I Have Made You Radiant

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I have spent most of my life berating myself for my mistakes and attempting to change my past with “should have,” “would have”, “could have” phrases. “I should have stayed home”, “I could have called my mom”, etc.

But no matter how many times I took myself through what could have been it didn’t change the fact that it was. It happened. I was broken and there was nothing I could do about it. She had found her dad’s Playboys and decided to come downstairs during my sleepover with her younger sister to show us how to get boys to like us. I was eight. She was cool, and older, and, I thought, wiser. I didn’t have a choice and I didn’t have a voice. And then it was over.

But I was forever changed. I returned home as a shell of the child I once was. I felt sick constantly. At the time, I couldn’t identify the feeling I now know so well as “shame”.  And there was something else, something deep in me that desired to look like those pictures, something deep in me that knew if I didn’t look like those pictures I would never be loved, I would never find a husband, I would be alone. I was eight.

The years that followed weren’t so bad. I was able to lock my secret deep down in the chambers of my innermost being. It was dark there, and no one would be able to see the secret that was hidden in the corner. But as I grew, the secret grew. I didn’t realize it was growing. It didn’t take much to feed the mold, small things that added up: thoughts, questions, visuals, dialogue in TV shows, and lyrics. I would look at myself in the mirror and wonder when I would look like those women. I would watch TV shows like “Friends” (still love that show though…) that mentioned porn and strippers as a norm, and even the women would laugh and encourage the men. I would long for the days that my body would finally be able to show someone that I was worthy of love. But, that never happened. At first I thought I just needed to be older, but in 8th grade when everyone else started “blossoming” and I didn’t, I started to worry that something was wrong with me. I started to live in fear that I wasn’t capable of looking like one of those women, which meant I would never be loved by anyone other than my mom and dad.

Eventually, I did “blossom” but it wasn’t enough. I still didn’t look like those women at all. And by this point, there were so many more images of women I had to try to be. And it seemed like every day I was hearing about another boy or man watching porn. Boys would talk about it in school like it was no big deal. Movies had boys and men hiding porn magazines and tapes, or not hiding it and proudly discussing it. And every time I was a witness to this I was reminded that I didn’t look like that and therefore I am not worthy of love or attention.

I spent the rest of my high school and college years dieting, exercising, tanning, toning, waxing, dying, primping, you name it. I strived desperately to be thin, leggy, busty, hairless, and tan. If you know me, then you know I am curvy, compact, definitely not busty, and pasty beyond all reason with a spattering of freckles. According to everything I had learned about being a woman, I was not worthy of love. So, I lived my life as someone who felt unworthy of love. If anybody…ANYBODY…showed me attention, I would jump at it. I would cling to them as if my life depended on it. It didn’t matter how horribly they treated me. It didn’t matter if they used porn on a daily basis because I wouldn’t put out, because hey, I was just happy that someone wanted to be around me, it made sense that they didn’t love me, because I wasn’t worthy of that, and men needed sex. The world taught me that too, men needed sex and if you didn’t give it to them they were allowed to get it somewhere else and as the woman you couldn’t complain, because hey, you weren’t putting out so his porn use was your own fault.

But then, I started to think, maybe if I “put out” then these boys wouldn’t need the porn anymore. Maybe I would be enough. But I never was. And then I was even more broken and even more worthless. I was used, abused, and taken advantage of. Of course, I never let them see that. I didn’t want the very little affection I was receiving to disappear altogether, but it was only a matter of time before they discovered what I really was…

My body had become such a disappointment to me. No matter what I did it was never worthy of love. And I knew it. I never questioned it, it was never a thought, it just was. I was eight when I learned what made a woman worthy. For eighteen years I believed that lie. For eighteen years I never questioned it. For eighteen years I lived my life trying to prove my worth, earn my love, and then punishing my body when it let me down.

Even as a woman happily married, I felt unworthy. I couldn’t believe that a man like Dean would even bother spending time with me. But even though Dean truly loved me, I could not accept it for what it really was because I knew I was unworthy of it. For the first 4 years of my marriage and the five years of dating before that, I truly believed it was only a matter of weeks before Dean came to his senses and realized I was ugly and unworthy, and that I would never look like one of those women. I thought he was just waiting for the day that I would finally transform into one of those women and he would parade me around as his trophy; something he was immensely proud of; something he wanted all the world to know that he loved, then we would live happily ever after. But I knew that day would never come and when he finally realized that too, he would leave me.

But for some reason he stayed. He never left, and that crazy man kept telling me I was beautiful. And then I would look in the mirror and be convinced that he was lying to me. I would accuse him of lying to me and say, “You’re just trying to make me feel better.” Oh man, I was a mess. (Was? Nah, I am STILL a mess.)

Then, two years ago, God started poking around in my deep innermost place. Two years ago I started attending Celebrate Recovery. It was during a step study that I confessed what happened when I was eight. I still believed I was guilty. I still believed it was my fault. I should have said, “No”. I should have gone home. I should have told my mom. I could have avoided this whole thing. I thought because I wasn’t touched that what happened to me wasn’t considered abuse. I knew that victims of abuse were not guilty of the abuse, but I truly believed I could have avoided the situation and therefore I was guilty. A dear woman came up to me afterwards and said, “What happened to you, that was sexual abuse and you are not guilty.” I responded with, “but I should have known, I should have been able to avoid it.” Her response, “if someone shot a gun and the bullet hit you, would you be responsible for your injuries? No, because you did not shoot the gun. Would you be guilty because you couldn’t avoid the bullet? No. You are not guilty.”

That moment changed my life. I didn’t realize the impact of that moment at the time. But now looking back I realize that that was the moment when God started to unearth the lie I was living.

Over the next couple years God continued to work on me. He brought his light into those deep, dark, innermost places. Through it all He kept saying, “I love you, you are beautiful, you are enough.”

I had made a lot of progress in recognizing the areas that I was not guilty, and the areas for which I was not responsible, but last May I was still very much set on becoming a skinnier, bustier, more beautiful version of me. That lie was so deeply engrained in me, “I’m not enough just the way I am.” I still stumble and start to believe that lie again.

In May 2015, I went on a prayer retreat with some women from my church. I sat alone in a field and watched the sun set. I cried out to God and asked him why I still didn’t feel enough, why I still felt ugly and fat and worthless. I told God I was done feeling worthless and I asked him to restore what I lost so long ago.

And then, He was there, I felt his presence. He touched every part of my face: my eyebrows, my eyelids, my cheeks, my nose, my lips, my chin, and he said, “I have made you Radiant.”  It took me months to truly understand what He meant when he called me that. But in that moment I knew he wasn’t just saying I was radiant, he made me Radiant. My new name was Radiant. And then He said, “Why are you living as if you are not?” I walked back to my room that night with an excitement in my chest but without an answer to His question. God had given me a gift, and although I wasn’t exactly sure what it was yet, I was excited to find out.

The next morning I opened my bible to read some psalms and I turned to Psalm 34. There it was, verse 5, it jumped out at me and handed me a promise from my savior, “those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” I read that verse over and over and realized, “woah, He touched my face when He told me He made me radiant.” HE made me radiant. I don’t make me radiant. HE does. When I look to HIM, HE makes me radiant so my face need never be covered in shame.

I still felt like there was more to this. So when I got home I started researching the word “radiant”. I wanted to know what God meant when He said “radiant”, not what I meant. It turns out the Hebrew word used in Psalm 34 is nahar. Nahar in the context of Psalm 34 means to beam, to shine, to be radiant, a figurative of joy. Nahar is a verb, not an adjective in this context! God has created me to actively shine, beam, and radiate his love, joy, and health! Radiant is not what I am, it is how he has created me to be.

I love the image Psalm 34 gives, “those who look to him are radiant”. All I have to do is look to Christ. When I look to Him, I radiate his love, I just do. I’m like a mirror reflecting the light of God; turn me away from the light and I can no longer reflect it, but turn me toward the light and the light multiplies as it bounces off my surface!

I also love that Psalm 34 goes further to say, “their faces are NEVER covered in shame.” I have spent most of my life in secret shame. Ashamed of the body God gave me, because it didn’t look how I thought it should or do what I wanted it to. I have lived in shame that my body could not reproduce. I have been ashamed of my inability to control or manage my weight, due to my circumstances. And God asked me why I wasn’t living as if I was radiant? In Principle 6 (“Evaluate all my relationships; offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others except when to do so would harm them or others. ‘Happy are the merciful’ ‘Happy are the peacemakers’”) of Celebrate Recovery I was asked the question, “What do I blame God for?”

I sobbed through the entire question, putting words to what I had been too scared to even admit to myself:

“I blame God for my infertility.”

“I blame God for my hormonal imbalances.”

“I blame God for the weight I just can’t seem to lose.”

“I blame God for not healing my injuries.”

“I blame God for my anxiety disorder.”

“I blame God for forgetting me and remembering everyone else.”

Some of it seems silly, but as I read it aloud to my step study group I realized I was blaming God for all the things that I had no control over. I have tried everything in my power to fix all of these problems and I couldn’t fix them, so I figured that it must be God’s fault. God can control everything, so if He isn’t helping me He must be hurting me, and therefore I can’t take God at His word. But that didn’t feel right. No, that logic didn’t coincide with my experiences with Him. God has been with me in it all, I have felt His presence right there in those dark moments. He has proved Himself faithful with the Hawk, with the dream, with my mom’s vision, with Dean’s love, with provision for our adoption, with my little fawn and brave boy, and when He renamed me.

In every instance He split the sea so I could walk right through it. In every instance He provided daily bread. In every instance He told me when to shout to the LORD in faith and He has declared me a victor. THIS WALL OF SELF HATE WILL FALL!!!!

Lord, I believe you! I believe what you have said! I am Radiant because you created me to be!

So…naturally, I wanted my new name tattooed on my body and I wanted it to be in the long lost language of God: Hebrew. But I was unsure of how the word nahar was written in Psalm 34 and I didn’t want to unknowingly end up with the word “buttcrack” on my back in Hebrew.

Sorry, this story is just a little longer, but it’s worth it, I promise!

I began searching for Hebrew names that meant “radiant”. Nothing seemed to fit, but at long last, I found a name that I liked: Ziva (ZEE-va). I started to read its full name meaning:

Pronounced ZEE-va, the name Ziva is of Hebrew origin, derived from the name Ziv meaning brightness, brilliance, or light of God. Ziv is a Hebrew language word and name meaning light or glow. It is also an alternative name of the Hebrew month of Iyar found in the later works of the Hebrew Bible.

Well, guess what? On May 15th God renamed me and May 15th is in the month of Iyar.

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The Reality of “Miscarriages” in Adoption

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The past two weeks have been extremely hard for me. I felt like all I could do was cry, sleep, or stare aimlessly. I really didn’t understand why I was so tired and weepy, and I thought it must have had something to do with my change in medication. I couldn’t seem to sleep at night, and then I couldn’t manage to do anything during the day. I accidentally missed a class in my yoga training and I didn’t even realize I missed it until my leader texted me the next day. I felt overwhelmed, under motivated, and completely at a loss for what was going on with me.

Then a friend of mine posted a beautifully tragic picture. It was a necklace with a butterfly wing on it.

Butterfly Wing

 What a beautiful way to remember these dear children of hers. I just sat there on Facebook, crying.  Crying because I understood, I got it, it made sense. All those plans for that child didn’t just disappear when the pregnancy ended. All those plans weren’t just replaced by another pregnancy. No, each loss was its own. Each baby had its own set of dreams, plans, excitements, and fears.

It got me thinking about my own story of heartbreak and I realized something: a very large part of me has not allowed myself to fully grieve the loss of these four children and even baby Brave from back in November.  I didn’t feel worthy of it, I felt like my loss didn’t really count. They were never really my children, and in the case of the four I made the decision to back out, so I should be ok. I should be able to handle this. But I wasn’t ok. I was at peace about my decision, but I wasn’t at peace about the loss I was facing.

When I started thinking about the butterflies that represented my friend’s pregnancies I was a little jealous that I didn’t have anything to represent my loss. There was nothing tangible about my loss. My loss was like the loss of fairies or mermaids or unicorns; it never existed except for in my head and in my heart. How can I lose something I never had? How can I express sorrow over something that never actually was. And because there is nothing tangible about it, I felt that I wasn’t worthy of grieving it, or that I shouldn’t grieve it. I felt like my loss was not enough to count. I couldn’t commemorate the loss of adoption mismatches could, I?

When a woman miscarries it is a physical loss and an emotional loss, but because of the physical loss, it is easier for me to accept that that person is going to need some down time, some grieving time, and maybe a little extra love and support. But for some reason it did not even cross my mind that I would need the same grace and love in my own situation.

After we realized the four were not our four, we went back to regular life. I tried to do everything as I did before. And yet, I just couldn’t.

Last weekend we were at church and we heard another couple was pregnant. Usually I can muster up a smile and clap along with the rest of the congregation. I can make it through the church service and then when we get home I break down and cry. Not because they are pregnant, but because I am not. Not because they have been blessed by God, but because I feel forgotten by Him. But I couldn’t do it that day. I was sucker punched, the wind had been knocked out of me, and I was just trying to breathe again. The corners of my mouth had anchors weighing them down and there was absolutely no energy for a smile, my lead arms were too heavy to lift in applause. I didn’t even have it in me  to fight the tears. So instead of smiling, clapping, and praising God for this blessing… muddy mascara tears streamed down my face and I got a bloody nose. Luckily, the bloody nose allowed me to leave the room without feeling like I was protesting a pregnancy announcement. Once safely in a bathroom stall I completely broke down, holding my breath every time someone came in and praying to God that a sob wouldn’t erupt from between my clenched teeth until the person left. And the whole time I was crying I felt so guilty and so horrible for being upset about this good news.

If a woman I knew just lost a baby would I think she was a horrible person for crying at this news? No way, I would think, “oh, that’s got to be difficult to hear, I wonder if there is anything I can do for her during this time of loss.” I would probably bake a batch of cookies and bring a dinner over for her family. If I heard that she spent most of her days crying and napping, I wouldn’t be surprised and I wouldn’t scoff at her or make her feel lazy for neglecting the dishes or not being able to cook. So why was I doing the complete opposite to myself?

Of course I’m tired, weepy, and a little depressed! Of course I can’t muster up the energy to make dinner or complete a yoga practice without spending the majority of it in child’s pose. I just spent a month and a half dreaming, planning, and praying for these 4 children, and even a couple weeks dreaming about baby Brave. I spent hours, days, and weeks, imagining what it might be like if they were my children. The last thought before I fell asleep was the prayers I was lifting up to God for them. The first thing on my mind when I woke up was wondering if I had received more news on them. I cried over their heartbreak, I cried over their past, I prayed for every aspect of their life and mine. I did countless hours of research on each special need, each food allergy, etc. I invested my heart. I attached myself before I even met them.  And then I had to say “no”. My “no” wasn’t retroactive; it didn’t undo everything that was already done. It didn’t suddenly unattach my heart. It didn’t suddenly make it easy to let go.

No, it is still very much a loss.

An emotional miscarriage.

A broken heart.

Grief.

Accepting My Limits as a Human and in Adoption

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Christmas Eve morning we received an email: a sibling group of four was in need of adoption. Four kids under the age of five and one with significant special needs. At first Dean and I laughed out a, “no way…we can’t possibly…” but as the day progressed we both started letting our imaginations wander. We found ourselves interested in these kiddos, but we needed more information. We made a list of questions and sent it to the social worker and then waited.

In the beginning of January we got some answers, along with a case study for each child. I spent an evening reading each case study and crying…no…sobbing. I started to recognize just how much love I had to offer. These kids made their way into my heart and I prayed for them daily. I would pray for them by name and wonder if they were to be our children. It seemed impossible…four kids all at once. We don’t even have a car that would fit all of us. We would have to do some major work on our house. But something about them kept us going forward. We kept asking questions and taking the next steps. Dean and I prayed that if these were not our children that God would shut it down.

We asked our social worker to send our home study to the kids’ caseworker. And then we waited. The caseworker was going to look at home studies from interested families all over the U.S. She would then narrow the group down to two or three possible families. So, we waited. We waited to see if we were enough and if this was what God wanted for us.

I couldn’t help but feel special, like the whole reason for my infertility was because God had giant plans for me and Dean, plans that the average person could not fulfill. In my human mind, that would make sense, why else would these years of pain happen to a couple who loved the Lord so much? It must be because the Lord has something extremely special for them, right? Everyone would finally see that my infertility had a purpose. When future us would send out our “coming soon” announcement with four empty pairs of shoes, everyone would see that Dean and I were special instead of a cause for pity and prayer. (Like this one, but with a lot more shoes…)7974044582_9e7224da36_b

When we would stand in front of the church to baptize our four children the church would see that I wasn’t infertile because God didn’t think I couldn’t handle children, but because God knew I was the only one for this calling. I was worthy of motherhood, and motherhood to the max! I wanted everyone to see that I was worthy, that I was capable, and that I was a great mother, especially since I went from 0-4 in a matter of days. I would love the shit out of those kids and everyone would say, “That’s Liz, she is incredible, her story is amazing.” (Ewwww, just writing that makes me sick of myself. Sometimes I can be so annoying…)

And then, I got a call…we were in the top three; actually we were the top three, everyone else backed out. But the caseworker was very excited about our home study and it was time to take the next steps: training tailored to the specific needs of the children and a home study addendum.

We planned all the meetings, but the whole time I had this little nagging feeling. I kept pushing it aside. It was that little voice, “you can’t do this; this is too much.” As a Christian I was taught that that voice was to be fought with scripture. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” “Nothing is impossible with God.” “With faith as small as a mustard seed…”

Many of us believe the lie that Christians aren’t allowed to have the luxury of not being enough and walking away. We aren’t allowed to be overwhelmed. No, because we have Christ, so we must do ALL THINGS! We aren’t allowed to be human and have limits, because Christ lives in us and he is God and God is limitless.

My thought process was as follows:

God didn’t shut this down, so he must want me and Dean to parent these kids, and oh my gosh, I can’t do this!!! I want these kids, I can love these kids, but I don’t have the physical or emotional energy to take on four at once! Let alone, a special needs child in the mix. But if this is what God wants from me he will give me the strength. Day by day he will give me the strength. I must say yes to God. But if I say yes, I know I will be fully dying to myself. I will have to give up so many desires of motherhood.

You might not realize this, unless you are in the adoption world, but adoptive parents are often berated for their parental desires. Adoptive parents want to dream about names for their children and dream about raising their child from the moment they make it into the world. I specifically dream about having my baby fall asleep on my chest, suckle at my breast, cry in the night and calm to my voice and touch. I imagine spending months and years getting to know each child and their habits, and their facial expressions, their coos, their cries, their giggles. I want to witness their first words, first steps, first everything. But if you go onto an adoption support group site there are tons of people who will tell you that those desires make you a selfish person. “How dare you want an infant when there are so many children in need out there?”

Does my infertility not only deem me “not worthy” of having my own children and experiencing pregnancy, but does it also forfeit me the joy of naming my children, cuddling my children as infants, and having a relationship with my child as soon as their lungs fill with air for the very first time? If you have biological children or dream of having biological children, wouldn’t you think it would be your right as a parent to name them, cuddle them, and parent them from day one? I want that too. Don’t I deserve that?

I felt like I was in the garden of Gethsemane with Jesus, praying that God’s cup would pass from me. I would not choose to miss out on all of these things that parents dream of. I wouldn’t even feel right renaming the kids; because that name was the only thing their mother was able to give them. I couldn’t take that from them. How would we do this? But if it’s God will then I know it will be good. I should just shove those fears aside and trust God…blind trust…I’m all in…do it huge…Not a fan, but a player. (Those were some of the sayings I tried to live by in the past 10 years)

But it was not God’s will. It was not God’s will and I was missing it.

We have this process in yoga that fits perfectly with life as a Christian:

  1. Engage
  2. Align
  3. Gaze

In order to SAFELY express a pose you must first engage the specified muscles and soften the other muscles. Once your body is properly engaged then you can move onto alignment. Alignment without proper engagement is very dangerous, you could pull a muscle. Once you are aligned then you can set your gaze or drishti (also known as your focus), if you set your gaze without alignment you risk hurting your neck, falling over, and completely missing the benefits of the pose. We are taught not to let our ego or pride drive our poses. We are taught to accept the daily limits of our body and honor our bodies in the moment. If we find ourselves trying to express a pose for the sake of expressing the pose or proving that we can express that pose, or because we could do it yesterday, then we are not gaining the benefits of the actual pose, we are just performing.

Christianity works the same way. First and foremost we must engage with God, when we engage with God then he starts to align us with His will. When we are aligned with God’s will then we are able to set our gaze and focus on what HE wills for us. It can be very dangerous if we try to hijack this process. It can also be very dangerous if we don’t accept the limits He places on us. Accepting our human limits does not mean we don’t trust God.

For example, my current situation with these kids…

I’ve spent a great deal of my life trying to prove myself…to God, to boys, to my friends, to my parents, and on and on. I still backslide into this mindset, because let’s be real, 26 years of my life have revolved around proving myself and only 3 years of my life have been spent unlearning this behavior. This behavior may seem relatively harmless, but it’s not. When I stop trying to prove myself to everyone around me and start accepting me just as I am in this very moment, limits and all, the crushing weight of the world lifts off my shoulders and I am able to laugh, praise, run, dance, jump, and live energetically (in essence, express myself fully).

Deep breath in, deep breath out…AAAAAAAAaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh. It feels nice.

I’ve started to notice that as a Christian I don’t accept my limits because, of course God can do what I cannot. That is a dangerous practice, my friends, not because God has limits, but because, for myself, I start to see God’s limitless power as an extension of my own power, will, and desires. I use verses like Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” to prove to myself and others that I can do it all. But what I’m really doing is using verses to puff up my own desires, my own ego, and my own prideful agenda to prove to the world that I am strong because I am a Christian! I am special! Look at me and my specialness! Muahahahahahahaha! Muahaha….oh shit….

You see, in Philippians 4, Paul is talking about contently and joyfully living in plenty and in need, living within the limits that Christ has given him. It is because of Christ that Paul found contentment and joy. Christ did indeed give him the strength to do so, but it wasn’t because Paul didn’t accept his limits. Paul accepted when he was in need and ENGAGED with God. God ALIGNED Paul with His will and then set Paul’s GAZE. Paul was not to worry about making money or food, but he was to continue spreading the good news of Christ. Paul accepted the calling God placed on his life and God provided for Paul’s needs. But we often use this verse as a way to get out of spending that time engaging with God and allowing him to align us with His will. I will use this verse as a reason to not accept the limits I have been given. Instead of engaging with God and being aligned by Him, I will try to do it all myself with the hopes that God will give the strength I need to do it all! If Paul lived as I did, he would have tried to make money, acquire food, and preach the good news to all people, the whole time praying that God would give him the strength to do so and wondering why he was so overwhelmed and without God.

So back to me, with these kids: I kept praying that God would give me the strength to do it and I kept forcing myself to read verses that would push me forward with this desire. I thought that if I was dying to my parental desires then I must be doing what God wanted me to. I thought I was engaging because I was praying, but I wasn’t really. You see, when you engage muscles for a pose you need to soften other muscles in order to open yourself up and I was refusing to soften the Liz muscle, so I was not receiving anything from God. I was trying to figure it all out myself.

When I finally sat on my mat and cried out to God and prayed, “I don’t know what You want from me!!!” without expectation, I felt him aligning me with His will. These kids were not His plan for me. God has given me emotional, mental, and physical limits and I must accept them. He may take them away in the future, but right now, they are there. It is with the acceptance of my humanness that He is able to work through me. Not me trying to harness the power of God to do everything in the world and prove that I am awesome and good. No, God has given me limits, and he has given me the strength to accept these limits, and he has provided for me within these limits.

These kids were not to be mine and Dean’s. I must say, “No.” I must say “no” to the very thing I have wanted for six years. I must say “no” not because I don’t want to but because it is not what God wants for me. I must once again mourn the loss of children that were never mine and wait.

It is not all loss though. Because I am saying, “no” to something God does not want for me, I am opening myself up to say, “yes” when it’s right. There is contentment and joy and hope. But all these feelings are simultaneous. It is not sadness or joy; it is joy in this time of sadness. It is not loss or contentment; it is contentment in a time of loss. It is not despair or hope; it is hope in the midst of despair. It is light within the darkness.

John 1:5 “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”