Day 20: Kingdom Spreading in Concentric Circles

I’m starting a new job today, Director of Soul Care at Holy Cross Anglican Cathedral here in Loganville, GA. It’s just 10 hours a week but I’m fantastically excited. I get to do exactly what I love to do best: lead people into the presence of Jesus.  I’ll be encouraging the good work already going on, building up the lay who are doing visitations, doing some pastoral care myself and starting healing care groups here in Loganville over the next few months. Here’s the family picture we took just this last week on our porch swing for Holy Cross’ website:

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I’ll keep writing this series, 31 days to Fall in Love with Your Zip Code, but perhaps a bit more slowly. I’m a slow writer anyways. I need to marinade, listen, and wrestle before anything of value finds its way to the page.

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This is a post from two February’s ago…but one which is so central to my theology of the home, that it keeps coming up in every series I write. It is the basis of the next 10 days of our series:

 

Our Christmas tree is still up.  Scratch that.  There is an evergreen tree with dry green needles propped up in the corner of our living room.  Our tree is still dressed with white sparkly lights casting a golden glow up the ceiling, but now there’s a difference.  It’s had a makeover.  Now the tree wears heart-shaped paper doilies, red ribbon garland and valentine hearts.  We’ll keep it up for Valentine’s this week, then I promise I’ll throw the dry thing out on the curb next Sunday night.  Promise.

This was six year old Madeline and my doing.  Saturday afternoon Xavier napped for a solid two hours and Madeline and I gathered red and white construction paper (she’s off pink), scissors and twine onto the coffee table.  We slid our fingers down the paper to crease it, cut out red hearts, punched out small white ones for a garland and all of this while recounting the story of Jesus’ love.  We fingered a long first-century looking nail hidden in the center of the tree and talked aloud about why it still fit on our love tree.  We chatted nonchalantly about how she could feel strong knowing she was loved by Jesus, that she is a daughter of the Most High God, his special girl.  Seeds were planted, little kingdom seeds.

I’ve got a small window and I know it.

 

I have a small window where this precious girl is good soil for the seed of the Word.

 

I have a small window and any ministry I do MUST start here.

 

KINGDOM spreading starts at home.

 

Paul gives hints to Timothy on how to locate an overseer and instructs: watch him with his family.  Has he been faithful managing those closest to him? If he has been wise with those close, he may be able to handle a wider concentric circle. (1 Timothy 3:1-5)  No more neglected marriages and families “sacrificed” for the Kingdom.  It’s just not Biblical. No more believing that God will take care of our families if we take care of His work. We are invited to plant the kingdom deep into the ground right at home.

 

Let’s start right here.

 

If the Kingdom is like a mustard seed, spreading branches into our world, the Reign of God will saturate our marriages, lift up our children, heal our extended families, provide shade for the neighborhood.

 

If the Kingdom of God is like yeast, it will expand across the city block through the streets of our town, broadcast into and out of houses and workplaces.  Jesus is always with us and when the Kingdom of heaven has been welcomed and come near, we can’t hold Him back, He WILL spread. Good news is like that.

 

When salvation comes to us, an earthquake of resurrection life rocks us fierce, tremors extending for a lifetime. The plates of our life shift and we push up and out.  The Holy Spirit begins to spread Isaiah 61 healing, cuts out cancerous lies, reorients our eyes, opens doors where we have been held captive.

 

I close my eyes and see the brass processional cross come down firm on the ground of our life here at the yellow cottage and pray the power of God spreads out from that epicenter…in concentric circles

 

As we are transformed, we begin to be an epicenter of the Kingdom…rooted right where we are.

 

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We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved five states south and are loving the warm October but riding the ups and downs of a major transition. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.

 

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Day 18: Be Content

I grew up believing I would be a missionary. After feeding on thick books about Amy Carmichael and Hudson Taylor, I buckled seat belts on as many planes as possible and headed to Gabon, West Africa, Albania, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Tibet.

 

I learned to fall in love with people while dancing the salsa in an upstairs cafe in Ecuador, while looking into jet black faces with shiny white smiles, and while trying to learn Spanish one “como se dice” at a time.

 

And I learned to love people while looking into the eyes of the Buddhist monk in Tibet. He invited us into his cell and served us Tang out of a small, metal thermos. Mine had a large black fly swimming in the middle. He quickly turned around and flicked it out and then offered it back to me with a smile. Andrew played soccer with the younger monks in their long red robes in an open space in the middle of their buildings. They kept reaching down and rewinding the fabric as it slipped.

 

But sometimes it’s easier to love the exotic “other” rather than the neighbor who shares a fence.

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In seminary Andrew and I went to Myanmar/Burma for six weeks with a professor and I was surprised to find that now just six weeks was too long. I missed the familiar cheeseburger and now dreamed about a home to bring babies home from the hospital to. However, when we bought the yellow cottage and I woke up early and went to sleep late with the babies, I now craved the unknown of adventure, the red dirt streets of a faraway marketplace, the bowl of noodles with chopsticks.

 

My mind had been captured in a web of discontent.

 

Out of seminary, six years of ministry and two babies later, I started intuiting that the pattern of discontent, my constant proclivity to look for “greener pastures,” was tied to the drag of depression. I had become familiar with its grasping power and it was time to put discontent away. Searching for the key, I turned to my concordance with the word “content” and then Philippians 4:10-14. There I read Paul had grasped what I knew I needed to learn. He wrote: “I have learned the secret of being content” but I had learned no such secret.  All I knew was a gnawing fantasy world that was never satisfied.

 

The secret to a joy-filled life lays deep in the recesses of a hard won contentment.  It cannot be taught. It will never be caught. It can only be learned. It can only be chosen. I was going to need that secret if I would ever learn to love my zipcode.

 

Paul embarrasses our efforts when he writes in chains, (Phil 4:12-14): “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

 

Paul’s secret? “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

 

Our secret? We can choose to love this zip code leaning heavy on the strength of Christ,

 

  • who chose earth when he could have stayed enthroned in heaven,
  • who chose to eat at the table with sinners when he could have eaten in political comfort,
  • who chose service when he could have chosen power,
  • who chose death when he could have worn a crown,
  • who chose to fall in love with an unworthy people, walk their streets, touch their leprosy, use the earth’s mud to set their eyes free to see glory. 

 

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In Linda Dillow’s book, Calm My Anxious Heart, the author recounts the story of a missionary wife named Ella Spees, who worked beside her husband in primitive conditions with the pygmies in Africa for 52 years. Ella’s journal was found after her death along with this prescription for contentment:

 

  1. Never allow yourself to complain about anything–not even the weather.
  2. Never picture yourself in any other circumstance or someplace else.
  3. Never compare your lot with another’s.
  4. Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
  5. Never dwell on tomorrow–remember that tomorrow is God’s, not ours.

 

As we choose this new zip code, we beg for an enlarged heart, for the strength of a Christ who chose service and did not demand impossible perfection. We choose to look into the eyes of our next-door neighbor with grace and beckon with invitation. We choose to eat out of the hands of God who ALWAYS gives good things because He Is Good.

 

We choose the daily yes of contentment.

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Action: Keep filling up the pages of your thanksgiving list. Keep writing line after line. Nature abhors a vacuum and though we start recognizing and journaling the patterns of discontent, we need to fill the emptiness with something new, something good. Also from Philippians 4, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

 

Today Hunt Beauty. Give thanks.

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We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.

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Day 17: Thank

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It was summer in South Haven, MI. Life was full of fresh blueberries, Kilwin’s ice cream, and white pizza from Venezia brought down to the beach to watch the sunset, but I couldn’t taste any of it. A conflict was escalating in our small church plant and so was my anxiety. I lived, breathed, and slept tense, shoulders tight to my ears.

 

Our parish was struggling financially and everyone felt responsible. That summer anxiety played itself out in an argument of hurricane proportions. We wondered daily if a gust would slam shut our doors. People chose sides. Others chose to fume in secret but could no longer look us in the eye.   These were people we had loved for nine years, who had loved us. Our livelihood was at stake. God’s harvest in that town was being tested.

 

That summer I read Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.  I read it one small mobile page at a time and then downloaded the audio version on my phone so I could have Ann’s poetic rhythm of grace spoken over me. I listened while driving our minivan to and from the beach, while running on a treadmill, and while putting together a casserole for my family.  Soon I began writing my first thanksgiving list. I still have it:

1. Baby boy curls

2. Gentle breeze rustling maple leaves at the park

3. Static hair on yellow plastic slides

4. My son feeling the texture of a hosta leaf between his fingers

5. Nap

6. A book that is leading me straight into the heart of all You’ve been teaching me.

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At first, it felt rote and awkward but just a few days later I was shocked as it began healing my fixation on the conflict.  All of a sudden I could taste my food again, smell the sandy hair of my children after a day playing in the sand. Anxiety was no longer undoing me.  I began to live slowly and more present, searching for joy moments, then turning back around to thank the Giver. I remember holding onto that simple list as if it was holding together my world. Every night I would review the list and hold on tight. First thing in the morning I would reread it. Joy built to a crescendo thanksgiving upon thanksgiving, full feast after full feast.

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Six weeks later we witnessed a miracle. Not only was the conflict healed, but we saw the glory of God brought on by a season of humility and true repentance. That next sunday we had a true, Biblical passing of the peace, with tears and hugs and Tenth Avenue North’s This is Where the Healing Begins. We witnessed heaven touch down in the cafeteria of the middle school where we met.

 

A year later when we began to sense the Lord was moving us out of that beloved people, I began to listen to Ann’s chapter 8 on trust and how the written thanksgivings can become a bridge from one unknown to another.  The thanksgivings, Ann said, could become the planks we walk on…one solid simple gift of God after another.

 

This weekend I began scrawling down thanks, one at a time. Again, that small shift occurred. I began to return to joy as once again I began to taste and see that God is good.

 

This weekend I gave thanks for:

1. The cushions on the pews at Holy Cross (don’t laugh…they’re seriously fantastic!)

2. Xavier’s teachers who cause him to strut into school every morning

3. Geese honking in long “V”

4. Toast with ricotta and orangemarmalade

5. Caedmon kneeling for the confession on his own

6. The gift of a bag of granny smiths turned into fresh apple cake

7. Night jumping on the trampoline

8. Bird chatter

9. Madeline’s invitation to a neighborhood tea party

10. hike on the Chatahoochee (pic by Maddie)

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Action: What are you thankful for, my friends? Might I suggest you join me (and Ann) in this writing down of gifts.

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We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.

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Day 15: Rebuild

Like the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time, our lives after a move are in various states of disrepair. We can’t figure out how all the rocks fit into our new schedules and so everything feels a bit haphazard, chaotic. We’re catching meals instead of making them. Our prayer life feels awkward and anemic. Even our turns around the grocery store aisles take longer because we can’t find where they put their crackers. It’s similar to any major life change, one that upends our schedules.

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When we skimp on our necessities, we end up getting cheated. The consequences are that we lack the emotional stamina to withstand the emotional onslaught. We are vulnerable, and fragile, our emotions smacking us around. We need to rebuild our protection.

 

Here’s MY list of necessities in no particular order and how I’m doing:

  • Healthy food? Sometimes.
  • Sleep? Sometimes
  • Exercise? Barely.
  • Scripture and prayer? Sometimes.
  • Sabbath time? Almost never.
  • Time to listen and receive from God? Barely.
  • Deep connections with a friend? Every once in a while.
  • Spiritual director? Not yet.

 

When our walls are down, we should not be surprised when we are taken out easily.  “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)

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We have to repair the walls to protect the heart.

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Action: List your necessities and prioritize. Work on rebuilding one section of the wall at a time.  Give yourself huge amounts of grace. Wait on the Lord for wisdom. Don’t use a backhoe or bulldozer, just life one small rock upon another.

 

We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.

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Day 12: Get Real

When you packed up that UHaul you carried more than just your tan couch up the ramp, you brought along other baggage too: grief, anxiety, anger, and possibly fear. Moving changes everything. Psychologists say it can disturb the deepest foundations underneath your identity. Everything feels unstable and vulnerable: your job and sense of purpose, your community and sense of belonging, even where you would find your late night gallon of milk.

 

You, my friend, were not meant to carry all that extra weight into your new life.  Today, I give you permission to unpack those heavy boxes.

 

Every loss requires a corresponding grieving period; every dream deserves the dignity of a burial.

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Terry Wardle in his book, Healing Care, Healing Prayer connects dealing with our emotions to archery,

“Expressing emotions is like shooting an arrow. The internal energy created from deep wounding is expelled when an individual releases the feelings of hurt. Such release may be initially difficult, but it enables one to rise up and function appropriately once again. Certainly the intensity of feeling and length of grieving varies with each wound; but expressing the motional turmoil is both positive and healthy. However, when the emotions are killed, denied or stuffed, the powerful energy remains trapped within the individual. This ongoing tension often leads to levels of breakdown. Unexpressed feelings eventually produce symptoms of ill health in a person’s body, mind and spirit. When the breakdown does occur, a person may not initially realize what has happened. But the truth is that a lifetime of stuffing has ultimately fractured their lives.”

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The good news? Our cries are welcomed, not rejected.

 

Psalm 116 has a beautiful picture of our Holy Listener:

I love the Lord, because he has heard
    my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
    therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

 

What glorious imagery! His ear is not only available, He is leaning down toward us, focused on the unique timbre of our voice, listening for our cry.

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The truth is that your future ability to love freely in this new land will be determined by how well you unpack your grief. Listen to your slowly simmering emotions. Name them. Then, like the Psalmist who knew the power of the uncensored lament, send it straight to Christ. Send it straight to the cross.  He is the only One who can bear our grief and carry our sorrows. (Isaiah 53:4)

 

Tomorrow we’ll get even more practical. With Day 13 we will learn the how to’s of lamenting like David.

 

Want more? Find it here and here.

 

We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together.

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Day 9: Play

Moving is hard, slogging work: new relationships, new rules, new horizons, and the daily mixture of grief and joy. You have been hard at work, my friend.

 

Today toss “have to” aside and travel on over to the side of your brain where play resides.

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Put on your favorite dance tunes and slide over the hardwood floors in your socks. Go to the art store and pick up new watercolor supplies. Go to a concert and lose yourself in the string section, saunter slowly around the paths of a park, or just pile magazines on your bed to peruse with a warm cafe au lait in your hands. Push a canoe paddle through the water, make a new recipe, pick up forgotten handiwork, take in a new movie (one acclaimed for children). Go to the dollar store and buy bubbles.

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Enter in.  Often go to the park with your kids and sit on a bench, perusing your facebook while the children play? Today, enter in. Swing beside your little guy. Follow her up the ladder into a world up in the trees. Put on your tennis shoes get out onto the field and kick the ball.

 

Enter in with all your senses. Plant your feet in the sand. Make bread. Visit a gardening store, smell and dream.

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134creative threadsmud play Caedmon

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Today, you have permission to forget the boxes still piled in the corner of the living room and walk out the door. Today we play.

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We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together.

 

 

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Day 6: Home Base

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Every new exploration needs a home base but when we are struggling to put down roots, sometimes we neglect ours out of rebellion. I don’t mean that in not creating home we are sinning against the homemaking gods, but sometimes in our grieving we can live shallow, in hope that it won’t hurt as much if we have to pull those roots back up.  Today, make homemaking a step toward trusting the God who is watching over the seeds of your future.  Say “yes” to home.

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Ina Garten’s intro to her cookbook, Barefoot Contessa at Home, always inspires me to simmer mulled cider on the stove, light a candle on the island as I work, and love my family with a welcoming home base:

“‘Something smells really good!’ my husband, Jeffrey, exclaims every Friday when he walks in the door. Most weeks, Jeffrey has been around the world and back and when he walks in that door, I want him to feel that he’s really home. What he doesn’t realize is that what feels very casual is, in fact, quite deliberate: the music is playing, all the lights are on, there are flowers everywhere, and chicken and onions are roasting in the oven.

I didn’t always know how to do all that. It took time and lots of experimentation. Over the 38 years we’ve been married, I’ve tried everything–the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I’ve evolved a style that seems to work for me. I like knowing that there are twenty new magazines on the coffee table, delicious French teas in the pantry, and expensive bubble baths next to the tub. A good home should gather you up in its arms like a warm cashmere blanket, soothe your hurt feelings, and prepare you to go back out into that big bad world tomorrow, all ready to fight the dragons.

I’m basically a nester. All day long, I feel as though I’m batting back the baseballs that are being hurled at me: decisions to make, places to go, cranky people to deal with…and when I come home, I want my house to feel serene and beautiful, like the way to feel when you get into bed piled high with down pillows; you’re safe.”

Good Monday morning, friend, we’re on a journey to thriving right where we’re planted. We just moved five states south and I’m stumbling through learning to love a new town full of the broken beautiful. Come along? Type your email into the “Connect” square on the right hand side of the front page and join me for the pilgrimage. It’ll be nice to have your company along the way.

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Day 3: Prepare the Soil

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Roy in his seventies with his white converse sneakers and penchant for memorizing poetry, built me my first garden. He was a farmer with a gift for evangelism, building gardens throughout his neighborhood, handing out Jesus as they raked up the soil. He always threw in a few Wendell Berry lines for free.

 

Roy built my simple boxes in his garage, then leveled the ground with sand next to my driveway where the Michigan sun shone strongest. When he backed up his white pick-up truck up the driveway of the yellow cottage, he took me for a tour of the soil. And yes, I said “soil.”

 

It was gourmet dirt, if there is such a thing, straight from an organic farmer in Fennville. “Look at the hummus clumps” and, “Summer, check out all the earth worms. That’s how you know it’s healthy dirt, when you see all the worms.”

 

We don’t have many earthworms down here, not that I can tell.  Our new soil is red clay and dry with drainage issues. A plant could drown in it’s own water. The assistant at the nursery looked at me pityingly when I asked what I needed to do to amend the soil here in GA.

 

“Honey, you all but replace it,” she said. Then she gestured toward the lamb’s ears in my hand, “You can’t grow anything like that in our clay. You just dig a hole twice the size of the quart and pour in the amended potting soil. Then you’ve got half a chance for it to live.”

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Abundant harvests require good soil.  But good soil doesn’t just happen. It’s tilled and stirred with nourishment.

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Moving leaves me raw and self-protecting, a paved sidewalk of a life, vulnerable to the enemy. Two weeks ago Andrew was on his way to a conference and I blurted out: “Can we go home now? I’m done with this moving thing.” He stared at me, unsure of what to say. As soon as the words were spilled on the floor, the tears started flowing…and didn’t stop for four days. For four days I could barely lift my head off the pillow, could hardly breathe.

 

Day four, mom reminded me to sleep with bread, to meditate on Scripture before I fell asleep at night. Neuroscientists tell us that by meditating on a single subject, we can tell our brains what to use as a lens to process with throughout the night hours.

 

Desperate for peace, that first night I sensed God directing me to choose Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”  I awoke the next morning with the first seedlings of hope and without bands of despair wrapped tight around my mind.

The next day I found Psalm 27:13 tucked into the Daily Office, “I am confident of this, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” It has become my song, my prayer, my thanksgiving, the preparation for a new life leaning on God’s faithfulness.

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Soul work leans hard on Word work. It’s the tilling of the soil, the preparation for seed. And good tilling requires patient repetition.

 

But Word work is more than just memorization, more than just begging our minds to memorize a logical algorhithm.

 

Word work becomes more than just a formula when it’s done in God’s presence, with God. It is then that meditation becomes conversation.

 

It becomes preparation for a life ready to love again.

 

Day 3 Action: You, friend, are you craving hope? Do you find yourself stuck in depression, fear or discontent? Claim a Scripture to meditate on. Then tomorrow too and go to sleep with it…and the next day…and don’t stop. This will be an essential foundation for the rest of what the Lord wants to do in us through this 31 day journey. Each day ask the Lord to reveal a Scripture that will transform your perspective on your circumstances or perhaps just one all 31 days. We are preparing the soil…by retraining the mind.

 

Start here?

Proverbs 23:18 “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not cut off.”

Micah 7:7 “I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”

Philippians 1:6 “You can be confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.

Go on a hunt…and share with us here.

Leave a comment in the Conversation section. What scripture most connects with you right where you are? 

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We’re in 31 days of writing, journeying toward falling in love with our zipcode. Want to travel along? Slip your email into the CONNECT box on the front page. I promise, it’s safe with me.

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