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Our son Patrick made what promises to be a life-changing commitment yesterday, as he signed a contract with the United States Marine Corps. Under the terms of this agreement, he pledged to become a member of the active duty service upon the completion of high school, and within the next 12 months. As such, he was sworn into the Inactive Reserve component of the Marines and will work with the Recruiting Command for the interim period, in preparation for his service. If the schedule holds, he will be leaving for Parris Island within a few weeks of graduation. It was a serious step and one that I believe he was ready to make.

There are some who would question the wisdom of allowing our 17 year old son to make such a commitment, and to be sure, it wasn’t something we came to suddenly or lightly. In fact, this was really the culmination of a journey that began the moment he was born. On that day, I wrote him a letter, which I’ve linked to this article (go tohttps://bryancorbin.com/2010/02/15/letter-to-my-newborn/ ). Within it, I acknowledge that the season of our influence would be relatively short, and I express my desire for him to become the person he was created to be. Ever since then I’ve been looking for clues as to who that might be. From day one, he was a high energy action figure. Climbing, jumping, talking, singing, dancing, laughing… he was always ready to charge up the hill, even when no one was willing to follow. He started in soccer at age 5, and through the years he’s continued with basketball, football, baseball, and wrestling. And for him, it has never been about winning games, it has always been about going into battle alongside his brothers.

The military tradition is strong on both sides of our family. My wife’s grandfather was in the Army during World War II, her brother enlisted in the Air Force, and my kids were old enough to remember when her cousin was in Iraq. My father and his brother were both career military men and Vietnam vets. My dad did 26 years in the Air Force, and my Uncle did 29 years in the Marines. My brother and I joined the Navy together, and I eventually did 12 years of service. From a young age, Patrick loved Veteran’s Day, and beamed when I’d come to the school programs. Years ago, as we visited some old mothballed ships in Charleston, he bought a US Marine flag that hangs over his bed to this day.

As he grew, many other gifts emerged, and we pondered whether these other things (e.g. acting, singing, dancing, drawing) might be a pathway to a different future. For the last couple of years we’ve talked a lot about potential careers and colleges, but it all seemed to have an unsettling effect on him. The further we went down those avenues, the more confused he seemed to become. At times, he even wondered aloud at who he was supposed to be. Eventually, I realized that he was simply afraid of disappointing us and that these things weren’t really what he was after. As we revisited the idea of the military, he seemed to come alive. As I prayed about how best to guide him, God seemed to remind me of who Patrick is at his core, and I began to feel the momentum building toward this end. Even though he’s grown up in a time when these things are not especially valued, he passionately believes in the concepts of duty, faithfulness, honor, accountability, courage, and valor. The fact that things are hard or dangerous doesn’t seem to hinder him. And in the end, I concluded that what we wanted for Patrick wasn’t nearly as important as helping him discover who he was made to be, and encouraging him down that path.

Again, there are those who might question the idea of embracing what could be a dangerous road for our son to go down, but I would submit that there is no pathway forward that is without risk. Indeed, one need only watch the news to see that peril can appear anywhere and without warning. Our world needs brave men (like Pat), who are willing to step into the unknown, and to make a stand for the things that truly matter. Though we clearly recognize what is at stake, how can we justify trying to inhibit him from answering that call. No parent wants to ponder the possibilities, and Lord knows that we will be praying fervently, but if this is who he was created to be, we’ll have to fight the Creator in order to make him something else.

We did require him to look at all four branches of the service, and he did like them all to some degree. But everything about the Marines seemed to fit; heck, even his recruiter is named Staff-Sgt. Corbin. None of us knows the future. This could simply be a necessary step in Pat’s preparation for something else, or maybe this will be the place that Pat shines his light for years to come. I firmly believe that the steps of a righteous man are ordered by God, and that He works all things to the good of those who love Him and who are trying to fulfill His purposes in their lives. I believe that Patrick is that kind of man.

As a parent, our strong impulse is to protect our kids; but just as important is the need to prepare them to make a life of their own. Though we will always love them, they were never meant to remain our children (i.e. be dependent on us). I’m proud of Patrick’s decision to jump into adulthood with both feet. It is typical of the way he’s always done things. He is full of passion and low on fear. I’m proud that in an age of entitlement, he embraces the values of service, and sacrifice. I’m proud that he’s not tempted by the path of least resistance, which I’ve come to view as the road to hell.

Just like the night he was born, I’ll struggle to let him go. But I will. I always knew that the day would come when I’d have to put him back in the hands of the One who handed him to me.

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We live in an era of 24/7 news/weather/sports/entertainment coverage, where the airwaves are saturated with voices that yearn to be heard on every subject under the sun.  And for those of us who decide to jump onto this “Information Super Highway”, it is easy to get caught up in what the Apostle Paul would likely refer to as “civilian affairs”.  If we aren’t careful, we can become like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane; too weary to simply watch and pray, yet having the energy to initiate a battle that we’re not called to or equipped for.  I believe that every once in a while we need to be reminded of what truly matters, and as such, I offer this writing from several years ago.  Though it is dated, I still believe it to be true.

 

The Heart of the Matter

 

When I first became serious in my pursuit of the Lord it was because I had begun to recognize the emptiness within the life I’d built without Him.  While that was a good revelation to have, it was also a rather selfish motivation to begin a relationship with.  I wanted my life to have purpose and meaning, which was really all about me.

 

Thankfully, God has been patient with me.  Eventually I figured out that it’s really all about Him, and that true fulfillment comes as a by-product of that understanding.  With each step in my spiritual passage, I’ve hoped to get closer to Him, and to become more like the person He created me to be.

 

Throughout the journey I’ve caught myself wanting to do something that will bless His heart, which has often caused me to ponder exactly what it is that God really wants from me.  While it is obvious that He values things like love and obedience, I’ve caught myself underlining certain scriptures that seem to express His desires even more specifically.  It reminds me of wanting to buy your spouse the perfect gift.  To do that, you need to carefully watch and listen to see what really touches their heart, and what really doesn’t.

 

Early on, I feared that He might be looking for perfection, but I soon learned that all have sinned, all have fallen short, none are worthy, and that our own righteousness never amounts to anything more than filthy rags.  While that may not sound like good news, it let me know that He wasn’t expecting that I’d be perfect.

 

I was especially pleased when He said to come like a little child, because I knew that meant He wasn’t after my strength, or wisdom, or experience either.  As much as these things helped me to understand what He didn’t want, it made me that much more curious about what He did want.  Like the story of the little drummer boy, I wondered what I had that would be a suitable gift for the King.

 

When I read that the Lord called David a man after His own heart, I figured that his life would reveal a lot about what God finds desirable in a man.  My first surprise was that despite Gods lofty description of David, he was far from perfect; which only reinforced my earlier conclusion about my own flaws.  Regardless of his shortcomings, David’s life was eye opening in terms of what God is looking for.

 

The first thing I noted was just how expressive David was with God.  He poured his heart out in the Psalms, including the good, the bad and the ugly; everything revealed before the Lord.  Even as I read of his failures, I could see that his heart was quick to confess and to repent (e.g. Bathsheba).  I could also see that he didn’t fear men and that he was willing to stand alone in the causes of God (e.g. Goliath); that he was a man who trusted the mercy of God above the judgment of man (e.g. his choice of punishment for counting the armies) and that he valued his position as a child of God more than his position as the King of Israel (e.g. dancing in the ephod before the people).  He was a man who pursued Gods blessing (e.g. bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem); who wasn’t willing to presume when it came to Gods will (e.g. his unwillingness to execute Saul despite the prophecy that he would become the king) and who seemed to have a deep understanding of Gods ways (e.g. ceasing his fasting & weeping moments after his son died).

 

Finally, I was struck by how He reacted when God said, “no” to his plan to build the temple.  Instead of being sad, or angry, or defiant, he did everything that he could to make the preparations for his son to accomplish the task.  This spoke volumes to me about what kind of heart David had.  While many of us might claim such allegiance to the Lord, I wonder if our lives would speak it so clearly.

 

As I pondered the things I learned from David’s life, it reiterated that it wasn’t his accomplishments that the Lord reveled in, but his heart.  The Bible says that “the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth, to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him”.  Despite David’s failures, his heart was genuinely committed.  I believe that this is what it means when the Bible speaks of a “pure” heart.  The book of Romans tells us that it is with our hearts that we believe and are justified.

 

While we are certainly servants of the Lord, I am convinced that it isn’t our service that He is after.  In fact, I think we often have an exaggerated sense of what we accomplish for the Lord.  Paul tells us that while we may plant and water seeds, only God can bring the increase.  Even in the parable of the Seed and the Sower, it is neither the excellence of the seed, nor the skill of the Sower that makes the difference.  Ultimately, it is the condition of the soil into which the seed falls.  If we get overly focused on results, we’re likely to either get discouraged or puffed up.  According to the scripture, God does not entrust us with producing results.  Only He can draw men unto Himself, and only He can change a heart (or mind).  If we really believe that, we ought to be more devoted to prayer than we are to debate/apologetics/social dialogue, and more devoted to fasting than we are to protesting/banning/boycotting.

 

The Lord says that He doesn’t regard our outward appearance, but that He looks at the heart.  His reward is for those who diligently seek Him, and He works all things to the good of those who love Him and who are called to His purpose.  These scriptures strongly affirm the message that He’s simply looking for hearts that are genuinely His.

 

While that may sound pretty simple, the Bible warns us that it is a fight.  It says that the heart is deceptive above all things and that our flesh wars against the spirit.  Proverbs cautions that “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”.

 

When it’s all boiled down, only three things will pass the standard of eternity, faith, hope and love.  Faith is an essential ingredient, without which we cannot please God.  Hope (which could be considered our faith applied to the future) is an element that needs to be visible to those around us, so that they themselves might seek the source of it.  And most importantly there is love, without which all our efforts are in vain (i.e. if I have not love, I gain nothing, I have nothing, I am nothing).

 

At this point in my spiritual journey I believe that what God really wants from us is a heart that is fully committed to Him; one that will diligently seek Him and His purposes for our lives.  I believe that as we seek, we will find, and that if we keep Him & His kingdom first, everything else will be added unto us.

 

I also believe that our greatest battle isn’t with the world system, or non-believers, or even the forces of darkness; but with our own flesh.  I trust that if we keep our hearts pointed toward Him, He will be faithful to complete the good work that He’s begun in each of us.  Though we live in a time when the dark is getting darker, the Lord stands ready to reveal His light in those who are truly His.  Indeed, I sense that all of creation is eagerly anticipating that moment.

 

“Arise, Shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you.  Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”  Amen.

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I, the Lord, have set before thee,

Life and death

Blessing and cursing

Truth and deceit

Generosity and greed

Perseverance and self-pity

Choose life!

*

I, the Lord, have set before thee,

Life and death

Blessing and cursing

Compassion and apathy

Sacrifice and indulgence

Peace and hostility

Choose life!

*

I, the Lord, have set before thee,

Life and death

Blessing and cursing

Fidelity and treachery

Gentleness and brutality

Redemption and condemnation

Choose life!

*

I, the Lord, have set before thee,

Life and death

Blessing and cursing

Integrity and corruption

Contentment and covetousness

Unity and dissension

Choose life!

*

I, the Lord, have set before thee,

Life and death

Blessing and cursing

Forgiveness and bitterness

Diligence and complacency

Grace and judgement

Choose life!

*

So that both you and your descendants may live (Deut. 30:19)

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It took more years than I’d care to admit to come to the realization that life isn’t really all about me; and then a few more past that point to see that the harder I consciously tried to gain my life, the more I unconsciously lost it.  Though it seemed counterintuitive the first few hundred times I heard it, I eventually came to understand the freedom that comes with surrendering the seat of honor to someone else, and considering others before myself.  Not that I’ve by any means mastered this sacrificial way of living, but we’ve definitely become more outwardly focused in recent years.  That has included simple things, like feeding someone who is hungry, or lending a helping hand; and at times it’s entailed more complex and difficult things, like reaching out to people who are literally dangling from the ledge.

 

As we’ve walked down this road, we’ve discovered more than a few unpleasant realities.  To be sure, caring for people is a messy business, and God’s economy is much different than our own.  He is more than willing to allow some havoc to go on in our temporal realm in order to propel us toward His eternal goals for us.  And change (even positive change) is a challenging and often painful process.  Many times, it’s the people you’re trying to help who fight you the hardest.  No doubt, Jesus can relate to this; as the very ones He came to rescue decided to lynch Him.  Indeed, He warned His disciples that many in the world hated Him, and that many would hate them as well.  Similarly, Paul said that we would be the “Aroma of Christ”, which would smell like life to some, and death to others.

 

Our experiences have also caused us to come to a new understanding of the word “success”.  Because if success means that everyone gets saved, everyone gets healed, everyone gets delivered, everyone gets reconciled… then we’d have given up long ago.  The scripture tells us that we can plant seeds and we can water seeds, but that only God can bring the increase; so ultimately the results belong to Him.  All that we can do is play the role that He gives us.  We have helped people to get free from an abusive relationship, only to watch them willingly return to it.  We’ve seen people receive miracles, only to trade their gift for self-destruction, and we’ve watched people ascend from the ashes of their past, only to tunnel their way back into the prison of addiction.  And every time something like this happens your heart breaks again, which is doubtlessly an appropriate reflection of what our Heavenly Father feels.  He doesn’t take away His children’s freewill and He doesn’t give us that option either.

 

Additionally, we’ve found that helping people doesn’t necessarily breed gratitude or praise.  More often, it stirs up contention.  Jesus spoke of healing ten lepers, pointing out that only one of those returned to thank Him, and when the Pharisees heard he’d healed on the Sabbath, they accused Him of violating the law.  I can’t help but feel that these stories are somewhat prophetic for those who choose to reach out to others.  Like trying to feed a duck in the park, or a gull at the beach, you normally just wind up with a bunch of angry birds flying at your head.  We recently became aware of a need, and reached out to a family within our community.  Through the generosity of our friends and family, this particular need was met.  But instead of being perceived as the blessing that it was, it has stirred animosity amongst those who feel as though they should have received the same sort of gift.  Ultimately, we were criticized for not doing more for the other families who may also have a need.  And every time something like this happens, there is a temptation to say, “I’m never doing this kind of thing again!”  But like most temptations, that is an urge we need to battle.

 

The scripture is full of directives toward reaching out to others.  It is better to give than to receive; whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me; the religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is caring for widows and orphans; love your neighbor as yourself; the only thing that counts is faith, expressing itself as love; if a man asks for your cloak, offer him your tunic as well; the parable of the Good Samaritan…   We cannot allow the adversity that comes with the mission to keep us from answering the call.  We have to abandon our western ideas about what it means to be “victorious” and learn how to reflect our Father’s heart to a lost and dying world.  His heart is patient, and kind, and merciful, and long suffering, and forgiving, and generous.  We can neither become weary in well-doing, nor wary of it.

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This morning, I was scrolling through our Facebook news feed, looking for a post from my kid’s school principal, when a couple of items caught my eye.  The first one was from a female, who’s name I didn’t recognize, and it said something about not feeling beautiful enough.  I assumed that this was probably from a girl my kids go to school with, and I thought about how sad it was that she would feel this way about herself.  As a man with a mom, a sister, a wife and daughters, I know far too many women who battle self-image issues, and I hate the messages that our culture sends to them.  Unfortunately, without knowing this girl, there wasn’t really anything I could say, so I said a little prayer and moved on.

 

Further down the news feed I encountered another post, from this same person, that said that she felt “worthless”, and a sense of urgency began to well up in me.  I couldn’t help but conclude that this girl was crying out for help, and I wondered if she had anyone in her life who was looking out for her well-being.  When I checked to see if anyone had commented on her status, I noticed that 4 people had “liked” the post, and that really confused me.  What exactly does “liking” that status mean.  Is it, “Yeah, I feel worthless too”, or “Yeah, you are worthless”, or “I like that you’re feeling worthless”, or was it something else?  Of all the responses I could have to that message, hitting the “like” button seemed to be the last thing I would consider.

 

Not knowing what to do, I tried to write some words of encouragement to this person.  Of course, I realize that flowery words from a complete stranger may not make much of a difference, but I couldn’t bring myself to do nothing.  After I hit “Post”, I thought of some other things I meant to say, so I’ve revised that message below.  And while it was originally written with this hurting girl in mind, I offer it to anyone who is struggling to see the beauty and value of who they were made to be.

 

One night, long ago, your Creator was stirred in His heart, and that stirring became His inspiration to create you.  He formed you with His very own hands, and with painstaking detail He fashioned your heart.  There is nothing about your being that is a mistake or an oversight; each part of you was created with intent and purpose.  Who you were made to be is not just the accumulation of past experiences, good or bad.  You were made to be a reflection of the heart of your Creator, and as such, there is something of Him that is uniquely revealed in you.  His light and life can show through you in a way that can be expressed by no other creation.  If you do not become who He made you to be, there is an aspect of Him that the world might never see.  You are a one of a kind, unique across all of time, and irreplaceable.  When He was done forming you, He sat back and admired His work.  He still does.  He knit you together in your mother’s womb; He created your inner most being; all the days ordained for you were written in His book, before one of them came to pass.  You are His workmanship.  Only He knows the real you, and it is only through Him that we can come to understand who we were made to be.  He yearns for you to find all the good things that He wove into your being; He yearns for you to know the truth about you, and about Him.  You are significant because you were made in His image, and He’s destined you to return to Him. 

 

If you will let Him, He will touch others through you.  There may well be people in your future who will need your help in order to reach their destiny.  You may be their lifeline at some point.  Don’t let today’s discouragement keep you from arriving at that moment.  God has plans for you – plans to give you hope and a future!

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At a very young age, my son Patrick was a take charge kind of guy, and I used to joke that even though he was a “born leader”, there didn’t seem to be anyone willing to follow a five year old.  While that line was good for an occasional chuckle, it actually encapsulates a very real issue for those birthed with a calling to leadership.  I believe that God equips us with the gifts and abilities needed to fulfill His divine purposes in our lives; and I don’t believe that they just magically appear when we need them.  I sense they exist within us (often times in seed form) from the time we are born, and that they must be nurtured and cultivated along the way.  If this is accurate, it may be more fitting to say, “born to be a leader”, as it acknowledges that one must grow into such a role.  Even after the prophet declared that David would one day be king, no one bowed down to him.  In fact, he was sent back out to the fields to tend the sheep (for years).  Similarly, recognizing this calling in the lives of our children doesn’t mean that we should put them in charge of the nursery, or even let them pick out their own clothes.

 

While the idea that our kids could one day become “leaders of men” may sound glamorous, raising a child with classic leadership traits (e.g. fearless, proactive, outspoken, stubborn, independent…) can be a challenging endeavor.  Such a child is generally classified as “strong-willed”, which some view as an affliction, or even a defect.  I remember being told that I needed to “break” my son’s will/spirit while he was still young, but the Lord strongly impressed upon me that this was not His desire.  He showed me that He’d put these qualities within the boy for a reason, and that I needed to help him to develop into the man he was created to be.  Again, that sort of thing sounds good on paper, but how do you do it?

 

As I prayed, I sensed that the first step was to teach Patrick to recognize, and yield to “legitimate” authority.  The scripture teaches us that fear (i.e. awe, reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  It is the recognition that there is a power greater than ourselves, and that we are subject to it.  No matter what position of leadership he might be destined for, learning to submit to those with genuine authority is an essential trait.  Leaders who miss this step in their development generally become tyrants.

 

Another important concept was the proper application of the strength that God has given him.  Helping him to understand that this power wasn’t meant to simply get him what he wants, but that it is intended to be a resource for God to protect and serve the children He loves.  Ultimately, authentic leadership isn’t as much about controlling people, as it is about serving them.  Leaders who fail to grasp this principle are likely to become bullies.

 

As we’ve travelled further along this path, I’ve sensed that the first charge for any emerging leader is to lead by example.  For how can someone be trusted with the governance of others, when they are unable to govern themselves.  In fact, good leaders often attain their position by simply walking with integrity, and finding that people have fallen in line behind them.  While this organic emergence into a position of leadership is ideal, it isn’t always possible.  But how a leader steps into that role is a critical factor.  Those who seize power/control rarely hold onto it for very long, and are far more likely to have it ripped from their hands.  Installation into a leadership position is best facilitated by those who possess legitimate authority over that position, or by the consensus of those who would be subject to it (e.g. electing a Union President or team Captain).

 

As time has gone on, I’ve come to recognize leadership qualities in all of our kids, and to understand that they are all called to lead in one capacity or another.  At the very least, they will need to lead their families.  As such, these principles apply to them as well.  And while I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, I would offer the following condensed list to anyone trying to raise a “born leader”.

 

Raising a “Born Leader”

 

  • Don’t attempt to break their will/spirit, endeavor to mold it
  • Teach them to recognize and yield to legitimate authority
  • Teach them not to use their strength to oppress or abuse, but to protect and serve
  • Teach them that they must first lead by example before they can expect an actual leadership position
  • Teach them that positions of leadership are best when they are given, and not seized

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During a time of prayer, I was reminded of a particularly painful moment in my life involving our youngest daughter Rebekah.  As I remember, she was somewhere between her first and second birthday, when our household got hit with a particularly bad bout of the stomach flu.  I’m pretty sure that all of us took a turn with it, and in the midst of that time, Bekah (who weighed less than 20 lbs.) began to turn blue.  Needless to say, we were more than a little concerned, as I rushed her to the emergency room.  Immediately, they determined that she was severely dehydrated, and that they needed to start an IV.  They wanted me to wait outside while they executed that plan, but I calmly (& firmly) assured them that I was quite unwilling to leave her side.  As they went about the task of trying to locate one of her tiny veins, Bekah fought like the warrior God made her to be, which made the already daunting task nearly impossible.  It literally took four adults to hold her down, and it still required eight tries before the nurse was able to connect with a vein.  As Bekah screamed out in pain, her beautiful gray eyes were fixed on me, and as near as I could tell, the question in her tiny heart was, “Why are you letting them do this to me daddy?”  In her short life, no one had ever really hurt her, and in as much as a baby can, she trusted that she was safe with me.  Now, I not only stood by while they pierced her over and over again, I was actually one of the people holding her down while they did it.  It was an excruciating moment, and one that I’d long since pushed out of my mind.  Bekah is now in High School, and she has grown into a strong and beautiful young woman.  So why go back and revisit this awful memory?

 

As I meditated on this scene, I found myself wanting to answer her inferred question.  “I let this happen because it was the only way you were going to get better,” I thought.  And while I know that is the truth, I also realized how little difference that would have made in the midst of her pain.  In her tiny heart it must have seemed that I was allowing them to torment her, and maybe even that I was helping them.  My heart ached at the remembrance of the hurt and confusion in her face; and as I pondered what the Lord was trying to show me, I realized that He was helping me to understand what it can be like for Him, and with His children, as we experience painful and/or difficult situations.  Like baby Bekah, we don’t necessarily see or understand the bigger picture; we simply know that we don’t feel good, that our sense of security is quickly evaporating, and that we are in genuine pain.  Such instances can breed doubts that linger long after the moment has past.  We may feel abandoned in our hour of need, or betrayed by the one who was supposed to protect us, or maybe we conclude that there is something so wrong with us that we are beyond help (or at least unworthy of it).  These kinds of thoughts tear at the fiber of our faith, and distort the nature of who God is, and who we are to Him.

 

The Bible says that God works all things to the good of those who love Him, and who are called to His purpose.  I believe that we often twist those words to imply that we should never suffer, but clearly that’s not what it means.  In fact, the scripture tells us that “Jesus learned obedience from the things He suffered.”  If the Son of God, a man of perfect faith, had to learn that way, how do we think that we can avoid it.  God views us, and our lives, through the lens of eternity; so just as it was with Bekah, a relatively brief period of suffering can produce a harvest of life and wellness.  In His humanness, Jesus spoke directly to this issue in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He essentially said, “Father, if there is some other way to achieve Your eternal purposes for my life, I’d rather not endure what’s about to happen.  But if this is the only way to orchestrate the redemption of mankind, then so be it.”  The scripture tells us that Jesus “endured the cross, despising it’s shame.”  We too will have to endure some things, and we may also despise the process, but instead of being discouraged, and feeling abandoned, we need to remember that we have a Father who is able to work all things to our eternal good.  And just as I was unwilling to leave Bekah’s bedside, we also need to remember that He is a God who never leaves us nor forsakes us.

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