Sunday, May 31, 2009

God on the Greenway: Tying Up Loose Ends

Today is Sunday. Lately, I have been running in the afternoon/evening, but today I can’t. I made sure to run last night because I knew I would be giving blood at church today. Yeah, before I blog about my running, I got to give a shout out to everyone about giving blood. PLEASE, give blood through the Red Cross!! You can save up to three lives!! You can be a hero!! One pint is nothing compared to ALL of the blood Christ spilled for you (that’s how I always see it). By the way, kudos to my friend (Cindy) who attempted to give for the first time today; but the iron count got her this time. (I hear ya! It’s happened to me too!! So proud of you for trying!! Next time, I‘ll get you AND Phil, both, to donate!). It’s worth it, people, and the need/demand is high! Please, give blood; give life!

Anyways, I have to lax on the running today (plus, I got a totally awesome purse party to attend this evening!). I usually don’t like it when my “plans” are rearranged like that, but hey, you gotta deal with it right? That’s precisely what God showed me on my run last night!

I drove to the Greenway to tackle my four miles. My back was bothering me, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. However, I tried not to think too far ahead. I settled on at least running the first two and then deciding what to do with the next two on the way back. So, I did some stretching, put my iPod on, and then checked my shoes to make sure they were tied (and not too tight). Then, I started off.

I was doing pretty well! I made it to a mile in eleven to twelve minutes. That’s what it was last time I did two miles straight. I figured I would probably meet (or even beat) my two mile record (which is twenty-five minutes). Then, I noticed something. My left foot felt weird; and like my shoe was going to fall off. I looked down and saw that my shoe was untied. Unbelievable!! I was aggravated!! I didn’t want to stop and tie it!! The thought even crossed my mind to let it go. However, one doesn’t want to “take a trip to the falls.” It’s better to have to stop and tie up the loose ends now rather than paying for it later. So, reluctantly, I stopped, tied my shoe, and continued on.

Aside from that nuisance, there were other ones. For one, my allergies were really wearing on me that night. There was little fuzzy stuff flying around in the air and I felt like my airways were a little clogged. I also had my water bottle with me (which I don’t typically carry - I would rather have my hands/arms free). However, it’s getting warmer out and it’s important not to get dehydrated. So, sometimes you have to deal with distractions and nuisances like that for a bigger reason.

Then, it happened again; right as I was about to hit the 1.5 mile marker!! This time, my right shoe was untied!! Once more, I groaned and stopped to tie my shoe. I was agitated because I was being bothered with all sorts of stuff that was slowing my progress. I figured it was Satan trying to steal my thunder. Though, I also remembered that like Job, God allowed his faith to be tested. Satan couldn’t touch him until God allowed it. I know there are those that don’t understand this, but think of it this way. It’s like a parent who allows their child to make a mistake for the benefit of the learning experience. Not only that, but the child has free-will. There is only so much anyone can do to influence a person. You can’t control anyone; only yourself. God is the same way. He loves us and gives us free-will. He doesn’t force anything on us, and He gives us freedom to make our own choice through free-will. In the process, He allows things into our lives in order to teach us, strengthen us, and bless us. Job ended up being even more blessed at the end of the story than in the beginning. God brought him through and restored him.

I thought about that as I continued pressing onward. God allowed my shoes to become untied. Why? Because I need to learn that there are a LOT of times where things won’t go as I plan. Sometimes, things come up. When they do, it’s a lot better to tie up the loose end than to ignore it and hope it goes away (or think that you’ll get to it “later”). I knew that if I ignored an untied shoe, it was just asking for trouble. Then, I would most DEFINITELY be annoyed by the distraction of an injury and wouldn’t be able to make it to the two miles at all. Who knows what might have been! And, it would have been the result of MY CHOICE not to take the hint and take care of what I needed to. So often, we blame God for the consequences of our actions. God can do no evil. He is 100% faithful and good. The evil we experience is the result of our choices as well as Satan at work (in others and even ourselves - Ephesians 6:12).

I was almost finished with the two miles when I saw the back of a t-shirt that I recognized. It was a t-shirt that our church made for our Celebrate Recovery group. I also recognized the person wearing the shirt; my dear friend, Maggie. God always has a way of giving me a surge of energy just when I need it (usually towards the end of the run). When I saw Maggie, I felt an adrenaline rush and my pace picked up as I ran up to her, “Boo!” I said. ;) I told her that I would meet her at the bench at the end of the Greenway up ahead.

I gave it all I could and I reached two miles in just over twenty-five minutes. Yeah, I almost met/beat my record, but not quite. Yet, it was ok. I did my best and I was glad that I didn’t try to run on untied shoes (or I might have fell over myself at the “finish line”). That wouldn’t have been a glorious moment at all! LOL

I sat on the bench and thanked God for his goodness and strength as I waited for Maggie. We sat on the bench and talked a good while. Again, it wasn’t one of those “planned” things (after all, I had thought about running four miles straight) but it was a good interruption. ;) I love my sweet sister, and people are a priority. Running can wait! The fellowship was sweet, and so worth it!

After we were done talking, we got up and made our way back down the Greenway; she walking, me running. ;) I said good-bye and starting moving along again. I was enjoying the run back even more since I had a rest; plus, my water bottle was a lot lighter since I had drank most of the water. I had learned so much, and I was feeling refreshed!

Now, here comes the part where God just puts the icing on the cake. A while back, I had blogged about wanting to see something like a rainbow, a swan, deer, etc. Today was the day that I saw the deer; and not one, but two!! Not only that, but it was the cutest thing! It was one chasing the other in the green grass just across the road. I could see their cute little white tails sticking straight up as they scampered by the fence and towards the woods. It was such a blessing!! Not only that, it was during the last mile of my run, and it gave me a big boost! I felt taller and stronger. I felt swift and fast like those adorable and graceful deer. It was just what I needed!! God is good!!

All total, I ran four miles in 55 minutes (and had some stretching time for the next five so I could have a full 60 minutes of exercise). I felt refreshed and very peaceful. I was listening to the Narnia soundtrack and just taking in the beauty of God’s goodness in all of his creation around me. If it wasn’t already getting dark, I might have even run a little more. God had once again given me strength beyond myself and I just didn’t want the moment to end!!

I drove home feeling tired, but rejuvenated. I thought about the shoes, Maggie, and the deer. I thanked God for all He blessed me with as I relished the thought of the next time I could go back and experience more! He is so good to me!

Grace and peace to all of you!! May your life be blessed; no matter what comes your way!! Remember to take care of the loose ends in your life (or they will take care of you!). Enjoy the journey and remember to look for and appreciate the blessings that God sends your way!! God bless you all!!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

God on the Greenway: Blessed Defiance

In the time since I have been running, I have learned lots of things. God shows me some awesome stuff as I am outside running and feeling alive. Even as I talk about “running” it’s still comes as a surprise to me. As I’ve said before, I’ve NEVER been a runner; neither have I ever had the desire to do it. Sometimes, I still don’t even know what it was that got me into this, but it’s been great!! That in itself is a lesson all its own - doing things I never thought I could!!

Though, of course, there are the days where it’s not so great. I always have that desire (and excitement) to get out there and run, but my body doesn’t always agree. After all I am currently an overweight girl who is, shall we say, also “well blessed” - if ya know what I mean! :p It sure is a challenge; but so worth it in so many ways!! Fighting through pain and soreness is often another hurdle that I have to conquer as well, but through Christ I am able to do that! I push through it all, but try to take it easy when I sense that pushing too much wouldn’t be a good idea (after all, I don’t want to seriously injure myself). It’s important to push, but it’s also important to know when NOT to. Today was one of those days, but even so, I learned what it means to defy the pain!

This “God on the Greenway” story will be a brief one; rather “brief RUN”. ;) Thursday is always the day I get with my wonderful ladies group at church. Currently, we are reading “Captivating” (yeah, I’ll be blogging that soon! It’s REALLY good!). Before group, we have exercise time (how much time depends on when I‘m able to get there). We have two other runners in the group, but I can’t keep up with them (yet). ;) Right now, I look like Wile E. Cyote chasing the Road Runner as they sprint past me! ;) I felt even more like that struggling cyote today. I only had enough time to run for about thirty minutes before group started. Yet, that was probably a good thing, because I don’t think I could move beyond that this time. My hips really weren’t wanting this run today! I tell ya, if it’s not one thing it’s another! Just when I get the endurance in my breathing, my ankles and/or hips decide that they don’t want to cooperate!! It’s aggravating!

So, there I was, running my way to the Greenway. I didn’t get to stay on it very long because by that time, I needed to start running my way back to the church. However, while I was there, I was just praying hard that God would give me strength (and grant me healing in my hips). I prayed and rebuked the pain; over and over again. I knew that deep down, Satan was probably behind some of it. He doesn’t want me going on these runs (for SO MANY reasons!). He would just LOVE to suck the joy out of it! As I was pondering this, I said: “You are NOT going to ruin this for me!” As much as it was hurting, I kept praying. As I did, he stepped up the pain a little (he doesn’t give up without a fight you know). It was a little discouraging, but these words came to my mind: “Don’t embrace it; defy it!”

That must have been one of those boosts from my coach (God). ;) It definitely helped!! I kept praying and pushing through. The pain eased a little, but it was still a little tough. I was noticeably slower today, but I kept pace (except for the few times I had to stop for traffic). I was struggling, and really wanted to just walk the rest, but I was thinking to myself: “No, I do NOT accept this! I can make it, and I will! I will defy this pain! I’m half way there! I am NOT quitting now!” Satan always tries to get me to quit, especially the closer I get to the “finish line.” It’s actually rather laughable that he is still trying to rob me of victory when he knows darn well by now that there’s NO WAY I’m going to quit like that!! Ha ha, funny indeed! In some ways, it’s even a help because his desire for me to fail in whatever way only drives me to succeed.

Needless to say, I made it (oh yeah, you know it baby!). Yeah that’s right….glory to God, people!!! And, it only cemented into me further just how much I need Christ to get me through everything. I couldn’t have endured the run without Him, or had the strength to defy Satan’s deterrents without the encouragement from God. His strength and support pushes me to be better and stronger. I couldn’t have done it without Him!! Neither can I endure or withstand anything else in my life without Him either. He equips me and gives me all I need to excel beyond any obstacle Satan puts in my path. Satan will not steal my joy, my health, my initiative, my anything! I will not give him permission! I do not accept his junk - return to sender! I will defy him every chance I get with a stern rebuke in the name of Jesus Christ! I’ll bet he thinks on a regular basis, “I just HATE that Melissa chick!!” ;) Ha ha!!

Grace and peace be with you all!! May God give you the strength to do all He would have you do as you overcome obstacles and defy Satan‘s schemes!! I wish you all some blessed defiance!! God bless you all!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Life Is Blessed With Bluebirds!

Yesterday and today, I have been feeling the soreness from Sunday’s triumphant run on the Greenway. Though, as much as I was hurting, I was still eager to get out there and run even a little. I felt as though I shouldn’t push too much, but that I shouldn’t use that as an excuse to not push at all. So, I settled for driving down to the Greenway. Walking or running there would add an extra couple miles on top of the round-trip four on the Greenway and I knew that I shouldn’t push it that much (this time).

Before I went out the door, I began doing a few stretches. The kids always know by now that Mommy is “gonna work out.” So, they imitate me by trying to do the stretches I’m doing. It was touching to me, because I can only hope that they will stay active and fit as they grow; working out for fun and not because they have weight to lose (like me). It was so cute to see them stretching! I thought maybe it would be fun if they could come with me. I asked Mitch if he wanted to go and pull the kids in the wagon. He thought that sounded nice, so we all went.

We parked at the end of the Greenway and he got the kids in the wagon while I stretched a little more. Then, I looked back at him with a smile and bounded off. My iPod helped me keep pace as usual, and I checked my time as I passed each ½ mile marker on the Greenway. By the time I reached eleven minutes, I had gone a mile! That sounded pretty good to me! So, I figured I would reach the end of the Greenway and hit that two mile marker in another eleven minutes. I was close. It took me twenty-five minutes to run two miles. But, at least I know how long it takes and what I can do at this point!! Glory to God!! I never would have thought I could do that - ESPECIALLY today with all the soreness I had!!

I sat down on the bench to rest, and thanked the Lord for the success. It would be great to run back, but I knew that today I had given it my best and that now was the time to be considerate of myself and walk the rest of the way back. There’s a time to push and a time NOT to push. I had done enough, and it was time to just walk and enjoy!

I met Mitch and the kids on the way back and we walked together. My hips and legs were feeling it, but I made it! It seemed to take forever to walk back compared to running (of course!). It made me think of how I’m going on this journey. My pace and progress varies, but the one thing that is for certain is that I WILL get there (as long as I KEEP MOVING!). And, along the way, I can enjoy the journey! Calories burned are calories burned; 802 total in 71 minutes! Praise God!

Even more awesome than the calories burned and the pounds lost is the face that God never ceases to show me things on these amazing walks/runs. As we were journeying back to the van, we saw a bird - and not just any bird either! Mitch thought it was a blue jay, but it wasn’t. It was smaller than a blue jay; and it looked completely blue. It was small and sleek like a hummingbird, but a little larger than that. I wasn’t sure what kind of bird it was, but this is a picture I googled when I got home:

When I found the picture, I smiled because my first thought was that I had just seen “the bluebird of happiness.” It was yet another special gift from God because for one, it was something I had never seen around here (or maybe even ever!). Secondly, I wouldn’t have seen it if I had been racing past it and pushing my sore body for another two miles. There are many reasons to listen to God’s urges to “slow down” in your life. If you don’t you’ll not only push yourself to exhaustion, but you will miss the bluebirds He’s trying to give you! I am SO GLAD that I accepted the prompt to slow down! Look what I would have missed if I hadn’t!

That bluebird also reminded me of one more thing. It’s a movie of Shirley Temple’s that I have and love: “The Blue Bird”. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it!! Shirley plays an ungrateful/miserable little girl who doesn’t realize just how blessed she is. It was a kind of “Wizard of Oz” type movie (which some of you may know that she did “The Blue Bird” after Judy Garland got the part of Dorothy instead of her - stupid studio politics!). Shirley’s character is told to find the “bluebird of happiness” and she, her brother, and their pets go on a journey to look for it. It ends up (spoiler warning!) that they don’t find it at all; until they wake up and realize that the blue bird is right there in their house. It was there the whole time!!

Anyways, I just thought that was special and I wanted to share it with you all!! Seeing something so extraordinary like that (and being reminded of that movie and how wonderful my life truly is) just touches my heart!! It was also a blessing to see my kids enjoying their wagon ride and getting all excited about the ducks and geese they saw!! It was also precious to see them get out, run, and laugh as they just roamed free! They are my little bluebirds!! I am very blessed indeed!!

God has been so good to me on the Greenway! I usually learn and/or accomplish something each time that I am there and I’m always so excited to go there each time (and to tell others about it - see previous blog!). So, this is one of my “God on the Greenway” stories. Yeah, I think I’ll call it that! God is always on that Greenway - and everywhere!! He’s so awesome!!

Grace and peace to all of you!! Look for the “bluebirds” in your life! Chances are, you won’t have to search very far!! My dear friends, we are SO BLESSED!! Yes, even in this economy, and with all the evil that runs amok in the world, we are BLESSED by our Father in heaven (and He cares for us even MORE than the birds!). And, just like all those beautiful tweeting birds that I could hear (but not always see) on the Greenway, I KNOW that my Father is with me (even if I don’t always see/hear/feel Him). He never leaves us, and He always has ways of assuring us that He is there when we need that assurance the most!! Amen!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

God Gave Me "Two Thumbs Up!"

My heart is so full. I don’t know where to begin! All I know is that I want to write it all down and remember it forever! So, here I am; about to immortalize tonight’s experience in a blog. Oh, where to begin?!

I guess you could say it started a few days ago as I was reading in the book “Captivating”. I was reading in the chapter about God romancing the heart. I wrote down lots of things that He had done lately to capture my attention and wow me. Most of them had to do with the things He allowed me to see and experience as I’ve been running lately. I’ve seen ducks, geese, cardinals, rabbits, and even a raccoon! All these things are only but a few of the many breathtaking moments that I can’t even begin to describe.

So, as I was reflecting over that chapter and all God has done lately, the author described how her husband got to see a whale (and at a time where they all should have migrated by then). She knew it was a special gift of love from God, and she asked God to give her a “whale” too. She watched and waited for hers, but it never came. Instead, God showed her an even more amazing sight: starfish, and lots of them! She said they were everywhere on the beach and it took her breath away. She said she realized that the whale was meant for John, and only John, but that the starfish were for HER! God knew that the starfish would be what touched her heart in that special way.

I loved reading that. Even more so, I loved thinking about all the “starfish” God has given me lately. Then, I read the line where she said to ask God for something like that. I was excited! I began to think about what I could ask for. I felt like God was saying, “what do you want to see the next time you go out?” (meaning, the next time I go for a run). I thought of lots of things. Among them were a rainbow, a white dove or swan, a deer, or anything unexpected and out of the ordinary. Though, for some reason, my heart was kind of set on a swan - just because I thought it would be neat to see a pure white bird in the dirty nasty river (a diamond in the rough kind of thing). Though, like the author, I know that God is full of surprises! We don’t always know what we are asking for. Sometimes, He gives us a starfish instead of a whale because He knows even more than we do what’s going to stir our hearts. So, I made up my mind that I would accept whatever “swan” He gave me; in whatever form it came in. I prayed that I would be aware and know it when I saw it - even if it wasn’t an actual swan.

And so, the stage was set! I couldn’t wait to go for my next run to see what God was going to do!! I had such anticipation and I could hardly stand it! It was so hard to take it easy and wait because I didn’t get that run in until today. I had hoped that I could have run on Friday but I just wasn’t feeling well. I remembered, however, that God’s timing is perfect. I wasn’t going to “miss” anything by not getting to run on the day that I wanted. It’s not like God doesn’t know when I’m going to run! He’s make it happen just the way it’s supposed to!

Finally, the opportunity came today for me to get that running time. Even though I still wasn’t feeling so great, I knew I would feel better (and accomplished) once I “got r done”. So, I started stretching and getting ready to go and wouldn’t you know, the phone rings. It’s a friend of mine that I haven’t heard from in a while (and she’s one of the ones that I have asked prayers for). She let me know that her daughter is still on a respirator and waiting to get stronger for her next big surgery (so keep praying people!). Yet, she did have some good news. One being that her daughter woke up long enough to insist that the nurse call her and ask her when she was going to be there (they are in different states at the moment). The other amazing thing is that she told me she seen a RAINBOW for the first time since she has lived down there in South Carolina. I was so happy for her, and KNEW that that rainbow was for HER!! I thank God for that!! WOW! I told her about how I was about ready to go out for my run and experience my own “wow” moment. As eager as I was to go, I still rested in knowing that God’s timing is perfect and that greater than any “priority” that I thought I had at the moment, my friend was #1 right then. PEOPLE come first!! I was more than happy to get to talk and listen to her and be present in the moment. I think if I hadn’t listened to God’s nudge to enjoy my friend and all the wonderful things she had to say (one of them being how she led a lady to the Lord without even really trying! Amen!!) I might have screwed up the perfect timing of events that were to happen next.

After my friend said her good-byes and well-wishes for me to have a great time, I made my way out the door. My goal this time was to once again run all the way to the Greenway, at the very least, before taking any kind of break. Right off the bat, I could sense the opposition. My ankles started hurting immediately; as if it were Satan’s deliberate attempt to discourage me and make me quit before I began. I started to wonder a bit, because after all, I hadn’t run in a week. However, my stubbornness kicked in. After reading in “Captivating” about Satan and his assaults, I wasn’t about to let him do that to ME! So, I pressed through the pain and I prayed. I just pushed on and little by little, I started feeling more comfortable. Ha! Boo-yah Satan!

I made it uptown. I went by a house and heard someone shout at me. It was one of the gals from the worship team (the one I referred to in my last blog). Well, what do you know?! I thanked her for her words onstage today as I continued to run and make my way to the intersection. I had to stop for a few seconds and wait to cross, but other than that, I made it to the Greenway!! When I got there, I just kept going! I wondered if I could just make it all the way down and continue running without any breaks at all!! I had to see if I could! I KNEW I could!!

The music in my ipod helped me keep pace; as well as my prayers and repeating to myself “I can do it. God give me strength!” I was starting to hurt a little right under my ribs on my right side. But, I kept my heart rate up and kept going at that steady pace. I don’t run “fast” but it’s a jog or run of some sort. ;) I knew I had to keep going! I had to do this!!

All the while, I kept looking to see a swan, or whatever. Maybe it wouldn’t be a swan. Maybe it would be a bald eagle or something even more extraordinary. Who knows! I just wanted to be alert and ready for it! I did see geese, ducks, and lots of people on the Greenway. Of course, there were also cars coming by on the road too. Every now and then, someone honks or waves or something. However, I was just amazed at what happened when a car started driving by; just as I was starting to feel really weak. The windows were down in the car and there was an arm out the window. I looked and I saw a lady smile at me and give me a thumbs up. I smiled back. Then, I realized just how significant that was. That was GOD giving me the “thumbs up”. He was saying, “Good job! You’re doing great! I’m proud of you!” Not only that, but that lady was noticeably overweight. I remembered what my prayer sisters had told me earlier that morning about being so refreshing and inspiring to them. I realized that maybe, just maybe, I gave that woman in the car hope. I’m no stick figure, so seeing me run might have given her a boost just like she gave me a boost. I’ll tell you what, it was just the fuel I needed and I could feel a new surge of strength! Not only that, but the car was white; like a swan. ;) I hadn’t seen a “real” swan yet, but I had seen/heard it mentioned on TV TWICE in the past few days. Now, I see this…..a woman who may feel like she’s an ugly duckling, but is truly a swan (my prayer sisters mentioned that to me earlier this morning too!!). Oh, it was just simply amazing and encouraging (and Alicia, Chris, and Maggie - I LOVE YOU!!!).

I carried these thoughts with me as I kept on going. Previously, my best time running was a 20 minute run with a 3 minute walk and then a 30 minute run. I thought surely, I could do 50 minutes straight - better yet, 60!!! I made up my mind to do 60!! I reached the end of the Greenway in under 60 and just turned around and kept going. As I did, I kept looking at my heart rate monitor to see how many minutes I had left to 60. I had to push hard, because I was starting to feel weak and worn out. I kept saying, “I can do this! I am NOT going to quit!!” And, wouldn’t you know, here comes ANOTHER white car. The window was rolled down, and a guy stuck his hand out the window and gave me a thumbs up!!!! Once again, God showed Himself to me and gave me the strength to keep going!!

As I was almost to 60 minutes, I was approaching a couple that I had passed earlier. They looked at me and the lady said, “My, you have stamina!” I was encouraged because truly, I don’t! The fact that I am able to do ANYTHING like that is because of God! It’s sooooooo NOT ME!!! I answered her, “It’s all God!!” Then, I looked at my watch and seen that it was now past 60 minutes! Then, I exclaimed “I made it!!!” I’m not sure what she was thinking, but it was amazing to be able to declare my victory and to give God the glory!! He is my strength, and He is why I can do all that I did! “I did it. WE did it!” I said to God. “Thank you!” I had tears of joy welling up. I could barely contain it!! I had only hoped that God would “cry” with me and finally let the cloudy sky release the rain. But, every time I asked Him to let it rain, He gave me a cool breeze instead. Fine with me! The breezes were just as good - maybe even better! Father, You’re amazing!!

The story doesn’t end there!! I didn’t stop at 60 minutes! In Forrest Gump fashion, I figured “well, since I’ve come this far…….” and I kept going!! I thought, “I made it to 60, but I want to FINISH this Greenway!” I had already made it start to finish one way. Now, as I ran it going back towards town/home, I thought surely I could finish it AGAIN! It was getting tough, but I MADE IT!! I finally got to a bench at the end and rested…..75 minutes of running! A new personal best!!

After my rest, I got up and walked the rest of the way home. There was a guy sitting outside on his porch (I think I passed him earlier as well). He said something to me about running. I couldn’t understand him very well, but I told him I made it and that God gave me the strength. I couldn’t understand what all he said, but I think he was just glad to have someone to talk to; and I was glad to share with someone that once again, God made things happen!

I was just filled with joy, but God still had a few surprised left. As I passed some houses on the way home, I saw some big white decorations. I think they were supposed to be big white ducks or geese, but some of them had the neck curvature of a swan (though, I know swans have the black beaks). They weren’t exactly swans, but the symbolism was there. It made me smile!! I smiled even more as I passed a yard and there were THREE cute little bunnies there, just watching me. I tried to get closer, but they eventually scampered away. Once again, it was another “God” moment.

All total, I ran 75 minutes and walked for 30. Not quite two hours like last time, but I burned a LOT more calories - over 1500 compared to 1200 last time!! Yeah, baby!! Amen!!! I really can do all things through Christ who STRENGTHENS me (Philippians 4:13)!!!

Thank you to everyone who reads these blogs and for all your motivation and encouragement!! I know that this is one of my ridiculously longer blogs (yeah, blogopotamus - right RT?!), but I hope something in it inspired you like it inspired me (like so many of you do for me)!!

Grace and peace to all of you!! I pray that all of you will get your starfish, swan, or thumbs up from God! Ask Him to show you, and then be aware! He will speak to you!! Ask Him! Then, expect Him to come through (because He WILL - and in ways you likely could have never expected!). AMEN!!

GREAT Input!

Today, Chad continued to talk about “what’s so great about Jesus.” It can hardly be fully explained in a sermon series because what’s so great about Jesus is the fact that there is SO MUCH that you just can’t explain it all!! He’s always so fresh and new! Every breath and every new day and experience is something great about Jesus. Like Chad said, Jesus isn’t contained in the pages of His Word; and for that matter, neither is the enemy. As explained in the last two blogs, both our ally and our adversary are very real. Though, like one of the gals on the worship team said today, we are bigger than the enemy because God is bigger than the enemy. And since the Holy Spirit is inside us, we already have the victory over Satan. We just have to believe that and claim the power and authority given to us by Christ!

Indeed, that’s the “great” part. That’s the stuff we’re supposed to be carrying in our heart and being filled with. Chad talked about Proverbs 4:23 in which Solomon tells us to guard our heart because it’s the wellspring of life. Chad said that the heart is a place of both input and output. The kind of things that get poured into your heart are the things that are going to spill out of your heart. Therefore, we must certainly guard it because not all that gets poured in are things that we want to pour out. We need to reject that garbage and take out the trash whenever the bad things want to pour themselves into us. Chad illustrated it as a vacuum cleaner. He mentioned that his kids are always seeking to absorb and suck in good input. He said those things are significance, security, acceptance, love, and praise. They are essential needs of every human being. If we aren’t getting enough of that (or are getting the opposite of that) our heart can get very messy. We can even get to the point where we close it off so that it doesn’t take anything else in; whether good or bad. Sure, you seal yourself off from negative stuff, but you also eliminate the possibility of accepting any good stuff.

Once again, Chad featured a testimony from . A lady named Priscilla Nicoara talked about the kind of “input” that got poured into her heart as a child. Her mother never wanted her (and had had several abortions prior to her even being born). She said she was always reminded by her mother that she was never really wanted. She didn’t have any of those crucial elements of need in her life; no love, praise, significance, security, or acceptance. The only place she felt she had that was from her father who absolutely loved her. Then, when she was a teen, he died unexpectedly. It devastated her and she felt all alone. It wasn’t until a man invited her to know Jesus that she discovered just how loved, accepted, and wanted she was. She explained how she went from feeling like garbage to feeling like a princess when she realized that she was God’s child; that He adopted her into His family, loves her, and chose her. Amen!!

Priscilla learned to empty her heart of the garbage that was brought in and allowed Jesus to meet her deepest needs and fill her heart with good things. Isn’t that great?! Yes, it’s great - it’s Jesus!!

We are going to have a lot going in and out of hearts during our lifetime. So, we must be alert! We need to take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) renew our minds (Romans 12:2) and think on good things (Philippians 4:8). If bad input tries to get in (or if it’s already there) we need to reject it! We need to pour it out! We don’t want to be filled with that! It’s like if you have an empty stomach and you have the choice between drinking something good or drinking poison. Fill up on what is good. Drink that! Don’t drink poison!! Pour it out! Don’t accept it! Or, if you have, puke it out (sorry, don’t know how else to say it). ;) You can’t be filled with good things if you are contaminating your tank with the bad. Empty it out so you can be filled with real fuel!

Grace and peace to all of you!! I pray that you will be emptied of and guarded against bad input. I pray that you will be filled with God’s good and glorious outpouring of input into your heart and that it will spill out to others!! Jesus,….GREAT!! “Great” input!! God bless you!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Not Taking the Bait: How to Be "The Fish that Got Away"

Last Sunday, Chad talked about what’s great about Jesus; the fact that He loves us and is crazy about us! This Sunday, he talked about another aspect of Jesus that is great: His protection.

Everyone wants to feel safe and protected; especially since there’s someone who ISN’T so crazy about us: Satan. Christ passionately loves us, but Satan passionately HATES us!! The only thing he’s crazy about is destroying us. His aim is to lead the world astray (Revelations 12:9) and to kill and destroy (John 10:10). He does this by any means possible and has a whole list of tactics he employs to distract, destroy, and bring us down. Galatians 5:19-21 lists a few: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Josh Hamilton knows what it’s like to be beaten down by Satan. You might recall that I mentioned the website (and a link to Josh’s testimony) in my last blog. Once again, Chad featured this site in his sermon. Today, he shared Josh’s video with the congregation. In his testimony, Josh talked about all the things he did to cope with his pain; drugs, alcohol, and tons of tattoos. He said it all changed after he had a dream that scared him so badly that he woke up and asked his grandma if he could sleep in her bed (he noted he was 25 years old at the time). What could have possibly scared a grown man so much that he couldn’t sleep by himself? It was a dream he had where he was fighting Satan. No matter how much he beat him down, he kept getting up and had this cold smirk on his face. He said that he just couldn’t beat him and he was so worn out from trying. It was after that that he decided to get right with God. And, through Christ, he was able to defeat Satan and his addictions. He even said that later on, he had a similar dream. Only this time, he knew that Christ was beside him because Satan fled and they started chasing him. It’s like Darrell Waltrip said in his testimony. He said that anything we do is done through Christ. It’s not us that has the success. Jesus owns success. We’re selfish and we want to keep it all to ourselves, but Jesus wants to share it. We do all things not WITH Christ but THROUGH Christ (Philippians 4:13)!!! Without Him, we are nothing (John 15:5)!!

You got to know that that’s true, because there’s no way we can conquer anything on our own!! Paul talks about his own struggle in Romans 7:22-24: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

We’re at war (Ephesians 6:12)! The devil is stalking and prowling like a lion (1 Peter 5:8). Chad illustrated it by showing us his fishing pole. He said that Satan has all kinds of bait. He knows what works for us and what doesn’t. Not all bait catches the same kind of fish. What hooks and reels you in may not do the same for someone else. He had a doughnut on the end of his hook (oh no! Doughnuts!! LOL). I got to admit, that is my kind of bait! Like he said, just the smell or slight taste of sugar can draw you in. That doughnut table at church sure is hard to resist (but I say “no” more often than not - glory to God for that!!). And, moving along from doughnuts, he stuck some money in the hole of the doughnut. He admitted that money used to be his bait for a long time. These two things, and more, are all lures from Satan. Sometimes they look really good and can seem harmless; after all, Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). However, they’re not good at all when they are taken out of context. Things like food and money aren’t TOTALLY evil (well, I can vouch for doughnuts being totally evil LOL) but it’s easy to get sucked in. Like a friend of mine says, Satan knows our “tweaks.” We should be aware of them too. We know when we are falling into an old pattern or cycle. It’s best to avoid those things before we end up being ensnared again.

Food and money are only a couple of the “lures” that Satan uses to bait us into sin. Chad put on a hat with a bunch of “lures” hanging from it: a beer bottle, a naked Barbie doll, jewelry, etc. All these temptations can lead you to the “box” that Chad showed us next. He said his “box” had such appeal, but it was a love/hate relationship. He wanted in the box, but he hated being in it once he was there and all the pain he brought to himself and others while he was in it (and getting out of it). We hesitate to throw away our boxes because of that love/hate relationship. He said we don’t realize that we’re destroying ourselves. He mentioned that it was like how an Eskimo catches a wolf. They take a knife and dip it in blood a few times until it freezes. They stick it in the ground and when a wolf comes to it, he licks it. It starts to melt a little and he keeps tasting a little more. He’s not realizing that the knife has cut his tongue and that he’s drinking his own blood and bleeding himself to death. That’s so much like the cycle we get in! We don’t know that we are eating ourselves alive (James 3:13-15).

The good news is that Christ broke the power of sin and bondage. Chad used a great word: disarmed. He said that Jesus’ death on the cross DISARMED the powers of evil. When we become a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), that deposit of the Holy Spirit inside us (Ephesians 1:14) helps us overcome all things (Philippians 4:13)! The Holy Spirit goes to work inside our hearts; convicting and conquering the sin nature on the inside (James 4:5). Hallelujah!!

The key to victory is in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Chad mentioned the sword of the Spirit - God’s Word. The devil is a liar (John 8:44). To combat the lies, you’ve got to know the truth! How else are you going to know it if you don’t read it? How did Jesus fight Satan in the wilderness; with the words “It is written.” Do you KNOW what “is written”? If you don’t, you are fighting without a sword. How far are you going to get in hand to hand combat when the enemy has weapons in his hand?

Chad said we need to make firm and level paths (Proverbs 4:26).We do this by remembering the verses that Josh Hamilton cited: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4:7-10). Through submission and repentance, you gain the discipline and power to resist temptation and through Christ, you put the devils on the run!!!!

Grace and peace to all of you!! And remember, just as Chad reminded us at the end of the service, we are here as brothers and sister to pray for each other; for protection, deliverance, for everything!! If you need someone to walk with you, pray with you/for you, contend and fight for you, I’M HERE FOR YOU!! Arm yourselves of course, but remember that you have brethren fighting alongside you; WITH you!! We’re watching each other’s backs (the only part not covered by armor). ;) God bless you!!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

CrAZy About YOU!!

What’s so great about Jesus? Have you ever thought about that? That’s the current question that Chad began delving into last Sunday. Whether you’re a new Christian, mature Christian, or not at all, you’ll hopefully see in a very real and beautiful way what is so “great” about Jesus.

Above any other “god” or “religion” Jesus is a cut above the rest; not solely because the gospel is true, but because of His love and passion. It’s all about this point that Chad really drove home: He’s crazy about us!! Do you know that? He’s crazy about you!! He loves you and loves you deeply!! He sacrificed His own life for you and is (at this moment) preparing a place for you in heaven to join Him. He came once to save us and to spare us from condemnation (John 3:16-18) and is coming back AGAIN to take us home! Is there any other “god” that pursues like that? Is there any other “gospel” that speaks of such passionate love? Is there anything that promises and delivers like Jesus does? Is there any other that has sacrificed his life for you and is coming back for you (and that is WITH YOU in the meantime)? Jesus said He is always with us (Matthew 28:20). His presence comforts and sustains us in this world as we wait to be with Him.

You want to know how crazy God is for you? Consider the story in Luke 15:8-10: “Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

The last verse is the kicker; about how there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Think about that. Someone is rejoicing like crazy in the presence of the angels. That someone is GOD Himself!! The Father in heaven is celebrating like CRAZY when a lost one is found!! He is CRAZY ABOUT YOU!!! It doesn’t matter if you have been lost a little while or a long time. Whenever you come home, there is rejoicing! He loves you; and it’s an amazing and passionate love like nothing else!! Unconditional, sacrificial, beautiful, perfect love!!

How do you feel about knowing that? Is it hard to take in for one reason or another? Maybe you feel like what Chad described as he held up a t-shirt; the dirtiest shirt he said he had seen. His son was wearing it one day and he commented about the filth. His son brought his arms inside his shirt, flipped it around, and put his arms back through the sleeves. So often, we do the same thing. Our lives are filthy. No matter how much we flip it around, or even turn it inside out, it’s dirty. How are we going to clean it? “We” can’t. The shirt (us) needs to be washed. Who’s the launderer? Jesus. His blood (detergent) washes and purifies that shirt. Ah, a clean shirt! Doesn’t that feel good?!! Chad said Jesus is just like a clean shirt. Indeed, He makes all things new!! Your life can be a clean shirt!! Come home! Surrender the “shirt.” Let Him wash it! Don’t be ashamed by the filth. He welcomes you and rejoices over you no matter how “dirty” you are! Every single one of us needs a clean shirt, and Jesus is there to provide it. That love on the cross is what washes us!

Isn’t that a beautiful and refreshing thought? Or, are you still not convinced? Is the idea of God’s craziness for you just plain foolishness in your mind? 1 Corinthians 1:18 says that the gospel is silly to those that are perishing but POWER to those who are being saved. Two perspectives based on two different choices; salvation/life or condemnation/death. If it’s foolishness to you now, know that it’s not too late to make a new and better choice; a choice of salvation, life, and power. Why miss the power of God NOW and for all eternity later?

Even if you are already a Christian, maybe it’s still a little “foolish” to you because you can’t comprehend how much He loves you. Whatever the case may be, perhaps you need a little more proof. Chad shared a website with us called “I Am Second”. It’s full of amazing video testimonies from people talking about their stories of how Jesus became first in their lives (and now they are second). In fact, Mitch loves the site so much that he’s watched nearly every video by now! Some of the videos that will likely catch your eye are those of Joe Gibbs, Josh Hamilton, Stephen Baldwin, Jason Castro (former American Idol contestant), Darrell Waltrip, and Brian Welch (former member of the band “Korn” - and fellow band member Fieldy has converted as well!). There are also many non-celebrity testimonies too, like the one of Richard Ellis that they showed during service last Sunday. I wish I could talk about each and every one of them, but I wouldn’t know where to begin!! They are all AMAZING!! I encourage you to visit the site for yourself and watch as many as you can whenever you can! Let them tell you their own stories (it’s better hearing it from them rather than me anyways). ;) I really liked Brian’s and Josh’s. They had some amazing stories and profound statements as they talked about the junk they went through, the turning points in their lives, and how Jesus changed it all!!! I also really liked how Chris Plekenpol talked about how he could have saved the life of a suicide bomber in Iraq, but that he wasn’t willing to risk his life for his enemy. Yet, Christ died for all of us; whether we care for Him or not. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I hope that through those video testimonies (and even your own story) you can see what’s “great” about Jesus. There’s no one and nothing else like Him!! Maybe I’ll make a short video sometime and share my story as best as I can. As they all said in theirs, so I’ll say now, “My name is Melissa, and I am second.”

Grace and peace to all of you!! I would love to read (or watch) your “I am second” story!! Feel free to share!! God bless you!!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Strength That Is In You

Last week, Scott Kaehr gave the message at church entitled “The Other Side of the Gospel.” He talked about how the gospel is more than just salvation. Being a Christian is more than just having “fire insurance.” Not only are you forgiven at the point of salvation, but you are FILLED with the Holy Spirit.

The fact that we are filled with the Holy Ghost is wonderful news!! After all, apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). If we think we are the ones who are righteous and good, we have missed something! Like Scott says, it’s Christ in us that does the work (Philippians 2:13)!! And, in Philippians 4:13, it says that we can do all things THROUGH CHRIST who strengthens us. Over and over again we see in God’s Word that it’s the Holy Spirit IN US that is enabling us to fulfill God’s good purposes.

Scott even sited Mark 9:17-29 in which the disciples are asking Jesus why they couldn’t drive an evil spirit out of a man’s son. Jesus told them that that kind could only come out by prayer and fasting. Scott says that “we” miss the fact that “we” cannot drive out spirits, perform miracles, etc. apart from Christ. If we aren’t in communion with God through prayer and fasting, “we” won’t be able to carry out God’s Will because we won’t know what His will even is!

Scott reminded us that in whatever we go through or encounter, the victory is accomplished through Christ. We can’t achieve real or lasting victory on our own. Anything “we” can do is incomplete without Christ and it will not stand. It’s castles in the sand. If you want to see a good example of this, watch Clem Reinhard’s testimony. He said that he was once addicted to alcohol but now, he’s addicted to Jesus! He experienced true victory, freedom, and recovery through the strength of Christ! He’s a beautiful example of what happens when you surrender to the will of God and let Him take control!

A few final thoughts are some things Scott mentioned about dealing with his own stronghold; anger. He said it’s something that he continually gives up to God. Surrender and deliverance is one thing, but maintaining freedom is very tough! Satan doesn’t give up on you! He’s stubborn!! He would love nothing more than to enslave you to the same things you were delivered from! That’s why Scott reminded us that we have to continue to take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). He said that when the anger comes up, he just brings it to God and says, “it’s not mine, it’s yours.” We need to keep giving those things over to Him to deal with - that’s the whole “Christ in me” part that we have to take hold of. Keep laying your struggles and strongholds at His feet; He’ll deal with it. There’s nothing too big or too small. If you fight your battles on your own, prepare to suffer loss!!! You’ll only get victory through HIS strength and through abiding in HIM!

Here’s another good illustration; brought to you from the talented and gifted guys over at Knocking on Heaven’s Door.This particular comic is even printed out and posted on my fridge so I can see it and be reminded of it EVERY DAY:

Grace and peace to all of you!! If you want to learn more about deliverance and recovery, check out the sermons of Blackhawk Baptist church. They are doing a series right now that deals with the steps of finding freedom from all sorts of bondage (we watch them on TV before going to our church’s services every Sunday). God bless you, and I pray that you will find deliverance and freedom through the strength that is in you - which is Christ!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Two Urgent Requests

A couple of my friends (and I’m sure many others) have already posted blogs asking for prayers for friend Ashli McCall. However, it never hurts to ask for more,… I’m also asking my friends to pray for my friend, and fellow pro-life blogger, Ashli. Based on the minimal details that I know at this point, she is having a personal medical crisis right now. She’s no stranger to medical distress (as you might already know if you’ve heard of her book Beyond Morning Sickness: Battling Hyperemesis Gravidarum). So, she’s been through some rough stuff before and has ultimately triumphed. I know that God will be with her now just as He has always been!! Pray for strength, comfort, healing, and recovery!! She has little ones that depend on their wonderful Mama! Ashli, you have the love and prayers of so many!! We love you!!!! OXOXOXO

I also have one more friend that I still need prayer for. You might have seen that I posted on my status about my beloved friend Cheri and her need for prayers for her daughter Heather who was in a head-on collision. She’s still making it through, but she still needs lots of prayer to help her carry on as she’s recuperating from several surgeries and is not currently breathing on her own. This is another family that has been through a lot, and they too are in desperate need of God’s healing, comfort, and restoration!! Cheri and Heather, we love you and are praying you through this!! OXOXOXO

I always have so many on my mind to pray for. The list could go on and on if I posted them all right now, but I wanted to make sure that I got the word out about these two who are in very critical need. Feel free to leave comments of love and encouragement for them!! Thanks for praying and offering your care and support!!! God bless you all!!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Life is a Good Investment

Last Thursday, Mitch and I attended the Life Centers Banquet in Indianapolis. The banquet was lovely and well-organized. Many of my fellow Huck*Pac peeps were there as well! One of which was Shelley Ahlersmeyer, a coordinator for Huck*Pac. There were so many people at the banquet that I missed out on seeing her and several others, but she wrote a GREAT blog about all the details!! She also posted some good pictures as well!! Feel free to view her pictures as well as mine (you might have heard that I had an awesome dress!! Some of you may get the joke! LOL). And by the way, if you haven’t signed up for Huck*Pac, I encourage you to do so! Hopefully, you’ll be kind enough to sign up after making a contribution through my link so I can meet my fundraising goal (enter donor code: R27508) C’mon! Can I get 100 people to donate AT LEAST a buck to Huck to help get common sense hard-core conservatives elected so we can turn this country back around and going in the right direction again?! Thanks, I appreciate it! I thank you, Huckabee thanks you, and America will thank you!!!

Anyways, my thoughts on the banquet will likely reflect the feelings of other fellow Huckafans as well as the true patriots of America who still hold fast to the ideals of our forefathers; who declared that we all have the right to LIFE, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Mike Huckabee really drove that point home in his speech (which, as Shelley pointed out, he did without the use of notes or a teleprompter. Wow! Even the “president“ can‘t accomplish that!!). Mike Huckabee spoke straight from his heart and from the common sense wisdom that true Americans still adhere to. He talked about how precious, sacred, and valuable the basic right to life is for every human being; the fact that we are “created equal.” No one is worth any more or less than anybody else. He talked about how our forefathers rejected the ideas that people were defined by their status, name, property, etc. They wholeheartedly believed and declared that worth is given to each person by God; the Creator and giver of life. No other human has the right to say that you are worth more or less than anyone else!

Mike Huckabee also pointed out some other good facts. He talked about how this nation woke up to the realization that slavery was wrong and that no one could “own” anybody. We are now living in 2009, and we Americans can’t imagine how or why we ever participated in (and allowed) slavery to abound in this “free” nation. It’s a shameful and tragic component of our past that we aren’t proud of. Likewise, abortion is now a horrible stain of our past and present (but hopefully not our future). For some reason, we have tragically gone back to thinking that we “own” people again. We have been deceived and have repeated history in an even more diabolical way. Not only do we believe that we “own” the lives growing inside us, but that we have the “right” to control that life through a horrible thing deemed “choice.” As Mike Huckabee pointed out, we can use that “choice” to murder an innocent life just because they are an economical, social, or some otherwise named “burden.” As the state of this nation worsens, this “choice” has the potential to abound even more as people are pushed harder by blood-thirsty/money-hungry organizations like Planned Parenthood to end the lives of innocent children so they won’t have to deal with a “burden” in tough times such as this. Mike Huckabee urged all of us to pray hard and give whatever we could (time, money, resources, etc.) to fund ministries like the Life Centers so that women would have the “choice” to choose LIFE for herself and her child instead of tragedy for them both.

If that’s not enough to convince you, consider the ripple effect. If we allow the culture of death agenda to keep implanting itself into our society, we will see much more tragedy to come! Mike Huckabee said that the more life is cheapened, the less that anyone will matter and the generation behind us will be the ones terminating our lives as we sit in nursing homes waiting to die. Because of the “choices” we told them they have a “right” to make, it will broaden the scope of who is a “burden” and babies won’t be the only ones being killed. Mike Huckabee said that he wasn’t about to let his kids get off that easily and that he isn’t about to let someone come and do away with him when he’s sitting in a nursing home. Can you see where the degradation of life is headed? Soon, no one will be safe or protected (and we’ll be utterly defenseless as well, because they are trying to strip us of our right to bare arms!! Are ya’ll connecting the dots yet???).

We all may think that now isn’t the best time for us to give, but Mike said that there has never been a greater time than NOW! Planned Parenthood takes no holidays. They are in the market for death 24/7 - and Satan has them working overtime now! They’ll prey on women more than ever before; and they’ll use the economic conditions to push their agenda so they can profit off the deaths of the innocent ones. My dear brothers and sisters, we cannot allow this!! We must pray hard, as well as reach out to the scared and vulnerable women that need our help! We need to give of our hearts, our time, and even our money to help! Mike said that when he was a preacher, he always told people about how God loves a cheerful giver. Though, he said when you’re a politician, you’ll even accept money from a grouch. ;) Regardless of whether you’re an Oscar the Grouch or Mister Rogers, please consider opening your heart to giving in this crucial time. You can click on the link provided to donate to Life Centers (and/or feel free to donate to your local Crisis Pregnancy Center). In a world where investing is something people are scared to do, there is no risk in investing in something that lasts! Invest in the LIVES of PEOPLE!! The returns and yields are AMAZING; and your rewards are in heaven!!! God bless you!!