What Is True

Oh, y’all.

I am starting to feel a little bit better.

Praise be to God.  Seriously.

I realize there are huge chunks of this story that have been missing for the casual reader.  Like, I never told you guys that our case was still open for 3 weeks after the birth mom took the baby home because she wasn’t sure she had made the right decision.  I never told you the back story behind why we were so worried and distraught when she brought the baby home with her.  There’s a lot in this story that needs to be hers and ours only, and unfortunately that means no one else can ever fully understand the journey that David and I have been on for the last four months.

But I’ve tried to convey what I could.  And you’ve tried to understand.  And for that I am grateful.

I thought that today, I’d share the things I can share.  The things that aren’t missing, the details that aren’t fragmented, the truths that are mine to share.   And here’s what I came up with.

-Truth one: God doesn’t always do what we expect or want.  But what He DOES do is work good out of all things.  All things means all things.

-Truth two: It’s frustrating, sometimes agonizingly so, when we don’t know or see how He’s working good out of a situation.  But faith means trusting Him to work good out of even the worst situations and releasing those situations into His care.  That does not mean continuing to grasp and wonder and try to figure it out for ourselves.  It means releasing.  Letting go of.  I now know even more deeply what it feels like to be Moses.

-Truth three: Everything I’ve learned in the last few months is now part of me forever.  While I would have preferred NOT to learn some of it if it meant going through this pain, this growth can’t be taken away from me.  This time, this frustration, this pain matters—if I allow it to matter.

-Truth four: The sweet little girl I care so much about isn’t mine.  But that doesn’t mean that I can’t love her.  That doesn’t mean I can’t pray for her.  It does mean that I need to accept the situation, though.  From now on, I am calling her by the name her mom gave her.  Brianna.  

-Truth five: This little girl’s story isn’t over yet.  And our family story isn’t over yet.  A song I found this week says, “You didn’t know…[but] a thousand things are happening in this one thing.”  I don’t know what God is doing but I know He can and will do something from these stories.

-Truth six: So the best thing we can do is to share our story, to share what we are learning, to share where we are broken and where we are being fixed and most importantly who is fixing us.  This is what David and I feel called to do in our respective ways.  For him, this meant getting more personal with his sermon this week (prescheduled topic: loving your enemies…nice one, God) and sharing authentically about how hard this can be to do in real life by disclosing what we’ve been going through.  For me, this meant encouraging him to share it before he asked me, because I knew he didn’t know how to ask me in my grief.  It also means sharing here through my writing.

I can’t be stingy with our story.  It’s not ours.  It’s His.

-Truth seven: God is still showing His extravagant love and comfort in the midst of our pain.  We found out on Friday afternoon that our agency has refunded 3/4 of our money.  I had no expectation we would get any of it back and was genuinely so overwhelmed with joy that I didn’t know what to do.  God was addressing my strongest-lingering regret and fear.  Another adoption can happen now, when He is ready for it to happen and helps us be ready for it to happen.

I got up off the metaphorical floor this week.  I’m not lying there anymore in pain, passively knowing God is there.  I’m walking towards Him, and even though I can’t see where we’re going next, I know He will walk with me into the life He has for me–the life that isn’t exactly the same as before, and isn’t the future I pictured, but is still something beautiful.

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-Truth eight: I am beginning to heal.

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Grief, Week 3

Okay, so I said that writing about my grief hopefully wouldn’t end up being a multi-week series, but that was when I was hoping I would be able to think about other things in 2-3 weeks 🙂 Probably a bit on the unrealistic side there.

So here are some notes on Week 3!

This week, I had the multitasking opportunity of a lifetime: to continue processing our failed adoption while being socked in the gut (literally) by a 48 hour stomach virus of some kind.

(Note to God: when I said “I wish I could just go to sleep and forget any of this is happening,” I didn’t mean “I wish I could sleep for 19 hours straight, waking up only to vomit yet again.”  Apparently I REALLY need to be more specific.)

I emerged from my couch cushions long enough to text my friend last night,

“I have to confess: I just asked God: an emotional ass kicking wasn’t enough? I needed a physical one too?!” 

(Yes, I am a pastor’s wife.  But every so often, only a swear word will do.  Don’t tell Zoe I said that.)

While lying on a couch for the entire day while life happened around me (have I mentioned my dramatic streak?) I thought, “don’t despair.  Count your blessings! You’re not alone! God is still here providing for you! Tell Him what you’re grateful for!”

My list went like this:

-I’m thankful that the Kardashians were somehow ALWAYS ON MY TV.  I don’t know what sort of marathon I interrupted, but as the day went on I found that I could drift in and out of sleep with their nasally voices on in the background, wake up whenever, and pretty much catch the gist of what was going on within 2 minutes.  (Scott is lying, Kourtney is trying to catch him in it, Kim is being a diva, Kris has a ludicrous idea and is not being supported by her family…you know, the template for any episode.  But BRUCE! What happened to him?!! I must have slept through that horrifying Michael Jackson-like-metamorphosis…)

-Related: this was the only month I have EVER had cable since leaving my parents’ house.  David signed us up for one month of cable only because of the Super Bowl and Olympics.  If I had the stomach bug LAST month, I would have had Hulu Plus and/or static to watch.  So yeah.  Thankful for cable.

-I am grateful that my best friend of 11+ years came to visit on Sunday.  I SO needed her to sit down in my kitchen and say “so…you only have one baby right now…let’s talk about that.”  We’ve been friends since high school (before I had any real responsibilities or roles) so I can say anything to her and wow…I needed that opportunity to just talk, get coffee, and sit in the sun with someone I can be completely unguarded with.

-I’m thankful that I only had a stomach virus twice in the last three months instead of continuously.  And hey…no holiday weight gain? <–(This is a joke)

-I’m thankful for my husband (this one is serious) because he jumped right into caregiving mode and took care of Zoe so that I could vomit and sleep in peace.  That guy rocks.

Today, my stomach is better.  But the physical exhaustion I feel plays right back into the emotional exhaustion I feel.

The truth is, I am just plain worn out in every possible way.

During Zoe’s nap today, I had a phone counseling session with a social worker from our agency.  She reminded me that everything I am feeling (emotionally and physically) is normal and gave me some ideas of activities that I can do to process some of what I am feeling (like a letter that I never send! It’s like an idea that I’ve heard somewhere before…oh wait, IT’S ONE I RECOMMEND TO STUDENTS ALL THE TIME.) 

But I am dutifully going to do all that she recommends because I don’t know what else to do.  I know God is the ultimate healer, but it will probably go better if I give Him something to work with beyond a giant shrug.

Our conversation helped a lot, but I could still use some input on one thing.  Maybe you can help.  Here’s the question: I feel strongly that I want to do something tangible to commemorate this baby’s journey in and out of my life.  But what? 

When my grandpa died, I printed out some photos of the two of us.  Whenever I felt sad about his death, I pulled them out.  The photos reminded me that my feelings of loss came from great love and holding them and remembering that love made me feel better.

When I went through a different tough family situation, I kept photos of that loved one in frames around my house to remind me of our relationship and my need to pray for him/her.

When I see a flower in the sidewalk, I think of my other grandfather (who is no longer fully with us due to dementia) because of a conversation we once had about how God makes beautiful things in unexpected places, and I smile and think of him.

But how do I remember this baby?

I don’t want to just forget her.  It was a real love.  It was a sacrificial love.  It hurts like a real loss.  But I don’t have any pictures of  her.  I wasn’t able to name her.  (Until last week, I didn’t even know what her final name was.)

I feel like a tangible gesture or item would serve as a touchpoint for me in these times when I wonder if I am just being ridiculous to hurt this much for a baby that wasn’t legally mine, and that maybe, as time goes on, this reminder can help me mark my healing (much like I eventually put those photos of my grandpa away because I didn’t need to look at them very often anymore…and in doing so, I didn’t feel betrayal.  I felt healing and felt that he would be pleased with where I was at in my healing process.)

Our social worker suggested planting a tree, but to be honest, my track record with plants is 0-15 or so at this point and if I killed a tree that was supposed to be commemorating my almost-baby, I would REALLY feel bad…

If you have any ideas, PLEASE send them my way.

In the meantime, I’ll just be drinking my electrolyte enhanced water and trying to recalibrate on multiple levels.  Bottoms up…

Photo on 2-20-14 at 3.36 PM #2

To My Valentine

This morning, I heard my husband say the sweetest thing:

“Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you so much! This is a special day because it’s all about love, and I love YOU.  You will always have a Valentine for your entire life.  You’ll never be lonely on Valentine’s Day, because I will always be your Valentine.” 

But my husband wasn’t saying these sweet words to me.  He was saying them to Zoe.

And with those words, I was reminded again of why this man is my Valentine (Zoe, we can share.)

Let me explain.

 

Last night, I hosted my weekly high school girls’ Bible study.  We wore pink and red and ate Valentine’s day cupcakes and treats while we talked about love, reading these words from Colossians 3 (MSG version:)

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

The girls and I talked about how in high school (and even in early adulthood,) girls don’t always look for these characteristics in guys.  The boy with compassion and quiet strength isn’t always our first pick; no one ever says “have you met the new guy in our class?!! He is so humble!”

But when it comes down to it, these characteristics are what make someone a good partner.  A good friend.  A good lover.  The best person for you to spend your life with.

Any guy can scratch his head enough and eventually come up a romantic gesture or a compliment.

But he can’t come up with character without a lot of effort.  He can’t show Colossians 3 love without a lot of dedication and intention.

The guy who unselfconsciously tells your daughter that he loves her and that she always has a Valentine when he doesn’t even know you’re listening is the guy you REALLY want to be with.  He’s the one that will spur you on to be your best; he’s the one that will make you feel the most loved; he’s the one you need.

I’m so glad I have that guy.  I’m so glad he picked me.  XO

Random Updates (And Cute Zoe Pictures)

Just wanted to check in with a few thoughts today.

-Probably a cliche, but this little face is my entire world.  

Mornings

I just love this girl and I am so grateful for her enthusiasm for life, her mischief, and her love of learning.  I’ve been on maternity leave from work (I guess it has maybe turned into bereavement leave? I don’t know…they’re giving me space, which I so appreciate) and it has been a blessing to be able to devote all of my energy to her and to processing everything that has happened.  We’ve settled into a sweet little routine of taking an “after-lunch walk” now that she can walk fluidly, and walking down the street holding her hand is seriously the best part of my entire day.  She waves at the cars that pass by and barks back at our neighbors’  dogs (“ruh ruh ruh!”)

After our walk, we come in and read books on the couch.  I can ask her to “go get a new book” and she goes to the bookshelf, carefully selects one, says “dat!” and excitedly trots back to the couch with the book.  My heart!!!

My favorite stages so far: newborn, 6 months, and NOW.  That feels good to say!

Stop the presses: my quiet time was actually QUIET today.  

Coffee with Jesus(Unpictured: the Bible on iPad…I love holding and underlining the written word, but easily flipping between different versions of the Bible outweighs it.) 

Since Zoe became more mobile, I’ve been struggling to find a time to do my quiet time.  If I do it in the mornings (my preferred time,) Zoe uses me as a personal jungle gym and/or traverses throughout the house while I trail her with the iPad.  Or, I have to do it during her afternoon nap while practicing the extreme spiritual discipline of ignoring the mess that has piled up during the day that I really want to clean.

I love starting my day with a reminder of what matters most and a chance to set fresh intentions for the day, but waking up earlier than Zoe has seemed…scary?  Crazy? Idiotic?

However…lately she has been waking up for about an hour every night sometime between 1 and 3.  While I do not enjoy our nightly parties, they seem to allow her to sleep in until 6:30 or so.  So this morning, I woke up at 5:10 and shuffled to the kitchen to meet the Lord.

A fresh cup of coffee, a blanket on my lap, a CANDLE?! We got fancy up in this kitchen, and it was fantastic.  I journaled 5 pages full of thoughts on Colossians 3 and referenced three different versions of the Bible.  I might have to wake up before Zoe more often…

Also, Colossians 3 deserves its own post.  Forthcoming…

-Today: the first day I haven’t cried in over 10 days.  (I said that yesterday, but then wound up crying right before bed.  UGH.  I was SO CLOSE!)  I don’t say that to be melodramatic whatsoever…just to say that healing is a process, but God is faithful.  Along with exercise and writing, music is helping.  Here’s a playlist I made, in case anyone else needs some encouraging.

-Also helping? Zoe’s ridiculous antics. Have you seen Why My Kid is Crying? Here’s why MY kid was crying last week: because she could not simultaneously have her legs wrapped up in a blanket and walk.  What a conundrum…one she wanted me to fix, NOW, if you can’t tell from the photo on the right.

Zoe cryingMom to the rescue!

0205141702I can only wonder if the Snuggie has a similar backstory…

 

 

 

Grief, Week 1 (Hopefully NOT a Multi-part Series)

I was really moved with all of the responses to my last post and I’m glad I decided to share it more publicly.  I don’t post everything that I write on this blog or on Facebook—just the things I feel compelled to—and I am glad I followed that pull to push “publish” and share this time.  Everyone’s responses have been meaningful and lovely and healing in their own way.  Thank you.  

Today I thought I’d write a little recap of the things I’ve done and/or experienced so far in these days after our loss, in case it is helpful for anyone else going through something like this or supporting someone else.

-I’ve struggled to remember what normal life feels like.  

We found out about this baby and agreed to adopt it two days before Thanksgiving.  Since that day, I’ve spent most days juggling my “normal” life with thoughts and preparations for this baby, so now I am trying to remember what normal, mother-of-one-not-preparing-for-anything-else activities are and what my normal level of enthusiasm about life feels like.

Fortunately, I had spent the hours before finding out about the baby writing out some fairly detailed goals for myself as a woman, wife, mother, and professional in 2014, so I have those as a reference point.  The things I thought I was capable and desirous of accomplishing in 2014 then is probably the vision of “normal” that I can pursue now.

Still, these goals are designed to be pursued by “normal and enthusiastic Sarah,” not “grieving Sarah.”  I don’t feel like myself at all right now and simple things like getting dressed and putting a load of laundry through the wash feel really challenging.  I know this is normal after a week like we had so I’m not too worried, but I am hoping to settle back soon into the contentedness and energy that usually characterize me.

To make this easier, I’m not allowing myself to deviate too much from my normal expectations for myself.  When we got “the call” about the birth mom wanting to keep the baby, I wondered, what should I do?! The obvious answer to me was, the dishes, I guess.  I’m not going to embark on some wild deep cleaning project or take on extra projects for work right now, but I can try my hardest to just keep our household going so that things look and feel normal around here.  I’m also taking Zoe to our normal activities—the park, the library, a playdate, our exercise class—and keeping her world as normal as possible.

-I’ve practiced the self care I know I need. 

A few things I try to keep in mind whenever I am struggling are my basic self care principles: eat, do my Bible study, get some alone time to process, get healthy amounts of exercise, don’t emotionally eat or drink, don’t ignore everyone, take showers and get dressed in decent clothing, and practice sleep hygiene.  I actually have to chant these in my head sometimes and cheerlead myself into them, but if I do these basic things, I feel like my normal self physically and that helps a lot emotionally.  These become my most important to-dos above anything else.  In the psychosocial education classes I used to teach, we talked about self care being like a “chair” or a “stool” that supported you in any situation.  You have to figure out what legs of the stool YOU need to be the best you and then make sure you plant those legs on the ground.  (For example, some people are more extroverted than me and would be horrified by the minimalism of my social goals.  More power to them.)  

I’ve been craving hard exercise, cookies, and time alone and I’ve tried to give them all to myself…balanced with rest, nutritious food, and time with friends who I feel 100% comfortable with.  I haven’t forced myself into large unstructured group settings yet because I just don’t feel comfortable with it but I’m also not letting myself withdraw into hermitdom like I’d secretly like to.

-I went to church. 

I remember learning that after King David learned that his newborn baby had died, he went to the house of the Lord (2 Samuel 12.)  This week I also experienced the loss of a child, though not in the same way as King David (thank goodness.)  Though I had no clue how to begin to process this loss, I knew staying away from church wouldn’t help.  In many ways church was the only place I wanted to be…and so I went.  I sat in the back and left pretty quickly but now going to church won’t feel like this big hurdle.  I’ve done it and I’m going back on Sunday.  GET READY.

-I’ve gone through every stage of grief Elizabeth Kubler-Ross named…sometimes all in one day.  

And I know I’m not close to done yet.  Emotional roller coaster much? But whatever.  That’s what the self care is for, I guess…

-I’ve forced/allowed myself to accept the gestures of love offered to me.

As I’m typing, I’m drinking a soy latte a friend brought me.  She asked me if she could bring me a coffee today, and while part of me is like why should you drive from your house to mine just to bring me a coffee, the other part of me is like LET HER HELP AND ENCOURAGE YOU…God shows His presence through people.  And I do feel His love a little stronger this afternoon because I allowed her to love me.

I’m also sitting in an empty house right now.  I usually don’t ever take David up on his offers to give me “alone time” on his days off, but I know it is crucial to my processing and thus my healing that I spend a little time alone, and so I sent them to the park together this afternoon.  I know they’ll come back happy and I’ll be a little more ready to give them my love and attention because I won’t be so internally preoccupied.

-I’m writing.  

This was one of my goals for 2014 and it’s my way of processing and organizing my thoughts (if you couldn’t tell from the bullet points I made to organize my thoughts today.)  So…get ready to see more blog posts in my future.  Unsubscribe now and save yourselves!

Well, thanks for allowing my grief and self-indulgence a platform for another day…I have some little park buddies that just walked in the door that I want to focus on.  Happy Friday!

An Empty Room, My Healing Heart

(Note: this is probably the most honest blog post I have ever written.  I love openness and authenticity but I am NOT the kind of person who likes publicly sharing my pain as I am processing it.  I would rather sob into my pillow quietly, fix my makeup, and plaster on a smile in the midst of it…and then share my story with its nice little bow once I can point to lessons learned and feel a little less vulnerable about it all.

However, this is our story and I wholeheartedly believe that the stories we don’t want to share are the ones we most need to share.  Hiding what’s going on anymore feels inauthentic and wrong, not to mention that half of our community knows about it anyway and I’m sick of staying in the house trying to avoid seeing someone who might ask about it.  Putting it out here just seems like an act of mercy to myself at this point and hopefully feels like an act of kindness to those of you wondering how we are and if and how you should approach us.  We are thankful for you and your love for our family, and we know that God will heal us in time so sharing the brokenness isn’t bad because it’s just the beginning point of His work.  Also, I am overwhelmingly grateful for my husband and his willingness and encouragement for me to share this very personal glimpse into our lives even as we work through it.  He never wants me to be anything less than my authentic self and I am grateful for that gift.)

***

How to begin.

How to begin to process everything that has happened over the last few months, joyful and exciting and scary—-and then the last few days, awful and tragic.

I’ve successfully avoided writing for a few days but something in me tells me that the only way out of this is through it.  And maybe I won’t share this but maybe I will, because our stories matter.

The long and the short of it is, I’m hurting.

I have a box of newborn clothes sitting on my counter.  A box that arrived on my doorstep today for a baby that was supposed to arrive a few days ago and then go home with me.

The baby—a 6 lb, 2 oz baby girl—Zoe’s biological sister—arrived on Friday.

But she didn’t go home with us as planned.

She went instead to her new home with her birth mom, who had a last minute change of heart that has basically broken mine.

The technical term is a failed adoption, not that labeling this somehow makes it easier to understand or process.

I still have my sweet Zoe, of course, and a host of other blessings that I gasp out grateful prayers for every day.  I am not lost or broken or wounded forever.  But I am wounded for now.  I am hurting now.  And everywhere I go, there are boxes on my doorstep and someone that hasn’t heard and asks “what’s going on with the baby?” and something I did for “the last time as a mom of one” that I’m doing again as a mom of one.

I know I will heal.  I know I will.

But right now I am feeling so broken.

Forgive me if I don’t seem like myself.  Forgive me if I’m avoiding you.  Forgive me if I just don’t want to talk about it or if I do past the point of where it’s comfortable for you.  I don’t know how to do this grief.  I don’t know what you do when you lose a child that wasn’t really yours but that you have prepared for, dreamed of, prayed for, built a nursery for.

But I’m finding out.

I’m finding out what happens when you hear a heartbeat one week and hear the pain in your social worker’s voice one week later.

I’m finding out what happens when you have your mom come for two weeks to help with your new baby and say goodbye two weeks later without her ever having met the baby, because it’s not your baby.

I’m finding out how you grieve as a mom, when you have to compartmentalize grieving and processing for nap time because you don’t want your child to see you cry.  I’m finding out the beauty of a closed door so you don’t have to see the nursery you lovingly prepared in all its emptiness.  You may call it escapism; I call it survival.

I’m finding out how you can feel thankful towards a woman for giving you your greatest happiness in one child and simultaneously feel angry that she has interrupted your happiness with that child by seeking you out, planting an idea of more, and then uprooting it.  I’m finding out how you can admire a woman’s sacrificial love for one child and abhor her selfishness in the case of another, how you can defend her vehemently to others because she’s Zoe’s mom and yet accuse her in your own mind because one loving decision doesn’t pardon a thoughtless one.

I’m finding out very firsthand that mothers don’t always make decisions with their children’s best interests in mind and I’m finding out just how sad it feels to realize that Zoe’s sister will never have the same safety, quality of life, or resources that Zoe will have.  I have always had such a heart for vulnerable girls…now I’m finding out what it feels like when the vulnerable girl is Zoe’s sister.

I’m finding out what it feels like when the open relationship with her birthmother that you’ve worked hard to cultivate and hoped to offer as a gift to your adopted child is altered and maybe even taken away through no fault or actions of your own.

I’m finding out how you work through these things as a couple, and how it’s different than working through other losses.  Other losses we’ve faced have affected only one of us strongly, so the other has been able to be a partner and supporter to the griever.  I’m finding out what it feels like when both of us are grieving equally but differently.

I’m finding out what financial loss feels like when you’re a stay at home mom married to a pastor and, let’s face it, you only have so much in savings and you’re only going to accumulate so much more.  I’m finding out what “our money is God’s money anyway” means when you spend it on what you feel called to spend it on and…crickets.  No obvious ROI, no obviously changed lives, no extra family member, no tangible anything.  Just boring obedience and a bunch of questions.

And I guess that describes this stage well…a bunch of questions.  What the WHAT was any of this? We felt very strongly we were on the right track by agreeing to adopt Zoe’s biological sibling…does that mean her birth mom was on the wrong track or that we are awful at knowing where the right track is or none of the above? (David actually has a good answer for this one) What is the purpose of pain and why does God allow it? (Random deep questions come up but I don’t actually want to have any deep discussions) What do we do next? What does this mean for our family? What will I feel in 5 minutes and can I handle it? (Probably different and I’m finding that yes, I am handling it)

The one thing I don’t question is this: the goodness of the Lord.  He wants good for this baby; He wants good for us; He wants good for Zoe’s birth mom (and we do as well…we don’t wish her poorly at all.)  Although I truly believe that the “good” He wanted was to place this baby into our family, He doesn’t control our actions like we are puppets and as a result, a different decision was made.

But He is big enough to redeem any situation and He is big enough to bring “good” out of “not the best” decisions and situations.

And so I will stop wishing for something better and let Him use what is.

I pray He works through our pain to make it have a point, because no pain is wasted when we hand it over to God.  I pray He works through Zoe’s birth mom’s struggles to grow and shape her.  I pray He develops her love for this child into something pure-hearted and gives her wisdom and ability to provide a better home life for this child than what is available now.  I pray that He gives us wisdom about our next steps.  I pray that He helps us find every secret place where unforgiveness is buried, dig it out, and give that gift of peace to ourselves and to her.  I pray He helps us heal and become whole again.  I thank Him for my even deeper appreciation for the gift of the child we already hold and the man that holds her with me.  I thank Him for my family, for our friends, for our community, for the gift of writing that helps me finally understand and express my feelings, for the material possessions that haven’t been taken away and for the relationship I have with Him that can never be taken away.  And I trust.  Trust Him to walk me through the ugliness, trust Him to handle my questions and sorrow and pain, trust Him to make something beautiful out of our story…as He always does. 

I don’t know how to begin to process everything. But this is where I choose to start.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength.
–Habakkuk 3:17-19a