Storm Preparation: Principles for the Spiritual Life

Gina Butz trials 1 Comment

weathering the storm-principles for our spiritual lives

Photo by Jean-Pierre Brungs on Unsplash

This week we, along with other Floridians, are staring down a major hurricane. Riding on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, emotions are higher. Fear is strong. Already by Tuesday, supplies were out, though the storm shouldn’t hit till Sunday. As we prepare for this storm, I reflect on how our actions translate to principles for the spiritual life as well.

When we see a storm coming, our first response is to gather supplies. I’m thankful I had the foresight to ask our son to pick up water on his way home Sunday, because yesterday there was none to be found. People get salty when supplies are scarce. And often, in our spiritual lives, we act out of a scarcity mentality. The truth we need to ride out storms we gather in short supply. We reach for it in moments of desperation, instead of storing up for a rainy day.

But friends, the truth that sustains is there for the taking. It never runs out. We must constantly feed ourselves a supply of truth, so that when the storms of life hit, we have a storehouse. And we can be the ones generously sharing that truth with others.

While my husband is traveling until Friday, I’m thankful for my team from work. All day Wednesday we continued an email thread checking with each other. Who’s staying? How do we prepare? I confess, I was reluctant at first to admit my ignorance. I’m a Minnesota girl. All our storm preparedness is, “When the sirens start, grab some snacks and head for the basement. Turn on the TV.”

But in admitting my need, I receive help. There is comfort in connecting with them. We know we are not alone. Others will walk with us. When we weather the storms in life, we desperately need others. That requires owning our needs, ignorance, and poverty, so that others can help us. We were made to weather storms together.

Part of our preparation is checking for the safe places. Our house has few interior rooms-just a small room under the stairs and decent sized closets in the kids’ rooms. (Looks like we will hunker down Harry Potter style).

We need safe places. In God, we have the greatest one. Twitter He is our solid place, rock, refuge, our anchor in the storm. Too easily I wander from that home and look for solid places elsewhere; it is a pointless search. He is the best hiding place.

Despite our best preparations, we know this storm might cause damage. Our backyard is wooded. Surely branches will fall and trees may be uprooted. While our house was built to withstand strong winds, it can’t bear everything. How will it all hold up against the storm?

In our spiritual lives, there is where I see God work so much good. Storms are when we see what we’re made of. We see if we have built our lives on solid ground. There’s uprooting that needs to happen so God can plant something better. We come through a little battered and worse for wear, but humbled as well. They bring us back into dependence.

I confess, through all this preparation, I am fearful. There are so many “what if?” scenarios. There is too much out of my control. In the face of a storm, God calls me back to rest in His goodness.Twitter  He reminds me that He is greater than any storm, even the biggest one I’ve ever seen. His perfect love for us drives out fear. While we remain vigilant and alert to the destructive forces around us, we are trusting, hopeful, and deeply loved.

So we store up truth along the way, guarding our hearts for whatever might come. We keep building our lives and identities on the solid ground of who God is. That way, when the rain comes and the wind blows, we rest secure. We do it together. We do it knowing that however great the storm, He is greater.

 

Related posts:

Peace and Hope Amidst the Storm

 

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What We Don’t Have to Carry

Gina Butz dependence on God, peace 4 Comments

What we don't have to carry-remembering to give our worry to God

Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

I woke up one morning recently, and in that space between sleeping and waking I had a clear picture in my head of a room. Lying in the room were objects that represented aspects of my life that were causing me to worry.

It was right in the middle of a crazy week. Our kids had started school and I was trying to get back into my role at work, bringing a thousand minute decisions and needful things screaming for my attention.

The night before, as I reviewed my day, I had been aware of how those worries had occupied my thoughts and energy during the day. It occurred to me how much I had been holding onto them, rather than stopping to pray and release them to God. I determined that the next day would be one of peace. Surrender would be my course of action.

But as I woke up that morning and pictured that room, my eyes found those worries lying around me. I immediately felt a heaviness in my soul as I saw myself reaching to pick them up again, throw them over my shoulders, and trudge on. But as I leaned to take hold of one of these burdens, I heard God say,

“That is not yours to carry.” 

There was in that instant a momentary sense of relief, and a reminder of my determination to stay in a place of peace this day. But in the next second, another worry popped up, whispering over my shoulder that surely I needed to carry it. As I turned in my mind to pick it up, again I heard His voice,

“That is not yours to carry.”

And then I breathed a sigh of surrender.

Sitting down that morning to pray, I thought of all those worries I was tempted to bear. I thought about this invitation from God to release my grip on them. They are good and important things that do require attention and care, but they are beyond my control. It’s best I admit that. That’s a good place to start.

So I wrote them all out one by one, writing a prayer of release for each detail. And then, I asked God to make me carefree.

I like that word-“care free.” To be free from care. Not that I stop caring what happens in our lives, but I stop being the carrier. I stop believing that without me at work, they will be forgotten and lost. I believe that the God who is stronger, wiser, bigger, and more powerful carries them for me.

That morning, a friend of mine posted 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.” I took a few minutes to read that verse in other translations, and I had to laugh when I opened The Message. It reads, “Live carefree before God; He is most careful with you.” 

Full of care for us. Fully able to carry all those burdens that threaten to weigh us down with worry. Whatever is calling for you to pick it up and bear it today, don’t. Live care-free. Let Him carry it.

 

Related posts:

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Doubting in the Darkness

Let Go and Let Him Hold You

 

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Yes a Million Times-Thoughts on 20 Years of Marriage

Gina Butz relationships 5 Comments

Yes a million times - staying in marriage for the long haul

photo by freestock.org

This year marks 20 years of marriage for us. When I think back on 20 years, the question arises, “What does it take to make a marriage last?” And I suppose the answer could be “marry your best friend” (which I did) or “never go to bed angry” (uh . . . ) or “keep dating your spouse.” All good ideas. But at the end of the day, what I think it comes down to is choosing to say yes.

Marriage starts with a yes. We enter in bravely saying, “Yes, I will journey this life with you,” most of us barely knowing what that will really mean.

It starts with a yes, but I’ve discovered it lasts for the long haul because we choose to say a million more yeses.

We say yes to doing the dishes, getting up with the kid in the middle of the night, mowing the lawn, and a thousand other tasks we would probably rather not do.

We choose to step toward reconciliation when we’ve disagreed, to forgive, to admit wrong.

Decisions are made to deny our own desires, our ways, our plans, and allow someone else’s wants and needs to trump our own.

We overlook the offense, accept the quirks, smile instead of frown at the annoying habit, knowing that the thing that bothers us will probably happen again tomorrow.

Wrinkles, receding hairlines, stretch marks, and pot bellies we accept into our story.

Walking together through the valleys and the challenges, going places we would rather not go, is a choice we make.

We commit to being in their court even if no one else is.

Naked vulnerability, physically and emotionally, becomes part of how we live.

We sign on daily to bear witness to someone else’s ordinary and extraordinary moments.

We say yes to all of this and more.

Sometimes a yes is easy.

It feels like the most natural thing in the world. We say it gladly, as though it was what we were made for.

But other days, a yes is sacrificial, so hard we feel like we deserve a medal for it (note: my husband should have oodles of medals for saying yes to me. He’s on track for sainthood).

Some days a yes asks too much humility, too much vulnerability, when our hearts are already raw. It’s tempting, in those times, to let our yeses become nos. The more we do that, the more our hearts close.

Some days we determine that our spouses don’t deserve a yes, and we’re right. So often they don’t (and neither do we). But this is where we’re called back to the economy of the Kingdom, which says we have been overwhelmed with what we don’t deserve, and we are called to model our lives and marriages after our Savior. God says yes to us again and again, moving toward us despite our response or worthiness.

Each time we choose to move toward each other, we create a greater space for the other to rest in, a place of acceptance, grace, love, and commitment, of belonging, permanence, and rootedness. The yeses deepen our dependence on each other, claiming ground in each others’ hearts.

Each yes to our spouse is a reflection of the relentless, pursuing love of God.Twitter This is the opportunity we have, not only in marriage, but in all relationships-to say yes when it’s hard, when we’d rather go our own way, and serve ourselves. We journey well together when we choose to give and move toward each other, holding tight, leaning on each other.

So we keep saying yes, day after day, year after year. That’s how we got here. And it’s what will keep us going.

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Surviving Your Child’s Senior Year

Gina Butz parenting, perspective 6 Comments

Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

It’s finally here: our son is a senior in high school. This thought instills in me an equal mix of terror and grief. We have to help our son navigate all the craziness of this year to do the very thing we don’t want him to do, which is leave us. Cue tears.

I want to do this well, though. I want to look back and say that we navigated this year with grace, wisdom, and hope. I want to feel like we made the most of it. I’ve been pondering what that might look like, and I’ve decided on four words that will be our mantra:

  1. Celebrate

    Let’s begin with a hearty celebration for getting to this place. He’s come a long way from the boy who put an unpopped kernel of corn in his own ear because his sister wisely wouldn’t let him put it in hers. He has learned to navigate life in three countries, has discovered life passions, learned to drive, held down a job, made deep and lasting friendships, and embraced his own walk with Jesus. This is all worth celebrating.

    But God’s goodness to him has only begun, and it is sure. The word celebrate reminds me to continue to have a mindset of gratitude and expectance. When I am tempted to be overwhelmed and I need prayer, I want to begin with thanking God for what He is doing.

    And after I plant myself in God’s goodness, I’m also going to remind myself to:

  2. Breathe

    It is easy to look at the business of AP classes and college applications and financial aid, and want to run for the hills. But I know getting through this year will be the kind of journey that is “one day at a time,” and probably “each moment at a time.”

    So when it all feels like too much, I want to take a deep breath and be in the moment, both to experience it fully, but also to remember that it’s all going to be ok. This breathing has already begun, in earnest. I’ve grabbed my son by the shoulders and done it with him. Lots of deep breathing happening in this house.

    We want to breathe in God’s strength, wisdom, and guidance in every second. We want to breathe out the fears and uncertainty, letting His presence with us be our rock of refuge and rest. And then, I’m going to remember to:

  3. Trust

    Easier said than done, but what a great opportunity this year will be to grow in our trust that God is greater than anything we face. The older our kids get, the greater the challenges. I could let that cause me to up the control ante, or I could just release the reins altogether and trust that even though I have to let go of them more and more, His grip on them is greater than mine, and never loosens. Isaiah 26:3 says that the perfect peace we seek for this year is found as we depend completely on the One we trust. And as our school administrator shared with us during orientation, “You feel like you’ve been dropped in the deep end of the ocean. But remember that God is the Creator of the ocean.” He will guide each step. He can be counted on to carry us.

  4. Savor

    When life feels tough, it’s tempting to rush through the stress and exhaustion to reach the finish line, but I know if we do that, we will miss the journey God has for us along the way.

    Instead, I want to savor every moment. I want to linger over meals and family times and the last ponderings of each day. I want to live this year fully present, putting aside my own tasks to make space for just being together. I want to hold each minute just a little longer and recognize the gift it is. I want to slow down time, but if I can’t, I at least want to relish it like the richest of fare.

If you’re with me in this boat, let me know. I’d love to hear how you hope to journey well as you launch your child. If you’ve already been through this, I welcome wisdom. If this is your future, it’s never to early to start practicing these attitudes.

Wherever are you on your journey, would you pray for me? With God’s help, I believe we won’t just survive this year, but it will be a year when we experience Him deeply.

 

Related posts:

As the Ride Winds Down: Thoughts on the Last Moments of Childhood

When You Just Have to Do One Day at a Time 

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When Your Birthday (or any day) Sucks

Gina Butz expectations 5 Comments

when your birthday (or any day) sucks-learning to rejoice in spite of circumstances

photo from gratisography.com

Birthdays are supposed to be great. They’re supposed to be the days when all your wishes come true. But sometimes, well sometimes they just suck.

Our family took a once in a lifetime kind of vacation this summer. On one of the last days, my husband was scrolling through his Facebook feed and said, “Oh hey-it’s my birthday.”

This was news to both of us. Not the most auspicious beginning.

The morning was decent-a long walk around the insanely cool, old neighborhood where we were staying, some quiet reading time. Then we set off for London. It kind of went downhill from there.

We couldn’t find anywhere to eat. We had to keep stopping for the bathroom. Since my husband was the only one registered for the rental car, he had to do all the driving and for crying out loud that country’s not made for driving high speeds. Or two lanes at the same time. Plus, left side. And stick shift. I think we all lost years off our lives navigating those roads. Thank God for a diesel engine because where are the gas stations? Four plus hours of this.

But we had something to look forward to-seeing the new Spiderman movie at a cool old theater (can we just assume everything I’m talking about is cool and old? This includes my husband, wink). And then . . .

We couldn’t find parking, because no one actually drives in London. Or rather, they drive but seemingly never park. We finally found a space, begged a parking permit off a local, and made our way to the theater where we discovered we had shown up for a 6:30 showing that was actually at 7:30. Dejected, we headed back to our hostel, which was seemingly 4 miles away yet took us 30 minutes to drive.

So, dinner. Dinner at-say it with me-a cool, old pub. But we got a late start and most everything in the little town center near us was closed. We found a place called the Snooty Fox which sounded oh so promising. Ah, but no children under 18. They directed us to a restaurant 10 minutes away. It closed at 9. It was 8:50.

Ready to throw in the towel, we found a mini mart where two of us grabbed snacks to eat. In the end, the others got burgers and fries from a sketchy looking pizza joint. And thus ended the lame birthday.

Yep, sometimes your birthday sucks. Sometimes you have the highest expectations for the perfect day and it’s anything but. It rains on your wedding day. It’s 100 degrees at Disney World. You drive 2 hours to take beautiful beach pictures and it’s actually super windy and cold (this may or may not be a true story).

And you’d think we would be ok with that, but there’s something bred into us, woven into the great American dream that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” means things SHOULD go our way. It’s our right. Especially on our birthdays.

But the passage that came to mind for me as we tramped from place to place was Habakkuk 3:17-18, Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, YET I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

There is always a “yet” when we have God.Twitter

There is always a reason to give thanks, a reason to praise. Because no matter what happens or doesn’t happen, He is still on the throne. Yet, He is good. Yet, He is faithful. Yet, He is with us.

So I try to insert our own circumstances to remind myself, “Though we missed the movie, and the pub wouldn’t let us in, though we spent half the day driving and had to eat mini mart food . . . Yet I will rejoice.” 

Because we still have something that is above and beyond all these worldly hopes. Better than a day at the beach. Better than the happiest place on earth. Better than the best birthday.

We have a life that can’t be taken away by the worst circumstances. We have hope beyond this world. We have freedom and grace. We have joy and peace.

So there’s always a “yet” we can claim. Yet He can do more. Yet He can redeem. Yet He can work. Yet we can rejoice.

The list goes one. We can choose to claim it, even on the worst days.

 

Related posts:

Where’s Our Hope?

Grace for the Less Than Ideal Days

Finding Home – Guest Post at The Mudroom

Gina Butz home, personal, transition 0 Comments

photo by Andrew Branch

In October of this year, our family will celebrate the fact that this home is the place where we have lived the longest together. The bar is low: our record is only four years and ten months in one location.

My husband and I started our life together in a tiny basement apartment near downtown Minneapolis. We then spent thirteen years in Asia: six homes in two countries. When we moved back to the U.S., we lived another three months with family before settling here. The idea of having a permanent, long term place is foreign to us.

But in place of permanence, my view of home has expanded.

I’m happy to be guest posting again at The Mudroom today! Hop on over there to read how I experience home now. 

 

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Where’s Our Hope?

Gina Butz expectations, faith, hope 0 Comments

where are you putting your hope?

Photo by Tom Ezzatkhah on Unsplash

I’ve never been an optimist. I don’t like to call myself a pessimist, though. I prefer “realist” because it sounds better. Less of a downer. I just don’t want to be disappointed. Who does? Yet all the time, in so many ways, we hope.

I hope that the light will stay green until I get through it, or there will be good BOGO deals at Publix. I hope that the kids will find something else to do so I can have time to myself, and the key lime pie from last night doesn’t show up on my hips.

Those aren’t so bad. The bar is low. It’s when I hunger for deeper things that it can get dangerous.

I hope that my husband will always be there for me. I desire deep friendships. I long for our kids to grow up to love Jesus and follow Him. I want my life to impact others in a positive way. I would love to avoid pain. I wish all my prayers would be answered in timely and satisfying ways.

That is where hope gets tricky for me, because I know the potential for disappointment is so much greater. These are unpredictable, temporal desires, out of my control. My husband travels and leaves me alone. My friends get busy. My kids have to choose their own way, and it may not be mine. I am just one person amidst a sea of voices. The path of growth often leads through suffering. God has other ways of answering my prayers.

It’s tempting to lower my expectations, play it safe, safeguard my heart.

That’s not where life is though.

So do we stop hoping? Or do we fix our hope on something more solid?

This spring and summer, I have been camped out in the Psalms. I keep coming across verses about waiting on God, hoping in Him. He doesn’t ask us to stop hoping. He just asks us to place it in a different place. We hope not in gifts, but in the Giver.

But what does that look like? For me, I’m learning that it means laying all my desire before Him, acknowledging that they are good and God-given desires.

And then I have to open my hands and release my expectations on how those desires will be met. I trust that He will satisfy me in His time and His ways. Easier said than done.

But when God is the anchor of our hope, we aren’t blown about by the winds of disappointment as easily. We believe that He sees our hearts and knows our ways, and if we don’t get what we want, there’s something better in store. We have Him to come back to, our solid place, when we are disappointed.

Without this, without Him to go back to, I could easily lose hope. But with Him, I am reminded that hope is good. Hope keeps us expectant. It keeps us looking to Him, believing in His goodness, trusting in His love. Hope keeps our hearts open.

In that light, I could be an optimist.

 

Related posts:

On Waiting Well

Having Hope in a New Season

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Running from God

Gina Butz dependence on God, faith, trials 2 Comments

Are you running from God?

photo by Atlas Green

“What would make you run from God?”

A pastor asked us this question one Sunday as he began a series on the person of Jonah, the poster prophet for running from God.

The pastor suggested we might be tempted to run from a calling to another country, maybe one where westerners aren’t welcome. I found myself surprised that a specific location hadn’t even crossed my mind.

No, for me it’s not “please don’t call me to that place.” My “places” are more internal. Maybe I’m not alone.

We are, at the core, self-centered people, which is the heart of the book of Jonah. God was calling him not just to a place, but to a surrender of the heart. That, maybe more than Nineveh, was the place he didn’t want to go.

So he ran toward Tarshish. Not sure what made Tarshish so appealing. Me, I run too, but in smaller, less obvious ways (because I don’t know how to get to Tarshish).

I run by staying busy, too busy to reflect on my heart, too busy to hear from God.

I run until I feel I’ve given enough, done enough, been enough.

I run from insignificance, from feeling small or forgotten.

I run from silence, where I might encounter emotions or truth I don’t want to own.

I run from being exposed to God, or more aware of my sin, is not a place I want to be.

All places where He is calling me to surrender, to let go of what I cling to that I think is life.

I want Him to call me somewhere else,  some place where I look good and successful and admirable, and I don’t have to own the mess inside.

God calls us to places of surrender in order to do a deeper work in us. For Jonah, it was a big fish for three days. I can’t say how grateful I am that God has never felt He needed to throw me in a whale to get my attention.

For me, it’s places of unanswered prayer, unexpected disappointment, unmet desire, loneliness, trials. Those are places we would rather not be, but they are the places where God can bring us to the surrender that needs to happen for us to go deeper in Christ and further in mission.

This was a good reminder for me, to ask myself whether I am willing to sit in the places where He takes me, rather than trying to scramble out to a more pleasant existence. I need to surrender to His work within me.

What about you? Are you running from Him, or are you surrendering to His work?

 

Lean In

Why God Won’t Just Make It Easier

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You Are More Than a Number

Gina Butz grace, identity, loved 2 Comments

You are more than a number

photo from Pixabay

Sometime in college, it occurred to me that I was on track to graduate Summa Cum Laude. I only needed a 3.8. Unfortunately, I attended a university that factored minuses and pluses in the grades, rather than straight letters. I had no pluses-only some A-‘s. Those were enough to make me graduate with a 3.79 repeating, and they didn’t round up.

At first, I wanted to justify that number to people. I looked back in regret at a couple A-‘s that could have easily been A’s had I done one thing differently. But after awhile it occurred to me, “No one cares what my grade point was.”

My worth is far more than a number I achieved.

As our son heads into his senior year, we’re thick in the midst of standardized testing, the ultimate “judge you by a number” scenario. Our boy has studied hard, but the results haven’t been quite what he’d hoped. I thought back on my 3.79 repeating, and told him what I know, “You are more than a number.”

Everywhere we look, we are reduced to numbers: what the scale tells us, how much money we bring in, what our grade point average is, our time on that 5K, the number of our social media followers.

People use those numbers to assign value, to decide who’s in and who’s out, who’s worth their time. They use them to put themselves above others, to feel better about themselves, to claim a temporary space in the world.

But we are so much more than a number.

A number is just a snapshot. It is one picture in a huge collage of the whole of who we are. And most of those outward numbers represent transient, arbitrary, and superficial aspects of our lives. They can change tomorrow, for better, or worse. They won’t be true of us in a week, a month, a year.

They are a poor foundation on which to establish our worth.

They do not measure how much we are loved. They do not measure how well we love others. They aren’t a measure of our intelligence, attractiveness, importance, or character.

They do not define what we give to the world. They do not define our gifts or passions. They do not define our worth in the eyes of God. They don’t add or subtract to any of that one iota.

Some numbers are necessary, for a time. That’s ok. Let’s hold them with a grain of salt, though, and remember that they do not name who we are. We are so much more than a number.

 

Related posts:

When Comparison Tells Us Who We Are

The Lies of “Too Much” and “Not Enough” 

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Faith for the Small Life

Gina Butz faith 6 Comments

faith for the small life

photo by Ray Hennessey

I’ve always been small, the runt of the litter. In all my pictures growing up, I’m the shortest one. People regularly assumed I was a few years younger than I was. In response, I became what you might call “scrappy.” Trying to appear bigger, stronger, more capable than I was.

I still do.

Our kids finished school a couple weeks ago, and, in true Gina form, I made a summer schedule for myself that belies the fact that they still live in our home and require some level of interaction. By the end of the first week, I was disappointed that so much of my time had been spent not on the grand plans I had, but on so many seemingly mundane tasks of laundry, driving, cooking, and cleaning.

I wanted more to show for my time. Many of us do. We want a broader influence, greater opportunities, upward mobility. We want significance. We want more than ordinary. The world calls us to accomplish visible, important tasks, not the day to day.

In contrast, the question was posed once at a conference I attended, “Do you have enough faith to live a small life?”Twitter

Do we have faith that God is just as much at work, just as glorified, just as powerful, in the small things? In us doing the ordinary? Doing less? Do we have faith that we would still be just as important?

Confession: most times, no. I do not have that kind of faith. I suspect many of us don’t.

A small life might ask more faith of me than a grand one.

I want that kind of faith.

I want to learn to be small.

I want to be content with the reality that most of what I do is not, in the eyes of the world, spectacular, nor does it need to be.

I want to live every little moment fully, seeing God in every detail, experiencing His power in my weakness and my limits.

I want to believe that it is enough that He sees what I do in secret, that He is honored by my willing sacrifice in the day to day.

I want to be faithful with little, not that I would then gain much, but simply because it pleases the heart of God.

I want to be small so that others can be bigger, believing that others having more space does not diminish my worth.

I want to occupy only as much space in this world as God would have me occupy, no more, no less.

We might be small in the eyes of the world, but in those ordinary moments we can live lives that glorify Him when we do it willingly, joyfully, and with faith that it is enough.

“He must become greater, I must become less.” John 3:30

 

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Related posts:

Redefining Success

A Willing Sacrifice