How to Have Joy

I’ve been thinking a lot recently on this idea of joy. As someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety (and still do), this idea can be sticky. It can be hard when life throws curveballs and doesn’t go the way we wish it always would. For a long time, it was hard to go on, my head was telling me to just quit. I have been in a season that hasn’t gone the way I planned with regards to ministry. I was wanting to be in a full-time position and there was a moment that looked good, then it passed, I didn’t get chosen. It was tough. It was hard to have joy. The thing that really helped me was focusing not on the bad, or the disappointment, but the joy in the things in my life. I got engaged and its’ been such a fun season. I have a family support system that has been vital. I have people in ministry outside of my situation that have encouraged me and spurred me on. I just got back from a camp, leading fourth and fifth grade boys, being able to speak life into them and pray over them. I have unlocked strength because I have learned that joy in the lord is what gives strength.

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Pray in All Things

Recently, I’ve been scared. There’s lots of scary stuff going on in my life. End of the semester stress, graduating this year, starting a job to fund raise for a future career of ministry, and simply wanting to do what God has called me for. I’ve been scared, but God is bigger than my fears. This past week had many cool moments occur. I learned that I had the chance to speak at our high school ministry, I had a great conversation with my campus pastor, and I had a chance to pray over people in our city. That’s the moment where it happened, where a simple thing hit me in my moment of feeling weak. Prayer. One of those basic things we have in our walk with Christ. So simple, yet often I overlook the importance of prayer. In my season of fear I have been praying a lot, asking for a sign (some kind of neon lights in the sky to point me) I have been wanting all the answers to my life immediately. God doesn’t work on my schedule. Aww man! But it would be so much nicer, I mean, I know what’s best for me! That’s my human side, and it’s many of your reactions too, well maybe you don’t whine, but you get the idea. In all of my fear, I am choosing to pray, because when I choose to humble myself, then the Lord works.

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Unexpected Lessons

Life is filled with the unexpected. These are things that can be good or bad, but each day we are filled with the unexpected. It can be difficult to trust God in these moments, because these life moments can be hard. A death in the family, heartbreak, and watching people close to you fall away can plague our lives and cause us to enter into storms like none other. These unexpected events cause change in our lives, and change is scary. I had a chance to speak last night with our youth about how change can come at us all the time. These students are having to choose colleges and face the hardships of a high schooler in our modern era. This idea came at me in kind of a silly way, this week in an Instagram update, a feature called “stories” was added, a feature that is very similar to the app of Snapchat (*gasp* scandal!). While it is a silly thing, people seemed to be upset, and that made me think, if something this small can upset us, how do we react when the real issues affect us? Changes create unexpected moments in our lives, but God wants to use unexpected moments to make us stronger. John 16:33b says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” You see even though we will face hardships in the unexpected nature of life, we don’t have to fear, because Christ reigns supreme.

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The Power of Fun

I want to talk about something very serious today. This is something that has been on my heart, and I think many people are struggling from the lack of this important ability. It plagues many and causes hardship and tension when it is not present. I’m talking about fun. Did you like how I tried to make it sound like I was going to talk about something really heavy and sad? I thought it was pretty funny (Hey! It’s like I’m going to talk about fun and made a funny joke!). I want to talk about the importance of fun. We face a lot of tough things in life, things that make it hard for us to continue and want to run away and become a recluse. We can’t do that, the world needs each and every one of us. We all play a vital role in this world, it’s the reason we were created by God! One of the strongest weapons we have in our arsenal is fun, yet most of us try to take the world way too seriously. Having fun creates an open culture in your life, meaning, you find joy even in the hardest circumstances. Even though we face hardship, we can praise God and have fun. Psalm 149:1-5 says, “Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people… Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory. Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds.”

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The Blessed Life

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be blessed. Being blessed means that you have been given a new chance, something greater, you are holy. It’s a word that means you have been given all you need by a father looking out for you, and to be honest, I don’t always feel this way. I think a lot of us don’t feel this way. We are never content with what we have it seems like, we are always looking to the next big thing, the next adventure, the next purchase to satisfy the never ending craving of life. We never look at what we have and see what God has given us, and sometimes, we don’t feel like God has blessed us. We all go through struggles in life, I feel like I say this each week, but it’s true. We face pain that we never thought we would, but even in moments of pain we are blessed. We are blessed and God has given us all we need.

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Why We Matter

One of the biggest questions I think everyone has asked themselves at some point is, do I even matter? It’s kind of a frightening question to ask oneself. Do we actually matter to the landscape of the world we find ourselves in? The answer, in our own eyes, varies all over the place. Success is subjective in the eyes of the person trying to obtain it. Success in the world may be fame, fortune, and glory; but if this is the standard for if we matter, most of us will fail. I know for me I’m a broke college student who is trying to figure out how I get to the place God has called me to. I don’t exactly meet the fame, fortune, and glory type of success. There has to be something more, right? I believe that God’s idea of success is so much more powerful than we could ever imagine, and it is so much greater than our worldly desires. Psalm 1:1-3 says, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither- whatever they do prospers.” This verse I believe answers that question of why we matter.

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Reclaiming Prayer

I think we have lost something. Lost something that brings us closer to God. Something that is a necessity of life. Prayer seems to be put on the back burner of most of our lives. I know for me, I often don’t think about the importance of prayer, so I’ll get caught up in serving others and pursuing God’s vision and I forget to come to him first! It’s such a silly thing, I’m running after what God wants for me, yet I forget to come to him first in all things. I think that is a trait that has been happening to many believers, we are running after the vision, but we forget to come humbly to God in prayer first. Now I know some of you may be thinking, I haven’t lost prayer, I pray in the mornings and before I eat a meal! This is good and is vital to our walk, but I think there is more to prayer than just once in the morning and before I eat. There is a power that comes with stepping into the presence of God. Prayer is direct communication with God, it’s the way we are able to cultivate that relationship with him, and it is the main way to prepare our hearts for what he wants to bring us. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, I feel myself getting set in a routine and trying to check it off my checklist. Pray in the morning, check. Read my bible, check. I am so focused on checking things off, that I miss what God wants to teach and reveal to me for that day. I meet with my dad each week and we started talking about this very idea. It was interesting to see that he felt the same way, that prayer has become a routine, when it should be a necessity to living life! That’s what I want to focus on today, how we as believers need to reclaim the power of prayer, because it will change and shape our life for greater things to come.

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The New Year

This is always an exciting time for me. I get a chance to reflect on the good and the bad, but I get to move forward with a new vision of the year to come. A new year brings with it new chances to learn, new memories to make, and new adventures to undertake. This post may seem a bit different from my usual style, but I’m writing it this way to try and help you look at the year gone by and how you will take on the New Year that is to come. You see, this past year was filled with what seems like a roller coaster of emotions and experiences. It wasn’t easy, but then again, God never promised us easy lives. I saw friends pass away, friends that were like brothers to me, friends that showed me that I had value and loved me. I saw my brother-in-law (whom I call a brother) struggle with the dangers of addiction. I experienced the passing of my two grandmothers and the effect it had on my family. There was stress with college classes, responsibilities I have, feelings of doubt in my own talents, and watching other friends close to me suffer similar losses. But guess what? Even in all the hurt and pain, I found joy. I had a chance to remember the fun times I had with my two friends who had passed, I was able to reflect on how their lives shaped my own. My brother is now getting help for the addictions he battles, and God is truly working in and through him even in the midst of the pain. I saw my family grow close together in the loss and discover the value in time together. In the stress I learned so much in my classes on how to communicate, to make organizations function well, and present myself in a way that is respectful and wise. I learned that no one can take away what God has given me, because God designed me this way. My friends that were hurting, God let me be there for them, and I will always be there for them in the hurting. So much more happened as well, I met an incredible girl that I love spending time with; I’ve been able to see students in my small group step into their passions for poetry, music, and art; and I myself have discovered a desire to help others in their own walks of life. It was a hard year, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Over the past three years or so, every New Year I decide to take a character trait and apply it for the New Year. This is something that is similar to the My One Word system, but because I like to be a rebel sometimes, I’ve morphed it into a trait I want to live into. It is a trait that I view life through, because I believe it will guide me and teach me to not only follow God in a deeper way, but to make myself better. In 2013, I chose to be a servant, one who looks at the needs of others and helps them in whatever way they can. In 2014, I chose to be a hero, one who sacrifices their own life and desires for that of a greater cause. And in 2015, I chose to be an adventurer, one who takes on new challenges and experiences, and thrives. Last year truly was filled with challenge and experiences that made me stronger, and in that I was able to gain the reward that God used to teach me. This year, I spent a while in my devotions and quiet times really praying over what I want to live into this year. The catch with claiming what trait you will live into in the year, is that most of the time, it becomes true. I experienced the way it feels to serve others, to sacrifice my own wants, and to be thrown into an adventure. I always love a challenge, because people will tell you it’s impossible to achieve, and then when you achieve it, those same people will look up to you. This year I chose something that encompasses what I want to do, something that I will use to help as many people as possible, and something that God wants of me.

This year, I choose to be a doctor.

Now before you jump to conclusions, I’m not going to start med school, nor do I plan on doing back alley creep surgeries. No need to worry about me becoming the guy from Re-Animator and making a zombie. What I mean by I choose to be a doctor, is I choose to encompass what a doctor does. A doctor is one who heals the sick, one who takes in the broken and brings them back from the brink of death. I don’t have the power to keep people from dying, or heal people from physical disease. What I can do is be there for the people who are hurting, the ones who face the chasm of despair, the ones who feel alone; I can be a doctor for them. This trait is a promise to myself. That no matter what happens, I will never be cruel or cowardly. I will never give up, nor will I ever give in. A doctor comforts those who are hurting, and seeks out the solutions for the ailment one faces. I want to be like a doctor, when I see my family hurt, when I experience the sting of death, or when those close to me feel alone; I want to be there for them, and I want to seek out the solution for their struggles. The best part is, I know the solution, and the solution is Jesus. Because Jesus is in me, I can do all things through him. I can be a voice of comfort, one that uses his words for life and never to tear anyone down, even in joking. I can use my gifts and abilities to reach people who are wandering and are lost. I can help those who are hurting, because I have experienced hurt. For a long time I felt like I was worthless, but with the voice of people speaking life around me, I was able to know my worth. I choose to be a doctor because I think more people need to know that they are worth it.

Big things are coming.

Along with my trait of being a doctor, this year I want to be intentional with everything I do. Some of my goals (basically a better word for resolutions, because whoever keeps those?) for the coming year are big. They are big because I have a big God. My first goal is to continue to make this blog more effective. That means making it a place where you can come and be fed from the word and have resources to grow in your own walk. This means sharing it with people (it really does help me) not for my own sake, I don’t want that, I want people to come because God is guiding me as I write and I want more people to have that. I have created a new tab thingy that has some essential books that have helped me in my walk, as well as the books that I read throughout this year so you can have recommendations from me. My second goal, and this is the big one, is to write a book. Yup, a book. I have been praying and God has shown me that this is something I can do, so this year I will be writing what is tentatively titled, “Coffee Shop Thoughts.” It will be going through the fruits of the spirit, and how to live a life of freedom through them. I’ve never written a book before, so why not start now! I will most likely use an ebook format through Amazon, and I can’t wait to figure all that out! My intent is for the book to be a simple devotional as well as be material used in a small group format. My plan is to have it done and produced by summer, and in the fall, have a small group based on it at Daystar Church. My third and final goal is to never lose sight of Jesus. No matter what happens, I want to focus on the one who even made it possible for me to do anything at all. Jesus is the one that brought me out of the depths and saved me, so I want to run and never stop running towards him.

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So what does this year look like for you? You’ve been able to see my heart over the past few paragraphs, but what does this year look like for you. Think about what you truly want out of this New Year, what character trait do you want to have that will grow you and push you to be all that you can be? If you feel like no one is in your corner on this one, know that I’m with you. I may know you, or I may never know you. What I do know is that you were made by an amazing artist and one who built the universe. God made you. So this year, set goals, find a trait that you will latch onto, and choose to have joy in all of it. I’ve learned that we are not guaranteed anything, so make the most of every minute you have been given.

Make memories, take on new adventures, and love life.

-Joshua Thomas

Live in Victory

As November comes to a close, so does the mindset that Thanksgiving brings. It happens every year, we get excited about the coming holiday and forget the things that we have been blessed with, simple things like the device you are using to read this on. God has blessed us with so much, but we don’t deserve any of it. This past month and even the past year has been filled with crazy things for me, I have seen addictions take their toll on people I love, I have seen friends suffer and lose the fight of depression, and I have experienced the death of family; but I am blessed. This isn’t a post to get attention from you or to gain sympathy, I am simply here to share with how much God has given me, even when it seems like the world is falling. During all of the craziness God still moves, I have seen the healing of addictions, I have seen the support of the families that lost their sons, and I have been surrounded by people who truly care for me and my family. 1 Thessalonians 5:5 says, “You are all sons (or daughters) of the light and sons (or daughters) of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” I have been reading though this book in the bible over and over, and every time, the idea of living in victory keeps reigning true.

None of us are worthy of the blessings we have been given, yet God still gives them. That doesn’t even make sense! God has saved us, he has given all of us a purpose. This past Sunday my mom, in our Daystar Kids small group huddle, was reflecting on how people have served her during this time of craziness in life. All people have a choice. We can either live in victory, to be in the light, or we can live in defeat. That verse from Thessalonians is both a truth and a call to action. We have been redeemed when we grow in relationship with Christ, and then we must choose to live completely in the light. So…how do we do that? Well if you look just a little further down in the book, it tells us! (Aw yes! So nice of it to do that.) 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Three simple statements that can alter the reality and mindset that you live in. I want to spend the next little bit expanding on what these look like practically and how they have dramatically changed my life. God has blessed all of us, even when we struggle and don’t deserve it at all.

Be joyful always.

It can be easy to misinterpret this one, being joyful sounds simple enough, but that always is where it can get tough. Life isn’t always the most joyful, we have people that treat us poorly, we have stress from school and work, and we are surrounded by a world that is divided and thrown into chaos almost every day. Being joyful isn’t the emotion of feeling happy, it is the choice to not let our struggles control us when we are not happy. Think of it like a relationship. If you truly love and care about someone, you work to make the relationship stronger even when you might not always “feel” like it. A choice, not a feeling. The choice of saying I will not let my circumstance control how I live my life. You are a child of God, one that has a purpose for more than you can imagine, choose to live in the light. I try to live my life with joy, it doesn’t mean I’m super human or perfect, it simply means that I have to actively choose joy even when life throws punches at me. So when I have the chance to have fun and be surrounded by people that bring me joy, I grasp tightly to it. Too many times people get bogged down by dwelling on the world around them, and this is so tragic. Trust God, in him you will have joy and he will give you the moments to enjoy. This past weekend I was able to spend time watching Doctor Who with my girlfriend, simple moments that I absolutely love. Why? I was able to spend time with someone I care about, to laugh and enjoy life, to grab hold of the moment that I had been given. I am a son of the king, and I choose to live in joy.

Pray continually.

This one is so vital. Prayer is the way that we communicate to God, the way we build a relationship with the creator of the universe. Prayer is rather simple, which shocks most people when I say that. The common picture of prayer is the getting on my knees, hands put together life that emoji (you know, the one that could also be a high five), but this isn’t the case. While that is definitely a great way of humbling one’s self, it’s not practical when driving a car or roller skating (yes roller skating. I’m not really sure why I said that either.). I like to make the joke in small groups when talking about prayer that it can be as simple as asking God if I should eat pizza or a taco, both solid options but never both. Simple things you ask God prepare your heart when you need to come with the big prayers. The ones that you need the creator of the universe to help you in, the ones where you cannot possibly make it through alone. That’s the beauty of prayer, you are never alone. God doesn’t want us to just come to him when we need something, he wants us to be in a daily conversation with him so that when the big things come, he is already listening. Prayer doesn’t mean a get-out-of-jail free card, it is the foundation on which you build your relationship with. It is a choice to speak to the one who has loved us since the beginning.

Give thanks in all circumstances.

Note that the verse doesn’t say, “In the month of November” or, “When you have the best day ever.” All circumstances means every day all year round. Like the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities, “the best of times, the worst of times.”(Literary reference, check.) This is the last of the three choices we must make, and this is the one that truly opens our heart to what God has. Focusing on the negatives in life will hurt us, emotionally and physically, but when we choose to look at our situations and be thankful, we have life. The story of my mom this past weekend really made me think about how much people have come alongside of me and my family through everything. We have to look at the world through new eyes. Look at how Paul lived his life, we wrote many of the New Testament books from prison. He didn’t wallow in his situation, he simply saw that God had placed him there for a reason. Think on your own life, the disappointments, the bad choices, and the people that may have hurt you; all of these things led you to where you are now, to this moment in time. You and I have grown and matured through hardship, we have a story we can use to help others. Your circumstance can be used to save a life. You just have to choose to be thankful in all things.

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Three simple choices. Three choices that can either help us live in victory, or fall into the hands of the enemy. We are sons and daughters of the light, we don’t have to live in darkness, and even when it seems like there is no hope, God provides the way. We are all in a battle, one that is a daily fight; but God has already won, he defeated the enemy. We are all fighting, but the world has too many warriors, we need doctors to save those who are lost. We must choose to step into all that God has for us. As I look at my life, I am so blessed and thankful for what I have experienced. If I had never struggled, if everything had been easy, I would never be where I am today. I would have never learned what it means to live with true joy. I would not understand how vital my communication to Christ is. I would never have learned how to be deeply thankful for every blessing, and neither would you. I thank God for all he has done; I am running after a dream that seems crazy, I have a family that I love and keeps me strong, I have a relationship with an amazing girl, and I am surrounded by people whose stories empower me and fill me with passion. So when you feel like you are surrounded by darkness, look up to the sky and see the light that God is leading you towards. You are a child of the most high.

So live in victory.

-Joshua Thomas

Thankful for Family

I love this time of the year. November has always been a time when one can reflect back on all the blessings and gifts we have each been given. I love the day of Thanksgiving especially for this time, it gives me a chance to remember all those that have helped me make it to the place I am in now. Family. Often when I think about family I think of my immediate family, my mom and dad, my sister and her husband; my family. Recently I have realized that my family is so much more than just my relation by blood. As believers, we are all family. As I continue to read through the works of Paul, I’ve noticed that every letter to the churches he writes, he always addresses the people as brothers and sisters. He goes a step beyond just knowing these people and takes it to another level. To me family is a special bond, one that is strong and can’t be broken. People that you would fight for, people that you trust when you struggle, the people that stand by you in the darkest of moments. Family is one that will pick you back up when you fall, and you all have family. No matter what may have happened in your biological family, maybe someone left you alone when you needed them, maybe you were abused verbally of physically, maybe your family treats you like an outcast; no matter what has happened, you have a family. God places people in our lives and surrounds us with people that are our family, God designed you to be in relationship with others, and he has given you a spiritual family; whether by blood or not.

This past year this concept has been more real to me than ever. My biological family has dealt with some tough hardships, and it was hard to make it through all of it, but there was hope. God used people in each of our lives to speak life into us and keep us above water. I know that we all struggle, and it’s easy in those moments to believe the lie that we are alone or that no one wants us. This is a great lie, one that can keep secrets in the dark, and cause us to suffer alone. We need family. I want to share a few reasons why family is so important, and to show that no matter what your biological family may be, you have a stronger spiritual family that God has placed in your life for the reason of encouraging you and equipping you to do your mission. As you read, think about the people in your life that do these simple things. Thank them, use the thanksgiving time to contact some of these people while you eat copious amounts of food. God made you for a reason, and he uses family to empower you to do it.

Family is diverse.

Traditionally when I think about family, a Norman Rockwell painting comes to mind, I’m sure you’ve seen it. The one with the Thanksgiving meal, it’s a classic image, but I believe family is so much more than the classic 50’s white middle class family. Family is diverse, meaning that we are not cookie cutter, but that we come from all walks of life. We come from different ancestors, different times, and different styles of life; and this is so good! Diversity allows each of us to look at the world differently, and the kingdom of heaven is so incredibly diverse. Your community and even the family you were born into are all different, and God uses this to open our eyes. So many times I look at a problem one way and my dad sees it in a totally different view. I meet with my dad for breakfast each week, and each week I learn so much from his experiences to problems that I face, and I am able to help him look at his questions through different lenses as well. We need to have diversity in our life, because without it, we will never grow. When we are in a family, our picture changes from Norman Rockwell to a Jackson Pollock, an explosion of color and emotion (I’m a bit of an art nerd). When you are in the family of believers, you are able to grow and look at the world in a new beautiful way.

Family is life giving.  

When we are in a family of believers, we are encouraged and able to encourage others. This is such an amazing thing that all of us need. I think back on my life and reflect about the way different people spoke life over me when the world around me was telling me I would fail. When I was in ninth grade, I was first starting to attend my current Church home of Daystar. My family was attending and I slowly started to go and attend the youth group. I connected with a small group, and grew close to them so much that they truly were like brothers to me. We have grown and changed and some have passed away, but they are all still my brothers that I will hold onto. I love them so much. Another memory I have is of that ninth grade summer, where my youth pastor, whom I consider a close friend and brother, Seth Tanner, invited to me to with him to a camp he was speaking at. I was unsure at first, but decided to go; it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. That week filled me with a desire for the next generation and gave me a calling I could not ignore. God used Seth to empower me when the world told me I wasn’t good enough. I will always remember these people, people who were my family, not by blood, but a true family that God used to speak life over me. If you take anything away from this, it should be to get into a community of believers that fills you with life, it will be the best decision you will ever make.

Family is motivating.

The final part of the importance of family, is the fact that family causes us to take the extra step. My family was always great at this. In school, I did not do very well, but my family always motivated me to do my best even when I felt like quitting. There’s nothing like the feeling of getting a c in your math class after you have failed over and over, and my family would always push me to keep going no matter what. As I’ve grown older, they continue to push me into taking the next steps of chasing my dreams that God has placed on my life. God used them to push me further in my faith, and now I can do the same for others. As a high school small group leader, I am so encouraged to see my students press into their passions and pursue all that God has for them. Last week as I was travelling for funerals, two of my students Ross and Chris, were given the opportunity to lead students in worship and teaching to their peers. Moments like this are so encouraging to know that God is using them in such a mighty way, and that they will one day change the world and be future leaders. They are a part of my family, and I want to motivate them to step into God’s plan for their lives just as I was motivated to do the same. Find your family so you can not only be motivated, but so you can motivate others.

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Family is incredible. It is diverse, it brings life, and it motivate us. I am so incredible thankful for the people I hold dear, the ones I can laugh and cry with. The people who I want to spend countless hours with. Through the good and bad, I love my family, by blood or by my spiritual family. I love each and everyone one of them. This week as you may be meeting with your own families or spending time with your friends over the holiday, remember how much they have truly shaped your life. Enjoy your time with them, hold them close to you. God has put these people in your life for a reason, one that will bring out the best in you and lead you towards the greater vision for your life. Use Thanksgiving not to celebrate the pilgrims (who, let’s be honest, were really terrible to Native Americans), but instead use this time to be grateful of the people that have walked with you through the fire. The people that will stand with you through it all, these people who fight with you, these people are your true family.

Be thankful for your family.

-Joshua Thomas