The Year of the Lord’s Favour

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“If you are consumed with the tension between what is and what could be, if you find yourself emotionally involved… frustrated… broken-hearted… maybe even angry… about the way things are, and if you believe God is behind your anguish, then chances are you are on the brink of something divine.” – Andy Stanley, Visioneering

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 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    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.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

- Isaiah 61:1-4 (New International Version)

He has sent me.

He has sent you.

He has sent us.

This Isaiah passage has been on my heart lately. I have been dwelling on it and it seems to continue to surface even when I begin to become distracted with life again.

I regularly become broken-hearted for the state of this world. As Andy Stanely suggests, perhaps these feelings of empathy are designed to bring about divine action, if Christ is able to work through us as He wishes. Because here is my problem… at times I allow the weight of this world to crush me, rather than allow it to motivate me to act on behalf of those less fortunate than myself.

We are currently in term break and, having just celebrated Easter with family, friends, and church, I have taken the time for a personal Spiritual revival of heart. I realised I had allowed the busyness of my world to cut into my time with God and no-one in my sphere was likely to be the better for it. It had disabled me from giving my best to my family, my class and my church. Yet surely and slowly, God pulled me back to His side by using me for His purposes even when I didn’t feel equipped. I should have seen it coming really, but being so consumed with self-doubt often leaves you in the dark, unable to see the light that was perhaps behind you all along. It had been arranged that I would lead a table for the Alpha course at our church. Having led table groups at youth camps before this was not a new thing to me, but the state of my relationship with my God was not really at that “I’m setting a great example” phase. Well, I think God knew this and planned for me to grow through the journey of the Alpha course (and draw closer to Him through the experience) just as much as everyone else in the group did.

It was the session on reading the Bible that started it. I regretfully realised that I had not picked up my Bible to engage in God’s Word for a very long time. Sure, I had read devotions to my class, and blog posts and inspirational Christian testimonies, but I had not opened my Bible (let alone expected to hear from my Creator, my Heavenly Father, my loving, patiently waiting God) for far too long.

It’s interesting, because once I started, (once I got over the initial hurdle of creating a new habit) I couldn’t (and haven’t) put it down. I have been reading it, dwelling on it, reading it, journalling, reading other Christian books that bring me back to my Bible, and reading my Bible even more. I haven’t stopped engaging with the precious Word and tend to now leave it open around the house so I am just as likely to pick it up as I would my smartphone (which is obviously one of the greatest distractions of our time).

The thing is, God can’t speak to us if we don’t give Him the chance to and the chances of Him speaking to us are set pretty low if we won’t even open His love letter to us, His children.

One new benefit I can see in my family is that because I have been inspired to do this, so too have my children. Lately, I have strongly encouraged them to start their day by dwelling on God’s Word (opening their Bibles – even for 5 or 10 minutes), choosing a verse to journal and then writing down three things they are thankful for. While there are days they are keen, and then days I am sure they are only doing this to have some device time, at least it is forming a habit. Something that I pray they fall back to when they are adults and life becomes crazy. Because it does.

The other night my son mentioned he had been waking up at 5:30 am for the last few days and couldn’t understand why. I suggested that maybe God wanted him to pray about something and that either way, I found that prayer was always the best way to deal with being woken when you much preferred to be asleep. The next day, as I was finishing off Bobbie Houston’s book, The Sisterhood I stumbled upon the following quote:

“When God awakens you in the night, instead of being agitated because you can’t sleep, ask God if there is something or someone you should be praying for.” 

I showed my son this and he smiled. I later suggested he record it in his journal as something special to remember, which he did.

We have been sent.

Every one of us have different people to impact in our lives, different people to shine God’s light to, and we cannot forget our family in that equation. Sometimes I think I get caught up wanting to make the biggest impact, make the biggest change, when I forget I need to start by being obedient to God in the little things, like praying for my family and opening my Bible. If I can be obedient to God when he places a need on my heart, then perhaps He will begin to give me bigger things to work on. I often get so fixated on wanting to fix a huge problem in this world, only to realise I can’t do it in my own strength, so give up entirely (on the big and little things).

So what are the little (big) things in my world?

  • raising my children
  • investing in my marriage
  • teaching my class (which to be honest, feels like a huge thing at certain times of the year)
  • showing love and kindness to those within my sphere of influence
  • serving my church family
  • serving my biological family
  • praying
  • intentionally connecting with God’s Word (opening my Bible habitually)
  • writing for His glory

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I am sure there are more than what I have listed (but I do tend to find long, detailed lists more overwhelming than helpful at times) but for now, I suppose I identify these as my current priorities… the things that matter in my life right now in this moment. I have to trust God with the bigger things because I need to trust Him with my future. He knows the plans He has for me (Jeremiah 29:11) and unfortunately I don’t always know best.

I pray that this year, even though it has well and truly moved past the new year’s resolution phase, I pray that this year, is the year of the Lord’s favour as I dedicate my life to Him afresh. And I pray that every year from now on will be the year of the Lord’s favour in my life as Isaiah 61 boldly declares. I want to bind up the broken-hearted and bring comfort to those who mourn. I don’t just want to think about wanting it, though. I want to actually step out and act on my intentions. My prayer is that as I make this recommitment to my service to our King, that God will equip me where I am lacking. I know He speaks to me. Whether it be through His Word, a worship song, a beautiful aspect of His incredible creation, or just a flickering of the flame within my soul. I know He speaks. I just pray that from now on, I will be ready and waiting to listen.

About 6 years ago now, I was in a dark, helpless place where I was desperate to find God again, but the darkness had forced me to almost give up. It was in this moment, that God sent me a little bird to give me hope again. A little yellow robin landed on the garden path of my parent’s house as I walked up to load my bags in the car before coming back to collect my children. It sat there, without flinching looking at me intently. I had almost trodden on it as it seemed to have appeared from nowhere. I wondered if it was hurt as I carefully crouched down to examine it more closely. Still, it did not flinch. I ever so gently reached out my hand and to my utter surprise and wonder, I was able to stroke its back. It was in that moment that I felt God’s spirit fall upon me and comfort me. He was saying that He was with me.

Needless to say, this event has stayed with me ever since, and my parents occasionally see that little yellow robin come around (quite often at times where I have drawn comfort from its presence – whether I am there to physically witness it or not). It is moments like these we need to remember. Those moments God has spoken to you are precious. They are almost like signposts marking our way.

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Journalling is a wonderful way of recording important signposts. Because in a few months, or a few years, you may have forgotten the significance of a moment. You may have forgotten how God worked. We need to remember those moments so we can embrace and realise the fact that every year is the year of the Lord’s favour when we trust in Him and prioritise our relationship with Him.

I know as this term break draws to an end, my challenge will be to stay connected with my Saviour, to stay faithful in the little things, so that through me, His purposes will be achieved.

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Terror, fear and brokenness… where is the light in our world?

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It is bleak and grey.

Where is the light?

While I lay ill on my bed, it is as though the heavens weep at the despair of this world.

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How is it that there is now a trend where a terrorist can turn an ordinary everyday vehicle into a weapon of death and destruction? How is it that lives are lost in a split second in our “comfortable” world? How is it that through this grief and shock, we will forget there are millions, beyond millions, of women, children, men… displaced, dying, tortured, crying?

How is it that fear rules and love is trampled under the feet of our easy, rich, distracted, day-to-day lives?

Because whenever you see something horrific… you glance, you give your opinion and then you just keep on scrolling until you find something that can take your mind off the pain and brokenness of others. You avoid empathy.

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I read of people fearing the establishment of a local safe house for women who are escaping domestic violence. “What if I am not safe?” they chant. But what about the woman at risk? What about her children? She is the one who is hounded by night and whose children have seen more pain and violence than they should have by their age.

How is it that America still insists on having guns to protect them, when it only increases the chances of their children killing their own mother or sibling? How is it we still choose fear over love? How is it that we are present, stand by, and watch as Syria struggles (and by struggle, I mean drowns, starves, grasps for dear life or gives up entirely) through the largest humanitarian crisis of our time?

How is it that there are still ordinary, lovely, respectable people who think we do not, in fact, have any “boundless plains to share” in Australia, as our National Anthem so blatantly states? How can we continue to insist that we teach school children to sing our country’s anthem with pride when in so many ways it seems like a lie? How can people say with such flippancy that those refugees just need to go back where they came from? Back to what? Would you take your family back to death, destruction, pain… to predators that might steal your children in the night or murder your husband in front of you? Back… to what?

I have taught a 5-year-old refugee. He used to draw pictures of tanks and people dying. His family had to flee their country because his primary school teacher found out that he was a Christian.

His teacher.

The person whose responsibility it was to nurture the mind, heart and soul of the child, was the very one who reported them. I gently reminded him that he didn’t need to worry about the tanks anymore because he was safe in Australia now and that Jesus had saved him. He smiled at me with wisdom beyond his years and started a new page, drawing pictures of the cross surrounded by hearts.

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I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler

And from the perilous pestilence.

He shall cover you with His feathers,

And under His wings you shall take refuge;

His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

- Psalm 91:2-4 (New King James Version)

HE is my refuge.

He is MY REFUGE.

We all need a place to escape the fear, but not deny the truth. His truth shall be your shield.

Our world is hurting, broken, grieving, dying. We need refuge from living in denial while viewing the world through the lens of our smartphones. We need refuge from self-image, self-obsession, self-harm. In fact, we need refuge from SELF.

Fear is selfish. Love is selfless.

You cannot have both love and fear. They will pull at each other because they have different agendas at heart.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.

- 1 John 4:18 (New King James Version)

Perfect love casts out fear….  our love is not perfect. Nor will it ever be, because our fears will always sabotage our lives. We need to lean on Jesus. He IS Perfect Love. He took our fears, guilt, shame and sin upon his shoulders for you… for me. No matter what we have done. He was separated from the love of the Father, in the depths of darkness, to ensure we would find our way back to our Heavenly Father through Him.

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We have no right to ignore, deny, sympathise, look away. We are called to help the hurt and the lost. We are called to be light.

Where is that light?

We are meant to be a city on a hill. Us Jesus-types. Those disciples. Those followers. WE are meant to go out and shine. Where are we?

Are we caught up in the menial tasks of our 9-5 occupations?

Are we living in a false reality, scrolling social media by day and playing video games by night?

Are we so consumed with our calendar and what to buy our children for their birthdays that we forget our children need to learn how to be grateful citizens of the planet who can reach out, sacrifice and make a change?

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We are called to be the light. We are called to be that safe house. We are called to offer assistance, to advocate for change, to evoke empathy. We are called to offer REFUGE. Because God is OUR refuge.

Please don’t scroll past. Please don’t ponder the worth of these words and then get caught up in your life again.

Please stop.

Mark this day as the day you will make a difference. Mark it with an act of love. Because every bit of light is better than no light.

Befriend a child in detention.

Buy fair trade.

Educate your children about the state of the world.

Sponsor a child.

Support a Mercy House resident.

Start a women’s shelter.

Read your Bible.

Pray.

Love your neighbour.

Push back your fear and hold onto the love of Christ.

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As I sit here in my comfortable bed, feeling bleak and broken, I am going to try. Because my offering of my broken vessel is good enough. There are the cracks from the times I have hurt others, times I have lied or gossiped. There are dark patches from the guilt and shame I have carried from poor choices in my life. There are hardened, warped parts where I have not forgiven and have chosen to be bitter. Then there are fragile, weak parts from the times where I should have given grace but judged others instead. This vessel is an expression of my life’s journey. What I have learned through the most painful parts of my life is what will stay with me. Because of my faults, because of my doubts, my mistakes, my weaknesses, the love of Christ can flow more freely through me.

It trickles or showers or drips or pours… as long as I lift it up to heaven to be used in service to Him.

A vessel can do nothing if it lies empty on the shelf. A broken one even more so, for it has no perfection about it to make it pleasing to the eye. Yet being a vessel isn’t about how beautiful you are on the outside… it’s about the beauty that comes from within when it is used. It’s about what it holds.

I beg you to consider… will you make a decision today to offer up your brokenness to be used by the King of all Kings?

Because every bit of light… is better than no light at all.

The Strength You Have

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The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

- Judges 6:14 (New International Version)

Often, the strength I have is nothing but a meager offering.

At times, in my weakness and weariness, I feel as though I have little or no strength left to give.

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Reading from my Grandmother’s devotional, Springs in the Valley today, I was challenged by that verse, along with the question:

“Have you ever taken any risks for Christ?” – Chas. E. Cowman

Have I?

Have I ever?

Have I ever taken any risks?

Have I ever taken a risk for Christ?

In many ways, I am the least likely to take risks in my family, be them responsible risks or otherwise. I do not like to swim in the ocean. I refuse to go on rides at amusement parks that involve height and/or speed and/or propulsion (the Ferris Wheel is about as thrilling as it gets for me). Motorbikes and small boats scare me. I fear for my children when they cross the road by themselves or walk to the park ahead of me.

Sure, there are people out there who do not live with fear and act accordingly. My husband is someone who would probably be quite happy to jump out of a plane – he just hasn’t got around to it yet. He loves the thrilling rides at the Easter Show, and he frequently longs to swim in the ocean, and when he does, he is happier for it.

Yes, we are all made differently, and I am certain most people will experience fear of one kind or another in their lives, yet when we are called to take a risk for Christ is it only fear that stops us? P1060166P1060172

For Gideon, in Judges 6, when the angel of the Lord appeared under that oak tree in Oprah, it seems he may have been not only fearful but doubtful. When he was told to go in the strength he had, Gideon politely questioned the Lord, pointing out that his tribe was the weakest in Manasseh, and he, Gideon, was the least in his family (verse 15). While God promised to be with him, this was not enough for Gideon. He wanted proof.

How many of us seek out a miraculous sign, as proof we are to follow His will or prompting in our lives? How many of us do not take a step, or a leap, of faith when we feel that small, still voice rising in our hearts.

I know I haven’t. I have missed opportunities. I have ignored small promptings. I have made excuses.

“What if this happens?”

“I am too weak.”

“I am too tired.”

“I have no strength.”

“I have nothing left to give.”

The truth is, we all have something to give. To God, our broken vessels are enough to pour His love through. But when we think we are not good enough, or strong enough or bold enough, we miss the opportunity to be used by Him for something greater than ourselves. And we extinguish a flame that He may have lit in our hearts. A flame that might have been God’s glow to this broken, hurting world.

The question is not,

“Are you willing to take a risk for Christ?”

The question is,

“Are you prepared not to?”

Because, the reality is you will not be doing it in your strength…

but in His.

The Lord answered, “I will be with you…”

- Judges 6:16

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Gazing at a great vision

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So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision…

– Daniel 10:8 (NIV)

To be alone…

sometimes this may be one of the only ways you will hear the voice of our Creator clearly. Sometimes great visions are cast only to those who choose to be still and listen.

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Daniel was left alone, while others fled for fear. He stood firm to see the appointed vision, though he felt weakened by the experience as described in Daniel 10:7-11.

The Bible often reminds us to seek God’s face alone, as it also teaches us to gather in fellowship together. Both are equally important aspects, but it seems amazing things have happened for those who faced tribulations alone, whilst trusting in their Heavenly Father. Jesus himself sought strength from God by entering the garden alone before his crucifixion.

What can we learn from this?

In my devotions times at school with my class, I often remind them that they can, in fact, pray to God at any time. Then I let them know that sometimes it is even better to go into their room by themselves, so they are able to focus and minimise the distractions that may be around them. I read to them from Matthew 6:6:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

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For me, sometimes my “room” is a room in nature. A quiet, peaceful, secret place where God’s creation is on display for my eyes only. I walk, I sit, I attempt to “be still” and immerse myself in the beauty of His presence.

In our lives – in our busy, demanding, bustling lives – it takes absolute discipline to find that quiet space. Sometimes even trying to close your own bedroom door to have peace appears impossible, when you have young children who demand so much of your attention. I have found, though, even as my own children have grown, it is best for them to see me, their parent, making time to be alone with God. Often you might use guilt as an excuse to spend time with your family over God, but the reality is, if you do that too often, leaving no time for God, then, in the end, your family will suffer, and so will you.

As a teacher, the tasks to be done are never-ending. Even across a Christmas “holiday” break, teachers do not really have the freedom to fully switch off. This is becoming a huge problem worldwide and it saddens my heart, that after almost 10 years of teaching, I find myself on the verge of complete burnout. Starting off part-time in my career while my children were young was wonderful (though not without its complications), yet the last five years full-time (whilst they have been richly rewarding in many ways) have left me exhausted, with very little left to give.

I know now, that during many times of stress due to deadlines and expectations from both my workplace and the government in general, I have neglected my alone time with my Heavenly Father. Whilst there have been times in my career, I have relied on Him heavily to get through each day, there have been other times I have been so consumed with work, that I sacrificed my precious time with my Saviour.P1060087 (1)

If you want to lead your children into a life-changing and equipping habit, then tell them you are making time to spend with God at a certain time each day and encourage them to do the same. Start by reading a verse together, pray together and then send them to find their own quiet space, whether it be in their room or under a tree in the garden. Give them a special prayer journal and encourage them to fill it with their prayers, Bible verses or lyrics to worship songs they like. I gave my own children these about 3 years ago now, and while they are certainly not filled to the brim, they have tentatively begun to use them with care, and they treasure them as something more than the average notebook. They often read back through what they have written, which is another valuable thing to do – looking back to see the times along the way that you cried out to Him or the ways that He may have answered your prayers and guided you.

The reality is that many people may miss the great vision God has waiting for them, simply due to them not making the time to seek His face.

What is it that God may be calling you to? Has He already put a vision in your heart that you have left by the wayside instead of going back to ask for more clarity and wisdom?

I know I have done this many a time in my life, and my current prayer is, that when I lose my way, God will guide me back so I can make more time with Him… alone.

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The Simple Things

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How often do we take for granted the simple things?

Clean water, flowers in a vase, shelter over our heads.

When we take the time to slow down, breathe, and notice, sometimes life becomes so much richer.

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Sometimes an act of service to another can be a simple thing. It might take the form of helping another person with their shopping. It might be paying for the groceries of someone who finds they are caught with no cash on their card. It might be inviting someone in for a cup of tea or providing a meal to someone who is struggling. It might simply be a phone call (not a Facebook message, or a text, but a real life phone call) to check if someone is okay… and meaning it.

The digital complexities of our current generation are vast. While there is certainly a place for technological advances and innovations, there is still something meaningful and lasting about simple face-to-face contact or genuine compassion and empathy for another human being. There are some things that social media cannot replace.

Just think about how much mail you now receive in your letter box compared with fifteen years ago, or even ten years ago. For me, my mailbox now mainly consists of real estate flyers and bills. Yet, if you receive a personal hand-written card or letter… this is a rarity indeed and becomes more meaningful than anything else you pull out of the box. If your students had to complete a class task stating the likelihood of such an event occurring – ‘unlikely’ or ‘extremely unlikely’ would probably be the most popular answer.

When I was a child, my mum always sent handwritten cards – she is someone who rarely forgets a birthday and is always organised enough to have the card ready to post off a week before the special day. She would also send cards if someone was ill, or grieving. She still does this now, and as such, does not seem to think what she does is anything significant. Yet, to the people who receive this seemingly simple gesture, it can, and does mean the world to them. Recently my father-in-law, who lived quite a distance from us, was battling with cancer. Unfortunately, he lost his fight not long ago. When we arrived for the funeral, his sister stated that the cards and letters my parents sent during his illness were the only ones he received during his struggle and that he was truly and deeply touched by them.

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We must not forget the power of a simple thing, done in love. We must not forget to teach the next generation the value of these simple acts of kindness because they do matter and they will make a difference. In a world, where the statistics about youth suicide are alarming, it is up to each of us to make a difference. If there is anything that I wish to instil into the hearts and minds of not only my children, but also the students in my class, it is that we each have the chance to change someone’s life for the better. As followers of Jesus, we have been called to bring hope, light, and love wherever we tread. And this doesn’t have to take the form of something amazing and incredibly spectacular by the measure of the world, it can be a simple thing… helping someone in their home, sending flowers, taking someone out for coffee.

1 Peter 5:2 (TLB) Feed the flock of God; care for it willingly, not grudgingly; not for what you will get out of it but because you are eager to serve the Lord.

While some may view this passage in the light of Church leaders alone, we must not forget that we are all called into the priesthood of all believers and are therefore called to lead and serve in our own ways as a priest to those around us.

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1 Peter 2:9 (TLB) But you are not like that, for you have been chosen by God himself—you are priests of the King, you are holy and pure, you are God’s very own—all this so that you may show to others how God called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

So the next time you think that you can’t make a difference, stop and think, and take a simple step of love to bring light to the life of another.

What lies ahead…

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How do we learn to trust God with our future implicitly?

How do we know what path to take when we come to a fork in the road?

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On our way to work each day, my family and I have the pleasure of driving past beautiful golden fields with the morning mist floating above the ground. This is our time to reflect on God’s presence and the beauty of His creation. Often we pass a hot air balloon, gently suspended in the sky, unattached from the busyness of the peak hour traffic below. It’s amazing the impact such a scene can have upon you. Our kids always become so excited when we spot the balloon and we soon become quiet and reflective as we watch it gliding seamlessly above us.

And yet, once it lands, what momentarily seemed so large and amazing, deflates so quickly.

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It’s amazing how God can use just about anything to illustrate a point.

At times, we soar high and free with the worries of the world far beneath us. We bring joy and awe and perhaps people look up to us as we journey on in our relationship with Christ. But it is in those times when we choose to look down rather than up, that our fear takes over and we begin to fall rapidly to the ground, often experiencing a bumpy landing. Before long, the bright colours of the balloon are laid bare on the earth and what was once impressive is no longer so.

The flame that keeps us afloat is the Holy Spirit. If our relationship with Christ is healthy and strong, then we can soar on wings like eagles, we can run and not grow weary, we can walk and not grow faint (Isaiah 40:31). It is by His strength that we can do all those things He calls us to do.

Sometimes the path is not clear. Sometimes we need to trust. Just like a hot air balloon is at times directed by the wind, so too do we need to trust in the breath of the Holy Spirit to guide and protect us. Yes, there is a risk in taking flight in such a fragile object, but there is also great joy and excitement, along with a new perspective  which one can only gain by committing to take off in the first place.

There are many times I have to battle with my students’ fears before they can let go and take flight in their learning. I normally need to remind them of two things. 1 – that they should not fear failure and, 2 – that they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them (Philippians 4:13).

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As teachers, one of the most significant aspects of our role is to equip students for the world that awaits them once they leave our grounds. We need to prepare them for what lies ahead. Yet, the complexity of such a task is at times overwhelming due to the uncertainty of the future that they are stepping out into. Much of our journey as faith-filled disciples is composed of trust. As Corrie Ten Boom reminds us,

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

This trust does not always come easy. Often it needs to be learned, and it is a choice. Our students should see transparency in our lives. We should be honest and open enough to, where appropriate, share our struggles and subsequent reliance on God. If we don’t, we run the risk of students categorising biblical studies as some form of mythology with no actual truth or relevance to their lives.

Our students will hit roadblocks. They will be required to make tough choices. They will be required to persist and overcome. Our role is to remind them that it can be done and that often success is found in relying on Christ to help us make it through.

As we continue to guide and nurture our students, be they five or seventeen, let us not forget to model trust in God as we continue down the path He has laid before us. Let us take risks and fly high when we are called to, and let us rest in Him when the time is right.

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What this world needs now…

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1 Kings 4:29 (NKJV) – And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore.

… largeness of heart.

How different would this world be if we all enlarged our hearts just that little bit more?

As a teacher, I often wish my students would enlarge their hearts for one another. In class, we often talk about ‘filling buckets’, which means using words of encouragement that will fill, rather than empty a soul. It’s amazing how many students can discuss this and share incredibly thoughtful ideas, then go straight out into the playground and exclude someone, or use the very unkind words that we identified would indeed empty one another’s buckets.

To have largeness of heart…

I’ve no doubt Solomon’s largeness of heart came as a direct result of his wisdom and understanding. Wisdom can keep us from acting out on impulse. One who has wisdom is more likely to use self-control. One who has understanding would also have compassion and empathy. In today’s world, where people are using weapons of destruction made from metal, alongside weapons made of words, it is difficult to see clearly those with that ‘largeness of heart’ that Solomon possessed.

‘Largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore…’

little shell

Term break began over a week ago and on the last day, my family and I left straight from school and drove two hours down south to our favourite holiday destination, Gerringong, in New South Wales. While it is Winter here in Australia, the weather was quite beautiful, and our kids even played in the lapping waves while we sat on the sand, soaking in the landscape.

Whenever I sit on the sand, I am reminded about the awesome expanse of God’s creation. In one place, you can see the detail He has placed into the minute… the grains of sand and the tiniest of shells, alongside the overwhelming beauty of the ocean, which is ever-moving, ever-changing.

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Each time I pick up a handful of sand, I am reminded of His Word,

Psalm 139:17-18 (NKJV) - How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You.

Imagine if our thoughts about others were like God’s thoughts about us. Imagine how full our buckets would be. Imagine the overflowing, never-ending cycle of soul-filling, life-giving love that could be, if we could all learn to see each other as our Heavenly Father sees His children.

Immy sitting beach Ollie diggingImmy beachvisioneering

For my birthday, my brother gave me a copy of Andy Stanley‘s Visioneering. Being a teacher, reading for myself is a rare occurrence, so to be given this just before a break at the beach was perfect timing. This book has been encouraging, challenging, inspiring and timely for me at this point in my journey.

I love teaching. I love Kindergarten. But, at times, the workload is too much. The deadlines cause extreme anxiety. The fast-paced environment allows me no time to stop and breathe. However, I am blessed enough to be in the most beautiful of school environments. I know it is a blessing. Despite this, there are times I question what my real purpose is underneath the piles of programs, accreditation paperwork and recording of student behaviours. These tasks to me often feel like what Andy Stanley describes as “filling bags with dirt”. He states that if you are working on a task like this, with no purpose, you will quickly become disillusioned, and understandably so. But he goes on, people who are filling bags with dirt to save a town, have a greater vision, and this “vision provides motivation”. 

This struck a chord with me. I have viewed the tasks I dislike in my job, as shovelling dirt on more than one occasion. As Andy Stanley states, if the position you are in now is a greater part of your future purpose, then you will be motivated to press on, to keep going. He draws upon the experience of Nehemiah in the Old Testament to support his point. Nehemiah had a vision, he prayed about it and waited on God to provide. Part of God’s plan was that Nehemiah would be in the very position he was in (cupbearer to the king) to allow the vision to move forward into action at the appointed time.

Part of what I believe my vision involves is enlarging my heart to the world. I know I will need wisdom. I know I will need understanding, and even though, at times, I don’t like it, I know God has me where I am now, to grow my character, to equip me for the vision He has instilled within my heart. There are plenty of times I don’t see the point. I do not cope well with staff meetings even though I know they are vital to the smooth running of the school. I become frustrated that much of my time off-class becomes filled with menial tasks of little consequence, to the point I cannot see the bigger picture. At the heart of what I do, I want the students I teach to know God and go out and love others as Christ has called us to. Imagine if every bunch of twenty-plus students that left our care, were ready to share the love of Christ with the broken, the hurting, the lost, and the homeless.

Enlarging the hearts of others starts with enlarging our own hearts. And before that, it begins with prayer. It was God that blessed Solomon with wisdom, understanding, and largeness of heart. Solomon could not do that on his own. We need to seek God first and ask for these things. If we do, He says He will not refuse us.

Luke 11:10-13 (NKJV) – For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

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In this broken, thirsty, pain-filled world, we need to be the hands and feet of Christ. We need to cast His beautiful light out into the darkness to prove that God exists. To show that hate and evil has been overcome. We need to teach our children to do the same. To seek God out in prayer, to be brave and to have vision. Because I believe our vision (if born from a righteous heart) will always be part of God’s vision… to seek and save the lost.. to cleanse the world of sin, by His love, mercy, and grace.

What this world desperately needs now is love.

So, will you do it?

Will you ask God to enlarge your heart today?

purple shell

What are you hiding from?

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Sometimes I want to hide from the world. To hide from the expectations and daily demands of my life.

Sometimes I do. I stay in bed. I avoid contact with people. I choose to remain by myself in breaks at work rather than face others and pretend that I am “fine”.

How many people ask you how you are each day, but how many of them really want to know how you are? The typical response of “fine thanks” can save you from a meaningful conversation. It can save you from opening up to someone who may actually care. It can save you from being vulnerable.

But in reality, you cannot hide forever… and you can never hide from God.

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In the garden of Eden, Adam an Eve hid themselves in shame after falling into sin. Genesis 3:8 (NKJV) states,

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Sin affects us all.

Satan is always ready and waiting to lure us away from our calling, and the truth is, part of us wants to be. Our innate desire towards selfish satisfaction often leads us to focus on the apparent needs of ourselves, above those of others.

We are too busy.

We are too tired.

We are too burdened.

“God doesn’t require us to succeed. He only requires that you try.”

– Mother Teresa.

Sometimes it’s all we can do to get out of bed in the morning and move forward despite our fears. Sometimes it’s all we can do to reluctantly drag on the armour of God because it is so heavy. But we forget, it needs to be, if it is going to protect us from Satan’s arrows. And Satan’s arrows come in all forms.

I recently spoke to a friend who had traveled to Uganda for a mission trip. She said how she had initially scoffed at the reality of curses and charms until those with her made her realise how serious spiritual warfare was in that place. Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV) reminds us,

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

In places like Uganda, those principalities and powers take the form of a spiritual realm which we can barely begin to understand. For us, inside our first world living, the principalities and powers impacting us look very different. In fact, they are sometimes so subtle we barely give them credit for what they are. And that is where Satan has us. If we believe it is normal to suffer ruthless anxiety and depression then we forget we were not created to be that way. Sin entered our world and we fell hard. If we believe it is normal to absorb ourselves in the world without seeking Christ first, then we are oblivious to the powers of darkness that are ruling in our life. If we focus purely on our own needs and forget to love others in the process, then we have fallen away from Christ’s calling for our lives.

Yet all of these habits and more, are so easy for us to fall into. We hardly see our foot slip until it is too late.

I have been there. I have suffered with depression. I have battled anxiety. I have struggled to shift my focus from my needs to the needs of others. Yet… there is always a way out. There is always a hand outstretched to pull us out of our pits of self-pity and weakness. The light of Jesus, our great Shepherd, will always lead us home.

Psalm 23 (NKJV) begins,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

I shall not want.

What is it that you want that is leading you further away from God?

What is that you want that makes you want to hide your face from him?

The thing is, even when we try to hide, we are never really hidden.

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God has created us in His image to shine His light and colour to the world. We are all created uniquely, with individual fingerprints and we have the chance to touch the souls of others in an extraordinary way. His plan for our lives relies on our obedience to His will. Do we have the strength each morning to get up, and show up, to see what He will do?

If we make the choice to let the darkness win, then we are potentially missing an opportunity to share God’s love with someone who desperately needs it, someone who is fighting that very day with their own fear or anxiety. We have the chance to make a difference. We, who have overcome the darkness. We, who have known his comfort.

In my experience, God has often brought comfort through the sense of His presence in nature. I have had countless types of wild birds come near to me when I have felt lost in the darkness. Their company reminds me of His creation. Their existence reminds me of His wonderful works. Their appearance at a vulnerable point in my life makes me pause to count my blessings.

2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT) states,

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Tomorrow, or the next day, when you feel you cannot face the demands of the day, remember this verse and trust in the one who stands beside you, ready to carry you through the storm. He will never leave you, nor forsake you (Deuteronomy  31:6, Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:5, 1 Chronicles 28:20, Hebrews 13:5).

And no matter how dark the darkness is, He will find you.

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A Quiet Place

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God says, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be praised in all the nations; I will be praised throughout the earth.”

– Psalm 46:10 (New Century Version)

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There seems to be so many different ways in which we can exercise our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Sometimes we need to run the race before us (Hebrews 12:1). Other times we need to search Him out with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13). There are times we are reminded to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Then there are those times we are called to “be still.” 

Finding the time and place for this is often the tricky part.

If you are a teacher, it is likely that you are currently bracing yourself for one of the busiest times of the school year. Reporting season is upon us and any of the time you thought you had to “be still” has probably disappeared with one glance at your timetable.

How do we manage our time wisely when the ‘to-do’ list is a never-ending cycle?

In the school holidays, I felt it was easy for me to get up and spend my mornings reading my devotionals and journalling. It felt like I had so much more time. Yet time fades like a flower in the field all too quickly. Now we are only one week into the school routine and already I am too exhausted to even think about waking earlier to make time for God.

Matthew 6:6 (New Century Version) states,

When you pray, you should go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father who cannot be seen. Your Father can see what is done in secret, and he will reward you.

Where is your quiet place?

For me, nature has always been part of my spiritual relationship with God. Going into a room and closing the door consisted of me going out into His creation and closing the door of home and work life in order to completely step into His presence. When I lived on acreage, my quiet place was down in the field near the creek. That was where I felt I could easily meet God in the stillness of nature. I would often sense God’s presence in a sunset, the beauty of the landscape, a butterfly, a bird, a gentle breeze or a timely rainbow. These days, it is not quite so easy to find a place like that… a place where I can fully remove myself from the distractions of life and fully rest in stillness.

Closing that door is easier said than done. Yet, if we make the choice not to close the door, how much harder will it be to complete the tasks before us in our own strength?

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A quiet place is vital to our relationship with God. It is imperative that in everything we do, we serve God and not people. In order to do this, we need to take that time to stop and close the door regularly so we may experience true relationship with our Heavenly Father. He is the only one who can fill us when we are empty. And, at times, we will empty quickly, especially when we are broken.

Brokenness comes in many forms… anxiety, anger, longing, selfishness, jealousy, fear. We will all experience some form of brokenness in our lives, however, it is up to us if we choose to let Jesus use us for His purposes despite our brokenness.

When was the last time you closed that door and gave over your brokenness to Him? When was the last time you allowed Him to heal, mould and use you as a vessel for Him? When was the last time you drew near to Him in that quiet place?

When I teach my children at home, or my students at school, about the importance of spending time with God, I often remind them about closing the door. Of course children will take this quite literally, but it helps for me to explain how sometimes God can meet you where you are (when you desire to communicate with Him) if we make a choice to move away from those things that distract us.

Wherever you are right now in your relationship with God, I pray that you can take (or make) that time to close the door in whatever way comes naturally (or not so naturally) to you. I pray that in doing so, you will find the joy and peace that comes in being still and discovering your own quiet place, even in the midst of the chaos of life.

If we can do this, He promises to reward us and meet our needs. And we know we can trust in Him to fulfil His promises.

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To Believe in the Impossible

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“Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Mark 9:23

This is it.

This is what I have been avoiding writing about for almost three years for fear of people’s perceptions and judgements. Even now my impulse is to doubt if this is actually what God wants me to do, despite the fact I have heard Him call me to this whenever I begin to question my own purpose.

“Write about it…”

I can hear the words clearly… “Write about it.”

And so I am.

I remember once, when I had cried out to God in prayer on the way home from a difficult day at work, I had asked Him to show me what I was meant to do in His name. While I know that God will sometimes call us into more than one area of service for particular times, this time I was crying out in desperation for a clear directive. His answer came swiftly. A white four-wheel drive with a bright pink number plate swung out in front of me, giving me just enough time to brake and avoid running into it.

The number plate?

WR.II.TE

Pretty clear right? That was 2013. Sometimes we are not so quick to act on God’s directives as we should be.

Charles Dickens once said, “Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.”

I know this thief all too well.

Even now as I write, I feel as though I am fighting to keep that thief at bay.

My husband recently showed me a TEDx Talk by Mel Robbins. She talked about happiness and how people are often unhappy because they do not take steps towards their goals, desires and dreams. She mentioned if we do not act on the impulse to take a definite step in the direction of the goal within a five-second timeframe, us humans will automatically hit the ‘snooze’ button on our dreams. While the message was not necessarily God-focused, I realised it struck a chord within me, and that I needed to do something about it. Ironically, I then of course did hit that snooze button and slept through the night. When I woke however, I felt the conviction that while this talk was primarily to do with personal goals and ideas, that we Christians often hit the ‘snooze’ button on God’s prompting in our lives.

Five. Four. three. Two. One.

Five seconds is certainly not a lengthy amount of time before procrastination swoops in to steal it all.

Take a moment to ponder… what has God prompted you to do in your life, that you have automatically hit the snooze button on?

Why did you do this?

The obvious reasons for many of us are…

I will do that later…

I need more time to do that…

I do not have what it takes…

Maybe one day I will be able to do that…

I am too busy…

Philippians 4:13 should be enough to end those arguments:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

All things. Not just some things or those things, but ALL things.

Anything is possible if we only believe.

We should NOT be trying to do things in our own strength, because if we are, we will most certainly grow weary and burn out.

We also need to be careful we are not just pursuing selfish dreams that we have made, with no effort to consult Him about it. God wants to work in and through us, and I believe if we are attuned to God and in relationship with Him, then the dreams of our heart will be the ones He has planted there.

While I am a teacher, and know without a doubt God has led me into teaching for such a time as this, I also know that there is something else. Something more. Something miraculous that He wants me to pursue for His name’s sake. I know that this requires a child-like, unwavering faith and belief in God to pull out the Moses style miracle stops at just the right times.

Habakkuk 2:3 (NKJV) is a verse I have carried with me for the last few years. It states,

For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.

Almost three years ago, after Lay Directing my Chrysalis Flight, I felt the conviction that God had set aside some land for us. It would be used for His purposes and we would serve Him and others there. I drove around looking at some properties in the area and there was this one. Down a narrow gravel road, with rainbow lorikeets leading me down in joyous song, I found it.

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It was an old winery converted into accommodation for camps or weddings. Ten brand new rooms, all with new bunks and ensuites. A commercial kitchen (in need of some repair). A rotunda chapel with views across the twenty-six acres. It was perfect. We could run camps there or provide respite for families going through tough times. We could use it as a women’s and children’s shelter. There were so many ways in which we could use it to serve others. While I was still unsure of the specifics of God’s plan, I felt this was it. And so I began praying for it.

It was for sale. For $1.2 million. For us, this was an impossibility.

Despite this, I kept praying and even went to have a look at it with a friend who had a little more knowledge of acreages.

There were problems. There was not a great water supply if you were going to run cattle on it (which would make sense to do with so much land). Then it appeared that the accommodation had been added without council approval. Another massive hurdle to move past if it were ever to be used to serve as accommodation for retreats or any other type of use.

Again, even aside from the unachievable price, it was an impossibility.

I still continued to pray and discussed it with some close friends and family (some of whom are still praying for this today) as they too felt convicted by it as I did. My children even started praying for it and journaled about it. During these times of prayer I would sense God giving me hope, reassuring me that the time would come when it was right. On a few occasions I felt His Holy Spirit speaking to me through a devotion,  highlighting particular sections of my devotional with what I like to think was His ‘rainbow highlighter’.

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I began to have plans for how God would use the property, and how my whole family would be involved. I saw myself painting the walls of the rotunda chapel with Biblical images and creating quiet spaces for reflection and devotion within the building. I saw us using the land for some sort of farming or produce, that people could help us with when they stayed. My heart was full of dreams for the property, yet, as time passed on, the visions began to fade (as did my belief in them).

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It was some time after that the ‘For Sale’ signs were taken down and it looked as though the property had been taken off the market. In my mind that was it. Too hard. Just a dream. Impossible. I would have to get used to living in the reality of a world where perhaps God’s miracles were not really possible.

I later found the journal that I had begun to record my vision for this property in. I had ideas for the name and multiple concepts for use, and I had also recorded my prayers for God’s leading within it. I was all too aware that this was too big for myself alone and was asking God to make me aware of His bigger picture.

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About eighteen months after first visiting the property for the first time, we discovered it was for sale again, this time through a city agent with no signage on the property or advertising in the immediate area. My heart jumped. I felt God moving in my soul again. Could this be it?

This time we went to view the property with my brother and parents. There was talk of us all going in together to buy it and live there. We all liked to dream and we all loved the idea of living on land. When we visited we even saw deer flying across the back paddock. The following day I found Habakkuk 3:19 printed on the next page in my journal:

The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills.

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The potential price had been lowered to below $1 million. Maybe we could do this. We tentatively made an initial offer but the agent came back with a minimum price of the $1.2 they had originally been asking for. What I now realise was wrong, is that we were trying to do this in our strength and not God’s. We were probably not even willing to follow through on that initial offer as it was still being sold as a commercial property, so once purchased, it may not have even been legal for us to live there permanently. So once again, I gave it up. My heart desperately hoped that one day, God would enable us to purchase it, but I had ultimately decided that because we could not buy it by ourselves, it would therefore never happen.

It was a little while after this that I had been praying again for God’s provision and purposes to rest within my heart and mind so I would know how to move forward in my life. I walked into the kitchen in the quietness of the early morning. I had walked across the kitchen floor and noticed nothing. When I turned back however, I found on the floor a little post-it note that my son had written the address of the property on (nearly two years before when we had first discovered it).

gadds lane note

I stood there staring it for quite some time. I had no idea where it had come from. I had not seen it since that time. I felt that glimmer of hope in my heart that I had felt all those years ago. I don’t know why, but I felt God was telling me not to give up on the dream He had planted in my heart.

While much time has passed since that day, I have not forgotten this dream. The property was actually sold about one year ago now. For that impossible $1.2 million. It is now even more of an impossibility than it was when we were considering it as a family.

Impossible.

The truth is I don’t know if it is God’s will for us to use this property for His glory and purpose one day or not. I can’t be certain if it was His idea or only a personal dream of mine to live and work on land… however I cannot forget the ways in which He spoke to me during that time and reassured me of His presence and not to give up on the impossible.

I don’t want to be one of those Christians who operates with safe, conservative faith. I want faith like Abraham, Moses and Esther. I want to believe God can and will do the impossible when He knows the time is right… “Because it will surely come.” 

I have come to realise in recent times that I cannot force God’s plans into my timeframe or make my plans His. I need to attune myself to His will for my life through relationship with Him. The more time you spend with someone, the better you come to know them. The more you can predict their responses or know their preferences. I do want to do more for Christ and I do want to be fully open to wherever He might lead me. But the key to that is that He needs to lead and I need to follow.

Three years ago I was ready to get out there and do whatever God wanted, but that “whatever” had my own conditions stamped across it. I was not ready to leave the impossible with God and trust that He could make it happen. I wasn’t ready to follow blindly into the unknown.

Now my prayer is that God will lead and I will follow. My prayer is that if this original vision is from God, then He will bring it to pass, and if I can be an instrument He can use in that process then I pray that He will use me. My first step towards this involves making the choice to not hit the snooze button and write. I am writing about it and have forced myself through my doubts and past procrastination, as I have felt God leading me to do this more strongly of late. I don’t know if, or how, it will make a difference… but I do this in obedience to Him.

And I now know that I can leave it in His more than capable hands.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. 

– Ephesians 3:20 (NIV)

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