Burn the Sails

I heard once that when Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas, he burned the sails of his ships to take the possibility of going “home” out of the minds of his men. I have also read that Cortez ordered his ships to be burned in 1519, before leading his men into battle against the Aztecs, in order to take away their ability to retreat.

This was our strategy when we moved to Seattle. Burn the sails.

We wanted to settle our hearts there permanently and erase the option of retreating when we grew weary. There wouldn’t be an option to just “go home,” because this would be our home. And this is exactly what we did. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t immediate, but Seattle became our home.

So after two years, when God stirred up something new before us and started leading us back to Texas, we experienced the painful process of leaving our home, again. Once we arrived in Dallas, I was heartsick and weak. In 3 years, I uprooted my heart from my home and reinvested it fully into a new home, twice! I didn’t feel strong enough to do it again. I didn’t want to invest in deep, life-giving friendships that I would most likely be forced to leave behind, just like before.

This morning, God reminded me of a line from one of my favorite movies, Bella. If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

I started thinking about my own life, and the lives of many of my friends, and how most of us would never have thought that God would have us where He does today. We have dreamt big dreams with God, some of which came true, some of which grew into even wilder dreams, and some of which changed completely. We have said “Yes,” to Him, sometimes ending up where we thought, sometimes ending up somewhere unexpected, and sometimes never even getting to where we heard Him say “Go,” in the first place.

Yet this shouldn’t come as a surprise, really. He has already told us,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

I knew I was experiencing huge breakthrough in my heart this morning when this didn’t frustrate me, but it stirred up thankfulness within me. Reflections on the impact of each of my journeys played across my mind–all the ways He has captured my heart, trained me, humbled me, released greater anointing on me, laid foundations under me, set me up to thrive, created perfect timings–all opportunities I might have missed if my plans prevailed and not His. What I see as the evolution of His plan for me (a plan established before the foundation of the earth) produced wonder and awe at His Majesty, when before it was producing unbelief.

Then those reflections were replaced by memories of all the friends I have walked with in each of these journeys. I miss them, but I do not regret investing my heart in those friendships, even if we were only together a short time. If I knew from the start that I would only be in Seattle for 2 years, would I have held back? Kept my distance to protect my heart? If I did, I would have missed countless opportunities to be Jesus to people and to receive more of Jesus from people.

I wouldn’t have caught Pete’s contagious, bold spirit to live my life with 1 overriding goal- to share Jesus. I wouldn’t have learned from Catherine how to really love others like family, opening up every part of my life to them. I wouldn’t have received the deeper revelation of total surrender from watching Martin and Terri’s life. I wouldn’t have grown in faith from seeing Julia respond to the Holy Spirit and impart gifts of the Spirit to others. I wouldn’t have received the blessing of deep, life-giving relationship with one of the most fiery, joyful, purposeful couples that Dan and I know, the Emlers. I wouldn’t have received the incomparable gift of being loved so fully by Trinity while also watching her love wildly and invest intentionally in Norah. I wouldn’t have been spurred on in faith by sharing life with Angie- a woman of radical trust in the promises of her King. I wouldn’t have grown in humility, anointing, and faith from learning to follow behind and walk beside Jady, Liz, Brian, Kristin, Erika, Andrew, Carrie- a powerhouse staff. I could continue…for paragraphs, and pages, and volumes.

I would throw my heart out there again, and again, and again, and again.

And again.

Because I know that He knows what He is doing, every step of the way.

David said, I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me (Psalm 57:2). Proverbs says many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand (19:21). And today, I say here is my heart. I’m burning my sails. Don’t let me miss what you have for me here, even if but for a moment. And when your plans bring the unexpected in my life, may the wonder always yield awe, and never unbelief.

I will live like I’m not leaving. I will invest in relationship with an unhindered heart. Today is a new day, and I started by finally unpacking all the boxes I left packed up in the spare room. Dallas is now my home.

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!…

For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness…

Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.

For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

Psalm 33

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In His Presence

I write when God presses something on my heart, or when He releases new revelation to me that I want to share. I write when I’m inspired. I write to process. But for the last 2+ months, I have been in a self-induced emotional and spiritual coma. I have had nothing to say.

Before our move to Dallas, I had big expectations. God spoke so many affirming words to Dan and I about this next season, so I was surprised when the days, and then weeks, and then months felt filled with pain, disappointment, discouragement, loneliness, and hopelessness.

I was like a little girl, angry at her daddy, deciding she would get her revenge by just running away. That will show him. A little girl who packs a little bag with some snacks and a toy, heads out the front door, walks down the sidewalk a block or two, sits down with a proud sense of accomplishment and independence, and waits. Only she realizes pretty quickly that this plan stinks. It’s hot. She’s run out of snacks. Sitting on the sidewalk is boring. What am I supposed to do now anyway? Has daddy even noticed?

I, too, ran. I recoiled. I self-protected. And I did it all without even realizing what I was really doing. I blamed the rarity of my alone time in God’s Presence on Norah’s awful sleep habits. I blamed my lack of new community on the distance from our house to our new church. And, well…I did a lot of blaming.

Then I realized, this plan stinks. Over the last few weeks, as Jesus has penetrated my hardening, walled heart, I crumbled in brokenness and assumed responsibility for the distance and loneliness I have felt with Him. In His overwhelming grace, mercy, and kindness for one earthen pot stuck in doubt and self-pity, questioning it’s maker, He has overwhelmed me with His Presence.

I’m not surprised when I have no food to eat at home if I have stopped going to the grocery store. I’m not surprised when I feel insecure, lousy, and ugly if I have stopped showering and taking care of myself. I’m not surprised when my home feels chaotic and stressful if I have stopped cleaning it. So why am I surprised when everything in my life shifts away from peace, unity, and hope if I have stopped seeking and coming into God’s Presence?

I have been living in pain, disappointment, discouragement, loneliness, and helplessness (all of which are real, sometimes justified, emotions and realities), when His Presence would have changed everything.

There is nothing like it.

I have spent some time recently in Psalm 73. The writer has been consumed by an internal struggle with an unfair reality. The wicked prosper. They don’t suffer pain or trouble. They involve themselves in all kinds of violent, offensive, deceitful behavior and get away with it. They are always at ease and their riches only seem to increase. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. This is the timeless, immortal question of mankind–why do good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people?

But then, the writer has a life changing revelation. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end…For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me, it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge that I may tell of all your works…Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

Trying to understand the ways of an infinite God is wearisome. Claiming the right to understand the ways of an infinite God is sinful. Yet when we enter His Presence, there is wisdom and revelation from heaven that bring peace and hope to the distress and despair. When we enter His Presence, the weight of His Glory consumes everything that doesn’t matter and points us back to everything that does– He is with me. He guides me. Nothing on earth is as desirous as Him. He is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. He will receive me to glory. Heaven awaits me, and there I will find a matchless reward.

How is that unfair? Today, I have the privilege of His Presence (His endless source of joy, pleasure, protection, wisdom, salvation, redemption, refreshment, blessing, healing, freedom, truth, life). Forever, I have Heaven.

My testimony today is this: a week ago I was living in pain, disappointment, discouragement, loneliness, and helplessness. This week, because I have sought Him and come into His Presence every morning, I am drinking from a well of joy, comfort, hope, friendship, and strength, that never runs dry. And Heaven awaits me.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you! Psalm 84:10-12

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Divots

A funny quirk I have: We, like all married couples, have “our side” of the bed.  Mine is the right, if you are looking at the bed.  We own a used, and probably very old, california king bed, so old that on our respective sides there are divots, 1 Dan-sized and 1 Amy-sized, with a small hill right in between.  For some reason, when Dan is gone and I have to sleep alone, I find a strange comfort in sleeping on his side in his divot.  It makes me feel near to him.  So as I laid there last night, God nudged at my heart that something in this quirk of mine was significant.

This morning when I spent time with Him before Norah was awoke, He spoke to me.  “Don’t get comfortable in the divot.  The divot is empty.  My Presence is full.”

My relational connect-time with Jesus in the last year has been more jumpy and sporadic than it has ever been before.  The ebbs and flows follow Norah’s changing sleep habits.  I would spend time with Him before she woke up.  Then she started waking up crazy early and taking a morning nap, so I started spending time with Him during the nap.  Then she went back to sleeping later so I would go back to getting up earlier and seeking Him before she woke up again.  Then she started waking up again in the middle of the night, sometimes several times, and I was too exhausted to get up so early so I went back to spending time with Him during her first nap.  But then the nap got pushed back later in the morning and by the time she went down, the day was already running away from me and my to-do list easily distracted my heart.

I realized the other day, I don’t remember the last time I had intentional, still, 1-on-1 time with God.  I was comfortable in the divot.  I had moved myself around, nestling into a place where His Presence once filled, finding comfort in this false sense of being near to Him.  I filled the space with other things, many important and honorable, most revolving around Norah, all the while feeling near to God when really, He wasn’t there.

Now don’t get lost on me.  I know I’m “never alone” and God is “always with me.” But what the Bible also makes very clear is that we are invited, enticed really, to draw near to Him. It’s when and if I draw near to the throne of grace that I receive mercy and find grace (Hebrews 4:16).  Jesus introduced a better hope, through which I can draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:19).  Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him (Hebrews 7:25) If I draw near to God, He will draw near to me (James 4:8) The Lord is near to all who call on Him (Psalm 145:18).  What this tells me is that I can’t be content telling myself that I’m never alone and God is always with me.  He has invited me to draw near for more!

So when I spend seasons of time with Him, His Presence creates this divot in my life where He not only fits, but has made a lasting mark.  When I quit drawing near to His Presence which fills that space, I am left with an empty divot that gives false intimacy and comfort.

Don’t get comfortable in the divot that His Presence once filled.  The divot is empty.  His Presence is full.

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Buckets.

Today is a weepy day. I played “Fountains” by Jon Thurlow on repeat this morning as I let buckets of tears pour down my face. Some carried sorrow, some joy. Some carried grief and repentance, others thankfulness and hope.

Today is a special day, one I may always remember. It’s Mother’s Day, a year after we met Norah, and she has made me so much richer. It’s also our last Sunday at Mosaic Community Church, and she has made me so much richer, too. The joy, and the life, and the yields of increase I have received both from my daughter and from my church are great, great wealth to me. There has been no greater calling on my life to serve my family, my daughter, and to serve God’s Bride, the church. I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness. I’m overwhelmed with God’s grace.

I also grieve each opportunity that I missed the mark. I grieve the moments with Norah that my weariness won. I grieve the days that I chose frustration when God was handing me an abundance of grace. I grieve the times that I chose selfishness instead of consistency in discipline. I grieve the opportunities God offered for me to throw myself deeper into Him, finding revelation of His Father’s heart, that I passed up. Cue more buckets of tears.

With Mosaic, as an administrator, as a leader, as a member and a friend, I grieve the moments I pulled back instead of pushing in. I grieve the days I chose myself when sacrificing my life for someone else would have brought Jesus much greater honor. I grieve the opportunities I missed to invest and cultivate deeper friendships with some of the most radical people I have ever known. And my time here is up. Big Buckets.

And as I repent, the most beautiful thing happens. God’s grace wins. My sorrow turns to joy when I remember that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him. My mourning turns to dancing when I remember the power of the cross. When I reflect on all the days and moments I fell short, I don’t walk away in defeat and guilt. I walk away in victory and hope because my good works don’t determine my eternity, nor my intimacy, with Him. For that I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness, for too often I fall short. I just need to keep coming back to Him. He has everything I need.

And it’s only the beginning of my journey. I have more opportunities ahead of me that I can intentionally not miss. I have more moments where I can choose to receive grace, and choose to press in, and choose to sacrifice more. And today, whether I feel like I’m doing a good job or whether I feel like I’m falling short, I’m thankful for the cross and I’m honored to have been given such important roles by God.

Today at church we sang one of my favorite songs. The chorus sings, I see a people, changing the nations, now rising up to take their place. And I see an army, righteous and holy, filled with the Spirit and unafraid. They carry a banner, written Jehovah, the Lion of Judah, the King who reigns. Christ the Redeemer, He is our Master, and we conquer all in Jesus’ name. And as buckets of tears again streamed down my face, I thanked God for the last 2 years of my life. For giving me time to walk with a people who are changing the nations! A people who are rising up, who are filled with the Spirit, who are unafraid. It’s been an incredible honor. And I thanked God for the last year of my life. For giving me a daughter, the first, hopefully, among many children, to train up to be the same–righteous, holy, unafraid. World Changers.

I’m honored.

And one who deserves greater honor than me is my own mother. A woman of supernatural compassion, patience, and grace. A woman who is married to an incredible man, but also an incredibly stubborn and strong-willed man, and who has mothered 4 incredible, but incredibly stubborn and strong-willed children. Job well done, Mom. Today, I hope when you reflect back on your many years of being a mother, you find honor. I don’t remember all the moments where you “fell short,” but I remember a mom with love the size of an ocean. I remember a mom with patience as deep as the deepest well. I remember a mom with compassion as strong as a tower.

I had a few days this week that honestly, when Norah was awake, I was counting down the hours until her next nap. A mixture of teething pain, moving stress, newfound will, and boredom made Norah difficult. I can say I loved her well…when she was sleeping. When I reflected this morning on those last few days, in my own disappointment at not responding in unconditional love and with unwavering grace, I remembered that Norah’s response to me didn’t change. She still ran to me for comfort. She still laughed and smiled at me adoringly. She still found rest and peace in my arms. I may fall short, but because of the cross, His grace is sufficient for me and even reaches to my daughter.

So Mom, today, may your reflections on motherhood be filled with all the ways you have not fallen short. May your reflections on motherhood be filled with honor. You loved me well. You extended to me much grace. You gave me empowering encouragement. You showed me victorious patience. You mirrored a greater love. You mothered me well. Thank you.

My prayer today is this: God, let me with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that I may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. When I feel overwhelmed by failure, by the power of the Holy Spirit help me abound in hope. Thank you that I can unload all my weaknesses at the foot of the cross and walk away in victory. Help me press in to You so that I have greater love, more grace, and increased patience to give. Thank you that your grace is sufficient.

And as I humble myself before Him, He picks me up and says job well done. And I walk away with a face stained by the buckets of tears, but smiling.

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Beautiful Mercy.

I didn’t know when Norah started learning to walk that first she would have to learn how to fall. When she started taking her first steps, she did the strangest thing. When she would lose balance and start wobbling, she would stiffen her body straight like a board and lean backwards. Yes, just like the “trust fall.” It was terrifying! I thought, this can’t be normal, so I emailed our pediatrician, in my I’m-a-new-mom-and-everything-concerns-me way, to make sure Norah didn’t have something off in her head. She assured me everything was fine and Norah would figure it out. In the meantime, stay close.

Seriously?

That’s all I could do? Stay close? Our pediatrician is the best, but I was hoping for more than that. She is trust falling onto our wood floors!

So I took matters into my own hands. I tried to teach her how to fall. Hilarious. That didn’t work. So, I just stayed close, but never close enough. Norah took some pretty intense-looking falls. Straight back, head hitting first. I thought after the first fall, well, now she knows that falling like that hurts so she will stop falling backwards. She didn’t.

It took more than a handful of painful head-first falls, but eventually she started falling forwards. And then I realized, I can do everything in my power to protect Norah, but her own experience and pain teaches her best. I can put plug protectors in our outlets, I can move dangerous pieces of furniture, I can put toddler locks on our kitchen cabinets, I can install a baby gate on the stairs, I can walk around with my arms extended behind her ready to catch when she falls, but I can’t prevent the inevitable. Norah is going to take some falls. She is eventually going to get her tiny, cute little finger stuck in a drawer. She is going to slip and hit her forehead on the side of a kitchen chair (she did that yesterday). She is going to get bruises, bumps, cuts, and scrapes. And she is going to be okay. Actually, she is going to be great! Dan and I will stand beside her, praying for her, believing for her, and encouraging her to get back up and learn from the pain.

That’s what Jesus does.

One of my new favorite singers, Laura Hackett, sings this song:

He’s brought me into the wilderness so I would learn to sing; And He lets me know my barrenness so I would learn to lean.Beautiful Mercy, do what you have to do.Jealous Lover, do what you have to do.You know the best way.

As I listened to this song the other day, I was reminded of what God says:

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor [trouble] a door of hope. Hosea 2:14-15

For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you…O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires…no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed. Isaiah 54:7, 11, 17

Beautiful Mercy, Jealous Lover…do what you have to do.

Sometimes He has to let me fall. He has to let me go my own way. He has to let me take the wrong turn. He has to lead me into a place of loneliness, wilderness, barrenness so that in desperation I will press in to His love and His mercy.

If a season in the wilderness forces me to encounter His tenderness and find hope, that’s His Beautiful Mercy. If affliction pushes me to the one who will strengthen and restore me, that’s Beautiful Mercy too. If every weapon formed against me leads me to press into Him, who holds the victory, that’s my Jealous Lover. Even what is meant for evil against me, He means it for good, because if, in the face of evil, I choose to press in, in Him I find the highest good!

He could prevent me from ever experiencing pain if His goal was my happiness. But it’s not. His goal, from the beginning, was always His own glory revealed. He will do whatever it takes, in His sovereignty, to manifest His glory in all the earth. He would not achieve His purpose by only giving me pleasure and always preventing me from pain. And that’s the most loving thing (despite how it feels), because He knows the fullness of my joy can only be found in Him and the manifestation of His glory. He will do whatever it takes to get me into His fullness. There is no higher love.

So I will take the pain. I will press in. I will learn from it. I will find joy in it, knowing that He stands beside me, in the fullness of His glory, believing the best for me, encouraging me, strengthening me, and releasing deeper and deeper revelation of His love and His mercy to me. And when I press in, I encounter a love that satisfies. I hope that the love I give Norah will mirror His love enough to point her to this everlasting love that satisfies, too.

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The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge

When the first four pages of a book nudge my curiosity, convict my heart, and arouse my laughter, I’m left with just one thing– expectation. And Altrogge delivers with some of the most impactful 139 pages I’ve read in a long time, outside of the Bible itself of course.

Altrogge writes vulnerably with wisdom, revelation, authority, and even humor, sharing a “now” word for our generation. It’s a powerful word, it’s a convicting word, and coming from Altrogge, it’s also a fun word. In the Greener Grass Conspiracy, I caught myself laughing out loud, or throwing out a verbal, “that’s good,” or an agreeing “hmmm.” (I believe my husband was intrigued, maybe even a little concerned.)

Seriously, the man could be a stand up comedian with pages filled with anecdotes like, “Let me tell you what I really need to be happy…I need…a neighborhood that is drug-free, bully-free, and speed-walker free…I need career success, which for me means having a church that is packed to the rafters every Sunday with people who use the following words/phrases to describe me: revival, Charles Spurgeon on steroids, manna from heaven, the greatest pastor in the history of Christendom who wasn’t also an apostle” (p.75). He’s a funny guy.

But the most impressive part of this book is the simplicity of truth. He brings the reader consistently back to the center, the core, the foundation– the Gospel. His pages are filled with Scripture. And not just references! Have you ever read a book that has a lot of references to Scripture in parentheses? Did you look them up? I doubt it. At least not most of them. I usually don’t; I just take the author’s word for it. Not here. Altrogge prints the Word so you have to read it. You have to come face to face with God’s Word– the Word that is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joins and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). It will change you. It changed me.

I read a lot of books in this genre and my biggest disappointment has been with authors who spend an entire book trying to encourage lasting change in my life, but fail to fill my heart with what will actually change me. God’s Word. His Promises. His Truth. For this alone I give Altrogge two thumbs up!

It gets better. While bringing you back to The Gospel…The Gospel…The Gospel…(often with extremely well-written, and painfully powerful narratives), he also emphasizes the abundant blessings beyond the Gospel (as if we needed more).

The Greener Grass Conspiracy doesn’t just tell us that it’s important to live a life of contentment and why, but it tells us how. Not with a formula, but by identifying the weapons God himself has given us:

The Holy Spiritthe supernatural power of the Holy Spirit (p.43)

His Presencethe time, much time, lingering in the presence of God…regularly drink[ing] from the fountain of joy (p.65)

Gracesomething better than relief: grace…power that [is] perfected in weakness (p.81)

The Biblean endless supply of contentment-giving promises (p.91)

Prayerasking for spiritual eyes (p.95)

The Churchprotection from the deceitfulness of sin in the company of other believer

(p.98)

Thankfulnessmarveling at all that God has given us (p.112)

Longing for HeavenI was made for Jesus, and I was made for Heaven. And so were you (p.139)

I had to restrain myself from sharing more of Altrogge’s powerful words on the importance of these weapons and the power God gives us when we position our hearts to respond to discontentment by using them.

There were a few times that the images, similes, and metaphors felt jumpy and forced, a handful of cheesy examples (especially the tale of sitting with Sol at Starbucks whose license plate reads KNG SLMN), and a time or two that repetitive points made me stop and think, “wait, did I read that already?”, but these minor criticisms were just that. Minor. Like the last few stubborn pieces of lint left on my stunning, little black, wear-on-any-occasion-and-look-great, dress. Pretty much unnoticed.

So read it. I will go on record and say that for you to be disappointed in this book is as likely as never losing a sock in the laundry. Enjoy.

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Do you smell that?

I received a surprise bouquet of flowers a few days ago from some of the sweetest friends I know. The occasion? None. They were just loving me well. I put the flowers in my room.

The sweet, strong fragrance of the calla lilies was a aromatic delight to my nose every time I walked into the room. But after being in the room for only five minutes or so, I grew accustomed to the scent and forgot how wonderful it was. This is the reason the “smell-good” industry has made those new air fresheners that spritz every time motion is detected- to remind you that it smells good in here!

I was spending some alone time with Jesus the other day on my bed (not usually a good idea, but it was later in the afternoon and my pillows had lost their appeal for the time being). As I worshipped Him and journaled, I looked up and noticed the flowers on my dresser. And He started to speak to me about their fragrance.

I love having fresh flowers in my house. They alter the atmosphere. But if I don’t leave the room, or leave the house, my nose eventually forgets how sweet the air is, unless of course I put my nose right into the flower and breathe in! Then I remember the sweetness of what I have been breathing the whole time. He showed me in that moment, that my heart had grown accustomed to His Presence with me. I enjoyed having Him near, but had forgotten how wonderful that first fragrance of the knowledge of Him was. It’s a fragrance that alters my atmosphere, but I have to continue to press in. I have to draw closer.

So I think I’m going to go buy one of those motion spritzers! Not because my house smells bad (although I do live with 2 boys), but so that every time the air freshener awakens my nose to the fragrance it is releasing, I will remember to press in. When I move and cause it to release a greater scent, I will remember that as He moves, He releases a greater fragrance of the knowledge of Himself. But I have to draw closer and breathe in.

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