40 Days of Prayer: Conversations With The King Days 32 & 33


Dear Reader, 

I wandered into these 40 Days of Prayer hoping to experience a miracle. We are in the waiting stages of adoption and I had secretly hoped God would show up within these 40 days in a mighty way. That maybe by the end I would have a testimony of how God finally built our family, or something along those lines. To be honest these 40 days have been rough. That’s not to say that God has not shown up. I can feel Him working in reverse on my heart, the ways I thought He would work being turned inside out. He has used the small moments to remind me He is listening, and the absence of the physical presence of the desires of my heart have held me in captivation of His every word, knowing only He can provide what I need. He is speaking to me in many ways, though I admit not specifically about what I had hoped He would. So how do you keep praying when it feels like what you want is at the mercy of your God? You pray for what you need, moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. Until all those prayerful moments amount to years and all those years amount to a living testimony in which you can proclaim, God has provided. We live in a world of want, but Jesus came to supply all our needs. I hang on to the hope that God hears our most desperate prayers, like those of Hannah as she prayed for her child. He knows what we want, but He wants to give us what we need because He can see how everything intertwines and how every prayer will play out into eternity. In a world of instant gratification, we must come to understand the eternity of our God. What if all of our Bible heroes had every one of their prayers instantly answered? How different would things have turned out? What if God had let Moses give up right when He was called to from the burning bush? What if Mary hadn’t said “Lord, be it as you say” to carrying the Savior of the world? What if Abraham was granted Issac immediately? Would we have understood how serious God is or how He loves us throughout time? We would have missed out on all of their testimonies. So tonight I pray for peace to surrender. Picking up a cross looks nothing like getting all I ever wanted. But the weight of Christ’s glory makes it beautiful.

In Him, 

A Fellow Grace Wanderer 

How to Love: Grace When We Don’t Understand 


Dear Reader, 

We love butterflies specifically for their many colors, and yet when it comes to the many beautiful colors of people we find barriers. We see “difference” as something to fear, instead of to praise God for. We see it with many things. We see the harsh criticisms across denominational lines of what we as Christians “should” believe, but the truth there should be simple. As Christians we “should” believe in the Bible as sole truth. However, ask Christians from different denominations and they will explain that truth differently. We can’t agree, even on something as simple as what is truth. If we elevate this to the color of the people in this world, we find the same holds true. Everyone believes the answer is simple, to love. But it would appear that what love looks like is understood differently by many. My husband and I are hoping to adopt our first child, and friends, I have no idea what race our baby will be. But I want them to know they are loved by us fully. I fear for how they may perceive “love” in this world. The “truth” spoken “in love” by this world is often not truth at all, but hatred dressed up in sheep’s clothing. Every single person has great worth, great beauty, great potential to love one another. But we must seek out how to love. What does it mean to love someone who is different than us? It means to speak up when the world has lost its mind and its heart. It means to be humbled and admit when we’ve been wrong or when we’ve been unable to understand. In order to love deeply, we must begin to understand where we have gone wrong and how we can do better. How can we understand what we have done if we never speak to those we have hurt with our silence or with our wrong words? God’s love is so much deeper than the surface love we often offer other people. Saying there is no problem simply means we can’t see the problem. It’s like closing our eyes in the midst of a tragedy and saying the commotion is nothing serious. To love our neighbor takes humility not condescension. To love our neighbor takes real conversation and real concern. Wherever you stand, don’t stand for hatred. Love, and learn what love means. We’re all learning together. Apart we fail.

In Him, 

A Fellow Grace Wanderer 

40 Days of Prayer: Conversations With the King Day 7 


Dear Reader,  

It’s storming here tonight in Wisconsin. Ever since I was a small child I’ve been afraid of these summer storms. I remember being glued to the old television in the basement as I watched the meteorologists forecast which way the storms were headed and praying to Jesus to keep us all safe. Those were my real and desperate prayers. As a young child those prayers were as real they got. I was in trouble, something dangerous was coming, and even then I knew Jesus could save me. He calms the storms of life. If the prayers you are lifting to Him over the course of these 40 days are prayers rooted in fear, know that Jesus hears you. Know that the Father gives you His ear. I admit that I think almost all of my prayers stem from a level of fear. Some of those fears are that my plans will never happen, or because I’m scared of harm coming to my loved ones, or because I feel like things are beyond my control. Jesus wants us to come to Him with all of our fears, but He also wants us to lay those fears down at His feet. It’s human to feel fear, but it’s miraculous to feel Jesus lift those fears away. Prayer is our powerful connection to the King of Heaven who even the wind and waves obey. He is our calm and our peace when all the world is in turmoil. Keep those honest prayers flowing. He hears every one of them. 

In Him, 

A Fellow Grace Wanderer 

40 Days of Prayer: Conversations With the King Day 5


Dear Reader, 

When I started this series, 40 Days of Prayer, I had it in my head that I was going to pray diligently for 40 days over one single thing to my Father God. But that one single thing is not as simple as the three words I chose to remember it by. That one single thing cannot stand on its own because it’s attached to a million other dreams, and people, and situations. Chances are, that one prayer you want answered isn’t a stand alone situation either. If God would just answer your one prayer, and ignore all the others, it would probably be true that what you would find yourself with wouldn’t be sufficient. God knows that. That’s why He tells us to pray without ceasing. Bring it all before Him. Bring everything before Him. Our prayers aren’t stand alone requests. Instead they are a continuous conversation thread with the King of Heaven who supplies ALL our needs. This is just one more reason that prayer can’t end up on my to-do list. To-do lists are meant for actions that can be accomplished and then crossed off. But prayer is continuous. We should never be done praying. Because God is never done responding to us. His love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on you. I encourage you today to go beyond simply reading off the prayer request list, and dive deeper into the real honest things we need to be discussing with our God. God is real. Our prayers should be too.

In Him, 

A Fellow Grace Wanderer 

40 Days of Prayer: Conversations with the King Day 2 


Dear Reader, 

Today my honest conversation with the King of Heaven took place in the car. What started as a stream of worries quickly became a flowing river of intercessions. Sometimes I think I’m selfish with my Christianity. I hold Christ so dear to my heart that I forget to look around and see that He holds many others dear to His heart. Community is hard for me. My faith in who I am and how God sees me is quickly shattered by the doubts of others. Insecurity often reigns where confidence in Christ should reign supreme. My prayer life feels like safety to me, a place where no one else can intrude. But God tells us that where two or three come together in His name, there He is with them. He doesn’t want us to carry our burdens alone in this physical life. That’s why His church is made up of many parts and many people. He loves us powerfully in an individual way, but He moves among His people when they gather together in communion with one another.

In Him, 

A Fellow Grace Wanderer 

A Grace Note: Grace in Weakness 


Dear Reader, 

I planted this Hydrangea bush in our shade garden last spring. Last year it only yielded a single stalk with one beautiful blossoming flower on the end of it. Its beauty too great and too heavy for the stalk to hold, it bent low to the ground in seemingly close connection with the soil from which it sprung. But this year, the single stalk has become a hardy bush, with not one, but five beautiful flowers lifting their heads high because of the strength of the stalks below them. This bush may be the only beautiful thing in my yard this year as our busy season of life has kept us from tending to the gardens we had hoped would spring to life. It has grown entirely of its own power without help from me. It has thrived there in the shade. There are so many lessons to take away from the life cycle of this gorgeous plant. But I think the one I find most speaks to me is the one which utters truth in the fact that last year, it bloomed even though it didn’t have the strength to hold itself high, and this year, like a comeback kid, it has multiplied and radiates strength and beauty. Whatever season God has you in, it is possible for you to bloom and to grow. If we possess the strength to grow and blossom even when we are weak, how much more will God allow us to thrive when we are finally secure. Every life is a testimony to His Grace. Every story contains His fingerprints. Today I sit in awe of my Creator. I sit in wonder of all of the personal ways He has assured me that He is near. God is Good all the time. So today friends, I pray that you will grow even when you feel you can’t. I hope that you will see beauty in God’s telling of your story even when the chapter feels dark or meaningless. And I rejoice that our God is one of truth, and that His truth will always yield the beauty it deserves. 

In Him, 

A Fellow Grace Wanderer 

A Grace Note: The Grace of Empty Vessels 


Dear Reader, 

I love empty vessels. Mason jars, milk bottles, anything glass that can be filled. I love how sunlight can fill them up, I love how the twinkle lights in my kitchen cause the mason jars to shine and shimmer. And yet, I wonder if I ever view the vessel of my heart in this way. It too can shine in the light. It too can hold the shimmer of contentment and the shine of Grace. Maybe the key to letting go of all our worries is to allow our hearts to be washed clean, to allow our lives to be hand washed in grace by our Father God who loves us and who sees our hearts full of the potential to soak up mercy and love and grace and walk brim full out into the world where we pour it all out again. In order to see real beauty in the world, God urges us to be completely poured out before Him, He encourages us to take the fullness of His Grace and give it away because we trust and we know that God has the power to fill us completely back up again. We pour out before the King of Kings and we are filled to the brim by the King of Heaven. Our hearts can carry all the light He shines on us. We can be washed clean over and over and over again like these glass bottles. That’s how Grace works. It keeps on washing us and filling us and allowing the Light to sparkle. So whatever Grace God is filling you with, don’t be afraid to pour it out into the world.

In Him, 

A Fellow Grace Wanderer 

How Sweet the Sound of Grace: When the Joy of Jesus Defeats Your Battles

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. James 5:7

Spring is in full force here in Wisconsin. I can see it bursting forth in the buds on the trees and in the little purple flowers peeking up above the ever growing blades of grass. The Sugar River has begun sweetly flowing again, and any sign of frozen ground has melted away. It seems too poetic to say that my heart is experiencing its own season of new life. The winter was hard, both on my soul and on my body. But God has begun placing sweet blossoms of hope on the hard places of my life and I’m seeing Him revive me in every sense of that word.

Revive. What emotion that word evokes for me! I know I keep talking about this same battle, but it’s the battle that has most tried to define me. Infertility…infertile…as in nothing will grow. And I believed that for a short while with all my heart…that nothing would or could grow from me. I sought doctors who prodded and tried to jump start my body, but nothing. I had placed my hope in needles and in x-rays and in hormone therapies and in procedures. And as sterile as those doctor’s offices felt…so did my heart.

I had wanted Jesus to bring about new life naturally. I hope that one day He will. But for now, I am experiencing a form of new life that I had not planned on. I feel as if something inside me has woken up. Some storehouse of Joy that I had left untapped. My husband and I are on a new adventure, and I had thought maybe that was what had made the difference. But I think it goes deeper than that.

It goes all the way down to the roots of my disappointments and to the ugliness of my dark days. As we come out of the season of Lent, the season of grieving both for our Savior and because of our sins, I have discovered that Jesus went right to the darkness I had reserved for myself. He broke down that door, and He entered with Life.

Joy has everything to do with Hope, and is based entirely on Grace. Infertility brought out the ugliest side of me I have ever seen. I was broken, shattered, fragile, and bitter. I cried more nights than I didn’t. I literally grieved for a life that never existed. And yet I kept pushing. Something would come of this. Something HAD to come from this. And so I preached Hope. I clung to Grace. Even in my ugliness I ran toward my Savior. I wasn’t sure how this battle would end….I just knew it would.

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:24

I am not pregnant…and yet I feel like this battle has been won. I can feel it in my soul. I walked blindly for over three years with the hope that infertility would fade away, and I grieved what I thought I had lost. I prayed God would heal my heart, even if He chose never to heal my body. I prayed that infertility wouldn’t become my idol…that it wouldn’t cover up who I am in Him.

I prayed those words, but I’m not sure that I actually expected to feel almost a physical weight being lifted up off of my shoulders. I told my women’s group a few months ago, that I actually felt like I was coming out the other side of this battle. A friend had sent me a message, concerned that I had lost the peace that passes all understanding. And just in that week before I read what she wrote, I had experienced that exactly. I do not understand how the bitterness of my soul was lifted. I can not explain why the depth of sadness in my heart has been healed. But it has continued on being healed, more and more so each day.

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Next month is Mother’s Day. For three years that has been a day of sadness for me. I watched as mother’s in our churches were praised and how their children loved them. And I couldn’t understand why God would keep me from becoming a mother. I was broken as those around me became pregnant and as their families continued to grow.

But now…something has changed. I have been changed.

My life was never mine to plan out. God has shown me this so clearly. I belong to Him, every part of me does. And this is true whether we are aware of it or not. He is our creator, our Father, our maker. Our lives belong to Him. And we can go through this life kicking and screaming, complaining at every “wrong” turn, or we can surrender.

We can surrender to the beautiful sound of Grace in our lives. We can sit back and watch how God unfolds the moments of our life right before our eyes. Beautiful lives don’t come from plans and savings and working our days away. They come from the Giver of Life. They come when we loosen our grip on bitterness and disappointment and heartbreak. We so often hold onto to those things…and we don’t have to.

We may experience hard winters. We may feel them coming. We may see everything freeze around us. And yet…God will bring about Spring. He can melt what freezes in us. He can bring fresh sprigs of green from hearts that we thought couldn’t grow anything. You are not what you battle. You are who He says you are, His child, His beloved, His redeemed.

Joy won’t come with the fulfillment of our plans. It won’t come in the safety of our savings. Joy is found in Him alone.

Your life is found in Him alone. Until we turn our faces toward Him, we are simply wandering away. I used to worry that all this talk about prayer would simply be talk. That I would talk to God, and He would always for eternity tell me to wait. I was scared that I wouldn’t see an answer, that I wouldn’t feel a difference.

But I feel changed. And my circumstances haven’t changed. The only explanation is Jesus.

I find myself completely defined in this hymn, Amazing Grace. It is who I was and who I am and who I will become.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that Saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

The Lord has promised good to me; His Word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come; ‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.  – John Newton

Friend, if you have been praying that God would heal you, that He would mend your broken spirit, that He would revive your withered soul…know that He will. He is faithful. He who created the heavens and the earth, He who became like us and died a death that only we deserved, He who conquered death and who declared victory over our sins…He has not forgotten who you are. He won’t leave you alone in this.

I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

Isaiah 49: 15b-16a

Old Roots: When Jesus Wakes Your Soul

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“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging Him on a cross.” Acts 5:30

A mere 1/2 acre is what our small home sits on. Yet, in this tiny corner of the world, we have full grown pine trees that seem to reach all the way up to Heaven. We have lilies that peek in through our bedroom window, and purple irises which light up our front yard in the early summer. Sometimes, when I walk out onto our deck, I feel as if we own our own forest. Cedar wax wing birds live here, and little yellow birds like to greet our sweet cat through the windows as they eat seed from the feeder. And as I begin to see all of these living things come back, springing green and fresh from the ground, and hatching fresh and new from their nests…I know that I can take no credit for any of it.

Mine were not the hands that planted those flower seeds, and I was not the gardener who grew those tall pines. These things, these living things, which pop back up year after year, from roots older than I am, come back new and vibrant….even though in the winter months they appear as dead.

Jesus had roots too, you know. Scripture talks about the root of Jesse, and Jesus calls Himself the vine. His Spiritual tree is rooted entirely in the Father, and His mortal family tree goes back all the way to the Garden of Eden. His human life is rooted all the way back in that tree that we chose to eat from…the tree that would someday become His cross.

Today, I’ve thought a lot about that cross. The symbolism will always blow me away. I have been thinking of how that cross made of wood was once a seed, and then how from that seed sprouted a green chute, and how after it popped up, tender and green, it grew. For years it continued to grow. Until, one day, someone came along and chopped it down. And its life seemed to have ended…but its purpose still had not.

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“And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:9

I was thinking how that tree, the one where Jesus would be lifted high, was entirely linked to that first tree in the Garden of Eden, the one we ate from. The one we chose over the tree of life. And how fitting it seems, that through the fruit of one tree that brought into the world death…so our Savior would become the fruit of another tree, that would remove death from the world. And how He would tell us, “Take and eat. This is my body, given up for you.”

The tree that lifted Jesus high, was rooted physically in the world, like us…but its spiritual roots were tied to our sin.

We have roots too. And like the roots of a tree, ours are very often tangled and deep. Our roots grow old, and yet as we age we seem to experience new life out of them. There are parts of our roots that bring us joy, that seem to resuscitate us. And then there are parts that are too strongly knotted, and they cause other parts of us to die. This is because unlike Jesus, our roots are not always found in the Father. Instead, we find ourselves rooted in pride, in greed, in pain, in disappointment, and in sin.

When we chose to eat of that tree in the Garden of Eden, we chose to allow our roots to wander off, to grow into territory that wasn’t meant for us. And so we find ourselves looking for fertile soil in places we cannot flourish, in places our roots simply can’t hold onto. Our sin has caused our own hearts to become a tangled mess. And so when that tree that would become the cross was cut down…maybe a part of our own broken world was cut down too.

Good Friday feels like winter to our souls. It’s when the world feels at its darkest. It was when God literally withheld the sun, and turned away His face…for one brief moment. So that we would feel the magnitude of what it meant to be without Him. Our Jesus, nailed to a tree that grew from our tangled roots and that died in our tangled mess, was lifted high amidst our broken world and our tattered lives.

But in three days, friends…Jesus will rise. His body, planted low in a grave, will shoot out of it. That tree that ran red with His blood and that bore witness and an active part in His death, will become our pathway to the tree of Life. Our winter, will become spring.

Because Jesus shares His roots with us. He has weeded out our gardens. He has untangled and unknotted that which we could not undo ourselves. He has become for us a river of Life….and by His wounds we are healed.

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“I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:1-4

Our roots are no longer grounded in this temporary world. Because of Jesus, who sprung up for us, our roots are now founded in the ancient and in the eternal. We get to return to the Garden of God. We get to be rejoined with our Maker. We get to walk with Him in the cool of the day. And the Lord God will be our Light.

Don’t you see, friends? Everything about our life story can be found in the Garden of God. In the Garden we lived and then we fell. In the Garden, grew our free will. And in the Garden, grew the Cross.

Jesus’ life story is rooted in the Garden too. I see it made evident in the imagery scripture uses to describe Him and in the way He portrays Himself as the vine. And as He walks through the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night He was betrayed, I see it again, all too clearly. Our sin began in a Garden…and in a Garden is where it would meet its end.

Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s pow’r. Your Redeemer’s conflict see. Watch with Him one bitter hour; Turn not from His griefs away; Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

Early hasten to the tomb, Where they laid His breathless clay; All is solitude and gloom. Who has taken him away? Christ is ris’n! He meets our eyes. Savior, teach us so to rise.

Go to Dark Gethsemane, by James Montgomery (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal)

 

Of Broken Things: Why Jesus Broke For Us 

“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there He put the man He had formed.” Genesis 2:8

Only God’s beauty could have pulled me out of bed today. My head hurts with a cold that just refuses to quit, and yet my heart willed me to get up for just a few minutes and breathe in the fresh air of spring, and the perfection of these flowers that miraculously sprung from the ground this April.

The previous owner of our house had planted what looked like an overgrown garden of weeds right into the yard in front of four towering bushes. Each year, the plants she placed there would be the first to spring up, right out of the grass, to my dismay. They weren’t pretty. They didn’t flower. Weeds quickly took over, and last year out of sheer frustration at the determination of these “weeds” my husband decided to simply mow over them with the lawn mower…

And then this year, just as we were debating whether or not to dig up that whole area of yard in order to get rid of this shambled mess in front of the bushes…they began to flower. And they are beautiful.

You see, last autumn we trimmed up the bottom of those towering bushes. It turns out that all we needed to do was cut them back and let the light shine in on those plants that were so determined to grow. The warm sunlight had turned what we described as an undesired mess into a small corner of beauty.

Our lives mirror this in so many ways. How many times have I cried out and yelled that my brokenness is ugly? How many times have I looked away from broken situations and crushed spirits? The world is afraid of broken and messy things. We are called brave when we stand amid the tangled messes and the bruised life stories. We are labeled heroes when we jump into the darkness and dare to continue carrying on holding the light.

Bad things happen to us, and we cry and we break and we wail and we ask God why a million times. And those whose lives seem perfect to us stare back and call us strong. Yet so often we don’t see it. We don’t feel strong. We feel broken and shattered because of what has happened to us. We don’t feel like our stories are worth telling because we didn’t choose this. We didn’t choose what happened to us. We simply find ourselves treading water in the midst of it.

 

These daffodils that sprung up in my yard didn’t choose the darkness that they were covered in these last few years either. And yet, knowing that they were planted with a purpose, they continued to pop up year after year, even as we saw how messy and broken and unhealthy they were. They didn’t give up. Each year they grew out of the ground with the hope that this year the light would hit them and transform them, that this year would be the year that they would bloom.

I feel as they did. That each year through infertility and brokenness, I have to keep having hope. I have to keep popping up out of my darkness. I have to hold on to hope that the sun will shine and that God’s warmth will hit and that He will bring goodness and life out of what I see as dirt.

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“At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.” John 19:41

And then today I thought of Jesus, who walked through darkness for me, and who chose to have the light withdrawn from Him, so that He could plant in me Life. He was broken for me. And He who was broken, for us, became the most beautiful. His story was redemption. His scars became our joy. His death became our Life. He was the Light that would shine in our darkness. He is the warmth that we waited centuries for. He lifted up that curtain, that veil, which cast darkness over us, and He let the Light of His Father shine in on us. He who was the Light of Heaven, became the Light of us.

And out of our dirt….He sprung up. The root of Jesse. The Vine to whom we are the branches. Our Garden in which we were planted, in which we were formed, became our mess. And yet Jesus dared to walk in the Garden again…even though it became dark…even though it traded in its name of Eden for Gethsemane.

Nailed to a tree, which sprung from the ground from which we were taken and to which we would return, He humbled Himself, that the same tree that saw death would bring us Life. That though we ate from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and would surely die, we would also taste of the tree named Life and Live.

Our darkness would disappear. The sun would once again shine on us, and that sun would be the Light of Life. Yes, indeed, a garden will grow from where we have been planted. We will once again see the blossoms of life. Our messes will become our past and a Garden will be our future.

For Jesus did not come just to die…but also to Rise. For us, Eden became Gethsemane. But because of Jesus, Gethsemane transforms into Heaven. For though paradise was plunged from light into darkness, God chose to walk among us even when the Light could no longer shine, for God Himself is the Light of His people, and nothing can separate the Love He has for us.

Your mess is only the place in which you learn that God refuses to give up on you. Your tangled weeds, are only remnants of a darkness which once held you but no longer can. For now, because of Jesus, a Light has begun to shine, and you can grow.

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“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” John 15:1

God who has planted all things, has reentered the Garden. His light will thaw you out. Your winter is over. Your spring has come. And soon Summer will find you blossoming in His warmest Light. Because nothing God has planted in you will return to Him empty. His love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on you. Gethsemane has traded in its name. It no longer stands for darkness, but instead for Light.

So while you continue to feel as though the world is trying to mow you over, and that darkness is trying to choke you out, remember that Jesus who chose to be broken for you is cutting back the veil and sending His Light into your Life to warm you and to encourage you to grow from His light and from the vine  to which you are now grafted into. “Arise and shine, for your Light has come”. Don’t be afraid to grow. Jesus broke to raise you from this mess.