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Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

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I was talking to a few aliens the other day–little green guys from outer space–trying to explain some earth-phenomena, since life in their galaxy is so different from ours.

First, a bit of background to explain what prompted the conversation.

Elena, our two-year old granddaughter, and I were exploring the church grounds across the street from her house.  She loves looking for treasures: sticks, stones, acorns, leaves, etc.

 

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On this particular day I noticed the oak trees sporting chubby little buds. Another pair of trees were bursting with bud-clusters, ready to explode into bright pink finery.

Elena and I inspected the juvenile growth. I tried to explain what would soon happen. But with no remembrance of last spring, her understanding was no doubt very limited. I might as well be explaining this to an alien, I thought.

That’s when my imagination kicked in.

What if inhabitants from another galaxy did come to visit Earth? And what if they had never seen buds or seeds before?  Imagine trying to educate them on the process of germination…

“Now, inside this seed is the beginning of life. If we plant it in soil, making sure to choose a sunny spot, and we shower it with water when the weather doesn’t supply rain, it will grow into a plant, bush, or tree.”

They look at me with doubt in their big, round eyes.

“I know it seems impossible. The seed is just a small, lifeless speck.  But I can tell you, having seen it happen repeatedly, that’s what seeds do.”

So the little green guys and I plant the seed in a sunny spot and shower it with water.

A few moments later, one of them wants to dig it up to see the first signs of life.

“Oh, no,” I explain. “It takes time for the water to seep into the seed and for the miracle of germination to take place. But believe me. If we come back in a week or ten days, there will be a little green shoot coming up out of the soil in that very spot.”

 

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They like the idea of green, but shake their little round heads in disbelief.

I have to admit.  The progression of tiny seeds to plants, much less tall trees, does sound ludicrous.

And yet that’s exactly what God does.

Sometimes our lives resemble brown, lifeless seeds. There is no sign of hope that circumstances might change for the better.

Sometimes we think it’s too late for a reversal of destiny. It seems our best, productive years are behind us.

Not so fast.

Consider George*, our friend who has retired.  Twice. During his first career, George worked his way up in law enforcement to chief of police; his second career, associate pastor. Ten years or so later, he and his wife moved north to be near family.  When the boxes were unpacked and the pictures hung on the walls, George sat down and thought, Now what? I’m not ready to park on the porch and drink iced tea. What can I do, Lord?

No immediate answer.

 

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One day George went golfing with his brother-in-law. They were paired with two more men at the course, to make a foursome. One just happened to be a high-ranking officer on the police force. As George and Tom* became acquainted, Tom expressed how they needed a chaplain on the force to minister to the officers. Stress was high, their jobs becoming more and more difficult as the years passed.

George’s heart started beating faster. A chaplain to police? Could this be the answer to his prayer? It would almost be like a merger of his first two careers into one challenging and fulfilling third career.

Yes, it was. For the next five or six years, George served as chaplain of police in his new community, impacting hundreds of lives in the name of Jesus.

We’ve all known people whose circumstances looked as promising as brown, lifeless seeds. Yet God caused miraculous change, and the lives of those folks burgeoned into glorious fruitfulness.

We can learn like those little aliens of my imagination. We can feed our hope by feasting on the miraculous springtime evidence around us. We can wait with confident expectation for the fulfillment of God’s plan.

And if hope seems all but gone, we can cling to the Source of hope.

 

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(“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”–Romans 15:13.)

 

*Names have been changed.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.dreamstime.com; http://www.brilliantbotany.com; http://www.imagkid.com; http://www.allposters.fr.; http://www.slideteam.net.)

 

 

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 (Photo from http://www.trulia.com.)

“There it is, Mom, “ Steve remarked, as he pointed to a little white house in the middle of a city block. “That’s where we lived when I was growing up.”

“Oh, yes,” she replied. But did Mom really remember?

We were on an excursion through Columbus, Ohio, taking Steve’s mother past the landmarks of her life. Alzheimer’s disease had already stolen away much of her vibrancy and warmth, and, of course, her memory.

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Steve drove by West High School and continued his commentary. “That’s where we all went to school, you, Dad, Karen, and me. You were the very first homecoming queen.  How about that?  No wonder Dad asked you out.”

She murmured assent to Steve’s comments, but added nothing of her own.

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We drove past the brick ranch they built out in the country in 1966. Horses used to reside beyond the back fence. Just a few houses had dotted the area back then. By this time, however, they had been swallowed up by dozens more. The saplings Mom and Dad had planted were now tall shade trees.  And the glorious flower beds and window boxes that Mom had tended were gone. She registered no recollection.

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But when we approached her childhood home, a white Dutch Colonial on a quiet street, all of a sudden she perked up.  Pointing to a second-story window, Mom stated firmly, “That was my room, right up there.”

In the midst of the fog that is Alzheimer’s, one memory–one glimmer of light–shone through that morning. Steve and I almost gasped at the wonder of the moment. Mom remembered!

And the rarity of her memories pointed to the preciousness of this ability. Memory is a gift to be treasured. The older I grow, the more I appreciate the miraculous power of the brain to store millions of memories—with astounding detail–and yet access a particular one in a mille-second.

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Not only do sights trigger memories, but also smells. Researchers say this sense is the most powerful memory-inducer. For me, the aroma of fresh-baked bread always takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen.

Sounds trigger memories as well—particularly music. Tastes and textures work the same phenomenon.

But surely God had more purpose in mind for giving us memory than the pleasant pastime of reminiscing.

Indeed.

Memories foster gratitude, as we contemplate God’s goodness to us in the past:

  • His countless blessings (even when we haven’t been a blessing to him).
  • Those times he led us through the shadow of death, so that we might experience more completely the glory of his light.
  • Moments when we almost gave up hope, and God surprised us with his creative, abundant provision.
  • Leaving behind what we once were and celebrating what we have become, solely because of his Son, Jesus.

Memories foster faith, as we remember how God has met our needs in the past. See if each phrase from Psalm 103 doesn’t trigger a memory in your mind, and a song of praise in your heart:

“Oh, my soul, bless God,

Don’t forget a single blessing!

He forgives your sins—every one.

He heals your diseases—every one.

He redeems you from hell—saves your life!

He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.

He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal…

…God makes everything come out right.

He puts victims back on their feet…

…God is sheer mercy and grace;

Not easily angered, he’s rich in love.

He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve,

Nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.

(Psalm 103:2-10, The Message)

Memories inform the present and provide hope for the future. As we meditate on all those times God has wrapped us in his goodness (v. 5), we are strengthened for what we face today. As we consider the many times he made everything come out right (v. 6), we can trust he will continue to make our paths straight.

Of course, there are some memories we would like to erase—those that generate sadness, hurt, or regret. How do we deal with those? Here are a few suggestions I’ve collected over the years:

  1. We must resist self-pity—even in our thought life. Nowhere in scripture do we read that rehashing the negative is therapeutic. God’s way is to focus on the positive (Philippians 4:8).

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  1. We can follow Paul’s example. He forgot what was in his past and pressed on to what lay ahead (Philippians 3:13). Not that amnesia had set in. Paul simply did not allow past failures to cripple his relationship with God and his service for God. God had forgiven and forgotten; Paul did too. No doubt he applied Philippians 4:8, not only to self-pity, but also to guilt. 
  1. We can leave the past in God’s hands. Oswald Chambers said it so well:

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(“Leave the irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him”

–My Utmost for His Highest, Dec. 31.)

 

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Father, I do thank you for the gift of memories—the ability to remember with joy and appreciation the people, places, and experiences of the past. I even thank you for the not-so-good memories, knowing that you use every difficult situation for the development of my maturity (James 1:2-3). And may I take advantage of the wisdom gained in the past to guide me in the present, and lead me into the Irresistible Future with you.

 

Art & Photo credits:  www.trulia.com; http://www.westhighalumni.com; Steve’s photo collection; http://www.allrecipes.com; http://www.god.com; http://www.pinterest.com.

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Abby has prayed for years that her estranged son would come home.

Stacie has faced the loss of one job and a stressful transition to another–with a broken leg.

Jack has worked hard to qualify for a prized promotion, but the boss’s unpleasant nephew was awarded the position instead.

Tricia can’t seem to shake a gray cloud of despondency, ever since her fiancé broke off their engagement.

Kate goes through the motions at church and even continues with her quiet time. But God seems to have distanced himself. She hasn’t sensed his presence for weeks.

These circumstances and more can cause a downward spiral in our spirits, as debilitating emotions take over–emotions like frustration, anger, hurt, worry, and depression. If we feed these emotions with negative thoughts, our faith in God begins to falter.

The devil’s lies begin to sound like truth:

  • So much time has passed; God is never going to answer your prayer.
  • Bad things keep happening; God has obviously abandoned you.
  • God doesn’t care about your life. Otherwise, why would he allow you to fail?
  • They say God offers love, hope, peace, and joy. Right. None of it is coming your way.
  • It looks like God has forsaken you and to make matters worse, you don’t even know why.

Is it possible to fight against such feelings and fortify our faith? Oh, yes!

Our fight begins with truth—straight from God’s Word. We have to choose fact over feelings—just like a pilot does, as he flies through miles of thick clouds. In order to stay on course, he can’t trust what he feels is proper speed, direction, and altitude; he has to rely on the facts presented by his instruments.

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So what scriptural truths might help us maintain our spiritual equilibrium? There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of passages that address our various needs with pinpoint perfection.

Other scriptures provide broad-sweeping truth that covers almost any situation. One example:

“The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.  The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:13-14).

If we read the Bible with the intent of finding applicable truth for our circumstance, we will not be disappointed.

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(“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us.  And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled”–Romans 15:4, NLT.)

 Now the question is: Are we going to take God at his word and then act upon it?

Hebrews 11 gives us a line-up of faith-stars who did just that–based their actions on faith, not feelings.

By faith Noah built at ark (v. 7).   He did not allow feelings of inadequacy to stop him.

By faith Abraham left home with no notion of where he was going (v. 8). He did not allow fear of the unknown to deter him from following God’s direction.

By faith, the parents of Baby Moses hid him from Pharaoh. They did not allow fear of punishment to stop them. “They were not afraid of the king’s edict” (v. 23).

By faith the people of Israel marched around Jericho seven times, even though it didn’t make sense (v. 30).

Bottom line: Faith is the exercise of our minds, based on the stable truth of God’s Word, in spite of what we might feel. Emotions are just the unreliable, fluctuating condition of our minds (J. Clarke, http://www.writtentreasures.org).

On the other hand, God doesn’t ask us to ignore our feelings. Job, David, and the prophets honestly expressed frustration, fear, disappointment, and discouragement. But they didn’t allow their emotions to cripple them.

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Also worth noting:  None of these faithful people were perfect, yet God honored their faith.  He doesn’t need perfect people to accomplish his purpose, just willing and faithful ones.

 

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Forgive me, Lord, for allowing feelings to impact my faith, to weaken my trust in you. Together with you, may I fit every thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.  Thank you for listening and offering encouragement as I confess to you my feelings.  You even supply strength, peace, and hope.  And finally, I praise you that you preserve the faithful. I am secure in you.  In fact, you, my all-powerful God, are security itself.      

(2 Corinthians 10:5, MSG; Psalm 10:17; Psalm 29:11; Psalm 31:23.)

Art & Photo credits:  www.hem-of-his-garment-bible-study.org; www. pbase.com; http://www.scentoffaith.com; http://www.pinterest.com.

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Several weeks ago, in a post entitled, “Autumn Blaze,” I wrote about the glorious colors of fall foliage. The title was borrowed from a line of poetry by Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885): “The land is lit with autumn blaze.”

As most of you know, Steve and I lived in Florida for forty years. We retired in June to Ohio, so we could be near two of our three children and their families. In many ways our transition has been a homecoming because both of us grew up in the Midwest.

One of the things we missed most while living in the south was “autumn blaze.”  All through last summer I waited expectantly for October and the display of God’s rich tapestry among the trees.

But those of you who live in four-season states know only too well: the blaze is quickly snuffed out by northerly winds and chilly temperatures. By mid-November, many trees have already been stripped of every leaf.

And now those bare, bleak branches stand pitifully exposed, reaching uselessly toward the sun for warmth. The splendorous color is gone; dingy gray-brown bark is all we see. The trees stand lifeless. Hopeless.

If I’m not careful, such sad thoughts will lead me into the doldrums.

A better train of thought to follow? Reasons to appreciate this dormant stage of the trees. For example: When the leaves are gone, I can appreciate the delicate lace work of branches, hidden from view except in winter.   They too demonstrate the creative genius of our God.

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However, when numerous bare trees huddle together on a hillside, the individual branches are indistinguishable. Our younger son and daughter-in-law enjoy a hillside view from their kitchen window–in spring, summer, and early fall, that is. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the trees were ablaze, dressed in autumn finery.

Now the scene is much different. Look out that window today and you’d be underwhelmed by the great swath of drab dullness. Time to close the curtains.

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But wait. What if we look at that sad scene and think HOPE. Because we know what’s in store.

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn” (Hal Borland).

Winter is a time of rest, recuperation, and preparation. When warmth and light return in the spring, new life will burst forth in all creation. Guaranteed.

Those lifeless branches can remind us of another HOPE. Because we know that the God who brings life to dead trees can redeem any situation. Guaranteed.

“Oh? What basis is there for such grand HOPE?” someone might ask.

  1. We base our HOPE on God’s love.

 Absolutely nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:39). And if he loves us, he will care for us. “With God on our side, how can we lose?” (v. 32, MSG).

HOPE in our loving God is not misguided.

  1. We base our HOPE on God’s character.

I love Psalm 145, the only one called “a psalm of praise,” in which David extols God’s character. Our Lord is great (v.3), gracious, good, and compassionate (vs. 8-9), glorious and mighty (v. 11), righteous and kind (v. 17).

These are not descriptors of a distant god who takes no interest in his creatures. Our God is a hands-on Heavenly Father who demonstrates all these glorious attributes–in our day-to-day lives. The Lord is always watching over us (v. 20).

HOPE in our powerful God is not just wishful thinking.

  1. We base our HOPE in God’s promises.

“The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made” (Psalm 145:13).

HOPE in our reliable God is not blind optimism.

Christian HOPE is the trusting expectation that God will keep his Word.

This may sound strange, but let’s look to the bare trees for encouragement. See them as glorious HOPE on display! And let’s live in cheerful expectation of God’s plan, purpose, and blessing for the future.

(Photo credits:  www.staticweb.maine.edu; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org; http://www.terragalleria.com.)

 

 

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“Save for a rainy day,” financial experts advise.  And they’re right.  It is smart to have funds set aside in case of emergency.

But we would also be wise to save up for another kind of rainy day:

  • The day great disappointment shatters our joy
  • The day the doctor begins a consult by saying, “I’m terribly sorry, but…”
  • The day a loved one calls with disturbing news

What could we possibly save up that would help in such circumstances?

Consider: monetary deposits in a bank account insulate us against financial emergencies.

Similarly, we can make faith-statement deposits into our soul-accounts, to insulate us against life’s emergencies.  A healthy soul-account offers peace of mind, confidence, and a sense of well-being.

The most valuable faith statements are those straight from scripture, since the Bible is our source of truth.

Statements such as these are worthy starting points:

  • God is with me, even in the midst of trial.

“Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10).

  • God is my stronghold in time of trouble, offering help and deliverance.

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.  The Lord helps them and delivers them” (Psalm 37:39-40).

  • He will supply all my needs.

“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

 

Sometimes God makes deposits in our soul-accounts through other reading.  Here are a few examples I’ve collected:

  • “God makes good things out of the hard times.” – Erica Hale
  • “Difficulties are sent to make us grow. Move from complaining to proclaiming what God is doing through the problem. Remind yourself, for every Calvary, there is an Easter.” – Barbara Johnson
  • “When we understand that life is not about us, we learn to overlook the trivial and fix our gaze on the eternal. What is an offense compared to His love? What is a rejection compared to His unconditional acceptance? What is a momentary trial compared to an eternity with Him?” – Emmanuelle Gomez

 

Faith statement deposits also come through experiences, such as:

  • The spontaneous hug of a good friend who knows of our struggles. That’s God’s way of assuring us…

…We are not alone.

  • An answered prayer—and the answer is far beyond what we asked for. That’s God’s way of showing us…

…His love and blessing never fail, even in the midst of difficulty.

  • A transformed spirit through worship.  Worry becomes faith. Fear becomes courage. Depression becomes gladness. That proves…

…The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 4:8).

 

Faith-statements, deposited in our souls even before we have need of them, provide a deep, sweet sense of security.

When difficulties arise, and the time comes to make withdrawals, we can praise God for each truth. Praise will fill our hearts with song and drown out the voices of worry and fear.

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Your faithfulness, O God, is unwavering and unfailing.   Oh, how I want to be faithful to you, especially during difficult circumstances.  You have provided the tools.  I praise you for the deposits your Spirit makes into my soul account, offering solace, perspective, strength, and wisdom.   Help me to avail myself of your gracious provision.  

 

(Photo credit:  www.dailyfinance.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We sat on the runway, awaiting take-off clearance for our flight. Low, thick clouds hung above us, shrouding the area in gloom. Folks in the plane sat quietly in their seats. Really quiet. Not very many smiles either. The oppressive bleakness outside seemed to cause a depressive state inside.

Finally we felt the plane move, pick up speed, and lift off the ground. In seconds the view out our windows was obliterated by the gray-white clouds. We could see absolutely nothing, as if curtains had been drawn outside the windows. Was the plane even moving? There was no way to tell, except for the loud drone of the engines and the upward angle of the plane.

Suddenly we escaped the cloud bank and were almost blinded by the brilliant sun. Some people turned off the overhead lights, others closed their window blinds against the glare.

As a result of the bright light, the atmosphere changed inside the plane. The dark mood of moments before turned to cheer. Some passengers shifted in their seats, sitting up a bit straighter. Soft chatter, even a few chuckles, peppered the air.

What a difference sunlight makes.

The physiological connection between sunlight and mood has been studied by scientists. They’ve determined that sunlight increases the production of serotonin in the brain, which is tied to wakefulness and feeling happy.

Those of us who know God can experience another source of light – his light — even when the dark clouds of trouble roll in (Psalm 18:28).  The benefits are incredible.

1.  “In [his] light we see light” (Psalm 36:9b). As we practice God’s presence and live according to the directions of his Word, we see the wisdom of his ways. We also become more aware of God’s glorious attributes shining into our lives—his power, loving kindness, grace, and more.

2.  “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength” (Psalm 89:15-17a).

Take note. God is righteous. Everything he does is good and right, absolutely perfect.

Did you catch that amazing statement at the end?  Our God of Light is our glory. He is magnificent, full of splendor, and grandeur, yet he is our Heavenly Father!  Could any state of circumstances be more incredible?

God is the source of all strength. Think of it. The all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God of the universe is on our side—all the time. He is completely, forever committed to us, until that day we see him in all his glory, our King of kings!

3.  “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear” (Psalm 27:1)?

Consider what dark clouds might symbolize in our circumstances: stress, problems, fear, and sorrow.

Now consider what the Lord of Light brings to us: guidance, wisdom, joy, provision, comfort, grace, and peace.

He is light within us and around us.

Sometimes when a thick cloud bank of difficulty settles over our lives, we think God has abandoned us. But take note of these wise words:

 

“Measure not God’s love and favor by your own feeling.

The sun shines as clearly on the darkest day as it does in the brightest.

The difference is not in the sun,

but in some clouds which hinder the manifestation of the light thereof”

– Richard Sibbes (Anglican theologian, 1577-1635).

 

Praise God for his glorious constancy!

 

 

(Photo credit:  www.vision.cs.uiuc.edu.)

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I am a person of roots and routine. Are you?

Do you grieve when it’s time to leave one community for another, because emotional attachments have grown deep?

Do you take comfort in familiar routine, because you can move forward with confidence?

Then you’ll understand this statement: I am a person who struggles with change.

So this post is for me, to review what I know about accepting–even celebrating–change. You’re welcome to read over my shoulder.

First and foremost: I need to be selective of vocabulary, even in my thoughts. Thoughts impact attitudes; attitudes impact soul and spirit. For example:

  • Instead of change, I need to speak of the circumstances as an adventure.
  • Instead of problem, I should say possibility.
  • Instead of challenge, I can call the situation an opportunity.

Such a small commitment, really. But retooling my word-choices could have a profound impact on my spirit.

First, the change I don’t want to embrace takes on a glowing, new aura when I rename it adventure—the adventure of participating with God to bring about his good purpose (Romans 8:28). Such thinking would surely foster excitement!

Second, the problem I see is nothing compared to the possibilities God is capable of. “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams” (Ephesians 3:20, The Message)! As I consider the possibilities, hope and anticipation will flourish.

Third, the challenge I find so uncomfortable will undoubtedly provide opportunity to see God’s power and provision at work. Perhaps I’ll witness a whole string of God-engineered events. Or, the power and provision may occur in me, as he molds my personality and spirit into a more Christ-like version. (That is even more miraculous!) And who would turn aside from seeing—even participating in—a miracle?

It begins with my words.

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This might sound strange to some, but thank you, Father, for the uncomfortable changes, challenges, and disappointments you’ve brought into my life. Not one of them was without purpose. Forgive me for the times I have fretted about how circumstances would turn out. How easy it is for me to forget that you hold all things in your hands.

May I anticipate the adventure, the possibilities, and the opportunities of each day, NO MATTER WHAT, because you are by my side–my all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving God. Thank you for the promise that you WILL fill me completely with joy and peace as I trust in you.  Then I can overflow with hope (Romans 15:13).

(Photo credit:  www.desiremercy.wordpress.com.)

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