Tag Archives: Faith

Beneath the Wrinkles and the Dirt

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 9.01.47 AMI chose peanuts—twisted up, knobby raw peanuts right from the highlands soil, still attached to their stems, with dirt clinging to every crevice of their wrinkled skin. We flew back early for the retreat. The flight went as well as a solo flight with a two-year can go. It had been a long day, well a long week, OK a long five weeks of village living full of the typical emotional highs and lows. But, we made it.

The assignment was for each retreat participant to bring an item that represented where she was in life at that moment maybe spiritually or emotionally—an object to help give the group a snapshot of what you were carrying with you to the retreat. My mind was blank. My thoughts went back to a similar type of icebreaker assignment in college that had seemed so easy. I had my pens to represent my love for writing and my little stuffed elephant made from colorful African cloth to represent my time growing up as a missionary kid. Now, life felt too scattered. Yes, I am a tired mom. Yes, I am carrying burdens and hurts that many missionaries face. Yes, my life is often in transition. What one object comes close to showing all the facets?

I thought about bringing the boarding pass from the latest flight. Oops, already threw that away and took the trash out to the road. When you travel as much as our family does you stop saving boarding passes for scrapbooks. Then I thought—peanuts. Yes, that is me right now—dirty (it takes a few good showers to really get all that village dirt washed off). Raw—emotionally from seeing so many problems spiritually and even physically that I don’t have the strength or knowledge to “fix.” (I got to bandage a bush knife wound this trip and if you know me at all you know that is waaaaaay out of my comfort zone).

I often feel knotted up and tangled like that bunch of peanuts, but peanuts also represent another aspect of “me.” They reflect how the same thing can be so different in so many countries. Peanuts here in Papua New Guinea are often eaten as a snack and usually sold still on their steams tied up in a little tangled bundle of four or five peanut clusters. Sometimes they are lightly roasted in the fire (sill in their shells), but often they are eaten raw.

Where I grew up in Congo, peanuts were also a popular snack; but they were shelled, roasted and salted. I still remember the plies of bright red peanuts sold along the side of the road. They were sold by the can (an empty tomato paste can) and so yummy; still by far my favorite way to eat peanuts.

And, of course, we love our peanuts in the US as well with our staple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and snacking on cleanly shelled and packaged roasted peanuts.

As this past weekend’s retreat came to a close, we were encouraged to reflect back on our found object and see if we saw it in a different light. I was surprised and encouraged to find that I did.

The peanut is a humble legume for sure, but this time I was able to look past the dirt and crack open that protective shell just a bit to consider the heart. It is a versatile and nutritious substance. It takes time and patience to crack the shells and get to the “meat” of the plant, but it is worth it. There is more to the knobby, twisted peanut then first meets the eye and living a sometimes complicated life I relate to that so much. Underneath the dirt, and rawness of reality I do feel so blessed to be here in PNG. Is it challenging? Yes, but it is also a rich experience if you are willing to take the time to crack open the different elements that make up life here.

On a side note, I highly recommend the Velvet Ashes retreat to anyone involved in cross-cultural work: deep, refreshing, honest and challenging. I am coming away from a challenging season emotionally and am blessed to leave the time of retreat soaked in gentle truths and covered in a sense of fresh joy knowing that God does sustain, and He can use each one of us even in humble or desolate seasons.

“Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.”

-Mark 6:31

If you had to pick an object to represent where you are in life right now what would your object be?

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When it Rains…

“When it rains it pours,” the saying goes. This definitely has been true for us these last several weeks. It started on such a high (yet soggy) note. It rained buckets for days and days and then some more days. Our street flooded, the neighbor’s house flooded, a pair of flip flops I left outside by the door floated away to—I‘m still not sure where, wet laundry hung in the bathroom waiting for the sun to peak out. The outdoor mumu (pig and sweet potatoes roasted in a pit) we had planned to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the widows’ fellowship somehow got underway. Simon pulled our car right up to the front door so we could load all the remaining supplies needed for the celebration into the car without getting utterly drenched.

Trevor was still enjoying his morning nap, so I scooped him up, threw a blanket over his head and off we went. I thought back to the first Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship (WEWF). Trevor was not quite born yet. Now he runs around with the other kids like he owns the place. A lot has changed over the last two years; and as I look back, I am so humbled and thankful that our little family gets to work with such an amazing group of ladies.

The downpour dampened our efforts for an early start. We were an hour late to the venue (still ok by PNG time standards). The ladies had been invited to come help with the baking (if interested), but only Rose managed to brave the rain and come early. So we started: first bread, then muffins, and finally we finished off with some cookies. As we baked we laughed, reminisced and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Rose was one of the first widows we visited when we first came to PNG. After her husband’s death she told us that she had stopped coming to church. She said she felt forgotten when the initial support from people at church slowly faded. Grief—it is just hard and sometimes such a lonely process.

I remember that first visit. I barely spoke any Tok Pisin. We brought a bag of rice and Simon and our good friend from church, Elizabeth, prayed for Rose and her children. Rose’s little guy was just a toddler then. It wasn’t a long visit, but as we baked together Rose brought up again how much that initial visit had meant to her. It ended up being a turning point for her, she said. She started going back to church again realizing that people were there to walk this difficult road with her. She is a faithful attendee of WEWF; and as we celebrated the 2nd Anniversary I couldn’t help but think, “this is why we are here.” It matters. Each lady, each one for their kids matters and getting to walk along side them on their journeys is a privilege.

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Baked Goods for the 2nd Anniversary of the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship

On the drive home from the celebration, the car started making banging noises—again. Sunday, coming home from church the noises grew even worse. So, back to the mechanic it went. He fixed it only for the car to die again on Wednesday. Now a week and a half later, two new tires, a new fuel pump and a few other things fixed we believe that we’re mobile again. Well, at least for the moment. The reality is that it is an old car and slowly (or not so slowly) dying. We are saving up for a new one, but it is hard to save when money has to continually go towards repairs.

This week brought other hard news. One of the widows we work with was sentenced to three years in jail due to a land issue that took place while her husband was still alive. Her children are now all young adults, but one of her kids has special needs.

Then we received news that one of the ladies who has been a support/encouragement person for WEWF passed away suddenly after a short illness. She and her husband have a young daughter.

Some weeks are just hard. It is hard to know what to say, hard to know how to move forward, hard to know how to be a support and encouragement. But, we do stand together not knowing the future, but knowing and trusting in a God who does. On the hard days I go back to that moment with Rose baking bread in the kitchen. We are here for a reason to stand together, walk together in the midst of broken cars, flooded streets, prison sentences and the painful reality of grief. It is not easy, but it is easier when you face it together.

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Rose with her freshly baked bread

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Take My Messy Fingers

He loves to “help”, with the dishes that is. As soon as he sees or hears the dish water running he starts crying out, “Trevor, do it, Trevor do it.” In typical toddler fashion water goes everywhere. A dirty bowl somehow ends up on top of his head, clean dishes end up back in the dirty water. But, he loves it. Me—not so much. I let him “help” sometimes. Usually, we make it through the “fun-filled” ordeal. Other times I loose my cool half way through and stick him back on the floor while I hurry to finish the job myself.

I am glad that God has more patience then I do. I cannot help but wonder how helpful my “help” is at time. “Let me do it,” I cry and rush in with excited emotion and the eagerness of a toddler mirrored on my face. But, is my “help” really helpful? Sometimes I look back on the cultural blunders I have made or the relationships that have suffered from misunderstandings and can’t help but wonder, “God am I doing more harm then good?” Yet, He still allows me to be where I am “helping” in spite of the many messes.

That is what we do as parents, right? We allow “help” even though the processes is much messier and much longer then if we just did the task ourselves. Why? Because children learn by example, by doing, by observation, by being close and getting their fingers (and every other possible body part) messy. Slowly, there is maturity. Gradually, the messes take less and less time to clean up. Characters are built, skills are acquired and eventually a child’s help actually does become helpful.

So, this is my prayer, God. Take my messy fingers, my eager but imperfect self and make me more like you. That is what happened with the twelve disciples, right? They were constantly trying to “help” with their bad theology, selfish agendas and short-sited thinking. Thankfully, time with the Master changed them. They matured, grew bold and through them the entire world was changed.

Thank you, Lord, that you never give up on us and that you delight in using the messy fingers of your children.

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The Story I couldn’t Write (Part II)

It’s indescribably hard to trust strangers with your child. But, he needed the medicine, the care that I was unable to give. So, with struggling hearts, we left. The nurses told us visiting hours started at 7 a.m.

Back across the road we went to the private hospital where I had given birth and was yet to be discharged. The evening is mostly a blur. Two friends from church stopped by with some bags of fruit. Trevor’s first official visitors, except Trevor wasn’t there. Later, Rachael, one of the widows we work with came with her daughter and ten month old granddaughter Mya. They brought a delicious dinner for us. I just held on to little Mya. God knew I needed a baby to hug right then since I couldn’t hug mine. Rachael told us that Mya also had to stay for a few days in that same intensive care unit—calming news to my anxious heart.

I slept. The first real sleep I’d had in three days. Simon slept on a mattress on the floor next to my hospital bed. At 4 a.m. I woke up. I couldn’t think about anything but Trevor. I got myself ready and packed up a few things to take over to my little guy. As soon as the sun started to peek up, we headed back across the road. It wasn’t visiting hours yet. The nurse allowed Simon just a few minutes to look in on Trevor before saying that only the mother was allowed in the intensive care unit in order to protect all the sick babies there.

Trevor’s neighbor to the right was incredibly tiny barely over a kilo. On his left was a little guy born the same day, but well before his due date. Across the room was a set of twin boys so thin that they reminded me of the pictures you see in National Geographic of severely malnourished children.

I looked down at my son lying there under those bright hospital lights. His face was all smushed up, and he had so many tubes connected to his tiny person. As I held him, I didn’t feel that instant connection. Maybe it was fear. Maybe it was the fact that this whole motherhood thing hadn’t had time to really sink in, but then Trevor looked up at me with those precious little eyes. The way he looked at me right then seem to say, “Mom, I need you.” In that instant, my heart melted. He was mine. There was that deep connection and it stuck stronger then any glue ever could.

Those five days of caring for Trevor felt like five weeks. To write down everything would take a small book, so highlights will have to suffice—the moments that stick most deeply in my mind.

I went to change Trevor for the first time and realized the diapers were still in the car. I asked the nurse for one and was told that diapers were available for sale in the hospital store. Buy enough, I was told, so that the nurses could change him when I was away.

I tried to feed Trevor for the first time holding him while he was still connected to oxygen and an IV. The oxygen tube kept falling out of his nose. I kept having to go and call someone to put it back in again. His little cheeks were chaffing red from the tape holding the tubes down.

Trevor’s first bath wasn’t exactly a proper one. A nurse handed me a silver bowl, a handful of cotton balls, and showed me where the sink was. Because he had been put on oxygen right away, Trevor never got a real bath after he was born. I tried my best to wash his hair out with that handful of cotton balls.

That first morning one of the nurse told me not to hold him for too long because they didn’t want him to get too used to being held all the time. That made me blink back tears. All I could think of was a study I had read about how babies in a Russian orphanage had a lower mortality rate after volunteers came in just to hold the babies. That little bit of physical love ended up saving some of those tiny lives. I told myself this was only for five days.

Scheduled feeding times were 4am, 6am, 8am, 10am, Noon, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm, 10pm, and midnight. Nurses took care of the 2am feeding. We live about a half hour drive from the hospital. There was a place where the moms, who weren’t already staying in the hospital, could stay. Location was great—just one building over from the baby nursery. But, the rooms had no doors. They did have ceiling fans installed, but they didn’t all work. No men were allowed to stay in the building, so that meant that Simon wouldn’t be able to stay with me.

Thankfully, my parents were staying at a missionary guesthouse just down the road from the hospital. Originally, we had planned for them to stay at a guesthouse close to where we lived. But for the first part of their stay, that guesthouse was overbooked; so they ended up at the one near the hospital. Thankfully, that guesthouse also had a room free for us.

So we went back and forth, back and forth—hospital, guesthouse; guesthouse, hospital. We got to know the names of all the security guards that worked at the missionary guesthouse front gate. Although sometimes in our sleep deprived state we would call them by the wrong name.

By the third day, Trevor was off oxygen and the feeding tube. The nurses even let me take him out to the hall to spend a bit of time with his daddy. On the fourth day, he was moved out of the intensive care unit and into the recovery room. A clear Plexiglas window separated the two sections, so I could still wave to Trevor’s neighbor’s mom (the baby to the left of him). She came so faithfully every feeding. Her husband even started to join Simon in the hall. Their baby was their first child as well. The husband told Simon that they didn’t have a watch, but every time they saw us coming they knew it was time for a feeding. The husband had been sleeping outside the hospital at night. Simon actually ran into the couple and their little boy a few weeks ago while at the store. He is doing well and they asked how Trevor was. Sadly, the tiny baby to Trevor’s right passed away the second day we were there.

The twins moved over to the recovery side as well. Their mom was still in recovery herself. The nurse used to scoop them up and tell them, “Your mommy is doing better, but for now I’m your part-time mom.” The twins were still so, so tiny but starting to eat better. It made my heart happy to see them in the recovery room. When their mom was finally able to walk over and visit them, she held those tiny little boys both in the same arm and sang to them as she walked back and forth up and down the room.

On Monday we were told that once Trevor got get his last dose of antibiotics on Tuesday, he could come home with us. It felt so good to be on the recovery side one step closer to the door.

I sat on the white plastic chair that was provided feeding Trevor and chatting with one of the other moms. She was new and worried that her milk hadn’t come in yet. I told her mine took a few days too. That seemed to give her some comfort.

Through that Plexiglas window I saw one of my favorite nurses standing with one of the mothers. The mom’s face was twisted the saddest expression of pain that I have ever seen. She wasn’t crying, as if the pain was too much even for tears. The nurse swaddled the baby lying in the incubator in front of her in a fuzzy blue blanket with yellow flowers. But, this time she swaddled the child’s head as well. Right in front of me, a mother was having to say a final goodbye to her child. I felt utterly helpless. Tears welded up in my eyes. I wanted to go to her, say something, but what? Here I was holding a healthy baby about to be discharged.

That night I had terrible dreams. I woke up at 1am and felt an overwhelming need to go and check on Trevor. I woke Simon up and told him we had to go over to the hospital right now. We talked, prayed, and finally I felt settled enough to wait a few hours and go at the normal time.

I held my breath, as I always did, walking through the front door and turning the corner to go and see Trevor. A bright colored quilt that my grandma had sent lined his little basinet, so I could always pick out his little bed quickly even if he had been moved. There he was— fast asleep. The nurses told me he had a very peaceful night and could be discharged at 10am after his final dose of medicine and once the head nurse had a chance to clear him. Sweet words and even sweeter the feeling when we finally got to carry him out of the hospital and to the car.

I’m thankful for each one of those nurses. They work so tirelessly and really have a heart for what they do. Talking to one of the head nurses she said that they are often understaffed and the nurses work long hours on days that the nursery is especially full, which is frequent. They have a great need for more equipment, but do the best with what they have. Trevor’s care was completely free of charge.

It wasn’t an easy road to walk, but God was there each step of the way. I learned so much about trust, taking one moment at a time and finding strength within yourself when you feel like you have none.

Sometimes when he’s asleep, I just look at my little guy’s sweet little face and my heart wells up with a mixture of gratitude and joy. He’s here. He’s safe. He’s such a wonderful part of our little family. Every single day is a gift. A gift I can never take for granted.

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Hanging with Daddy in the hospital hallway

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Don’t Live a Dead Faith

There is a custom in my husband’s tribe when it comes to nicknames. If you share, say an orange, with a friend from that moment on instead of calling that friend by his or her given name you can agree to call each other “Orange”. The tradition can go even further. You can agree that if one of you forgets and uses the person’s name instead of the new nickname the person who forgets then has to buy the other person say a coke or whatever is agreed upon.

So when you hear someone called “peanut” or “carrot” you know that at one point, usually early on in the friendship, they shared that particular food. The little guy we have been taking care of for the last several months calls one of our neighbors “Lolly” the name of a favored gum because when we first moved in she shared a lolly with him.

I had been in Papua New Guinea less than two weeks when my brother-in-law organized a welcome gathering for me. My husband’s tribe is about an hour flight from the capital city where we were, but a lot of tribesmen and their families live in the city and many turned up to the gathering to officially welcome me to the Kukilka tribe. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever been apart of. As we ate chicken, caucau (sweet potatoes) kumu (greens), and bananas, several people got up and gave speeches thanking me for joining their tribe and expressing their gratitude that I was willing to leave my family and country and join them by choosing to live in Papua New Guinea.

I first met Alex that night. He broke a cooking banana (called a Kenga) in half and shared it with me. Now we call each other Kenga. Alex is a taxi driver. He and his wife have two children a girl who is in seventh grade and a little boy who is five. Alex’s brother recently died of a heart attack, and earlier this year tests showed that Alex has a blocked coronary artery putting him in danger of this same fate unless something is done soon.

In the past, this life giving procedure was not available in Papua New Guinea. Those who could afford it flew to another country to have the surgery done which of course costs an enormous amount of money. Now the hospital here in the city is able to perform the operation. At the end of this month several doctors from Australia are traveling to Papua New Guinea specifically to help people with this condition. Alex is now on the list to see these doctors when they come and hopefully get the treatment that he needs. The trouble is that, as a taxi driver, Alex doesn’t have the 45,000 PNG Kina (around 15,000 US dollars) needed for the operation and hospital stay.

My husband put together a committee to help Alex raise the needed funds. So far the committee/community has raised about one ninth of what is needed. One thing that we seek to do as missionaries here in PNG is to help people rethink certain mindsets and behaviors. Helping Alex is one practical way of doing just that. My husband doesn’t want to see people just contributing to someone’s funeral after they have left this earth, but to take action and take care of their families and tribesmen while they are still with us. Change can happen. Lives can be saved, but it takes action not just talking. It takes people being willing to “put their money where their mouth is.” Like the Biblical book of James says, “faith without works is dead.” We don’t want to live a dead faith. We serve a living God. A God of action and as children of God we need to be active as well. Not just praying about things but doing what we can to actually bring change.

There are just two more weeks left to raise the needed amount for this operation, but I’m excited to see how God will work through His people to bring in what is needed. If you would like to contribute to this need. You can do so online by clinking here. Any amount is appreciated. It’s a big need and a daunting goal at times especially with the time limit, but God has a way of working through His people in a big way. He has already started to do this, and I am excited to see how He continues to work. It’s a story. His story and our story. It’s excited to be apart of change and to be able to see a man given a second chance at life.

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He’s Got Me

I was getting ready to exchange my last 100 dollar bill. I’d tried to get money out of the ATM but for some reason it declined my card, and I was left lamenting once again the fact that my bank in the US is so secure that I can’t even get to my money. Oh, the problems that come with traveling more than the average person. I am constantly getting locked out of my email (yes, that was me trying to access my account from Uganda) and my bank card gets declined more than it gets accepted.

So there I was, running low on options. I had a kid with a dentist appointment and not enough Kenyan shillings to pay the bill. I knew I’d stuck my last 100 in a pocket in my journal during my recent trip to Uganda to get my VISA renewed, but instead of just grabbing my journal and sticking it in my bag, I reached for the book where I used to keep an envelope of American cash (back when I had American cash). I flipped through the pages and saw just an old bank receipt. As I went to put the book back on the shelf, something fell out. 3100 Kenya shillings ($38.00) 3000 exactly the amount I needed for the dentist and 100 for transportation into town.

Some days working at a children’s home can be emotionally and financially draining. I love it, but some days I just feel spent after dealing with a child whose having a panic attack when a repressed memory suddenly surfaces, or when I’m straightening out the same bookshelf for the third time in the same day. It’s easy to get frustrated when you find one of the kid’s brand new sweatshirts outside soaking in the rain, or when your computer battery dies in the middle of a movie because the generator wasn’t on for very long the night before. It’s usually little things, but those little things add up and it’s easy to wonder some days when you find yourself picking tennis shoes out of the mud if anything you are doing is actually making a difference. But, it’s on those days when I really wonder if I can handle it that God has a tendency to show up. Like yesterday when I was struggling with dealing with a staff member who wasn’t doing her job properly and causing a lot of stress. I stewed over the problem as I attempted to tidy up the living room before one of our volunteer’s parents arrived from America. I was on my knees straightening out the bookshelf and mourning the death of yet another hard covered book (these kids have a talent for destroying even the most sturdy of books) when our youngest boy came running through the living room. As he raced past me he stopped ducked his head back out from the doorway of his room and said, “hi, I love you.” I almost cried.

God has a way of bringing little bits of encouragement to those days when you feel like you are about to lose it. He’s got me. He sees me. He knows and even if no one else at the time seems to notice or is too busy with their own problems to fix yours God is never too busy. He takes care of even the little things like making sure there is enough money for the dentist and making sure that you get enough smiles during the day to keep you going.

The smiles keep me here

The smiles keep me here

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Learning to Roll With It

“I’ve learned a lot,” I thought to myself on Saturday while once again attempting to cook for 20 people and having no idea where to start. It’s funny before I came to Kenya I thought of myself as an accomplished cook who liked to experiment with generally successful results. Now I realize I still have a long way to go.

Not having a refrigerator and having a limited budget for food means that meat is a rare treat (as in a once or twice a month rare treat). I never realized that as Americans we have meat with almost every meal, and think that that this is normal. But here there is no more whipping out a frozen chicken breast to season and serve with rice and no more frying up sausages to go with eggs at breakfast. At home I love using bacon, bratwurst, and turkey to spice up a meal. Here there is rice and potatoes, more rice and potatoes, beans and maize, cabbage, spaghetti noodles, and eggs (thank goodness for eggs).

So I’m learning. I’m learning to cook without cheese (sad I know). I’m learning that being a forced vegetarian isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’m learning to experiment. Although it’s hard experimenting with food when you have 17 faces staring at you at the dinner table 17 faces that are quick to give disapproving looks when anything different is placed in front of them. (Early on after moving to the children’s home the kids informed Ruthann, who had made spaghetti for them, that they don’t eat red food). But, they are learning. Half the time after trying something new they end up liking it and come back for seconds. So while the kids are learning to try new things, I am learning to eat the same thing over and over.

I am also learning that life is unexpected and that days go by much better when, instead of fighting life’s sudden twists, you roll with them. Like this morning when on the way to town the car we were borrowing ended up with a flat tire. No big deal except for the fact that the car had no tool in it for getting the lug nuts off the tire so that we could change it. Fortunately, we broke down in walking distance of a new restaurant that has just opened. The manager very nicely called someone to bring a tool for us, and while we waited Jeremy and I enjoyed a lovely breakfast of omelets, toast, and chai.

An unexpected cup of tea

An unexpected cup of tea

Life loves to throw you the unexpected especially when working with kids. I’m learning that the little angels who are so sweet one minute can suddenly decide to turn the living room into a playground and before you know it you feel like you are living in a zoo.

I’m learning that it’s hard not to get upset when a child tells you that what you served them for lunch makes them feel like throwing up or when they ask for more soap because they left the soap you gave them last week disintegrating in a tub of water. I’m learning that just because a child grew up with practically nothing does not automatically mean that they will take care of what you give them. I’m learning that life is all about learning.

I’m also learning about faith. I’m learning that most days my faith is weak, but that God has put these kids in my life to teach me about childlike faith, a very beautiful thing. When they are sick they pray for each other and mean it, and when they pray things happen. I’m learning that God is so much bigger then what my mind can handle and that is also a beautiful thing. I’m learning that it’s ok (although scary) to have basically no money in your saving account because the king of kings is bigger than all of my needs, and He delights Himself with giving good gifts to His children.

I’m learning to work closely with a group of people that I just met to trust each other, build into each other, and let God use each of us as He sees fit. I’m learning to let go—let go of planning, let go of worrying, let go of feelings of inadequacy, and just let God take control. I’m learning that I still have a long way to go and a lot of things to learn, but every day I’m learning.

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