Remember Your Destiny: It’s Out of This World

Maybe it was an article on the news. Maybe you know someone who has walked through something hard or hurtful. Maybe you found yourself in the shower on a Monday morning just feeling pretty crummy about the world.

(Maybe I did, too.)

I walked into church on Sunday morning and was greeted with tremendously heartbreaking news — a very kind, friendly, compassionate, beautiful person, mother to a sweet and intelligent high schooler, daughter, sister, wife, and friend to many, passed away incredibly unexpectedly. 

In the days since, I’ve been praying for her family, specifically with my mind swirling, my heart heavy, over this 17 year old kid who lost his Dad a few years ago, and his Mom this week.

There are days where the sun shines just right and the clouds are heavenly and the grass is the perfect shade of green, and then there are days when life just doesn’t feel like that at all.

Sometimes, life really, really hurts.

Last year, we faced a trial we didn’t see coming. I spent weeks upon weeks thinking about Piecing Together Who’s Behind the Curtain When Affliction is On the Stage. I asked God questions about what He wants, and what He allows, and I tried to understand a little bit about the difference. Sin broke the world God created for us, and it broke God’s heart — but He has a plan and He has broken Himself to bring about our rescue.

As I pray for this family during this upheaval, this huge and unexpected loss, I begin wrestling again. Because I know God is redeeming and this world is passing away but being renewed and change is coming — still sometimes it’s hard to believe it wouldn’t be better if every day could be a day where the sun shines just right and the clouds are heavenly and the grass is the perfect shade of green.

We all know the truth — in this world those perfect moments are fleeting. There is pain here. There are hard places here. We can quit watching the news but we will still feel it.

What does it mean to long for something wonderful — but impossible? To wish for a perfect world where no one loses their Mama and every child goes to bed in a safe home with a fully belly? What does it mean if what we wish for just can’t happen in this broken world?

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”

The answer to our hearts’ deepest longings is that new and wonderful world — where no child will lose their Mama and no tummies will know hunger, where the sun shines just right and the clouds are heavenly and the grass is a million perfect shades of green.

A funny thing has happened since our eight-year-old’s extended stay in the hospital. Just in passing, in general conversation, he’ll talk about heaven. He isn’t discussing it as if he’s been there in an experience like Colton Burpo — it just seems like it’s closer to his thoughts than it has ever been before. 

He walked into my bathroom the other day and commented, “The leopard and the lamb will be together in heaven. And, like, the snake and the mouse will hang out.” 

I hope he keeps reminding me this thing my heart needs reminding: we were not made for this world, and there’s a better world coming.

Jesus came to undo all the hurt and the bad and the sad in our world, and to prepare our hearts for the better world — to let us know we aren’t ridiculous to hold onto hope that this ISN’T it. That the best IS yet to come.

And one of these heavy mornings, God just whispered this simple word of hope to my soul, from King David’s heart thousands of years ago:

“Your hand will find out all your enemies. The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath.” {Ps. 21}

Anything and everything that is not expressly ordained by the sovereign goodness of God will cease to exist in that better country that we look toward.

And the most looming and devastating of those enemies will be no more — death itself. Death will no longer sting. The grave will no longer have victory. 

That is a hope for the world that is to come — and it is a Truth we cling to right here, and right now. The precious daughter, mother, wife and friend the world is saying goodbye to does not feel the sting of death. The grave gets no victory. She is in that better country which we look toward. The years we face until that reunion are the blink of an eye in light of eternity.

Friends, don’t be discouraged if the longings of your heart seem to point to places that nothing in this world can fill. Just live this temporary life to the fullest, to the glory of God, with the time that you have. The hurts will heal. The hard will not always be true. So let your heart smile on the inside like you’ve got a secret your enemy can’t touch: your destiny is out of this world.

xCC


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I hope you’re encouraged today, friend.
If so, I’d love to welcome you to 
subscribe here for a weekly dose of encouragement.


 Just in case: If you were thinking about the writing group I mentioned last week, they’re offering a $1 One Week Trial for you to check it out for yourself. {Please let me know if you decide to try it out!}


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Update on Blake

Thank you so much for your continued prayers for Blake! He is now just in therapy one day a week and it is really hard to believe three months ago he was learning how to walk again! He went to P.E. this week with homeschool friends and it was amazing to see him running around with the other kids — you just wouldn’t know he’d been through anything at all. His hair has grown to the point that only the tiniest bit of a spot can be seen where his once very big and very serious pressure wounds were. And he continues to want to give kisses, and tell us we’re the best parents ever, and love everyone wholeheartedly. He also loves to make his baby sister squeal and scream on occasion — which certainly makes life feel normal again.

We would be so grateful to ask you to continue to pray for the complete healing of Blake’s vision — for 20/20 in 2020 for our sweet boy. He is successfully adapting, and remembering to turn his head to see a full field of vision, but still often getting startled and having trouble finding or noticing anything to the left without very intentional movement. He has come so far and we continue to feel SO grateful. We continue to Raise a Hallelujah to the God who has brought us through! Thank you SO much for your prayers.


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Beware the Dragons That Thwart Intentional Living

What does it mean to be intentional?

If you find me baking in the kitchen with my sweet seven year old daughter, you’ll hear me ask her to please fetch the “On-Purpose Flour” from the pantry. I recently discovered she thought it was “On Purpose” instead of All-Purpose, and my goodness, I’m just hoping she won’t notice her error for as long as possible so that I can enjoy the sweetness of her saying it again and again. 

We do some good baking “on purpose” around here, but this year the word “Intentional” was whispered to my heart, and I’m puzzling my puzzler trying to figure out how to live it. 

Intentional is just a fancy “On Purpose,” right?

You might remember me sharing this post a few years ago about having a word for the year. I was asking God where He was going to take me and He was busy encouraging me to be faithful — just faithful — right where I was.

And as the days of 2020 began to unfold, I heard this whisper to consider what it means to live more intentionally, and to change my “I have to…” into “I choose to…” {a concept I’m considering thanks to Greg McKeown’s Essentialism.}

I’ve been setting goals and making plans and making lists and watching the clock, and thinking more about how to live the precious hours that make up the days that turn into weeks that build up to months that finally make the year of 2020. And what do I want to have accomplished by the time I get to the end of it?

Oh how I long to live intentionally! To make the hours and days and weeks count! To check all the boxes by the end of the day — how glorious!

But there are tricksy waters ahead, friends, beware.

On purpose flour will not yield the same results as bread flour.

On purpose living will yield different results — depending on whose purpose it rests on.

Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for is as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…
{Prov. 2:3-6}

Last week, I had a big question that I wanted some advice about related to this writing journey I’m on. And for the year of 2020, I’ve intentionally joined a small group of writers that includes a few mentors that are coaching the rest of us as we move forward in our work. So I posted that question to ask for advice, and was grateful I was blessed with some well thought out, practical answers in return. 

One of the mentors of the group commented “This would be a tough question to google” along with encouragement that I’d come to the right place. She included heaps of insightful advice to help me think through my decision. 

I laughed a little on the inside thinking “Yeah, you totally couldn’t google that.” 

Here’s a challenging thing to consider, for the microwave generation we live in: Wisdom and understanding? They are not among the search results of Google.

Cluttered between the Instant Pot recipes and the fashion advice — who will take the time to tell me what the best way to spend these next 350 days? And will they know what’s right?

Those Proverbs verses liken a search for wisdom to a hunt for hidden treasure. Hidden treasure isn’t going be in every place you think of to look for it. It’s going to take a thoughtful search to find. Perhaps even some strategic planning. And lots of time thrown in for good measure.

If searching for wisdom was like looking for grass, well gosh, we could all step out into our backyards or head for the local park, and we’d be swimming in it. 

There’s the complexity of knowing where to look for wisdom, and there’s the challenge of taking the time to do the looking.

My quest for intentionality quickly turned into a race to check the daily boxes. And THIS is where the dragons are swimming, friends.

If we do not put people over projects and relationships over return on investment, we are missing the point of living intentionally. 

Our desire to check the boxes can take on dragon-like power. They will QUICKLY swallow up or scorch the desire to lovingly and intentionally relate to the people around us. Let me give you a very practical example that, much to my shame, illustrates this point.

Many of you readers know our eight year old, Blake, was in the hospital for quite a wee while last year. And during that adventure, gosh, I would have paid a million dollars to have that kid wake up from that coma, look me in the eyes and say, “I love you, Mama” and give me a big kiss.

That was just a few short months ago, right?

Blake is home with us now, and doing miraculously well. I think he was an affectionate child before, but after all he’s been through, he has a new little habit in his repertoire. I might be cooking dinner, putting on makeup, homeschooling another child, or folding some laundry, and Blake will come up with his darling little lips puckered into a lovely little circle. He wants a kiss, and he will usually follow that kiss by saying “I love you, Mama,” and then he’ll carry on with his day. This little habit is on repeat, probably 3 or 4 times an hour each day.

Adorable, right? It melts your heart, right? 

It melted my heart in October and November. It brought me to tears a few times in December — just thanking the Lord that this sweet boy is home and well.

We’ve moved into January and I can feel a little ‘niggle’ in my soul. It’s hard to admit, but here it is, people: I struggle to pause what I am doing, slow myself down, and give the child a kiss. 

It’s shameful, right? I don’t want to stop what I am doing! I want to get all the things done! I want to check the boxes!!! And I have to remind myself: anything other than dropping everything to give that precious child a kiss — or any of my precious children a kiss — should be considered treason. TREASON, I SAY!

Aren’t they at the top of my list of reasons to live intentionally???

Have you ever blurted something out without first giving your words some thought — and afterwards regretted it, wishing you could somehow put those words back in and swallow them again?

Have you ever been faced with a choice and made a snap decision — and afterwards wished you’d taken the time to think it through, rather than giving that quick yes or quick no that haunted you weeks later?

I’ve discovered one thing so far about this word, intentional.

When I am running, rushing and racing to check boxes and get things done, I cannot be intentional.

It doesn’t take time to make bad decisions. But it does take time to make good ones.

It doesn’t take time to blurt out an unkind response. It does take time to give a measured and thoughtful reply.

I hope that as you’ve begun a new year, you’re looking at it with the intention of doing more On Purpose Baking with the days that will make up 2020. And I hope that you won’t fall into the same trap I quickly discovered I was wading into: the trap of believing that living intentionally looks like moving at a quick pace and getting more things done.

Instead of more things, I pray we can quiet our souls and listen for the wisdom and understanding to do the right things.

And what a beautiful year it will be, if we live it doing the right things — on purpose.

xCC

 I hope you’re encouraged today, friend.
If so, I’d love to welcome you to 
subscribe here for a weekly dose of encouragement.

If you’re also on a writing journey and interested in learning more about the hope*writers community I have come to know and love, you can find out more here. {Membership is only open for a wee while, so check that out quickly!}

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Update on Blake

Our precious Blake, who does love giving lots of kisses these days, just keeps on keeping on! We had a small breakthrough today, when he was able to navigate working through part of his Math lesson without me sitting beside hm and coaching him through every problem. (It has been a struggle for him to concentrate on a single task for an extended period without me taking him through it one step at a time.) I was overjoyed to see he could answer twelve Math problems with only one or two errors all by himself today! His Math skills were very strong before this injury, and I think those skills are serving him well now — helping his brain reconnect those pathways and put things together again.

Physically, he seems almost like his old self again. We continue to pray, and would love to ask you to join us, in INTENTIONALLY praying for 20/20 vision for Blake — and the return of his full field of vision — in 2020. We have seen some specialists and been given some conflicting advice about what therapies might be possible. We’d be so grateful if you’d also pray we’d have the wisdom to make the best choices for Blake.

Friends, thank you SO much for your prayers and for continuing to ask how Blake is doing. As a family, we feel like we are in a season of healing. We’re trying to slow our pace (post holiday hustle-bustle) and just enjoy time together with all of us here in one place. We are dreaming of ways to celebrate coming through all this as a family, and we are just so grateful to have come so far! Blake was chosen as a Children’s Miracle Network Child. We look forward to sharing more of his story of hope through the opportunities that will bring about! We continue to Raise a Hallelujah and love thinking about this story getting better and better!

The Most Important Words When You Are NY Times Front Page News

Maybe you’ve seen it already, and maybe you haven’t? 

Our family made the front page of the New York Times, in a story about health care sharing ministries. Sweet little Blake’s face was there beside the overgrown zinnias growing at the fence in our front yard. His Dad’s chest, strong and protective, just behind him. 

The story made its way to the Raleigh News & Observer and the Charlotte paper as well. 

And how did we feel about it?

Well… not so great. 

The story in the paper wasn’t really our story. Our requests weren’t respected and our comments weren’t really included.  Instead, there were just a few snippets of our health care journey interspersed with lots of stories about health care “ministries” that weren’t keeping their end of the bargain. That wasn’t our experience with our health care sharing ministry. We didn’t get duped. There were no wizards laughing behind curtains. We have a different story to tell.

But you know what? Those words you’ve read up there are all the words I’m going to give to that story right now. Because maybe we’ll get the chance to talk more about our real story and maybe we won’t — but I have a better story to share with you today.

This year I decided to stop crossing off my old-fashioned daily Bible reading in favor of trying out the Read Scripture app on my phone. So far, I’ve loved it. It has encouraged me to get into the Word — because I’m consistently reminded it’s right there in my hand. The videos that help pull out themes and draw a bigger picture are incredibly insightful and so thoughtfully well done. I love them. But the most important part is that God has met me, right there on that little screen.

When the aforementioned story went live on January 2nd? 

We felt pretty hurt and pretty discouraged. 

But I opened that beautiful little app that morning and these words met me instead:

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed…

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision…

{and this beautiful Psalm concludes…}

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

{Psalm 2: 1-2, 4, 12b}

When a few rude comments began to appear and the hurtful words stung a bit like the darts of the enemy, I found refuge in God. And it brought such a big joy to my heart to read these seven words:

He who sits in the heavens laughs.

And I started really thinking about that. God isn’t sinister or sarcastic. There is no wickedness in Him. So that’s not a cackle or a muahh ha ha ha… I started wondering if is a bit like a Father watching His children. Does He see our mess and does He laugh because we feel these small things are so important?

Have I ever laughed because one of my children came to me, desperately offended because of a silly comment? “He says my plate is pink… but it’s PURPLE!!” “I drew a cow but she called it a CAT!”

Oh yes.

If God sits on His throne and laughs — maybe He wants to remind me not to take things too seriously. And on January 2nd, I opened that App, read those words, and got reminded right when I needed it.

By January 3rd, I was itching with hurt again. The offended toddler, hurt by the other toddlers and their opinions of me. When you’re in the news and the article gets 1100 comments, it feels BIG.

And on January 3rd, Psalm 3 whispered to my soul:

O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, 
my glory, and the lifter of my head…

{Psalm 3:1-3}

God lifted my head and reminded me of the bigger story He is writing. He reminded me that His wisdom really is seen as foolishness to the world. 

And He spoke to my heart again on January 4th:

“But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts and on your beds, and be silent.” {Ps. 4: 3-4}

In this whirlwind of a week, these were the words that mattered. Not the words of reporters with stories to tell. Not the words of commenters with judgements and opinions. I needed to extend forgiveness. I needed to let go before any bitterness took root in my own soul. Day after day, Mark and I truly marveled together, as it felt like these words written thousands of years ago were destined to speak to us in January of 2020.

These were the words that were a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths. With these words, God was a shield to us, our glory and the lifter of our heads.

Welcome to 2020, friends. If it is going to be anything, perhaps it is going to be unpredictable. I pray you’ll allow the Lord to meet you in His Word this year. The Read Scripture App is a free and wonderful way to engage with the Word. There are so many other plans and tools out there, waiting to help you find your way into a deeper relationship with God and His Word.

No matter what words the world might have for you this year, friend, there are no accolades more wonderful than the Truth that you are a loved and valued child of God. And there are no darts of the enemy so fierce that they can pierce the Truth of your identity as a child of the King. 

Like the Wemmicks in Eli’s Workshop, we are the best version of ourselves when we let all the dots fall off — and let the Word of the Carpenter who created us be our whole Truth.

xCC

I hope you’re encouraged today, friend.
If so, I’d love to welcome you to subscribe here for a weekly dose of encouragement.

***

Update on Blake

We are so blessed that so many folks continue to ask about the beautiful story that we love to tell: the miracle of our sweet Blake and his journey! He continues to improve in so many ways — to the point that we think his days in physical, speech and occupational therapy are most likely numbered. He is running and jumping and playing and reading and always surprising us with what he’s capable of. We’re also so grateful to say that his memory is still improving! He still has moments where he asks a question he asked thirty seconds ago, but he is remembering so much more, and so much more quickly, those things stored in that short term memory bank. And (like each of our kids) he continues to amaze us at remembering things before his accident that our old brains have completely forgotten! 

There is one specific request that we would love to ask you to continue to pray for, perhaps as you’re writing down the date this year? We have not seen improvement in Blake’s left field of vision… yet. We are pondering at the significance of the year 2020 — and praying specifically for our sweet boy, and for full, restored 20/20 vision for him this year. He is learning to adapt to some extent, but he is still walking into cabinets, hitting the corners of counters as he stands up from petting the puppy, or bumping into doors as he passes from one room to the next. When he gets hurt it’s pretty heart wrenching — but he continues to amaze us with how he takes everything in stride. Two hour eye exams, long car trips, and everything that has happened since September 1st… we keep waiting for something to phase him, but he seems so peaceful. What a gift that is! 

Blake also continues to make deep and meaningful comments. He simultaneously seems like a silly eight-year-old boy who loves potty humor and an old soul who will slip his hand into mine on a walk around the neighborhood and comment about needing more of God. Thank you so much for praying for this precious boy of ours. We are in awe as we watch God’s story in him continue to unfold. Hallelujah!

Some posts on my site contain affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!

More Gentle, More Firm: Thoughts for a New Year

He stopped the radio on 107.9 FM. Oldies were playing. Not just any oldies — “Beach Music” — the kind of music my Dad listened to for decade upon decade. The music that transports me back to salty sea air, sandy feet and tangled hair, the gush of air conditioning that hits you when you open the door of the condo. My Dad at the grill, chicken wings whistling and crackling (and mysteriously disappearing) and me fetching one more Miller Light with a lime for the grillmaster.

My eleven year old, scanning through radio stations stopped when he heard that old-fashioned music and started dancing along from the passenger seat of the car. 

I wondered if it was embedded in him somehow — even though we lost my Dad when he was just four, is the music in there somewhere? 

I couldn’t stop smiling, thinking about it.

Until someone threw a diaper from the backseat and I had to turn off the music and start a lecture about the dangers of throwing things at the driver. 

Sometimes saying goodbye to a year that has passed feels a bit like saying goodbye to a person who meant a whole lot to you. It’s grief on a much smaller scale, but still it’s grief. 

Maybe you didn’t achieve what you’d dreamed. Maybe this was the year you would _________ but _________ just didn’t happen.

The truth is we don’t exactly wave goodbye to the years we live — it’s more like we take them with us. They are a part of us, maybe they’ve built us, maybe they’ve broken us. Probably both. But surely we’ve grown in understanding, hopefully in wisdom because these past 365 days are a part of our story.

The music isn’t gone. Even if we don’t remember every moment in our minds, our souls still bear the weight of the stories.

As the final moments of this year have their time on the stage, I’m trying to focus on two thoughts to frame the road ahead.

More Gentle

I typically find myself at the end of a year regretting what I hoped to accomplish but didn’t, while I fail to celebrate what I did accomplish. I can’t count how many home-cooked meals I served my family this year, but I know it was often six or seven days a week. I think that’s something worth celebrating. How many times did I smile at a stranger or offer a kind word? I hope a lot and can think of at least a few — that is time well spent. I began to write consistently this year and offered a word of encouragement in this space on a weekly basis. That’s something worth celebrating.

Instead of looking for reasons to rake myself over the coals, I’m thinking about things I can count as blessings. We read sooooo many library books together. We prayed at bedtime together — all six of us — almost without fail, except for those months when Blake was in the hospital. 

It’s a new kind of joy, and you might find it, too, if you worry less about the number of the scale and instead celebrate the walks you took with a friend. Or if (like me) you didn’t beat last year’s goal for the number of books you read (I tied!) — instead you can celebrate, I read 25 books this year!

Be gentle with yourself. Look for reasons to celebrate. Yes, make mental notes about the things you aren’t celebrating, but still, find the reasons to celebrate. You showed up when that friend needed you. Other than a sick day here and a vacation there, you were faithful at work. You fed your family or watered your garden or kept some plants alive. (Maybe all three… go, you!) 

Celebrate the wins!

More Firm

This week I read these words that challenged me deeply in thinking about the year ahead:

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
{Essentialism, Greg McKeown}

I didn’t like the idea that someone else could tell me what was important to me, but I realize that there are times when I say yes to things I should say no to, because we cannot have it all and we cannot do it all.

Every yes is also a no.

And I want to carefully consider the things about this 365 days that I don’t want to celebrate. Were there times when I let others’ expectations define my priorities for me — at the expense of myself, my family and what I believe is truly important?

If I am always trying to do and do and do and always feeling like I haven’t done enough, then my expectations for myself — and the ones I’m placing on myself because they are the expectations of others — are probably the culprit.

If overwhelm is our ‘normal’ we are perhaps trying to do more than God has given us to do. I do not want an excuse for laziness, but I do want to accept the invitation to slow down and be in step with the Holy Spirit. And I cannot travel in a flurry of activity, flitting from one task to the next, and still hear His voice clearly. Maybe you’re like me?

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with my eye.
Do not be like the horse or like the mule,
Which have no understanding, 
Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,
Else they will not come near you.

{Psalm 32:8-9}

If we’re like the horse, we’re trying to run ahead, and if we’re like the mule, we’re lagging behind and needing the encouragement to keep up. Either way, God’s promise is the same: “I will instruct you. I’ll teach you the way you should go. I’ll guide you. You’ll look at me and see the way forward.”

What is necessary to carve out the space to listen and to hear and to choose wisely how to live the days you have in front of you?

More firm. Committing to be more slow with your yes, more careful with your time, more eager to discern those “good” things that lead us away from the best. 

If we want to live a life led by the Holy Spirit, we will have to spend time with Him. If we want to live a life where the most important things take the center stage, we have to know what those most important things are and plan our lives and calendars accordingly.

No one gets to the end of their year, or their life and thinks, “Gosh, I really wish I’d spent more time doing all the secondary, non-important things other people expected me to do.” 

As you reflect on the year that has passed and prepare for the year to come, be gentle with yourself and celebrate the wins. And be firm in your resolve to listen to what doesn’t feel like a win, and consider where more ‘no’s’ might have created opportunities for better yeses. 

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 

So instead of getting overwhelmed with setting a couple of big resolutions to steer us into a New Year, perhaps we need to get quiet and look for the clues in our soul about the little changes that could make the biggest differences. Even with a whole new year unfolding in front us, we will still have to live it one week, one day, one moment at a time.

xCC

*** 

I hope you’re encouraged today, friend!
If so, I’d love to welcome you to 
subscribe here for a weekly dose of encouragement.

If you’re hoping for a little more advice on majoring on the big things and minoring on the small? I’d love to recommend:

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (Think of this one as a closet-cleanout strategy for your life priorities.)

Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy (Think of this as a personal coaching session to help you strategically think through EVERY area of life and discern the why behind every yes or no.)

The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman (I’ve shared this one already, but gosh, I so appreciated the gentle self-care, the pastoral coaching of this book as it relates to decision making. Freeman expressed specific things I’ve actually LIVED and put words to things I couldn’t. If you have big decisions ahead this year, please grab this one!)

And, with love, from here… perhaps just a little extra love for your January 1st? This is a fan favorite from the Archives to wish you a Happy New Year: Happy New Year, Love God.

One last thought? If you subscribe to receive weekly Love, From Here, I’ll do a happy dance, and you’ll get encouraging words in your inbox every week along with my Five Steps to a Fantastic Meal Plan SystemIf you’d like to live this year more encouraged, and make a plan for your kitchen, this is definitely a win/win!

Some posts on my site contain affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!

The Best Story We Never Could Have Written

If I had planned the life and times of the Savior of the World, it would have started in a big city with loads of opportunity for publicity and rubbing shoulders with wealthy and influential people.

If I planned His birth, it would have been a big event, foretold to the masses so that thousands were witnesses to the Incarnation unfolding.

If I selected the family for a Savior, He would have had privileges and power and a platform from which to present His message to the world.

If I mapped out those early years, Jesus would have been a baby genius — the child prodigy everyone knew about, right from the start, waiting to see what He would do next.

If I were the author of the story of His ministry, for decades upon decades Jesus would have traveled far and wide to preach and to teach to ears all over the world… big stages and bright lights would have been His to command.

If I scripted the story of the Rabbi Jesus Christ during His ministry, He would have chosen hundreds of disciples to follow Him, up close and personal, listening to His teachings.

If I wrote the story of His victory, He would have taken the throne His disciples wanted Him to take, overthrowing the oppression of Rome and ushering Israel to a new era of political glory.

Instead of the big city, God chose humble Bethlehem, the “House of Bread” — a small place for the beginnings of the Bread of Life.

Instead of the big event, God chose to reveal the story of His birth to humble Shepherds on nearby hillsides — the Good Shepherd would be revealed first to His own kind.

Instead of the influential family, God chose a carpenter for a father and a humble young girl for a mother — the building of a never-ending kingdom required a different kind of skill. 

Instead of the child prodigy, His story began with a flight to the anonymity of Egypt to protect the life of the One who is the Resurrection and the Life.

Instead of the decades of famous ministry, God ordained a three year preaching circuit, visiting the same towns and perhaps never traveling more than two hundred miles from His hometown. The Light of the World never needed the lights of the world to demonstrate His brilliance.

Instead of the hundreds of disciples, God chose just twelve, knowing one of the twelve would betray Him. Once the Way began to show the world the Way, He lit a fire on enlightenment that would never stop burning.

Instead of the powerful ruler on His glorious throne, God chose the victory of the cross — where death would be defeated by the King of Kings whose Kingdom is not of this world. 

I would ask for horses. He would ride a donkey.

I would ask for servants. He would become a servant and wash feet.

I would ask for a palace, He would choose the cross on the hill.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. {Isaiah 9:6-7}

From the manger on the outskirts of Bethlehem to the cross outside Jerusalem, Jesus lived a story that is precisely marked by the fact that He chose none of the things we would choose if we set out to change the world.

If His life were a marketing campaign, He chose the least lucrative potential target audience. If His life were a political campaign, He chose the wrong kind of social capital, the least influential associates and allies. If His Life, Death and Resurrection were on trial in a courtroom, He chose all the wrong witnesses.

What does the world really need? What do you and I truly need? What is the solution to all our problems, the answer to all our questions, the peace to overcome our every fear? 

Only an upside-down kind of Love could turn the world upside down… and ignore every strategy the world’s greatest thinkers might have employed in the process. Jesus is the King who refuses a throne… and then reigns forever. 

And His is the different kind of story that none of us would have written but all of us most deeply need to know and to follow. He is the answer to our deepest longings. 

He sheds Light, the truest Light on all the dark and the sadness and the hurt and the badness in our world. He is the Light that says, “I see you. In the darkest places where you are hurting most, I see because I am Emmanuel. I am not simply watching over you — I am with you. I have come, I do come, I will come again. I will not leave you as orphans here. These earthly troubles will vanish for all eternity when I come again. My Light shines in this darkness — and the darkness will not overcome it.”

Glory to God in the Highest! He has come to us. He does come to us in the darkest nights and the hardest places. He will come again!

Hallelujah again and again, and Merry Christmas!

xCC

From our family to yours, we wish you a wonderfully Merry Christmas. Friends, we cannot thank you enough for your love, your prayers and your support through this incredibly challenging season in our lives. Jesus has come and He does come, and so often He has come to us through His brothers and His sisters, His hands and His feet, His people, in this season. We cannot fully express our gratitude. We pray He will come to you this Christmas, that His Light will shine in the darkness of any hard place or hurt you are facing, that His Love will speak Truth into your soul. The best story ever written hasn’t stopped being written — and it just gets better and better.

We love you!
Mark, Caroline, Arabella (7), Asher (11), Blake (8) and Catriana (4)

***
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We Are Raising a Brand New Hallelujah! {And We Might Be Crazy}

Every year for the past four or five years, Mark and I have asked ourselves the same question. At least once a year, we spend a few hours deep in conversation, do a lot of research, and even interview friends who’ve already made the decision we’re considering. And every year for the past four or five years, we’ve come to the same conclusion:

Nope, we are not ready for a dog.

The kids would love to have one… but will they care for it?

There was a baby in diapers. Did we really need more poop to deal with?

When we travel to visit family in South Africa… what about the dog??

Four kids. The oldest is only 8… Nine… Ten… It seemed like a no-brainer:

Nope, we are not ready for a dog.

But this year, everything seemed different. No one is in diapers. Our eldest is eleven and can definitely handle responsibility. For the next year or so, we will not be traveling overseas or even traveling much inside the U.S. 

So when a kid in a hospital bed who’s just woken up from a coma asks for a dog, and his brother says that’s the ONLY ONLY ONLY thing he wants for Christmas… and you can’t blame diapers or travel or irresponsibility?

You get a dog.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

{Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, Charles Wesley, 1744}

Last week our family welcomed a tiny little golden retriever fur ball into the mix. And if you know our story, or even have the faintest hint of Blake’s story from September onward, you might be able to guess what we named her. 

Got it yet?

Hallelujah.

“Halle” for short. 

That word we’ve said over and over again so many times in the past few months? It means “God be praised.” And we have so many reasons to say “God, be praised.” We love the thought that we are declaring that praise again and again, just calling a dog to come inside.

One observation I’ve pondered this week is how the “Long Expected Jesus” we sing to is often so unexpected in the ways He chooses to move.

Who thought the Savior of the World would be born in a stable to an unwed mother? Who expected the story of our rescue to quietly begin in a quiet manger… with a birth marked so significantly exactly because it would have at first seemed so… insignificant. So insignificant no one had room for it. Who had an interest in the uncomfortable story?

And yet, Jesus didn’t become more expected or predictable with time. He spoke a word to heal this man, but made a mudpie to heal that one. While everyone waited for Him to take a throne and rule, He knelt to wash feet, He led when He served.

God be praised! He is unlike anyone the world has ever known!

If we’re willing to slow down and to look, I think we will find Him this Christmas not so much in the familiar trappings of the places we’ve looked before. I think we’ll find Him most in the unexpected places. He is working and He is moving… and He makes all things new.

As we’ve begun this new journey with this newest little family member, God be praised — He has shown up in unexpected ways to teach me unexpected things.

It is just like Jesus, isn’t it? That you are certain you are giving a gift, and instead discover you’re receiving one, too.

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I shared that post about learning to do the next thing? I experienced a fresh little measure of “overwhelm” after bringing Hallelujah home. Getting up in the night (so reminiscent of the early days with each of our kids) had me a little tired and a little worried, not knowing how long of a journey we’d signed up for. (Meaning, when would I not need to take the puppy out to potty every two hours.)

Things quickly calmed down (fortunately!) but in those first few days, I realized the best place to exercise the principle of “Do the Next Thing” is really when you have so many things to do you feel discouraged or overwhelmed. The beauty of concentrating on doing the next thing reminded me that I did not have to worry about what I would do if this was still a struggle on my plate in six weeks. I only needed to trust God for the grace to get up right then, throw on that coat and those rain boots, and take the dog out right then. When the next time came, I could trust God for the grace for that, too.

Choosing hard paths so often births unexpected fruit. We knew this wouldn’t be easy, but we’ve watched our eldest quickly rise to accept responsibility. At the end of a long, hard road this year, somehow adding a complicated new family member is bringing about joy and gratitude and mutual affection and … dare I say it, maybe even a little bit more peace?

That really is just like Jesus — He gives gifts that come in very unexpected packages. He became a gift in a way no one expected, in a place where no one was looking, at a time when other things seemed to be on everyone’s mind.

And yet He is the gift everyone needs, and He is the gift that comes looking for us, and He is the gift that comes right on time.

So God be praised, we aren’t stopping anytime soon… He is worthy, and He is good, and we will keep on Raising a Hallelujah!

xCC

***
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***

Update on Blake

We are so blessed that so many folks are continuing to ask how Blake is doing with so much love and care and concern. We’re so delighted to report that he is doing incredibly well. He seems more and more like his ‘old self’ all the time, and yet there continue to be these deeper thoughts and deeper questions that come to the surface at least a few times each and every day.

Blake continues to giggle lots and often. He seems to just want to laugh so much — and when he does it seems like he’s laughing from head to toe. He continues to love going to therapy so much. His short term memory is still a struggle (but shows more signs of improvement) and so he often asks “Is tomorrow a therapy day?” and is always delighted when the answer is “Yes!”

It is a joy to see him outside running around with his siblings or laughing with the puppy. He thanks us for Halle on a daily basis and his eyebrows scrunch up in the sweetest way — to the point that he almost looks like he’s in pain — he just finds her so overwhelmingly adorable. 

We are not sure there has been an improvement in Blake’s eyesight, but we are seeing him adapting well. He still gets started a good bit, but he is also learning to turn to look more carefully, and he is bumping into things less than before.

We’d be grateful if you would continue to join us in praying 1) for the complete disappearance of Blake’s AVM, 2) for the complete healing of Blake’s eyesight and 3) for the total restoration of Blake’s short term memory. It is such a joy to look at our walking, talking miracle every day, friends. We continue to feel so grateful for all you who prayed and prayed and prayed and raised Hallelujahs for Blake. We love telling him how much he was prayed for and reflecting on the goodness of the God who heard and answered those prayers! God be praised — Hallelujah!!!

If You Want to Know What Someone Else is Thinking

Maybe it’s a tad dramatic to say I dreaded the conversation. But it did kind of put my stomach in knots and make me want to look at the ceiling and take a few deep breaths. 

It’s just… I was so sure I knew how she’d respond. And I didn’t like thinking about that.

You see, when everything went upside-down and I had a kiddo in the ICU, a very dear, very sweet, very qualified friend of mine took over a responsibility that I had committed to in our homeschool community. And not a small responsibility either… weekly tutoring a language, grammar and writing class that required preparation and planning and time.

Once the fog began to settle and our whole family was under the same roof again, I slowly, carefully tiptoed back to the dear homeschool community that supported our family, cared for our children and loved us in a million ways, big and small, through our difficult journey. It was hard to figure out what moving forward looked like.

We felt so welcomed and loved. When I asked the other Moms to sort of prepare their kiddos and maybe try not to overwhelm Blake, they heard and responded. Blake was so gently and lovingly cared for. What a relief!

Eventually, the question came up: When might you start back? When might you start tutoring that class?

And suddenly, my heart felt like a really heavy rock. Like the rock they tied to Aladdin when they wanted him to sink to the bottom of the river. Sink-to-the-bottom heavy.

At home, I began processing the idea. And “yes, I guess maybe I should ” floated through my mind. And “perhaps after Christmas break.” And, “I did commit to it, I should follow through.”

But with each of those thoughts, the rock just felt heavier and heavier. Thinking about it for too long made me want to cry. Can I do that and still focus on the kiddos at home? And keep learning how to help Blake continue to make progress?

So I needed to talk to my sweet friend and ask: How is it going? Is it awful? Are you dying for me to come back so you can stop carrying that responsibility?

I thought perhaps she was avoiding the conversation because she didn’t want to put any pressure on me to start back, even though she was SO ready to be done.

And I felt like I could already answer for her:Yes, I’m tired and I don’t want to be doing this job right now, and please, when are you starting back?

A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water,

But a man of understanding draws it out.

{Proverbs 20:5}

Here’s something I should’ve learned by now but obviously haven’t:
You cannot know for sure what another person
is thinking or feeling until you ask.

The things going on in a person’s heart? They’re like deep waters. It takes time to dive down and see what’s there.

In a moment that seemed like happenstance, but was clearly the goodness of the Lord, we had the perfect opportunity to have a conversation about how things were going.

I have a feeling you know what I found out.

She was NOT dying for me to come back. She was enjoying the class. She was having fun. She was willing to help for the whole year, knowing what our family has been through and that it would take time to recover. She was even looking ahead to next semester and wanting to begin preparing for one of the fun events towards the end of the school year, but (GET THIS!!) she was worried that I might be feeling like she was trying to control everything!

Can you even? 

I’m at one end of the line, biting my nails over a conversation I don’t want to have because I’m completely sure she feels like this, (and I’m way off) and she is at the other end, yes, trying to be careful not to make me feel any pressure, but also secretly worried that she’s caused offense!

I was so grateful God brought us together for that conversation — and suddenly the very heavy rock inside my chest miraculously disappeared. And I cried anyway.

So here’s a question that holds a lesson for all of us.

Are you convincing yourself that someone thinks this or feels thatwithout anything but the evidence you’re compiling in your own brain based on what you are thinking they’re thinking?

Are you perhaps having conversations (maybe even arguments) in your head? And you’re thinking what you’ll say, how the other person will respond, what you’ll say next in response to that?

A wise friend of mine once counseled me before Mark and I married:

Don’t have a fight in your head, because it’s not a fair fight.

Instead, we have to do ourselves a favor and ask questions. They can’t be leading questions, either. We have to ask honest questions that give the other person a chance to say how they honestly feel without being told a) how we think they feel or b) how we think they should feel. 

When we make assumptions about what other people think or how they feel, we can be angry with them for a fight that never happened — because it just happened in our heads. Or we can feel hurt for something we think they believe about us or about something that matters to us — but once again, they haven’t said that and we’re only basing our hurt on our own perceptions of reality.

When we build a notion on our assumptions about someone else’s thoughts or heart, we are building sand castles too close to the water, or stepping onto a tight rope above shaky ground. The best way to find out what someone else is thinking is to ask questions that don’t lead or push or corral someone toward one camp or another. Then we can move forward with making plans or finding solutions, standing on solid ground.

This funny little surprise interaction with my friend was a fantastic reminder of a bigger life principle that I want to nestle into my heart and hold onto: 

Start a real, good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation. That’s the absolute best way to know for sure what someone else is thinking.

xCC

****

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If so, I’d love to welcome you to 
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Update on Blake

This evening we read our Christmas devotional as a family. The title was “Surprise Gifts” and the story was about Joseph, his famous colorful coat, his mistreatment by his brothers, and his eventual realization that what had been intended for evil, God worked together for good. As Blake brought me his carefully colored ornament, he said, “It is like the story. The devil meant my eyesight problems and what happened in my brain for evil, but God worked it out for good.” {I later discovered he and his Dad had had a little conversation about how God worked out his brain surgery for good.} He followed that up with a comment about how he didn’t need to color around the edges of his picture in order to see the whole thing. And lo and behold, the picture was colored, all the way to the left, all the way to the right and all in between. 

Blake continues to show signs of physical improvement, but I sometimes wonder if the most important things aren’t perhaps happening in the unseen places of the heart. Blake’s heart, our hearts, and the other hearts who’ve been touched by his story, too. He is taking his Math lessons one problem at a time and he is managing to process and retain information with more and more precision and accuracy. (A friend at church taught him “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers” and he memorized and repeated back the whole tongue twister almost perfectly in one sitting!) 

We continue to pray (and hope you will join us) for Blake’s eyesight to improve, his memory to continue to strengthen (and how glorious it is to see those prayers are being answered!) and for the complete disappearance of his AVM. What a joy it is to say Hallelujah! We are so grateful at the Collie house these days — with four children coloring ornaments at the coffee table and four stockings hanging by the chimney. God has been so good to us!

Did you catch this post with some of our family’s favorite children’s books this year? {If you’re thinking of putting books under the tree, it might help!}

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If (Like Me) You Want to Learn to Take It As It Comes

I never knew two thick and lovely slices of black cardstock paper could solve problems that seemed insurmountable. I also never realized what a hard time I have with making decisions until someone else articulated those words for me.

When our eight-year-old came home from his forty-eight days in the hospital, he was his old self in many ways, but also different in several. Unlike before, he seems to mention the grandfathers that have already passed away much more often than he ever did before, with a simple sigh and the comment that he misses them. He seems to laugh with his whole soul these days, and relishes in every slice of humor that crosses his path.

He also struggles with Math in a way he never did before. A worksheet that might have taken ten or fifteen minutes three months ago can now take a solid forty-five, with a lot of coaching and assistance. He can still read the problems, and he still seems to understand most of the concepts, but his short term memory deficits make it difficult for him to hold a number in his head while considering how subtracting a second number from it will change it. 

After a couple of visits to neuro-opthalmologist specialists, we came home armed with some ideas to try, some worksheets to copy and repeat, and, much to my surprise, a couple of sheets of black cardstock paper.

At the therapist’s recommendation, I used the cardstock to block out everything on Blake’s Math worksheet, except the one problem that he needed to focus on. It wasn’t a completely miraculous difference — he wasn’t back to finishing fifteen problems in five minutes, but there was a very discernible difference in how he faced the challenge of Math. And his speed and accuracy absolutely improved. 

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own. {Matt. 6:34}

Today, as I adjusted the margins and helped him, I realized how much sense it all made:

He just needed to focus on one problem at a time.

In life, I tend to get ridiculously overwhelmed by decisions. I don’t want to make wrong decisions. I want to do the things that are at the forefront of my own heart, but I also fear how my choices will impact the people around me for better or worse. 

In the book, Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliot wrote to her daughter about the challenges of the days when she had an infant on her hip, she was newly widowed and she had a jungle mission station to run. She spoke of feeling overwhelmed and said:

“Well, I’ve felt that way a good many times in my life, and I go back over and over again to an old Saxon legend, which I’m told is carved in an old English parson somewhere by the sea. I don’t know where this is. But this is a poem which was written about that legend. […]

“Do it immediately, do it with prayer,
do it reliantly, casting all care.
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
leave all resultings, do the next thing.”  

I held onto those verses for quite some time. What a gift it is to be reminded that we don’t have to have all the answers! We don’t have to have an answer for every question on our Math worksheet. We don’t have to have an answer for every question regarding our future. What choice will we make when it comes time to decide about this thing or that? Perhaps the best thing we can do is live right here, right now, and do the thing right in front of us that it the next right thing to do.

I came across that poem again, just last week, reading a wonderful book called The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. She shared it in its entirety, and I was so blessed to read the whole poem — I didn’t know there was more! So struck by it, I felt I should probably be framing it and placing it on a wall in my home. Now you know what to get me for Christmas. Here’s the beautiful full version: {Often listed online as “Author Unknown,” Emily attributes it to Mrs. George A. Paull.}

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from heaven;
And through the hours the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “Do the next thing.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King;
Trust them with Jesus: Do the next thing.

Oh! He would have thee daily more free,
Knowing the might of thy royal degree,
Ever in waiting, glad for His call,
Tranquil in chastening, trusting through all.
Comings and goings no turmoil need bring;
His, all the future: do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who hath placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ’neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor!
In the shade of His presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance live out thy psalm;
Strong in His faithfulness, praise Him and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

–By Mrs. George A. Paull 

I hope you’ll read those words through a few times today, friend. Maybe come back to them when life starts to loom large in front of you and you feel daunted. Be encouraged that you do not need to know it all or have it all figured out to move forward. You and I can learn something from Blake, taking the Math work one problem at a time. 

Strong in His faithfulness, praise Him and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

xCC

*** 

I hope you’re encouraged today, friend. If so, I’d love to welcome you to 
subscribe here for a weekly dose of encouragement.

 And! If you’re like me and struggle with decision fatigue and choice-making, Emily P. Freeman’s book, The Next Right Thing, really is worth your time.

Still reading? Did you catch this post with some of our family’s favorite books this year? {We also love KiwiCo’s Tinker Crate!}

Oh! I know what you’re waiting for…

An Update on Blake

Blake continues to improve and to thrive at home and at therapy! His left side keeps gaining strength: he snapped the fingers on his left hand yesterday and was very proud. (I can’t even do that!) His physical therapist also observed, crazy enough, his left foot had a better range of motion than his right last week. Perhaps all the prayers are making his left side his strong side! He has the balance to ride a scooter (while his Mama watches nervously) and the strength to come home from a few hours of therapy and still walk the neighborhood.

He is also doing better with regard to his memory — recent events and answers to questions are coming to him more quickly and easily. This is helping him ‘slot in’ in playing with his sisters and brother more and more. At first, it seemed like he felt a bit lost and struggled to join in their play, but now he is running around the house or crowding around the coffee table with the rest of the musketeers. What a precious sight for Mark and me!

Blake’s eyesight is something we continue to ask for prayer for. With helpful cues, he is finding his way to the left side of a page or the left side of a room, but he will tend to eat the food on the right side of his plate first, color the right side of a picture first (and maybe stop before the left is fully done) and so on. There is a definite difference there. 

Thank you again so much for your care and concern and for lifting Blake up in prayer. He is absolutely doing miraculously well and we pray the improvements will continue. Please join us in praying his AVM will disappear, his eyesight and memory will be fully restored, and he will grow up to be the man of character and integrity he was created to be! Thank you for joining us in giving thanks for all the Lord has done! Hallelujah!!

Psst. Some posts on my site contain affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases, I receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I love it when you do that! Thank you for supporting With Love!