Stuck

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Climbing trees was proof you weren’t scared of anything, at least that’s what the neighborhood boys used to say. And the higher you climbed, the less scared you were. So, of course, needing to prove to myself that I was unafraid, I climbed higher.

Our neighborhood was busy with kids. My sister Amy is six years older than I am and Lisa is five years older, so I would often play the games they played, with the older kids they played with. One of those games was hide and seek, and to make it more interesting, we played it in the trees. The designated “seeker” would stay on the ground and count, while the “hiders” would climb up as high as they could go and try to disappear behind limbs or leaves.

I’m not much for competition, unless it’s with myself. I have never felt a need to beat or prove anything to anyone. If you asked my immediate family, the first words that I most likely strung together in a sentence were “I don’t give a care.” And I never really have. It never worked for me when a teacher would say “don’t you want to do as well as your sister Amy did in school?” Nope, don’t care. Or “don’t you want to be as kind and loving as Lisa is?” Nope, not really. Comparison doesn’t motivate me, but working to be a better me, push my limits and prove to myself that I can do anything, that I will compete with.

As soon as I heard “on your mark, get set, go” I ran to the skinny trees at the edge of our yard and started to climb. I never remember looking around to see where everyone else was at, I just knew I had to climb until the final number was heard. The “seeker” shouted “50” and I managed to quickly hide myself in the Y of the tree, where one branch shoots off and starts in a different direction. He searched for us and I hid well. When the game was over, I felt so proud, they never saw me. I could head down, knowing that I had no fear. I went to pull away from my secret spot only to find that my knee, so well positioned, was now securely and firmly stuck. I wiggled and I pulled and I tried to breathe deeply to keep myself calm, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get loose. I became frantic. I started to yell for help. I was stuck.

Stuck – to be fixed in a particular position or unable to move or be moved.

Have you ever felt that way? Like you just can’t move from where you are?

Grief will stick you stuck like nothing else will.

You can’t see your life without the person you have lost. You can’t imagine what waking up tomorrow will be like. What next month’s holiday will bring. How you can ever be happy again. You can’t give away their clothes or throw away the old papers. You don’t know what joy feels like because it’s been so long since you have felt it. Memories of the phone call, conversation or hospital visit replay over and over in your head and it takes work, actual hard work, to push through those thoughts to move towards something better, because hope tells you there has to be something better.

Philippians 3:14 says “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” If you back up a couple scriptures you will read that Paul says he strives to forget what is behind him, but I don’t think his forget is what our forget is. Paul knew who he was, he mentions that he thought he was the worst of sinners. He knew what was in his past. The difference between his forget and our forget is the intent. We think forgetting means not remembering the person anymore, the memories, the details of who they were and how much they made us who we are, but that isn’t what Paul meant by forgetting. He knew that in order to move ahead, he couldn’t dwell on what was, he needed to strive for what could be, he had to get unstuck. 

It was my dad, he rescued me. He heard my screams for help from his shop and came to my rescue. He climbed all the way up there (which now looking back was probably not nearly as high as I thought it was), talked me down from my anxious state, and worked my knee out of its stuckness. I climbed back down, with him right behind me, keeping me safe until we reached the ground.

Sometimes you will receive that same sort of rescue. Someone will come along and help you get through your inability to move forward. Sometimes it will be your heavenly Father, coming to your rescue, talking you down from your emotional tree climb, and working you out of your stuck spot, but to be honest, more often than that, it will be you. You will have to muster up the courage to just forge ahead. There is so much waiting for you, be brave and press on, the prize of the future is much more rewarding then the memories of the past.

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Stuck

Searching

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Something I enjoy, that I don’t have much time for these days, is antiquing. Wandering through those shops, reminiscing about items on the shelves gathering dust that were once in my room, brand new and valued, conjures up memories, some good and some better left forgotten, but all the same, I enjoy it. Never do I leave an antique mall, whether here at home or on a trip, that I don’t stop in the art section and check the paintings for the Lady In Red.

She was a mystery. She hung on the wall in my family room until I was a teenager. I would sketch her or pretend I was in her room, watching her put her makeup on. I made up stories about who she was and why she was wearing that ball gown. She looked over her shoulder right at me, and so I felt like I needed to give her a story, give her some truth or identity.

My dad, Peter Pochodaj, sailed on the General M L Hersey from Bremerhaven, Germany, where he was born and spent the first 2 years of his life. My grandfather Petro, and my Oma, Elfriede, were with him, along with his sister Irena. They were leaving behind a very broken country, in the aftermath of WWII, looking for a place to better their lives and raise a family, without the bruised identification that came with being German. My grandparents left behind paintings and rugs, dishes and silver, and a life filled with suffering and secrets. I often wonder if landing on Ellis Island all those years ago made them feel like everything that they left behind would maybe just stay there. It didn’t because the past may be behind us, but it is also who we are, woven into us, it walks with us and often haunts us until properly dealt with, and even then, it doesn’t actually leave us.

So they ended up in Detroit. In order to make the money they needed, as an immigrant family, my grandfather went to work in a factory and my Oma opened a German novelty storefront shop. She gathered art, rugs, dishes and knick-knacks most likely things similar to what she had left behind and she sold them. From that shop came the Lady In Red. She was not the only painting my father acquired from his mother, there were many others on our walls growing up. German villages and streets, castles in Switzerland, and rolling hills and mountains, most likely someplace in Austria, but none held my attention like her. Owning his own business though, finances were never guaranteed, and when it came down to providing for his family or selling some of those paintings, my dad did what he always did, he chose provision for us, and many of the paintings were sent to a consignment shop. And so I search for her. I don’t expect to find her, but I will continue to browse through the musty smelling sections of any antique shop I’m in, on the off chance she is tucked away somewhere.

There is a part of me that searches for Grace and I probably always will. When the three of us get in the car, I still look in the rear view mirror to see if both of them are buckled. Any family gatherings we have, extended or not, before we pray, every single time, I want to stop the person about to pray and tell them that not everyone is with us yet. When my sister and I used to take the girls places, we would just count, 1,2,3,4,5 heads. Always counting. I still count. When Evelyn struggles with friends, I search for the tactful words of my oldest, who made a joke about so many things, making light of heavy situations because she was a master at breaking up tension. I search for her presence every day, in small insignificant things and huge, overwhelming things. I still cry myself to sleep some nights because at the end of the day, no amount of searching will recover what I’ve lost.

There is a truth to that that weighs on my soul. It pulls me, sometimes jerks me, in a direction of pain, sadness, and despair. I fight that battle often, if I’m being honest. It’s easier to fight when I’m not thinking about it, and easier to not think about it when I keep extremely busy, but when this locomotion, that moves at full speed, has an obstacle in the tracks, let me tell you, derailment is not far behind.

I know the truth of what my life is. I know that my search will continue. I know that my emotional state will always be a little like that train. There are days, weeks and even months now, that I can be on track (pun intended), speeding along, actually enjoying my life, broken as it might be, and before I know it, something falls in my path and slows the whole thing down, and it takes me time to recover. But recover, I will continue to do.

Why? It’s not mental fortitude. It’s not because I have a great husband, family and friends. I do, but that’s not what keeps me recovering. It’s not because I can look down the line and see an end, because I don’t, there isn’t an end to grief, it just looks differently as the years race by.

Jesus is my truth. And considering “He is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), I have no reason to not recover. What He did and said and paid for to rescue me from sin and death, gives me every reason to continue recovering, no matter the difficulty. God does not derail me, my emotions do, my grief does, life’s hardships and struggles, stress and sometimes people can derail me, but God never does. He holds my hand and helps me clean up the mess, and then shows me how to get back on track.

I will continue to search for the Lady In Red. I will continue to search for pieces of my Gracie girl that are left all over (yes, like glitter), but I will never search for an answer. I need no answers to why or what if. I have the only answer I will ever need, and He is not a mystery or hiding somewhere out of reach. Jesus is my answer. That search ended the moment I found Him.

Searching

Engage


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There were some things that were very important to my dad. My sister and I knowing how to drive a manual or stick shift, was among one of them. I’m not sure why, but knowing my dad, it was probably so that, in case we ever found ourselves in need of “borrowing” someone else’s vehicle, for an emergency of course, we could drive whatever we hopped into. And so my first truck, a Jeep Comanche, was a stick.

My dad bought me that truck a few weeks before I turned 16. He and I practiced the basics of how to handle a stick shift in the driveway and we took it out a couple times on our road, but I like to learn things quietly and alone, so when I got my license, on my birthday, I decided that I would not only know how to drive it, but I would excel at the skill. Every day, I would get done with my school work, jump in my truck and drive the dirt roads until I was low on gas. There were a few weeks of bumpy rides, stalls, rough gear grinds, and tire squeals, but after some work, I had it mastered. I can remember my dad saying each time I would stall, “Sara, take a deep breath, be patient and wait for the transmission to engage.” I had the distinct pleasure of then teaching my group of friends how to also drive a stick. The final test was always at the railroad tracks, stopping on a hill, and then taking off over the tracks without stalling. Proud to say, they all passed. 

It had been so long since I drove a manual, but then one of my best friends bought one recently. I again got the chance to help someone learn how to drive a stick and I have to say, my dad’s words flooded over me again and again as I told her, “be patient, wait for the transmission to engage.”

Yesterday, during one of the songs we were singing at church, I heard similar words, only this time it was coming from my heavenly Father, “Engage.”

Bob Goff says in his book, Love Does that “being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving.” Jim read this book recently and he liked it enough to share it with me. It is filled with so many good stories about being a part of people’s lives, showing the love of Jesus, without necessarily using words. Engaging.

It is extremely easy to disengage in life. We often do this when we get tired or overwhelmed, but it is dangerously tempting to disengage fully when life stalls, like it did for us a few years ago.

Losing Grace, almost 3 years ago now, was and still is the most heart-breaking experience of my life. All this time later, I weep over the loss of, not only my beautiful teenager, but the life she would’ve lived. The son-in-law I could’ve had, the grandbabies I was sure to have cuddled with. So many things were stolen on that night in January, but do you know what wasn’t stolen? My ability to engage.

“God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from Him.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-4.

We love and comfort because we have been loved and comforted by a Father in heaven that was willing to be patient with us as we learned how to engage in life again, only a new life, one that we didn’t know how to drive, one without our Grace. The last 3 years have been filled with bumpy rides, stalls, and times when we disengaged completely, only to sit back, take a deep breath, and be reminded by our Father to be patient, and try again.

Engage. In your own life, but more importantly, in other people’s lives. This is how they will see Jesus. Love and comfort in your brokenness, because while you learn how to engage in the middle of your tragedy, you may just be teaching someone else how to engage in the middle of their own.

Thank you for your prayers this week and always. We truly do appreciate the love that we so often are surrounded with.

Engage

Does It Get Easier?


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Basketball season started last month, but official games begin this week. My family is and always has been a basketball family. Jim played, Grace played, Evelyn plays, and I love watching. We spend much of the winter and spring months filling out brackets, watching teams that are underdogs, watching our favorite teams, and watching the ones that just keep winning, the unstoppable. Because of basketball, I have learned a lot about teamwork, what a good coach looks and leads like, what an encourager can accomplish on the court and on the bench, but most of all, what hard work and persistence leads to. Some of my favorite players to watch, especially in college ball, have been the ones that work the hardest, aren’t there for the 3 point shots, but are essentially what keeps the team together.

Aaron Craft was one of those players. Grace loved watching him play. We all did. He was just playing the game he loved, but he gave his absolute best every time he played. He never was known for his shooting, but people knew his name, because he worked hard. It was probably never easy, but nothing ever really is, is it? He had a Bible verse (Romans 5:8) written on his shoe during his college days, and with that knowledge, he inspired Grace. He inspired her to play hard and to try her best to glorify God on and off the court. Plus she thought he was cute, and she was hoping that someday they could meet and, cue Hallmark music, fall in love.

I’m not sure what it is about basketball season that makes it so much more difficult for me to keep my grief in check. Perhaps it was Grace’s love for the sport, or maybe that it kicks off the holiday season, which then leads into the January heaviness. Whatever the reason may be, basketball brings with it emotional highs and lows that are sometimes overwhelming for me. That being said though, there is almost no place I would rather be than watching Evelyn play, it was the same when Grace played. When you see your child doing something they love, with all their might, until their cheeks are red and their face is sweating, it brings a sense of joy to a parent. I love that feeling.

I have spent hours rebounding for both of them, and I have been there during the frustrating moments when, no matter how hard they tried, the ball just wouldn’t do what it was supposed to do. Grace didn’t like the extra work it took to be the best, she loved the game, but wasn’t a huge fan of the hard work. Evelyn, on the other hand, will do what she can to get better, to be better. She rarely is seen without a ball in her hands at home. She sits with it while doing homework, she sleeps with a basketball in bed with her and she shoots the ball when she has extra time at home, even after official practice is over. She puts in the work, but she knows it’s still not easy.

Someone asked me today if losing someone ever gets easier. I struggle with what to say sometimes to that question, because the last thing I ever want to do is make a freshly grieving person lose hope that it will ever get better, but no, it doesn’t get easier, at least it hasn’t for me. But grieving the loss of a loved one, especially a child, is hard work. Like Evelyn and her basketball, grief never leaves my side. I sit with it at dinner, while I work, while I sleep and even after a hard, long day of grieving, I grieve still. It doesn’t get easier, but hopefully I will get better. Not better in the sense that one day I will not miss Grace anymore, not better in the sense that grief will lift and I will no longer feel sad or angry or sometimes cold and numb. Better in the fact that because of the hard work of grief that I have put in, I can honor and glorify God in and out of the sadness. I want to be better, because Jesus has called me to be like He was, acquainted with grief…but willing to bear others sorrows.

So as the game begins tomorrow night, and we win or lose the tip-off, I will try to remind myself, that although the work is hard, the outcome is worth it, because looking more like Jesus in my daily walk, is always worth the effort.

Does It Get Easier?

Rescue

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was asked to substitute teach the 4th/5th grade class at our school a couple weeks ago. They behaved, which I didn’t doubt, but one of the ways that I kept them focused is by promising to tell a story to them every time they got their work done and had some extra minutes. A story from when I was little. “Raise your hand if you want to hear about the time I was dared to run across a swamp or the time I was attacked by a dog or the time I was challenged to swim across the neighbor’s pond?” Hands went up for each tale, and by the end of the day, we got through all three and I think I managed to add in the one about the time I got stuck at the top of a tree playing hide and seek.

My childhood stories, as I’ve already shared, were one of Grace’s favorite things to listen to. And I have so many. So, because you are reading, and I am feeling the need to write, you are in for another story.

There are two very distinct memories I have of almost drowning. The first happened while my friend and I were playing in the creek behind her house. It was winter and we were stomping through the ice. Most of the creek was fairly shallow, and we knew where the deep spots were, or so we thought. I remember her walking in front of me and I watched as she jumped up and then came down hard, with both feet, crackling the ice into what seemed like a million pieces of shattered glass. Her feet would quickly fall through and there she stood, ankle (or sometimes knee) deep in freezing water. We were prepared for such an adventure with snow boots, strategically lined with bread bags, to keep the water from soaking our clothes. She would giggle, jump, turn around and smile at me every time. I would do the same. Trying to find spots that she hadn’t already broken through, I moved a little further to the middle. I shouted out her name, jumped high, pulled my knees up and came down hard on the ice. I heard the cracks and prepared for my 6 inch slip to the bottom, but I had moved too far out, and the fun that we had been having, came to a screeching halt. I remember feeling very cold, instantly. Freezing water was stinging my face as I reached around, trying to get a hold of something sturdy. Ice breaks so quickly when you are in a panic. I tried to calm myself down in order to think clearly about what to do next, when I looked up and saw my friend’s face. She was laying down on the ice, with a tree branch held out to me. I grabbed the branch and then her arm and she slowly backed up and brought me out of the water. She rescued me. We walked home that day, at a much quicker pace than usual, trying to get out of the cold and into warm clothes (undetected by our parents, so we didn’t get into trouble), and I don’t even remember saying thank you. It was just what she did, she was my best friend, and she rescued me from drowning that day.

The second memory I have of almost drowning was at a family friend’s pond. My whole family was on one of those big black inner tubes. We were laughing and bobbing up and down, in the middle of the pond, when I slipped off the back of the tube. Time really does slow down when something like this happens. I remember sinking, eyes wide open but unable to see anything due to the dark and murkiness of pond water. I felt something grab the back of my swimsuit and I was quickly jerked back to the water’s surface. My dad had went in after me, reached down, felt my body and just grabbed a hold. I sputtered water out as he hoisted me back to the top of the inner tube. Again, I don’t think I ever said thank you. It was just what he did, he was my dad, and he rescued me from sinking that day.

There is a song called “No Longer Slaves” that was released by Bethel’s worship team. In it, there is a line that says “You rescued me so I can stand and sing, I am a child of God.”

I’ve thought about that line so many times the past couple years. Rescued in order to testify. What have we been rescued from and are we doing a proper job at standing and proclaiming our thanks, our gratitude, to the one who rescued us?

2 Peter 2:9 says “…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials.”

If you know Jesus as your Savior, trust Him to rescue you. He has rescued me, over and over again. He has pulled me up from deep despair. He has held out His Hand when I couldn’t think clearly. He has put the right song in my heart, the right person in my path, the right verse on my mind. But when you do feel the rescue…thank Him, but not just in words, thank Him by letting people know that you have been rescued by the only One who can truly rescue you for all of eternity. Don’t be afraid to tell people. There are so many people drowning. In addiction, despair, depression and anxiety. In family circumstances that leave them feeling like they can’t see in front of them because it’s all too dark and murky. In lies that are spread that make them feel like freezing water is stinging their face. When He rescues you, and He will, let people know.

Tell the story about the rescue that saved your soul.

Rescue

Darkness

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This past Monday, the 25th, marked exactly 2 years and 5 months since my Gracie girl finished her earthly race, way ahead of the rest of us. Can I be honest? It’s been such a hard couple days, wait, weeks, forget it, if I’m being honest, nothing has been easy since that day. I have lived in a sort of darkness, with pockets of sunshine here and there, but the night settled over me almost 3 years ago, and I don’t know if it will ever really be true day again.

When I was little I couldn’t sleep without the hallway light on, unless I had a warm body next to mine. My mom would call it the “Nighttime shuffle.” After the last person went to sleep, they would turn the light off and in the darkness I would lie until I finally decided to move on. I would leave my room (the one I shared with Lisa, who didn’t really want me close), and I would make my way to Amy’s bed. Being 6 years older than me, she didn’t really want my cold little body in her bed either, so after just a little bit, she would push me out, and I would then knock quietly on my parent’s door until given the ok to enter. There I would stay until the first sign of morning, or until my mom or dad moved my sleepy body back to my own bed.

I hated being alone. I hated being in the dark. I’m not entirely sure what scared me about either. I wasn’t allowed to watch scary movies, so I didn’t really have images of any monsters or the like, but my mind was and still is an arcade of thoughts and feelings that can be totally fabricated, by me, and the fabrications and imaginations can multiply much more quickly when the darkness surrounds me.

Almost 2 ½ year ago, someone shut off the hallway light. I sat in the ER waiting and I could almost feel the darkness sweeping over me, like when the sun goes down and you can follow the shadow to where you stand. I recall looking around me at the sea of faces, tears stinging everyone’s cheeks, and I remember thinking very clearly, and actually saying to my sister “please don’t let me sink, I think this could be the end of me.” It very nearly has been too, not physically, but in nearly every other way. I battle fear, every day. I battle pain, that overwhelms my spirit, every day. I battle bitterness. I battle anger. I battle the unknown. I battle.

Things no one tells you about tragedy or loss.

  • It won’t go away. You sort of live with it, co-exist with the grief, become acquainted with sorrow and pain in ways you would never imagine, and in ways you would never wish upon anyone.
  • The faith that you have, that appears so strong to most everyone, ends up making you feel somewhat like a hypocrite. You will ask yourself if you are actually as strong as people tell you that you are. You will ask yourself countless times, if people only knew how often you questioned God or got mad at Him, would they really see strength? Or would they see weakness? This weakness that only you know about isn’t a physical or mental weakness, it’s in your soul.
  • Grief, any which way you look at it, is a lonely road. You can have the best therapist, you can have the best of friends, you can have the best outlook on life, but you still have to walk with your thoughts and your grief alone. No one is going to understand exactly what you are going through. Stop looking for those people. The ones you think are out there, that can completely identify with you. They don’t exist. I have great people in my life. People that will sit down and let me talk or cry or whatever I may need to do, but when the conversation is over, I am left with me and my personal loss, my personal struggles, and the only One that can help me fully heal from them is Jesus.

This is not meant to discourage you, especially if you are in the midst of grieving. I will be the first to say that it does get better, at times, and then it will get worse again, unexpectedly. Remind yourself often that you are no longer who you once were, and what you are experiencing is all a part of learning who this new you is. It’s not a sprint, it’s not a race, it’s a journey, one which will take the rest of your life. Surround yourself with people that are willing to embrace your mood shifts, your inability to verbalize what you feel or your need to just sit and cry.

And….if you don’t know or understand who Jesus is and what He has done for you, in the love that He showed on the cross, your journey through life will be much more difficult. Can I just tell you, make room for Him. Ask, seek, knock.

When the lights were out and I had gone from one room to the other in search of comfort, I would almost always end up with my daddy. His arms just made me feel safe. There will be no comfort in the darkness that you feel until you learn to rest in the arms of God the Father, by way of His Son Jesus. It won’t make the darkness disappear, but I promise you, only there will you find peace.

Darkness

Access

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I spent a little time this morning, on my drive into work, worshipping the Lord. I recently found a new song that I quickly identified with and so it was easy to sing the words to my Savior, easy to enter into worship, easy to come before Him with my praise. Easy to worship my Heavenly Father, with no hesitation and no invitation necessary.

My dad was a machinist, a tool and die guy. He owned his own company from the time I was little. Before that, he worked at a couple different shops, but quickly realized that, as a chronic workaholic, he was never home, and having the 3 of us girls, he wanted to be around to watch us grow up. So he started P & M Machine (Pete and Marge, in case you were wondering). He built a garage on our property at the very back of the yard, moved all his machines in, and from then on worked in that little shop on Pound Road.

My dad wasn’t like everyone’s dad. He was strong and focused. He loved us and was a great provider, but he had a past, one that very few knew about. One that still leaves us with questions. His past was riddled with pain and suffering, not only as he grew up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional home, first in Germany and then here in the states, but then as a teenager, in a POW camp somewhere in the Vietnam jungle. His return from the war was not a kind one. There were no parades to honor those men, instead there were shouts of hatred and anger. So much of who we are stems from our life experiences, doesn’t it? Life taught my dad at a young age, that people couldn’t be trusted. Not only people that were presented as his enemy, but unfortunately, people that were presented as his friend.

So, back to the shop. I can remember people coming to see him for jobs or to get hired or to visit. Most often, unless they really knew him, they stopped at the house first, making sure he knew they were coming, because you see, not everyone was welcome. My dad did not like to be surprised. He needed to know who was coming and when they would be there. He didn’t want anyone catching him off guard (there were reasons for that, but we just don’t have the time to go into them). Not everyone gained access, not everyone was invited.

But….I never had to ask. I never had to be invited. I could surprise my dad and I had no fear or doubt that he would be thrilled to see me. I was his child. I had privilege. I had gained access because I was his.

So this morning, while I worshipped, I thought of my privilege, my rights as a child of the Most High God. I am always welcome in His presence. I was invited and I gained unlimited access before His throne when I accepted His Son and the work He did on the cross.

How wonderful is that? I mean, really?

Let’s not take it for granted today. I am going to make an effort to give more back to Him. More worship, more words, more adoration, more time spent in His Word, getting to know Him. He is so worthy and so good at loving us and giving us free access to His presence. He has made the way, He invited us, let’s spend more time daily, reveling in our privilege as children of our Perfect Father.

Access