Imperfections Refine. They Do Not Define.

I used to define success as the ability to have a perfect workout or race– in my mind that that meant hitting under pace or running a PR. I used to think that being dropped by training partners meant for an unsuccessful day, even if I was working at my max. I used to think that being physically and mentally exhausted by weeks and months of hard training meant that I was weak, especially if others were not feeling the same. I used to think that if I could conquer every workout, then I was destined for a good race. I used to think that every performance was indicative of my value and ability as an athlete and a person. And I used to think that what was on paper from workouts and races should dictate the level of confidence that I had in my athletic abilities.

I used to think that these weaknesses and imperfections Defined Me.

Recently, I have had a lot of conversations with other athletes that have centered around the definition of success relating to athletics. As a volunteer high school coach, former NCAA athlete, and current post-collegiate athlete, I interact with a lot of competitive people in my day to day. And throughout these interactions, I have found that most people define success as a top level athlete in the same way that I used to define it: Strong. Fast. Winning. Accomplished. Hard Working. Defined. Speed. Power. Endurance. These definitions are (mostly) all metrics to which a number and value can be associated. Squat max, quarter speed, winning record, ability to finish workouts, number of points, VO2 max… the list of “measurables” that one can tag on an athlete goes on and on.

Today, I got curious. I googled, “Definition of an elite athlete.” I generated a word cloud by visiting the pages of the top 5 results returned on my google search. This is the word cloud that was produced:

Inkedphysical elite_LI (2)

Now, OBVIOUSLY an elite athlete is fast (DUH) and strong (DUH) and powerful (DUH) and fit (DUH). But in my experience, the issue with using these physical dimensions as the only means to define elite athletes is that it puts a cap on the way that I train, race, and compete. It causes me to be hyper aware of my own insecurities, imperfections, and non-successes. As a result of this, I am inclined to train at a lower level so as to mask my athletic weaknesses rather than face them head on and improve. I am inclined to race more conservatively so that I don’t make mistakes rather than confidently so that I put myself in contention to win races. I am inclined to compete fearful that I am going to fail rather than fearless of the end result. I strip myself of the freedom to race without mental barriers and the ability to forgive myself and move on when I don’t perform.

Intrigued with the results from the first search, I generated another word cloud, this time searching, “Qualities of an elite athlete.” I changed out the word definition for the word qualities. This was the result:

Inkedathlete define_LI (2)

Simply swapping one word in my search created an entirely different Word Cloud. My favorite word returns were positive, adventure, focus, mindset, time, mental, and able. All of these words had to do with immeasurable characteristics. They had to do with effort, trust, patience, joy, passion, attitude, and mentality. These are words that represent qualities. Not definitions. 

Too often, I have been tempted to focus on the words associated with the definition of an elite athlete. These words are flashy. I love being able to rattle off my PR’s, or my latest workout where I completely kicked asphalt. It’s a lot less attractive to focus on a risk I took in a race or in practice that completely backfired. Its a lot less exciting to return to a workout that completely kicked my butt the first time around. But focusing on maintaining the qualities of an elite athlete rather than the definition of an elite athlete has allowed me to be refined and become a better runner.

Weaknesses are a necessary prerequisite to climb to the next level. Putting myself in new and challenging situations is an opportunity to be refined by my weaknesses, not defined.  Developing this mentality has shown me that just because something is challenging does not mean that I am weak or that I am a failure. It has shown me that achieving perfection over time of something difficult is much more rewarding than achieving perfection instantaneously of something mediocre.

This mentality  has shown me that the way I frame my mindset really does make a difference in the way that I carry out my day to day work, and that positivity really does go a long way in sustaining this mentality. It has shown me that setting a standard sometimes puts a cap on my ability to push myself to my maximum because I am far too easily satisfied once that standard has been met. It has shown me that I can press on beyond my preset limits for myself, and set far reaching goals beyond where I would have dared set a few years ago.

Ultimately, I believe that living my life both on and off the track with the perspective of being refined rather than defined by my weaknesses and trials aligns with what Jesus says about all of us. Jesus died on the cross, so I am viewed as perfect and blameless regardless of my accomplishments (or lack thereof) here on this earth. I am cared for and valued no matter what my progressive cut-down splits were today. Jesus isn’t concerned with my numbers– He is concerned with my heart. This gives me the courage that is necessary to take chances in this sport. And because of this, I am free to be imperfect because I am loved by a perfect God.

God desires to refine me through my weaknesses. He does not define me through them. 

I now define success as my ability to walk away from a workout or race a better athlete physically and mentally than I was at the start– often this means taking time for reflection and simply turning one page to the next. I now know that being dropped by training partners (or beeped at by my GPS) means it just wasn’t my day, after all– I am a human not a robot. I now know that being physically and mentally exhausted by weeks and months of hard training means that I am getting stronger, especially when I buy in to my own training and stop comparing my training to that of others. I now know that I am not going to be able to conquer every workout first try, and that being challenged paves the way for better racing. I now know that situational performance is only a small part of who I am as an athlete and a person, and I am loved by The Lord all the same. And I know that my performances in workouts and races do not have to dictate the level of confidence that I have in my athletic abilities.

I now know that my weaknesses and imperfections Refine Me. 

What Would You Attempt to do If You Knew You Could Not Fail?

My Junior year of high school, inspired by Pinterest, I took an orange piece of chalk and scripted a short message in large letters onto the right wall of my closet.

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

– Robert H. Schuller

Seriously– what would you attempt?

Climb Mount Everest? Learn how to fly airplanes? How about space shuttles? Finally start training for that marathon, triathlon, iron-man? Tackle that home improvement project that’s needed completed for years?

Throughout my junior and senior year, I stared at that orange quote every single time I opened my closet door (which was actually a lot since most of the time my closet was so messy the door wouldn’t shut, so I just left it open). Convicted by the quote I found on Pinterest that was now etched into my closet wall, I decided that if I knew I couldn’t fail, I would attempt to run Track and Cross Country at The Ohio State University. I wanted to be a Buckeye. The only problem was that, at the time, I was a 2:15 800 meter athlete and 19:06 (at my best) Cross Country athlete… not exactly close to the 2:05 800 women and 16:50 5k women that were currently on OSU’s team. I had a pretty lofty goal for someone in my position. I emailed the coach anyways and basically begged him to take a chance on me… and by the grace of God– he did. I worked my tail off my senior year of high school and eventually ran 18:21 in the 5k and 2:11 in the 800. One official visit later and I had my spot on the team.

That experience my senior year of high school with taking chances, setting my sights high, and dreaming of really big extravagant goals was my first experience with chasing dreams at a different level than most are willing to chase. And through that process, I learned that being willing to set really big goals and take some pretty huge risks was a pre-requisite to actually chasing dreams.

Since my senior year of high school, my list of dreams– things that I would attempt to do if I knew I would not fail, has grown tremendously. Some are silly, some are more serious, but they all are dreams– dreams that I am willing to take the time and take the risks to make happen. If I knew I would not fail, I would build my own house from the ground up. Obviously I would want to complete the perfect cartwheel. I would start my own company. Much to my Mom’s delight, I would completely organize all of my personal spaces (car, room, closet, etc.) in a way that actually works for me. I would “Jill Kanney” it (Jill was one of my awesome college teammates– and yes, Jill, your name has been used in the context of a verb) and actually learn how to play the guitar and not just pluck the strings. I would put myself in a position where I would get to race against the best middle distance athletes– not just from the United States– but from all over the world. And in doing so, I would put myself in contention to make the 2020 Olympic Team and represent the USA in Tokyo. Through all of this, my desire would be to live every day as if it were an important part in a very very large adventure.

I’ve been working on those last three on my list this entire summer. Running. Racing. Adventuring. After finishing up my college career at the NCAA championships out in Eugene, I decided to stay in Oregon and race a couple races in Portland. My Portland Adventures, as I have been referring to them, were my first experience of traveling, racing, and competing as a post collegiate. It was different. Scary. Weird. I didn’t have a coach. Or teammates. I didn’t even have a place to sleep the first night that I decided to stay out there. I cried to my Uber driver, Teri (I still remember that kind woman’s name) because I felt completely, utterly, and totally alone– 2,438.9 miles away from the place I called home.

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Racing Some 800 meter races in Portland back in June. PC: @tafphoto & @highperformancewest

I felt as if I had made a huge mistake. I heard the voices in my head whispering, “you’re not good enough. You won’t make it at this level. Everybody else knows what they are doing. If you can’t even pull yourself together in Portland, what happens when you travel outside of the United States?” 

But then I remembered something that I wrote on my goal sheet at team camp about a year ago. Its something that the entire year, I had been working on in the context of racing. But at that particular moment while crying in my Uber in Portland, it really needed to be applied in the context of life.  I wrote on a section of my 2016-2017 goal sheet,

"I have to mentally stay within myself and tell that voice in my head to shut up."
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This was what was written on the bottom of my 2016-2017 goal sheet. Yes, I am a hoarder and still have copies of my goal sheets dating back to 2013.

Jesus gives us the ability to silence those voices and replace them with His truth. His truth that we are loved, cared for, valued, and important. His truth that the adventures that He takes us on are opportunities for us to chase and pursue our dreams if we only allow Him to take us to places out of our comfort zone. This risky place of being out of our comfort zone is the same place where our actions start to intersect what we would attempt to do if we knew we could not fail. I lived in that place that week I spent in Portland. In fact, I lived in that place for most of the summer. Taking risks. Taking chances. Chasing a dream.

For years I had always watched the US Championships from my couch in Columbus. I would secretly pull for Brenda Martinez, an athlete I have looked up to since I started my running career. This year during the US Championships, I was no longer on my couch– I was stepping up to the line with Brenda.

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Racing at the USATF Championships in Sacramento, CA.

This year during my free time, I was no longer looking up results on Flotrack to see what the results of summer races were– I was actually racing them. This year during the summer, I was no longer comforted with the safety and security of being in Columbus, Ohio all of the time– I had the opportunity to travel around the country. So that’s how I spent my summer. Chasing dreams and living an adventure as if I didn’t know what the word failure (Or the word, “No,” S/O to all the awesome elite race and meet directors out there for giving me a spot on the line:) ) meant. And that is what I plan to continue to do. My favorite author, Bob Goff, writes it best.

“What’s your next step? I don’t know for sure, because for everyone it’s different, but I bet it involves choosing something that already lights you up. Something you already think is beautiful or lasting and meaningful. Pick something you aren’t just able to do; instead, pick something you feel like you were made to do and then do lots of that. You weren’t just an incredible idea that God never got around to making. The next step happened for the world when God dropped you on the planet. You’re here and I’m here. God decided to have us intersect history, not just at any time, but at this time. He made us to be good at a few things and bad at a couple others. He made us to love some things and not like others. Most of all, He made us to dream. We were meant to dream a lot. We’re not just a cosmic biology experiment that ended up working. We’re part of God’s much bigger plan for the whole world. Just like God’s Son arrived here, so did you. And after Jesus arrived, God whispered to all of humanity…”It’s your move.”” – Bob Goff, Love Does

My move this summer has been to dream it, chase it, and believe it. Just as Bob talks about. And I believe that in doing so, God has shown me that every day truly is an important part in a very very large adventure. He has reminded me that He is the author

LibertyMile

Racing my first road mile at the GNC Live Well Liberty Mile mile in Pittsburgh, PA

of my adventure. He has reminded me that He has already planned out the future. God knows who is going to Tokyo (and Paris and L.A. … and every Olympics here on out until forever). God knows the races set out ahead. And He has reminded me that I am loved and cared for regardless of whether or not I become a sub 2:00 800-er next season or I hang up my spikes tomorrow (although that hanging up the spikes part isn’t gonna happen for a while… but still– he will love me then as well). Regardless of outcomes, I am loved.

The really cool part about resting in that truth is that it gives us the freedom to really and truly live our adventures. To take risks. To throw caution to the wind, step up to the line, and say, “I’m all in. I’m gonna do this.” Because with Jesus, we are never viewed as a failure. We are viewed as strong and important people that bring value to whatever place we are in.

Through God’s eyes, we will never fail.  This gives us the ability to attempt to do things and dream things that require a lot of effort and a lot of laying our pride and insecurities down and taking chances. It’s telling that voice in our heads to “SHUT UP!” because we ARE worth it. We DO matter. And we were created CAPABLE. So here’s to dreaming big taking chances, and enjoying the entire adventure. Because I want to live my life attempting to do the things that I would do if I knew I could not fail, and I intend on chasing the dreams that God has put on my heart…

… My hope is that you will choose the same:)

End Note: I am dedicating this post to my college teammate Jill Kanney who has taught me how to dream it boldly, chase it fiercely, and believe that The Lord will take care of the rest. #dreamChaseBelieve

More than “Just Another.”

“Go get em, Rach. He who promised is faithful.”

This is the text message that I woke up to on Friday morning– the Day I raced the NCAA Regional final. It was sent to me by an old high school teammate (Shout-Out to Robbie Daulton). Two simple sentences. Nine words total. But it was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.

He who promised is faithful.

Jesus is faithful.

God comes through on His promises. He came through on His promise that Jesus would die on the cross and be raised to life again. He came through on His promise that we would then be set free from sin, able to live freely because of The One (Jesus) who set us free. He came through on His promise to love us one hundred percent, no matter where we are in our messy lives (and thank goodness for that because otherwise, my car would definitely need some cleaning up!!). Exhibit A:

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Litterally, this was my car last week. I’m imperfect. I’m messy. But Jesus still loves me. 

 

He came through. He has. He does. And He always will. Because He who promised is faithful. And my messy car and messy life will never be too much for Him.

I needed to be reminded of that on the morning of the Regional Final. I needed to know that no matter what happened that day during the 800 meters that I was out there racing, I could trust that Jesus was going to give me the strength to fight, because He promised, and He is faithful. And the words in that text reminded me of that truth exactly.

A lot of you guys know (since I reference it so often), but my current favorite book is Love Does by Bob Goff. I’ve read it twice now cover to cover, and I’m getting ready to read it for a third time because it is fantastically amazing. I think I actually laughed more at Bob’s little anecdotes and side stories about life the second time I read it, which I don’t even know how that’s possible– but it happened!

Anyways, there is a chapter in the book that I thought about this weekend when I received so much encouragement and truth from amazing and wonderful teammates (old, current, and new), friends, and family. In this chapter, Bob talks about how people are able to use their words to launch each other. And he talks about how we just have to be ordinary people to use our words to have an impact on someone else’s life.

“Words can launch us. We don’t need to be a dean to say words that change everything for someone. Instead, God made it so that ordinary people like you and me can launch each other.” -Bob Goff

That’s what the words in that text message did for me– they launched me! God used the text that read, “He who promised is faithful” to launch me in the direction my mind needed to be headed for that day. In fact, there were so many words that people used this weekend to launch and support me. And while you all are far from ordinary (as the way this quote is worded may suggest), you all have used your words to help launch me. And that is something that I am incredibly grateful for.

I think that words coupled with people launching others allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things. My coach likes to remind me that at one point in my athletic career, I was just another 5:02 1600-er and 2:11 800 meter runner coming out of high school (I was never a High School State Champion). At one point, I was just another name on the roster. At one point, I was just another time on the TFRRS descending order list. At one point in all of our careers– be it running or otherwise– don’t we all feel like we are “just another”?

I share this with you, because it all sounds quite ordinary. But like I said, I think that God wants us to launch each other so that ordinary people can accomplish the extraordinary. We are more than  Just another. God intended for us to be more than just another. We were fearfully and wonderfully made. And we have the power of The One who faithfully promised walking right alongside us. But sometimes, we need to be reminded of that. Sometimes, we need to be launched.

I’m thankful for the “people launchers” in my life. I’m thankful for those who have used their words to encourage me and launch me– especially the past couple of weeks! Seriously, you all rock and are amazing. Your words have helped me to experience the fact that God is able to take an ordinary person like myself and use me for something that I didn’t really count myself to be used for when I was a senior in high school.

Before my 800-er teammates and I race, I always look at them and say, “This is the good stuff, this is the fun stuff.” Because that’s what racing is! It’s the good stuff and the fun stuff. It’s everything that practice is but just a WHOLE LOT more fun! This past weekend, I wound up racing my PR (2:02.67) which got me an Auto Q and qualified me to the NCAA Championships in Eugene Oregon. That was the good stuff. That was the fun stuff. And now there will be more good stuff and fun stuff to come in 10 days as a result of this past weekend.

I want to be a people launcher, too. I used to think I was just another. But now I know that God does not intend that just another life for any of us. He wants us to live boldly. He wants us to take risks. He wants us to launch people and be launched by people. My hope is that the 2:02.67 along with that automatic Q makes someone else who also thought that they were just another believe that God made them for more than just blending in with the background. Maybe it’s not with the 800. Maybe it’s not even with running at all. But it’s something. It’s definitely something. Because none of us are, just another.  All of us were made for something. And all of us are able to use that something to launch someone else.

Nobody is just another. We are all so much more than just another. Know it. Believe it. Live it.

#goBucksForever<3

Side note: I made my teammates take this picture because literally for my entire running career (so 10 years now), I’ve wanted this picture but everyone is always too embarrassed to take it. They agreed to take it (FINALLY YES), but it should be mentioned that they definitely were coerced into it. Anyways, here is a picture from the weekend with probably the best running pun ever created. Thanks Christine and Em for being part of the shennanigans:) 

Em and Christine, one day you both will thank me because you can use this photo to embarrass your kids:)


Stop Playing It Small & Start Kicking Doors Down

There’s this door that I have to walk through every day. It sits in between our locker rooms and our athletic training room. This door is no ordinary door. It is this giant grey steel door. It connects two buildings underground: French Field House (where our locker rooms are located) and St. John’s (where our athletic training room is located). I have no idea how much it actually weighs, but it feels like it weighs 500 pounds. The reason it feels this way is because French Field House has these ridiculous air circulation patterns that make every door in the building resistant when you try and open them. This door, in particular, far surpasses any other door I’ve ever encountered in terms of difficulty of opening. Everyone that uses French Field House knows which door I’m talking about– it’s a monster! I mean sometimes I have to actually body slam the door three of four times before it even budges.

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This is the door that I am talking about.

I remember my freshman year, when I couldn’t get the door open on the first try, I would just assume it was locked. I wouldn’t even try to mess with the door. I would walk back to the locker room, get my stuff, and go home without going to the training room (freshman me didn’t understand how important the training room actually was to the health and rehabilitation of my body). My sophomore year, I would try a few times. Sometimes after messing with the door a bit I could get it to work. But some days, honestly, I was just too tired to fight another battle in my day, and the door would win. My Junior year, I started getting sick of loosing to the door. Surely the door wasn’t actually locked all of those times I couldn’t get it open. I started banging on the door whenever I couldn’t get it open, hoping that somebody was on the other side and could help me. Many times, this worked out really well. But even then, sometimes I was the only one in that part of the building, and I would take another “L” to the door. I am now a senior, and I am sick and freaking tired of taking “L’s” to that door. I throw my weight against that door seven or eight times sometimes, but I refuse to ever tell myself that the door is locked. Because I’ve been here for four years now, and that door has never actually been locked. Sometimes, I am just too weak to get it open. I simply need to try harder.

Every track season, I choose a book to read while we are traveling. We have lots of free time on busses, in airports, on planes, and sitting at the continental breakfast in hotels. This past indoor season, I chose Love Does by Bob Goff. My sister got me the book for Christmas and she was so giddy when she gave it to me. “Rach, you are going to LOVE it!!!” She was actually jumping up and down when I opened it. And she was right. The book was amazing. And in one of my favorite chapters of the book, Bob tells a story about his life that reminds me a little bit of this giant door that I have to open every day. Bob is talking about the way that he got into law school (which was pretty incredible), and he says, “I used to think that God guided us by opening and closing doors, but now I know that God wants us to kick some doors down,” (2012, Goff, p. 38). Kick some doors down.

One day, I was on my usual trip from the locker room to the athletic training room, and I noticed that the door was wide open. Upon further observation, I had noticed that someone had taken (I don’t even want to know how much) athletic tape and taped the steel arm at the top of this industrial door so that it remained straight and wouldn’t bend. By taping that bar straight and preventing it from bending, the door was not able to shut. They then had shoved a bunch of tape in the hinge of the door so that the door wouldn’t rotate and close even if the arm somehow had become loose. And they did all of this just with athletic tape. Pretty impressive that simple athletic tape was doing something that I had difficulty with for four straight years.

Somebody saw that door in a way that I haven’t been able to see it before. Rather than complaining that it was “locked” all the time, rather than wasting energy and running themselves into the door day in and day out, they simply got rid of the door. They had kicked the door down in their own way.

Unfortunately, the door is actually shut again. I’m pretty sure that the university 1. Didn’t approve of the way that athletic training materials were being used not for athletic training and 2. Didn’t love the janky look of a nice industrial door all taped up. However, I am forever thankful to whoever saw the door in a different way and actually taped it open for a week. For starters, it saved me a ton of energy every day. But it also got me thinking about the way I approach other doors in my life.

Sometimes, I think that I am so afraid of what might happen if I kick a door down, so afraid of what someone might say or think if I take athletic tape and tape open a steel door, that I just turn around and walk on home, telling myself the lie that the door was probably locked anyways. Or sometimes, I think I tell myself that if I go to kick the door down, I might not be strong enough or smart enough to get to get the job done. And sometimes I think I’m just waiting on someone else altogether to come kick the door down for me.

And honestly, some of those things might be true at times. I can barely bench 100 pounds. I got a D+ in Organic Chemistry my sophomore year of college (It’s two years later and my type A personality still can’t let that one go). And sometimes, I get so stressed out and feel like a million things are slipping through the cracks that I go sit at the top of St. John’s Arena (and cry and call my mom) because I feel like I’m not doing a good enough job at life.

But here’s the thing: I believe that I am loved by Jesus. And I believe that being a Child of God gives me the power and ability to kick down doors despite my imperfections. I have a quote that has hung by my mirror every day since fourth grade. I first heard this quote in Akeelah and the Bee (my favorite movie when I was younger), and have read it every day ever since.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

-Marrianne Williamson

My favorite line in this is, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” I think when Marriane talks about playing it small, she is talking about the doors that we walk away from because we are too afraid to kick them down. But walking away from a door and just accepting the fact that “it feels like its locked” doesn’t really do the world any good. Playing it small is really easy. It’s safe. It’s secure. And it doesn’t expose failure. But playing it safe is also settling for mediocrity.

I have this friend, Jess, and she constantly is reminding me NOT to play it small. She tells me to dream big all the time, and believe in my abilities as well as the abilities of other people. She has this coffee mug that is one of the best coffee mugs that I’ve ever seen. It is an amazing blue, and all it says on the side is, “make it happen.” Jess is a make it happen kind of person. A couple years ago, we were having a conversation in a running store, and she was talking about her decision to compete at Michigan State while she completed her masters. She said something to me that I will never forget.

“To go for something, to really go for something, is a risk– for sure. But it would be so much worse to settle for mediocrity.”

-Jessica Hoover

I remember because I wrote it down right after she left the store. But she is so right. Going for something, refusing to play it small is risky. But why settle for mediocrity? Why not play it big? And why not kick down some doors along the way?

Right now, there are a bunch of doors that my teammates and I are trying to kick down. We are all trying to be All-Americans. Be Big Ten Champions. Be Students. Be young professionals. Be good sisters. Be good daughters. Be good friends. Eventually we want to be good wives. Be good parents. Be good grandparents.

And in our attempt to be all of those things, there are so many doors that we have been faced with and will continue to be faced with. It’s scary. It’s challenging. It’s an adventure.  But I’ve found the more I do things that are scary or challenging or test my limits in life, the more I see how Jesus is faithful, and the more this adventure actually becomes adventurous and isn’t stale. Because at the end of the day, when I am standing at the door completely afraid to start kicking it down, God reminds me that He has given me the power and the strength that I need. He just wants me to trust Him, stop playing it small, and start kicking it down.

 

Jess’s amazing coffee mug.