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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Honoring Josh: A Mother’s Heart in the Aftermath of Suicide

Honoring Josh--A Mother's Heart in the Aftermath of Suicide
I am so incredibly honored to give the first guest blog spot at Espressos of Faith to my dear friend Tammie Wommack. I know her from my time living in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Tammie and Rick have turned deep loss into a path of healing by volunteering their time to help others. They gave up a regular income to live a nomadic lifestyle, going wherever God leads them to help others in need. They have done so much to raise suicide prevention awareness and comfort those experiencing such tremendous loss.
I had just met them when they were called off the island with unimaginable news, and I got to know them as they returned and started the difficult journey of living with their “new normal.” Tammie speaks from the heart and sheds some light on a mother’s thoughts and feelings a few years into this new chapter of life.
In light of the recent suicide of Robin Williams in the news, I felt it was a very good thing to hear the perspective of a mother. I hope we can get Tammie on Espressos of Faith from time to time to bring more understanding to this important issue, help us know what brings comfort to those left behind, and inform us further on suicide prevention awareness. 

Blessings!
Bonnie Lyn Smith, author of Not Just on Sundays

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Here’s Tammie…

A really good friend asked me a question the other day, and I had to process it before I could really understand it and realize the magnitude of the answer. Actually, the question came at a time when suicide was in the news and being talked about everywhere. Whenever that happens, I seem to rehash my own feelings of overwhelming grief and the moment I realized my child was dead. Then the stages of grief and learning to live again all rush past me so quickly. Now that some years have passed, this happens in an instant, and then I realize how blessed I am to be where I am now and not in the moment again. My heart always hurts for the families left behind and with the knowledge of the very long and painful process of healing they have in their future. So here goes my response to that thought-provoking question:
 
“Have you found that anything good has come out of Joshua’s death?”
At first, I really didn’t know how to respond—because I heard the question in the wrong way. I said, “Do you mean am I glad Joshua is dead?” And then I quickly responded with an answer about our life now. Well, of course they did not mean it that way, but a mom is so quick to want to protect no matter what, and somehow, I always have the guilt of his death uppermost in my mind; it colors my thoughts and actions a lot of the time.

Now as I process that question and understand what it means—and the intent with which it was asked—my answer is a resounding: “YES!!!”

Rick and I have found a new direction and a deeper meaning to our lives. We believe that our efforts to honor Joshua have resulted in making a difference in other people’s lives. We, as a couple, are closer, and we cherish our families and time together. We both have a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Christ and have learned to depend on Him for everything. We have been humbled, to be sure, but we love life and all that it entails: both the good and the bad. Our families still do not understand our deep desire to give back; they see it as a decision to quit working, especially on Rick’s part, and truly, in the beginning, we were just running from our grief with no real plan. But God has opened the door, and we have stepped through it!!! We are not regretting our decision to give up so much because we have gained even more. We live on a very limited income, but we LIVE it to the fullest. Small things now are so much more important to us: time with family, being thankful for the little things, grasping with both hands the beauty of whatever place God allows us to view.

Our advice to everyone is: Don’t wait until it is too late to love the ones in your life whom God has blessed you with. Don’t sweat the small stuff. (I know that was a book; maybe I need to re-read it.) Always try to help whenever and wherever you can. Embrace and be thankful for what you have, and most of all, give God the glory in everything that you do.

God Bless,
Tammie

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To find out more about how you can help Tammie and Rick help others, please read their story at http://www.gofundme.com/Giving-Back-For-Joshua

A great resource for suicide prevention is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

 

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Valley Walking

Valley WalkingA friend of mine recently talked to me about her family’s wait through a lay-off and subsequent job-seeking trial. She shared how hard the wait was. This is so true for any wait of any kind when we sit in the valley and can’t see the other side. I haven’t walked through that particular job wait recently, but I have waited out months on several prayer requests that have roots deep into my heart. We all can relate to that at one point or another. It’s the human condition: We sometimes cannot control ending up in the valley. And we do the best we humanly can, many of us, but we ultimately can’t rush the view of the other side, the one where we start climbing back up that majestic mountain of answers. This friend is one of my “authentic” peeps, the kind you can be real and raw around, no pretenses. So I said what I said to so many others in moments like these: “You are in the valley, and valley walking sucks.”

“Sucks” is not a polite word, but I don’t mean it in the way you might be thinking. Maybe I wouldn’t use it from a pulpit or even in my junior high Sunday School class. But sometimes “sucks” just nails it. Because it sucks the life and energy out of us…or tries to. Because it sucks in good and bad, like a vacuum that consumes the Polly Pocket shoe as well as the dog hair and pine needles it was meant to pick up. Because after it sucks it all in, we have to go through the vacuum bag or bagless canister and sort through our trash: what is not good to think on or dwell on—and what is. Because when I am valley walking, I find it is so easy to have my attitude suck in bad things as well; it sucks in negativity and discouragement and wants to then spew it back out.

So I keep in mind these verses below, where God is speaking through Ezekiel the Prophet that He will breathe life into the dry bones in the valley and bring His people back to their land. What? Valley walking won’t be forever! And my friend exhibits this beautifully through her trial. Trusting in this promise is the only way to walk until we get to the other side without leaving shrapnel evidence of ourselves all over the valley as we cycle through anger, disappointment, and grief in the wait. And you know what happens with shrapnel in the valley? It’s a minefield for those walking behind us. And I want to do better than that. I want to believe He will breathe life into the dry bones in my valley—in your valley—because we asked Him to, and that we will get up with renewed “tendons and flesh,” walking out stronger to the other side, His breath of life in us, if we trust Him.

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Ezekiel 37:1-14, Ezekiel the Prophet narrating

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

 

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School Start: Open House Angst

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I have to admit that I wasn’t very enthused about going to the lower elementary school open house this morning. For one thing, it was a reminder of all the paperwork and gym shoe shopping I still had to do. For another, this week already had a middle school tour, a high school tour, four karate classes, blog deadlines, marketing plan to go over and rework, too many late nights still when the kids should be easing back into earlier bedtimes—but they aren’t—finishing those books that needed to be read over the summer by my resident tween and teen, a husband traveling all week, clean laundry all over the hallway waiting for the folding fairy, and two appointments to catch up with one of the specialists my child sees 45 minutes away. This is on top of the fact that our affordable grocery store chain in the Boston area is still on strike (pretty much the entire summer!). I’m about to let Samson and Delilah (our Shih Tzus) loose to hunt bunnies and squirrels and roast them over the fire because I do not have it in me to go into massive grocery stores and learn a new layout. (And don’t get me started on returning to school the day before the buses roll in to give asthma meds to the school nurse because that is a separate trip from the open house.)

The truth is we have great schools. I’m not unhappy about school starting. But last year was a rough ride for Little Man, and the closer we head into school starting again, the more I see the panic creeping in. It took me a few days, but I think I can name it now. I think he is processing this: “Will I feel that sad again? If we enter the same time of year when the Great Sadness came, does it get to gobble me up again?” And so I gently coaxed him into meeting his new teacher because, even though she didn’t have to, she came in today to reassure her students. But he stood there empty, flat, dark circles under the eyes, and tears brimming but not spilling. He vocalized that he didn’t want to think about school starting. And yet he is a very jovial kid, usually. He’s fun to be around and humorous. This is the kid I wanted to go in and meet his sweet teacher today.

But we don’t plan anxious thoughts. We don’t schedule them. They are always inconvenient. And I felt my own rigidity as I battled within between frustration and great sadness. He met his classmates with cautious greeting, and he wanted to rush me right out of there.

And I took a few steps back. I considered that jovial Little Man can also be fearful Little Man, but one doesn’t mean the other is no longer there. I thought about how it feels to fear the return of the Great Sadness. It sucks us inside-out. But my job is to let him know we are victors, he and I. He doesn’t know my story yet, but I know his. And we can face that time of year again together, gasping for air if we have to, but putting our hands in the hands of Jesus and taking a big step. We are not alone.

This year was full of big steps for Little Man. God gave him many people to help him, and he came through just fine. But even in the low points, there was a Best Friend walking with us, holding Little Man up so he didn’t fold into himself. We keep asking Him to make something beautiful from the Great Sadness. And we know that He will because only He can turn darkness into light that shines such beauty over everything in its path. I’m personally so grateful for this promise that a holy God would walk among us. It brings our family tremendous comfort and confidence. If you believe in Him, where do you feel Him taking steps with you in this season?

Leviticus 26:12, God speaking through Moses

“I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.”

Philippians 4:4-9, Apostle Paul speaking

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

More discussion on how God walks with us in very tangible, clear ways can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, expected September 2014.

 

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Freeze, or Burn?

So, the other day I finally got fed up with a painful growth at the tip of my middle finger, that, because of it being my tallest finger, ended up bumping into everything with force, no matter how cautious I was about it. I was sure it wasn’t a wart. I didn’t think there had been a splinter or sliver of glass in there, but I also knew it had been there for two months with no improvement, but also no infection. I figured they’d send me to the dermatologist to get it sliced off and studied like so many other parts of me that lived near the equator for a few years. But I was wrong.

I went in early in the AM and had to quell my own laughter about my middle finger going up all of the time to protect it from getting knocked by accident. The PA who helped me was not amused, but I find I have to laugh in moments like these. Maybe it’s a nervous habit, like when the dermatologist is cutting something from somewhere normally clothed for a reason. I have to crack jokes or else I cry from the lack of dignity of the moment, and sadly, there are way too many of these moments. I am a dermatologist’s bread and butter! And I find dermatologists to categorically be a humorless bunch (if you’re a derm peep, I’m probably not talking about you). Maybe I provide some comic relief from staring at skin lesions all day, or maybe they are so narrowly focused, my stand-up comedy show is really unwanted. I’m socially awkward anyway, so I walk out of these situations at least having made myself laugh and completely unaware of the extremity of how awkward I really was.

Anyway, it hurt like a son of a gun every time it was bumped. She really had no clue what it was initially. She sliced off the top of the bump, saw no signs of wart “roots,” and decided it might be a hemangioma. So she said I could have it frozen or cauterized, and it would dry up and fall off, and maybe then the vascular bump at the end of my finger would be no more.

Um, okay.

Given the choice, I thought some medically induced frostbite would be the better way to go. And I’ve never been fond of smelling my own flesh burning with medical welding tools. No thanks. If we were going to go that direction, why not just hot-glue-gun my finger at home without the copay? Not my favorite thing. Since I’m a wimp, I assumed a needle of anesthetic would be presented. Nope. She barely asked me if I was ready (doesn’t she know I’d love an epidural just to have a mole removed?) and blast that arctic burn right at my finger for what felt like a full minute. I’m admittedly a real wimp with pain, so it was about two minutes before I could breathe again. I was so incredulous she wasn’t turning that thing off after 10 seconds. Really. I kept looking at her with complete disbelief in my eyes as if any second now she was going to turn that puppy off. Finally, between choking down some oxygen (told you I was a wimp), I declared: “Okay, then. I think I’m all set.” She was having way too much fun with her freeze-blast tool, and she looked like a superhero being told to go back to her secret identity when her services were proven no longer necessary.

And you know what? I got over it. I claimed a little social media sympathy over my little experience, sucked it up, and moved on. But it got me thinking how I wish my sin, insecurities, relational hurts, feelings of betrayal could all be heroically blasted like that. That a full minute of holding my breath and twinging would make it be over.

Oh, wait.

They already were. Over, that is. Those of us with faith in Christ believe they hung on Jesus for several hours. It wasn’t quick or painless or pretty, but “it is finished.” It is finished indeed!

John 19:30, Apostle John speaking
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

So when I’m tempted to dwell on those things, I need to remember that I can live in restored, redeemed relationship with Christ, and therefore with others. My thoughts, my fears, my temptations, my hurts…all taken care of on that cross. Grace covering me like a blanket I never have to take off. I need to look at my finger (it’s tall and the middle one, after all, so hard to miss) and remember He took that all on for me so that I don’t have to dwell in a lack of peace. I can dwell in Him. And there’s truly no place I’d rather be.

What does “It is finished” mean to you?

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Facebook: Do We Check to Get Affirmation or to Enter Meaningful Conversation?

Okay. Before we enter into this touchy discussion, let me start by saying I am really qualified to discuss this because I am completely guilty of it. Being a writer, I find Facebook a great place to discuss important issues, test ideas, network, and hone my craft. I try to divide my peeps into different audience lists so they are not inundated with every thought in my head. And we all know those blogs from people (me at times) who post everything we eat, every activity we participate in, and everything brag-worthy in our lives.

I find it hard to draw the line sometimes. I don’t want to brag but to celebrate. I also want to be honest and open about my failures so we all can share the journey and encourage each other. I post honest and blunt posts sometimes, not so much to get a cheerleading squad going for myself but to hopefully bring some encouragement to someone out there also hurting and struggling through a similar day/issue. I realize not everyone knows us on the same level or even reads the written word with the same tone, so I have found Facebook to be a great place (not perfect place) to learn how to communicate better in the written word. It’s not a place to get lost for hours, certainly. And it can quickly become a platform for brag fests that can remind others of their own loss (as an example, Mother’s Day can be a hard one for some folks), love fests that leave others out, passive-aggressive jabs, and insecurity-based posting to catch someone’s attention. I completely understand that. But I also know that the peeps who know me best know my heart’s intentions, and when they think I’m out of line—and occasionally they do—if they take it offline and gently correct me, I can hear them. I can learn to do better.

But the bigger question right now that I ask myself, as a debut author, introvert drawn to intense introspection, and someone still very vulnerable in my craft: Do I check Facebook to see my “like” stats and receive affirmation? To measure who is neglecting me? Who is touching in? Or do I check it with a healthy amount of distance to enter a conversation as appropriate in measured amounts? Do I rely on this as my social interaction? Am I needing it as a fix? And is the motivation to post something to inform, be helpful, and encourage, or is there another agenda? While there will always be someone who may find disagreement with it, can what I’m typing in any way polarize, make someone feel less than, come across too harsh or arrogant?

These are the questions I feel we should each have by our sides when we log on. It sorts out so much of what we have to say and is a great opportunity for self-reflection.

Social media is no longer new. Our learning curve is over. We should now know how to navigate it and avoid the pitfalls. There’s no excuse for me not to be diligent and thoughtful about it. If I need to get on for any of those negative reasons or check incessantly, it’s time for a coffee date with a few friends, a ride on the bike, a walk with the dog, a phone call to a dear one, a good read.

And there are some for whom Facebook and other social media are just too sensitive right now: times of loss, frustrated goals, disappointments, relational struggles, depression. If popping onto the newsfeed brings an instant rise in blood pressure, then by all means, jump off! The challenge is not to judge others for wanting to interact now and again that way because they may be in a good season of life right now, but avoid setting yourself up for unrealistic and irrational comparisons to your own life. It’s not the time to read how awesome the rest of the world is doing (or pretending to be doing). It’s time to engage in meaningful conversation, seek the help you need if you need it, and hang with the people in your life who are your natural cheerleaders through the trials. Social media may have a good meme and thought once in a while, but if you have a hard time filtering out the negative stuff, it’s not worth it. Consider logging off for a while.

I enjoy it like so many other people, but social media is certainly not our savior, not our substitute for anything really, and definitely not a place to gauge our own lives. True that?

I look to the Bible (which I consider the inspired Word of God from start to finish) for my guide to daily discernment, and this verse cried out to me. The Apostle Paul wrote this epistle during his imprisonment in Rome. I think he had a lot of time to think and pray about worthy things on which to focus his attention. Like Paul, I only want to “approve the things that are excellent” when I spend my time on the latest cultural fad/fixation. Social media is not wrong. Like anything else, it just requires healthy boundaries, and Paul spells those out pretty well in his epistles. I think the end goal is the same, I hope, for any of us: “that your love may abound still more and more.” I want me more of that on any given day. How about you?

Philippians 1:9-11, Apostle Paul speaking

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

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Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Renewing Our Minds

 

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“Fart Buckets”

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If the word “fart” in the title has already turned you off, no worries. I get it. But for those of you intrigued enough to read more, you are about to learn what “fart buckets” are.

I used to have a few favorite bad words. I wasn’t always public with them. Sometimes I’d only share them with a few friends who could handle it. I was selective with my usage, like a bad word snob. After all, words are everything to me, so even my choice of a zinger now and then was carefully thought out and expertly delivered, sometimes even in the heat of anger. Every once in a while the mouth still tries to overpower my self-discipline of cleaning up my vocabulary and leading an exemplary verbal life in front of my children, and even in private. But “fart buckets” became, somewhat unconsciously, a combination of my desire to clean up my act but still hang onto the potty humor that I admit I really have a hard time severing myself from. And we like to laugh a lot in my house about the raw stuff of life. Humor gets us through so many darker, heavier moments. And so to lighten things up, “fart buckets” became my standby exclamation of surprise, although I really didn’t realize how frequently until—well, until Mother’s Day 2014.

Upon going through the weekend paperwork of my youngest son’s (8 year old) homework/take-home folder—which in and of itself I should get a paycheck for, times 3 kids—I discovered what was meant to be a surprise for me for Mother’s Day. I was certainly surprised by it, but lacking self-control in this department, I took a quick glimpse. Oh, it was a surprise all right! It read like this:

My mom always says: “fart buckets.”

My mom looks pretty when she cooks dinner.

My mom likes to cook pumpkin muffins.

My mom makes me laugh when she says, “fart buckets.”

I love my mom because she’s nice.

So, several of those lines are just plain lovely. Really quite sweet. But twice? Twice on the “fart buckets,” Little Man? Seriously? I took in my breath for a minute upon reading this. It said a lot about me. It said a lot about him. It said a lot about our relationship.

And I loved every minute of it.

So, I secretly rushed it over to my husband and laughed raucously until I cried. Tears poured out of my eyes. Because I make Little Man laugh. Because he sees me as human and not on some ethereal pedestal that he can’t reach. Because I’m real to him. Because he chose those words to reflect me. And because laughter and playfulness had recently returned to him after a dry spell of worry, I celebrated this. I wore it with pride. I smeared it all over my personal social media account. I framed it and drew an arrow to point to it.

And I thought of a teacher who was a bit more on the reserved, hold-it-all-in side, and it made me giggle because when she saw this, she asked him: “Does your mom really say that?”

And he proudly said: “Yes.”

And she said: “Okay, then, as long as she really does.” [Points for her for not shutting this moment down.]

He had perfect spelling and punctuation, which also delighted me.

And that just put the biggest smile on my face that he could be that free. And when he asked me if that bothered me (which did not seem to be his goal), I was so happy to be able to say: “No, Little Man, it doesn’t. I think it’s awesome.”

And that’s not my ornery side talking. It’s just me celebrating his freedom and this amazing level of being comfortable with each other. And for this reason, I’m pretty certain that “fart buckets” will not ever leave my vocabulary completely.

Not ever.

 

 

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Give Me a Cape, ‘Cause I’m a Super Pooper Scooper!

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(Mattel)

This Barbie inspired me. Truly. The fact that Mattel would market a Barbie that scooped dog logs off the yard has fascinated me for years. In my humble opinion, all she is missing is a cape. And maybe some hand sanitizer. Because the truth is, we adults pretty much live like this Barbie. If we’re a parent, we not only clean a baby’s bottom, but we scour his/her character for years on end. If we have pets, we daily scoop up yard deposits.

Don’t we more or less moment by moment sort out in life what is true and throw out what is not. We scoop out the false and lay hold of what is true. Whether we’re a stay-home parent sorting out the argument between siblings with two very different viewpoints, a writer cutting out unnecessary or misused words, or the scientist testing a hypothesis, we are constantly sorting out and cleaning up. There are very few moments in the day when we aren’t questioning what is around us.

So, while I’m not exactly the picture of a blonde, plastic, somewhat inflexible-but-very-tan, long-legged Barbie doll, and I often head out to my yard in sweats and a coffee-themed t-shirt, with wiry hair frizzing out all around me, Barbie and I share a mission. She shares it with you as well. We are daily cleaning up: laundry, dishes, the toys in the living room, the resident bookworm’s books strewn all over the floor, endless mismatches of socks. We clean our desktops of too many downloads, our cars of too many crumbs and sticky sippy cups, our office drawers of broken pencils and old scribbled notes to ourselves, our iPod song lists of least favored tunes, etc.

We also, I hope, clean our minds. They daily navigate what to dwell on and what not to. And somedays I do this well, while on other days, I get stuck on insecurities, relational hurts or disappointments, bitterness, and frustrations. On those days, I can’t move on. I’m tired of untruths and negative thoughts fogging up my daily vision. How about you?

As I go out with my scooper in hand each morning, I like to pray that God would clear my mind and heart for the day just as I clear my yard. I don’t always remember to do this, but my day has much more peace and grace in it when I do. I see the ugly things that cloud my mind and heart as stinky logs that can be cleared. There’s a solution. I don’t have to think muddied and distracted all day. My heart can be wiped clean for love. And when I take this approach, I feel like Super Pooper-Scooper Barbie with a cape on! I soar to the heights God created me for, and on those days—she’s got nothing on me! She just looks cute in a plastic box, posing for good intentions. I get to act on them. How about you? What can be tossed out of your yard—or mind or heart—to make room for more productive, healthy, positive, peaceful living?

Philippians 4:8-9, Apostle Paul speaking

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

 

 

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