The gut punch of left alone

Alone. As a mom of four kids, therapist, and pastor’s wife, I love me some alone time. Give me a cup of coffee and a good book, a glass of wine and a fire in my backyard, or a bathtub and a cup of earl grey, and it’s like a tiny window of heaven. Alone time is a precious resource around here. You don’t take it for granted. But I also know what it means to feel truly alone, as in left alone…and there’s a big difference.

Have you had that moment? That moment when it feels like everyone has walked away. Maybe a loss leaves you wondering who will fill the gap, who else will share your secrets. Maybe you have been left by a loved one, a father, a mother, a husband, a brother – someone who walked out the door leaving you behind with the tears, the shock, and the anger. Or maybe you have been left standing to face the bully of life on your own, and when you looked around, not a single person stayed to fight alongside you.

Whether in little or in the big moments of life, we have all experienced the stomach drop of left alone.

My therapist is fond of saying, “There are two sides to every coin.” Today, let’s return to Isaiah 62:12, our passage from yesterday, and remind ourselves of the titles bestowed on us by Christ, once again. There is so much in this snippet of Scripture:

And they shall be called The Holy People,
    The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
    A City Not Forsaken.

One side of the coin is being sought out, being chosen and loved, someone running after us. The other side of the coin here is that to know what Not Forsaken looks like, we need to experience left alone.

Words associated with the word forsaken in the dictionary include – abandoned, deserted, to disown, renounce, refuse, or discard.

This is so often the world’s message to us – you aren’t worth the time or energy, you aren’t important enough, you are insignificant. This is never, never, God’s message to us.

Flip the coin…

Sought out means not forsaken, not abandoned, not disowned, not renounced, not refused, and never, never discarded.

Look up the following verses and hear God’s message of Not Forsaken –

Deuteronomy 31:8

1 Chronicles 28:20

2 Corinthians 4:9-10 …persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

Hebrews 13:5-6

We may undergo trial. There may be good days and bad days and rotten days and complacent days and joy-filled days and everything in between, but there will never be forsaken days.

You, my friend, are Not Forsaken. It is your name, placed on you by God Himself. Notice the capital letters in the Isaiah text. Sought Out, Not Forsaken. He will be with you each day, in the wonderful and the hard. Cling to that. Let it seep into your soul.

Not Forsaken.

Father, we thank you that You sought us out and that You bring us to You, that You treasure us enough to make promises and follow through, especially when the world goes it’s own way. Charge us to be faithful, Lord. Help us to live in Your promises and find the value and worth of each day in You and You alone. Thank you for Jesus, who makes us new and holy and free. Forgive us when we forsake You, and lead us ever back to Your mercy and grace. We stand on Not Forsaken in You, today. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen. 

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Exploration:

Martin Luther and other commentators apply this verse also to the Church on earth. The Church being God’s people here and now, and across time. How has God sought out His people in history? What historical moments come to mind when you consider that the Church is not forsaken? What promise of the future is there for the Church in Not Forsaken and Sought Out?

The first verse of the hymn The Church’s One Foundation speaks directly to this topic of Sought Out. Sing this message to yourself or with your family today and be reminded of His Faithfulness.

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
she is his new creation by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died. (public domain)

http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/LSB2006/644

 

The High Price of Ransom

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Day 3 – The high price of ransom

What do you know of the Old Testament stories of the Red Sea, of Moses, of the original Passover lambs and doorposts, or of the Hebrew slaves ransomed?

Take a moment to jot down or think through words and pieces of the events you remember of what we call The Exodus. Feel free to quickly skim the first 14 chapters of the book of Exodus to jog your memory or to learn something new! This is an open book test. 😉

(Just joking. There are no tests in Bible study. I promise!)

What did God bring the Israelites out of in The Exodus? Slavery. Yes. Hard slavery, ever increasing oppression, task masters, a life of clay with no straw and drown baby boys. Can you imagine?

God references His work to free His people from Egypt’s bonds in Isaiah 43:3-4. Let’s read that.

For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.

God is willing to give what is most valuable to Him to ransom His children – namely, people.

This concept may be more than a little disturbing for us, God giving some people in exchange for others. To understand it better, we need to open our Bibles and return to the end of the Exodus, to the crossing of the Red Sea into the land of promise, the land of freedom. Please read Exodus 14:19-31. For the sake of space here, I will only highlight Exodus 14:18-20, 23-24, and verse 30 below:

And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.

23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic…

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.

It should be hard to listen to the loss of the Egyptians. I don’t think we were designed to be ok with people dying. We were made for life. Sin brought death into the world. We were made in the image of God, to have compassion and mercy for every life. We were also made to hold our heads high and that means not sticking them in the sand. Matthew Henry reminds us in his commentary –

“God has purchased them dearly.”

The salvation of the people of Israel, God’s chosen ones, those people who were to bring the knowledge of Salvation to the rest of the world, was not a simple commercial transaction. Giving people in exchange for other people – let us not assume that this was something easy or weightless to God. He gave dearly to ransom them from the hands of those who were destroying them.

When people lose their lives for any reason, God cares.

He cares for the murdered child, he cares for the aborted baby, he cares for the soldier. He cares.

I’m not entirely convinced that there weren’t Egyptians turning to the Lord like mad under the weight of the closing waters of the Red Sea. They had seen His work, they had seen the miracles and plagues and the faithfulness of this unknown God. How many of them turned to Him, we do not know.

But in this instance, a ransom had to be given. It’s hard. God came down as a pillar of fire, a cloud of darkness to stand between His people and the evil that would overtake them. He is not messing around when it comes to His children. Death is our earthly reality, yes, but don’t be mistaken-

He is willing to let hard stuff happen for us to come to Him.

That doesn’t mean that the hard stuff is a flashing neon sign of someone or something’s lack of faith. That’s silly and it’s petty and it is not at all Biblical. Faithfulness does not mean good will come to you, and unfaithfulness does not always bring on calamity. It does mean there are casualties in this war against the devil, sometimes it’s us, sometimes it’s our children, sometimes it’s jobs or homes or happiness.

And the battle is the Lord’s. He is fighting.

Here is the hope: He has won.

Revelation 5:9-10 tells us that Jesus came down, fought the fight and won. The victory is ours for eternity.

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Today we learn that ransoming comes with a price. This pilgrimage is hard. This journey is full of boundless love and joy, but also pain and struggle. Sometimes we need to get to the other side of the Sea and thank God for something He’s doing that we don’t quite understand, to lay it into His hands, to weep over those lost, and praise Him for eternal life in Jesus, offered free for every one of us both left standing and drown underwater.

He is working, ransoming, redeeming, and saving souls every where, every day. Rest in Him.

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Exploration:

Take a moment to work on memorizing the Heart verse for the week. Write it out, stick it up somewhere.

Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.  (Isaiah 43:4)

Who are you praying for, that they would come to God, whether through joy or struggle? (You can use a name or vague description of the situation, however you are most comfortable for privacy sake.)

 

*photos made with retype and fontcandy+ apps

The ugly H-word



Day 2 – The ugly H-word

So, hate. Not my favorite word. I hold strongly to the general mom-ism that scolds, “We don’t say hate. You may strongly dislike it, but you don’t hate it.” Granted, we are almost always talking about my cooking, but still. It’s a strong word and I fight hard to convince my children to think through their words and use them well.

How does my mom-self make peace with the fact that the ESV translation of the Bible uses the word hate 169 times? How do I explain to my children that there are in fact times to hate according to Ecclesiastes 3:8:

a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.



Yesterday’s devotion was pretty abstract so let’s try to get down to some practical nuts and bolts in today’s study. Just like yesterday, though, we can only understand love and hate through the piecing out of what lies in Truth and what lies in our experiences.


First – Most of the time hate in the Bible is a human expression between two people.
This kind of hate is always outside of God’s will for us. Leah was hated by Jacob. Joseph was hated by his brothers. People hated one another and caused harm to one another. Yuck. This is not our God at work.


Second – Sometimes hate is directed at God.
Deuteronomy 5 instructs us that there are two responses in our relationship with God. We can love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, or we can hate Him. There’s no lukewarm in God’s economy.


Third – God does hate some things.
Again, Deuteronomy says it super clearly…

And you shall not set up a pillar, which the Lord your God hates. (Deut. 16:22)

Idols. God hates them. They steal us from him, and if you remember from yesterday sometimes we are called to help others topple idols, as well as let others in, to topple ours. This doesn’t always look like love to the world, but it is.

The Lord tests the righteous,
    but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
(Psalm 11:5)

There are six things that the Lord hates,
    seven that are an abomination to him:

17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    and hands that shed innocent blood,

18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
    feet that make haste to run to evil,

19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
    and one who sows discord among brothers.
 
(Proverbs 6:16-19)


Again, wickedness and violence afflicted on His people, on His children, on His created…He hates it. Why? Because it hurts. Painful words, not ok. Plots and plans against anyone. He hates it.

So God’s hate, it’s still wrapped in love.


Fourth – God calls us to hate. But only so we can fully love.
I think one of the most fascinating and difficult passages of Scripture can be found in

Luke 14:26:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”



If you have your Bible out, you can read the parables that Jesus puts with this statement for a fuller understanding. For here, we’ll put this statement in the context of Scripture as a whole.

Jesus wants all of us.

Mark 12:30 tells us…
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”


This message crosses the Old and New Covenants as God instructs His people in Deuteronomy and then puts himself in usto make it reality at Pentecost. It’s wild! What a God we have!

Jesus wants us to lose our life, to lose putting relationships and people and things and plans ahead of Him, so that we can gain everything, which isHim. He uses the strong word of hate in Luke 24 because it’s black and white. “Me or everything else,” He says.

We hate the idea of anything- mother, brother, friend, job, children, even church – being more than Him in our lives. When we cling to Him fast in the Spirit, we will know boundless love that we can not even imagine.

Sound too legalistic? I promise there is a practical application to this. We can love God and fill our life with stuff and people and crazy amounts of love. We can even love the stuff and the people more than God and still be saved. We’ll go to heaven, we aren’t less of a believer, but what we will be missing is the abundant life, the surrendered life, for sure. And it’s a mighty fine line.

Jesus gave us all of Himself. 

Because of that, I can give Him all of me.
Jesus tells us that this is better than giving Him part and giving my family and friends and the stuff of life part. When He has all of me, He fills in all the blanks because I’ve handed it all to Him. He loves my mother and my brother and my neighbor and all of it through me and that is infinitely better than I could ever do on my own.

Let Him love, sister. Let Him take over all of you. Let Him fill in all the crevices and relationships so that the people in your life can be truly loved, limitlessly.

This means we say no to some things. This means we may move away, or spend our holiday differently than our family prefers. This means we may chose a God plan that no one likes, or share a Gospel that no one wants to hear. It may make for difficult relationships on this earth…but eternity together.

So it’s probably time for me to make a little peace with the word hate. It sounds so ugly, but God makes the ugly beautiful in His time. I’m going to hate what isn’t Him, so that He can fill in those dark places with His Light.

Placing it all into His loving care.
Lord, help us to love you with our whole hearts and to let your Spirit well up in us and guide us and lead us. In You, Lord, there is Peace and Life and Truth and true Love. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Discussion questions:
Have you ever had a relationship made difficult by your belief in Jesus?
How do you share Jesus with those in your family (or friends) who do not know Him?
Who can we pray for in your life to come to know Jesus’s love for them?

*photo and typing credit goes to Macee Goehmann, ever my cohort 🙂

Christians don’t shake hands, Christians gotta hug!



Day 3 – Christians don’t shake hands, Christians gotta hug!


Many people would call me a hugger. Gracious people sweetly have described my finer points as being warm and enthusiastic. I have heard things like bubbly and energetic and full of joy…most of the time at least. Don’t worry, I stay humble as a person way to quick to speak, impatient, and almost always late.
I do like a loving touch, a hand on the shoulder, a touch to the arm, but I am just plain awkward with a hug. I can never figure out when to offer them?
I spontaneously must hug you if you are sad.
If I see you after a long time, that seems hug worthy.
If you share something personal and deep and I can see the vulnerability written all over the conversation- hug.
Small children- they are definitely huggable.
Professional relationships that involves ministry – maybe a hug???
Narthex chatting on any given Sunday – to hug or not to hug?
Random acquaintance/friend in the grocery store, who says “Hi!” with gusto – hug? Yes? No?

You can see my dilemma. Am I the only one? Please say no.

Our Ecclesiastes passage today tells us that there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. We’ll get to the refraining tomorrow, but today, let’s settle on the embracing.

Read Ecclesiastes 3:5 to refresh your memory:
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;”

What a beautiful word – embrace. Maybe circle it. It’s such a good word. It exudes so much more meaning than our word for hug and there’s a reason for that. The rich Hebrew root word certainly means to hug, but it can also mean to clasp or, my favorite, to fold.

Have you ever had that person that just folded you into their bosom?
I bet your remembering or imagining it right now.

My Aunt Sheila was a tall and regal woman. She was beautiful. She had prematurely grey hair my whole life. For many years her hair was long, and as a child, I imagined her spending hours combing it. When she hugged me, I felt like I became part of her. She wrapped one arm around me and drew me in. Her hair settled on my shoulders and face like little caresses. It felt safe and warm. I wanted to live in that embrace, away for the scary world.

There are times for embracing. Even when we’re not hugging people. Can you sit back and think of a few of those times? Who has held you and kept you safe from the world for even a moment? Who has offered an affectionate embrace at just the right time?

There is a woman in the Old Testament longing for another kind of embrace. Her story is both sweet and heartbreaking. It’s a long passage, but I promise you, it is oh so worth it! Please read 2 Kings 4:8-37.
One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”
One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.
When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” He said to Gehazi,“Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”
When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.”

Here is this woman. She prepares a place in her home, she opens her heart to this stranger, this man she knows is of God, from God. She has no expectations. She simply serves with her whole heart. Elijah asks her, “What can I give you for all you have given me?” (My paraphrase.) Elijah’s servant has to share her need for her. Praise God for the people in our lives who are speak up for us in those moments, who notice our needs!

Elijah’s prophesy is so beautiful to me. It is not that she will conceive and bear a son, or that she will simply give birth to a son.
At this season, about this time next year, you shall embracea son.” (v.16)

This prophesy cuts to the heart, so much so that the woman sits in the place of trust-distrust that we so often sit with God.
I know you are True, God. I know that you are grace, God.
But this…this thing, do not lie to me.

When we know with all our heart that He is not even capable of a lie. Trust-distrust.

When your arms are empty, when you are too afraid to pray it or dream it or hope it…whether that looks like miscarriage, or infertility, or loss and grief, a diagnosis, divorce, a broken relationship…any of it…God promises He enfolds us. He embraces us.
He knows, when we just do not.

And then when dreams come true and the world still shatters around us. Hold fast.
This Shunammite woman. She has been there.
Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?” (v.28)

But in this story there is another kind of embracing. The healing of this precious child is so personal, it makes me catch my breath. Elijah lays on the child,
mouth to mouth
eye to eye
hand to hand.

When we are in that place of trust-distrust. Or we are in need. When we feel lost, alone, and maybe even a little bit bitter. Maybe we simply feel overwhelmed. He sends His people to physically show us Himself. The Body of Christ fold themselves around us and pray and feed and remind us of who He is, holding it up before us.

Sisters, I can’t think of anything more like an embrace than that.

And maybe it isn’t a desperate sort of time for you. Maybe the warmth of an embrace in this season is fun and spontaneous and not because of burden, but a way to communicate affection and connection. Maybe you are the aunt who folds a frightened child in your arms, or the friend who invites someone to clasp your hand. Whatever the style or season, know that it is His work, any genuine love we receive. That is the Lord at work in His people.

Jesus, you are in the hugs, you are in the warmth and caring, you are in the words of affirmation and edification we receive in one another. May we ever be a source of Your genuineness, Your caring, and Your kind embrace. In Your Holy name we pray, Amen. 
Discussion questions:
Who has offered you memorable hugs in this life?
Have you ever experienced a season of emptiness or deep longing for something?
Do you have any current hopes or dreams? Do you feel like God is asking you to embrace them or do you feel it is a time to step back and refrain?

(All Bible quotations are used from the ESV

At the loss of a friend, or I hate cancer

Day Two – At the loss of a friend, or I hate cancer
(Written 1/21/2016)
I opened my computer to write this post. A simple action of my morning. I’m surrounded by some of my favorite things, my husband (quietly working on sermon prep), my coffee, my computer, and my Lutheran Study Bible. I feel warm and cozy.
I open my Facebook feed to idly post a study update, when I see the post that I knew was coming for months, but feels shocking and sad and unfair all the same.
We lost my dear friend, Melissa, to cancer overnight.
I hate cancer. My children would tell me that we don’t use the word hate. But cancer, I hate. It robs children of mothers and fathers and grandparents. It eats up time that was meant to be enjoyed together with those we love. It has no boundaries. It touches all of us in some way. It fear mongers, and leaves us wondering when it will come find us. Disease, of any kind, is of Satan, but just like all the dark things on the path behind us and before us, God redeems that too. He redeems what cancer steals. I’m holding Him to it.
There is a time to die. We know it, but we avoid it. It seems so morbid to talk about it. It’s not tea party talk or baby shower talk. But why do we avoid it with those closest to us? Why do we feel so uncomfortable affirming the truth of it in our own lives? I have two theories…it’s a little bit scary, and it’s just so big.
We may avoid talk of death, but the Bible does not. There are 839 occurrences of muth, our word for die in Ecclesiastes 3, found in Strong’s Concordance. There is a place for the reality of death. As Christians we get to talk about it and shed light in a dark place with no hope. We have Jesus and we can offer His message to a world fearing death, avoiding death, and misunderstanding death.
If something exists, it is either purposeful and from God, or made purposeful by God. God gave us death to save us from eternal despair and destruction. Death is a door. A way into God’s new beginning. With Jesus we can see this. The scales fall and our eyes are opened to what new things God is doing through death-
Heaven (real and tangible), restored relationships, a different path, a desperate need for something else, for a Savior who loves us…
Death teaches us that eternity matters, and so do we. When things die, there is room for rebirth. Without death things become stagnant. Knowing this, we can appreciate that even the death of little things are purposeful…the death of our spring flowers brings winter rest, the death of one idea, births another, the death of an activity brings time for something more.
More than that, the death of things we treasure,
the death of a loved one gives us a greater depth of desire for God and eternity,
the death of a job opens the door to something new in our lives,
the death of a friendship can show us who we are and what we value more clearly.
Read Ecclesiates 3:1-2 again carefully –
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
“Everything in its time” invites death in. We can be comfortable with it, because we are comfortable with God’s hand on it, in it, and around it.
My life will not be quite the same without Melissa. We gathered around the Word together almost every Wednesday morning for 8 years. Her insights and affection have left a Jesus shaped imprint on my heart and soul. But I know, without a doubt, that God has a plan. He will make this beautiful. His work in Melissa’s death will not be lost. He will use this, and many of us will hear a new Word of Grace as we mourn her loss.
Dear Father, birth what you would birth and let die those things that you would have die. It is all in You. Help us to give it to you, for you hold it already. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.


Discussion questions:
Who have you lost that left an eternal mark on you?

What do you do to help others around you deal with grief?