Better Than Dipping My Toes

I have never liked January (if this is your birthday month, sorry!), and I am not sure exactly why. I don’t like January probably in the same way I don’t like Mondays and that I am not a morning person. And probably why I love Thursdays and my favorite time of day is dusk.

To me January feels like dipping my feet in the ocean, testing out the temperature to see if I want to get in. But unlike deciding whether I want to get in or not, I can’t really decide whether I get into the New Year. And so I usually just “get into” it, dreading that I have no choice but go in.

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Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

Maybe it is just another way that perfectionism has trickled into my life. I would much rather finish something than start it.  This dislike may also be another way of looking inward – of figuring out whether I have what it takes to do something and do it well.

This year, especially this first quarter, feels more like an ending than a new beginning. We are moving from this country in May, which means we have about 4 months left here. We need to plan our move to another country, as well as our summer back in the US. We long to care for our family and love others well as we do this.

We are exhausted (“Aylín is barely making it” my husband wrote to a friend this week) ‘cause baby. ‘Cause sickness. ‘Cause post partum hormones. ‘Cause church planting. ‘Cause we have 3 littles. ‘Cause we have been culture-shocking and in transition for about 2.5 years and about to go through another round of it.

If I look inward I already know I don’t have what it takes to get into this year. But still the year begins. We have change ahead with lots of unknowns. And lots of goodbyes. Then transition to new beginnings and a new way of life.

Fresh start is not exactly what comes to mind when I think about January. Fresh strength, however, does come to mind because it is what we need, not what we have.

In desperately obsessing about my need for rest and fresh strength earlier this week the Lord took me to Isaiah 40: 31: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” I had read this verse before. But this time it took me by surprise: that the way to fresh strength is waiting? I personally want to do something about it. “Where can we go to rest? What plans do we need to make it happen?” That’s what I kept wondering this week.

Waiting can also be draining. And yet the Lord calls the one who is fainting and weary to wait. Wait for Him. Reading the whole chapter helped me to understand the logic of God in that verse.

Behold the One You’re Waiting For

Isaiah 40 is God’s comfort to His people who are in exile. He comforts them by setting their gaze and their hope in their God and in the cosmic display of His glory. The Lord would come as a mighty King, a generous Rewarder and as a gentle Shepherd. All flesh would see Him.

He can’t be compared to anything they could think of. His power, His understanding, His wisdom are unsearchable. They might feel as if God had forgotten them, could not see them. But Isaiah reassured them their way was not hidden from their God. He is the everlasting God, He created even the ends of the earth, hidden to everyone but Him. He had all the power to deliver them because He doesn’t faint or grow weary.

He is completely trustworthy. He shows up at just the right time. He is an endurance-producing God. The way to fresh strength is waiting for this God.

From this side of the Cross, I know that the cosmic display of the glory of the Lord was revealed at the Cross, when Christ, the Servant of the Lord was lifted up. The Mighty King used His might to die and to atone for our sins; the Rewarder received God’s punishment in our place. The Gentle Shepherd became the Lamb of God, silent before its shearers. And praise God, his death was not the end of His life. He saw the offspring He fathered through his death. His days were prolonged (Isaiah 53: 10).  He rose to everlasting life.

Behold your Champion

Christian courage is active faith in the strength of Another. While perfectionism would have me look inward for strength (leading me to feel faint), the Lord has me find strength by beholding the Lamb of God.

I see Him seated at the right hand of God, governing History (including my little life) with all authority to accomplish His purposes. He is there, praying for me. He will never grow weary of completing the good work He started in me and in the world.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to a FIFA Club World Cup match here in our city. The teams, Mexico against Brazil, were competing for second place. The stadium was vibrant as the fans cheered the players on, especially awesome loud Brazilians with their drums and chants. (It was the closest I have felt to my country and the most alive I have felt in a very long time). I was struck by how invested they were in every play. Their energy was contagious. The players were on the field and the spectators were at the edge of their seats, excitedly watching their every move. It occurred to me that this is how the witnesses of Hebrews 12 must be.

They have gone before and are right now cheering us on as we race on to the finish line. They see us facing temptation, difficulty, discouragement and all kind of opposition. And they whistle and shout and carry us on – “You can do it!! Keep going! The end is near! It is so worth it! And Jesus – oh man, Jesus is SO worthy!!”

What blows me away is to see Christ as the main witness in Hebrews. He is at the head of the trail since He blazed it for us as our forerunner. There is a Man in Heaven guaranteeing my victory, because as my Champion, He went there ahead of me (Heb. 6: 20). “You can do it, because I did it for you and in you!”

It is for this tireless, victorious, promise-keeping God that I wait.

So it is another day and I only slept 3 hours…again! I wait for the Lord.

We have weighty decisions ahead of us and we are not sure what is best for our family. We wait for the Lord.

My nursing baby is still feeding multiple times every night which means sleep is short. Interrupted. I wait for the Lord.

We have lots of things to do before we move internationally in 4 months. We wait for the Lord.

My kids are sick. Weren’t they just sick? I wait for the Lord.

I am going through transition feeling weak and vulnerable in more than one way. I wait for the Lord.

We look ahead to the year and we don’t know how we will make it through. We wait for the Lord.

Will we even see the fruit of all this effort and uprooting? We wait for the Lord.

I am not dipping my toes into this  year. My Strength is coming and carrying me into it. And that is infinitely better.

What are you waiting on God for? In what specific ways does His worth encourage your heart?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Joy-sharing, Vol. 2 – My favorite reads in 2017

Full disclosure: This year was the first in a while that I read so consistently.

The first part of the year I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and I felt like I had no capacity to read or process. I watched lots of Hallmark Christmas movies posted on YouTube. But at some point, I don’t remember how, the Lord nudged me to begin reading again. And once I started, I couldn’t quite stop.

I am so thankful for my Kindle (maybe possibly my favorite toy?) for a few reasons:

  1. The built-in light allows me to read at night without bothering my  husband. So when I was awake during those sleepless 3rd trimester nights, and later nursing, I would read.
  2. I can get books either on Amazon or through my library in the States. I don’t feel as limited by the fact that I don’t have as many options available here as I did back home.
  3. I can carry it with me easily and read while I am waiting in different places.

Now on to my picks! If you are my friend and have a kindle, I would be so happy to loan any of these books to you!

First pick – Love that it is written by an Anglican. She has a different framework than mine to think about life. I welcome that. I don’t usually reread books and yet found myself with this one going back to think through some of her insights.
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My second pick. And quite honestly could have easily been my first. This book was thought provoking and gave me insights into our homemaking God that I had never considered. Jen melted my heart with beautiful pictures of a servant, homemaking, feast-preparing God.
I really enjoyed reading this book memoir by these two ladies and again – a framework different than mine enriches my perspective.
A writing Memoir – Need I say more?
I really loved how this book is part memoir. But my favorite thing about it is how Anderson kept fixing my gaze on Christ and his humility. I journalled through some of the chapters as it helped me process my life. It is beautifully and honestly written. Probably my 3rd pick 🙂
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I really enjoyed reading this book about this traveling family. Now I want to go to New Zealand.
I am not quite done with this book but have been savouring every single chapter. There is no truth that buoys my hope as this one: I am one with Christ. Wilbourne’s writing is compelling, clear and what he shares thrills my heart again and again.

This year I am hoping to double the amount of books I read – sharing this because accountability. I am hoping to do that by trying different things:

  1. Read two books at the same time: non-fiction and fiction.
  2. I deleted a few apps from my phone that I use too much and can distract me from reading.
  3. I am planning to listen to more books on audio – especially fiction books. (Listening to non-fiction doesn’t work as well for me).

What are some books you read in 2017? What do you do to make time for reading? 

 

Paradox at Christmas

This Christmas, as a global nomad, joy looked like…

… being able to decorate the same house for Christmas two years in row (we’ve moved a few times the last two years so this was a sweet gift)

…having both sets of grandparents visit us during the holidays

…receiving packages from dear friends with pumpkin spice coffee, peppermint candy canes, clothes, stickers, red and green chocolate chips — so. much. love!

…opening up our home to friends from all over the world for our traditional chocolate fondue

…baking Christmas cookies with fellow TCK buddies

…doing a cookout at the park with grandparents

…fall and winter scented candles that made home in the US feel a little closer

…practicing Advent with our girls

…slowly rebuilding our Christmas ornament collection with handmade, bought and gifted ornaments (because we didn’t bring any from the US)

…going to the zoo in 80’s weather

…holding Wes – I carried him inside me most of the year and the thrill of having him in my arms doesn’t get old.

…listening to City of David by Gray Havens and Emmanuel by Caroline Cobb

…being able to drink dairy free hot chocolate mix from clean ingredients (not always easy to find here – especially clean coconut powdered milk !)

…Feasting with fellow expats in our home even if the reason for feasting is that two of them are moving away.

…enjoying rain in the desert after 8 months of no rain.

But in the paradox of life we know joy co-exists with sorrow…

…Wesley began his first Christmas throwing up and ended the day at the hospital getting checked for a fever and a cough (thankful it wasn’t pneumonia)

…having my parents here for Christmas meant my family in the DR didn’t get to be with them

…sending Christmas gifts back with grandparents to sisters and brothers and niece and nephew meant one more Christmas that we are not together

…enjoying amazing weather here means missing snow there

…living in a country where the majority of people don’t celebrate Christmas is a tangible reminder I don’t live in my birth country nor my passport country (which are not the same for me!).

…we are moving in 4.5 months which means this is not only our second Christmas in the same house and same city but also our last.

…every time we enjoy sweet community here we are painfully reminded we are soon leaving community behind once more. Ethan and I find ourselves mourning this often.

…the day after Christmas I hugged my parents goodbye, with my heart breaking & tears flowing as I did so.

Paradox at Christmas is just as it should be. Christ’s first coming was filled with paradox. When Simeon saw Christ in the temple, he both rejoiced and prophesied sorrow. Even as he praised God when he saw the long awaited salvation of God’s people, he also told Mary that this baby that she had just delivered, and who would deliver her, would do so at a great cost to her. “A sword will pierce through your own soul.” The same baby would bring judgement to some and exaltation to others (Luke 2: 34-35).

His second coming will also be filled with paradox. What will mean glory for all those who have longed for his appearing, will mean wailing for those who pierced him. While His children sing, His enemies will bow in terror (Rev. 1: 7).

Growing up, Christmas was such a joy but once death entered our family through the death of my grandpa & later my cousin’s, Christmases were never the same. Since then, unfulfilled desires, sickness, separation from loved ones and homesickness have been unwanted guests that expose brokenness especially at Christmas.

I am so glad we practiced Advent again this year. For the first time in a long time I did not resent that Christmas was polluted with grief.  It just heightened the reality that I am a woman in waiting. The small story of my life is simply joining the history of the world. I am doing what history has always been doing: groaning as it waits for one of the two comings of Jesus.

The beauty and comfort of being one with Christ is that I am not on my own as I wait for Christ’s return. Emmanuel, God with us, has come. And through His Spirit, He has come to me. By taking on flesh, Jesus took on my sins and my sorrows and made them His very own. As I wait, I do so knowing He is for me and with me.

“We can’t be reminded enough that though Christ is physically present in heaven, he is spiritually present with all those who are in him (1 John 5: 20). To belong to Christ means to have His Spirit, and to have His Spirit means having the risen, ascended, reigning Christ within you, wherever you are.” (Rankin Wilbourne, Union with Christ)

Practicing Advent helped me to fix my gaze – and my hope- past Christmas to the Resurrection and the return of my King and Brother. The deep desire of my heart is that Jesus is known, loved and worshiped all over the world. Because I love Him, I hasten his return by living a godly and holy life wherever I am (2 Peter 3: 12).

Christmas is a joy not because it is filled with undiluted joy. It is a joy because it testifies that just as the Incarnation truly happened, He is certainly coming back again. Because of Christmas, I am waiting for and hastening the coming of Resurrection in clouds of great glory.

What were some of the paradoxes of your life this Christmas? What are specific ways that the return of Christ comforts you, emboldens you and gives you hope as you live in paradox?

 

Picture by Ginger Ivey PhotographyView More: http://gingeriveyphoto.pass.us/merck

Who Said We Have to Grow Up?

When my husband and I were in university we went to the same church. I would mostly gravitate to ladies older than me. My husband (who was then just a friend) would mostly hang out with their kids. I thought he was too goofy; he thought I was too serious.

The truth is, I have always wanted to grow up (just ask my childhood friends). I have always prided myself in being thought of as “mature.” My friends were often older than me. A perfectionist most of my life – I wanted to grow up because I thought I would make fewer mistakes, I would know more, would have more experience. I didn’t want to fail. And I definitely wanted to finish strong.

That’s all great and all except that getting older has made me see how weak I actually am:

  • In my singleness, I struggled to be joyful and fearless as I faced loneliness and unmet longings.
  • In getting married and moving away from my family, country and home, I struggled with insecurity and jealousy.
  • In motherhood I went through post partum depression. I was shocked to discover my faith was not as strong as I thought it was.
  • In moving overseas, I have seen how demanding, faithless, proud, and self-centered I am.

Tonight, I listened to Susan Hunt speak on finishing well at the Revive 17 conference. (Do yourself a favor and go listen to it – so very precious!) I was moved to tears when she said, “Finishing strong means finishing weak.” This is so counter intuitive to the way I naturally think. To my flesh, to be weak and to finish weak seems like some kind of failure.

As my awareness of my weakness has become clear to me, I have discovered a deep seated fear of failure in my heart. But meditating in the relationship between the Father and the Son, I am finding the confidence I need to overcome that fear.

The Father’s Delight 

Right before Jesus’ public ministry started, the Father spoke these words in his baptism, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew writes that immediately after that, the Spirit drove Jesus to be tempted and in the first temptation Satan attacked His sonship. “If you are the son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus’ response was, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4: 4).

Empowered by the words that had just come from the mouth of God -“this is my Son, whom I love”- Christ overcame temptation. I am so thankful for the Spirit’s intention in connecting both stories. He wants us to know Jesus lived on those words. His Father’s love and delight grounded his whole life and ministry.

The Father’s delight was not dependent on the Son’s performance. Christ’s ministry was driven not by a fear of failure but by an unshaken confidence in his Father. Such was his child-like dependence on his Abba that He was able to entrust Himself to His Father and finish his earthly ministry in what must have seemed to the naked eye like the weakest way possible. But loved by His Dad, Christ knew better. He was sure of His Father’s commitment to keep Him and that He wouldn’t be left in death (Acts 2: 38).

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A Tiny Shadow

I adore my newborn son. I don’t love him for what he does. It is actually his helplessness that endears him to me. I love him just because he is mine.

My heart for my son is but a tiny shadow of the Father’s love for me:

I have upheld you since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you (Isaiah 46: 3-4).

Why do I think I need to grow up? My Daddy in Heaven tells me that in the same way a mother carries and sustains the life of her needy, tiny and dependent newborn, he will sustain and carry me through my life.

Content To Be A Little Girl

Susan finished her talk by asking: “what does it feel to be an old lady?” With a twinkle in her eye, she responded:

“It feels like a tired, very dependent, very happy little girl being carried in the arms of her father. And she is calling to her friends, ‘Look how strong and how good my daddy is.’ And she knows that when she falls asleep in the arms of her Father she will wake up at home.”

Christ’s child-like trust enables my own. To walk well and finish well is to never outgrow my neediness and to ceaselessly boast in the power of my Keeper. As I look ahead to raising my kids, to learning a difficult language, to facing all kinds of ministry challenges, to being weak and yes, even to failure, I firmly hold my confidence. I glory in being just a little girl – my Father’s little girl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy-sharing: Helpful Resources on Union with Christ (Vol. 1)

Over the past two years I have been reading and learning more about union with Christ. For a recovering perfectionist with strong introspective tendencies, it has been very life-giving to become a serious student of the One who is perfection. Jesus has, by a ridiculous act of grace to a very undeserving sinner, bound His life to mine forever. To know Him and Him crucified has become the obsession of my soul. Here are a few articles, sermons, interviews and a song that have helped me in my study of this glorious reality.

Union Theology

This website is chock-full of articles and other resources.

Michael Reeves’ talks on union with Christ

This is the first of 3 talks by M. Reeves. These talks had many thought-provoking insights into union with Christ. One of the things I love about Reeves is that this is not academic for him. He truly enjoys God and you can tell by the way he passionately talks about him. Check other things by him on that website.

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Michael Reeves interview on Union with Christ 

You can read the whole interview (please do yourself a favor and do read it). Here’s a little excerpt (just to whet your appetite) about the mind-blowing covenant union Christ has made with us:

“Paul says: This is a profound mystery, but I am talking about Christians and the Church. He is saying that the relationship that the Church has with Christ is a marital union. And actually Martin Luther used this image as the first way in which he articulated his reformation discovery in 1520. He used marriage to explain the gospel to the world for the very first time properly. It is in a little work called The Freedom of the Christian. And he said what happens is this. It is rather like the story of a great king marrying a harlot. And what happens is this harlot can’t make herself the great king’s wife by anything she does or her performance, but by his wedding vow she becomes his. And he says to her: All that I am I give to you. All that I have I share with you. And so gives to her the status of royalty and all that is his. And she turns to him and says: All that I am I give to you. All that I have I share with you. And so the poor sinner shares with King Jesus all her sin, all her death, all her damnation. And when Luther had articulated this he said: Therefore, the sinner can consider her sins in the face of death and hell and say: If I have sinned, yet my Christ who is mine has not sinned. And all his is mine and all mine, my sins, my death, my damnation, is his.” This just makes me want to fall on my face and weep, overwhelmed by  such grace.

Sinclair Ferguson on Union with Christ

Here’s an excerpt from the article (you can click on the link to listen to Sinclair’s sermon):

“We do not know what the apostle Paul says we know.

So says Sinclair Ferguson on Romans 6:6. Speaking to a gathering of pastors a couple years ago, Ferguson shared his sentiment that most people who sit before the preached word each week do not know what it means to be united to Jesus. And yet this doctrine is so central in how Paul conceives of what it means to be a Christian and a minister of the gospel. We want to know what it means.”

What Does It Mean to Be One with Christ?

This is a Q & A that Tony Reinke does with Sinclair Ferguson. Here’s one of the quotes that struck me most:

“The concept of one union with many dimensions is helpful. Of all people, Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976) said that the preposition into (εἰς in Greek) — into Christ — has no parallel to be found in classical Greek for that kind of language, in terms of the relationship between two people (Romans 6:3Galatians 3:27). The relationship attaches to the whole question of the mystery of this reality. What Paul sees in the gospel is such a multi-dimensional singularity that it creates a new style of language, without parallel.

Of all people, Bultmann lifted my soul to the heavens and caused me to think: What a glorious thing it is to be united to Christ! It was one of those unexpected moments in life.

Lastly, here’s a song by The Gray Havens (have I told you they are one of my favorite groups these days?!). This song is a poem about the reality of Romans 5 : man is either in Adam or in Christ. Union with Christ is such a personal truth – not an abstract heady concept…and this song does a great job of driving that fact home.

A Fall Poem

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I am delighted by how much Maia loves to write. She loves writing stories, letters, lists… and recently she suggested writing a fall poem. It reflects the two realities she knows about life both in the US and here…especially the last two lines. Everyone here knows that the mall is where you go to eat donuts! Here is her poem. She is my favorite guest poster so far 🙂

UAE fall and USA fall

by Maia Merck

I love the fall

I can cuddle my doll

I can buy a cat or play with a bat

Or put on my orange leaf hat.

What do you want to do?

I want to jump in the leaves

And get donuts at the mall too.

Picture by Autumn Mott (Unsplash)

A Truth That Rocks my Nomad Socks Off

It dawned on me this morning that for the past 15 years I have been saying goodbye.  I have repeatedly left family, friends, church, country and home. Each time I have left, there has been gain: college education, sweet friends, adventure, a husband, teaching experiences, discipleship opportunities, outreach ministries.

But leaving so much also sucks. I yearn for a house where we can stay for a while; one I can decorate freely without wondering how long it will be before I have to take it all down again. Relationships are tricky to navigate when you know you won’t likely get to grow deep friendships. I am perpetually longing to be deeply known: the kind of known that only comes with roots and with being in one place long enough. And it hurts to think about uprooting my children away from the people and the places they have grown to love.

A Truth That Comforts
Over the past two years there is a reality that has become increasingly dear to me: When I repented of my sins and put my faith in Christ, Jesus made Himself one with me. He took all that is His and gave it to me. This leaves me breathless.

I was just a little girl then – I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of what was happening. But it didn’t matter. Right there and then, through His Spirit Jesus made his home in me, giving me his life. Paul puts it like this:  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2: 4-5). Christ crucified all my sin and put to death everything I was without Him (Gal. 2: 20). To be a Christian is to have no life apart from the life Jesus lives inside of me.

These are wildly good news for every believer. As an expat and global nomad, this fact has secured my hope in many ways.

Moving has meant a lot of relational loss. I have felt very vulnerable and insecure in opening up to people over and over again. It has been very tempting to seek safety, identity and approval in people and what they think of me. But I am one with the Beloved Son. This means God loves me as much as He loves his Son. His delight in me through Christ never changes: I am safe there. I am therefore freed up to love others more and need them less.

Union with Christ also encourages me when I consider the glory of the Incarnate Christ who is one with me (John 1: 14). When I believe His hope, obedience, humility, faith, holiness are all mine, he enables me to be faith-full, obedient, holy & humble. This feeds my hope for the incarnational ministry He has called me to as a mom and as a cross cultural worker. I see his sufficiency and I hold fast my confidence for a life that I am not enough for. 

Lastly, even though change, uprootedness and all around culture shock have revealed profound darkness in my heart, union with Christ tells me all that sin actually died and lost its power over me when Christ died. The Light of the world became my darkness, endured God’s wrath for it, buried it in the grave and when He rose again (Rom. 6: 3-4), he freed me from being a slave to it. There is spiritual darkness around me and there is remaining sin inside of me but I need not be afraid.  I am hidden in Christ (Col. 3: 3). None of those temptations and sins will have the last word.

Moreover, united to Him I have assurance that He will complete what He started. Who He is now as the ascended, risen Christ is my destiny. As I face brokenness – both my own and that of those around me – I am thankful for a vision that transforms me and pushes me onward. I am thankful for how Gerritt Dawson puts it in this fantastic article:

“Our destiny in Jesus is man in communion, man in glory and harmony, man in loving dominion over a flourishing earth, man restored to a glorious destiny. The ascension is the guarantee, the down payment on all God is going to do to restore his redeemed race. Behold the man! If we are in Christ, we are meant for heaven. We are bound for glory.” 

“You Are Home”
I once had a pivotal conversation with Ethan, my then-boyfriend-now-husband. We had been getting to know each other for several months. We had been careful not to voice our feelings for each other. We didn’t want to do or say things that would cloud our judgement. When we finally became “official,” it took Ethan a few days to realize that it was now appropriate to express more of his heart to me. I was unsettled. We had a tearful conversation where I expressed my insecurity. He asked, “Are you asking me if I love you?” I nodded, fearful of what his answer might be. “Oh Aylin, I have been looking for home for two years. I found home with you.” **cue all the melting hearts!**

I love remembering that story because it is a shadow that points to a wonderful, heavenly reality: home is a Person. Just as Ethan is my home here on earth, Christ is home for the one who puts their trust in Jesus. 

Union with Christ enables me to enjoy God and his unchanging goodness everywhere I go. I have been in Christ ever since before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1: 4). I will still be in Him a billion years from today. He is my one place of permanence in this transient life.

There are more goodbyes ahead, but union with  Christ guarantees that my last goodbye on this earth will be followed by the most glorious hello to joy with Christ forever. 

I. Can’t. Wait!

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How does union with Christ encourage your heart?