grace

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Glorious Impossible 2013

Published December 27, 2013 by joypatton

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The term “glorious impossible” refers to the impossible things that God does for his glory.  The Christmas story has so many “glorious impossibles” in it, and Carl Cartee wrote one of my favorite songs about it that our church often sings at Christmas.  You can read my first blog about it here to get the whole picture.  But this year God gave our family its own glorious impossible.

It was a few weeks before Christmas and our Christmas cash envelope was completely empty.  The money was tight this year, and in this last month of the year, we felt it more than we had before.  Because my husband is self-employed, a paycheck is never guaranteed, and even when we were able to pay ourselves, it wasn’t enough to make it all the way down the list.  By the time the other budget items had their say, there was no cash left for the Christmas envelope.

We had made it through the year working hard and being open to every opportunity God put in front of us.  We both picked up part-time jobs.  Andrew worked as an umpire during baseball season.  I took part-time jobs catering for weddings, being a personal assistant, working as a PR assistant for a marketing firm, substitute teaching and writing and editing on the side.  God even sent a wedding cake client to help make ends meet.  All the while, we knew I needed a full time job.  My resumes evaporated into cyber space, and I never even got called for an interview.  After being out of the work force for 13 years, I began to doubt my chances of getting back in.  The closest I came was a long-term substitute teaching position, which God used in interesting ways, that lasted for two months.

In the last year, we cut and slashed our budget too.  We got ride of cable and satellite TV.  We used coupons and menu planning to cut the grocery budget.  We were even down to one car for awhile because we didn’t want to get a car loan.  But finding extra cash for a car was as impossible as finding cash for Christmas.  The next thing on the budget chopping block were the kids’ extracurriculars, and that one we wanted to put off as long as we could.  Not to mention, the house repairs that needed immediate attention and sucked up whatever cash was left.

But then December was coming, and it looked like it was going to be impossible to pay for Christmas with cash this year.   Life with one car was impossible as we tried to figure out how to get six people where they needed to be every day.  My husband was ready to go get a car loan, and I was ready to buy a jalopy just to make it back and forth to school.  But then we compromised and moved some money around that was held for our salary to buy a car.  It seemed impossible to find a car in our price range that my husband wasn’t embarrassed to drive.  And yet once again God made a way for the impossible to happen.  We found a Lincoln “Alligator” in great shape, which Faith called the “Crock”.  After taxes, title and new tires, we had $400 left.  And this was the extent of our Christmas cash.

One night we sat down with our cash and made our Christmas budget.  We decided not to get gifts for each other, but to instead fix the fireplace that had been unused for six years.  We also wanted to give the kids money so they could buy gifts for each other.  That meant their “big” gift budget was $50 each.  Sadly no gifts for extended family, friends and teachers.  And no money to send Christmas cards either.  I sighed as I put down my pen.  I tried to make myself content with what we had.  My husband tried to tell me it would be fine.  We told ourselves the kids would be fine and having a small Christmas could actually be good for them.

On December 23, I was walking home with Connor from his pet sitting job.  He was telling me how hard it was for him to be “poor.”  To not have what other kids in his school had.  I tried to explain that we choose to live like this because we don’t borrow money and that everything comes with a trade-off.  I reminded him that his dad and I both grew up the same way.  We were always the “poor” kids in rich neighborhoods.  That night Andrew and I both agreed that we needed to get our kids around some people who really were poor.

I also found myself complaining to God.  I hated that our year had been so hard financially.  That we were both working our tails off and getting nowhere.  I remembered thinking that we weren’t poor enough to be on anyone’s radar.  That no one even knew we had nothing in our Christmas cash envelope.  That my kids would have a crappy Christmas, and it made me mad.

Then on Christmas Eve morning a strange car pulled up across from our house.  As three men pulled packages out of their trunk, we thought the new neighbors were trying to celebrate Christmas in their new house.  But then they crossed the street and came to our front door with six large gift bags labeled “teen boy,” “tween boy,” “older girl” and “younger girl.”  Andrew was puzzled and asked who it was from.  They simply said they were asked to deliver it to the Pattons and didn’t know where the gifts came from.

I was hiding around the corner still dressed in my pajamas.  Tears filled my eyes as I remembered complaining to God.  I heard his small whisper in my heart, “I know how hard it is.  I see you.  I see how hard you have been working.  I love you.”  I told him I was sorry for complaining.  We did not deserve this.  We didn’t even know how anyone knew.  We knew that there were other families much poorer than ours, much more deserving of this gift.  We honestly didn’t know how to feel in that moment.  The shame of the reality of our small Christmas threatened to steal our joy and our gratitude.

Very early on Christmas morning, Kyle stood by our bed and whispered that he couldn’t sleep.  I think he was imagining what lived in those mysterious boxes delivered to our door.  Soon enough everyone was awake and Christmas morning went on with our traditional breakfast and reading the Christmas story.  We opened the Christmas presents we had bought, and then it was time for the “bonus” Christmas.  Andrew and I looked at each other, not knowing what to expect.  We opened the envelope to the “Parents” hoping for a clue to the identity of our benefactor.  Instead we found a generous gift card for ourselves.  Kyle opened his smallest present first.  When he saw the $50 iTunes gift card, Andrew looked at me and said, “That was our whole budget for him.”

And the gifts kept coming.  Name brand clothes for the kids with names they couldn’t pronounce and stores we had never been inside.   Hope squealed with delight as she opened her “American Girl” doll from Target.  As we looked at the carnage of boxes and wrapping paper left behind, Andrew and I agreed it was the biggest, most expensive Christmas we had ever seen in our lives.  We couldn’t imagine who would have given this kind of Christmas to us.

This was our glorious impossible.  God gave my children a Christmas they would never forget, and something we could hope to do for someone else someday.  He reminded us that he sees and he knows and he cares.  His lavish grace is upon us even when we don’t ask for it and don’t deserve it.  And once again God in his mysterious way made the impossible possible.

A Love Story Worth Telling

Published October 11, 2013 by joypatton

I recently read a story about gospel artist Bryan Popin and how he and his wife met.

Bryan&SusanPopin-30 CROPPED AND EDITED copyPrior to the release of his latest album “You Can Make It,” gospel artist Bryan Popin experienced many difficult moments through which he learned to persevere.  Perhaps none was more life-changing than when performing at a conference just outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana. After playing his first song, he scanned the audience and his eyes were instantly drawn to a girl named Susan.

“She just glowed,” Popin says. “I was stunned. Watching her worship with her hands lifted to God was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen—at least to a 16-year old boy that was in ministry.”Immediately following service, Popin proclaimed to his mother that this was the girl he was going to marry. 

Two years later, he returned to that church in Indiana, but Susan wasn’t there. Instead, her father informed Popin that she was now living in Los Angeles. Another two years later, Popin visited a different church in the Fort Wayne area and amazingly saw Susan’s parents again. This time, the 20-year old musician took decisive action. He asked the father for her phone number.

 “I called her the very next morning,” Popin says. “In fact for four days, she didn’t even call me back. So then I started sending her flowers every day. By the seventh day, she called me and asked me to please stop sending flowers because she wasn’t in a good place. It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting, but at least I’d gotten Susan to talk to me.”

Popin then poured out his heart. He told her how he had missed his opportunity four years earlier and how desperately he wanted the chance to pursue a relationship with her. But then Susan had something important to say.

 “Eight months earlier, Susan had gotten married and was now pregnant,” Popin explains. “When her husband found out, he closed their joint bank account and left her. She was moving home to Indiana to be back with her family.”

Over the next several months, Popin consistently traveled to Indiana to visit Susan. “When I finally got to hold the newly-born Isabella Grace in my arms and look into her big beautiful brown eyes, I fell deeply in love for a second time,” Popin says.

 About 18 months later, Popin married Susan and they have been together ever since.  Popin and his wife Susan now have four beautiful children.

 “I wasn’t planning on getting married and having an immediate family, but I loved Susan and fell in love with Isabella,” Popin says. “She has totally changed my world. She showed me what true love was. When you’re a dad with a little girl, it’s pure, innocent love. But as much as I love my four children and my wife, even more than that, God loves us. It’s just mind-boggling.”

I loved this story, and thought it was such a beautiful picture of God’s persistent, pursuing love for us.  There’s part of us that says, “I wish someone would love me that way.”  Whether you are a teenager, a single woman or a married woman with an imperfect husband (I think that covers everyone), the heart of a woman wants to be pursued and valued and chosen.  You may look at their story and want what they have, but the good news is that you already have it.

Jesus has chosen you.  He saw you across time and picked you to be his.  He is sending you flowers every day all around you to let you know he wants a relationship with you.  The problem is that many of us feel like Susan probably did when Bryan called her in L.A.  We feel like we have messed things up and that no one could possibly choose to love us again.  We believe we are damaged goods because we are “not in a good place.”

This is me.  I reject the good news of God’s everlasting love because I know that I don’t deserve it.  I reject his love, not because of who he is, but because of who I am.  I put him off and tell myself we will get back together when I’m in a better place.  Do you see how the story would have changed if Susan would have done this?  Do you see all the love she would have missed had she refused to let Bryan in?

Jesus is standing there telling you that he loves you with arms full of flowers even in your “bad place.”  Often we act like the gospel story begins with “Because we were such great sinners and made such a big mess, God sent His Son into the world.”  I hear this version preached from the pulpit very often.  And while it is true, it is not the beginning of the story.  The story really begins with “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Don’t leave the love out of the gospel.  Don’t forget that you have already been loved, chosen and pursued by God.  Do not reject his advances toward you and his voice that gently calls you to love him.  Instead return his call and receive his love.  You don’t have to be in a “good place” to be in a relationship with him.  “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16)

Popin’s album “You Can Make It” will be released October 22 through a partnership with eOne Music and will be the first national debut for this piano player who is dedicated to bringing his listeners closer to the heart of God. Check it out here: http://bryanpopin.com/

Good vs. Bad

Published July 16, 2013 by joypatton

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I’ve been realizing lately that I have two columns running through my head all day long. One column keeps all the good things I’ve done and one keeps all the bad. Mostly it’s good mom vs. bad mom. I have been realizing how often I tell myself I’m a bad mom in one form or another. (See last week’s post.)

For example, this morning started off with the good mom column. I spent time checking my kids “work boxes,” giving points for yesterday’s chores and loading them up with chores for the day. I even included “fun chores” like playing UNO Attack together. But this could turn out to be an item in the bad mom column if they actually attack each other during the game. You see, I’m a bad mom because I haven’t taught my children how to play together without fighting. Then at work I realized I didn’t have my phone within ear shot. Bad mom. Fortunately when I checked it, there were no urgent messages, so the work boxes must be working. Good mom.

This afternoon I came home and the girls wanted to go to the pool. But I couldn’t take them because I had to take Connor to the doctor. This is bad mom because I let him play in the woods, and he got poison ivy because I didn’t make him shower when he came in. Every time he gets poison ivy it takes over, and we can’t get rid of it until he gets a steroid prescription.  Bad mom.

While at the doctor’s, my dear husband texted to say he was taking the girls to the pool. Bad mom because he had to stop working to take care of the kids. When I got home, I made a good mom choice…I think. Andrew stayed at the pool with the kids and I mopped the floor. It could be bad mom for not choosing to spend time with the girls or it could be bad wife for not spending time with the husband.  But it could also be good wife because he came home to a clean house.

Tonight the boys went to a baseball game, so I was trying to find something fun to do with the girls. We decided to go to the mall and ride the little train. Bad mom for teaching my girls that shopping is what girls do for fun. Bad mom for not being content to spend the evening at home. Good mom for spending time with the girls.

When we got there, I had no cash. Bad mom. After the train ride, I let them pick the restaurant in the food court. Of course, it was pizza again. Bad mom. I picked the salad. Good choice. But also ate a big helping of pasta. Bad choice. I did have a diet Pepsi that I split with my daughter. Now this one could go in either column depending who you talk to. Bad for the caffeine and letting my daughter have it and that all diet drinks are just bad for you and you should just have water. Good because it was diet and had very few calories?? So confusing. I realized that pasta was a really bad choice when I went to try on clothes and everything made me look fat. Very bad choice.

Then we went to the playground at the mall. Good mom. And I just removed the sucker from my daughter’s mouth so as not to worry other moms that she would get a sucker stick through her brain. Good mom. But then again, I’m sitting here typing a blog instead of engaging with them. Bad mom.

Maybe your columns are different. maybe your day is measured by smart vs. dumb or cool vs. lame. Do you think that God keeps this kind of record of your day? If he did, would his record match yours?

As I have considered it, I think the answer to both of those questions is no. When God looks at me he doesn’t see two columns. He has no cosmic scale. When he looks at the chart of my day, the current of his thought is love. His abundant, free-flowing grace covers my day. His mercy is new every morning. He keeps no record of wrongs. It has all been forgiven. He is far more concerned with my heart because when my heart is turned toward him, the choices that matter fall into place. My heart turns toward him because of his great love for me, not because I’m trying to keep points in the good column. I also don’t avoid him because I’m afraid the bad column will bring his wrath, which is completely deserved. Instead I turn toward him because of his steadfast, everlasting love.

When I judge my day according to columns, it also affects those closest to me. They get columns too: good kid vs. bad kid, good husband vs. bad husband, good friend vs. bad friend. But when I learn to accept the grace and mercy God pours on my day, I am free to pour out grace and mercy on those around me. And they feel loved.

Consider this question: how many checks in the bad column could your child have before you stopped loving him or her? This is a ridiculous question because I simply can’t come up with a number. No matter how full the bad column was this good mom would always love her kid. So then if we know how to love our children in spite of poor choices, how much more does our Father in heaven?

I’m learning to replace two words, good and bad, with one word… LOVE. To receive it from the Father and to give it to others.

What are your columns today? Will you believe in and accept the Father’s love?

 

Bad Mom

Published July 8, 2013 by joypatton

I’m sitting at a brown table built with 2×4’s under the shade of a green umbrella. Sounds of children playing bounce back and forth. Above it all, I hear my daughter Hope bossing around the other kids, telling them how to play the game. I hear a mom correct her child, followed by the familiar “No!” Internal sigh of relief that my kids aren’t the only ones who talk back.

Teens in bikinis come into the pool sipping Sonic drinks. I wonder if I will let my daughters wear bikinis when they are teenagers. It’s so hard to say no when they look so good in them. I remember when I had a body like that…well maybe not just like that.

My friend is sitting down by the deep end. I haven’t gone over to chat because I have “work” to do like writing this blog. I’m trying to collect my scattered thoughts. This morning it seems…

“Mom! I’m going potty!” announces my youngest daughter Faith as she runs dripping to the bathroom. It feels like every five minutes my thoughts are interrupted by kids asking questions.

“When can we go to the pool? Can we go to Bounce U? Have you called Bounce U? Can I bring a friend?”

In between the questions, I’m trying to check off the to-do list running through my head. Change dentist appointment. Find a place to board the dog. Call my mother.

“1…2…3…go!” I hear Kyle say in the deep end. And one lonely girl in the kiddie pool calling “Polo…Polo…Polo.”

“My name is Faith,” my daughter says when the girl calls her Marco. Guess I need to add teaching her how to play Marco Polo to the list.

The poor kid sitting behind me is trying to endure a disciplinary lecture from his mom. Another boy sits across from me working on homework in a workbook. We all try so hard to be good moms.

Kyle just walked up with ice cream. He hasn’t had lunch. How can a good mom let her son have ice cream before lunch? I remind myself that I did succeed in parenting Faith. She sits next to me finishing her PBJ so she can go get ice cream. And I am a good mom because my kids have to earn their ice cream money. Justified.

“Mom will you play horseshoe with me?”

“Not right now.” See, I told you I was a bad mom. Choosing writing over my kids. Bad mom. They want me to come swim with them and honestly I don’t want to. I would rather write.

“Please Mom?”

“Not right now. Maybe when I’m done.” And the questions don’t stop and the thoughts are never complete. And I feel like I’m going crazy. Like I’m going to jump out of my skin. God, didn’t you know I was an introvert control freak? So why the four kids? He just smiles a mischievous, Father-knows-best kind of grin.

I do however stop writing to help Faith finish her ice cream, and she didn’t even have to ask. Priorities…you know? Now she’s off to socialize with the teens in bikinis. Bad mom.

But I’m supposed to enjoy this because someday I will come to the pool alone because everyone is too busy to come. I will bring my sunglasses, my book, my suntan lotion and my big floppy hat. Someday I will sit at the pool and read and only take a dip when I get hot. I will get my own ice cream and not have to share it with anyone. I could even spend time blogging at the pool and not fee guilty about it.

 

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This was actually a writing exercise I did to help me be present in the moment and pay attention to what I was thinking about. What I realized was how often I told myself that I was a bad mom. Of course, I know all the right answers and remedies about trusting God and pleasing only him, and I have given them to people before. And yet…I still struggle, like most women do, with the internal dialogue, the inner critic, that follows me throughout my day. I wish that other people understood what I told myself on a daily basis. Maybe they would think twice before telling me what I’m doing wrong as a parent or boasting about what they are doing right. I wish my husband remembered how little positive affirmation there was in the profession of motherhood. I hope that I will remember this the next time I’m tempted to judge another mom or boast about my own shining moments, brief as they are. And the next time you see a mom being the best mom she can be, tell her she’s doing a great job and help her inner critic shut up for just a moment.

 

Let Others Tell You Who You Are

Published April 29, 2013 by joypatton

This video made by Dove has been widely viewed online. It was a very interesting experiment with a forensic artist. He sketched women as they described themselves to him and then he sketched the same woman based on how someone else described her. The difference was very telling. We don’t do a good job describing ourselves. We make ourselves out to be much worse than we really are. I was reminded of the importance of being known.

Only through community can we see ourselves as we really are. If we relied solely on our own perceptions, our picture of ourselves would be incomplete. I always hated when someone said you are your most rue self when you are alone in the room with no one watching. But The truth is that I rely on others to tell me who I am. Teenagers are always told this is a bad thing, but it is the way God wired us.  I would argue that our interactions with others show more of our true self than isolation.

This past week I struggled with what I was telling myself, and I needed my community to help give me a more accurate view of myself. I decided to step down from a leadership team. After I announced that I was leaving, five of the six leaders also resigned. I told myself it was a reflection of my poor leadership, that I hadn’t done a good job raising up other leaders to come after me. I felt it confirmed that I was not a good shepherd who looked out for the others on the team. It showed that my strong personality made it difficult for anyone else to shine.  The conclusion: I am a bad leader, and I should never lead again. These are the things I told myself.

But I want to share with you what the other five members of the team, my community, told me.  Not as a way of boasting, but as a way of seeing the situation more clearly.
“I forget how good at this you are.”
“You have been such a blessing to me. You are such an example of honesty and authenticity.”
“I keep reflecting on how good you are at this. Not just this, but overall since I have known you.”
“We have all worked well together and I’ve very much enjoyed serving with you.”

Two very different pictures. While the things I told myself may be valid to some degree, they are certainly not the whole truth. I needed my friends to remind me who I was, to show me what they saw. This is what happens when we are known. I have been living in community with these women for over three years. While I am very sad that our time of serving together in this way is ending, my heart is humbled and full of gratitude for these women.

And I also hear God saying to me “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  I have been taught that His voice is more important than all the others.  Yet sometimes he uses other people to get His message across.  I know that I can’t trust my own perceptions to tell the whole truth.  I need community to speak truth to me.  I need God and His Word to remind me who I am.  All of these work together to create an accurate and beautiful picture of who God has made me to be.

Comfort in Not Enough

Published April 15, 2013 by joypatton

I have many times experienced the feeling of not being good enough.  I hate it.  It’s what drives me to be perfect, to work harder, go faster, be more so that I will be enough.  Most days I don’t feel like I’m enough for all my kids.  On a recent field trip, I was listening to some moms talk about their kids and their homework.  I quickly realized I have no idea what my kids are doing in school. I have no idea what day my fourth grader has his spelling tests.  I usually don’t even help him study or remind him.  Obviously I’m not doing enough in this area.

Last week my husband almost ran out of clean clothes.  I’m not doing enough laundry during the week, so I spent the whole weekend plowing through mountains of clothes so he could have enough for his trip this morning.  I hate feeling like I’m not keeping up my end of the bargain.

This morning I was reading John 14:8 and realized that Jesus himself was “not enough” for the disciples.  At the Last Supper, Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us.”  Basically Philip was saying that all the miracles he had seen Jesus do and all the words Jesus had said were not enough for him to believe.  One of the Twelve disciples whom Jesus had loved and cared for and taught gets to the end of the journey and tells him it wasn’t enough.  What??

The comfort for me is that Jesus knew what it felt like to be “not enough.”  He knew what it felt like to be rejected and misunderstood, even by his closest friends.  So the days when I feel like a failure, when I feel rejected and misunderstood, He knows that feeling too.  It reminds me of Hebrews 3:15.  “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

It’s all nice and righteous of me to identify with Jesus in this situation.  But the truth is that when I look into my heart, I see that I too have been like Philip.  I have told Jesus that he’s not enough for me.  In spite of all his works in my life, his great provision, his Word, I have told him it’s not good enough.  That if he really loved me he would make things easier or better or just peaceful.  I have dared him to perform miracles so that I would believe him again.

And yet I find comfort here too.  Jesus did not reject Philip and cast him out of his presence.  He goes back and re-teaches the disciples all the things he has already taught and said.  O the patience of our loving Lord!  O that I would have the same patience with others who tell me I’m not enough!  O that I would be patient with myself and give myself the grace he gives to me in my failures!

Lord, forgive me for saying that You are not enough for me.  May I have eyes to see your hand and ears to hear your voice so that I might remember that You are enough for me.  May my moments of not being enough drive me to confession and not to perfection.  May I lavish others with the grace you have lavished on me.  

Free Advice Friday: I need more patience.

Published March 22, 2013 by joypatton

I’ve heard a lot of people say this.  I recently even heard Jeff Probst admit that he wasn’t a very patient person on his show.  (This, by the way, is what I love about the show.)  Inevitably when someone realizes they lack patience, they next phrase is “I need to be more patient.”

However I would argue that this isn’t really what you need.  More patience isn’t something you can order off the cosmic menu and have show up at your door.  Neither is being more gentle or being more joyful.  I’ve found from personal experience you can’t will yourself out of  depression, nor can you will yourself to be more patient.

One thing that is helpful is getting to the root of the issue.  I bet that if you dig deep enough you will find that the behavior you are trying to prevent begins with not acknowledging your heart.  Your impatience with your husband comes out because you lack compassion for whatever he is dealing with.  Your impatience with coworkers who have bad ideas comes from the pride in your heart that your ideas are the best or your unwillingness to be honest with them about how you feel about their ideas.  My impatience with my kids comes because I think that guarding my reputation and being on time is more important than their hearts.  Often I find an idol or an even uglier sin that needs to be confessed and brought into light.  And when you do, confess it.  It’s just that simple.  Confess it to God and then if needed, confess to the people affected by your actions.  Yes, true repentance is painful, but it’s that pain that ultimately helps change my behavior.

The second thing is to realize that you can’t be more patient.  Do you know where patience comes from?  In Galatians 5:22, patience is listed as a fruit of the Spirit.  Fruits grow because they are attached to a tree that gives them what they need to grow.  God grants sun and rain to grow the fruit.  The fruit doesn’t decide in which season it will grow or how big it will get or how sweet it will be.  The best thing the fruit can do to promote its growth is to remain attached to the tree.

How do you stay attached to the tree that produces the fruits of the Spirit?  By believing that Jesus died on the cross to cover all your sin, including my impatience and whatever ugly thing is driving it.  Paul also encourages us to “keep in step” with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).  To me this also sounds a lot like the “abiding” Jesus encourages us to do in John 15.  It sounds a lot like how a fruit grows in a tree.

So instead of needing more patience, we really need more Jesus.  He is the source of all of those things.  Truthfully I have no ability to be more patient on my own apart from him.  If you see me being patience with my kids, giving my husband grace or being joyful on a bad day, it’s because of the Spirit at work in my life.  And on the days my abiding is less than stellar, you know what I need to do more?  Confess it.  And it all leads to more humility, more grace,, more patience because I realized that Jesus was humiliated on my behalf and has given infinite grace and patience to me on my worst days.  How could I withhold that from anyone else?

What would it look like to “abide more” today?

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