Excerpts

Stop Playing Dress Up as a Shepherd

April 9, 2015
shepherds_clothing1

“Familiar imagery in the scriptures is that of shepherd and sheep. We predominately see this in church life where the pastor is called the “shepherd of the flock,” but we also hear that the parent should be a shepherd to their children. The shepherd guides his sheep, leading them to what they require; green grass, clean water, and a safe place to lie down. He protects them with his rod, which is used to reach out and guard them from going in the wrong direction and to fight off wolves intent on snatching up the young lambs. Sheep require a shepherd because they cannot take care of or protect themselves. Continue Reading…

A Different Life

BFFs

March 31, 2015
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A heart broken in two, hanging from two chains. On one slice the word “best,” on the other “friend.” One hand stretched out to another saying, “your my BFF,” as all the other little eyes look on longingly, wondering why they didn’t get a half of the heart they longed for. I’ve watched it over and over again, the presenting of the best friend to the rest of the world. But what seems like a wonderful relationship between two girls can actually create feelings of separation, isolation and rejection in those girls who would call one of these two “friend.”

When two girls pair up and make a set out of themselves, wearing matching hats, necklaces or even clothes, the other girls who yearn to be with them are met with a sobering realization that they are the odd girl out, that they haven’t been chosen. Sure they are friends, but they haven’t made the elite level of BFF, and another heart breaks in two. Maybe these girls actually have playdates with one of these BFFs. Maybe they feel a real connection with them, maybe they even call them their own BFF. But when her BFF of choice chooses another BFF what does the second-place third wheel do with the pain? How does a girl manage the rejection?

At a birthday party for an eight-year-old, I watched my daughter’s favorite friend receive an outfit from another friend who then proceeded to reveal that she bought the exact same outfit for herself, and they could be “twins.” On the drive home my daughter expressed what I myself have experienced flavors of even as an adult, that she felt bad when she saw her favorite friend dressing up like one of her other friends, and so call attention to their exclusive relationship. With an adept understanding of her own heart she explained that, that kind of thing separated the two, set them apart as a set, and made her feel excluded. As her little heart ached at the thought that the one she loved so much had chosen another more important friend, we talked about how God feels about BFFs.

Though she hurt, I wanted my daughter to understand that God doesn’t want us to show partiality, he wants us to love all, especially the unloveable. And as I talked to her about the idea of preferring only those people who you like being with the most, I felt the sting of conviction. Hadn’t I done the same thing? Hadn’t I chosen a circle of friends that I enjoyed more than others? While there isn’t anything wrong with enjoying people’s company, when I find myself too busy with those I prefer, to have time for those I don’t prefer, am I really living the way God calls me to live, without partiality? Reading James 2 slapped me in the face this morning when I read, “show no partiality.” How many times did I avoid the woman we all avoid who talks too much, in order to sit off in the corner with my favorite friend? Ugh! It’s so easy to look for enjoyment over service, and fun over mission. And I don’t think that most of us realize that we are hurting others in our search for our sister soul mate. I don’t believe that we consider others of lesser value, but that is the message we are sending when we select our bestie. And that is what we are teaching our daughters when we encourage them to express their BFF-ness.

Having a favorite person is wonderful feeling, but perhaps we should keep these feelings private so that we don’t unwittingly hurt others who are not our favorites. We all recognize the devastation of cliques in school, but when we encourage BFF behavior in our children aren’t we seeing the growth of an exclusive clique that only has room for two? Even if your daughter still includes others in her circle, consider what the title ‘best friend’ says to all the rest. That’s the different we’re trying to cultivate in our family, a place where besties aren’t elevated to a place that breaks the hearts of the resties.

A Different Life

Children Are Like Countries

March 17, 2015
stand-off

Children are like countries. Their disputes often rage over property rights and who has crossed whose borders. When they come together for a summit, aka playtime, they like to divide up into factions and plan war-games and other operations that can lead to both enjoyment and military action. When someone breaks the code of conduct and takes a toy (weapon) of the other team (coalition,) tempers flare and injustice needs to be remedied. In these instances, a small group of ambassadors is generally sent to the parents who, with a representative from each group present, act as a United Nations and hear the dispute. The UN, after listening to both sides, offers up the usual response of “if you can’t share then we are going home,” and the ambassadors head back to their countries to report the sanctions that have been laid on them all.

As a UN mom, I find it a political nightmare when these instances occur because, nine times out of ten, it seems to be my little country that thinks she’s a superpower able to do whatever she wants with the toys she has brought to the party. And the superpower expects everyone else better fall into place. So I am left with two options, I can consider her young age and inability to share well with others as a stage that I know cannot be broken with sanctions, and thus look like a permissive parent to my friends. Or I can crack down on her insurgency and make demands that will end in her humiliation and resentment of me for not, “being on her side” which then gains me points with the UN representatives of the other nations, aka Moms, but not with my own little country.

It’s a conundrum I face almost every time our summits happen. Do I side with my child or teach my child a lesson? Do I make a statement to the press about her illegal actions or do I save those talks for private chambers? Most of the time I opt for the swiftest end to the dispute so that I can get back to conversations with my fellow UN officials and so I say, “If you can’t share we are going to go home.” And then I save the lessons for the drive home.maggie0341 ditch kids

So when a few days after these particular peace talks had passed and my little country was sharing her feelings about the whole operation, I had to check myself. She was saddened about a particular situation that came out of that war/game, and it was that after the summit with the UN moms one of the kids said to the others under his breath, “Addy sure is bossy.”

Upon hearing this, many moms might jump to their child’s defense and say, “oh no you are not. What does he know!” but I’m a little different. When I see familial sin coming to the surface I want to nip it in the bud, I want to use this painful example as a reason why selfishness never pays off. I want to instruct my child and show her how to behave better the next time. And so in that effort, the first thing I want to do is to say, “well you are a little bossy with them. And if you keep acting like that they won’t want to play with you anymore.” Sounds like helpful and opportune constructive criticism to me. How else will she change if I don’t get on this stuff? After all, I know all about bossiness, it’s a trait that I have as well, one that has taken years and tears just trying to change. I don’t want my daughter to make the same mistakes as me, to burn the same bridges, so I want her to learn now how to die to herself and think of others first. With all that in mind I instead said this, “that’s too bad. I’m sorry he said that. That must have hurt. It’s not nice to hear things like that is it? That’s why it’s good not to talk about people behind their backs, or to say things like that at all. I’m sorry that happened to you.”

Screech.

Wait. What? That’s not what I meant to say. I meant to tell her all about her selfishness and to use this as a lesson. Darn it! What just happened? I tilted my head, squinted my eyes and thought, ‘is that the right response to sin? Aren’t I supposed to correct that out of her? Did I just miss an opportunity to instruct or did I just take an opportunity to share grace?’ The conclusion I came to in this instance was that if I corrected her at this moment, when she was sharing her pain with me, then I wouldn’t be a safe place for her to go with her pain. I’d be the enforcer, the corrector, the bossy one, not the safe one. But if I empathized with her pain and bit my tongue about the sin, I could rely on her Father to work out the sinfulness. I could go to him and ask him to do a work in her and to capture her heart. After all, I cannot do that: I cannot change her sinful nature by my sheer will. I can instruct her in his ways, and teach her his precepts but I cannot make her believe or act in faith and love.

I don’t know when my daughter will learn to share more consistently. I pray that it will happen soon, but if I am honest I pray that so that I won’t be embarrassed anymore by the absence of this particular fruit in my child’s life. But I don’t want to think of her sinful nature as a reflection on me because then my goal is a selfish one, to make myself look better. I have to start thinking of her sinful nature as a reflection on the veracity of God’s Word, that there is no one righteous, not even one. And that it is by grace that we are saved from that nature, not by parental might or perfect childhood compliance. It’s my sin nature that she has running through her veins, and I know the prescription for that nature in her and me is him and him alone. So I’m learning as I go, how to offer that grace to my child, and to trust him to change her heart and her spirit into one that turns everything she has, even her Nerf gun, over to him that he might be glorified.

How I respond to the sins of others is a continual challenge for me. Do I choose empathy or correction? When is the right time to teach and the time to shut up? I’m learning as I go, making mistakes, reassessing and getting some things right. My prayer is that even though I don’t know it all, that I would somehow always trust him and always side with love, kindness, and grace.

A Different Life

Let Them Eat Junk Food

February 17, 2015
TV-Dinner

Tired of spending more time in the kitchen than in any other room in the house? Sick of the never ending pile of dirty dishes? Why not stop the insanity, get rid of the plates, and give them a sumptuous TV dinner? Now you can have homemade, nutritional, gourmet meals in minutes. No work before. No dishes after. But what a meal!

0601f9c2-ed23-4490-96a5-40ae4193cf06_centered-50s-adThis ad from the 1950’s made TV dinners look like a healthy alternative to homemade and people all over the country began to pull out the TV trays and get to the important business of watching TV. My mom was a single mom, so TV dinners made sense with her busy schedule. She didn’t always have time to cook from scratch and sometimes the quick stuff is actually cheaper than scratch. In fact, try throwing together a TV dinner style meal on your own and you’ll spend much more than the manufacturer asks for his “nutritious” meal. I can still remember the taste of the fries and chicken. They had their own distinct flavor, nothing like homemade, but the quickness and ease somehow made up for that.

There is something in me that can’t see giving my family a steady meal of food that’s fast. Sure, it’s great not to have to do dishes. In the time it takes me to make one meal from scratch, I could have the entire house clean and have my feet up watching my favorite show. Still, knowing what I know about nutrition and the importance of a healthy diet, I can’t give up the time it takes to cook homemade meals for my family.

And while I don’t do a lot of frozen dinners, I can say that I have been known to frequent the drive thru a time or five hundred. In fact, my daughter Addy grew up going to McDonald’s almost daily, while some of my friends kids have never even been. In order not to be seen as the bad Mommy, we called McDonald’s by a code name, that way when A would ask me to take her to “M” after playdates, no one had any idea what she was talking about. I was saved the humiliation of having to tell other mothers that “yes indeed I was serving my child food with so much preservatives that if left out on the counter for three yearshappy-meal-day-day-126[2] it would still look the same as the day I bought it.” Eeek! What can I say, sometimes speed takes precedence over health.

Yes, I’ve been known to take the easy way out. In fact, I’d say I do that more often than I take the more laborious but beneficial way. Mac N Cheese? Great! But give me ‘Easy Mac’ and shave of 4 minutes of cook time and I’m feeling giddy. How many times at the end of the day do I look back and say, “Wow, all she had today was carbs, did I miss the mark! But hey, tomorrow I’ll try to take the time to cut up some fruit or something?” I’m serious. I have conversations like that with myself. My daughter would eat pasta for every meal if I wasn’t more diligent about taking the time to give her something from the five food groups at least once a day. Why can’t there just be a pill for that? Something that takes care of all that nutritional stuff and let’s us get on to the more fun parts of life than cooking and cleaning up after it all?

Yes, speed is often my Achilles heel. Doing the right thing just takes so much time! Even in conversation, responding to my family in love and kindness, in self-control and gentleness, takes so much more time than just shouting out what needs to be done. The whole listening thing, waiting for them to do what they were in the middle of doing before I tell them what I need done, it all gets in the way of my rapid pace and my to-do list.

Recently I’ve started to notice that my daughter and are fighting a lot, usually after I tell her quickly what needs to be done quickly so that we can quickly move on to the next thing. And my quickness meets her meanderingness like a head on collision between two locomotives.trains In my effort to take care of things I just want to say what needs to be done and then for it to well, be done. But now I’m starting to see that this Easy Mac approach to communication, meant to save me 4 minutes, actually ends up taking ten minutes and sets the mood for a lot more bickering as the to-do list falls apart because she won’t cooperate with my junk food approach to communication. The junk food of selfishness, complaint, conflict, impatience, meanness, disobedience, unfaithfulness, harshness and self-indulgence is more a part of the diet I feed my daughter than the healthy fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control ever is. As the branch that is meant to grow the fruit of the Spirit to feed those around me, I feel like I’ve taken to producing imitation fruit [junk fruit] that serves up quick but rots the teeth and the gut when consumed. If it’s true that no good tree bears bad fruit, and no bad tree bears good fruit, but each tree is known by its own fruit (see Luke 6:43-44,) then I’m more often a junk food tree than a good tree.

I confess that I have served the people I love too much spiritual junk food, the exact opposite of the healthy fruit of the Spirit I am meant to feed them.

And I’m sick of it.

The unhealthy relationships that junk fosters is repulsive to my spirit. I want to be done with speeding through life. I want to allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow and to blossom, producing all the fruit that my family can consume so that they can taste of the Spirit and reproduce the fruit themselves. I’ve known this for how long? And yet I fail to do the very thing I know to do. Thank God for his grace, for his relentless return to forgiveness and to mercy, without it I would be lost. And because of his kindness I am moving forward today with the prayer that his Spirit would nourish my family as I speak to them in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

A Different Life

A Woman’s Lament

February 10, 2015
Winter-pond3

Okay, so I’m a bit of a hypochondriac, but it’s only because I’m sick all of the time. In my short life I’ve suffered from chronic fatigue, irritable bowl, indigestion, severe PMS, psoriasis, gluten-intolerance, candida, headaches, and more.  I won’t bore you, unless your name is ‘my husband.’ But I digress. So lately I’ve gotten tired of the continual complaints that roll around in my head. I’m sick of being more obsessed with my health than with my God. And so when I started reading Lamentations 3 a few months ago I found I identified with the writer more than I realized. (If you haven’t read Lamentations 3 lately then I encourage you to give it a look before you read any further, cuz then my lamentation will make much more sense.) His references to grinding his teeth on gravel and cowering in the ashes, to wormwood and gall didn’t make much sense to me until I replaced his suffering with my own, then suddenly I understood and related.

James 1:2 says that suffering should be considered joy. What? Who suffers and says, “LOVE THIS!?” Not me, that’s who! I’m more of a complainer. Complaining feels like action to me, so maybe that’s why this Lament connected with me so much. It’s a chance for all the complaints to get out there.

So without further ado, I present to you Lamentation 3 (edited and abridged).

Lamentations 3 for hypochondriacs

I am the woman who has seen continual suffering under the finger of my God; he has repeatedly left me to search on my own for a cure; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long.

He has made my thyroid and my immune system waste away; he has brought aches to my bones; he has oppressed and enveloped me with low libido, headaches and irritable bowel; he has left me with chronic fatigue like the dead of long ago.

He has made every elixir, every oil, every remedy fail; he has made my burden heavy; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with multiple symptoms and no expert to cure me; he has made my hair brittle, my muscles cramped and my nerves weak.

He is a parasite lying in wait for me, a yeast infection in hiding; he has made my enzymes powerless and liver weak; he has made me untreatable; He released Ebola and made me a target for its attack.

120409071859-fish-oil-omega-3-supplements-story-topHe has given me bladder infections; I have become the supplement lady, the victim of the purveyors of instant cures. He has filled me with food allergies; he has fed me with pesticides.

He has made my teeth grind on genetically modified organisms, cornand made me pay more for organic; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “Nothing is working; not even my prayers.”

Remember my ulcers and my gluten intolerance, the flatulence and the psoriasis! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him over saliva tests. It is good that one should wait quietly for the healing of the Lord. It is good for a woman that she suffer without complaint.

The mass producers open their wallets against us; panic and danger have come upon us, isolation and rejection; my eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of the daughters of my people.

You have seen all the ravages, all their waxed fruit and hormone injected meat. You have heard their lies, O Lord, all their plots against healthy eating. The lips and thoughts of the corn and sugar producers are against Are_All_Sugars_Created_Equal_Part1-MasterNorris_comme all the day long. Look at their corn syrup and their evaporated cane juice; I am the object of their deception.

But you will repay them, O Lord, according to the work of their hands. You will give them dullness of heart; your curse will be on them. You will pursue them in anger and destroy them from under your heavens, O Lord.” (Based on, Lamentations 3)

I hope these words made you laugh. If you are an occasionally self-aware hypochondriac like me, then I’m sure they have. I don’t blame God for all of my imagined or real suffering, but I do want to see them all through the light of his presence. And maybe this year I won’t complain so much as I remember that He works out all things for the good of those who love him, even my gluten-intolerence. gluten-wheat-free-mixes

 

Updates

The Book is Done, Here’s the Proof

February 6, 2015
HoG_spine_proof

Here’s the proof, literally. A proof is the test copy a printer sends to you to make sure your digital files accurately translated into an analog product made from wood (paper.)

It turned out great. Some pages we a tad faded but the production facility said it was their fault for running the proof on an older machine and would not be indicative of the larger print runs.

Take a gander!

A Different Life

My Little Sinner

January 27, 2015
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My daughter is a little sinner. Don’t get me wrong, she’s very sweet, she loves deeply, she is discerning, and looks for ways to be kind to people, but there’s no way around her sinful nature. Like the rest of us humans, she isn’t perfect. So why do I take it so personally when she messes up? Why do I assume that her sin looks bad on me? It’s bad enough that my own sin is an embarrassment, why does her sin have to be an indictment on me as well?

In my old age, I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding my sinfulness, pretty good at making light of it, or applying the soothing balm of grace to myself, thanking God that he forgives me hundreds of times a day for my failures. But when my daughter acts in a way that is more selfish than loving, the first thing I want to do is to fix her. And that makes sense, we have to teach our kids right and wrong, but when my motivation is saving face, or proving to my friends that I won’t allow for any of that sin business in my household, I sense that I’m not so much concerned about the state of her soul as I am the state of my reputation. Embarrassment trumps grace when her selfishness sticks out for everyone to see. Forget about my selfishness in not wanting to have a transparent moment where people see that I can’t and won’t perfect my child, I’ve got to discipline the selfish out of her in an attempt to make up for her failure. Ugh. That’s the gospel according to Hayley.

While I do want a child who loves others well, I don’t ever want my reputation to be the energy behind my discipleship of her. In other words, I want to see my child the way God sees her, as a sinner saved by grace. Just as important, I want to see myself as a parent saved by grace, not condemned by the sinful nature of my offspring. My child is a lot like me. She’s prone to teach, correct, lead, to be liberal with advice, be selfish, and speak before she thinks. Her flesh is continually at war with the Spirit and she’s only been on this earth for nine years. So, why again do I take her sins personally when her sins have already been taken by another?

A Different Life

Killjoys

January 25, 2015
killjoys

This is a really great read on the seven deadly sins that desiringGod.com is offering as a free download. It’s a compilation of great thinkers like John Piper, Marshall Segal, Tony Reinke, and Ryan Griffith writing on the topic of our incessant love affair with sin.

 

Updates

Project Update #3 – Check Out the Cover!

January 13, 2015
website-update

So, we let our crowdfunding campaign sit stagnant over the holidays because we didn’t want to reduce people’s toy purchasing power, but true to our word, no matter if this crowdfunding experiment is a success or not, we have been moving forward with the publication of House of Grace!

Now that might mean we don’t do things the ‘right way’ or with ‘excellence’, but sometimes that approach is overrated. Sometimes God slows money and resources to a trickle because he wants you to trust him. Stored up manna and all that.

Sometimes it’s just a good old fashioned humbling. And that’s good too.

So we’ve adjusted our funding thermometer much lower to reflect our leaner, meaner, and more aggressive approach of trying to have these books done by February. YES. Next month!! In fact, both Michael and Hayley have two different speaking engagements in February, so if we can raise $3,000 before then, we can finish the typesetting and pay for a large print run in time for these conferences! And, honestly, even if we don’t get one more backer we’re going to make this happen! That might mean Michael sells his truck or you see him down at the Plasma Center, but it’s gonna happen and this new cover has really helped our morale around here! And by the way, we are going to have a huge party for our six (and maybe counting) backers when this book hits the shelves.

And now, without further adieu, check out our new cover!

House of Grace cover

We’re really excited about it; looking at it makes us happy! And that’s what grace should do. Michael’s had this visual kicking around for over a year now and we finally have it put together in an organic and beautiful way. We like that the hand drawn elements reflect parents and children doing it together, instead of farming out parenting and discipleship (and design) to professionals. We also like that a house of grace has no walls (or maybe it’s just always under construction.)

Let us know what you think in the comments and it’s not to late to be one of our backers!

Please pray for us as we walk this journey that we would recognize and acknowledge that what God is providing, even if it isn’t what we dreamed of, is absolutely perfect.

Laboring for you and your family through him and for his glory,

Michael, Hayley, & the whole Grace City team.

 

A Different Life

I Love the Law

January 7, 2015

I don’t know about you, but I love the law.

I just love it!

It makes sense. It puts things into order and it helps me to know what to do. When I was a kid I learned to use the law to get attention. While some girls were breaking it to feel freedom, I was busy using it to my advantage: proving my goodness, my smarts, my talents. Straight A’s, 4.0 grade average, saving myself for marriage. I obeyed the heck out of the law, and I got all the glory for it. Doing great at what people tell you to do is, well, great! But girlfriend it can mess you up!

First, there’s the nasty problem of having to constantly prove yourself. When proving yourself by your ability to obey the law, you end up in a continual frenzy of action, stress and worry. And the few laws that you start out to conquer become a few more and a few more. Pretty soon if there’s a law you hear about you want to get in step with it, to tic it off of your list of “I can do it!” So when I first became a Christian I was in heaven, heck, there were more laws then a girl could know what to do with. ‘Thou shalt not’ was my favorite phrase. The lights just kept going on for me. “I didn’t know that!” I’d say with an excited smile on my face. “Now I can get things right. This will change everything.” And so I devoured my first Bible. Read it from cover to cover in three months and set about to change my life. And I did, by my sheer devotion to the law, change. LAS-Law-January-1And since the law proved to be so valuable to my growth, I wanted everyone else to hurry up and change too, so I became an evangelist. Yes, of the amazing love of God, but more importantly, I thought, of the law, the glorious law that sets it all right.

But what I found out was that the love of the law makes you an uncomfortable companion. “What?! You mean people don’t want to be continually corrected? Or told what they should do in order to make their lives better?” That makes no sense to me. If I have the cure for cancer why wouldn’t you want me to share it with you, or so I reasoned. Isn’t part of love sharing the burdens of one another? And if my burden was (allegedly) lifted by obeying the law, why wouldn’t you just obey your way to freedom too? Ugh, that’s it, that’s it right there; the root of my dysfunction. In my pursuit of God, I got caught up in believing that the law was meant to save me, that it could save me. I fell so in love with order, direction and purpose that I missed the Savior. I missed his kindness (grace) in setting me free from the law.

It’s so ironic, because for years after Catholic school, I tried my hardest to prove myself to God; to do things all right. But I failed, I really failed. 20100304_do-you-love-the-law_poster_imgAnd then I read about myself in Galatians 5:4 and another kind of change started. It said, “you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” These simple words started a decade-long wrestling match with this idea of grace, the concept that destroys the power of my beautiful law that says: the law doesn’t save you, his grace does. Those words don’t taste very good coming out. Frankly, they offend me. I’m a do-it-yourselfer. I enjoy my to-do-list. I feel good when I get things done. But grace, grace just comes in and reveals the mess that lies underneath and says, ‘that’s okay. Life is messy. But you’re covered.’ I want to run around after grace and clean things up. Sure, grace is necessary, especially for those times when I can’t do it by myself, but let me at least try! Let me put my life, my house, my relationships in order, and then if I fail I’ll come looking for grace. I treat grace like a safety net. But tell me that I can’t be justified by what I DO get right and I’m all kinds of confused.

Grace is something I fear I’ll never truly understand. And as I look around my house, the desire to put things in order, to straighten my life up and prove my presentability to you all is ravenous within me. IMG_0777My flesh cries out for my daily dose of the law, but in resignation, today I’m going to walk by the Spirit. Being resigned is better than nothing, right? So what’s life like when you aren’t under the law? Today I’m going to try and see, but if I fail, I guess my safety net is still there. Ironic huh?

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). Gulp! Here comes the mess named Hayley…