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Just Look

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Summertime. At our house summer is defined by sunscreen, beach towels, noodles, goggles and of course swimming. It is a rare day when my kids are not in the pool. Not long ago my daughter stood by the patio door looking outside at the sparkling blue pool. She reached up for the handle and started to slide open the door.

“Not now, we have to wait until later”, I told her. She knows she is not allowed outside alone, but here we were again . . . another day, another line in the sand, another opportunity to learn.

She dropped her hand, but stood rooted in place gazing outside. “Just look”, she said . . . and that’s what she did for about five seconds  . . . until her little hand reached up again as if drawn by an unseen magnetic current.

“You have to stay inside”, I reminded her.

“Just look”, she said again. Sure enough, a few seconds later she lifted her hand up to the handle and started to push the door open. At that point I had to take her by the hand, move her away from the door and distract her with something else. Once she gets something in her head she is bound and determined to pursue it.

After a fairly minor temper tantrum, I distracted her with a puzzle and at least for a while, the pool was forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind they say. There is definitely something to that. Later we did go swimming, but she had to wait for my timing, not hers.

It seems that there are some things we never quite grow out of. How many times have I allowed my focus to stray away from God to something else? It may be something I am worried about or something I really want, maybe even something that He has told me must wait and yet, my eyes continually stray. I am “just looking”, but looking is only the first step. It seems it is almost impossible to just look.

Unfortunately, the eyes of man are never satisfied. It is human nature to want what we can’t have and so, we look. When we look with the eyes of our hearts it is easy to allow something else to steal God’s rightful place. Sometimes we allow concerns and worries to dominate our thoughts, sometimes desires. Anything that we choose to dwell on can quickly dislodge God from the throne of our heart.

As I walk through another day parenting my daughter I find that once again God is using her to teach me. What things have I allowed myself to “just look” at? What do I need to do to walk away from those things instead of allowing them a dominate place in my thoughts? I pray that God will take me by the hand and lead me away from temporal things and instead draw me ever closer to Him.

“These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Matt. 6: 32-33 NLT

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Parent Shopping

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 I first heard the term “parent shopping” in a book about adoption. It seemed strange to me at the time, but that was before I met my daughter. Let me start with a definition. Parent shopping is when a child actively engages other people, strangers included, in a friendly and affectionate manner in order to test them out as potential parents while often ignoring or acting defiantly to their own parents. They seem to think it wise to have a back-up caregiver on hand, just in case.

My daughter can turn on the charm . . . when she wants to. Sometimes she lays it on thick when she meets someone new or when she doesn’t like the limits I have established. She learned at a tender age how to capture the attention of teenagers and adults and they are more than willing to comply with her every wish. We can be at dinner, the grocery store or one of my older kid’s sporting events and our little lady will be saying hi, grabbing hands and leading people about or even trying to hug people. “She is so friendly!”, people say. I smile, but inside I sigh. I know that it is all superficial. Yeah, she’s friendly, but in my heart I know that this is not a healthy behavior. She resists true intimacy like the plague. Just try to pick her up and hold her and you will immediately see what I mean. She squirms her way out of people’s arms faster than a gopher slips down a hole. I can see what she can not see. Her parent shopping activity is rooted in distrust.

My heart aches when she acts this way. I feel rejected, but more than that, I ache for her. She is actively searching for something that is right in front of her. She just can’t see it. All the love, all the security and all the help she needs surrounds her, and yet, she still looks to perfect strangers for love that she will not accept from her own family. Day after day, I am there, holding her, feeding her, bathing her, tucking her in at night and, still, she won’t completely trust me. Still, I am the one that she pushes away. Still, she looks in vain for what she needs only to receive.

How like my daughter am I when I look to other things instead of trusting in my Father? From the beginning of time, His love for me was firmly established. All along, He knew me, loved me and called me His own. Even though He knew I would evidence my distrust in actions like worry, impatience and disobedience, He never wavered in His love for me. He knew I would need redemption. He knew my insatiable heart would look at every other viable option only to be disappointed. Still, He held out His arms to me and was willing to love me and redeem me through the blood of Jesus Christ.

My part? Receive His love and surrender my autonomy to His Lordship. He is sovereign and my trust is never misplaced when it rests on Him. Just as I long for my daughter to fully trust in my love and provision for her, our heavenly Father longs for us to be confident in His ability to lead us, even when He leads us through hardship. Yes, even then, it is His love that propels us onward through the trials that develop perseverance, proven character and hope . . .

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5 : 3-5 NASB

Hope does not disappoint when it is God who gives it. If we will quit our “parent shopping” and lean fully on Him we will never be disappointed. He will never leave us or forsake us. We do not need to worry and look anxiously about. We can have peace and assurance in Him. He will uphold us. Praise be to God for His faithfulness and patience throughout all generations! May we learn to believe that He alone is worthy of our confidence.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4: 6-7 NASB

 

 

 

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The Hard Way or the Easy Way

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Brushing teeth should be fairly simple . . . right? Well, in my life not so much. Sometimes the littlest things turn into a major power struggle. Brushing teeth is one of those things. For whatever reason, and she probably has several good ones, my daughter does not like to have her teeth brushed. Never the less, it is my job to take care of her even when she doesn’t want me to. Somehow or another, I have to get those pearly whites, well . . . white.

The other night she did not want any part of it. She turned her head away and closed her lips up tight. When I did finally get the toothbrush in her mouth she clamped down on it like an alligator unwilling to let go of its prey. I just wanted to brush her teeth, but she had other ideas . . . and so, the battle lines were drawn.

“Ok”, I said. “Do you want to do this the hard way or the easy way?” She said the easy way, but she clearly didn’t mean it (she always repeats whatever I say last). After several attempts, which ended up taking at least five times as long as it should have, I finally got the job done.

I will brush her teeth one way or the other. It can either be fast and easy or it can be a long, drawn out struggle. I am up for it either way because I know it is in her best interest. I tucked her in bed that night and thought about how much harder she makes things than she needs to. Brushing teeth is just one simple example, the list goes on and on from putting her shoes on to cleaning up her toys. I started to worry about her future. If she continues willfully resisting even the smallest things what will her life be like? My thoughts . . . much, much harder than it has to be.

Then I heard God whisper to my heart. “It is the same with you. Life is not as hard as you make it. There are lessons to be learned, changes to be made and obstacles to overcome. Do you want to do it the hard way or the easy way?”

Immediately, my mind went back to the Israelites who chose the hard way and wondered in the desert for 40 years. That is an incredibly long time. Where did they go wrong? Simply put . . . lack of faith.

Why is it so hard for us to believe that ALL THINGS, the good things and the incredibly difficult things work together for His glory and our good? Why do we still think that we know best and why do we stubbornly cling to the reigns? He who did not spare His own Son, but allowed Jesus to suffer in our place and take the punishment that we deserved, proclaimed by this very sacrifice that He is for us. What more could He possibly do to persuade us?

Yes, I will face trials in my life. Yes, there will be times that are hard and yes, He will accomplish His purposes and plans for my life. He is willing to patiently work with me, even when it takes longer than it should. So, when I face challenges in my day-to-day life, one question remains. Will I trust and cooperate in faith or will I have to learn the hard way?

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” Heb 11:6 ESV

 

 

 

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Jump

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My three year old loves to jump into my arms. She will stand on just about anything and jump to me. She trusts, fearlessly, that I will catch her. Sometimes when she jumps, I quickly lunge to catch her because her trust in me nearly exceeds my ability to reach her! She seems to trust explicitly in this area. If I say, “jump”, then jump she will, and I had better be ready to catch her.

In other areas though, she resists trusting me. She becomes clearly agitated in large crowds, new environments, when her routine changes, when her tummy is empty or when she doesn’t get her way. In these cases, her trust in me waivers and she can become hostile, aggressive, strong-willed and disobedient. In fact, she often does expressly the opposite of what I say in willful defiance. At this point, reasoning becomes useless. Reasoning with my melted down three-year-old is like reasoning with a wind up toy. She just has to spend herself out.

This partial trust in me can be frustrating. Haven’t I taken care of her every need since the day we picked her up? Haven’t I fed her meals and snacks every day, multiple times a day? Haven’t I kissed away her tears, kept her warm and prevented her from all sorts of disasters? How can she still not trust that I will take care of her?

How can I still not trust that God will take care of me?

There are times when my faith has been unshakable, when my trust in God and His provision have helped me to soar high above the circumstances in my life . . . times when I jumped, certain to be caught in His loving embrace.

I am sorry to say that at times my faith waivers and I allow fear or uncertainty to overtake me. In those times, I respond in disobedience. I take matters into my own hands and act by sight instead of by faith. My shortsighted forgetfulness eclipses my view of God’s sovereignty and his past abundant supply. Instead of believing that He will take care of my every need and orchestrate all things for my good and His glory, I panic. I only see the present circumstance. I forget how He has been with me in the fire time and time again. I neglect to remind myself that He has brought me through every trial and that He will never leave me or forsake me.

By watching my daughter, I have learned that trust and obedience go hand in hand. I cannot obey when I do not trust. However, obedience is natural when I do trust. So, in fact, disobedience is an indicator of lack of faith. Oh Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief! How can I not trust Him who willingly gave His own Son, Jesus Christ, in my place to pay the price I should have paid for my sin? Thanks be to God for His patience, love and mercy that I do not deserve. I pray that God will help me to walk by faith and not by sight. I pray that whenever He says jump, I will jump, with the assurance that He will catch me.

“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” Isaiah 50:10 ESV

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Thank You

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My daughter says thank you for everything. Gratefulness just seems to overflows from her heart. She thanks everyone in our family for the littlest things. She thanks her preschool teacher every day when she leaves school. She will even thank perfect strangers. I love that about her. It is one way that her joyful heart is expressed, that, and the smile that lights up her entire face. She says “thank you” loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear. There’s no way to miss it. When she thanks you, sometimes multiple times, you feel thoroughly appreciated.

We adopted her over a year ago and I wonder if her thankfulness comes from the fact that she knows what it is like to live without . . . without a family, without a home, without security and, in her earliest days, without enough to eat. She knows the darkness of living without. She knows what it is like to not have some of her most basic needs met.

She now knows, or perhaps is still learning, that her needs will be met, that she is safe, loved and belongs to our family. She always, Lord willing, will have enough to eat and a mommy and daddy to dry her tears, siblings to look out for her and a safe place to call home. What a far cry from her life before.  Sometimes I wonder if my birth kids can truly ever feel as grateful . . . sometimes I wonder if I can truly ever feel as grateful as I should. We do not know the pain of living without, or the relief of finally having a place to call home. Can we who have never lived without recognize the abundance that is all around us?

It is, of course, a blessing to be raised in a loving home from birth, one that I would never take from my older kids. I just hope they get it . . . I hope that I get it.

As a small child, I sang “Jesus Love Me” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. I personally can not remember a time when I didn’t know that I was loved by God. This is, in fact, a magnificent gift, one that I don’t stop and think about often enough, but when I do, it fills me with awe. Am I as thankful as I should be? Are there words of praise on my lips and a song of thanksgiving in my heart to the One that loved me first?  Have I thanked God today for offering His one and only Son, Jesus, in my place, to bear my sins and clothe me in His righteousness?I pray that I never take His love for granted, not even for a moment. I pray that I will live life with a grateful heart like my daughter. I pray that in all things, whether great or small, I will remember to say “thank you”.

“Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thankfulness.” Colossians 2:5-6 ESV

 

 

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That’s My Girl!

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I took my toddler into my older kids’ school. She walked along beside me, held my hand and side “hi” to one of the other moms. She was being winsome and charming in her adorable way. She even said thank you for a sticker she received. I smiled. It was one of those times when I would gladly have said, “That’s my girl!” Five minutes later I was not smiling. My daughter was throwing a fit worthy of Guinness Book in front of half the school. I quickly picked her up and found the nearest exit. I left feeling frustrated and discouraged, the same way I felt when the nursery workers at church called me out and told me I needed to pick up my child because she was not playing well with the other kids.

I have to admit, it really bothers me when she acts up, when she isn’t gentle with other kids, when she lays on the floor kicking or screams at the top of her lungs. Unfortunately, these are not isolated events. We have had more than our fair share of behavior challenges. These self-centered, hurtful behaviors are not acceptable and if I’m honest, one of the reasons they bother me so much is because I feel they reflect poorly on me. What must other parents think about me when they see her behave like that?

Ah, but then I think, how does God feel when we are unkind to those around us, our own family members, strangers? How about when we are hurtful and proud? God reminded me that my bad behavior reflects even more poorly on Him than my daughter’s behavior reflects on me. When I claim to be a child of God and act selfishly or respond in anger people begin to question the character of my God. They may decide they want no part of my Father just because of the way they see me act. This sobering thought nearly knocks the wind out of me. When I bear the name of God, how can I dishonor him by my actions?

On the flip side, when I act in love, obey God’s word, display genuine faith, generously share, forgive and serve I am accurately representing the nature of my Father in heaven. In these moments, I am a true reflection of my God. He is exalted and revered.

Praise God for the cross of Jesus! The place where my sins were paid for completely by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus in my place. Jesus took my shame upon Himself and made it possible for God to claim me as His own. I pray that God will forgive me where I have failed and continue working in my heart and life to help me walk in a manner worthy of being called a child of God. When my days on this earth have come to an end, my desire is for God to smile at me and say, “Well done my good and faithful servant” aka . . .  “That’s my girl!”

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4: 1-3 ESV

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Hands Off

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My daughter likes to touch things, little things, heavy things, other people’s things . . . everything! I watch her constantly for fear that she will get into something that could harm her or someone else. We have started telling her “hands off” when she approaches something she shouldn’t touch. She knows to hold her hands in the air when I say this, which makes her stop for just a second and think before she touches. If I had a nickel for every time I said “hands off” . . . well you get the picture. Does it work? Sometimes yes . . . and sometimes no. Asking her not to touch something is like asking her not to breathe.

The other day she got a hold of a tootsie pop, which she immediately put in her mouth. By the time I got to her she was sticky, not just a little sticky, I mean sticky everywhere, her face, shirt, hair, but especially her hands. She had also managed to bend the stick until it broke off, so the entire tootsie pop, and what was left of the stick, was still in her mouth. I tried not to think about where the rest of the stick might have landed. I’d have to find that later. “Hands off”, I told her as I began to unbuckle her car seat. She grabbed the seat in front of her, the armrest and the buckle trying to “help” get herself out. I sighed, all three were sticky now. I held her hands as I worked her out of the seat as best I could without letting her touch anything. We headed inside and I repeated “hands off” as I guided her through the door, which she touched, and up the stairs, where she grabbed the wall to steady herself before I could stop her. We finally made it to the bath where I cleaned her up from head to toe. Then, I had to go back and clean up all the sticky places she left behind.

Funny, I guess in some ways, we never grow up. We still want to get our hands on everything and “help” God do things. Unfortunately, our selfish motives make our hands hopelessly sticky. We end up making a mess of everything we touch along the way. God patiently tells us to wait upon Him and trust Him, but we just can’t seem to remember not to meddle. While we should be waiting and resting in the peace that surpasses all understanding, instead, we take matters into our own sticky hands and end up making things worse than they were to begin with.

Once again, God cleans us up (an ongoing process, just like it is with my daughter) and then goes back to take care of all the messes we’ve created along the way. If only we would listen to His voice and patiently wait with childlike faith knowing that if He says not to touch, it is because he has our best interests at heart. If only we could learn to keep our hands off.

“But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 ESV

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Be Still

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I sat on my sofa next to my daughter and picked up my laptop. This was an ill-devised plan from the start, but I needed to get a few things crossed off my ever growing to-do list and so, I decided to give it a shot. I turned on Elmo, got her a few toys and powered up my Mac. Maybe . . . just maybe I told myself. She came and sat on my lap and immediately climbed back off. For a moment, she was next to me, but then she went and sat on the floor. A minute later she was back on my lap again and then off to find a new toy, only to cast it aside a moment later. The next thing I felt was the corner of a book to the side of my head, she was climbing back on my lap with a book in hand. Needless to say, it was impossible to concentrate on my work.

Busy.

That one word sums up my daughter well. In fact, it is often the first adjective used to describe her by almost everyone she meets. She is in constant, almost insatiable motion. It is like she is driven by some unseen desire or unmet need, always searching, continuously moving from place to place or toy to toy unable to stick with any one item too long. I have become accustomed to her motion, but I know that all of the things that she seeks will not satisfy her for long.

I know what she needs even though she has no idea. She needs me. She needs to learn to trust in my provision and love instead of seeking an endless array of entertainment and stimulation. She needs time spent gazing into my eyes and sitting quietly beside me. She needs to play with me and as she plays, she will learn and grow.  I see what she needs, and I know what it is before she does. If only, she would trust me and know that I will take care of everything.

In the midst of her whirlwind of activity, I pause to think. Isn’t that what God is saying to me?

“Why are you seeking all of these other things when I am all that you need? You look to comfort, entertainment, accomplishments, other people, and a myriad of other diversions, but I am right here. I am the only thing that will satisfy your searching heart. Be still, gaze into my face and find all that you could ever want or need. Spend time in my word, searching, learning and delighting your heart in my presence. Trust in me. I know what you need before you ask, not what you think you need, but what you really need. You need Me.”

I have to ask myself, what am I truly living for. Do I want an easy life, a comfortable life or maybe an exciting life? Am I seeking to meet my own needs and desires or am I living for God and His glory? A “me” centered life, that seeks my own happiness is in reality the least happy of all. So now, it is time for me to stop all of the business, all of the endless pursuits and pursue the only One that can quench the desire of this insatiable heart. It is time for me to climb up on my Father’s lap and simply be still.

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noon day. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” Psalm 37:3-7a ESV

 

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Letting Go

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College? Could it be that time already?

I have to admit, I feel a slight (um ok, massive) panic at the thought of my firstborn looking at colleges. I am NOT ready for this! The thought of filling out applications and visiting colleges (and picking one!) on top of a rigorous academic schedule is bad enough, but the thought of actually sending my kid out into this crazy world is another thing all together.

There is something precious about knowing that all of my kids are tucked safely in their beds. This, I know, can not last. All too soon I will have to let go. I will always be there for them, but by necessity it will be in a different way. They will be ready, and so, I must also be. Still, there is a part of me that struggles with letting go.

The other day I watched as my kids played together. Remember this, I thought, because the pages of life turn quickly and once this chapter ends it will never be quite the same again. The images before me blurred and I began to pray. “God, how can I let them go? I won’t be there to protect and guide them. What if they make bad decisions? What if they are in danger? Who will be there? God please watch over them. I am entrusting them to you. I can not always be there, but you God, you will never leave them.”

A shaky sigh escaped my mouth and I wiped a tear off my cheek. It was then that I heard a whisper to my heart, “Daughter, it was I who made them, who knew and loved them long before you did. I knew that you would sometimes be too harsh and sometimes too lenient. I knew that you would make mistakes. I saw all of your weaknesses and brokenness, and I placed them right into your hands. Don’t you see? It was I that entrusted them to you in the first place.”

And suddenly I saw.

They were not really mine at all, but His all along. Why He ever entrusted them to me I can not say, but I am infinitely grateful that He did . . . for a time. I know “that day” will come too soon. Tears will be shed and I will wish for more days that I can not have. It is then that I will remember that I am returning them into the hands of the Father, the One who entrusted them to me in the first place, which is far better than just letting go.

“The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil. He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your coming out and your going in from this time forth and forever.” Psalm 121: 5-8 (NASB)

 

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Holding Hands

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I hold my daughter’s small hand in mine. Her skin is still soft, not yet weathered from life, her fingers little, but determined. We walk along together down the sidewalk stopping here and there to pick up a fallen leaf, look closely at a lady bug or run our fingers over a smooth rock. Some of the time her hand is in mine and sometimes she pulls it away.

I like it best when her hand is securely in mine. When we walk along together holding hands, I am able to catch her when she stumbles, which at her tender age is fairly often. With her hand in mine, a small stumble will cause her no pain because I am easily able to pull her up before her knees or hands hit the ground. We fall into step again and continue walking together. I pull her away from the street when she wanders too close to the edge. I simply like the feel of her sweet little hand in mine. It is a sign that she belongs to me. A symbol of our mutual affection. It says to the world that we have a close relationship.

My daughter is a little girl with a mind of her own and a strong will. She often does not want to be confined to my side. She will pull her hand away from mine and set out on her own. Without my hand to hold her up, she will scrape her knees and bruise her hands when she falls. I am close by to kiss her boo boos, hold her in my arms and comfort her, but the pain of the fall will last some time. The bandaids I put on only help so much. She still has to live with the consequences. Without her hand in mine I am even more mindful of the danger of passing cars, always staying between my daughter and the street. If she were to run too far ahead or lag too far behind I would not be able to reach her in time. The result would be devastating to both of us. With her at a distance, I can only do so much. She is not safe from the perils that surround her. She has chosen to distance herself from me. The message she now sends is that she doesn’t need me or desire my presence.

How must our Father in heaven feel when we eagerly reach for His hand and draw close to His side? He must be filled with joy that we long for His presence, to belong to Him, to be known as His child. For He longs to call us His own. To gather us under His wings, close to His heart. Knowing the dangers that surround us, He eagerly desires to prevent us from heartache and pain.

How must He feel when we pull away in willful defiance? Oh, the pain that must sear his heart when we stubbornly pull our hand out of His. He knows the consequences we must bear and keenly feels the pain of separation. He knows we will fall, often. He knows the certain disaster that awaits us when we run from Him. He knew all along that we would willfully separate ourselves from Him in defiance.

As a loving parent would do anything to save their child, God too would go to the ultimate length to draw us back to Him. In an act both astonishingly sacrificial and abounding in love, He ran after us and drew us back from certain death even though the only way to do so was by the death of His own and only Son in our place. He remembers our sin and rebellion no more and once again we are drawn into relationship with Him. Once again, we are known as His children. Once again, we are holding hands with the Father.

“The steps of a man are established by the Lord when He delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.” Psalm 37:23-34 (ESV)

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