Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“Be patient. God isn’t finished with you yet.” ~ Philippians 1:6

I'm having trouble figuring out my new beginning. I know God brought me through the past few years for a reason. I know that the struggle and controversy and deep study was important. I have faith that there is a purpose. And like the title of this post, I'm trying to be patient because I know God isn't finished with me yet. Ultimately, I know I'll spend the rest of my life learning about God, drawing closer to Him, and finding new and deeper ways to know and love Him.


“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell


As expected, I went through a lot of emotions on this journey. I was angry, I was hurt, I was confused, I was heartbroken, I was sad, I was mad. I didn't want to leave a place where I felt at home, but as weeks passed it felt less and less like a safe place. I felt a desperate hunger to read the Bible and know what God had to say about the topics I was struggling with. I felt an (unwanted) need to study theology and read books that didn't appeal to me generally. As I studied and read and pondered and prayed, I kept feeling like there was some kind of future purpose for all this. Some way to share what I had gone through and how it affected me. In a lot of ways, this blog feels like the fruition of that feeling of purpose. But perhaps there is more.


“God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.” ~ Psalm 51:10

“Beginnings hold the promise of hope, the expectation of the new and fresh. They are a chance to start over or anticipate.” ~ Nancy Ortberg


God is big on new beginnings. He is in the business of taking us from where we were to the places He wants us to be. He is more than capable of turning the pain of our past into the promise of tomorrow. The Bible is full of stories of people who messed up - some of them big time and some of them what we might consider small or not at all - who God chose to use for His purpose and for His glory. While we may not be able to understand why God does the things He does, or why He chooses to use our broken, messed up selves, we can cling to the knowledge that He is faithful, He is in control and He is God.


“Perhaps…the most important thing is to keep on; not to be discouraged however often one yields to the temptation; but always to pick yourself up again and ask forgiveness.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“When God forgives, He never casts up at us the mean, miserable things we have done. ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins.’ A cloud cannot be seen when it is gone.”
~ Oswald Chambers


I mess up. I make poor choices. I hurt people who I love. I don't usually intend to do it, but I let my selfishness get in the way of being loving and forgiving. I am definitely not perfect. But when I mess up, I go to God and ask forgiveness. He is ready and willing to forgive and even more exciting...to forget. He never brings up our past. We do that often enough on our own...and definitely Satan likes to bring up our past and tries to make us believe that God couldn't possibly truly forgive, let alone forget all the terrible things we've done. But he's wrong...God does forgive and God does forget.


"Never limit God by remembering what you have done in the past. When you come into relation with the Reality of Redemption God creates something in you that was... never there before; it is the active working of the life of God in you; consequently you can do now what you could not do before." ~ Oswald Chambers

“Though I fall, I will rise again.” ~ Micah 7:8


It can be hard...perhaps it even feels impossible...to move forward from our past. And we will never be perfect. We will always mess up. We will always need forgiveness. We will always have to begin again. But if we put our life in God's hands, we know that we are in the best possible place. He wants to make us new. He wants to work in our lives for good and make good things come from our life. Even from our past. We just have to keep trying...keep trusting...keep depending on God to see us through. And He is faithful and He is trustworthy and He is dependable and He loves us.


“We don’t always succeed in what we try – certainly not by the world’s standards – but I think you’ll find it’s the willingness to keep trying that matters most.” ~ Mister Rogers

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”
~ Mary Anne Radmacher


God knows everything about us. Even the things we think are hidden - He knows. He knows the things we share willingly with Him or with others. He knows the things we want to hide - from others and sometimes from ourselves. He knows our emotions, our struggles, our hurts, our fears. He made us and He knows us intimately. And the only reason we can move forward from our past is because of Who He is and what He has done for us. Without the sacrifice of His Son and the resurrection that followed, we would never be able to measure up...we can't measure up. But Jesus stands in our place - His righteousness makes us righteous in God's eyes. And when we believe that, we can be free to live a new life in Christ.


“The God of the universe, the one who holds the stars and the moon in place, knows everything about you and loves you with unprecedented abandon. He knows the good, the bad, and the ugly. He knows the things you are proud of and the things you hide. He knows it all, and he invites you to come just as you are and live the dream he has for you.”
~ Sheila Walsh

“…you are adequate because God is. So whether you are feeling not-good-enough or comfortably adequate in yourself, the Lord knows and he is able. You are a servant of a new covenant – not a law-based, do-it-yourself kind of faith, but a grace-based, Jesus-already-did-it kind. This faith is based on his finished work, not our work yet to be done. So let me encourage you to lead from that place, a place of dependence, a place of freedom, a place of complete security.” ~ Emily P. Freeman


God has a plan for our lives. He knows what He wants us do. He knows what choices we will make. He knows when we will mess up. He knows when we ask forgiveness. He knows how He will make beauty from ashes. It doesn't always makes sense...especially when we're in the midst of pain and suffering and hurt...but if we can just place our faith and trust in Him and His plan we can have joy.


 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”
~ Ephesians 2:10


The below verse is another version of one I mentioned earlier...and it's like a prayer. I'm praying it for me...and for you.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit away from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” ~ Psalm 51:10-12

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for Your forgiveness and Your plan for my life. Thank You for taking the pain of the past and making it into a beautiful future that shows Your goodness and grace. Please help me to depend on You, to remember that I'm always in Your presence, to never give up and to keep turning back to You when I fail. Thank You for Your salvation and help me to live for You. To obey. To live and move and have my being in You. Help me to be as gracious and forgiving toward others as You are toward me. Help me to trust You for the new beginnings You have for my life. Thank You for loving me. I love you. Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

“Mercy triumphs over judgment!” ~ James 2:13

I've struggled a lot with this post. I tried to write last week, and several times this week, but for one reason or another I haven't been able to write. Honestly, part of it is fear. This topic strikes close to the one that caused us to leave our last church. There is fear about what people might think. There is fear about rocking the boat.


“The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” ~ Proverbs 29:25


I know I shouldn't be afraid. I know what God has shown me in His Word and the study He's had me on for the past years. I know that people's opinions aren't as important as God's opinion. I probably should read my post about fear and being afraid again. Here's the link in case you struggle like I do. More important than my fear or worry is the truth of God - He is loving, He is merciful, He gives grace. These things are true - amazingly wonderfully true - all the time!


"Among the lost souls in hell there is not one that can say, "I went to Jesus, and He refused me." It is not possible that you or I should be the first to whom Jesus shall break His word. "This man receiveth sinners," but He repulses none. We come to Him in weakness and sin, with trembling faith, and small knowledge, and slender hope; but He does not cast us out. We come by prayer, and that prayer broken; with confession, and that confession faulty; with praise, and that praise far short of His merits; but yet He receives us. We come diseased, polluted, worn out, and worthless; but He doth in no wise cast us out. Let us come again today to Him who never casts us out." ~ C.H. Spurgeon


This idea that Jesus will accept us if we go to Him, confess our sins and ask forgiveness, and allow Him into our hearts and lives - I always believed that. I've known that since I was 4 years old and accepted the Lord. I've never questioned that belief or wondered about it. But...the following idea was raised by someone in a position of authority..."It doesn't matter if we accept Christ, but if Christ accepts us." It immediately raised concerns for me. It immediately upset me. It immediately caused me to question and doubt even more strongly the words this speaker had been saying for months.


“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now, I’ll start over with you and build you up again,’” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

“God’s arms are always extended; we are the ones who turn away.”
~ Philip Yancey


God loves us and seeks a relationship with us. His arms are open wide and willing to accept us if we just let go and give our hearts to Him. We don't have to be afraid that we are too bad, too broken, too messed up or too sinful. If we confess, God will forgive. It is as simple, as profound, as incredible as that. He is in charge but we have to humble ourselves. And once we ask forgiveness, that sin is gone, forgotten, never to be brought up again.


“When God forgives, He never casts up at us the mean, miserable things we have done. ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins.’ A cloud cannot be seen when it is gone.”
~ Oswald Chambers


“Cry for help and you’ll find its grace and more grace.” ~ Isaiah 30:19


Sometime in high school, I learned a simple description of the difference between grace and mercy. Grace is getting what we don't deserve. Mercy is not getting what we do deserve. These meanings have stuck with me and while I probably have sometimes taken their importance for granted, in the past few years I have been so grateful and humbled by God's amazing grace and mercy for us. He doesn't have to give grace, but He chooses to. We deserve judgment for our sins and our disobedience, and yet He has incredible mercy. Such amazing love!


"Meditate a little on this mercy of the Lord. It is tender mercy. With gentle, loving touch, He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. He is as gracious in the manner of His mercy as in the matter of it…It is great mercy. There is nothing little in God; His mercy is like Himself—it is infinite. You cannot measure it. His mercy is so great that it forgives great sins to great sinners, after great lengths of time, and then gives great favours and great privileges, and raises us up to great enjoyments in the great heaven of the great God…It is unfailing mercy. It will never leave thee. If mercy be thy friend, mercy will be with thee in temptation to keep thee from yielding; with thee in trouble to prevent thee from sinking; with thee living to be the light and life of thy countenance; and with thee dying to be the joy of thy soul when earthly comfort is ebbing fast." ~ C.H. Spurgeon


Here was part of my struggle - someone in authority was telling me that I was a terrible sinner who could not be assured of my salvation, that it was only through strict obedience to described interpretations of Scripture and essentially hard work that I could try to prove my faith and even then it might not be true faith. This contradicted everything I had been raised to believe, everything I had come to believe in my own walk with God. But it sounded so true and Biblically supported. I was conflicted and I was lost and I was upset.

"It seems to me that we are far too willing to short sell grace in order to obtain a set of rules that will "prove" our devotion."
~ Darlene “Dee” Parsons (in this article)

"Look back over your own history as revealed to you by grace, and you will see one central fact growing large: God is love. . . . In the future, when trial and ...difficulties await you, do not be fearful; whatever and whoever you may lose faith in, let not this faith slip from you:
God is Love." ~ Oswald Chambers


The best thing that came out of this time of confusion and anger and hurt was my deeper faith and trust in God. I sought truth in God's Word. I prayed and I listened for God's direction. I sought the guidance and wisdom of strong Godly men and women that God had placed in my life. And I looked to the truth of what I already knew - God loves me, God saved me...I am His and He is mine...I am accepted in the Beloved...I am a child of God and nothing can change that truth.


“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.” ~ Philippians 3:12-14


God has done the true work. I am nothing without Him and His wonderful grace and mercy. I am a sinner who doesn't deserve anything but judgment...and yet God is gracious, He is merciful and He loves me. He loves you. No matter what you've done, no matter what you think about your worth - God is waiting for you to see His wide open arms of love and to confess your sin and let His truth and grace and mercy fill your heart.


“He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:9

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
~ Hebrews 4:16


I'm not perfect and my relationship with God is a journey that I will be on forever. I've learned that just because someone is in a position of authority doesn't mean that they are the ultimate authority...the ultimate authority is God. I've learned to depend on God alone...to study His Word and seek His direction in my life...I'm learning to not be afraid. I've learned what I believe and why I believe it. I've learned that growing involves struggle and conflict. I've been reminded how much God loves me and it makes me want to be sure that you know that God loves you too.

I heard this song for the first time at my cousin Brandon & his wife Leyate's wedding last September. Theirs was a beautifully heartfelt rendition by their friends during a time of worship in their wedding ceremony and I just sobbed as I was reminded just how much God loves us.
He does love us...oh how He loves us.



Dear heavenly Father, thank You, thank You, thank You for how much You love us. Thank You for Your amazing grace and Your incredible mercy. Thank You for the many things I've learned about You. Thank You for teaching me and surrounding me with people who help draw me closer to You. Help me to do the same for others. Please help me to not be afraid. Help me to place my complete trust and faith in You...in all circumstances. I love you. Amen

Monday, August 25, 2014

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called children of God!” ~ 1 John 3:1

It's incredible how much God loves us. He knows us, inside and out, and He loves us. He knows every good and bad thing we've ever done or thought of doing and yet He still loves us. He sees our brokenness, our selfishness, our anger, our fear, our sorrow and grief, our questions and accusations our joy and our vulnerability and through it all - all day, all night...forever and always - He loves us. He loves me. He loves YOU! Isn't that incredible?!?!?


“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” ~ St. Augustine

“The truest measure of God’s love is that He loves us without measure!”
~ Bernard of Clairvaux


Your life - with all of its ups and downs - is important to God. Nothing else in the world is more important to Him. He is capable of knowing us intimately and being available to us at any time for any reason. Each one of us, all the time. It seems impossible, but nothing is impossible with God. He is more than we can imagine and although the world is immense, He knows every single bit of it. And He chooses to know us and love us.


“God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks.”~ Psalm 36:5-6

“He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name.”
~ Psalm 147:4


Nothing is unseen. Nothing slips through the cracks. Every tear, every laugh, every fear, everything is seen and heard by our amazing loving God. We may not always understand why He seems silent or why He seems to not answer our prayers. But we can have faith that God is always with us and whether we understand now or not, He has a purpose for everything.


“It’s a mistake to think that we have to be lovely to be loved by human beings or by God.” ~ Mister Rogers

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep His love is.”
~ Ephesians 3:18

“God loves you simply because He has chosen to do so. He loves you when you don’t feel lovely. He loves you when no one else loves you.”
~ Max Lucado

No matter what we've done in the past. No matter what we've been doing. If we confess our sins to God and ask for forgiveness - it's gone. Forever and always. Never to be brought up again by God - completely forgotten. He knows we aren't perfect and He doesn't expect perfection. He wants us to love Him. He wants us to listen to Him. He wants us to know Him and spend time with Him. Just like we want to spend time with the people we love - God wants to spend time with us. And if we love Him as well, that means we should want to spend time with Him. We should want to learn all we can about Him.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”
~ John 3:16-17

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ~ Romans 5:8

God loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son to earth, to be born as a baby, to live a sinless (yet tempted) life, to die on a cross and to rise again on the third day and return to His Father's side in heaven. He did this because He loved us so much. Only through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross are we able to appear blameless and holy before God - Jesus stands in our place and His holiness makes us holy. When we accept this truth, we are able to know that one day we will be with God in heaven. And when we know that truth, and see the example of Jesus, we know what we should do. Love God and love people. It is truly that simple - not always easy - but that simple.

“Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. Love like that.” ~Ephesians 5:2

“If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” ~ 1 John 4:11

“The best use of life is love. The best expression of love is time. The best time to love is now.” ~ Rick Warren


I think that more than anything else I've learned in the past year, I've been amazed by how much God loves us. I knew this of course, and it's never been something I truly doubted or even questioned. But in our time at our previous church there was a lot of focus on how terrible we all are, what great sinners we are, how high the standards must be, how hard we have to work to be faithful and obedient, and much more. But there was a severe lack of love, of grace, of mercy - and while the law is truth and we are sinners - God's love is truth as well. God's grace is much more than we can imagine. His mercies never come to an end.


“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” ~ Lamentations 3:22-24


What I feel now is freedom. Freedom in Christ. To be who He has made me to be. To spend my time studying and learning about Him. To feel deeply in my heart and soul how much He loves me. To obey because I love Him and not because I'm afraid. I feel confident in resting in His love and knowing that He will always, has always, and will continue to always...always...ALWAYS love me. And it's true for you too. I want my life to show His love - to show it to others so that they know how much He loves them. I know I won't always succeed, but I want to keep trying to live in this truth and I hope that you can live in this truth too.

God loves You...really, truly He does. More than you can imagine. If God had a wallet, your picture would be in it. If He needed a refrigerator, your achievements would be displayed. We are His much loved children and there is nothing we can do that will ever stop Him from loving us. His love for you far exceeds anything you can imagine or have ever experienced and it is never-ending.


“I lavish My love on those who love Me.” ~ Exodus 20:6a

“Father, teach me to love with the love of Christ that others might see Your love reflected in my care and concern for them. May Your love drive and dominate my responses to life and to others.”
~ Our Daily Bread devotional 7/30/14

Dear heavenly Father, Thank You for loving us so much. Thank You for sending Your Son to die on the cross for our sins so that when we accept You and Your sacrifice we are able to be with forever in heaven. Thank You for loving us like beloved children and thank You for loving us enough to place boundaries in our lives. Thank You for the times when we feel blessed by good things, and thank You for always being with us especially when we are drowning in difficult times. You are our amazing Father and Savior and I am so thankful for Your constant presence in my life. Help me to always be aware that You are there and to never forget to run to You with everything good and bad in my life. Thank You for always listening, for always comforting, for always wanting to spend time with me. Help me to remember to make time for You - to spend my time praising You, listening to You, reading Your Word and being with You. Thank You for loving me even when I don't succeed. Please be with those who read this blog - help them to know how deeply You love them, help them to make time to spend with You and for those who don't know You - open their eyes and their hearts to You. Help me to love others like You love me - especially those who can be difficult to love. Help my life to reflect Your love and for people to see You in me. I love you. Amen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” ~ Psalm 139:14

It's almost my birthday. I love my birthday. My parents have always made a big deal about birthdays and they remind us that this was the special day that God chose for us to be born and it's a big deal and it needs to be celebrated. We always got to have whatever meal we wanted for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We always had streamers and balloons that were put up the night before...we had to go to bed early "for no reason." My parents always spent as much as they could and we received multiple presents for our birthdays. Always a mix of fun and practical gifts - clothes, toys, books, etc.

I was born on my Auntie Terrianne's birthday (my Mom's best friend) and we have almost always celebrated our birthday together. My niece Katelyn was almost born on my birthday and even the year I was the same age as Auntie Terrianne when I was born, but she arrived two days prior - guess she wanted her own day! :) The first year I went on a mission trip - out of only 20 people on our team there were four of us all born on August 28! Different years, but still pretty amazing.

One of the things you may not know about me is that I don't really like attention. I prefer to stand in the shadows and I love to listen. This always causes a bit of a struggle with my birthday because I always want to celebrate with a party and all my friends and family...but I get shy and nervous about the attention. I even felt this way about my wedding but there's not much you can do about being center stage when you're the bride!


“You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world. There’s never been anyone exactly like you before, and there never will be again. Only you. And people can like you exactly as you are.”
~ Mister Rogers


This is one of my very favorite Mister Rogers quotes. I think it's something we all struggle with. I'm very thankful to have parents to have always told me how special I am, not only because of who I am, but more importantly because of who I am in Christ. But I know there are so many people who didn't have loving parents who instilled that sense of specialness in them...and even though it's simple, this quote speaks to the heart of so many people.


“The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” ~ Proverbs 29:25

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ~ Oscar Wilde


I do think that part of my fear of attention is fear of what other people think and that's something I know many of us struggle with daily. There is part of me that feels confident about who I am and thinks that I don't need to worry about what others think. But then, there's another part of me that worries about how I look, or wonders if my opinions or thoughts would be upsetting to someone and so I keep them to myself, and so on and so on. Applying the truth that only God's opinion matters is an ongoing journey and I really don't expect to ever be perfect at it.


“Be careful not to turn others’ lives into the mold for your own. Allow God to be as creative with you as He is with each of us.” ~ Francis Chan

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” ~ Galatians 6:4

“Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” ~ Oswald Chambers


It can be all too easy to look at someone else's life, at their walk with Christ, at their gifting and think that we should be like them. But God made us all unique and He has unique plans for each of us. The way He made me - my personality, my emotions, my talents and gifts, my interests, the way my mind works - all it blends together to make me uniquely gifted for certain things. And He does this with every single one of us. ALL of us. And although He might sometimes do things similarly, it doesn't mean that He has to do the same thing every time. We have a wonderfully creative God. He made so many variations of colors, plants, flowers, animals, rocks, seasons, smells, foods, and the God who loves that much variety, loves to use as much (or more) variety in His favorite creation - people - Us!


“Each person in the world is a unique human being, and each has unique human potential. One of the most important tasks of growing is the discovery of this uniqueness: the discovery of ‘who I am’ in each of us – of ‘who I am’ in relation to all those whom I meet.” ~ Mister Rogers

“But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the LORD God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.” ~ Psalm 73:28

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD.” ~ Psalm 19:14


Part of the process of learning who we are is learning about the One who made us. As we read through God's Word, we discover Who created us and what He has created us to be. We learn the things that are important to Him - to love Him and to love others. We learn about the world He has created, the people He has chosen and the sacrifice He has made for our sake. The more we learn about God, the more we know how to please Him with our lives. We learn Who He is and Whose we are...and as we learn to listen to His leading, we can discover who we are meant to be.


“Part of what it means to be created in the image of God is that each person has his or her own story, giftedness, and calling. I cannot find mine by looking at yours. Your story may inspire me or warn me, but I should never use it to determine my own.” ~ Nancy Ortberg

“Only let each person lead the life that the LORD has assigned to [her], and to which God has called [her].” ~ 1 Corinthians 7:17

We do learn from each other. Most of the Bible is full of stories of other people's lives and experiences and we can learn a lot. Sometimes we learn what not to do, sometimes we learn what we should do. But each person has their own unique story and God has a plan for each of us. As we draw closer to Him through study and prayer and discussion, we can begin to determine the plans He has for us. And all along the way, the only thing we need to do is focus on Him. Love God and listen to Him and do what He asks. Be who you are - who He made you to be.

“God made you as you are in order to use you as He planned.”
~ J.C. Macauley

“O LORD, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways…For You created me in my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
~ Psalm 139: 1-3, 13-14a

One of my very favorite Amy Grant songs is called "All I Ever Have To Be." It is such a beautiful and simple song and every time I listen to it, it makes me cry. All the lyrics are meaningful, but the last verse is my favorite.

"All I Ever Have To Be"
When the weight of all my dreams
Is resting heavy on my head
And the thoughtful words of help and hope
Have all been nicely said
But I'm still hurting, wondering if I'll ever be the one
I think I am - I think I am

Then you gently re-remind me
That You've made me from the first
And the more I try to be the best
The more I get the worst
And I realize the good in me is only there because of who You are
Who You are...

And all I ever have to be is what You've made me
Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan
As you daily recreate me help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find
And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be is what You've made me
~ Amy Grant song by Gary Chapman



Dear heavenly Father, thank You for my birthday. Thank You for creating me and making me who I am. Thank You for the wonderful parents, family and friends that You have placed in my life and the many ways that they have loved me, taught me - especially about You, and been a support and encouragement in my life. Thank You for having a unique plan for my life - for each person's life. I pray that those who seek You and Your plan will come to know You and follow Your plan for their lives. Thank You for not expecting more of us that what we are and for loving us in spite of the many ways we mess up and fall down. Thank You for the sacrifice of Your Son - for His willingness to die for our sins and for the miracle of His resurrection so that we may have true freedom and grace. Thank You for loving us. I love you. Amen.

PS - Last week, I talked about hurting my back and being in pain. Praise the Lord my back is almost 100% healed. Every day I've felt better and I am so thankful for the blessing of healing and I wanted you to know.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

“May He strengthen you, in His glorious might, with ample power to meet whatever comes with fortitude, patience and joy, and to give thanks to the Father.” ~ Colossians 1:11-12

So I'm in pain. I don't like pain. I'm pretty sure no one likes pain. I am thankful that this time the pain seems to be less than in the past. But constant pain is painful, and irritating, and frustrating and seems to overwhelm everything.

I hurt my back on Sunday. I've done it several times in the past 4 years or so. Each time similar in some ways, and different in other ways. It does seem as though this time the pain is less intense and easier to deal with. But it's still hard and I don't like it.

Once again begins the process of icing, resting, stretching, resting, icing. Walking carefully, not making sudden weird movements, feeling incapable of standing up straight, hurting no matter what position I'm in. Seeing the chiropractor more often, not being able to work a full day, not being able to sleep soundly all night. Being dependent on my husband, my family, my friends, my coworkers to help out when I can't do what I should be able to do.


“We’d all like to feel self-reliant and capable of coping with whatever adversity comes our way, but that’s not how most human beings are made. It’s my belief that the capacity to accept help is inseparable from the capacity to give help when our turn comes to be strong. It can sometimes be difficult to ask for support when we need it, but having someone we can count on to stick with us through the tough times can make those times much more bearable.” ~ Mister Rogers


Needing help. Crying in pain and wondering why. Realizing that some people deal with this all the time, not just for a few days or weeks once in awhile. Like my mom who has lupus and fibromyalgia and is in constant pain yet rarely complains about it and always has a smile on her face and praises to God on her lips. Like several of my friends who also struggle with fibromyalgia or other "quiet" diseases like that - things that aren't apparent on the surface.

It seems so unfair all the things we have to deal with - all of us has something. Some times it's easier to see or put into words - like back injuries, or cancer, or a broken leg. Sometimes it's more hidden - like depression or anxiety, or emotional pain. But we all have struggles and we all make choices about how we deal with those struggles. Choosing to believe that God is still in control when we struggle is difficult...and sometimes it feels impossible.


“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” ~ 1 Peter 4:12-13


I find myself all too often settling into the "Why" zone - why am I hurting? why do I have to go through this? why didn't I move more carefully and avoid hurting myself? It's usually later, after throwing myself a pity party that I get reminded (often by my mom) that we can still choose joy. No it isn't easy, but choosing to find the joy, choosing to depend on God, choosing to have faith is always the better choice.


“There is absolutely no experience, however terrible, or heartbreaking, or unjust, or cruel, or evil, which you can meet in the course of your earthly life, that can harm you if you but let Me teach you how to accept it with joy; and to react to it triumphantly as I did myself, with love and forgiveness and with willingness to bear the results of wrong done by others. Every trial, every test, every difficulty and seemingly wrong experience through which you may have to pass, is only another opportunity granted to you of conquering an evil thing and bringing out of it something to the lasting praise and glory of God.”
~ Hannah Hurnard

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” ~ Psalm 10:17

It's not that we can't cry out to God when we are hurting - we can! He is always there and He will never leave us. The trouble comes when we settle into the pain and let the hurt and the bitterness and the distress take us away from trusting Him. When we choose to place our trust in Him, when we choose to place our hurting and our pain in His hands, when we choose to let go of the right to feel bad - then we can have peace, we can have joy and we can have hope. It doesn't mean that our pain will disappear or that we won't struggle. But we won't be alone. We can rest in His arms, feeling His love surrounding us and reminding us that He is faithful and merciful and He will never leave us.


“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” ~ Lamentations 3:22-24

“Take courage; offer Him your pains incessantly; pray to Him for strength to endure them. Above all, get a habit of entertaining yourself often with God, and forget Him the least you can. Adore Him in your infirmities, offer yourself to Him from time to time, and in the height of your sufferings beseech Him humbly and affectionately (as a child his father) to make you conformable to His holy will.” ~ Brother Lawrence

 

I'm definitely not perfected. I try to remember to focus on the good and not the bad. To see my pain as a reminder to turn to God. As a reminder that I am not alone, and that I can't do it all on my own. That it's okay to depend on others for some things. That it's okay to take time to rest. That my hurt and pain is often the best way God has of getting my attention and putting my focus back on Him. It's a process and it's one I'll be on my whole life. But it's worth it to be closer to God. And He is faithful. He has healed my back before and I have faith that He can do it again. Yes, it's harder to believe that He may not heal my back...but I'll try to trust that He knows what is best and to try to praise Him through the pain.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
~ Psalm 46:1

Thank You, God, for the miraculous ways You have worked in the past. Help me to remember Your power and faithfulness when I can see only trouble and difficulty. ~ Our Daily Bread devotional 8/9/14


Dear heavenly Father, thank You for always being there. Thank You for providing me with a loving family and friends and coworkers that are so supportive of me and helpful during this time of pain in my back. I ask that if it's in Your will, that You provide a full and complete healing for my back. I thank You for the times You have healed me in the past. I pray that You grant me peace and comfort and patience if it is not in Your will to provide healing. I pray for those people in my life who are also hurting in any way. Give them healing, give them patience and joy, comfort and peace. Help myself and others to come alongside them with support and encouragement and whatever else is needed. Thank You for being in control and never being surprised. I am so thankful for Your love and sacrifice. Thank You for loving us. I love you. Amen.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

“The LORD says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” ~ Psalm 32:8

Every one of us is on a journey. There are highs and lows. Good times and bad times. Times when we feel hopeful and times when we feel disillusioned and alone. And even though we may feel at times that God isn't there, He is always, always, always with us.

My life and your life are different. There are similarities of course since we are all human. We compare ourselves all the time, but we are all unique. Our pain is our pain and while it may seem "less" or "more" than others...for each of us, it is the most painful thing we can experience. There is no time limit for how long we should take to go through experiences like grief or sorrow or even joy.

In my life, I've had many experiences. Times when trusting God seemed easy, as well as times when it was difficult. I've gone through things I didn't want to experience - usually involving change, which I don't like very much. But change is part of life and we all go through it, like it or not. We tend to grow the most and mature in our faith more when we go through stretching times of change.


“We don’t necessarily see any changes, but as we are walking by faith day by day, month by month, and year by year, we are being transformed.” ~ Greg Laurie


One of the illustrations that has lingered with me since my two summers as a Royal Servant is one of the very first ones. Upon arrival at training camp, there is a lot of immediate stretching going on - running everywhere, cramming 8 weeks of stuff into one (fairly large, but still!) blue pack, realizing we will be living in tents and using port-o-potties, hot and humid weather, bugs, tons of new people everywhere, etc. On that first evening, they loaded us all up into vans and buses and headed out the main road to training camp which is surrounded by corn fields. We stopped and a team leader walked out into the midst and another team leader on the bus asked us to look outside and see how tall the corn was next to that person - let's say it was waist-high. They told us we would all be growing and changing a lot in the next 8 weeks and it wouldn't always be noticeable from day to day, like the corn we couldn't see it growing. But a week later, at the end of training camp, we repeated this journey and even in a week, the corn had grown quite a lot! Like us...even though we couldn't see the immediate changes, things were happening and by the end of the summer it would be clear to our friends and family back home that we were changed.


 “…your relationship with God grows uniquely in the soil that is your journey through life. Jesus meets you at places that are meaningful to you; he speaks to you as an individual, and he grows his influence in you in unique ways. You aren’t defined by anyone else’s map of the Christian life, even if those maps might be helpful in some ways.”
~ Michael Spencer


In the past year, I've had a different kind of growing experience. I've spent a lot of time wrestling with what I believe and why I believe and determining how to "own" my faith. I've been so blessed to have a wonderful support system of Christian men and women who have encouraged and supported and blessed me along this journey. They didn't tell me what to do, but they shared their own life experiences with me and things they've learned. Through those people that God placed in my life, along with experiences learned through books read and most importantly, through reading God's Word - I learned so much and felt again and again that there must be some purpose in this journey. Obviously, one major purpose was my growth and deepened faith. But, I believe that this blog is in fulfillment of another purpose. God wants us to share our lives, to be in community with one another. And a big part of that is sharing our stories, our journeys, with each other. This blog has become a way for me to share my journey with you and I've been incredibly humbled and blessed to know that it's had an impact on you.


“The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O LORD, endures forever – do not abandon the works of Your hands.” ~ Psalm 138:8

“We’re all on a journey – each one of us. And if we can be sensitive to the person who happens to be our ‘neighbor’, that, to me, is the greatest challenge as well as the greatest pleasure. Because if you’re trusted, then people will allow you to share their inner garden – what greater gift!”
~ Mister Rogers


One of the things I've discovered is how much I love God's Word. I found that I really love and appreciate the Old Testament especially. I'd always been drawn to the New Testament in the past - focusing on the Gospels and Epistles especially and most of the verses I loved came from there. I'd occasionally see a verse from the Old Testament that spoke to me, but mostly thought it was dry and honestly, kind of boring. But, I was SO wrong!


“Your words were found, and I ate them.” ~ Jeremiah 15:16

“Don’t be afraid, my people. Be glad now and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things.” ~ Joel 2:21
 
“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now, I’ll start over with you and build you up again,’” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

“God is not a man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act? Has He ever promised and not carried it through?” ~ Numbers 23:19

“I, the LORD, made you, and I will not forget to help you. I have swept away your sins like the morning mists. I have scattered your offenses like the clouds. Oh, return to Me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”
~ Isaiah 44:21b-22

Verses like these, and so many others, became so beautiful and rich to me. It's like the difference between hymns and praise songs. Both are wonderful and full of worship, but hymns are so much richer and deeper and full of spiritual truths that make you think. Like everything in life, balance is the key and a mix of both is vital. How wonderful to have an Old and New Testament! It became so real and true to me as I read through the Bible. And reading the Message version just made it all come alive in a new and exciting way. I get so excited and happy to see so many references from all over the Bible in my notebooks and in these blog posts. God's Word is so amazing!!

“These things I plan [for your life] won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled.  If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.” ~ Habakkuk 2:3

“We were never made to feel that we had to be somebody that we were not, yet we were always encouraged to choose to be the best of who we were at the moment. Indeed, our development was far from overnight – we become who we are over time.” ~ Mister Rogers

Sometimes we think we have to get to a place of completion, but really our lives are about the journey. The end is not goal, the focus and important part is the process. The ways we learn and grow. The people we meet and the places we visit. The hardships and the sorrows. The joys and the blessings. We forget to focus on the now in our search and struggle for the future. It can be overwhelming to think of all that must happen in our lifetime, but if we take things step by step and give ourselves grace, it can be much less worrisome and stressful. Not that things are easy, but they can be easier at times. Like a baby - they don't worry about how they will walk a marathon, they learn to sit up, then stand up, they hold on, they let go, they fall down. But they get up again, simply focused on the next step - not the steps tomorrow or next week or in five years. I tend to get overwhelmed when I think about the future and yet when I take the time to slow down, to read my Bible, to talk to God, to be still...there is peace.

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who He is, and we know who we are: Father and children.” ~ Romans 8:15-16

I love the way that the Message interprets that verse. It reminds me of my niece and nephew and time they spend with my dad whom they call Papa. It also reminds me of time spent with my Dad when I was a kid. He would take us on adventures most Saturdays in order to give my Mom the time to sleep and rest that she needed. Sometimes it would be errands, sometimes it would be a trip to the mall to visit the pet store and the toy store, sometimes a trip to the library for new books to read. Most of all, we knew our Dad had some adventure planned and we trusted him to take us there. It's always been easy for me to imagine God as my Father because He so graciously provided such an excellent father in my Dad.

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” ~ Philippians 2:13

“Relying on God has to start all over every day, as if nothing has yet been done.” ~ C.S. Lewis

I want to always trust God to be my Papa - to believe that He has adventures planned for my life and to have the faith and trust in Him to always say "What's next, Papa?" I don't always succeed, but the desire is there. As I've grown closer to God, as I've read the Bible and been amazed by His Word, as I've continued on my journey, I do see that I want more to be like He wants me to be. I do want to make the right choices and wait "adventurously expectant" for His plans. Studying and growing in faith helps to prepare me for those times when life hits and you feel alone and scared and hopeless. Scriptures are brought to mind, praise songs start drifting through my thoughts, and I know what I should do - place my faith and trust in Him. I don't always do this...I get fearful, I get worried, I get distracted. Satan tries to steal my joy and peace. But God is there, gently and continuously calling me...reminding me that He is there. That He never left me. That I just need to put my hand in His, or crawl up into His lap. To put my eyes on Him and remember who He is and whose I am.

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks in song.”
~ Psalm 28:7

“Going through the motions doesn’t please You, a flawless performance is nothing to You…Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” ~ Psalm 51:16-17




Here's what I've learned - be real, be honest, be true. Share your life - with God, with others. God loves me...God loves YOU. His Word is a love letter to us, and the Old Testament is full of truth and beauty and is just as important as the New Testament. We aren't perfect and we aren't expected to be perfect. Be gentle with yourself and be gentle with others. Give grace...trust God...have faith. Be patient with yourself and others. Be open to what God has to teach you and live life "adventurously expectant." This life is a journey and the most important parts are along the way - it's not about the past or the future.


Here's a prayer from Our Daily Bread devotional 5/19/13:
“Gracious Spirit, use my words to help and heal. Use my actions, bold and meek, to speak for You. May You be pleased to reveal Your life to others through mine.”

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for this journey I've been on - especially for the many things I've come to learn in the past year or two. I am so grateful for the opportunity to grow in my faith and while I haven't always liked the steps that have brought me to this point, I am thankful to be able to see their importance and necessity in my journey. Thank You for the people You've brought into my life - those who have shared life with me including the ups and downs; those who have challenged and convicted me to make changes in my life; and those who have encouraged me and shared their stories with me. Thank You for wonderful Christian parents who have instilled a deep love and faith in God in me and thank You for a Dad who makes it easy to see you as my loving heavenly Father. Please be with those who might not have had such a wonderful example find other ways to see You for the loving and gracious Father that You are and come to know You as their Father. I am so grateful for the ability to share my thoughts and feelings in this space and I pray that the things I express will help draw others closer to You. I want the glory to go to You, Lord, and not me. Help me to be humble and open to Your leading. Thank You for loving us and always being there. I love you. Amen.



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“The inspired Word of God is written for our instruction for living.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

This past year I did a lot of things I've never done before. I disagreed. I confronted. I read. I learned. I prayed. I cried. I yelled. I argued. I felt broken. I felt mended. I felt discouraged. I felt hope. I felt loved.

Okay, so yes some of these things I had technically done before. But not in the same ways. I sometimes feel like my whole life, especially my spiritual life, has been shaken up like a snow globe. Everything was topsy-turvy and confusing and scary for awhile. It seemed like everything had changed. But I'm starting to feel like not that much is different. So some things are in slightly different places and the world looks a little fresh and new. But the essentials are still there. The foundation never changed.

I had a crisis of faith, but it wasn't one that caused me to question whether or not I believed in God. I never thought I wasn't saved. I never stopped trusting in God and His control over my life and all life in general. The question was what did I believe about God and why do I believe those things about God?


"Do you believe that what you believe is really real?" ~ Del Tackett


I did believe that it was real. But I wanted to know why. Not why my parents thought so. Not why my church said so. Not why my school or my job or my friends believed. Why did I believe what I believed and did I believe it was really real?


“I want to understand why I believe what I believe. I want to grasp the significance of it all. I want to believe what I believe because I really and truly believe it, not just because it’s what my parents believed. Too many things begin to seem inconsistent, and it’s not sitting well with me. I’ve become uncomfortable with the matter-of-fact black and whiteness of every issue, and of every aspect of God. It seems more and more that things are far more complicated, that they settle somewhere in the grey, that the possibilities of ways in which one can connect with God are endless.” ~ Christine Berghoef


So I started studying God's Word. I just dove into the Bible and was continually amazed by the truths and instruction and so many things that seemed to be written just for me. Just for my situation. Just for my current confusion. Things started to make sense. I started to understand why I believed certain things. I was opening my heart and mind to the wonder and beauty of God's love letter to us and I just felt so overwhelmed...but in a good way. I felt like parched earth and His Word was like much needed rain. It was like the first time I ate at fancy restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal that I'd heard of, but never experienced before.

“He will come to us like rain.” ~ Hosea 6:3


"God - you're my God! I can't get enough of you! I've worked up such a hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts...I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. it's time to shout praises!" ~ Psalm 63:1, 5

The more I read of the Bible, the more I wanted to read and know and learn. Yes, much of it was familiar and things I already knew or had heard before. But so much of it seemed new and so much more relevant to my life. My eyes were opened to God's instructions and it was both confirmation of what I already knew and conviction about what I needed to know and discover.


“We come to Scripture not to learn a subject but to steep ourselves in a person.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. This is my command: Love each other.” ~ John 15:12-13,17


I started to see a pattern. God's love for His people - they worship Him - things get hard - they turn away from Him - He pursues them - they turn back to Him with love. Again and again this happens. Again and again I do this...we all do this. Life gets hard and we feel like God is far away. Of course, it's an illusion that we create and we often make worse by making choices that take us further from His will. But He never leaves us or forsakes us...He is always there. Loving us, wanting us, willing to take us back. Again and again. It's crazy, but wonderful when you begin to personally experience it.


“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~ Micah 6:8

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” ~ Colossians 3:17


God's Word is full of instruction that is helpful and necessary to our daily life. As I started to saturate myself in the Bible, I began to see and experience things more clearly than ever. While on our own we are incapable of being righteous, with Christ in us we are capable of being a light to others. When we listen to His instruction and obey, our lives can become a living testimony to God's grace and truth and love. We begin to want to do things not because they make us look good, or will save us, but because we love God and want to please Him. Because we have felt that grace and acceptance and we want to pour that back out to others in our lives.


“When we are focused on loving Christ, it doesn’t mean we do less. I used to do many of the same things I do now, but I was motivated by guilt or fear of consequences. When we work for Christ out of obligation, it feels like work. But when we truly love Christ, our work is a manifestation of that love, and it feels like love.” ~ Francis Chan


When I read that quote in the book Crazy Love, it reminded me of an experience last summer. We had flown to New Jersey for the wedding of our beloved friends. On the way, I had told my husband Josh that I was hoping to not have to do a lot of work at the wedding because I just wanted to enjoy it and experience it as a guest. However, as soon as we arrived we were put to work - assembling wedding favors, packing decorations, etc. The bride had recently moved to NJ from CA (like the week prior) and the wedding was to be held several hours away in New York. There was a LOT to do and much help was needed. As we stayed up long into the night, it became clear how much our help was needed and appreciated. It became my goal to say yes to anything the bride, groom, or family needed because I could see how much there was to be done and how much it meant to them to have assistance.


Upon arrival at the wedding location, Josh & I became in charge of all things reception related - set-up, decorations, caterer/florist/etc liaison, clean up and all around helpers. But a funny thing happened - the more I helped, the more joy I felt. I began to see that this was a gift I could give the bride and groom that was far greater than traveling across country to attend the wedding or any present I could have purchased. This was a gift full of love and sacrifice, but it didn't feel like work or too much to ask or even like a sacrifice. It was love - true unconditional love. Expecting nothing in return. My heart felt full, my feet felt light, and I wanted to do anything and everything I could to make this a beautiful day for our friends.


It was an amazing wedding - very special and sentimental and romantic and full of humor. It was unique - an identical twin marrying an identical twin. It was fun and full of special touches that the bride had spent much time and attention planning and implementing. Yes, it was terribly hot and humid. Yes, we forgot a few things. But it was a wedding full of love. As I sat there at their reception (we did get to have fun and enjoy), I was struck by the spiritual connection to what I felt in this experience. Serving God should be like how I felt serving my friends - like a beautiful gift and an amazing outpouring of love and devotion.


“Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us.
His love was not cautious but extravagant.
He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. Love like that.” ~Ephesians 5:2


More than any other experience I can remember, I felt like I lived that verse last summer.  I am so grateful that I didn't let my feelings prior to the trip impact our time with them. I am so grateful to have been able to give that gift to our friends - it was not expected, it was not forced, it was not done grudgingly or with a bad attitude. It truly felt like the more we gave, the more we wanted to give.  And our friends were so appreciative - time and again, they would hold our hands, whisper "thank you" and "I love you", look across the room at us and you could just see in their eyes their appreciation and thanks. There was so much love among all of us and it deepened our already strong friendship and made us truly family. I never want to forget how that felt and I hope that I will remember to love God that way and love others that way. It's not easy of course sometimes...but it's overwhelming in the best way when you do.


Dear heavenly Father, thank You for your written Word to us. Thank You for providing a way for us to read and know Your thoughts and desires for us and about us. I thank You for the things You've done in my life. Even the hard things, because as I have gone through them and begin to learn the lessons You had for me I can see why they were necessary. And even in the times when I can't understand the why, I want to choose to trust You anyways. Thank You for loving us so much more than we can ever imagine. Thank You for allowing me the opportunity to love others and help me to be extravagant in that love and not cautious. Thank You for the friends and family and all the people You place in my life. Please be with them today. Help them to know You personally, help them to place their trust in You and help them to feel Your incredible love for them. Thank You for the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with others through this blog and please help my words to be used for Your glory and purpose. Thank You for loving us. I love you. Amen.