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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Person of the Year 2013

was delighted to find out that TIME magazine chose Pope Francis as their person of the year in 2013. And it got me thinking...who would I choose? A family member who has impacted me? An extraordinary person in the news? A hero in the faith? A child who has taught me the importance of the simple things? Many of these would be wonderful choices...but without a doubt, I would choose my friend, Warren.

I met Warren not too many months ago at church. He sat in a wheelchair, unable to speak, but Warren so clearly spoke with his eyes. Warren was one of those people who always locked a look with me at church, even though our congregation is large and many people glance past others as they come and go. This man, about 60 years young, was vibrant and so relational. Warren, always accompanied by his parents, carried with him a gentle mood of joy, evidence of the Holy Spirit in his life. His body may have been broken on earth, but his soul was abundantly alive. It's hard to put words to the way in which he touched me.

Then one morning we got an email. Warren suddenly fell ill and his body could fight no longer. He was placed in hospice care at our local hospital. My parents and I decided we couldn't waste time. We rushed there that morning, greeted by pumpkin colored walls happily matching the season of thanksgiving which was around the corner. Upon entering his room, we met his sweet sister and mother. He was clearly in pain and the nurses tried to make him comfortable. He moved in excitement to see us...and I stepped forward to speak with him. Then I opened my lungs, quietly, to sing one of my favorite Hillsong hymns, "His Glory Appears." I suddenly felt the glory of angels surrounding us as time stood still. Warren, in his aching and agony, reached his hand out to me through the hospital bed bars, shaking and withered. I held his arm and continued to sing. His shaking calmed and he was still, serene. Tears filled our eyes.

We found out Warren went to be with Jesus the next morning. I am quite sure angels ushered him into paradise and he walked right into his new body, healed and whole, dancing and speaking for the first time in his life. All questions answered, all pain reconciled in perfection and beauty. I await the day when we meet again in glory, and I know we'll be singing again and holding hands, but this time in the vivid presence of the living God. Yes, without a doubt, I vote Warren person of the year. His bravery and calm joy have impacted my life forever. His life was sacred, dignified, heroic. 

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Heaven's Choir

Tonight was stunning. Absolutely stunning. There are days that seem so ordinary, that I tend to forget to live with great expectation, and then God just shows up and does something marvelous beyond what I could have imagined. Tonight was precisely that type of experience.  Five of us crammed in, all cozy in the van, to drive to Sunday Breakfast Mission, Philadelphia.  We know this type of ministry. We know rescue missions and we love them, because we are regulars at the chapel services in Wilmington- both the men's side and family side there.  And the services are always exquisite; the Holy Spirit pours out in doses almost too large for us to handle.

However, there seems to be this occurrence for most people—when we get into routine in our little worlds, we get so used to the atmosphere, so used to the scene, that we forget to be amazed when the miracles teem down. That tendency was shaken up for me tonight, though, as we relocated to another city, visiting our neighbors in downtown Philly, where God asked me once again to not hold onto the mindset of ordinary, but to rather exist in the midst of the extraordinary. He reminded me that He is alive and mightily at work and showed me this through the voices of one hundred men.  He drew my heart into His astounding glory amid seemingly wrecked and worn-out and weary souls. He prompted my mind to think upon the wonder of who He is as great King of heaven and King of earth. He revealed marvels of the mystery of the incarnation and the wonder of His presence here with us, every moment.  And He gave me a glimpse of what the heavenly choirs are going to sound like…Let me just tell you, it will be something overwhelming and breathtaking.

We walked into a room of men trying to warm themselves inside after a long day in the freezing November city air.  The aroma was strong…one hundred sweaty and soiled men finding their seats. The deep eyes—some downcast, some hopeful.  Hair matted by hats or grayed by the years.  A sea of mostly black faces with white sprinkled about. Wrinkles and aged freckles, sand-papered hands, and layered limbs…each representing an inimitable story, some just waiting for a chance to be told.

Chaplain Sam got the crowed “Amen-ing” and “Hallelujah-ing” off the bat, and we began to worship.  What followed was something of the Lord, not of human leading.  As we started the songs, there was an atmosphere of sudden grace, and a sense of angelic presence.  The notes resounding through an air of wonder, the worship reverberating from wall to wall.  There is power in the name of Jesus! We sang this Jesus Culture song and it was like I had heard it for the very first time. The booming men’s voices, all ages and timbres, soared through the room.  I can attest, this power was very real!  By the time we got to “King of Heaven” (Hillsong United), this mish-mash choir of bedraggled and blessed gentlemen were up on their feet again, boldly proclaiming praise. Emmanuel!  God with us!  Emmanuel!  Hallelujah! I could hardly hold back the tears.  The sound was more melodious than an Oscar-winning soundtrack. 

This was the soundtrack of the moment…the story of God-with-us in that moment.  We saved these magnificent few minutes. An ocean of diverse, yet unified voices rose in praise like I’ve never quite heard before.  It really was a glimpse of unadulterated delight—those faces.  A mighty crash of heaven meets earth in a hallowed moment of brokenness and blessing.  Tones and expressions of reverence toward God so striking.  I didn’t want the song to end.  I didn’t want this foreshadowing and taste of glory to be over, for us to go back to life as usual with its pain and disarray…back to the city night sadness and present uncertainty for so many of these lives.  But the moment went just like it came, unassumingly slipping into the night. 

The sermon was filled with vital truth and vigor.  Men found themselves walking forward during the final prayer, making decisions to follow Christ from this night forward.  Their voices rang out through the closing song.  I tried, hard as I might, to savor this heavenly choir and remember this night.  I want to go back to my hometown rescue mission with new inspiration and vision.  Sometimes stepping out of our own place of normalcy and comfort into someone else’s ministry, home, or  environment, sparks a new flame of passion, rekindles a heart of expectation, and reignites the eyes to see miracle’s fire.  My ears were most assuredly renewed in their sense of the holy.  I will remember those voices, that chorus of burly glory that sang tonight with such intensity, fervor, and abandon. I will recall the deep soul singing and I will ask God to keep me awake and aware to these miracle moments in the days and weeks to come.

(My new friend Abraham sketched this while I sang...I wish I could have sketched the picture of one hundred faces--tired, shy, beaming, bold, rugged, hungry, expectant, hurt, hopeful...)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Garden

Dozens and dozens of camouflaged birds flutter about through the brown, curled leaves, wet with dew. They scour the early Saturday morning dirt, looking for breakfast, each one in the dance and rhythm of the hour. Squirrels chase about, too, up and down the oaks. And a cat races across the meadow, stopping only at the foot of a huge trunk, peering up with fierce eyes amid thick fur toward the playful squirrel. Then she swaggers toward me, those same penetrating eyes gazing into mine. She seems to question my presence, strut her style, then race on down a path lined with low rowed vines, as if she rules the roost, yet somehow giving away her secret fear of human presence. Now the birds up high in trees squawk. Not yet a half hour has gone by and their voices raise, just a little louder than the sizzling of farmhouse bacon on the is a rumble and bubble, surely not a song. And large geese join them as they fly not far off in their November "V".

It becomes chilly, but I don't want to leave. Not yet. The squirrels still play, so why not I? It is a Saturday morning after all- a time for joy, for cartoons, for effervescent fun. This is the entertainment of the morn, the wistful play of birds and squirrels and cats and critters. The foxtrot of the forest. I sit still, so still. But my heart dances with them.  I gaze off to that bush, mid-horizon.  I heard last week that this particular bush invades the eastern region; left to it's own devices it would surely desire to take over the woods. But it is beautiful. Pink lemonade and lime green float the leaves in the cool morning wind. If beauty invades, is that such a bad thing? Or is it invasion that slowly comes like sin, disguising itself in charm? I've thought about this for a few days.  In life it can be difficult to have a discerning heart, to see clearly and know upon which type of beauty it is that we gaze. Sometimes it seems too late when sadly we find it is the latter...yet sometimes we do away with it too soon, when it is blissfully and innocently the first.

 It is good to be alone. Cars swirl past, but they drive outside the high stone wall, the gate of my "secret garden." I always wanted a garden, but I am anything but a gardener.  I keep one plant- one. And I hope it survives; which it does, because it is an indomitable, stubborn thing, and for some reason has an uncanny liking for when I let it endure days of thirst.  After the children's movie "the secret garden" years ago, I dreamed of having a place like that of my own. Not quite six years past I found this place and it has soothed me with the beat and colors and lines of life during my visits. God speaks here. And even when He does not speak, His silent presence is so holy and gorgeous. It all seems like a whisper from ages past. On the hill rests an old house, the aged excellence now so forlorn, atop an estate that once held grand balls where elegant folk came from miles around for dinners and dances. This is a gardener's delight. A writer's dream world. A photographer's landscape. A simple creature's window into the extravagant Creator's heartbeat. Stone statues all about with heads looking ethereal and reverie like. I imagine a small wedding here, a bride laced in white with eyes veiled as she makes her way long down the ivy-charmed path into her husbands vow and kiss and strength. Like righteousness and peace sealed eternally with an enchanted kiss.

If this blissful, captivating place is a broken garden, one wrought with winter and fallen leaves, rose bushes left as thorns, and ornate fountains dried up,  then how much more glorious is the garden of our God? I try to begin to imagine the ancient garden of Eden, one day restored in it's heavenly beauty, guarded with flaming angels and encompassing the presence of holy God.

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
    and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
    and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
look to Abraham, your father,
    and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man,
    and I blessed him and made him many.
The Lord will surely comfort Zion
    and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
    her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the sound of singing."   (Isaiah 51:1-3)

And so I rejoice quietly as I walk through the garden, through the trees, the crunching leaves and runaway creatures. I ponder on the glory of God. I think of the wastelands of this world and how even in the midst of looming fear, tragedy, and dreary, aching, bleak days, there is a garden of which we can dream, a gladness of which we know is promised. Let us pursue righteousness. Seek the Lord in His strength. Find comfort in His compassion. Let your ruins and my ruins become restored hope. Let these wastelands become waves of new life. We'll sing a song. Tis the season for a thankful, faith-filled heart.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Oh for Joy!

"Yet he was such a fighter for joy that he never ceased to win his battles and make his sacrifices as he reached the highest realms of all happiness-a spiritual contentment in Christ." -Jonathan Aitken

This quote is about William Wilberforce, the great man who fought for over 40 years with zeal and passion to see the slave trade abolished in Great Brittain. He was not only a man of courage and conviction, but a man of abiding and contagious joy. If we claim to love Christ, are we not also called to live out our love with incredible joy and mirth, in continual worship to Him? Justice and joy are two sides to the same coin, my friends. You see, we serve a God of profound glory and holiness, who deserves our highest praise. We cannot enter His presence but by becoming righteous at the cost if His son, Christ, our Savior.  His presence and law are so holy that justice is absolute and imperative for His Kingdom. We who are His heirs and servants and friends must live to carry out His justice on this earth where sin and brokenness far too often destroy the very foundations of life and His created order. However, justice alone will not save the world. Justice without joy is like an old schoolmaster with a whip in hand, ready to chastise the child, but never freeing the little one into the realms of gladness and joy for which the blessed person was created!
What good is it for one to practice right living without a heart that is glad in doing so? May I dare say, it might be more worth our time to live the life of a happy heathen than to live “righteously” and dutifully while lacking the very joy that ought to be the bedrock of that righteous life? What good is it if the exterior picture of our lives is clean and kempt, yet the inner life is filled with gloom and godlessness (anger, malice, envy, bitterness…) For, our beloved Jesus said in Matthew 23:26, “Blind Pharisees! First wash the inside of the cup, and then the outside will become clean, too.”  I pray that as believers, we would let God do the deep soul cleansing, the surgery of our hearts, to wash us in the suds of joy and scrub us with the power of His love, so that we would not go out and try to do justice in this world without first having the secret strength of hearts free and overflowing with glad faith. 

We find that very secret weapon of warfare for the spiritual realm and guide for everyday living in Nehemiah 8:10- it is as clear as the cloudless is our force, our fighting chance at the abundant life. The prophet Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  Only the joy found in Christ can carry us through trial, tragedy, and temptation to eternal triumph.

How do we assume we can overcome evil in this lifetime if we are fighting with a hardened, callous heart for that which is noble and true and right? Does not Scripture command us to overcome evil with good? What is good if not rooted first in a joy-filled heart? Our enemies of affliction, abuse, anger, and all the sums of evil this world has to offer will never be defeated without the single, matchless ingredient of joy. Joy is like the ticker of the clock that keeps the constant and persevering rhythm of time, so it never loses its pulse. Joy is like the small breeze that is unseen and unheard, but rustles everything in its path, moving trees and stones and even reshaping mountains as it picks up pace and force…steadily, over time, transforming the face of the land.  Joy is this unseen, unheard, uncanny power to change the course of history for good, for justice, for virtue and freedom.  Without joy, I believe it is hard to stay long on the road of faith, hope, or love.  These three remain, but is it not joy that weaves its way like a strong threaded needle, binding them together, making them able to withstand the tempests and gales of life that would try to tear apart the very seems of faith, buttons of hope, and knots of love?  I ask Jesus today for that mighty joy! To weave a tapestry of joy and dress me in His abiding strength!

As we reflect on one of the greatest heroes history has ever known- the man responsible for abolishing the horrors of the British slave trade- we find the quintessential recipe for conquering the evils of our day and rising above in passion and purpose. “Here is a great key to his perseverance and effectiveness. His presence was ‘fatal to dullness…[and] immorality.’ In other words, his indomitable joy moved other to be happy and good. [Wilberforce] remarked in his book A Practical View of Christianity, ‘The path of virtue is that also of real interest and of solid enjoyment.’ In other words, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). He sustained himself and swayed others by his joy.  If a man can rob you of your joy, he can rob you of your usefulness. Wilberforce’s joy was indomitable and therefore he was a compelling Christian and politician all his life.  This was the strong root of his endurance…The joy of the Lord became his strength. And in this strength he pressed on in the cause of abolishing the slave trade until he had the victory.  Therefore, in all our zeal today for racial harmony, or the sanctity of human life, or the building of a moral culture, let us not forget these lessons: Never minimize the central place of God-centered, Christ-exalting doctrine; labor to be indomitably joyful in all that God is for us in Christ by trusting his great finished work; and never be idle in doing good-that men may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).” –John Piper

“Oh Lord, purify my soul from all its stains. Warm my heart with the love of Thee, animate my sluggish nature and fix my inconstancy, and volatility, that I may not be weary in well doing…Lord, thou knowest that no strength, no wisdom or contrivance of human power can signify, or relieve me. It is in Thy power alone to deliver me. I fly to thee for succor and support, O Lord let it come speedily; give me full proof of thy Almighty power; I am in great troubles, insurmountable by me; but to Thee slight and inconsiderable; look upon me O Lord with compassion and mercy, and restore me to rest, quietness, and comfort, in the world, or in another by removing me hence into a state of peace and happiness. Amen.” – William Wilberforce
Here, my friends, is a little reminder as you face whatever comes this day:
“Joy is like honey: it’s hard to spread it around without getting some on yourself.”

Friday, September 6, 2013

Salvation's Sunrise

Some weeks ago, my family and I were sharing stories of faith. How our hearts have each grown to receive love from God and to give love back to Him. It's amazing how you can grow up with one another, yet sharing soul stories never gets old...I love hearing how these individuals, whom I cherish so, have each one been on their own journey with Jesus, their own discovery process, their own moments of grace and encounters with glory.

My oldest brother, Doug, made an enlightening comment that I haven't been able to shake...he talked about salvation in the metaphor of a sunrise.  The slow, steady light creeping up from the horizon, minute by minute, split second by split second, growing into vast expanse over the entire sky until the earth is lit with all it's orange goodness and glow. This fiery flame set ablaze to light our world each one can quite say when it "happens".  First it's just a hint, a thin line of luminosity rising...but then it's larger and brighter and it's beaming rays begin to hurt the eyes if one stares too long. Pretty soon, a person can hardly recall it's beginning entrance, for it has totally immersed itself with cloud and blue, and it rises and rises in magnificent glory.

When was the exact "moment" the light came?  When did sky surrender and give way to the sun? When did night fall and light enter in?  No one can precisely pinpoint that moment, because it is this entire delightful drama unfolding before our eyes, flowing with grace and ease.  Just as a novel reads, streaming seamlessly from one page to the next, no one can attest to "when" the story happened, because it was happening all along! And so it seems, sometimes salvation is like that for our weary souls, travelers treading on this earth. When did it begin?  When did saving grace fully take sway over our hearts and spirits? The momentous work of salvation ringing like a sweet song with note after note, miracle after miracle, blending mysteriously and lighting our lives as it tells the powerful tune of a giving, victorious God.

The one thing we absolutely know is that the sunrise's light is a pure gift to the earth, to the eyes.  It is the power of the sun which bursts forth and causes this whole unfolding brilliance...neither the power of earth nor viewer nor clouds nor anything else caused it- these are only recipients of the gift. And thus, it is the power of the Son of Man behind the drama of our salvation, that epic hope which emerges in our hearts, founded in His love, His gift, His sacrifice.  It cannot be purchased or earned, for it, too, is a pure gift.  Yet, sometimes, it is not the sudden spark of a flame nor a single moment in time we can recall, but the One Flame has been burning the entire time, through all eternity, and it just took the journey of a sunrise for it's rays to make way into our heart.

Last night at the local rescue mission where I lead worship once or twice a month, I witnessed a few men step forward, surrendering their lives to Jesus, kneeling and receiving the blessed gift of Salvation during the ending altar call.  Pastor Jack knelt and prayed with them, hands upon their stooped backs, encouraging them in this moment of decision.  Was this a one moment, instant surrender, a lightning-rod piercing the human heart with transcendent love and singular meeting with the Savior?  Or was this one point on the course of hope's trajectory- one second in the middle of an eternal flame, during the rising sun of these men's souls?  A part of the fire's journey skyward in the morning dawn's continual story?  I do not know, for I didn't get the chance to speak with these men. All I know, is my story was more like a sunrise...but the sweet thing about salvation is this- once the sun has risen, it never sets. It lights the soul day and night, night and day, for here and ever-after, flaming our course through mortal life and ushering us into eternity.

“...stooping very low, He engraves with care
His Name, indelible, upon our dust;
And from the ashes of our self-despair,
Kindles a flame of hope and humble trust.
He seeks no second site on which to build,
But on the old foundation, stone by stone,
Cementing sad experience with grace,
Fashions a stronger temple of His own.”
 - Patricia St. John

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dreams for Christina

It was an ordinary evening- the caboose after a seemingly monotonous day's train. I had dinner with my parents and my dad suggested taking a walk in the neighborhood out the door we went and down the street. My dad finished walking as we rounded the corner back to our house after a short bit, but my mom and I kept going...not realizing a divine appointment lay ahead of us just a few in an unexpected package. Her name- Christina. 

I can't recall exactly what my morning prayers were this day, but I have a faint memory of asking God to bring people across my path whom I might be able to serve and love. 

She came walking up with phone and some wiry gadgets in hand, and my defenses were up. Who was this inner city looking girl with her white t-shirt and jeans heading toward us? In my parents' neighborhood, we know all the neighbors, we know faces, we know names. 

She was selling things that afternoon- magazines and the like. Door to door in the heat, tirelessly selling her "story"- trying to pull on the heart-strings of those answering the bell. It's doubtful she had success-not here anyway. They bus them in from out of town and use these kids- promising the moon... It's a form of modern-day slave labor if you ask me- empty promises in the end. No moon, no money, no magical life...only miles and miles from home, shoe soles worn from walking and eyes weary from facing strangers' rejections day after day, door after door. 

Her black face with eyes like diamonds and a smile gentle and kind...yet roughened by the hours alone, weeks of no sales, and lonely spirit...she just wanted to know where the closest gas station might be so she would have somewhere safe to stay, waiting for her "field director" to pick her up, because he wouldn't come till after dark... We assured her the neighborhood is safe-probably safer than walking the main roads with zooming cars and no curbs. So she waited at the entrance. Time ticked. We circled around and saw her. Waiting, white t-shirt barely glowing from car-light's reflection in the night sky. We checked on her. Went back and she was still there, so we brought her food and drink. 

She waited, we waited. We couldn't leave this 24 year old alone and afraid on the curb. Would they come for her? We chatted as we stood, and my mom was adamant-talking to her with stern love as a mother would her own child, encouraging her to lose the job and find something bigger God has for her life. Christina has two kids, and her own mom who loves her, and adopted siblings who are doing well. She opened up about her life and her spirit softened more and more. She told us of her youthful rebellion that landed her as a single mom with hardly two pennies.  She knew this wasn't the best job, but she felt ashamed to go back to New York and face everyone. 

I felt compelled to ask her what her dreams are. Her desires. What makes her tick? What has God planted inside of her heart that drives her, and just needs to be re-awakened? She loves English. Wants to be an author, or at the very least an English teacher. This girl wants to go back to school to accomplish these beautiful dreams. Oh dear Christina. On the corner of the curb, as night pressed on into deeper darkness, a solitary light was flickering inside of her, and I could feel the Holy Spirit moving, angels about. We laid hands on her shoulders, and she put her arms around us. The three of us women alone beneath the night sky, cars passing on the main road, and we lifted her in prayer to heaven, huddled in Jesus' name. She received it with gratitude and a shining dream was being rediscovered from underneath the brokenness, the fear, the shame. We made her promise to leave her job the next day. She said all day long she'd been praying for answers- where to go, what to do. "The devil's just been playin with my mind- I shoulda never left home. I need to go home. God has somethin else for me. This is an answer to my prayers." 

So we kept waiting with her, talking, laughing, one goal to spark something and help her come back to her heart. Come back to the future and the hope prepared for her. Come back to the dignity and great worth she has as a person created by God. Here stands a young mom, just a child herself, afraid on a street corner of a "white-person's" neighborhood. Betwixt the fear and the hope lies a soul created for greatness, only needing to be unlocked so that she might walk into her beautiful destiny. A destiny prepared for her before the foundations of the world by a God who radically loves her and knows her by name. Christina. His daughter whom He loves so much He gave His life for her on the rugged cross, to liberate her from chains of sin and poverty and fear into the freedom of righteousness and fulfillment and faith- a full life. A life lived out of the wellspring of the heart.

I've been reminded recently of this truth in Chip Dodd's powerful writing,The Voice of the Heart, "But if you risk acknowledging and understanding the substance of your heart, you begin to see your life change and grow and become full...One road well traveled as it is, keeps us in the existence of survival...The other leads to full life-a road along the heights that is rough going, yet joyous and full...the way of the heart."

Finally her ride came. We hugged her, not once, but twice. A stranger became a sister in that hour. The man who screeched his big white van up to us was yelling out the window, sarcastically at us "Don't shoot me, don't shoot me!" My mom scolded him, as a good mother does to protect one of her young, "Don't you leave this beautiful young woman out alone like that! It's wrong!" He yelled back some rude words and zoomed his vehicle around, whipped out of the neighborhood. 

Tears welled in my eyes and I prayed, "Lord Jesus, protect her, protect her." I feared for her, at the mercy of those men in that van. What obstacles may come tomorrow to keep her from getting home? My mom had given her just a little cash to help leave town and make the trip home. How will the enemy try to keep her in these chains? Lord God, liberate her and guide her by your light! Provide miracles along the way. Please help her fight for her dreams, to take a step of faith and risk and follow her heart, because the deep desires there are pools of purpose which You have filled...

"...Hope-the belief and trust-that another will meet you in your reaching out. Hope thwarted leads to despair...No matter what has happened to you in your life, you still have the capacity to reach out in hope to another...Hope grants us the ability to go on. Hope is the spiritual and emotional energy that makes us get up and turn the next corner to see if the answers might be there." -Chip Dodd.

Divine appointment. Dreams stirred to the surface of the soul. Hope remembered. Entertaining a stranger. A dark street corner with the light of Jesus illuminating the way. 

I shall forget not this night. I shall forget not this Christina.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Sound of the Ocean

I went for a run on the beach this morning. God gave a gift and held off the rain. It was glorious to see the dawn's brushed sky with strokes of pink and grey and blue hues. The wind was cool upon my face, reprieve from the thick shoreline air. Birds scampered across the sand, one seagull balancing on one leg, looking like an odd acrobat. When he noticed me coming, he quickly put his other leg on the ground, but after I passed him and looked back, there he was at it again, practicing his circus tricks.

Why do people come to the shore? What is it that we all long for as we go to and fro upon the land, groping for freedom, traveling to find water's rest? I think people do come for freedom- to look upon the expanse of the skies, how the blue air kisses the sea's far reaching waves, the horizon blending the two as they become one vast picture of hope. Something's out there...something we cannot see or grasp, but we can look as far as possible and feel the enormity of promise, the eternity of hope.

I think I come to hear the voice of God. To drown out the voices of the world and to just listen. As I ran and saw the morning sun rising higher and higher, lifting its head to light our day, I could hear the crash of wave after wave after wave. Something so calming about the repetitiveness, the knowledge that the next wave will come, the faith in the design and pattern of it all. His voice of faithfulness and sheer goodness speaking in those waves.

I think I come for healing. To see the vastness of it all, the sea so deep and far and wide and the great unknown...I can know that my God catches my every tear and can wash each one in His huge, foaming waves. He can swallow up my pain in the grand story of His plan, soaking the cares of my heart in His ocean of faith and hope and healing into a beautiful testimony of grace.

I think I come for stillness. To set aside the tedium and tasks of life, and embrace a moment of just calm. My eyes can catch a glimpse of the Lord's glory as the infinite beauty abounds in every grain of sand, every salty drop of water, every bird in the sky or crab on the land. To be on the edge of land, leaving the worries of life miles back, and dip my toes in the beginning of adventure and wonder and promise...having no idea what all is truly out there in those waves, but my life becoming humbly smaller in the grand view of this incredible scene.

Something saddened me in all of this, though. I was not the only runner on the beach this morning. I passed others, smiled, and ran. But what broke my heart was realizing that one of the reasons people come is to escape...Maybe I come to escape, too. Yet, instead of escaping into the presence of God, running toward His love and acceptance and purpose, so many end up escaping from it...they drown out the sound of the ocean, the whisper of His love, with iPods playing and heads tuned into the monotony of music, choosing that to drown out their thoughts, their experience, over the chance to commune with the Living God. How could anyone choose the voice of human noise over the voice of God? Why is it we drown in a culture of endless, clanging sounds, and forget that there is the most beautiful orchestra of peace awaiting us, if we only would listen? 

Yes, we live in a world of pain where we long to escape. Thousands upon thousands every year flock to the summertime shore to do just that, but they leave missing the most incredible chance to have truly escaped into wonder, beauty, and hope. The ocean is a place of listening, of healing, of stillness...if we would only realize that God wants to speak to us through those waves, pour the salt of joy over our wounds, and invite us to be in His calm, warm presence.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

God's Persistence over Hearts and Lives!

The following article was written by my dear friend, Mari Quillen, Founder & Executive Director of Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center.  May this story touch your hearts with hope...

In February, we held our annual banquet which was an exciting time of celebrating.  Dr. John Bruchalski gave an excellent keynote address and we had a surprise performance from a beautifully talented Christian music artist, Caitlin Jane.  Our client testimony with baby Noah brought tears and celebration and of course the food was delicious!

The night of the banquet, everyone in attendance was excited to hear all the wonderful things God is doing at the center.  Most of us thought it was just another fundraising event which would raise awareness, friends, and finances.  What most of us didn't know was that sitting as a guest at the banquet was Mariah, who is 18, beautiful, smart, and funny.  Mariah was also a client at the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center and was 8 weeks pregnant.

Mariah had been coming to the center regularly attending parenting classes through our Partners Program and very much wanting to be the best mom she could be.  She was taking her prenatal vitamins and in the truest part of her heart she wanted to carry the baby she was pregnant with.  She would come into the center and get support time and time again.  Occasionally though, she would say things like, "I really want this baby, but others think I should abort".  Mariah did not want to let anyone down, so she would teeter back and forth on carrying or aborting.

Mariah finally gave into the pressure and fear and scheduled an abortion.

The abortion was scheduled for the day after the banquet, so we invited Mariah to the banquet in hopes she would have the chance to hear another client's testimony who had chosen life a year earlier and was not one bit regretful as she held her one year old.

"I went to the banquet and heard the story of another client and I was bawling crying.  I am so glad I went," was Mariah's response the night of the banquet.  That night, amongst hundreds of people sat one girl who needed to hear the hope God gives in the midst of unplanned circumstances.

The Bible says we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.  One client's testimony gave hope to Mariah's heart.

The very next day, we were surprised to find out that Mariah and her boyfriend Greg did follow through with the abortion appointment and drove a couple hours away the day following the banquet, but as Mariah sat in that clinic and hours passed by and she was getting ready to proceed with the abortion, she realized she couldn't do it.  Mariah left the clinic still pregnant and full of courage.  Greg, her boyfriend, was still undecided.

That very night they both showed up to our Caitlin Jane benefit concert and hear the song "Unborn" (youtube it if you have never heard it!).  As both Mariah and Greg opened up their hearts to the Lord in church and tears flooded their eyes, and as they received support from others, they made the decision to both choose life for their little one and this time not turn back.

"Being in the church, hearing from other guys and God changed Greg's mind," Mariah said.  That very same weekend Mariah told us how a random stranger came to them and told them to read Jeremiah 33:3 which says:

"Call to me and I will answer you.  I'll tell you marvelous and wondrous things you could never figure out on your own."

The courage it took to walk out of that abortion clinic, the steadfast pursuing of God straight to the hearts of Mariah and Greg encourages me that no matter which way they turned, as they called out, God answered and showed them marvelous things...

*Thank you, Mari Quillen, for writing this beautiful testimony. To find out more about the Shirley Grace Pregnancy Center and the incredible outreach they have to women and families, please check out their website:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Recollecting Chemo & Crepes

Tonight the moon is big. Very big.  A round, bright shining face- like the face of God smiling upon us.  I drive home in silence, soaking in the beauty and pain of all I witnessed this evening, of all that my spirit encountered.  The faces, the stories, the flowers, the songs.  Micah's booming voice still echoing inside of me, ringing glory-profound in my ears.

And then one day
I'll cross that river
I'll fight life's final war with pain
And then as death gives way to vict'ry
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives

Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives
 ("Because He Lives")

And true it is...she's fought life's final war with pain.  Death has given way to victory, and she surely has seen the lights of glory now.  I'm reminded, once again, that because Christ lives, I can face tomorrow and every tomorrow after that; and my life, my story, has purpose- wrapped up in HIS purpose, packaged in love, hope, and glory eternal. Her story was wrapped up in God's story, for sure, and He was her glory, day by day.  Her calm assurance of faith and her humble, astounding success is a shining testimony to the greatness of our Living King.


It was a blistery winter morning...I picked her up at about nine.  We were heading for her chemo appointment to start a new trial treatment. I'm so glad she called the night before to ask for a ride.  She didn't know it, but that day prior was one of the hardest days for me. I was aching inside, and a day with Cathy was just what my heart needed.  God knew that. He always has the perfect remedy for His children...sometimes it comes in strange packages- like chemo therapy and French crepes. Spending time in the cancer ward at the hospital in Philadelphia was just the thing that could refresh and heal some broken parts of my own spirit that week. That day is now one of my most treasured memories...a gift I surely will never forget.

I had met Cathy maybe five years prior.  We often sat behind her family at church and I would see their tenderness and warmth.  Some time back, we took an evening class together, and in passing exchanged smiles and said prayers, like good church people do. But that day I really got to know her...and oh has knowing her been such a treat! Her stories make novels and the Bourne movies seem like children's tales in comparison. Epic drama of threat, danger, and triumphant courage- a female college student turned lawyer, with steadfast faith and bold prayers. But Cathy had a way of telling her thrilling experiences with such a serenity and humility.  She boasted never of herself- only of her God- He was the hero of all her stories, and of her culminating life story. Even while staring in the face of cancer's imminent danger, He was her anchor, joy, and redeeming hope.

So we went to her appointments that day.  She had such a pleasant countenance with all the doctors and nurses, and she treated me like family.  Cancer is supposed to be a scary, cold thing...something from which to retreat, to take cover and hide. However she had this uncanny gift of turning the cancer ward into a peace-filled atmosphere...because when she walked in, she brought Jesus, and that's all that was needed to make it a day of joy.  Simple joy.  While radiation and chemo flowed through those halls, flowed through so many veins, Cathy was radiating something deeper and something lasting- she emanated the presence of the Healer of body, mind, and soul.  She shone with the Holy Spirit, and all around her was a wave of peace and stability.  In the midst of uncertain lives, bodies breaking, desperation looming...she was certain of her purpose, strong in faith, and absolutely assured of God's working good in the midst of suffering.  She never complained.  She received medication with joy.  She talked of her family with such excitement and pride.  She shared with me gems of present wisdom, stories from the past, and dreams for the future.  We equally tossed back and forth stories, smiles, prayers, and laughter.  How amazing it was- her determination to make the day of chemo a day for crepes! 

At the doctor's restaurant recommendation, we walked block after block in the whipping wind, both of us, our hair tossing and her sore body connected to a treatment bag and some portal contraption. Down to 624 South 6th Street we went, brick building after brick building, city street after city street...Cathy courageously braving the cold, sickness stopping her not a bit. Both of us were sure excited to get some food.  We arrived at Beau Monde, and it was a lovely place.  French onion soup and fantastically delicious crepes.  Our sweet friendship continuing to grow.  I sat there, soaking in the treasure of time with this lovely woman.  I didn't want the day to end- that's just the sort of woman she was, and that's just how she made you feel. The God in her was the truest reality to her being, and her identity was not in anything else (though, she, of all people, could have boasted in many accomplishments and accolades- successful, beautiful, and brilliant). 

Eventually I walked back to get the car (it's a miracle in itself I found my way in the city, suburban girl that I am!) and we drove home.  On our drive back she shared glimpses with  me of her wishes for her funeral...if that day were to come sooner than she hoped.  Don't get me wrong- the woman absolutely believed in God's healing power, but she knew that if for some reason He determined her time to come to go be in glory with Him, she wanted to leave behind an incredible legacy, and a memorial service that would touch lives with the love of Christ.  She told me about a painting she had hired an artist to create- a picturesque landscape near her home with an old farmhouse that looked like heaven on earth.  She talked more about her family and the love she wanted to leave them.  She spoke passionately about her service being one that would reach lives with the message of the cross, the kingdom- of heaven and hope.  It was hard for me to hear this because everything inside of me cried "But God, can't you save her from this horrible cancer? This amazing woman whose life you've already saved twice from peril- can't you do it again a third time, Jesus?" 

Cathy believed He could, most definitely, without a shadow of a doubt.  But she also knew that His sovereign ways are beyond our ways, and that sometimes our Creator uses the suffering that the enemy sets out to steal, kill, and destroy our lives, and turns it into our good and God's glory.  Through trial and suffering, God can touch lives with the compassion and the cross of Christ in a most miraculous way- and that is exactly what happened tonight at 7 Mt. Lebanon Road, with hundreds of people in tears.  God most assuredly was smiling down upon us, face like the moon, shining a crystal clear light in the heat of summer night.  Testimony after testimony recounted the miraculous mercies of God in Cathy's life.  And once again my faith was lifted to another level of marvel. Thank you, Jesus.

To read Cathy's incredible account of God saving her life, not once, but twice, in the face of threat, kidnapping at gun-point, and murder for hire, read her Double Jeopardy article online.  May her testimony touch you.  Her life has touched mine.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Love Break Through

One of my prayers is that God would open my eyes, ears, and hands daily to His miracles.  I truly believe that all around us are miracles happening on a continual basis, but in the rush of life, we miss out and don't see the beauty that is intended to touch us. Sometimes all it takes is a voice, "look!" and we are reminded to open our eyes to a surprise, a blessing, an instant moment's gift. Tonight, just that happened, and it was a picture of how God breaks through even the hardest ground to spring life- He will find the crack in the concrete to sprout His love! It's amazing how in places where there seems to be no chance of life, no opportunity for growth, no soil for roots- the God of miracles can plant life and create His own unseen soil under the cement!

I was walking with my mom tonight around our little neighborhood- walking fast to make it home in time to have a Skype chat (my first time to touch base with Michelle in the Philippines since I've been home!) As we rounded a yard on the other side of the community, my mom pointed, "Look at that!" and there it was- a startling little blossom which had sprung right out of the pavement! It was a glorious little plant with heart shaped petals colored pink and white, verdant green leaves and tall stem.  I thought to myself, "Well isn't God like that- to surprise us and show His love breaking through even the hardest ground, the thickest cement.  The God we serve will find that one crack to break through a sign of His love!"

Is your heart hardened and paved, settled in its ways, toughened in order to weather the tires of life running over you? Have all chances of hope's roots dissipated, with cement thickness covering your soul? Well, my friend, even now is not too late for miracles! Are you cracked and broken?  The God of all mystery might very well find the one crack in the pavement of your life and plant a seed of hope and love that will spring forth sooner than you think.  I pray that your eyes, your ears, and your hands would be open to His surprising signs of love, and that maybe today, maybe tomorrow...your miracle will come.  Even the newest pavement, covering you as a protective instinct...or the oldest worn roads of your heart- nothing, absolutely nothing is too difficult for the Almighty One to break through and bring forth a blossom of His love! Beauty can grow in the most unlikely places, and life might just appear where there seems to be no sign of life, because the Author of life is the God of the impossible. Let His love break through today!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Because GOD IS KING!

Thursday morning the Navigators missionary team from the US came over to Jason and Rachael’s home for a team meeting…what a blessing to sit with them (Tim, Kelli, Jaime, Elizabeth, John, Ana, Takashi) one last time and hear about how God is working in their lives, working in Tokyo, and moving His peace and unity among their group.  Each one of these people touched my life in a beautiful way during our short 3 days together…I was touched by their authentic faith, their openness in sharing their stories with me, their heart for Japan and love for the students at Chuo University.  As they stay in Tokyo over the next 6 weeks, building relationships on the campus and showing the love of Jesus to the students, I will be lifting them in prayer and I know that my God is doing a glorious work through their lives.

Jason and I literally ran to the train station, missing our first train, but catching the next one, then running to the bus stop where I caught my bus just in time…(In the hustle of train and bus excitement, I had one quick moment to put 150 Yen in a vending machine and grab my last refreshing cold Milk Tea bottle). Then I had a little over two hours to look out over the city of Tokyo from my bus window, praying, reading 1 John, flooded with thoughts of God’s love and light. That feeling welled up inside, where I could cry at any moment, but the emotions were too strong to even cry.  Just sitting in silence and breathing in God’s presence, recollecting the flood of experiences over the past 20 days…I made it to gate 27, bought some macho (green tea) chocolate covered almonds for my caring parents back home, and drank some Miso soup- one last chance to drink in Japan before flying away.

A little over 12 hours in the air, and I found myself back to East coast US, walking through immigration and customs.  July fourth and I’m home. A few hours later, I was greeted by 7 very eager little ones- my adorable, enthusiastic nephews and nieces running in, exclaiming, “WELCOME HOME, CAIT!”  It is so good to come home to love and laughter, noise and sparklers.  God’s love truly comes crashing all around, like a sparkler in the summer night.  After almost three weeks of seeing new sights and hearing new cries and voices of hope, I am changed.  But I am still me.  God has surely awakened me to fresh passion for carrying His name to the nations.  God has shown me new pictures of love and redemption.  God has disturbed my comfort, broken me to heavy tears, and lifted me to laughter and sweet abandon. 
I’ve seen the face of urban poverty, up close and distressing.  I’ve seen the face of healed women after years of abuse, their bodies sold and hearts torn. I’ve seen the face of college sponsored students, who were once born into poverty, but are now being released into opportunity and promise.  I’ve seen the bonding of deep relationship between Japanese and American students, sharing interest in the Bible and doing life together. I’ve seen the eastern islands from the sky, and have had a new realization of the magnitude of the Creator’s hand.

I’ve heard the voices of little boys, rapping some  sweet beats in Mindinao, praising Jesus.  I’ve heard the cries from room 106, where a woman lay trapped by abusers, with no one to help.  I’ve heard the voice of beautiful Oi-chan sing at Chuo University, bringing a moment of joy and dancing to dozens of us. I’ve heard the roaring trains of Tokyo and the rushing rainfall from the highest points in Davao. I’ve heard the whispers of children in my ear as they tenderly inquire about my light hair and skin. I’ve heard the voices of 300 young Gen Y leaders in Butuan, raise glory to Christ, offering their lives as a living sacrifice for the Kingdom. I’ve heard the voice of Japanese students speaking English with their beautiful accents at Wednesday lunch table, building lasting friendships over cafeteria food. 

I’ve tasted buko (coconut), halo halo, sushi, frogs, more meals of rice than I can count, milk tea to soothe the soul, and fish with head in tact.  I’ve drunk the deep joy of experiencing hope in action and feeling the gospel tangibly at work…the good news meeting the very real physical, spiritual, relational, emotional, and psychological needs that touch every human alive.

Yes, the Lord shielded me through thick and thin…more experiences than I had expected or imagined. In 20 days, I’ve been through typhoon floods, sat still and unharmed during an earthquake on the third floor of a mall, fled a hotel hosting a sex-trafficking ring, and ridden on an ambulance in delirium and dizziness to the hospital in Tokyo. Nine planes, two boat rides, about a dozen taxis, more tricycles than I can count, two jeepneys, one pedicab, four trains, one bus, and 12 singing engagements. I’m overwhelmed with thanksgiving- what a journey it’s been!

So the fireworks came, splashing the sky with color beyond the trees as we sat in our front yard, sucking ice-pops, kids twirling in the grass laden with midsummer bugs. I sent a quick message to Japan, letting the Capps know I was home safely- no ER visits after this final flight!  We sat there and my mom raised the question to the grandkids, “So why do we celebrate the Fourth of July?” Before anyone else could answer, my four-year-old niece, Campbell, boldly exclaimed, “Because God is King!”  From the mouths of babes… I expect nothing less from this little one who has such faith which could move mountains. Maybe the history books don’t talk about this holiday celebrating God’s reign, but truly…why do we have life and breath, firework displays, families and a future?  Because God is King. Why do missionaries like Michelle and Jason and Rachael spend their lives to love people? Because God is King. Why does the rain fall and the earth quake? Why do broken lives have hope of truly being made whole?  Why does poverty have no power in the light of promise? Why does abuse and neglect and cycle of addiction crumble in the face of grace? Why does an American girl like me want to fly to Asia to sing some songs for some strangers? Why do I weep and rejoice in awe of the things I’ve seen and heard and tasted? All because GOD IS KING!
Amen :)
Until I write again…

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Laughter, Lunch Table, and Love of Friends!

I never knew it was possible to fall in love with a place and a group of people so quickly! This has practically been an overnight trip...not even a week, and Japan has found a very special corner of my heart, with so many beautiful names and faces there to stay! We are jokingly trying to find a way for me to remain here and sneak home in someone's suitcase in August, when the US students return! I don't think the airline's security will let that pass by...

Friendship is an exquisite gift. What is the magic ingredient that makes up true friendship? Is it commonality? Is it love? Is it laughter? Is it honesty? Is it compassion? Is it trust? I think there are so many ingredients that come together to make the most wonderful flavor of friendship...and I have had the honor of experiencing just that during my short stay here. I cried on the plane leaving the Philippines, as God spoke to my heart and allowed me to reflect on all the people and experiences I met there...I will not be surprised if tomorrow the tears come again as I fly home and think back upon what a gift Tokyo has been to me. 

One of my heroes, C.S. Lewis, remarked on the mystery an miracle of friendship:
“But in Friendship, being free of all that, we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends "You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing.”

Lord, thank you for my new is bitter to have to say goodbye so soon without having the chance to spend more time together, yet so sweet that You allowed me these three days here to meet these amazing, lovely people. To have spent time in Asia, in TWO countries in twenty days, with such amazing conversations even across language and cultural barriers...that is something I want to treasure up in my heart and never forget. Thank you for these gifts, Jesus! 

I must say, the minute I arrived in the Tokyo airport, it hit me how fashionable the Japanese are! I felt like I had arrived at a costume party, but didn't get the memo to dress up! I absolutely love looking at the girls' dresses and shoes...they are like dolls, each one so unique :) These shoes are a snapshot of some the beautiful young women I've met...I wonder where these shoes will take them- what amazing destiny and design God has prepared for them to walk in?

This morning, Jason walked me to the train station where I met up with John and Tim, two of the Navigators student missionaries.  They walked me to where the other students were waiting, and from there we made our way to Chuo University campus where we had a time of outreach-inviting the students walking to and from class to the BEST club. I had so much fun going up to the Japanese students, greeting them with "Ohaiyou Gozaimasu" and asking if they speak English...then inviting them to the English lunch table on Wednesdays and Fridays at hilltop cafeteria. Some of the responses were pure rejection...some were surprised looks...and some were delighted enthusiasm to learn English! 
Then I got to experience English lunch table for the first time as the BEST club members- the Japanese and American students- eat together, laugh together, and talk together in English. It was a sweet time. My new friends, Sakae and Ryoji, helped me pick out curry noodles to eat. We had wonderful conversations. Hase joined us for a while, and I got to see my friends Momoko and Yukino, whom I got to know yesterday! There were three tables total, a mixture of Americans and Japanese, a blend of two cultures coming together in friendship and fellowship. We all sang happy birthday to Teru, and time passed too quickly as I soaked in the smiles and stories of these friends.

The Nav girls, Ana, Elizabeth, and Kelli, walked me back to the Capp's home...a hot, sticky day, laced with a cool breeze to give refreshment in the thick humidity. I got ready for the evening and met the sweet missionary kids, Abbie, Kayla & Josiah...Eight year old Kayla sewed me this gorgeous purse as a present for my coming to Tokyo!!

After a tasty dinner at the Capps', prepared by Rachael, we headed to Chuo University once more, to get ready for the concert at C-Square! Tokyo BEST has its very own band, which opened the night with great energy! It was such a joy for me to sing for this group, a gathering of all the friends I've made in the last 48+ hours! The concert was icing on the cake...if I had come here and had just gotten to know these people, to share a few meals, a few laughs, a few loving smiles and words with them, my trip would have been totally worth it. I see God at work in each life and His beauty shining forth in their hearts. This mixture of souls-some who know Jesus and some who are just searching and discovering who He is for the very first time in their life...what a picture of the glorious journey we are all on in searching for truth...the truth that sets our hearts, minds, and souls free.

We had a time of hanging out downstairs after the event, and then off to Burger
King, where everyone except John was shocked at my dipping french fries into a
chocolate sundae. I had most of them try it, and we had some good laughs at their expressive faces in response to the salty sweet flavor :)

Finally the goodbye hugs came and it was time to leave...let the packing begin! 

Thank you Lord for the gift of laughter, for meal sharing, for the love of friendships old and new. I have experienced friendships across two countries in the past two and a half weeks in a fresh and marvelous way. Let not my heart grow stale to the gifts of relationship and bonding, across oceans, across cultures, across time and place. You are the Sovereign God who orchestrates the beauty of meeting new people, of remembering already rooted friendships, and of seeing the the gift in every face-even the face of a stranger.

Goodnight friends. Goodnight Tokyo. Tomorrow I fly backward in time toward home, gaining 13 sweet hours on my way...hopefully fast enough to catch some fireworks with my family!

My heart is exceedingly grateful and amazed...the Lord's wonders are beyond my expectations and even my current comprehension. Be glorified in my life, today, tomorrow, and evermore.

Soli Deo Gloria, for all that has been.

Jesus Juve, for all that is to come!

Shalom, my dear friends!