Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Messes, new and old!

This is me, still trying to embrace the messes that come with life,
with CHILDREN,
in the summer!
it always helps to view them through the lens of a camera!


Buying a puppy definitely requires embracing mess... but isn't he just the cutest?

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River-tromping mess

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Up north messes: Frogs and snakes!
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Four - wheeler mess: Seth covered his sister with mud... he seems real sorry about it, doesn't he?

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Firework mess! (and anxiety!)
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Do the messes ever drive you to the edge?
(repost)

“Dear God, bless this mess.”
Is this what you pray as you clean the cereal off the floor?
Me neither.
It’s really not the messes that need blessing, is it?
It’s me.
It’s you.
We mothers, who try to contain the messes, and step in the messes, and discover old messes, complain about new messes, and sometimes make the messes- we are the ones that need to be blessed!
(I admit, I make the messes. Tell me I’m not the only one with coffee stains on the front of my shirts.)

Some days, it’s easy to roll with the messes. I might even purposely instigate a mess, by putting sidewalk chalk or marshmallows in their little hands. I’ve been known to take part in water fights, pillow fights, even flour fights (though I must confess, that last one was before I had six kids, and it was at my mom’s house.)
Yet sometimes, the very same house, and the very same messes become… a little irritating.
Annoying.
Quite frustrating, really.
Never-ending.
One more thing I have to do before I do the thing I want to do.
Uncalled-for.
Proof that nobody cares what the house looks like.
Reasons to wonder why I bother.
Intentional work made for Mom by thoughtless little people.
Premeditated, malicious attacks on my mental and physical well-being.


Resentment builds, blood boils, and I grab the broom in anger, yelling them out of the house so I can at least sweep the floors before they make yet ANOTHER mess before I’m done.
Let me tell you about the last time I kicked them all out of the house so I could clean in peace. I was angry-cleaning. There was nothing in particular to be angry about, but I was feeling very overwhelmed, and I knew the best thing for me would be a combination of loud music, sweat, and putting things in order. And for there to be order, the little people would need to be OUT. SIDE. (And don’t you dare come in this house until I call you.)

I was right. Cleaning and moving without interruption did lighten my mood considerably. I was done, and ready to see then children again…and they were still playing happily. It was strange, actually.
I opened the front door.
There they were, my six little angels, playing in the driveway, cheering about the “snow.”
Snow? In May?
Let me explain.
My husband (who obviously doesn’t care what this house looks like or appreciate what I do around here all day), had left a box on the ground from a package he had received. The (annoying) children had removed the (obnoxious) large chunks of (pernicious) Styrofoam, and they were crumbling them in their (ungrateful) little fingers. They were cheering and yelling and throwing tiny (evil) pieces all over the yard. Even my (should-know-better) third grader and my (much-too-old-to-act-this-way) first grader were in on the fun!
I cannot share much more with you, because I don’t remember. I think I blacked out in anger for a few minutes.
We all learned a few lessons that day.
1. Don’t touch Styrofoam, ever. Don’t even look at it.
2. Sometimes even Mommy loses it, and she makes messes worse, just like the kids.
3. Even mommy sins, says she’s sorry, and needs forgiveness.
4. Even messy mommy is loved by God. (and her children, too.)
Every now and then, cleaning these messes, I do pray, “God, bless this mess,” but the mess I refer to is not the cereal on the floor. It is me.
And He does.

Father in heaven, bless all your messy children this week; thank you for your grace in Jesus that makes us clean  in Your sight. Amen

— Emily Cook



Remember; share your mess pictures with me! On my facebook page please!

Which photo do you like best above?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Looking for home

Today's post was written by my dear friend, Katie Jo Otte.  I love her reflections about "home," and the ways it changes over the years. What comes to mind when you think of "Home?" How has it changed over the years?

Home
by Katie Jo Otte


It means so many different things to different people at different times in their lives.

      For about twenty years, home was a two story farmhouse in the midst of the most trees you will find in most of Central Illinois.  It was dirt and bugs, hay sweat and sunsets, crafts, dress up clothes, stuffed animals, and two loving parents who made themselves available to support whatever I set my stubborn mind to doing.  Home was two church families and knowing all the “neighbors” for miles around.  Home was a Methodist church full of neighbors, with a dove in the domed ceiling, sun shining through stained glass as my brother and I proudly carried the light in and out for the candles, gaining confidence singing with my choir buddies, and an old pipe organ that rang through the beautiful sanctuary and beyond.  It was a dimly lit but beautiful Lutheran church with “old ladies” who watched me grow and old men whose joy was contagious.  I did a lot of learning and growing, laughing and serving in two damp church basements that felt like home.  Home was also being involved in just about everything the community offered, many of which my parents helped facilitate; 4-H, Girl Scouts, LWML, church, choir, cantata, plus most non-athletic (and even some athletic) activities possible at the school.  School never really felt like home, but about 5th grade, I found another home.  East Bay Camp, and later Girl Scout Camp Peairs, became homes, as well.  They were places I could test myself and push my boundaries, in atmospheres of support and perceived safety, despite risk. 

In high school, I found home in the choir room and on a beautiful wooden stage.  I found home driving in with “little brothers” at 6:00AM for Madrigal practice.  Home was a heavy, old, “wine and smoke” colored, velvet dress, two of my mentor altos wore for Madrigals before me.  For a while, I found home at a boyfriend’s house, where he and his grandparents made sure I was fed, despite my hesitancy to eat.  I found home at a Bible Church youth group, with people to listen and embrace me in my “existential angst.”  I found home strumming my guitar and asking deep questions of a youth pastor who always made time for us. 

I tried to return to my camp home, after high school, but there was no longer a place for me.  Home went South, to a sweet director with a Southern drawl, some good old country boys, and my first experience with (lots of) ticks.  Hot and sweaty, crawling with ticks, twisted ankle, fast convertible rides, plentiful deer, camper insults, camper triumphs, facing fears, pushing boundaries, all became my new home.  Those good old boys, along with the rest of the staff, became my family for the summer, and oh, what a summer it was.  One of those good old boys became the man who would define my “home” for the rest of our lives. 
            
         It took me a while to find home in college.  I found it at an old friend’s house, after he drove me out in the country, where the tightness in my chest relaxed, and I could breathe, again.  I found home in his family’s generously welcoming me, and feeding me, whenever I needed… and I still do.  I found home with an atheist roommate who listened to me read the Bible and struggle.  Eventually, I found home at Wittenberg Lutheran Center, as I had dreamed I would.  It took a new Vicar and his wife, who became my protectors, comforters, and confidants, as they did for all of us.  I found home, with them, then, as I do whenever I go back. 

My good old Indiana boy convinced me to make my home at a different camp, the next summer.  Our summer at Lakeview was rocky for me personally, and for our relationship.  I had some run ins with injuries, conflicts, and disappointment.  I also made some great friends and finally learned to ride a bike! My camp home migrated, again, after this summer, from trying something new, and because there wasn’t a place for me, anymore, once again.  It was a painful time of growth, for me.  Sometimes home is like that.  Camp Peairs was home for a summer of physical and emotional growth, getting Lifeguard certified and obtaining the title “Safety Luna” while gaining confidence playing and testing myself “in the wild”.

The next summer, Luke came home on leave to start building our home together.  We were married June 5, 2010 at the church we hoped we would be able to call home, some day.  We started putting down roots at White Creek, knowing they would have to hold long distance, if at all. 

Home in the military is where you make it.  In the best of times, home is where you can be together.  You make friends, you make connections, you find ways of being “you” wherever you are.  Home in the military meant driving out to New Jersey, the week after our wedding, with just what we could fit in an old Jetta with no air conditioning.  It meant staying in a hotel and doing my first married cooking in a microwave with a big Pyrex measuring cup we dug out of the back of the car.  We home searched, then, driving around, checking to make sure base housing and temporary lodging were really not options for us…  Looking at neighborhoods for the first time and wondering about the “for sale” signs and the commitments that would come with them.  Thankfully, it meant taking a break, getting to a “random” Lutheran church “accidentally” an hour early for the service, and meeting a sweet couple who had recently downsized…  and were looking for a family to rent their beautiful home at a price that was a steal for the area.  It meant long nights awake, alone, waiting for Luke to get off of 16+ hour shifts, so we could finally sleep together in our home.  I slowly got to know a bit of the neighborhood, timidly, as I had no vehicle, and had to walk wherever I explored, knowing Luke wouldn’t be home for hours.  We kept the house boiling in one of the hottest summers locals could remember and 50-55 degrees in an extra cold winter, with electric heat, and some of the highest electric bills I could imagine.  Home is finding family where you are.  We got involved in that little, old, Lutheran church, Rose of Sharon.  The organist, and her husband, our landlords, became our best friends.  We were mistaken for mother and daughter, multiple times, but we told people we were “soul sisters…” the truest term we could find to define our friendship, mentorship, relationship.  They welcomed us into their church, the choir, their Bible studies, and both of their homes.  We had a home there, for a while.

Before long, though, home meant hearing his voice or seeing his writing when I was in my original home back in Illinois, while student teaching and his deployment to Qatar.  It meant getting into a strange new normal in a place that had always been my normal.  I was home under my parents’ roof, but the head of my married household was halfway across the country, then halfway across the world.  It was lovely to be home, but it was a complicated balance for all of us.  I was back in my home churches, where they prayed for my husband with “those serving our country,” and I was so proud.  I melded right back into many of my community roles, almost as if I had never left...  I even went back to my home camp, East Bay.  It was good to be back, but so much of me changed when I became a wife.  Some of that home was better and more secure than ever, but oh, how I missed him. 
After deployment, we hoped home would be that big two story house we moved out of, when Luke deployed.  It was not to be.  Though the friendship remained, we had to find a new place to stay.  Home became an experience of base housing with friends we vaguely knew.  …and then knew better and better…  Some days we knew each other better than any of us wanted, but home remained with them.  We participated in parties more enjoyable than what we imagined we missed at college age (him in the military, already, me studying too hard and too conscientious to party, anyway).  We had campfires, community friends, my first roughing it camping trip, ballerina time, shared meals, lots of weed whacking, intense workouts, cat sitting, creative possession stacking, Christmas light hanging, and much more.  Again, home was a complicated balance, as two young married couples each tried to develop the dynamics of head of household and submission while sometimes stepping on each others’ toes, and still remaining friends.  Home also became a new church community, Holy Cross Lutheran, unlike any Missouri Synod church I had experienced.  Challenges and opportunities galore met us, there.  I was still dependent on Luke to drive me anywhere farther than the work I biked to over the summer.  We shared in helping with youth group, providing meals to the hungry, singing and doing sound for praise band, lots of drama and feelings, and some wonderful friendships.  Home at Holy Cross looked like Pastor’s family taking us in for Christmas and his wife providing me a personal retreat when Luke was TDY to Africa over our second anniversary.  It looked like support, even when my presence made waves.  It looked like a family taking us out for the most expensive meal I had ever had before Christmas Eve service, because they had military family and wanted to make us feel at home.  Home was also the sweet “senior members” I talked to about Hymns, who reminded me of my LWML ladies growing up. 

Home was the draw that helped Luke sign separation papers from the military.  There was a house, and a job, and family waiting back home in Indiana.  Home was full of promises, for Luke, and I committed to follow him.  This homecoming was not what we had hoped.  Things fell through, moved out of range, changed direction, when we showed up.  The physical home he had dreamed of, that was promised to us, was unavailable at the time.  Thankfully, his parents welcomed us into their spacious, woodsy home, which smelled of lavender laundry and wood smoke.  Home became a treacherous tightrope walk of living with his boss/father.  Though they had generous good intentions, it was all too much to balance and for too long.  Home was briefly a summer of lake living, where I got to kayak to work at camp, but outside stress and conflicts almost beat the life out of our marriage. 

A new home in this place meant new church membership.  We began attending the church in which we said our marriage vows, the church we always intended to come back to.  We met new family at St. John’s White Creek.  I finally met the Pastor’s wife I had read so much from, whose children’s names I had memorized, as I tried to learn their personalities from words on a screen.  She opened her home to me… to many women and families.  She taught through words and actions, with Grace.  We studied God’s word, talked about things we could not, elsewhere, cared for each other and each others’ children in the midst of the coffee and chaos of Bible study and Thursday mornings that often turned into Thursday afternoons…  I learned preschoolers are actually interesting.  She was one of the first to hear when our family was growing.  I got to experience chasing a toddler while pregnant with my first.  Though they are at another home, now, that parsonage and that family will always hold fond memories of one of the places I first brought Jimmy home.
About that dream we were waiting for…  the cozy farm house with the beautiful trees and inviting barn…  It was more than we bargained for.  We planned our first overnight visit for the day I took my first pregnancy test.  The home wasn’t ready to move in, but we wanted to anchor this memory in the home where we hoped to raise our children.  We were scared.  We were elated. It was 90+ degrees, the air conditioning did not work, we had no fans, and I was nauseous before the wood roach crawled across my leg.  At about 3 in the morning I convinced Luke we had to go back to his folks’ house.  After months of nausea, work, stress, and expense, for both the owners and ourselves, we moved January 2, 2014.  I was 5 months pregnant.  Remember those New Jersey electric bills?  They paled in comparison to our new winter bills. 


A property that has been unoccupied for over 20 years has more needs than an outsider can imagine.  More than that, a property full of multiple people’s dreams and memories holds more blessings and obligations than I can describe.  We had a 90+ year old man visit and cry telling me how he wished he could show his momma what we did with the place.   We had three sisters visit at different times and share their stories.  There were tears over memories of time spent at the kitchen table, just looking at and imagining where it was.  We heard from another brother and sister of their memories, as well.  Pride, joy, regret, hope…  life happened here for so many, in so many different ways.  Surprisingly, we all had so much in common, despite the changes that have happened in the physical building and property through the years.  We heard stories of God’s faithfulness, as parents prayed for returned health for a dying child (the 90+ year old about 80 years earlier), listened to children saying prayers, taught them to embrace family and hard work… It made the place even more dear to our hearts…  Another positive pregnancy test, another baby brought home, fed here, kept safe and loved, here, and this home will always hold a place in our hearts.  The tears, laughter, prayers, memories and lessons will always be a part of this house, but we are learning they, and we, cannot stay here. 

As I learned with camps, God is not limited by location.  Before this world had form, and long after these walls, these trees, this ground has passed away, He says, “I AM.” 

We are looking for a new Earthly home.  The path is unclear.  We have hit some road blocks, just as we were building up speed.  We pray God directs us and puts a “hard stop” in the way of anything not according to His will.  Sometimes answered prayer can be disappointing, in the moment.  We pray for continued trust His knowledge and goodness, which are not limited by time, space, finances, or human understanding.     


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

tired but alive

That look on Seth’s face; it’s the same one Josh had that time we rented four wheelers and he took me on those trails that were MUCH more intense than either of us expected… that edge-of-danger sparkle, “can’t you feel it? we’re ALIIIIVE!” And his motor roared and off he went, and I wondered for how long will he be alive with a wild spirit like that one?  I followed as fast as I could and prayed all the way.


Today, I watched my son come alive in the same way on the mountain bike trails.
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My legs shake and I just got hit in the face with a branch, but I plow forward on my bike, trying to keep up with him.  The trails are tricky and we have to focus; no chatting, no looking up at the trees.  Dodge that tree, jump over that root, try not to fall off the narrow bridge. It’s all balance and muscle and timing.  I only fell once, and he only laughed a little.

With a sore wrist and behind, I push on and stay cheerful. It’s like i’m trying to prove something, and I suppose I am. I’ve still got it. I’m not ready to surrender this body to slowness;  I want to push through, to sweat myself strong, to be a fit mama and a fun mama.  When my kids find things that make them come alive, I want them to show me, really show me, for as long as it’s possible.  

He showed me; conquering those trails at a rate I didn’t dare: doing stunts and riding on balance beams and makeshift stairs.  I slowly did the stairs, but I drew the line at the balance beams. A broken arm wouldn’t fit well with my schedule. I am still amazing, but I withhold some amazing feats that might have happened for the sake of prudence. (Adulthood can be so lame!)

I can feel it coming: the need for a nap. “Ok guys, if we stay longer, that means when we go home you’re fending for yourselves for dinner while I take a nap.” They are happy to consent, and I am happy that my legs have a good rest to look forward to.

We stop conquering the world for a moment to sit by the river.  I am the first one to free my feet from shoes and cool them in the lake; this gives them all permission and they quickly follow.  The one who always takes any fun farther than the rest is soon skipping rocks and painting himself with mud.  The cool water, the shade, the breeze, and the soothing gurgle of the river: we take it all in.  

“I survived many a summer this way,” I tell them. I remember watching toddlers play in the lawn, and sitting my pregnant body down with my feet in a bucket of ice cold water, feeling it cool me and giving me hope I could make it through another summer day.  Green grass, a healthy garden, and loud little kids- life, everywhere, including in a giant wiggling ball on my lap.  That was certainly another way to “feel alive!” Tired, yes, but alive.

Now with my feet up in a chair at home, I trace over the edges of the gifts God has given us today.  I’m tired, yes, but alive, and grateful for this day that bursts with life.

"The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4



“You alone are the LORD You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.” Neh 9:6

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Sheepfold (guest post)

The Sheepfold
-- Pastor Cook

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,   just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.   And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”  John 10:14-18




This past Sunday the Church observed Good Shepherd Sunday. On this Sunday, once every year, we focus our attention on Christ our Shepherd and ourselves, his sheep. Because sheep were important livestock for mankind for thousands of years, the people of Jesus’ day knew a lot about sheep. Not many of us today have had experience with sheep, so let’s take a quick moment to educate ourselves about just one aspect of sheep – their need to belong to a sheepfold.


We learn the following from the website http://www.sheep101.info/201/behavior.html


Normal sheep behavior
“Changes in normal behavior can be an early sign of illness in sheep. The most obvious example of this relates to the sheep's most natural behavioral instinct, their flocking instinct. A sheep or lamb that is isolated from the rest of the flock is likely showing early signs of illness (unless it is lost). Even the last sheep through the gate should be suspected of not feeling well, especially if it is usually one of the first.”


When Jesus speaks about us as sheep, one of the things that he is teaching us is that we belong in community – we need to belong to a flock. Not belonging just in name, but in a real and meaningful way – through regular flesh and blood interaction. God has created us with a need to interact with other Christians. We need to be fellowshipping, praying, worshiping, and studying God’s Word together. When we don’t do those things, it is a sign of illness, just like it is for sheep. For sheep, if the illness is ignored, it could lead to death. For Christians, in a like manner, if the sickness is ignored, it can lead to spiritual death.


It is for this very reason that Jesus has come to be a Shepherd to his sheep. He desires that we all remain spiritually healthy by staying connected to him and to one another through the gifts he has given – his Word and Sacraments, his Church, and his People. Jesus laid down his own life so that we would not be separated eternally, from him, and from one another. As we listen to his voice he brings us into the sanctuary of the sheepfold. By his grace he allows us to gather together as the Body of Christ. Our attendance isn’t just something we “should do,” it is vital and necessary to our life together as Jesus’ little lambs. His voice calls to us all today, and it is our joy to listen!
--- Pastor Cook

God, gather us together,
increase in us faith toward you
and fervent love for each other.
Thank you for the gift of community.




Saturday, April 1, 2017

thaw

Wet leaves and smell of earth,
My hands thaw just like the ground,
Spring makes them warm and eager to work
Eager, like the the sons I bore,
Inflating bike tires, clearing leaves, polishing mitts,
Checking on the lawn mower, scooter, boat


The legs of a little boy
Pedaling a bike, with confidence now
Pumping speed and power and freedom
Self-propelled exhilaration
Flying through mud puddles
Taking corners too fast
Bloody, muddy, red-faced pride


The fear mixed with joy on his face as we bike into the neighborhood
“Is this the farthest I’ve ever gone?
Does Marcus ever go this far? How old was Eldon when he did this?”
and the question behind the questions,
“Am I ok? Do I have what it takes mom? Do you see me? Am I making it?”
Oh yes, my son, I see, and yes, you are wonderful indeed.

Wonderful are His works, and I see the feminine one
Sitting on the swing with her book
She needs not affirmation, but independence
And great places to read,
And music that sings the constant noisy euphoria
That marks this stage of her life
Oh God, let this joy linger awhile

The sound of church bells and daddy’s leaf blower
Music both, the glory of God resounding
As the earth awakens
And His people tend the patch of ground He has given
Making temporary homes upon the dirt
From which they were taken,
To which they shall return.

Cold earth warms and life springs forth
The gospel, sown in sorrow, grows and lives
The fragrance wafting throughout the world
Of Jesus, sown and yet alive to serve and tend

Our Gardener, oh, Gardener tend us still!
Dirt to dirt, yet in your hands alone we live
Take this ground, this home, all that we are and have
Do with it what you will;
be our Father still.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

let me tell you about my fears.

Stand where you are, and look around- be honest about how it feels to stand there.

Honesty is tough; we prefer to look strong and courageous.  We like to hide those crying-in-the-bathroom moments from the world, or write them off as “hormones,” or “tiredness.”

How does it feel to stand here, today? Let me tell you my fears.

I fear for the kids: Will they grow cold or slip through the cracks while the “urgent” little jobs presses out the important big jobs? Will someone snatch them away while I’m paying for groceries at Aldi?  Will the criminal who smashes cars in our parking lot try to smash them someday?

I fear my own demons taking over-  the checklist demons or craving demons or the body-hatred demons.  I can feel the ugliness in my self ‘love,’ how it turns me  inward and causes self destruction and I cannot free myself from this sinful condition.

I fear that the money will dry up and the school will not last. I fear the little sins between people will fester and cause an incurable infection.  I fear my husband will preach faithfully but to no avail, that hearts and ears will close and so will my beloved church.

I fear my husband being eaten alive by his vocation, and all the family with him.  I fear cynicism will win; that we will both turn bitter and burned-out.  I fear our hearts will grow cold for God’s people, for all people, or for God himself.  I fear that we will not finish well.
Reasonable fears. Legitimate worries.

And yet God tells me to do the irrational; the unreasonable; He says, “Do not fear.”  
What a ridiculous thing to tell me. He might as well tell me to walk on my hands! I just don’t have it in me!  

It’s not by a force of my will that I can overcome this fear.  I can’t contort myself into inner peace.

 But just like faith, courage is a gift that flows from His fountain. I can go to Him with my thirst. I can take and drink.

Drinking in His Word, I find it gives the very thing it demands of me.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.  (Joshua 1:6-9)

Today: Let me tell you my confidence. God is with us. It is enough.

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This post was inspired by a wonderful service at Historic Trinity Lutheran in Downtown Detroit this morning.  Thank you, Pastor Andrzejewski, and thank you, St. Peter’s school kids, for providing the soul-food that spoke directly to my weary heart today. God is good.
The pelican (photo taken in the Narthex at Historic Trinity)

The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in an ancient legend which preceded Christianity. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. Another version of the legend was that the mother fed her dying young with her blood to revive them from death, but in turn lost her own life.  Given this tradition, one can easily see why the early Christians adapted it to symbolize our Lord, Jesus Christ.
(read more about the pelican)

Like what tender tales tell of the Pelican
Bathe me, Jesus Lord, in what Thy Bosom ran
Blood that but one drop of has the powr to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

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I want to ignore the smoky unknown; it is counter-intuitive to let the anxieties rise up to the surface.
But we must let them rise up, so that we can release them into His hands. Speak the fear out loud, so that He can give words of truth. Don’t run away from those places where it seems your faith is small. Run into them, look around, be honest about how it feels as you stand there. And know we have a God who can handle it.”  (Emily P. Freeman)
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