Hours of the Dark

The dark night of the soul is a journey into the light, a journey from your Darkness into the Strength and hidden resources of Your Soul .— Caroline Myss  ��Traveling with Angels��. Begin and End with Thank You.

Those hours of the night…

Don’t tell me I am the only one that knows of those hours.

Those hours when sleep evades you,

And life broadsides you like an 80,000 pound truck.

Those hours when the power of choice seems stolen from you,

And the Powers of darkness overpower the Voice of Light within.

Those hours when your past mistakes become your only identity,

And regret defines your life.

Those hours when grief swallows you whole,

And loss overwhelms your soul.

Those hours when the next right thing escapes your grasp,

And the gods of your heart beckon louder than the True God.

Those hours when alone-ness smothers the knowledge of His with-ness;

Prayers are desperate and God is silent.

Those hours of the night when not even tears accompany you,

And you’re all bled out of Hope, of Redemption, of Strength, of Grace, of Love.

Yet in those hours of the night, He is there waiting…

In those hours of the Dark, the Light has never been snuffed out.

Emmanuel, His with-ness, has never left.

Hours of the Dark overpowering my mind, weakening my faith, my resolve;

Hours of the Dark…

Overpowered by the presence of the Holy Comforter.

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The Space

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The noise around me, scary and loud

No escape, no respite

Or so it would have me believe.

And yet my soul whispers a different tune

Soft and confident, the whisper tells me there’s more.

More to this life than noise and chaos,

More to this life than drive and performance,

More to this life than success and desire,

More to this life than money and greed.

 

Alarm clock rings and off I go to yet another round,

Watching the clock tick, I ready myself for yet another rat race.

Rush out the door, beat the clock to my destination,

Urge the traffic on, tap my steering wheel in frustration

Hurry into work, punch the clock,

Go, go, go all day long.

Slave to the clock, mistress of time and accomplishment.

 

Hour after hour, day after day my soul breathes less.

My heart beats slower and life passes me by:

The dance of my dog when I walk in the door,

The whinny of my horse when I enter the barn,

The smell of hay and shavings, the velvet kiss of a horse

The call of birds, the rustle of leaves

The blue of the sky and the howl of the wind,

The sunrise pink and the purple of sunset

The wafting scent of coffee and the comfort of a bowl of soup

The melt of chocolate in my mouth, the cool of ice cream rich on my tongue

The soft warmth of blankets as I sleep,

The lyrics and beat of the music,

All these little things, day by day, I barely sense.

I rush and run and stress until my senses dull and my life is a mess.

 

But then…

I dare to stop.

I dare to be.

And I dare to listen.

 

I come to The Space

Where mercy and love breathe gently on me

And I remember.

My soul remembers who it is created to be

And there with my Creator, my Lover, I am the me I’m meant to be.

Not the me who keeps up with society

But the me who comes and sits with the Trinity.

 

Me, the image of God,

Who breathes in the miracle of living, playful and peaceful,

Who feels freedom and is set free:

Free from the demands, the rules

Free from expectations, from religion

Free from performance and approval, decorum and tradition.

In this Space I’m free to just be.

No judgment, no threat of rejection.

Here, where Jesus sits and welcomes me home.

This Space, home to my soul and refuge for my heart.

 

This Space…

My people,

My journey,

My hope and vulnerability,

Mercy and grace gifted to my soul,

Honesty, brutal and raw, messy and real,

Forgiveness for failures and Love extended to all,

Found here.

Here in this Space.

 

Just Spillin’ My Guts

Folks, I am feeling passionate tonight.  And yes, a bit angry too.  I’m not sure it’s such a good idea to be sitting here letting my fingers go wild over the keys.  But I do know one thing – I can’t stand to let it all trapped inside of me.  But neither am I sure I want an audience in something that I’m still feeling out, something I’m still mulling over and grappling with deep inside me.  Basically, I’m saying that I’m scared I’m going to get judged for being so blunt, so vulnerable with what’s weighing on my heart but here goes…

I say I’m a Christian.  I say I’m following Jesus.  I say I want to be Jesus to those around me.  But I’m here to tell you; I’m pretty sure I’ve been smearing that concept up so badly, it’s no longer recognizable as anything God-like.  You see, I’ve been raised in a setting that tells me I should be separated; I should be cloistered away from the influences of the world around me.  For a long time, I thought that was the only way to live righteously.  The more I am out mingling with those other than my immediate family and church community, the more I realize that out there is where life is for real.  Out there away from my sheltered mingling, is where Jesus is so desperately needed; where Jesus is lived.

In our sheltered little Mennonite box, we so quickly can start thinking that we don’t need Jesus quite so desperately.  We think that we got this religion thing – you’re right, it becomes strictly religion at that point.  That’s what so many churches have become – we worship religion, we don’t worship God and faith.  We start marketing religion and we sour people to the name of Christianity because we leave faith behind in order to hold tight to our religion.

We can’t bring Jesus to others if we are leery of getting too close to them and if we’re worried that they will somehow contaminate us.  I tremble at the concept that our church is somehow purer, somehow less sinful because we are conservative Mennonites.  I sit in church on a Sunday morning and I wonder where the people are who are really in need of hearing about Jesus.  So many of us sitting there in my church’s pews are ones who have grown up hearing the Bible read, hearing prayers going up to God.

And then I wonder if the people that Jesus wants us reaching out to were sitting beside me, would they feel welcomed, would they feel like they’ve come home to a community or would they feel judged just by the looks cast their way? I’m saddened by the fact and yes I’m frustrated  that some of my non-Mennonite friends who are still on their journey to finding God, tell me that they could never come to my church because they know what people would say about them.  They tell me that they need to have their act cleaned up before they can come to God, before they can come to church with me. Where do they get that idea from if not from those of us that call ourselves Christians?  Aren’t we doing something wrong if others think they can’t come to God because they are too messed up? Shouldn’t we be looking at ourselves and asking what we as God’s messengers are misrepresenting?

Aren’t Mennonites as a whole doing something wrong if non-Christians think that just because we are Mennonite, we have a direct line to God?  By sequestering ourselves in our little safe communities, we in essence thumb our noses at the people around us.  Trust me, it was a whole lot easier sailing when I wasn’t out there in the real world being constantly challenged about what I believe and why I believe it.  It’s so much easier just sticking with others that were raised the very same way I was that way I don’t have to think for myself but I can just go along with the majority and still be “okay”.

But that’s not why Jesus left us here on earth!  We’re here to offer His power to others.  We’re here to be His light, His love. But how can we do that if we sit in our tidy churches and cookie cutter communities and murmur how we are so glad we don’t have to face the sins that are out there in the world.  If we’re not facing them, doesn’t that mean that we are stagnating in our own self-piety?  If we sit with well polished shoes and clean hands and thank God that we are not like others around us, haven’t we become that Pharisee that Jesus condemned?  Did He not praise the publican who came to church openly admitting that he is a sinner?

Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves what is wrong with our churches if we aren’t attracting those who so desperately need to hear the love of God and need to be shown the forgiveness of Jesus?  If there are no prostitutes, no drug addicts, no LGBTQs, no porn addicts, no drunks, no marginalized people crying out for help and stretching out their hands to us and coming to sit among us, are we really doing what Jesus is asking us to do and be?  If we aren’t drawing lost people to look to Jesus, then we are failing Him.  He wasn’t afraid to go against the organized religious leaders of His time and go sit among the “scum of the earth” like they called the people not accepted into their pious community.  He was homeless. He allowed a prostitute to wash His feet.  He allowed unclean people to reach out and touch Him – that means that He was okay with getting close enough for them to be able to reach out to them.

We open our doors wide open to Satan’s glee when we get so self-satisfied and think that we are the epitome of God’s people and we don’t have any contamination in our midst.  Satan is the one who wants us to sequester ourselves and stay within our safe little circles – he gets more time on the stage that way.  What are we THINKING??!?  Where is our focus? On keeping our clothes and hands clean? Or on putting our arms around the forgotten, the lost, the shamed, the lonely, and yes even the filthy?

We don’t need to sit around and discuss the atrocities and the degeneration of the world around us – we need to get out there and fight it back. We don’t need to organize committees and boards and fundraisers – we need to get out there one by one and touch just one person’s life at a time. All we REALLY need to do is show up, be Jesus’ hands, hunker down and sit next to the hurting. So GO!  Stop waiting for the blessing of the majority in your community – you’ve got God’s direction and his marching orders so what are you waiting for?!?

HOPE as a Habit

I’ve been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark.  She mentions that Abraham was “waiting so long [on God’s promise] that hope was little more than a habit”.  That phrase jumped off the page and grabbed me by the nose.  (grabbing by the nose, incidentally, is what I do when my horse is acting up and needs some firm guidance seeing as how a horse’s nose is very sensitive)

“Waiting so long that hope was little more than a habit”.  Can hope be a habit?  Is hope a habit for me?  What does it look like for hope to be a habit in the mundane life of the every day?  These are questions that are haunting me.  And I’m pretty sure I don’t have answers for these bold questions with subtle suggestions.

You see it suggests to me that one should have hope as a habit.  It whispers that no matter what my circumstance, hope should be a constant.  Is that even possible though?!?  And these questions are also bold in that they dare to challenge me to face the presence of hope or the lack thereof in where I am currently.  To be honest, I’d much rather not face it.

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You see I think Hope can be painfully poignant at times and also refreshingly sweet at other times.  What do you do with the painful Hope that pierces your soul?  It’s pretty tempting to retreat and hide one’s soul in the dark recesses of relative safety but yet in that safety lies suffocating death.  Because a soul without Hope is a soul that is slowly losing its life-giving oxygen.

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You ask, what is Hope?  Hope is the joy of the morning after the darkest night; Hope is the constant Presence of the Creator of our souls; Hope is the one-step-at-a-time forward journey of the weary soul.  Hope is the proffered hug of forgiveness; Hope is the out-stretched hand to help you stand back up again; Hope is the calming whispers of the Lover of your soul; Hope is the gentle prompts of the Spirit in a desperate time.  Hope is the nuzzle of your horse’s soft muzzle; Hope is the quick lick of your dog’s rough tongue; Hope is the splash of cold water on hot, dusty faces; Hope is the earnest prayer of a friend when the soul has lost its focus.  Hope is the little magic moments of every day, the sunrise of mercy dawning on your soul every morning, the rhythm of grace in every heartbeat, the gift of compassion with every breath that you take.

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You might also ask “What is hope as a habit”?  My friend, I’m not sure I can answer that.  I think Hope as a habit is a tentative exercise at first that with time may build muscle into being a strong safeguard for one’s soul.  Hope as a habit may well be at times frustratingly elusive but at other times maddeningly present.  Sometimes, if you are like me, you will rage at the audacity of Hope to show up in some of the most painful moments.  As one of my friends told me, “Rage away and heal on, my friend”.  In other words, sometimes it’s okay to want to take Hope by the throat and choke it out of your life, but in the end, Hope always persists as long as your soul stays tuned to God.  Hope as a habit is always your soul’s redemption in every circumstance.  Hope as a habit keeps your soul open to Life and the Giver of Life.  Hope as a habit is hard, no doubt about it, but hope as a habit is also rewarding, don’t lose sight of that.  When all else goes dark, when all else goes terribly awry, hang on to the audacity of Hope, the tenaciousness of Hope in the darkest corner.

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Hope summed up in one word, is this: JESUS.  Dear soul, there is no other Hope.  You can look for it in all the wrong places, but true Hope is only found in Jesus.  Hang on to Hope, my friend.  The sun will shine after the storm, the joy will permeate the sorrow, and in time your soul will dance hand in hand with Hope once again.

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Photo credits: Pinterest.com

What Happens to God in the Dark?

Where does God go when night descends upon the soul?

Where does the Light hide when Darkness surrounds?

What happens to God in the dark?

 

Where is God when hearts cry and souls weep?

Where is God when words, once packed with meaning in the day, disintegrate at night?

What happens to God in the dark?

 

Where is God when doubts bombard and questions taunt?

Where is God when the Tempter hisses and Sin’s glamour glows?

What happens to God in the Dark?

 

Where is God when pillows are drowning in our tears at night?

Where is God when arms are empty and loved ones are gone?

What happens to God in the dark?

 

Where is God when children go hungry and babies die?

Where is God when bad men hurt innocents and war rages on?

What happens to God in the dark?

 

Psalm 139:7-12

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

 

Wrestling with God

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I’m wrestling in my soul tonight.  I sat in church tonight and my soul wrestled with my Creator.  I found it hard to sit there and worship a God who says “For I know the plans I have for you….plans to prosper you and not to harm you” but yet allows horrific tragedies. How does this concept of Father intersect with a God who allows a middle aged man to be stabbed to death?  How do you explain this kind of God to this man’s devastated widow and his hurting 7 and 10 year old sons?  Such senseless rage in this world and it takes out a good man, an honorable husband and dedicated daddy.  

Background to this soul wrestling: I got word this morning that a business acquaintance of mine was stabbed in a “random act of violence” while on his annual fishing trip in the Bahamas islands.  

There’s a part of me that feels guilty for having such conflicting emotions inside.  I feel anger.  Anger at the injustice of greed and crime.  Anger at the intense pain and loss that his wife and sons need to wrestle with.  Anger that it stirs up buried pain of loss in my own life.  Anger at God for allowing this when He’s got the power to thwart evil.  And yet I know that without God in my life, I can’t survive this kind of pain, this kind of soul ache.  Even while the anger boils, I know deep down that I can not turn my back on God.  I desperately need His Presence to keep on living.  

And so I bring my conflicting emotions, my raging anger, my knifing hurt, my deep soul aches to my Father and I sit in His Presence.  I rage in His Presence.  I sob in His Presence.  And I relax in His Presence.  I thank Him for allowing me to be honest with Him and for not condemning my conflicting emotions.  I thank Him for understanding me at the most fundamental of levels and for knowing that even while I rage, I long for His Presence.  For knowing that even while I’m lying curled up in on myself, I ache for Him to reach out and pick me up and draw me close to His heart.  His heart – it’s both strong and tender.  It’s constant beating in my ear reminds me that He is here.  His gentleness courses through His heart and wraps me in His comfort.  His strength pulses through His heart and fuels me to keep going one day at a time, keep breathing through one heart ache at a time.  His heartbeat, it calls me close; it woos trust from my battered soul.

And so I here I sit.  

Wrapped in His arms.

Listening to His heart.  

Do I still ache?  Most definitely!  

Do I still rage?  Yes I do.  

Do I still weep with pain?  But of course!

Do I have answers for these injustices?  Absolutely not!  

Do I have peace amid these raging feelings?  Thank God I do!

Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to keep breathing, keep living, keep trusting.

“Come to Me”

It snowed here in Lancaster County yesterday.  A thick heavy wet snow.

It matched my heavy thoughts.  And while I was shoveling the snow and tossing it to the side, I wondered if it would work to scoop up the heavy thoughts and toss them away as well.  I don’t know that it’s possible – at least not on my own.  These thoughts they just keep circling back to weigh me down again.  There is a remedy – but one that takes effort.

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Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Matthew 11:28-29

“Really?” you say. “You mean I’ve got to GO to Jesus?”

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“But what if I can’t make it there?” The load – it’s too heavy.  And so you despair and you give up.  You let the worries, the stresses send you crashing down into this broken heap.  And you believe that it’s over.

There is no way you can get up and pick up the pieces. I’m guessing you don’t even want to.  It feels good to just lie there.

It doesn’t take effort to give up.

It takes all you’ve got to remember to breathe while you’re lying there.

But guess what, my friend, somewhere deep inside you there’s still a sliver of energy.

Energy enough to just call out His name.

“JESUS!”

That to Him is enough of a distress signal.  You see He’s been there all along, it was you that thought you needed to journey far away to Him.  He’s been there right beside you, waiting for you to turn to Him.  He knows you’ve been dragging all that baggage around with you, trying to make it all on your own, back to where you last met Him.  But friend, He’s stayed with you; He’s just waiting for your cry.

The comforting thing?  He GETS it!  He gets that sometimes you have just enough strength to merely whisper His name.  He gets that some days, you have a hard time dropping those burdens.  He gets that you want rid of them but you don’t know how to release them.  He knows that sometimes the battle is all about letting them lie at His feet.

Do you remember that verse?  Jesus tells us that He is gentle.  He’s strong but He’s gentle.  He doesn’t ruthlessly scold you for your weakness.  He gently reminds you that He is right beside you.

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That yoke He talks about?  The yoke that He says is His and He wants us to put on?  Did you know that if you put that yoke on – it means He stays right beside you.  Not out ahead, and not behind. But neck to neck with you.  He’ll even pull the the brunt of the load – you just got to stay in tandem with Him.  In step and keeping your nose pointed same direction as His.  That means no turning around and looking back to see what He may have done with the load.  No lagging behind to pick up the baggage He’s tossed off.  No veering off course – eyes fixed on the goal, heart tuned to your Partner right beside you.

And there, my friend, there, in that yoke of His – that’s where there is rest, sweet rest for your soul.

 

Photos taken from Google Images

Of Life and Chaos

                                                              Photo credit: AnnVoskamp.com

Life is messy.  Can I just get an “Amen” to that?  Or is it just me?  

There’s all this hype about a new year, a clean slate, new opportunities, etc, etc.  I don’t know about you but I for one will freely admit that I freak out at the beginning of a new year. It looks like this clean slate that you’re completely terrified of smudging up.  Smudging beyond hope of an eraser’s capabilities. 

I suppose the word I’m feeling is inadequate.  
My life looks like a mess most days and I feel like I’m just blowing it.  

For example, at the beginning of this brand new year of 2014 I decided to make it a goal to finally read the entire Bible in one year’s time.  In order to follow the plan I’m utilizing I would need to read four chapters a day, give or take.  Not a big deal, right?  

Who doesn’t have time to read four chapters a day?  Cue: sheepish hand raising on my part…I have fallen behind by eight days and we’re only in the first month!

I’ll be honest with you – I don’t do well with lump sum reading when it comes to the Bible.  I get hung up on this phrase or that word and I start chasing down rabbit trails of cross references and Greek origins and Hebrew meanings.  And I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with a thorough approach to studying the Word that way.  

But you want to guess what the devil and/or the inner critic does with that?  It goes something like this: “Come on, you can’t even be disciplined enough to stick with a plan for a week?  What kind of Christian are you that you can’t even spend enough time to read four chapters of God’s Word a day?”

I shy away from this type of speed reading though because for too many years that’s the approach I had to worship time with God.  I thought it all depended on how many verses you got read as to how well God enjoyed spending time with you.  And I think there’s this part of me that’s saying hey don’t go back to the speed reading where you merely saw the words but they didn’t have a changing power in your life.  Now I’d much rather take little bites of a verse and cogitate on it for awhile and allow it to soak in and penetrate this hard-headed, stubborn-hearted being of mine.

At the start of a new year, I have this rose-colored view that this year I’m going to be more organized.  I’m going to plan out my day versus running ragged all day trying to catch up.  That’s not going so well either. Already this year, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day.  That exhausted feeling when you finally crash into bed with eyes mere slits anymore.  And you wonder why it is you’re so tired because you think back over the day and you don’t think you got anything crossed off on your pre-planned schedule.  So where did the day go?  

I’m trying to stop myself to reorient in all this chaos called life.  And I’m trying to focus on where God is in all of this. Is He the one making demands on my weary soul or am I trying to earn His love?  Did you know you don’t have to earn anything when it comes to your relationship with God?  What good is the day if it was spent running frantically from demands to distractions if I missed the still small voice of God wooing me to Him?  What did I accomplish if I didn’t take time to sit and listen to God?  Why have we made it all about performance when really God’s all about worship?  

No matter how much I dash frantically about, I cannot clean up my own messy life.  The only way my messy life will be changed is through sitting with Jesus and allowing Him to align the chaos.  It doesn’t matter if I get four chapters of the Bible read today, if in that speed reading I didn’t take time to hear Him speaking that one phrase, that change, into my life.  It doesn’t matter if I’m organized, if in that organization I became a Levite that passes by a beaten-up, dying soul.  It doesn’t matter if my performance is stellar, if in that performance I became so frustrated that I exploded instead of saying a kind word to that parched heart.  

Life may be chaotic and messy but I have the Creator intimately involved in my life.  My Creator took darkness and fashioned out a miraculous world with just His voice!  My Creator who formed me knows my make-up and knows how to redeem my chaotic soul into His likeness, His plan for me.  This year may be a clean slate but I will smudge it if I don’t depend on my Redeemer to dictate what I write in my story this year. And so with my Savior’s help, I want to use this year to focus.  Focus on what He is speaking to me.  Focus on where He is leading me.  Focus on what He has planned for me.  Focus most importantly on Who my God is to me and Who He wants to be to me.  Then life will be manageable however chaotic and messy it may feel.

Holidays with a Hurting Heart

                                                       Photo credit: http://www.aholyexperience.com/

This holiday season, I’m just going to be honest – it’s been brutal. 

I long for the holidays of childhood where all was excitement and dazzling wonder. 

Untainted by grief, the holidays were much anticipated in earlier years.  But now, grief shadows the holidays and wrecks the innocence of wonder. 

My heart cries, “O come, O come, Emmanuel!” 

Emmanuel – God with us. 

When Death stalks our days? 

When Death snatches our loved ones with no apology?

 God with us – when freak accidents steal away a spiritual mentor, a Gospel warrior, and a dear friend? 

God with us – even in the midst of painful sorrow? 

My heart says “yes, God is here.”  But still my soul aches. 

In the wake of a tragic accident that stole a close missionary friend of mine from this earth, my soul aches for those of us left behind.  

Where to find the stamina to pick up the pieces and enter the fray again? 

What do you say to a woman who just lost her husband, her best friend, her dreams for the future?  

What do you say to a woman who had no idea in the morning that by noon her life would be completely turned upside down?
What do you say to your friend who’s sobbing on your shoulder – what do you say to make her feel better?
What do you say when there are no words to make sense of it all? 
What do you say when your heart is sobbing with hers at the harshness of death?
How do you go on with your day to day life when you can’t get the echo of your friend’s sobs out of your ears?
How do you pray best for her when your soul can’t even find words to express the groanings deep within?
How do you wrap her in your love and care when life has you physically miles apart?
How do you encourage her to have faith and trust in God if yours feels pretty depleted?
How do you explain to a nonbeliever why this tragically widowed woman can sing “God is so good” when she just said an unexpected goodbye to her husband of thirty some years?
By all human standards, it seems as though Emmanuel hasn’t come; Christmas joy is elusive; the happenings of this world have slipped out of God’s hands; life is all tears and no laughter. 
But yet, praise God!, Emmanuel did come!  God with us – here.  Stirring in our hearts a longing for something deeper, instilling peace beneath the pain, raising our tear-stained faces to gaze at the Morning Star, guiding us closer to the Jesus come to experience our grief, calling us to a greater trust through the unexplained disappointments, reminding us that God alone knows the number of our days. 
Only God can use a tragedy to bring peace, a death to bring glory, an accident to spread the Gospel.  Only God can whisper over us a soothing balm, bathing us in His love, even now when hearts are torn, empty arms are aching, and eyes are brimming with tears. 

Emmanuel – God with us.  Peace and joy to grieving souls.  God with us – the only reason we have a season worth celebrating.  God with us – the only hope of better days to come.  God with us – the only comfort that strengthens us for the days to come.  God with us – the only promise of tomorrow.  God with us – the only healing for grief torn souls.  God with us – the only power for our weakness.  God with us – the only love worth trusting.  God with us – the only shelter for all of life.


P.S. Here is a link over to the story of the untimely death of my missionary friend: http://hoc-haiti.org/hoc/?page_id=7