No longer a foreigner to Grace


The day we moved to Haiti was exciting and exhilarating. We got up at 3am, headed to the Detroit airport with our giant suitcases, hugged our selfless middle of the night chauffeurs/friends and headed off on adventure.

My first thought when we arrived in Haiti was, “We can handle this!” With the warm greetings of our Haitian friends, our bellies full with plantain and celebratory cake, and the distraction of unpacking and settling in, the culture around me seemed a curiosity, rather than shocking. It took little more than four days and a trip to the Haitian marketplace to feel thrown completely off my footing, to know that “we can handle this” was hopeful at best, a mild delusion at worst.

In the marketplace, there were people everywhere, and I mean everywhere. I have shopped the foreign marketplaces before. I’ve traveled all over. I don’t love bartering, but I have some skills. I enjoy people, crazy mixes of smells, and the sound of vibrant language overlapping in the pleasant chaos of the day’s busyness. But I have never had to do it for my survival. I wasn’t there just to browse and procure a few souvenirs for friends back home. I needed groceries, and I needed them on a limited missionary budget. I needed to figure out how to cook said groceries, and I needed to not get hit by a mototaxi doing so.

I stood in the marketplace that morning and realized I was a foreigner. I was an outsider. I had no clue what I was doing, and do you know what that translates to? That feeling of utterly alone. Standing in the middle of a crowded marketplace, the sounds dissipate around you, the tears well up and you realize, in the end, it’s just you on an island. No one knows you here. If you fell, would someone pick you up? If you disappeared, would anyone notice?

In the marketplace, lost in my lonely thoughts, I felt a tug on my elbow that brought me back to the movement and the noises all around me. I looked into the chocolate eyes of my friend Sydney, who placed her arm around my back, held on to my shoulder for dear life and said, “Heidi, I am right here.”

That day in the market, Sydney gathered me. She didn’t just gather me in her arms to reassure me, but she also gathered me to be part of her people. Our friends in Haiti did absolutely everything they could each day to make us part of their lives. To welcome us, yes, but also to gather us as part of them.

Have you ever been the foreigner? Alone in another country, another town, another family? Think past the obvious. Have you ever been left standing in the high school cafeteria looking for a place to sit? Have you ever had to walk into a new church praying it felt like home? Have you ever rolled over in bed and realized afresh that the other side now lies empty and this world of loss is something harder than you ever imagined?

God promises that in all of our aloneness, all of our wanderings, all of our cast aside and walked away and went far off, He will gather us to Himself.

Isaiah records this promise in Isaiah 56:5-8. Read that below –

I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
    besides those already gathered.”

Child, you are better than a son, better than a daughter. That means that you who were once a stranger to God, a foreigner to grace and mercy, are now more than family.

You are gathered.

He has joined you to Him, gathered you up from your dark places or your regular middle-of-the-road day and brought you into relationship with Him. Verse 7 above proclaims that He brings us to His Holy Mountain and makes us joyful in His house of prayer.

God made someone else joyful in His house of prayer. She also felt like an outsider, a less than, and wondered if she was foreign to God in her barrenness. Look at Hannah’s story fresh. Read 1 Samuel 1:12-16.

As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

Hannah brought all of her anxiety, all of her burden, all of her pain before the true God. Her heart overflowed, “pouring out her soul” before the Lord. If you think that Hannah’s prayer was polite, I would offer up a different vantage point. Hannah herself tells Eli in verse 16 that she has been speaking with the Lord in great anxiety and vexation. What’s the English definition of vexation? Annoyance, exasperation, indignation, aggravation. The Hebrew word here is marat, or bitterness. Hannah didn’t just pour out her requests, she poured out her bitterness in this house of prayer.

Hannah was gathered by the Lord.

He gathered her up to hear her bitterness, hear her dissension, to hear her shock and her distress at a world that was not fair. Is it possible that Hannah wondered in her distress if she even knew the Lord? Did Her beloved Savior feel foreign to her in her struggle? Have you ever been there?

You are gathered.

This is how God gathers. Maybe the house of prayer is simply honest relationship with God. Peak back at Isaiah 56. What did the Lord want from His people? He just wanted them to come to Him.

…To love the name of the Lord…

…to minister to Him…

…to hold fast…

…to place our sacrifices, on His altar…

You are gathered and He promises to gather others as well. That means all the Hannah’s you have around you, bitter and struggling with something. He’s gathering them. When He brings you to Himself, whether in bitterness or joy, He will use you to gather and gather and gather some more.

You are gathered. You may look a foreigner in this present land. You may feel a foreigner in your family, your church, or this culture. You may have some annoyance, some frustration, some distrust stored up to pour out before Him.

Go ahead and do it. You are no longer a foreigner to His grace.

You are gathered.

Trust in the One who holds you tight.

 

Gathered Scripture Engagement Tool

Exploration:

Present your requests before the Lord. Set a timer and challenge yourself to pray for 10 minutes straight with no distractions. Please feel free to pray longer, but let’s challenge each other to pour the cares of the day out to Him and spend time with Him and Him alone for just a bit. If you’d like to share some prayer requests, please feel free to do so in the comments below.

 

*psssttt – a birdie told me that the “No longer a foreigner to His Grace” photo makes a great iphone wallpaper. Just save it to your phone and insert as wallpaper under settings.

Clay Walks: A life lived in love

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*photo made with the vrsly app, using a pexel.com photo
Are the pages of Isaiah getting easier to turn as we man-handle the pages? My study Bible has these ridiculously thin pages and until a section has been tossed and turned again and again, I trip and I fall around trying to find the right chapter and verse. The pages stick together. I turn them and go six chapters too far. I back track and finally land on the selected passage. It becomes easier as I turn the pages more and more. As I study more, the pages have my fingerprints all over them. A side effect of this is that the pages get just crinkly enough that I can turn them deftly and without all the frustration.

This is how faith seems to work as well. Turn to Isaiah 30:18-22.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.

19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. 22 Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”

Walking, like our fingers moving across the pages of our Bibles, is one of the descriptors of faith in the Bible. In Isaiah 30, we find a fun name for our God associated with this walk – Teacher.

We do not walk alone, girls. We have a Teacher who guides and leads. While this passage doesn’t speak about clay, it fits into our title of clay because clay is moldable. It’s instruct-able. When we say, “Mold me and make me, Lord. You are the potter, I am the clay.” We also say –

Teach me.

Walk with me.

Show me the way.

Isaiah 30 gives us clarity in this picture. As we walk in faith, not in perfection, but simply walking, we grow up into Him, into the Teacher, Christ Jesus. Look at Ephesians 4:14-15:

…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…

Look just a tiny bit further in your Scriptures and rest on Ephesians 5:1-2.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Living the truth in love looks a whole lot like walking.

Therefore…walk in love. I so often walk in hurt, in bitterness, in impatience, in discontent, in annoyance, in apathy.

Because of Jesus Christ, I can walk in love. I am instruct-able. I need and I have a Teacher to show me the way, to walk beside me, to walk behind me and cover me in forgiveness when I mess up. He also walks ahead to guide me in the True Light.

When I learn, I’m walking. When I grow, I’m walking. When I trust, I’m walking.

Check out Acts 9:1-2.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Paul, he was walking as God’s clay before he even knew it. He was walking hunting down people. He was walking in destruction. It’s ironic that Christianity is referenced here and only here as “the Way.” Neither right nor left, friends. Jesus is the Way. Paul walked and life changed forever along that Way.

When I am wrong, I’m walking. When I repent, I’m walking. When the breath of forgiveness rushes in, and covers my sin, I’m walking.

He leads. I walk. In His love, in His mercy, through crinkly pages and brokenness into marvelous, inestimable Grace.

Keep walking, friend. Clay walks.

 

Exploration:

What was your first experience with studying the Bible?

 

What group Bible studies have been memorable for you?

 

What is the hardest part of walking in love for you?

 

 

My one word

 

I’m sure that some of you have heard this idea from the internet of choosing one word for your new year. I’ve never been especially interested in resolutions, mainly because I can not keep them to save my life.

One word…that I can do. I have no idea where the idea originated, but a few years ago it nestled itself in my heart.

It was simple – I mean really…one word. Not four words, not a whole Bible verse even, one word.

It was doable. Actually, the irony was that nothing really needed to be done with this idea. I wasn’t accosted by guilt at unfulfilled resolutions and broken promises. All you had to do, in my understanding was pick a word for the year and see where that year led.

It was Jesus-oriented. I’m sure people have one word for their year and it has nothing to do with Christ. But in my mind, this was an opportunity for God to speak into my life in a new way. Something fresh for growing in my Faith. It allowed me to sit back and wait on Him.

So here are my one word choices over the last 4 years.

2012- less

2013 – brave

2014 – silent

2015 – grace upon grace

2016 – fearlessly wrong

(Um, so maybe I’m not great at one word. Two is ok, right? Three? I get to make up the rules, so it’s fine. 😉  )

If you know us, even a little bit, you can begin to understand how God spoke into our lives with the one word each year. Almost every year God spoke the words into my heart during the quiet of Christmas Eve candle light service. As my husband starts to read John 1, almost universally, God begins to speak in the stillness. The first year I had heard the idea and kept asking myself questions, “What do I want for the coming year? What need to change in our lives? Where is God speaking to me?”

Sitting quietly in candlelight, I remember my confirmation verse rising up in my heart over and over again.

He must become greater, I must become less.

                                           John 3:30

Less…I needed less. Less stuff, less opinions, less expectations, less demands, less frustration, less hurt, less tears, less getting in the way of God’s work in my life, less selfish ambition.

More Him. 

And so it went each year – brave, silent, grace upon grace – to this year…fearlessly wrong.

The thing is, I had spent the last year soaking in grace. Seeing how God has wrapped my life and all of me up in His grace that pours out and then pours out some more. I watched Him put more grace in my home, more grace in my heart. I was so grateful to see clearly, as I studied the Word that year how truly filling God’s grace was in my life.

So this year, the choice was easy- it was time to be ok with being wrong. To believe in grace in a way that wrong was ok, that it wouldn’t harm me. That God was in my wrong, just as much as he was in the being right, saying the right thing, making the right decision. God’s grace allows me to unwind the cords of “right” that I have tangled myself in that keep me from good relationships, Gospel sized risks, and the fullest experience of His mercy and forgiveness.

Although I treasure godly, I am beginning to understand just how much grace there is in imperfection, in trying, but being ok with messing up.

IMG_1586       Fearlessly wrong.

It’s really cool to see God’s work in this. So far my year has brought employment changes, new endeavors, family adventures, health concerns for those I love, and deeper relationships at every turn.

What does fearlessly wrong look like in your life? How could God be working in the places where you let imperfect be beautiful and grace be what reigns?

It’s scary for sure. Don’t worry, I’m not running around wild, embracing sin, but being willing to put yourself out there, to say the wrong thing, to do the wrong thing, it changes the shape of life. It makes my understanding of grace fuller and leaves me more expectant of grace from God and His people.

Always an adventure, always. Less, brave, grace, fearlessly wrong. I’ll be watching for His work in your life too.

 

A Call to Action: Grace and Mental Health

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I have to say it. I, for one, am so excited to see the open window for mental health in our culture and in our churches, recently. I see more and more posts on mental health care on the web, our church synod has a task force for domestic violence and abuse, there are conferences and committees to address support and care in many denominations.

This, my friends, is a long time in coming. Two years ago, at a conference, I heard a speaker call mental health the “mission field of the 21st Century” and I could not agree more. It is time. The silence has lasted long enough. The darkness of despair and anxiety and struggle has been overcome by the blood of the Lamb. He waits with healing and grace. We can be that voice of grace for those around us.

But how does that work? What does grace look like when it’s living and active and poured out, particularly in the realm of mental health? Here are some suggestions for churches, church workers, and any one of us ready to answer the call to Grace for the hurting.

John 1:16 tells us that we have all received grace upon grace.

Praise be to God that we can let that grace roll out onto all of those around us!

Find out more

It’s easy to assume that we know. We’ve read a few blog articles about depression, so we “get” mental health. But the needs in mental health are so much broader and wider. Here is just a tiny list of struggles that can be addressed in grace:

anxiety (an estimated 10-18% of the population identifies a diagnosable struggle with anxiety, myself included!)

depression – including seasonal, major depressive episodes, and postpartum

Autism Spectrum and other sensory processing

learning disabilities

sexual abuse and assault

domestic violence

trauma of all sorts

Bipolar

Schizophrenia

addictions

eating disorders

This list is not meant to be exclusive. I could go on and on. What struggle knocks on the door of your heart? Find out more, ask questions, use appropriate terminology and language. Educate others on the issue and just be mindful that these are not random and rare issues in people’s lives. They are much more common than we think, for those inside the Church, as well as those disconnected from the Church.

Grace – reaching out by learning and growing.

Offer community

Mental health can be one of the loneliest places on earth. Whether the stigma is real or imagined or both, it’s not something we talk about in our culture and our churches. Burst open the door! Make your church, your home, your small group a place where it is talked about, prayed for, and actively reaching out. We, as a church, have the amazing opportunity to be a family to those who feel lonely, distressed, and even tormented. It is time to bury the idea that we are unsafe around people with diagnoses. Those with severe and persistent diagnoses need us even more! Research shows that community and social support is one of the largest indicators of success in mental health treatment. People take needed medicines when they have loving friends who check in on them and ask hard questions. People can break the chains of addiction when there are people who do not give up on them.

Grace – offering community, even when it’s hard.

Speak Forgiveness and Life and God’s constant pursuit of us

Psalm 103:4 – “who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…”

Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Luke 19:10 – “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus forgives anything we have done or left undone. So many people need to hear these words from the mouth of a living and breathing person. They need to know that God does not give up on them, that He pursues and pursues. That He runs down the road with His robes flying about, waiting to embrace us. Many people that struggle with mental health wonder about their worthiness. It is easy for even anxiety to ostracize people from the love God is trying to pour into them. Individuals often feel afraid to admit that they are afraid when well meaning people cite Scripture that tells us not to be afraid! Share verses that share Who God is, rather than what people should do.

Grace – for the weary soul.

Love, Love, and More Love

Some people are hard to love. Some people are worried that they are hard to love. Some people have a hard time loving. We can let God fill us with His love and then we can share it, even when it gets hard. What does love look like? Sometimes it looks like pouring out affection and time and energy, and sometimes it looks like hard boundaries spoken firmly, but kindly.

Grace – speaking the Truth in love.

Be Faithful

Loyalty is hard when relationships so often disappoint us. People will never be perfect, they will never love perfect or talk perfect or follow through perfect. We have the same Grace that we get to offer others. Often times, people want to give up, both those struggling with mental health issues and those supporting them. Families of those with mental health struggles perhaps need the most support and encouragement. We can love by being true to our promises and not giving up. We can give grace by being someone’s personal encourager and sounding board and safe place. When the going gets tough, the tough pour on more Grace. 

What an awesome season the Lord has before us! We as a church stand in the midst of a perfect time to be real and in tune with the needs of those around us.

Bring on the Grace church! Bring on the Grace.

 

Rising up from the dust

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Day 5 – Rising up from the dust

 
When I was a sophomore in high school my parents took me out of class to go to the 10AM Ash Wednesday service at church. I can’t remember the reason, but something prohibited us from going in the evening and this was how my parents rolled.
 
I came back to school about lunchtime, completely unaware of the cross blazed across my forehead. But instantly one of my male classmates, who shall remain nameless, walked up to me and stammered, “What’s on your face?” and proceeded to rub my head vigorously to remove the cross.
I stood in shock, all systems shut down from the basic humiliation, turned on my heel, walked to the bathroom, entered a stall, and promptly burst into tears. I didn’t know what to think. At that space in my life, I couldn’t recognize the spiritual significance of what had happened to me. All I knew was that something about his actions rocked me deep in my core.
 
I said a prayer of empowerment, gathered myself, and walked out of the bathroom stall, directly to unnamed classmate and said quietly, “You may not touch my personhood again. You may not defame what I hold dear. His name is Jesus and you should probably get to know Him.”
 
This girls, was a Holy Spirit moment, if there ever was one.
 
In my youth, I dutifully followed the religion of my parents, I embraced Lutheranism head on, not because I believed it at that point, but because I needed it to reign me in. Sophomore year was my worst and my moral compass was all over the place, laced with feminism, hedonism, and many other -isms thrown in for good measure. I knew Jesus because He called me in my baptism, but I didn’t trust Him enough to include Him in my life and I surely, at this point, wasn’t introducing anyone else to Him.
 
All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” Ecclesiastes 3:20
 
Dust and ashes on my forehead were what woke me up from a youthful spiritual stupor. I started searching for Jesus with everything I had, to find out that He had found me long before and my heart was alighted with just how shockingly deep the Father’s Love is.
 
Dust isn’t our whole story, but it certainly is a huge component of it. Ecclesiastes shares the message that dust reminds us where we come from and where we are going (Ecc. 3:19-21, Ecclesiastes 12:1-8). The writer of Ecclesiastes, I’m sure, was just as wowed by God’s full plan, when He saw Jesus for the first time in heaven, as we are when we read it in His Word. Let’s take a minute to be wowed, sisters.
 
Let’s follow the trail of God’s dust from creation to purposeful destruction, to resurrection and on to restoration.

Everything is beautiful in its time. This is what our study, if anything, has taught us.
 
First – Creation…
Let’s read Genesis 2:5-7
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 
 
Formed from the dust, by the hands of our Creator. Our first breath, His breath. I wonder at the conversation between the persons of the Trinity at this moment. Matthew Henry tells us that the Hebrew noun for Creator in Ecclesiastes 12:1 below, is plural. How beautiful is that!
 
 
Second – Purposeful Destruction
Genesis 3:17-19
 And to Adam he said,
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
 
Underline or circle every reference to the ground or dust above. Sin brought destruction to our world, but God would use it for His purposes. Even this, He will make beautiful. You could also look at the Babylonian captivity to see God’s work in purposeful destruction, of His temple, of His people, of the way people thought it would be forever…all to lead us to Him. (Check out Isaiah 17 or Daniel 9.)
 
 
Third – Christ in the dust.
Christ is born among the dust of animal feed (Luke 2:7). He bends down into the dust to lift up weary souls burdened with the weight of sin, oppression, and judgement during His time on earth (Psalm 113:7, John 8). He let His face be ground into the dust as He took our sins on Himself and bore our iniquities (Matthew 26). And He was eventually laid in a dusty tomb, carved out of the rock (John 19:41-42).

Fourth – Christ is risen from the dust.
Let’s read it fresh…Matthew 28:1-7 –
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

Verse 6 proclaims beauty from the ashes, beauty out of the dust…
He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.
Come, see the place where he lay.
 
See where he lay. He’s not there. He did what He said. Thank you, Jesus.
 
Fifth – Restoration from the dust.
Whether we’re talking about personal restoration or the restoration of the whole of creation, Jesus is surely faithful.
 
Isaiah 61:1-3
he Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
 
A beautiful headdress instead of ashes. Comfort, freedom, praise.
 
Acts 3:18-21
But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the thingsabout which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
 
Restoration…everything beautiful in it’s time. In His time.
 
What does this mean for you? What has Jesus restored or what are you waiting for Him to restore?
 
How will all of creation look different in the Restoration? The Last Day isn’t just about judgement and terror. For Christians, it’s about the culmination of all time, being eagerly restored by a God we know intimately.
 
Praise be to Him, girls! That day in high school years ago, I had no idea why my forehead dust meant so much. Today, when I go to Him in prayer and worship, when my husband places the ashes on my forehead and proclaims, “From dust you came, From dust you shall arise!” I know. When I heartily reply, “He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!” this Sunday, I praise Him for using moments of humiliation, moments of destruction, moments of struggle, moments of joy, moments of peace, moments of confusion, moments of understanding.
 
Everything beautiful in His time. Every moment, all in Him.
 
Oh, I will miss you girls! Thank you for taking the last 9 weeks to study with me. I have learned and been stretched and I pray you have been too. 
 
Until next time, in Him, much love,
 
🙂 Heidi