These Subtle Weavings

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“This is what the past is for!  Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.”
– Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place


The apostle Paul called our earthly life a dark glass for a reason (1 Cor. 13:12). We can only see pinpricks of light, shadows of a reality to come.

Although our Present moments are often chaotic and the Future is murky, the Past is one direction that God seems to shed a little more light on than others.

Past.

What does that word stir in you? Thoughts of childhood? Joy? Bitterness? Thankfulness….or regret? Embarrassment? Or, perhaps, a mixture of these things?

Unlike other points in time, the past is unchangeable, something our plans and intentions can never influence. The Past can be a Tormentor or a Teacher.

If I stop to think about it a moment, the Past can assault me with all the ridiculous things I’ve done. It doesn’t take long for one embarrassing episode after another to pop into my mind, making me groan. “How could I have thought that was a good idea?”

As I reminisce, I think of my more recent escapades, especially a not-long-ago phone call that could have resulted in disaster. “What possessed me!” I think. Then I remember that this particular “bright idea” was barely six months ago. Forget bewailing my indiscretions as a five-year-old! At twenty-one, I’m still keeping up with the blonde stereotype quite nicely, thank you.

What a Tormentor, with the memories of friendships broken, things that were and things that will never be! They can haunt and hound me, nipping at every day’s heels. The Past, sometimes, seems like a merciless enemy, intent on sucking us in and trapping us between the re-living of nightmares and the impossibility of beloved things lost.

But, it can be gentle too, the Past as wise and insistent as a gray-headed teacher, commanding our gaze, pulling us again and again from the Future’s window. God so often commands us to “Remember” and that is what the Past is truly for. Although a redeemed Past does not hide us from the ugliness of our committed sins, with the right way of seeing, a journey into the Past can be a path to hope.

“How,” you may wonder, “can all my mistakes and foibles and sins and wanderings be hopeful?”

Because, my sweet sisters, the very Past that has the power to torture us is the same Past that God has in His hand. No horrible rebellion, no hopeless destruction, no fathomless pit, no dark forest, can make us so lost and so unreachable that God cannot reach into it and bring us out safely. While not diminishing His disgust of sin, our God can take a lost soul–like you and I were–and dress that soul in His own white holiness, purchased at the price of the very life of God Incarnate.

“The very Past that has the power to torture us is the same Past that God has in His hand.”

But it is not only the death of Jesus that brings hope to our Past. It is the LIFE of Jesus! If He had remained in that tomb, we would still be hopeless ( 1 Cor. 15:12-58). But His rising showed that His death-price was accepted by the Father, freeing us from the chains of the past:

“It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:12-14, CEB

 In Christ, we can move beyond our sins and failings into joy. When we look back to the Past, the Tormentor no longer has any power. Why?

Because God is not just in the business of redeeming our Present, or our Future. He is not limited to our approval ratings or our acknowledgement of His sovereignty. He told Moses His great name I Am, illustrating His perfect, eternal, unmarred control of Everything–my self-destructing Past included.

His touch is all over the places we’ve gone, the days we’ve lived and forgotten, the moments we wish we could hold onto forever, the times we wish we could sink into the ground and disappear. He was–IS–there, in our Past as much as any other time. Though history is inaccessible to us, God stands outside our limits and oversees it all, according to a plan we can not imagine for its sheer glory. God is not only the Master of storytelling. He also has a penchant for the surprising, the unlikely, the irredeemable and the unbelievable. In the way only He can, He molds scarred history into Redemption, a Messiah who takes the shame, becoming the Thing that must, above all, be believed.

Paraphrasing Romans 8:18-21, scholar and pastor J.B. Phillips wrote:

“In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”

This glory is not wholly left to the future. Have you ever seen a Sparkler on the 4th of July? It darts and dances in the air, shimmering with combustion, warmth, power. Sometimes, we can look back and see a sparkle of God’s light in the places we’ve walked.

It is hard to see when we’re passing through. Often, we have nothing to go on but faith in the darkness, but looking back, the spidery fingers of glory still trail behind us. The lights flash dimly through this dark, foggy glass. But, for a moment, we can look over our shoulders and see, kindled for an instant of recognition, a sight that teaches us to hope. It is His shadow, the impression of His feet as God moved, unseen, in the dark places of our Past.

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Already Shining

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“The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining!”

– 1 John 2:8b, ESV –


Life can dawn on us gloriously, sun rays pushing back the night like an invading host of light.

Or it can come upon us like a thief, like a morning that dawns cloudy, rumbling, and pregnant with rain.

This sister has days of light and days of dark, and mostly days that are a mix of each. Today, instead of reminding you of a principle or telling you a tale, I am just going to pray.

This, my sisters, is for you and me, because we need Jesus every hour.


My Father,

Today I pray for my sisters, my fellow-laborers in Your work.

I pray that they will stand before you holy and blameless in your sight, radiant in your joy and peace, while still mindful of the places from which You have brought them. What glory, for You to take notice of us!

I pray that I will stand confident as a new creation while never forgetting the need of those who have not yet been made new. A girl resurrected, may I never think that it was I who raised myself, or that my own power keeps me alive even now. May You alone receive that praise.

I pray that we will bless the parents who have shielded us from the storm beyond and all around, filtering the hard drops so that we would not be deluged. May we always bless them, who have taught us and led us in light so that we may, as we too grow up, face darkness with the Light shed abroad in our hearts.

Help us remember. Give us hearts to embrace the lost rather than run from them. Give us enough memory of our own past slavery to be able to go back and lead others to freedom. They do not deserve it—but neither did we. What love is this, my Savior, to awaken new hearts and then send us out to bring more twisted, broken hearts to Your side to be made whole as well! What a God You are, to delight to bring life again and again to the dead.

Give us pure hearts. Please, grace us with power to be open and real, confessing our sins to one another. Only then can we see that the sin in us is just as bad as the sin outside. Let us first see the beam before turning to the speck.

And oh, give us encouragement. We’re fighting in a battle that wearies us. Sometimes the darkness seems to snuff out all the light.

Break forth, O Light. Flood our eyes. Flood our hearts. With Your brightness, cover our faces with Your joy. In a darkening place, let our hearts be full of the approaching morning, the glory of journeying toward the Coming Day with You as our truest, never-betraying Friend.

Let us walk in the light, as You are the Light.

I joy in this: You, the Light, shall never be quenched, but will rise as Morning Star until the dawn breaks and Your Light makes all this darkness flee for the last time.

Until then, give us the strength to keep pushing back the Dark, taking Your Light to thousands of lamps that have yet been lit.

And thank you, thank you, dear Father, for letting us be vessels of this Secret Fire that fills and warms and lights our way.

In the name of our Savior, the Light of the World, the Son that will shine on us forever, Jesus,

AMEN

Although Men Fail

 

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 “You have crushed beneath your heel the vile serpent. You have carried to the grave the black stain. You have torn apart the temple’s holy curtain. You have beaten Death at Death’s own game. Hosanna! O Hosanna! Hail the long awaited king, come to set his people free. We cry O Hosanna! Won’t you tear this temple down, raise it up on holy ground. O Hosanna! I will lift my voice and sing: you have come and washed me clean. Hosanna.”

– Andrew Peterson, from “Hosanna” –


 Anger. Disbelief. Accusations. Defense. Fear.

And rubble.

You’ve perhaps heard about them, how in half a year two “pillars” of Christian conservative teaching have fallen.

Followers of them, now seem a bit lost.

Some fly to defend the teachings–or question them in light of the ruined reputations,

Others are confused.

Still more, incredulous at the vain fruits of faith in men.

My mom has always said it: “Never follow a man.”

Never trust solely in another man than the God-Man.

Do not set all your hopes on one who is but dust.

Though so silver the tongue, so winning the smile, so lofty the aims–

A David, though king, can fall.

A Solomon, wisest of men, can choose a fool’s way.

A Peter, with close-clustered memories of three years hearing the Christ’s own voice, still somehow can deny Him at the last hour.

Hear me, dearly loved sisters.

Only one–One alone–is worthy of your trust.

Yes, hearts will still ache when respected men crash down from their pedestals.

But it should not shake you from the truth.

How can we understand these things?

How can we orient ourselves when the starlight blinks out above us?

All is not lost, my friends.

The Sun still shines, though His little lights flicker (Philippians 2:14-15).

It is good, certainly, to sit beneath a pastor. Wise, yes, to read and listen to men of God.

But never must we see any of these as flawless or above sinning.

News of scandals saddens me, and I’m tempted to cast looks of disdain.

But wait–there is yet a lesson for me.

When the first board of these shipwrecks washed up, at first I was startled.

It was easy to point my finger. But, as a thing etched to my soul, I can again feel the stone I weighed in my palm.

“Are you without sin? Then cast your stone.”

These men–stumbling leaders–are they not yet men? Corrupted, waging war inside themselves between flesh and spirit, light and dark. How am I different from them, when my own heart deceives me every day?

Be humbled, my heart. Pity the men, denounce the sin, and see! See, that for all their pomp and pedestals, all the woven lies and secret lives, those men are much like…me.

So then, how do we yet stand when leaders fall?

How do the sheep find pasture when shepherds stray?

God be praised–our standing before Him does not crumble with an erring man’s reputation.

You know, there’s only one Mediator between me and God.

Only one Intercessor,

Only one Priest, the Highest Priest.

And, all the King Davids fall short of this position; today’s Solomons aren’t wise enough to compare.

When the foundations  shake, only one Rock doesn’t shift in the sand.

“Remember those who rule over you…considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.”

– Hebrews 13:7-10, NKJV, emphasis mine –

An altar that even God’s Levites could not touch? Sisters, fear not, fear not–a table has been laid in the wilderness.

Jesus is the One who stands in the gap for me–Him alone and no other man.

That Calvary day, the veil ripped down.

And now I can enter–a chosen one, a part of his Bride, a member of his holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Boldly, I can step into the holy presence of God Most High, through the veil of Christ, not barred by a heavy cloak of separation (Hebrews 10:19-22)…No need of another Christian to bridge the chasm–God Himself has already brought that job to completion. It is finished.

So, when you hear of apostasies and scandals and unthinkable deeds by those who claim our Master’s name, remember in Whom you trust.

Men, however well known, do not hold this world in orbit. That job is owned by a fully-capable God.

And that, though darkness still thrashes, is the Light that makes me hope.


“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

– Ephesians 5:8-14, NKJV –

 

 

 

 A big thank you to George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

 

When the Creator Wields a Pen

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“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes…”

– From “Aurora Leigh,” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

Sometimes everything you’ve always known and heard comes together in a moment of crystallization. A few sentences in a classroom awakened me to something spectacular.  A teacher first told me about the Story, the story of how to really take off my shoes.

God has a Story, you see.

Creation, fall, redemption—what tale would end well without this pattern? I realized that God thought of it first.

It resonated deeply with me, that life isn’t just a haphazard collection of moments.  There’s an Author who already knows what His Story’s final chapter will say.

Creation–the “Once upon a time,” when all was fresh and spotlessly lovely.

Fall. The “But then” of the Story. Someone comes along and crashes the perfection.

The fall sweeps me into a hope-vacuum and everything becomes focused on me and my constant failures, my own desperation. The Story seems beyond repair. Ruined.

The world mirrors my personal failures, compounded, and spreading like a virus. What can solve this sin-death? (Romans 7)

Christian literary critic Gene Edward Veith, Jr., says,

“The most important part of the fairy tale is the invariable ending: ‘And they all lived happily ever after.’ Fairy tales…may begin in suffering, but they are resolved in the most intense happiness…Good fairy tales end with consolation” (Reading Between the Lines, 145-146).

This is why fairy tales resonate–because life is a Story and we hope so hard that things will work out. We want to believe in “happily ever after.” We long for the fairy tale to be real. But after a small dose of what’s out there, our happy endings start to look a little naïve.

And then Redemption stirs.

The Word took on flesh (John 1:1-5, 14). The Author became a character in His own book. Somehow, some startling way, a hope emerges in the mess.

My heart can’t quite wrap around the starkness–the blinding, universe-shaking moment that the dragging, imploding darkness flees with the explosion of glorious light. The Creator stepped into a Tale of His own creation, to rescue the characters that had so utterly failed to accomplish their own redemption that only the Author could make it all turn out right again. The Writer dies, so the written might live.

We get to be a part of this Greatest Story ever told. Our Creator Savior is writing the Ultimate Story with broken tools like you and me (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Taking off my shoes means seeing God’s Story in those He puts in my path.

To point out His hand at work in another’s life is powerful. Hope is always powerful.

Over and again, I’ve heard words like these: “I thought it was all for nothing. But then God did this with my pain….”

It’s always a better Story for the conflict.

It’s always a deeper satisfaction for the pain.

In His story, it’s always a more magnificent love in spite of the rejection, a more soul-thrilling joy after the night of sorrow, a greater light when the darkness turns and hides.

Each life, each story that reveals redemption, is a little piece of the puzzle that comes together in a Story too good to be fully imagined.

And I get to be a part of it. And you. And each one that we reach out and touch and say, “Come on this journey with me.”

“But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.”

Sometimes people stumble onto truth, unknowingly straying into holy places on the Pages of God’s Story. I don’t know if English author Michael Morpurgo has found or ever will find the Source of true hope and unquenched optimism, but his words effectively echo the Christian confidence:

“Wherever my story takes me, however dark and difficult the theme, there is always some hope and redemption….I know the sun will rise in the morning, that there is a light at the end of every tunnel.”

I know the Son will rise in the morning. That no night, no tunnel, no battle, is too dark for His light.

“God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.”
– Søren Kierkegaard

Even in Darkness

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Once upon a time, I had a really bad day.

A day that left me with an ache for days after.

Have you ever had one of those, a day that you knew God was there, but it was still so, so hard?

When you’d never been more confident in His plans, but giving over that stubborn piece of your heart got harder and harder each time you tried to lay it on the altar?

The day passed. I tasted the bittersweet. Bitter–because the sacrificing only got more costly. Sweet–because I knew my Jesus would be enough even in darkness.

The next days weren’t easy.

A lot of prayers. A lot of tears. A lot of wobbly smiles and Mom hugs and jumbled thoughts and wondering if this cloud would ever let the sun through again.

You’ve been there too–days that leave a stamp on your heart and you doubt the memories will ever really fade. And yet, God was there.

But that day, once upon a time, is not what I want you to remember.

It’s something else I learned, weeks after that day my light seemed to flicker out…

Sometimes God pulls back the curtain and lets me get a peek at His masterpiece.

This particular brushstroke in this painting we call history came to me in an e-mail.

On the dark day,

The day that laying down my self-will was so hard,

But I knew it was still worth it–

That day, God did something with me.

With a life that felt out of control, but was never really out of His.

Even when it felt dark.

When I thought that I couldn’t possibly be doing anyone else any good because I was so broken inside,

When just handing God my heart took all my breath away,

His grace was still amazing.

And He took this little flickering candle of a life and magnified the light, and this little light shone.

I didn’t know it, but a young girl was watching me on that day.

She saw me smile.

She saw me laughing, sharing a meal with my mom. Even when I was torn apart inside, God made a refuge for me and I laughed and loved and stuck close to my best source of hugs. (Thanks, Mom!)

And that little girl listened.

She learned that my mom and I are best friends. She could see that I respected her and that I wasn’t ashamed to be not just a daughter, but a friend to my mom.

The point?

It’s not that I was trying to pull myself together and put on an act.

But that even when I felt like I had nothing left to give, God was faithful.

Even when it took my whole soul striving to just keep moving forward, God was in the middle, still willing to use a vessel so broken.

And that bad, bad day?

I’m not sorry I had it.

I’d do it again, in fact, if I could get that email again too.

What did it say?

It was the mom of that little girl, and I could almost see the tears in the lady’s eyes as I heard her words.

After seeing how my mom and I are such good friends, that young girl decided she wanted to be friends with her mom just like that.

She hadn’t really seen another girl before that would admit to enjoying her mom. But God took my mom and I to just the right place.

And, licking an ice cream cone, I got to shine.

Even in darkness.

Sisters, don’t despair the black days. They aren’t wasted.

Don’t mourn the days that seem to spin far out of your control. No matter how hard it gets, keep surrendering.

In your pain, in your deepest weakness–this is God’s favorite place to work.

You may never know what a difference you made to a life.

But, then again….

….Maybe God will hold back the curtain and give you just a little glimpse….

“Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store;
Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.
Ever, only, all for Thee.”

– from the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be” by Frances Havergal

Thank you to Edward McCabe and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

Growing-Up Grace

“We are puzzled and bewildered whenever we see suffering in this world….

Amazing grace is no longer amazing to us.”

— R.C. Sproul —

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Is it growing up to suddenly carry the hurt? Growing pain to suddenly begin knowing the pain? Does being an adult mean that I lose the mercifully given dream-glaze of childhood?

And why does it feel like this growing-upness has settled down thick on my soul?

Why is it that never before has the burden been so suffocating?

My strong-enough, wide-enough capabilities are now like narrow, powerless shoulders under a crushing yoke.

And yet I breathe. Oxygen sucks in bitter-sweet. Why can I still breathe in this pain-smoke that is smothering those to whom my heart clings, every brother and sister of them? How can the pain reach and wrench without laying even one cold, numb talon on me?

Is it growing up to suddenly feel the travail, to sense the birth-pangs that writhe this world?

How can I rejoice in Life when darkness is all I see?

By all means, I should praise God for the sunshine.

What if there isn’t any?

“Any man can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws inspiration from it…he is skillful who sings when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from his heart…O Thou chief musician, let us not remain songless because affliction is upon us, but tune Thou our lips the melody of thanksgiving.”

– Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Oct. 19th, Evening –

And yet, my throat burns songless. How can I sing past the ache-knot?

Today a friend calls and says it is good new and bad news. My heart immediately stills, that heart drop-out that shoots up a prayer without words. O God, help me know what to say. Help her. Help us breathe.

She says it’s not her, it’s a friend. A tumor, she says. A word shapes in my head—cancer. I wish with a numb heart that it’s not so.

I lay on the couch, phone cradled to my chin, held close as I wish I could hold my friend. A wish to tell her its okay, it will all be fine.

She pours out the story, of all the pain she’s surrounded with. She’s drowning in it—the frustration of why. Why my friends? Why now? Why all at once?

God, why?

And then my sweet friend confesses she’s tired of praying? Is it, after all, doing any good?

So I push away my own sense of all the world-crumblings near and clench my heart around her words. She’s weary in the battle.

So I’ll go in for her. O God, hear me.

She’s panting, aching for friends’ pain that she can’t push prayers through.

Hold on, I want to say. He’s there. Just keep praying.

The line soon clicked empty and as I returned the phone to its charger I knew I couldn’t solve her pain.

But I could pray. I remembered lines that could keep me breathing in and out. Ann Voskamp, in her poetic, arresting voice, wrote about her hope, and now I mull over it again:

“I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.

To see through to God.

That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave.”

– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p. 22 –

In her blog, this dear sister wrote,

“Grace is not soft or trite—Grace is what saves and grace is what transforms. Grace isn’t the weakness of a Christian—grace is the completeness of a Christian. Grace isn’t ever a paltry thing—Grace is always the very power of God….The power of God to save and to stand, to give and forgive, to breathe and believe, to laugh and love and wring the last little bit of living out of all the days under the sky. Grace is what we need more than the very air or water; grace is what is necessary for life: it’s His very grace that needs to be sufficient today, it is His very grace that makes today sustainable.”

We have our hands on something that can rock a moaning world. We have to believe it. We have to possess it. We have to live it.

And then, we give it away. Think this, sisters: We were not meant to hoard grace.

“All the paths of the Lord are loving and faithful” (Psalm 25:10). I have pondered this verse lately and have found that it feeds my spirit. All does not mean “all—except the paths I am walking in now,” or “nearly all—except this especially difficult and painful path.” All must mean all. So your path with its unexplained sorrow or turmoil, and mine with its sharp flints and briers—and both our paths, with their unexplained perplexity, their sheer mystery—they are His paths, on which he will show himself loving and faithful. Nothing else; nothing less.”

– Amy Carmichael –

I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before, in John 11. Martha, grieving, devoted Martha, trusts Jesus through that body and soul-tearing event called death that snatched her brother away. Can you hear her hoarse, trusting whisper?

“Even now I know that whatever you ask your Father he will give it to you.”

What I so often gloss over, miss in the pace of reading and living, is the glory of the next words.

Martha says, “I know he will be raised in the resurrection in the last day.”

But then, glorious consummation of thousands of years of hope and longing and death-cries—Jesus must have looked at her with a beautiful Kingliness in His eyes.

“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

My soul, why do you ever stop wondering? Not wallowing in the death, but wondering in the Life? Why do you ever tire of hearing and glorying in this?

My Savior IS Life. I don’t have to fear anything. I don’t have to  hesitate when He calls, wonder when He speaks.

In His Life, I have life.

“What grace is mine that He who dwells in endless light
Called through the night to find my distant soul
And from his scars poured mercy that would plead for me
That I might live and in his name be known

What grace is mine to know His breath alive in me
Beneath his wings my wakened soul may soar
All fear can flee for death’s dark night is overcome
My Saviour lives and reigns forevermore

So I will go wherever He is calling me
I lose my life to find my life in Him
I give my all to gain the hope that never dies
I bow my heart, take up my cross and follow Him.”

– “What Grace Is Mine,” by Keith and Kristyn Getty –

Let us press on in the dark, because the night is far spent, and the day is at hand. The Light has arisen in our hearts.

We aren’t meant to be the victims of cruel fate. We are meant to shine in darkness, to keep emitting the light of grace.

Because His Grace is ours for living.

“Shouldn’t we suppose that many of our most painful ordeals will look quite different a million years from now, as we recall them on the New Earth? What if one day we discover that God has wasted nothing in our life on Earth? What if we see that every agony was part of giving birth to an eternal joy?”

— Randy Alcorn —

With always-love, Shelbie