What I Gather About Priorities

priorities

I was having one of those months.  Even though my calendar told me there was enough time to fulfill my commitments, my body and spirit were telling me otherwise.

All good things.

When I can help, I want to help.  It’s hard for me to come up with excuses to get out of doing things that matter.  It is in my nature to jump in and give my all, especially when it is for a good cause.

And yet…

My spirit wasn’t at rest.  I was feeling unsettled, foggy, tense.  My muscles were aching, my temper was short and I felt resentment creeping up in me.

My heart was crying out to God for an answer, for help, for a life boat.

(Enter the still, small voice of a gentle Savior)

So I sat down and made a priority list.  I have never done this in my life.  I have had a vague internal list of priorities in my head, but never anything concrete… never anything I could point to and say “No.  I can’t do that.  See?  It’s not on my list.”

I kept my list to ten items.  Of course, these ten items have sub-categories, so really my list is a lot longer than ten, but setting the limit at ten things made me feel sane again.  What made my list?  Here they are:

1. My relationship with God

2. My Marriage

3. My Family

4. Serving Others

5. Gathering

6. Missions

7. Myself

8. My Blog

9. Young Lives

10. Work

Let me make it really clear… ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT TO ME.  The things that aren’t so important to me didn’t make the list (unless they are a sub-category).  This list is a work in progress, and I am asking God for help in any edits I make.  During this process I have learned a few things.

1.  My current lifestyle doesn’t match up to my priorities list.  My relationship with God may be number one on my list, but there are days when God gets only the leftovers of my time and energy, if He gets anything at all.  I may say that my family is more important than my church, but when I go days without spending quality time with my kids because of church commitments, something is wrong.  This current list may not reflect where I am currently am, but it gives me a guideline to follow for where I want to end up.

2.  Numbering my priorities gives me power.  Mostly, it gives me power to say no.  If something isn’t on my list, unless it is really important, I’m not investing my time into it.  Of course, my priority list must be in alignment with scripture and how I feel God leading me.  If I make my blog number one on my list and say no to other things, I need God to hit me over the head with something.  My priorities must align with His.

3.  A priority list helps me get organized.  Even though I was busy all the time before I made my list, I didn’t really understand just how much I was committed to.  Putting it on paper was my wake-up call to get my life organized.  I made some changes on my calendar, made a decision to eliminate some distractions, and got busy.

I’m really thankful God led me to take a step back and examine my life.  I never want to get so busy that I can’t rest in His presence.  I never want to be doing so many  good things that I forget why I’m doing them.  I never want to have a mile long to-do list and in turn see the most important things suffer.  My prayer is for God to help me keep my priorities in check and always be in alignment with His purpose for me.

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What about you?  Do you have a priority list?  Do you have a hard time saying no?  Do you see that your priorities are not in alignment with the Word of God?  What steps have you or can you take to get your priorities in check?  I would love your feedback!

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We Are Gathering

Dear Dad, Letter 3

 

We Are Gathering

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We open our homes and we open our hearts.

Come in to my messy house and into my messy life.  You are welcome.

We serve lots of food on big platters or right out of the slow cookers.  We fill our plates and nourish one another with more than just food.  We find a seat wherever one is available or make our own place right on the floor.

I know about your job, you know about mine.  We often know the needs to pray for without being asked or told.  We make our struggles and our humanity known.  You bear my burdens, I bear yours.

We gather before dawn, music soft and lights low.  We pray in the quietness of early morning, watching the sun rise together, before the world is awake.  Scripture pierces the darkness between us, breaking down barriers, both challenging us and equipping us for the day ahead.

We ask each other’s children the questions that matter to them.  We listen intently to the answers and watch their faces light up.  We listen as they struggle through the scripture reading, watch them receive the offerings with joy and overlook the noise they sometimes make.  We love them all.  It takes a village, after all, and everything is worth it when we see them raise their hands to the One we all love or sing out a song of praise.

We discipline them, teach them kingdom principles, mediate arguments.  We pour the Word of God into their little hearts and minds.  We teach them songs to help them remember the important things.  We ask them a million questions and reward them in a million ways when we see that what matters is sinking in.  We love them all.

We open our Bibles and expose our ideas about what we read.  We look at one another while we speak, ready to grow from the insight offered.  You challenge me, I challenge you.  We call each other out for making excuses or diluting what that Word actually says.  His words matter most and we don’t let each other forget it.

We cook meals for one other in times of joy and grief.  We plant trees of remembrance together.  We cry when one hurts, delight when one has joy.  We celebrate victories and raises and babies.  We hold those babies as if they are our own, speaking silent prayers of blessing over them.

We meet the needs when we see one struggling.  We write a check or buy the groceries or babysit the kids.  We cook the dinner or make the encouraging phone call or send the scripture via text.  We show up on the doorstep, ready to intercede on behalf of one another.

We pass the wine and the bread and do it all in remembrance of the One who paid it all for us.  We close our eyes in repentance.  We see the tears fall sometimes and we don’t judge.  We understand the love of a Savior and are moved equally in varying ways.  We are thankful, all of us together.

We raise our hands and sing out the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.  We clap and move and the kids join in and we are a new body of believers, worshiping their Maker as one.  We  tell each other of the goodness of the Lord with gladness.

We listen intently to our elders and honor them always.

We pass out food to the hungry.  We dig our hands into the earth, planting seeds in the ground and planting the seed in our community.  We embrace teenage moms as if they were our little sisters, and fight over who gets to hold their babies.  We give until it hurts to take care of the orphans, the homeless, the church planters and the ones reaching out to make disciples.

We have our struggles and our selfish moments and our glaring shortcomings.  We have a long way to go. We are not perfect and we proclaim that loudly and without hesitation.  But we are part of His body, and we understand how significant that is.  We understand the honor of serving alongside one another and through it all, we love.  We love past the failures and through the trials.  We love old and young, meek and bold, quiet and loud.  We love the only way we know how, allowing the God of love to flow through us, transforming us all the while.

We are gathering and we are Gathering.

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Using The Lord’s Prayer as a Pattern

Lord's-Prayer

When I reflect on my life and progression as a follower of Jesus, few things show such marked growth as my prayer life.  I don’t say that to impress you, let me assure you.  My prayer life has highs and lows, lulls and progressions, and even shallowness and depth.

My parents taught me to pray by example.  They were a praying set.  One of my fondest memories of my dad is hearing him in the prayer room before church, praying in Spanish.  Now I often do the same.  My early prayers were typically selfish and short, but I imagine God was pleased that I was talking to him at all.  As I grew up, I prayed for longer periods of time, with a bit more consistency and more on the behalf of others.

In my teenage years, I heard a message on using The Lord’s Prayer as a pattern in our prayer lives.  My prayers have never been the same.

Just think about it, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Jesus himself responds and says, “pray like this.”  Whatever follows the “like this” is pretty important in my book.  Jesus wasn’t asking us to recite word for word the prayer time after time.   He was giving us an important glimpse into the spiritual realm and how we should be spending our time in communication with God.

Here is my very brief take on using the Lord’s prayer as a pattern. (You can see Matthew 6 and Luke 11 to read the prayer in context.)  There is a lot of information on this topic in books and online if you’d like to know more.  I also have a printable guide to stick into your Bible.  If you’re interested, e-mail me at rachael@wearegathering.org

Our Father in heaven

We recognize we are talking to our heavenly father who loves us and wants what is best for us.

We acknowledge this and thank him.

Hallowed be your name

A time for worship and praise.

His name deserves to be glorified.

We enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

We align ourselves with the plan and purpose of God.

Not my will but yours be done.

Pray for God’s kingdom to come to our lives, our church, & our world.

We desire to glorify God by making disciples of all nations.

Give us this day our daily bread

A time to bring our requests before God.

Recognize he knows what we need before we even ask.

Our requests should align with the plan of God.

And forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors

Acknowledge any bitterness or anger we are harboring.

Forgive the person and pray for them.

Only then do we repent and ask for forgiveness.

We turn away from our sin toward God.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

Pray for the enemy to have no place in our lives.

Pray for God to empower us to walk in righteousness and holiness.

(Doxology) For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.

We can end our prayer with worship and praise.

We ask all in the name of Jesus.

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There are a few components of the Lord’s prayer that are important to notice.  First, notice the pronouns.  Jesus used “our” and “us” instead of “my” and “me.”  We should not be selfish in our prayers!  Including others in every component of our prayer time allows others to benefit from our prayers.  I often pray on behalf of my family, my community, my church and the global church.

As I have matured a bit in my prayer life, I have recognized that most of this pattern in the Lord’s prayer is devoted to getting my heart right.  I used to spend so much time praying for my list of wants and needs.  Now, I spend the majority of my time in repentance, acknowledging that God is Lord of my life, and aligning my life with HIS purpose and will.  When I take the time to get my heart aligned with the plan of God, my requests naturally are in alignment with his will.  When I am in a flow of the Spirit during my prayer time, I don’t necessarily have to spend an hour giving God my list of requests.  I simply speak them in faith, believing that God knows what I need before I even ask.

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There are certainly other forms of prayer, some of which I will cover in a post next week.  However, the Lord’s Prayer is what I come back to time after time in my prayer life.  I pepper in meditation, journaling, intercession, common prayers, and praying Scripture, but the majority of my prayer time follows this simple yet profound pattern.  Who, after all, is more qualified to teach us to pray than Jesus himself?

What about you?  Do you use the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern during your prayer time?  What other forms of prayer do you practice?  I would love your feedback!

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A Gathering of Links XV

links

I haven’t posted my favorite links for several weeks, so all of my favorites have been piling up. I hope you are able to take some time to read through some of these. I love them all, but I have put a * next to my very favorites in case you only have time to read a few.

Spiritual Inspiration:

Labels at A Deeper Story.

*From A Holy Experience, How to be Beautiful and Have a Beautiful Home Life.

At A Deeper Story, On Peace.

In Which I Climb a Metaphor from Sarah Bessey.

At A Deeper Story, Meet the Racists.

Just do yourself and read this over at A Holy Experience.

At A Deeper Story, The Day I Ate 6 Cheese Buns.

The Church:

Sunday Night Church by Jen Hatmaker.

*At A Deeper Church:  Church Words:  Preach.

From Rachael Held Evans, Why I Can’t Stay Angry.

Doing it Wrong at A Deeper Church.

Parenting:

A look at Girl Drama from A Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Food Love:

Simply the Best from Pioneer Woman.

Book Love:

*31 Noted Authors Pick Their Favorite Books at Real Simple.

Twaddle-free Books for Young Children from A Simple Mom.

Summer Survival:

*I can totally relate to An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Summer from Narrow Paths to Higher Places.

Rachael Gathers:

My own most read post over the last month or so was I Gather a Prayer for Ruby.

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What about you?  Have you read anything funny, inspirational or informational lately?  I’d love you to comment with your favorite links!  Have a fantastic week!

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What I Gather About Worship

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(Image Source)

Some of my earliest memories involve my child-like attempts at worship.  I have to believe the times I stood in front of our small church as a little girl and sang my heart out for Jesus must have been pleasing to God.  I imagine God feeling the way I feel when Isabel looks lovingly at me and tells me she loves me.

As with most spiritual disciplines, growth was necessary in my view and practice of worship.  For a very long time I had a very narrow view of what it meant to worship God.  That mindset involved showing up on Sunday and singing several songs with hands raised or while clapping.

Of course, I know that corporate worship is important and vital in our Christian walk.  We see examples throughout the Bible of God’s people coming together, unified for the purpose of exalting the one true God.  As a singer and worship leader myself, there is nothing quite like gathering with a group of people with one unified purpose in mind:  to bring glory to God.  We celebrate victories in song, proclaim joyfully the great God we serve, and rededicate ourselves as the unified body of Christ to his purpose.

Yet over the last five or six years, I have prayed, studied and sought after a greater understanding of worship.  There have been some key moments that have led me to the understanding I currently have.  I will share three with you today.

1.  My Life is a Vapor

Psalms 141 is a beautiful psalm of David.  In verse 2, we see the concept of our prayers going up before the Lord as incense and our lifted hands as a sacrifice before the Lord.  When I think about my life, I imagine a continual vapor rising up before the Lord.  Whether or not that vapor is pleasing to him depends on whether I am seeking to worship and honor God in my words and actions.  When I pray without ceasing, a pleasing vapor rises to the Lord.  When I take time out of my day to lift my hands in surrender, a pleasing aroma ascends to God.  When I demonstrate the love God has shown to me to others and carry out my purpose in the Kingdom, the vapor rises and is worship to the Lord.

2.  Freely, Wholeheartedly and Without Hesitation

I will never forget the Sunday these words came to me.  I was in the midst of a powerful time of worship and these three words came to my mind.  I have been forever changed.  To me, these three words represent the what, how and when of worship.  The “what” is freely.  Worship is giving everything.  I withhold nothing from an all-powerful God.  I am not guarded before a risen King.

Wholeheartedly is the “how” of worship.  The manner in which I worship much reflect the greatness of the God I worship.  Whatever I do, whether in my everyday life or in a church worship service, must be done with all of my heart.  I cannot be lukewarm in worship of a Savior who reigns as Lord of all.

Without hesitation is the “when” of worship.  I worship every time I am aware of the greatness of God, without pause.  If I see a glorious sunset, I don’t hesitate to thank and praise the God who created it.  When singing a song addressing the glory of God, I don’t hesitate to raise my hands in surrender to the God of which I sing.  When I see an opportunity to glorify God through my actions, I can’t hesitate to act in the moment.  When I have an opportunity to serve, I must decrease that he may increase…. without hesitation.

When my worship only takes place in a two-hour window on Sunday, it is shallow.  Some of my most profound times of worship have been in my kitchen or alone in my bedroom or beholding the grandeur of God’s creation.  A lifestyle of worship is a daily recognition and celebration of the greatness of God.  If we all lived this way every day, just imagine the depth and celebration that would take place when we do gather to worship together!

3.  Let Worship Be the Fuel for Mission’s Flame

These are the words of a profound Matt Redman song.

“Let worship be the fuel for mission’s flame.  

We’re going with a passion for your name.

We’re going for we care about your praise.

Send us out.

Let worship be the heart of mission’s aim.

To see the nations recognize your fame.

‘Til every tribe and tongue voices your praise.

Send us out.”

I first listened to the lyrics of this song while living in Cuba.  As you can imagine, it had tremendous significance to me at that point in my life.  The lyrics say it all.

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I am sad to admit that while I continually feel the call to be a true worshiper, I often ignore the call.  One of my favorite passages about worship talks about worshiping God in spirit and in truth, then goes on to say:

“the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23)

I imagine God looking down on his creation, seeking those whose life is a sweet-smelling vapor of worship… those who are worshiping freely, wholeheartedly and without hesitation…. those who carry out the Great Commission because they want to see every tribe and tongue proclaiming his glory…..

And I don’t want his gaze to pass me by and look to another.  When he is seeking worshipers, I want to be found proclaiming the glory and greatness of the God who called me out of darkness and into his marvelous light.  I want my actions to be worship to the Most High.  I want to be found rejoicing at the beauty and excellence of his creation.  I want to be found with words of thanksgiving and adoration on my lips.

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Have you worshiped God in some way today?  Have you marveled at his creation or had a grateful heart for the change he has made in your life?  Have you lifted your hands to him in surrender?  Will you sing out songs of praise to him?  When he is seeking for worshipers, will you be found among them?  My prayer today is one of repentance for the times I have failed and a re-dedication to be found among those worshiping in spirit and in truth.

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Langstons Gather

I spent last week in New Jersey with my cousins who pastor a pretty awesome inner-city church.  They started it about ten years ago with little outside support and the help of only one nephew.  The church is growing and thriving now, with over 250 in weekly attendance.  I love receiving updates from Tanya about how many were in service or how many were baptized.  My intention was to write a blog about how fantastic Tapestry Church is.  I have been there a few times, and love the authenticity of the people and the pulse I sense.  It tells me the church is alive and tuned in to the presence of God and the purpose of God.  They have a great team of leaders working with them, supporting and inspiring the Langstons and devoting themselves to the mission and vision of the church.

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Image Source: Joy Langston Photography

But that is all I’m going to say about Tapestry Church.  That is another post for another day.  Instead, I am going to brag about Tony and Tanya…. because sometimes you just have to give honor where honor is due.  Sometimes when you are moved and challenged by someone doing the work of the kingdom, you have to say so.  This is me saying so.

This is how the Langstons gather.

1.  The Langstons gather people together in their home.  I have never met anyone with an open-door policy like that of the Langstons.  Their home is the hub for meetings, dinners, social activities and weddings.  They have hosted countless services, prayer meetings, counseling sessions and leadership meetings.  Their furniture, refrigerator and carpet pay the toll.  They have had NINE people live in their spare room in the last ten years (including my niece currently).  Their neighbors drop by and are welcomed.  Young people from the church show up and are greeted with open arms.  And you know what?  I have never heard them complain about it.

I long for this type of community.  Here in the suburbs, it seems like a miracle if I can get to know the names of my neighbors.  Yet the Langstons have shared the love and gospel of Jesus with countless neighbors and a large number of their church members have come from their genuine connections with these very neighbors.

2.  The Langstons gather ideas, knowledge and experiences.  My brain spins when I am around them.  They are constantly discussing how to improve their effectiveness.  They have a mission and they gather every possible resource to help them accomplish that mission.  They attend conferences, read books, listen to sermons and push one another to grow as leaders.  Tony and Tanya have been successful in seeing their church grow by many standards, but they are not satisfied.  They celebrate the growth, but are always quick to say how far they have to go, how many they have to reach.

3.  The Langstons gather people to Jesus.  I am so moved by their genuine love for people.  Tony and Tanya aren’t doing this exhausting work to make money, build an impressive church or gather accolades from their Christian counterparts.  They are in it because they desire to gather people UNTO Jesus.  Their mission field is saturated with real people who have real, heartbreaking stories.  The people they gather tell stories of abuse, drug-addiction, prostitution, violence, divorce, abandonment, depression and hopelessness.

Yet because of the persistence, compassion and love the Langstons have for their city, and by the faithfulness and power of God, these stories have turned into lives full of hope, healing, restoration, deliverance, peace, unity, commitment and freedom in Christ Jesus.
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langstons2
Image Source: Joy Langston Photography

Their job is messy.  Many of the people they love and reach have issues I may never witness in my privileged suburb.  It is often a thankless job.  It is a job that faces much scrutiny and criticism from the Christian world.  Their methods are questioned.  Their dedication and commitment to doctrine are questioned.  Their job is all-consuming and never-ending.

This is the work of Jesus, my friends.  They are carrying a heavy cross to walk this path with Jesus.  When I see their ministry, I see the Great Commission being carried out with grace, compassion and an abiding love.  And while their job isn’t easy by any means, it is rewarding.

They are seeing lives transformed by the power of God.  They are experiencing tangible, sustained growth.  They live with an authentic community of believers.  They are seeing their purpose fulfilled.  They are reaching a FIRST-GENERATION of disciples.

Their passion is exhausting, yet I am inspired.  I feel like I received a holy gift last week.  I saw a glimpse into the lives of people who are truly gathering people to Jesus.  I am changed by it and I thank you, Tony and Tanya, for your unyielding commitment to the purpose God has laid before you.  I thank you for being a shining example to me of what it means to spend a life for the cause of Christ.

A (Re)Gathering of Faith

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At a time when I should have been praying about petty fights with friends or asking God for a pony, I was interceding for my dad’s life.

As hard as I try, I can’t seem to remember pre-cancer days. I have scattered memories of short-lived remission days. Mostly, though, I remember the days of cancer. Lymphoma was an integral part of my childhood vocabulary, along with chemotherapy, radiation and phrases like “two months to live.”

And oh, the prayers.

Maybe there was a night here and there when I didn’t pray for healing and health for my dad, but I don’t remember those carefree nights. In the forefront of my mind are the nights of pleading and begging, with a voice or in a whisper, with dry sleepy eyes or with the tears of a child.

There are so many stories to tell of those nights. Stories of angels in my room or the closeness I felt to my comforter. Stories of loneliness and fear, intermingled with stories of faith and hope.

But the story in my heart today is the story of the after. The story of a prayer unanswered and a father buried along with the faith of his daughter.

 

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My brother became the pastor of the church when Dad died. A revival had been scheduled before his death and it was decided to move forward with the special guest speaker. Evangelist S. was a friend of my father, of our family and of our church. My guess is that in the midst of church-wide grief, the leadership was desperate for healing and hope. So he came. And this 16-year-old was there.

It was surreal walking into those church doors those first few months. I saw Dad everywhere. The church building was my preferred context in which to place my dad (beats a hospital any day) and the building of that church had been his life’s work. Yet, in I walked, sitting as though I hadn’t been shaken to my core.

That minister preached a masterpiece of a sermon. He remains the most captivating storyteller I have ever heard. As was customary for this particular minister, he began to pray for people after his sermon. I am Pentecostal, and it is not uncommon for Pentecostal preachers to call someone out for prayer in front of the congregation. He asked if anyone was sick and began laying hands on people to pray for them.

I don’t quite know how to describe how I felt in those moments. Just try to imagine with me….

*16 years old
*Father was just buried
*9 year battle with cancer
*Thousands of prayers for healing
*Sitting in father’s church
*Minister praying for the sick

A flood of grief enveloped me. A cloud of sadness rested on me. An anger burned inside me.

And then it happened. A kid from our youth group had raised his hand, saying he was sick with a cold and had a terrible sore throat. Evangelist S. called my name, staring me down with penetrating eyes. Our conversation went a little something like this:

S: Rachael, stand up.
(I stood, tears already flowing)
S. Rachael, do you believe God is a healer?
(My world is shaking under my feet. I don’t know what I know. I don’t know how to respond. I don’t know. I want to scream. I want to run. I sob)
Rachael: (through broken sobs) Yes.
S: Rachael, do you believe God can heal Alex RIGHT NOW?
Rachael: Yes.
S: Rachael, I want you to step out of your seat, lay your hands on Alex and pray for healing.

I know what some of you are thinking. I have thought it myself. What Evangelist S. did could have been considered cruel. He could have inflicted further damage on an already broken girl.

And yet….

I stepped out, laid my hands on Alex and prayed. I prayed for healing and Alex said his pain vanished immediately.

Evangelist S. is one of my heroes. Yes, what he did that night could have been cruel. But that is where the HOLY SPIRIT comes into play.  Imagine with me for a moment what he must have felt in that moment, when the Holy Spirit led him to call me out, a girl he knew and loved in a deep ocean of fresh grief.  Imagine what faith and trust he must have had in God to obey in that moment.

The reality is that I was at a crossroads that night. I was on the verge of losing faith. My father died and I felt something had died in me. My father was buried and I felt my former life had been buried with him.

But hear me now….

My father had been resurrected to be with Jesus and I had to experience a resurrection.  I was confronted with the most basic and yet the most important of all questions….

Do you believe God is who he says he is?

The question was posed and I answered from the deepest, truest place of my being.

Yes, God is healer.  Yes, I believe.

My journey didn’t end that night.  I continued to deal with overwhelming grief and still have days when grief overcomes me.  But from that night forward, I knew what I knew.

I know God loves.  I know God heals.  I know God is worthy of my trust.  I know God is who he says he is.  I know it today.  I have never forgotten.

Evangelist S., I thank you for listening and responding to the Holy Spirit.  I thank you because it was a pivotal moment in my life and I took a step in the direction of faith and have never looked back.  I thank God for his abundant love, reaching out to me at my point of desperation…. posing the most difficult yet most essential question of my life.  My answer was, is and will continue to be a resounding “YES!”

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Me, with my Dad, not long before his death.

Much Love,

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