Restoration

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You know my baby’s got the blues, and I don’t know what to do
I don’t know what to say, should I go away
And pray for her sorrow?

She sits there all alone, as silent as a stone,
And I don’t know how to help, should I keep it to myself
And wait for tomorrow?

And if I knew how to reach her where the waters run deep
I would give her the words that would help her to sleep.

At night she lays in bed with secrets in her head
With pain too deep for words, nothing can be heard
But the sound of her breathing.

Mercies and angels up above,
Heaven please help the one I love.
Guide the direction that she goes
Watch every step, each (?) stone
Please let her know she’s not alone
Give her the strength to trust in everything she knows

“Baby’s Got The Blues”~Larry Norman

I am lying on my bed, exhausted, unable to sleep. My mind is racing. I am replaying my day, over and over, and over again. Little, insignificant things that don’t matter in the light of day. Things that overwhelm me in the dark and make me wish I could have more than one do-over to make myself feel better, and appear smarter or younger to those around me. I wonder what is happening to me, and why I have allowed it to happen.

I am a strong woman, I tell myself, yet, somehow, I have fallen  into this horrible pit of despair, this black hole. I have lost my joy; I have lost my strength. What has happened to me? Again, I wonder.

Anxiety overwhelms me, and the cares of this world pile on top of me when I should be enjoying a restful slumber. I worry because I am not in control, and I am so very tired. Where is my joy, my content, and what happened to my peace? Where did they go? What is this dark place, this fog? What are these voices that laugh and sneer? I don’t like them.

I have joked that I am comfortable with the voices I hear in my head, but that is a lie.  I am not  comfortable at all. How was I so bold as to let them in? I am not that strong. I am weak. I know that now.

I cry out silently in the night, but there are no tears. I grasp for the precious words that were balm for my soul; my comfort and my strength. They gave me comfort and strength in days gone by, but they do not come to mind. What were those words, those verses? How could I have forgotten them? They were far more precious than I realized.  I panic.

“You have forgotten,” the voices taunt me. “You have let go. You were so self-assured and wise in your own eyes. You are lost now, they laugh.”

Yet, I have strength to whisper His name, and the voices flee.  They are gone, and the words, the balm to my soul, return. “Don’t be afraid. I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called you by your name. You’re mine . When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.”-Isaiah 43:1,2

The words keep coming, and I know the peace will return. Restoration is coming.

”Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”~Phil.4:6,7

”Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”~Neh. 8:10

Love and Grace, Joy and Laughter

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“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine .  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”-John 15:4

Love and Grace, Joy and Laughter.  These are simple words to bandy about during the Christmas season. We could all use a little more love and grace,  and joy and laughter.

My husband and I have had a lovely time during our Christmas vacation.  We have recharged our batteries, and I have used some of that time for some introspection.  I am not proud of where my thoughts  lead me sometimes.  I am far too independent for my own good. I profess to let God be in control of my life, yet I struggle with relinquishing control to Him at the same time.

When I read the Old Testament of the Bible, I shake my head. The lying and cheating and war and sex and dysfunction that went on is difficult to comprehend. It’s just as twisted as our society is today, I suppose.  Sometimes I catch myself wondering how I can relinquish control to a God who lets all that stuff happen. Other times I am reminded that God loves us. He gives us gifts to help each other, despite our pride and lying and cheating and dysfunction. In our modern world, when Christians are scoffed at for various reasons, I have hope that my faith in Him,  and in those He has placed in my life, is enough for each new day.

Often, I find  it is difficult for me to break through and keep up with my blogging and writing as often as I want to.  Writing is a charge, and a gift that I take seriously.  If I write something and put it out there, I want it to be worthy of my readers’ time.  I do not want to fill space on my blog just for the sake of posting something on a regular basis.  That being said, I wish I had the inspiration or the energy to write on a regular basis. Life gets in the way, and I do as well.

Sometimes I think very highly of myself and when I do, I find I will fail every time.  I think this happened to Peter when he stepped off a boat to walk on the water’s surface. Jesus called him by name and said, “Peter, come out of the boat and walk towards me.” Peter listened to this strange request and actually walked out of the boat and towards Jesus on top of the water. After a little while, he began to sink, so Jesus reached out, grabbed him by his hand and lifted him up; he kept him from sinking into the sea and drowning.  ( Matthew 14:22-23)

I have wondered why Peter began to sink before reaching Jesus.  I am not a Biblical theologian and I have not formally studied the Bible, but I think perhaps Peter was like, “WOW!  Look at ME! I am walking ON THE WATER! How cool is THAT? NO one has ever done this before…I am SO incredibly AWESOME!” At least, that’s how I would have felt, so this rendition works for me.

I think that, as soon as Peter thought he was doing this on his own, because he was so awesome, not because Jesus was giving him the ability to do it,  he began to sink. Of course Jesus reached out and saved the day, or at least, saved Peter from drowning.

This happens to me. Every. Day. I am just like Peter. (I think I am awesome, even though I am not, at least not always.) When I let myself get in the way, I am useless at what He asks me to do.  I am unable to use my words effectively, and I am unable to demonstrate kindness, or love, or grace, to anybody.

I had a situation at work that dragged on for months.  I started a new position at work, in another clinic within the same company. I love my job and was excited because my new job was only 4 minutes from home.  Who wouldn’t love that? My excruciating commute in Atlanta traffic was over.

I was excited to meet my new coworkers, and for the most part, most of them were wonderful. Strangely enough, however, a couple of people were a little disenchanted with me and with the fact that I had been transferred over to their clinic. They had some incorrect pre-conceived notions about me, and  did not welcome me with open arms. I didn’t understand why, and tried to correct the situation, but however I tried, I could not make things right. My work environment felt hostile, and  of course, I started to feel rather ugly myself. I could not summon up any good or warm feelings towards these other staff members.  I prayed for the ability to forgive these people, and still, I could not. Again, I confronted them and explained how I felt. I thought for certain that this would rectify things.  I learned that their preconceived ideas were due to lies that were told by other individuals, but still, they refused to show me any grace.  I was at my wits’ end, and couldn’t stop ruminating about this situation.  It was causing me a great deal of stress and anxiety.

Finally, one day , after many days of praying for change, I had an epiphany.  These people had not apologized or asked for my forgiveness, so why was I so intent on doling out forgiveness?  I realized that I was only required to love these people, not forgive them, at least in this situation.  Yet, how could I feel any warmth towards these individuals, let alone LOVE, after I felt I had been wronged?

However, I felt a wonderful freedom when I let things go and stopped looking for an apology.  I concentrated on getting myself in order, in doing my job well, and treating those around me fairly. I spent some time nurturing my relationship with the One who calls me to be me. Going forward, I hoped my situation would improve and it has.  For that I am grateful. Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus replied, “Love God with all your heart and soul, and then love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:34-40)

To  me, this was my miracle of the Christmas Season, this act of Blessed Release. I released something that I could never control, and it was replaced with Love and Grace. A special Love and Grace that I am incapable of conjuring up on my own. A Love and Grace towards others that can nurture Joy and Laughter in its wake.

”But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show us that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”-2 Corinthians 4:7

Feeling Worn

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One day last week, I came home from work, exhausted, as so many of us do. I could not muster up energy to do anything other than be a slouch on my couch.  I settled in to read, and all four of my fur-babies tucked in around me.  It was a wonderful comfort to cuddle with them. It reminded me of another comfort that I had experienced in the past, on a similar day when I felt worn and overwhelmed.

It was one of those days; we’ve all had them: I was dragging my old bones around, and I didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for much of anything. If you were to speak to my husband earlier that morning, he may have told you I was a little bit grumpy. I was tired and feeling blue. Finally, well after lunch time, I decided some exercise was called for; to blast the cobwebs out of my brain. I donned my running gear, plugged in my headphones , and turned my music up. I love iTunes radio…my favorite station is Tenth Avenue North…but that morning , I think I could have used something a little more cheery than the first song that came on. Some of you may be familiar with the lyrics from the song “Worn”. If not, I have taken the liberty of writing a couple of verses out for you:

“I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes”

Fortunately for me, a much spunkier tune came on afterwards, and I was able to finish my run in fine form, but this other song has continued to be on my mind and on my heart.  So often when we feel too tired to go on, it is good to know God is always faithful to carry us, and mend our brokenness.

For some reason, God, in His Infinite Wisdom, has decided He would rather work through our prayers, when we have a need, rather than fixing things without them.  I don’t understand this rationale; perhaps because by nature, I like control. However, I have realized that this is just the way it is, and prayer is a powerful tool.

When I find my own prayers are not enough, I know  there are caring people around me who will pray for me when I have a need, and will listen when I just need to talk. This is important because it is too difficult to carry burdens alone. We are not designed to do that; we are designed to thrive in relationships with each other, and with our Father. Together, our relationship with each other, and our relationship with our Father can heal what is broken and worn inside each of us. 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” —John 14:27

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” —John 16:33

Good Pasture

“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
imageTherefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. ” ~ Ezekiel 34:17-22

Last Sunday, I read a funny status on a friend’s Facebook wall. She mentioned that her pastor had related a story about one of the first international missions conferences, where missionaries from around the world had gathered: “Apparently, at this conference, the Dutch missionaries were so shocked and offended by the heavy make-up worn by the female American missionaries that their cigarettes fell right out of their mouths…” Of course, I liked that status, as did many others, because it was chuckle- worthy.  I even went so far as to comment on it, quite radically, I thought, because my comment was something along the lines of ” I  have often wondered who decided smoking was a sin.”

I meant my comment to be  funny, but I admit I was trying to be a bit of rabble-rouser.  I think in the “family of God” as we so often like to call ourselves, we are very quick to judge and point out the mistakes of others. I was not present for the sermon my friend listened to last Sunday, but I  suspect it may have embraced the lack of grace we often exhibit towards those we meet daily.

Literally, seconds after posting my comment on my friend’s wall, I received a private message from someone who was very concerned about me. He wanted to make sure that I knew for sure that smoking was indeed a sin, along with other things that    would “desecrate our bodies which are God’s temple.” I was exasperated by this private admonition because I felt misunderstood, but  I care for this person, and because I did not wish to offend anyone else, I quickly deleted my comment from my friends wall.  And so…the musing of these thoughts in my own head began…

I know smoking will lead to an early grave. So can gluttony and slothfulness, so, rest assured, my rather careless commentary did not mean that I am  on my way out to the nearest gas station to buy a pack of smokes.  I might add, that some “sins” like gluttony, slothfulness, and slander, are not given equal time in today’s church as some other “unpardonable” offenses.

When I read “The Cost of Discipleship,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and an upstanding Christian leader during the Nazi-era, I learned that he was a chain-smoker. I guess this was a time in history before smoking was considered sinful. The Bible doesn’t mention smoking either. So, as an aside, since reading this book, I have wondered who decided smoking was a sin, and when it “became” a sin, and why we as a church love to condemn people if they engage in what we think is sinful or inappropriate behavior. My intention is not to spend too much time on the debates of the particular sins or offenses; I only wish to remind all of us that we need less judgement and more love and grace.

Reading this passage from Ezekiel this morning made me weep, because it so perfectly put into words how I  often feel when I think about the church today. I see  many people who are hurting, and tired, and they may be pushed aside or ignored by the self-righteous. We as a church, are quick to drink all that Christ offers us, and then we muddy the waters with our own pious rules and regulations. When someone we might find disreputable is in our midst, we trample them with our words and over bearing ways, and before you know it, they will not ever cross the thresholds of our churches again. We forget that judgement is reserved for God; our only mandate is to love as He loves us; to offer to others the same grace that we received from Him.  That’s all. It’s so simple  that it escapes us.

“When I lose my way, And I forget my name, Remind me who I am. In the mirror all I see, Is who I don’t wanna be, Remind me who I am. In the loneliest places, When I can’t remember what grace is.”

~ “Remind Me Who I Am” Jason Gray

 

Remembering My Friend Tuula

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“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” ~ Luke 22:42

A childhood friend passed away a few days ago from a particularly difficult bout with cancer. She and I were not terribly close, but we knew each other because our parents were friends and we grew up in the same small town. She and I both moved far from our families in our adult years, and over the course of time in this modern world, we kept in touch through Facebook.  I last saw her a few years ago at my brother’s wedding. She was too young, in my mind, to have suffered from this horrible disease. She had so much to live for, and I think her family would agree, she had so many more things to experience. Why was she taken from this life so soon?

I was at work when I received the news that she passed away in hospice care. Of course, I cried when I heard the news, and then I went on with my day, thinking about how strange it was , that one minute, someone who was loved and cherished by so many could be here among us, and then the next minute, she is not. Still, time goes on, not stopping for any of us.

When Tuula and I were kids, our families would visit each others’ houses,  and we and our sisters  had such fun, giggling and spying on our older brothers, while they annoyingly chased us away and locked us out of their territory. At that time, none of us had any idea of the journey that Life would take us on; where it would lead us. I didn’t stay in close touch with Tuula, but I know she lived in various cities across Canada with her husband, and served others as a pastor’s wife, and as a daycare provider. Her Facebook profile showed a very cheerful, smiley woman, who loved children. When she received her cancer diagnosis, she seemed very brave, and trusted God for strength and comfort. I wonder if she ever wished that He would take “that cup of suffering” away from her? I know she and her loved ones prayed for healing for her cancer. Instead, God chose to whisper to her by name, and call her home.

I have often cried out in my own journey in life, and have asked God to “take my cup of suffering”from me, yet here I am, still muddling through various trials from day to day. I wonder why we as humans have to go through the things we do. I do not mean to be misunderstood; I know I am blessed in many ways, but life is not easy at times. I cannot pretend to understand why. I do realize my story is entwined in the story of others, and the telling of it is  not complete.  I only know that it is my story; it is unique to me.  My children, my husband, and the people I meet from day to day are in my path for a reason. He may not take my cup from me, but He will give me strength and hope for the next day. I have only to stand up, straighten my shoulders, and look up, so I can hear Him whispering my name.

“When you don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move, When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through, When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You, I will trust , I will trust, I will trust in You!” ~”I Will Trust In You”-Lauren Daigle

“but I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” ~Psalm 31:14

Waiting

image“Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart”`Ps.27:14

 

I love this photo that I snapped of our trusty lab, Musta, staring out the window, waiting for her daily walk.  She looks like she thinks she’s never going to get one.  It was a rainy day, and the weather was horrible, so instead of taking her first thing in the morning the way she had been accustomed to, I chose to wait out the rain instead.  It was better for her, and for me, and, it was better for our little dog, Oliver who is terrified of the rain. Musta didn’t understand why she had to wait for her walk that day, but in my head I had a perfectly good reason, and the reason was best for all involved.

Sometimes I realize I am just like my puppy Musta, towards my Father God.

How many times in life have I found myself impatiently waiting for something, and wondering when the big thing would happen? I’ve been praying and praying and praying, and it seems as if nothing is happening and my prayers are falling on God’s deaf ears, and I hear nothing in response. Nothing.  Not even a hopeful maybe. Several weeks, even years can go by, and after the prayer is answered, I realize how silly I am; and if I hadn’t waited so long, the prayer could not have been answered so perfectly. I would have had to settle for something much less perfect for me, something that in hindsight, I would have been much less satisfied with.

This past fall, I couldn’t understand why it was taking  so long to get my license to practice my profession in the State of Georgia.  I had filled out the appropriate paperwork, and instead of the three or four weeks I thought it would take, the process dragged out to more than three months.  I was beyond frustrated. I felt very inadequate, and I was taking it all very personally. However, almost as soon as the State of Georgia granted me my license, I found a job that was beyond my expectations, and was more wonderful than I could imagine. Oh the joy, (the joy!) when that prayer was answered! My coworkers are awesome, and my job challenges me in new ways every day. I am excited to go to work and I don’t have to drag my feet when I get out of bed every morning. It is a blessing  I would have missed out on if I hadn’t had to wait until this particular job was available to me.

There is a story in the book of Daniel, where Daniel has a vision regarding his prayer life. (Chapter 10, verse1-13, ) He had fasted and prayed for 3 weeks and heard nothing, and then finally an angel broke through and let him know that his prayer had been heard “as soon as he set his mind to gain understanding , and to humble himself before God.” Daniel had to wait three weeks to realize his prayer had been answered, because  the angel had to fight powers in the unseen world in order to get to Daniel and help him.

I have been thinking a lot about waiting lately; it is so easy to tell others to trust God and to wait for the right thing to come along…in actual fact, I know waiting is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is a lesson that I have to relearn daily, even though I live with the blessings of answered prayer in my life daily. Now, my life is not nearly as complicated as Daniel’s. I am not being thrown into prison, into a fiery furnace, or a lion’s den because of my faith in God.  My life is not as complicated, to say the least. However, I am trying to navigate this difficult modern world that we all live in, and to do that, I have discovered that my only real defense is to pray continually , and this old story from the book of Daniel helps me. I believe God hears my prayers, even when I don’t see the evidence of that right away. As I write this, I am waiting for another prayer to be answered. I wonder how long it will take, and how many tears I will shed as I kneel and speak to my Lord about this one? I know He hears me. He might answer other prayers in the meantime, before He answers. I trust that He knows best. I think that is why this photo of my puppy whining in the window touches me. She is waiting, and so am I…

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”~Isaiah 41:13

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”~1 Peter 5:7

 

 

This One is For Jeremy

imageJust a Thought About Faith

“Yesterday, life was so simple,

Today, it is so complicated,

and tomorrow, if and when it comes,

Holds something quite mysterious,

Possibly bringing with it, more problems, or complications.

Yet I will not fret, 

But stand in faith in the Lord,

For He will surely guide me, 

Through any hardships I encounter, 

And through whatever troubles befall me.

So in His strength,

I will battle against

Whatever attempts to get me down;

and override it with love,  joy, and peace,

Which I will receive, from the Lord.” –Belinda Mah

I have spent the last weeks moving to a new state and unraveling my old life out of cardboard boxes and brown paper, trying to make it fit comfortably into this new land of peaches and pecans. As I was unpacking, I came across some old journals of mine. In 1982, I had been so moved by this poem written by Belinda Mah, that I penned it into my journal. Now, as I read it, I was reminded of the comments my son had written in my previous blog post.  You see, he had made some rather raw comments, and he also noted that he was interested in memories and thoughts that resonated with me as a young person.

I wondered then , if he thinks I led a rebellious crazy adolescence , riddled with partying and social experiences in my college years.  Little does he know what a straight arrow I truly was, and how I was ridiculed for it in those years, and how it didn’t bother me in the least.  I had sold my life out to Jesus in every aspect and I was not ashamed.  Everything was so straightforward and simple.  I saw what the effect of over-indulging in alcohol had on my older brother, and I was not interested.

I grew up in modest circumstances, and finances were a strain for my parents. We always had enough and we always knew that my parents loved us. We could depend on them to help us out when we needed; as long as what we needed was within reason and within the family budget.  When it was necessary for me  to apply to  college after high school, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, and deadlines for college applications were approaching.  So, I did what I had learned to do; I talked to God, and I let Him know, that I needed to know, what I should do with the rest of my life. In my naiveté , I believed an answer to that prayer would come. Then, one day, my dad came home from the dentist after having his teeth cleaned, and he said, “That would be a good job for you, my dear!” That was it.  I decided that was my answer, and armed with that, I made an appointment with my high school guidance counsellor and told him I was going to be a dental hygienist. It was a program which accepted only 12 applicants at each of three colleges in the province I lived in, and each college had 1500 applicants, so of course he tried to persuade me to apply to a different program. I insisted I had prayed about it, and this was an answer to prayer…I’m sure that poor man thought I was a nut case.  I really did not take the time to understand how impossibly slim my chances were of getting into dental hygiene school were at that time.  Miraculously, I was accepted at two of the three colleges I applied to.

Tuition for this program was not extremely high, but it was high enough that my parents could not afford to pay what was required to send me to school the following fall. My grades were good, but because I had applied to a community college and not a university, I had not applied for any scholarships, nor were any available to my knowledge.  I was devastated, and I attended my graduation ceremony with a heavy heart, thinking I would not be able to go to school the following fall. Still, I continued to pray, hoping for a miracle. Imagine my surprise when I received two unexpected scholarships at my graduation ceremony; exactly the amount I needed to pay my tuition  for my first year of college. God is good, and He answered many simple prayers for me in those years of my youth; these were just two examples. These are just a couple of memories that resonated with me as I read some of my early journal entries from years ago.

It wasn’t until much later in life, as an adult, when I was hurt by people who professed to love God, but later I learned were blinded by their own self -interests, that I started to question everything I had been taught about God by the church.  I even questioned His existence, but blessedly , I have come to realize that He is real; He is just not who I thought He was, and He loves me.  I don’t have to be perfect; I am screwed up, and He loves me anyway.  That is where grace comes in and it is beautiful.

These days, I get tired so easily.  This move to Atlanta. has just drained me and squeezed me in ways I could not have thought possible.  I love to be here, but I just can’t imagine a time when every cardboard box and every piece of brown paper will be gone and everything will be in its place.  In the old days, when our family re-lcoated in a move such as this, I think I can honestly say that everything was in its place in less than 2 weeks.  What is happening to me?  It has been almost a month, and I am still not done. The move itself was agonizing. Things are not falling into place as quickly for me as far as my job goes. I am tired. I am worn out.

“Today, it is so complicated”,  but I will wait for God’s timing. I can use this time to pray, not just for myself, but for my children. It is a difficult world that they need to navigate,  and I do  not envy the blurry lines that separate right from wrong, that I could not even imagine when I was their age.

I love both of my children and I have a heart for young people, but today, I bless my son, and I pray for love, joy and peace for him, as he finds his way. I pray that he will learn to listen for the soft, gentle Whispering in the desert.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” -Isaiah 55:8,9

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out-plans to take care of you, not to abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” -Jeremiah 29:11-14 The Message

*art credit J. Pieniniemi