Help a Brother Out

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

-Edward Everett Hale, 19th century author and clergyman

 

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The needs of this broken world roll in like waves. Sometimes the tide is low, sometimes it is high, but the waves never stop. The shore longs for stillness, but the waves of needs…they just keep rollin’ in.

I have a friend who teases his family when they are being overly needy. “You have more needs than the children of Ethiopia!” He says this in sarcasm, but seriously there are more needs around us than we can keep up with. (Maybe not more than the children of Ethiopia, but an awful lot.)

I often feel overwhelmed by the waves of needs in the world. Childhood poverty, homelessness, and mental illness to name a few. Then there are “political” needs like protecting our environment, criminal justice reform, and healthcare for the uninsured.

What happens when we are overwhelmed by needs like a child engulfed by waves hitting the shore? Our hearts are tugged as we rightly desire to advocate for our oppressed brothers and sisters, and sometimes we even feel guilty if we are not active in all the things. 

Guilt, however, is not what the Lord wants for His children. While He has given us the command to pour ourselves out for others, he also lovingly gives us the freedom (and discernment) to choose where and how we will do that.

We have a moral responsibility to attend to the needs of our brothers and sisters in our communities. The Lord has called us to be culture-changers so these needs are met, but God never asked you to tend to all the things.

The Edward Hale quote above is wisdom to those wanting to meet “more needs than the children of Ethiopia.” You are one person. And while you are an AMAZING person–chosen, set apart and gifted to tend to others’ needs–you are only one person. Overloading your service calendar will leave you frazzled–and quite frankly exhausted–which is not beneficial to those in need or yourself.

The quote is also wisdom for those who have decided there are too many needs, so they’ll just sit this command out. This is an easy lie to fall prey to, because serving takes time and resources you may think you don’t have. Embrace the areas you know God has asked you to serve, knowing He’ll give you everything you need for it!

We can be more faithful and effective servants–not to mention more joy-filled– when we remember that we can not do everything. Likewise, we can pour ourselves out boldly knowing we are called to do something.

 

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Are you attempting to pour yourself out into all the things, and ready to discern where you can serve more joyfully? I have learned from wise mentors and personal experience some ways to go about choosing where and when you’ll serve:

  • If you have a family, I believe this is our first responsibility for service. Often we get so busy serving outside the four walls of our home that our family gets left behind. Also, there are plenty of ways for your family to serve together. But if your family is only getting the remnants of you, you may need to rethink how much you are serving outside of the home. Whatever you do, don’t forget those nearest to you have needs, too!
  • What gifts has God given you that you love to share with others? When you use those gifts can you tell it flows naturally? Chariots of fire describes it perfectly: you’ll know you are operating in your gift “when you feel God’s pleasure.”
  • What personal experience has God put in your path that gives you a burning desire to serve for that cause? Are you a teacher in a poverty-stricken area? Have you experienced needless violence first hand? Your personal story makes serving there a natural fit!
  • Will it promote good in a way that honors God…or you? Sometimes we get caught in the tricky trap of self-service. “I’ll do this, then maybe I’ll get that.” A true servant never thinks of their personal gain.
  • Lastly, can you use your occupation itself to serve others? Many jobs, by nature of their duties, meet spiritual, emotional and physical needs. But even if you don’t feel your occupation is a “service” job, there are always ways to sneak in love for your fellow man at your 9 to 5.

Comment with ways you know when and where to serve. I’d love to know!

 

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Starve The Wolf

images-2Politics divides. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been a “political” person, since basically the first step of politics is choosing sides. I find common ground with both sides, which complicates choosing one over the other. But there are times when choosing becomes an unavoidable duty; for many Americans that is never more true than during a presidential election year.

Normally at this point in the race, I’d have slapped a sticker on my van and patiently awaited the results in November. If I’m honest, I’ve always been content knowing regardless of who wins the White House, things in my quiet, obscure, suburban American life will stay relatively the same. Not so this year.

This year, I have an unsettled spirit within me, and I cannot remain blissfully neutral. I see people not just uniting behind a candidate, but fixated with them. I see people ditching lifelong values for the sake of being on a winning team. And most of all, I see a lot of anger, malice and unrest.

There is a place for anger in the Christian walk, specifically when anger is a catalyst to bring about justice for the victimized. Voters are angry–and rightly so–because our government has either ignored or aided in the collapse of traditional American ideals. I find myself angry also, but in Ephesians 4:26 the Lord renounces allowing anger to propel us toward sin.

So this year, instead of slapping a sticker on my van, and patiently awaiting November results, I’m staying engaged in the events of this election. I’m reading articles, listening to commentaries from both sides, and refreshing my memory on American history and civics. I’m also making an effort to pray for those in authority, knowing that God can change hearts and provide wisdom where it is lacking.

Simultaneously, I’m taking steps to guard my heart. I’m asking God to forgive me where I have fallen into sinful anger, and risked dragging others down with me. I’m learning to train my mind against emotional ploys and praying God will guide me to see things in a sensible light. I’m asking God to reveal the lies to me; to show me where arrogance is disguised as strength, where greed is disguised as prosperity, or where division is disguised as protection, not only in a candidate’s heart, but in my own.

Not far into this year’s presidential race, I was reminded of the Cherokee legend of the two wolves. If you haven’t heard it in a while it goes like this:

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An old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about life. “There is a fight going on inside me,” said the grandfather. “It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil-–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good–he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.” 

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”  The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

For the fight going on inside me, I choose to starve the first wolf. With God’s help, I will walk away from philosophies that increase human-on-human tension and strife. I will choose to feed the good wolf by filling my mind with truth about God’s promises to all His children, not just some. I will heed the lessons of those who have fought–and are fighting–the good fight.

With God’s help, we as a nation can move towards restoration and be a people of unity, faith and freedom. This year, I choose to do more than buy a sticker or wear a trendy t-shirt. This year, I choose to be a part of that restoration.

 

 

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Miss Hospitality

Hospitality-is-not-about....Hospitality.  A word that’s practically synonymous with the South, and a trait that’s valued here above many others. While I am most definitely a daughter of the South, “Southern Hospitality” is something I’ve often looked on with cynicism.

The word stirs up images of a perfectly set table, a well-thought-out meal, and flawless hosting abilities. Feeding this notion are multitudes of magazines and endless Instagram feeds suggesting hospitality should be paired with the latest entertaining trends to truly make guests feel welcome. Abilities like these take time and planning–and y’all know how I feel about dreadful planning. Hospitality quickly became a goal I was content allowing others to strive for.

But I was reminded of the truth about hospitality when Jake McGlothin shared a message on the topic at Floris United Methodist Church. Jake, a New Orleans native, spent 2 years in The Republic of Armenia with the Peace Corps. Living with a host-family there, he says, shaped much of his understanding of true hospitality.

In Jake’s message, based on Luke 14:1-14, he hones in on what true hospitality is and why true hospitality matters. Hospitality defined is attending to people’s needs, honoring the value of others and giving your best.IMG_7967

Jake states, “When we attend to people’s needs we are acknowledging that they are important to us. Honoring the value of others takes humility on our part.” In regards to giving your best he says, “The lengths to which we go to be hospitable is an outward sign of our love.” 

After describing what hospitality is, Jake continues to explain why hospitality matters.  Very simply stated, true hospitality is an act of love. Throughout his message I kept in mind the motto of my home state, Mississippi–The Hospitality State.

I thought about all the ways I’ve seen people attending to needs, honoring the value and giving their best across the state. People I know fostering children, families I know building playgrounds in urban areas and doctors I know seeing uninsured patients for free. So I jotted down a quick doodle of my home state and eventually it became a tee shirt.

11252720_10153215118189823_5943260800781388838_nIt’s my favorite A Little Happy design because it represents how I feel about Mississippi, a state overflowing with brotherly love. I love the word “stranger” in the verse, because of the multitude of people from around the country–be it regular travelers or celebrities–who’ve shared their beautiful experiences working in and visiting Mississippi.

I also love it because God reminded me that day that hospitality has nothing at all to do with adorable decor, clever table-setting or even the amount of time spent in preparation. Hospitality that the Lord welcomes has little to do with presentation and much to do with motivation. And while nowhere is perfect, I do believe Mississippi is aptly named–The Hospitality State.

 

Tee shirts are available at Mill Town Mall in Wesson, Mississippi. Limited sizes are also available at Etsy.

To listen to Jake’s entire sermon, simply click here.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This was one of my first blog drafts. I’ve gone back-and-forth with finishing it for 3 years because of the obvious–who wants to put their two-cents in regarding anything about Muslims? But I feel I have to publish it. I know I’m not a well-known blogger, only about 100 people will even see this. But for my own heart I want to get this out there.

I have had the pleasure of living near two major metropolitan areas, Miami and Washington, D.C. If it hadn’t been for these experiences, I probably wouldn’t know any Muslim families personally. Growing up in the deep South, it’s just not a culture you run into frequently. When you don’t run into something frequently the natural inclination is fear. And fear often turns to hate.

When I was young I would go to my mom’s dance studio and play an old Kris Kristofferson record. My favorite song was “Jesus Was A Capricorn” and my favorite lyric was “most of us hate anything that we don’t understand.”  I feel like a lot of the racial, social and political tension in the country is continuing because we aren’t willing to take the time to understand each other. 

Every race, religion and creed has a handful of nut-jobs, and when they decide to show-out we’d rather just toss the whole lot. You know what they say, “Throw the baby out with the bath water.” It’s a lot easier than actually doing the hard work of engaging with our fellow man–and not just the ones like us. 

There’s a high percentage of black males incarcerated, therefore all black males you see probably have a criminal history. There are some Mormon fundamentalists who still practice polygamy, therefore all Mormons really wish they could have 5 wives. A portion of Muslims believe terrorist activity is justified according to their radical views, so all Muslims must be potential terrorists. You know some white people who throw around racial slurs, so all white people are supremicist. You get the idea.

After we label an entire group, the next step is secluding yourself from knowing anything about that group, except what you’ve been told, not what you’ve experienced. Look, I’m not that young and naive to think that there aren’t real issues among race groups. I’m not so starry-eyed that I don’t know why stereotypes are cast in the first place. But what I do know is after having personal experiences with people unlike me, I’ve been blessed to be just a bit less terrified of what might happen if I let these people into my life.

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I Wish You Had a Muslim Neighbor

I wish you had a Muslim neighbor. A home you can smell long before you arrive–fresh garlic and spices flowing out with the wind. I wish you could taste authentic Pakistani food made by sister-in-laws whose families live together. I wish you could see these women in their beautiful Hijab garments, and giggle when your son says they look like Jesus’ mommy. (And I wish you could see these women also giggle when you tell them what he said.)

I wish you had the chance to give them your heartfelt sympathy when they learn the news that many of their family members were murdered in their sleep in their home country, and this is why they are thankful to be in America. Oh, how I wish you could see the sparkle in five sets of perfectly brown eyes when you brought home another baby boy, a long-awaited new playmate. 

I wish you had the chance to sit under a tree on a cool spring day with an elderly Muslim man and talk about the state of the world and the human condition. And how we wonder if anyone has it right, because everything seems so wrong. I wish you could both agree to disagree on some beliefs and agree to agree on many. I wish you had a Muslim neighbor.

I wish you had a Jamaican neighbor. One who trimmed his hedges with an actual machete and didn’t waste the coconuts that fell from a decorative palm in his yard. I wish you knew the little trick I know, how to “cure” hiccups in an infant. If you had a Jamaican neighbor you’d know how to wet a tiny piece of paper towel, place it on the babies head and watch them settle into sleep, hiccup-free. If you had a Jamaican neighbor you’d know which international grocery stores to avoid and which ones had the cheapest mangos. I wish you had a Jamaican neighbor.

I wish you had a Jewish neighbor. A family who serves you matzah and cheese as a snack and writes to you “MAZEL TOV!” when you graduate high school. I wish every time you saw Mogen David wine you remembered their childrens’ bat mitzvahs and how your dad got to wear a yarmulke, and how people hugged so tight and ate so much amazing food afterword.

I wish when you saw a group of Orthodox Jews walking down the street in your town, you quietly sang “Tradition” from Fiddler On The Roof. And secretly wished your life held that much tradition. I wish you could work for a Jewish family and have the honor of cleaning their home before Passover. Top to bottom, get every last breadcrumb out–tradition. I wish you had a Jewish neighbor.

Now, I wonder. What would any of the above neighbors write from their experiences with me? I hope they’d tell you about a family who didn’t misuse their faith to justify anger and malice. I hope they’d recall a young family who didn’t teach their children to fear people who may dress or talk or worship differently from them. I pray they would say to you, “I wish you had a Christian neighbor.”

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When Strivings Cease

IMG_8710I love to write. But more often than not, I begin a blog and never finish it. It’s frustrating. I sit down with a story, something I want to pass along. But by the time I’ve read, edited, re-read and proofed, I’ve exhausted my brain. So guess what I do? I just don’t do it at all.

Over the course of blogging I’ve often made the commitment, “OK, I’m just going to sit down and write.” But there I sit deleting, editing, and proofing. The entry sits in the draft bucket, never complete because of my desire to “turn in” perfect work.

This might be OK if it only happened in my writing. But usually a sliver of our lives is a window into the rest. When I look at my daily life there are many things I want to do–things I even feel called to do--that never get done because I feel I just don’t have the time, energy or resources to do them perfectly. So what do I do? I just don’t do them.

I started blogging because I feel led to encourage women to run–run FAST–away from the pursuit of perfection. Run toward the truth that you can lay down your obsessive striving and just live. Yet often I find myself trapped in this “do it right or don’t do it at all” mentality. Sometimes the pursuit of perfection paralyzes me from accomplishing even small things.

What I thought of when I thought of a

My perfect idea of a kids craft/play room.

Here’s just a tiny example of how I let striving shut down God’s plan for me to rest and live. I wanted to make a craft area for the boys. A place where they could feel safe to create, free from mommy constantly picking-up and saying “don’t spill that!”

I looked at wall units and baskets and bulletin boards. Special paint containers and little artist smocks. Since all of that is overwhelming–not to mention costly–I just put off making the craft room. I mean it’s gotta be CUTE, fashionable and organized if it’s gotta be, right? Wrong. 

Last week I threw together my painting table, two extra chairs and took the kids to Dollar General for more craft supplies. And guess what? My kids have enjoyed hours of creating and playing in that room already. They feel no less loved, nurtured or protected because of the chinchy decor and hodgepodge of supplies. And I did no less of a job as a mother because it isn’t Southern Living perfect.

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Our real kids craft/office/future project holding area/where moving boxes go to die room

Perfectionism is bondage. You are trapped between, “I just want to live freely and venture into these places I’m called to go”, and “I’m not even going to open that door because I can’t do a stellar job.”

Perfectionism leads to anxiety. Constantly striving and never resting wears out the mind. When I am hurdling over thoughts of how something could–or should–be done better, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. Nothing can be done perfectly. Furthermore, not everything needs to be done perfectly.

I found a translation of Psalm 46:10 this week that comforted me, encouraged me and admonished me. “CEASE STRIVING, and start resting.” This isn’t saying, “Hey, just stop making goals and chill.” To me it’s saying, “Lay down your obsessive freakish thought process that says things must be done perfectly. God is offering you His rest. Quit striving and start living.”

What are you putting off doing, because you can’t do it perfectly? What ideas or urges have you set aside because you’ve bought the lie that things must be done to perfection or not at all?  What anxiety could you release if you’d only remember what your Creator says to you, “Rest in me, and really live. Do your work well, but don’t strive so hard, child. It’s hard to watch.”

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One last thing. If anyone sees a typo or something I need to edit please notify me immediately. You could also text or email. Just kidding. Ceasing striving with you, friend. Let’s rest and live.

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A Few of my Favorite Things…and People

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Everyone loves Florida….but only some are lucky enough to call it home.

This post will introduce you to a family so talented and unique, I’ve often wished to be adopted into their little clan. For a period of time I feel that I was, and I’m very thankful for the time they generously spent being a surrogate family to mine while we lived in Florida.

The Wackes family–Jane and Alan Wackes, their daughter Megan Wackes Wells, and their daughter-in-law Lou Velarde Wackes–are my featured artists for the summer. I find it simply amazing for so much talent to abound from one family.

Separately, each of their work is very different–different themes, mediums and all that artsy talk. Together, their work is an eclectic mix of some of my favorite things. With way too much goodness for just one post, I’ll take time to feature each artist individually in different blog posts. I have no doubt you’ll adore their stories and beautiful work.

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Jane and Alan Wackes are Ft. Lauderdale natives and darling (I’ve seen the photos!) high school sweethearts. They married and raised three children, Robb, Katie, and Megan. Alan is a retired contractor, and Jane has never quite retired from busily working in the home.

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Showin’ some love to my home state!

We met the Wackes family at church shortly after moving to the Ft. Lauderdale area in 2008. Soon they were sharing everything with my family from Fourth of July fireworks to “Christmas Adam”–a clever Wackes thing. (Jane says since Adam came before Eve, the day before Christmas Eve is “Christmas Adam!”) My children even knew them by their endearing grandparent names, “J-mom” and “Pop,” and though years have passed, my oldest child still remembers them as the “artist family” in Florida.

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How cute and functional is this lego table?

Alan was always a skilled woodworker, and Jane a talented artist and crafter. Once retired, they were able to dedicate more time to their love for creating, and after several joint projects they began SonRooms Furniture and Art.

Together they create unique furniture and art, with Alan constructing the pieces and Jane completing them with vibrant designs. Between Jane’s unlimited imagination and Alan’s excellent woodworking skill, SonRooms produces hand-crafted pieces unlike anything you’ve seen.

True to their Florida roots, Jane and Alan’s creations have a “classic and coastal” vibe. Using various forms of reclaimed lumber from Florida docks, the finished product is beautifully rustic with the original saw marks and patina that “only time can create”.

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Wet bar complete with ice bucket and bottle opener!

Pieces range from dining room sets to wooden sea creatures and anything in between. Alan will build to order and Jane can paint whatever your imagination thinks up! The couple travels to select art shows and have become a sought-after vendor.

Before leaving Florida, I knew I wanted my own SonRooms masterpiece. I described for Alan the type of table I was looking for to use as a TV stand, and he built it. Jane used a special technique to paint the piece and to this day our family cherishes it. I have many antiques and family heirloom pieces, but the first piece people comment on is my SonRooms table!

I am super thankful for my connection to this family. Moving frequently, God always puts a family or two in each place we go who takes-in our young family, providing a place of comfort when we are far from home.

271198_10150322731255218_2192167_oWhile the artistic talent is a unique bond for this family, they are held together by much more than their pursuit of creating. Keeping their faith at the center of their lives–during good times and bad–is the bond that keeps this family whole. I learned a lot about art and free-living from the Wackes’. I also learned that keeping God alone on highest display in life is the surest way to find contentment.

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10685528_10152633780150218_8142899972647941822_nCrab-walk on over to Facebook and “Like” SonRooms Furniture and Art. Browse their gallery of amazing work, and keep up with locations for their next art show.

J-mom and Pop with their cherished grandchildren.

Jane and Alan now live in Yankeetown, FL where they enjoy the slower pace and beautiful landscape.

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Have Yourself A Funky Little Christmas

I was talking to a dear friend today (and by talking I mean texting) and we were discussing how much we love Jesus, but how little we love Christmas time.  We discussed the absurdity of over-the-top religion that suddenly appears December 1-25, the pressure to buy people gifts and bake things made with pumpkin or mint.  We discussed how we dared not say aloud we didn’t care for Christmas, lest we do not pass Go, do not collect $200, and basically go straight to hell.

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The Christmas Funk is real, y’all

Christmas is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.”  So why in the world do I get this weird, dragging feeling in my heart when my heart should be glowing?  (With much misteltoe-ing–that’s not even a word.)  Why am I ready to pack it up on December 26 and sweep every pine needle right out of my home and life?

I don’t mean to be a downer during what may be your favorite time of year.  But the more people I open up to, the more I find share my sentiment–Christmas can just really take it out of you.

I think some of it has to do with the time of year when Christmas falls.  Not only are trees bare and temperatures low, but it’s the end of the year.  In the year’s final month, we are naturally reflecting on the previous 11 months and that can be emotional.  We recall memories made, but we also lament missed opportunities.  We cherish new friends made, but simultaneously long for distant family and friends.  We gush at Christmas photos capturing beautiful families, but groan for friends who’ve lost loved ones.  The end of anything isn’t easy, and poor Christmas has to fall at the end of the year.

Another thing is the work involved.  I’m not going to lie.  I am a terrible planner and Christmas takes too much planning and follow-through.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to make sure my family has a wonderful Christmas, and not just out of obligation.  I sincerely want my children to have family traditions they cherish and pass on to their families.  But I feel like it’s already taking everything I’ve got just to give them a halfway-decent regular day–now I have to take it up a notch to wonderful?  The God’s honest truth is the work involved with Christmas is exhausting.opening hearts

I named my blog A Little Happy not because I experience real life as one big parade of bliss. (Although thank God it’s not one big parade of sadness either.)  But I want to share honestly for those of us who deal with a hint of sadness at times when everything around you tells you it’s mandatory to be giddy.  If you share this feeling, don’t beat yourself up.  I think it’s quite natural to feel a little sad and weird–right along side your giddy–during this time of year.

WAIT!  I almost forgot.  The part I DO LOVE about Christmas time.  The reason I’d never ever go a single year without celebrating it, regardless of the planning and messy pine needles.  The part where’s there’s a beginning!  A tiny, holy baby.  Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah.

wearyHe is Emmanuel (God with us!), God being born into this weird, dragging world as a human.  He came to dwell with humanity, and He felt all these confusing feelings.  When He humbled Himself to our lowliness He saw just how sad and exhausted we felt in this broken earthly life.  And He had compassion on us.  Lots of compassion.  So much compassion that when this baby grew up He said, “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened.  I’ll give you rest.”

If all you wanted for Christmas was rest from this weary race of human life, Christmas is great news for you.  That tiny, cherub-faced baby you keep seeing everywhere was God’s plan to deliver the ultimate relief to humanity.  Salvation.

As I end each year–as I reflect, recall, lament, cherish, gush and groan–I also open again and again the great gift of Jesus.  I cling to this gift all year, not just in December.  Because I need compassion.  I need relief and rest.  I need salvation.  I need Christmas.

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 A Little Happy is a blog dedicated to documenting the everyday life of a mother and wife.  I feel a special call to minister to women who also deal with anxiety and depression.  If your heart is feeling more than a little “weird and dragging,” please reach out to a close friend, doctor or pastor.  Depression is different than feeling a little sad, and with the right treatment (and God’s endless grace) you can always find the little happy along the rough roads of life.

 

 

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