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light of the world

Photo by Davidson Luna from Unsplash

Photo by Davidson Luna from Unsplash

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”    Isaiah 9:2

I heard a story this past weekend about a man named Bob who had been blind for 51 years. After five decades of walking around in total darkness, dependent upon his other senses to define the world to him, Bob underwent a complicated operation that allowed him to see for the very first time. As you can imagine, he was greatly overwhelmed and had this to say about the gift of sight:

“I never would have dreamed that yellow is so…yellow! I don’t have the words. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just can’t believe red. I can see the shape of the moon – and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane fly across the sky leaving a vapor trail. And, of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light.”

“You could never know how wonderful everything is.”

We are adaptable people. It is quite miraculous even the way our eyes can adapt to the darkness. Coming into a darkened room from the brightly lit outdoors, it takes only seconds for the iris to expand the pupil as wide as possible in order to let as much light as possible into the eye, allowing us to see in the dark.

However, no eye can see in total darkness. Total darkness means absence of light, the very agent that stimulates sight and allows us to see.

Imagine a life in total darkness.

Truth be told, a life void of Jesus is a life void of light.

Imagine that.

Before Jesus came to dwell on earth, there was great turmoil. There was great spiritual darkness. Life was lived as a person who lives without sight. At the end of chapter 8 in the book of Isaiah, preceding the prophecy of the coming Messiah, we see the after-effects of choices that lead to further darkness.

“Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” Isaiah 8:22

Honestly, sometimes I look around this world fraught with turmoil, hostility, hatred, and sorrow, and it seems to me that, perhaps, we are falling further and further into utter darkness ourselves.

And yet, even though it seems that the light has been snuffed out, Jesus is still the Light of the world.

A light dawned when Jesus was born.

To those living in darkness a great light has come.

The Gospel of John introduces Jesus as “the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”

Jesus, himself, declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

When Jesus came, when he entered our broken world, light broke through the blackness and barrenness, and suddenly those who had been blind were able to see: first shapes and shadows, then more clearly, the hope they had been waiting for.

No matter how ugly this world may get, we do not live in total and complete darkness. Those of us who know the Light, who have experienced the Light and felt His warmth illuminate our lives, must shine brightly and boldly to let this Light shine in the dark corners of the world.

There is still hope.

Because Jesus came.

And he is the Light of the world.

Immanuel.

God is with us.

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season are the lights. It just seems to me that everything looks more beautiful under the soft glow of Christmas lights. A darkened street city sidewalk feels a little less daunting with trees glowing with tiny white bulbs. Jesus’ birth brought us the light that we so desperately longed for. The darkness was heavy, and then came the promise; this great light that would dispel the darkness. And yet, so many of us choose to remain in the dark. It’s like being given the enormous gift of sight, but choosing to walk around with our eyes closed. How crazy is that!

It takes a little initiative on our parts to choose to open our eyes and allow the light in. To recognize that Jesus is near and God is with us.

The illuminating light may reveal some things we are not too thrilled to accept, but at the same time, much like Bob’s revelation when he received his sight after 51 years of walking in darkness, we may also discover that we never knew how wonderful everything really is.

“What a marvelous light from the midst of dreadful darkness! It is an astounding change such as only God with us could work.” – Charles Spurgeon

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peace has come

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Photo by Rose Elena from Unsplash

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Everyone’s looking for a little more joy and a little more peace.

There is a running joke in our family. The kids will ask me what I want for my birthday or Christmas or any holiday for that matter, and my response is a quick, “Peace on earth.” And then, observing the disappointed look on their faces, I follow up with, “or peace in our home.” If peace on earth seems an unreasonable wish, then perhaps starting with peace in our home doesn’t sound too far out of reach.

Peace is something each one of us longs for. It tugs at our hearts. It weighs on our minds.

We look for it everywhere, and especially during the Christmas season where peace and joy are promised in every television ad, Christmas tree lot, twinkling lights, and renditions of the classic  Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. We wonder, just a little bit, if the purchase of “this” or the singing of “that” will somehow fill us with all the joy and all the peace.

And it often does, for a moment- one brief, Kodak-picture-perfect moment. And then it’s gone. The moment -so fleeting- slips away and there we are again with an all too familiar longing.

Peace.

Joy.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

Jesus’ entrance into the world was proclaimed in the heavens. Peace had come to earth.

But not in the way that anyone would have ever expected. When I ask my kids for peace on earth, or at least peace in our home, I am imagining a world – a home – void of conflict, tranquil, quiet, and sweet. When we think of peace, images of a tender silent night or the gentle calm of new fallen snow are what quickly come to mind. But when Peace came down, when love entered the chaos of our world, it didn’t bring freedom from disturbance but rather it came to disrupt.

The word peace in the New Testament was most often the Greek translation of the word eirene, which has the sense of “joining what had previously been separated or disturbed.”

William Barclay says it “means not just freedom from trouble but everything that makes for a man’s highest good.”

Peace came down to join humanity to God: to take what had been separated by sin and bridge the gap so that peace which passes understanding would abide within us and not just around us.

And yet we are still so determined to fill our hearts and our lives with false hopes that bring temporary peace and joy.

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.’” Luke 19:41,42

When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time, as he looked out over the landscape of the city, he wept. What stirred his heart to tears? What deep sadness came over him? It was not the betrayal that awaited him or his impending death on the cross. Rather, as Jesus looked out upon the magnificent view, he saw further into the future, and what he saw for Jerusalem broke his heart. The Jews were looking for peace and joy, and they were looking for it in much the same way we typically look for ours. However, Christ knew that only pain and destruction would follow the pursuit of this dream outside of himself.

The longing for peace on earth has been in the heart of humanity since the moment that sin entered. At the center of every action is this desperate desire to feel the nearness of God, regardless of how this need is articulated. At the heart of us all is a deep knowing that God will bring us the peace we crave, the peace that brings joy, and the peace that sits at the top of our Christmas lists year after year.

Peace came down. And there is true Peace on earth.

It is a peace that will not be felt or experienced in one more gift or one swift political move or one more Christmas carol.

The peace and joy that we are looking for comes from the God of all hope. And it comes supernaturally. It comes when Jesus, our precious Savior, rests upon the throne of our hearts. It doesn’t remove the struggle, and it is not an automatic fix for every problem we face, but Jesus does give us peace of mind and joy of heart.

Peace on earth has come.

Let that Peace abide within.

And there our joy is made complete.

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet their words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

.

I thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along the unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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And in despair I bowed my head:

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

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Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

.

‘Till ringing, singing, on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

.

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

when our faith falters

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Peter walked on water.

I see this story as a vivid depiction of the realities of walking by faith.

Think about it.

Peter wanted to be where Jesus was, and so he climbed out of the security of the boat and took his first step onto the water. And then, when the wind began to pick up speed, Peter lost sight of his Savior and began to sink. The distractions of the storm surrounding him pulled his focus off of the One who invited him out of the boat.

We either commend Peter for his leap of faith, or we chastise him for his lack of faith. But the truth is, we all have a little bit of Peter inside of us. We may be enthusiastic when Jesus invites us into a deeper relationship with him or when we take a step of obedience and surrender, but our faith also falters when the storms threaten to knock us off our feet. We, too, turn our eyes downward and into the mess of stress and loss and fear and “what if’s”. We are human, and our flesh gets the best of us at times.

When our faith falters- and it will- how are we going to respond?

We can either do what Peter did and cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” Or we can sink to the bottom of a worrisome sea.

Those pressure-point-moments are moments where the true depth of our trust in God, in His goodness, and in the assurance of his sovereignty in our lives, manifests itself. There will be days when our gaze remains easily fixed on Jesus, and there will be days when the troubles of this life will pull our eyes away. The point of the story, I think, is not so much the faltering of faith, but rather Jesus’ response to Peter’s moment of weakness.

“After he cried out for help Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught Peter.”

When our faith falters, Jesus is there to catch us.

I had a faith-faltering moment this past week. I’m not going to lie; I have days when I question this water-walking call on my life. Sometimes the wind seems stronger than the hands that are holding me, and I worry about everything. And, yet, it is in those moments, those private hours before the sun rises on a new day, that the same Jesus, who immediately reached out his hand to catch Peter, reaches out his hand to catch me. And he reminds me to keep looking up.

Keep looking up to the One who invited me out of the boat.

Keep looking up to the One who then calms with wind and waves.

Keep looking up to the One who is still holding me even when my faith is faltering.

Keep looking up.

There is no guarantee that the journey before us will be an easy one. In fact, we are most assuredly promised challenge and difficulty. The threat of the waves will always be near. But Jesus is also very near. And Jesus, in those split second moments when our faith falters, will always be there with his hand extended, ready to pull us back to himself. In fact, he never stops holding us. His grip never loosens for one second. His presence is always with us.

And he will lead us to higher ground.

“From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2

give thanks

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18

In our home we a have a dinnertime tradition in which we go around the table and each person shares one thing they are thankful for that day. We do this all year long, not just on Thanksgiving day. I know I’ve shared our tradition on this blog before, and those who know us well know about this little practice of ours.

The dinner table activity of sharing something we are grateful for did not find its way into our home during a time when circumstances in our lives were going well and life was good. On the contrary, this tradition was conceived during a very challenging and stressful season; a time of pain and grief. We understood that the joy and peace that would carry us through to the other side of the situation was not going to be found in wallowing and bitterness. We knew wallowing would only keep us imprisoned in our circumstances. So we took our cue from Paul and Silas – who, while tossed in a jail cell and chained to a wall, began to pray and sing hymns which triggered an earthquake that shook the prison doors open and their chains loose – and we began to praise.

The most effective way to find freedom form whatever prison we are experiencing in our lives is to praise and give thanks. Don’t wait for the feeling to be there or for the setting of your life to give you something to be thankful for. In brokenness we give thanks because it is God’s will for our lives. And not because God is unloving and not empathetic to the real tragedies we experience, but because he knows that true joy comes from true praise. It’s not masking the pain or pretending life is better than it really is. It is being honest with ourselves, and with God, that this is not an easy time, and then declaring that God is above even our darkest days. It is a reminder to our hearts that God is good and faithful.

Give thanks when the day is bright and there is a song in your heart.

Give thanks when your heart is worn and weary.

Give thanks when your cup is full.

Give thanks in your emptiness.

Give thanks in the morning light.

Give thanks in the dark.

“Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” Psalm 86:4

The Thanksgiving season reminds us to count our blessings, but the attitude of gratefulness and the heart of thankfulness should guide and carry us through all year long.

I am so grateful for the broken roads we’ve walked in years past, and I am so overwhelmingly thankful for the seasons of rest and restoration. Each one has taught me something of value and depth, and overall I have learned that God is always good.

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night.” Psalm 92:1-2

Give thanks.

“It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

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“We praise you, God, we praise you, for your Name is near; people tell of your wonderful deeds.” Psalm 75:1

The nearness of His presence is as close as the mention of His name.

When we declare the goodness of God, when we tell others of his wonderful deeds – all that he has done – God is very near.

As we reflect on thankfulness throughout the month of November, there is something sweet that catches my heart as I listen to friends and family declaring God’s faithfulness throughout this past year. I sense the nearness of God in every praise and every proclamation of God’s good name.

“But you are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.” Psalm 22:3

God’s holiness is a given, and when we praise him, lifting gratitude and thanksgiving, we place him in his rightful place: upon the throne of of our hearts and our lives.

We are nine days into November, and my cup is already overflowing with joy and thankfulness for all that God has done, and who he has been, consistently, in my life this past year.

Today I am praising God for…

1. My family

2. The tears shed in pain that have brought healing and restoration

3. The unfathomable favor we have experienced as we have followed God into missions

4. The fun and laughter our family has shared during the most challenging times of transition

5. The beauty of Oregon

6. The impact that the local church, in both big and small cities, is making in their communities

7. The moments of quiet that God has given me in the middle of a busy parenting season

8. The extra time I get to spend with Joel

9. New friends

As November rolls along there will be more declarations of praise. And each time those blessings are proclaimed, God’s place as king of my heart is reestablished, and he is so very near.

God’s presence is most tangibly felt in the praise of his great Name.

My challenge to you is to remember the goodness of God…even the hard and painful gifts that God brings your way…and declare his greatness. Declare your thanksgiving.

And there you will experience the nearness of his presence.

the day is His

Photo by Kent Pilcher, Unsplash

Photo by Kent Pilcher, Unsplash

The days is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and the moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.” Psalm 74:16,17

He is sovereign over all; all that we face today and all that we face tomorrow.

Be encouraged.

Find peace in his promise.

Jesus has overcome the world.

The day is His.

the strength of my heart

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“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:23-26

In unsteady and uncertain times he takes us by the hand.

He leads us and guides us.

Stripping away all the distractions and all this world offers, on thing remains constant…there is nothing I desire besides Him.

To set our hearts on that course keeps us from falling.

Fixing our eyes, continuously, on Jesus.

thanksgiving

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“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23

I love November.

This is the season of thankfulness. This is the time of year when we set our hearts on remembering the goodness in our lives; a time of recalling God’s faithfulness and graciousness towards us. Before we rush into the whirlwind of Christmas, we pause and reflect and give thanks.

Every day should really be Thanksgiving. We know this. I think sometimes that little reminder can feel like a tiny prick to the heart when we find ourselves feeling less than blessed. When our carts are hardly boasting with abundance, gratitude may be the last thing on our minds. And yet, this is the very time to give thanks.

Psalms tells us that “he who sacrifices thank offerings honors me.” What is a sacrifice? It is something we have to lay down on the altar. And in the laying it down there is some discomfort. It’s not the once-a-year thanksgiving prayer that we participate in because it’s part of the tradition. It is the daily offering of praise even when the thanksgiving comes out of our brokenness.

And that is just the point, I believe.

The gratitude and praise, the offering of thanksgiving that comes out of a broken heart, is honoring to God.

He’s not looking for our stories to be completed with a happily-ever-after before we come to him and give thanks. On the contrary, what truly honors God is when our thanks comes as a sacrifice. When it seems that there is nothing much to be grateful for, and yet we still recognize the goodness and faithfulness and rightness of God, and we lay our pain on the altar and give thanks to our Creator, we honor God far more than all the Christmas morning squeals of delight for the gifts we receive. Thankfulness from brokenness is worship that prepares the way for the Lord. And it means so much more.

As we reflect on God’s faithfulness throughout our lives, and as we nestle in to the warmth of the thanksgiving season, let us also find the willingness and boldness to thank God for the brokenness as well. Out of that sacrifice will come joy. Not the bouncing, playful joyfulness maybe we long for, but joy that comes from obedience and trust.

Brokenness is pleasing to God.

A broken heart that sacrifices praise and thanksgiving honors the Lord.

And from this sacrifice will come salvation.

My challenge to myself, and to you, is to not just thank God for all that is right in our lives, but to lay down all that is not so right as well, and give thanks.

a time to dance

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Life doesn’t pick and choose the who, the what or the when it will blow in and turn things upside down. Every person on this planet – young, old, rich and poor – will come face-to-face with the harsh reality of life at some point. None of us gets a pass. We are all affected, in one way or another, by the fall of man. And there are times when the burden of this sinful world wears the heart down to the depths.

The older I get the more I see the reality of this. Sickness, death, loss and hurt seem to invade at the most unpredictable times and in the most unpredictable ways. And through this, I am also learning the value of mourning with those who mourn, grieving with those who grieve. It is both an honor and a privilege to bear one another’s burdens; to walk side-by-side those who are experiencing the painful side of life.

It’s also tempting to feel the sharp prick of guilt when life seems to have given us a reprieve while another is hurting so deeply. I think, because we care, we struggle to be okay with being okay. It’s as if something must wrong if nothing is going wrong. But that would be contrary to God’s way. Certainly no one is exempt from pain and suffering, but neither are we destined for doom all the days of our lives. As much as I think we’d prefer a straight and simple path, the reality is that there are rocky roads and smooth sailing, deserts and meadows, mountain tops and valleys, twists and turns, and all manor of detours along this journey we call life. There will be seasons of plenty and seasons of hardship. There will be sunny days and there will be days when the clouds roll in and the rains come pouring down.

And it’s okay to be okay.

“There is a time for everything.”

Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for everything. God knows that the heart and soul, body and spirit operate in the ebb and flow rhythm of time. There are ins and outs in life. There are upbeat moments and melancholy dips. This rhythm beats in steady time to the constant of change, day in and day out. The beat sometimes hurts and cuts deep into the soul. And the beat sometimes pulls us to our feet, dancing and thrilling the heart to its core.

While our neighbor may be stumbling through an ebb that has turned their world upside down, we may find ourselves in the flow, where sorrow sits at the sidelines while we twirl in the sun.

It’s okay to be okay.

And it’s okay to dance.

“There is a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

If life has given you a reprieve, if you are basking in sunshine of goodness, then get up onto your feet and dance. It is your time. It is your moment. Let your cup be filled. Let God’s light shine through you.

Weary days are going to come, and most of us have already walked the road of mourning once or twice. Because of this, I think we almost forget how to dance when life has kicked us around a few times. But we do no good in God’s great plan if we withhold the joy that follows sorrow.

The dance after the mourning is the most graceful dance of all.

It reminds us all that God has made everything beautiful in his time. It keeps our hearts hopeful, and it stands as a marker on the unpredictable journey that no matter how dark the night, the joy coming is remarkable and sweet.

It’s okay to be okay. Don’t apologize for reaching the mountain top. Relish in the moment. Let us see you dance. Let us celebrate God’s faithfulness with you.

This is your time to dance.

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say goodbye

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“Every beginning is a consequence. Every beginning ends something.” Paul Valery, French Poet

We are officially in the “in-between”.

I wrote a little on transitions here and here back in January. Today I am revisiting this topic as we are a year into our journey towards career missionary work and almost five months deep into the complete uprooting of our entire work/family structure.

While we are waste high in the in-between season of change, I am learning so much about the power and necessity of a proper ending. As the French poet wrote “Every beginning ends something”, I believe that there is both beauty and tension, anticipation and grief as we wade into the process of closing one chapter and opening another. And even though both are separate and stand independent of each other, they also overlap and pull bits and pieces from each other before the beginning has become the new normal; before the ending has truly ended and the beginning has fully begun.

The “in-between” is the ending and beginning converging on one another – giving and taking, pulling this way and that way, and sometimes wearing both sadness and a smile all at the same time.

This is where we are. Not every day, mind you, but when we face an ending the texture and weight of the “in-between” season feels very tangible in our hands.

And I am learning the value of saying goodbye.

I am a missionary kid. The transient lifestyle is not foreign to me. I remember all the goodbyes. I remember the tears and the hugs and the missing of family and friends. Goodbye was normal. But what was also normal were beginnings. Say goodbye here, and say hello there. Over the years I developed, almost, an ability to turn my emotions off and on like a light switch. I could feel the goodbye deeply in the moment, but then feel completely fine twenty-four hours later. In fact, in my adult life there have been many times that I just forwent the goodbye altogether. I’m not sure if it was some sort of callous on my heart, but I just didn’t feel the sorrow of parting ways anymore. I would feel sad about the ending, and I knew in my head that this was a sad moment, but I could move past it very quickly. I found that I simply didn’t want to deal with goodbyes. I’d rather just assume, “I’ll see you later,” and keeping on moving forward.

This past year I have been learning that grieving is a gift, and goodbyes are precious. Grieving is not weakness. It is not a sign of some inner frailty or inability to cope. Grieving and making goodbye a priority are absolutely necessary in order to detach from the past and embrace the future.

Yesterday afternoon after we picked the kids up from school, Joel and I took the family to the Pumpkin Patch. We went on a hayride, ran through the field of pumpkins, the kids picked out their favorites (even Jasper), we looked at the animals in the barn, played in the dirt, and sat around a picnic table eye-to-eye, relishing in a moment that we will always remember as both an ending and a beginning.

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Will we never see the likes of a pumpkin patch again? Doubtably so. However, the next time we are in the United States Sydney will be in college, and our family of six will look a little bit different by then. We are ending, not just an annual family tradition, but we are ending a way of doing something as an entire family unit. While Sydney will still be under our roof for several more years, the next time we find ourselves watching the leaves turn red, yellow and aubergine, she will be in college. I think I’m saying two goodbyes in one this time.

Never-the-less – and please forgive the sappiness of this post! – the value of the goodbye, the ending, the concerted effort to recognize or create a “ritual”, so to speak, is that it allows the heart to feel its emotions and open itself up to the new beginning.

On our ride home yesterday evening, covered in hay and dirt, I let myself feel the goodbye. I cried a little bit. And today I am looking forward. I am thinking about planting pumpkins in Malawi, and wondering if that’s crazy. Today I am embracing the joy that is before us. We made our memories and we all knew it. We were all aware of how precious that moment was yesterday. The consequence of giving ourselves permission to say goodbye to this family tradition is that our hearts are increasingly drawn towards the beginning of this new chapter in our lives. We can’t move on until we’ve let go. And letting go requires a goodbye.

What is your “in-between” right now? Are you bouncing back and forth from ending and beginning and feeling the instability of it all? Are you feeling unhealthy shame for your need to put closure on something in your life? Are you burned out on change?

Here is a quick recap of what I am learning in my own season of transition:

Say goodbye.

Whatever the ending is for you, take the time, and give yourself permission, to officially say farewell. Maybe it is a “last” for you, kind of like this year will be for us. Maybe it is a ceremony of some kind to give you closure. Maybe it is simply journaling your feelings and letting things go. Maybe it is an action step to close out today’s chapter and start the new one tomorrow.

Let the ending come so that the beginning can begin.

Say goodbye.

“There is…a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to mourn and a time to dance…a time to keep and a time to throw away…He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3

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