Books to read: 2017 list

Some of the books I read last year I wanted to share with you. Hopefully you find one in here you might like to pick up for yourself. It’s a mix of fiction, non-fiction and biographies/auto-biographies. A little something for everyone 🙂

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

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This is a delightful read I couldn’t put down while at the beach last summer. There is plenty of Chip’s charisma to keep you entertained and to see how their story unfolded into what it is today is inspiring.

 

The Paper Magician Series by Charlie Holmberg

This series was the author’s first in a line of other imaginative fiction stories. A young apprentice finds herself assigned to the most boring of all magical elements- paper. But she is in for a surprise as she quickly learns her new trade is more than she bargained for as she sets off to rescue her teacher in the most unusual circumstances.

I liked this because it was original and fun, without a lot of filth most fiction writers seem compelled to put in their books. Appropriate for young adults and up.

 

The Fifth Doll by Charlie Holmberg

This one is a mystery with a Russian theme containing a surprise twist at the end. We learn who is in control and who is not- think puppets and the puppeteer.

Another amusing read that will keep you thinking about the subject matter days after you’ve finished reading it. Appropriate for young adults and up.

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Spurgeon: A Biography by Arnold A. Dallimore

A book not only good to read but inspires on a deep spiritual level is one I will recommend any day. It is so evident the Lord blessed this specific time in history under Spurgeon’s preaching. An extraordinary revival took place over his lifetime that could only be explained as the supernatural work of God. Add this to your library.

“Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour.”

“Little faith will bring your souls to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to your souls.”

 

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t hate it either. The storyline is a nod to the myth of the Greek god Cupid and Pysche. (I learned all this from the back cover of the book). It is still original even though Lewis was inspired from this legend. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Lewis’ work. It’s fiction for adults.

 

Letters to an American Lady

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This was amazing to read simply because it de-mystified the man we know as C.S. Lewis. Not in a bad way, just more human. I think sometimes we as Christians can make demi-gods out of “super” Christians that have impacted us.

This book is a compilation of letters he wrote to an American woman named Mary that he never met in real life. Lewis was faithful to respond to anyone who would write him, but this particular correspondence lasted his entire life. The friendship was mutual and they often encouraged one another in their trials, particularly health issues. Recommended to C.S. Lewis fans.

 

Made for More by Hannah Anderson

 

I highlighted and dog-eared this book so much. I actually want to go back and re-read it very soon. Anderson is a pastor’s wife in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She and her husband serve in a rural area, and she brings a lot of that life knowledge to this gem. Hannah shares her stories through gardening and small town living.

“The deeper magic is that while God has the power to do whatever He pleases, it pleases Him to exercise His power on behalf of His children. While our good is found in seeking His glory, it is His glory to bring about our ultimate good.” (p. 141)

 

Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson

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I have a habit of finding an author I like and then reading whatever else they have written. This is a wonderful book on humility. (Another one to re-read!) Anderson takes the natural world around her and incorporates those lessons into faith analogies.

In a social media obsessed world, Hannah invites us as a sister in Christ to find our rest and satisfaction in Jesus alone. We strive too much and the end result is often a weary, burned out spirit or one puffed up in pride. Either way the remedy is found not in likes on Instagram, but in the Gospel.

“So what does it mean to trust Jesus for rest? How does seeking His kingdom free us from anxiety and stress? He frees us from our burdens in the most unexpected way: He frees us by calling us to rely less on ourselves and more on Him. He frees us by calling us to humility.” (p. 32)

 

Honey for a Woman’s Heart by Gladys Hunt

Christian author and avid reader Gladys Hunt encourages other Christians to expand their reading lives. Not only does she have recommended lists for every genre you can imagine, Hunt argues her position on why reading is so important.

A friend loaned me her copy of this and I liked it so much I bought one for myself. As a believer, I try to choose books carefully. As with movies, TV, and music, books can be a form of the “trash in, trash out” cycle. This book is helpful because the author is addressing Christian readers looking for great book suggestions.

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Different by Sally Clarkson/ Nathan Clarkson

I try to read one or two books each year about children with special needs or parenting. This book hits both of those categories. Sally and Nathan Clarkson are a mother and son team who co-authored this book. Nathan grew up hyper active with anxiety and OCD. Sally and her husband learned to parent Nathan differently compared to the three other children they have.

Sally’s faith anchored her in the difficult seasons of parenting four small children. She also demonstrated her relationship with the Lord in front of her children, teaching them not only about the Bible, but how to live out their faith. This impacted Nathan greatly as he grew older, and helped him through his personal battles. I would recommend this as an encouragement for all parents.

 

“Book love. It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live.”

-Anthony Trollope

Happy reading to you!

Grace upon grace,

April

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Learning to study the Bible in a non-intimidating, helpful way

Last year I went to a seminar on Homiletics. I had little understanding of this approach to studying the Bible so I wanted to learn more. For anyone who desires to go deeper in mining God’s Word but feels stuck, this might be a good template to follow. I’ve relaxed mine to help me because one of the main goals from studying the Scriptures is that I want to understand what I’m reading. What’s the point if you don’t understand? You couldn’t apply the principles if the verses read like gibberish or nice but lofty poetry, right?

Since attending the seminar I have really enjoyed working through Acts, Ephesians, and Romans using a structured style to personal study. I don’t say that to show off at all but to hopefully encourage you that this is doable and the Bible doesn’t have to be intimidating or confusing.

When I’m going through a text I first try to read through it and find a good breaking point. Sometimes it will be after a few verses or a little over a chapter. It depends on the text. Currently I am in Isaiah 40:1-14. My goal is to cover the entire chapter eventually, but start small so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

Before you begin you will need:

-a Bible (translations recommended: ESV or NIV)

-pen and a journal

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With these verses, first I read through it. Then I try to write down observations/facts about the section. I noted that there are 5 transitions in this passage:

  1. 1-2: Jerusalem as a woman and a people, declared forgiven for their sins twice over
  2. 3-5 :Prophecy of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus’ coming
  3. 6-8 :Life is fleeting like grass and flowers but God’s Word is forever firm and secure
  4. 9-11 :Zion, Jerusalem, towns of Judah proclaim the Sovereign Lord and Messiah; imagery of Jesus as a Shepherd for His people
  5. 12-14 :Describes God’s limitless power and knowledge using images of water, hands, heavens, dust, basket, earth, mountains, hills, etc.

-Comprehensively declaring the glory of God, His awesome power and deity as Lord and Creator of all

 

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The next portion I write down questions I have while reading the text, my own thoughts/discoveries as the Holy Spirit teaches, and also simplify what the verses are saying as best as possible. This is called the “Takeaway”. Here are a few examples:

>>What kind of comfort does God provide?

*freedom from bondage to sin

– “speak tenderly” –> like a loving Father to His daughter

-Prophecy fulfilled: He ordains John the Baptist to proclaim His message, breaking 400 years of silence without a prophet and prepares the hearts of the people

*keyword: will –> God can and does

  • World changing event in history of mankind with the coming of Christ; since then, the name of Jesus has spread all over the world like never before

-the glory we seek for ourselves is futile and is not remembered after a few generations, if that; even great laborers for the Lord are forgotten here on earth by the majority -> but God sees and knows all

Recompense (definition)- Reward or compensation given for loss or harm suffered

  • Jesus is our Reward; He is the Recompense, the payment for my sin

-The Lord’s Name should strike us with reverential fear & awe, as well as gladden our hearts like nothing else this passing world has to offer.

-You can take nothing with you in death except your faith in the Lord God.

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http://egoodography.wix.com/home

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This part is where I ask: How is Jesus in this passage?

 If the entire Bible points to Him, and every story whispers His Name, then I need to know what that means, especially in the Old Testament. So when I read the text again, I’m looking for ways this is true. How does it reference Christ?

Jesus is the comfort the Lord refers to; He is the One Who paid for our sins, giving us life and freedom.

  • Jesus is the oasis in the spiritual desert
  • Jesus is eternal and the Word of life; He endures through all time
  • Jesus submits to the Father’s will, confident in His rich wisdom
  • Jesus learns to trust and obey the Father because He knows God’s character: nothing the Lord does is arbitrary or without purpose

 

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-Be a voice in this desert. The world is sinking on the shifting sand they stand on.

– Walk with humility, knowing there is a beginning and an end to my life. What I do in between matters; It should keep my mortality in check.

>>How do I use my time? Do I waste a lot of it or use it well?

>> How can I invest in others?

– Do not fear what man thinks of me, but be concerned with how God sees me

>>Are there times I am more concerned with my reputation and disregard God?

-Fear the Lord in reverence because He is perfectly wise, sovereign, merciful and good.

 

 I know this is a little long but I hope it helps. And I’m still learning how to best approach studying the Bible so you might alter this a bit to fit your way of learning and how much time you have each day. It generally takes a couple of days to do all of this. I might do Observations one morning, then the Takeaway section the next day. Breaking it up like this makes studying easier.

However you decide to study God’s Word, let me encourage you to:

  • simplify it into your own sentences so you understand
  • break the verses down as much as you need to so you aren’t overwhelmed (chapter by chapter; passage by passage; a few verses at a time)
  • ask God for wisdom to help you understand
  • be teachable; don’t come to any text assuming you know all there is to know about it. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts and be your Teacher.

 

We need Christians to dig for themselves in our culture. Be a lifelong student of the Bible. See the truth with your own eyes and you will be blessed. You can do this!

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

What I Learned: Fall Edition

When I remember, I try to participate in a community post organized by Emily Freeman, titled What We Learned. It’s a good way to press pause on this season before the next one rolls around. The topics can be about anything really. This autumnal post ranges from a food I rediscovered, encouragement for parents with a special needs child, learning to do hard things, and keeping it simple.

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Head on over to see more seasonal posts from others and what they are learning too. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Here are 5 things I learned this fall:

 

  1.  I like apples again and apparently so does my child.

I don’t know when I stopped eating apples, but it’s been a few years I’m sure (unless it happened to be covered in caramel- duh). But I saw a Pioneer Woman recipe to make an apple tart so I marched myself to the grocery store and bought a bag of Honey crisp apples. I never got around to actually making the recipe because Jesse and I accidentally devoured most of them.

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I had no idea he liked apples. He didn’t last year, but somewhere in between he took a fancy to them. He prefers them just plain, but I like apples with peanut butter, or fruit dip or salt or even in a turkey sandwich! Still planning to make that recipe, but who knew it would evolve into more than an apple tart?

 

  1.  Listening to another mom talk about her child with autism made me cry.

I listened to a podcast interview from a mom who has a young adult autistic son. It was very helpful to hear her perspective, since I’m more on the front end of the journey. Terri Conlin shares her experience in her son’s diagnosis at an early age, dealing with behavioral issues, learning obstacles, as well as how siblings fit into the mix.

Her feelings match my own. I found myself blinking back tears because even though the autism spectrum is broad, the emotional rollercoaster is very much the same. She helped me remember that I am not alone in this. Raising a special needs child can be a maddening enigma, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

You can find Terri’s interview on the God Centered Mom Podcast . She also writes lovely words on her blog www.whitepitchers.com. I hope her message encourages you or someone you know with a child on the autism spectrum.

 

  1.  Running is a great stress reliever.

This fall I started running consistently in order to prepare for two 5K races. There is something intoxicatingly free about running outside. As the weather cooled down I tied up my shoelaces to do just that. I’m not very fast, but I can run distance with enough preparation. Just to finish the first race was my goal. The second race happened this past week and I ran a personal best in my running time.

 

After a bizarre collapse and my heart going into atrial fibrillation last fall, I silently thanked God for allowing me the privilege to run again- to have a healthy body. I don’t take it for granted at all. It showed me that with God’s grace, I could discipline myself to do hard things – like running a race, finishing, and running well.

 

 4. I don’t love Daylight Savings Time.

I don’t know what important person came up with the idea to move the clocks in the fall/winter so we have LESS daylight, but I am not a fan. It gets dark by 4pm and I’m ready to crawl into my pajamas by 6pm because it feels so much later than what it actually is. Would it be so bad to do away with DST altogether?

 

5. Keep It Simple Sweetie (K.I.S.S.) is more than just an acronym.

If the holiday season stresses you out this is a saying to practice. As I started to get the Christmas decorations out this year, a familiar cloud of anxiety loomed overhead. Up until now I have put up TWO Christmas trees (because I’m a crazy person) and crammed every single decoration we own in whatever white space was left.

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I’m not a fan of clutter or excess, so this was the exact opposite of what I find relaxing and enjoyable. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I’m a grown up. This is my house. There aren’t Christmas police that say I have to deck the halls to the brim of losing my mind.

So this year I put up ONE tree and half of the decorations. I have to say that I absolutely love it. It won’t be a bear to take down after the New Year and my family’s everyday clutter is still welcome.

 

What are ways you keep this season of Advent? Are there hard things you have to do or want to do but haven’t yet? Maybe you listened to or read something encouraging you can pass along to others. Or perhaps you too tried a new food or rediscovered an old favorite. I hope you enjoyed fall as much as I did. I was a little surprised by how brilliant the colors were in Alabama! That’s always the best I think, to be surprised by beauty and count it as a blessing.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

For Holland

When Jesse was not even a year old I was trying to wrap my brain around words like “developmental delay”, “autism”, and “hypotonia”. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” I remember thinking. But you know what? In a lot of ways I’m the privileged one with an incredible gift. I read a sweet poem then that summed up a lot of the emotions swirling inside my heart. God has used my special needs son to teach me a thing or two. He is my Holland. Although hard, I’m enjoying this journey, learning about this space I never thought I’d be in. There is beauty here, and grace upon grace when you take time to see and understand someone else’s world. Here is the poem, ‘Welcome to Holland’ that I read a few years ago. Whenever I read it, my perspective shifts a little, allowing gratitude to grow as I take a deep breath, and persevere.

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Welcome to Holland

by Emily Perl Kingsley (1987)

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Year Round

Christmas is less than 10 weeks away. Can you believe it? Me neither. This year seems to have flown by. I’ve noticed the older I get the faster time moves, and the holidays sneak up on the calendar every year. Christmas melodies usually fill my car by summertime (I know, I know), but this year I didn’t gravitate toward Bing Crosby crooning ‘White Christmas’ or other commercialized seasonal music. Maybe it’s because the world feels heavy lately, increasing with each day. Like a needlepoint on a compass pulling north, my heart is best at rest singing back to the Bright and Morning True Star through Christmas hymns. Songs about Jesus usually reserved for Christmastime come bubbling up.

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Have you ever stopped to listen to the words in a song you like? Maybe like me, you’ve gotten some of the lyrics wrong before. I found a little clarity with that by looking up “error pining” from ‘O Holy Night’. For the longest time I wasn’t sure what that line was… “ere repining”? What’s that? When I learned the real words, the song became more meaningful after I comprehended the full significance.

My mouth springs open as I recall the words, listening carefully to the truths in each line. Christy Nockels caroling ‘O Holy Night’ evokes awe and gratitude each time I hear it. Tears stream down my face at the most inopportune moments (like in the car) but I lift my hands and heart up to worship anyway.

Music is an asset to the Christian life. When we understand first of all what we’re singing and Who we’re singing to, our voices honor Him in praise. Singing also provides an opportunity for spiritual transformation to take root deeper in our hearts.

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The Bible tells us of God singing His love over us (Zephaniah 3:17). I also believe we’re meant to sing back to Him. Christmas hymns in particular have comforted me because they speak of such hope and joy of what has happened and what is to come. It causes an eagerness and excitement to rise up in believers quite unlike anything else.

Christmas is easily bombarded with overall excess, distracting from the real reason we celebrate. Songs of praise refocus the posture of my heart – it helps me remember again. All of the to-do lists my mind is cluttered with slowly fall away long enough to see clearly the things that are really important – things of eternal value.

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It doesn’t mean my daily responsibilities are to be neglected, but I do them now with a different mindset. This, more than anything, combats an anxious spirit in me. The world won’t come crashing down if everything on my list isn’t checked off, but how I have treated people in the course of my day and the attitude of my heart does matter.

I hope you can worship Jesus as Savior with a full heart at rest in the bustle of the upcoming season. Even when outside circumstances evolve into chaos, the inner man is still at peace. Practicing this attitude of Christmas worship now and throughout the year helps slow our spirits to God’s rhythm. The Son of Man came to earth in the unseen, quiet whispers. I think it’s a lesson for us to look for Him not so much in the grand and loud, but through less fanfare.

Tune our hearts to sing His praise now, as we will into eternity. And as we sing, the truth is able to calm us and we remember what is so easy to forget. Jesus is with us now, living inside each believer, and He is worthy of our worship. So we sing for joy as we wait in confident hope with clear eyes and an expectant heart for the rest of the Story to unfold.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

How Christians deal with tragedy in the world

Last week was our fall break, so we joined my in-laws at the beach. Even though the pool water was frigid and sleep eluded us due to sharing a room with Jesse, it was nice – a much needed get away from all adult responsibilities. We arrived the day before the Las Vegas massacre, stealing so many lives, causing hundreds of injuries and an untold number of psychological damage to those who witnessed the horrific scene.

It somehow felt wrong to be on vacation when others were experiencing such grief. I felt a little guilty for indulging in a week away from my life.

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The reality is, tragedy strikes every day all over the world – unspeakable things that never make the headlines. How do we respond then, when sad events seem to come in waves like recently? There are so many needs around us it can feel overwhelming, not to mention the sorrows that touch our personal lives. I begin to feel helpless. Paralysis sets in or an apathetic mindset. I don’t like admitting that, but we are not humanly capable to emotionally respond to every single calamity. This is what I have been wrestling with this week.

How are Christians to react to multiple tragedies?

One thing I took away from the Las Vegas attack and hurricanes on the coasts was to be grateful for the things God has given me: life, family, salvation/hope, opportunity to take vacations, food, shelter, witnessing acts of kindness, laughter, God’s beauty in creation; the list goes on because it has to. If we stop counting God’s kindnesses we become victims too, swallowed in despair.

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We fight against Satan’s schemes, living in a fallen world, by carrying a grateful heart. Living in the present, taking nothing for granted.

It doesn’t negate the pain, but those very circumstances propel us to pray for the hurting and call us to act. It doesn’t have to be big. Small acts of kindness go a long way. Ask God specifically how you can meet need, bless someone, or who to pray for. We have opportunities to minister right where we live too. Look around – your neighbors, local church, friends, family, and school.

These are open invitations to do His work.

Satan would have us living in fear, or doubt even, to keep us ineffective and disobedient as believers. You can still be grieved over the brokenness in our world, but you don’t have to be fearful or useless. We hold our hands open to accept both the good and the bad.

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There is purpose in pain. We may not comprehend it this side of heaven but what Satan intends for evil God can use for good. It isn’t senseless or haphazard, even when it feels that way.

We know how the Story ends; it’s the middle part that’s muddled. Yet because we are confident in our eternal future we don’t have to walk through this life riddled with anxiety over the unknown. I do not serve a hard God. This world is hard because it isn’t as it should be. Those who place their faith in Christ know this earthly life is not all there is.

We choose to trust in God’s Sovereignty.

We place our hope in His unfailing Love and Mercy.

Rest in His Power when things are chaotic. Trust in His Goodness when you don’t understand. Remember His grace to you and live out of that confident hope.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

A prayer to persevere

A prayer as you enter this week, a new season, or stay put right where you are. May you cultivate a heart of contentment and gratitude in the joys, the struggles, the ordinary. I offer this to you to live fully in the present, not looking over past mistakes or future worries. Jesus said today’s troubles are enough. He gives you peace, He is your peace.

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Father,

Keep Your Beloved humble, aware of Your set and unfailing love over us.

Let our love for You continue to grow as the hope we have in Jesus becomes deeply rooted to the very core of our being.

May our spirits be inseparable with Yours so that others can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

Transform these restless, half-hearted desires to love what You love.

Let our private worship be the same as our public adoration.

We pray to never be ashamed, but always willing and ready to share the blessed hope that is ours through Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Give us urgency in the Gospel for souls that are lost, wandering, angry, indulgent, apathetic, asleep, dead.

We need compassion and patience toward their unbelieving hard hearts.

Help us remember that they cannot act contrary from their given nature.

All of us were once against You too, as objects of wrath.

We confess that the costly effects of our depravity often escape us, when we take our salvation for granted.

Forgive us when we become prideful because of our spiritual gain. Puffed up in knowledge without love. Given to our sentimentalism without doctrine.

Open the eyes of the blind. Give life to what is lifeless. Establish freedom and peace for those who have yet to taste the real thing.

Only You can move and redeem and transform.

 

Forgive us when we don’t live like You changed everything.

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We are often distracted by the baubles of this world, choked by the trials, asleep to the needs of others.

Make Your family worthy of the calling: Image-Bearers and Ambassadors for Your Honor.

Help us remember all You have done for Your Bride –

You are rich in mercy,

Filled with grace,

Demonstrated untold kindness,

Faithful,

Pouring out Your love.

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By Your power, in the Spirit’s strength, enable us to remember, imitate, remember.

We pray to be the most humble, grateful and joy-filled people in all the earth!

Let us live into the identity You created us for since the beginning of time.

 

Grace upon grace,

April