Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Two Reasons to be a Forgiving Person

release butterfliesToday I am writing about a loved one. Before we get started, don’t try to guess who it is. And if you are reading this, don’t assume it is you. The truth is this dear one is no longer alive, so it’s highly unlikely he or she will be paying attention to my blog. The sweet wonderful lady (now I’ve gone and given a little of it away) had a lovely heart and endeared many people to her. But she had a very scary habit of holding grudges. If someone offended her, especially the people closest to her, she would cut off all communication. She refused to forgive and she refused to try to work things out. If you hurt her, you were stonewalled, sometimes for life. It was hard for me to understand how someone so gracious, generous, and kind could also be so hard and unforgiving.

Today I am also writing about a subject that affects us all. Forgiveness. It’s human nature to hold grudges. It’s an instinct to protect and preserve ourselves from further harm. Isn’t it fascinating that we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to our own motives and intentions? However, when someone else does the same thing to us, we react with doubt and suspicion. The Lord, in his perfect wisdom, knows that relationships are messy and he asks us to forgive.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19).

The Lord, in his perfect wisdom, also has our best interests in mind. Here are two of many reasons we should pursue forgiveness, even when it is difficul

It is healing for us.

Unforgiveness is like pouring poison into a cup and then drinking it yourself, hoping to get back at the person who hurt you. Does this analogy sounds ridiculous to you? It does to me. However, it is what happens when we refuse to forgive. We get stuck in the past. Bitterness takes root and makes us toxic. However, when we forgive, we open the door to God’s forgiveness in our own lives. We realize we ourselves deserve no forgiveness, but the Lord extends his grace to us liberally. When we extend the Lord’s gracious forgiveness to those that have harmed us, we loosen the chains that grip our souls.

We take the high road of hope.

When we refuse to forgive, we pass a condemning sentence. In our minds, the offenders will never change and the damage they created can never be undone. That can be the case apart from the intervention of the Lord. But, take a moment and think of your own past. Has the Lord delivered you from bad habits or unhealthy ways of relating? Are you the same person as you were five, ten, or twenty years ago? God has been patient and views you through the lens of who he created you to be. He sees you with the lens of possibility and potential, that transformation he has planned. Don’t take the low road of judgment. Take the high road of hope. As long as there is life, there is hope. Hope for a change of heart. Hope for a change of lifestyle. Hope for a change in perception.

A word of caution…forgiveness does not mean subjecting yourself to on-going abuse. Yes, God can do great things in the heart of the offender, but you aren’t required to be close friends. Sincerely wish them well, and continue to pray for their transformation. Take the high road of hope and freedom.

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! (Matt. 18:21-22).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me and forgiving. In the midst of painful and difficult relationships, help me to walk in forgiveness. Remind me that you have poured out abundant grace on me, and empower me to extend grace on my offenders. Give me the assurance that You protect my heart and keep me safe from harm. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

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Posted in Faith

Location Really Matters

compass

If you talk to a real estate agent, they will tell you about the importance of location. “Location, location, location,” they will say. A house can be beautiful, but if it’s in a bad neighborhood, it will be difficult to sell. An office building can be appealing, but it will be overlooked if it’s in the wrong part of town. Our location as Christians is vital to our faith, as well.

The Bible speaks of two different locations for believers.

First, Christ is in you. When we trust Christ as Savior and Lord, His Spirit dwells within us individually. This would seem impossible if the Scriptures didn’t say so.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, NIV).

“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

We are more than followers that are helped by Christ. He literally lives in us, empowering us by the same Holy Spirit present in the Resurrection. He dwells in us and is with us every moment. We have more than enough power to live for Him and accomplish the plans He has set before us.

Do you realize that Christ is in you? What difference does it make to know that He makes His home in you?

Equally important, you are in Christ. This provides an image of the greatness of Christ and the Church.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).

Sometimes I limit the power of God in my mind by the way I view my own humanity. I know the Holy Spirit dwells in me, but I also know myself—my weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. However, I also know there is something so much greater than myself. I am part of the fullness in Christ and share in the glory of His body. I am blessed to participate in beauty, diversity, and corporate strength.

Do you realize that you are in Christ? What difference does it make to know that you are at home in Him?

Location really matters. Christ is in you. You are in Christ. Let the truth of both locations sink into your mind and heart, and set you free.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that Christ is in me, and I am in Christ. Open my eyes to truly understand what that means. Let me believe the truth of Your Word. Empower me by Your Spirit to thrive in life, in my relationships, and as a leader. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith

Finding Hope in the Dark

holding candle

She stood at my front door. A young woman I guessed to be in her late teens, she looked a little cold, or maybe nervous. I couldn’t quite tell. She had frantically rung our door bell in the early morning hours, waking our household from deep sleep. My husband, Jonathan, did the honors of answering the door.

She had just gotten off work. Her car had broken down. The battery in her phone had died. Could we please help her?

Jonathan went to fetch me to help, closing the door behind him, leaving the young woman outside. I hastily threw on my bathrobe and tied the sash in a knot as I scurried down the hall. I opened the door, leaving the screen door latched, as she repeated her story. As she spoke, I felt strangely drawn to her. She was beautiful with long flowing dark hair. She carried herself with a sense of intelligence and charm. But there was something more. Could this be a divine appointment? The compassion of Christ welled up within me, and I felt compelled to offer more than the use of my phone. There was something special about this young woman. I wanted to find out more about her.

I opened the screen door and invited her inside. I asked questions about her situation. The answers didn’t quite line up. She dropped my phone while attempting to call her mom. “Why is she so jittery?” I thought.

As she started the task of calling again, I wondered what I should do if nobody answered. It would certainly be too dangerous to send her out into the darkness alone. I imagined myself pouring her a hot cup of tea and encouraging her to stay a little while until the sun came up. Then we could take her where she needed to go. My plans were suddenly interrupted as she thrust my phone back into my hands. “I have some friends that live around here,” she blurted. “I’ll just go there, and they’ll help me.”

She ran out of the house into the shadows.

Her sudden departure shocked me. I was worried about her safety. I decided I would run outside, barefoot and all, and convince her to return to the house. She could wait there until daylight. I hesitated for a moment, the screen door still ajar.

My world was instantly shattered as two masked gunmen appeared out of nowhere, forcing their way into my home and my life.

It has been fourteen months since that horrific morning. The Lord has graciously carried my family and me through the healing process, as the pieces of this criminal case have come together.

From day one, my prayers have been extended toward the gunmen and the young woman who opened the door to this attack by her deception. Yes, their actions harmed my safety and my psyche, but I have never doubted that the Lord is with me. He is my strength moment by moment, day by day. My life is full of meaning, because He fills my soul with His gracious love. I am not concerned about myself. No matter what happens to me, I am secure. But I am not so sure about the three invaders, and that makes me deeply troubled. I have not stopped praying for them to experience God’s love, to open their hearts to forgiveness through Christ, and for their lives to be restored. But I continued to be haunted by why I invited the young woman inside. Did I misread the Lord’s prompting and open my family up to danger?

It was emotionally difficult to attend the sentencing hearings of the two young men. Jonathan and I were able to share the impact their actions had on us and then speak words of forgiveness. We talked about God’s love for them and urged them to make a better life for themselves. That wasn’t the hard part. We saw them caught in a generational cycle of poverty, lack of education, and family dysfunction that, barring a miracle, they will repeat again. That was truly devastating. I keep praying for the Lord to break through the perceived hopelessness, and that these young men will yield their lives to Him, allowing Him to change them as only He can do. God’s heart is to restore broken people. That’s where I find hope.

Sometimes God’s surprises us by showing larger glimpses of Himself at work. During those times, hope shines a little more brightly.

In April we attended the sentencing hearing for the young woman. She was fortunate to be transferred to the juvenile system and given opportunities to better herself. Jonathan and I again discussed how her actions continue to affect us and then extended forgiveness. We again shared our wishes for her to experience God’s love, and that she would use her beauty, intelligence, and charm to better our world rather than cause harm. This time the scenario was drastically different. The judge spoke to us words of affirmation and encouragement. She shared about the positive progress the young woman had made during her long detention and since her release. The young woman will be graduating from high school in June with plans to attend college. She has a part time job, and has been volunteering as an intern. At the end of the hearing, I extended my hand to the young woman before she passed. She embraced me and cried, “I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.”

We continued a conversation for ten minutes outside the courtroom, and I sensed the same compassion of Christ as I did fourteen months before. Things had come full circle, this time with a far better outcome.

I don’t know if I will see the young woman again. It’s likely I will run into her somewhere in the community. One way or another, I pray the Lord uses our brief connections to influence her to continue to make positive choices and ultimately to open her heart to His love. It has been a powerful reminder to me that God is the God of restoration. He is at work even when I do not understand and I cannot see it. My calling is to keep praying and to not lose heart. There is always hope, even in the dark.

The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:4-5, NLT).

 

Posted in Faith, Vision & Goal Setting

Hold on to God’s Promises

long road

This weekend I got to spend time with all five of my grandchildren. Ariana and Bianca live with me (and their beautiful mama—my daughter). We changed up our routine and went to a park for some sunshine and fresh air. It was heartwarming to watch them run and skip and jump across the grass, at age five still uninhibited by what others might think.

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Then we had a short visit with sweet baby Emma. She is growing so quickly. A cuddly two and a half month old, she is becoming more alert and is starting to coo. Papa (my husband) even made her laugh.

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We also decided to take a day trip to see our little grandsons, Rhett and Macallan. Rhett, age two, is adjusting to his new brother. He is charming, expressive, and always on the move. Macallan, who arrived less than a month ago, slept peacefully as my husband and I took turns holding him.

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My life is so blessed. I love my kids and grandkids. Being available to my family is one of my ministries.

Several years ago, the Lord spoke to my heart, “There are more children for you to love.” I was pretty certain that didn’t mean I would be having more babies. My four older kids had already left home and my youngest daughter was a teenager. So, my husband and I applied to become foster parents and took all the required classes. Unfortunately our house didn’t pass approval, because our in-ground pool was in disrepair and didn’t have a fence around it. We didn’t have the thousands of dollars to fix it, so our application was denied. That was a confusing time for me, because I was certain the Lord had given me a picture (although fuzzy) that there were more children for me to love. If it wasn’t foster children, what else could it be? Looking back, I have the benefit of knowing that the Lord revealed a long view of my life, while in the moment I could only see things from my limited perspective.

Sometimes the Lord’s vision for our lives and ministries is so compelling it feels like it will be accomplished immediately. However, we need to take the long view, remembering that vision is meant for the future, and the future may be distant. The Lord asks us to take it step by step, day by day, opportunity by opportunity. As we go about life, we hold onto God’s promises.

I think of the story of Joseph, the eleventh son of twelve boys. God showed him dreams of the future, a vision that he would one day be the ruler of his family. In the ignorance and arrogance of youth, he misinterpreted those dreams. He ended up in an Egyptian prison, but he held fast to his faith in God and the dreams he was shown. In the fullness of God’s time, Joseph become the second in command, Pharaoh’s right hand man with responsibilities to manage the nation’s abundant resources during an extended famine.

I also think of Mary, the mother of our Savior. The angel delivered God’s message that she would miraculously give birth to a baby. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33). She raised Jesus, knowing He was on a mission. But his mission unfolded in unexpected ways. Mary kept God’s vision close to her heart, often pondering what it all meant. She endured her son’s horrific crucifixion. It was not until his resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that Mary understood. Even then, she couldn’t have imagined the powerful influence of Jesus Christ two thousand years later.

These two examples of taking the long view are more dramatic than most of us will experience, but they still remind us to serve God and His people faithfully while walking out our call. What has the Lord placed in your heart or given you a vision for your family? Ministry? Organization? Do what you can do with passion and excellence. Trust the Lord to bring the vision to pass, realizing He has revealed the long view to you. Don’t give up in the midst of difficulties and darkness. Detours, challenges, and failures can all be preparation leading to the God-sized picture He has shown you. Hold on to God’s promises, and keep moving forward.

Let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

The revelation awaits an appointed time: it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and not delay (Habakkuk 2:2-3).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of vision. While I take the steps that make sense, help me also to trust that You will accomplish Your purposes through me. Encourage me when it seems that my efforts are failing. Remind me that You have shown me the long view, and You are faithful to complete the good work You started. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

What Does Waiting Look Like?

waiting

I can be an impatient person, especially when I see in my mind the pieces needed to make a plan work, and then…for some reason…it takes time…for the pieces…to come together. More time than I want it to take. Waiting can put a huge strain on the fruit of the Spirit in my life. For example, we really need a nurse manager for the pregnancy center I direct. Last October I thought I had found the right person, someone that could move our mission forward with efficiency and expand the services we offer to our community. It seemed like a perfect fit. And at the last minute, the details fell apart. Now in February, there is still no nurse manager. I am waiting.

It’s not for lack of trying. We have posted the job everywhere we can think. It’s not for lack of praying. Hundreds of people have been praying for the Lord to bring His person to our ministry. And still…we wait. In the meantime, the Lord has graciously provided the medical staff coverage we need each week. Even at the last minute, when someone in charge mistakenly thought there was coverage and there really wasn’t. (Yes, it was my fault!) So I’m not complaining, but I just dislike waiting.

God’s Word talks a lot about waiting, though.

Wait patiently for the LORD. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the LORD (Psalm 27:14).

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope (Psalm 130:5).

But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

There are still more than 150 references to go. What the verses above have in common is the word “wait” means “to expect, hope, or be eager.” They also mention waiting “for the Lord.”

It isn’t passive. It isn’t sitting around, grumbling and complaining. It also isn’t allowing anxiety and fear to dominate. It is attending to the tasks at hand, while having an active expectation for what the Lord will do.

While I am waiting, I need to remember that this ministry is God’s ministry. I set aside my desire for control and trust the Lord to have His way with the organization that is dear to His heart. But then it gets even closer to home. My life is God’s life. When things take longer than I think they should, whether on an organizational level or in my personal/family life, I need to remember that it isn’t a reflection of me. Do I really trust that the Lord knows what is best for me? Do I really believe that He orchestrates the details of my life to build His Kingdom? Even more importantly, am I really convinced in the depths of my being that He loves me?

When I can answer “yes” to these questions, I wait in active expectation for the Lord. If I can’t answer “yes,” I need the Holy Spirit to reveal what I am believing and why, and to help me believe the truth. Then I can wait in a way that truly honors Him.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You know the situations I face that require waiting for You. May I be convinced of Your deep love for me. Teach me to trust in Your goodness and perfect timing. I believe. Please help my unbelief. Let me serve You faithfully with hopeful expectation for what You will do. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Remember God’s Patience

traffic jam

My Grandpa Stiverson taught me how to drive. He was an excellent teacher and passed on his love for defensive and safe driving. One of the lessons I still remember is what to do when I am the first car at the stop light waiting for it to turn green. Count to three slowly and look both directions before proceeding. His advice has saved me from numerous accidents. I consider myself a careful driver. But some people would consider me an annoyance. Yes, I am the one trying to drive close to the speed limit. I am the one who switches lanes slowly, because I want to be certain it is clear. I am the one who causes people in a hurry to stumble by evoking various degrees of road rage. For that I am truly sorry.

I am bothered when someone, even a stranger, responds in anger. I try hard to avoid offending anyone, even in slight ways. I also know, try as hard as I can, it is unavoidable. A few days I did it again. My cautious driving triggered another driver’s anger. I cringed as he honked and gestured impatiently, and raced into the traffic. I asked the Lord to help him get to his destination safely, and then I thank the Lord for His great patience toward me.

It takes quite a lot for me to get rattled by someone else’s driving. I don’t mind following a slow poke. But I get triggered in other areas of life. At times I can be so critical of others’ behavior or performance. My thoughts can become brutally judgmental until the Holy Spirit nudges me. Most people would never know the extent of my negative thoughts, because I have learned to cover them over with right actions and words. Nevertheless, the Lord sees it all. He is so patient with me and doesn’t condemn me, yet He challenges me to allow His transformation in my hidden inner places.

Sometimes I compare myself to others. As a dedicated Christ-follower, my outward life looks pretty good. Before I start patting myself on the back, I have to remember that comparison to others is a flawed measurement system. First, I can only see the outward appearance; the Lord sees the deepest motivations. Second, the correct comparison is with the Lord Himself. How do I compare with His holy perfection? I fall dreadfully short.

That is where the Lord’s divine patience comes in. He extends grace—undeserved favor—on me. His grace covers over my many imperfections, allowing me to be in relationship with Him, the One true, perfect God. When I stumble, He continues to patiently administer grace, cleansing me and encouraging me to allow His Spirit to change me.

In which areas do you get impatient with others? Remember God’s patience with you. As we live with, love, and lead others, let’s strive for excellence while demonstrating patience and grace.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. ~Psalm 103:8

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. ~2 Peter 3:9

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your wonderful patience and grace. Through the sacrifice of Jesus and the empowering of the Spirit, You have given me so much more than I deserve. Help me to be patient with others and extend grace to them. Teach me to hold high standards, and also treat others with kindness and patience. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

When Our Best Isn’t Enough

chess

It can be hard to give our very best to do something we believe the Lord has called us to do, and have our efforts fall short. Sometimes our best simply isn’t enough. We don’t meet our organizational goals. Troubled relationships are not mended. Our exemplary work isn’t recognized. Living for Jesus doesn’t mean that we will always win or succeed. In the midst of disappointment or heartache, we can be grateful for the chance to shine for Him. Regardless of the outcome, we can rest assured that the Lord is pleased. I shared the following as a post in 2012 on Facebook as a note.

“It wasn’t supposed to end this way.” My aunt’s face was somber. As our eyes met, her disappointment coursed through me. She had driven an hour to watch me compete in the annual Klamath County Potato Festival. “You were, by far, the best contestant here. You had the best stage presence and the best talent. You were the best. You should have won.”

I thanked my aunt and gave her a hug. A stream of supporters cut through the auditorium. I pasted on the sincerest smile I could muster and listened to their condolences, “Sorry you didn’t win. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.”

It was the fall of 1984. Months earlier I had seen the announcement for the Potato Festival. It was a local competition, designed to honor the potato farmers in our region and recognize their important contributions. Every participant was given a $50 savings bond. The winner was awarded a $1,000 scholarship to the college of her choice, plus served as the Potato Festival Queen for the year at various community functions. Throughout high school I had imagined participating in the Miss Klamath County pageant and beyond, but I was not eligible because I was a Canadian citizen. The Potato Festival would be my opportunity.

I was thrilled to be chosen out of a group of girls to represent Henley High School, but I had a greater purpose in mind–to represent Jesus Christ and be His ambassador throughout all the Potato Festival festivities. “Lord, I don’t care if I win. Help me to show You to everyone around me.” I prayed that prayer often, and would immediately be filled with a renewed sense of purpose. The Potato Festival contestants, chaperones, and committee were my mission field. Wherever we went, I determined to show God’s love to others. I cheered on the girls, encouraged and expressed appreciation to the chaperones, and shared my faith in Christ every chance I got.

“Jesus loves you.”
“May I share with you how Christ has changed my life.”
“How may I pray for you today?”

The competition spanned two weeks, with a parade, multiple interviews, and two performances. The first performance showcased the girls’ poise on stage and their ability to answer a question on the spot. My question was about church discipline, and I excitedly and confidently shared what the Book of Matthew said on the subject. On the night of the second performance, the auditorium was charged with electricity. Two of the girls were crying backstage. Stage fright had gotten the best of them. I prayed with them and helped to calm their nerves.

The Master of Ceremony introduced me, and I glided onto the stage. As I sang, the Holy Spirit carried me along. “Go ahead, drive the nails in My hands. Laugh at Me where you stand…Go ahead, and say I’m dead and gone. But you will see that you were wrong.”

I captured the attention of my audience. “I’ll rise again. Ain’t no power on earth can tie Me down. I’ll rise again. Death can’t keep Me in the ground.”

The notes lilted through the air, and God’s love reached out to the people. As I scanned the crowd, some were contemplative, others had tears streaming down their faces. I finished the last syllable. A pause of silence. Then applause and cheers erupted. The message had been delivered and received by many.

During the finale, the runners up were announced and then the Potato Festival Queen. My name was called as the First Runner Up. Several gasps came from the crowd, followed by loud whispers. The audience had followed me for two weeks. They had watched me come in first in “poise,” first in “the interview,” and first in “talent.” They knew I had been selected by the chaperones as the one who best exemplified Potato Festival qualities. What the audience did not observe was my struggle to sell raffle tickets. The fourth category of the competition was ticket sales, and I had done poorly, coming in second to last place. When all the points were tallied, my wins were not enough to off set the fourth category. I had come in second place.

I lay in bed that night–after I had finished putting away the chairs, thanked the straggling crowd for their support, and congratulated the Potato Festival Queen a final time. I reflected on the Potato Festival with tears of disappointment and exhaustion. I had given everything and still had not emerged the winner. The loss overwhelmed me. The parting words of my supporters bombarded me. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this.”

And then I remembered all the opportunities to care for people and to share God’s love with them. I had tried to encourage everybody and had gotten to pray with some. I had done my very best to be Christ’s ambassador, making a positive impression, and many lives had been impacted. It wasn’t supposed to end like this? I settled my head into the pillow, wiped away the tears, and grinned. “Thank you, Lord. This is exactly the way it was supposed to end.”

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand (Psalm 37:23-24, NIV).

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, You know that I can be competitive and driven. You know how hard I work to do my best, and how hard it is when things don’t go the way I want. Help me to remember that when trying my best isn’t enough, I have done what is more important–to live for You and to shine Your light in this world. No matter what the results, encourage my heart with Your loving presence. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.