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Progress not Perfection…

Wednesday Wisdom ๐Ÿ™‚


Inspiration this week comes from Paul’s letter to Philippians 3: 12-14

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”


I have this note attached to a binder that sits on my desk. I got it from our discipleship pastor almost a year ago. As he handed it to me, he said “Anne, I want you to have this because I think that you need this message.” Since then, I’ve heard him say the words many times and I have gotten to where I intentionally listen for them. I seem to need that regular reminder of Jesus’ goal for me, and both Pauls (the apostle Paul and pastor Paul) do an awesome job of delivering ๐Ÿ™‚ I am my own worst critic. As such, I sometimes fall into the trap of not moving forward because my own high standards leave me fearful that I will make a mistake. In those moments, I mistakenly get hung up on my own “earthly performance” rather than forgiving myself in order to “press on” in love with my eyes on Jesus.

As a swimming and cross country coach, the phrase “perfect practice makes perfect performance” seems to pop out of my mouth with regularity. I say it because of it’s reminder of how important it is that we bring our very best try to each opportunity that God places before us. Whether that is improving technique on the butterfly stroke in the pool, hitting splits on the cross country course, or simply being a good teammate, I know that a heart full of try is what leads to progress. This same principle applies to our faith journey. We don’t actually achieve perfection in our earthly life, but intentionally focusing to press on to make progress enables us to grow.

My goal as an athletic coach is to encourage – to give courage to my athletes – so that they continually grow and improve. I know that perfection is outside of their potential, but I ask them to work hard in order to progress and be the best that they can be. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Jesus holds that same goal for me as a Christian and as a disciple.


When progress is the goal, forgiveness plays a key role. The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians that he focuses on forgetting the past to look forward to what lies ahead. If we get bogged down in our mistakes, or if being concerned with being perfect in our earthly life leaves us cautious and unconfident, then we are unable to fully answer God’s call to disciple. Focusing on our mistakes distracts us and keeps us from truly being aware of God’s purpose for our lives. Jesus forgives us, so we must also forgive – both ourselves and others. The expectation is that we give our hearts, our try, in order to press on in faith toward the heavenly prize.

God uses faith to bring us courage. He uses truth to guide us. He uses grace to steadfastly pursue us and grow us. Our job is to show up – to be aware of who God brings into our lives – and to live in loving relationship as we travel the journey. A good disciple is FAT: faithful, available and teachable. A good disciple is not perfect. That’s Jesus’ job, and He leads us toward perfection when we offer our hearts and our effort ๐Ÿ™‚

 

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Knowledge and Discipleship…

Wednesday Wisdom ๐Ÿ™‚


Inspiration this week comes from 2 Peter 1: 5-7

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.”


For the past few weeks at the Refuge, our Youth Pastor has been preaching in 2 Peter. I love spending Wednesday nights hanging out, learning and praying with the middle school students that God brings us. The *added bonus* is a mid-week sermon that always seems to leave me thinking. One of the themes that we’ve been studying throughout 2 Peter is knowledge. Through this series of sermons, I’ve been personally challenged to both rethink my definition of the word and also my ability to attain it in my faith journey.

Peter makes it pretty clear in his epistles that we are called to be both a people of hope and a people of faithful action. Our hope stems from God’s promises, and our faithful action from Jesus’ presence in our hearts. Peter’s letters read a bit like an elderly coach trying to make sure that his mentees are reminded of and truly understand what it means to be on “Team Jesus”. He discusses not just how to get on the team, but also about what being a teammate entails.

I don’t know why, but I had never fully understood what Peter describes as knowledge. In particular, I had not thought of knowledge as something that naturally builds and flows from a deep, personal relationship with my Creator and Redeemer. It is so beautifully simple, and yet my “humanness” wanted to make the word so complicated that I’d previously dismissed it as “unattainable”. God offers us many things, knowledge is one of them. It, like all of God’s promises, requires our choice to move forward to accept it.

Proverbs 2: 6-11 reminds us, “For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity. He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. Wise choices will watch over you, Understanding will keep you safe.

What if attaining knowledge is intrinsically tied to our willingness to honor God by giving him our hearts and our time?


When I look back on my life, I can see moments when God asked me to do something and I turned him down because I did not feel qualified – I did not think I had enough knowledge to succeed, so I said “no”. I realize now that in those times I missed both a learning opportunity and a loving opportunity. Through the years, God has brought many people into my life to help me move closer to Him. As they were “Peter” to me, I learned that prayer, time reading the Bible, and intentionally searching for that intimate relationship with Jesus could lead me to knowledge and fill me with confidence.

I’m not the same person that I used to be. Every day, Jesus grows and shapes me. That’s a good thing. Along the way, I’ve learned to trust more and to say “yes” to that soft, quietly persistent voice that asks me to be “Peter” to someone else. When I choose to lean into my faith to disciple, then my heart is open for God to fill it with the knowledge and understanding that I need to be His hands and feet to someone that He enables me to love.

How are you pursuing knowledge as you answer God’s call to disciple?

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Even if…

Wednesday Wisdom ๐Ÿ™‚


Inspiration this week comes from the book of Psalms 37: 23-24

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”


My favorite farmer got a text a little after noon on Thursday March 4th telling him that our pasture ground was on fire. I was teaching English at the middle school, so he and our farm foreman headed down to check it out. It turned out to be a big fire and all three local volunteer fire departments (Gothenburg, Cozad and Lexington) were called to help fight it. Our pasture ground runs right along the southern edge of Interstate 80, and a grass fire started in the center median and jumped to the south over the eastbound traffic and spread onto our land.

The fire fighters worked selflessly and tirelessly, but at the end of the day half of our pasture ground had burned. Matt and Doug were able to keep the fire away from our well-house and corrals as it burned quickly across the west half of our land.ย  When the top of the grass is dry, it does not take much to cause a fiery blaze. As I drove down to look at the damage after school, my heart hurt and I felt saddened and discouraged.

We typically graze our Willow Island pasture from April 15th to late August. It is a blessing that the fire occurred when we did not have cattle grazing on the land. There was no loss of life – either human or animal – and for this I am so very thankful. All but one of the paddocks that burned had very little grass “fuel” left over from last year, so the fire moved quickly across the ground. This limited the damage to our internal fences for which we are also grateful. There is much work to be done, but we are remembering the message in Psalm 37 —though we will stumble, we will never fall for the Lord holds us by our hands as he directs our steps.ย 



Sometimes I fall into the trap of dreaming that Jesus’ love will keep me (and my family) from walking through hard times. I find myself thinking that if I pack my faith well, then I won’t stumble. In those moments, I forget that a big part of faith is embracing the notion that God loves me even if, and He asks that I love him back – even if.ย  It occurred to me the other day when I was reading Psalm 37 that God loves me so much that He delights in every detail of my life — from the joyous celebrations to the frustrating trials.ย  Perhaps if He delights in every detail, then I should too. That thought brings me pause because I often don’t do that well.

“Even if” is hard for me. The weak point in my faith is daily trust. Ironically, I trust Jesus fully with my eternity, but as I get caught up in the day’s chaos I struggle to trust him with “today”. That is when anxiety trumps peace and worry gives into fear. In those moments, I know what I need to do, and still it eludes me. Over the years, God has used our farm and our family to teach me to trust. Some of the lessons have been hard, but I can see His hand in them and feel His love in my heart. I’ve come to learn that He delights in every detail because He delights in me. As I let Jesus take hold of me, I am better able to delight in that as well.

We received almost three inches of rain over the weekend. God’s hand is in that too. The burned grass will green up, likely greener then before. It’ll come back stronger, just as each one of us does as we trust through the challenges to step into the hope of tomorrow. A faithful perspective provides the ability for “even if” to bloom into a daily promise of grace ๐Ÿ™‚

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Grappling with “not knowing”…

Wednesday Wisdom ๐Ÿ™‚


Inspiration this week comes from the following verse from Deuteronomy 29:29 as well as study in the book of Revelation:

“The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that He has revealed to us, so that we may obey all of the terms of these instructions.”


I am nearing the end of the New Testament study that I started last spring. A couple of weeks ago, I delved into the book of Revelation which is the last book of the Bible. Revelation has historically been hard for me as I struggle with both the language and some of its’ messages. I’ve read the New Testament in its entirety several times over the past five years, finding more clarity each time that I read it. So, this time I made a goal to approach Revelation with a desire to look past my fear in order to gain understanding.

Both our teaching pastor and our discipleship pastor encouraged me to “not get stuck” on the questions that Revelation does not clearly explain; but rather, to ask the Holy Spirit to help me discern the messages that God wants to make known to me. That was really good advice. Not just for reading Revelation, but also for studying the rest of the Bible. I have a bad habit of both “grappling with not knowing”, and also fearing what I do not understand. This distracts me from searching out the message that the Holy Spirit is trying to put on my heart.

Let me offer a metaphoric example: I love to run. Before I broke my leg, running was a daily safe haven for me. It was a time when I could let my mind be free and drift. I often prayed while I ran the gravel roads by our farm. One day I headed off for a long run. A couple of miles into it, I got a rock in my shoe. The discomfort of the rock interrupted and dominated my thoughts. While the rock was in my shoe, it was the only thing I could think about. I got “stuck” on the rock and was unable to attain the normal mental calmness that I get while running. Eventually, I stopped to remove the rock. As soon as I did, my mind was free again.


The above verses from Deuteronomy point out something incredibly valuable for me. I believe that they serve as a reminder of our heavenly Father’s expectations. As God’s children, we are accountable for what He has revealed to us. We are asked to follow the instructions of the Holy Spirit as we study the Word of God. There is no expectation that we will know everything, and God will not hold us accountable for those things that we are unable to discern. There is a freedom for me to be found in that. I’m a good “worrier”. I dislike making mistakes and that makes me very cautious. This is a trap for me as sometimes it keeps me from moving forward.

I think that God wants us to bring our questions to him. And, I believe that He helps us to find enough of the answers that we are able to continue to grow in faith as long as we keep our focus. What I’ve come to understand more fully over the past several weeks is that obedience to God is a clear path. I don’t need to worry that I am going to miss a turn as long as I focus on what Jesus puts in my heart and the Spirit puts on my mind. There are details that I don’t need to comprehend today in order to continue to live faithfully. Letting those details go gives me freedom to focus on what I do understand instead of getting “stuck” grappling with the things that I don’t. When I remove those “rocks”, then I can find peace “running” in faith and trusting that I will be led in love and righteousness.

 

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clinging to Grace…

Wednesday Wisdom ๐Ÿ™‚


Inspiration this week comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 3: 14-18

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 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.”


I remember reading these verses with Megan a few nights before the Nebraska State Track Meet a couple of years ago. To say that she was nervous would have been an understatement, she was a wreck. The stress of competition had depleted her confidence and left her in a pit of fear. Instead of looking up and remembering the love of her Father in heaven, she had tied herself into knots worrying that she wasn’t good enough. I don’t know exactly how she felt as we read these verses together, but my “mama’s heart” calmed as the Holy Spirit assured me that Megan was beloved and held by the Father. She would be just fine.

She, in fact, was just fine. Jesus carried her through the state track meet all the way to the medal stand. The gold medal from the Nebraska State Activities Association was awesome, but the lesson she learned about faith made it seem pale in comparison. She learned to cling to Grace and her roots have since grown deep into God’s love to bring her a new kind of strength. The strength that is found in the realization of the power of God’s love. I’ve read the above passages from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians many times since that day, and I always take a moment to remember how these verses came alive for Meg in the spring of 2018 and then again in the spring of 2019.


We all pass through hard times. We experience moments, days, perhaps even years that shake our core and threaten our peace. I would venture a guess that each of us has experienced some level of this in recent months as our lives changed dramatically due to Covid-19. Over and above the physical challenge of Covid, we have also experienced a growing emotional chasm in our country fueled by passionate and often opposing opinions. Instead of living in community with hearts united for a meaningful purpose, we’ve fallen into a trap where fear overrides our ability to accept and share Grace. I know that I need the daily reminder of how wide, how long, how high and how deep God’s love is. That love calls me toย cling to Graceย in order to find strength, patience, peace, and joy. It battles directly against the fear, frustration, anger, and temptation to judge that threatens my heart.

Today, a small group of awesome middle school and high school students finish up our four week Bible study on “how to chose joy regardless of circumstance”. While we specifically studied another of Paul’s epistles (to the people of Philippi), I believe that the above verses to the Ephesians also speak directly to this topic.

I believe that our ability to chose joy and to experience peace through challenging times is directly related to the depth of our understanding and trust in God’s love.

When that trust runs deep, our hearts fill with love and gratefulness. We then become able to recognize fully the beauty of what we have, instead of getting hung up on those things that we do not have.

Clinging to Grace becomes a habit when we choose to make it one. Some days it is really hard, and some of those days I fail to accomplish it. But, I believe that it provides the answer to what we all inherently search for: acceptance, love, value and purpose. I know that the days that I truly believe and trust in the vast power of God’s love are my good days. They are the days that He hangs the gold medal on my heart – the medal that allows me to chose joy, find peace, and cling to the beautiful Grace of a good, good Father.

I pray that as I prepare to send my girls back to school – two to college and one to high school – that we will all cling to Grace and be inspired to share God’s love, the ultimate medal to be found on our earthly journey ๐Ÿ™‚

 

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Finding Optimism…

Wednesday Wisdom ๐Ÿ™‚


Inspiration this week comes from Jeremiah 29:11-13

“For I know the plans I have for you”, says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord…


I moved from the city to the farm in June of 1997. Over the past twenty three years, I’ve come to know many farmers and ranchers in Nebraska, and (through volunteer work with the BQA program and the Beef Check Off) from all across the United States. A large percentage of our farmers and ranchers are people of deep faith.ย  Although these faiths stretch across a variety of Christian denominations, they carry a similar level of sincerity that just seems to flow naturally from the heart. At first I wondered what created such a unifying dedication and trust in the Lord, but I’ve now lived it for enough years that it is clear to me.

Living off of the land creates a unique perspective. It’s a life with many uncontrollable components, and one that is fiercely complicated yet basically simple. While the daily chores hold consistency, the circumstances surrounding those chores are ever changing. Sometimes the land yields to human tending, and sometimes Mother Nature chooses instead to teach a lesson in humility. Sometimes the markets move in favorable ways, but often the margins are slim and filled with financial risk. Despite detailed planning, things often change in the moment requiring both good problem solving skills and an innate optimism that ultimately everything will be okay.ย 

Last week we took steers weighing 600 pounds to grass. In typical Nebraska fashion, one day the temperature was close to 70 degrees but by Easter Sunday snow flurries buzzed about with 30+ mile per hour winds that reminded us of winter’s strong grasp. As winter and spring battled, I bought the cattle from a family with whom I have done business longer than my Karyn has been alive. I value them as friends and partners, so despite the crazy weather and dismal cattle markets I packed my faith and sealed the deal. The risk involved should likely keep me awake at night, but yet somehow I sleep.


The somehow is tied up in the above verses from Jeremiah, and I think it explains the deep faith and inherent optimism that exists within the heart of a farmer. When I care for my neighbors, my land, and my cattle, I believe that I honor the God that created us all. Through these actions, I am tapping into my “inner Jesus” – following the direction of the Holy Spirit and trusting the love that fills my heart. The Lord has plans for His people – for good and not for disaster, that will result in a future and a hope. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I know that God is with me and it’s my job to be faithful. When I pray, I believe that He hears me. When I look with my heart, I can hear a soft voice telling me that it is well.

A good friend has a saying that I often cling to, “When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.”

As a country, we are in a time of great uncertainty with a diverse set of challenges. The list of “uncontrollables” is long, even by farmer standards ๐Ÿ˜‰ Fear seems to knock daily or perhaps hourly on our doors. While we can look to science for needed answers and tools, science won’t fuel our hearts. A courageous heart runs off of the hope and inherent optimism that Jesus brings. Today, I pray that each of us can deepen in faith to stay the course with optimism regardless of how difficult things are. Our heavenly Father asks us to believe even when we can’t see, to love with abundance, and to work tirelessly to care for one another!

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An Update From the Farm…

Wednesday Wisdom ๐Ÿ™‚


Inspiration this week comes from Micah 6:8:

“No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”


I’ve had a couple of people ask for an update “from the farm”. We are packing our faith to follow the advice found in Micah, and here are a few specifics ๐Ÿ™‚

My favorite farmer and I both work in “agriculture” which was deemed as a “critical infrastructure industry” by the Department of Homeland Security, so daily life on the farm continues. Matt is gearing up for our growing season to begin and will be in full planting mode when the ground dries out enough to work the fields. While waiting for Mother Nature, he currently is working on his yearly organic farm certification, updating farms maps/yearly planning, and finishing up the equipment maintenance that dominants our winter months. He is itching to get to spring planting work, and smiles as he watches the Nebraska plains slowing turn from brown to green.

I am still spending my days servicing cattle feedyards and helping them to understand and implement the Progressive Beef program. I have about five more weeks before transitioning back to full-time with our family, our farm, and volunteer projects in our community. I am getting excited for spring/summer projects like grazing cattle on our pastures, coaching swim team, and gardening in my back yard. The alfalfa behind our house has started to grow, so this week the girls and I will take down the temporary winter fence and the horses will rotate from winter grazing to the spring/summer paddocks.

Ashley Grace is home from Notre Dame. Her school made the decision to switch to online classes while she was visiting for spring break, so we’ve got a car in Chicago and all of her belongings in South Bend, IN but she’s home and that’s what truly matters ๐Ÿ™‚ Her summer teaching job in Panama City, Panama has been canceled so she is trying to figure out where God will call her to serve instead. She’s done an awesome job of going with the flowย and choosing joy despite huge unexpected changes in her college life.

Megan and Karyn are figuring out the art of home schooling,ย something that honestly has never before been on their radar screen. In addition to doing learning enrichment via the internet, they are dutifully doing daily track workouts from home with the hope that there will be some sort of abbreviated spring sports season. This is not how either of them would choose to spend their Senior and Freshman springs, but they’re packing their faith to make the best of an uncertain situation!

Megan will celebrate her 18th birthday this weekend, and she has a quiet wish of getting to do all of the things that Seniors do: Prom, Senior Tea, Pen Pal Picnic with the 4th graders, graduation, and a chance to defend her two year pole vault NE State Title. I have been very proud of her positive attitude and ability to adapt to the disappointments of “missing some of the lasts” of her high school career. Both Meg and Karyn are embracing “zoom” weekly Bible study meetings with their high school girls small group, and trying to keep in touch with friends despite social distancing.


If I were to pick a rainbow to focus on, it is definitely the gift of having all three girls living at home again. My heart smiles as I take out 5 dishes each evening when I serve dinner. The time of family and fellowship is truly a blessing!ย  The above verse from Micah speaks to my heart, so I share it with each of you. It grants us instruction for today and the days to come. God asks us to:

Do what is right.

To love mercy.

To walk humbly with Him.

As I read Micah, my thoughts turn to the Prayer of St. Francis which I’d like to leave with you today ๐Ÿ™‚

Dear Lord,
Make me an instrument of Your peace; 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 
Where there is injury, pardon; 
Where there is doubt, faith; 
Where there is despair, hope; 
Where there is darkness, light; 
And where there is sadness, joyโ€ฆย 
Grant that I may not so much seek 
to be consoled as to console; 
to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love. 
For it is in giving that we receive; 
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying we are born to 
eternal life.

 

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The First Lap…

Wednesday Wisdom ๐Ÿ™‚


Inspiration this week comes from Hebrews 12:1

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”


I’ve started running 2-3 times per week on our local high school track. The track surface is soft and the path is clear and flat so it sets me up for success as I embark on this new chapter of the healing process. There’s been a large amount of “unknown” over the past 14 months relative to my leg and I’ve had to learn to do two things: trust that the Lord loves me and walks with me, and put in the work to do my part on the “race” that we travel together. Fear exists in the unknown, but that fear can be replaced by peace and hope when we allow faith to guide us.

It’s surprising to me the things that I notice now that I never used to see before. One of these is the first lap or the start of each run. Since I am accustomed to measuring my runs in miles, the beginning used to be simply a blip on the radar screen. I’d walk out the back door of our house and turn north onto the gravel road with my feet automatically falling into cadence. Easy. No thought required, and little challenge or fear to be found in those first steps.

It’s not that way anymore. The first 300 yards are filled with discomfort as I try to plant my foot properly on the ground and bridge into the next step. The notable thing is that if I keep going, if I continue to run with endurance the race God has set before me, then it gets better. I eventually settle into a rhythm and foot pattern that works so that I can run around the track. With each step that I take, I am able to strip off the weight of the pain and move forward believing in my heart that I can do it.


In light of the COVID-19 virus, I think there is a universal lesson to be found here. There currently exits a HUGE amount of uncertainty and fear. It can stymie our lives and wreak havoc with our emotions. Most importantly, it limits our ability to move forward in faith. Emotional stress is just as crippling as the pain that I feel in my leg. It has the power to trip us up and thwart our ability to trust both God’s greatness and His goodness.

Where can we look when fear threatens?

I had this discussion on the pool deck recently with my swimmers. We talked about three places “to look” in order to live in faith during times of uncertainty:

  1. We look up, to God our heavenly Father who commands us to be strong and courageous and promises to always be with us (Joshua 1:9).
  2. We look out, with a focus on the needs of our neighbors to see how we can serve.
  3. We look within,ย to find the guiding hand of Jesus in our hearts to inspire and fuel us in love.

How do we start?

It’s hard to pack your faith when times are hard. Instead, it is tempting to give into stress and fear. But, that’s not what God asks us to do. I have found that the more I share my burdens with Jesus in prayer, the more the Holy Spirit inspires me to use my energy to serve others instead of worrying about myself. Once I find the courage to start, then over time I find a rhythmic pattern: ย looking up to hear the guidance of the Holy Spirit, looking out to share and serve others, and looking within to let Jesus guide my steps.

As an actively recovering “worry-a-hol-ic”, this is something that I have to be very intentional about. In the midst of these troubling times, don’t be afraid of the first lap! Let’s come together and lean into our faith ๐Ÿ™‚ I am praying that each of you stays healthy — in mind, body and spirit as we go forward into these uncharted waters.

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