Category Archives: Devotional Stories

Plant Seeds to Grow Roots

I woke up this morning to gray skies and lingering raindrops on my pots of chrysanthemums on the porch. The giant maple tree across the street is getting that golden glow again and soon its leaves will pile up in the street. Fall has arrived and it makes me happy down to my bones. Coziness abounds.

As we played outside this morning in our hoodies, though, and I dumped out some dead plants from their pots, I realized that I’m thankful for the seasons changing this year because I’m ready to leave the past few months behind. Last summer I struggled with my health and didn’t even consider gardening. This summer, being stronger, I ached to make something grow and start to design garden spaces in our city yard.

A neighbor gave me a basket full of flower seeds and I dug out some old kitchen drawers in need of being reused for something. I filled those up with soil and hopefully planted marigolds and zinnias. I hoped to create a cute, rustic garden space. Well, the drawers got stuck onto a table near the garage and stayed there all summer. The plants grew but rather poorly. Spindly little stems with tiny flowers. Not at all what I envisioned. All summer I meant to do something more with them but never did. And there they sat, a discouraging lump of sad little flower boxes, half-dead for most of 4 months. Can someone say “guilt trip” every time I stepped outside? So believe me it felt good to dump out the dead plants.

img_9915We like to dream about the coziness of beauty of fall, but how often do we think about the endings that come with the season? My 4-year-old cried when we took the dying stem of his sunflower out of its pot. “It’s all my fault! I didn’t water it!” No, buddy, it’s how God designed sunflowers. They grow, they bloom, and they die. It’s all the season of life.

Some seasons are full to overflowing with goodness. We think nothing of them as they come and go. Some seasons ache with hardship and we breathe deeply in relief as they pass. Some seasons leave us feeling satisfied with all we got done. And other seasons we shake off with all the regrets they leave behind.

Solomon, the wisest man on earth, wrote in Ecclesiastes these words that may be some of my favorites from God’s Word:

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. Ecclesiastes 3:9-13img_9923

“People cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” I’m not going to lie, I sure like the productive, happy seasons of wholeness better than the ones that prompt me to ask why, or what went wrong. But maybe that’s because I can’t see what God is doing in those long ones.

Mothering three children has brought more challenges than I ever expected. So much goes else undone as I do the good work of training them and caring for their needs. Trimming back dead flowers that didn’t live up to their full potential feels so good because with them go the unnecessary feelings of guilt over my [lack of] gardening this year. It’s okay that my vintage flower garden didn’t exist this summer. It’s okay that my herbs grew voraciously and I never got around to preserving them this year. It’s okay that I only have mums planted in pots and not in the ground, where I wish they were. I’ve been planting other seeds. Seeds of love that are growing roots down deep in the hearts of my children so that they grow fruit when those seasons come.

img_9919This isn’t a post about mothering. I could be writing this about my writing. I could be writing it about ministry. Or sickness. Or anything. Seasons are out of our control, really. They are part of the ebb and flow of life. In each one I get to release my will and say, “Whatever you want, God. I’m here to follow you. Show me the way.”

“God has made everything beautiful for its own time.”

Today, whatever our season, let’s plant seeds to grow roots.

Just two things for today

Sometimes it’s just one phrase God gives you that you take with both hands and repeat. One truth or two that gets you through the next meeting, the next conflict, the next effort to get out of bed.

Life is this crazy kaleidoscope of the good, the hard, the beautiful, the brokenness. One day you’re texting your sister that things are great, you’ve got a date night coming up and the kids actually slept half an hour later, and the next day you’re crying, texting your mom to pray because your back pain has flared up again and you can’t get out of bed. Maybe one day you’re afraid you’re on the brink of losing your job because of layoffs but the next your friend calls you with an opening in their business they would like to offer you, doing what you love.

If life is anything, it’s unpredictable. So when I sat on my porch yesterday to talk to Jesus watching the rain with my never-stop-wiggling 10-month-old, this verse caught me:
God has declared one principle;
two principles I have heard:
God is strong,
and you, O Lorddemonstrate loyal love. (Psalm 62:11-12)

Two things, you guys. God is strong and God is always showing loyal love. Two things, and they are all about God. Not me. Not my family. Not the church.

In all honesty, things have been hard in our home lately. Starting a new work position comes with all kinds of challenges that are not a surprise, and definitely not unique to my situation. And it’s fall, the beginning of a new semester, with schedule changes and commitments stacking up. And then in the middle of a simple exercise, I strained a muscle in my lower back. It’s taken upwards of 4 hours every morning this week to feel strong enough to walk around inside my house.

god-is-strongWeakness. Vulnerability. Frustration. Bigness. Those are the first words to pop into my head describing our past few weeks. So I cling to God’s truth. He is strong. And he shows off his loyal love. I can be weak. That doesn’t matter, because he is strong. I am learning how to serve in a new capacity. While that goes on, his love covers my mistakes, my struggles, and even my sin.

So back to him I come with my prayers, my thanks, and my needs. He’s there waiting. 

When it Comes Back to You

Recently I was blessed to listen to a webinar with Stacey Thacker and Brooke McGlothlin, who wrote Hope for the Weary Mom and its companion devotional. They were sharing about strategies for busy moms to spend time with God in the Bible. I was really blessed by their practical suggestions and genuine reminders of how alive and powerful God’s word is.

Here’s one comment they made: even when we show up and read God’s word and feel like nothing sticks with us, God can and will bring back what we read when we need it most. It reminds me of a passage in the book of Isaiah:

As the rain and snow come down from heaven and stay upon the ground to water the earth, and cause the grain to grow and to produce seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry, so also is my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It shall accomplish all I want it to and prosper everywhere I send it. You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills, the trees of the field—all the world around you—will rejoice. Isaiah 55:10-12 TLB

God lives in his word. His Spirit takes the words we read and like water filling a creek bed, runs into all the cracks and crevices where we need it the most.

I realized just how true that was the very next day. I spent an evening studying Psalm 2, which is not the most devotional poem in the Bible. It’s a royal psalm, written by a king about God blessing on his people and defeating his enemies. It’s Messianic, which means it was ultimately written about Jesus, the Messiah. My study time was fairly educational but I didn’t leave with anything immediately encouraging or challenging me.

At the end of the psalm, David writes,
Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

A commentary I used made this comment: “It is better to bend than to be broken” (earlier David had written that God would break his enemies into pieces).

Well, fast forward twelve hours and I had a toddler-free morning and a plan to sit in a coffee shop with my sleeping baby and write for 3 hours. Unfortunately, the baby didn’t sleep but fussed in his car seat. So I drove home, fed him, tucked him in his bed and reluctantly started cleaning my house. I was deep in the throes of sorting toys and putting boxes in the attic while crying my heart out because I was sick of motherhood when like a bell I remembered, “Better to bend than to be broken.” Submission. When things are hard, God asks for my willing heart. clean house elizabeth cravillion submission bend broken god's word“Serve the Lord. Take refuge in him.” A hard, rebellious heart must be broken before God. I can choose the better way – to bow before my King and say, “Yes, Lord.” The night before I may not have felt particularly challenged by those words but because I sat down and read them, soaked in them and tucked them away, God brought them back just when I needed them. His word does its job, like rain on the parched earth. As I submitted to God, he brought me peace and joy and I definitely later appreciated how gave me time to clean my house top to bottom.

Don’t grow weary in spending time with God. He is alive in his word and he will use it in your life.

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God is Near

As I wrote last month, I was laid up all of April, to the point where I wasn’t even cleaning my own house or doing my own dishes. My energy extended to changing diapers, feeding my children and lying on the floor while they played next to me. Things as simple as going outside and sitting in the sunshine exhausted me. As far as I knew, I could be like this for months. It overwhelmed me.

During that time, more friends than I can count came to our home. They washed our dishes, swept our floors, cared for our laundry, brought us meals, shopped for our groceries, played with our kids. So much kindness. Our families live far away but the family of God in our city embraced us.

clouds elizabeth cravillion deeper life james bible studyI have a memo board in my kitchen where I write Scripture verses and at some point, someone who cleaned my kitchen (no idea who) erased the faded verse on there and wrote a new one.

“The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all he has made.”

Somehow, just that little gesture touched me. Not only were people caring for us physically, but they were speaking words of life and hope into our hearts as well.

In the beginning of May my health switch flipped and I began to feel surges of strength and energy. By the end of the month I’d even felt well enough to start working on establishing some family routine again..

Today, I’m back to myself. The kids and I picked strawberries outside in the perfect summer sunshine and I just couldn’t help thinking about God’s goodness. His mercy. He says kindly in his word, “I’m never going to leave you. I’m always with you. I know what you need. I love you.”

IMG_0335.jpgDo you have trouble believing this for yourself? Start naming his gifts to you. Speak them out loud. Jot them in your phone or a journal or on the back of an envelope. Open your eyes and see. Breathe the air in. Is it storming? Feel the cool sweetness. Is the sun beating down? Soak in its warmth. Can you taste the crunch of your bagel or the crispness of your green beans? Let it nourish you. Did the driver at the stop sign wave you to go first? Appreciate that. Are your kids screaming and banging and spilling things? Just listen to their voices and remember being that young and enjoy being a witness their youth.

God’s mercy is real. It’s not just about the gifts he gives us, either. It’s about his daily presence in our lives. It’s how he decisively stepped into time and space to experience life as a human himself and pay the penalty for our sin and then said, “If you just believe in me, I will cover you and all your shortcomings with my perfection and holiness and draw you close to me. I will do it all. Come after me and find peace to quiet your soul no matter what happens in your life.”

Life in this world is hard. Sin has touched everything. Sickness, pain, death, sorrow – it can threaten to engulf us. It paints black clouds and we may not find the silver linings.

But God is good and he surrounds us on the darkest days when we can’t feel it and the days of laughter and sunshine. Every moment he is near.

How to Have a Holiday Worth Remembering

There are picture perfect moments you’d like to treasure in your heart forever.

And there are times you’d prefer absolutely no photographic evidence so you forget them as quickly as possible.

Most of those polar opposite moments come around holidays…one of those being tomorrow. Valentine’s Day. Sometimes you love it. Sometimes you hate it. Most holidays can be that way.

We place a lot of expectations on special days, but so often, we’re left with bruised hearts in the wake of pink candy hearts and balloons, or whatever the holiday dictates are.

When I was single, I thought that if I just had someone, everything would be great. But as much as I love being married and having children, truthfully sometimes even with those blessings, holidays can be lonelier than ever if my heart is restless.

How can we turn the holiday blues around and celebrate them with joy instead of frustration?

It’s More about Giving

Growing up, my mom showed us that holidays were more about giving than receiving. Seriously, making Valentine cards for each other was just as much fun for us as discovering the bags of goodies from Mom at the breakfast table on February 14.

Still, it’s nice to get things or attention in return, and it can be frustrating when those we love don’t reciprocate.

I’m learning, ever so slowly, that when I give, I should focus on giving to God, not to people. That way my sacrifice is an act of worship to him. Is it about me, or about God? When I give to others, I can commit it to God, which helps me keep from expecting things from people in return.

Voice your Expectations

For some reason, we (especially women) wish others could read our minds, then get irritated when they don’t. This causes so many holiday disasters.

So choose to put a stop to that. Talk with your significant other about what you want. It helps so much. “Babe, can we celebrate this holiday doing XYZ?” Do you like to be surprised? Then express that. “Honey, I don’t care what you do for me, but I’d really like you to do something nice for me this holiday.”

You can do this with your in-laws, your children, and your friends. Trust me…it can spare so much frustration.

Say No to the Poor Me Mentality

Single, married, divorced, widowed. Old, young, in between. Surrounded by people or all alone. Holidays can be hard. No denying that.

But pitying ourselves, no matter what our situation, doesn’t help. We can take charge of our feelings and choose to act positively instead.

What actions can you take this holiday?

o   Communicate with your sweetheart and avoid disappointment from unvoiced expectations.

o   Plan a get-together or dinner out with a group of friends if you’re feeling lonely.

o   Reach out to someone who needs a friend for the holiday. A couple needing a babysitter. A child needing lunch at McDonalds. Your grandma wishing for a phone call.

You may be amazed at how those gestures bless your own heart.

valentine's dayLive in Grace

Above everything else, rest in God’s love. He cares for you so much. He is with you just as much on holidays as on ordinary days. He daily pours out grace and kindness on you.

So turn around and give yourself the same grace. If you need to cry because you’re lonely or hurting, do so. If you want to do something special for yourself, do it. If you want to ignore the holiday altogether, who cares?

And give grace to others. If he forgets flowers for you, forgive him. If they don’t say thank you, let it go. If your surprise didn’t make an impression, trust God with the results. You never know what he is doing in the hearts of others.

No matter what our situation this holiday, we can always thank God for his goodness, and celebrate the life he’s given us.

Full of Surprises

Okay, be honest with me here. Have you ever thought, “What am I going to read in the Bible today? There’s not much I don’t already know. It’s going to say the same old thing”?

Raising my hand.

It’s probably more common than you realize. We think it when we forget that the Bible is alive, just like its author.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12

It’s not like the kid’s latest Dr. Seuss obsession. Not the “No, I can’t read Hop on Pop one. more. time.” feeling.

God speaks to us when we read his word, if we read with ears open to hear him.

Can we read it without hearing him speak? Yes.

Can you talk to the grocery store clerk without getting to know her? Yes.

To get to know someone, you spend time with them. You listen to them. You put the pieces together and come to understand who they are. The same holds true for God and his word. The time we spend reading his word, listening to his voice in our hearts, thinking about him and then conversing back results in a deeper relationship with him.

I love that God always surprises me. In the middle of feeling overwhelmed with life lately, I discovered an amazing tool called the Passion Planner. I’ve been using it to really search out what my dreams are and how to best pursue them one step at a time. It feels incredibly daunting.

But the day God reminded me of Zerubbabel’s story I discovered this verse. One I never knew existed.

Then another message came to me from the Lord: “Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation of this Temple, and he will complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me. Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4:9-10 NLT

Did you hear that, folks? THE LORD REJOICES TO SEE THE WORK BEGIN!IMG_2467I think I’ve always believed that God was happy when I scratched things off my list, but never realized he was happy even to see me start something. To take that first step. To step up to the plate and take a breath. It’s a truth I never knew was in scripture, even after years of study.

The people of God were discouraged by the job of rebuilding the temple but God encouraged them with these words. God was thrilled with their work, even though they had only laid the foundation. And he would be the one to see them through to the end.

God walks with us every step of our journey. Do we fully relish our relationship with him? Do we know his opinion on the challenges we face? Do we laugh with thankfulness for his gifts? Do we lean on his strength when we’re tired? Do we accept his comfort when we’re down and out? He’s there, and we can find his truth in the pages of his word.

The Strength in God’s Truth

Lately I’ve felt like I’m facing mountains. In my job. In motherhood. In ministry. In college we had this saying, “The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” But what about the days that you take one step forward, two steps back? Stuff keeps building and becomes overwhelming.

Recently in church God reminded me of a huge project in the Old Testament that seemed impossible to the people working on it.

After years of watching them worship false gods, God allowed his people to be conquered and exiled to Babylon. Eventually, their captors allowed them to return to their land, but when they got there, they found destruction and desolation. Most importantly, the city walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the temple of God was completely destroyed.

Zerubbabel (Zer-oob-baw-BEL) was one of the main leaders in charge of rebuilding the temple. It was a huge pile of rubble that needed to be rebuilt, brick by brick. You can read the story in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

temple ruins jerusalem zerubbabel god's wordThe job overwhelmed the people. Rebuilding the once-beautiful temple wasn’t an easy task. Then on top of that challenge, some of their enemies started demoralizing them. They wrecked havoc and the Jews eventually gave up the work.

With a show of strength, they forced the Jews to stop building. So the work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem had stopped, and it remained at a standstill until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia. Ezra 4:23-24

Then, Ezra records,

“At that time the prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem. They prophesied in the name of the God of Israel who was over them.”

So check out how God’s word fits together. If we take a break from the historical book of Ezra and head over to the books of prophecy, Haggai and Zechariah, we can read behind the scenes. What did these prophets have to say?

Among other things, Zechariah said this:

“This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him! And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone of the Temple in place, the people will shout: ‘May God bless it! May God bless it!’”
Zechariah 4:6-7

Immediately after the prophets relayed God’s message to Zerubbabel, the people began building again. God’s truth empowered them to keep going even when their job seemed impossible.

The truth is that God gives us the strength to do what he calls us to do. There’s a popular religious saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Catchy, but unfortunately not Biblical.

Over and over again in the Bible we read about people who couldn’t face their enemies on their own. The job was too big. The enemy too strong. God lets us get into these places to give us the chance to turn to him for help.

We often face more than we can handle. So we cry out to God. And God says,

“I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?”
Jeremiah 32:27

Like Zechariah told Zerubbabel, it’s not by our force or strength, but by the power of God’s Spirit that the work gets done. Even those mountains that seem impossible to climb. God blesses us when we depend on him.

Be Brave, Be Very Brave

My 2-year-old has discovered Bad Guys and Monsters. Those invisible beings are great fun to shoot at and chase during the day but lurk in dark corners of the bedroom and keep little people awake at bedtime.

He cried for almost an hour last night yelling “Wait, Daddy!” and “Cuddle, Mommy!” That resulted in Bad Guys and Monsters being banned from everyday play and Hunting All the Animals to become our new focus.

hunting pretend deer be braveBut last night, when we were cuddling and singing and praying, a verse came to my mind and I paraphrased it for him,

Be strong and brave, for God is with you. Joshua 1:9

I’d never even seen the word “brave” used in that verse in any translation (usually it’s translated “courageous”) but I knew he would understand it that way.

Well, after collapsing at the end of that ordeal, I was telling Nate how Charles has spent the whole week in crisis mode. The tiniest things cause major meltdowns. Unfortunately, he gets that from me, so when he freaks out, I tend to snap, too, and we have a major debacle on our hands. So we spend some days in a vicious cycle of freaking out and apologizing and calming down. Frankly, it’s exhausting.

So when I opened my Bible before bed I turned to Joshua to read the verse I paraphrased for my boy. I’m reading a new translation to me and it said:

Be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do. Joshua 1:9 NET

We not only needed the “be brave” part of that verse, but we desperately needed the “don’t panic” part, too. I panic when I feel out of control. But I’m not in control – God is. And he’s with me in everything I do, so I have no reason to panic.

So this morning we implemented a new phrase when the freaking out began, “It’s gonna be okay.” That phrase energized me all day long.

Toddler sobbing when PBS shows got turned off for the morning and baby screeching to be held while I tried to wash some dishes. “It’s gonna be okay.”

Toddler begs for chocolate milk. Toddler begs Mommy to play with him. Toddler begs for a friend to come over. Toddler begs for the TV to be turned on. “It’s gonna be okay.”

“Son, please obey Mommy,” for the 457th time in the past hour. “It’s gonna be okay.”

Just recognizing the truth in that verse and applying it made all the difference in our day.

The Word of God is real. It changes everything.

Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do. Joshua 1:7 NET

Why Resolutions?

A new year, new resolutions. I think I’ve read about a dozen blog entries about goals and resolutions this past week. And though I’m making new year’s goals with the best of them, there’s this thought in my soul that I can’t get past.

Why are we all obsessed with resolutions?

What does it mean to “resolve” something?

Dictionary.com says it’s “to come to a definite or earnest decision about; determine to do something.”

We sure are flippant with our resolutions if making them means being definite and earnest. I think we approach them more like wishes, honestly. We all want so badly to be the best we can be and the idea of a fresh start in the new year appeals to our hungry hearts.

Years ago I read a list of resolutions a preacher named Jonathan Edwards wrote and my thinking changed. He wrote deep goals for himself such as,

  • Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
  • Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
  • Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
  • Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

I began prayerfully listing spiritual and practical goals for myself every few months – something I still do today. As I grow, I’m learning that the goal of goals is progress, not perfection. And resolutions give us the courage to boldly move forward through the challenges of the self-discipline required to achieve those goals.

As we think through our goals for 2015, let’s bring them to the foot of the cross of Christ. We can’t change our own hearts through any amount of determination – change can really only come through the work of God’s grace.

And above every other resolution, let’s seek to know God more. In the end, that’s all that matters.

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Real Life Christmas

Just wanted to share a taste of real life this Christmas in the Cravillion home. I love holiday traditions. Coziness. Laughter. Memories. But with two children this year in our household, the craziness has multiplied. I’ll be honest, most days this December have been crabby and exhausting, not merry and bright.

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But the reality is that real life is real life. The sooner you learn to love it and laugh with it, the better off you will be. In the middle of the hardness, pain, weariness and overwhelm, we can choose thankfulness and worship God in each moment, whether it’s magically perfect or terribly imperfect.

So…walk with me for a moment through our home on a typical day this holiday season?

Your Christmas card probably sat on our kitchen table for about three weeks before arriving in your mailbox.

IMG_5737   This was our kitchen the day we made dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies.

IMG_5750 My little monkey rolling out the dough. And yes, it took probably twice as long as it would have been if I’d done it myself. We survived. IMG_5758 IMG_5759

My son being himself. No angel faces here. Just pure Boy-ness.

IMG_5762 IMG_5763Confession: I’m an anti-perfectionist in the kitchen and the sewing room. Making cookies with my toddler gives me an excuse for imperfect cookies. Thank. The. Lord.

IMG_5755I think that middle cookie is a snowman. I think.

IMG_5748Yes, we have flour on our faces. Yes, I have no makeup on. Yes, I’m wearing yoga pants. Yes, I yelled at him 60 seconds before we took this photo. Yes, we can cherish the moments.

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Sweet angel wasn’t pleased Momma was taking so long to finish. No sweet smiles and princess dresses by the Christmas tree on an ordinary day here.

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After the cookies are gone, you discover there are more sprinkles on the counter than on the cookies.

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This is what my toddler ordinarily does with his projects. And that’s okay.

IMG_5801Torn snowflakes taped to the front door…looking out on a brown Christmas Eve in Iowa.

IMG_5819But in the middle of the chaos, there are moments of peace. Flickering candlelight reflects the quiet of my soul in the middle of the noise.

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And memory-making is moments built on top of each other. Times with family that aren’t perfect but are pure. Love that is sacrificial though faltering. Forgiveness and restoration moment by moment some days. Tears followed by hugs and laughter.

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And then thankfulness. Always thankfulness.

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Thank you, Father, for the chance to find joy in the chaos. The realization that moments don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. The gift of your Son to bring light into our darkness and life to our worn out souls.