to give me something… you have to help me understand what is going on inside your head and heart which explains why you don’t want to go to school. Help me to understand there is something churning inside you and that you just aren’t choosing to be a turd this morning.” He replies, “I’d rather go to school!” And I say, “And there is option 3, get up and get dressed so I can take you to school.” He got up, got dressed and I took him to school.

This is a Directive technique called the Ordeal. The rationale here is to give the client something to do which is harder to fulfill than following through with the symptom you wish to alleviate. I wanted him to go to school, so I gave him options that were less desirable to him (i.e. harder) than going to school. Additionally, I utilized several Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) techniques in the process. First, I empowered him to have a choice… have a voice in the process. He was given the freedom to choose any of the options and I would have been ok with whatever he chose. This also employs the compromise technique. He doesn’t get what he wants, but he can choose from two alternatives and we roll with what he chose. It was a win-win for everyone this morning. He was empowered to choose and we did what he chose and I got him to go to school and didn’t have to have shadow all day long because he refused to attend school.

When working with the youth in our RGC, it isn’t always this easy. There are times when it goes much less smoothly. However, the key ingredient in each interaction which continues to prove successful is authentic engagement. Many times, the youth we work with haven’t been given a choice, they are shown respect, they are lead to believe their voice doesn’t matter and that no one cares for them. But we do. I do. By authentically engaging in the life of this youth, we establish a relationship where we can accomplish much simply because we take the time to engage in their lives in an authentic way which demonstrates that unlike so many others in their lives, we care about them and they matter to us.

Wisdom

  

It’s 8:30 on a Friday night and I’m on I-75 in the middle of South Georgia. Why?
I’m heading to north Georgia with two of my independent living youth. We are headed for the culmination of a mentoring program they started on the spring. It feels a little odd to be wrapping up the mentoring program I wasn’t really a part of. But tha s kind of how it goes. 

I have mixed feelings about being away from home this weekend. Without letting the cat out of the bag, there’s a lot going on back in Orlando. Ronda and I are in the midst of praying through a big situation for us. On one hand, I want to be there with her. One the other hand, I’m looking forward to the space and clarity that comes with spending a weekend in the woods. 

I suppose that means this weekend has a twofold purpose for me. To capstone the mentoring program and solidify my place in the lives of these youth as a mentor. And to allow God to speak to and mentor me this weekend. I have high hopes for this weekend. I’m trusting God won’t let me down. He doesn’t usually. 

The Celldweller song ‘The Last Firstborn’ is playing. That song always make me think of the Apostle Paul. He claimed his apostleship cake as one untimely born. I feel that way. Not that I’m an apostle, but that I often wonder about God’s choice to love me and use me to fulfill his purposes. But he does. And I believe this weekend he is going to teach me as much as he teaches these dudes with me. 

In some ways, I really need to hear God speak to me this weekend. I need it more than I have in quite some time. We started a new sermon series at church last week on the book of James. I’ve been reading it this week. In chapter 1, James says any who lacks wisdom should ask God in faith that he give generously to the obedient. That’s where j find myself. Asking for wisdom. Asking for God’s spirit of be upon me and inform my decision-making. I want to be a spirit-filled wise leader of the family and ministry God has trusted me with. 

This seems like a good place to close… God grant me your spirit of wisdom to be a wise leader of the people you have given to me. 

Dark Darkness

  

Yesterday, I was asked ‘what do you do when life takes just a little more faith than what you have?’ This is an intriguing question. I was taken a little aback by the question… I hadn’t had coffee yet!

As I thought through my life experiences and how I handled life when the darkness and shadows seemed to overpower the light. This happens to us, doesn’t it? No matter how strong our faith is, there inevitably will come a time when we feel as though the weight is too much. Too overpowering, too overwhelming.

How do we respond? How do we overcome that which is overcoming to us? When I was asked this question, I thought for a minute or two and came up with a couple strategies I have used when the darkness has felt overwhelming. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but a couple strategies that have worked for me in the past.

  1. Remember the outcome of the past – More times than I care to recount, I have felt overwhelmed. I have felt out of control. I have felt crushed by the weight of my circumstances. However, I have survived. Things may not have always worked out the way I hoped they would, but I have made it through. I have come through the darkness and come out on the other side. What has helped me is to remember I made it through, is realizing I have survived. I have been beaten, but not broken. I have been pressed, but not crushed. Keeping this in mind has assisted me in keep perspective and remember this darkness shall too pass.
  2. Remember I am not alone – In everything we face, we are not alone. Not only are there others around us who have faced the same struggles, God himself has entered into his creation and walks alongside me in difficult times. Good has sent me his Holy Spirit to dwell within me. Scriptures refer to the Holy Spirit as the paraclete, or ‘one who comes alongside’ to assist me and carry me and help me through the tough times. The light is always more powerful than the darkness, after all darkness runs from the light. Not only this, Jesus when he walked the earth he felt and experienced all the same things we do here on earth. He felt loss and depression. He felt betrayed. He felt angry. He felt hurt. He experienced the same range of emotions we experience in the same way we do.

There are, no doubt, many others strategies I’ve used to make it through the dark times, but these are the two which stand out most prevalent to me. Hopefully, these will be of assistance to you as well. I recall from the movie ‘the Crow’, a line – “it can’t rain all the time” and this is true. At some point the rain will stop, the sky will clear and the sun will shine. Life comes at us in seasons, some lasting longer than others, and they too shall pass.