Categories
Courage Covid19 Endurance Faith Fear Feeding Missions Perspective

Just a Starfish

The past weeks here in Bujumbura, Burundi have had me (and all of us living here) spinning in circles. We have faced flooding, an ambiguous covid19 situation and now elections are set to take place on May 20th. Each of these issues have presented their own set of pressures that have proved to be demanding, even in the most optomistic of lights.

Our city borders Lake Tanganyika, one of the longest and deepest lakes in the world. It is more like a sea than it is a lake in that it has tides, rough and smooth water and it is slightly salty due to it only having one river outlet. The rains this year have been extremely heavy in this region so all of the water from the countries surrounding the lake, and there are many, dumps into Tanganyika. Water levels have risen exponentially causing the lake, and rivers that feed into the lake, to rise and break their banks. The beaches have disappeared under water, homes and villages nearby the lake have been inundated without much relief in sight. Thankfully, in the past week, the rains have finally started to taper off and the waiting game for the waters to recede has begun.

The tens of thousands who have been flooded out of their homes now live in absolute squallor, in makeshift camps under conditions that no human being should have to live in, waiting for someone, anyone to bring relief. Children run around in the dirt and mud, women try to cook with whatever cooking fuel they have and the men work to build shelters out of grass, plastic and any other materials they can find. There is no potable water, no toilet facilities and no food – their situation is dire. We were able to raise some money to bring care packages to 200 families last week but this little amount proved to be far from what is needed. As we were distributing the relief, it was painfully apparent that in less than a week the food would be gone and they would once again need assistance.

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While we were handing out the packages, even though covid19 has infected Burundi, there was no observing of social distancing or washing hands. How can people be expected to distance when their children are hungry and they fear being left out? How can people wash their hands when there’s no clean water? I didn’t realize that we ourselves had put ourselves at higher risk of infection until arriving on site – I simply said a prayer and carried on.

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Next week, on the 20th, as Burundi goes to the polls, there is an underlying fear of outbreaks of violence that this country/region is known for. Fear is a powerful emotion that can cause people to react violently even when there is no cause. Tempers can flare easily when a large number of people are afraid, people can react violently when they feel they are in danger. Our recourse? Dropping to our knees in prayer for these people, this nation and region that has long been the target of painful uprising and death.

This afternoon, as we do every Thursday afternoon, we have an outreach to the area surrounding our church in Bujumbura. Most of the time it is easy to step out and participate as we talk to people of the hope that is in us, that brings us to serve this nation. However, the past few weeks have been a faith-walk for me, rather than the usual exciting time of outreach. I find myself pushing hard to keep up and move forward while so much is whirling around me.

At times like this, when life presses so hard that you feel the water has gone over your head, it’s tempting to wonder (like I have) if your usefulness in your work is done or even give up. What is the use of working in the face of an ocean of need when all I have is an eyedropper to address it?

While I can’t do everything, I can do something and the small something that I can do means a lot to the one or two I have been able to reach. Many of you likely have read the story where a young child was on a seashore that was covered in starfish that had washed ashore. The child was busy throwing starfish back into the water, one at a time. A man walked up to the child and asked if the child thought he could clear the beach of all the starfish? Did it really matter? To which the child replied, it matters to this one, the one he was holding in his hand.

The needs of this world are so vast, so complex that there’s no way I’ll ever be able to meet even a fraction of them. But to the one or two I work for, it will matter. Lives matter, all lives big or small, young or old, black or white – and what I’m responsible for is doing what I can. It may just be one starfish – but to that one it might just make an eternity’s difference.

Psalm 66:12 “You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”

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You may wonder, since covid19 is all around the world, why we are able to distribute aid and carry on working. In Burundi we have not been in lockdown during this pandemic. Our borders are closed as is our airport. Handwashing is encouraged and somehow people are trying when they can to socially distance themselves. Ours is a unique place in the world, please pray for us!

Categories
Beginnings Death Dreams Faith New Year

Wasted Time

The beginning of a New Year is when most of us will, at some level, come up with a fresh emphasis for the year. I’ve purposely held back from writing anything full of “newness” as I’m still working on what was supposed to have been fresh from New Years gone by. I find myself hesitant to reach for more when I feel what I hoped for in times past has been lost to time.

I woke on New Year’s Day morning feeling a bit sullen and wallowed in that mediocre mood all morning long. As we headed for church, we normally have some kind of church celebration every New Year, I tried to shake off my feelings of failure. Walking into the church building, I shelved my mediocrity, for the people were already lining up ready for the morning. Even in my foul mood my heart turned towards the people; I was unaware of what was about to unfold.

This year we handed the microphone over and let the people recount their testimonies, thanking God for what He had done in their lives. Sitting in my seat next to Jamie (husband unit), we laughed and cried as we listened as our people opened their lives before us. God really had accomplished more than I had been aware of – you really do have to get out of the forest to see the trees.

Everyone had something good to say, something good to thank God for: food and clothing, shelter, school fees for their children and health. Among their thanks for God’s provision, almost everyone gave thanks for our church and what God is doing in our church once again. We were especially touched by the testimony of one young lady who stood up and began to cry when she said, “I’m so thankful for our church and for God bringing our pastor back to us.”

I had no idea.

In that moment the year(s) of lost time rolled back and I understood in a new way how God can reach into the past and restore it. I understood that time, while I am limited by it, does not limit God.

Joel 2:24 ESV “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.”

The things that we bury in the ground and assume cannot be restored are the very things that God will bring back to life – for God resurrects the dead.

When Jesus surrendered His life to the cross, died and was buried, it seemed that the enemy had won. It seemed that those who had planned His death had the upper hand for how can someone who has died come back to life?

In Matthew 27:50-66, Jesus lays His life down and sandwiched in the middle of the story are the Priests and Pharisees looking to “secure” the grave because they reckoned Jesus’ disciples would steal His body away. Pilate tells them, “make it as secure as you can.”

I imagine during the three days that Jesus’ body was in the grave, the disciples had some choice words among themselves:

He’s died, so we’re as good as dead.

What have we done with our lives? Three wasted years!

Let’s flee to another nation!

What about our families? All is lost!

In the same way, I’ve often been guilty of feeling my years have been lost, that my time has gone for naught. What has it all been for anyway?

What the Priests and Pharisees did not take into account when they “secured” Jesus’ grave was that when God has a resurrection in mind – there will be a resurrection. It was with great flourish when in Matthew 28:2-4 the earth shook, an angel rolled the stone away and the soldiers guarding the tomb fell “as dead men” when Jesus walked out. The “wasted” years of the disciples walked out with Him and the early church began.

It’s through our “wasted” seasons that God works most in our lives to resurrect and return our hours, days, weeks, months and years to us. Imagine how the disciples agonized for days about the death of Jesus, only to have Him appear before them and say (in effect), “Let’s do this people, let’s win the world!”

So let’s rewind the tape, replay the recording and start all over again.

It’s January 2020, what’s new?

Categories
Choices Faith Love

The Knock at the Door

A dear friend of mine, Mary Johnson, brings us a word for the moment. Which moment? Every one that we live. Enjoy.

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I remember when I was a young girl, I never wanted to go outside to play.  My mom and I were reminiscing about it the other day.  She asked me, “Do you remember what you did when you went out doors to play?” I said, “I probably sat down.”  She said, “Yes, but do you remember where you went?”  I told her that I did not remember.  She said that I went outside and sat on the steps right at the front door.

When you think about the words “knock at the door,” Jesus said in Revelation 3:20 “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me.” When we open the door to Jesus, fear has to leave, intimidation has to go. Why? Because love has entered in. 1 John 4:18 states,  “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.”

We can boldly step out in faith and as we take a step, Jesus takes each step with us. I opened the door to Jesus and He stepped in. I found myself willing to move from the front steps and into the games the other children were playing one step, at a time. Fear had to move away and was no longer able to keep me on the step at the front door.

Take the step of faith with Jesus, He promised to never leave or forsake us.  All we have to do is open the door of our heart when he knocks. He is knocking. Will you let Him in?

Mary Johnson

 

 

Categories
Death Faith Grief Loss Missions Unexplained

It Has Come To You

Our November 2019 updates are in click here for details.

Categories
Doubt Faith Missionary Perspective Thankful Travel Why

I Had To See Over The Trees

Earlier this year, in July to be more precise, I learned that some jewelry I had left in the USA with my son had been stolen (we live in Burundi, Africa). Together with the help of the local detective, my son located the items at a local pawn shop. After speaking with the owner and proving that the items were indeed mine and stolen, a hold was placed on them pending resolution of the case. In the meanwhile, I wrote a personal statement and sent it in to the investigating detective and waited to travel Stateside for our usual bi-yearly itineration. We were set to arrive in September and would work on collecting the jewelry at that time.

When we finally arrived in town and managed to talk to the detective face-to-face, we learned that retrieving our property would be a bit more complicated than we had originally imagined. The owner of the shop had offered to “give” us our property if we paid him $500.00. We felt such a sum was unfair and followed the detective’s advice to file papers at the courthouse to get the property returned to us. The shop owner was resolute and would not return the stolen property; we were given a date to appear before a judge just last week (October 24).

I found myself standing last Thursday morning at a podium next to the pawn shop owner before a judge. The whole process for me was nerve wracking. My husband (Jamie), who had pushed for us to get the items returned in the first place, has the emotional strength of an army. His mantra throughout the process was, “It’s not their jewelry! We are going to get it back!” I followed his lead, all the while feeling wobbly and anxious about what the actual outcome would be.

I am an Enneagram 2w1 personality for those who might be interested, it may shed light on my reaction!

Yes, the necklace and bracelet were mine, yes they were stolen and yes I wanted them back. However, I also knew that things don’t always turn out as we hope or plan and my negativity took over “helping” me to prepare for disappointment. I went so far as saying, “Let them keep it!” when the shop owner refused to return in voluntarily. Jamie would not hear of it and off we went to see the judge last Thursday.

Since the jewelry was mine, I was the one called to stand at the podium. I knew Jamie would most likely have done a better job than me in explaining the whole situation but I did my best when my account of events was called for. I kept things truthful, simple and to-the-point. There was no need for anything more or less, I reckoned, as a little part of me hoped that the right thing would happen.

When it was time for the shop owner to speak, his words were loud, coarse and shaded. The judge, while she had pity on him that he had paid $1,100.00 for the items and had lost money, had no pity on him when it came to her reminding him of the law. He had to return the jewelry to me without pay – they were mine and it was wrong, against the law, for him to keep them.

An order was written on the spot and handed to both parties ordering the shop to return the items to me free of any charge. About an hour later, I found myself wearing the necklace and bracelet, a bit embarrassed at my pessimism throughout the process.

Why did I doubt You, Lord?

Luke 19:3 NASB “Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was…”

I was trying hard to see Jesus but I was just too short to see above the tree line. I thought my problem was not of any consequence; a necklace and bracelet have no value in light of the lives of the children we feed in Burundi and Malawi or the schools that we are opening. It seemed so trivial, but I hoped that somehow those unnecessary items would silently make their way home without any fuss. So, like Zacchaeus, I had to climb up just a bit higher to see Him and recognize what He was doing and just like He did for Zacchaeus, Jesus came home on Thursday to eat with me at our table – and He brought the necklace and bracelet home to me.

 

Categories
Choices Excuses Faith Missions Obedience Parenting

Turn Around Here

“Most religious principles don’t liberate us; they confine and enslave us. Most practices and disciplines do more to highlight our futility than they do to empower us for glory.” Chris Tiegreen

Don’t wear this.

Don’t do that.

Don’t say that.

And definitely don’t listen to that.

The list of dos and don’ts in our lives is endless. When our children grow from being an infant to becoming a toddler, we bombard them with “No, no, no!” Almost everything is off limits to them and in true toddler fashion, they will crash through every barrier we try to create. A wise parent, while having to put boundaries in place for safety and growth, will not only construct healthy boundaries for their children, they will also create an atmosphere of understanding why those boundaries exist.

Employers have certain rules in place in the workplace that employees are naturally expected to observe. Be that as it may, it is inevitable that rules will be broken and ultimately some employees will face termination due to their resistance to following the rules. In this scenario it’s not uncommon for complaints to be filed and damages to be sued for – all because rules weren’t followed or broken.

Imagine how God feels when He sees the bigger picture and tries to guide us into what He knows to be best for us, we resist and break His guidelines. As we resist, like toddlers or the erring employee, we talk ourselves into the “rightness” of our decisions despite all of the evidence saying we’ve taken a wrong turn. Because we can’t sue God for damages or lost wages, we instead look for ways to keep proving we are right and our relationship with Him suffers and His once-familiar voice fades into silence.

I was driving in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, a number of years ago looking for a guest house we had heard of and were hoping to look at and use as future accomodations for visitors. I was in a two-door Daihatsu Rugger (looked like some kind of jeep) and had a friend with me in the vehicle, helping me look for the guest house. As we drove down the dual-carriage road, I began to feel discouraged as we were failing to find the place. I heard the phrase, “Turn around here,” in my mind but at the same time I thought “Let me just go a bit farther.” I had already driven this far, I thought I should at least go a little further.

A short while later, I decided it was time to turn around and pulled into a turning lane that separated the dual-carriage road. The moment I had stopped and was waiting to turn around, I heard a screeching sound and looked in my rear-view mirror and caught a glimpse of a large Toyota Land Cruiser headed straight for my side of the vehicle – and I closed my eyes and braced for impact.

The larger vehicle hit me and, from a full stop, propelled my vehicle into the opposite lane. I opened my eyes and checked on my passenger who was thankfully fine, as was I. Shaken, I sat in my seat for a moment knowing that I was going to have to tell Jamie about the accident (this was pre-cell phone days) and then we were going to have to figure out how to pay to fix our vehicle. Yes, we had insurance but that really didn’t (and still doesn’t) mean much in our part of the world. Thankful that there wasn’t traffic or pedestrians that were involved in the accident, I pushed the heavily dented door open and checked on the status of both vehicles. Mine was majorly damaged; the driver’s door was damaged as was the body of the vehicle on the driver’s side. The Land Cruiser that hit me, however, didn’t look as if anything had happened.

In a short while, the police came, spent about a half an hour with the driver of the Land Cruiser in their vehicle, then took my driver’s license, and informed me that I was at fault. Tears stung the back of my eyes as I made arrangements to go to the police station. Some weeks of stress sorting and cleaning up after this whole escapade followed, and I cried many tears of regret for not listening to the voice that said, “Turn around here.”

Since then, I have tried to listen to the voice, to the direction that I heard last because I am not keen on having to clean up when I don’t have to. I came to understand that I don’t really know very much at all as I only see a very small part of what is going on in the world around me.

God’s Word, His ways, are often read like a rule book that we try to adhere to like employees at the work place. Following God this way, not listening and watching through ears and eyes of faith won’t liberate us. In fact, if we simply try to be good and follow the rules, we will eventually break out of those boundaries. What we are missing in our pursuit of God is a deep relationship with Him as when we fall into step with Him, those boundaries no longer bind us. We, instead, eagerly wait for the next step knowing we won’t possibly be able to take it without His guidance.

No, I don’t know better, not at all, and that is just fine with me.

What’s next?

Categories
Anniversary Faith Forgiveness Love Marriage Missions

A Bit of Crazy

Every July I turn into a hopeless romantic and this year a bit more so as we are celebrating 35 years of marriage on the 21st of July. I would say that’s a bit of a milestone, it might even be a date-night worthy event. The problem is our choice of places to go for a date night here are limited so we will likely celebrate later on this year when we travel.

As missionaries, we are obliged to travel from time to time to report to supporting churches and individuals as well as hopefully meet new contacts. It’s during times like these that we fit in those much-needed moments to devote to one another and family that we don’t have opportunity to see unless we are traveling. I realize most of the popular books on marriage and family decry our life’s rhythm – but it is what we have learned to live with and work around and somehow God has given us grace and we have lasted 35 years.

When I look back on our early history, I’m sure that we weren’t a likely couple. In fact, we were a pretty unlikely couple and our relationship must have initially surprised many. The thing that brought us, and has kept us, together was simply our desire to make it for the long haul and be in the will of God at the same time. We’ve held on when we didn’t feel like holding on, we’ve forgiven one another, we’ve raised a family together, we’ve seen more in our lifetime together than I ever thought possible. As the children are now almost all grown (one 11 year old remains at home), we find ourselves closer to one another than in our early years. Our combined and common history has created a bond that is difficult to explain and can only really be understood by others who have walked their own journies of commitment in marriage.

This weekend we are hosting a special marriage ceremony for couples in our church in Bujumubura who have not been able, for one reason or another, to be married. Most of the time, these reasons have more to do with finance than anything – having the ability to host a big party has pressured many couples to forego a marriage ceremony. While we agree weddings should be a reason for celebrating, weddings are only a one-day event and their cost shouldn’t prevent couples from living in God’s order. Marriage is supposed to last for a lifetime, not just a day. After counseling and working with these couples, we decided to host a simple but beautiful ceremony at the church for these dear people who only want to get their lives and families in order. As it turns out, the church has shown up and individuals have donated time, money, and decorations for the celebration set to take place tomorrow afternoon. The excitement is brewing and my heart is fluttering for them all – what a great day lies ahead of us!

While the decor is going to be simple, it reminds me of our day so many years ago and the high hopes we had when we stood at the altar. My mother insisted on a friend of hers playing the traditional wedding march and it was almost painful walking the aisle to the tune – it was so badly done. Looking back, I’m happy I let my mom have her way. Letting mom have her way that day was one of my first lessons in learning what was and wasn’t important. The walk up the aisle had nothing to do with the music – it had everything to do with the person waiting for me at the end who was about to commit to living with all of the craziness I was about to unload on him! That my mother had joy that day, in that moment when the keys didn’t sound totally right, was more important than having it done my way.

My way and his way have given way to what has become our way. We have developed our own way of living and serving and loving one another and it has taken a lifetime to get to this point. I suppose the lesson learned from the years behind us for those looking ahead, for those who have a lifetime yet to live, is to chase the dream of love in your marriage year after year. There comes a point in the gift of love that God gives us in our marriages that is worth the wait, that is worth the fight, that is worth every bit of crazy.

I’m so glad we hung on.

Happy anniversary month Jamie, I love you. Let’s chase the dream for another 35 years and beyond.

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I couldn’t believe that I found this song online! It was sung at our wedding on July 21, 1984. #feelingnostalgic #the80s 

Categories
Faith Fear Kingdom Missions

It’s A Bit Hot

Sharing a short update on the HOT goings-on here in Bujumbura. Click on the link for more.

https://shoutout.wix.com/so/04MeWf0vr

Categories
Faith Fear Missions Perspective Reputation

Feeling A Bit Sheepish

Today I’m about to get real with you about fear. What makes me afraid to step out? Why do I recoil when facing my giants? Why is it so easy for me to be afraid? I’m afraid of what might happen. I’ve been down this road many times and what might happen frightens me.

Today I received an email stating our medical insurance premium was due by May 1st. Living overseas in Africa, we have a basic emergency plan; we don’t have a lot of other coverage as we’ve been priced out of the “meatier” policies. When the notice came through, I told my husband, “Uh, our insurance is due the 1st of May and it’s gone up.” A lively conversation ensued as our policy is paid bi-yearly and the price had gone up by about $300.00. Do we renew? How do we renew? What about travel insurance later this year in the USA? And so on.

I might have overreacted (insert sheepish grin) as I remembered in years past when we have had to use our medical insurance and the huge impact it had on our finances not to mention the stress of one of us being unwell. I couldn’t imagine what repercussions we might face if we didn’t renew or find something else for our family.

Truth be told, while we have faced giants, big, scary ones in times past, we are here today. Somehow we made it. God brought us through, He took care of our needs; His record is good and I’m counting on Him to stay true to his Word. I know He will take care of all of our needs and this includes our bills like medical insurance.

Isaiah 41:10 NKJ Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

Maybe, like me, you just need to remember the times God has been there for you before and how He has made a way when it looked like there was no way. He has helped us, and He will help us again!

“If I cannot hear ‘The sound of rain’ long before the rain falls, and then go out to some hilltop of the Spirit, as near to my God as I can and have faith to wait there with my face between my knees, though six times or sixty times I am told ‘There is nothing,’ till at last there arises a little cloud out of the sea, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”                   Amy Carmichael

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Amy Carmichael was a missionary to Japan and India for 55 years and founded the Donavur Fellowship. Her life story is one worth reading. She was also a prolific author and poet. For more quotes by Amy Carmichael, click here.

Categories
Courage Cross Endurance Faith Perspective Regret Resurrection

Unlikely Candidates

When I held my firstborn for the first time, I was overwhelmed. I was afraid to lift him for fear of doing something wrong but after the nurse deposited him in my room she was gone and he began to cry. What else to do? I lifted him into my arms and began to learn how to comfort a crying baby, it had to be done.

Things changed quickly that day; before having children I really didn’t know what it meant to take charge and do what was needed at any given moment. When diapers needed changing, baths needed taking, and crying needed soothing, I was there and did what I had to do. In the years that followed I had 3 more children and each time the ability to do what had to be done was there. It didn’t matter how messy or how late I had to stay up, I just did it because it had to be done.

All these years later as my youngest is now 11 and has outgrown many of those younger-years issues, I am still amazed at what I was able to do, for in reality I am far from brave or strong.

I wonder about Simon of Cyrene who was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus. He was a family man, a father of 2 young sons (Mark 15:21) on a journey but was caught in the middle of the mess in Jerusalem at the crucifixion of Jesus.

Luke 23:26 NASB “When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.”

Under the circumstances, Simon did what he had to do. I imagine in retrospect, when he learned of the resurrection of Jesus, his feelings of being chosen to carry the cross were much different than they were when he had the cross placed on him in the first place. Like many of us when we face the unexpected, he may have thought it unfair that he had to bear the burden, he was only on a trip, this wasn’t part of the plan!

Relationships, jobs, volunteering, ministry, and just about everything we do in life will be full of unexpected, unfair, and seemingly impossible complications that will arise and need tending to. Many times, at this juncture, unlike Simon of Cyrene who had no choice but to take the cross as he was forced to, we choose to back away from the challenge because it wasn’t part of the original plan. How much have we deprived ourselves from? Could it be possible that we were chosen in that difficult situation to carry something for Jesus?

After Jesus was crucified, His body needed to be buried. I doubt anyone made plans for it as his 12 disciples abandoned Him. There remained a task that needed to be done and the most unlikely of candidates chose to muster his courage: Joseph of Arimathea. The Bible says in John 19:38, 39 that he was a disciple “in secret” for fear of the Jews. We always equate secrecy with weakness. This apparently wasn’t so in this Joseph’s case for at the moment when someone was needed, he did what had to be done.

Imagine if Jesus’ body hadn’t been buried in a tomb. In that time when someone was crucified in this situation, unless there was someone willing to bury the body, the dead were thrown onto garbage heaps outside the city where wild animals swiftly disposed of them. If this would have happened to Jesus, there would’ve been no empty tomb to testify of His resurrection, but Joseph of Arimathea did what needed to be done and in the scripture this “secret disciple” is called “righteous.”

Luke 28:50,51 NASB “…Joseph of Arimathea…a good and righteous man…who was waiting for the Kingdom of God.”

I wonder if the key to gathering the courage to do what we need to do at any given moment is found in the character of Joseph: being someone who is waiting for the Kingdom of God. I imagine Joseph followed the ministry of Christ and being a learned man knew the Scripture. As his heart was right in waiting for the Kingdom, he understood to some degree that Jesus was special and part of the plan of the Kingdom he was anxiously waiting for.

Whatever you’re facing today, you can do it, you have the strength in you to get the job done as you focus on God and putting His Kingdom first. You may not understand what is happening but God is with you to complete the task. At the end of the day you’ll be able to look back without regret knowing you did what you had to do. You carried the cross.

1 Samuel 10:7b NLT “…do what must be done, for God is with you.”