Sometimes in life it can feel like God is absent. There have been seasons in my life when I questioned, “Is God real ?” and if he is real “Where is he? Why is he not helping me?” God is not a tangible being. Depending on my feelings about the mountains that I face, God can seem very distant. On other occasions, I have wondered what was wrong with me. Not when anything really bad was happening in my life, I just felt numb. Times when going through the motions of attending church and other spiritual activities have seemed void. Nothing offered comfort or brought joy. I know I am not the only one who struggles with discouragement, because these thoughts are even reflected in Psalm 42:5 which says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?…”
During one such season of numbness and discouragement in my life, God sweetly spoke to my heart. My youngest son had been born prematurely, and in his first days of life he was struggling to breathe. My husband and I spent endless hours in a NICU unit, holding him. It was a scary time for us, not knowing what the long- term effects of this struggle for oxygen would be on our son’s development. Surprisingly, the time we spent in the NICU was a spiritual mountain top for me. Even though the NICU days were filled with struggle, I could feel God’s presence with me and almost see his healing hand on my new baby. The months that followed were a different story, however. We returned home full of excitement and blessings, but the months of day to day demands began to wear on me. Juggling schedules, preemie midnight feedings, my older sons’ activities (cross country, basketball, academic team…) , laundry, and my return to work became overwhelming. Soon our pediatrician began expressing concerns about the progress of our new baby. Even though our preemie had come a long way since the NICU, he was still not crawling. On any given day, I have a tendency to forget certain milestone moments. In other words, if things come easy we tend to forget unchallenging task. However, I clearly remember the baby of the family, our preemie crawling for the first time. He was ten months old, and the pediatrician told me that if he wasn’t crawling in two weeks’ time we would need to start physical therapy. I was discouraged by this, and the mom guilt began flooding in. Maybe I wasn’t helping him enough?Maybe I wasn’t the best mom for him? It was painful to watch him cry and struggle and I am sure it was also physically painful for him too. I knew what I had to do, push through the pain. My son needed me to let him experience the struggle and to deal with my own discomfort of watching the process. So on one particular day when I was standing a few feet away from him in the living room, and noticed he wanted me, I decided to stay where I was. I could see him struggling to get to me, and it took all the willpower I had not to just go pick him up. With a tear in my eye, I watched this tiny, determined fighter push himself into a crawling position and unsteadily crawl toward me. There were a few falls to his belly, and some tears of frustration on his part. Yet somehow he managed to muster all of his determination and make it to my feet. Crying, he sat himself up on his bottom and put both of his hands up. Without saying a word, he was saying, “Pick me up MOM !!” Elated I scooped him up, and hugged him tight, praised his efforts, and comforted him in his pain from the struggle. In my heart I could hear God whisper to me, “that is all you have to do, reach for me” Instantly, I could feel my heavenly father embracing my soul. There are so many spiritual lessons I took from this experience.
- We get so caught up in focusing on our struggles and problems that we lose focus on the comforter.
- When things are easily accomplished, we take success for granted. But when things are hard fought, even though there was pain in the progress, the victory is so much sweeter. True triumph comes after a struggle.
- We need to struggle to grow. If I had interfered and never let my baby struggle in the pain of learning to crawl it would have only delayed his progress.
- God is always there, much like me watching the struggle a few feet away. I may not feel like he is helping, it may not seem like he is not watching, but he is. In fact he is cheering on our progress, encouraging us when we try, and ready in an instant to pick us up. All we have to do is lift our hands up.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Psalm 34:4-7
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Psalm 91:14-16
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“Stubborn as a mule!” I have heard that saying several times in my life, sometimes in reference to me. The words are usually said in frustration, and a mule was not something I enjoyed being compared to. Several years ago I was listening to a sermon, and the preacher referred to himself as a mule. The illustration was used that God had to pull this person around to get him to do what God wanted him to do. The sermon struck a negative chord with me. I struggled thinking, “Wow, God must hate struggling with me.” Because I am a farm girl, it made me think of my own negative memories of dealing with animals that were out of control or obstinate. In the moments of struggle with them, I did not like those animals, and it was usually a very frustrating and stressful situation. The speaker’s analogy in the sermon left me feeling like, “How could God love me, a mule?” But because God is gracious and loving, he did not leave me with these thoughts. Instead, he gave me an image to replace the one that left me with such self-loathing. Having grown up on a horse farm, I have many memories of the way my dad handled horses. Our farm was for Thoroughbred broodmares, which means the horses were used for breeding not riding or racing. Usually in the springtime mares would begin to have babies and my dad would begin handling them soon after birth, in order to socialize and train the foals. A foal is not born ready to be led to the barn or have a halter on, or to have a saddle on its back. My dad loved his horses and genuinely enjoyed getting to know them, and he developed relationships with each horse.I watched from season to season as my dad taught these young frisky horses how to act. The memories are beautiful images in my head that have grown more precious with my dad’s passing, and the spiritual analogies that God has shown me. Dad would lean over the top of the foals and almost hug them while they were hooked to a halter and a shank. He would walk with the foals and put some pressure on them to walk with him. As the foals grew they would become more difficult to handle becoming what I would call teenage horses. With teenage horses dad would increase the pressure he placed on them, sometimes having to put his full body weight on the young horse’s back. Depending on the age and personality of the horse, some were easier to handle than others. In the evenings when it was time to enter the barn I would often look out and see my dad struggling with a young horse who was trying to buck him off its back. There are so many spiritual lessons in that for me. How often am I stubbornly trying to resist the pressure of the Holy Spirit that is leaning on me, for my own good? How many times have I tried to buck God, who is trying to mold me into an easily led servant ? The young horses don’t realize that breaking loose from the grasp of the trainer means that they could run out in the road (which is dangerous) or miss feeding time in the barn with their mom. As I reflect further, I think about the faithful, calm mares on our farm. As the horses would age, become accustomed to the routine, and become more familiar with the affections of their trainer you could see them change. The older mares on the farm trusted my dad.They trusted that they would be cared for and that at the end of the path to the barn, they would find a clean, warm stall and sweet horse feed. My dad could lead a mature mare in with one hand, matching her steps, with no tension on her shanks and no pressure on her back. It was like the mare was comfortably strolling with my dad and definitely not being pulled along. However, just like people, special circumstances could stir even a calm mare. We had mares that would flip out at the sight of a horse trailer, and it would take a team of people to load them. A stray dog, fireworks, loud noises, a loose foal, etc could make even the most gentle mare forget all of her training. How often am I like a spooked mare? A little trouble comes my way, an uncertain future, a change of my plans, or something doesn’t go right, and I forget the trust I have for my shepherd. I forget that he always has my best interest at heart and even though I have lost sight, he is guiding me to green pastures and right paths. What a beautiful thought that I am not a burden to God or an annoying, stubborn, out of control animal. I am like a well-loved Thoroughbred and my shepherd is lovingly willing to train me to become a faithful servant who trusts in him, and leans into his promises of provision. He delights in my training, and is patient with the process.
Psalms 32: 8-10
8) I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will give you counsel and watch over you.
9) Do not be like the horse or mule,
which have no understanding;
they must be controlled with bit and bridle
to make them come to you.
10) Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but loving devotion surrounds him who trusts in the LORD.One-TimeMonthlyYearly
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The homestead and the garden are currently a burnt, crunchy brown. We have had to fight for any garden production by replanting dead plants, watering, and mulching. It has been depressing. My husband frequently reminds me that in order to have good garden years, you have to have bad garden years, too. The goats have eaten their little pasture down to a nub and are now having to explore a little further for green grass. Recently, I took inventory of our home canned goods and realized that I have a dwindling supply of several staples, including green beans, homemade salsa, and spaghetti sauce. Honestly, I am not sure if we will have enough production from our garden to restock our root cellar shelves. I have been praying for rain, and not just a light sprinkle, but a substantial consistent rain. The last time it rained here was July 9th. It is now July 17th, and as I write it is finally raining. It has led me to reflect on droughts, rain, and prayer.
As a young girl, I can remember sitting in my little country church on hot July Sundays. My legs would stick to the hard,wooden pews, even in the air-conditioned building. The older women would usually be waving simple paper fans attached to what looked like large popsicle sticks. The older men (most of whom were farmers) would be requesting prayer for rain, and the congregation would agree in a chorus of amens. Growing up on a farm, I became accustomed to the sorrow of drought and joy of summer rain. We did not have the advantage or the access to local radars or fifteen-minute forecasts. The weather was usually provided while watching the evening news or reading the back of the daily paper. However, you could feel the rain coming. The sky would form dark clouds, the wind would pick up and the pressure could be felt. Rain was coming! Rain usually meant scurrying to put up important tools or gathering up harvest to be taken in doors. There was always excitement in the air, a thankfulness, and a sense of urgency to move inside. I learned later in life that those feelings were particular to farm life. The first rain while in college made me think, “Why am I so excited?” Meanwhile, everyone else on campus was simply getting their umbrellas out.
Thinking of all the lack of rain and the struggle to keep my squash, and cucumbers alive brings to mind one of my favorite Bible stories. In 1 Kings chapter 18, Elijah and Israel are suffering through a three-year drought. Three years of drought meant that the land was desperate. Because of a month of drought here, I have dead grass, peppers, and squash. Imagine three years with no rain !! The people of Israel had experienced lack of harvest, death of animals and dried up water sources. The conditions were dire. In 1 Kings chapter 18 verse 41 you find Elijah informing King Ahab that there will be rain. I find it fascinating that there was no rain yet, and actually Elijah had not even prayed for rain yet. Wow! What faith! Elijah was sure God would supply the rain, even after a three-year drought. This reminds me of my three year drought that I suffered through in my life. After three years of infertility and the loss of a baby, I was shaken to the core. Sadly, if you had asked me, “Are you going to be a mother?” Unlike Elijah I could not predict the rain in my life. My life was definitely in a drought and I saw no rain in sight. There were so many things out of my control, mostly the ability to create life. Three years of pain led me to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over life. The waiting left me dry and lonely, there was an absence of life/rain in my life. In verse 42 of 1 Kings 18, Elijah climbed to the top of Mt. Carmel humbling seeking God. The Bible says he “bowed himself down on the earth” putting his face down on the ground. Elijah was acknowledging that God was the only one who could make it rain. In 2001, in a small southern Indiana church, I was broken, hopeless and dried up. If you had encountered me then, you would have seen the drought of my life on my face. I don’t remember the song or the sermon or even the particular date, but I will never forget the spiritual encounter and the rain God sent to me on that day. Sometimes in life you can be so broken that when God comes to you the surroundings make no difference. The song didn’t matter, the worship team didn’t matter, the lighting of the building didn’t matter. My soul was dry and dying. The one thing I most desperately wanted was to be a mother, and it appeared God had ignored my heart’s desire. Yes, I was angry. But instead of expressing my anger to God, I had been running away. In hindsight, I was actually denying myself the true rain, the water, the life giving spiritual nourishment I needed. At that point, my church attendance had become sporadic, and I am pretty sure I was only there because a friend had asked if I was coming. Soon after the church service started, and while the congregation was singing either a hymn or a worship song, I found myself walking to the front of the church. There were a few steps leading up from the floor to the stage of the church building, and it was often referred to as the altar. I had never been to an altar before, in any church. During the three years of heartbreak for me, not once, not even in private, had I knelt in prayer. There had been times I had asked others to pray, called my mom and cried, or vented to a friend, but strangely, I did not personally seek God. I was disappointed in God. He knew what I wanted, but it seemed he was denying me. I felt my knees buckle when I reached the front of the church and I crumpled myself down on the carpeted steps. Strangely, I was not worried about the 150 people who were now looking at me. The sorrow of three years came rolling out of me, and it was raining. The rain this time came in the form of my tears and pain, which you would think would not produce life, but they did. It was such a release for me to finally be honest before God, to be broken. God was with me, and with every tear I cried he came closer. For the first time in a long time, I knew God had not left me alone. I left church that day feeling comforted, not because I was suddenly pregnant, not because God said, “You will have a baby”, and not because any of my problems were solved, but because I knew God had heard me. In verse 44 of 1 Kings 18, it says Elijah’s servant spots a little cloud, like a man’s hand. Soon it was raining, and in one of my favorite parts of the story, Elijah, who was an old man at the time, “gathers up his garments” and beats the King’s chariot to the entrance of Jezreel. In a matter of weeks after my Baptist church altar encounter I held my oldest son for the first time. The adoption agency told my husband and me that it was the fastest placement that they had ever done. The entire time I suffered through my drought, God knew when the rain would come for me. He knew the plan, because he formed the plan. And even though I spent most of the time doubting the plan, he was gracious and loving to me. There was purpose in my pain and a plan for my life.
I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
His plans were greater than mine. Now I am a mother of three boys, and my cup runs over. His purpose was for me to be a mom to my wonderful sons. Honestly, without the drought, I would not have chosen to be an adoptive mother. Sadly, I would have missed out on so many of the blessings that adoption had brought me. While the drought looked like it was killing me, it was actually making my roots reach deeper. My deeper roots showed up in my joy despite the pain, peace even in the unknown, and finally in his gracious gift of my three sons. It was painful to go through the three years of drought. However, God’s timing was perfect and so was his plan. During the drought, he was crafting my special family. Through my three adoptions I have learned so much about God’s love for me and his plans. I still have days when I get stuck looking at the drought but my faith tells me, God will send the rain.
The LORD Sends Rain 1 Kings 18:41-46
41)And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42)So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43)And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. 44)And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45)And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 46)And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
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At 18 years old I was headed for the magical world of Arkansas, college bound. It was an exciting time for me, but also a very scary time. It was going to be over eight hours away from home and I didn’t know anyone. As the date of my departure grew closer, my behavior and life choices went down the drain. My parents had spent many years taking me to church and teaching me by example and word to live an upright life. But being very immature, the world looked alluring to me and fun. I thought, “Why not live a little before I leave home?” In hindsight I can now see that phase of my life was actually part of a process. My leaving home and deciding who I was going to be was a necessary step… in a way, I had to leave (rebel) in order to understand the road home. However, God lovingly would only allow me to go so far until he made me accountable for my mistakes.
In those teen years, God’s accountability came in the form of my father. Just a week before I was to leave home, my dad overheard a vulgar conversation I was having on the phone with a young man. It’s funny to me that now I can’t remember who I was talking to on the phone, but I sure remember the disappointment on my dad’s face. After the incident, my dad said it was pointless to give me consequences because I was leaving home. To be truthful, his disappointment in me was the worst consequence I could have suffered. We soon packed up the truck and drove a hot eight hours in August to Arkansas. If you have never been to Arkansas in August, you don’t know what hot really is. It was a long trip. I was sandwiched between my parents in our red Dodge Ram headed down south. About two hours into the trip my dad began to spout parental wisdom. Maybe it was the long drive, the heat, the holy spirit or some combination of the three but he began to tell me how every decision I made was seen by God and known, and how my choices would shape my life. He talked about his desire for me to be a faithful person and a Godly woman. Nervous about all my upcoming changes, I was annoyed. Honestly, I was annoyed with both my dad and with myself, I was wondering if my dad would ever be proud of me again. In that moment, the fear of failure was probably larger than it had ever been in my life. Here I was on the way to college, the same girl who almost failed the 6th grade. Most major mistakes that we make in our lives can usually be traced back to fear; fear of rejection or maybe a fear of failure. During this phase of my life I was facing both the fear of rejection and failure.
After arriving on campus, my parents unpacked my belongings, put a bookshelf together and quickly said goodbye. Their departure felt rushed to me, and I thought maybe it was because they were both disappointed in me. Little did I know, my parents had already made a plan for my college drop-off ahead of time, which included a brief goodbye. My mom later told me that she was sure my dad could not handle a long, drawn-out process and she was fearful he might not want to leave. She also thought if I had time to think about their departure I might get dramatic. I have always had a dramatic flair. There were several calls home, cards received, and even care packages. I soon adjusted to my new college life and began to experience what I would compare to four years of extended church camp. Turns out college was for the most part a wonderful experience for me. However, I still felt the lingering sense of my dad’s disappointment. My dad had talked to me several times on the phone and had not seemed mad but it had been months since I’d been able to see his face, or the twinkle in his tiny eyes when he smiled. Thanksgiving break finally came, and with it, my first chance to come home. My excitement to be there, sleep in my own bed, and eat at my parents’ table was overwhelming.
Finally pulling into my parents’ driveway after a long, eight hour drive through the flat lands of Arkansas, to Memphis, and ultimately my beautiful, rolling Kentucky bluegrass hills. The driveway of my childhood home led straight to a slightly sloping, cracked sidewalk. The kitchen window looked out over the driveway, and was close to the back door of the large two story farmhouse. My dad was peering out the window, and truth be told, he had probably been peering out the window for a while. This was back in the day before cell phones, tracking apps, or even Mapquest, I am not sure how I made it home alive! The minute we pulled in the driveway, I could see him looking out the window and quickly exiting the backdoor. My dad ran down the sidewalk, robustly swept me up in his arms, twirled me around! I was delighted to be hugged up in his burly embrace and he said, “I am so excited that you are home!” The months of my uncertainty were gone in an instant. My dad still loved me. He didn’t seem to remember the long road to Arkansas or my teenage indiscretion.
Recently I was sharing this story with a dear friend of mine, and she pointed out the similarities between my story and the parable of the prodigal son. It makes my story that much sweeter in my memory to put it in the scriptural context of the prodigal son.
20) And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21) And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22) But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23) And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24) For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
After the sudden passing of my parents in 2017, I began to have a lot of thoughts about what it would be like to go to heaven. The scriptures speak of the glory and presence of God and his son Jesus, the streets of gold, and say heaven is a place that God has prepared for us. However, scripture does not speak about the details of our meeting Jesus. Maybe because it will be too glorious for us to comprehend or even understand right now. One day as I was praying and struggling with the absence of my parents, and the lack of knowledge about my reunion in heaven with Jesus, God brought this memory of my loving dad to my mind. The love my dad showed to me on that college freshman Thanksgiving break was a reflection of God’s love for me. When I do enter heaven my meeting with Jesus will be full of love. I feel sure I will feel the embrace of my heavenly father and hear him say, “I am so excited you are home!” I long to feel his embrace and see his face for the first time. And in an instant I will feel the full impact of grace, extended to me, that covers my lifetime of mistakes.
2 Corinthians 5:2
For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling
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Honestly, I have been debating whether or not I should blog about my weeds. Weeds are much like a dirty house; you live in it but don’t want other people to see your mess. Everyone seems to have an opinion about your mess (weeds or dirty house), and how they would fix it or how their home/garden/life would never get that bad.
Over the years I have seen, read, and heard about methods that will supposedly leave you with no weeds. My experience has been that most methods are too good to be true. I remember in the nineties my mom bought yards and yards of landscaping fabric and lined several of her landscaping areas. Today this material is still present buried under layers of mulch and dirt, and guess what! There are weeds growing through the fabric. The fabric actually makes it harder to pull the weed once it has grown through, because it becomes twisted in the fabric and you lose access to the root of the weed. In Spite of all the gadgets, sprays, and methods there are still weeds in the world.
As I work in the garden, I think to myself, “Weeds are a part of life.” If you have any green space in your life, you will have weeds. Weeds remind me of the scripture, “In this world you will have trouble …” John 16:33. So for the last five years I have spent several summer mornings and evenings weeding. This time of year my life has a certain routine. IT is “wake up, weed and repeat”. If I turn my back and ignore my weeds for even a day or two, they will over take the garden and destroy my harvest. Yet no matter how hard I try to keep them out, there are still weeds.
In the spring time we had a week of rain. Like every plant, weeds love rain. But the school year was still in session, so I had very little time to weed. A portion of our garden quickly became so covered with weeds you could not see the lettuce, radishes, or spinach that were growing. I attacked them as soon as I could carve out time, but while I was getting that area under control, my sunflower and zinnia rows burst forth with their own variety of weeds. The weeds became so thick in my flower rows it looked like I was weed farming! Even though my excuses were legitimate, the weeds didn’t really care. Gardening is actually a spiritual thing. While sweating buckets under my sunscreen jacket, I often think about my life, scriptures, and my creator. God designed gardening. He created the first garden and gave man the joy of cultivating it. But because of the sin of man, I now pull weeds. One of the many spiritual thoughts I have while pulling weeds is about the parallels between weeds and sin in my life. How often do I neglect to acknowledge (even though I know they are there) the weeds in my life ? There are times when I am caught up in other distractions and I just don’t even attempt to pull the weeds. Sometimes, I might decide it is time to clean my garden (my life) up, and after a half- hearted attempt, the weed snaps off. The appearance to others in my life looks good, no weeds … Right ? Well, if you have ever weeded you know that unless you pull the root up, the weed will be back. It is interesting to me that most flowers and vegetables will shrivel and die without leaves and stems but my evil weeds only need a fraction of a root to grow a whole plant.
There are times here on the homestead and in my life that I look at my weeds and I think, “Well, I have let it go too far this time. I have lost to the weeds.” The first year we moved to our homestead, we moved in July and the weeds had gotten so out of control they were several weeds taller than me. You might have mistaken them for trees or large shrubs, if you had driven by. My harvest was non-existent that year with only a few stray squash. It was a painful year of loss and failure for me. I can remember trying to weed what I affectionately call the World’s Longest Flower Bed, and it was a losing battle. My body was not responding well to the stress of my life and the personal pains I felt. One evening I was out digging up the weeds that had overwhelmed my mother’s beautiful lilies. I could feel my spirit just giving up. I was having thoughts of just mowing things down, naturalizing the area, or paving over the entire thing. Just about that time, up pulled a friend with her husband and three kids. She jumped out of her minivan and said, “Girl, what are you doing out here? And by yourself ?, You are never going to get done on your own !!” I was so happy to see her, I think I cried. She couldn’t tell though because I was sweating so much. Soon her husband and boys were digging away in the garden with me. My friend brought me a cold drink and made me sit and watch them finish up. I was so blessed and just like that the World’s Longest Flower Bed had returned to its original glory. While we were sitting watching them weed, she began to tell me what a good job I was doing taking care of my mom’s flowers. What words of encouragement that I needed to hear! We followed up the weed party with a pizza party filled with laughter. I wish every time I weeded a car full of people would show up to help, but that is what makes that story so special. There are times when God requires me to pull the weeds up without company, just me and Him. However, he is gracious and loving, and when it looks like I might just sacrifice the flowers, the fruit of His work in me, and give up, he provides me with a car full of people to help me, giving me rest, love, and encouragement to keep going.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up,
just as you are doing.
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