Don’t Take the Bait

‘Don’t take the bait.’ God’s inner whisper cut through the music and singing that was rising around me. Right away, I knew what He meant.

I was annoyed. Angry. In a huff. My husband had done some things that morning that upset me. Now a torrent of emotions was swirling inside me—festering, gnawing and setting my whole body aflame.

We were at church—my happy place, where I hugged my friends, soaked up life-giving truths and sang with all my heart.

Not today.

Today I had crawled inside my pain, closed the shutters and posted a ‘Don’t Come Near Me’ sign.

It wasn’t that my husband did anything particularly bad. He just did things differently to what I thought he should. And because of that, I concluded he didn’t value me. It was a crazy mental leap, considering his devotion—through thick and thin—over twenty-six years. But I was offended—and that offence had dragged me to a place of mental turmoil.   

Offence is one of our enemy’s most cunning ways to lure us off-track. He often blindsides us, striking when and where we least expect it. In this world full of fallible people, we have many opportunities to be hurt. If we choose to hold on to the hurt and carry it around, our peace quickly evaporates, our view of people is distorted, our hearts turn sour and our words become fiery darts, doing damage wherever they land. Worst of all, offence puts a wall between us and God. ‘With the measure you use, it will be measured to you,’ Jesus said.

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I know this. I’ve seen the damage offence has done in other people’s lives. I’ve told them how important it is to deal with offences quickly. Yet there I was, stewing, and the fact that I knew the danger and was still rehashing my husband’s ‘crimes’ only intensified the burn.

The music built to a climax and I realised the time of singing was almost over. Closing my eyes, I mouthed the lyrics, trying to silence the voice of pain, let go of my anger and forgive. Red hot, the lava inside me kept bubbling. I peeped sideways at my husband. His face was upturned as he sang—eyes closed, his body rocking in time.

How can he sing like nothing’s wrong? I seethed. He mustn’t even realise I’m upset. Doesn’t he care?

When the song ended, we sat down. Folding my arms, I pursed my lips and focused on the guy on the platform—our pastor. His expression was joyful and his speech animated but his words washed over me without registering. My mind was thick in fog.

After a while, some listeners started voicing their agreement. ‘Amen.’ ‘So good.’ A few people even broke into applause at one point.

He must be saying something important. I should listen. I shifted in my seat and squinted my eyes, trying again to concentrate. It was no use. I’d dug myself into a hole so deep I couldn’t even figure out which way was up. I exhaled sharply through my nose. God, please help me.

I knew we needed to talk. On my own, I wasn’t getting anywhere. But we couldn’t resolve this issue here—there was too much to say, too many eyes and ears all around us. I leaned forward and pressed my fingers against my forehead, starkly aware that the hand that usually reached over to rub my back was absent. God, please. I’m stuck.

The preacher finished speaking and bread and juice were handed out ready for communion. Through my mind ran the words of Paul, ‘Anyone who eats or drinks in an unworthy manner . . .’

That was me.

I wasn’t ready.

Before taking communion, we’re told to stop and examine ourselves, check our attitudes and see if there’s anything blocking our oneness with Jesus. The Son of God gave His everything for us, enduring accusation, rejection and the most brutal of deaths—purely because of love. How could I insult Him by coming to this sacred time full of anger and resentment?

People around us closed their eyes in prayer and I saw my opportunity. Leaning close to my husband I whispered, ‘Please forgive me for being harsh and angry.’ I still felt upset. But I knew I needed to humble myself and admit my fault. That pride and bitterness was too big a burden to carry.  

His response was immediate. ‘I forgive you.’

I flinched. Is that all? Doesn’t he see his own fault in the situation? Doesn’t he want my forgiveness too? Like a spiked barb, offence started pricking me, trying to get a fresh grip on my heart.

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This time I breathed deep and refused to be snared. I’d already missed out on so much. It just wasn’t worth it. If I continued to hold on to offence, it would only cause more heartache.

Like a lion lying down to sleep, I felt my soul settle as the anger began draining away. I was still shaken and sad, shocked by my own intensity and wearied from the battle. But I could breathe. I knew we’d talk later and work through the issues.

It ended up taking a few conversations over the next week for my husband and I to fully understand each other’s perspectives and motives from that morning. Even after so many years together, we sometimes read each other wrong. This reminds us how much we need God’s help to walk with humility, honesty and compassion. God is the ultimate healer and restorer, able to build and strengthen our relationships when our emotions would tear them down.

How are you going in this area of offence? Have you taken the enemy’s bait?   

‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . .’   1 Peter 5:8-9

Author and speaker, John Bevere, has written an excellent book on this topic, “The Bait of Satan”. Find it here.

Will You Walk with Him?

High on a hill he stands, king over his kingdom—or so he thinks. His head is erect. His strong horns curve backwards. His tan coat reflects the yellowing afternoon sunlight. He snorts, his shaggy beard quivering. She comes, small of frame with slate grey hair, wearing navy pants and a pink shirt. Swishing through grasses damp from rain she walks, her voice carrying through the air in its sing-song way. Two heads pop up from the grass below, their arching necks lengthening and orange beaks flashing as they turn. A handful of chickens—orbs of white, red and gold—emerge from bowing bracken ferns and scurry up the slope alonside the geese.

Photo by Ellie Burgin on Pexels

Her words flow melodically in an unfamiliar tongue, the same phrase—something akin to, ‘Come here,’ perhaps—being used over and over. Affection rings in her tone.  These are her children, the delight of her heart. With rocking gait, she leads them towards their coop, offering food and shelter, comfort and safety. Her words flow like a stream over pebbles until at last the chickens answer with their rhythmic cluck-clucks and monologue turns to conversation—back and forth, her and them. A wayward goose tries to push past and the woman’s voice becomes stern, her words sharp. She waves her arms at the honking bird, quickly bringing her family into order.

Many times, when I hear this ritual begin, I stop whatever I’m doing and watch through our window. A warm sense of delight spreads through me and I can’t help but smile. Though I can’t decipher the words of either woman or creature, their relationship is clear and their dynamics often entertaining.

On a recent afternoon when my heart was heavy, I pulled out my journal and began listing all the reasons I had to give thanks. The woman came to mind and as I pictured her there on the hill, I felt a sudden surge of joy in my spirit as God breathed these words:

That’s like Me with you.

Of course. No wonder it brought me such pleasure.  

Like this woman, our God walked in the garden with His beloved ones at the end of the day, right from the beginning of creation (Gen 3:8-9). Always, this has been His heart—intimate connection, reflection on the day, a passing on of wisdom.

Now, through Christ, all of us are invited into that intimacy.

He beckons,

Come away with Me, My love

Hear Me singing over you?

I have food for you—and shelter.

Come and be nourished. Come and learn from Me.

Receive My discipline, for I see you and I know what you need.

And I will give you rest.

He’s calling us—not only to come to Him at the end of the day but to walk with Him all day every day. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus made the way for us to be in constant relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit.

What is our response to such an offer?

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Are we like the goose—certain we know better and determined to do life our own way?

We may already belong to Jesus but we’re not always willing to follow His directions. We’re choosey about what we entrust to Him, unwilling to surrender our whole lives to His loving rule.

Are we eager to embrace the rich, full relationship He offers—to bask in His love, find refuge and rest in His presence, to feed on His word, converse with Him and learn from His wisdom?

Are we willing to run to Him and say,

Lord, it’s You I want—nothing else.

Here’s my life.

Make it what You want.

Thank You for Your counsel, Your provision, Your discipline and Your power?

If you’re anything like me, your response to these questions varies from day to day. I’m challenged as I write them. Emotions and circumstances often cloud our view and make us close our hearts, clutching at control. That’s why it’s so crucial for us to fix our gaze on the truth and listen for His song—every day, every moment. Only when we see Jesus for who He really is—the one who surrendered completely to the Father’s plan—are we able to lay everything at His beautiful, pierced feet.

With surrender comes life in all its fullness—the life we were created for—unfolding step by step as we walk with Him.

‘Why spend money on what is not bread,

And your labour on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me and eat what is good,

And your soul will delight in the richest of fare.’

Isaiah 55:2

In Desperate Times . . .

The air was fragrant with the scent of peppermint oil and eucalyptus. I lay under a thick, warm towel, face down. Soft music soothed my frazzled nerves. The therapist’s hands moved along my neck and shoulders, kneading tension from my aching muscles.  

Two weeks earlier, my husband and I had trudged through a bout of COVID. While our illness was mostly mild, the fatigue it brought lingered. Six days along, when we were still weak and vague, an email informed us we needed to move—in just five weeks’ time. Though we barely had energy or headspace to keep our household running, house-hunting and packing were added to our lengthy to-do list.  

After one week of searching with little reward, I was so full of fear and anxiety, I thought my head would burst. If only someone could come and fix everything for me, like mum so often had when I was young. I noticed my mind running to desperate places, secretly wishing I could run away or go to sleep for a month—anything to escape the battle that lay ahead. The fear that gripped me wasn’t based so much on the chance we might not find a house, though that simmered under the surface. It was more that I didn’t think I had what it would take to survive the journey.  

I’ve been through upheavals like this before. Bigger ones, even—like our move 1400 kilometres north from Tasmania three years ago. At that time I saw God lead us so clearly—at every stage I sensed His counsel, encouragement and comfort. This time my mind was so foggy I could barely focus to read my bible, let alone hear His whisper. Even when I did sense what God was saying, I couldn’t grasp hold of the hope He offered.

My body was still unwell. So were my emotions—deep in the slump that sometimes comes with illness. Paranoia, powerlessness, depression and middle of the night panic all had their moments of attack. The littlest trigger set my stomach churning and pain running through my body. I felt like a wreck—a shell of the woman I’d been—completely wrung out. I kept reading, kept praying and journaling, but couldn’t seem to shake off the fear.

On the morning of massage day, I realised I needed to push through and fight. There was no way I could carry on as I was. Mustering all the strength I had, I began speaking aloud God’s promises.

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‘God, thank you that you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Thank you that you make a way in the wilderness and provide streams in the desert. You open doors no man can shut. You are my shepherd and you go ahead of me to prepare the way. Thank you that when we acknowledge You in all our ways You make our path straight . As we seek first your kingdom, you will add to us everything we need. You know the end from the beginning and you will work all this together for our good.’

With each declaration, a tiny chink was cut in the fear that had imprisoned my mind. This was progress. But it took so much energy I couldn’t sustain it for long.   

‘God,’ I whispered. ‘I can’t do this alone. Please speak. I’m listening.’

Later I lay on the massage table, soaking up every hope-filled lyric in the Christian music I heard. The therapist, a friend from church, started working on my arms, her touch gentle yet firm, her thumbs pressing soothingly on sore spots. 

‘God loves you so much,’ she said, her voice gentle. ‘He has a good plan for you.’

‘Thank you,’ I whispered, her words settling in my heart. ‘I need that reminder.’

She went on massaging, silent for a minute before adding, ‘I believe He’s going to give you a new perspective.’

My heart sighed. Oh, yes, Lord. That’s what I need.

She massaged one of my hands then the other, rubbing in small circles along the muscles between my fingers, relieving tension I hadn’t realised was there. ‘He’s going to help you see your situation from His perspective.’

I felt my spirit lift. Let it be, Lord.

That evening a friend checked in to see how I was via messenger. She wrote, ‘It seems like God is stripping away all the control from you so He has total control—a great thing but a very painful thing.’

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I pondered her words after our conversation ended. She was right. After spending years seeking to rest in God’s goodness, I’d slipped into worrying, imagining all the possible scenarios of how things could play out—mostly what could go wrong. The reality was, no matter how much thought or worry I put in, I couldn’t control the outcome. Only God could give us favour with a home-owner among the sea of applicants. Only He could open up a way for us.

When I went to bed that night, I prayed, Lord, please give me a dream—something so vivid it brings lasting change to the way I think. Early the next morning I woke many times, not with a dream but with a sentence I’d once heard running through my head.

‘Do what you can do and let God do what only He can do.’

Do what I can do. What could I do? I could pray. I could ask others for input, look for suitable houses and get our application documents ready. That was all. Suddenly a burden lifted. All I had to do was fulfil my role.  

The rest was up to God.

That day I started working on a rental application. It was detailed, tedious and took a very long time. When I lowered myself into bed that evening, I opened my current read to see the next chapter’s title. Perseverance.

Ha ha, God. Perfect timing. Okay, I’m listening.

The pages that followed told the story of a man who always quit when things got difficult. He went through a string of failed relationships and lived a restless, miserable life—until he learned to endure the tough patches.   

The next morning as I opened my eyes, another revelation came.

‘This process will be uncomfortable,

but it won’t destroy me.

God will see me through.’

I was struck by a realization as I jotted the words in my journal. My thinking was faulty.

Discomfort would not destroy me, no matter how much it felt like it would.

I had subconsciously agreed with an inner voice that whined, ‘I can’t bear this’. Several times before, that phrase had tripped me up. But I’d never acknowledged its deceptive nature. Only God knew what I could bear, and He would set the limits on how far this journey stretched me. I didn’t need to run or hide or go to sleep for a month. I needed to face and accept this season of discomfort and walk with Him all the way through. He would bring me out the other side. I could endure—if I relied on Him one day at a time.  

A few days later, after a long time studying Proverbs, I sat quietly with my journal and felt God speak these words to my heart.

Enjoy this process (of house-hunting), knowing there will be a good outcome. Choose to enter fully into what I am doing—even when it doesn’t make sense—and know I’ll work good in your heart (and mind) through it.

When you choose to offer your best to a process you’d rather not be in, I do My best work in you.’  

God knew I didn’t want to be in this process. And He was asking me to give my best anyway. He saw the bigger picture and His focus was as much on what He was doing in me as what He was doing for me.

Isn’t that what Romans 8:28-29 tells us? It doesn’t say God works all things together to make our lives comfortable. It says He uses all things—even the really hard things—to mould us into the likeness of Jesus. God’s greatest desire is that we grow into the unique individuals He destined us to be, each walking in His plan—the truly good life. The outcome of the process (though He does provide for our needs, often in amazing ways) isn’t nearly as important as the work He does in us through it.  

There’s only one week now till moving day and our house-hunt isn’t complete. It’s been difficult to stay in that place of quiet trust the last few days. What ifs have started creeping in, whispering fear to my soul. Working through the final edits of this post has been helpful. It’s put the truth before my eyes once more. Though this process feels torturous, God is doing something very good.  

What battle are you facing right now? And how is God working in you through it? Though this patch you’re in may not seem to hold anything you can view as good, if you seek to walk with Him through it, there will be a time where you can.

PS. Two days after completing this, our rental application for a lovely home was approved. Though it’s too long a story to go into now, we know this is the home of God’s choice for us. And we are oh-so-thankful.

‘The righteous cry out and the LORD hears them;

He delivers them from all their troubles.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted

And saves those who are crushed in spirit.’

Psalm 34:17-18

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A Holy Encounter

The lights were low, the room warm and full of people. I closed my eyes while music and voices swirled around me, my heart swelling with emotion. We were back—together at last—singing carols in anticipation of Christmas. We’d just begun one of my favourites. This year, after many months of restrictions and isolation, its words seemed especially poignant.

‘Long lay the world in sin and error pining . . .’

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Didn’t that describe the journey we’d been on? Regardless of our viewpoints, we’d all suffered loss and heartache—so much waiting, disconnection and wondering.

‘ . . . Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.’

This testing had brought for each of us a fresh awareness of our flaws and need of rescue.

‘A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices . . .’

Goose bumps tingled over my skin as I lifted a silent prayer. Oh, yes, Lord! Our world is weary. We desperately need Your hope.

On through the verses we caroled, our voices rising in measure with our passion, till we neared the crescendo. ‘Fall on your knees . . .’

And there it was again – that tug on my spirit. Every time we sang, ‘Fall on your knees,’ I sensed God’s whisper, Don’t just sing the words. Do what they say. Kneel.

I opened my eyes, scanning the room. People in our church didn’t often kneel. Everyone was caught up in the joy of worshipping together—did I really want to distract them? Wouldn’t they think I was weird?

The pull grew stronger. I breathed deep. Okay, God. I will.

As the words came around again, I lowered myself to the carpet. Closing my eyes once more, I rested my hands on the back of the chair in front of me and continued singing, ‘O night divine, O night when Christ was born.’

My surroundings seemed to fade and I saw myself in a starlit stable, kneeling on a bed of straw. The scene reminded me of a Christmas card I’d seen many years earlier, where Santa knelt at the foot of a manger, his hat in his hands, head bowed before the sleeping baby. That card made such an impression on me, the image was still vivid in my mind.

This time, though, it wasn’t Santa lowered in reverence. It was me. If I opened my eyes, I knew everything around me would look the same as before. So, I didn’t. God was showing me something and I didn’t want to miss a moment.

From my position on the stable floor, I leaned forward and peered into the manger. There He was—Jesus—tightly wrapped, his head covered with dark hair, his tan face glowing with the sheen of new birth. This object of our worship, Who came to offer hope to a world in crisis, was the Son of God—co-creator of the universe, more powerful than any earthly or spiritual ruler. Yet here He was—a baby?

I knew the story. We all knew the Christmas story. Jesus came as a baby. But on this day, I felt it. It became real to me. And I wept.

Jesus looked exactly like any other newborn. So tiny. So fragile.

This mighty one had given up all His splendour, all His elevation above earthly concerns, to become the most vulnerable of humans. Easily crushed. Completely dependent on others to sustain Him.

How could that be? What love must have compelled Him to be reduced to such a state?

In that moment, something shifted inside me. All the hardships of my year—all the challenges I’d been wrestling with—suddenly looked very small. If Jesus could humble Himself in this way, and later lay down His life to rescue me, how could I offer Him anything less?

I wiped my eyes as the song came to an end and stood once more, my heart at peace.

Lord, I’m yours. Whatever you want, I’m willing. You are worthy. Help me to follow you.

I don’t know what lies ahead for me. I don’t feel any stronger than I did before. But I am comforted. Because I know that whatever comes, Jesus gets it. He’s already walked the hardest of roads—and He knows the way through.    

‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

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Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!’

  Philippians 2:5-8

Victory in Defeat

My plan was to pray over the long list of verses and thoughts in my diary ready to create an author post. But I found my eyes drawn to the last topic in my short list of blog ideas, ‘Overcoming in Defeat’. I stared at the words, acutely aware of their relevance for the season we’re in. Pulling out my journal from July— where the original ideas were recorded—I read and was stirred once again.

I had been mulling over Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:21 ‘Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’ The idea sounded inspiring—but how did it work?

As I mused, I had written, ‘Lord, doing good when we’re treated badly doesn’t feel like overcoming. It feels like defeat, like bowing to the evildoer.‘ I was thinking of some painful conflicts I’d faced in the preceding week.

Almost immediately, I sensed God’s response. ‘So it was with the cross. My son’s death had every appearance of defeat and injustice. He was condemned via an unfair trial, placed in the hands of prideful, demon-driven zealots, treated with utmost brutality, betrayed and abandoned by most of His dearest friends. He even felt forsaken by Me—His Father, who sent Him.

It was true. I could see Jesus in my mind—accused, betrayed, dragged away like a criminal, ridiculed and beaten by supposedly God-fearing people, then enduring a slow, agonizing death in front of a jeering crowd. He had the power to crush those who attacked Him, yet He forgave them, yielding to His Father’s will. To any onlooker—even Jesus’ closest friends—it appeared the enemy had soundly defeated Him.

That morning God reminded me of an important truth—what we perceive isn’t always reality.

The gruelling process Jesus endured had a purpose far beyond what anyone could see at that time. What looked like defeat was, in reality, stupendous victory. Through His suffering and death, Jesus disarmed the very powers that were trying to destroy Him, making a public spectacle of them. And He opened up the way for us to be forgiven, set free and welcomed into the family of God. Victory indeed! None of those breakthroughs could have come without Jesus’ humble willingness to walk in obedience.

My notes from God’s revelation continued,

Every time you choose good, there is a victory in your spirit and your character. Each time you submit to Me and lay down your desire to do things your own way, I build muscle into your character and grow you in authority for greater victories.

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Eating the best of the land (as promised in Isaiah 1:19) isn’t just about material, tangible experiences. It’s about the heart, the spirit and the spiritual realm. So be willing and obedient. Follow the way of the cross. It will be worth it.

God’s route to victory is rarely the high road. More often it is a path of servanthood, humiliation and frail dependence. In God’s economy the last are first, servants are declared the greatest, the proud are opposed and the humble are lavished with grace. Those events that have all the appearance of failure are forward steps on the path to triumph.

This concept is foreign to our success-oriented world. Our bibles are laden with living examples. Think of Joseph—a slave and a prisoner—made second in charge under Pharaoh; of Gideon—the least of the least—who led God’s people into conquest; of David—the shepherd boy with a sling and a stone—who defeated a terrifying giant; of Rahab—a prostitute—who had her pagan family rescued from certain destruction and was welcomed into the lineage of Jesus.* Then there was Jesus—the Son of God—who made Himself nothing, taking on the role of servant to His subjects and surrendering His life in the most gruesome of deaths. His humble obedience led to ultimate exaltation, higher than any other—forever .

There’s always more to the story than what we see. Always.

If we’re seeking to walk with God and doing good as He directs, His victory will come. We may not always see the full result of our obedience, but we can be confident of this—God will fulfil His purpose, in our hearts and in our world. So, let’s press on, choosing willing, trusting obedience. Jesus is with us—and He knows the way.

Triumph comes via the low road.

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‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’

Hebrews 12:2-3

*You can read more about these overcomers in the following passages.

Joseph: Gen 37-41

Gideon: Judges 6-8

David: 1 Samuel 16-17

Rahab: Joshua 2 and 6

A Way Through the Valley

I sat on the couch and stared blankly out the window, my eyes blind to tiny green shoots sprouting everywhere in the garden—usually a cause for joy. Depression loomed over me like a black-robed villain, pressing down on my soul, while despair tightened its grasp. I was sinking—I could feel it. I leaned forward and put my face in my hands, keenly aware that the divide between me standing firm or falling was so fragile, there was almost no barrier to stop me plummeting.

For a moment, I teetered on the edge, wondering what would happen if I let depression take hold. I was justified, wasn’t I? Wouldn’t anyone be low in my position?

Three years ago, our family uprooted and left our home state of twenty-five years to move north. While we relished being closer to my family and living near the coast, the process of establishing our career paths and forming new friendships was slow, hampered further by the 2020 lockdown.

Once COVID restrictions eased, we dusted ourselves off and ventured forward again, keen to build on the small foundations we’d already laid. Doors of opportunity began to open and our sense of belonging was growing when, wham! Our second lockdown hit. This one lasted much longer and its impact reverberated all the way to the laws of our nation. This time, along with rules and restrictions a clear message was proclaimed, challenging our ideas about what matters most and dictating the way we should view and treat people. Like the ripples of an earthquake, we felt its effects as key aspects of who we were as Australians began to shake.

Normally, I’m an upbeat girl, ready to believe the best of people and hold hope of better days beyond a trial. It’s rare for me to find myself in a place so deep and dark, I can’t see any way out. Lately, though . . . well, it’s been tough. I won’t go into detail beyond saying there are significant changes happening in my sphere and I’m facing heartbreaking loss in several areas, particularly relationships. When I see the people around me also struggling, my grief is multiplied.

We didn’t see this upheaval coming, nor can we see where it will take us. Almost every day the information seems to change. If ever there was a time to be confronted with our powerlessness, it’s now. We cry out to God and use the strength He gives to make the best of our situation and support others. Sometimes, though, the constancy of the battle wears us down and its length stretches us far beyond what we think we can bear. Hope fades and the gloom becomes so heavy, it immobilizes us. That’s where I found myself on the couch that day—staring into a darkness so thick, it seemed as if it could swallow me whole. Oh, God.

Then, softly, like a light shining through the fog, I sensed an echo of my own words from a couple of months back:

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‘The hardest of times became the high points in my life because of what God did through them.’

Those were words of hindsight, reflections on the darkest seasons in my journey. Through trauma, anorexia, relationship strains, burnout, life-threatening illness and tragic loss I’d felt God’s loving presence so close, known the wisdom of His counsel and seen His goodness poured out, even in the littlest details.

The hardest of times can become the best of times? Could that really be true in this situation?

Surely not this time, God. This is too big, too hard.

His response? You have a choice.

I paused, breathing deep. I did, didn’t I? I could let myself be pulled into the vortex of despair, or I could choose to put my hope in God and believe He would turn all of this—somehow—for good. Sitting up, I rubbed my hands against my legs and released a slow breath. I knew my emotions were shaky, far too weak to leap all the way from hopelessness to instant joy. I had a journey ahead—and from my former times of struggle I knew the steps I needed to take:

Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash
  1. I asked for help

I picked up my phone and sent messages to my connect group leader, my church prayer team and a bunch of close friends, telling them how low I was and asking them to pray.

God puts us in community for our good. When we feel like we’re drowning, He urges us to confide in others, allowing them to lift us with their encouragement and prayers.  

‘Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.’ James 5:16 TLB

2. I switched off the noise

Some words I’d been listening to offered hope. Others gave interesting information but stirred up anxiety and despair. I chose to switch off the second set.

When our emotions are too frail to deal objectively with negativity, we need to be vigilant, setting limits to protect our mind and heart.

‘Fix your thoughts on what is true and honourable and right and pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’ Philippians 4:8 NLT

3. I simplified

I took a step back and chose to simplify what I could—clearing out clutter, putting aside big projects, giving myself time and space to rest.

Weary hearts and minds are easily overloaded. Sometimes we need to slow the pace for a while and just do the basics.

‘There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.’ Ecclesiastes 3:1

4. I fixed my eyes

Once some of the mental and physical clutter had been cleared out, it was easier for me to define my focus. Again and again, I felt God urging me, ‘Fix your eyes on Me.’ So, again and again, I did. And every time I looked to Him, He brought new perspective to everything else.

No circumstance, person, disease or government determines the course of our lives. Above all, God is in control—and He is a good, loving Father.

‘Be still and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.’ Psalm 46:10

5. I nourished my spirit

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I spent extra time in God’s presence each morning, journaling and sitting quietly, chewing over portions of scripture and writing down verses He seemed to highlight. Like a starving child desperate for good food, I devoured every word that brought truth and perspective. Through the day I fed on the wisdom of others, listening to sermons and reading articles that built my faith.

God’s word is our food, His Spirit our life-giving water. To gain the strength we need for the path He’s marked out for us, we need to eat and drink daily from His provision.

‘When your words came, I ate them;

They were my joy and my heart’s delight . . .’ Jeremiah 15:16

6. I remembered God’s faithfulness

One day I listed in my journal the many trials of my past, each one so difficult I’d wondered if they would ever end. I remembered what God did, the profound truths He taught me and the way He led me all the way through—making me richer and wiser through the process.

The trials we face don’t last forever. They have a beginning and an endpoint. How we come out of them depends on how we go through them. If we’re willing to yield to God’s refining and receive His guidance on the way, He’ll work it all for good in our lives.

‘Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.’ James 1:3

7. I let go

Finally, after dealing with all the other issues, I realised how entangled I’d become in all my imaginings of what might or might not happen. My attempts to figure and plan had woven a tight web around my soul, pinching me with disappointment and despair whenever circumstances didn’t work out as I’d hoped.

God alone could see the future.

Just as He was with me now, He would be with me in the days to come, supplying all I needed at every point along the way. To try to do His job was a waste of time and energy.

So, I surrendered.

I laid down my need to know how God was going to work everything out.

I chose to trust Him, believing He would bring me through and take care of me on the way.

I chose to take one day at a time, fixing my eyes on His face, following His nudges and giving my best to the people around me.

Scrawling that prayer of surrender in my journal brought great release, lightening the burden I’d been carrying and giving me freedom to focus on each day as a gift. It didn’t fix everything—our world is still in turmoil. But I find I’m more able to manage the fluctuations between anxiety and confidence, sadness and thankfulness by choosing to stay anchored in the truth that is stronger than my feelings:

This season won’t last forever.

God’s promises are true.

He is with us and, if we keep our eyes on Him, He’ll show us the way through—choice by choice—for however long it takes to come out the other side.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

And when we emerge from this battle,

we’ll be closer to God,

stronger in His truth and

more confident in His sufficiency

than we were at the beginning.

‘And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.’ Romans 8:28

Overcoming Darkness

Her name was Bec. Small in stature, with shoulder-length, sandy hair, a face free of make-up and an unpretentious manner, there was nothing to give the impression of authority or passion as she took her place at the lectern. But when she opened her mouth, I realised she had the heart of a lion.

Bec had been living for several years in Cambodia, a nation where trafficking of women and children was common—and many nationals viewed it as a way to survive financially. Fathers sold their young daughters into prostitution. Some children were rescued and returned to their families, only to be sold again. The blindness and injustice of it made my stomach churn. Yet Bec’s tone held steady as she shared. How can she be so calm? I wondered.

After reading some sad statistics, Bec lifted her eyes to her listeners. ‘Because of this, many people view Cambodia as a very dark place. When we look at the darkness in our world, we can shake our heads in despair, fearing the darkness will grow so large that it snuffs out the light.’ Her voice grew louder. ‘But that’s because we have the wrong idea. We think darkness and light are equal and opposite forces. They’re not. Darkness isn’t a force at all. It doesn’t have a power of its own to do anything.

Darkness is just the absence of light. To overcome darkness, all we need to do is turn on the light. Even the tiniest flame can cut through it.’

I sat in my seat, stunned, as Bec’s words cut through the shadows in my mind.

She opened her bible and read from John chapter 1 verse 5. ‘”The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”’

Hope stirred inside me. Light overcomes darkness. Darkness—no matter how black it is—cannot overcome light.

Bec continued, ‘This principle is the foundation of our work in Cambodia. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”’ (Matthew 5: 14-15) She smiled. ‘To overcome darkness, we need to find the highest stand—the highest platform—we can and shine as brightly as we can, so our light reaches as many people as possible.’

Photo by Pezibear on Pixabay

For Bec and a team of Cambodian nationals, that meant working together to shine the brightest light they could into arenas which held the greatest sway over young people’s minds—music and media. The team formed a band, wrote music and worked with some media experts to produce albums and advertisements that challenged popular views on issues such as drink spiking, date rape, prostitution and trafficking. As they shone their light, they were changing mindsets, little by little.

It’s been fifteen years since I heard Bec speak, but her words have stayed with me—and they came up again a couple of months ago. In fact, I woke with them echoing through my mind.

It’s so easy for us to be overwhelmed by the darkness we see in our world, especially in this COVID season when there’s upheaval almost everywhere we look. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that we can overcome darkness—if only we’ll turn on the light.

So, how do we do that?  

We fix our eyes

First, we shift our gaze from the darkness—all the doom and gloom around us—to focus on God. The bible says He is light and darkness has no place in Him. It’s only through His light, His enabling, that we can overcome.  When we fix our eyes on the pure brightness of His light, everything else is put into perspective. He gives us hope. He exposes any darkness residing in our hearts, washing us clean and setting us free to move forward and live at peace with others.

‘If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.’ 1 John 1:7

We act in the opposite spirit

Darkness cannot be overcome by more darkness. Instead, we live in God’s light and let it shine through our lives.

Where there is hatred, we show love.

Where there is division, we build unity.

We offer hope in the face of doom, truth where there is deception, comfort where there is pain, peace amid turmoil, acceptance where there is rejection. Enabled by God’s overflowing love, we press forward, relying on the wisdom and power He offers.

‘Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.’ Romans 12:21

We let the Light guide our steps.

As we choose to walk with God, He shines His light on our path, revealing His specific purpose for each of us. As we give ourselves wholeheartedly to that purpose, His light emanates from our lives, dispelling the darkness around us.

He may lead us to do something as small as smiling at a neighbour who’s struggling, or as large as funding a programme to help those who are homeless. For each of us, the path will be different, but we all have a part to play.

‘A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.’ 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)

Our light may seem small to us. Insignificant, even. But think of a flickering candle. The tiniest flame still penetrates the darkness. And if we all shine together, think of how bright the light will be. Together we can overcome.  

Photo by Irina Anastasiu on Pexels

‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8:37-39  

Personal Training

Their numbers are growing, this army of people. We see them more often now COVID has pushed them outdoors. Clad in cotton, spandex and microfibre, they leave their homes just as the sun stretches its fingers across the sky and take their place in pairs along the Wollongong waterfront—the eyes of one fixed on the other, their ears hungry for instruction.  

I watch them as I stroll past—the trainer giving guidance and encouragement, the client pushing their body through the motions. They squat and crunch, lift enormous weights and stretch beyond what seems natural, their faces contorting with effort yet radiating hunger for more. The transformation they’re experiencing—it seems—is worth the pain.

I’m impressed by these people. They care enough about their health to commit time and money to glean from another person’s skill and experience. Funnily, we also engage in personal training—almost every day—though we don’t often realise it.

A few months back God whispered to my heart. As I drifted up from slumber, His words echoed through me with clarity and conviction,

You are discipled by whatever you give your time and attention to.

Now that’s confronting. And thought provoking.

‘Discipled’ is a word we rarely use these days. It refers to a form of training where one person is guided by another to become a follower of their way or belief system. Sound familiar? Like personal training, discipling goes beyond merely passing on knowledge. It equips the learner to so fully embody the key aspects of the new way that their life is completely changed. Like a rhythmic dance, this discipling process is an ongoing dynamic—the teacher offers ideas through word and example and the student takes them on, allowing them to infuse and shape their lives.

So how does this happen to us?

Each day, whether we make conscious choices or roll with our fluctuating whims, we take on the role of learners. Through our senses, we absorb ideas, values and priorities from a whole range of sources. People we meet, music and books, world events and the array of internet platforms each have their part to play.

Photo by Tofros.com from Pexels

When something catches our interest, we focus on it, opening not only our mind but our heart. If we dwell on it long enough it begins to seep into our soul, permeating our whole being and colouring the way we think and feel, the language we use and the way we relate to others. It filters the way we perceive the world and the events of our day.

How do we figure out which input has the greatest influence on who we’re becoming?

We look at what receives the largest measure of our time and attention.  

With every turn of the earth, we’re gifted with twenty-four hours of life. Most of that time is poured into the normal rhythms of eating, working and sleeping, but we still have a few hours through the week and more on weekends where we can choose what we do. In those moments, what takes first place in our list of priorities?

I wonder, if we took an honest, detailed inventory of an average week in our lives, what it would reveal about who we are, where we’re headed. If you’re anything like me, you have a clear idea of what’s important to you, but the reality of your day-to-day life often paints a different picture. Sometimes unexpected needs arise and we get waylaid from the priorities we’ve set. Other times we’re lured away by our own curiosity, or hunger for comfort, and find ourselves on a path far removed from where we truly want to be.

Those little everyday choices have more impact than we think.

Choice by choice, they accumulate and set the course of our life.  

It’s good to stop and recognize what is our primary focus. What gets us out of bed in the morning? And what is the most significant subject in our thoughts through the day—the focal point we return to whenever we can?

Who do we follow on social media and other online avenues? And what’s our motivation for following them? Are we after distraction? Entertainment? Do we crave their lifestyle and want what they have? Whatever our reason, the longer we linger over their photos and feed on their words, the more permission we give them to disciple us.

Do we really want their lifestyle and values to be reproduced in our lives? It’s worth thinking about.  

Three years and two children into our marriage, my husband and I hit a bumpy patch and needed some help to find our way through. Eager for guidance, we began a three-month marriage course with several other couples. For a girl like me who relishes deep connection, the weekly homework was the absolute highlight.

With hot drinks in hand, hubby and I would sink onto the couch, open our workbooks and pore over questions from that week’s lesson. Many times, we’d spend a good hour doing our homework. The questions weren’t the simple ‘tick-the-box, regurgitate-the-content’ kind. They were probing, the dig-deep kind that made us stop, reflect and pray over ideas that would shape the future of our relationship.  

Photo by Tymur Khakimov from Pexels

One lesson was a standout. The topic? Sowing and reaping. Two pictures were printed in the workbook—a sack bulging with seed and a sheaf of freshly harvested wheat—vivid reminders that the seeds we plant always produce a crop of the same kind, both in nature and in our lives. We were challenged to recognise the seeds we were sowing into the soil of our marriage and what kind of harvest they were producing, whether good or bad. From that place we could turn the dynamic around. We clarified our real desires—what we felt God wanted for our marriage—and listed what seeds we needed to sow to see those desires fulfilled. That lesson opened our eyes to some negative patterns we’d slipped into. As we prayed, we felt a new excitement and sense of vision for the way ahead. Those principles of sowing and reaping are integral to our lives now. They’ve built us into a strong team and guided our decisions—big and small—through the twenty-two years since that time.

Married or not, it’s helpful for all of us to stop and ask the question,

‘Where’s my life headed?

And how are my day-to-day choices shaping my journey?’

Just like those early risers who hurry to meet their personal trainer, we need to be intentional in where we focus our time and attention. We each have one life—a limited number of days to embrace and use well. Whichever way we choose to spend them, one thing is guaranteed—as we sow, we will surely reap.   

‘Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise . . .’

Ephesians 5:15 CSB

When the Way is Hard

His hand felt so tiny, so trusting in mine as we paused at the entrance to the cobbled path. I stooped beside him, our brown eyes meeting, and whispered, “Let’s go on an adventure.”

“Yeah—adventure!” His eyes lit up and his face broke into a broad grin. I giggled as his three-year-old legs began scurrying up the sweeping slope. Matching his pace, I loped easily beside him on my lanky twelve-year-old legs. Arching branches rustled overhead and magpies filled the air with their lilting melody, urging us on. Come and see, come and see.

Up a winding curve we climbed, away from our parents and picnic blanket—into the land of the unknown. Lush ferns waved their curving fronds, blurring the path edges, and palms stretched tall, reaching for the sky. Our eyes grew wide as we crept through their shadows, intrepid explorers trekking through the jungle. Hand in hand, we scaled smooth stone steps, worn by the tread of countless feet, puffing a little and pausing to rest those tired toddler legs. Spreading trees and orb-like bushes hid our view of the way ahead, adding fire to our curiosity. Sometimes we stopped, leaning close and whispering as I pointed to a delicate flower, a buzzing bee or colourful butterfly. At one point, when my little companion grew so weary he didn’t want to go on, I swung him onto my back and bounced along the path, grinning as he giggled and chanting, ‘Wait till you see what’s up ahead.’ When he was rested, I lowered him gently to the ground and on we marched, eager to finish our course.

Photo by Marco de Winter on Unsplash

My heart thrummed a happy rhythm as vivid images from my own childhood flashed through my mind. Many times, my family had come to these gardens for holiday picnics and birthday celebrations. Many times, I’d run along these paths behind my older sisters, unsure exactly where we were going, my eyes searching for familiar landmarks along the way – the timber bridge arching over the duck pond, the stately Japanese tea house or the wishing well full of shimmering coins. The first time my parents told me I was old enough to explore on my own, my spirit soared. I stood at the edge of the lawn where several paths branched off in different directions, my mind pulsing with the possibilities. Which route should I choose? Where will they take me? And what will I discover on my way?

Time passed, leading to this day. Now I was the older one with a young sibling in tow. It was my turn to share that wonder with my brother, to open his eyes to the thrill of new adventures.

Those memories have left a permanent imprint on my heart. Because of them, I’ve always felt drawn to gardens with tall hedges, winding paths and hidden corners. The memories themselves have been tucked away in a corner of my mind reserved for precious things, drawn out only when I’ve seen old photos or driven past the gardens, which still reside in their place on a hill—until a few weeks ago, when God brought them back so vividly it was as if I was walking those paths once more.

This year—so far—has been one of challenge.  I’ve been asked to do things I didn’t think I could and ventured well beyond what I thought was my happy place. My ‘legs’ have grown weary and sometimes I’ve been afraid of what might lie around the corner. Sometimes, I’ve been head-spinningly anxious. Yet, as I’ve pressed on, I’ve marvelled at the way God has—every time—brought peace, blessing, joy and growth through those things I would rather have avoided.

Again, I’ve been reminded of how little I really understand of His ways. Like a little child, I’m not ‘tall’ enough to see very far on the path He has for me. Sometimes I question the value in the direction He takes me and, in my tiredness, want to stop, to turn back or take a shorter, faster route.

But He has a plan. He knows the best way. And challenges are vital to the journey.

This is what He spoke to my heart the morning He revived those images:

‘Continue to trust Me, to put your confidence in Me, to follow My lead and press forward in My plans. It is a great adventure. And just as you delighted in exploring all the winding paths of the gardens in your childhood, so you will delight as you see what I have around each bend for you.

I have many surprises in store, much unexpected beauty. There will be passages that seem long, steep and, at times, even dull. In those I am building your muscle and mind for the parts still to come, teaching you to drink deep from my reservoir.

Hold fast to Me and let Me take you to those unexpected places where you will experience the beauty of My presence in ways beyond what you’ve known.’

Things are not always as they seem. Like children, we are limited in our vision. God sees the whole picture and has good reasons for everything He leads us into. At each stage of our journey, we can trust Him to give us what we need to go on. And when we grow weary, He will carry us, chanting, ‘Wait till you see what’s up ahead’.

Knowing Him, it will be worth the trek.

Photo by Kyler Wilton on Unsplash

“You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”   John 13:7

“In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

“Even to your old age and grey hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you.

I have made you and I will carry you;

I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

Isaiah 46:4

Made Beautiful

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  

Really.

Where does your wandering gaze land?

What emotions rise in your heart?

What thoughts run through your mind?

And where have they come from?

More than likely, they stem from the world you’re immersed in. The people you mix with—face to face and online. The celebrities you follow. The Instagram feeds you scroll through. The Netflix series you binge-watch. All the forms of media that spark comparison and whisper that you’re not enough. Too many times, you’re barely awake before discouragement kicks in. Sometimes even despair.

Please let me tell you a little story from an autumn morning a few weeks back. It might bring some fresh perspective.

There was a wintry chill in the air that day, so I pulled the covers higher on my waist and draped my dressing gown around my shoulders. My eyes, still blurry from sleep, narrowed to slits as I tried to make out the numbers on the clock in our bedroom. It was five past six—early for me. Still, I knew the next precious moments would be worth the sacrificed sleep.   

I needed to connect with my Maker before launching into the day. 

Yawning, I reached for my bible and journal in the bedside drawer, trying to sift through the fog in my mind and recall what I’d been reading the day before. It was something so intriguing, I’d wanted to study it further. I opened my bible, those strange words from the previous morning drifting through my mind like an echo. Grasping the wafer-thin pages in wads, I flipped towards the back till I reached Romans 8, then skimmed down to the verse I was after—number thirty. There, once again, I found the phrase that had me baffled.“. . . those he justified, he also glorified.”

My eyebrows rose as I read this. What on earth did that mean—God glorified us? Weren’t we supposed to glorify Him? There had to be more to this than I could understand.

I opened the lexicon on biblehub– an online tool I’d just discovered that unveils the meaning of words in their original language. Surely in this case ‘glorified’ meant something different to the way we usually understood it. Carefully, I pored over the detailed information the website provided about this confusing statement, taking note of key points and filling pages of my journal with my hurried scrawl. Before long, I was so engrossed, all sense of time and cold faded.  

Once I’d finished reading, I slumped back on my pillow, awe-struck.

Here’s what I learned. Those words about us being glorified by God? Their meaning in the original language was exactly the same as usual. God, our creator, glorifies us. And He does it willingly. When we put our faith in Jesus and surrender our lives to God, He doesn’t only forgive us and set us free from our past.

He honours us with dignity and worth.
He exalts us to a rank and condition far beyond what we deserve. That was certainly my story.
He imparts His own spectacular glory to us.
He declares us excellent and glorious,
adorns us with lustre (that’s shininess, in case you wondered)
and clothes us with splendour.

Yes, God glorifies us. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?  

I understood this a little. God had lifted me from the depths and given me a whole new life, with dignity and purpose.

But ‘glory’? That was so hard to fathom.

And what about that word, ‘splendour’—so unique and rich in imagery? In the Cambridge dictionary it’s described as ‘great beauty that attracts admiration and attention’. Again, the original language conveys the same meaning. The Hebrew word for splendour relates to ‘beautify’ and ‘glorify’. When God clothes us with splendour, He beautifies us. In that beauty, He glorifies us. That means, even on our frumpiest, very worst hair days, by God’s grace we are clothed with great beauty that attracts admiration and attention.  Imagine that!

When we focus solely on the image in our mirror, we are robbed. The pictures we’re swamped with every day narrow our view, convincing us our outward appearance is the only measure of our value. But God made us so much more. And this beauty He gives isn’t something we can attain through our own striving efforts.

It’s transcendent.

It begins in our spirit—where God comes to dwell by His Spirit. As He fills us with His beautiful presence, His splendour wells up and flows out of us . . . so clearly that others see it and marvel.

“Those who look to Him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.” Psalm 34:5

I stilled my pen and closed my eyes that morning, trying to grasp these ideas in their fullness.  A fresh sense of joy welled inside me as my perception of myself grew a little closer to God’s view. Every day, no matter how I look or feel, whether I’m upbeat or melancholy, conquering or struggling, I can walk with dignity, knowing God Himself has clothed me with His splendour. It can be the same for you too—if you put your hope in Him. Regardless of how anyone else may view us, the Creator and ultimate authority says we are His beloved, His treasured possession , wholly accepted.

Who would dare argue with Him?

It’s easy to wonder why we’ve been given such stand-out glory, such splendour. Is it intended to set us strutting, eager for everyone to notice how brightly we’re shining? In reality it’s not only about us.

Look at these words.  

“Then all your people will be righteous
and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendour.”       (Isaiah 60:21)

“Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendour.”  (Isaiah 55:5)

Even while He lavishes so much love and favour on us, God is also looking beyond us to those who don’t yet know Him. He’s pursuing others just as He pursued us, ready to lift them, too, out of their tangle of sin and shame and failure—and He wants our hearts to beat as strongly for them as His does.

We are like a myriad of precious, sparkling jewels—each unique in colour and cut, all reflecting the goodness of God to those around us. The attention and admiration sparked by our splendour is intended to point people to its source—the light—our gracious God.

Next time you stand in front of the mirror, pause and look beyond the outward. God loves you so much He offered His very best to rescue you. He wants to fill you with His goodness and lead you in His eternal purpose. Let that understanding propel you into your day with joy, your eyes looking right to the hearts of people around you, not merely their appearance. As you walk in step with God’s heartbeat, letting His glory shine through you, others will also be stirred to seek Him—the one who leads us into life in all its beautiful fullness.  

 

“She is clothed in strength and dignity;

She can laugh at the days to come.”

Proverbs 31:25

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