Time to refocus?

Guest Post by Jenna VanLoon


Sitting here, thinking (probably) way too deeply about a patch of grass.

Right in front of me, something sat in one place for too long. A tarp. It caused stagnant grass. It caused death. I didn’t even know this was happening, until I moved the tarp. It didn’t take long. In fact, given the “right” conditions, it only took 1 day to do the damage.

Now, the funny thing about that patch is that if choose to look outside of it, I will see something very different. I see a lot to be thankful for. Coincidentally, if I am so busy looking at the growth and beauty around it, by the time I look back, that death is going to look a lot like new life. It will look like a spot that experienced growth. (Author’s Photo)

My newsfeed has been overflowing lately with everything that is going wrong in everybody’s lives.


I know struggles are real. But so is hope.

And what we set our focus on, we will achieve.

Are you focusing on all of your hardships, or are you choosing to see everything that is going RIGHT in your life? Got any tarps you need to move? I know I do! (Photo Via Pixabay)

Resisting Temptation


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All I was doing was looking for a recipe. Just a simple chicken something for dinner, but when I logged into my computer I was faced with a dilemma- lose 10lbs in 6 days sitting right next to a link to a pretty delightful looking cinnamon bun cake dripping in icing.


Forget the chicken, it’s summer and losing 10 pounds sounds amazing… right after I try that cake.

Why is it that we fight so hard to do what’s right and so often feel slapped in the face with every temptation and desire?  I don’t know about you but I’m sick of it. (Photo via Pixabay)

So how do we resist temptation?


The bible says that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (see Philippians 4) I could use a bit more of that strength. And although I do know I need to rely on Christ for the strength He promises me, I’m also realizing that I have a part to play. I can’t just sit back in my recliner and let God do the work. There are things that are required of me in all this. If I want permanent change in my life then I have to do some permanent work. A body builder doesn’t become strong by sitting back and trusting God to build those muscles- instead he or she goes to the gym and puts the time in. A farmer doesn’t sit at his breakfast table and believe in faith for a great crop if he has never sown a seed. (Photo via Pixabay)

We also have to put the work in if we want to see results in our own lives. God will do His part- will we do ours?


1 Corinthians 10:13  says this about temptation- 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (Photo via Pixabay)

We can handle temptation. It’s awesome to know that God has already made sure of it. Besides not letting us be tempted beyond what we can handle- He is also going to show us a way out so that we can make it through. And although I’m using food as my example today- we all know that it goes much deeper than that. Temptations have ruined families, destroyed careers, and caused good people to do things they never intended.


Resisting temptation is far from easy, but it is doable. The question for us today is will we do what it takes? Will we build our muscles to a point where temptation has no hope?  Will we sow the seeds of God’s word so deep in the soil of our lives that when we are faced with temptation it will have nowhere to grow because God’s word will already be taking up the space? (Photo via Pixabay)

God has already done His part. He’s given us every tool. Will we do ours?  The work is hard, but the results are worth it.

As for me- I went back to the chicken. Not happily back, but back. I didn’t want chicken anymore, I wanted to lose 10 pounds while eating the cinnamon bun cake extra icing please. Temptation offers us the world, but never delivers on it’s promises. God offers us the tools, but asks us to be a part of the process. Today- I chose the chicken instead of the cake. Hey, small victories are still victories, and even though the muscles may be small today, tomorrow the results will be unbeatable.


Thriving Through the Storms

Recently, I was driving home and on the way I looked out at the brown trees, the brown grass, the brown…there was not a sign of new spring life anywhere and it frustrated me. Did I mention that this winter has been long, very very long? My calendar said that spring was finally here but the weather had not gotten the memo and although I knew that eventually we would see some green popping up all over the place- at that moment, I was not seeing it. I want so badly to be like Paul who says in Philippians 4 that he has learned to be content in whatever situation he is in, whether in need or in plenty. Unlike Paul, I was not content. I was more like the grumpy cartoon character “Maxine” in both word and attitude.


God spoke to me that day.

As I got out of my car, He told me to take a picture of our woods. Ok God, I’ll do it but I don’t see the point. Then He told me to get closer and take another picture.  I was starting to feel a bit silly, and I was starting to wonder if I was really hearing Him correctly. Why was I standing outside taking pictures of dreary woods?  I’m losing it. I just know it. Nevertheless, I stepped forward, and continued to take pictures. I did this a number of times and that’s when I saw it. Tiny buds, almost unnoticeable until I was right next to them. Tiny leaves that you couldn’t see just driving by.


In the midst of my own list of frustrations, I had missed the hope that God had for me. I was so irritated at the length of the cold season and all the little things that had warn me out that I never saw the new life that was all around me.

Too often, I look at the big picture and inflate my own problems all the while neglecting the threads of God within them.

This is what I saw today. Isn’t it awesome?  This delicate Daffodil came up in spite of the storm that raged around it. The extra snow, the long cold days that seemed to never end, nothing stopped it’s growth. Nothing around it shows any sign of life, yet still it thrives. We can do that too. We can thrive even when everything around us appears broken and lifeless.

Today, I’m looking for the glimmers of hope that God has sewn into the tapestry of my life. The tiny leaves, the smallest flowers, and the moments I often miss.

The bible says to “cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us”.  When we do, the new growth we will see in our own lives will rival the storms all around us. I’m excited to see that growth aren’t you?

The Joy Will Come


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One of the saddest comments I hear every single day are the words “no one understands”.  Those feelings of utter despair, hopelessness, and loneliness are often heightened during the holiday season. We continue with our traditions while the stress of the holidays lay like a weight on our shoulders. We work hard to please the young ones. We hunt eggs, eat chocolate, have family meals and unpack baskets of goodies, all the while hiding a mountain of despair under a pasted smile.

We try to remind ourselves of the joy this season should bring us, but instead we are often left with guilt because that joy seems so unreachable.

I wonder if maybe we are looking in the wrong places for that joy.  Now, I don’t mean that eggs and baskets and family gatherings should be pushed to the wayside. Not at all.


I do think however that often we passively look to the cross, we glance at the resurrection and we truly do appreciate all that Jesus did for us, but He was Jesus, and that was then. We are told that what He did was enough, that we can leave our sin, our guilt, our shame and we can now have joy, peace, and hope. So if this is the case then where did it all go?  Why does it seem so hard to attain? (Photo Via Pixabay) 

Maybe we just don’t dig deep enough.

Yes the cross is enough, Yes Jesus’s resurrection is enough, but No it wasn’t all. It wasn’t. There was more that we miss, more we need to look at in order to receive all that He intended for us to have.

Let me show you the more today.

In Luke 22:44 KJV we see Jesus in the garden praying about the upcoming cross he was soon to bear and “being in agony, he prayed more earnestly, Then his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.” Our Jesus was in agony as he cried out to God. The bible says that he openly asked God to take this burden from him. (See Matthew 26:39) Can you believe that even our precious Jesus had times in his life when what he was facing was just too much?

Torment. desperate-2100307_640

So Jesus, being just like us, does exactly what we do when we are desperate. He asks his friends for help. He asks them to simply stay awake and support him in prayer. Just like us, they can’t see his troubles, they can’t feel his pain, and exhausted from their own day, they sleep. (Matthew 26:40)


Later we are shown a horrifying picture of Jesus beaten and nailed to an old rugged cross. Dying he suffered unspeakable pain just for you and just for me. Yet there is one more detail that needs to be mentioned here. In the last moments of Jesus’s life on this Earth, we see him cry out to God one more time and what He says breaks my whole heart. Jesus has done everything asked of him. He has given all he could give and in his last moments we hear him cry “… My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Photo Via Pixabay)


You see, Jesus dying on that cross is awesome and amazing and cruel and terrible and he did it all for us. Did you also know that he was so totally a man who in his weakness and humanness he didn’t think he could handle it? Did you ever really think about the little details of this story?  That Jesus was so alone, so scared, so desperate and no one came to his aid. No one supported him, no one helped him. His best friends slept. His prayers didn’t seem to be heard and His God, Our God, seemed to turn his back on him.


I love this, not because of what Jesus suffered, but because when I look at these little moments; when I look at what Jesus went through I KNOW He understands. He understands my pain. He understands when I don’t think I can handle what life has thrown at me. He gets that I’m only human. He’s been there, He’s done that, and He knows. (Photo Via Pixabay)

Hebrews 12:2 says “… for the joy set before him he endured the cross…” Jesus endured the physical pain, He endured the mental despair, He endured the loneliness; Jesus endured it all. And he did it because of the Joy that would come.


Today, when you think about the Easter story, when you think about what Jesus did for you, look just a bit deeper and receive just a bit more. Yes He died, Yes He lives, Yes He understands, and Yes He will get you through everything. And Yes, just like Him, your joy will come. (Photo Via Pixabay)

Are We Fighting the Wrong Battles?

A few years ago, on a cold and nasty winter day, my mom and I left a popular shopping center and were heading to my car. On the way there, I noticed that the wheel wells of my car were caked with ice, dirt, and slush. I can’t stand that. I’m talking pet peeve in overdrive. At this point something just came over me and I proceeded to kick that nasty snow and ice from the wheel wells on my side of the car. Please don’t misunderstand me here- this was not a tiny little kick. I was ninja kicking that nasty stuff full force, just like a pro. With the back of the car finished, I headed to the front driver side and proceeded to take care of that tire too.


The weirdest part of all this was my mother. She is not the kind of women who stands outside the car when it is freezing waiting for me, but there she was standing silently, watching me with the strangest look on her face. (photo via Pixabay)

I realize now that the look was speechlessness, a look I had not seen on her before. (no offense mom) Looking back, I also realize that this look should have stopped me from myself, but my mission was too important and I finished that tire. Satisfied with a job well done, I reached for the door figuring I’d take care of the other side at the next stop. It was then that I realized, as you have probably already guessed, this was not my car. Worse yet, the woman in the driver seat was not impressed by my beating up HER car.

Shock. Embarrassment. Speechlessness, now I get it.

I did the only thing I could think to do- apologizing profusely I backed away slowly.sorry-1138680_640

I am so thankful for people who have a sense of humor. I Love them. And I love that this lady (who I was sure was going to have me arrested) laughed. Like really laughed.

I did not laugh until later. Not until I sat in my car, (one row over by the way), wheel wells full of snow and ice (yes, I left them like that) and drove away. Then I laughed an embarrassed, crazy, belly laugh. And just so you know, I have given up my days of kicking the ice from my tires. I’ve been cured. I now fully trust that spring will come and temperatures will rise and this issue will take care of itself. I’m not taking any chances. (photo via Pixabay)


On a side note, my husband loves this story. Although it’s been a number of years since this happened, he still points out peoples tires full of snow and ice and encourages me to “go get um tiger”.  I am tempted at times. (should I admit that?  Hey, a pet peeve is a pet peeve). But alas, I resist every single time. (photo via Pixabay)

My favorite part of this story though, is how God has used it to steer my life. Who knew He could take a crazy, ice kicking adventure and use it for my good. It’s His still small voice as I’m praying over situation after situation that I hear- “Nicki, you’re kicking the wrong car again”.  Not only does this make me giggle, but it also lets me know that some battles are just not mine to fight. Sometimes I need to look up and see that this one- isn’t mine. It’s in those moments that I need to breathe, take a step back, and walk away slowly in a new direction.


Maybe some of you are kicking the wrong car too.  I pray today that God will use this in your life, and as He reminds you of this- you will giggle, step back slowly and regroup. We will fight the battles that we are meant to fight, and leave the others in His very capable hands. (photo via Pixabay)

Seeing Beauty in Ourselves

I battle with seeing the beauty in myself. Often the flaws are just too easy to pick out. Stretch marks from babies, grey hair from teenagers, and extra weight from stress eating… the list goes on and on.

So how do we battle this?  How do we look in the mirror, or better yet into our souls and see the beauty that is there?

The_Broken_Mirror_RETOO bing free to share and use

When our eyes become blurry, we make an appointment with an optometrist and get a nice pair of glasses to clear everything up. Yet when the vision we have of ourselves becomes blurry- we focus on the blurry. We stare at it, consume it, and believe the truth in it. I think it’s time to make an appointment to clear some things up. (Photo Via Bing Public Domain Images)

I think it’s time we looked through a different lens don’t you?

When the eye doctor is trying to find the right prescription for us- they try many different combinations until they find the perfect one. So why do we concentrate on the same lens every single day?


God gave us the power to choose.  We choose how we think, what we say, what we do with the time we have on this earth. So why not choose to be a bit gentler with ourselves, to love ourselves a bit more and see the beauty that is within each of us. (Photo Via Pixabay)

The reality is this- I do have stretch marks, but maybe I should start looking at them for the blessings they gave me. The mirror reflects the truth that grey hair is a reality in my life, but don’t these things tell a tale of laughter and tears, good days and bad?  I’m so lucky to have them. All of them.

So lucky.

Now that’s a different lens isn’t it?

Listen, I don’t want to be harsh here- but if your truth does not line up with God’s word than it isn’t truth at all. pretty-woman-1509956_640.jpg


I want to leave you with a few thoughts today from God’s word. These are not my opinions about you or me, they are God’s, and they are powerful and true. (Photo Via Pixabay)

Ephesians 2:10– for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared for us to do.

Genesis 1:27– so God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.

Psalm 139:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

When you look in the mirror today-, try looking through the lens of God’s word and remember:

* You are God’s handiwork created in God’s own image (doesn’t get much better than that)

* You were created to do good things.

* You were fearfully and wonderfully made.


The mirror can only reflect the surface, it can never reflect your heart and most importantly, the deep beauty that God has placed within you.

Perfectly Imperfect

Here are some pics that didn’t make the social media cut, yet these are the ones I keep going back to. I cut them for the very same reason most women delete pics. I didn’t look the way I wanted to, the people in the pics didn’t look the way I wanted them to, lighting wasn’t great, I wasn’t wearing makeup… enough said. The thing is these are the pics that really portray why Christmas this year has been so perfectly imperfect.

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This pic gets me. We were at my mom’s for Christmas and the living room was quiet. My youngest was sitting on the couch all by himself so I went over and sat down. Pretty soon my middle son came over and joined us. We were all chatting among ourselves when my oldest son squished his way onto the couch. Suddenly, here I was in the middle of the people that matter most, laughing, picking on each other, and talking.  It’s rare anymore with our schedules to have everyone in the same place- but to have them all on the same couch with me, it just doesn’t get any better than that. The pic isn’t perfect, but the memory sure is.


It was the day after Christmas. I had gotten up and had coffee with my husband. We had gone through the house and gotten some after Christmas cleaning done. Then my husband decided that it would be a great idea to curl up on the couch and watch a movie. I hadn’t showered yet and had a list of things to do, but with a bit of arm twisting I relented. The next thing I know my two little dogs had moved in and my husband had covered us with a blanket. I woke up an hour later and felt amazing. The thing is, we almost lost our little Pug this year. She suddenly developed Diabetes as well as Lymes disease and it wasn’t looking good. I love that naughty little dog. I love snuggling with her. I woke up thinking how blessed we really are.

Perfect? No. Blessed. YES.

This last pic IS perfect.


I found out that I’m going to be a grandma this year. How exciting is that? When my daughter in-law received this frame, she found that it was slightly crooked and that bothered her. She wanted it to be just right, but to me it already is. I guess it’s like makeup and social media filters, they just make us look better on the outside. Can I tell you something? I can’t even see the crookedness of that frame. I can’t see beyond the inside. That new little life is what matters most.

Sitting on the couch with my boys, coffee with my husband, unexpected naps, and crooked frames all came together to make this Christmas perfect. As this year comes to a close my hope is that the new year will bring many imperfectly wonderful memories for you too!

When Life Doesn’t Go the Way You Plan



Guest post By Ryan Schrader

Many big events in our lives often play out a little bit like the following illustration:

So I’m planning this dream trip to Paris. A trip I’ve been waiting years for. I have all the right clothes picked out; places I want to visit all mapped out. I know what restaurants I’m planning to eat at and everything is perfect.

Finally, the day is here. The plane lands and I’m ready for my adventure in Paris. But as I get off the plane I am shocked to realize that the plane didn’t land in Paris. The plane landed in Ireland. This can’t be happening. I didn’t plan for Ireland, I don’t have the right clothes, I don’t know where to eat or stay in Ireland… Isn’t that how life works?

We make all these big plans and preparations and then in one instant everything changes.


So what is your Paris? (Photo by Pixabay)

Maybe it was failing out of college. Maybe you lost your dream job, or your marriage ended in divorce. Maybe it was a diagnosis or the loss of a loved one. You see we all have these pivotal moments in our lives that drastically change the path we are on.


A few years ago, I had a moment that would change the focus of my entire life. (Photo by Pixabay)

You see, I lost my baby sister in a horseback riding accident. When that phone call came in, I felt like the plane of my life took a sudden heartbreaking detour from the Paris I had planned and landed in a location I never wanted to go.

So what now?

What do we do when we feel hopeless, helpless and desperate? When we feel like we don’t have enough faith to even take the next breath much less keep going? What do we do when things don’t work out how we planned? When that plane doesn’t land in Paris?sad-2635043_640

It’s the answer to that very question that I want to talk about today.

You see there is an enemy in this world who’s only goal is to steal, kill and destroy. The Bible says this enemy roams the earth looking for whom he can devour. Becoming a Christian and accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior unfortunately doesn’t give us a pass on bad things happening in our lives. (Photo by Pixabay)

But it does give us the answer to that question.

And that answer is HOPE.

The hope in a sovereign God that Romans chapter 8 tells us is able to work all things for the good of those who love him. Not some, not limited to the minor tragedies of life- no, it says ALL things. It says Ryan, your little sisters passing was not in vain. It says there is a God in heaven who is able to take that awful tragedy and make something good out of it.Have Hope Photo via Pixabay

Did God cause the death of my little sister? Absolutely not. Did God cause all the bad things that have happened to each of you over the years? Absolutely not. (Photo by Pixabay)

From the time sin entered this world there has been death and pain and suffering. But in the middle of the pain and sorrow of this life is a sovereign God who promises to take what the enemy has meant for evil and turn it to good. There is a God in heaven that says to each of us that if you will let me I will take what the enemy is using to destroy you and instead I will use it to draw us nearer together than we have ever been before.

Are we going to understand everything that happens in this life?


That’s what faith is for, its deciding in our hearts that even though I don’t understand why and I don’t see how anything good could possibly come out of all of this pain. I’m choosing to believe in faith that what my God has promised me- is true.

What do you do when the plane lands and it’s not in Paris? What do we do when the phone rings and suddenly your little sister is gone?

You get mad, you ask a lot of questions. You cry and you mourn and you pull together as a family, you do all those things BUT the one thing you don’t do is you don’t cut God out. Instead, you have to realize that God is the only one who can take all the broken pieces of your life and put you back together.heart-1947624_640

If there is one thing that I know, it is at those times in our lives, in the middle of the pain, loss and sorrow that we have to draw even nearer to God. We have to make a conscious decision to trust in the promise that he can and will work all things for good.

Isaiah 61:3 says that we will be given beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for our mourning. (Photo by Pixabay)

We will mourn. We will hurt, cry, get angry, and struggle.

You see when you get off that plane its ok to take time to mourn not landing in Paris, but it’s not ok to stay there forever. There you will only find emptiness, sorrow and bitterness. Getting stuck here will keep you from seeing the beauty, hope and joy that are waiting for you in Ireland.

My sister had touched so many people’s lives in her short time on this earth and although our lives are so drastically different without her here, we are learning to enjoy the beauty of Ireland. We have been given the gift of watching her children grow and have families of their own. We are so much more aware of the beauty of each and every day and we no longer take even the smallest moments for granted. We didn’t plan for this, we wouldn’t choose this path, it’s certainly not Paris. But, there is beauty and hope that is arising from those ashes of loss and we are thankful for God rebuilding our lives and putting those pieces back together. I pray that you let God do the same for you.

In memory of my sister Wendi. I look forward to seeing you again someday. You are forever in my heart. Love, Ryan.

The Gift of Encouragement

1 Thessalonians 5:11 says “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

I remember one year Ryan got me a gift I have never forgotten. He was trying to show me how much he cared and while Christmas shopping he came across a “love rock”. Don’t look into this too much, it was exactly as I described it. A rock, painted with the word love on it. He succeeded in the fact that I never forgot it; well at least not until we moved from one house to another and somehow it got left behind. (By accident I’m sure). nature-685176_640

We have laughed hard about that rock over the years, and no offense to Ryan but it was a horrendous gift.  A heavy big old rock to stub your toe on at 6am does not make for a day filled with love, yet he thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. (Photo via Pixabay)

What does this have to do with encouragement?

Well, encouragement comes in many forms. It’s laughing about thegifts little things, advice filled with sincerity when you just don’t know what to do, and knowing that your partner has your back no matter what. It’s found in the little gifts and the biggest smiles. It’s that note you left your spouse just to tell them you love them and yes, it’s found in a love rock that has unexpectedly made you smile many times throughout the years.

Today, as we get ready to celebrate the upcoming New Year, let’s try to find ways to encourage each other. Have fun with it; make it unexpected at times and sweet at others. Let’s challenge ourselves to find ways to make this New Year better for those around us. Let’s shake off the dust of the past and build each other up in the coming year. (Photo via Pixabay)

And just for the record, if you do buy a rock for someone this year- I recommend the clear kind that fits on a necklace or ring, but hey, to each their own.


Fear or Faith?

I tend to take on the cares of those around me. I feel their pain, anxiety, frustration and insecurities. I worry about the things they are concerned with and I struggle with leaving my burdens (and theirs) at God’s feet. Now don’t misunderstand me here, I do know that God can handle them, I’m just pretty sure He appreciates my help.

Often, when someone close to me is struggling in their lives, I don’t sleep. The ability to be able to pray all night long and “fight the good fight” as scripture talks about was like a badge of honor.  fear of faith 4 again

The problem though, is that it was killing me.

Again, I really don’t want to mislead you.  It is good to pray. It’s great to pray all night as the Lord leads but it is most certainly not ok to do this night after night because you’re terrified of the consequences of unspoken words.

I tried to stop the cycle. I really did. I would pray and release things to God and go to bed determined that tonight I would rest, but that’s far from what would happen. Instead I would pray, ask my husband to pray, then toss and turn all night fearing I hadn’t prayed enough,  fearing that things wouldn’t work out because I was not at this moment still praying. (Photo via Pixabay)

So much fear.

I held those burdens so close that I’m not sure that even I could see them clearly. It was like a tug-of-war with the God of the universe for control and although I didn’t really want it, I couldn’t let Him have it either. fear or faith 5.jpg

When we hold our worries so tight that we can’t breathe, when we fear that if we release even a tiny part of the issue to anyone else everything will fall apart, it’s too much.

A friend said the most profound thing to me- “Nicki, wouldn’t it be better to sleep in faith than to be praying out of fear”?  “You are so afraid that if you’re not praying every second over every tiny detail that God won’t move on this situation “prayer is good, but faith is better”.

Sleeping in faith vs praying in fear.

Here I was praying incredibly hard but completely not believing that God was listening; praying out of a desperate fear that if I didn’t everything would fall apart. God had never let me down before, yet I was acting as if this time He would.  (Photo via Pixabay)

I certainly should pray for my family and friends, but not like this.

So much faith.

I should be praying out of faith that my God is big enough. My God is able to take this trial no matter how overwhelming and turn it into something beautiful.  I needed to reestablish the trust that God would make good things come of it just as He had so many times before.

I slept well for the first time that night. I told God that I was sorry for the way I had been praying and that tonight- I would be sleeping. Not because the situation was resolved, but because I had faith that God was going to handle it.fear or faith 7.jpg

I still don’t really like waiting for God to move, but today I’m doing so much better. I’m holding on to God and letting go of the burdens. I’m praying prayers of faith over my family fully trusting that God will come through for us all. (Photo via Pixabay)

So today please pray, pray hard for your family and friends. Give all your burdens to God- but then sleep well. Sleep in faith and let go of your fear.  Trust that God will show up for you just as He has for me and tomorrow will be a little brighter.