Facing the Emptiness

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I have baby onesies with no pudgy legs to fill them. I have space where I hung dresses for a job I didn’t get.

Having empty space in our lives, doesn’t mean we’re called to endure emptiness. Once a woman wept outside an empty tomb and was met by the hope of the world.

Remember Mary, the shamed woman whose heart was seen by Jesus? In Him, she was most likely cherished for the first time. Then she witnessed the desire of her heart mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross.

Mary’s new identity was mercilessly pinned to a piece of wood. Her hope was in Jesus. And now it hung lifeless for the whole world to see.

Our desires may be holy and epic!  For me, wanting to adopt is that one desire I feel I’ve been watching die a gruesome death. It’s out of my hands.  All I can do is stand aside and feel the fool for believing. Have you ever felt this way; that God entrusted you with a longing but it seems it’s a no-go?

I’m guessing Mary may have felt this way. She proclaimed the hope of the world had come, and the next day they rolled a stone sealing His grave.

Still, she knelt outside the tomb, where her unmet expectations lay buried and dead.

Dying to self is a true death.  And it’s OK to treat it that way. As long as we don’t forget: We worship a God of resurrection!

Mary went to Jesus’ tomb, terrified and confused to find it hollow. She pleaded with the angels, asking where they’d taken him. (John 20:11-18). It’s not that she wanted Jesus to be dead, but it’s what she expected.

Sometimes, we’re so busy focusing on the hollowness of a situation…we miss the hallelujah!

We’re so much like Mary. If we’ve watched a desire of our heart be abused and buried, we visit the grave expecting it to stay that way forever.

We forget what hope looks like. When this happens, we can miss it staring us in the face.

Hope looks like Jesus.

Hope is Jesus.

Mary didn’t even recognize Him when he appeared to her outside the tomb. She mistakes him for the gardener!  (John 20:15) She was seized by the fact things didn’t remain irredeemable. The world was whispering, “What’s the point? What you hoped for is still dead.”

But the world lies. There’s always a resurrection!  Whatever’s  lifeless, looks different after revival.

Jesus looked different. He was glorified. (Philippians 2:20-21) I think it’s why Mary didn’t recognize Him right away.

It’s the same with the desires of our hearts. It’s not that they aren’t lovely, but God has something planned to take our breath away! Something we haven’t considered. Something impossible.

This. Is. Faith. Standing outside a graveyard and believing resurrection will come.

We’re completing our Foster Certification. Something mind you, we said we’d NEVER do. God, through the past five years of loss and frustration, has been tirelessly crafting our powdered dreams into something completely different than what we expected to see. The idea of becoming Foster Parents was our equivalent of Mary mistaking Jesus for the gardener. We initially flipped out, “Where have you taken our dead dream?!!” I just wanted to remain face down, ugly crying like Mary.

Sometimes, it’s easier to sit in disappointment then to step into the unknown. This is a big unknown for us! But I know the sweet face of hope. I refuse to mistake Him.

We’re approaching a desolate space and expecting the impossible to happen.

We’re expecting God to resurrect all that was lost.

We’re expecting desires to look different.

Standing right in front of us, could be the glorified, holy, resurrected will for our lives.

God has the tender ability to resurrect ANY situation in our life. Check out these Bible verses for inspiration:  God’s Word-Marked by Love -Resurrection

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Three Ways to Comfort a Friend When They’re “Ugly Crying”

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Definition of Ugly Crying: The kind of crying that scrapes at the bottom of your tummy, leaving you raw and sore; Crying that sounds like a wailing cat; Crying that renders all make-up, ice-packs and chocolate – useless.

I’ve learned a lot about myself over the years. One, I need to grieve alone. Some people drive quickly to friends or family and throw themselves into their arms, sobbing when soul-breaking hits. Not me.

Leave. Me. Alone.

Jenna, want to walk and talk it out today?

No.

Jenna, let’s grab a coffee and you can process with me.

No, thank you.

Can I at least call you and affirm you?

Nope.

I’ve wondered if something is wrong with me? Am I too proud to accept help?  I’ve come to find, telling my precious friends I’m not ready to talk…IS asking for help.  I’m asking them to help me grieve in the way that works for me. Finding friends that don’t take offense to this = ginormous blessing!  All of us process heartbreak in different ways.

This is what it looks like for me:

  • A LOT of ugly crying.
  • Lying face down.
  • Uglier crying.
  • Praying.
  • Grisly crying.
  • Reading the Bible.
  • Civilized Crying.
  • Prayer journaling.
  • Dainty crying.
  • Repeat for minimum of one week.

True friends give us the space to ugly cry alone- if that’s what we need. Seriously, if I even look a friend in the eyes during this time, I burst into uncontrollable tears in school parking lots.

I just can’t.

Profoundly, the women in my life honor my request. They don’t come bursting through my front door. They stand outside my door and patiently wait for me to come out.

I recently had a season of mourning and each time I opened my front door, there was a mocha, or a croissant, or flowers or chocolate, or a note saying ‘You are loved’…even homemade Tabbouleh salad (UH-mazing).

Each treasure a reminder, “We’re here for you – when you’re ready.” This helped me in the healing journey more than the physical solitude. Because,  I don’t really want to mourn alone. My body wants to be solo, but not my spirit. My spirit was being loved and prayed for as my body was huddled on the floor. I could feel it. And it made all the difference.

It’s teaching me to ask questions about my own role as a friend. How do my friends feel loved by me? How do they grieve? What makes them feel seen? How am I showing them I’m here?

This is sincere friendship. Meeting others in the spaces they understand as support. It may not match up with the way we receive support.

Three ways to help a friend who’s having a brutal week:

  1. Ask them what they need and accept the answer. If they don’t want to hang out, don’t push the subject. Find a way to love them outside the door – a thoughtful note, their favorite chocolate, cozy slippers. If you offer a coffee date and they say, ‘yes!’…jump in your car and hustle over there. Elijah affirmed his friendship with Elisha saying,As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” (2 Kings 2:2)  The point is to affirm they’re not alone.
  2. If they don’t want to talk, text them your prayers. I have a best friend who texts me prayers as though she is speaking them over me. Complete with, “Dear Lord” and “Amen”. Sometimes a simple, “I’m thinking of you right now,” is all we need. “My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God. (Job 16:20) The point is to affirm you care enough about them to carry their pain to God.
  3. Bring them joy. Make them laugh. I have a dear friend who knew I was having a rough week, and instead of asking how I was feeling over and over, she texted me a photo of her newly cracked treadmill with the line, “I killed it with my fatness”. I literally laughed out loud. This gorgeous Mamma isn’t overweight, she’s 8-months pregnant! Laughter brings our spirits up for fresh air. “The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.”(Psalm 30:5 MSG) The point is to affirm perspective. They won’t feel this way forever.



Something on the Brink of Death is Stuck Under My Oven

 

 

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I’m on all fours, straining to flick out the blue, wriggling tail that’s slide under my oven.

I need something long, but not sharp.

 Alexa…Will a butter knife cut a beta fish?

Alexa…how long, can this thing live out of water?

Goodness, my daughter is crying. She begged to help me transfer the fish into his clean water bowl. She didn’t want to help, she wanted to do it herself.

I knew it was a bad idea. We’ve had London two years now. I’ve made it clear to him,

If you jump out and fall on the floor, I’m not picking you up. You’ll die there, buddy.

However, when the tragedy unfolded, I couldn’t let him die, undignified, on a sticky kitchen floor.

No. I’d save his life! And I did. He was softer than I’d imagined. Gross…but soft.

I kinda, sorta, totally love him.

I imagine we’ve all pleaded with God to give us something. Unlike me, he’s a perfect parent. My fuzzy feelings for London the fish, are nothing compared to the love God has for the desires of my heart.

He knows when we’re ready.

He knows when we’re not.

We may drop the responsibility on the floor, shrink behind a stool and cry. Not because we don’t want to please God, but because we aren’t equipped yet for the call.

For years, I’ve asked God,

Why have you allowed so many trials in our pursuit of adoption?

I’ve begged and begged…

Just let us do this Lord!!

He’s answered on several occasions the same way,

I’m making you stronger.

I don’t know all the reasons we’re asked to wait. However, I do know there is perfectly holy reason for every situation. Sometimes he waits because I haven’t allowed him to shape my desires to his perfect will.

Desires of the heart aren’t docile and tame. More often, hope slips out of our hands and wedges itself in a hot, messy crevice. When it does, we can’t flip out and pronounce it dead. We need to be ready to get on our knees and breathe life into it through arduous prayer.

The third time the door shut on adoption; I swear the rupture in my heart was audible.

But I remembered, Jesus was, “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” (Isaiah 53:3)

I also know he pushed through, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2)

There was a joy our Savior didn’t reach until he endured great suffering. He knew the suffering was worth it because there was incomprehensible joy on the other end.

God cherishes the desires of our hearts so immensely, he won’t hand them over until our hands are perfectly aligned with his for safe transfer. Then, we must allow his hands to cup our own and lead us in the right direction.

So many times, I’ve pulled away from his will and forged the journey on my own.  He’s super patient. He’s watched countless ‘fish’ splat on my life’s floor.

Every so often, by his grace, my hold stays in perfect unison with his. This doesn’t mean things move forward without a hitch. I can’t flawlessly love and persevere like Jesus. But when something on the brink of death is stuck under my oven, I don’t freak out like I used to.

I understand desires of our hearts require constant care and dedication.  We need to love them as much as God does. Sometimes, it’s necessary to face things that once grossed us out; like picking up a fish or seeing the corrupt underbelly of adoption institutions.

Whatever God places in my little hands, is something he totally adores. He doesn’t give it to me to watch it suffocate. He has to make me brave enough to stretch into the unknown and fight for its life when things get shaky.

God withholds, until we’re prepared to take holy-hold of the things he loves.

 

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. “

Ecclesiastes 3:11



Resurrecting Love

‘With much prayer and consideration, we have decided to close our International Adoption Program in Ghana…’

I read the email again. I felt nothing. I tried…but nope. Nothing.

Three years of working towards International Adoption, shot down with a bullet-like, single, sentence. Fifteen thousand dollars, non-refundable, seemed a single cent up against the late night prayers, longing hopes and maybe baby names scribbled on the edge of my journal pages…all, non-refundable. The hundreds of times I glanced at our family photo hanging on our red wall, imagining a beautiful brown-skinned girl sandwiched between me and Eli. There was just enough space there for her, I thought. When we get matched, I can Photoshop her in! I wanted her to know she was always with us, even before we even met her.

We knew there were five children ready to be dispensed to families in the program. We were number three on the list. It was just a matter of time before we received the file with our child’s photo tucked inside. But all it takes is a new person in power sitting at the adoption desk, to halt these international adoptions.

Just. Like. That. These five children, who had no other living relatives that could care for them; no one who wanted them in their own country, were left frozen in an orphanage. Across the sea, there were five, waiting families frozen in shock.

We planned on naming her Zellie Anne Hope. Zellie was short for Gizelle; which means ‘a pledge’. Aaron and I were pledging to God that we would care and defend the cause of the orphan, and our precious, ransomed daughter. Anne; honoring Aaron’s Mom who passed away unexpectedly 5 years ago. Hope; because that is what people would see when we walked hand in hand in Trader Joes.

All of these imaginings: Non-refundable. Two nights later, I sat on the floor, holding all of these thoughts like a sack of potatoes; heavy and awkward to manage for my small frame.

Ok God, you shut that door, but what do I do with all THIS? All these things I can’t return, I can’t get back. It feels like I’ve wasted so much on something that wasn’t even real.
I wish I had a poetic way of describing how I felt, but the truth is, I was sad. Just so, so sad. Deep, I’m so heavy, I may crush-and -crack -the -floor -beneath- me, kind of sad. The truth is, I am still sad over this loss. It feels like a death to me.

Jesus knows a thing or two about death. He knows a thing or two about resurrection, too.

Sometimes, he allows death, to show us he has the power to resurrect. He loves us that much.

“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea” (John 11: 3-7 NIV).

Catch this: Jesus chose to stay where he was two more days. If Jesus had gone to Lazarus as soon as he heard he was sick, he could have made it in time to heal him. He would not have died. Even Martha says this to him when he comes, “Lord…if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11:21-22).

But, he did die. Jesus knew he would; he intentionally waited until Lazarus was buried in a tomb. But why did he wait? The Bible tells us one reason in the preceding sentence, “Now, Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, SO…he stayed where he was two more days”.

In other words: Jesus loved them, so he allowed death. This side of heaven, this is a hard truth to comprehend.

In this specific instance, Jesus chose to resurrect the dead. He did this so the disciples traveling with him would believe in his power, “for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:15). But what about Martha? She already believed, saying, “I know that even now God will give whatever you ask”.

Could it be, he allowed the death not to show her his resurrecting power, but his resurrecting love?

“When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see’.  Jesus wept” (John 11: 33-35).

Martha witnessed the man she confessed to be, “Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27), moved with compassion.

She watched the King of the World, the Alpha & Omega, the Saving Messiah, the Creator of all things: Weep.

I find this to be more powerful than the resurrection of a dead man.

I find this to be more powerful than the resurrection of our adoption dream.

We have a God who mourns with us.

Martha did not ask Jesus to come. She sent a messenger to tell him her problem. I imagine she knew he would come.  It appears Martha didn’t expect an earthly resurrection at that moment (John 11:24). But, she did expect Jesus.
We may expectantly pray for Jesus to resurrect certain things in our life. But in most cases, that is not what we really need. What we really need, is Jesus to come.
We need to understand that he is deeply moved with compassion for us. We need to see that he is willing to sit next to us and cry.

I do not know if God will allow adoption in our lives. It is a confusing time for us. I used to pray that he would resurrect this situation and blow me away by opening doors in Ghana again, or in the U.S.A., or anywhere! These prayers were not bad. But my heart and focus have shifted. He has heard my ‘problem’, and he has come. Jesus is with me. He has shown he is deeply moved in his spirit for me. He has wept with me.

Oh, I still believe Jesus has the power to resurrect this situation! But let me clear, the King of the World has wrapped his arms around me and whispered: I have come. I see you. Let me cry with you. I love you.

When all is stripped away, the only resurrection that matters is HIS. I trust him in all things. In death, in resurrection, in the waiting. I trust that whatever he allows, is because he wants more people to witness his compassionate love and faithfulness. So I write this to declare, even when I don’t understand his ways: My God is good! My God is with me!

 

Show Me.

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The prophet Isaiah was called by God in one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring ways in the Bible. Read his account and imagine yourself in Isaiah’s place:

‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:1-7

Breathtaking. Frightening. Awesome. Humbling.

Even more mind blowing: Isaiah’s God is my God.  With the same power and holiness He is high and exalted in my life.  He is seated on the throne now; just as he was in Isaiah’s time.

I realize I don’t ask to experience God in his most powerful holiness in my everyday life.  He is my friend.  My comforter.  My Father. My Solid Rock. My salvation.  He is all these wonderful, holy things.  But how often do I walk hand in hand with the ‘Lord Almighty’? How often to I see him seated on a throne, high and exalted?

How often do I pray: ‘Show me your glory, God’.  The answer: Not enough.

All these emotions of unworthiness came to the surface of my heart as I read a Muslim women’s testimony this week. Latifa was praying to God : Show me! Show me the way! Show me.  If Jesus Christ is the true way, show me.

I was so blessed by her bold prayer. I cried as I read on how she was at the beach with some Christian friends and they asked her to partake in communion with her. They asked her to read from 1 Corinthians 11.  This is what happened:

“As I was reading,” Latifa recalls, “I was in the Spirit. I was transferred to the upper room. I could see Christ. I could hear Christ. I could sense him saying, ‘This is my body, broken for you.’ ” I didn’t know how I looked. Everybody disappeared. Time stopped.  I was there with Christ, with the awesome presence of his holiness. I started looking at my life with his eyes.  Suddenly  my life, with which I’d been content, looked terribly dirty.  I wanted to run away. then I heard him say, ‘Eat. I came not for you to run away, but, on the contrary, for you to come close to me.’(Daughters of Islam, Miriam Adeney).

Tears welled up in me from a deep place as I thought of Isaiah and Latifa. They both reacted the same way in the presence of God’s holiness. Isaiah cried, ‘Woe to me! ‘ He immediately saw his uncleanliness.  Latifa immediately saw how ‘terribly dirty’ her life was. Isaiah thought he was ruined! Latifa felt she had to run away. But God is the same today as he was in 740 BC. God reacted in the same spirit to his children…thousands of years apart from each other!  Isaiah was cleansed and his sins were forgiven. Latifa was told to ‘Eat’ at the communion table. She was told to come close to him.

Such grace. Such holy, holy grace.

We must see how worthy God is, to understand how unworthy we are.  We must understand his mighty power, to understand his grace.  Our God, with his robe filling the temple, being worshiped by seraphim, their voices shaking the thresholds as they cry,  ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty’– this true God: He could wipe us out.

He has every right to leave us dirty and unclean. We are sinners. He is sinless.  How dare the unholy enter the presence of the holy? Only by the blood of the Lamb. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, Matthew 27:50-51 reads:

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”.

The veil was torn the moment Jesus gave up his spirit as a ransom for us. We can enter into the temple with confidence.

Only because our holy, powerful God, is good. 

He is always good. Forever holy and always good.

So this week, I am praying for the boldness to pray like Latifa and Moses. Moses declares to the Lord in Exodus 33:18  “Now show me your glory.”  I pray that I have a passionate heart to see God seated high and exalted everyday. Isaiah’s God is my God too.  He is sitting on his throne, waiting for me to enter into his temple.

At his feet, I will be cleansed.

At his feet, I will be loved.

Dear Lord Almighty,

     Show me. Show me your glory. Teach me to want your presence above all else in my prayer life.  I only want you. I want to see my life through your eyes. I want to have a deeper understanding of your holy grace.  Give me a deeper understanding of your holiness. Set me apart for you. Amen.

My God: Father

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God sent his son, so I could be his daughter. I have no problem accepting that I am God’s child. This knowledge has wrapped me up in safety and peace my whole life. I belong to God.

I was reading over The Lord’s Prayer this week. It begins with, Our Father. For the first time I realized, I never began my prayers by acknowledging God was my Father. Always, my prayers have begun with Dear Lord or Dear God. Never did I pray, Dear Father. I felt God challenging me to pray this way for the first time.

That shouldn’t be hard God, no biggie!

But it was.

I couldn’t do it. It didn’t seem right to me. It almost felt disrespectful. He is my Holy God; He is the maker of all things. I felt like I couldn’t begin my prayer with such an earthy name as Father. I have an amazing earthly Father. I didn’t need to extend the term upwards to heaven. I was all good in the Daddy department.

God really went after me over this issue. This week in bible study, it referenced Romans 8:15:

‘…the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry,

“Abba, Father.”

This is what was happening. God’s spirit was relentlessly after me to testify that I should be crying out, Abba, Father’.

Abba is a very personal Hebrew term for Father. It literally means Daddy or Papa. This is what Jesus cries out as he falls to the ground in prayer in the book of Mark:

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you.’

Then we go to Galatians, and again:

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ”Abba, Father”.

Why was I pressing down the spirit that wanted to call out Abba? Why was it so hard for me to call God my Daddy, my Papa?

God wants extreme intimacy with us. By calling him my Daddy, we must acknowledge God wants more of our trust.

God was casting his net a little further into my heart. He was showing me that there are parts of myself I haven’t trusted him with. I struggle a lot with this.

It is hard not to view intimacy through the eyes of my experiences here on earth. If I let someone in just a little too far, it can result in a lot of hurtful disappointment. But God isn’t someone…He is God.

God does not fail us. He finds us.

Wherever we wander, He is always our Father. If my child was lost, or struggling; I would pour every resource I had into finding them and restoring them. But my resources are limited.

God, with his unlimited resources, is pursuing me. He finds me over and over again. He is never failing.

He will never grow tired of pulling me in closer. He will never grow too old to bend down and look me in the eye. He will never be weak and unable to carry me on his shoulders. He will never be too busy to lift up my chin and ask me what is wrong.

He will never lack wisdom to point me in the way I should go. And every time, He will go with me. Every time, He will hold my hand.  He will never look away when I am attacked; He will go before me and fight. He will always win.

He will never be too poor to feed me. His love will never dry up and leave me aching for acceptance. He will never lose his voice; He will sing and shout and whisper words of love to me. He will never be sick and unable to run the race with me.

He will never be ashamed of me. I am his workmanship.

He will never leave me without shelter. He bled on two pieces of wood so he could build his dwelling in me. He will never go blind, unable to see that I have tripped and scraped up a part of my heart. He sees me.

My Daddy sees me. Every time.

My Daddy answers me. In His time.

My Daddy holds me. All the time.

My Father loves me. From Heaven, to the cross, and back again.

My Father is not just someone. He is God.

His signature…

freddy-castro-133326-unsplashGod is beautiful. Truly.

I was feeling far from God a few weeks ago. Every time I went to pray, it seemed there was an elephant in the room but I honestly didn’t know what species it was: pride, resentment, doubt?  Doubt. That was it.  He recently had called me to take a small step out in faith. I feel I was obedient.  Surely, my outward actions didn’t reveal doubt…but what about my heart? God was staring into my heart, and my heart finally flinched. God expose my unbelief!

I felt led to open my bible.  I offered up a, show me what to read, prayer.  I opened up to Haggai…Haggai?! Really Lord? Yes. Really.

The Lord was stirring up the spirit of Zerubbabel to begin rebuilding the Temple. The Jewish people had grown discouraged in their obedience and had stopped working on it. Haggai was sent to encourage them to take action; but they would always be building in the shadow of Solomon’s Great Temple and its entire splendor. Chapter 2:3 says:

Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. ‘

‘Does it not seem to you like nothing?  I read this line over and over. Compared to Solomon’s temple, this temple looked like nothing. I also felt like my small step in obedience seemed like nothing in the great scheme of God’s Kingdom. God had uprooted the seed of my doubt.

 Do little steps in obedience to God really matter? Do they really impact His Kingdom?. Continue reading