Prove It, God

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dried-flower-721462-mI wouldn’t have even seen her, she was so frail, but for the blood curdling scream that rent the air.

My dog and I had just arrived at the pediatrics floor of the local hospital for therapy visits. Ashana, (I don’t know her real name for confidentiality purposes) was just leaving and stood at the elevator with her mother around the corner from me. The doors yawned, they stepped inside and she was gone. I found out later from the nurses that four-year-old Ashana is terrified of dogs, butt as our conversation progressed I learned a little bit more.

Ashana has cancer. They found it when she was two. For the last two years, she has spent ten days a month in the hospital receiving treatments.

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard her cry like that,” one of the nurses said. “It happens almost every time she leaves. She loves it here. But if you think about it, this hospital will probably be most of what she remembers of her early years. It’s like a second home to her.”

I pictured that tiny little girl and her mother. Talk about a trial, a refiner’s fire.

When someone is in the middle of those flames, the worst thing you can say is something like, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or, “God is working in you. You’ll come out of this much stronger on the other side.”

But that’s what we think isn’t it? We imagine that God crafts our personal struggles to test our faith. But maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe, God allows struggles and pain in our lives to prove HIS faithfulness, not to test ours.

Remember the story of Elijah running for his life in 1 Kings 19? The wicked Queen Jezebel was massacring the Lord’s prophets and was gunning for Elijah. The prophet ran and hid in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. He was so miserable and lonely that he told God he would rather die.  But God sent birds to feed Elijah; He even came personally and allowed Elijah to glimpse His glory.

Elijah’s experience in the wilderness did not prove his faithfulness. In fact, it proved his weakness—He felt hopeless and wanted to die. The experience didn’t make him stronger, Elijah was not suddenly a mightier man of God than he had been before. Instead, those moments in the wilderness proved that God was faithful; in the middle of that trial, God proved that He was strong enough, able enough to care for Elijah when all else seemed lost.

Romans 5:3-5, urges us to find joy even in the middle of our pain: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Did you notice that Paul doesn’t say, “suffering makes you stronger”? Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance means, “determination for a course of action, purpose”. (dictionary.com)

In our pain and suffering God proves His faithfulness; He proves His strength in the midst of our weakness. It is there, we see His faithfulness and understand that He is able to care for us no matter the situation.

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Just Take it Already!

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It’s a well worn passage. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record it. The memory must have been emblazoned on their minds. I imagine it was one of the few times Jesus raised his voice to the disciples.

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” Luke 18:16

A couple weeks ago, the pastor at Cascade Hills Church, here in Columbus, GA, started on Mark’s version of this story. I almost rolled my eyes. Some things are just over done, right? I mean, not only does this verse parade through the halls of my Sunday school memories, but just recently I’ve studied this passage in my Good Morning Girls Bible study. I just read it in Matthew last week as part of my through-the-Bible-in-a-year program.

But, as I’m touring the halls of memory, I distinctly remember the insistence in my parents’ voices when they said, “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times!” That meant, You’re supposed to remember this. It’s important!

So, I shook myself a little, refocused on the pastor and dug past empty gum wrappers and loose bobby pins to find a pen. Then, my mind drifted again, filled with questions:

What did Jesus mean, “For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”? For some reason, I started thinking along the lines of gifts. Maybe that’s because another version phrases it, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” It’s also applicable because, after all, according to 2 Peter 1:3, the God of the Kingdom is a wonderful gift giver:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Romans 3:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

What is a child’s role in the gifting process? Simply receive. So, if we are the recipients of God’s good gifts, how should we receive? All Christians long for the joy of Heaven, and we know that the only way there is through the gift of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12)

So, just think with me, as His children (Gal. 4:6), how should we receive His good gifts of grace, mercy, eternal life, all that we need for life and godliness, the Holy Spirit and so much more?

1. A child never turns down a gift. Can you imagine?

2. A child will never offer to pay you back. But, as adults we spend most of our lives trying to pay God back for His kindness to us. “After all He’s done for me, it’s the least I can do for Jesus.”

3. A child is fully willing to ask for a gift. Most of us, as adults, pepper our prayers with, “Only if you want to, God. I’ll understand if you don’t.”
Or, we feel guilty after a particularly needy prayer. But Jesus says, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:24

Just some food for thought. I’d love to hear your comments. How do you receive a gift – for that matter, a compliment?

If you’re really honest, do you see yourself as working to pay God back for His goodness toward you?

Supporting Scriptures: Matt. 20:28, John 14:16, Matt. 11:28, John 14:27

 

It’s Elementary, My Dear…

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“All of Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting and training in righteousness.” 2 Tim. 3:16

That’s why I get almost giddy when the Holy Spirit illuminates two or three passages, sometimes from opposite ends of the Bible and ties them together. It makes God’s Word seem so personal, as if I had a private tutor patiently explaining a text I’ve over-thought and can’t quite understand on my own.

This morning, I was reading in Matthew 18. There, Jesus admonished His disciples to be humble, even as little children. Jesus’ most intimate friends might reasonably have expected to receive special status in Heaven. Even in modern churches, we assign the apostles an extra measure of honor. I mean, they saw Jesus! He chose them individually!

(As a side-note, I ask you to look closely into the Biblical truth that all who believe on Jesus were individually chosen – even you and me! Start with Ephesians 1:4)

But I digress. Theologians have dissected this passage in Matthew, mining dozens of applicable lessons from Jesus’ instructions to be childlike: Children are humble, unassuming, reliant on their fathers (as we should be on God), trusting, joyful, still learning and willing to be taught…

Can I draw one more possible connection?

Just a bit ago, I was listening to a sermon taken from 1 Corinthians. The teacher pointed out that in 1 Corinthians 3:2, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are still like children. He cannot teach them the deep things of God for they are barely able to comprehend the simple elements of the Gospel.

So, the Apostle Paul is speaking on an elementary level, the truths He pens in this foundational book of the Bible are basic principles, things that even the newest of believers should understand and apply.

Fast forward, there’s a verse that rubs against the grain of all human nature. Even the most seasoned of Christ followers struggle with this teaching.

“The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” 1 Cor. 6:7

As the oldest daughter of four, I recall being told by my parents, “Can’t you just give in? Please, just let it go. Let her have her way. Be the mature one.”

So how does it happen, that when we’re grown, it becomes expected to fight for our rights? To simply surrender is considered weak, unpersuaded, evidence of a lack of conviction.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is not applauding his readers for being childish and weak in their faith, but his comments affirm that the instruction to relinquish our rights is an elementary principle of the Christian faith.

In this, as in Matthew 18, let us be childlike, simple in our reasoning.

Father, teach me not to connive and manipulate to get my own way. Teach me to love as Christ loved me, relinquishing His right to the very throne of God, in order to purchase my freedom from sin. (Phil. 2:6)
Even as I grow in spiritual maturity and move beyond the simple elements of the Gospel into a constant, thriving, fluid relationship and conversation with you through the Holy Spirit, help me to retain an unassuming heart.
Whether it be with my husband, longing for a better marriage, one such as I ‘deserve’, or whether it be covetousness of something I ‘deserve’, or whether it be a legal right of mine that has been trampled…teach me childlike reliance on your sufficiency for me. I have my Father, who is my Savior, who is my Constant Companion, let me have nothing else.

What Will I Do If I Ever Grow Up?

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Kylie trudges along on her back, scooting her bald spot across the carpet, rubbing away the downy baby fuzz. Her mom watches carefully, shielding the corner of the hearth with her body.

For six months, every day has been a new beginning. From the first breach of the womb, to the first explosive diaper, the first bath, the first trip to the nursery. What will she be when she grows up? Glimpses backwards at photos of Mom and Dad spur expectations for the future.

But I make no plans. I’m still wondering what I will be when I grow up. What will I do with the rest of my life?

My husband is in the Army. When I pledged myself to him, ten years ago, I could only see two years down our timeline. Those same two years have traced a loop five times. And I still wonder, what will I be when I grow up?

I have unpacked a new home in four states. Each time it felt like getting my own room for the very first time; childhood swept over me from behind.

Barely tall enough to ride a roller coaster, I wanted to be brave. Four plain walls to paint any color I wished. The first night in my new room, I woke up fumbling for the bathroom and walked straight into the closet. I lay awake for hours, keenly aware of new creaks and groans exhaled by the walls. I am still that way, grown up.

In state number three, unpacking felt like Christmas. Excitement buzzed between my husband and me as we pulled brown paper packages from crudely labeled boxes. With each subsequent move, there was even a “first Christmas” ornament.

Pulling out of my driveway and yielding at an unfamiliar intersection was learning to walk all over again. Round-abouts posed threats similar to trying to roller skate the day after my first baby step. I got lost and confused, cars buzzed by me at grownup speeds. Every landmark looked the same, like being surrounded by dozens of adult knees, all clad in denim.

My heart cringes with sympathy for those poor families sent overseas. I struggle to simply learn my new city’s slang. Once, I ventured a comment about the civil war in a coffee shop in southern Georgia. I was nearly run out of town on a rail, unaware that it was really “the war of northern aggression.” I do my best to mimic the vernacular of the natives; I am often rewarded by chuckles and a lesson in diction.

Crossing the stage at my alma mater, I believed I was done with new school jitters. Now, bi-annually, I subject myself to that same drama as I search for a new church and gym. I try to walk confidently down crowded halls, pretending I know where I’m going. I don’t want to be singled out as the new girl and introduced to the women’s ministry leader or the locally famous personal trainer.

I stalk bulletin boards, scanning them for post-its about groups, clubs and classes where I can show up anonymously and make friends on my own terms. I wonder how I should dress for the worship service? Is this a casual khaki environment or your mother’s Sunday best?

Perhaps the greatest challenge of each new home, is finding a new hairdresser. That decision alone has the power to effect every first impression. A highlighting mistake or failed permanent out weighs the worst “baby’s first haircut.” Even a bowl cut or months of unexplained baldness pale in comparison to green hair. The effects of my worst experience lingered through the next move.

My life feels like a broken record. No steady career lengthens my resume. Few accolades for community service can be garnered in 24 months. By the time I’ve mastered these rudimentary skills it’s time to leave again.

Kylie is almost walking now. Things that were once experiments are now old habits. Soon she will say, “Momma,” and then graduate to big-girl words like, “dog,” and, “Mississippi.” That is the way life is supposed to be: you scale the step ladder, climb the tree, and one day the corporate ladder.

Me? I am still wondering what I will do when I grow up.

Can’t Handle The Wonder

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I went to the theatre

With the author of a successful play.

He insisted on explaining everything.

Told me what to watch,

The details of direction,

The errors of the property man,

The foibles of the star.

He anticipated all my surprises

And ruined the evening.

Never again! – And mark you,

The greatest Author of all

Made no such mistake.

[quoted by Zacharias on pages 46-47 of Recapture the Wonder]

As a pro-life, creationist who believes in a world-wide flood and Noah’s ark; as a woman who defends the inherency of the Bible, the virgin birth and Christ’s literal resurrection – I admit on more than one occasion I have wished that He would spoil the story. It would be so much easier to defend my faith and centuries of Christians could have been spared much persecution, if God would only show up and explain everything.

Wonder can be enhanced when reasoning knows where to draw the line, for the noblest reason is to know God Himself. This is a divine principle carved into the human longing for a story with enchantment. pg. 47

If Adam and Eve had been content to live in the wonder of Eden, blessed with every possible delight and communion with God Himself; denied only the knowledge of the taste of one forbidden fruit – if they had been content with wonder and peace, they would never have been cursed with dangerous knowledge and death.

I am a self-confessed control-freak. I wonder how many times my joy would have been multiplied if I hadn’t insisted on uncovering and altering my own future – the future that God has prepared intimately for me. I get flustered and bent out of shape when I’m interrupted or a day ends without accomplishment – never in wonder at the creative, personal twist God placed in my timeline.

It’s the same as the child who pokes through the wrappings under the Christmas tree. He will be hard pressed to express genuine wonder on Christmas day, as he already knows what’s hidden. Think of all the wonders we daily deprive ourself: we want to know the gender of our children before they’re born (now we want to influence the gender), we want to “add” and “subtract” hours from our days as we switch from daylight savings time and back. We practice plastic surgery – even on our children, so that we can design our own appearance.

I’m not declaring any of the above explicitly wrong, but it’s food for thought. When, why did we decide that we couldn’t handle wonder?

A copy of this book was freely provided by Moody Publishers for this review.

I Wonder…What is Wonder? A Review of “Recapture the Wonder”

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We Miss It, But What Is It?

A man far smarter than myself, started Chapter 1 of his book with such a question. Blissfully and quickly engaged in the generous free copy of Recapture the Wonder, that Moody Publishers provided to me for this review, I pawed through the first several pages. Suddenly, I was aware that I hadn’t actually captured any of the message. Though reading the words, even out loud at points, their meaning slipped through the slats in my mind. Slats created by tiny gaps between streams of constant information: schedules, studies, obligations, requisite “fun” time, etc.

Though his prose are heady and intellectual, as I write this post I’m gaining a better understanding of Ravi Zacharias’ message in his new book. Maintaining a sense of wonder in this adult-world is just like my fruitless efforts to grasp Zacharias’ intent and retain it. I’m a very capable reader, I have plenty of light, a comfortable chair – all the tools necessary to read this book thoughtfully and to gain insight. And yet, I finished the first chapter as clueless as I began. What is this?

Can you honestly explain wonder? We miss it, but what is it?

A less educated child, the one I’m watching lift her sleepy head off of the bouncy-chair tray. Glassy blue-gray eyes blink at me, slightly out of focus. She’s unaware of the drool dripping from her chin or the creases in her cheek from resting on top of her toys. But within seconds, still unaware of herself, she sees her mother. And her eyes snap quickly into focus, a contented, pleased, wonderful smile spreads across her face. She knows what wonder is. She is unaware of herself, but she knows what wonder is.

Zacharias shares the story of walking down a busy street with his wife. They bump and jostle past affluence, ignorance, business and all other walks of life. Then, they notice a homeless man, oblivious to anyone watching, digging desperate and hungry through a dumpster. The story ends there, but imagine if someone had tapped that man on the shoulder and offered him a steaming bowl of chicken soup, a sandwich and water, then walked away without demanding reciprocity. That man would display wonder.

I’ve struggled with slow digestion as I read Ravi’s book. I wish I could hear him read it in his rich, mesmerizing Indian accent. Ah well, the written page will afford me many re-reads. And I will need them. So far, I am considering whether intellect and knowledge – especially self-knowledge – are potential enemies of wonder.

What do you think?

Doubly Adopted

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I was adopted at the age of 24. Oddly enough, that’s the same time that I adopted my little sister. Confused yet?

The Brewers were a kind family of three that I met at church. I had married about six months earlier and my husband had immediately deployed to Iraq, leaving me family-less on the east coast. I snuggled in at church, feeling loved by the crowd of people. I joined the choir, I helped with kids’ classes and attended every service. But being a part of a church family isn’t the same as having a sister or a mother.

Kaitlin Brewer was 15, about the age of my sister living in Kansas. She was bubbly and talkative. When the congregation stood to shake hands or mingled in the foyer I spoke briefly to Kaitlin and discovered small things we had in common. I knew she loved to read. She was growing up in a conservative Christian home; she had a crush on a guy in the youth group. I knew how much I missed my sisters.

One Sunday after the service, I stopped her, “Kaitlin, would you go to Barnes and Noble with me this afternoon? I just want to browse, flip though magazines and get a coffee. It’s something my sister and I love to do together, but she’s not here and I really miss her and… I’d love to ‘adopt’ you.”

Kaitlin’s eyes glittered with enthusiasm. “I’d love to! I’ve never had a sister. That sounds like so much fun!” A few hours later, I drove up the Brewer’s driveway and Kaitlin climbed into my passenger seat.

I didn’t spend a profound afternoon advising Kaitlin in the ways of a godly woman. Instead, we sang at the top of our lungs with the radio. We shared our favorite books. I felt sheepish at her detailed memory of every book she had ever read – many more that me. It was a priceless afternoon that filled a growing void in my heart.

The holidays were fast approaching and Kaitlin went Christmas shopping with me. She helped me lug them into Quik Pack’n’Ship as I tearfully mailed all the gifts to my family. I refused to go home for Christmas while my husband was “celebrating” in the desert.

On Christmas Eve, I got a phone call from Mrs. Brewer. “Abby, Kaitlin has really enjoyed having a sister. Would you be my ‘daughter,’ and spend Christmas with our family?”

The next morning, I joined the Brewers for coffee cake, French roast and the reading of The Christmas Story. Mr. Brewer intoned Luke 2, just like my own daddy. I sat on their living room floor and took a nap in the study as the joyful day wore on.

The Brewers entered my life in an informal way, but they became my family. I adopted Kaitlin and their whole family adopted me. With no effort at all, I mentored, encouraged and came alongside Kaitlin, and benefited enormously at the same time. Mrs. Brewer began to email me about once a week, teaching me in an unconscious way to honor my parents, respect and submit to my husband, love unconditionally and rejoice in my role as a godly woman.

It’s been almost seven years since I’ve seen the Brewers. Kaitlin’s has gotten married. We’ve moved about three times and they’ve probably moved just as many. Once in a while, I’ll open my email to find a well-crafted devotional titled “As God Pleases, Dispose the Day.” Mrs. Brewer continues to teach me.

My relationships with Kaitlin and Mrs. Brewer were never sanctioned “mentorships.” We slowly started to do life together. As we each personally continued to submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s leading, He led us in obedience to Titus 2:3-4.

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”

In His IMAGination

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I fear that I am going to veer a little off topic here. I’m still considering biblical, informed imagination, but, I’m stuck there. Mr. Card’s book, Luke, the Gospel of Amazement , continues through the book of Luke, almost chapter by chapter. He takes a segment, divides it into major themes and gives us the information to fuel our imagination. In the introduction, Card says that he is not going to explain to us how to read imaginatively, so I am taking what I learn, the information I glean and following his lead. Not surprisingly, given the unsearchable depths of God’s word, I haven’t made it past chapter two.

I want pose some thoughts I have about imagination:

1. Our imagination is a direct consequence of being made in God’s image. Think of it, eternal God had never before seen grass, animals, rainbows or seas. In seven days His creativity and imagination formed all that we see. And God continues on a daily basis to imagine new finger prints that have never been birthed before. Scientists are routinely discovering new species.  Every single morning He brushes a new sunrise across the sky and beds the stars.

2. It is interesting that when Zechariah exited the temple, mute, no one poked him and tried to force him to speak. No one rolled their eyes and whispered to their neighbor, “The old man must have been dreaming.” What has happened to our sense of wonder and our ability to accept what we cannot understand?

3. Imagination is essential to belief. Imagination might be the ability to believe the amazing – the wondrous – the things we wonder about. That’s why kids are so much more adept at it than adults. That might be why Jesus said that heaven requires the faith of a little child.

4. Did God come to Mary, still young, because her imagination was still ripe and her mind could still stretch to conceive that which wasn’t “normal?”

5. Maybe we don’t listen attentively and walk by the Spirit because we can’t imagine that God would speak to us. Abraham didn’t try to convince himself that the instructions to sacrifice Isaac were the result an errant imagination.

6. Can you imagine eternity? When I was little, my sisters and I used to describe our efforts to comprehend eternity as though just as we grasped the tendrils of it, something would snap shut, or hit us in the head.

Don’t try to read the Bible without allowing for the truth that seems inconceivable. God will never be contained by our systems, explanations, physical laws or moral codes. The juxtaposition of grace and wrath, justice and mercy, Christ’s death and eternal life – can’t be explained. Revel in the glory of God’s amazing imagination!

Picking Up Dog Poop

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The Lie (OK, this one is comic relief): Someday you’ll outgrow having to do your chores!

Picking up dog poop.  We used to have to go around our large fenced backyard with a pair of scoopers that opened and shut their jaws like giant scissors.  My sisters and I fought over who had to do it this time.  The smelly job involved picking up each stinky mess and putting it into an old paper grocery bag.  The thank-less job preceded the lawn mower.

 

At first that was my parents’ job.  They traipsed along behind the green, push mower, collecting shredded grass in the catcher.  Then they dumped the clippings into a garbage bag.  As I grew that became my job, and how I loathed it.  What a treat when that chore became obsolete.  My husband and I bought a town-home when the Army moved us to Washington.  I gloated happily from my window above each time I watched the guys from “Soundview Landscaping” buzz their blades around my yard.

 

I do miss one chore from history.  Leaves – the delightful, crunchy, colorful remains of summer.  Every fall they dove to the ground, plucked from their branches by Oklahoma winds. My sisters and I fought again, but this time for the joy of who could wield the rake.  Piles of dusty oak leaves grew in each corner of the yard.  Pictures show us bouncing in the trash cans, smashing leaves lower and lower to make room for one more handful.  Other snapshots prove that it wasn’t all work and no play.  We took running starts and slid into piles of leaves like Babe Ruth sliding into home plate.

Time Warp

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I used to think it was just my husband.  Then, I thought it was only me.  Now, I’m convinced it’s nearly everyone.  It’s a talent really: we not so much cross timezones when we travel – we time warp.

Recently, while I was home in Kansas visiting my family, my alter-personality, “Sister” emerged.  I didn’t have my own schedule or set of friends in Kansas, so I clung to Rachelle’s shirt tales.  I had so much fun going to see the play, “The Little Mermaid” with her.  We lost ourselves in the characters of a crime show called, Without a Trace.  We painted our toe nails, ate frozen yogurt, walked her dog, and drank exorbitant amounts of coffee.

“Daughter” also appeared.  I voluntarily washed the dishes and helped with laundry.  Like a cat getting its back scratched I thrilled to my father’s compliments or gratitude.  I put my head in my mother’s lap and let her play with my hair.  For two weeks I wasn’t concerned with groceries, laundry, litter pans, dirty floors or mowed lawns.  When I did chores, it was simply because I wanted to help and it hardly felt like work.

Then, POOF, suddenly I came home.  I mean to my real home, in Virginia, where the adult Abby lives.  Wake up!  The lawn desperately needed to be mowed, the litter pan was lending its fragrance to the entire house, the dishes I had left drying on the counter were still there.  Suddenly I remembered that I need to fix the rusts spots on my car’s trunk, Patrick’s car needs new tires and I had a meeting at the church the very next day.

The stark contrast between these two or three me’s, easily makes one pine for the good ol’ days.  We admire, wistfully, the carelessness of a child.  The truth is: we don’t have to lose it.  I’m no expert, in fact, I rarely get it right, but I firmly believe that we adults have no more reason to worry than a child.  After all, doesn’t God say He is our Father?  I am relieved to still be His child.

I recently visited another blog called, Not Bob.  He wrote this poem that I find mesmerizing and I think it fits here as well.  I hope you enjoy:

I think the world is a pin cushion

There’s a space between everyday matters
that makes someone feel every day matters,
a breath or sigh in the darkness. We surround
our time with excuses and distractions, bind
those we love with commitments when we should be
splashing around in dark puddles while the rain
covers us in nothing more than what it is.

- Robert Lee Brewer, author of Not Bob