At age 17 I was forced to grow up in a way I could never have fully imagined. On a warm spring day I will never forget, I lost the mother I'd always known to a horrific accident that would leave her mentally and physically disabled. She didn't die that day, but the woman I always knew did.

I became one (of many) of the caregivers for her, driving her around in my beat up old car, and barely having the money for gas between working two jobs and going to school full time. I hopped from house to house, family to family trying to make a home for myself outside of what I'd known. I was 17, homeless, and without a mother to guide me through some of my most formative years, and lost for direction.

It was during those years that I asked God "why" more times than I can count. Why didn't He take her instead of leaving her here to live this terrible existence? Why didn't He heal her body in all that time? Why did He seem to forget about her? And me?

During those nights, I cried tears so violent and hot that I thought my cheeks would burn up, and my stomach would be sore from the jolt of sobbing. But it was in those moments, when everything was so painful and so raw, that God was so near. As a matter of fact, even though my questions of Him were harder and my heart was breaking more than ever, there was never a doubt that He was real and close.

It was in those years that God taught me some of the most important lessons that would later shape my life. He taught me that when I want to ask "why," challenged me to change my question to "what" He wanted me to do about my situation. It was in the middle of doing the "what" God asked of me, that I discovered my "why." I never expected that He planned to take the bad that had happened, and turned it around for a good purpose, but He did that and more.

It was during those times that God proved to me that in the midst of my greatest uncertainties, in Him there is infinite hope and security. When I didn't know where I'd be sleeping that night, He'd always provide a home. When I didn't know where gas money was going to come from, someone would give me a card filled with money for no reason. I leaned in to Him, and He never let me down. To this day because of the faithfulness He showed, I am certain that any need I have, He will always provide.

He showed me that loving people is HARD WORK. It's hard because you may pour out your whole soul, your strength and time into a person and they may never change. But, God didn't ask me to love people for what they can give to me, He asked me to love people so I can understand the depth of His sacrifice for me. Loving my mom was frustrating, disheartening, and at times maddening. She was mentally ill, and she wasn't coming back. But loving her in those moments taught me that God doesn't just love those who are perfect, those who perform the most for Him, or even can love Him back the way He wants to be loved. He loves us because He's paid a high price for us and we're His. That's it.

It was in those moments that I learned that It's in our deepest pain that God waits for our permission to pour out his deepest love. He never forced Himself on me, but instead, He waited. He waited for my permission to let Him in, and He never disappointed. It's from those moments of pain that I'll never question whether He's real or if He loves. It was in the darkest moments, I learned to see the clearest.

XO,

Natalie