Giving Up Fear

Tonight marks the fourth of the forty days before Easter commonly referred to as “Lent.”  And I’m not writing a daily Lenten blog….and that feels….strange.

I first began the blog site discoverlentwithme.com in 2012 in response to a challenge from a young woman fighting cancer to “do something hard – something you’re pretty sure you can’t do” to stand in solidarity with her as she found the courage to undergo treatment.  Thinking of something to write about for 40 straight days – and then posting it for the world to see – seemed to fit the “pretty sure you can’t do” criteria, and so it began.

I wrote another series of 40 days in 2015, a year following Kelsey’s accident that changed all of our lives.  Daily I sought God for a word – a thought – a hint of something that might be useful or meaningful first of all to myself, and then hopefully to anyone reading.  It was a transforming and powerful experience as day after day God came through and met me in some very hard places with hope and healing.

Then in 2016 – less than a year after the loss of our son, Brett – I once again found myself blogging through the days of Lent.  This time it wasn’t as much to encourage others as it was for my own personal spiritual survival.  I was lost.  I was lonely.  And I was oh so desperate to feel God’s presence and guidance as I daily sought – and many late nights all out fought – to hear His voice and find my footing.  And you know what happened?  Once again, He showed up.  The God of heaven and earth, the creator of all things and the savior of the entire world – met me in the dim light of my Dell laptop night after night as I cried out to Him for hope – for healing – for some word that would get me to the next day.

2017 is a different kind of year for me – transitional would probably be a good word.  Even as recently as a month ago I had every intention of writing another Lenten series – in fact had been really looking forward to it!  But in the blink of an eye I’ve gone from exploring the idea of going back to school to actually being IN school and with that has come lots of demands on my time.  So, though I am a bit disappointed at not writing again this year, I am also kind of in awe at what God has managed to do without my even being fully aware of it.  I’ve been praying for so long for hope – for something to make me look forward to the next day and the next chapter in my life.  And suddenly, here I am…so busy I don’t have time to do something I truly love because I am doing other things that I have always wanted to do!  (How do you do that, God?) 

So, once I became reconciled to the idea that writing this year wasn’t the best idea, that left me wondering just how I was going to observe this time that has come to mean so much to me.  After spending some time thinking of things to “give up” or things to “add to” my life for 40 days, nothing seemed to feel quite right.  So as I was out for a long walk recently I was asking God what He would like for me to focus on for this season and my mind kept wandering to the future and what might – and might not – happen to my little family and myself.  Then I would shake my head – pick up the pace – refocus and ask God again for an idea for Lent.  Again, I felt the anxiety and fear of the unknown creep into the deepest places of my heart and interrupt all the great intentions of my “what do to for Lent” prayer!  Ever been there?

It was out of that frustration of not being able to focus in prayer because of all of the anxiety and fear of the unknown that kept invading my prayer time that I finally heard God speak quietly but firmly:

“Give that to me.”

“What?  Give what to you?”

That….the worry – the anxiety – the fear of things you can’t see yet.”

“Um….I don’t think you understand how this Lent thing works, God.  You see, I give up something like coffee or chocolate or my time.  Or maybe I add something to my life like a specific service or act of kindness.  See?”

“Those are your ideas….not mine.”

“But how in the world do I give up fear?”

“Trust me….I’ll show you….”

So, there you have it.  So often my mind and heart race ahead to all of the “what if”s and before I know it my heart is pounding and fear has taken me to ridiculous places that I know God doesn’t have planned for me.  But when you’ve lost much you worry about losing more – about the other shoe that feels destined to drop – and it’s so easy to let fear rob you of peace.  So, though I don’t know how exactly, I’m committed to at least try.  That’s all God wants.  Just to try – to come to Him first with my concerns about family and future and faith….and to trust Him.  And so, I’m giving up fear for Lent.  For the remainder of these 40 days whenever I feel that familiar dread come creeping into my head and heart like an unwanted pest I’m going to grab it, hold it up to God and let it go.  Faith over fear.  Trust over anxiety.  Peace over chaos.  It was God’s idea….so I leave it to Him to supply what I’ll need.

Oh, friends….life can be so hard!  But God knows….He’s been there before us and is with us and goes beyond all the suffering that ever has been or will ever be.  He really does love us and wants to teach us a better way to navigate and overcome.  Will you join me?  Let’s let our faith be bigger than our fear!

Faithfully,

Shellie ❤

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear….”

I John 4:18

faith-over-fear

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Foggy Days

It was a foggy day.  Like, an official “school starts three hours late and no busses run because of zero visibility” kind of foggy day.  There were pile-ups on multiple highways and late arrivals all around as people tried to navigate the unexpected inconvenience – and hazard – of the dense morning fog.

I live in the central valley of California where the fog actually has a name.  It’s called Tule and it’s famous for laying low and thick over wet ground in the fall and spring months.  We haven’t seen much of Tule in recent years due to severe drought in this agricultural part of the state, and little rain means little moisture and sparse fog.

But we’ve been blessed with a wet winter (finally!) and that means we’ve also been visited by the dangerous valley menace, Tule fog.

So as I was driving across town on my way to work I was glad to be very familiar with the roads, crossings, stops and traffic lights on my route.  I could anticipate their proximity and not get turned around, which is really easy to do when you can’t see a darned thing!  I was raised in this fog and learned to drive in it at an early age.  It’s simple, really.  Drive slowly with at least one window down to listen for traffic and use your headlights.  If you come up to a car in front of you, don’t run into it.  And leave yourself enough room that if you get rear-ended you don’t hit that car in front of you that you’ve so diligently been avoiding!

So as I was carefully making my way to work (slowly, window down, headlights on, not hitting anything) I knew there was a traffic light coming up ahead, though I couldn’t see it anywhere.  I slowed even more, afraid I’d come up to a red light too soon to be able to stop, and there it was.  Through the thick milky fog a single form started to take shape straight ahead.  All else was hidden but one lone red left turn arrow in the lane I was in.  I slowed to a stop and it hit me in the way that so many ordinary, seemingly random sights and experiences seem to do in this crazy brain of mine; I know this place.

OK, not the lane or the intersection, though I cross it every day, but I’ve been here….in the fog and haze and mist of confusion and uncertainty, just watching and waiting for signs and signals to point me in the right direction, the next turn and the clear path to safety.  As I sat there staring at the tiny red arrow, waiting for it to turn green so I could be on my way, I could see literally nothing else.  No cars, no houses, no road signs or lane markers…..just the single red light up ahead that had my full and undivided attention.  I was focused.  I was alert.  I was confident that that red arrow would eventually turn to green and it would be my signal to go.

Wouldn’t it just be convenient if God would give us arrows above the mist and haze of confusion and sadness and fear to let us know when to stop, and when to begin again?  (I’ll add this to the long list of God questions….)  I know this is a ridiculously simplistic metaphor, even for me!  But that morning, as I sat there waiting for the light to change, I had absolute faith in that light.  Other cars could have still ignored their lights and run through the intersection, and don’t think that didn’t cross my mind as I finally got to slowly turn left through that very big, very wide intersection.  But I couldn’t have done anything about other cars….I could only control my car.  And follow my one little light.  In the fog.  In faith.

I don’t know if this will speak to anyone else but me, but I found comfort in my left turn light that morning.  Tule fog is dangerous.  Zero visibility is no joke, and it’s important to navigate carefully, to be sure.  And there are so many other dangers that are out of our control, aren’t there?  Failing health….broken relationships….political unrest….loss of loved ones….so, so many things that  seem to assault us and leave us in the murky fog of hurt, loneliness and disappointment.  It was good to be reminded again that God doesn’t expect us to blindly navigate through these tough places.  And even if the way ahead seems to us to be small and seen only through the fog of our need, we can still trust God to always point us to the next step…and the next….until we’re in the clear.

One of the amazing things about Tule fog is that it takes a warm upper layer of air to create that thick blanket below.  That means, just above all the haze and danger is a beautifully warm, sunlit day just waiting to be discovered.  Foggy days don’t last forever.  And neither do our heartaches when we trust them to the One how knows us best and loves us most!

Love and Hope,

Shellie ❤

Homeward Bound by Kristene DiMarco

I will run, I will run this race
And I will do it all for love
Your love compels me forward
Your love controls my heart
And I just can’t, I cannot get away

So I will fight, this good fight of faith
And I will do it all for love
You are my great reward
You’re so worth fighting for

And I cant wait to see your face

And I cant wait to see your face
And I cant wait to see your face

Hallelujah
Hallelujah

paths

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The Thing About New Years

 

Anyone who knows me well will vouch for the fact that I’m an obsessive “lister.”  I make to-do lists….shopping lists….wish lists….goal lists….basically, if it can be put on paper I’ll find a way to categorize, prioritize and organize it in such a way that it makes sense to me and might actually be achieved.  While this might be a handy personal quality to have in certain areas of life, it can also be a huge pain when things don’t fall neatly into place in an ordered and predictable way.  Which is like….most of the time!

I’ve always liked the turning of a new year.  It fits my listing ways perfectly.  =)  Old, unfinished plans are either scrapped or reordered into new plans to fit the new year, which can then be re-categorized, re-prioritized and….well, you get the idea.  January 1st is the day that we get a chance for a do-over as we head into a brand new, shiny full-of-promise beginning, and it just feels….hopeful.  We all have things that we would like to see differently, relationships we would like to see strengthened or goals that we’ve never quite made time for in the craziness of just living all of these glorious 365 days we’re given in a year.

But what if you come to a point where you don’t want to look ahead?  What if there comes a time when all you seem to want or yearn for or dream of is behind you?  It’s possible, you know.  I wouldn’t have ever understood that had we not had these impossibly hard past few years.  But, can I be honest?  I’ve had a hard time looking ahead for a while now.  My heart hasn’t seemed to be able to let go of the Warren 4, and all that I seem to want is to go back, not ahead.  It’s not like I think it’s correct, or healthy or even possible, but the heart wants what the heart wants….so I’ve been sitting with that and waiting for the day when “ahead” seemed like a good thing once again.

Many things have been happening in this momma’s heart recently – things that don’t really fit handily on any list I’ve ever devised. Grief is messy.  It doesn’t cooperate or play well with other emotions at all.  It demands its way and pushes itself into every relationship, every task, every plan and every crevice of heart and mind that can possibly be found.    As hard as I’ve tried – and oh, how I’ve tried! – to conquer this beast, I’ve learned that it just takes too much….too much energy, too much time, too much joy, too much precious life.

So I’ve decided to stop trying.  Crazy, right?  And not only am I going to stop trying to rid myself of grief, but I’m going to take its hand and make it my friend.  I think there are things it needs to teach me; things that I won’t ever learn if I keep trying my darndest to outrun it.

 Grief and I have shed lots and lots of tears together, but lately – since we’re getting to know one another better – something kind of amazing is happening.  My heart is actually opening some.  I feel it oh so slightly, but it’s definitely real, and the place it’s opening up to the widest is with the One who knows me best and has always loved me most….

This song by Audrey Assad sums it up beautifully. God is good to me.

I couldn’t say that without tripping all over the feelings of it for what feels like a very long time.  But this is perhaps grief’s newest, best gift to me; no matter what has happened or what will happen, no matter what I gain or lose…….God is still good to me.  Grief and I have stood side by side in the presence of the One who makes all things new and declared our desire to keep looking back instead of look ahead, and God stood there with us.  No judgement.  No disappointment.  No impatience.  Only love.  Deep, deep love.

The road is still so very long.  And I’m not saying I won’t ever stop longing for what was.  What mother would?  But it’s time to pack up my heart, my hopes and even my grief and bring them all into the new year.  I don’t know what it will bring – do any of us, really?  But I know I am abundantly more prepared for what may come with the once again rock solid knowledge that God is still good to me.

And God is still good to you.  I don’t know why I was so prompted to write of these things after such a long absence from this blog, but if you are reading with a wounded, heavy heart perhaps it was just for you.  You don’t have to have it all figured out, friend.  God isn’t as much about where we get to as how we get there and what we experience along the way.  And you don’t have to travel alone.  This is perhaps a lesson I was able to teach grief.  It tries to tell us we are alone, but that’s just not true.  We just have to find that truth in our own time and our own way.

And especially to my community of grieving friends who aren’t ready to see these words.  I hurt along with you.  I grieve and mourn and remember right alongside you, and probably always will.  And it’s Ok.  I love you so, so much.  It comes when it comes and until it does, you are held tight and loved right where you are.  Always.

Much love,

Shellie ❤

“Good To Me”

Audrey Assad

I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise
And I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness
When I’m bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me

I lift up my eyes to the hills where my help is found
Your voice fills the night – raise my head up to hear the sound
Though fires burn all around me I will praise You, my God
And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me

Your goodness and mercy shall follow me
All my life
I will trust in Your promise

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Advent Week 4 ~Love (Christmas, Actually)

 

Love 

                                                                                                                           

Today is December 25th – Christmas – and though I am all of five days past the official fourth Sunday in the Advent season, I just couldn’t bring myself to not close the circle with some thoughts on Love….

 

I’ve been thinking for days about love – about God’s love for us, about our response to that love, about how it impacts our love for one another ….on and on and on….so many thoughts!  But these have also been some of the most difficult days I’ve had in a long time, and thoughts are slippery critters just now.  I’ll catch a good one, and before I know it, thinking’s nemesis, big emotion swoops in, makes me feel very big feelings, and suddenly the thought I was thinking has vanished and I find myself back at the “drawing board”, wondering where all the good thoughts have gone!  So, if you’re adventurous enough to hang in there with me for what may be a bit of a mental / emotional roller coaster ride, strap yourself in, and let’s see where we end up.  =)

 

Christmas is such a special time of year – more than any other holiday, we prepare for this one day weeks, sometimes months in advance.  We decorate – we shop – we cook – we connect with one another in ways that we just don’t make time for during the other 364 days in the year.  I love Christmas!  One of my very favorite things about this day has been the sheer freedom it brings.  It’s always been the ultimate family day where we get to lavish one another with gifts (even if the extravagance is more sentimental than monetary), and for one day…..everything else seems to pause and give us permission to just enjoy our families, our homes, our friends and to fully experience….love.

 

This year, as we still haltingly attempt to maneuver these special holidays that bring the now familiar mixture of joy and sorrow, I couldn’t help but wonder what Heaven sees and thinks of our attempts at celebrating the birth of Jesus.  We sing “Joy to the Word” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” while at the same time, so many people are just hanging on, desperately trying to find joy somewhere in their sorrow-filled hearts.  And after some thinking (and lots of feeling…..remember the roller coaster we’re on!) this is what I’ve concluded for this Christmas, anyway…..

 

It’s all wrapped up in love….

 

The joy – the sorrow – the gifting – the remembrances – the pain – the laughter – the disappointment – the family traditions…..all of it – all of US – wrapped up in love.

 

I’ve seen it for myself.  I saw it in the stranger who inadvertently cut me off in the Starbuck’s line, then paid for my coffee ahead of me.  I saw it in the children who carefully and lovingly placed each piece of the nativity set in place throughout the Christmas Eve service.  I saw it in the pastor who put aside his own grief to bring joy to the precious people he serves.  I saw it in every possible way across social media as people shared joyful family photos, as well as their struggles with celebrating just now….and as I ask myself what Heaven sees, I know before the question even fully forms in my mind; Heaven sees love.

 

The same Jesus whose birth we pause to celebrate today didn’t just come so we could have an annual birthday bash in his honor! He came to save us from all that separates us from him, and he SO gets how hard a place this world can be.  He knows well the sting of death and separation.  He gets how lonely one can feel, even when trusting fully in God.  And he isn’t afraid of the hard questions, because his love for us isn’t based on our love for him – it never has been and it never will be.  His love is without conditions and without reserve, and just when we think we might find the depth of it, it plunges deeper still in mysteries that can’t be unraveled this side of eternity.

 

I love Christmas, and I think I’ve stumbled on one more reason why….it’s because He came for me.  Not just because “God so loved the world…”, but because He loves…..me.  Not the perfectly together, full of faith, always praying daughter of God that I so try to be, but the real me; the one who tries but so often fails, the one who struggles to understand what “the plan” is, the one whose faith is sometimes on the roller coaster along with intellect and emotion (it’s getting crowded on this ride!) but also the one who is clinging desperately to the savior whose love sent him to rescue her in the first place.

 

Today is Christmas, and it’s been a day spent with those I love most in the world.  It’s been a day filled with love, and you know what?  Even when the trees are down and the lights put away, long after the Christmas songs cease to fill the air and the last of the leftovers devoured…what remains of Christmas – the best part – is the love.

 

Peace and love to you, my roller coaster companions.  The holiday will soon be behind us, but remember to take all of the love….every ounce of it, and carry it deep inside where the cares of the world can’t reach it. Jesus loves us…..just take that in for a moment….the Savior of the World….deeply, perfectly, passionately, intimately….loves you; loves me.

 

I don’t know about you, but I needed to remember this tonight.  My attempt at offering Advent reflections may have been a bit messy this year, but it seems most fitting that we close the circle here with love.  =)

 

Merry Christmas.

 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38,39 (NIV)

Love

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Advent Week 3 ~ Joy

(Reprinted from December 15, 2014)

 

Joy for the Brokenhearted

 

Advent Week 1:  Hope for the Brokenhearted   (Good place to start…)

 

Advent Week 2:  Peace for the Brokenhearted   (Little harder – dig deeper…)

 

Advent Week 3:  Joy for the Brokenhearted   (Seriously?  OK….but, seriously?!)

 

 

When I got this crazy idea to write Advent reflections I clearly had not reviewed the weekly themes!  All week I’ve wondered how I could begin to address something as….well….joyful….as JOY at a time when I am feeling such loss and sorrow.  I thought I was doing a decent job of stepping clear of most of the emotional holiday landmines, but I’m finding there are just too many, all reminders that my shopping list – my family list – is missing two names.  Tears well up frequently at the most inopportune times, and I scold myself for not focusing more on my abundant blessings – as though that will somehow satisfy the gaping holes that demand to be filled.  There are moments I can’t see a day into this future, let alone an entire lifetime.  Heart.  Seriously.  Broken.

 

So, tonight I went Christmas caroling with my church family.  This yearly tradition is one I truly enjoy; we drive around town and sing a few carols to people who don’t easily get out, bringing a little bit of Christmas to their door.  I went Christmas caroling…..but to be honest, I really didn’t want to.  I felt like a big fat faker – the idea of singing merrily through the night, all the while longing for quick retreat back into the comfort of my own personal sorrow seemed false and wrong somehow.  But the idea of staying home simply because I didn’t feel merry didn’t quite feel right either, so I said a quick prayer, threw on my scarf and went caroling.  I’m truly thankful I did…..

 

House after house, we found people hungry for connection.  Some too feeble to make it to the door listened from inner rooms, some shared personal needs and asked for prayer.  We witnessed miraculous moments of clarity and tearful gratitude from those just so thankful to not be forgotten.  It was beautiful….it was holy, and this time tears came not from sorrow, but in honor of these precious ones whose lives were touched so deeply with such a simple act of showing up on a doorstep and singing a few familiar songs.

 

Kay Warren says in her book, “Choosing Joy”, that joy is a choice we make day by day, and sometimes moment by moment.  I thought it was impossible to feel “joyful” this Christmas season; how can joy and pain possibly co-exist?  But I learned something tonight.  My choice of “showing up” when I was feeling anything but joyful was the portal through which God truly reminded me what joy felt like.  It didn’t take the pain away….but it showed me that doing something to bring others joy was a great way to begin to get there myself.

 

So tonight I caught a glimpse of joy, and that’s enough for now.  Jesus hasn’t forgotten the brokenhearted, in fact he’s especially close to us.  When we remember that – when we can truly embrace how well, how deeply and how completely we are loved, well……that’s cause for joy!

 

“…and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”                                                                                                                                                    

Isaiah 61:3

 Joy

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Advent Week Two ~ Peace

(Reprinted from December 15, 2014)

Peace for the Brokenhearted

“Be my prince of peace, the guardian of my heart. Let ancient striving cease, and patient trusting start. Be my prince of peace, in a world of pain and war. Come now gentle conqueror….rule my life once more. Come now, gentle conqueror….rule my life once more.” (Jeff Kennedy)

We sang these words in church this morning, as we have for the past several years on “Peace” Sunday, or the second Sunday in Advent. Last week I reflected on the idea of Hope and what that might mean to those struggling with pain and loss during this holiday season. As I was reminded of these beautiful words this morning, two things sprang to mind. The first was, “What was I thinking when I committed to writing Advent reflections?!” quickly followed by “I like the image of God being the “guardian of my heart…”

The irony isn’t lost on me that I am reflecting on Peace during the most violently painful time in my life. But as with so many other things that are being forced into redefinition these days, the idea of “peace” and what it looks like….what it feels like is also getting a second look. I mentioned last week that the presence of pain doesn’t mean the absence of Christ and if that is true, and if Jesus truly is the Prince of Peace, we can also say the presence of pain doesn’t have to mean the absence of peace. If the only peace that counts is that warm, content, everything in this moment is feeling just right kind of feeling, we won’t find it lasting very long. The times change – families change – tragedy strikes – and suddenly what we thought of as peace….the feeling of peace….is swept away by the waves of pain and loss.

So, what then? Are we to wait until “everything in this moment is feeling just right” before we are to know peace? That’s not the promise! Though my heart is broken and my faith tested, I still firmly believe there is a “guardian of my heart” that not only sees my pain, but who brings me peace – in whatever doses I’m able to receive it. It’s not an all or nothing offer. Sometimes peace is a process. It certainly was for Jesus…..

Dear one who may be struggling with finding peace in this season of Joy and Light and Celebrations……know that there is a guardian of your heart that offers not only the feeling of peace, but stays with us in the process of receiving it….no matter how long it takes. He sees us, He loves us and He waits patiently with us.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

Peace

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Advent Week One ~ Hope

(One year ago I wrote short devotionals for the four weeks of Advent.  When regarding the possibility of doing the same again this year, I found such great solace reading the words from last year I have decided to reprint them.  I do hope at least some of these words find those who need a healing touch just now and for whom this time of year brings the mingling of joy and sorrow.                                    God sees you…..God loves you…..you are not alone!)

 

Hope for the Brokenhearted

 

Today many Christians mark the arrival of the Advent season; the arrival of Christ into a lost and broken world.  His humble appearance quietly shattered every tradition – every expectation the Jews had for their messiah, and yet He came.  Every crèche or nativity scene I’ve ever seen displays a smiling, peacefully sleeping, or sometimes even haloed baby Jesus surrounded by his adoring parents, curious animals, visiting shepherds, and trumpeting angel, all under the glow of the radiantly beaming Christmas star.  We sing Silent Night and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear because they remind us of the gentle peace of Christ….and we so need His peace, don’t we?

The thing is, when Jesus arrives to “a lost and broken world”, the scene is seldom a peaceful one.  He comes into our brokenness.  He enters our grief.  He joins us in our anger, our confusion, our disappointment…..our humanity.  These are the things (and so many more) that Jesus came to love us through – and through – and through clear to the other side.  Absolutely, he brings joy, peace, salvation, light and life eternal, and we are so humbly grateful!  But to those who are still in need…..he comes again.  To those who once had, but now lack….he comes again.  To those whose memories need to be refreshed to the goodness and faithfulness of God not only thousands of years ago, but now, today…..he comes again.

I am thankful that Jesus knows where each of us is as we enter this season of Advent.  He knows where we are…..and He knows how to find us to come again to us bearing every good gift, not wrapped with a bow, but wrapped in the deep, sacrificial love that brought Him to us in the beginning – that brings Him still to us today.  If there is hope for the brokenhearted this Advent season, it is in the coming of the healer…the Messiah who sees us, loves us and hopes for us until we are able to embrace it once again.  Come, Lord Jesus…..come!

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

                                                                        Psalm 130:5 

Hope

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