selah

One of the real blessings of this sabbatical is being able to read more books. I love books. In fact, I would tell the kids, when they were younger, that books are our friends. I’m glad they still think so.

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Over the past few days, I have been reading, “Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation” by Robert J. Morgan. It has been good to reclaim and be reminded of the value of biblical meditation.

This past few weeks have been wonderful and also faith-stretching for me. God has been drawing me to Him and away from my fears. In the midst of this time of stretching, I read this in Morgan’s book. “One of the best biblical illustrations of using meditation to gain insight into God’s Word comes from Asaph, the author of Psalms 77 and 78. We find him in Psalm 77 terribly anxious, so distraught that he couldn’t sleep.” He goes on to write words that are right where I live too often.

“How often does fear steal our sleep? Fear is like a skeletal hand that reaches into our chests, squeezing our hearts. This bony hand has many sharp fingers–anxiety, worry, anger, depression, obsession, compulsion, discouragement, jealousy, foreboding, phobia, timidity, mistrust, and that nagging sense of unease.” Robert Morgan, Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation

“Truer words were never spoken (or written).” So I began to meditate and ponder the Asaph’s words in Psalm 77. I read and reread the psalm over and over. I listened to it while eating, while showering, while … never mind. Let’s just say I asked God to speak to me through His Word in Psalm 77.

Then I began to write some of my thoughts. What was the trouble that Asaph was going through that caused him to cry out to God? How long was he going through his challenge? What do you do when fear overwhelms you so much that you declare, “My soul refuses to be comforted.”

Maybe my situation wasn’t exactly the same as with Asaph, but I could relate to his feelings and thoughts. I continued to ponder this Psalm. I wrote it out and rewrote it. I circled words. I underlined phrases. I continued to ask the Holy Spirit to illumine the Word.

Slowly I began to see. I began to see a clear, yet not easy, way through the fog of fear I so easily get stuck in. Yes, I can and need to cry out to God, especially in the day of my trouble, because He will hear me. It’s so clear that when I am overwhelmed by fear, I look inward. I focus on my fear, my trouble, and on myself. I begin, like Asaph, to look back at better days. “Oh why can’t things be like how they were? How good things were back then. Why does my life have to be so complicated now?” But I am meditating on the wrong thing, me, which leads to questions Asaph records in verses 7-9: “Will the Lord spurn forever and never be favorable again?” “Has His steadfast love forever cease?” “Are Hi promises at an end for all time?” “Has God forgot to be gracious?” “Has He in anger shut up His compassions?”

Then at the end of verse 9, Asaph writes a word, “selah.” It’s a word that many scholars far smarter than me are unsure of its exact meaning. But one of the things it can mean seems to make sense here in Psalm 77. It could mean “pause, or take time to consider.” I think that is what Asaph does here. He pauses. He ponders. He considers. For the rest of the Psalm, he chooses to remember, ponder and meditate on the goodness and faithfulness of God.

In times of fear and uncertainty, I need to be like my new buddy, Asaph. Yes, I will have trouble and fear and all kinds of challenges. Yes, I need to cry out to God. Yes, I will be tempted to focus on my troubles and wallow in my fear. But yes, I need to remember “selah” and pause. I need to pause long enough to remember, ponder, and meditate on the goodness and faithfulness of God. Because when I do, I will see that throughout my life, God has been there and His love has never failed. It makes a lot more sense to me now when John writes in 1 John 4:18:

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.

Yes, indeed, God’s perfect love expels all fear. May I learn where to focus in times of fear and trouble. May I remember, not I will remember, by God’s grace:

I will remember the deeds of the Lord yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. Ps. 77:11-14

Thanks, Asaph!

another step…

keep going!

I was at a bookstore the other day and my eyes were drawn to a very interesting quote on a card. It read: “When you are going through hell, keep going.”

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At first I smiled as I saw the card. Then I began to think about it, ponder it. Thoughts filled my mind. The quote is attributed to Winston Churchill. Now there is some question whether he actually said this but it doesn’t really matter to me because I can see why it is believed he said it. From the little I know about Churchill and all the challenges he faced as a leader, I could imagine the hell he went through.

Thinking about the quote, I thought, “Hmm, that’s true, if I’m going through hell, why would I want to stay there? Instead of wallowing in a hellish situation or trial, doesn’t it make sense to keep on going! That’s not a destination the that is not appealing at all to me.” Wasn’t the message of that quote the exhortation of Scripture? Didn’t Paul go through hell? What did he do? He pressed on. He kept going.

“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Phil. 3:14

Wasn’t it a huge transition for the Jews to leave their traditions behind to follow Jesus?They experienced the challenges that sin presents just like we do. What was the exhortation to them, keep going? And Jesus went through hell, enduring the cross. He endured and kept going.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Heb. 12:1-2

“When you are going through hell, keep going…” I thought about that all day. I thought about Winston Churchill. I wondered, “What was Churchill’s motivation? What would inspire him to keep going, despite all he encounters, all the weight on his shoulders?” As I pondered that, I found a book, “God and Churchill.” On a whim, I purchased it.  Reading the story of this interesting man, I found his motivation.

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Churchill had a very memorable conversation with a close friend at the age of 16, about destiny, more specifically, their own. His friend asked, “Will you go into the army?” Churchill replied, “I don’t know. It is probable; but I shall have great adventures soon after I leave here.” As the conversation continued, his friend said quizzically, “You do not seem at all clear about your intentions or desires.” Churchill being Churchill shot back, “That may be but I have a wonderful idea of where I shall be eventually. I have dreams about it.” Then he said something incredible. He shared what I believe became his motivation, what inspired him to keep going. He had a dream, which I would say, was a prophetic dream from the Lord. A dream that would, very soon, come to past.

At the young age of 16, Churchill said of that dream,

“Well, I can see vast changes coming over a now peaceful world; great upheavals, terrible struggles; wars such as one cannot imagine; and I tell you London will be attacked and I shall be very prominent in the defense of London…This country will be subjected somehow, to a tremendous invasion, by what means I do not know, but I tell you I shall be in command of the defenses of London, and I shall save London and England from disaster.”

“Will you be a general, then, in command of the troops?”asked his friend. Churchill continued,

“I don’t know. Dreams of the future are blurred, but the main objective is clear…I repeat–London will be in danger and in the high position I shall occupy, it will fall to me to save the Capitol and save the Empire.”

That was absolutely astounding to me! The incredible dream. Seeing from history the incredible fruition of that dream. The seemingly unsurmountable challenges Churchill faced. That is where that quote finds its origin. “When you are going through hell, keep going…” Winston Churchill went through hell and kept going. An author of another book about Churchill wrote, Without Churchill the world today would be unrecognizable–dark, impoverished, tortured. … Above all, victory required one man without whom the fight would have been lost at the beginning. It required Winston Churchill.”

Abiding and following Jesus brings all kinds of challenges, sometimes hellish troubles and trials. What will be my motivation to keep going? It must be the same with Churchill, God’s call on my life. Heading into this new decade of my life, I asked God if this could be the most significant, most fruitful, decade of my life. A decade that would bring Him much glory. I sensed God’s affirmation and encouragement. I felt God say, “Yes, it will be. You have and are being prepared. Keep abiding in My Son. And watch what I will do.” That is my motivation. What specifically does that mean? Churchill’s words resonate with me. “I don’t know. Dreams of the future are blurred, but the main objective is clear.” I don’t know but may this next 10 years bring God much glory. May I be so focused and motivated that I can say, “When you are going through hell, keep going.”

another step..going to to keep going!

yes, Jesus loves me

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”  Romans 5:5

I struggled with the truth that God loved me for a long time. Questions like, “How could God love a person like me?” “Why would God love a person like me?” had no answers. Even as a child, there was a false belief that the one true God, the God of the Bible, loved white kids, black kids, but not Asian kids like me. Why believe such a crazy thing? But as silly as this sounds, every picture, every book, everywhere I saw a picture of Jesus surrounded by children, none of the them looked like me. That’s crazy, I know. But as a little guy, I just made that nutty assumption.

Then later when I placed my faith in Jesus, I knew in my mind that Jesus loved me. It said so in black and white in the Scriptures. I mentally believed that. I had to. But within my heart, there was more hope than faith. I hoped He loved me. I hoped He accepted me and died for me. I hoped, but I didn’t necessarily believe that in my heart.

In fact, I felt I needed to earn God’s love. I had to show Him that I was worthy of His love. I had to repay God for all He had done for me. Alas, it’s a debt that is impossible to repay, but for years I tried. I tried really hard.

Then on a fateful day in 1984, my father suffered a massive heart attack. Upon hearing the news, we rushed over to the hospital, praying the entire time. Praying for healing. Praying for mercy. And for 5 minutes. 5 minutes. I asked God that even if this was time for my dad, I wanted just 5 minutes to tell him how much I loved and appreciated him. Just 5 minutes. We arrived at the ER and was told that despite all their efforts, my dad didn’t pull through. All I felt was numbness. Numbness and the reinforced false belief that God didn’t truly love me. I couldn’t even get 5 minutes so I needed to do more.

Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-4, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” And God is true to His Word! Even in the toughest situations in our lives, God is doing something. He is strengthening the hope we have in Jesus. He’s doing so whether I believe it or not, whether I feel it or not. But the best part, the game changer for me is what Paul writes in verse 5. In light of all that I go through, all the lies I believed, the hurts, the pain, the confusion, anything and everything, He’s been at work in my life. The truth is, God has always been there. God has always loved me. Yes, God does love even Asian kids! 

On a very, very special day, the Holy Spirit filled my heart with His love. On that unforgettable day, God made it very clear to me that despite my crazy ideas, He indeed did love me. and began to fill my heart with His love. Despite the confusion I felt when my dad passed away. Despite all the times I felt God wasn’t there or all the times I felt my prayers didn’t make His ears. It was 27 years ago today God showed me clearly how much He really did love me.

You see, since high school, my biggest dream was not being rich or famous or successful. It wasn’t even to have a comfortable life. My biggest dream was having a wonderful family. That was it. A wonderful, close knit family. A loving wife and children to love. And I wanted a daughter, at least one. I did want sons. Every dad wants sons. But for some reason, I always wanted my firstborn to be a girl. Well, 27 years ago today, God, the Holy Spirit, filled my heart with His love. It was 27 years ago today, August 18, 1990, that we welcomed our firstborn,  our precious daughter, Michelle, into our family! With all the lies in my mind, I just couldn’t believe that she was real. I couldn’t believe that God would love me enough to make my dream come true. I remember just staring at her, with wonder and a love I had never experienced before, the love of a father! I remember carrying her from the birthing room to the nursery. Never in my life did I carry something so precious in my arms.

That was the beginning of God filling my heart with His love and dusting away all the lies I had believed. It was the beginning of truly experiencing God’s love in my heart and not just my head. It was the beginning of experiencing the amazing love of my Father, who loved me for who I was and not what I did. It has been a process. I am still under construction. But that was the beginning. Happy Birthday, dear daughter. Thank you for being a living reminder of God’s love to me. Thank you for being you. May the Holy Spirit fill you to overflow, God’s love for you. Happy Birthday!

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a look back, and another step…

 

I’ve got my eye on the goal

Once again, I go to Dale Wolyniak’s quote about a sabbatical,  “A ministry sabbatical is ideally quite different from a traditional academic sabbatical or a sabbatical practiced in business. It is about the spirit and soul being refreshed, renewed, and redirected.”  As time goes on,  I feel my spirit and soul allowing itself to be more refreshed. I see God’s loving hand bringing renewal, the “replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down or broken” in my life.

Redirection is being directed to a new or different place or purpose. As I look ahead to the end of this sabbatical, God is doing His good work in this area as well. One of the great joys of this sabbatical has been all the good reports coming out of our church. So many good things are happening. The pastors are doing a great job. Leaders have stepped up in wonderful ways. We continue to move forward in answering God’s call. God is so faithful and continues to lead our church forward, whether I am there or not. Yes, Jesus said, “I will build My church,” and He is. The church is growing. The leaders are growing. And I must grow as well.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”    Ben Franklin

Yes, God has been directing us all to a new place, a new level. Things cannot be the same when I return. It cannot be the “old same old same old.” This is His church and God is bringing redirection in my life as I prepare to head back. A passage that I ponder often is Phil. 3:12-14. Eugene Peterson articulates this passage well in his paraphrase from The Message:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

God has a call for me that hasn’t changed. It’s not finished yet. I’m on my way. Sometimes, because of my frailty and stubbornness, it’s been two steps forward and one step back. Or times when it has been one step forward and two steps back. I don’t have this all together. I don’t have it made. But I’m on my way. I am far from being an expert but I do have my eye on the goal. And I’m not turning back.

So what how is God redirecting me? In many ways, both big and small.

  • He is drawing me closer to Him. I am asking God to teach me how to experience Isa. 26:3-4. You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.”
  • I am learning to trust Him more and let go of control. How wonderful the words of 2 Pet. 1:3-4. By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” 
  • He is giving me insights for the next steps of His call for our church and my life. As Grandma Leong loves to pray from Isa. 58:11,The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring,” I am seeking with renewed passion God’s guidance. I will need God’s guidance now, more than ever. 

It’s an exciting time but with all this refreshing, renewing and redirecting going on, God is also preparing me, character-wise to walk in a manner worthy of my calling. I am learning more tough but essential lessons. It’s been difficult to see my weaknesses and my lack of faith exposed by the loving hand of My Father. But it is good. I’m still a person under much construction. But that’s a story for another time.

another step…

 

 

more lessons along the way

This sabbatical has been good. Good for my soul. For the first time in a very long time, I feel like I am intentionally doing something to benefit me. Just writing that stirs feelings that I am being selfish. But knowing the Lord has been leading and teaching me to find rest for my soul puts things in proper perspective. It has been nice to begin feeling more refreshed. It has only taken me 2 months to get there! But, I am learning it’s all about the journey, about what I learn along the way, as much as getting to the end. And there is so much to learn. That has probably been at the heart of this sabbatical. Like Dale Wolyniak wrote,  “A ministry sabbatical is ideally quite different from a traditional academic sabbatical or a sabbatical practiced in business. It is about the spirit and soul being refreshed, renewed, and redirected.” 

I am learning to rest and allow God to bring refreshment in my  spirit and soul. In surprising ways, maybe just to me, He is bringing renewal to my spirit and soul.  I say it’s surprising because He is revealing areas I thought I was doing okay in. Letting the Son shine in on my life has been painfully beneficial. I see God identifying, dealing and bringing renewal in my spirit and soul. One dictionary lists as one of the definitions of renewal as “the repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken.” What a perfect way to describe what God is doing in my life.

re·new·al (rəˈn(y)ooəl)–“replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken.”
Out of God’s great love for me, and for those around me, He has been revealing and bringing repair to areas that have been worn out, run-down or broken in my life. The irony is I didn’t think those were areas that needed repair. Don’t get me wrong, there are a multitude of areas that worn out, run-down or broken in my life. I just didn’t think the areas God has been revealing were among those. (Yup, the joke is on me!)
Here’s an example: I have always thought of myself as a pretty forgiving person. Definitely not perfect but overall I find it easy to forgive. I don’t hold grudges. I don’t stay angry for very long. But alas there’s that influence of self-delusion in my life. Very recently, I found myself in the presence of someone I have known for years but haven’t seen in awhile. Instead of being happy to see that person, it felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over me. With the risk of appearing to defend myself and my “attitude,” I did try reaching out a couple of times. Both attempts were met with what I interpreted as being brushed off. I let those thoughts cloud my mind and reinforce all the times I felt offended and hurt by them and all that resulted was being in a funk. My attitude was lousy. I didn’t have much to say that was positive. I just felt like removing myself from that situation. All I could think about was “poor me.” So what did I do? I removed myself from the situation. It felt pretty good!
Then resting in the comfort of my bad attitude and my good old friend, my bed, I sighed and smiled, feeling so good to be there where I felt I wasn’t welcomed. It was nice. Until God felt it was a good time to do some renewing in my life. As I laid there, I could sense the Holy Spirit poking at my heart. In moments like that, my favorite phrase is “but God.” “But God, I tried! I reached out. I was nice. I was cordial.” “But God, I didn’t really say anything bad or nasty or mean.” “But God, I didn’t really do anything to warrant being rebuffed or brushed off.” And a part of that is true. I did reach out. I didn’t say anything bad. I didn’t do anything, I don’t think, to warrant being brushed off.
But it didn’t really matter because there were feelings of unforgiveness in my heart. God began to reveal how those feelings were there and how they surfaced even before that encounter. How those feelings were there for probably years. I just was pretty good at stuffing them. Unforgiveness was there affecting my heart, my spirit and soul and needed to be renewed. Time doesn’t heal unforgiveness. It’s just that over time, unforgiveness gets pushed to the back by all the other stuff going on. But it’s there. And with it, came the negative results.
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.  Hebrews 12:14-15
Unforgiveness can lead to bitterness which messes up our lives and our relationships with others. The Holy Spirit gently opened my eyes to see how my unforgiveness led to me being grumpy with those around me, especially my wife. Friendly fire. Not a good thing. Lying there in my self pity and self righteousness, God reminded me of the antidote for the poison of unforgiveness:
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13
Renewal means repairing. God wants to renew areas in my life. I must open my heart and allow God to renew me. So I took Paul’s words in Colossians to heart. Familiar words. I have read them before. I have studied them before. I have shared them before. But it was time to apply these words of renewal to a broken part of my life. I made a decision to make allowance for the faults of others. I chose to forgive others who offended me. I chose to remember God’s love and example to me. This was about me. About my unforgiveness. It wasn’t about a person who offended or hurt me. No “but God,” no finger pointing, no trying to justify or defend myself. My heart needed renewing. So I spent some time praying, forgiving and asking God to forgive me. It was a good time. It reminded me of a picture my son John took of his sister in Niigata. There my daughter was, looking out in the darkness of the night with hope and wonder in her eyes. In the midst of the darkness that unforgiveness brought, there is hope because God is there. There is hope because He is renewing in me what needs to be renewed.

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After awhile, I opened my eyes and something was different. There were no dark clouds. There wasn’t a heaviness in my heart. God had begun to renew me, His loyal and stubborn love, repairing my heart and soul. What a difference! With God leading and supplying the grace needed, it was remarkably easy.  Am I a new person with a new heart? Not exactly. I’m a person under construction, being refreshed, renewed and redirected (that’s a story for another day) by the love and power of my Father heaven.
I am learning how true the words written by my buddy, Andrew Murray, really are:

“As bread is the first need of the body, so forgiveness is for the soul.” 

Thank you Father for your love for me. You love me enough not to let me wallow in my unforgiveness and suffer the consequences of a bitter root. How wonderful You are. Thank you!!!

another step…

lessons along the way

Being on a sabbatical has been very interesting. As it so often is following the Lord, it hasn’t gone as I expected. Dale Wolyniak wrote in a very helpful booklet, Sabbaticals for Minsters, “A ministry sabbatical is ideally quite different from a traditional academic sabbatical or a sabbatical practiced in business. It is about the spirit and soul being refreshed, renewed, and redirected.” Preparing for this sabbatical, I began to relish the thought of being refreshed.

Being in ministry all these years and starting a church have been amazing. I cannot imagine doing anything else. Enjoy the friendships, serving alongside the greatest people, and making new friends along the way have been the greatest! I thank God all the time for the privilege of serving him in this capacity. It’s been awesome! But little did I know how much emotional energy was spent and how “tired” I had become. Entering my seventh decade adds to this as well. All the leadership challenges, the weekly gearing up for worship services, administrative responsibilities, emergencies, tragedies, relational challenges and conflicts, criticism, and continual spiritual warfare does take a toll. Yup, after 27 years of ministry, I realized I was a bit weary. It showed up in sleep challenges, physical ailments and difficulty dealing emotionally with things that should have been no big deal.  Now, this is not meant to be a sob story. No, not at all. Yes, during this sabbatical, I discovered how weary I was. But more importantly, far more importantly, I have experienced the extreme goodness and love of God my Father. It has been a humbling but gratifying experience to see and experience firsthand how much God loves me. I am beginning to see the light!

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I struggled with the idea of taking a sabbatical, especially at this important season in our church. Honestly, I really didn’t want to go, not now. But through the counsel and encouragement of some amazing individuals and elders, I decided to go through with it. The quote from Dale Wolyniak resonates with me more and more during this sabbatical adventure. Being refreshed was so appealing to me as I began. My spirit and soul cried out, as well as my body, for refreshment. And yes, God has been faithful.

Eugene Peterson wrote in an article, Sabbatical Is Not Study Leave, words that have challenged and inspired me during this sabbatical.

“If we are going to take sabbaticals, let them be real sabbaticals: a willed passivity in order to be resorted to alert receptivity to spirit-prayer, silence, solitude, worship. It is outrageous that we acquiesce to the world’s definition of our word and let our unique, biblical sabbatical be put to the use of career advancement, psychological adjustment, and intellectual polish–with all the prayer and contemplation laundered out. The original intent of Sabbath  is a time to be silent and listen to God, not attend lectures; a time to be in solitude and be with God, not “interact” with fatigued peers. If help is to be given to the pastor in midcourse, it is not going to come by infusion of intellect, but by renewal of spirit.” 

Powerful words that I am taking to heart. I marvel how God has so orchestrated the events in my life to teach me a great lesson–how to abide in Him. I often think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

I am praying more and more, especially in this sabbatical season that Jesus would teach me and I would find rest for my soul. I have slowly begun to feel refreshed. I am slowly understanding what is at God’s heart for my sabbatical. I am slowly learning that “…it is not going to come by infusion of intellect, but by renewal of spirit.”

Believe it or not, I am enjoying the journey more and focusing less on getting to wherever I am going, physically and spiritually.

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As far as being renewed and redirected…well that’s a story for another day. Thank you, Jesus, for teaching me to rest. Thank you for your faithfulness, patience and goodness. I am humbled by your love for me. Thank you!

another step…

btw, props to my son John for taking the pics. Thanks, John!