Archive for February, 2012

Twenty Seven Million

Hey, Siestas! Today is a really great day for fighting human trafficking, wouldn’t you say?! Matt Redman’s new single “Twenty Seven Million” is available on iTunes here in the United States this very day. This incredibly powerful song was recorded live at Passion 2012 and I kept singing it for days after I got home. It’s the kind of song that clicks immediately in your soul and keeps hitting repeat. I will be so glad to hear it again in their gifted voices instead of my own. Grin. You will totally love the new recording and downloading it will also make you a part of powerful move of God to educate the world about the atrocities of human trafficking and press forward toward the goal of ending it in Jesus’ Name. Sing to it. Dance to it. BE AWARE OF IT. Be part of doing something about it.

To enjoy and also join in, download it to your computer: click here.

In order to do this, you do have to have iTunes installed on your computer. If you don’t have iTunes, no fear, simply click here and follow the steps provided. In case you weren’t aware, iTunes is free so you just pay for the individual music. This song is just $1.29.

If you do have iTunes, another easy way to find the song is to simply search “Twenty Seven Million” in the search bar of your iTunes.

Basically what we’re saying is, do whatever you can do purchase it, own it, be a part of it,  love it and spread the word about it! It’s a very inexpensive way to be part of something HUGE. Something that could touch 27 million lives.

What you may not know is that, besides recording it live, we also filmed the official “Twenty Seven Million” video at Passion. You don’t know what adrenaline feels like until you hear 44,000 people singing, “We’ve got to rise up, open our eyes up. Be her voice, be her freedom, come on stand up!”, all while jumping up and down like pogo sticks. If you really want to have some fun and experience vicariously what we experienced that night, you can watch the video on YouTube here. However, if you’re willing, don’t stop at watching the video. Become part of this freedom cry with us!

I love you, Siestas. You are dear to me. Let us not grow weary in doing some honest-to-goodness good!

PS. We’ll schedule a livestream really soon! I was so preoccupied for eight days with Mrs. Mary Helen’s homegoing that I had to drop out of the loop for a little while. I thought of you everyday anyway. Thank you for your gracious hearts toward her and your many comments regarding the testimony of her life. It meant so much to me.

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My Sister, Gay’s, Fifth Installment: Stepping Out On the Water

First Installment: Meet My Sister

Second Installment: The Functioning Years

Third Installment: The Maelstrom

Fourth Installment: Like Sunlight Burning at Midnight

 

The fifth out of seven installments from my sister, Gay, to you…

 

I was never the same after that night … and who would want to be anyway???

I think there is a lot of fear in change.  Fear of the unknown, of what we will become, of who we really are, of life, failure, being uncomfortable, not being good enough, pain, and how to handle or ease that pain.  Addicts and alcoholics have found a solution for pain.  For me and many of my friends, alcohol wasn’t just the problem; it was the SOLUTION.  So now, since I have anesthesized my pain for a lifetime, I am in FEAR, because the pain might kill me.  I might come apart at the seams.  And then what?  The unknown.  More fear.  I’ve been told that when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go, that THAT is when we become willing to give up the drug (the painKILLER) and step out onto the living water of faith.

I knew that I couldn’t stay in Sugar Land forever, that my time there was limited.  It was the FIRST TIME I had not had visions of grandeur, of being able to put my little family back together.  I had repeated that time and time again to no avail and had ended up in relapse every single time.  All I knew was that God had performed a miracle in my life that very night under the bridge and that I owed Him, my family and mySELF my very best shot this time, for THIS TIME, I feared, would be my last.  Otherwise, I would surely die.  My ONLY option, the only one this Miracle God deserved was for me to do what He put in front of me to do to the best of my ability, and what I became so aware of later was that where my ability failed, His took over!  He continued to supply me with strength and perseverance to endure the race He had set before me, one day at a time.

For three days, Tut gave me a roof over my head, a so-very-soft-comfy-warm bed to sleep in (ahhh), food to eat and a phone.  He did not make one call for me.  I knew it was my responsibility to get busy and find help.  I did that — it was what God put in front of me to do for those three days.  The only place in the Greater Houston Area that would take me with no insurance, no money and no I.D. was a women’s detox center in Pasadena called New Hope — so beautifully named, isn’t it?  Now, New Hope is not a fancy-schmancy place like my first treatment center was, in fact, it isn’t a treatment center at all.  It is a house for women to non-medically detox from alcohol (and some other drugs), getting fully sober and staying that way through living the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  My sweet sisters, God did not drop me onto the church steps to get sober.  He dropped me smack back into AA again — not weak, watered-down AA but what I love to call Nazi-AA.  New Hope does not play.  They require 4 meetings per day followed by hours of Big Book study (the AA text) followed by getting a sponsor and working the 12 Steps.  Period.  Or you get kicked out!  God knew that I had not HEARD all of the prior times He had put me there and He meant for me to HEAR this time.  He meant for me to hear that I was alcoholic and that He had provided a most wonderful solution for me that required work on my part.  He meant for me to ACT!!!

This reminds me of a scripture that Beth has memorized and taught on several times:

“Therefore get your minds ready for action by being fully sober.”  1 Peter 1:13.

I could turn those words around and say, “Therefore get your minds ready for sobriety by being fully ACTIVE.”

Sweet sisters, this disease lives to kill.  It is chronic, progressive and FATAL.  There is no wonder that a smaller percentage of us recover from it than fall victim to it because it is also a disease of DENIAL.  We continue to try to convince ourselves over and over again that WE DON’T HAVE IT!!  I believe that it is the enemy’s most powerful tool and that there is no amount of ACTION too great to arm ourselves with the tools required to fight it.  I also believe that the enemy is hateful, insidious and low-down enough to use our faith in the Power of God to keep us from using the very tools that He has provided for us to ARM OURSELVES!!!  I beg you do not under-estimate the power of this disease.  I watch the walking wounded come through the doors of Mercy Street every Saturday night, back in treatment again, back from jail again, back off the street again, and I wonder how many won’t make it back the next time.  I made it back purely by the extravagant, unlimited grace of God — I should have died out there.  My friend, Jerry, did die out there.  He drank himself to death and was found in a puddle of vomited blood inside an abandoned house in Texarkana, Texas alone.  He was 39 years old.  I know that he is with Jesus and I know I will see him again in Heaven, SOBER.  But, my friends, Christ means for us to have FREEDOM in the land of the living.

For you, LORD, have delivered me from death,

my eyes from tears,

my feet from stumbling,

that I may walk before the LORD

in the land of the living.

Psalm 116:8-9

I wrote these words to Beth as she prepared to go to a conference where she would speak about 1 Peter 1:13 above.  It is the shortest description of what I did to HONOR MY GOD and get to where I am today.  I have edited it just a tad here and there but, for the most part, it is in tact.

To Beth, August 2011:

It has been my experience that sobriety and action are symbiotic.  One cannot exist without the other.  I must get sober, e.g. put down the drink, detox, go into treatment, in order to perform the action required to stay sober and subsequently follow God’s will and purpose for my life.  It’s not easy!!  It takes a lot of work.  It takes a lot of action.  Today, I do what I do (Mercy Street, treatment centers, the Houston Council on Alcohol and Drugs, sponsor ladies and take them through the steps, go to meetings, share my testimony, experience strength and hope) for many reasons but the gift, the by-product, is that I get to stay sober and without sobriety I am nothing and I am able to DO nothing.

To document all the work that I have done over the last two years and four months is far more than you want to muddle through, believe me, but I will tell you this.  When God jerked me up off that concrete in mid-April 2009, He dropped me in AA, not in church.  I might have liked for Him to drop me in church but He didn’t.  I knew that I had blown all of my other chances, all of the other times that He had dropped me in that very same place.  I had to do something different which was ANYTHING but sitting around waiting for Him to heal me and DOING nothing.  I had to abandon my way and do it His way.  I had to unweave all of my plans and trust HIS PLAN.  Right there, right then, on April 20, 2009, His way for me was AA.  I could see that as clear as a bell, no questions asked.  He has required a lot of work from me, a lot of action, one day at a time, whatever He put in front of me that day.  It started with chores and following simple house rules followed by getting a sponsor and working the steps.  I believe that God has wanted me to do that work all along but that I was too stubborn or prideful or entitled or all of the above to do it.  I knew that it was working because at 90 days sober I not only had 90 days sober but the obsession to drink alcohol, which I had battled with for 37 years, had been removed.  Poof!  Just like that.  I was neither thinking about drinking nor thinking about not drinking.  It was not a thought at all.  I was calm and acting sanely and normally.  Step 2:  Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to SANITY.  Bingo!  Poof!  Done!  Now I have to STAY THAT WAY.  I saw that the work, the ACTION, was paying off more than I had worked (because God was working behind the scenes in my behalf) so I continued on that course of ACTION.

My sweet Sisters, I do not have the words or the white space to say what the process of working the steps did for me.  All I know is that as I wrote down and spoke out and prayed for my enemies and made amends to my loved ones and reached out to another alcoholic, the chains started falling off of me one by one and I was able to wiggle free.  The resentment, fear, unforgiveness, unwillingness, dishonesty, pride and pure-dee SELFISHNESS that had been blocking me from Him fell away and I stood naked, just as I am, in Grace and Gratitude and Awe and Light.  I stood in FREEDOM and in the Pure Love and Favor of God.  To quote Manning again, I had been “seized by the Power of a Great Affection.”  I had experienced a Spiritual Awakening (Step 12).  Talk about replacing the need to self-medicate?  I had found the SOLUTION.  I had found the Power or He had found me.  We had found each other, a match made in Heaven.

On a short walk to the nearest convenience store one hot morning in July 2009, I surrendered my life to My Jesus and promised to follow Him, wherever He may lead me, for the rest of my days and to do what He asks of me.  I spent a lot of time praying and asking God to reveal to me what His purpose was for my life until I finally figured out that His purpose is for me to stay sober, do what He puts in front of me each day, and to step through the doors that He opens for me, despite my fears and my inadequacies.  I didn’t realize at the time that each day was getting me closer to my destiny as I continued to put one foot in front of the other.  The days would turn into weeks, then months, then years and then ONE DAY He would drop me onto the church steps where He was leading me all along!  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD.

It is as simple as this, Ladies.  I had to do something different.  Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”  Since I had failed every which way I could possibly fail, I had to do everything different.  I had to do it opposite from how I had done it in the past.  I had not applied anything to my life — I applied everything to my life.  I had not been willing to get a sponsor and work the steps — I got a most wonderful sponsor and worked the steps honestly and wholeheartedly.  I had gotten into relationships that had taken my focus away from my recovery — I had NO RELATIONSHIPS.  I had not been willing to do long-term treatment — I stayed at New Hope for 5-1/2 months and then moved to The Women’s Home in inner-city Houston for 16 months totaling 21-1/2 months of solid, safe, quality care, sobriety and life recovery.  I had prayed to God to deliver me and then expected to wake up sane and sober the next morning and stay that way for a lifetime — I worked my head off day after day in accordance to His will for my life and was graciously given sanity and sobriety in return.

The National Association of Christian Recovery states this:  “NACR is passionate about joining the work of Jesus in the world — partnering with, instigating, resourcing, disturbing, advocating and influencing the manifold ways that Christ seeks to transform and liberate those in addiction.”  Manifold is defined as “of many kinds; numerous and varied.”  God has created and provided numerous and varied paths to recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous simply being one of them and the one that worked for this serious, hardcore, dedicated, classic, textbook alcoholic.  Whichever path you choose, do it with all your heart, all your strength and all your might.  I had to put sobriety first and foremost in my life for without it I had nothing and could do nothing.  By doing that, I put God first and He has honored that wholly in me.  Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  In my case, sobriety is His kingdom!  And He has stood by His promise over these 34 months and 3 days to usher in the rest of what I so desired and much, much more that I never could have imagined.

Oh, by the way, if you walk into the doors of AA pull your walls down, check your judgment at the door and open your mind, unlearn the habits that have been standing in your way to freedom and be willing to do things different, and hold on tight to the similarities rather than the differences.  Yes, there are non-believers in AA — they just might be in our churches too.  If I go there I might not only GET SOBER but I might, just might, be able to shine the light of Jesus in the darkest night by simply looking straight in the eye of a sister who is scared to death to step out on the water of faith, smiling warmly and saying, “Hello, my name is Gay and I’m an alcoholic.”  Hope.  Everyone needs some.

 

James 2:17

New International Version (NIV)

17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 

Philippians 2:12-13

New International Version (NIV)

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

 

 

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Someone Comes Along

Every now and then, someone comes along who changes everything. I was in my late twenties when a woman I’d come to know through my aerobics class then a small Sunday school class came up to me and said with a gentle firmness, “God is calling me to support you in ministry.”

It was the first time…

A) that anybody had ever called whatever on earth I was doing “ministry.”

and,

B) that there was even enough to be done for anyone to actually help me do it, for crying out loud.

Though I’d already come to like her so much and was instantly taken aback by her kindness, I could not have begun to grasp how God had smiled on me that moment. As I look back on it, she would only have been a couple of years older than I am now.

Her name was Mary Helen Davis. Or, to my family and to multiple hundreds of people at Houston’s First Baptist Church, “Mrs. Mary Helen.” I was in my early thirties and teaching my first ungraded class of women when she walked in one Sunday right before class with one of those off-white rectangular cassette recorders with the big thick buttons. I looked at her curiously and she waved her hand as if to dismiss it entirely and said, “I’m just going to set this right here…” (a folding table near my small podium) “…and record some of these lessons. Who knows but that somebody might want one some time. Don’t pay any attention to it. You’ll never know it’s there.”

Within several years as the class grew, she moved a duplicator upstairs in her home and copied tapes all by herself each week for anybody who signed up for one. And…wait for it…laid hands on every single tape. She hand wrote the title of the lesson on each cassette with a Sharpie. Several years after that, her best buddy and our second official volunteer, Julie Weir, began helping her. Because of God’s grace alone, the class kept growing and people kept ordering and a couple of years after that, we started looking for a tiny little office space so our homes were not turned upside down. I wish I had some way of making this next statement appear on this page with all the passion and honesty that I feel as I write it: NO ONE ON THE PLANET has supported, (accidentally) steered, served and loved this ministry more than Mrs. Mary Helen Davis. She even let me try the name “Living Proof” on her. Turned out, she liked it.

Soon after that, that title developed into the name of a non-profit and necessitated a board of directors. And she was on it.

During all this time, she was not just supporting me in ministry. She supported me in mothering. Melissa was one and Amanda was four when Mrs. Mary Helen first came into our lives. Because she was in both my Sunday School class and my aerobics classes, we saw her a minimum of three times a week. My girls do not remember life pre-Mrs. Mary Helen. To give you some idea of how in love they fell with her, there was a period of years when I never – let me say that again a little louder – I NEVER got one single craft that Melissa Moore did in Sunday School. Nope. Mrs. Mary Helen did. Stay with me here. EVEN MY MOTHER’S DAY PRESENT made in kindergarten Sunday School went straight past me and into Mrs. Mary Helen’s hands. We both laughed so hard behind Melissa’s back that we nearly couldn’t stand up. Mrs. Mary Helen was such a fun sport that she’d take them…and I’d let her…and we’d tell it and retell it on Melissa for years to come. (Amanda was too sensitive about people’s feelings to be as forthright about passing me over for Mrs. Mary Helen but I don’t doubt she wanted to. I’m sure it was a sacrifice.) My mother had gone to be with the Lord Jesus when Amanda married and Mrs. Mary Helen sat right beside me on that front row and when, at the first glimpse of that gorgeous bride, I stood to my feet, she stood right beside me. And bawled her head off.

When Melissa was six years-old and in the hospital for a week, you can guess who she requested. Of course, she got both of us. I did not give over that easy. But at least I got to go home and get a change of clothes on occasion. Melissa swore and declared that Mrs. Mary Helen would be one of her bridesmaids and we were all – including Mrs. Mary Helen – scared to death she was serious. We were all relieved when she gave over at the time and let Mrs. Mary Helen simply stand in place as the Bride’s maternal grandmother. Mrs. Mary Helen just didn’t know if she could bring herself to wear one of those strapless bridesmaids’ dresses.

Mrs. Mary Helen adored my children. And my husband. Oh, she’d laugh at him! (And all the harder if I didn’t think he was very funny.) But, to be fair, she didn’t just love our family. She loved everyone she met. She cooked for people, doted on them and showered them with gifts. Case in point: one time my coworker Sabrina talked about often serving her family their dinner on paper plates. Mrs. Mary Helen never judged her. She just bought her a whole set of dishes. Sabrina treasures them like diamonds set in solid gold today. So many of my coworkers can tell similar stories and all of them can boast in God’s kindness to them shown through that one powerful woman who never appeared anywhere except behind the scenes. She moved to Washington State several years ago to live near her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren – whom she totally adored. We could hardly tear ourselves away from her but her health was declining and she did exactly what she needed to do. Her family got to lap up every possible drop of those last few years. God was all wise. He always is.

Our beloved Mrs. Mary Helen saw Jesus late Wednesday night.

We are so happy for her. And so happy for HIM. He must surely be delighted. And, there is no doubt in my mind that He has the best tape ministry He’s ever had.

But I have cried my eyes out, over and over since her daughter Carol let me know that He’d come for her. She was loving enough to tell me only a couple of minutes later. I am so thankful that she has so graciously allowed me to love her mother alongside her, as my second mother. My girls are heartbroken over her passing, too. Oh, mercy. She was a love. We will grieve to the extent that we loved. We will spend much of next week getting ready for her service. It will be back here in Houston where she raised her family and she will be buried right next to her man.This is the two of them. It was taken I guess about 10 years ago.

 

This is her and her BFF Julie Weir. We were all dressed in jammies for a staff Christmas party.

 

A few of us at another staff Christmas party when we moved from a jammy theme to a headdress theme.

And another. She is holding our Jackson in this picture who appeared that day as Claus.

I am almost positive this was taken at Amanda’s wedding:

This picture is Mrs. Mary Helen, her daughter, Carol, and me on a very important day at Living Proof Ministries: the dedication of the Mary Helen Davis Resource Center.

This will be on the wall of that center as long as God chooses for Living Proof Ministries to exist.

We all hope we’re loved but, for all of us, occasionally we absolutely KNOW we are loved. We don’t know why maybe. But we are. I do not know why God caused this woman to love me.

But she did.

 

And my entire life was changed in those arms.

 

 

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My Sister Gay’s Fourth Installment: “Like Sunlight Burning at Midnight”

First Installment: Meet My Sister

Second Installment: The Functioning Years

Third Installment: The Maelstrom

From Gay’s heart to yours…

Gregg Taylor, my pastor and sweet, sweet friend, said in a sermon one night at Mercy Street that “the person who has a WHY to live can bear with almost any HOW.”  He was quoting Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning which chronicles Frankl’s experiences as a concentration camp inmate.  It means that if I have a reason, a purpose, something beyond where I am, a sense of what I could become, and I know that tomorrow is going to bring me closer to that then I can work with where I am today.  He went on to say, “If you have no hope, life ends.”

I didn’t stop breathing while I was out there on the street, but in all other respects my life had ended.  I knew that.  I knew that I had caused my family to leave me because I had not been willing or able to stop drinking.  I don’t know now whether I couldn’t stop or I wouldn’t stop (probably some of both), I just know that I didn’t stop. In my mind, I no longer had anything to live for.  My family was gone.  My employability was gone.  My desire to make another stab at recovery was gone.  My self-respect and integrity were gone.  My faith in myself and God were gone.  I had no reason, no purpose, nothing beyond where I was.  I only had another miserable day on the street, in the elements, cold, sick, hungry, filthy, beaten in more ways than one, full of heartache, resentment, jealousy, fear, self-pity, self-loathing and hate.  My only purpose each day was to figure out how I was going to drink myself into unconsciousness so that I couldn’t see or feel the hopelessness that each day brought.  I didn’t want to wake up to another day of hustling, begging, stealing, cheating and doing what I had to do to stay alive, all of which were pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.  I didn’t believe in God anymore — I knew that the All Mighty, All Powerful, All Merciful God that I had been taught about in Sunday School would not let me, ME, live out there like a wild animal!  I had lost all hope, and with that, I had lost the will to live.  I didn’t care anymore if I lived or died.

Yet somehow, unbeknownst to me, God WAS there.  I was just too covered up with my own “stuff” (heartache, self-pity, hate) and too busy trying to blot out that stuff to see Him. In the process, I had blotted Him out, too.  I did not see that when my body finally screamed out for food that food was there.  I did not see that the people I despised and hated, fought and scratched with, and told them I was BETTER THAN THEM were the very angels that God had sent to protect me.  I did not see that the porch that I slept UNDER (because I would get arrested for trespassing if I slept ON) was His shelter.  I did not see how much worse it could have been had my drug of choice been anything other than alcohol.  I did not see that each day that I woke up breathing was another day closer to the day He would strike … the day I would be ready; when all of the things that had blocked me from following His lead in the past were brought into submission.  The entitlement, the pride, the judgment, the dishonesty, the unwillingness to be obedient to His will for ME, for MY life, had to be surrendered so that I might not only obtain sobriety but also be effective in His world.

Now, let me rest on this for a second before I move on:  I found out later that His will for me was not simply for me to quit drinking.  It was for me to DO THE THINGS that He put before me each and every day, one day at a time, and that HE WOULD EQUIP ME with the tools to quit drinking!  He would EMPOWER ME.

Note: I know these things now.  I did not know them then.  Hindsight is better than foresight but I am hoping that those of you who are listening will not be as hardheaded as me!

Moving on …

After wandering aimlessly IN THE WILDERNESS for 18 months, a series of events that only a God could have brought together led me and my friend, Jerry, from Galveston to Houston.  The street was hard and mean in Houston.  No beach, no everyone-knows-each other-and-watches-each-other’s-backs, no First Presbyterian Church serving breakfast fit for a king on Saturday mornings.  As a matter of fact, all clothing and food supplies had been sent to Galveston to aid those still suffering from Hurricane Ike which had ravaged the island just six months before.  The City is much harder, walking distances much further, people more desperate, dangerous and demanding.  I couldn’t take it.  I couldn’t survive anymore.  It was too hard.  So I just laid down on the concrete underneath the Sabo Road overpass to die.  I didn’t panhandle anymore, I didn’t beg anymore, I didn’t fight anymore.  I laid down to die.

According to Jerry, I didn’t move from there for about two weeks, except to sit up long enough to drink myself back to sleep.  I might have eaten a bite or two.  I maybe even stumbled across the feeder road now and then to use the facilities at Jack In The Box, maybe not.  I don’t know.  I was in a blackout.  I had only one lucid moment during that entire time that I remember well, so well that it feels like yesterday.  It was night and I was alone in the dark.  I was lying on my left side and in my fear, whether of death or of continuing to live, I thought of my children and, at that moment, they became my WHY.  I didn’t care enough about myself to pray for my life but I cared enough about THEM to do just that.  I turned onto my back and hearing the endless roar of the traffic overhead, I spoke out loud to God where He could hear me and I could hear myself.  I spoke very precisely, almost demandingly and with my arm outstretched toward Heaven, I cried, “God, I know that You are up there.  I have been taught that all my life.  Now, I need Your help.  Now!  Because I’m going to die out here, Lord, and there are two little boys in Sugar Land that need a mother.”  Just like that, just exactly like that, and then it was done.  Amen and Amen.

I don’t know how much time passed between that prayer and being gently shaken awake by Tut: an hour, a day, two days.  But alone again in the night in the exact same spot, I felt a nudge and I heard a voice saying, “Gay, get up and get in the truck.  We’re going home.”  I didn’t hesitate.  I didn’t look around to see who I might take with me.  I didn’t look around to see who might stop me.  I didn’t even look around to see who it was.  I simply got up off the concrete and walked to the truck, one foot in front of the other, each step closer and closer, remembering the prayer because it was the ONLY thing I could remember about the weeks prior, knowing with each step that God – that God — that’s all I knew, without a shred of doubt, — that God had heard my cry and had moved Heaven and Earth to save me!  I became acutely aware in those miracle moments of the size and depth of the Love of God for a sinner like me.  As I settled into the warm, soft, leather seat of the white Chevy Suburban that I had ridden in so many times and looked over to confirm that the man was indeed Tut, I was struck with an awe that I can’t possibly describe.  That awe multiplied as we pulled away and I saw the bridge that I had tried to die under get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror.  It was over.

 

It was OVER.

 

It was OVER.

 

My heart is pounding now as I bang this keyboard and I feel an urgency to cry my eyes out in more gratitude than I know how to express.  In my mumbling and fumbling to find the words to describe those moments, I think of the words to a song by Francesca Battistelli.  It goes like this:

Don’t know how it is You looked at me
And saw the person that I could be.
Awakening my heart
Breaking through the dark
Suddenly Your grace
Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so beautiful, beautiful.
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so beautiful, beautiful.

 

Gregg Taylor, my pastor and my sweet, sweet friend, also says that God never brings an end without offering a new beginning. I didn’t know HOW I was going to begin the climb out of hell.  I just knew that I was going to begin.  I was never the same after that night.
I have come undone.
But I have just begun
Changing by Your grace.
Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so beautiful, beautiful.
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so beautiful, beautiful.

 

Praise Jesus, Love of my life.

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Remember and Never Forget

At times like these, I wish so much I hadn’t already overused words like “amazed” or “awed” to describe what I’m feeling about God. Or “blown away” or “astonished” or “stunned.” For instance, I think I recall using a few of those very words about a red bird I saw in my yard yesterday. Not that God’s handiwork displayed on the delicate wings of a bird of such brilliant color that it has its own name (cardinal red) isn’t amazing. It’s just that I feel something on a slightly larger and more personal scale right now. I wish I’d reserved a few of the synonyms for “awed” for those rarer moments when I feel it to such full measure that my skin almost feels too tight for my soul. When I’m half tempted to do nothing but sit, stare out a window, and shake my head for hours on end. Times I want to say something like, “Who is this God who pursues us so personally?” Or in the psalmist’s words, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” I wouldn’t bother sharing this sense I have in my heart with you if I thought moments like these weren’t smattered on the canvases of all followers of Christ. But they are. You’ve had them, too. I’m hoping you’ll remember some of them today. And perhaps you’ve had these moment of inexpressible awe for the very same reason:

The flabbergasting (I’ve overused that word, too) timing of God.

Timing that illustrates to you once again that the God of the universe who called the heavens and earth into existence really does know you are alive and what you are presently experiencing…and even thinking.

You’ve had times like the one I’m currently experiencing. Times when God made sure you were studying a particular thing at the exact time when it spoke most profoundly into that stretch of your journey. For instance, think of a time when you didn’t get to go through a particular Bible study journey during the same set of weeks as your regular discipleship group and maybe you didn’t get around to it for several years…but, when you did, you realized that God had distinctly held it for you until then. I mean, how on earth does He know??

 

You and I know the answer to that question Biblically. God is omniscient. A meticulous planner is He. But psychologically, don’t we still find it shocking? I mean, how on earth does He have the energy to keep up with millions of His followers and exactly what we need and at exactly which time?

 

Yes, we know the answer to that question Biblically, too. But, humanly, aren’t we still sometimes taken aback by it?

 

While Melissa and I were studying James together, she got wrapped up in the Book of Deuteronomy (they have flagrant ties) and talked about it enough that I also got drawn in. Enough, in fact, that by early Fall I knew God was preparing me to teach portions of it in our Tuesday night series that would begin in late January. (She would also co-teach by writing coinciding articles for our Bible study group. It’s the one we are currently serving.)

 

In preparation for the January series, I decided to start reading the Book of Deuteronomy as part of my quiet time every morning starting in November (of 2011). I did not in any way have preconceived notions about the theme in the life of the Israelites matching up to a major move in my personal life. I chose it strictly because it would prepare me daily toward teaching parts of it several months later. Of course, I anticipated that God would speak to me through it because His Word is alive and active but I had no thought of the concept being perfectly timed for me personally.

 

As God would have it, the whole book was/is about moving to new ground. (To us this side of Christ’s ascension, this shift to a land of promise would serve powerfully as a metaphor for new ground in our fruit-bearing as obvious disciples of Jesus Christ but, for me, it happened at a time when the applications were multilayered and so much so that, to ignore it would have been a fool’s choice.) And here’s the part that left me slack-jawed. One of the most powerful messages in the Deuteronomy is the warning never to forget where you’ve been with Him, what He has done for you, and that He alone is your God and that to forget Him is total destruction to you. From Chapter 8 alone…

 

V.2   “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you.”

V.11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God.”

V.14  “lest, when you have eaten and are full and built good houses and live in them …then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…”

V.18  “You shall remember the Lord your God.”

V.19  “And if you forget the Lord your God, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.”

 

Let me tell you something, Sweet Thing. There is nothing quite like emptying out a house you’ve been thoroughly entrenched in for nearly thirty years to cause you to remember. Keith sat across from me a few days ago, leaned back in the chair, placed his large palms on his knees – almost as if to brace himself – and said as soberly as anything I’ve ever heard him utter, “I have relived 25 years of our lives as I have cleared out that attic.” It wasn’t the time for me to correct him on exactly how many years it had been. “Well, 27 to be exact” was not about to come out of my mouth. In fact, I hardly said anything at all. I just nodded my head and sat in silence for a few minutes with him. It was a sacred selah because I knew that some of the things he’d remembered had brought joy. And some of the things he’d remembered had brought pain. I knew because the same thing had happened to me. The next day we were in his truck together going to Dairy Queen for a chocolate malt when I brought it back up.

 

“Keith, don’t you think it is so incredibly odd that God made sure you were out of town while I (and the movers) packed the house up for our move then you did the whole attic by yourself because I was back at work? Do you think it could be any coincidence that God had each of us by ourselves to remember so much of our lives there?”

 

Same house. Same children. Many of the same exact occurrences. But two completely different people with distinct DNA who processed the same events very differently. Just as Amanda would have. Just as Melissa would have. Just as even Michael would have after his seven short years in our home. You and I share many corporate events with the people in our familial circles: births, deaths, disappointments, celebrations, routines, great surprises, sudden crises. But, if we’ll let Him, God tends to us all uniquely and intimately and means each of us to glean something distinct in the process. Maybe something altogether opposite from the person sitting right beside us at the time.

 

The kinds of things we unearthed in the move seemed strategically planted by God, set right there for us to find one at a time as if we were following closely to a dog-eared treasure map.

Several of them came to me in a box Keith found in the attic. I’d forgotten it existed.

 I took the lid off and saw this:

Very uncharacteristically, Keith had looked through the whole thing before giving it to me. Don’t think that won’t make a woman nervous. In it, he’d found the first card he ever gave me. We laughed until our sides split over how beautifully it depicted us. It was like we’d had a word of knowledge about what was coming. Our whole 33 year old marriage has been the steady recycling of this exact same card given back and forth to one another:


Inside the box was the very first prayer journal I suppose I ever owned. I think that I recall a revival pastor coming to my church at the time and telling us about these little notebooks and I purchased one. I smile as I try to estimate how many I’ve purchased since. I used one this very morning.

It’s so moving to find keepsakes that you actually dated and penned with your own (young!) hand. I would have sensed the call of God on my life and walked the aisle at my church to make it public one summer before.

I read many things in that first journal that made me smile and others that pooled the tears in my eyes. Others out right mystified me. To say that I was in denial over my past childhood abuse is a mind-boggling understatement but that’s another subject for another time.  Let me just say for now that I watched my own pen flat-out lie to me over and over again. I even thanked God for the relationship I had with someone who’d abused me. Nuts. That very malfunction would put me in counseling in my early thirties. I woke up alright. That subject aside, I want to show you a specific page out of the journal because it held significant tenderness for me.

See the very top entry? That was intercession for the young people I got to serve at my home church. I was sponsoring that very group at a church camp when I first sensed a vocational call. See that second entry? I did hurt that person. A very wonderful person who deserved far better. I didn’t want to hurt him. But I surely did. I was on a terrible rebound and couldn’t be trusted emotionally. See that third entry? It was about a possible internship at a church in the Houston area. (The town is Humble, Texas. Not the name of the church. I wonder now if I meant First Baptist Humble but I’m not sure. Back then, I might not have known the difference. Grin.) They didn’t hire me and, at the time, I almost talked myself into believing that I’d made up the whole calling. I find it interesting and pathetic how quickly we (I) tend to give up and think God has passed us (me) by. I’d have made a terrible Abraham.

Now, look back up at that last entry from the page in my first journal. I fell head-over-heels in love with a young man in college who I dated for the better part of two years. He never even pretended to feel the same way about me (not his fault, God’s will) and my beaten-up heart finally shattered into a thousand pieces as I accepted it as a lost cause and bowed out. Fast forward 35 years. What makes this discovery in the journal so tender is that I received a call several weeks ago from my college roommate telling me in tears that this young man – who was now in his mid-fifties – had died that very morning of a heart attack. No warning. No prior heart problem. I had not seen him in many years. I grieved immediately and deeply for his lovely wife who he adored and who would miss him terribly. Only God could have had the tenderness to let me see this page only a short time later and have a moment’s personal mourning and remembrance over someone I’d felt much for many years earlier. God did not owe me that. It was tender mercy. Who but Christ does something like that??

There were other treasures found elsewhere. Like this picture of Keith and me boarding a cruise liner the morning after we married. (Our honeymoon was our wedding gift from his parents. We wouldn’t have two extra nickles to rub together for many years.)

That was the man I was meant to marry. And we have continued to ride many waves. It was deeply significant to me that God not only planned for me to find treasures from my spiritual journey. He also had similar intentions for Keith. I had never seen these certificates and Keith had no memory of them being placed in his possession by his parents. 

 

 

We found a whole bag of cassette-taped messages from Buddy Walters, the mentor that God used to strike a flaming desire in my heart to study Scripture. He was my first Bible doctrine teacher. These messages were preached years later at the church in North Carolina where he served as associate pastor.

Curtis converted them into CD’s for me last week. I’ve been listening to them and hearing the echo of that strong voice of authority and affection for the Lord Jesus Christ that took my breath away in my mid-twenties. Buddy died in his mid-forties and has been with the Lord for many years now but his ministry is poured into every message we have at Living Proof. God’s ways are so strange and beautiful. God knew that I could not fully “remember” my journey with Him without remembering the sound of this mouthpiece. My deepest love affair with Jesus through His Word began under that man’s teaching.

You can quite imagine that we unearthed artifact after artifact from our children’s lives. Stuffed animals. Artwork. Report cards. Clothes. You name it. I hadn’t seen this picture in so long. We were at Keith’s baby sister’s wedding. Oh, mercy, I love these two little girls so much. In this mother’s heart, they are about this same age.

I shared with you in a post soon after we moved (Dec. 2011) that I’d declared to Keith that I’d never leave that house. I also told you that one (irrational, unexplainable) reason was the fear that our time with Michael (who lived with us for seven years) would seem less real, further removed, and the door permanently closed. It was real alright. In this move, we’ve discovered him all over our house. Stacks and stacks of pictures, albums, artwork, report cards, etc, etc, etc. I found this letter that we received some months after he left.

Spud was our nickname for him. I also found this particular school picture. It was the year he departed our home. Wasn’t he beautiful?

As it turned out, the move did not distance us further nor close the door permanently. I have seen him as recently as two weeks ago and get to stay in regular communication with him. God is so gracious. Michael looks fairly different now but he is still so darling. He is a tattoo artist and has practiced a good deal on himself. I am smiling. I love him. And I am so, so proud of him. 

The 8th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy says to remember “the whole way” (V.2) the Lord has led you. The “terrible” (NASB) and “terrifying” (ESV) wilderness (V.15) and the miracles of manna and water from the flinty rock. (Vv.15-16) Translation? Remember the awful times. Remember the awesome times. I not only dug up sweet memories. I’ve stumbled upon some terrifying ones. Some that I wish to heaven I could have forgotten. Some that make my skin crawl. I found journal entries from a time of such utter darkness in my life that only God could have brought me through in one piece. Reading my pleas from that time stirred up such strong emotions that I could have thrown up. I kept having to remind myself to keep my memories in the light of God and not let them descend into the darkness of the enemy. When I remember them before God who delivered me, I am helped. When I remember them before the enemy who full-well meant to destroy me, I am haunted. Oh, the grace and mercy God has had upon my life. He is the only good in me. I’m sure Keith found reminders of some dark days of his own. And those are between God and him. I’ll leave you with one last picture. Keith sent me this one from his phone two days ago to let me know that the house was completely empty. Don’t think it wasn’t significant to me.

 

Oh, yes, Lord. I definitely remember the heaps of trash. Thank You for assuring us that, through Your mercy, all of it – EVERY SINGLE BIT OF IT – has been thrown into the depths of the sea, swallowed up in a fountain of blood.YOU ALONE are our God. YOU ALONE delivered Keith and I from such miry clay. YOU ALONE have kept my family in tact. YOU ALONE have spared us so much shame and lifelong defeat. You alone persistently dogged us with Your Holy Spirit and Your Word until we could no longer cover our ears. You alone saw people worth fixing in our brokenness. And You still do. I never want to forget, Lord. Never. 

“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God…who brought you out of the house of slavery.”

Deuteronomy 8:16 says something so riveting that I can hardly read it without having a visceral reaction. It says that God TESTS us and HUMBLES us “to do you good in the end.”

In the end. Seems like we’ve heard that somewhere before. Somewhere this side of the Cross.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 ESV

 

 

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My Sister Gay’s Third Installment: The Maelstrom

First installment. Meet My Sister.

Second installment. The Functioning Years.

My beloved Sisters, my coworkers and I have been praying hard for Gay as she labored to minister to you over this last week by reliving a descent into darkness. I ask for you to pray for her, too. True depth of ministry is rarely without cost. Can you imagine how furious the devil is at her?? Please thank God in advance for being her Shield and her Fortress, her Refuge and her Strength. I have no words to express my gratitude to her and my boastfulness in the Lord because of her. She is a true miracle. So am I. So are you. Oh, that we’d know it! In Tuesday night Bible study right now, we are making six stops in the Book of Deuteronomy to behold the divine law of love. To me, it is no coincidence that Gay handed in this entry on the very day that I am preparing a lesson on REMEMBERING. Once again, my sister. My hero.

 

From Gay…

Hi Sisters!
As I proofread the final draft of my last post, I was even taken aback at how NON-functioning the functioning years were! I thought my life was manageable because to the outside world, I appeared to be functioning (as far as I knew) but alone and inside my head, the battle raged. I remember driving to the liquor store one afternoon after vowing not to drink that day for the zillionth time and meaning it, tears streaming down my cheeks, wanting so badly not to WANT it yet consumed with the overwhelming NEED to have it. Understand, Siestas, that there are drinkers out there who are functioning and always will. They are what we alcoholics want to be. We are wannabees!  Bill Wilson described it so perfectly like this, “The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.”

There is no way for me to describe accurately or list wholly the events that occurred during the next ten years of my so-called life. I can’t even piece them all together myself. It was an endless cycle of drinking to feel “normal” or somewhat happy and functional, followed by not being able to stop at “normal,” followed by the negative consequences associated with intoxication (never positive consequences!), followed by more shame and guilt than I thought I could take, followed by self-medication, followed by more negative consequences and down the tubes I went. A maelstrom is defined on Wikipedia as “a very powerful whirlpool; a large, swirling body of water. A free vortex; it has considerable downdraft.” Although I had been severely warned yet still believed I was EXEMPT, I was beginning the swift descent into pure, alcoholic destruction and SELF-destruction.

By this time, my little “drinking problem” was becoming blatantly obvious to the outside world, my extended family included, and I was confronted. They dragged me out of the closet kicking and screaming and, as you can imagine, it did not go well. My response to that was outrage, blaming them for what they had done to CAUSE me to drink in the first place (all the way down to my parents!), withdrawal from the family and isolation.  Alcohol had moved itself up my diseased brain’s priority list to the Number 1 position. It came first, period, end of paragraph. No matter how much I wanted my children to come first, the alcohol was FIRST!! It screamed at me to feed it!  I did have a few periods of sobriety during this time, mostly in treatment, and I prayed for God to deliver me but I never did what God had put in front of me to do time and time again, so I never found the freedom that He had waiting for me on the other side. Because “Faith without works is dead, Gay!” (James 2:17) Consequently, each period of sobriety was followed by still worse relapse followed by more of the same.

It went something like this:

In 2002, I asked my employer of many years for a 6-month leave of absence.  Tut and I were finally able to live on one income and I was exhausted!  I had worked hard with virtually no time off since Zach was 2 years old and he was finishing his junior year in high school.  I needed rest, quality time with our children and, besides, I needed to put this blasted drinking problem to bed once and for all.  What do we say about an idle mind being the devil’s workshop?  Bingo!!  I quit working — He worked OVERTIME.  I had too much leisure time alone, no coping skills and no tools to fight the battle raging inside my head.  I had no relationship with God although I attended church every single Sunday morning.  I had no support group.  My friends were all at work and I had withdrawn from my family.  And, very key point, I had the disease of alcoholism.  Perfect cocktail (pardon the pun) to bring down the proud, the entitled, the exempt.  My drinking moved into the early afternoon, then morning, then round the clock. Alcohol quickly invaded every nook, cranny and pore of my existence.  I laughed and cried with it, I raged and soothed with it, I celebrated and mourned with it, I went to bed with it and I got up with it, I loved it and I hated it.  When I asked for an additional 6 months of LOA because I was too sick both mentally and physically to go back to work, I was denied and laid off instead.  I had survived every single downturn that my company had been through.  My life was there, my friends were there, my self-worth was there.  My heart was broken.  Again.  More medication please!!

In 2003, I went to my first inpatient rehabilitation facility in the beautiful Texas hill country.  It was one of the finest treatment centers in the country and not cheap!  It employed the best Big Book instructor I’ve ever heard to date, even now.  Some of his words got through and I related more to what was written in the book, however, I still had not reached a place of full surrender.  I was still different, special, proud.  I would not humble myself to do the work that was asked of me — to do as thousands had done before me who had STAYED SOBER.  That stuff still did not apply to me.  Not to ME!!  I stayed there 28 days at a cost of $16,000.00 (its more now!) and could not wait to order a glass of wine on the flight home.  After all, I had abstained 4 full weeks.  I had proved that I could do it.  Let’s celebrate!  I was drunk when Tut picked me up from the airport and he was livid, to put it mildly.  A few months later, he asked me to leave the house that we had lived in for 17 years and where we had raised our children.  Zach had just graduated from high school and Josh was 8 years old.  I moved because I could not argue with him.  I knew I was out of control and I knew why he was asking me to leave.  Although I tried to justify and rationalize and blame HIM, I knew the truth in my heart.  It was not a safe environment for the children.  Period.  I walked out that door and never returned for any significant time period until about 1025 days ago in mid-April of 2009 — almost 6 years later.  The loss of my little family, Tut included, was by far the greatest loss of my life.  My feelings after the death of my mother (which I never felt, by the way) could not hold a candle to the heartache and grief I suffered at putting my family on death’s altar.  I was never the same after that.  I not only had given up the desire to control. I gave up hope.

During the following years:

 

  • I was charged with 3 counts of Driving While Intoxicated which left me incarcerated in the most overcrowded county jail in the United States of America, Harris County Jail, which holds 10,000 inmates.  By God’s pure grace and mercy, I did not get a felony conviction on the third charge and did not kill anyone!  I could have; I should have.  But God.
  • I lost my driving privileges and owed the State of Texas $7,800.00 in surcharges to reinstate them.  At this point, it did not occur to me to give up drinking.  I would give up driving instead!
  • I received a 23-page Final Decree of Divorce from my husband of 22 years while I was incarcerated.  I could not appear to protest it and wouldn’t have been able to anyway, even had I been free.  It granted full parental custody of our minor child to my now ex-husband giving me supervised visits only.  It contained a Permanent Injunction that prohibited me from going to Josh’s residence, school, or any extra-curricular activities.  I was able to call him or write to him ONLY with his father’s permission.
  • I went to 3 more inpatient treatment centers, all state-funded, the last being in Galveston and long-term.  After spending 4 months there, I was successfully discharged at noon and in the liquor store before closing time that very night.
  • I lived alone and tried to drink myself to death many times in 4 different apartments after leaving my home in Sugar Land.  I walked out of all four of those living spaces with nothing but the clothes on my back, leaving everything behind.  I lost all of my personal items including pictures, jewelry, keepsakes, high school memorabilia, artwork by me and my children, furniture, appliances, clothes, etc.
  • I lived in one halfway house in Galveston 3 different times.  Again by the grace of God, they had allowed me to return after I had relapsed twice.

In August of 2007, while at R-House in Galveston, I finally got a much-needed break after a few weeks of sobriety.  I interviewed successfully and got a great job at the Galveston County Courthouse as Administrative Assistant to the I.T. Manager (Information Technology).  Since I had an I.T. background from my last place of employment, it was right up my alley.  I was excited about the opportunity and had hope for a future.  Finally!  I was also very optimistic about getting on with “normal” life and giving up living in treatment centers and halfway houses.  I quickly put down a deposit on an 1894 Victorian four-plex apartment, all hardwood floors, very nice, walking distance from my new job.  I was also dating a really nice man (big red flag!) from a Narcotics Anonymous group in Galveston.  He was funny, well-liked, and had solid sobriety.  It wasn’t the first time I had gotten side-tracked with a relationship.  I would invariably put the relationship first, rather than the sobriety, thinking that the love of a man would be enough to sustain me through anything, especially a SOBER man!  I later saw that I had a pattern of putting anything, everything, even the important things BEFORE sobriety, and that I would always, ALWAYS end in relapse and inevitably lose those things. I moved into my apartment on a Friday and tried to contact my so-called “boyfriend” on Saturday.  He did not respond.  He did not respond for hours.  He had gone to a recovery function without me.  I was furious.  How do I handle furious???

Drink, of course.  I will never EVER forget this, my last relapse.  After all I had lost, after all of the bullet points listed above plus more that I can’t even remember, after all of the warnings and having been beaten down time and time again, I STILL THOUGHT that I could do it one more time and that no harm would come of it.  I slung my purse over my shoulder and headed out the door at a fast pace to the liquor store to get … a pint, of course!  By the time I got there, I had talked myself into a fifth because I wouldn’t want to return should I need more. I bought a quart, drank from it on the way back and the beast came forth!!!  I called in sick to work on Monday, again on Tuesday, didn’t call at all on Wednesday or Thursday and got fired on Friday.

I was baffled, confused, embarrassed and had no way to pay next month’s rent.  After countless vain attempts at asking for help from my family with promises of sobriety in return, I didn’t even ask for their help.  I was homeless a month later and outside with the others who were both wandering aimlessly and drinking themselves into oblivion because they/WE could not face another day.

“The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From His temple He heard my voice.” Psalm 18:4-6a

 

(End of third installment. To be continued soon in the fourth installment.)

Sisters, this is back to Beth now. That’s one incredibly powerful entry, isn’t it? Revisit Gay’s words, “I gave up hope.” Many of us know what that’s like. Oh, how the enemy of our souls delights to walk us to that despairing place one step at a time. You are welcome to respond to Gay in your comments to this post any way you feel prompted but, in addition, I’d also like to ask you to consider doing something else. Consider sharing a time when you, too, had given up hope…

but God….

Maybe somebody needs to hear just a few lines of your story, too. You are treasured here at LPM. And, far more significantly, you are the treasured possession of the God of all Creation. Believe Him about you.

 

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Livestream Today at 10:30 AM CST!

To join us this morning for the livestream, simply click on this link.

Remember that the password will be taken down several minutes prior to airing so don’t let it bother you. It is only there so our staff can prepare for the webcast. We hope so much that you can join us! Don’t forget the facebook launch celebration for Kelly Minter’s series on Nehemiah immediately following. If you can’t make both, choose hers! Ours today is simply a devotional. Hers is a one-time only intro celebration to her new series. We love you!

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