Taking Time to Doodle


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When I reached in the pocket behind the driver’s seat, my hand found a confusing tangle of different shapes and sizes. From the hard round beads of a strand of a necklace, to the the hard corners of a deck of cards, my fingers read the brail of a three year old’s heart. I had mistakenly stumbled upon the treasures she had tucked carefully away for safe keeping. A pastel Yogurtland spoon licked clean, daddy’s favorite cherry flavored chapstick, a small oval stone were among the trinkets she had ferreted away in her secret hiding spot in our family’s minivan.

Anyone else gazing on this collection would see clutter, even trash, but in them I saw the joy of a three year old. I saw the time we stayed up way past bedtime on a sticky, hot night for a frozen treat with rainbow sprinkles, or daddy reaching in his pocket to sacrifice his chapstick to an impatient toddler. I saw long walks searching for smooth flat rocks to paint for our garden, and the necklace her cousin gave her along with a kiss, last time we pulled out of their driveway.

This random mess formed an unexpected beauty, like the tangled nest of bedhead hair when she stumbles into my room early in the morning, or the art she creates for me with bold crayon scribbles. Each trinket formed a string that tied to a bright helium balloon of memory that floated in my consciousness and made me smile.

As I went about my day today, my time was consumed with executing one task after another in an endless stream of to do’s. With kids, it doesn’t take long before my to do’s are undone again. Its easy to become exhausted and for my emotional tank to hit empty. It can begin to feel like my life is a random jumble of activity as I whirl from one task to the next.

But amid the activity, God reminds me to slow down and appreciate the treasures tucked among the everyday moments.

Tonight I had my hands in soapy water, while my daughter perched on a stool at the kitchen counter coloring. “Mom draw with me!” she pleaded, in a voice a decibel louder than necessary. I almost put her off with a promise of “later,” but then I realized that “later” isn’t a good time either. There will always be laters, but there will also always be dirty dishes, counters with crumbs and footprints on floors. I dried off my hands and picked up the purple crayon. My eyes curved around her smile and traced the tips of her pointed toes, Then I pressed the sticky wax onto the scrap of paper and  drew an “I” and a “U” with a heart in the middle.

As a kid, I doodled hearts on everything. I “heart” trolls and I “heart” Hello Kitty. As a teen I used hearts to dot my “i’s” and to finish my notes. But as an adult, my pen usually has time for only the serious business of signing checks and scrolling out grocery lists and chores. Its funny how as kids we are so eager to take on responsibilities, until we become so responsible that we forget how to be kids again. Finding my daughter’s pocket of treasures reminds me that the whimsical, even silly things in life are valuable too. It reminds me that just because I am a responsible adult, doesn’t mean I should give up coloring and doodling, giggling and relishing. Because I can cram my day full of to do’s that eventually become undone anyway, or, I can find opportunities for hidden moments that form memories, and shape hearts.

 

 

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Growing in Grace

 

growingingraceI was tired of looking at our ugly, dying grass. Like an overused carpet, it showed only patches of the green it once was. In its vibrant place was a dull and lifeless yellow and brown. I tried to lift the edge, and to my surprise, it ripped up in a long strip. As I pulled, it snapped out with a pop like cracking knuckles. As I stacked the thick layers of dead sod along the sidewalk, I sighed with cathartic relief. Before I knew it, my yard was a clean patch of dirt.

I left it forgotten. But after a quick week, my front yard had erupted in a thick garden of weeds.

Its easy to tear down, to criticize, to walk away- yes to tear out what has been planted. But even if we walk away or turn our back, the empty soil is still there.

Its impossible to leave that space empty. We have a choice. When we face a hurt, or challenge, a loss, frustration, or broken heart- a space that feels lifeless- we have a choice to leave it empty and let it erupt into painful weeds that choke out life, or we can water the soil with gratitude, with hope, forgiveness and love, and see what God can grow there. We can bury the hurt and shame, the hopelessness and anger, we can put a stake in the middle of it in the shape of a cross, and see what God resurrects.

I realized how easily ugly weeds can take over when I’m not looking. I have a choice to fill those empty places with flowers, or let them get ravaged by weeds.  Weeds grow deep gnarled roots that leave me breathless and hurting. Weeds that leave thorns that tear hidden wounds that scar me.

But I don’t have to leave hurt places empty. My weed patch in the front yard  reminds me that I can’t ignore the raw and empty places of my heart, but need to take the time to sit with God in them. To let Him  fill them up with His truth and a beauty only He can create..

God blows seeds into my life every day.. With love, patience, and forgiveness, over time, I can allow Him to grow gardens, even in the raw, empty spaces.

He can grow wildflowers, forget-me-nots, and fiery red tulips shaped like love notes. He can raise up white elegant lilies, and sweet pink gerber daisies like my baby’s pink petal lips. He can grow bushes that burst with big ripe strawberries, and grape vines that stretch out with a sigh of fullness and life. When we’re desperate its easy to think life looks desolate– but He can use our tears to grow dandelions. He can paint that cross white like a picket fence, and scroll across it the word grace.

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Bye For The Birds

 

Some people have come into my life and brought my world into focus.. They have made me more brave, and more patient. They remind me of the person I want to be.

Some have always been there. Some, I have met and grabbed hold of tightly, so they can’t escape. Others have been taken from me. Some are like a passing ship that I wave “hello” and “goodbye” to, before I have time to realize what I’m losing. But each of them leave behind scraps of wisdom that I tuck into my heart. They leave memories that I weave together and protect, and feelings that words can’t capture; moments that reshape who I am.

With each goodbye, I weave a piece of that person into my heart so that they never really leave me. Each are grafted into the person that God is creating me to be.

Goodbyes are hard. But God reminds me that they’re never final. We’re all just on the journey to find our way home.

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Freedom for In-Dependence

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My first night away from home without my parents or an adult chaperone, was my college orientation. At the end of a long day in the stifling heat of summer, after enduring placement tests, campus tours and class enrollment, I sat in the air conditioned room before my college counselor, tired and and entranced. At the ripe age of 21, my counselor, Lainey, was a mirror of what I wanted to be in five years. With the tattoo behind her ear and the dozen bracelets tied around her wrists, her coffee tan, and messy bun, she sat before us with such carefree confidence. She knew the ropes of college, and she had been chosen to show us the way.

We were about to receive our dorm assignments for the night, and the kids around me were buzzing with excitement. She called us up in pairs, “Steph and Liz,” “Mark and Jeff,” “Nicole and Anita…” with painstaking slowness she listed off the names until she came to mine and another girl I didn’t know, “Lindsay and Zahara.” Like awkward shoes on the wrong feet, we walked up and each grabbed the folded white paper with our name scrolled in bubbly handwriting on the front. For a brief moment I glanced at Lainey. She winked, popped her gum and said, “You’re free kiddo! Go have fun!” 

That night I sat on the long, narrow bunk and cried. Free for what really? Free to be lost and lonely? Free from my parents’ guidance? Free from the comfortable place I called home?

Its been a long journey of grasping for freedom since then. Asserting my independence by making stupid choices that ultimately steal my happiness. But In the eyes of my young self, I’m more free than ever: a taxpaying adult, a homeowner, a mom (Holy Cow!). Not only can I drink legally, but I get excited when I’m carded.

Sometimes I want to look back on that timid and tentative 18 year old and say, “Look kid- I’m an ace at this “adulting” thing!”

But when I have a rough day. When my relationships aren’t going exactly as I want them too, and my self worth feels bottomed out. When my kid is burning a fever and my three year old is demanding my attention, and I just feel tapped out…I want to shake that lonely 18 year old self and say, “You aren’t free because of who YOU are but because of who HE is.”

Yes, I’ll never have it all together. I’ll never have this adult thing all figured out. But I’m free. Free to serve humbly. Free to live boldly.

On this Independence Day, I get to live in-dependence on Him.

So friends, I echo the wise words of that college counselor, but with such a different understanding of what it means:

“You’re free kiddo! Go have fun!”

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VBS Final Day: YOUR VBS HOMEWORK!

 

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Dear VBS Kids,

What a week it has been! My guess is you might wake up tomorrow morning and feel a little deflated, like the bounce houses will be when we take them down tonight. Its sad when fun days end, like when we have to say goodbye to our friends after a fun day together, or when the pile of presents are all unwrapped. But don’t give your parents too much trouble, cause they’re feeling a little tired too, and maybe asking some of the same questions. Questions like, “what’s next?” and “How do I get this cool-aid out of their hair?”

I know this week you’ve heard a lot about Jesus. I asked many of you what love is, and most of you gave me responses like “Love comes from Jebubblessus.”

Wow! The first step to living a life of love, is knowing where it comes from.

So my question for you is this. Do you know where bubbles come from?

If you’re answer is Target or Pinterest, then you’re mom might have an addiction. But more than that, bubbles come from mixing 1 cup of dish soap, 6 cups of water, and just a spoonful of glycerin. (Now before you  bug your parents to make you some…keep listening!!)bmonkey

That last ingredient that starts with a “G” is kinda important. You see, the recipe only calls for a spoonful, but that’s what holds the bubbles together.

So imagine this. You my friend are the soap, that God made unique: a one-uffa-kind blend with your name on it. Then, the Holy Spirit is the water, that fills us up. Lastly, the small spoonful that holds us together is Jesus. We can remember that, because he came into the world as a small baby- but like that little bit of glycerin, He makes a big difference.

At VBS you were reminded of where love comes from. Now imagine your love is like that bubble mixture, and I want you to go home, and to the store, and to the beach and playground, and school in the fall, and blow your bubbles EVERYWHERE! When you’re sad, blow bubbles- it’ll cheer you up. I promise, if you get angry, you’ll start laughing at yourself as soon as you start blowing pretend bubbles in the air. Instead of blowing kisses, you can blow bubbles to each other, and catch them, and tuck them in your hearts for later.

Cause God comes into our hearts and lives and he fills us up so full with his love, that we can’t help but let it bubble over into the hearts and lives of others.

But there’s one last thing I need you to know. No bubble is exactly the same. The light catches each bubble to glow and refract colors differently. Some bubbles are ginormous, some are itty bitty. Some bubbles are big long ovals, and if you’re tricky, you can create star shaped bubbles, and hearts, and octagons. But no matter what your bubble looks like, I’ve never met one that didn’t make me smile. So go on, put your wand in the air like you just don’t care, and blow your bubbles everywhere. I bet you’ll convince others to smile along the way too.

 

 

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DON’T STOP!!! You are sent friends, keep the love going!

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VBS Day 4: God’s Big Love in Itty Packages

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My big girl is three. All of a sudden she is an independent being, that thinks thoughts and says things that don’t always come from me. Her words are more than just the sing song echo of a toddler learning her first words.

My heart glowed when she came home from VBS yesterday and said, “You and I are small mommy, cause we can’t touch the sky, but God is so big He made the sky!”

Amen little lady! Don’t we all need that reminder? As heavy and ginormous the weight of parenthood feels sometimes its feels good to remember you and I are small, and God is the creator, that’s so big He reaches up and paints the sky!

Its awesome when B expresses herself to reveal her own thoughts, and preferences, and observations. I’m sure you can relate; kids have a way of sifting through all the niceties and fluff to get to the heart of the matter with hilarious bluntness, but also refreshing honesty.

vbsevanLast year at VBS, when I was pregnant with Baby E, one of the children said to me, “You are making a human being!!”

Wow! So obvious, but I admit I’d never thought of it that way. But whether we’re a grandparent, a foster parent, an aunt or uncle, or a VBS volunteer, it doesn’t take a uterus to make a human being folks!! (Please don’t get me in trouble for saying uterus on here! :0)

The responsibility can feel so, so big. Like God is entrusting us to paint a piece of the sky too.

When you zoom in on a photvbs hugograph, you see thousands of tiny dots. From that vantage point you can see every shade of a color. You can see every minute detail. But when I’m editing that closely, its easy to get caught up on the tiny imperfections instead of seeing  the overall composition.

When we’re raising children, its easy to zoom in on this exact moment in time. When we get too caught up in this moment in time we can get caught up in worrying ourselves over our kids hang-ups and misbehaviors. We can put a microscope on our own parenting skills, picking ourselves apart and trying to decipher how each of our words will impact and form our children. And every day, every moment matters, but at the same time, when life feels pixelated, sometimes we need to zoom out and realize that God is the one that creates the big picture.

And the moments that seem dark and fuzzy, when our kids are going through a tough phase, or we feel ill equipped to be parents, well maybe God is creating a shadow to enhance the bright places. Because God has a way of using even the dark spots to create beauty.

I love seeing B becoming her own little person, and soaking up knowledge from her friends, and VBS teachers, but I also love being her mom- the one that has the last word (until she’s a teenager right?). So when she told me that little nugget of truth, reminding me how small I am and how big God is- I added another piece that is so important for her to remember.

“Yes my child, God is so big that He paints the sky, but He loves you so much that He made himself small to come into the world and die on the cross for you. He loves you so much that he rose again, and when He ascended into Heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to live inside you.”

“But Mommy, I’m so small.”

“Baby, God isn’t limited by size, His love comes in giant banners and little love notes. God can be so small too.”

Yes friend, relish the giggles, the tickles, the hundreds of questions, the shouts and loud whispers, and mischievious grins. Relish the play dough messes, the crumbs and dirty egg pans, the wet footprints and sandy bottoms. God can be present in every minute detail of life. But when life feels too heavy, or when we feel small and powerless, we can remember that we’re His child, and as we sleep at night, He cradles us, He puts the nightlight of stars in the sky when life is dark, and paints a bright blue sky for a brand new day. Yes God’s big love can overcome even the hardest things in life, in the most small and tender ways.

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Day 3 St John’s VBS: Walk Beside Me

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The three year olds stood and shouted the song, twirling and swaying to the happy beat, but the smiling boy I saw in the nursery every week sat crumpled in the teacher’s lap, his eyes swollen from tears. Not even goldfish could persuade him to perk up. Its the first year at VBS for the three year olds. The kids that were babies just a blink ago, are now students, learning how to be without mom and dad in a classroom. They’re hearing about Jesus with their own ears instead of just from their parents’ arms, or maybe for the first time.

I peeked in on his class throughout the day to see if he would find confidence in his new surroundings, but the first day for him was a tearful one.

When I saw him on day two, he was tentative, clutching mom’s hand like a loveworn blankie, his face set in the stubborn lines of a pout. When I asked if he was ready for VBS, his mom gave a subtle shake of the head, “we’re not up for VBS today. But we’re really excited about coming to school.” My heart pinched a little. The very word that had become such a source of joy in my home had become a word they needed to avoid.  As I walked away I prayed to myself, “Lord, help him to have a good day. Help his mom to be strong.”

Sometimes the very things that should bring us joy become triggers of anxiety in our lives.

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As we skip along the cobble path of milestones, we eagerly anticipate the next big thing. For three year olds, its big kid panties, mornings away from parents, and eventually preschool. But we feel transitions as adults too, where our realities collide with our expectations. That gorgeous new house we just bought means we have to part with the pile of money we’ve been saving, and say goodbye to the old porch swing. The promotion we’ve worked so hard for marks a shift in the dynamics with relationships at work, as we step out of the shoes of co-worker and into the uncomfortable new ones as boss. The vacation we’ve awaited all year, comes and goes with a flourish, leaving us with unpacked bags and melancholy.

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Sometimes its the little things vbs converse provilethat cause us stress, like bringing our kids to VBS when they make it crystal clear that they do not want to be there. Maybe its as simple as feeling self conscious in the back of church, when everyone else seems to have found their way there.

We look at the disciple Peter who also struggles with fear and doubt in the midst of a storm. But God meets him in his doubting, saying, “Come.” When Peter sinks, Jesus helps him up and asks, “Why did you doubt?”

Jesus meets Peter with patience, reassurance, and strength in his moment of weakness. Peter not only walks again, but Jesus empowers him to become a great leader.

 

At the close of VBS on the second day, I went to the boy’s classroom to see how he was doing. His face was bright again. He told me about how he loved to go to worship, and he showed me a tower he built for his mom that reached a foot above his head. I’m so glad his mom found the strength to bring him back. That he was able to get through the struggle to find the joy on the other side.

We all have rough days, rough weeks, maybe even a rough year that we’d like to put behind us. But God strengthens us and walks us through it. He brings us  hope in our struggles. And as we show up, and worship him, he brings us joy again. Joy, strength, and hope to help us build towers that point to him.

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St. John’s VBS Day 2: Praying in Life’s Noise

 

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The small girl’s eyes fixed in her lap, her fingers twisted and untwisted together in an uncertain dance. Some of the children murmured Amen as the leader closed the prayer. She cupped her hand to her friend’s ear and whispered, “I don’t know how to pray. Do you?”

Its a good thing that the kids get to learn about prayer today at VBS as we dive into a lesson about how God hears Jonah’s prayers from the belly of the whale. This sweet girl probably isn’t the only one who’s struggled with uncertainty when it comes to her own ability to pray. No matter where we are in our faith walk, sometimes it feels like it takes work to have a rich prayer life.

Sometimes prayer can feel like trying to walk with your shoes tied together. You know that you’re just suppose to put one word in front of another, joined together in a conversation thats “trumped up” with Christian buzz words like holy, sinner, and blessed. But, when you try, you feel self conscious and tongue tied- tripping and stumbling over an incoherent string of confused speech.

Maybe we can relate to Jonah more than we might think. Instead of taking his fear and uncertainty to God in prayer, he tries to escape Him by jumping on a ship going the opposite direction of where God commanded.

Too often I know the places God is calling me, to slow down, to quiet my anxious mind, to spend time with him instead of flipping through my phone, but I drown His voice out with a world that demands my attention with Facebook status updates, news streaming on my web browser, and endless onslaught of texts, emails, messages, phone calls…etc. etc.

Today I’ve gotten to hear teachers affirming to kids that when they pray, God is listening! Wow! I wish I had had those truths affirmed to me as a fearful and uncertain child. But another truth that resonates with me today, from the story of Jonah, is something I struggle with more as an adult than when I was a kid.

Jonah knew God was there, waiting, but he busied himself and avoided hearing God. He allowed fear, stubbornness, and anger to stand between his relationship with God. Finally, as he sat in a belly of a fish, Jonah took the time to stop, to pray, and to listen.vbspray

Its easy to build prayer into a holy experience that can seem untouchable. If we can’t find that perfect moment or the exact words, its easy to put off praying, or like the child in worship this morning, think we “don’t know how.” But we don’t need to be in the belly of a fish to be with God, or even in a quiet room. If you’re a parent of young children, quiet doesn’t mean peace, but that your kid is getting into trouble.

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Take those imperfect moments, and your “unholy” words and talk to God. When your driving in the car, when your vacuuming, when you’re finding the self control not to scream at your three year old (umm…this girl). Cause God hears us, and He has a lot to say to us too- we just need to slow down, put our phones down, and have a conversation with Him.

And ask your kids how to pray, after today I have a feeling they might be able to teach you a thing or two.

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God Bless Our VBS Mess

 

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Many of us have VBS memories, from past years at St. John’s, or maybe from our own childhood church. Or maybe its your family’s first experience with VBS and you’re excited to see what its about! Today is the day we’ve been gearing the kids up for for weeks, and expectations are high. They are going to have THE BEST TIME, and you are going to get the house clean, or get a relaxing pedicure (guys get pedis too!) , or something awesome to celebrate your morning sans kids.

Maybe you motivated them to brush their teeth last night with the reminder of the special day ahead. You laid out their clothes and packed their bag. You set your alarm extra early so no one would be rushed. You went to bed with glowing anticipation of the morning.

But what happens when your kid is too excited to sleep, and ends up in a pile on the couch with dad? Or when your well intentioned alarm goes off and you hit snooze (three times)? Or when your sleep deprived child gets banana all over her crisp yellow shirt before you even leave the house (and puts the banana peel between the cushions in the couch).

Next thing you know, you’re hollering like a mad woman at the whole family, “YOU GUYS OVERSLEPT! We’re going to be late!!!” Shoes are flying, your head is pounding, kids are whining,  and your sweet VBS family has fallen into a sweaty bunch of  half dressed, hungry and tired grumps.

Or maybe your morning went exactly as planned like mine did (wink).

When our expectations don’t align with our realities, its easy to fall into the blame game. We blame others: my kids don’t listen, my spouse doesn’t help out enough, Grandma kept them up too late. Or, we blame our circumstances: VBS is too early, my kid has a touch of a cold, we’re overscheduled. Or we question our own worth and credibility: my kids would behave if I was a better parent, I’m not organized enough, they’re going to remember me as the mom that nags and hollers.

Stop. I’m going to share with you the VBS message your children are hearing today, and just maybe YOU could soak it in too? Its okay, I promise I won’t make you memorize verses or give up your snooze button. (Although both are worthy pursuits.)

God sent rain for 40 days to flood the earth, but He protected Noah because God saw that his heart was good.

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God knows you. He knows your heart. He know when you’re jealous, angry, and resentful. He knows how intensely you love your kids, He knows how desperately you want to succeed at this parent thing. He knows sometimes we just feel like scared children ourselves.

God knows us- He forgives us and He loves us. Instead of the blame game, instead of covering ourselves in the dirt of shame, when our plans don’t go as we expect, we can look to a God that sends olive branches and rainbows to our uncertain hearts. We can look to a God who sent His son so that we can be His children. We can rest in the knowledge that our kids are making their own VBS memories that will shape and mold them into the people God wants them to be- banana covered shirts, mismatched shoes, bags under their eyes and all.

Because God uses flawed folks like you and me, he shines us up with his grace, and he calls us to live this life of sticky hands and tired bodies; a life built of hope and fears and whispers and hollers. He looks at us, with our frazzled emotions, messy houses, and grumpy moods,  and He says “I love you kiddo- take all the time you need.”

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St. John’s VBS 2016 Deep Sea Discovery

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I’ve always lived in places where water was scarce. As a kid, I was taught to turn off the faucet as I brushed my teeth, to take showers instead of baths if I could, to fill a basin of hot water for the dishes, and to pretty much skip washing my car. Okay, so I totally added the last one to scrape for an excuse as to why my van is always filthy.

When we lived in the desert, one thing you always packed for any extended road trip was bottles of water, in case you found yourself with a flat tire, covered in dog vomit on the side of an abandoned dirt road (a story for another time).

Now in Southern California, we’re quickly learning that we actually still live in a desert climate with watering restrictions transforming the lush landscape into patches of brown, dry grass.

Yes water is essential to life. Life looks different when water is scarce.

This week at VBS, the kids may have to forego their water day, but they are going to be submerged in water inspired stories that teach them about the life-giving importance of Jesus.

Because water brings life.

More important, Jesus brings life.

There may be a drought in Orange County, but friends it is going to rain giant droplets of grace and love at St Johns Orange over the next five days.

Follow the blog this week for daily updates as I join our St John’s volunteers and over 730 kiddos on an underwater adventure that teaches us about a God that gives rainbows for promises, answers prayers from the belly of whales, and calls us to be his miracle workers, with a basin of water and His life changing word.

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