When I AM Does His Thing

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The poor and the needy seek water, but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
I, Yahweh, will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the barren heights,
and springs in the middle of the plains.
I will turn the desert into a pool of water
and dry land into springs of water.
 I will plant cedars in the desert,
acacias, myrtles, and olive trees.
I will put juniper trees in the desert,
elms and cypress trees together,
 so that all may see and know,
consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it. ~Isaiah 41:17-20

I love reminders in Scripture that the Presence of God in our circumstances trumps the circumstance itself.  In the passages above, God doesn’t take the poor and the needy out of the desert.  No, He enters the desert and transforms the desert.

And why does He do this?

So that all may see and know, consider and understand that the hand of the Lord has done this,

There’s something so incredible about seeing our situations again after an all-powerful Redeemer has gotten His hands all over the hopelessness.

And for the rest of our life, it’s the proof we need to keep trusting…to keep moving forward in faith.

This was dead, Lord…and YOU LORD…YOU…brought it to life again. How did you do it, Lord? 

You take our impossible situations and place your “I AM” bigger stamp all over it.

You change our dark pits into spacious hilltops.

You change our cries of despair into tears of joy.

You take tired, weary and broken hearts and flood them with unimaginable peace.

And when you do, Lord, we are forever changed.

Come into our desert places today, Lord.

Come in and do YOUR THING!

Tears That Guide You Home

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It’s strange…this healing journey.

Over the years, I’ve had to learn to let myself feel it. If I need to cry, I cry.

As I pulled out of my driveway today, I looked at the beautiful trees lining my street and my heart sung with joy.  I wanted to pick up the phone and share that beauty with someone I love…and the first person that came to mind was my mom.

“I miss you, Mom.” I said it out loud, I acknowledged the ache.  And for the briefest of minutes the tears fell down my cheeks.

I then found myself thinking of friends of mine who are on much more recent journeys with grief. The wound is still so fresh for them. My heart aches for their ache.

“Comfort them, Lord. Overwhelm them with Your presence. ” I said it out loud.

Two truths embraced, two truths acknowledged:  the pain and the answer to the pain.

There’s an answer.  Thank you, Lord, that there’s an answer. Thank you for making a way.

“As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” Psalm 71:14

Linking to a post I wrote nearly five-year ago. It came to mind after my tear drops this afternoon.  In it, I shared my thoughts on some beautiful words that Douglas Gresham shared about the special relationship between his mom, Joy, and his stepfather C.S. Lewis.  If you have a few extra minutes, you can read it here Don’t Lose Heart

You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

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Confession:  It took me 42 years to make flossing my teeth a consistent habit in my life.

When I was kid, I never flossed.  And brushing my teeth took about 10 seconds…just long enough to get the taste of the toothpaste and that minty fresh feeling in my mouth. I never knew what the big deal was because each time my parents took me for a check-up, I came out with a great report.  No cavities!

In fact, I didn’t get my first cavity in life until I was 26 years old.  Once that happened, I then made it a habit to floss the night before my dentist appointments. The hygienist used to ask,  “when was the last time you flossed?” and I could honestly answer: last night.  But then hygienists started getting smarter because, for the last few years, their question has changed to, “how often do you floss?”  Um…not as often as I should?

But this all changed about a year ago when I had my routine visit to the dentist (aka the tooth police) and I didn’t have one cavity… I had four. Four!

“You need to floss regularly.” The tooth police insisted.

Sigh.  The tooth police were right.

So, I made this sign and hung it on my bathroom mirror.

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It only took a month or two.  I am happy to report  that I don’t need a silly sign to be my cheerleader anymore, it’s become a consistent habit in my life. I’ve been flossing daily for a little over a year now…and I’ve grown to actually like it. I like that I am doing something proactive and healthy for my teeth.

I was thinking about this new habit in my life compared to my quiet time every morning.  I am one of those crazy people who like to get up at 5:00am.  Years ago, after spending about a decade trying to navigate life on my own, I came back to seeking the Lord’s guidance in my life. Like my teeth, it kind of took getting to a point where I knew I desperately needed to take that step.  I had made a mess of my life and didn’t want the “decay” to continue.  I wanted to be on a healthy path.  Waking up every morning to spend time with the One who could make that possible for me became a priority in my life.  Since making this shift, amazing things have happened in my life too.  He’s shown me some beautiful things. He’s challenged me to bring Him things that I first didn’t want to bring Him…but was so grateful I finally did! It’s a been a cool journey of getting to know my Creator, the Author and Perfecter of my life.

I know there are some days when my heart isn’t in it. I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, so to speak. But, I never regret making the choice to spend time with the Lord.  It’s kind of like morning stretching exercises for my soul. It wakes me up. It changes my  outlook.  I am always glad I showed up .

This post is part of a link up on Spiritual Disciplines over at The High Calling.

Success Looks Different Today

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“Success in life is becoming and being who you want to be.”

I read this tweet as I scrolled Twitter yesterday and it made me pause.

That’s not success, I thought to myself. Sure it’s a nice, warm fuzzy thought, but it’s not the least bit true.

I responded to the tweet… “I respectfully disagree.”

I spent nearly a decade of my life chasing what I thought would make me happy and “successful.” I spent nearly a decade in the driver’s seat of my own life, going where I wanted to go.

And…it did lead me somewhere…but I certainly wouldn’t define it as success.

As I thought more about this statement, I thought about the rich and famous in life who pursue what they want to be and all they think they want to become and then, one day, we hear on the news how they’ve overdosed on drugs or committed suicide. Part of us is shocked, they seemingly had it all.

Yet, something tells me that their last thoughts were not…I am living a successful life. 

Becoming and being what you think you want to be and become will not lead to success. This is why we often keep looking for something “more” when we “arrive.” Because being and becoming everything we want is not enough to sustain us and bring us peace and joy and contentment.

In my quest to be and to become what I wanted in life, I learned a huge a lesson.

None of it filled me up. Attempting to run through life, being and becoming, apart from the God who created me just left me feeling hopeless, restless, empty, and completely lost.

Today,  I know I need Christ to be in the driver’s seat of my life, to guide this passion I have inside me of being and becoming. I was created by Him. He is my life-giver. He is my life sustainer.

Today, if I manage to hold on tightly to this Truth, this is success.

Lord, we cling to you today.  Take us where you want to take us.  Mold us and shape us into the children you want us to become.  

Calling: It’s Not a One Size Fits All Journey

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This morning I thought about how the idea of discovering what you are meant to do in life can some times feel like going to a restaurant with 300 main dishes, 300 appetizers and 300 desserts available.  I tend to be more comfortable when I flip open a menu and there are only a handful of choices available to me. I know, some of you would find that to be boring, but I like the simplicity of fewer choices. I like how my decision can be arrived at quicker and I can move on to the next steps…preparing and then enjoying.

But life doesn’t appear to be that simple.

Let’s say as far back as you can remember you knew you wanted to be a doctor. You knew ever since you were three years old when you picked up your first toy stethoscope and something deep inside you whispered…this is what I’m meant to do. Yet, even then, there comes a point along the journey when you will have to stare at all those menu choices. What schools should I apply to? How am I going to pay for this? What field of medicine do I want to study? Should I work in a hospital, private practice, or something else entirely?

Then, there’s the rest of the world who failed to hear the “this is what I am meant to do” whisper. Your whisper still appears to be perusing the 300 main course menu options and all you might be hearing right now is the “I’ll have to get back to you on that” or the “your guess is as good as mine” whisper.

Personally, my “calling” in life never came as an “ah-ha” moment.  Instead, as I look back over the journey, I can see how certain situations I was in (both good and bad), decisions I made (both good and bad) and opportunities I took (both good and bad), led me to where I am now.

A few things I’ve learned along the way: Discovering your calling isn’t a one-size fits all journey. Some callings won’t necessarily make you piles of money. Sometimes a calling isn’t a downpour of discovery, sometimes it’s sprinkled along the path.

Today, I can see how previous seasons in my life continually prepare me for the next.  The one common, recurring thread that has woven its way through my life is a passion to move the freedom ball up the field.

How has that calling played out in my life so far?

  • Years ago, shortly after picking up the freedom ball, I felt called to step out of my comfort zone and begin facilitating a recovery small group at my church. What pointed me in that direction in the first place? Pain, wrong turns, addiction,failure… and, most importantly, a God who assured me that the freedom I had accepted was infinitely bigger than it all.
  • I started a blog nearly six years ago too.  I feel called to write. I share because I want to pass that freedom ball on to others.
  • I feel called to continue seeking out and being a part of communities where I can move the freedom ball up the field.  I’ve facilitated small groups for years now. And, last summer, I felt strongly that I needed to look for ways to help those who are stuck in the prison of sex trafficking.  I found the local group,Second Life of Chattanooga, and have been volunteering with them ever since.  I currently help them with their social media and I occasionally contribute blog posts too.

I do what I can to move the freedom ball further up the field.

Why?  Because I can’t not do it.

Move the freedom ball up the field. That’s the whisper I now hear everyday of my life.

Has my calling earned me tons of money?  Nope.  Will it one day?  Perhaps (most likely not) but who knows.  But the thing about a calling is there is this drive inside you that prompts you to find ways to do it whether it makes you money or not. The other thing about a calling is that it will look differently depending on what season of life you are in.  Yet, there are important lessons to learn and growth to experience no matter what stage of life you are in.  And some times, when we look back, we discover how the desert seasons were necessary because they were instrumental at bringing us to exactly where we needed to be.

IMG_1480It goes well with coffee.

I recently read Jeff Goins new book The Art of Work where he does a beautiful job of shedding light on how we should tackle this adventure of discovering our calling.  The book doesn’t officially release until March 24, but for a limited time, Jeff has been gracious enough to give the book away for free.  Free! All you pay is $6.99 for shipping.

Below, I’ve listed a few of my favorite quotes. I say a “few” because I basically underlined the whole book.  It’s that good! Plus, if I had listed more than a few quotes then it would be like looking at one of those menus with 300 choices and you know how much I don’t care for those. ;) 

  • “What I’ve come to understand is that finding your purpose is more a path than a plan; it involves twists & turns that you never expected. Ultimately these surprises lead you to your destiny. And once arrive at what you thought was the destination, you realize it’s only another leg in the journey.”
  • “The way to meaningful work doesn’t always look like a carefully crafted plan. Sometimes the route to our purpose is a chaotic experience and how we respond matters more than what happens to us.”
  • “All along, her life was teaching her something, even in the pain. And if she hadn’t paid attention, she just might have missed it.”
  • “The trick is to find your vocation hidden in your life.”
  • “A calling is what you have when you look back at your life and make sense of what it’s been trying to teach you all along.”
  • “Listening is where finding your calling starts, but it’s not where it ends. Our ears can only take us so far before our hands have to do the rest of the work.”
  • “Life is a classroom, and if you  are paying attention, you can recognize the daily lessons available…”
  • “We all want to do something that we are good at, that the world in some way recognizes, but the point of practice is never just about skill acquisition. It’s about making a contribution to the world.”
  • “This is how calling happens: not as a lightning bold, but as a gentle, consistent prodding that won’t leave you alone until you act. That you respond to the call, not how, is what makes it extraordinary.”

If you are interested in reading more, you can reserve your copy HERE

Pieces

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Bread, manna, crumbs

These words have been on my heart and mind for months now, even more so now that I’m in book writing mode. I seem to be getting pieces of the puzzle every day as I make my way further up the path…deeper and deeper into the adventure.

Sometimes I don’t know where the pieces fit yet. For now, I  hold onto them…and I wait.

Some mornings, I will pick the pieces up and turn them over in my hands.

Where does it go, Lord?
What does all this mean?
How does it fit inside the bigger picture?

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A Piece:

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. ~  Matthew 15:21-28

Whenever I read this exchange between Jesus and Gentile woman who cried out for help it resonates deeply with me. At first glance, Jesus response seems unloving and insulting. Yet, Jesus was testing this woman’s faith.

Are you desperate enough and hungry enough that you will courageously seek the healing you need even though shame has been shouting at you all your life that you shouldn’t seek anything better?

Rick Lawrence, `in his book, Skin in the Game, poses a great question and explanation about the exchange. “How would we respond to Him if were in the woman’s sandals? We have two choices. We can agree with the story our shame is telling us about ourselves and scurry back from the precipice of epic possibility. Or we can stand with our eyes flashing and our chin jutted and declare that it will no longer matter how others have defined us, no matter how respected or impressive or powerful they may be.  It. Will. No. Longer. Matter.

Jesus interrogated and pushed this woman.

“Jesus will set off an earthquake in our soul if it will spring loose our prison door.” Rick Lawrence

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In one way, it reminded me of the account of Jesus pressing Peter after he had fearfully denied even knowing Jesus.

Jesus asked him the same question three times in a row.

“Peter,  do you love me?”

It’s as if Jesus is speaking right to the condition of Peter’s heart. Will your failure and shame define you or will I define you?

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I was a divorced woman.  I was a divorced woman whose ex-husband was serving time in a federal prison. I was a woman who spent years running away from problems. I was a woman who had spent years numbing her pain with bottles of wine. Similar to Peter, when the reality and difficulty of life and the situation I was in became too hard and too uncomfortable to face, I was a woman who ran away from Jesus.

Shame was loud. You don’t deserve my bread. You’ve gone too far in the wrong direction.

 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

But the hunger for healing and freedom was louder. You, Jesus, are my only HOPE. Please, Lord, just a crumb of your goodness, just a crumb of your love, just a crumb of your healing.

 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

I never thought I’d get
Even a second chance
But you’ve given that, and so much more
And then for every time I ever did deny,
You asked me if I love you
You know I do, Lord
Third Day – Can’t Take the Pain

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The other night I woke up in the middle of the night with a thought rolling around my brain:

You know, I think that thief on the cross who hung next to Jesus would have been happy with just a few leftover crumbs too.

But Jesus promised him the feast of paradise.

Sometimes We Must Go Before We Can Know

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I had a “running” thought while out on my run the other day.

The prodigal son knew his father when he left home but he didn’t KNOW his Father until he returned.

Running thoughts while I’m actually running happen quite a bit for me. I love scripture that compares the faith journey with running a race, running with perseverance, and crossing the finish line.

But, I also love the running away verses in scripture. They remind me that even when we spend years running in the wrong direction turning around is always, always, always an option.

Running away verses remind me that nothing in our lives is wasted and if nothing else “redeeming” seems to come from the detour…there is always one precious gift that comes from the experience… a deeper appreciation and a deeper love for the One who is standing next to the window, looking intently up the road, and anticipating our return.

The prodigal son knew his father when he left home but he didn’t KNOW his Father until he returned.

Prior to running, the son didn’t know the depth of his father’s love for him. Prior to his running, his comprehension of the word grace fit neat and tidy inside a box.  Grace, to him, meant coming home, begging for forgiveness and then spending the rest of his days trying to “make it up” to his father.  It wasn’t until he returned that the son became deeply aware of how little he knew about true love and amazing grace.

Grace doesn’t simply say “I forgive you.” Grace waits for you, grace throws open the front door, grace runs up the road to meet you, grace throws the bigggest celebration you have ever seen.

The biggest gift the prodigal son received?  He finally KNEW his Father.

The Backpack That Contains Everything

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I had this thought as I was driving home from dropping my son off at school today.

When we catch a glimpse of His Glory…it’s enough to carry us through to eternity.

A glimpse
though it might last only a few small seconds
is a gift that keeps on giving

It’s that moment
That moment
when the eyes of our heart
grasp the wonder of it all

And that glimpse
That glimpse
is a like a backpack we carry with us
for the rest of our journey

The contents…
you can’t see
but you know
oh…you know

I believe this with all my heart.

How a Faith Journey Might Look Like A Dress

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If you were anywhere near the internet a few days ago then you know all about the gold and white dress, or maybe it was black and blue depending on what your eyes and brain saw.  After the back and forth controversy, several articles about the science behind the argument appeared.  I still don’t quite “get it” (I’m a writer, Jim, not a scientist. :) )  but it’s certainly fascinating how our brains work.

This morning, the dress popped into my brain again after reading a devotional about the many different voices that “vie for control of our mind” as we go about our day. Followers of Jesus are given assurance through scripture that even though there are many voices pointing in many different directions, the Holy Spirit gives discernment if we are willing to take time to listen.

In scripture Jesus compares the relationship he has with his followers as a Shepherd leading his flock of sheep.  “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:4

Jesus also told his followers that “he is the Way, the Truth  and  the Life.” John 14:6

We may hear many voices, (we may see different color dresses) but Jesus and his voice is the one voice that keeps us on the correct path.

Whenever I spend time thinking about knowing Jesus, I always think of how crazy it must sound to people who don’t know Jesus. In a way, it’s like seeing a gold and white dress, insisting it’s gold and white and then another person looks at it and says, no, it’s black and blue. Our perceptions are different. I am never going to “convince” someone the dress is gold and white. The only way that person would have a chance of seeing a gold and white dress is if somehow their eyes were to eventually see the dress through a different lens or from a different perspective. Me simply telling them isn’t ever going to convince them. They have to see and experience the change for themselves in order to accept it completely in their hearts.

I think that’s a lot like coming to know Christ. We can talk about it, we can point to Scripture…but unless there’s a shift in perspective, a person will not see or experience Christ for themselves.  It’s got to be personal. 

Last night, I started reading Lee Strobel’s newest book The Case for Grace.  Lee was an atheist for years before coming to know Christ. For some reason, an atheist turned Christian journey fascinate me. For one reason, I think it’s because you know that an atheist doesn’t arrive at their decision to follow Christ lightly. They have searched. They have doubted. They have searched some more. They have doubted some more. Then they decide. I love this for two reasons.

1 It shows just how personal the journey needs to be.

2. Because Jesus promises in Scripture that if “we seek him with all our hearts we will find him.”

In the first few chapters I’ve read so far, Lee has shared the journeys of people whose perceptions had to go through a transformation in order to see and know the God who loves them. In the first chapter, Lee shares how growing up with a father who wasn’t loving or accepting made it challenging for him to grasp the concept of a Heavenly Father who could be this to him.

Again, it’s like telling people the dress is gold and white when all they’ve ever known is blue and black. Our perceptions will need to be challenged before we will ever understand something differently.

Lord, today…help us to see You through the correct lens. Help us to hear You with ears willing to listen for Your voice.  Lord, give us hearts that are willing to look for you beyond our preconceived notions. And, Lord, when you call our names, give us the courage to follow where you desire to lead us.   

Decisions Will Always Lead Us Somewhere

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This morning, a book I used to read to my son popped into my brain called “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”  Laura Numeroff, the author, wrote a number of these fun and entertaining “If you give..” books. I love how they remind me of not only the circular nature of life but also how our choices will always lead to consequences and outcomes.

I also thought more about how each decision we make in life will lead us somewhere. I seem to be getting this reminder a lot lately.

At church we are studying Exodus and how all of us are on a From -> To journey.

Over the weekend I shared with you all how willingness is the key to everything when it comes to healing, progress, and growth. I shared how God is able to use even the smallest amount of willingness. He taps into that small and honest cry coming from our hearts and He takes off running with it!

On Sunday night, with willingness and From -> To journey’s still bouncing around my brain, I headed to church for small group.  As I pulled out of my driveway, I heard someone on the radio talking about how Moses was just a small time sheep herder when God called him to lead his people to the Promised Land. The man on the radio was encouraging listeners by reminding them that often where we start from is small.

I was reminded that our small “FROM” doesn’t matter if  we are walking with a BIG God who wants to take us “TO” somewhere.

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During small group that night we finished up the newest Margaret Feinberg study, “Fight Back with Joy.”  In the last video we heard the story of the Good Samaritan.  A priest and a Levite chose to pass by on the other side of the street and ignore the injured man bleeding on the side of the road.  A Samaritan came along and chose to stop and show the stranger compassion.  As Margaret shares so well in the video:  “He was the one willing to take a risk.” He was the one willing to cross the road and help.

He was willing to go From the comfort of one side of the street and To the uncomfortable waiting on the other side of the street.

Margaret pointed out how Jewish law in the Book of Leviticus (about not touching unclean things) even gave the priest a good excuse to not stop and help. He could justify his lack of action. This is the point that stuck with me the other night. How often do we do the same thing? How often do we justify our inaction and our unwillingness to help and love others with a list of excuses?  Even Moses tried to do this in Exodus when God called him to lead the Israelites…”Who am I?”

Again, I was reminded that our small “FROM” doesn’t matter if  we are walking with a BIG God who wants to take us “TO” somewhere.

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Yesterday, I asked folks on Facebook to share updates about their One Word (if they chose one this year.)  My One Word is “small” and I’m seeing cool lessons all over the place. I’m loving it.  In one of my comments I shared these words:

We’ve been studying Exodus at church and yesterday’s message was all about the “small” flakes of  manna. Last night as I was driving to “small” group I heard on the radio someone talking about Moses and his beginnings as a sheep herder and that how we shouldn’t despise “small” starts. Yep…small is often the launching pad to GREAT things!

“Small is often the launching pad to GREAT things.”  I still had those words on my heart as I left a little later that morning to take my son to school. On the drive home I heard a song I hadn’t heard in quite some time, “Rise” by Shawn MacDonald. This verse wrapped itself around my heart.

“Cause He who is me
Is greater than I will ever be
And I will rise”

When I arrived home. I wrote those words down in my journal. I then went to YouTube to listen to the song again.  As I skimmed the many different video choices of the song, my eyes caught sight of another video choice “Shawn McDonald shares being honest with yourself.” It was uploaded just six days ago to YouTube. After listening to “Rise” again, I clicked on this 1:00 minute message. I’m so glad I did. It reminded me of words I shared with you in my last blog about the importance of being real with God.  Take a minute to listen.

“I believe healing starts and happens when we start to become honest with our lives and start talking about the struggles in us.”  – Shawn McDonald

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In my quiet time this morning one of recommended verses to read was Ephesians 3: 16-19.

  “My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”   Ephesians 3:16-19 Message

Rise to the heights! 

“Cause He who is me
Is greater than I will ever be
And I will rise”