I’m just a mom… not a hero

I received a notification this week from WordPress that I hadn’t posted anything in 6 months. Well, thanks for the reminder, but I’ve been kinda busy.

It’s not that I haven’t had words. I have them. Lots of them.They are stuck in my head, crammed in the few empty spaces between chemo schedules, 60 mile drives to the cancer clinic, my full-time job and my position as chief cook and bottle washer.

I don’t resent this. Really I don’t.

This morning, as I sit in my chair, browsing through Facebook and Instagram, reading emails and others’ blog posts, I’m mulling over the conversations I had yesterday with my therapist and my husband. Here’s the gist,

For the past 9 months, cancer has become our normal. Grandparenting has become our normal. A house full of 6 humans, including one tiny human, has become our normal. Figuring out who is watching the baby when Jeremy and I go to the City of Hope for treatment and his mama is working is our normal. Juggling a full time job with caregiving, grandmothering, filling pill containers, cooking meals and cleaning up a never-ending mess in the kitchen is our new normal.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Sweet Gavin so tired he fell asleep on the floor!

One of the many hospital rooms Jeremy has occupied at City of Hope

As we approach the last 8 weeks of Jeremy’s intensive chemotherapy, I’m sitting here wondering what the new normal will be like when he and his girlfriend and our grandson move out of our home and live on their own. It will be quieter, and less messy, and things will take on a more relaxed feel. It will take some time to adjust. I’m sure of that.

But what I’m really wondering about this morning, is what it will be like to not have the safety of constant monitoring of Jeremy’s condition with lab results and doctor visits. I wonder if the maintenance treatments over the next two years will keep the cancer from recurring. And then what? Will I always be worried? Will I be able to release the outcomes since I can’t control them anyway?

I can. I will. But it may not be easy.

One of two blood drives held in Jeremy’s honor

I have a lot to say about this journey with Lymphoma. Maybe I’ll fill in the blanks here at some point. Maybe I won’t. But let me just say this,

I am not a hero or an extraordinary mom. I’m a mom with a kid who has cancer and a grandma with a grandson born in the middle of it. I am doing what any mom would do. 

I have been fortunate to have a fantastic inner circle of family and friends who have shown up in so many ways. (Especially my mother who is one awesome babysitter!) I have been blessed with a job that allows me flexibility, and bosses and co-workers that have worked with my crazy schedule without complaining. We have been cared for and walked through this entire journey with a team of medical professionals that are absolutely the best at what they do AND have kept us laughing in the process. Totally worth the 60 mile drive!

Waiting to see the doctor in one of our many outpatient visits

And above all, I have felt the presence of God with us, every time and every where, not because I had tangible evidence of that, but because I trust in the knowing that the promise is true when Jesus said,

I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20 MSG)

Amen.

The sweetest hands!

 

Snap shots and memories of our journey with cancer… so far

I have a few half written posts about this cancer journey we are on. Nothing seems to feel right, to say what I want to say, to convey to you in words that roll off my fingers onto the page with ease. What I have are snapshots in my mind. They’re kind of like Snapchats, where they last for a few seconds but I don’t have them saved anywhere.

I wish I was a painter. I’d paint them all so I could share them with you. But all I have are words, so here are some snap shots of memories I take with me.

  • The doctor in the emergency room as he runs to catch my son’s gurney as we headed to an inpatient room. It’s lymphoma! He said, waving tests results in his hand. Jeremy and me in the elevator moments later, Well, at least we know what we’re dealing with I said to him.
  • The nurse in the middle of the night whispering to Jeremy so as not to wake me up. I’ll come see you after my shift. I have some information for you. And she did. She finished her 12 hour, middle of the night shift and spent another hour on her own giving us education and information. Bless her.
  • The coffee and tea cart outside the room across the hall from Jeremy’s first room at City of Hope with a sign: For the grieving family only. As he was wheeled in on the ambulance gurney, I took in the scene, crying family members carrying armloads of their loved one’s belongings. Reality check.
  • The moment Superman – aka Dr. Saro Armenian – came in to Jeremy’s room after a week at City of Hope without much direction. He told us he was taking over his case, he had a plan, he had a team and we were moving toward full diagnosis and treatment, today. He was our savior in that moment. I’ll never forget it.
  • The nurses changing Jeremy’s sheets at 4:00 am because they were soaked with sweat (a symptom of his Lymphoma). My son, weary of the pain and difficulty breathing, crying in the night, I don’t want to do this anymore mom.
  • The strange sense of solidarity with all the fellow mask wearers and IV pole pushers at City of Hope. This isn’t a place you go when your illness can be treated by your local oncologist. It’s almost a knowing sense of being in this together.
  • Hearing my son say Hello and Have a nice day to other patients, breaking the awkward silence in elevators and waiting rooms.
  • Seeing little boys and girls with bald heads and pale faces, their tired mommies and daddies, lives on hold for now, enduring pain no parent should have to face.
  • Seeing the toxic chemotherapy drugs drip into my son’s veins for the very first time as he slept, unaware. Knowing, that sometimes good things can come from toxic things.
  • Hearing my son say, I have T Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma for the first time. Words new but now part of his identity.
  • Hugs from nurses who see your tears and cry their own with you. How do they do this hard thing?
  • The way I hear the Holy Spirit say to me over and over and over again, Don’t worry about tomorrow. Today has enough trouble of its own. Your daily bread, that’s all you need right now.

There are more snap shots in my mind. I could go on. It’s all just raw and real and not flowery or sugar-coated. I don’t want to forget any of these images. I want to remember them all, remember the days when our life came to an abrupt stop, and we started a journey we never expected to take. I want to remember the days of living day by day, of receiving the mercy of just enough, our daily bread.

Thanks for reading friend. Wherever you are today, I pray you’ll hold on to the snap shots and remember the moments no matter how hard or how sweet.

The strangers in the window.

I took my son on a walk Thursday evening. Three plus weeks in the hospital and a young man needs some fresh air. His legs need to move and he needs to see more than four white walls and beeping machines.

We walked past the nurses station, through the locked doors and into the third floor lobby. He wanted to get outside, to feel some freedom, to breathe some outside air, so we pushed the heavy IV pole into the elevator and made our way to the first floor lobby. We walked slowly, taking care to not let the IV pole get too far ahead or behind so it didn’t pull on his PICC line. Walking past the reception security, through the automatic door, we went out into the cool evening air and breathed it in.

As we walked through the courtyard, I pointed to the ambulatory care center. That’s where you’ll get your chemo when you transition to outpatient care, I told him.

He sat on a bench, slightly winded from the exertion, the heavy weight of the past month of hospital rooms, tests, treatments and diagnoses visible in his slumped shoulders.

What are you most afraid of today? I asked him.

All of it. It’s all so much, he said. Is it hereditary?

I knew what he was thinking, that his baby who is safely growing in his mama’s belly might somehow catch this deplorable thing, this cancer that has taken over his body and his life. That somehow he might have ruined the poor baby before he even sets eyes on this world.

No, Jeremy, no. This isn’t hereditary and you didn’t do anything to get it. It’s random and we don’t know why it happened, but Gavin is going to be fine. This isn’t the kind of cancer that gets passed on.

Relief. Just a tiny bit of relief washed over him.

I’m ready to walk back now, he said.

We lugged the heavy IV pole up the ramp, back through the automatic door, past the security desk and waited for the elevator. As the far right elevator dinged in anticipation of the door opening, we turned toward it, and then I saw it. Our reflection in the window, dark sky on the outside made way for the light on the inside to mirror back at us what everyone else could see: a man of 23, head shaved in anticipation of losing his hair, yellow mask, yellow gown over a green gown, batman slippers, big IV pole with flashing lights and more than half a dozen bags of liquids, and his mama beside him, yellow gowned too, with purple gloves and tired eyes and a heart full of questions.

It took my breath away. And though he didn’t say so, I think it took his breath away too.

Who would ever have thought, ever even possibly imagined you’d be here, I had just minutes before said to him.

Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing, he had said, the weight of it all so much for him.

How did we get here?

We stepped in the elevator, the hard feeling of reality swirling around us. This is our new normal, I thought. He is a cancer patient. 

We’re still settling in to this new normal. We’re not really fully able to comprehend yet just how sick he is, how hard or long or bumpy this road will be. It’s not denial. It’s not that we don’t really want to know. It’s just that the reflection in the window stares back at us and we don’t yet recognize the strangers mirrored there. We need some time to get to know them.

My son has cancer. Four words I’m still trying to comprehend. Four words that are changing our world in ways I’d never imagined.

There are four more words, words more powerful than cancer, that I’m holding on to: Emmanuel, God with us. That truth has more meaning this Christmas season than at any other time in my life. I know he is with my son and he is with us, his family. Sweet comfort indeed.


If you’d like to read more about Jeremy’s journey with T Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, check out his Caring Bridge page.

 

 

The mercy of not knowing the future

Turning into the parking lot at the strip mall, I noticed a woman holding the hand of a young man, walking towards an area where they were about to cross. I could have driven through before they reached the edge, but I decided to stop and let them cross first.

As I watched them cross, I noticed the young man was developmentally disabled. Assuming the woman with him was his mom, my eyes immediately welled up with tears. I think about how she must spend her days, how she mothers a son who is different and dependent, even in his adulthood. I think about how it must have been to receive the unexpected news that her baby boy was not healthy. I think about how tired she must be, and how her days are filled with constant watchfulness.

No one ever told me how painful motherhood would be. How all the unreal expectations I had for myself would crumble down in a moment of sleep-deprived rage. How my heart could hurt in deep places I didn’t even know existed as I watched my children learn hard lessons. How I would learn patience, and then learn it some more. Even with a healthy child, it’s the hardest, but most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

I wonder, if I knew, would I still have chosen to be a mom?
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If she knew, would she still have chosen to be a mom?

As I watch the woman and her son, I think about how Mary the mother of Jesus had expectations too.

Her son, he was the expected one, the Messiah. He was the One who would save the Jews from their enemies. As she watched him grow into a man, did she expect him to be a ruler, leading her people into political and economic freedom?

If she knew how his life would would end, if she knew the pain she would endure watching her precious son be tortured, spit on, beaten and hung on a cross, would she have said, “May it be unto me as you have said?”

It’s a merciful thing, to not know the future. To accept our daily bread instead of knowing in advance how a lifetime of daily bread will be provided. And perhaps that’s why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread…”
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I said “Yes” to motherhood over 23 years ago, by adopting a precious baby boy. He’s now a man preparing to be a father to his little boy that will be born early next year. He has hopes and dreams for his son. I have hopes and dreams for my grandson too. I pray he will be healthy. I pray he will grow up loving Jesus. I pray he will know love beyond measure by all of us who are his family. But most of all, I pray that he, and his mommy and daddy will have the precious assurance that whatever comes, in happy times and hard times,

Jesus is with them,
Jesus is for them,
Jesus is able when we think we are not.
img_1126-1If you’re a parent, struggling with responsibility, disappointment or discouragement, I pray you’ll know the assurance of receiving what you need for today. I pray that in the hard and messy, you’ll know the peace and assurance that Jesus is with you and Jesus is for you.

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Heaven = Shame : At least that’s what I thought

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:18

When I was a kid, I remember being very worried one day while enjoying a chocolate bar. I was worrying that Jesus might come back that very minute, and I’d have to leave my yummy chocolate treat behind.

That was a very real concern for a child like me.img_3165In my youth, among many wonderful things I learned about God, I also learned that he was a harsh judge. That screwing up, however minor that might be, would result in having my many sins scroll across the large screen of heaven for all the inhabitants to see.

Heaven = Shame

That wasn’t an accurate depiction of God, that was fear. It was manipulation. It was misguided and a means to control behavior.

As I’ve matured in my faith and knowledge of God, I have become acutely more aware of the love of God and how that love can drive out those childish fears I had. Yet, I see the use of fear in the church still to this day, and I wonder why we have gone on so long believing that the message of fear will literally scare the hell out of people.

It all boils down to shame. We perceive that if we can make people feel ashamed enough about their actions, attitudes and behaviors, we might just “get them saved.” The longstanding perception is that if we give people too much freedom, they will use their “salvation” as a license to sin.

I disagree.

In 1st John chapter 4, John writes about the gift of God’s love for us, a love so amazing that he sent his son to atone for our sins. A love so incredible that if we would only love him back, we would know him. And all he asks in return is that we love others.img_3142

“For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” v. 20

Jesus himself commanded us to love God and love others. (Matthew 22) Those were the two greatest commands, and he expects us to live them. But according to John, we cannot truly, authentically love God if we are not loving others. That’s radical love. That’s the calling of Jesus on our lives.

We tend to think that spiritual maturity is all wrapped up in how well we have learned the Bible, how much we know about God and how well we defend our faith. I think we’ve been misguided. Spiritual maturity is evidenced by how well we love.

If we’re not loving others we are not spiritually mature.

And isn’t that the point, the issue, the heart? We have tried and failed to “win souls for Jesus” by talking and pontificating and judging and pointing out sin and making people feel shame for all the terrible things they have done. We fail to see the point of Jesus’ message and John’s message.

Perfect love drives out fear!

Where complete love is, fear cannot exist.
img_3116I know we want to believe that if we love people and don’t give them boundaries, they will use their freedom in Christ to sin. But perhaps we need to rethink that. Maybe, perfect love, complete in Christ, inspires us to love God and love others. And if someone is doing that, there’s little worry that they will use their freedom as a license to sin. Instead, let’s encourage each other to do good things because we are loved, not because we are trying to be loved.

Do you live in fear that every infraction you commit will somehow be thrown in your face when you get to heaven someday? Does your behavior come from a heart of fear or a heart that loves God and loves others? Think about that this week, and start living in the freedom of knowing that your sins have been forgotten, never to be brought up again. You are loved. You are forgiven. Don’t let fear keep you from living in that hope.
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How my garden grows : Lessons in patience

When we moved into our home a year and a half ago, the two raised planters in the backyard had various herbs and vegetables growing in it. Through the first few months, as we were settling in, we watched the Southern California sun slowly encourage the plants to grow leaves of all shades of green. Then blossoms arrived, bursting with small buds of hopeful growth. Eventually, we could see small glimmers of hope that actual food would be growing on those plants, even though we couldn’t see the full beauty of it yet.

Our tomato plant was especially large and prolific. For months, it continued to blossom and grow small tomatoes and we would be so excited as we plucked them from the heavy vines. Even as the fall and winter months set in, our big tomato plant was still growing strong.

Close up of a bunch of growing tomatoes

Eventually, we plucked it out, cleaned out the planter and started again with a new tomato plant, adding peppers of all sorts and lovingly calling this spot in the yard our Salsa Garden.

We don’t even like tomatoes, but there is something so satisfying watching a small little plant struggle to push up toward the sun and then bear beautiful, red fruit, that we grow the tomatoes just so we can make fresh salsa and share the bounty with friends and family.

This year, our little urban garden is doing especially well, and despite our limited knowledge of how to make things grow, we are being rewarded with enough of its goodness to feel like we have accomplished something.

A few weeks ago, our Big Bertha Red Bell Pepper plant had a huge pepper on it. It was the only one on the plant and was at least 10 inches long and 5 inches wide. It was green as green could be, with no hint of turning red. One week, as we endured 100+ temperatures for days, the hot sun burned the top of the pepper and it started to wither. My husband cut Big Bertha from the vine to save what he could and we set it on the counter for a day or two to see if she might ripen.
imagesA few days later, I cut Big Bertha in half, cut off the burned portion, filled her with meat and rice and put her in the oven. The result? A tasteless pepper with some really tasty meat inside. We were sad. She was picked too soon.

The other day, feeling certain we had many tomatoes ready for picking, I grabbed the shears and started cutting away. When I brought my bounty in the house and inspected the loot, I found that I had plucked some from their vine a day or two early. They were not yet fully ripe, and I knew I had robbed them of some precious time of growing.

If I had been patient, I would have been rewarded with much better tomatoes. They needed nothing but time. They didn’t need extra water or fertilizer or sweet lullabies sung to them. They needed the gift of time which cost nothing, but I was too impatient to give it.

The fruit of the Spirit is… Patience. Galatians 5:22

The garden is a wonderful teacher. Things grow when we bury the seeds down in the earth, add water, warm sunshine and give them time. Yes, it’s much easier to go to the grocery store, buy a tomato and a pepper and whip them up into a tasty meal. But the reward of watching seeds sprout into tiny plants, grow tall and thick and start blossoming with hope of good things, that is just a different thing all together.

The garden teaches us that good things can’t be hurried along. Standing by and watching, tapping our foot in impatient hurry won’t make the tomato plant suddenly burst with fruit or make the green pepper turn red.
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So it is with so many things in life, and so it is that Jesus is patiently teaching me to wait, something I am really terrible at.

Take the long way home, I hear him say.
But no! It takes too long, I reason.
And I jump on the freeway, speeding along toward home where there’s no real reason to hurry.

Wait. Be patient. It will all reveal itself in time, I hear him say.
No! I want to know now. What happens tomorrow? Next month? Next year? When will I see progress? I scream impatiently in my head.
And I start pushing and pulling and whining and complaining and trying to make things happen on my timetable, not His.
IMG_2079Plant a seed and watch it grow. Trust that I’m working in her. You can’t see it, but things are happening, I hear him say.
If I just keep talking, keep watching, keep watering, keep filling empty spaces of time with words, then I’ll feel like I’m doing something, I think.

I try to pluck the fruit too early, and the result is tasteless.
I keep tilling and watering and watching and impede the growth in my effort to help. 

I’m working on waiting. It isn’t easy for me. Patience is not my strong-suit. I do much better with hurry.

But Jesus is a patient gardener, and he doesn’t rush my growth. He won’t be hurried into plucking fruit too soon. He knows exactly how long I need to sit. And, he is doing the same thing for you.

If I take matters into my own hands, grab at what I want and take it for myself, the tasteless result will be no reward at all.

Despite the hard work of waiting, I am determined to allow Christ to build patience in me.

How about you? Do you hear him saying Wait? Stop today. Sit down on the inside and allow him to grow in your something worth the wait.

 

 

When I want to be anywhere but here

Anywhere but here.

That’s what I said to myself all last week.

After a wonderful vacation, going back to work was assaulting. I was exhausted after arriving home a day later than expected, a cancelled flight robbing me of the one buffer day I had planned before getting back to the grind. Things had piled up that I needed to take care of quickly. People had been waiting for my return to unload their concerns and complaints. It was difficult, to say the least.

Anywhere but here, I kept saying to myself.
IMG_1893The fruit of the Spirit is Self Control, Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians. When I think of self-control, I mostly think of refusing to eat that donut in the kitchen at work, or saying “No” to something that is not good for me so that I can say “Yes” to something better.

But last week, self-control meant self-talk for me. As my emotions reeled from lack of sleep and the demands of work, I desperately wanted to uproot myself from my current situation and run away. I wanted to be anywhere but here.
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“Every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more… In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.” John 15: 2-4 MSG

Every time my emotions screamed at me that I needed to be anywhere but here, my soul whispered stay put, abide in him. It took nearly a week, but the screaming subsided and the whisper drowned it out. I was being pruned by The Gardener of my soul, and just as he has reminded me time after time, he reminded me again that the fruit of his Spirit in me can only grow from well-tended vines, pruned of the dead branches that steal the life source.
IMG_3226For me, this is a season of faithful waiting. My feet that want to take me to greener grass and fruitless vines, need to be firmly planted in the rich soil of the responsibilities I have now. It’s a hard road I’m on, and it’s lined with obstacles that seem insurmountable at times. Still, I know that this is where I am supposed to be, putting one foot in front of the other, faithful to the work that has been placed in my hands. Telling anywhere but here, “No!”

I see the hard road, the one that is less traveled, and I wonder why I have to be the one to take it. I see the roads others are traveling and dream about how much easier it must be. If I just could hop on over there where the grass looks green, things would be so much easier. The truth is, if I asked you about the road you’re on, you might tell me that your road looks barren and mine looks pretty green.

Anywhere but here, you might be saying.

Daily, he reminds me that he is always with me, and that he’s for me. He doesn’t ask me to pretend it isn’t hard or long or arduous or filled with exhaustion and difficulty. He reminds me to speak the truth of that hardness about my current state, and somehow, in the acknowledgement of the hardness of it all, I find peace that surpasses what I can understand. That peace makes a way for me to plant my feet on the path again and keep on journeying despite my questions about where I’m going.
IMG_3216Maybe you, like me, feel that the hard way you’re traveling is just too much. Remember that you do not have to hide your fears, your tears, your frustration, your exhaustion, or your disappointment. Jesus sees it already and longs to hold you up when you can’t do it yourself. He is at work, tending the vines of your life, pruning and shaping, cutting off all the dead branches that keep you from bearing a bounty of good fruit.

It’s sometimes painful, but always worth the waiting. Trust him. Abide in him. Stay.
The fruit of the-9

 

 

A word to start our week : Restraint

Sometimes, the right thing is the hard thing. The road less traveled seems insurmountable, too arduous, unfairly required of us. It would be easier, quicker, less trouble to take the easy road.

Help us to choose the hard thing and the high road anyway.
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Others do it. They take the easy road all of the time. We sometimes feel as though we are the only ones.

Help us to go there anyway.

Our passions and desires, our perceived need for things that don’t fill us and fill others, those are the things we must restrain ourselves from.

Instead, may we release our will to the will of the One who can fill us completely, even to overflowing so that Your Spirit spills out onto others.

When tempers flare, when we’re pushed to our limit, when our patience is tested beyond what we can endure, remind us of your great love for us and that you are with us, even in the heat of the moment.

When we’re tempted to throw in the towel, to give up on the good work you’ve given us to do, remind us of Your truth that all things are working for our good.
IMG_3252The fruit of the Spirit is… self control. (Galations 5:22-23)

 

How to lead with a strong hand and a gentle touch

It’s the strong hand, not the weak one that must learn to be gentle. (Gary Thomas)

I don’t often write about my job here. But for this post, I think it’s important to understand what I do and how gentleness has become a part of how I lead.

I’m a manager of people. I’m the boss. (I always hate that by the way, when introducing myself to a new employee I don’t like pointing out that “I’m The Boss.”) Having a boss should be a safety net. When things are out of control, when an employee is not performing, when a customer is screaming and wants to speak to the boss, it’s my responsibility to swoop in and deal with the situation.

So it is, that I have the opportunity to lead people for a living. Now we all lead someone, even (or especially) if we’re leading our children or others in our family. So for all of us, no matter who we lead, I have some words of wisdom for leading with gentleness that I hope you will find useful.
IMG_0805Leading requires a strong hand. Balance your strong hand with a gentle touch.
People deserve truth. Speak truth, but do it with love and respect. Be mindful that people may not like the truth, but they can and will deal with the truth.
Hold people accountable and allow them to experience consequences for their actions. Rescuing, not confronting, or letting things go too often, will reduce the respect the person has for you as well as exacerbate the behavior.
Approach others’ weaknesses and limitations with compassion. The saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” applies here. Put love first.
Be vulnerable enough to be relatable. When people sense you’re willing to be open and honest about yourself, they will trust you to lead them where they aren’t sure they want to go.
Admit when you’ve made a mistake. Apologies go a long way with people you lead.
Have a little fun. Tell jokes, pull some pranks, celebrate birthdays. People want to know that you’re real and relatable.
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If the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, then let our strong hand with a soft touch be the difference that defines us as we lead others.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. Philippians 4:5

The fruit of the-8

 

 

A word to start our week : Gentleness

This world is anything but gentle.

Political wars are waging. Words spew out hate upon hate. It’s all too much.

Jesus, we know that you too lived in politically charged times. Yet, you were able to be gentle and kind, ignoring the cacophony of voices and expectations.

You lived as an example to us of strength under restraint. You never used your power to shame, insult, show off or disregard.
IMG_0805Help us this week to choose gentleness, humility and love.
When the words are full of hate, remind us to respond with gentleness and kindness.
May we see the struggles and the stories behind the words.
May we build bridges, not barriers.
May we reflect the gentleness your Spirit is growing within us.
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The fruit of the Sprit is… Gentleness.

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