Byproducts of Wrestling with Limits

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Byproducts are what results from some other action that might be unforeseen or unintended. We often think of them as what’s left over from manufacturing or using something and it’s not unusual to hear about the word byproduct used in a negative way. One we have heard for several decades is that byproducts of tobacco use lead to cancer and assorted other diseases that can be avoided if we set a limit on using tobacco. When tobacco use first came about, no one knew or thought about what the byproducts of its use might be. How often that has happened with other things, even some medications that were supposed to help us.

When we wrestle with limits imposed on us or asked of us, it’s not unusual to think of that as a negative because it gets in the way of something we want or want to do. We can be tempted to look at what we might miss because of the limit rather than what we can gain, and gains can be significant. Most of us can agree about many of the benefits of eliminating things that could harm us or even take our lives. Some of us acknowledge that limits on what we might want to eat, or drink can provide us with better health and potentially a longer life in the bargain. If we start pondering, we can make a list of good byproducts from limits.

What we often miss is that we were designed for limits by our Creator for our good. All of creation was set in a rhythm and when any aspect of it gets out of those settings, there are problems. The rhythm of orbits keeps the universe and all the planets, stars, and more in check. The rhythm of light and dark, day and night, and seasons teach us about the need for work as well as rest.

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We started to try to violate those rhythms early on but took a giant leap in that direction when we moved from fires and candles to light the night skies with kerosene lamps and then to discovery of electricity. That discovery that has helped us in so many ways also gave us a sense of not only comfort and safety but limitlessness. Now we were not limited to work or other activities by the darkness, and we began to devalue the simpler lifestyles we had known for so long of quieting ourselves, resting, and sleeping after the sun set.

God, the Creator, modeled the limits that would help us navigate life but this discovery and so many others tempted us to believe we could ignore them and live just as well. We could get more done, play longer, and no harm would come to us. We ignored that God worked six days and rested on the seventh even though He was and is God. He rested and enjoyed the blessing of finishing work rather than working endlessly.

“But the rhythms of focusing and finishing seem to be built into the DNA of what it means to be a human being. This is exactly why treating our bodies like machines is wrong; they weren’t made to work without consistent and rhythmic pause points when we finish and rest.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

Any person who has worked in a job that requires shifts can point to the impact of what rhythm changes can do and that doesn’t account for the impact beyond our physical bodies. Our souls, minds, and hearts need rest as well. When we rest, we are not only refreshed but we also gain perspective and insight and can hear from God more clearly.

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Accepting that we are limited isn’t easy and less so if it involves something we really don’t want to have limited. But a byproduct is to grow in humility, to remind us of the rhythm in our DNA, to jog our memory that we need others and are not independently functioning beings. That too has been true from the beginning of time. Once we walk into the story of humanity in Genesis 3 and fall prey to our refusal to accept one limit, we see we are no longer able to take back the damage that it created. We are doomed and cannot save ourselves or the effects of the choice. But the God who is limitless had a plan for that as well out of his love and care, his compassion for our weakness, and it would require Him to set limits on himself by taking on human form to become the perfect sacrifice to restore us to Him as we had been before that choice.

There were many byproducts of that choice and action that we might name, but one of them was and is gratitude and a deeper understanding of limitations and how they are meant for our good much as a horse learns limitations by a bit and bridle. The author of life demonstrated that for us and if we can cease our wrestling just long enough to be still in the striving, we will discover that gift.

Recognizing the benefits of limitations creates thankfulness for areas we have freedom and helps us grow in responsibility to use it wisely instead of trying to ignore or override them. It allows us to rest in the One who never sleeps and who chose limits and understands our frame and mindset far better than we know.

We may never fully stop wrestling with limits but if we grow in wisdom and discernment, God can lead us to know we submit to them for our good and we resist them because He has called and empowered us to do so.

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Wrestling with Limits

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How do you get along with limits? Your answers might vary for any number of reasons but if we are candid with one another, most of us are not a fan of limits in some or even many areas of our lives. If you disagree on that thought, perhaps you haven’t had one imposed on you for some time. It’s one thing for us to choose a limit for ourselves and then discipline ourselves to keep it. It’s different when that limit is imposed by someone or something else.

Since my recent accident that I shared about in a recent post (Who Were They?), I have been reminded about how often I wrestle with limits. The current new limit has been about what I can eat and how to eat it because of the oral surgery I had two days after the accident. I am a fan of crunchy, crispy things like nuts, popcorn, and the like. Never do I want to soak my cereal and let it lay in the bowl until it is soggy. But that has been my lot since the surgery and will be for some weeks yet.

Initially I was limited to clear broths and soups since I cannot bite down with my upper front teeth due to what happened to them in the accident and the subsequent surgery. Add a splint to them after the operation to hold them in place and it means anything that might be small enough for me to manage with my back teeth becomes a problem since it gets caught in my splint. And then there is trying to enjoy my morning coffee that is not cold but not hot and you start to glimpse a new area of limitations I am wrestling with. (A side benefit has been the loss of about 7 pounds, but my diet and eating are definitely not a pleasure and a meal of whatever soft food I can manage is more work than pleasure.)

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But limits began for us from the time we arrived on earth and soon discovered how often we were put into a small bed surrounded by bars called a crib. It was one thing if we were sleepy or already asleep, but it was a different story if we were not and wanted to keep playing or simply not be alone and away from our moms or others in the house. So as soon as we could sort through the problem, we began to try to figure out ways to get out. The bars didn’t usually let us slip through unless we were very small, so our next effort usually meant trying to find a way to climb over the top. If we were lucky and had extra furniture near the crib, that would often help even though it meant a hazard to negotiate that could be tricky and made falling a bit more dangerous. And this wasn’t the only limit we faced. Someone else determined what we could put in our mouths and what we could eat and when. Our responses to limits were usually not ones anyone liked very much.

But it was only the beginning for us. Limits would be a part of our lives from then on and the list of them would increase as we went along. We would be taught they were for our safety and benefit or that we needed them to learn. So, we could not ride a bike wherever we wanted or whenever we wanted. We had to sit in a schoolroom for hours a day and then spend more hours studying afterward. And the list kept growing.

The adults in our lives seemed to have so much more freedom and we were eager to grow up. Little did we realize limits would be a part of each day then too. We couldn’t drive a car any way we wished or at whatever speed we chose. We needed to get jobs we didn’t always like to be able to have a place to live and things to eat. We also discovered that violating limits could have serious results. We could get hurt, fail in our school or job, or land in jail. We might even cause our own death without planning to do so.

When we got farther along in adulthood, our bodies began to limit us in ways we didn’t like either. We couldn’t just dash up the stairs (certainly without thinking about it), bend over to search for something that rolled under the couch, and we couldn’t keep eating what we wanted because our bodies disagreed, or we had indulged for so long that our weight was a major issue or had caused us medical problems we thought would never happen to us.

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Limits started long before any one of us were here. They started when there was just one before us. We were able to enjoy the beauty and lush provision of the Garden of Eden with anything we wanted except for the fruit of just one tree but a serpent who was lovely and cunning versus ugly and easy to avoid persuaded us to try the fruit of that one tree we couldn’t have. That set in motion a thirst for an unlimited life which is what the serpent intended and brought with it limits we could not have imagined. It began what turned out to be an insatiable desire for freedom and power without limits that we have been dealing with ever since.

We push ourselves beyond what our Creator designed in these efforts. We ignore that from the outset He modeled a rhythm for our lives of work and rest, organized around night and day, seasons of different kinds and depending on the culture we were a part of, we valued these things accordingly. It seemed that in time we began to devalue that rhythm and valued what we considered success more and more and that has been creating more trouble for us ever since then.

“Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we are not content to be like God, we want to be God. The weekly habit of sabbath is to remind us that God is God and we are not.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

And whatever our faith base may be, that first misstep in the Garden of Eden by a lovely cunning serpent has been whispering to us and nudging us to develop habits to our detriment ever since then. Some of us are sold out to the belief below:

“Anything worth doing requires bending your whole life toward it. On the other hand, nothing is worth bending your life until it breaks.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

My current new limits have caused me to take a deeper look at what limits mean beyond ones accidentally and hopefully, temporarily needed. What is the rhythm of my life to be if I want to be more like the God I believe in?

Next time we meet, let’s look more at this area as I continue my recovery and discover insights I may have missed when I wasn’t forced to accept new limits.

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What Message?

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Throughout every day we are all bombarded by messages that come to us from every direction. They arrive as voicemail, text, email, memorandum, and even through “snail mail” crammed into our mailboxes. Some of them are ones we are eager to hear or get and others are not. Sorting through all of them consumes time and no matter how we may have felt when this barrage first started, most of us are weary of all the time this takes out of our day (or night).

Each message (wanted or unwanted) requires a decision from us of some sort. Often that means we need to give or leave a response as well and that means we add to the clutter of messages because we add to them. Sometimes we are stunned on a day without many messages to deal with but that would be rare because many of us write messages or notes to ourselves to remember one thing or another.

Most messages come as print, audio, video, or mixed format for us. But there is something about this that we can miss in our snowstorm of messages each day.

Each of us in our person is also a message. I was reminded of that while reading in 1 Thessalonians when Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica:

The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message!”

1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 (MSG)
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Paul is stating plainly that these people had heard the message of God’s Word and it had so changed and impacted who they were in every area of their lives that they had become the message.

This wasn’t about writing down something for someone or telling someone in just words. This was a complete transformation of who they were so every aspect of behavior, speech, nonverbal expression, and choice reflected how the Word had been engrafted into them.

And people noticed.

What a message all they met or interacted with must have received, but what about us now?

We also are a message to everyone who encounters us or observes us whether we intend that or not. We convey who we are to more than those we are intentionally wanting to communicate with. We, the message, are given to our neighbors, postman, cashier, waiter or waitress, mechanic, and hundreds of others every day who observe us whether up close or at a distance. Our values and choices are conveying who we are – we are a message.

Many of us may not actually know our neighbors well. Beyond waving or saying “hello” other interactions may not happen, but the message of us gets conveyed in hundreds of ways – when and how our trash cans are left out, how we handle our lawn and landscaping, whether we scream at others who live with us, if we train our children and animals to respect property, whether we work nights or days, or are regularly seen heading out to worship on a Saturday or Sunday. All these are our message to the world and when all these messages are combined, they convey quite a sketch of us.

That can be funny or sobering to consider.

But in all the places we live and move each day is there evidence that we are believers in Christ? If so, is it because we have told them, or they have seen us carrying a Bible with us or is it because they see or sense something more? Does Christ’s life in us cause us to be a fragrance (as Paul wrote to the Corinthians) that distinguishes our message beyond the words we say or the things we carry? Whether we intend to or not we are the message and for some, the only message they will really see or read to gain a sense of whose we are. Does who we tell them we are match the message of us?

It can be far easier to say who we are than to have the message of us actually convey the words we say.

The message of us will always be the one others remember more than what we may say to them. Do our convictions need to be strengthened so that we don’t need to plan or think through the message second by second? What happens with the messages we take into us through all and any means? It is certain they shape and impact us and the message that we become.

The Apostle Paul spoke to that as well when he addressed the church at Thessalonica:

“When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.”

1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 (MSG)

Do we need more steel in our convictions to live authentically each moment of each day?

However we choose to answer that question, or live each day, let us remember this – we are the message.

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The Path to Endurance

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I’m not sure most of us are told to be sure we bring a large portion of endurance with us for our journey through life. It’s common to be reminded to get education, experience, and assorted other things we will need to handle the ups and downs life will hand us from nearly the time we arrive on earth. No one ever told me or likely you to be sure to pack endurance or where to locate it. But it is a necessary companion for us beginning very early in our lives and we need a healthy supply of it until we finish the journey.

Endurance is the power or capacity to last or withstand difficult circumstances, situations, or events without giving way. Lessons on it begin as infants and toddlers when we cannot fend for ourselves and must wait on others to tend to our needs and desires. As children we learn it after accidents on playgrounds and backyard swings and before long, we learn it in disappointment with friends and challenges in school.

My recent accident has reminded me of my need of endurance once again. Endurance always includes waiting for something we want, need, or hope for and if we are honest, none of us are excellent at it most of the time. We tend to have a low tolerance for putting off comfort or things we desire, relief from pain or disappointment. And it is in this waiting that we are often tempted to doubt.

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Will anyone see that our cup is empty of whatever we need and fill it? Will they recognize we cannot sort out how to handle what we are facing and may not even know what it is that we need? Will they think we are weak or asking too much if we need them to listen longer or run another errand? Will they still remember the journey is long as we endure loss and grief long after we leave the cemetery or hospital room? Will they accept us when we have always seemed so strong as if we have it all together when we do not? Will they do a better job of listening than offering advice and opinions? Those questions and many others like them are not easy to answer with what we believe would be the most caring and loving because they require something more from us than the offer of a quick prayer and some other kindness.

In the physical realm I have learned a lot about endurance from working with a physical trainer. Exercise and any sporting activity has never been my forte or strong skill set but as I have gotten older, I am very much aware of the need to strengthen my body to be able to keep doing what I would like and to keep me as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Working with Matt in strength training means you will often hear him asking me to do something I am convinced I cannot do. My response will be, “Matt, do you remember how old I am?” He will listen and then tell me that he knows I can do it and persuade me to trust his knowledge of what I am capable of. And I discover I can manage the weight and hold for another 30 seconds or do another repetition after all.

Too often in my life I have exercised the “I can’t” muscle either because I lacked the skill or because I lacked the confidence to even try or because someone had something that created doubt. Matt has beaten back that muscle teaching me a lot about the “I can” muscle that was weaker from lack of use.

Sometimes we don’t make the choice to try because we fear failure that can cripple us if we allow it to rule us. Sometimes we don’t make the choice because to gain endurance we must be willing to be tested and work beyond what we believe are our limits and that seems like a mountain too high and far to climb. But of all these things, I have learned much about endurance from what I read in scripture and how often we are exhorted to gain and hold on to endurance.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament, he lays out where we find endurance:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith, into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 5: 1-5 (ESV)
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If these are not verses you know or know well, go back, and read them again as Paul plainly tells us that it is suffering that produces endurance. Little wonder we don’t go looking for endurance since few of us volunteer to suffer even though it will come to each of us at some point in time in our life. In order to gain endurance, we must grapple with something, suffer through something – sometimes for a very long time. Most of us don’t want to do that anymore than I want to hold a plank with my trainer for another full minute. How we wish life were easier or we could pick and choose the challenges we need to face. But that isn’t life, is it? And if we live long enough, we will have multiple opportunities to grow in our endurance, not only physically, but emotionally, relationally, mentally, economically, and most definitely spiritually as well.

But Paul isn’t the only writer who speaks of endurance in scripture, the writer of Hebrews has one of my favorite passages tucked inside:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12: 1-2 (ESV)

There it is again, the exhortation to endure and a clear reminder that Jesus endured the cross and suffered unimaginable things for each of us. How much we need to learn from Him and see in his character. We want hard things to be over. We are more eager for his return so the difficulties of this life will end than because we are eager to be with the One who loves us with such a great everlasting sacrificial love.

As we are called to endure and persevere in the midst of difficult things, painful things, and uncertain things, John reminds us in the final book of the New Testament of what we will gain by doing so as he writes the letters to the churches in the second and third chapter.

Many of you are in a season where you are called to endure or persevere not unlike me after the accident I suffered 3 weeks ago with more dental appointments ahead and no certainty of outcome. Sometimes we sense God’s presence in those defining moments but if we do not, we might be tempted to doubt He is there, is good, or sees what is happening. In that moment or length of time, we are called to endure. God is with us. Of that I am sure, but it does not mean we will not experience pain or need to wait or face hard things. Nothing in his story, the Bible, tells us that about this life. He promises to be with us in the midst of whatever we face, and He is always enough even if we are not.

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Who Were They?

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It was December 27 and after spending a few days over Christmas with our daughter and her family, we were heading home for a few days for some non-rescheduled medical appointments. Within six days we would return to their home to fly to TX for our oldest grandson’s wedding. Not unlike many families who’re spread out across many miles, it was a busy travel season full of some exciting things.

In between those great plans life can hand you an unexpected moment in time that upends your plans. And so, it was for us on December 27 as we traveled a turnpike well known to us. It was a cloudy winter day, good travel conditions for a winter day versus so many days we have traveled in snow or icy conditions. As we stopped at a service plaza, I could not have anticipated what would happen next.

As my husband retrieved something from the back of our SUV, I walked around the front of the vehicle to get something out of the driver’s side back door. What I missed was a patch of black ice on the slightly sloped sidewalk. I suddenly felt my feet slip and propel me forward with no warning. The next moment I was face down on the sidewalk in the leftover snow and slush bleeding from my nose, mouth, lips and uncertain where else. It all seemed surreal in that moment as my husband lowered the rear hatch and was stunned to see me face down with blood running over the sidewalk.

I only knew I didn’t want to get up and wasn’t sure that I could, and people were running from multiple directions to where I lay. Strangers. Faces I did not see except a glimpse here and there. They came with questions about whether I could get up. They ran into the plaza and came back with paper towels for me to hold over my face where it was bleeding. They got ice from the plaza and someone brought over a metal chair from the outdoor plaza, and gently insisted that I had to get up. They helped me get seated on the chair as I was shivering and so cold from the shock of the fall.

One woman brought a blanket and stood behind me with it wrapped around my shoulders to try to get me warm and called for others to bring blankets. Another woman called 911. Someone else said she was an ICU nurse and stopped to check on me and later a physician who asked me to take the paper towels away to see where I was bleeding. She said she thought my nose was broken, asked me my first name, and spent time looking carefully into my eyes checking for I did not know what. In my mouth she thought I had broken off a front tooth and asked me if I had aspirated it. All the while the lady behind me with the blanket with such a kind voice kept holding me as close as she could to try to stop my shaking and called for others to stand around me to try to block the wind.

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Who were they?

These strangers (Good Samaritans) on their own trips who came to care for me, reassure me, help me, advocate for me as the ambulance could not get to me in the plaza area due to a bus blocking the path which had gotten into a ditch. It can be easy to be suspect of strangers in these times, but here they were helping this bleeding, shaking, disoriented grandmother without thought for where their own journeys were to take them on December 27.

Most of their faces I did not see as I held paper towels to my face that repeatedly soaked with blood. I did not hear any of their names. I only felt them and heard them as they insisted that I could not walk to where the ambulance was when that idea was suggested nor that I could get in a pickup truck available to drive me there. They didn’t know me nor the extent of my injuries but on this day, they became forever etched in my memory.

Our pastor had been doing an excellent series in December entitled “Defining Moments with God” that focused on the many instances where God appeared in one form or another beginning in Genesis and at so many places in the Old Testament long before we get to the Christmas scene in Bethlehem. I felt like I was living that story December 27.

We have such a limited sense or view of what God is like or how He works or makes his presence known to us. We are finite trying to understand an infinite God without limits. Sometimes we wonder if He is there with us when our world turns upside down and a crisis or trauma occurs.

Was He the one who stood behind the chair trying to warm me with a blanket someone else brought, holding me, and speaking words of reassurance? What was their faith, their nationality, their viewpoints on dozens of things? I will never know. What I will know and never forget were their hearts and hands that cared for me so tenderly, even as God would.

As I was helped into my husband’s car by the EMT from the ambulance so he could drive me to the ambulance, the sounds of the voices who had first cared for me echoed in my heart. They kept me encouraged as I waited in the emergency room of the hospital that was full of so many others needing help on that day.

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In the long hours in the emergency room, my mind tried to sort out what was wrong and how it could be fixed. Then there came the question of whether this meant my husband and I would miss the wedding in TX not many days ahead. The physician who came to examine me had a gentle voice and kind eyes and reminded me of the grandson soon to be married and months away from receiving his medical degree. What a surprise to learn this doctor had graduated from the same medical school in FL. He ordered tests of various kinds, CT scans and x-rays expecting to find broken bones and aware my lower lip was gashed deep and needed stitches.

The uncertainty about my upper front teeth remained and my husband called our dentist at home to let him know what was happening and got an appointment for the very next day if we were able to get there. The surprising result of all the scans and tests and x-rays was that nothing was broken. The physician was shocked. I had fallen hard on my face like a tree being felled. I was a grandmother with a diagnosis of osteopenia and no bones were broken.

Who were they? Who were the unseen messengers God sent to protect me from broken bones that should certainly have been the result of such a fall? Certainly, God was there, just like so many other defining moments of God’s presence our pastor had been sharing with us.

My face recognition on my phone didn’t recognize me. My wedding rings could not fit on my finger. Bruises and swelling of my face and mouth were great and my left hand and right wrist were bruised as well, but after seven hours in the emergency room I was walking to our car to spend an unplanned night in a hotel procured and provided by our son for the night before heading home, but that wasn’t the only unexpected appearance of strangers on December 27.

From the emergency room my husband had called our son and daughter who live hundreds of miles from one another and each other. He reached both as they were doing life. Our daughter and her family were in New York City and had just stepped out of a subway when the call reached her. Her family immediately gathered in a circle in the subway station without regard to anyone else and began to pray for me. As they did some of the homeless in the area slipped in behind them and began to pray as well. When they finished, one man named Isaac told them, “I heard you praying for your mom, and I had to pray too. She is going to be all right and get complete healing.”

Who was he? Who was Isaac, this man without a home, but faith? It was not what one might expect. One of our granddaughters who was in that family circle observed, “Who knows? Maybe he was an angel.” Why not? We think of angels with wings and white robes, but is that true or always the case?

I have been absent from this place where we connect with each other because of the events of December 27 as I have been recovering. That dental appointment led to an oral surgery appointment the next day to try to bring my front teeth that had been jammed into their bone sockets down into place and followed with another dental appointment the next day. That was just 5 days before we were to return to our daughter’s to fly with them to TX for that grandson’s wedding. I was in pain and looked like I had been beaten up, but prayers were many from many places. Food arrived from friends from church to feed my husband even though I was limited to broth and pudding. Our driveway was cleared of snow and ice, A friend retrieved my bloody coat, gloves and purse and cleaned them and the love kept coming.

Who were all these people who interrupted their own lives to care for me and my husband?

This story is not over. I see the oral surgeon again today to find out how my mouth is doing and determine if the splint he put in my mouth to hold the teeth he tried to pull back down has done what was needed. Yes, I dread the appointment because I am not excited about anyone touching my mouth or squeezing my bruised hand very tightly, but God…

And God knew how much the wedding in TX meant to us and He helped the swelling and bruises to diminish in days that no one could believe, and we were delighted to be sitting there in the front row at our grandson’s wedding, an unlikely option given all that happened.

Who were they? God with us in defining moments of our lives…don’t miss Him!

What a day! Thank you, Lord!!