Stay Strong

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Tell me what’s coming next, and I can prepare myself.

Once, about 12 years ago, Jim decided to surprise me for my birthday. He had taken the day off and had planned a few fun things for us to do. The problem was, I had already made plans with my mom and sister, and I wasn’t prepared for his impromptu celebration. Maybe that would’ve delighted some of you, but me, I hate being surprised.

A couple years ago, he tried again. He planned a surprise party for my 40th birthday, and I had no idea it was coming. As I began to realize that my best friend was leading me into a trap, I turned around, and headed back down the hall to leave. Of course I turned back around, and I was totally blessed by all the amazing friends and family that came out to celebrate me, but my initial reaction was to hide.

Is anyone else out there confused? Surprised by the world we are currently living in?

If someone had told me in January to start setting aside some extra supplies, because starting March 16, schools would be closed, restaurants would soon follow, and the supermarkets shelves would be bare, I could’ve been more prepared. This one caught me by surprise. I’m not living in fear over here, just a little frustrated and confused. It does make me want to hide a little.

Does anyone remember the story of Elijah? Most of his story is in the Old Testament book of I Kings chapters 17-19. If you haven’t read it, please do, if you haven’t read it in a long time, brush up on it (we all have lots more time to read ;)!

Elijah was a prophet and during his time here, God performed many miracles through him, but what I’ve always related to Elijah on is his raw emotion. He had just come off of calling fire from heaven in front of the ones who dared mock God and within a short period of time, his life was being threatened by an evil woman named Jezebel. What did Elijah, the mighty prophet of God do? He ran. First, he sat under a tree and begged God to take his life and then when God provided him food out of literally nowhere, he ate it, and took off for a cave to hide in. It’s really amazing how God gets his attention, finally. It’s not in the mighty wind that passes by or the earthquake that shakes the ground. God speaks to Elijah in a whisper.

What I understand and appreciate about Elijah, though, is how sometimes when we are faced with difficulty or uncertainty, our initial reaction, even as believers, is to freak out! We want to hide or run and we often allow fear to creep in. God understands that it’s human for that to be our initial reaction…but what follows should be our eternal reaction.

I stopped reading any reports on anything virus related last week, and severely limited my social media time, simply because I couldn’t handle all the confusion. That’s not to say I am not aware of what is going on, having a husband in health care and many close family and friends working the front lines, it is impossible to not be, but I know that God isn’t speaking to me in the chaos or confusion, He speaks to me in a whisper. A whisper of praise and worship music. A whisper of His Word that can bring peace and comfort. A whisper of His voice, reminding me that He goes before me, He knows what is happening and what will happen. He is never surprised.

So in this time of change and uncertainty, I would encourage you, my dear friends, to press in and press on. God met with Elijah while he was hiding in a cave, He will meet with us while we are quarantined in our houses. Remember God is not the author of confusion, but He can make crooked paths straight.

Also, if you need someone to pray for you or talk with you, I am here. I can offer you what I have, and that is hope in Jesus. He has been my Light in countless dark caves, and I am always ready to carry His light to anyone else that needs it.

Stay Strong

Scars and the Stories They Tell

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Grace loved to look at my scars and hear the stories of how I got them. “Tell me about this scar,” she would say as she traced her fingers over the two tiny circular indents on my forehead, wanting to hear about the epic case of chickenpox that left those battle wounds. “How about this one,” as she pressed on the hollowed out spot on my leg left from the basement game of hide and seek that ended me up in the ER. But generally, and arguably the most odd, was the amount of times she would say “and these,” as she traced the marks left behind after she caused her mama’s stomach to stretch so big, the skin just couldn’t hold up.

The most bizarre part of her fascination was how similar it was to my own. I would snuggle up next to my dad and run my fingers over the hand that was getting more and more disfigured due to a strange disease that caused his tendons to shrink. Every time he would walk around the house with no shirt on, I would look for the spot on his back where there was a scar left behind from a high school fight and I would listen to the story of how he was stabbed. And if you knew my dad for long enough, he would tell you the story of the playground incident that left the back of his head dented by the little girl who threw a brick at the German little boy who was teased for not speaking any English.

I remember loving to hear the stories, the stories that told about the scars.

The scars we hide tell stories too, don’t they? I have often wondered…what if our flesh showed emotional scars as a visible reminder of our pain and anguish, depression and fears, would we be more prone to tell their story, instead of hiding it? 

I know that scar stories, about loss and pain, or joy and peace, are worth talking about. It brings to light feelings and thoughts that allow other people to not feel so alone.

Shared scar stories can help me look into the eyes of a grieving mother and tell her that it is absolutely normal to wish that the pain would just end. To go to sleep, praying that somehow in the middle of the night, God would take you home. It will give me the strength to stand next to a recently widowed women, being forced to embrace a future that looks nothing like what was planned, and gently tell her that she is not wrong to feel sadness mixed somehow with relief. Or to sit quietly with a friend, who finds herself marked with the scar of divorce or infidelity, leaving behind questions, doubts and lies from the enemy, who seeks to destroy any chance of recovery she might have.

Scars tell us what it looks like to be hurt, but they also tell us what it looks like to survive.

In the Bible, there is a man by the name of Thomas, and I’m sure some of you are already saying his nickname in your head, but imagine you were there, and you saw Jesus die, you knew He was buried and you were grieving His death, wouldn’t you ask the same question? I won’t believe it until I see the scars. It was beyond comprehension that Jesus would be alive, and if He was alive, I would want to see the proof that He died; I would want to see the scars and hear the story.

This Saturday will mark four years since the accident that left us without our firstborn, Grace. I’ve often said, it’s not an anniversary, because anniversary’s should be celebrated. It’s just a day. On the calendar it could be marked “scar day” because it would leave behind the largest one to date. It doesn’t remind me of what happened, because if you carry around a scar, one too deep to ever cover up, you know that it takes nothing to remind you, not a day, or a smell or a word. It’s always there. You can feel it, see it and trace your fingers over it, every minute of every day. It becomes a part of you.

Sunday, January 26th will be my dad’s birthday. I remember sitting in the waiting room at the hospital on January 25th 2016, looking around the room at the faces that I loved, all overcome with disbelief and suffering, and a lucid thought made its way through my emotional wreckage. “Dad, what a birthday gift you’ve gotten this year, your precious baby Grace is home with you.”

But I can almost picture the moment she saw him and what she said…“Papa, lead me to the man with the scars on His hands, I want to hear His story.”

 

Scars and the Stories They Tell

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.

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