Izzy and me

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:3-4, ESV).

It’s been almost ten years since I was involved in Bible Study Fellowship, affectionately known as BSF. I was unemployed, hungry for Scripture study, and the opportunity to grow with a small group of women; BSF fit all of the niches I needed during that season. We studied Isaiah in depth, a “precept-upon-precept” kind of study.

I am still in contact with a number of the women I met during that season. I have cheered them on during their journeys and celebrated their milestones. My favorite part of those days included the richness of the fellowship, but above all, it was the time in the Bible that meant the most.

Strength comes from the Lord

The chapters in Isaiah were like having a muscle-building protein shake. I was building my spiritual muscles and learning how to stand strong in the midst of troubles. Each word and verse brought power to my soul.

The Message by Eugene Peterson says it this way, But you, Israel, are my servant. You’re Jacob, my first choice, descendants of my good friend Abraham. I pulled you in from all over the world, called you in from every dark corner of the earth. Telling you, ‘You’re my servant, serving on my side. I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you.’ Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you (Isaiah 41:8-10 MSG).

Stamina

As I continued to study Isaiah, I found that my strength in the Lord allowed me to continue when I didn’t know I could. I found the stamina described in Isaiah 40, Have you not known? Hav you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV).

God gave me what I needed, when I needed it, He still does. A lesson I had to learn daily, when I studied Isaiah this truth washed over me, again and again. He meets me with the exact portion my soul needs to stay on the path He has prepared for me.

Struggle and Despair

As I battled my then-undiagnosed anxiety, I found that the more I read and reflected on Isaiah, the less I felt alone in my battle. I drew courage from Isaiah 42:16-17, And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them (ESV).

I was reminded that there was more than struggle and desperation in front of me. In my battles I was reminded there was also hope.

Hope and Joy

Each week as I went farther and father into the book of Isaiah, I found verses I had heard before, but never truly understood. I found encouragement that I was not alone in my situation. The Israelites had also forgotten Whose they were and the victory they could claim through Him.

But now listen, Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. This is what the Lord says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you. Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams.

Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel. “This is what the Lord says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it.

 Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come— yes, let them foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid.  Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one,” (Isaiah 44:1-8, NIV).

Can you feel the momentum from these verses? It’s like the best half time speech a coach could give His players. God is saying, “Did you forget? I am in charge. I can do things no one else can do. You’re going to be so glad to have been a part of My team. You’re going to want to change your name, tattoo my Name on your hands. No one else can claim the victory I know is coming. No one else can tell the future but Me. So whose team are you going to join? The world’s team or Mine?”

Promise

“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior (Isaiah 43:10-11, ESV).

God gave us a purpose to share His story, His love with the world. How amazing to me, that He would want to use me, to use us, to share this Love Story with other people. By the time I had finished studying Isaiah I felt like I had taken a Ph.D level course. I was in awe, blessed, encouraged, and it was hard to describe the love I felt God had for me.

Best Beloved, how long has it been since you were fired up about your faith? What a wonderful time of year to be reminded of all God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Take some time and read a chapter in Isaiah each day. Study the verses and let them steep into your soul. The mark it can leave can change your perspective forever.

Blessings,

oxoxo

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Harmonizing

December 1st was the first Sunday of Advent. It is officially time to sing Christmas music in church, one of my favorite times on the church calendar. I memorized the melody as soon as I could sing the lyrics to the hymns.

When I was in high school I joined the choir as an alto. It was difficult at first, to let go of the melody of songs. I wanted to sing in the soprano section; it was more well known to the listener’s ear. It was also the part that got the most notice.

Mr. Myren, our choir director, was gifted with finding the perfect harmony within our choir. I used to watch him as he stood three people next to each other to have them sing, which often sounded fine. He would then switch where two of them were standing and find a stronger, clearer sound.

As an adult, I recognize the beauty of each part of the music; the clear notes of sopranos, the deep resonance of the bass section, the sweet harmony of the tenor and alto sections. I am grateful for the part I have been given to sing, the role I have to fulfill. It’s what God created for me to do.

Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord,

shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation!

Let us enter His presence with thanksgiving;

let us shout triumphantly to Him in song.

Come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

For He is our God,

and we are the people of His pasture,

the sheep under His care (Psalm 95:1-2,6-7, HCSB).

This Christmas season I am hopeful that as I fulfill my part, I will complete the tasks He has given me with joy. Whether I am in the foreground or the background in the world’s eyes does not matter to me. I pray instead, I will know I am filling my heart and soul with the joy of Heaven because I have been obedient to the Choir Director, Jesus Himself.

Best Beloved, what part are you singing this season? Are you singing to hold the spotlight or are you singing to give praise? Has your voice joined the choir only to sing the notes in a flat key because your heart doesn’t care? What would help you find the joy this season? Is it watching the snow fall while drinking hot chocolate? Is it watching Christmas television specials or movies? Baking with your kids?

I pray you will find your joy again and sing brightly and clearly the part He has given to you.

I will praise You, Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to You among the nations. For Your faithful love is higher than the heavens, and Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. (Psalm 108:3-4, HCSB).

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Anxious much?

It has been five years since I was diagnosed with severe anxiety. Since my diagnosis, I have had a year of counseling and been put on medication. I have worked on recognizing my triggers and countering them with ways to redirect my thinking.

This past week I have been battling old demons that I thought were long dead. The thing about anxiety is that many of the demons are like an immortal Dracula–never truly dead and always ready to suck out your very life. Some of the things that have reared their heads include:

  • Irrational thinking
  • Fear of failing
  • Wild running in my mind- like a stampede of irrational thinking
  • Insomnia
  • Severe exhaustion
  • Constantly checking to see if I have done everything on my self-created list
  • Fear of disappointing someone (spouse, friend, coworker, supervisor)
  • Fear of being left by someone

When I am in the middle of an anxiety tailspin, I become short-tempered, easily agitated, prone to not wanting to engage with anyone, and desperate for a cool, dark, quiet place. Not really the best situation as one comes into the holiday season.

Last night I went to bed at 7:15 – something I have not done in forever. When my hubby came to bed about three hours later, I was so agitated by his presence I left our room and slept in the guest room. I couldn’t explain why I was leaving, I just knew I had to leave.

In times like these (which happen more than I want to admit), I make a simple plea to God to take the anxiety away and I push as hard as I can against the negative thoughts. I have given nearly forty years to anxiety and now that I know that i don’t have to live that way, I want to claim the next forty years to the freedom I can have through Christ.

Best Beloved, what have you been holding onto for too long? Hand it off to God, Dear Ones. And if it comes back again, hand it off again. And again. Keep handing it off until it remains in His hands.

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Labels 🏷

Conservative, Liberal, Progressive. Straight, Gay, Queer, Transgender. Vegan, Vegetarian, Meat-Eater. Atheist, Agnostic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish. Whenever we meet someone we put a label on him or her as if the person is an item in a grocery store and we need to know in which aisle they belong.

In John 4, Jesus went through Samaria on His return to Galilee. Scripture states, “He had to pass through Samaria,” a route normally avoided by Jews due to their dislike of the Samaritans. Jesus “had to go” through the region because He had a divine appointment with the woman at the well.

When Jesus met her, it was the middle of the day, the sun shone hot on the stones surrounding the well. Only the cool air coming up the well shaft made it semi-bearable. No one would dare be out doing chores at this time of day. But she was. This nameless woman who had been labeled and shamed by the people of Sychar because of her choices.

She had been married multiple times and was now living with a man. She was tired of the whispering and the glares she endured from the people, especially the women, so she came at mid-day, when no one else would be at the well. Yet, here was this Jewish man, she could only imagine the comments and ridicule she was going to receive. Squaring her shoulders for the torment, she approached the well, ready for an argument.

Jesus did not criticize her, instead he simply asked her for a drink (John 4:7). Instead of kindness, she met his request with attitude. Jesus didn’t respond to the baiting, instead He spoke in truth. If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water (John 4:10).

She criticized Him, asking if He was more important than Jacob, who was revered by the Samaritans. She again, was daring Jesus to get into a debate of whose faith was right. Again and again- Jesus did not take the bait, He just spoke the truth. He asked to speak with her husband, knowing she did not have one. Not to judge her, but to call into the light what was being hidden in the shame and darkness.

He looked past the labels society had put on her. Instead, Jesus saw a woman with a heart hungry for healing, restoration, redemption, and true community without the labels. Soon, this woman who avoided her own community within Sychar, was running into town, to tell them to come and meet this man at the well (John 4:28-30).

It wasn’t the religion the Samaritans followed that brought her into redemption. It was the community of Christ, the relationship with Christ that made her whole. Made her clean.

Only God can do that.

Best Beloved , we are all within a tomb, buried, dead. Without the transformative power of Christ through His own death, burial, and resurrection, we can never attain the freedom from society’s labels that we seek. We can never be given the most precious “label” of all REDEEMED.

We can know the forgiveness and the peace the woman knew that day in Sychar. All we have to do is ask Jesus for it and receive it. Then we will know the feeling the nameless woman knew that Glorious Day.

I was buried beneath my shame

Who could carry that kind of weight?

It was my tomb ‘Til I met You

I was breathing but not alive

All my failures I tried to hide

It was my tomb ‘Til I met You

You called my name and I ran out of that grave

Out of the darkness into Your glorious day

You called my name and I ran out of that grave

Out of the darkness into Your glorious day

Now Your mercy has saved my soul

Now Your freedom is all that I know

The old made new, Jesus, when I met You

You called my name and I ran out of that grave

Bridge

I needed rescue, my sin was heavy

But chains break at the weight of Your glory

I needed shelter, I was an orphan

Now You call me a citizen of Heaven

When I was broken, You were my healing

Now Your love is the air that I’m breathing

I have a future, my eyes are open

‘Cause when You called my name

I ran out of that grave

Out of the darkness into Your glorious day

You called my name and I ran out of that grave

Out of the darkness into Your glorious day

(Glorious Day- written by Kristian Stanfill, Jonathan Smith, Jason Ingram, Sean Curran)

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Roaring floods

I am a book junkie. I do not want to become a recovering book junkie, I just want to relish every one of my books. From the feel of the spine, to the smell of the printed paper, to the memories of where I was when I first bought them, read them, relished them. If I had to choose only one to read from for the rest of my days, it would be a booklet, not a book, created by the Boy Scouts’ High Adventure Camp, Philmont Scout Ranch.

I have carried this booklet for almost 30 years, across multiple states. It has hymns, Scripture, and prayers to help the scouts focus on their hikes through the mountainous terrain of northern New Mexico. Now, it has been a long time since I hiked those treasured trails, but my life has had its own difficult terrain, far from the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.

In those seasons of struggle, waning hope, and a sense of exhaustion, I have found the courage to continue on within the pages of this booklet. It contains more than words for me. It is full of hope, peace, expectation, and community. I gathered with many dear friends, brothers and sisters in the faith, during my years at Philmont. I bowed my head with them to call out to our Heavenly Father, to seek His wisdom, to praise His name for answered prayers. We lifted each other up, knowing our prayers were being heard by the Creator of the very land on which we were kneeling.

When I use this devotional, I find myself settling down in my spirit. My breathing finds its rhythm again. I can hear the wind in the pines, smell the sweet clover growing in the meadows, and hear the birds singing in the trees above me. There were times when I heard the Holy Spirit filling my soul with its presence and peace.

The roaring floods from Heaven’s gates poured over me and I was refreshed and restored. Ready to square my shoulders, lace my boots, and begin the hike on the trail before me.

Best Beloved, what are you reading to help you get back on the trail? Do you have a trickle filling your spirit or a flood? What helped you find the joy when you first believed? Let’s get washed away in the Living Water (John 7:38-39) and find our joy again.

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Power and fools

I have index cards with Bible verses to use for reflection and memorization. Today I noticed a pattern of Scripture that focused on Who God is, what He offers, and how we can choose to react to Him. One of the verses I have often been stuck on is; For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18 HCSB).

So often I think of the people in my life and how my heart longs for them to understand the love God has for them, the desire He has to have a relationship with them. Yet they don’t want anything to do with Him because He may require them to let go of the control they have over their lives. They cannot imagine giving up the wheel to their ship. God might ask them to do something they cannot do, or more importantly, God might tell them to give up something or someone they like.

I know that God may very well call them to do something they never expected to do. He may want them to let go of a relationship or even a job, but it is because He can see farther on. God knows what He has planned for them, for us, and He wants to give us His best, not His leftovers.

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16 HCSB).

God alone has the power to heal, to restore, to break the chains that bind us, to pull us out of the waters that threaten to drown us. God alone is able to forgive us of our sins, to clean our very souls. We may try all of our lives to fix the brokenness we have within us. I have watched loved ones turn to alcohol, sex, porn, and shopping, all in the name of numbing the hurt they feel.

I have experienced God’s healing hand in my own life. Taking away the shame and pain of rape, poor relationship choices, and the blindness of alcohol-hazed nights. My precious hubby has battled Major Depressive Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder most of his life. Only in the past few years has he started to dig out of the pit he has been in for so long. God has moved and brought both of us healing that we have always sought, but never found on our own.

But the Lord is faithful; He will strengthen and guard you from the evil one, (2 Thessalonians 3:3 HCSB).

I knew I could not be made whole, unless God was involved. I had tried to “fix” myself a number of times. Each time brought nothing but sorrow and a sense of failure. Jesus alone and the power of Christ made me whole.

Best Beloved, I have been a fool of the world. I have been what the world would call a “fool for Christ.” I know where I have been in the past and where I am going now.

I choose being a fool for Christ.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me (2 Corinthians 12:9 HCSB).

I pray this will be true for you, Dear Ones.

blessings,

oxoxox

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From nothing into something

I throw no stones here, this is my personal story.

I woke up around midnight to the song All of Me sung by Billie Holiday playing over and over again in my head. I got out of bed, took a long drink of water, trying to shake the song so I could go back to sleep.

Not a chance.

After a couple of minutes, I went to Scripture to see what might be triggering the song. I googled “all of me Scripture” and the first option that came was Psalm 139.

Oh. Okay, Lord, I thought.

I was conceived when out-of-wedlock pregnancies were a mark of poor morals and shameful behavior. My parents were young college students and very much in love. My mom became pregnant. The mentality at the time was, remove the scandal before it becomes a scandal. Which is what was attempted. However, for reasons only known to God, the abortion was unsuccessful.

When my mom learned she was still pregnant, she told my grandparents. Through a series of events it was agreed my mom would go forward with the pregnancy. My parents married and in a few months I was born.

As I read Psalm 139 tonight, I read it in the NIV, HCSB, KJV, and finally, The Message by Eugene Peterson.

“You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day,” ‭‭(Psalm‬ ‭139:15-16‬ MSG, bold mine).

My life, these past fifty years, have been full of moments where God has taken me from nothing to something. My very life, my salvation, my marriage. My growth as a believer, the move to Nebraska five years ago.

Each time there was a point where it seemed as though there was absolutely nothing. No hope, only sorrow and shame. No future, only a repeat of failure. No love, only loneliness.

But God is a Redeemer.

His Story throughout the Bible is full of this truth. He redeemed Adam and Eve after they sinned. He redeemed Abraham and Sarah after their disobedience with Hagar. God redeemed Israel from their stubbornness throughout the Exodus.

God offers all of us redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection, even to this very moment.

He took nothing and made me into something. Something special, something wonderful, something good. Something- someone who has had all of herself redeemed. Restored. Renewed. All by the very grace and power of Christ.

When my folks became believers in the 1970’s, they listened to the Gaithers, the contemporary Christian music of the period. Gloria Gaither and her husband, Bill, wrote songs for children to learn about God’s love and plan as well.

This is the chorus to You’re Something Special:

That’s why He made you special
You’re the only one of your kind
God gave me a body and a bright healthy mind
He has a special purpose that He wants you to find
So He made me something special
I’m the only one of my kind

***from the Gaithers’ album, I am a Promise (1979)***

Best Beloved, I have no idea what your personal story may be. I do know, you are here. You do have a purpose. You are precious, and prized, and valued, and loved, and the world would not be the same without you in it.

You are special.

I pray you will know the love He has for you, receive it and be redeemed by it.

Blessings,

oxoxox

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Brass and percussion

I am a bit of a romantic when it comes to the 1940’s. I know there were many who were still living frugally due to the Great Depression and then World War II. Yet, there is a sense of digging in, a sense of making do or doing without, that appeals to me.

I have been listening to Big Band music lately; classic songs from Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, and the Andrews Sisters. I love the rhythm, the lyrics are fun, and it often pulls me out of any negative mood I may be in that day. Big Band music is the perfect soundtrack.

Our walk is much the same with Christ. While it may be full of struggles and loss, His Holy Spirit brings with it a deep joy and celebration. This life is not the only thing we have, it’s not the only thing we will receive.

Even as the Israelites circled Jericho, the most fortified place in the Promised Land, they knew there was more to come. The Commander of the LORD’s Army had told them so (Joshua 5:13-6:7). The trumpets played, the men marched in obedience, and on the seventh day, the walls came down, through God’s great power. He changed everything.

While I am sure it was obedience and not the trumpets that made the difference at Jericho or on the battlefields in Europe during World War II; I know the music encouraged the people who heard it.

One of the fun songs from the 1940’s is Ac-Cen-Tu-Ate the Positive sung by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters. It is a bit of our family’s theme song, focusing on the good, not the negative. As believers we can focus on the things that are wrong, the losses, the lack of justice. Or we can focus on the calling we have received from God. The calling to share the Gospel, to share the joy, the celebration that this world is not our home, we are just passing through.

Let our lives be the brass and percussion, playing the music of God, and singing as the walls fall down.

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Clouds

A favorite benefit of country life is an uninhibited sky. Our house faces east/west and every single day it would seem the sky is trying to out-do yesterday’s performance. I have been taking sunrise/sunset pictures since the first day we had our house. I have noticed that as the seasons change, the color palette changes as well. Spring and summer are colorful, but it seems fall has the sharpest colors and strongest palette of all four seasons.

No matter the season, the sky is the most bold when there are clouds reflecting the sunshine. On mornings the sky is clear, the sky is still colored, but not with the depth and variety one can see on other days.

The sky seems to know what we tend to forget; the sun is best reflected when storms have come through.

Throughout time, battles and struggles, losses and wins, have given way to celebration in God’s goodness. Joshua and the battle of Jericho, Gideon and his 300 men, David and Goliath. Paul and Silas in jail- singing glory to God.

Personally, the battle against anxiety and depression for my husband and me. We have been to the abyss, sometimes hanging onto the roots on the edge of the cliff. After years of individualized counseling, some medication, and an untold number of prayers, we can stand on this side and sing God’s praises. We are healing, we are healthier than ever before. We have recognized where to draw our boundaries and are holding to them to maintain our wellbeing.

Scripture tells us we will experience trouble (John 14) and that Jesus is with us through that trouble, even when it seems like He is not. We cannot go through life without various difficulties, but we can go through life with Christ. We have the opportunity to reflect the glory of God in the aftermath of the storms we experience.

I pray we will embrace the storms, as a time to see the power of God coming through it all. Reflecting His love for us, being still in the midst of it and knowing He controls it all.

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised (Psalm 113:3 NIV 1984).

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Alice and me

I have a confession to make, I am no longer the size I was in high school. I know it seems shocking, but I am never going to be that size again. For my birthday I was given a bit of money with strict instructions to spend it on myself. No buying groceries, no paying bills with it. I was to buy something for myself that would last (like books) per the instructions.

Most of my life I was criticized by others for not being thin enough, quiet enough, submissive enough. I didn’t fit the boxes others felt I should. I spent decades trying to fit into who they thought I was supposed to be. Living that way made me feel like a constant failure. I spent so much time trying to be the size, shape, and character they wanted, I lost me.

In my late 40s I finally saw the woman I was and the woman I wanted to become. Through the shedding of those false layers, I found me. I no longer tried to fit into the “too small” jeans and shirts. The shoes that were the wrong style and type for my life.

I am 50 years old. I am not in shape like an athlete. I don’t wear fashionable clothes. I don’t wear high heels. My natural hair color is changing. I have wrinkles. I am forgetful sometimes. I cannot do all the things I did just five years ago.

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (Colossians 3:12 ESV).

Who I am not, is not as important as who I am. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, sister, friend, cousin. A hobby farmer, a writer, a believer, a dreamer, a crafter. I have wisdom, understanding, a willingness to let go of what will not matter in the future. I know that a few dear friends matter so much more than multiple followers. I know there is more joy in the gentle sunrise than in a “perfect” family picture for the Christmas card.

I do not drink the “kool-aid” that commercials tell me I should. While Alice drank and ate her way into different sizes based on where she was in Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice in Wonderland, I am saying, No thank you.

Now I am embracing who God has grown me to become. I see this birthday as an adventure year for me. I am stronger, healthier, wiser, more relaxed, imperfect and being perfected, all at the same time because of His grace.

I may be on an adventure, just like Alice once was, but my adventure is one mapped out for just Jesus and me. His path, my life, the way it was meant to be.

Stay tuned for updates on where He takes me and what I learn. I promise to send a postcard…

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