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Lead more gently

In Lead more gently

A Prayer For The Men In Our Lives

It is my daily habit to read a passage of scripture. This day it was Romans, chapter 13.

As I read, a particular phrase struck me.

“And do this, knowing the time …” – Romans 13:11

I asked myself whether I know the time? Do I know the time in which I live? Do I understand the implications of the time that God chose for me to live and breathe?

As is my daily habit, I took the scripture to prayer. I started praying that God would help me understand the time but my heart kept going on another path. My prayer kept moving away from me understanding to praying for the men in my family. I have a husband, a son, a son-in-law and three grandsons. These then are the men foremost in my family. My prayer then moved toward other men I know – my extended family, those with whom I work, my friends, my pastor.

I followed my heart and here is what it led me to pray for these men. I offer this prayer to you, my readers, my friends – a prayer for your men, a prayer for all our men. A prayer for a time such as this.

 

A PRAYER FOR THE MEN IN OUR LIFE

Our Father,

I pray that the men in our life will know the time …

That they will understand the time you chose for them to live;  the time that you chose for them to be children and the time you chose for them to be adults, to be husbands and to be fathers.

I pray that they will understand the time in which they are men.

 

You chose for them to live at this, their time.

 

They are uniquely shaped, carefully molded and perfectly equipped for a time such as this. It is time for them to fill a void, to take a place, to stand in the gap and to build the thing that you, at the very foundation of time, designed for them to build. You have a blueprint, a plan of this thing you want each one to build. I pray that the men in our life recognize this holy thing you have for them to build and that they build with all their might.

 

I pray that each man in our life will know that the time is always now.

 

Now is the time to awake out of sleep.

Now is the time to walk and to run and to build up and not to break down.

 

“And do this, knowing the time …” – Romans 13:11

 

I pray that the men in our life will understand the “and do this” as they walk in their time:

  • To be submissive to those who lead them because it makes their own leadership pure.
  • To pay their taxes and be honest in their finances.
  • To not run up debt and be enslaved to others. Rather, may they be givers, generous and kind.
  • To give honor to who honor is due, never being so proud that they cannot see the good in others.
  • To always chose purity and walk away from lust and lewdness.
  • To choose peace and not embrace strife.
  • To celebrate God’s blessing of others and not be envious of their neighbor.
  • To plan their life around their purpose; not around their ego and their flesh.

In knowing the time, may the men in our life continue on the path that you have set before them. This path leads them to lay their life down.

May their lives come second and third and fourth place.

May their wives and children and siblings and parents be put before them, so that they may protect from behind as they follow you in the front.

 

For this is your way – the way of the cross – to lay your life down so that your family may be saved.

 

May the men in our life know the time.

That now is the time.

That now is always the time.

 

“And do this, knowing the time,

that now it is high time to awake out of sleep:

for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.

The night is far spent, the day is at hand.

Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness,

and let us put on the armor of light.

Let us walk properly, as in the day,

not in revelry and drunkenness,

not in lewdness and lust,

not in strife and envy.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” – Romans 13:11-14

Note: The verses before this speaks about submission and leadership, money and taxes and love that is pure. [Romans 13:1-10]

 

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

When parenting choices go wrong

Our organic, heirloom seeds were tenderly planted into compost rich beds. They were watered, fed and nurtured and we delighted in watching the growing process. Shoots that a few weeks ago peeked out of dark soil grew into greens that filled bowls in our kitchen. We’ve battled bugs, snails, squirrels and the neighbor’s dogs and we have come through undefeated – weary and battle scarred – but victoriously crunching not-so-perfect produce.

We could have chosen perfect leaves that were not first shared with insects, but that would have needed poisonous chemicals. We preferred the happy, admittedly stinky faces of Marigolds in our garden to ward off most insects as well as the occasional spray of cayenne pepper.   The resulting bounty, somewhat imperfect in outward form but perfectly formed within, brings a pleasure that is only truly known by those who raise things organically.

Which brings me to children.

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We made a parenting choice to move from the big city and raise our babies in a small town flourishing between farms that grew sunflowers, corn and cattle. It was a happy town that sprawled out in the open flatlands of the African savannah. The local economy rose and fell by the weather and every person above school going age knew from which direction the good rains came. African farms are vast and the crops depend on rain – not irrigation. So, when the warm Spring winds blew dust that settled in every crevice, you heard no complaints, only the whispers of thanks because it brought the summer rains.

Our family thrived in this town. Days were filled with sport-art-ballet-piano lessons. School days were spent learning in classrooms brimming over with talented teachers. Weekends were not long enough to get around to all that life offered – friends, excursions, church, laughter, love and endless days in the swimming pool.

Until it ended.

Our small town fell into crisis and families moved out in droves. Lifelong friends said goodbye to each other, leaving holes in the growth pattern of my children’s lives. Our home, once filled with sprouting teenage friends, became quiet. Institutions closed down and along with them went the sport-art-ballet-piano lessons. Now the days seemed too long and our children, who were once bursting with growth, floundered and spent unhealthy amounts of time alone.

School teachers were amongst those who left our once happy town. At a critical time in their development, huge gaps appeared in the trellis of our children’s education. Two parents, who themselves were reeling from the loss of their support system of friends, looked each other in the eye and made hard decisions.

This man who I married, who had always been strong for me, wept harder with each mile that passed as we left first our daughter, then our son, at boarding school. Red-bricked institutions of education, of the best our country had to offer, schools that other children dreamt of attending, now housed our babies-turned-teenagers and our home was empty long before it’s time.

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Enormous phone bills became a normal item on our budget and our car clocked high mileage as weekends consisted of driving to schools hundreds of miles away. Many nights I would sit in my children’s rooms listening for echoes of their voices and days I would fold and refold their clothes just to catch a whiff of their smell.  Our evening dinner table was pathetic as two parents saw the hurt reflected in each other’s eyes.

The sacrifices we made and the endless self-doubt paid off as our children took root in this transplanting. They started to flourish.   They made the friends that teenagers sorely need and learnt their school lessons from teachers skilled in their craft.  When you study the growth of a tree, you can tell when the hard years hit by the notches in its bark.   I see the notch of those floundering years in my now grown children but I also see the strong growth that the transplanting produced.

There is no other way of raising children but organically.   Babies are wild and free and have no genetic modification that will automatically ward off the hardships of life.   Worms gnaw at their self-confidence during the day so at night, while tickling the back of a sleepy child, mom speaks words of encouragement. Insects lurk under tender leaves of talent, whispering self-doubt in children’s ears so their dad applauds with all his might, front row and center, brimming with pride.

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Children grow organically and parents do the best they can with what life brings. Some years the rains don’t come and the pain of this leaves deep wounds that scar – possibly for life.  Some years there are insects that eat away at new growth and you feel that more is being taken than left behind.  Some years the soil is rich and the sun shines bright.  Delight in these, remembering to show compassion for those in another season. Each child grows differently and parenting is a skill learnt on the job. There are days you will get it gloriously right. Celebrate your harvest!  Then there are days when you will need to acknowledge the grace you need when you get it badly wrong.  On these dark days, remember your own parents and forgive.

On the day my son graduated from college, he gave his dad and me his sash. On it were written these words.

Mom and Dad, this is dedicated to you for making this possible. The encouragement, hope and belief that you gave your small town boy to chase his dreams, along with your sacrifices, has made this day a reality. Thank you. You are my example.

A few weeks ago my grown daughter, herself now a mother, put her arm around me and said thank you. Thank you for the sacrifices, for your generosity and for always being there when I need you.

I am very aware that these words of my children reflect more about their character than my parenting skill. It speaks of their grace, their forgiveness, their understanding that babies are born wild and free and parents are but human. There is no other way of raising children but organically and when we set about growing things organically, whether it be vegetables, herbs or children, there is a certain amount of imperfection that is built into the process.   It is best to make peace with this from the get go.

“But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” – Deuteronomy 4:9

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In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

When to stay and when to leave

Where God leads, there is joy and peace. In the book of Isaiah there is a beautiful account of God’s blessing. It speaks of rain and of flourishing. It speaks of seed and of bread. There is accomplishment and purpose and the part I love the most speaks of mountains and hills and trees in the field that burst into song and clap their hands.

What a beautiful picture of God’s blessing.

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Don’t misunderstand me. There may be trouble and hardship along the path where God leads. The scripture speaks of perseverance under trial and patience in testing. Yet, when God leads, even in the hardest of places, even on a seeming solid rock, life grows and flourishes.

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The difficulty comes in knowing what is adversity for the sake of His calling and what is a place devoid of his blessing and filled with hardship because we became involved in an endeavour and took a road we should never have travelled.

Here are some indicators that the road we are on is perhaps not God’s purpose for us.  When these exist, it’s probably time to leave:

  • When people get broken. Plans and possessions and purposes are never more important than people.
  • When money is a motivating factor. Money is a tool, for sure. It is needed to accomplish things. There is nothing wrong with profit. However, God requires that we love people and use money. Never should we love money and use people. When money and possessions becomes the motivator above doing good, then the love of this will bring evil.
  • When people are unequally yoked. What does this mean? When the internal, external and philosophical motivations of people are so different, they cannot possibly pull together.
  • When the purpose, the “why”, is unclear and unwritten. There’s a reason why the scripture warns that where there is no vision, the people run lawlessly. God instructs us to write the vision for a reason; so that all can see it and run in the same direction.

God’s plans and purposes for us are always with the intent of changing us to be more like him, reflecting his love to the world. Our accomplishing some great goal does not matter to him. People do.

As far as I can tell, there are only three institutions that truly matter to Jesus.  Marriage, Family and the Church.

Organizations and companies do not matter to him. People do.  The blessing of God is present in these places when the people within them work with integrity and are ethical in their dealings with one another and with the world – reflecting Him.

God asks that we go to great lengths to serve, not to be served; that we give, not take. When this happens, we are growing to be more like Him and we reflect His character to a broken world.   This is when the mountains and the trees and the fields burst forth into applause.

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“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign that will endure forever.” – Isaiah 55:12-13

In Lead more gently

You chose to stay – an open letter to my husband

You were of the generation that had the choice to participate in the birth of your child. Your father had to wait outside and your son, well, he was expected to go inside. Your generation of fathers was the first to be given a choice and you chose to be there. Many of your contemporaries scoffed at the idea but not you. You chose to stay, through the hours of stop-start labor, through the pain, through the mess, holding me tight. You never left, not even for a moment and you never have – not even for a moment.

From the very first breath of each child, you have modeled what it looks like to be a father who stays. Through sleepless nights and diapers and sleepless nights and teenage years, you were there. The father who drove that fifteen year old to Saturday night outings and the father who volunteered to stay up late so that you could personally drive them home again – while driving their friends home too. You were the father who stayed up.  Five hours later you would get up to finalize your Sunday sermon.

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I see our son staying for his sons. Staying beside them for bedtime stories and scraped knees and two-year-old tantrums. I see our son staying for the mother of his sons, choosing her and choosing them. I am confident that our son will stay for the more difficult years ahead because he has seen it in you – a father who stays. For our son there is no other way.

There are many fathers who choose not to. They choose their own life and walk away – some physically leave, others leave in ways that hurt just as much. Not you. You chose to stay for their very first breath and you will be there for them until your very last.

You are not a wordy father teaching life lessons through anecdotes and stories. Rather you choose actions. You work for them, you build for them, you labor for them, you stand beside them, you hug, you laugh, you shout, you cry, you turn up and you stay. As long as you have strength in your mortal body, our children can count on you. Always.

You have been there for birthdays and holidays and bright days and dark days.  You have been there for sports days and ballet recital days, for rights of passage days like baptism and becoming a teenager and getting married.  Your shoulders are strong and they have been there for tears and for leaning on and for protecting and for loving.

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Baptised by daddy

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Absent fathers leave a tender spot in their children, a deep vulnerability and a hurt that only the Perfect Father can heal. But, like strong bones deep within keep us upright, fathers who stay, build in a child a strength they don’t always remember they have – until they need it.   You have built strong bones in the anatomy of our children and I see them building this in theirs. Our children have this ability because, for your generation, there was a choice and you chose to stay and to participate.

You have modeled for your son, and recently also for your son-in-law, how to be a father who stays. They in turn now get to model to their sons how to, not only be a father one day, but also how to be a son.

“My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”  Proverbs 3:1-4

In Lead more gently/ Worship more fully

When does life have true meaning?

There is this mystery in God and of it I dreamt a dream.

A hundred thousand people gathered before me. Their eyes were shut and they were hidden in their own darkness.

A voice said, “Help them.”

I said, “I have but one gift.”

The voice said, “Give your one gift.”

In my dream I spoke words to the one closest to me and the words caused her eyes to open.

And the voice said to her, “ Help them.”

She said, “I have but one gift.”

The voice said, “Give your one gift.”

So she sang to the one beside her and it caused his eyes to open.

In my dream a gift was given, person to person, each gift unique.

And in that peculiar time of dreams unfolding, every eye was opened and the hundred thousand saw each other. And when they saw, they stood in awe.

I woke and knew.

This then is the mystery in God:

This world is only whole when you give to it your gift. And the healing your gift brings is a place of holy awe.

You can choose to look within, find your contribution and then give. Or you can choose to hide and to keep. In hiding you will become small. In keeping you will loose. In exploring you will grow. In giving you will receive.

Each person has something to contribute. God has not only given you a gift; he has made you a gift to this world. He has either conferred talents at birth or He has formed them in you through the journey of your life.   These gifts and abilities are richly meaningful when you give them back to Him in service to others.

Life has true meaning when we contribute. Contributing brings connection and when we connect one with the other, we grow.

And as is the nature of mysteries, there is one more service to God that we owe:

Others feel significant when we not only allow them to contribute but we also receive their contribution with the holy awe it deserves. They are, after all, God’s healing gift to us.

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” – 2 Corinthians 9:8

In Lead more gently

When the beginning of the year finds you in relationship battles

January has been a month of celebration in our family.  A few wedding anniversaries and a baby shower.   Marriages produce babies.  Babies produce families.

Families produce deep love and joy but also pain and turmoil.

My husband and I celebrated 35 years of marriage this month.  I have lived with this man as my primary family member longer than I lived with my parents, my sisters and even my children.  He, more than any other person, knows me.  There is nothing I have shared with anybody else that I have not first shared with this man.  He knows what puts me at peace, he knows what drives me to dark corners, he knows those tender places that others can easily hurt and he knows exactly when I am about to toughen up and fight back.

This kind of knowing does not come easily.  It has taken almost four decades of tenderness and spitefulness and standing proud and breaking humbly.   Building a strong marriage takes a terrifying toll and in return gives a vulnerability so valuable you protect it above all else.  A vulnerability of pure honesty and transparent truth.  No pretenses, no lying, just this other glorious, broken, weak, strong, person.  And we choose to love and to stay and to keep getting better at this becoming one.  Marriage has been kind to us because of this choice.

Yet, life does not offer a comfortable chair from which to settle in and watch.  Just when we become familiar with the contours and the patterns of our favorite place, the wind changes.  As I watch my own children marrying and having babies and figuring out this process of becoming one, I realize the rules have changed.  The world they navigate is different to the one my husband and I journeyed. The battles they fight seem harder to me yet at the same time, the wins that took us years seem to come easier for them.  Their journey is their journey.

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One thing I know that remains true;  relationships, no matter the decade, are not easy.  Family is a place of raw, tender feelings.

On three different occasions this week I listened as friends told me about conflict in their family. Hard relationships that wreak havoc on the new year and that make plans and goals seem unattainable.  The bewilderment in one mother’s eyes as she spoke of the pain of having adult children just broke me.  I assured her that she was not alone.  That particular hurt cuts deep and is all too common.

Be comforted, my friend, that yours is not the only difficult family.  Family is spelt  m-e-s-s-y.  It is part of being human.  Our broken spots rubbing up against the jagged parts of those we love, causing friction and hurt – cutting deep.

If you are in the midst of a bloody battle, I humbly, gently and carefully offer this one piece of advice:

Peace only comes when you do what’s right.  Do the right thing.

Deep inside, most of us know what that “right thing” is. Do the right thing.  

An apology from deep within.

A change in our actions.

Using different words.

Committing to one thing or walking away from another.

Choosing kindness.

We know what the right thing is.  Most of the time, it’s not the knowing – it’s the doing.

Don’t give in to the voices that harden your heart or that suggests an easier way.  Just go and do the right thing.

If you truly don’t know what the right thing is – go find someone to help you figure it out.  For you, that would be the right thing.

You cannot know and you cannot control how others will behave or what choices they will make.    It is not your business to make them do anything.  It is only your business to do what’s right.  Do the right thing. That is yours to own.

When you do, peace will come.  It may seem like a difficult, rocky path, but it is the right path. 

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise … Then the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8+9

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply/ Worship more fully

Dorothy’s Oil – what is this oil that brings healing to so many?

Top Village lies in the African dust on the North Eastern side of a road that goes to more important places. The village itself is unassuming and barely noticeable by the fast moving cars; a few corrugated shacks, some government low cost houses and a remnant of mud brick homes that testify to a bygone era. To the experienced eye it is these mud homes that differentiate Top Village from the countless squatter communities that pain South Africa. You see, Top Village is a village in the true sense of the African word. It has a long history, a tribal authority, a Head Man and villagers who remember the old ways. Granted, it is mostly the senior inhabitants that know how to properly greet one another and who remember the terrible droughts that killed the cattle. Yet, it is these seniors who, with a quiet dignity, keep the community together.

One such senior was Dorothy.

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I met Dorothy through her sister, one of our patients who died of AIDS. Dorothy, like the rest of the village at that time, did not truly understand what was happening to her loved ones. The disease that was ravaging her people took her sister and all three her daughters.

This is an unspeakable pain.

Dorothy is of the old ways where you dig deep during adversity and you stand straight and you roll up your sleeves and you get to work.

And so she did.

She found out all she could about this disease, her enemy. She volunteered her services and like a solider on a mission, she faced her foe with bravery beyond measure. Every day Dorothy walked along those dusty village paths, seeking the sick. When she found one, that one was truly found. With a relentless love, Dorothy would care.

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One of the weapons in her arsenal was what we dubbed “Dorothy’s Oil”. From a nurse on a mission trip Dorothy learnt how to give therapeutic massages. Nobody was safe after this. Every patient was slathered with oil and persistently rubbed. If you happened to be a friend or a relative visiting that patient, your shoes and socks were promptly removed and your feet too got a dose of Dorothy’s Oil.

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Another of her weapons against the enemy that was taking her loved ones was joy. Dorothy had a way of drawing laughter from those in the very company of death. Her eyes would twinkle mischievously as she told an old, forgotten story of some village antic and a smile would come to ward off the pain.

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The truth is that the real balm, the true oil of Dorothy was her love. Dorothy loved Jesus and Dorothy let Jesus love through her. This is how Dorothy became one of the best Care Givers I have ever seen and by far one of the best people I have ever known.

This balm, this soothing oil has been poured out to each one of us – freely. God, through his infinite love, poured himself out for our healing. Sometimes He uses people like Dorothy. Sometimes he reaches us through writings like this. Sometimes through our pastor or our friend. Always, He simply loves us in the quiet of our heart – no matter what we have done or where we have been. His love is a soothing, healing oil.

The last time I saw Dorothy was two weeks ago. She was leading a group of us through the village, from patient to patient. She walked strong and true and never faltered.

Dorothy Mogapi died a few days ago – a soldier of Christ to the very last breath.

I believe that Jesus is anointing her feet with oil.

Mama Dorothy, we salute you.

In memory of Dorothy, Orchard: Africa has started a fund called “Dorothy’s Oil“. It is a fund to be used for the continued work, training, equipping and the care of Care Givers. Care Givers work in the homes of the poorest of the poor, the sick and the forgotten. They provide palliative care, support family members, care for the orphaned children and are a beacon of hope to thousands upon thousands of people dying of AIDS. Care Givers are the hands and feet of Jesus. In honor of Dorothy, you can make a contribution to Dorothy’s Oil Fund here.

In Lead more gently/ Worship more fully

Do You Know What Christ Is Teaching Today?

I love to ask people this question. So, what is Christ teaching you at the moment? It produces so many different responses, and so it should. Each person is unique and Jesus walks differently with each of us.  Unlike our earthly pastors who teach all in their flock the same message, Jesus teaches us as individuals. He takes his Word and it becomes life to us uniquely.

Being a disciple of Christ means that I get the line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept, kind of tutoring. He builds on old concepts I thought I had mastered, and brings in a whole new layer. Hence the constant realization – the more I learn the more I realize how little I know.

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I’m not talking about a knowing in my head. I have a lot of theory down pat. I can talk about different doctrines and different schools of thought regarding various bible matters. I can even try and be as smart as the next guy (or gal). That’s not the knowing I am talking about. I mean knowing.

When I was a kid, I knew I had to eat. My tummy rumbled, I got hungry and I whined for food. I preferred to be filled with burgers and fries and ice cream. As my knowledge of nutrition developed, I knew I had to eat fresh fruit and vegetables and good protein and healthy stuff. I knew my hunger at a different level and made better choices. We now live in a world of added hormones and antibiotics, not to mention HMO’s. Now I need to know on a whole new level.

There’s knowing and then there’s knowing.  This deep, abiding conviction that it is what it is.

So, what has Jesus been teaching me?

Jesus is calling me and teaching me and equipping me to serve those that serve Him.

I have been in full time ministry for over 30 years. My life has been about serving others. I know the joys and the heartaches of ministry, not just in a theoretical way but, rather, in a practical, gut wrenching, hard, exhilarating and amazing way. I know what serving looks like. At least, I thought I did. Then Jesus showed me this whole other way; this serving of those that are serving, this loving and encouraging and being- there-while-you-bleed service to those that serve. I see a whole new dimension to the spiritual discipline of service.

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Maybe it’s my age, or my life experience or tens of other natural reasons why this is the next step for me. I don’t really care about that because following Jesus has always been my joy. This is where He is leading me and what he has been teaching me – for some long time now.

I am learning that I never know the full story about others, so I should keep my opinions to myself and simply serve and love. This is hard because I am opinionated. I am learning that people are in need of deep relationships that matter. This is hard because I tend to feel I am invading another’s privacy when I ask personal questions. I am learning that being there, showing up, speaking up with kindness is important. This is hard because I am an introvert so it is just hard for me.

But I am learning that it’s not about me.

It’s about what Jesus leads me to say and to ask and to do and to give.

All this I have done for many years but … now … on a whole new level I feel a passion stirring … serving those that serve Him. I am seeing an aspect of servant hood that has broken my heart and that inspires me and gives me great, great joy.

God is not finished with me yet.

Walking with Jesus day by day is never a journey on a plateau – it is always an upward expedition. As we walk, He talks and he teaches his disciples, exactly what each one needs to know.

So, what is Christ teaching you at the moment?  Do you know?

The Lord is my shepherd ..He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23: 1-3