Steps

Far below me on the canyon floor–well, more specifically, one of the many levels of the canyon floor–a round, muddy, teal-blue pool caught the five tiny rays that reached down to it, winking and twinkling them back to the sun on its barely-stirred ripples. Ivory walls rose straight up from this pool, circling up and up with tiny ridges as though bored out by a giant drill bit.

If I had dared to look behind me I would have seen a gap in this pale, circular, bored-out wall–a fluid, graceful crack that extended down and down and around until it was a pencil line indicating the canyon’s mouth.

I kept my eyes locked straight ahead.

My knuckles rose white from the brown, wrinkled skin that clothed them, eight bumps all in a row, like tiny snow-covered peaks against a rough brown desert. I clung with both hands to the cable ladder. “Yes, Jesus. I trust you to protect me,” I whispered, then heaved myself and my wobbling pack up another rung.

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The cable trembled. Water dripped from my clothes, making the metal rungs slippery. Now and again a blast of wind shivered down the canyon, making the hairs raise on my arms. I dislodged a small rock and it scudded straight down to the rock ledge forty feet below me, then down farther still to plunk into the deep teal pool.

Inside my mind, a steady voice cheered me on–was it mine, or the Holy Spirit’s, or both?

Big breath. Another step. Keep your heart strong.

Don’t allow yourself to think about falling.

Focus on what is true. Place your foot. Move your hands. Up you go-one step closer to the sky!

See, he has provided firm footing for you.

Yes, he will provide a firm place for your feet again.

Take another step.

It was scary, but again, your feet are firmly planted. Just like he promised!

One step at a time. It’s a little easier now. You can feel the wind growing stronger. You are almost on the next level of the canyon!

At last, I muscled my pack and body over the top of the ladder and stood upright on the solid ground. I gasped, stretched my twitching leg muscles, then laughed! We did it!

From this small ledge of rock, I now gazed down the canyon, far along the fluid, graceful crack that extended down and down and around until it was a pencil line indicating the canyon’s mouth. What a great view!

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“You and I, Jesus. We have climbed all this! Time for a celebration!”

Facing north again, I see my next adventure, a narrow ledge jutting out from the cliff, offering just inches of trail above another long, narrow pool. At the end of the ledge, the blazes stagger straight up the cliff.

Time to kick it, mountain-goat style!

One step at a time. One adventure at a time. Keep following the blazed route.

Off we went.

An important lesson that I have learned while trekking over 200 miles of the Negev Desert, is that you will always be surprised by what is around the next bend. Study the route, the map and the elevation profile as you will, you will still be surprised.

A flat, easy day of road walking may turn into twelve hours of slow mud-slogging, kicking inches of clay off your boots just to gain three more inches of clay the next minute.

A quick downhill jog may become a cautious crab-crawl down a 40% grade, as you brace your trekking poles among rolling pebbles, trying not to start a rock slide.

You may need to swim through water of unknown depths.

I’ve learned, no matter how surprising the trail is, I still prefer to follow the blazes. During over two hundred miles of adventurous travel, we saw only one injured hiker-someone who had chose their own path. “It looked like a better way, but it was treacherous. Very scary,” said the wounded one. Blood oozed from a battered knee, and caked darkly in the creases.

Do not leave the blazed route, even if you cannot see your next step.

Ask for direction, then walk. You’ll hear the same steady voice.

See, there is a foothold here.

You cannot see the metal rungs as you lower yourself straight off the lip of the crater, but, yes, good, your feet have just found them.

Yes, here is the next toehold.

Walking in heaven-destiny is very like walking an adventurous trail. It’s scary and unpredictable. Thrilling. Sometimes there is deep pain. Sometimes there is incredible joy.

Sometimes you can see the way.

Often you see only a drop-off, and an arrow pointing straight down. Will you lower yourself into the unknown, and trust?

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When you know you are where you are supposed to be, you can rest assured that right now, right this moment, there is a firm foothold for you to step on. Right now, you have what you need.

We were promised provision for now. For this step.

Right now, HE WILL PROVIDE.

Stay on the blazed route. It is narrow, and scary, but it is maintained by the Creator himself! The blazed route leads higher, to some great views!

Ask, then move.

Boldly move. One step at a time.

 

BONUS!

Here is actual footage of me tottering, praying and laughing my way along part of the trail. What could you accomplish if your greatest fear was gone? Comment below!

Servants

When the forests wipe the sleep from their eyes and ever-so-slowly pull on their ethereal dressing-gowns of green, I always unbox my own earthy memories of the days I spent as a landscaper. Those were humbling days, and rich ones.

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Rich, because I could be in the dirt, and beautify the land, and feel the ever-changing winds on my face, and work hard–all things I love. Humbling, because I was unpackaged into this earth with a good bit of pride, and  pride and serving do not get along. In order to thrive as a landscaper, I learned to show up each morning and ask, “What would you like done today? And how would you like it done?” and not say a bit more than that, unless it was to say, “Got it!” or, “Could you show me how?”

Servant.

An odd name for a visionary to take on, isn’t it? For a stubborn, creative, out-of-the-box thinker? Servant.

I’ve listened to the Gospel of John four or five times over during the last month, and one thing I keep being amazed by is the way in which Jesus served his Father! The way he gave him honor!

“To do the will of the One who sent me.” “Not so that I will receive praise, but to glorify my Father.”–he said these again and again!

Wisdom choosing to walk in humility. Power choosing to walk in obedience.

What was the result of this obedience, this humble servanthood? EVEN MORE POWER. And for everyone to share… forever!

I look at my hands, and stretch them flat open, palms up. I am teaching my heart to say, “Yes, Jesus. Got it.” or, “Yes, Jesus. Could you show me how?”

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It is not my job to understand. It does not matter if I enjoy the route, or not.

Servants.… blazing a path of humble praise and joyful obedience. Giving up their own wisdom in exchange for heaven-wisdom. Giving up their power in exchange for heaven-power.

Paving the way for more glory, more revelation, more power!

“Yes, Jesus!”

 

 

The Original Plan

“I want to stick with the original plan, you know?”

Melita’s mouth was half open, but I kept talking. “The only problem is, no one told me what the original plan was in the first place.”

She laughed. “I wondered what you were going to say. Yeah. That’s true.”

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We were 9,000 kilometers from home, 10 miles from the nearest town, trudging through lime-green peach orchards on the fringes of the Judean wilderness. We’d traveled the entire length of the Negev Desert and emerged into a world full of contrasts. Placid herds of sheep grazing the rolling, rock-strewn pastures, verdant fields of green waving gently in the breeze, crimson poppies glistening under a golden sun. College students lounging in the grass 10 feet apart from each-other. Scolding voices asking, “Why aren’t you at home? Don’t you know what is going on in the world?” Red alerts on the bus schedule. Sharp cries of parents as children race out of villages to ask us, “Corona? Corona?”

Darkness had fallen long before we drug our dusty bodies onto a porch on the fringes of a small village. “Come in, come in,” Matthew and his wife invited. “What are you going to do? Fly home, or stay? Here, have a shower.” I shuffled through my drybag of clothes. Dirty, dirty, dirty. I was wearing my cleanest clothes, having expected today to be laundry day. A shower felt nice anyway. Over plates of curry and rice, Matthew’s wife was honest with us. “We had to take time and think through hosting you two. Everyone is so fearful, but that’s not the best way. The reality is so different than what people are afraid of. You’ve been in the desert, for crying out loud. That’s got to be the safest place to be.”

Muted squalls arose from the next room. “You have a baby?” Melita asked. “Yes, he is 7 months old.” The two-and-a-half-year-old ate pie with us and cried when it was time to go to bed.

10 hours later, two disheveled hikers stood on the porch once more, stuffing drybags into dirty packs at a rapid rate of speed. A little boy offered us cookies sadly, having looked forward to a day of playing with these new tall friends. A brave mother and father waved goodbye as we trotted down the drive to catch the only morning bus.

I sat alone on a garden retaining wall by the Ben Gurion train station later that day, trying to hide the 73 mosquito bites on my battered feet from curious eyes as I munched down my three cucumbers in the least barbaric way possible. As I sat, I thought of this brave mother and father.

Power, love and a sound mind. That is what they had lived out. In front of their tiny children. In front of their fear-filled village. In front of two strangers. In front of God.

Heroes don’t always know the earth-picture of their own original plan. But they always know the heaven-attributes of their own original plan.

Power has no space for fear.

Love has no space for discouragement.

A sound mind has no space for second-guessing.

Stick with the original plan, brave heart!! It’s all written out for you, but not in earth language.

 

Desert Flowers

I walk along, and cannot understand the brave desert flowers.

All alone in the wilderness of dust, rock and crumbling pebble soil, they turn their faces towards the sun. 

They follow the sun’s rays with their faces all day.

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Fragile petals of hope reaching up to a blazing orb.

Hopefully.

Trustingly.

The sun is their source of life.

Without its rays, the flowers could not live.

Yet, the sun has power to kill them.

They could fear it…

Why do they turn their faces? 

All alone in the desert heat,

have they no fear?

Don’t they know that in time-maybe today, maybe next month-the rays of the sun will dry up their last moisture- that the scorching rays of the sun will shrivel and kill them?

 

I guess

the flowers learned the lesson

taught from the beginning of time

everyone who risks enough

to receive life

to live

to lose their life

will gain it. 

And that it is far better to live and die then to never live at all.

Character

Character.

That foundational piece of you.

Yes, YOU.

Untouchable by disease. 

Unhindered by poverty.

Unmistakable when times get hard.

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It’s the man battling cancer and the man battling heart disease who invest hope into each other instead of speaking of their own pain.

It’s the mom with the uncooperative toddler in the grandchildren photoshoot–the mom who holds her child and cares for his heart instead of scolding him for ruining the picture.

It’s the girl setting healthy boundaries for herself by saying, “I am not ready to talk about that right now.”

It’s the teen who leaves a chicken-scratch thank you note for the hotel maid, and never forgets to tip.

It’s the father using words of grace.

It’s the child who chooses not to laugh at someone else’s expense.

It’s every person who chooses silence when they want to self-defend.

It’s every person who chooses to speak up when someone needs a defender.

Character. 

Invited into life by the beautiful gift of choice.

Honed and shaped by so many unpleasant things.

Struggle, pain, conflict and being wrong yet again.

But, character!

Such a treat to behold–such a honor to live out!

So beautiful in the eyes of the Father!

Character!

An unshakeable upgrade!

My son, if your heart is wise, my own heart also will be glad; and my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.

For as [a man] thinks within himself, so he is.

Proverbs 23

 

 

 

5 Ways to Keep Holiday Gatherings Merry & Bright

1. Announce Your Hugging Game Plan
A simple fix to the awkwardness of choosing the appropriate greeting for varying levels of acquaintance is to let the other person know what you are going for. I like to ask, “Would you like a hug?” or, if I know they like hugs but don’t know if they are expecting one from me, I say, “I am so happy to see you! I need to give you a hug.”

2. Repeat the Names

I know this has been said before, but since I am personally weak in this area and need a reminder, I’ll just go ahead and say it again: People feel valued when you make an effort to remember their name. It’s true. If you want to spread holiday cheer, it is great to sing loud for all to hear, but it is also wonderful to actually try to remember the names of your co-worker’s children. You can help names stick by repeating them, asking what they mean or even writing them down.

3. Go Next-Level with Anyone
Weed out stale, cut-and-dried questions like “Where are you working right now?” and “Have you been enjoying the holidays?” If it is a question that has been overused on you, it has been overused on this person as well. Instead, use an invitational, open-ended question that you are truly interested in hearing the answer to, such as, “What’s been on your mind this week?” or “What is your favorite way to spend your time these days?”

4. Bring Your Questions and Your Best Snippets
While preparing for an event, plan how you will contribute to an entertaining conversation. Pull a few interesting snippets of your life, local news, or global discoveries to the forefront of your mind. (Avoid bringing up politics–because of acid reflux, obviously.) Choose ahead of time a few questions you want to ask folks you expect to see at this event. If there is a topic you’ve been wanting to discuss with someone who is also interested, keep that in the forefront of your brain too. Boom. You are ready.

5. Jump Aboard the Awkward Train

In the event that conversation dives so far into the awkward or absurd that no amount of civility will bring it back, you can still have a good time by going Brant Hansen and just bringing a wonderful snippet of your own to the conversation. A few starter options:

“Does it ever bother you that gingerbread people live in houses made of the flesh of their fellow men?”

“Do you ever stop and ask roadside bystanders whether they are hitch hiking, or just trying to compliment your driving?”

“What spiritual applications do you take from 1 Samuel 19,  where the Spirit of God came upon Saul, and he stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel, and lay naked for a day and half?”

 

Have a very Merry Christmas!

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If You Are Tired

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Know this.

Ministry is not something you do.

It is not possible to add ‘Love God and Love People’ to a daily task list. It comes from a much more powerful place than sheer will power.

If you are tired, working so hard at All Those Things I Deeply Care About, know this:

they were never your idea in the first place.

“Come to me!” he said, “Come, everyone who is exhausted and weighed down with many responsibilities. In my presence, you will find rest for your soul!”

Will you go, weary one? You don’t need to work before you can be accepted into your Father’s presence! You are welcome in his house every minute of every day.

There, surrounded by a reality deeper than earth can ever offer, you can accept love. You can accept truth. A river of life is there. Drink. Rest. Receive.

Remember.

All Those Things I Deeply Care About were not your ideas in the first place. Let them stay where they belong.

If you are tired, know this:

You are not meant to work even harder. You are meant to overflow!

Every gift God freely gives us is good and perfect, streaming down from the Father of lights, who shines from the heavens with no hidden shadow or darkness and is never subject to change. God was delighted to give us birth by the truth of his infallible Word so that we would fulfill his chosen destiny for us and become the favorite ones out of all his creation!

James 1, TPT

Together

Just as it has been decreed, darkness is creeping towards us.

Famine, wars and rumors of wars.

Child against parent and parent against child and nation against nation.

Loss of hope.

Together, we will choose what is true.

Even when we do not understand it.

Even when it does not fit in with what we have lived out for so long.

Even if we cannot explain it.

Even when we do not know how to live it out.

Even if it is not logical.

We choose to agree with what is true.

Together, we agree that every word of God is trustworthy and accurate. It is reality. Reality from the beginning of time, to now, and for always.

Unchangeable truth.

So much greater than ourselves.

Holding an answer for every single problem.

Longer-standing than anything else we know.

Truth that is meant for all people, of all tribes, in every era of time.

Truth that has already answered questions we did not even begin to think yet.

Truth that rules the universe, the rulers of the world, the land and sea and the heavenly realm.

Truth that unifies, builds life and spreads joy.

Truth that destroys death.

When we stand in this truth, we always have a way forward.

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When we stand in truth and stand together, we are undefeatable.

“The sum total of all your words adds up to absolute truth, and every one of your righteous decrees is everlasting!”

Psalm 119:160

 

Safe

From the pebble beach of Blue Marsh Lake that yellow September day, I gazed at the sky above the vicious locust trees and asked Jesus what he had to say to me.

“A storm is coming.”

That’s what I thought he said.

Had I just imagined the words? A wisp of mare’s tail cloud hung low in the sky above me. Had the cloud placed thoughts of a storm into my mind?

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I held still, waiting for more words from Jesus. It was a hot day, with skies as blue as blue could be, so why were the birds all darting for cover in the low forest underbrush? “Prepare for a storm.”

I didn’t know what that meant, but I kept those words in my heart. And I prepared.

Two months later in a riverside campsite under the pines, I tucked the first clean pot into the dish hammock and clearly heard these words in my heart, “Leave here and find your teammates.” I glanced at my watch. My co-guide had asked me to find her if she wasn’t back in an hour, but only half that time had passed. “Don’t overthink,” I told myself, “Just finish the dishes and find the group after the hour has passed.”

I heard pounding steps on the trail just as the final plates were being rinsed. I stood up and jogged out of the campsite before the panting messenger could ask me to. I wished I’d have listened to the Holy Spirit when he told me to find the group. I could have saved this messenger a lot of effort.

We waged war for hours, and by the time the war was in recession, our stuffed-crust campfire pizza was stiff and cold. The sun had set, and the moon had rolled out of bed to take his turn in the sky. One by one, the headlamps blinked out in the campsite. This war was not over, but the soldiers all needed rest.

I sat under the pines facing the tents and watched, and prayed. Many animals roam the woods at night. As snores rose up from the solo tents around me, the noises in the forest rose to rival them.

Owls hooted back and forth across the river in their comically quizzical way, and a grouchy ibis squawked at his unwanted neighbor in terse, short sentences. Rustling leaves told me the toads were a’hopping.

A howl broke out on the riverbank, downstream, and then moved closer. Panthers pass through this area, once in awhile. This noise wasn’t made by a panther, but it made me think about a hiker’s story of meeting one nearby.

Black clouds winged across the sky, sometimes revealing a handful of very bright stars, sometimes dropping bits of rain.

Silent, unseen battles swept through the campsite, passing, then receding.

All alone in this black campsite, palmettos poking my neck and mosquitoes nibbling my ankles, I wrapped a tarp around my shoulders and stared up at the sky. I asked Jesus for things, and gave him other things, and thought about the unusual fact that I wasn’t  scared.

I felt so cozy, all alone there under the pines, in the middle of that active battleground.

Relieved, and comfortable, like showing up at a spring when your body has just traveled 25 miles under a hot sun.

The girl who could never sleep without her head being buried under a pillow– who could not walk outside at night without both a light and a big dog, was sitting cross-legged in a campsite at 2 a.m. with more peace than most people feel at church on a Sunday morning.

It was Jesus, obviously.

I’m not always so good at receiving love from Jesus, or from anyone else, but under those pines, in the short recess of that war he’d told me to prepare for two whole months in advance, I was recieving love from him like there was no tomorrow. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to spend a night sitting cross-legged in the woods with Jesus. But it fills you up inside.

When my watch beeped for the 5:30 making of coffee, I felt alive.

We human beans are pretty good at finding earth-things that make us feel safe. But a gun, or a dog, or a flashlight, or a man, or a can of pepper spray—these can’t know two months in advance that you’d need to prepare for war, and teach you how to prepare in exactly the right way.

A gun can’t answer the questions on your heart. A dog can’t tell you to drop what lies you are believing and what truth will set you free. A flashlight can’t fight the battles going on in unseen places. A man can’t protect the minds of the kiddos from bad dreams while they sleep. A can of pepper spray can’t make you feel so joyful in the middle of a battlefield–so secure that you could fall asleep.

It is a good place to live, with your spirit seated in the presence of Jesus and your body joining the armies of heaven in their battles on earth. I have much to learn about it.

But I’ve learned this so far: When you live in Jesus, life is 100% unpredictable. But it is 100% empowered. And 100% safe.

You Are My Very Own Miracle

Today, I was hurtling down the highway in my good old 97′ SUV, thinking about what it actually means to walk by faith instead of by sight. Sometimes to understand that, it is helpful to look back at all the old miracles that were birthed because of truth that felt stupid to live out in the moment. So here is a story I wrote down for my nephew.

Trey’s Story

I remember the tears in your mama’s eyes when I gave her a little plaid shirt and a pair of overalls one cold March night. She’s a fighter, your mama is. We used to fight silently in the shadows of the old family room that had the orange flowers on the wall–our hair flying, using our fingernails to leave long red streaks on each-other’s arms.

When your mama took care of grandpas and grandmas, she used her fighting skills again to make sure the grandpas and grandmas were not in pain, and were dressed nicely, and felt loved. Believe it or not, Trey, some big people are not as kind to grandpas and grandmas as you are. But whenever these grandpas and grandmas saw your mama, they felt very happy, because they knew that she would keep them safe.

These special grandpas and grandmas lived all together in one big house, and they always tried to get a peek at your dad when he came there to visit your mama. There was a lot of kissing that went on during those visits, let me tell you! That made your mama’s grandma and grandpa friends very happy too.

Your mama wanted to give your dad two perfect gifts. Do you know what those were? I’ll give you a hint: we joked that if they came at the same time, we would call them Esther and Lester. Now can you guess?

Well, it was not so simple to just buy these gifts at a store. Your dad and your mama had to fight, and fight and fight to get them. Did you know that people only fight when they REALLY care about something?

Your mama ate no yummy food for a long time. She let doctors cut holes in her and had to stay inside and lay very still for weeks, while her friends were doing fun things.

Your dad worked very hard! He saved and saved all his money and then he took your mama far away on an airplane to let another doctor cut holes in her. The only fun part about that trip was that your mama got to see a seal.

Your mama felt sick year after year, and your dad worked very hard and saved his money year after year, and both of them never gave up fighting to get you!

Jesus gave your sister to your dad and mom one very special summer. That was half of the perfect gift your mama was fighting for! She kept right on asking Jesus to give her you! And guess what else? Aunt was asking Jesus for you too!

A long, long time ago, long before your mama started letting doctors cut holes in her, Jesus told Aunt, “Give your sister a boy outfit and declare over her she will have a son.” Now, Aunt wasn’t used to declaring things. She didn’t feel like your mama was going to ever have a son. Aunt doesn’t like to make people sad and she knew talking to your mama about having a son would make your mama very sad.

But Aunt had to obey Jesus! If you don’t obey Jesus, it’s like saying, “I know everything there is to know.”

Aunt didn’t know much about declaring, and she didn’t want to make your mama sad, but she obeyed Jesus and bought your mama a boy outfit and declared that you would be born.
Sure enough, your mama cried and Aunt felt bad about that, and wondered if she had done the right thing.

A long time went by and Aunt almost forgot about the little overalls because Jesus gave your mama half of the perfect gift she asked for, and Aunt was very excited about that. Aunt figured half was enough!

But it was not enough!

So one day, Aunt hurried down a sidewalk in the city, past bushes and tulips, and came into a cold small room with the shades pulled down. Your mama was there, working very hard, harder than you will ever work in your life. Your dad was giving her tiny snacks and trying to help her feel less sweaty.

Your mom was working hard because you were growing inside her body and she had to use her muscles to help you come out and meet your dad! Isn’t that amazing, that you spent almost one year living inside your mom’s body? You were very small then.

Aunt was so proud of your mama! It hurt your mama very much to bring you out of her body, but she said, “Okay,” calmly, every time the nurse told her to do something scary. “Okay. I will do this for my son,” she said. “Pray, honey. Pray for me, Hun,” she said to me and your dad.

We did. I told her that you would be perfect.

We told your mama she was doing so good, and that we were proud of her. She was in horrible pain from working so hard. Your dad put his head down, and I promise you he cried. He says he didn’t, but don’t believe that.

The nurses said that your mama should focus on working harder to help you out come out of her body, and Aunt wanted to smack them. Remember, your mama is a fighter. She gives things she REALLY cares about 100%–everything she has.

The nurse had to hurt your mama to help you come out, but she said ok and let them. After they hurt her, they saw for the first time how big Jesus made you! They told your mama that she was very strong lady. Your mama worked extra hard for a few minutes, and then everyone said, “Yay!”, and jumped around, because we could see your perfect little face! You looked like a perfect doll. You had never been in fresh air before, or seen people, but you only cried a little bit! You were already so brave.

The nurse lifted you up and gave you to your momma and she snuggled you very close. You were still a little confused about all the unusual sights and smells, but your momma sang you your favorite song and that made everything seem safe. You felt right at home!

Your dad cuddled you and just kept talking to you and watching your little perfect face. Aunt thought your dad would pop like a balloon–that’s how proud he was! Your dad and your mama bundled you up in a soft motorcycle onesie and wrapped lots of blankets around you. You had your first car ride!

At your house, your sister was all snuggled up in her soft nightie too, and the lamps were on because it was bedtime. Sister was so excited to see you, Trey! She hugged and hugged you!

Everyone told their friends that you were finally here, and there were celebrations in many houses that day!

And do you know what? Jesus and all the angels in heaven celebrated too! Your name has your destiny written in it, and do you know what your destiny is? To show people what God is like, to conquer and win and to have honor!
You have already lived out this destiny, Trey. Did you know that? You already showed the world what God is like by proving that when God declares something into existence, he ALWAYS follows through. Even if it seems impossible, or doesn’t happen when we think it should. 
You will live out many more heaven-realities, Trey. No weapon fashioned against you will prosper. Your big hands and wide shoulders are built for battle; your mind was chosen by God to live out vision and passion no one else can live out!

And this is probably hard for you to understand, but Aunt will say it anyway. Your destiny is not measured in earth-years! You will win many wars in worlds to come, in places only Jesus has seen and been to. What we are doing in this earth is just practice for something even bigger!

No wonder all of heaven’s armies were in an uproar when you were born. They were all fighting over who gets to add you to their team.

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Today you are wearing the shirt I bought you long ago, stupidly, when I thought there was no hope for your mama’s lifelong dream to be fulfilled. Today you are friendly, and brave and highly distracted by anything with an engine.

You helped me see what God is like. You are my very own miracle.