Christmas 2017

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These are art cards I sent my financial supporters this year.

Well, It’s been six months since I have written a blog post. I have had a couple of different types of chemo surging through my body, and some radiation. These treatments have taken their toll on my energy level, and writing the blog posts seemed like a good task to fling out the window. I’ve been in survival mode. However, here I am. Still alive. Still here.

I am on a targeted therapy now. Two pills everyday at lunchtime. Two months into this treatment, and I feel stronger than I have in a very long time. However, I am on pain pills that soften the deep ache of cancer, and I need the comfort the pills bring. I have leaned into the guilt of being on opioids, and I am past the need to be off them to save some sort of reputation. The pain won, and I needed help. So, while I “target” cancer cells, which is huge work, I will happily mask my pain.

Oh, but it’s Christmas, and this is a Christmas blog……….

What I really want to share with you, dear reader, is the transformation that has happened in my heart. Recently, I found myself, while driving of course, weeping over the love I have for God. (Lots comes up with me when I am driving.) You see, I have spent the last 7 years in an emotional healing journey that has coincided with fighting cancer. So much emotional healing has occurred, and I can happily report I no longer “leak” love and kindness poured into me by God and others.

I used to have big emotional “holes” which drove me to throw myself at unusual/dysfunctional people for love and affection. Through soul care, counseling, group support and choosing kind friends, these aforementioned holes have filled in a great deal. Now, when someone is kind and loving, I can actually feel it. When I am praying, I can now feel God’s care, and I really sense He hears me, sees me and loves me.

So, yes, much has happened in the last six months. I have much to celebrate. I am healing in many ways, and I still pray God might release me from cancer. On my driving through my tears day, I actually thanked Him for the cancer. Crazy, right? Well, in a mysterious way, the pain, I mean cry out loud pain, has brought me close into the arms of my God. I’ve found it a very safe place full of love.

Isn’t that what Jesus is all about? God with us? He came to us first. Loving us? Why not come to Him this Christmas? I sure have, and it is the best place to be here, and into eternity.

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Thanks for reading! God’s blessings on you now, and into the new year.

Shalom,

Marcia

Broken Cisterns and Living Water

A friend, Judy, recently texted me about a video she watched on the Bible story of the Woman At The Well. Since this story has captured my heart deeply, and I’ve got a collaged art book in the process of being published on the subject, I asked for a link to the video. I enjoy finding out new things about any Bible story; each story is so multi-faceted. I don’t think any of us can exhaust finding treasures in just about any Biblical narrative. But this one, well, it’s very special to me.

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The teacher in the video, Lysa Turkheurst, was standing right in front of the famous well – Jacob’s Well. It is now within a plastered and fresco decorated room, religious paintings hanging all around, I guess for tourists. It was nice to see the real well, or cistern, for myself. It sure did not look like the well in my arid desert scene in my collaged book! However, Lysa explained cisterns in a way I had never understood before. Cisterns had to be plastered in order to really hold water and be a well. If the plaster cracked, then the water could leak out. Cisterns needed constant upkeep so the water wouldn’t leak out.

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Jacob’s Well where Jesus and the Samaritan woman met.

Jesus offers the woman “Living Water” springing up to eternal life. His offer is so radically different from an old well that constantly needs patching! He’s offering a spring of flowing water, not a well that can crack, leak and constantly remain on one’s repair list. This information greatly helps in understanding Jesus’ offer to the woman, and this gem of a verse in Jeremiah: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13 Had she heard that verse? Was she putting it all together?

I had made the woman, with a collaged dress, that looks like it has holes, because I wanted to speak of her holes or the broken places in her heart. She was trying to fill her holes with many relationships. This way of life is her “broken cistern” she’s been trying to plaster over.  Jesus doesn’t want to plaster over her holes, but wants to captivate her heart with an entirely transformative strategy – springs of living water.

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There is just so much in this epic love story. How kind of God to gently show me yet another facet to His planned encounter with the woman at the well!

And, it’s making me think about the cisterns in my life. When I spend hours and hours in bed resting because of the chemo pill, I cry out to God to be my spring of Living Water, or where I find my source of life. I sense His closeness in new ways as I drift in and out of sleep. When I get up and start moving, almost immediately there is a temptation to find my source of life in my doing. Making a painting. Collaging a new book. Getting a project going. Fighting cancer with a new and different smoothie.  I’m so American! My worth gets all entangled with doing something. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do, it just will not satisfy my deepest longings for love, worth and value by putting hope for those in my doing. 

Then, I end up back in bed, and I lie there calling out to God. I’m spending eternity with Him, so perhaps many hours with Him, in and out of sleep, before I pass on, may be just where He wants me.

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Deeper Roots

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Well Watered Trees, Watercolor in Nicaragua, Marcia Carole

The past couple of days have been resting days, yet again. I’m off the chemo pill this week, so it makes no sense that I am so weak. Maybe I picked up yet another virus? All I can do is lean into resting, yet again today.  While I lie in bed, I often listen to a number of teachers, who help me to think about my faith. Today, I spent a bit of time with a teacher in Jeremiah 2, in the Old Testament.

“Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.” Jeremiah 2:19.

What was the underlying problem for God’s people? No awe of God, no reverence or holy fear of God. So, I got to thinking….In my moments of sin, I am not in awe of God, but of something else – maybe my comfort or happiness or pleasure or success or my reputation. I do think, as a Jesus follower, the Holy Spirit prompts us to keep away from malice, envy, bitterness, all the sins mentioned in 1 Peter,etc. but we don’t always heed God’s promptings. I think, at that moment, what we/I treasure or what we are in awe of, directs our actions, thoughts, words.

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Well Watered Tree Bearing Fruit, Watercolor, Marcia Carole

As I have spent, and continue to spend, so much time lying in bed, resting, seemingly doing nothing… the Lord is working away. He has repeatedly convicted me of my sins over the years, lovingly prodding away at my lack of awe-led obedience moments, for so many years, in so many situations. I weep hot tears with Him when I think of my lack of obedience and head-strong actions. I ask His forgiveness and mercy for choosing: comfort, pleasure or happiness over obedience, as I endlessly nap.

These are dark, hard, hard days of destroying cancer cells, and, sigh, some good cells, too. However, I imagine these are golden days in tearing down lesser things taking my worship while building up my God-awe, by my confessing sin/rebellion, in so many hidden corners He is revealing in my soul. Then, He is building God-awe in those torn down places. My only hope is in knowing I am that tree (Psalm 1) God planted in streams of living water, with my roots digging down deeper than they’ve ever had to go before. And it’s truly painful. However, my awe-filled soul roots, can be in nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness. God is making certain of that.

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Psalm 1 Tree, Watercolor, Marcia Carole

Return To Seattle – Self Portrait

 

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This is the beginning stages of a self portrait, response to cancer.

Three months after moving from Colorado Springs back to my home in Seattle, I awake and think of the blog posts I wrote during by dark battle during IV chemo. Part of me wants to stay far from even thinking about those hard days, but part of me knows I need to remember and release trauma associated with those days. The ways I’ve been releasing the trauma so far – walking an hour each day, trying yoga and adding stretching to my daily regimen of self care, talking with God about the hard, darkness of IV chemo and utter fatigue, and now….painting a painting to respond to cancer.

Showing that cancer is hard and scary, is one thing I want to show in this painting. I also want to bring grace and beauty out of this suffering and into the piece. I am combining mehndi art forms and realism. I’m also remembering beautiful places where I have been, where lovely people live. There are hints of Nicaragua, Peru, Italy, India, Cambodia, and even Africa.

I have a PET scan and CT scan on August first. My body will be scrutinized for cancer cells hiding here and there. I am praying there are fewer cells wandering around, and I am hopeful my immune system has become stronger. I’ll continue painting and telling my story, and God’s story in the midst of it, as long as I can.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, Psalm 107:2

Joyful Dancers

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In my living room, I have a large canvas of African dancers. I call the painting, “Joy.” This painting in my living room encourages me every single day. It reminds me to ponder all my blessings, and the one true God who gives those blessings. I can so easily get sidetracked by my daily concerns, my cancer, my oxygen tubing and its limitations, and so many other little details of my life. Then, there hangs that painting, preaching a sermon of encouragement to my anxious heart. I find myself letting go of my cares as I soak in the colors and movement.

Raise your voices;
make a beautiful noise to the Eternal, all the earth.
Serve the Eternal gladly;
enter into His presence singing songs of joy!
Know this: the Eternal One Himself is the True God.
He is the One who made us;
we have not made ourselves;
we are His people, like sheep grazing in His fields.
Go through His gates, giving thanks;
walk through His courts, giving praise.
Offer Him your gratitude and praise His holy name.
Because the Eternal is good,
His loyal love and mercy will never end,
and His truth will last throughout all generations. Psalm 100, The Voice version.

How did the painting come about? Well, when I was in Cameroon helping women to share their stories using art, as the stories were being told and each woman received prayer, the Cameroonian women would break out in joyful singing and dancing. It was an amazing experience to be a part of, and my soul still “sings” when I think of those days of joy. I came home and painted this painting!

So, when I feel down about fighting stage four cancer, when I ache all over and struggle to feed myself, huffing and puffing from the effort, I remember the joy of those women through my painting. I reach out for that joy.  And, I offer God praise for His goodness and mercy in my life. It might be just a moment in my day. However, there it is – a bit of redemption right at that moment, and God is glorified.

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On Planning My Own Memorial Service

Surprisingly, when my pastor, Hilario, his wife, Lois, and my second daughter, Katie, sat with me today to map out a memorial service, after my departure, I felt a weight had been lifted. Yes, I cried my way through some of it – I hate leaving loved ones. Truly, I love my people and wish never to say goodbye. However, before I knew it, I was laughing at the idea of joy and celebration (with Indian and Italian food and festive international flags) being the over-arching feelings during the service. Additionally, I sat with profound gratitude that these three dear ones would take the time from full and rich lives to do the hard work of helping me prepare my own memorial service.

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Joyful Dancers, Marcia Carole, acrylic on canvas

It was actually fun reviewing Scripture I wanted my two older grandsons to read. I could just picture them, taking a break from Legos, snacks, and their Seahawks shirts, only to don their khaki pants and nice shirts to honor their Gigi. They are both about to be baptized, so I know the Words they read will mean something important to their hearts. Those who gather that day will hear that “I have been crucified with Christ; it’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…and, there is no longer any condemnation for Marcia because she is safely in Jesus – right into eternity.” Marcia has Jesus as her Rock and her redeemer for this life and the next. My young grandchildren will lead my people into these truths.

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Katie with her boys – my grandsons!

My friend, Judy, calls my departure, “Going Off Planet.” My friend, Gretchen, has reminded me, more than once, that when we get to Heaven, we will see that life on earth has been living in the low-rent district in contrast to the speech-defying beauty, goodness and glory we will be a part of in an Eternity with Jesus. By me remembering these sort-of jokes, coupled with my cancer, I am helped to press on in making my final plans.

I think we long to not die, on planet earth because, aside from the unknowingness of it all and the lack of control we possess over dying, I think there is a part of us, deep in our souls, that remembers the Big Story and how life was in our first Garden, our Home. There really was a beginning point in time when there was no death. Somehow, we know. There was just beauty, fearlessness, a vibrant garden, a totally transparent, loving couple, a tree filled with life, and rich community with God. However, the enemy of our souls snuck into our perfect Home and snarled, lied (God’s holding out on you), robbed and darn near destroyed us and everything around us. I think, we have this deep, unfulfilled longing for that Home. An angst. I’m just saying it’s there.

So, I got to do some planning today – important planning. As I was encouraging Pastor Hilario to really preach the Gospel during the service, my heart was gripped, my tears flowing, because my passion since nineteen years of age has been: there is a God, He faithfully loves you and me, He proved it by coming to earth as God with skin on – Jesus. He lived a perfect life. He died in our places for our evil thoughts, words, deeds. We can be forgiven for all our just plain darknesses of hearts and for believing that first lie that God was holding out on us. How? If we turn from trying to find Home apart from God and run to Him. I want Pastor Hilario to be sure to let everyone know; we are given Jesus’ righteousness when we run to Him, when we reach past our doubts and faint remembering of Eden. When we run and reach out to Jesus, and HIS palpable love, in faith, then Eden, Home is won back in our hearts. It’s a gift – a gift of being eternally Home with God.

And that is where I will be when the celebration of my life happens.

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Sunflower, Marcia Carole, watercolor

One song I hope to have at my memorial service: Give Me Jesus, by Fernando Ortega.

 

More Grace Needed Here!

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
“That there are dark, dark places that have to be faced and excavated in my heart. I can never dust off my hands and say, “There! Nearly done.” Not even close. Grace becomes more precious by the day.” -Kathy Keller

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For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight…In love… (Ephesians, chapter 1) Using bubble wrap for texture.

This past week, my friend, Judy, chose to come and help me during my seventh chemo infusion. She and I laughed and cried, watched movies, discussed books, listened to sermons online, ate good food, bemoaned American politics and extended grace to each other each day. She was wonderfully encouraging, and I worked past my crabbiness, from chemo, to try to be kind and grace-filled. Being sick is no excuse to be unkind. I’m intensional about that, because I want to see if my faith, and thus grace, can be certain in the dark and hard parts of my story.

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I am working on a new painting, which Judy had to tuck away for me during my hardest days; I was too weak and nauseous to paint. This painting started with an idea a pastor, Jason, gave me. He would like me to paint: Creation, The Fall, Redemption and Consummation or Heaven. He’d like 4 paintings, or perhaps, one painting with all four concepts. I really like his idea for a painting. I took a canvas to practice on, so this is my first practice piece. I decided to begin painting some textures that might suggest a time even before creation.

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Then, I added the tree to suggest the dawn of created earth within time. I am still working on the tree, and I hope to add new textures for the leaves, etc. I’ll have some realism and some abstraction. Just like life!

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I am using the sun to represent grace, something God provided before our time began(see Ephesians 1) and something He provides, in Jesus, moving forward in history – even during the Fall, and even in our own personal dark times. I am adding layer upon layer, just like layers of amazing grace.

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The second part of the painting represents the darkness of The Fall, and, on a personal level, our separation from God because of our own evil hearts. As Kathy Keller has stated above, our own hearts need grace, redemption and healing constantly, and in new places. I have marveled at the areas of pride, self-absorption, and self-pity I have spotted with the Lord as I lie quietly in bed, recovering from yet another chemo treatment. God and I tussle over who is God, I tear up and repent. I’ll have a flash of a thought of someone who was cruel to me, and my unkind thoughts in return unnerve and sadden me. I repent and ask God for mercy, forgiveness and freedom from that judgement. While lying still. Maybe that’s why we have the “Be still and know I am God.” verse in the Bible.

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Here you can see the contrast of the Creation and The Fall more clearly, and yet, I am suggesting that grace and forgiveness is available in the darkness – in Jesus. Because He came, took the punishment for our evil hearts, rose from the dead, and is preparing a place for us in Heaven, we can ask to have Him as our Savior and receive grace, forgiveness and freedom. We can never work our way into absolute goodness on our own, nor can we attain perfection or nirvana and master all our shortcomings or wicked thoughts. We aren’t being honest about our hearts or realistic, if we think this way. And, gosh, Jesus, His love, His forgiveness is free in exchange with our authentic repentance from our wrongs and acceptance of His free gift. Well, free to us, costly to Him. Why wouldn’t we take that gift of GRACE?

I am so thankful for God’s grace – His unmerited favor, since before time and all the way forward into eternity. And, I’m with Kathy and her assessment of my heart, and the endless need of grace we have and then can receive, in Jesus, for healing and redeeming our hearts. 

“That’s no tragedy for me because I don’t cling to my life for my own sake. The only value I place on my life is that I may finish my race, that I may fulfill the ministry that Jesus our King has given me, that I may gladly tell the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24

Fighting For Grace; Joy Snuck In

Today, I have spent a good chunk of my handful of waking moments, crying and feeling sorry for myself. I am weary of this road. It seems to go with the cancer journey – at least for me. I am so awful tired of chemo and it’s side effects….really DIRECT effects. I hobble with my numb feet, dragging my overwhelmingly tired body to the fridge for the start of breakfast at the ungodly hour of 10:45 a.m. Gone is the energy I had to travel the globe, listening to women share their hearts in Thailand, India, Cambodia, Cameroon and so many other fascinating countries. Gone are the nimble fingers ready to create art or play with my grandchildren.

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Now, I fumble with my glass of lemon water; my neuropathy-filled fingers can’t handle the weight. I crawl back to bed, exhausted and no longer hungry after making the lukewarm oatmeal. Why did I even bother getting up to fight for a little oatmeal? I rarely eat it anyway. I recover in bed with a rest. I catch my breath and work up the energy to try the next thing. A bath.

I fight for a bath. I haul my limp, uncooperative body up the stairs to the bathtub. While running the hot, steamy water, I pour in a detox powder a friend gave me. (If only it would remove all traces of chemo and its effects.) I moan and groan as I lower my bone-tired body into the comforting, hot water. I cry. I cry because I can’t be the mom and grandma I want to be. I cry because people have asked me to serve women in faraway places, and I won’t be going. I cry because I hurt all over and my heart hurts in places I didn’t even know were there.

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A new friend, Blythe, texts me as I return downstairs to try to dress. “Try” is the operative word. She’s “praying for me, calling out for mercy on my behalf” and she’s meditating on Scripture for me because she knows I don’t have the strength for it. She gives me Matthew 11:4, 28 Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side….”Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest….learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Blythe is grace and kindness in my hard, hard morning, reaching toward me, being with me. I just cry.

This new friend showed up in the middle of my hard, hard, stupid crying day. She is believing and trusting the heart of Jesus even when all I can do is cry. I texted her that I would fight to see grace. I’ve seen the love of Jesus melt the hardest of hearts and change the darkest situations.

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My daughter, Katie, and another friend, Hannah, both kindly respond rapidly to texts for help with food and bath salts. Grace quietly moves into my day, like cats’ feet, and I feel loved and cared for in my crying, bad day. It takes loving community, and I vow to be the person who reaches out to broken, crying people when I am well enough. I take another nap.

I make another meal; it takes way more energy than I have, so I rest on Katie’s sofa. There, I see a little set of books written by my grandson. I have time and energy to read them, and so I do. When I get to the third book, my tears flow again, but in a strange way, they are happy tears. My very first grandson shows me I have meant something to his story, and I am thankful. It’s a quiet moment of actual, pure joy. Joy snuck in.

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I’m not going to go all preachy on you and say all is well, because I am still having a crying hard day. But, somehow, with grace-filled family and friends, and my grandson, my day was redeemed in some mysterious and important ways. They have the courage to believe that God is good and for me, even on the darkest days. And, they had the courage to “show up” for me and show me what they believe.

“Joy is the heart’s harmonious response to the Lord’s song of love.” ~ A. W. Tozer.

I’m Standing

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A year ago, I heard a man speaking about lying flat for many months, on the floor, on his stomach, in order for his back to heal. He was my favorite speaker at the prestigious gathering. He shared his journey of all the things he had done while lying still and off the merry-go-round of active life. He started his healing journey by watching encouraging, positive movies, then moved onto darker fair, and ended his movie-watching with toxic, twisted stuff from the bottom of the barrel, so to speak. He is a pastor.

After his watching, he realized he had kind of come to the end of the creative banquet he had explored; I guess, it was kind of like he started with green, leafy vegetables and ended with double fudge sundays with dozens of shots of tequila. (Just like in the movies.) I appreciated his honesty as he shared his journey. (We are talking thousands of hours of lying still!) I’ve wandered into strange lands as far as entertainment goes, so his story resonated with me.

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Marcia Carole, Watercolor

God has His own timetable in our stories; it’s seemingly slower than the western cultures’ clocks, and God was still there at the end of the “banquet.” I think God was there, waiting for the time together with the pastor, with a tender heart. I mean that. I don’t believe for a minute that God is as distant, aloof or unkind, as we often make Him out to be in our minds. He created you and me, for heaven’s sakes. The pastor found God to be quite full of grace, kindness, empathy, truth, beauty and goodness.

How? The pastor decided to read the whole Bible – or listen to it, I think. He had that kind of time on “break.” However, as I have seen in my own healing journey, he wasn’t really on “break.” He was in a considerably deeper season of pondering life, sorting things out, catching his spiritual breath. He stopped relying on his own strength while grabbing onto God’s heart. (He had no strength to rely on, and that actually put him in an interesting, less self-reliant “I am maybe, almost like God” sort of place.) He spent time praying – talking with the God of tremendous heart. Thankfulness for this God grew in his heart.

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Vincent Van Gogh, Oils

He found the God of the Bible to be courageous, full of grace, kind, empathetic, truthful, beautifully glorious, fierce, reasonable, generous, overwhelming and good. The pastor got to know God in new, more nuanced ways, and more importantly, he realized his heart was transforming, having spent the time together. His soul was better.

After many, many months, the pastor was able to get off the floor, and jump back into busy western life. And, you know what? He was just thankful he was standing. He started his talk off with, “I am thankful I am standing here before you. ” And, he meant it. I sensed his authenticity.

In my cancer journey, I’m learning to take nothing for granted. If I actually stand, walk with my neuropathy-pained feet, change my sheets, bathe, eat, brush my teeth, make ANY art, connect with a friend on FaceTime, chat with a daughter, play Go Fish with Calvin, walk to the mailbox, then I am thankful. And I mean it much more than before this season. And, I’ve been listening, more and more, to a man reading the Bible. Little by little, I am knowing my God better. My heart will never be the same.

PS. My grandson Calvin, age 5, often tells me he is almost as strong as his daddy. (Or almost as smart, tall, wealthy – he has $17 dollars, etc.) He lifts objects in my apartment to prove his claims – from pillows to books to chairs. I marvel at Calvin’s bravado, but, then I chuckle at myself. Don’t I show that same or deeper, bravado towards God? Saying, and even believing, “I’m almost as strong, smart, tall, wealthy…. as God.” Calvin is in good company.

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Sharing The Creative Call at a Conference, and I’m a wee bit healthier!

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