This Place of Honesty

It was an unexpected moment.
She didn’t know this was the last time she would see them before the big move.
But suddenly they had to say goodbye. She smiled bravely.
But they came, those hot unwelcome tears.
They burned down her cheeks and dripped onto her blouse.
She blinked hard, but on they came, insistent on betraying her.

Not once have I heard her complain. The adjustment will be huge.
The move to a country she has never been to, people not her own,
a culture and food she’s not known.
“But God will carry me…” she’s assured me as we’ve talk about all the adjustments.
He will. But even when God carries us, it’s hard.
Salty.
The pain snatches our breath away.

And it’s okay.
It’s necessary, in fact, for the scab to peel off,
for this wound to stand gaping, raw and unhealed in front of each other.
We are all real. Human. Needy.
And yes, we have Jesus to carry us,
and without Him not one of us could take another breath and face tomorrow.
But there is this quiet thing that whispers we must be strong.
Especially when others have seen us in our pain, bravely smiling through our tears.
“You are amazing!” they say, and this pressure grows.
Unknowingly we build these walls,
these impossible, impenetrable stone walls around our hearts.
We must never be weak or honest about how we can hardly make it,
or we will fail all these expectations. We won’t be who they think we are.
We will be a failure.

I felt it when we came back from the overseas,
silent wounds in my heart from what we had experienced…
But I felt this pressure to never breathe a word about it,
since the mission field is such a worthy place to serve.
The expectations on each of us are high, and we find ourself in this gasping place of inability.
Each one of us are here, in this private place of wounding.

I almost didn’t say it on Sunday, in a circle just a bit too big,
describing how my week had been.
Happy, bouncy, optimistic me, but I knew I needed to be honest.
“Depressed.”
There, I said it.
And later, one of them came to me,
“I wouldn’t have guessed YOU would have felt like that. I mean, you seem so happy…”

It’s terrifying to be peeled naked of these walls,
to be honest with each other, to be vulnerable.
But we need it, this thing of true friendship that reaches past our façades and false fronts,
and loves anyway, lavishly, unconditionally in the face of shocking truths and ugliness.

One friend faces living in another country,
surrounded by a culture and language unknown to her until a few years ago,
because of the man she loves.
Another friend faces life without her husband, widowed at the hand of a thoughtless robber,
leaving her a single mother at only 20.
Another is divorced, her former husband told her he was glad when she lost her babies,
shattering her heart, just like that.
Another friend is married happily, has the perfect home and family,
but past family wounds haunt her everyday, twisting her concept of love and life.
Another never thought she would find herself here – unmarried and pregnant.
And yet another waited 41 weeks to meet her much anticipated baby,
only to discover he was stillborn. Dashed dreams. Crushed hearts.
Life is this hard.

This thing of pain is delicate.
It is so easy to cling to those that have also been hurt,
and all nurse our wounds and feel sorry for ourselves.
It can become deadly, a transition from having a wound,
to becoming one.
These marks in our heart are a means to an end,
and if we get stuck, here in our hurt we only become more hurt.
It becomes a bottomless pit of pain and self-centeredness.
So how do we bring to the light these painful places, without becoming obsessed with them?

He gives us an invitation to a beautiful dance, of leaning hard on Him.
Stepping forward when He does, pausing when the music slows. Listening, watching, becoming.

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Hands tremble, but reach tentatively.
Grasp them, welcome these beautiful people around you into a place of safety.
Let friendship become the sanctuary of Christ’s love to those around you.
Not to live a perpetual state of woundedness, but of honesty, of who we really are.
Use the words that we would never say.

Let’s be honest.
I mean, HONEST.
We all break. This dust that we are made of crumbles.

He hung naked.
Exposed.
He was wounded, and so are we.
And there, at His bloody, dripping feet we find healing.
In Him. Here we find Him to be our safest, most honest place.
In the same vulnerability, we free others to experience the beauty of healing.

Here, through our trembling words and hands never strong enough, others taste Jesus.

Today I Remember

I sat at the computer this morning, remembering six years ago today.
Sometimes words flow. 
But this morning all that came were tears.

Instead, my brother-in-law found the words. 
The words my heart was searching for.

Thank you, Michael.
________________
 
“Today I remember…
can it be six years ago?

That camping trip. It was going to be the greatest of adventures.
We were all so young, so strong. So full of anticipation.
So ready to take on anything.

 
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I remember that raging river.

His piercing eyes, looking into mine. The last time.
Those eyes, and that boy. So full of adventure and life.
And courage. So unafraid.
Nothing was ever too big for him to try.

“Come along”, he’d asked me.
“I can think of more pleasant ways to die”, I replied,
hoping he’d catch the warning.
I tried to sound casual, tried not to betray the worry I felt.

I knew that river was too much for him.
God, why didn’t I stop him?

I’d long watched this boy. And loved him.
His quest. His thirst, that knew no limit.
For understanding. For something, someone vast.
Who could out question him. 

So alone. 

It was his fight.
Navigating that rugged road from boy to man.
It hurt to watch. But no amount of caring could walk that road for him.

That day I watched helplessly as he disappeared
into the raging torrent. 

We prayed as we’d never prayed before.
We searched. We cried. We waited.
And then we let go.

I’ve questioned. I’ve wondered. 
Why God? How could You? Why didn’t I? What if?
All of that.

God doesn’t owe me an answer.
But he has assured me of his goodness.
And today Isaac is experiencing the fullness of that goodness.

That day in the river Isaac found something that was much too large for him.
His answer. His Father. His river of LIFE!

Today I also remember the journey of his family and friends.

The questions. Pain. Shattered dreams. Letting go. Surrender.
The ache of missing him that has become so “normal”.
That makes us long for heaven.

And today I honor them for making the tough choices.
For facing impossible reality.
For choosing to surrender and let go.
For choosing to believe that God is good,
when all of life is screaming that he is a traitor.
For choosing to trust him in spite of that.
For letting go of the self-protective walls.
For opening your battered and torn hearts to the healing love of Jesus.

Today I want to tell you that He is proud of you. 
And Isaac is too.

Very soon you’ll look into his eyes and again see the familiar sparkle.
And yet with something new.
The search over. The questions answered.
The delight of knowing Him fully.”

Our Endless Hallelujah

This word that follows me, courts me, calls me into its existence.
Draws me into its embrace and envelopes me.
I scour my archives.
Surely I’ve written this before, because it has become a recurring theme,
part of who Jesus is making this person into…
Part of every breath.

It’s called {worship}.

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It all started back on that windy hillside as I stood by Isaac’s grave.
The cold wind whipped around me, tore through me,
turning my tears to ice, my heart throbbing with pain that is beyond words.
Dreams shattered, life lies buried in the grave at my toes.

But He gave me a glimpse of what He saw, this God of mine.
The scene from His eyes, a girl all alone at the grave, and His gentle invitation.
To worship from this place of utter loss.
To say yes, when all I hold dear is ripped from my fingers.

I started on this journey that long ago day, to say yes.
To choose to see from His eyes, how this pain is a gift.
An opportunity to become more like Jesus,
and leave a little more of this flesh behind.

I’ve tasted worship in many ways since then.

Like Friday night at Bible School.
After a week of rich teaching, our hearts were blown away at God’s goodness.
My eyes closed and my heart nearly burst with the glory of heaven.
It was so close, this place where all that matters is Jesus
and pouring our hearts out in praise.
I caught a glimpse of the Throne like never before,
where everything fades but Jesus.

We sang a new song that captured my heart…

“When I stand before Your throne,
Dressed in glory not my own,
What a joy I’ll sing of on that day,
No more tears or broken dreams,
Forgotten is the minor key,
Everything as it was meant to be.

And we will worship, worship,
Forever in Your presence we will sing
We will worship, worship
And endless hallelujah to the King…”

But this morning the call to worship is from a much more painful altar.
It’s the altar of pain and loss. Of letting go.

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Excuse me while I have a moment.
Or two.

Or three.

This morning she packs up the last box and stows it in the trailer.
Shuts the door for the last time, closing that chapter -
the house of honeymoon love, bursting with memories and joy -
and moves back home.
To far-away Georgia, back to her parents home.

We stopped by last evening. Down the old jaunt, our old road.
It feels so much like home, so many many years of driving that bumpy old county road,
always passing Marco’s house, and ALWAYS honking, even at eleven at night.
We could picture Marco and Maryann smiling and rolling their eyes, “There go THOSE neighbors!”

I stepped up into the porch. I stood, trying to smile bravely to say goodbye.
But the bravery crumbled as she and I dissolved into tears in a tight embrace.
This beautiful home was now being put, piece by piece, into boxes.
And closed.
We never wanted this season to end. Their story had just begun.
We felt God brooding over their future and ministry.
This was not how we would have written their story.
God, You know how much we needed them. We need her.
How through her gift of worship, of music, we tasted YOU.
Her spirit radiated your beauty. And yet, your story is bigger. Better.
More eternal.

I know she needs to go “home.” Where else but with her family?
But God, how it hurts, because she became ours. Part of us. Part of Marco.
And now we loose her too.

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Tears are my only language. God, how it hurts…

 I look for comfort.
My hands smooth the cream pages and I look through tear blurred eyes,
blinking as the page swims in front of me.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride, adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God us with man, He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, or crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4

I kissed his perfect little head. Landon boy.
He slept on, in the sweet rest of a child.
Peaceful in the midst of the chaos of packing.
Surrounded by heartache and tears, he made us melt into smiles.
I’ll miss him. Watching him grow, seeing glimpses of his daddy in him,
visiting with his mommy in the nursery.
Seeing his aunts and uncles, and grandpa and grandma
burst with pride as they hold him.
I know Maryann and Landon will come back for visits. I really do.

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Today is full of tears. Of the rawness of the pain.
But I am struck with the reality that this is not the end.
This life is not the last chapter of the story.
I zoom out, remembering that God is still writing.
And this loss is not the final note.

 Tomorrow… So soon we will be gathered, all together again.
All loss and pain forgotten as we worship together before that radiant throne.
Landon in his daddy’s strong arms, Maryann’s tears all turned to jewels,
our shattered hearts to glittering diamonds.

It’s about seeing through Jesus’ eyes.
About choosing to trust Him.
And worshipping from this place of loss, knowing that soon, so soon,
it will be worth it all.
God will dwell among us, and take us in His arms,
and wipe all tears away.

 And on that day, we will
“…Worship, worship,
Forever in Your presence we will sing.
We will worship, worship
An endless hallelujah to the King…”

(-Matt Redmon)

(Photo credits go to the proud aunt Cheryl)

Trusting, through our tears…

Bare stalks reach for the winter sky.
Clouds hang gloom and press heavy, crushing us to the ground.
Warm summer days and harvest long gone,
all that is left is an occasional dried pod shivering in the icy wind.
Tears burn a frozen line down my cheeks.
Here in this place, the only language is tears.

When life has seemed so full of promise, so full of hope,
now we stagger in the face of loss.
Empty.
I look at my hands, and I have nothing to offer.
I see in her eyes the agony few know.

He was just here.
His laugh still echoes in our memory,
the grill on the porch where he last used it.
His shoes tossed by the back door, dirty laundry still in the basket.
At twenty, his young widow has smiled bravely.
Shone radiantly through her tears.
But the funeral is over.
And life goes on, at least for everyone else.
She feels her unborn son kick,
and a dagger pierces her heart again because he will never see his father.
At least on earth.

Pain. Heart searing into numbed agony.
Tears. Everything tastes salty.

And in all this, where is God?

I clutch the steering wheel under the white moon
on the way home from the hospital at three in the morning.
Tears drip onto my coat.
We know He is good, but how on earth do we process this?
How can God look on as this young girl is catapulted from honeymoon bliss
to cold widowhood, all at the hand of a thoughtless burglar?
I question. I whisper, even say, the words that burn a hole in my heart.
The cold creeps in around me. I reach for the heat again.

But it’s still there, under all the agony.
Under the layers and layers of gut-wrenching pain:
I know God makes no mistakes.

In the pain, He is good. In the shattered pieces, He brings new life.
From the ashes springs up a better, more glorious story.
Right now we feel the rawness of this loss.
And Jesus feels it too.
He wept when Lazarus died, even while He knew
the miracle He was about to perform.
But He also sees the end of this story,
and the priceless beauty He is working in this precious girl.
In each of us, really.

Once again we stand on the edge of a cold grave,
and dirt slips between our fingers down into the hole in front of us.
A life, so dear to us, is with God. We worship through our tears.
We say, not seeing, just knowing,
“You are good.” We lift these tear stained, mud marred hands to heaven.
And it is a sweet offering to our Maker.
To see hearts bleeding, but trusting.
Job’s words ring in my mind, and become part of breathing, part of living,
part of making it through each day of grief…
“Though you slay me, I will trust you.”
For where else would we turn? We have no one but Him.

The wind still blows cold. Months of winter are still to come.
But already the seeds of spring are sown deep into the earth,
and deep into our hearts.
We water them with our tears,
and God shines his promise of true life onto them…
The seed dies, but soon, so soon,
life will push out of this dead ground.
Soon, we too, will push past this crust of death
and burst into true life.

Because spring is coming.

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For more information on Marco and Maryann, you can go to their FB page here:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Praying-for-Marco/181221638750126?ref=br_tf

Alannah Grace

I set the sleeping beauty down on the couch next to me and reach for the computer.
Finally. Five weeks old now, and no grand announcement on my blog.
Have I forgotten? Don’t I care?

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Perhaps I had forgotten some things. Like the perfection of heaven fresh breath.
Of silky cheeks unmarred. Of the tiniest fingers grasping tightly to mine.
Of these half smiles that melt my heart to soppy puddles.

Yes, I had forgotten the constant feedings, all through the night.
The mornings coming all too soon,
but the warm bundle in bed next to me begging me to cuddle the day away.
To stop. To drink deep. To savor this moment in time.
You see, I’ve not forgotten to write.
I’ve just been swept away in the joy of Alannah Grace.

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I hoped and prayed that I wouldn’t go as terribly late as I did with my other two.
This pregnancy was certainly my hardest.
I felt absolutely massive by the time I wearily reached my due date.
Full moon teased me with a few bouts of contractions, but left me again, still rotund.
Still pregnant. And still pondering this word: “Grace.” 

“God in flesh.” 

How I needed Him. His strength to keep me cheerful.
To wake up to another day and smile, instead of falling apart.

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It finally DID happen, this elusive thing of going into labor.
And instead of the calm, peaceful labor and delivery like I had pictured,
like my last one, this one was a battle.
From waking up to my water breaking,
to the sudden and scary delivery not many hours later,
this thing of relaxation evaded me.
I felt like I was falling apart, grasping desperately to stay calm, focused, composed.
Funny too, because Daniel told me later,
“I think this was your quietest labor.”
I stared at him incredulously.  

But she is here, her name meaning “Precious grace.”
She is indeed a picture of what God has been doing in
my heart, our lives, yes, even in our extended family.
I felt so weak, so needy, so incapable, and yet here she is, so beautiful.
So perfect. In spite of me. In spite of us.
Because of God. 

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I can’t get over her dark, long hair.
Or her tiny little toes.
Or the way she tucks her little fists under her chin when she sleeps.
I hold her close, her warmth and sleepy grunts somehow comfort me,
when I didn’t know that I needed comfort.
I peer deep into her dark blue eyes, and wonder who she will look like someday. 

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I am learning again, how helpless and dependent I am on God,
and yet, how He loves me, as I am.
Alannah’s existence alone is a delight.
I lie in bed next to her, memorizing her beautiful features, and sigh deeply full of happiness.
A sleepy yawn warms me all over.
She can do nothing for herself, and yet I couldn’t love her more.
I see Daniel hold her close, his eyes closed in the joy of her.
Already she has her daddy wrapped around her tiny finger…

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Once again, I’m lost in the depths of this journey called “motherhood.”
This vast world of delights blended with challenges.
Of my days filled with millions of mundane moments in which heaven shines through,
illuminating everything and taking my breath away.
And I taste God.

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Be still…

I roll over and blink in the soft glow.
It is early morning and my eyes focus on the blinds, trying to guess what time it is.
The night felt disrupted. The morning’s rest rather chopped.

It started with Daniel’s phone getting a text at some random hour of the night:
“AMBER ALERT!”
Someone’s child is missing. Kidnapped in a stolen car.
How can a mother sleep after hearing that?
After imagining for one horrible moment that it happened to me,
that MY child was the one at the complete mercy of a thief, a kidnapper –
be still my heart.

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Then the realtor texts before 6 AM,
finally has an update on the bid we put on a house two whole weeks ago.
Two weeks is a long time to pray and wait,
to hope and try to think about other things.
Two weeks of praying that God would do a miracle,
if He wants us to have this house.
The text says that we are second in line; another bid is ahead of ours.
If that one fails, we are up next.

So nothing has changed really; still the prayers for a miracle continue.
Be still, ever still, anxious heart.
He has all details in his hand.
Our life, our purpose, even where we live,
is more important to Him than they are even to us.
Be STILL. 

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Everyone else is quiet, resting in the delightful morning hour.
Except this baby. My belly stretches to an odd shape,
this child is big enough to be born now.
Technically full term, I wish each day that she would come.
But I know that I could have five more weeks to go, if she is as late as her sister was.
The room glows a touch brighter in the morning light.
The fields look like a painting, the sky fresh and clean.
I take a deep breath. I want to end this pregnancy well.
To delight in these last days with just Weston and Tirzah.
To learn to bow my heart, my desires,
to celebrate the discomforts that throw me to my knees in need before God again.
To finish full of grace.
Oh impatient heart, be still.

I think of the human race, of the history of time.
From the garden of Eden to the sandy toils in Egypt,
from the bloody arena to the empty tomb.
From my carefree moments to these where worry and control
threaten the peaceful assurance of God’s overwhelming capability and wisdom.
I think of those hands stretched out over the tumultuous and wild waves,
“Peace. Be still.”
And then, there was a great calm. 

This home, this heart, this world needs this peace.
Where all is held by His gentle hand, and carried.

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Today may you find in your moments of greatest need,
those minutes when worry and fear threaten to steal the joy right out of your heart,
may you find Him to be more real.
More relevant. More vital, than what you feel or understand.
Deeper than the ocean, and more vast than the storm you face,
may His presence be your stability.
Your very life.

This place of worship

You know when you have tried to write something half a dozen times
and it just ends up getting reread, pondered and then saved;
that the subject is still going round and round. Incomplete.
I come back to it, trying again to put it into words, a little clearer this time, a bit cleaner.
Free from the smudges of my lack.
My groping to understand more fully.
To word it more concisely.

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My sisters and I have had this ongoing discussion as my this little one inside grows.
As I feel her kick, and feel in my heart both joy and pain through life moments.

We’ve talked a lot about pregnancy. And attitudes involved.
I am not like a few of my friends, who never look more than six months pregnant.
I do the basketball straight out front thing, the watermelon on end.
There is no hiding this little life growing inside.

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I love pregnancy. I love birth stories, and learning all the details and symptoms involved.
My husband has even teased me about being obsessed with it…
Who would have guessed then that I, of all people, would quietly grow to resent this time
the inconveniences that pregnancy would bring me?
Honestly, after having lost a baby last year, why would I even care?

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It happened so quietly, so subtly that I didn’t even realize what was going on.
Sure, the morning sickness was way worse than ever before.
And it was challenging having two active children who kept me from getting all the rest I’d had during their pregnancies.
But the resentment? What was this all about?
I’d never felt a bit sad as I put away non-maternity clothes, or looked so often in the mirror and catch my breath.
(Where HAD that waist gone?) Or felt so boatish so early in pregnancy. I looked, and sighed.
I felt like I was lugging this bump around, instead of joyfully bouncing through life with it.
Where had I gone? This didn’t feel like ME.

It’s amazing to me how God lets me, Miss Optimistic, go through times
when I smack my long nose into the blatant fact that I alone cannot bounce through life.
On my own, I end up on my face.
Alone, I simply can’t.

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But the answer came spoken through the cloud of confusion one day by one of my best friends.
She looked deep in my eyes and said,
“You HAVE what it takes to face this. God has given you all you need.”
It was like the clouds parted and God cupped my chin in his hands,
“I have given you all you need, not just to survive this season, but to THRIVE in it.”

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I glowed in the revelation for a while, but the gold lining on the cloud faded as life pounded on,
real and hard.
I didn’t FEEL like I was thriving. As I lost my breakfast over the side of the toilet bowl, again.
As I felt like an impatient and frustrated mother.
Her voice spoke again, this time in a conversation about a completely different matter,
“It’s about believing truth and not lies.”

Truth or lies. What am I believing? What am I conforming my mind to?
That the sacrifices and discomforts of pregnancy are about me?
That the loss of my waist and form is something to be mourned?
Is it about me, or about the special season that God has for me, forming this little life?
Perhaps this time of sacrifice and discomfort is actually a place of worship.
A call to more of Him, and less of me.

It was here in this moment of stepping back, I saw them clearly;
these lies that had blurred reality from my life. The power of truth took my breath away.

I’m blown away again, tears in my eyes and my strength completely inadequate to face the day.
The God of the universe, has chosen this day, this moment, as perfect for imperfect little me.

 Good living, yes, even good parenting, is not about being perfect.
Or about not struggling. Or falling. It’s about living real, full and honest.
It’s about embracing His grace for me, here and now.
It’s about inviting Him into this moment, be it sparkling with joy and smiles
or glistening with tears, and having a heart of worship.
Agreeing that He is good. All the time.
When I can do it, and when I can’t.

It’s about modeling for our children what it is like to walk with God, even when it is hard.
When we have to get down in front of them, take their small hands in ours
and look deep into those beautiful eyes and say, “I’m sorry…”
These moments are those pivotal ones where they learn we are honest, real and safe.
Even when we fail.
Cause we will fail. We are human.
And in these places, we can hold them close and point up, and together marvel
in the perfection and consistency and goodness of our God, who fails not.
It’s not about being perfect, but pointing them to the One who is.

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May this moment in your life be a place of worship.
Whether it involves painful sacrifice, blind trust or faith gripped by weak and fleshly hands.
Or whether it’s one of those mountain top experiences
with the winds tearing through your hair, your heart flooded with exhilaration.
Where you can SEE how each rigorous step along the way was meant for good.

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“Come, bless the Lord, all who serve him,

all who stand by night in the house of the Lord,

come and bless him.

 Come, bless the Lord, life your hands,

in the temple of his holiness, come and bless him.

 May the Maker of the heavens, and the Maker of the earth,

come and bless you, come and bless you.

May the Lord of heaven and earth, bless you.”

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Thanks, once again, to my amazingly gifted sister, Gretta, who shot these pictures.
She sees beauty and heaven in the human and needy.
Her heart, and her camera, capture again and again those little moments that can be so easily overlooked.
By the way, she shoots engagements, weddings, and her absolute favorite: newborn babies!

You can see more of her lovely work at grettagraphy.wordpress.com