Faithful Obedience by Kate Nieuwsma

We count it a blessing to see, in the church where God has planted our family, how many saints walk faithfully and joyfully through very hard things. Their faithfulness, endurance joy, and faith encourage us to press on looking up to Jesus, knowing that He is near us.

Kate has been such a faithful mom through a long trial, and her testimony of God’s faithfulness sustaining her family is a gift to the church. I trust that you will be encouraged to read this.

The Great Gift (of Small Joys)
By Kate Nieuwsma

“When my anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:19

“But how can they survive?” I asked myself. A few years ago, three faithful women in my community lost their babies within a few weeks of one another, all in truly tragic circumstances. What I saw unfolding for them was my deepest nightmare. The death of one of my children is something that – if I let it – will keep me up at night in a cold sweat. (Pretty sure it will do that to most parents!) Part of why it scared me so much is that I had seen this trial unfold before, and I thought I knew what came afterwards: despair, chaos, spiritual death. I cringed at the loss of faith I thought was fated to follow on the heels of such grief.

But instead? I was given one of the greatest spiritual gifts I have ever received. Every single one of those women showed bone-deep grief. But they also showed us joy. In the months that followed their loss, they told us the sharp-edged sorrow, but they wrapped it with the joy of God’s provision. They showed us laughter with their families. They showed us dignity in loss. They spared us the gritty, public play-by-play of grief lauded in our culture as being the only “authentic” reaction, knowing that we didn’t have the grace to bear that, and they pointed us to Christ instead. When they could have – without guilt – buried us in the heaviness of legitimate grief, they chose instead to hand us joy. Not pretendy joy. Not false laughter that doesn’t admit the difficulty. But that deep, sometimes weeping joy that says “This is a dark night, but Christ is the light.” We saw them cling to Christ, and then we saw them stand strong in joy.

I held onto this gift of joy in trials, but I had no idea how much I would need it. About 8 months ago, my then-2-year-old daughter was suddenly diagnosed with an acute kidney condition. We thought at first it was temporary, but it has become clear over the last few months that this is likely to be a constant throughout her childhood, and perhaps her entire life. Our last few months have been full of pain and pain management, hospital stays, numerous infections, pancreatitis, pneumonia, thousands of blood tests, IV sticks, PICC lines and bandaids and insomnia and hard hospital beds and difficult visions of the future. There was a very real danger of losing her several times in this journey so far, and the possibility for permanent disability or a shortened life is always present.

I remember standing by her hospital bed a few months into her journey after a difficult night and an even more difficult morning blood draw. Things were hard, and the temptation to be weary and weepy and ask for others to join with me in that tired, frustrated pain was very real.  But then I looked up and saw her sitting there with a case of simply legendary bedhead, double-fisting some juice and water, and giving me a classic look of hilarious, near-drunken morning bleariness. There was nothing to do but laugh out loud and take a picture (and show it to her – she laughed too!). That morning, I remembered the glory of those faithful women handing out a glimpse of the joy that comes in sorrow, and I decided to pass that along in a tiny way. I posted that picture of my little one with the very real and cleansing laughter that came with it rather than the bid for sympathy I desperately wanted to post. It was a simple act of finding joy in the midst of difficulty, a preschool level attempt at mimicking the great acts of faith that I had seen, but I can’t tell you how many people have thanked me for that funny little picture and others like it. There is something foundationally comforting about small joys in the midst of a trial. They tell those around us that we will be ok, and it also tells them that they will be too. It tells them that when their turn for trouble comes along (and we all know that it will), that they will make it through. That Christ will be with us all even when things are hard. That in the darkest cave of trials there is still the light of God, the relief of holy laughter. That when pain is real, heaven is more so.

Joy reminds us that Christ will make it right.

Joy is both submission and rebellion, a sword and trowel. It faithfully plants seeds in the midst of a snowstorm, and it guards the soul like a watchdog. It shakes the fist at the type of “rawness” that insists that glory is not possible in the midst of difficulty. That your truest feelings are only the ones that happen when self-control is lost.

And the best part about joy? When you go in search of it in order to pass it on, seeking the beautiful gems of laughter and provision and comfort in the dark cave you’ve been thrown into, you always find far more than you’ve been looking for. Joy is like the stable in C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Last Battle’: far larger on the inside than it is on the outside. When you crack open that door in order to battle the darkness, you find that you’ve actually stumbled on a place of feasting. You find that Christ has “set a table in the presence of your enemies” (especially those enemies of the soul – bitterness, ingratitude, fear, cowardice). Even small joy opens the door to great victory.

This race of faith that God has called my daughter and the rest of our family to may be a long one. We honestly don’t know how far this road will take us or what it will contain. But we have seen the faithful runners ahead of us in this race of faith, and we have seen their faithful obedience of joy. Because of them, we know that we will be ok. We know that Christ is here, because they have shown us His joy. Make us like them, Lord!

Light this darkness with the flame of Your joy.

Faithful Obedience by Lauren McMurray

Lauren and I have gotten to know each other through our involvement in the Bible Reading Challenge. And every time she writes or comments, I pay attention because I know she will have something good for us to hear.

It is a blessing to have women in your life whose words build up those who hear them!

Thank you, Lauren for your contribution to this series on Faithful a Obedience.

I became a Christian when I was 18, my freshman year of college. I didn’t meet my husband until I was 26. And as a part of a large church community, I had lots of opportunities to fellowship through giving my time. Serving my roommates, family, fellow church members, and my coworkers was a joy. When I got married it was hard for me to transition away from looking outward to looking inward as a helper for my husband. Learning how to serve him as a wife and as a friend, and how to be a part of his family with their different-from-mine expectations. My outside-the-home time was crunched keeping a large house without roommates help. I was so busy at home that I felt like I was giving nothing. The feeling compounded when I became a mother two and half years later—it became hard to even make meals for people. I really wanted to serve His people, and it felt somehow selfish to just serve my little family.

Facing my duty, releasing my desire.

Eventually I was blessed to realize—through faithful friends’ podcast—that God gives us desires in order that we might have something to give back to him.

Desires to sacrifice??

I looked at my past, present, future and saw that the very duties that had seemed selfish were the reason I had something more to sacrifice. I was able to faithfully give by “not doing”. I had learned “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” but I finally saw when I chose my duties by not doing, that was still pleasing to the Lord.

Practically I can pray for needs to be filled. I can buy Papa Murphy’s when I don’t have time deliver a home-made meal. I can love my little people by leaning in to my husband and children’s hobbies. Praying for friends, and church family is something I can do while overseeing my little realm. Praying, calling, emailing, or writing a card are all kind ways to serve, and offer up your desire to do more by doing what you can before the Great Comforter, the Great Physician.

Interests, desires, wants are all opportunities to have an open hand before the Lord and cheerfully assume our duties and hold desires with an open hand before the Lord.

Faithful Obedience by Kirsten Miller

How much I have learned from each one of the ladies  who have contributed to the series  Faithful Obedience. It truly has been a blessing to read how they have  persevered in faithful obedience in all sorts of different circumstances because they have trusted in God who is faithful.  Today I have the privilege to introduce you to Kirsten Miller.

If you ask any of the ladies in our church about Kirsten, you will always hear beautiful comments that speak loud of a woman who has been faithful in loving and serving others. Kirsten’s kindness is contagious because it is genuine, it is clear that it flows from her relationship with Christ.

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The Hard and Joyous Work of Life
by Kirsten Miller

What on earth am I doing here? At age 56, I have learned to ask myself some form of this question every day. Because, what a world we live in! It’s a glorious world, crammed full of opportunities for blessing and cursing, obedience and disobedience, self-serving and self-sacrifice. Every day I have to make choices. So what am I actually doing here?

When I was a teenager and young adult, I thought my life was for glorifying and serving myself. I was pretty miserable and disappointed by that lie. When I repented and returned to the Lord at age 29, I had to revise everything I thought, and change all my goals and priorities.

Now I know I’m here to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God had to teach me what that means and how to do it. He changed me by giving me his Spirit and his Word. And because I’m finite, and easily side-tracked by distractions, I have to keep a close eye on the prize that I’m going for. I said it’s a glorious world, and it is! But it’s Vanity Fair season, and we live every day of our lives surrounded by barkers with bull horns who want to draw us off the path and into buying their wares. If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, they would have swallowed us up alive.

I have a husband, eight children (three still at home), two sons-in-law, two daughters-in-law, and twelve grandchildren, all of whom live in our town. My elderly parents also live with us. When God gave my husband and me a large family, he also gave us a lifetime of work to do. These precious people need us to serve and bless them! We’re so thankful to do it. But we’re not actually up to the task. When I was student teaching in a second grade classroom during college, a teacher startled me by commenting that a certain student was “working beyond her potential.” I thought that was a nonsensical statement, and it stuck with me all these years. But that describes my husband and me well: every day we must work beyond our potential. We always come up short on our own: our own energy, our own wisdom, our own faithfulness. But we’ve learned not to despair, because we’ve seen God bless our work and makes it fruitful in spite of our weakness and shortcomings. Praise the Lord! There is no end to the flow of living water that comes to us and through us, from him. He keeps us watered and thriving.

The days are busy. I have a lot to keep track of. I fight to keep my priorities in view, so that I don’t drift off task and waste my time. I have to consciously make room for my core duties, or they get pushed out and neglected. Laziness is a slough, always just off the path. My grandma duties are a growing priority for me these days. I can support and encourage our adult children as they work hard raising their own young families. But that won’t happen if I start telling myself I’ve worked hard, so now it’s the time of life to rest and take care of myself.

My parents need my time and my help. My father has dementia and my mother has heart problems. A couple of years ago, it became difficult and stressful for them to continue to live alone and far away from us. How good it was to be able to make room for them in our home! It was not a hard decision for us to make, because we knew the Lord would bless us and supply all that we needed to make it work, just as he always has with the work he gives us. Our grandchildren now love spending time with their great-grandma and great-grandpa. A few months after my parents moved in, we heard our five-year-old grandson say to my mother, “Great-Grandma, I remember when I didn’t know you!”

So, ladies! Let’s stick our fingers in our ears as we pass through Vanity Fair! They claim to be selling garments made of the finest self-love and self-glory that will keep us warm and make us beautiful and happy. Let’s instead be grateful for the humble servants’ garments our Father has given us to wear in this world and wait patiently for him to clothe us gloriously in heaven. We’re being transformed into his image, from glory to glory. Press on, dear sisters! Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

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You can find the index to this series here.

Read The Word, Pray the Word

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The men and women of God through history are people who pray. And I imagine we all want to know what is it that made their prayer life rich and effective. I would say that one thing they all have in common is that they pray according to the Word of God.

We want to have a rich prayer life too, and having heard of this idea of “praying the Scriptures back to God,” we take a notebook and start jotting down promises, Bible verses that we believe will enrich our prayer life and strengthen our faith. And what a blessing that is. We hold dearly to these words of life. We let them be the last word we hear in our minds to silence our anxious thoughts and fears.

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Ex.14:4

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Is. 40:29

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” Prov.30:5

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Is. 41:10

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Rom. 8:32

These are only a few, there are so many more promises, more than we can count and all are yes and amen in Christ for those who are His. Each one of these promises is powerful and comforting. Each one is like a lifeline thrown from Heaven to us, as so we grasp them by faith.

But there are times when the trials of life are too deep and too dark, they rage against us fiercely, and the pain is hard to bear. We grab our notebook with Promises, and barely find our breath to pray through them… our voice has drowned under our tears.

It is in those times when knowing the God who gives these Promises will keep us alive. It is then when not only one or two Promises will revive us and give us hope, but when we need the whole counsel of God to be our stronghold.

There are times when our flesh will fail us, and our knees will be weak, and in these times every Word we have read in the Bible, every story in it will prove to be the backbone of our life. We may fall one, two, three, seven times, but we will not be crushed because the Word of God has the power to hold us against the enemy.

Oh, how important is is to be immersed in all the Word of God! How important it is to fill our mind and heart with all the stories of the Bible. Stories in which God reveals to us not only His character, but the way He loves to write stories. The Promises we love and count as precious, are not magic words. These promises belong to some part of God’s  story, and when we know the story in which they were spoken, we gain much more assurance.

I have been there, praying with the Bible open, praying not one or two verses, but story after story back to God.  With my Bible open, I have prayed to the God of the Bible because I know Him, I have read His Word, I have read how He is faithful when we are not. I have read how He is just and holy and at the same time merciful and compassionate. I have read story after story how He loves to redeem and restore His own children. I have read how He disciplines those He loves and how He walks with them through the consequences of their sin. I have read in the Bible how He saves those who don’t deserve to be saved. I know how much He loves to show Grace. I have read over and over, from Genesis to Revelation, stories that reveal to us who God is. I can know Him, because He wants me to know Him. I have my Bible in my hands as a proof for that. I know the Triune God of the Bible in whom millions and millions have trusted before and in whom I will trust too.

I will not stop reading. My life depends on the very Words spoken by God, written for me.

I will keep coming, I will keep reading. I want to know my God more, to trust Him more, to love Him more.

I still carry my notebook with Bible promises with me, but in my heart I carry the whole story that gives life to each one of those promises.

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky

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Don’t know where or how to start reading your Bible? Join us today. You can jump in on today’s readings found here.

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Faithful Obedience by Christiana Hale

Christiana lives up to her name and I am grateful for that. We need more Christianas in this world!

Read and be encouraged to be faithful, to submit faithfully to the will of the Lord in your life. He is good. You can trust Him with all your life too.

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Receive, and Be Glad
By Christiana Hale

“Be comforted, small one, in your smallness. He lays no merit on you. Receive and be glad” (C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, PAGE).

We all dream. Daydreams and weird dreams. Dreams that are really aspirations. We hope and we plan to make those dreams a reality. I still remember, even now, the dreams I had when I was small. A six-year-old in pigtails who decided to become a circus performer (it was a short-lived dream though, destined to give way to the cowgirl phase). I still remember where I was when I decided to become a missionary to Africa or perhaps Indonesia. The dry yellow grass rattled and rustled around my knees, the smell of the hot dirt baking in the August sun, and the sheer, overwhelming weight of conviction that came to rest on my eleven-year-old heart. I was going to save souls. Then I was an awkward teenager, holing myself up in my room for hours typing away at my computer. One novel, then two flew from my fingertips, fueled by oceans of tea and sustained by the patience of my family as I disappeared into worlds of my own making. I would save souls through words printed in ink. Then I’m a shy Freshman college student, terrified and uncertain, dreaming only of straight A’s and maybe making new friends along the way. Mostly just dreaming of making it through another week without giving up and going home. Late twenties, two degrees later, and the dreams are grander again. Publish books, study at Oxford, become a great college professor, make a difference, make a name for myself – but secretly, the despair at not having a husband and children yet wrapped its bony fingers around my soul. Diversion tactics came into play. Nothing to see here. Move along please. Look at these other big, important things I’m working on. I’m happy you see. Dreams are coming true. I don’t really want…

We lie to ourselves all of the time.

I am thirty now. I did not look forward to turning thirty. Because I had finally stopped lying to myself and accepted fully that I had (and have) deep desires that are yet unfulfilled. Now what? What must I do with these?

The answer came with struggle, with prayer and tears and long walks in the cold chill months of north Idaho winters. It came when the ground was hard and brittle, when the bare tree branches scraped against the stars.

Plant them.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24, NKJV).

We plant dreams. Place them in the ground in faith. Let them fall and slide from your fingertips. You will let them go in any case. You can give them up in faith or they can be pried from your stubborn hands, fingers cracking in the effort to retain some semblance of control. Plant your dreams and give them to the One who can give the increase. The One who sends the showers and the springs. The One who sends blossoms.

But some dreams never bloom.

Some seeds go into the ground, never to be seen again. What about those?

Receive, and be glad.

Receive. And be glad.

What do we have that we have not received? The dreams and the planting. The repentance and forgiveness. The small joys and the large victories. The heights and the depths. Our Lord gives us gifts like these and calls us to plant and plant again. And the harvest is not always what we expect.

My Lord has broken my fingers. My grasping and my striving to keep my dreams in clenched fists has been destroyed in His grace. Pried open, laid bare, I am not ashamed to confess that vanity and pride were my close companions for many years. But my Lord is a Master Gardener and He has broken up hardened soil, pruned and ploughed, watered and re-sown. When I let Him sow in me, I find that my dreams have become more modest and held with open hands.

A husband. Family. Children. An inheritance in the Lord. Good things He hasn’t given me yet. Deeply sown desires, but laid open to the rays of the sun, simply waiting for the Lord to shed His grace upon them. To make them fruitful.

Have gratitude. Receive. And be glad.

I am small. And my dreams are small. God stitches us together by means of small things – small mercies, small joys, small fruitfulness. He uses the small, foolish things of this world to put to shame the proud. When I think back on my life, complete with my many foolish dreams and petty weaknesses, I see a rich tapestry of God’s goodness and faithfulness. My childhood was stitched with crimson and shot through with starlight. My mother reading Narnia stories to me and my sister before bed. Creeping out of bed in the middle of the night to crouch by my open window and watch the moonlight on the river and listen to the howling of the coyotes echo against the mountains. My favorite corner of the old library. I can still picture where the faded green biographies of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone used to sit, the ones I’d check out over and over again.

Blankets on a trampoline on a warm summer night, stargazing with friends and talking about the future and the past and the promises of God. A field of flowers. A friend with babies. Sunset-chasing, meteor-shower-watching. Bittersweet farewells, heartbreakingly happy reunions. Death and new life and aching joints and late-night talks with roommates who confront your sin. Confession and repentance. Kind eyes and loud laughs. Weariness and good sleep and good coffee. Steam curling off a bowl of soup on a crisp autumn day. Days when everything goes right. Days when everything goes dreadfully wrong. Heartbreak and healing and heartbreak again.

“Be comforted, small one, in your smallness.”

I am not where I dreamed that I would be. And I know I am not the only one. His ways are not our ways. Praise the Lord! I would not have written my story this way. It is infinitely better than I would have planned. Even the trials that He has crafted for me. Because all of it, the heights and depths, are shaping me into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. My life is not a series of dreams coming true – it is the process of becoming true. I am being re-made into a true woman, the one that He wants me to be. With every chip of the chisel, every spade piercing earth, I am being fashioned.

How?

Accepting all things with gratitude as coming from the hand of a loving Father.

Planting dreams in hope, letting them fall to the ground and praying for a harvest.

Submitting to His will in joyful obedience in the small things. Sacrificing dreams. For I am small and this is good.

Laughing through the smallness and the joys and the sorrows and the trials. This is His will for me: gratitude and joy, obedience and fruitfulness.

I don’t have children. But I have ninety students that sit under my guidance. I have dear friend who (for some reason) ask for my advice. I have little sisters and older sisters beyond number. I have written a book. I am writing more. I’ve made meals beyond number and picked flowers for the sick and weary. I’ve been fruitful. He has made me fruitful. I’ve received and so I give. All of this is because it is He who works in me. He plants and waters and sows and weeds and tends.

So receive. And be glad.

For “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

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Faithful Obedience by Elise Warner

Elise is one of the of those women that does the hard things with a tender heart. She and her husband have been close friends to my children and they all say that she is a very special friend, a loyal friend, a godly friend. Today I’m honored to have her share with us in our series, Faithful Obedience.

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Perfect Grace and Blueberry Muffins
by Elise Warner

My whole body shivered uncontrollably as I curled up on my side, trying to position the pillow perfectly to cradle my neck without putting any pressure on the screaming nerves and muscles. My husband gently placed the heat pack on my shoulders as he has countless times over the course of our relationship. I smiled, but I wanted to cry. Not this week, Lord. Not this week. Why now? It was Josiah’s first week of medical school. And it wasn’t going according to plan.

If you were a fly on the wall of my home, you would quickly realize that I have a thing for charts. There is a wall calendar, a daily planner, a work to-do list, and an ideal daily schedule in the room with me as I write. My brain craves order. And while that is not a sin, control has often been my idol—an idol that is never satisfied and leaves me filled with anxiety as I try to predict what the next day, month, year will hold.

I was nineteen when the subtle theme of needing to surrender and trust my God became a resounding cymbal. Now I like to joke with my family that my stubborn do-it-all attitude meant God needed to slap me upside the head to stop me from running off a cliff. And he did it through a pinched nerve in my neck that set off a chain reaction leaving me bed-ridden for a short time and physically limited for, well, seven years now.

Josiah and I spent the weeks leading up to the start of medical school carefully preparing. We wrote down principles, guidelines, and (of course) schedules to help us navigate this new season. I thought we were ready. That I had everything in place to control how this week would go. I had even planned out what I needed to pack for his lunches and how I would make him blueberry muffins for his first day as a surprise breakfast item. I had everything ready, all my ducks in a row, and I was going to make starting school easy for my husband.

Instead, I spent the first three days in worst pain than I have been in for over a year—exhausted, unable to stomach much food, barely able to hold my five month old without feeling sick. I got behind in my Bible reading—little boxes left unchecked. The idea of blueberry muffins was laughable. I needed my husband to put our daughter down, rock her, play with her while his pile of schoolwork loomed large on the desk in our room.

Thursday I woke up feeling physically better. Spiritually, I was grumpy. I struggled to pray out my frustration, to confess my anxiety, to find gratitude, to believe that the Lord could work through me. How can I be a good mom if I can’t even play with my daughter? How can I be a good wife, run a hospitable home, bake those stupid muffins if I am so easily debilitated? I grudgingly opened my Bible, knowing that I needed to preach truth to myself. I checked my reading plan to see what I needed to catch up on. 2 Corinthians.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10

How gracious is our Lord? He uses my small trial to topple my idol over and over. And when I come back to him broken, frustrated, and confused—he always meets me and reminds me of the kind of God I am learning to surrender to. His grace is always enough. He will do far more with my weakness than I can ever do with my plans and schedules. He is my strength, my shield, my keeper, my redeemer. And when he demands that I surrender and trust him, he is doing it for my own good so that he can bring me more and more into the light of His glory. To surrender to him is to be made strong.

I don’t know if my head injury will ever be healed—if I will ever be able to play a game of volleyball or go on a run without meeting pain the next morning or if I will ever be able to do a small morning workout without wondering if it will throw my daily plans out the window. I wish that I could entirely predict what will cause a horrible episode like this week. I pray that one day it will simply be gone. But even more than I wish for healing, I wish that I never forgot His promises. I wish that I could wake up one day and never doubt His goodness, never question whether I really should trust Him. I pray that I will be a woman filled with peace and freedom, knowing that my God is in control. My flesh and heart fail me daily. But God’s grace. God’s grace never fails and never runs out. It meets me in my need through His Word, pointing me outward and upward towards Him. It meets me in my daughter and husband and all the gifts I have to rejoice in. It meets me in medicine and doctors and heat packs. When I faithfully open my eyes to find his grace, it overwhelms every aspect of my life. Even in blueberry muffins baked just a few days late.

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Don’t know where to find a plan that will help you start, keep up, and finish reading the Bible? Find us here! We would love for you to join us!

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