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Message to Myself

by Annie Haroun (guest post:)


I woke up with an awful dream fresh in my mind. Two animals who turned into two people were bitten over and over by venomous snakes. It was horrifying. Yet as I pondered it, I was reminded of the narrative in the Book of Numbers where the children of Israel were grumbling and complaining about so many things even after being rescued from the hands of the Egyptians and slavery. Despite many warnings, they continued their disgruntled attitude towards the Lord and Moses, and consequently, the Lord sent fiery serpents to bite the people. “Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died”(Numbers 21:6).

The good news is that God does not send judgment without a provision of mercy.

Moses heard from the Lord, Who told him to place a serpent on a pole, and Moses did so by forming a serpent from bronze. Anyone who would look up at the serpent on the pole would be healed. I had assumed the mention of “serpent” in the Bible always referred to the devil, but here, the serpent on the pole stands for the hideous sin nature, and when we live ruled by this nature, our sin continually bites us. It became clear to me that it was Jesus they were to look up to on the pole for He BECAME that ugly venomous sin nature. The perfect Lamb of God allowed Himself to be killed in our place, and then went to hell FOR us, before rising again to resume His place at the right hand of God the Father.

The Israelites’ sins were a lack of contentment over what God had provided and continual murmurings in their weariness. We can explain these things away as if they aren’t so bad or we can try to justify them, but they are not light matters to God. In fact, the Lord was crucified for these sins and the nature that produces them. They are poisonous and have no place in the life of a believer. In Psalm 141:2, we can see it is okay to pour out our complaint to God, but then we leave it there with Him rather than continue to feed on the dissatisfaction, whether within ourselves or verbally to others.

Do everything without complaining or arguing ; Philippians 2:14

How beautiful though that if we do we fall into bitterness or moaning over our own lot, we can avoid being overcome by the venom! Whether we have already trusted Him as the Savior but feel stuck in our sin, or we have not yet opened our hearts to Him, we only have to turn our gaze from the horizontal and look up at the Cross. Here His mercy heals our deadly “snake bites.”  Here, by His grace, our hearts are freed from ourselves to love and obey our Lord, and bask in what His Hand has provided. It just takes a look. 

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Do you want a calmer home and soul?

Messages to myself: guest post by Annie Haroun

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16

Anyone who has dogs will know what is pictured here. It is a wonderful toy that you stuff with treats. Not only does it keep your canine companion busy for a while, but the problem-solving and chewing help use up hyper energy with the end result (you hope) being a calmer pup.

Today I spent half an hour digging out the old stale treats that no longer interest my dogs, then refilled the toys with fresh tasty ones. I often claim I don’t have enough time to get things done that need doing, so why would I place such importance on this?  Well, my furry pets are my responsibility and it gives me a lot of pleasure to see them happy chewing on their doggy treat toys, and it also helps the household to have calmer pets around.

Proverbs 12:10a states, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast,..”  It IS important to take care of what God has given me including the beasts in my family! So I make time for them. 

What is the main message here? It is that we DO make time for what we WANT to make time for. I have had days where I spent five minutes reading a devotional, then two hours watching a good movie (British mysteries or Jane Austen are addicting) and another good hour working on logic puzzles. Priority check!

I’m speaking to “me, myself and I” here!!!

I decided this Lenten season that giving up something was not what would draw me closer to God. This is not to downplay anybody else’s efforts. You alone know what you need, and I know what I need—

a larger dose of God’s Word. If I can clean out my dogs’ toys for 30 minutes, then surely I can find 30 minutes (even if it is two sets of 15 or three sets of 10) to open-heartedly read from God’s Word. He finds pleasure in filling my soul with His promises, and this time just may serve to exchange my own nervous energy for calm, making my household a more peaceful place for both my human and my furry family. 

Job 23:12b says,   “I have treasured up the Words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” I’m taking care of my dogs’ necessary food. It’s time to prioritize  feeding my soul.

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A St. Patricks Day Truth Bomb: What we really should be focusing on today


by Amber O’Brien


Top o’ the morin’ to ya!

Long ago this was a common greeting in Ireland meaning “the best part of the morning to you” and you my friend would say back to me, “And the rest of the day to you”.

I am an O’Brien, which on the Emerald Isle means “House or descendant of Brian”. (Brian Boru was the High King of Ireland until 1014) Since I now hold the Irish married last name of O’Brien, I am often asked how our family celebrates St. Patty’s day. While most people drink green beer and focus on the modern symbols of leprechauns, four leaf clovers and wearing a green piece of clothing so they won’t be pinched ; my thoughts have gone deeper to an awe-filled pondering, the more I learn about the amazing real -life hero of St. Patrick.

How did he do it? I wonder.

How did St. Patrick forgive the Irish pirates that enslaved him? At age 16 he was kidnapped from Britain and taken away far from his homeland and family to a wet and chilly island called Ireland and for six years was mistreated as a slave.

But this is the part that really blows my weak and unforgiving heart and mind……..after arriving home he studies to become a priest and then travels back to share the good news to the very place where he was enslaved.

Whoa Nelly…..hold back that unicorn jumping over a 7 colored rainbow and slowly and carefully Ponder with me what appears to be humanly impossible.

So St. Patrick not only forgives the people who enslaved him, he spends 20 years traveling the island of Ireland to share the truth of how Jesus came to set them free. For the Irish people of the 5th century this included being free from druidism and all kinds of paganistic practices. He was beaten during this time and robbed and put in prison and enslaved again for 60 days yet he keep helping those that continued to try to hurt him.

How do you think he was able to forgive and then spend his life shepherding these lost people who worshiped false gods and people?

“After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the Love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so in one day I would pray up to one hundred times and at night perhaps the same.” St. Patrick’s Confessio

He states that before he was captured, “He knew not the true God” and I believe that those years of prayer including much confessions and sweet forgiveness. In fact, he begins his autobiography as, “My name is Patrick. I am a sinner.”

After six years of working as an enslaved shepherd and most of all six years of prayerfully waiting: God spoke to Patrick in a dream, saying, “You have fasted well. Very soon you will return to your native country. Then a later voice in a dream said, “Look—your ship is ready.”

He escaped and walked 200 miles to the Irish coast, boarded a ship and eventually home to his family.

God rescued him and brought him home! One would think that would be the end of the story. But God. But God and His love for the Irish people who were involved with all types of paganism and perversions.

Patrick knew the Joy and the gift of being spiritually and physically set free and he quotes this verse that so speaks to his experience in his autobiography.

“Call on me in the day of your distress, and I will set you free and you will glorify me.” Psalm 50:15

St. Patrick knew deep in his soul that he had been forgiven much and so he wanted to extend that love, as a shepherd seeks to protect and care for his sheep.

After Patrick’s escape from slavery and reunion with his loved ones; He decides to become a priest. This took 15 long years of study and preparation. It was not until Patrick was 40 years old that he traveled back to Ireland because of another dream.

He dreamed that he was given a letter from the Irish people and he heard their voices saying, ” We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us”.

Guess who is believed to be the first Irishman that St.Patrick successfully shared about the One True God to?

Milchu, a high priest of druidism, who was Patrick’s former master. (Druids believed that there were many gods and worshiped nature. Ritual Sites were built all over Ireland as they literally worshiped the sun)

Imagine Milchu’s surprise to have a former slave of his come back and not only forgive him of his own personal sins, but share how All his sins could be forgiven. Patrick came back to share the truth that there is only One True God who has three names: the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

( Did he use a three leaf clover to teach the trinity? or is this just tradition? either way He told them about the trinity and Patrick loved his former master and the Irish people so much that he came back and walked among them)

Patrick explains:

“His (God’s) gift was that I would spend my life, if I were worthy of it, to serving them in truth and with humility to the end.”

The ripple effect of Patrick’s forgiveness and mission is astonishing. What a beautiful ripple of Love: Patrick asks God for forgiveness and is set free of sin and forms a personal relationship with the good shepherd as he himself is shepherding. Then he forgives the people who kidnapped and enslaved him, and comes to tell them how to be set free of their own sins and come to know the One True God. Then Monks who came to know the one true God through the ministry of St. Patrick, lovingly write out the Bible by hand and preserve the precious Word of God. (Book of Kells) Then these monks left the Emerald Isle to share with other European countries about how to be set free. The ripple effect of love and forgiveness continues.

Patrick’s joy shines through as he writes:

I am greatly in debt to God. He gave me such great grace, that through me, many people should be born again to God and brought to full life”.

God Gives His Best to us and so we should want to Give God our best.

Just like the Irish greeting about wishing a friend the best part of the day.

Top O’ the mornin’ to ya!


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Better Than Bleach

Have you ever walked into a room and knew that a diaper needed to be changed?  What if it was your own child? How long would you wait to change the diaper? Even if you knew that they would need another diaper change later that day, I bet you would help them.  

I recently read about how confessing our sins to God is like getting our diaper changed in a book by Fr. Donald Calloway, and the analogy wouldn’t leave me alone. I keep thinking to myself, “Oh Lord, a certain family member really needs their diaper changed. He/she needs to confess and be made clean. I don’t like smelling the odor of their dirty words and their angry tone.” 

And then God gave me a reality check through the words of Jesus: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in our own eye?”  

Ouch! Jesus’ question hit me like an arrow straight into my hardened, judgmental heart. It had been too long since I had spent time praying and asking God to show me what I needed to confess. Perhaps I am the one who is smelling up the room?  

So I sat with my journal and asked the holy spirit to convict me of any selfish words, attitudes or actions that have offended my holy Father. The longer I sat the more the spirit revealed.  

A verse I had memorized years before encouraged me that God would be faithful to help clean me up.    “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  

So I encourage you to sit in quiet and spend time asking the Lord for what you might need to confess. Sometimes I start by meditating on God’s definition of Love in 1 Corinthians 13-4-5. “Love is patient, Love is Kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”  

When I reflect on God’s sacrificial pure love in I Corinthians 13, I often get a reality check that my diaper needs a changing. May our reality checks always lead to attitude checks on how we love those in our lives. 

I am slowly learning that our job is not to judge those around me but to love them and perhaps through our own joy of being made fresh, clean and forgiven; they might be encouraged to get clean too.  

So my sweet sister, do you need your diaper changed today? I know I do.  

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My Valentine

“your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8b

by Annie Haroun

I wasn’t particularly pleased with the song selections as I flipped through the radio stations in my car. I decided to myself, “This is it. I’m going to turn the radio off and pray out loud, and storm heaven while I drive home.” As I pushed the power switch to off, the sun, in all of it’s fiery brilliance, made a sudden jump out from behind the trees as if to shout “BOO! Here I am  waiting for you.” 

As I continued along the curvy road, it would hide, then quickly switch on as a spotlight aimed at me with its blinding orange glare, only to disappear again. It was still daylight and each time that it popped out,  it would then descend a little lower behind the trees. By the time I arrived home,  the daylight was almost gone and the sun had set.  There were no prayers said out loud as intended. There was no storming of Heaven with my requests.

There was simply and quite romantically the  peaceful sense of God with me in the moment as I  enjoyed and was bedazzled by His blazing sun. He had used His glorious creation to hold and hug me. He knows my heart. He knows my longings. He knows my humanity. And He met me. That’s all that mattered. A holy perfect God met me where I was and He loved me.

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How to Show God you are Grateful Today…. with a Kiss.

Show your gratitude to God today by giving someone a Kindness inspired by the Holy Spirit. (KISS)



Yesterday marked the anniversary of my infant daughter’s ‘Heaven Day.’
After 40 days of encouraging ups and heartbreaking downs in the NICU,
God’s loving presence embraced me as I held my baby’s beautiful, perfectly formed body for the last time. Peace covered me like the soft, warm wings of
the angels that carried her home.


Days later, while I watched her tiny coffin lowered carefully into the frozen
ground, this peace continued to cover me as the thick, white snow clings to a
barren tree.


Soon after all my friends and family went back to their own lives, I realized
why the loss of a child has been described as having one’s arm cut off. The
limb will never grow back, and the pain is agonizing as the process of the
raw, open wound slowly heals. Insensitive comments and pat explanations
sting as if salt is being rubbed into the open wound.


My husband and I both carried gaping wounds and grieved differently. As a
result, we could not comfort each other. During this lonely, terrible time of
darkness, my sensitive small daughters each regressed as they reacted to the
recent rollercoaster of events and emotions. The oldest, who before Megan’s
death had been potty-trained, reverted and started to cling to me for support.
Both vied for my attention, and bickered between themselves. I struggled to
care for them as the grief sapped so much of my energy.


For example, I remember standing at the sink one day, and yelling out to God,
“Why did you give her to me… only to take her away?” Tears ran down my
cheeks and I shook with pain. Underneath my anger cried a hurt little girl
who felt that God had ignored her prayers. Truly, I had begged for God to
heal my baby.


A few months after both the funeral and my emotional outburst to God, I
bundled up my two older daughters (three-and-a-half, and two-years-old),
and drove to the local mall. Soon after we arrived, I decided to buy ice cream
for my precious little ones in the food court. When I approached the register
to pay for it, the cashier explained that our treats had been taken care of. The
bearded man explained, “Each day a man comes here, and picks someone to
buy ice cream for. Today he picked you and your little girls.”


Oh what a sweet kiss from God when I needed it the most.


My need wasn’t money, for I had plenty to buy ice cream. But what I had
needed to know was that God saw me. I needed to know that He cared about
me, and that He would tend to my tender faith and raw questions.


I now had proof that I was not alone. This was the beginning of my awakening
to the fact that God saw my sore, hurting heart, and grieved with me. He
would gently guide me through my journey, and help me one moment at a
time.


God’s loving touch of sweet provision soothed my raw, hurting heart as cool, sweet ice cream runs down and coats a sore throat.


Twenty-four years later, my eyes still fill with mist when I remember how I
felt during this time, the lowest and loneliest season in my life. But then those
sad tears join with ones of gratefulness as I also remember God’s personal
kisses of kindness.


I now realize how important doing acts of kindness anonymously can be,
for then the recipient does not have to use up energy to repay anybody back.
Because of this, the recipient can truly receive a gift from the hand of God
⁠—the One who is The Giver of all good gifts.


I call these inspired and Spirit-led acts of kindness giving a KISS from God.



A KISS is different from the often referred to, “Random Act of Kindness” or
“RAK,” which has the connotation of just being due to random luck. Instead, a
“Kiss” in not accidental at all, but consists of who looks and prays for someone
who is hurting, and by listening to God, takes action for how to best respond.


“What is Love to me?” someone might ask.


A small cone of vanilla ice cream given by a stranger.

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How to have a Jubilee kind of year in 2022 -diamonds included by Amber O’Brien

Happy New year to you my friend! Did you know that every 50 years comes a really special one? …. the Jubilee. I have found the secret of how to have this joyous Jubilee year right now in 2022.

So let me start by explaining about the Year of Jubilee in the Old Testament. On the day when the awaited Jubilee year begins ( kind of like our New Year’s Eve) a single long victorious blast (after 10 days of fasting, prayer and repentance) rang out announcing freedom and joyfully proclaiming that all family land is to be returned to the original owner. ( Lev. 25:13) All debts were to be forgiven and forgotten, and any family members who were slaves (for working off debt) would be set free. Can you imagine the joy and celebrating on this awaited, victorious year of all years? Imagine……your husband or son set free from slavery. Restored family land and relationships. A fresh new beginning for God’s chosen people.

In order to relate and understand this ancient Israel Joyous celebration to our modern culture, please imagine this scenario with me: 

A wealthy older relative entrusts you with an exquisite, dazzling diamond ring and instructs you to pass the ring down to your children and grandchildren. The large, pure, brilliant diamond is a priceless masterpiece and your most valued possession.

Every time you look at this great gift, you are reminded of the great love of the one who bestowed it to you. However, as the years go by you make some poor choices that put your family into debt. In order to buy food for your family, you are left with the agonizing decision to exchange your ring for money at a local pawn shop.  For years you diligently work in an effort to buy the ring back but to no avail.

You grief for your own loss is multiplied as you also grieve for future generations who have lost out on this gift as well because of your past poor choices. Sometimes you visit the pawn shop to just admire the beautiful ring. Though the ring has now become dirty and dull from neglect. But you still yearn to have it back and regret your past mistakes. and worse of all, you know deep down in your heart that you are lost and dirty just like the family Jewel.

One day (decades after you sold the ring), you stop by the pawn shop and the owner tells you that your ring has been paid for in full and will be yours again,  You fall to your knees in grateful relief as tears stream down your joyful face. You ask the pawn shop owner  “Who did this?” 

A wealthy Prince steps out from behind the curtain and kneels down to wipe your tears and then lifts you up. “I’ve come to pay off all your family debt, and to restore all that you have lost. I am the Jubilee. I am your redeemer who has come to set you free” He presents the diamond and right away you notice that it has been cleaned and now brightly dazzles. and you know in your soul that if you ask for help, your heart will be cleaned and restored as well.

Who is this Prince who left His perfect Kingdom to rescue us and provide a way for restoration with His Father, the King of Kings ? His name is Jesus.

 Jesus is our Jubilee

In fact, when Jesus walked this broken earth he declared that He had come to be our Jubilee. He went to his own local town (Nazareth) and read out loud from the prophet Isaiah ( Isaiah 61 1-2) in the synagogue about himself.

Jesus stood up and read:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. ” Luke 4: 18-19

And he rolled up the scroll and give it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all the synagogue were fixed on him. And He began to say to them,

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus used the word Today.

Today, starts the Year of the Lord’s favor. Today, my friend.

He promises liberty for Today because of Easter Day.

Can you hear the brass trumpets on Easter Day that echo the sound of Liberty of the shofar horn?

And on The Final Day when we will be liberated from these waning, perishable bodies, the angels will play a final trumpet victory blast. (Math. 24 :31-32, 1 Corinth. 15:51-52)

Do you (like me) feel like the dirty diamond who has lost its shine? Perhaps the eyes of your blind heart need to be opened? Do you want to have your debts (sins) forgiven by the great Redeemer? Would you like your relationship to be restored with your friend and Lord Jesus? Remember that the Shofar blasted after a time of prayer, fasting and repentance.

He is waiting. Stop trying to clean yourself up. He just needs you to admit that you need help. Fall to your knees in humble worship and allow Him to forgive, set-free, clean, restore and lift you up.

The Secret to having a Jubilee year in 2022 is to let ourselves be cleaned first. Then, you and I will sparkle like freshly-cleaned, dazzling diamonds in this dark and needy world.

Jesus came to set us free! Jesus is our Jubilee!


	
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Does Love Last Forever?

By Amber O’Brien  

~~sometimes Love gently nips at your feet~~

Sometimes the questions that we cannot answer right away have the biggest impact. At least I know that to be true for me. Three profound questions slowly set the stage for the all- important decision of my life, and so I will somehow attempt to pen the most significant story of my life.

More than 35 years ago (I must have been in my early teens at the time), I vividly remember walking along the sidewalk in front of a clothing store at a strip mall when a tall, thin young man stepped forward and asked me, “Do you know why Jesus died on the cross?”

I did not have an answer. So I mumbled, “I don’t know,” and I quickly walked by him, as my adolescent shyness overcame my curiosity of this odd question. He probably had a leaflet and some talking points to offer, but I moved too fast and ran into the store.

However, like a persistent dog, the question followed me, nipping at my consciousness and never leaving my side. In my thoughts, I sought to figure out what crime (it must have been serious) that Jesus committed to be so charged with death and crucified. 

The question lay dormant for years, just as a faithful dog rests by his owner’s feet.


Around the time I entered high school, I began to attend Young Life meetings in the homes of fellow classmates. Young Life is a Christian youth outreach organization for high school students that includes evenings of silly skits and loud guitar sing-alongs—sort of like a G-rated Saturday Night Live show. In the packed living rooms, we swayed to the music and laughed hilariously as our friends donned funny costumes for the funny plays and contests. 

It was such fun to sit with my girlfriends and sing and clap to songs like, “Under the Boardwalk,” while the cute boys played guitars and made us giggle with their shenanigans. My awareness of the opposite sex was growing and I quickly became infatuated whenever a musician caught my eye. More importantly, my awareness of God’s love for me was increasing, too.

The college-aged volunteers in my high school Young Life chapter were caring and committed individuals. They sought to help each of us through our tough high school years. Teams of four volunteers spent their free time planning fun social events and the same joy I felt in the meetings, I could see in the leaders’ everyday lives. These truly were unique, mysterious young adults who donated their nights and weekends to spend time with awkward high schoolers. 

In the midst of the silly, joyful and loud songs, one melancholy chorus struck a nerve and became my second defining question. “What’s Forever For?” by Michael Martin Murphey was a song we would often sing during the large group meetings. The song’s chorus asks:

So What’s the Glory in Living

Doesn’t anybody ever stay together anymore?

And if Love never lasts forever

Tell me what’s forever for?

The melancholy, slow chorus seemed so sad to me, and I didn’t want to accept that love could end.  I remember a stirring happening in my heart as I considered again and again the end of the chorus, “What’s forever for?” 

I did not feel lovable or attractive. During middle school I sported large, rounded glasses with thick lenses, and wore braces on my teeth.  At one time the orthodontist even had me wearing a head-brace that went around the outside of my face (not very popular with the guys). A nickname, “Airbrain Amber” is one I’ll never forget. The negative teasing chipped away at my self-esteem. However, these Young Life leaders treated me the same as the more popular students at Charles W Woodward H.S.  I remember one volunteer named Warren who woke up super early one Saturday morning to pick up the donuts and bring them to me so I could then sell them to my neighbors. 

My parents supported my efforts as well and so during the summer before my sophomore year, I traveled with my friends on a bus to the Young Life camp in Saranac, New York. While there, I walked on high ropes in the tall trees, and parasailed off of the sandy beach. But at the end of each day, I remember sitting in an audience of scores of other 15-16 year olds listening to engaging  talks about God and His amazing love. 

When the end of the week approached, the closing talk focused on how a human physically suffers when crucified  on a cross. I heard how the victim must lift up their weight by pushing on their bloody nailed feet in order to achieve enough air to take a breath to fill their lungs.  Then the dying victim would lower himself back down which pulled on his throbbing, wounded wrists.  Learning about this slow struggle for air that caused Jesus so much pain shocked me to the core.   

“Why would a God of love allow His perfect Son to suffer like this?” I kept thinking to myself as I imagined Jesus on the cross after being whipped to the point of death. He did nothing wrong. 

The speaker continued to talk about how Jesus had died on the cross because the God of the universe saw me! He knew that I sat on death row in my ugly selfishness. Generously, He offered up His one and only perfect Son to suffer and die in my place so that I could be with Him in heaven for Eternity. 

The speaker’s words jolted me, just as a dog’s urgent barking awakens his master from a deep sleep.  

“What?” I gasped silently as my heart quickened. My sins? The answer to the question that I had been trying to find of  “Why did Jesus die on the cross?” was all along… for ME?    

God’s gracious love flooded me while I sat under a tree alone in the woods after the talk had finished. God had not used fear or threats to draw my tender heart, but instead Love whispered my name. The mighty God of the universe wooed me with patient kindness.

I looked upward into the blue sky, and responded to Jesus with words that flowed from a heart overcome with surprise and gratitude and awe. You did that for me

What a shock to realize that the Holy God of the Universe not only intimately knew my ugly, selfish heart, but He also loved me so much that He died for me. He desired to walk with me on this earth and then to spend eternity with me too. 

As I pondered this indescribable gift of love, my third and final question formed as I looked heavenward. But Jesus, what can I do for you?

Yet ever so gently a still, small voice spoke softly into my spirit, Give me your life.

Yes– My gift would be myself.  My unknown future, my dreams, my hopes… all wrapped up with a bow. Yes, Jesus, I responded, I give you my life.

Sitting alone under a tree in the woods at Camp Saranac,  I gave my heart to Jesus and began a lifelong journey of love.  For almost four decades we have weathered many storms together and shared so many miracles and joys. 

Our love story will last forever. 

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Show kindness to Mephibosheth

Sweet Sisters share and today I am so pleased and proud to present this devotion that my Bel Air Sweet Sister Marni Hansel wrote. She has her plate full as a mom of 5 children and takes care of the needs of so many. She took the time to share this recent true story….so sit down to this feast and chew slowly.

by Marni Hansel

“You will always eat at my table” (2 Samuel 9:7)

I’m going to be honest.  I was having a pretty good pity party about having to leave a teaching job I really loved.  I felt valued in my vocation, my skills and gifts were appreciated, and I resented walking away from this purpose-filled position.  My 16-year-old daughter’s physical health had deteriorated to the point that she could no longer attend school, and she was facing a huge surgery, so she needed me to be her full-time caregiver this fall.
I knew I was not really approaching this new “job” with humility and love, so I prayed and asked God to give me a lesson from His Word that I could apply to my situation.  What was God’s purpose for me now?  Loud and clear in my head I heard, “Show kindness to Mephibosheth.”  
We learn in 2 Samuel Chapter 9 that King David’s best friend Jonathan (son of Saul) was dead and his son Mephibosheth was hiding in the “land of nothing”, reduced from royalty to refugee.  Significantly, Mephibosheth had been dropped as a child and was lame in both feet.  Some versions even use the archaic term “crippled”. (2 Sam. 9:3,13) 
David sent for Mephibosheth. “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” (2 Sam. 9:7)
I read over 2 Samuel 9 again, wondering why God had clearly said to me, “Show kindness to Mephibosheth.”  I mean, of course I was going to feed my own daughter!  I began to question if maybe there was some other Bible story I was supposed to be learning from instead.  
But just a few days later at church the pastor’s message was from 2 Samuel chapter 9.  Honestly, as the scriptures and lesson points appeared on the giant screen, I was laughing and crying at the same time.  Okay, God, my job right now is to show kindness to my poor, “crippled” daughter.
As her surgery date approached, my dear friend Amber encouraged me to open an account with Meal Train, an app that sets up a calendar for friends to provide dinners.  I balked at this.  In my pride, I felt that I’d be able to handle preparing meals while doing everything else.  And really, wouldn’t she just be recovering in bed most of the day?  Surely I’d have plenty of time to cook.  But Amber was persistent, so I signed up.  
The day arrived. The surgeon broke my daughter’s hip bone in four places and put all the pieces together with screws.  She spent the next five days in the hospital in tremendous pain.  I was so thankful for all the nurses who cared for her around the clock.  But then, she came home, still in tremendous pain, and it was my turn.  My turn at 1 in the morning, 3 in the morning, and for the rest of the day!  My turn helping in the bathroom, assisting with bathing, lifting and shifting, keeping track of medicine schedules.  It seemed like she needed me every single second.  I was exhausted, and truthfully the pain made her “less than pleasant”, so showing kindness was not easy! 
The meals started coming.  Every night, delicious homemade meals or tasty take out arrived!  I was stretched to capacity, but I never had to think about cooking.  To this day, our dinners are still provided!  And everyone has been exceedingly generous, so far above and beyond anything I expected.  We eat like kings!
In a season of thanksgiving, where I have struggled to be thankful, this abundant provision has filled my heart with gratitude.  And who am I, to receive such lavish love?  I don’t deserve all this goodness.  It brings to mind Mephibosheth’s response to David: Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” (2 Sam. 9:8)
WAIT!  Hold on, God!  Are you saying that… I am Mephibosheth?
All along, God has been showing kindness to ME.  He has not forgotten me, feeling broken and low in the “land of nothing”.  He has brought me to His banqueting table, every meal lavishly provided for my family by the King of Kings.  I am loved.  I am cared for.  I am now THANKFUL in a way I have never been thankful before.  Yes, I have a purpose in giving care to my daughter.  But I also find a purpose in receiving care from my Father. Through His display of lovingkindness, He changed my resentful heart to a thankful one.  Thank you, God, for showing kindness to me.

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A 7 week book club for two! Draw closer to a friend and to God this summer

Hi Friend!

Do you want this summer to include a fun way to strengthen your relationship with a friend/relative and with God? Do you have a friend or loved one who lives far away? How about a half hour each week chat on the phone after each reading the short chapter on a real life story about love and let the fast fun favorite questions start the laughter and next let the deeper end discussion questions allow for a deeper sharing of hearts.

In the 7 short chapter book Love.Always.Wins the fun fast favorite ice breakers include “What is your favorite comfort food?” to “How old were you when you had your first crush?”. Then, after reading a story from the author’s messy life, the discussion questions include looking up God’s answer in the Bible for answers to life’s many challenges.

A recent quote was sent to me by reader:

“Amber shares her own vulnerabilities as a Christian woman –not perfection– moving to love and forgiveness with God’s help. Her beautiful poems accentuate this Love. ” Sharon P.

Perhaps buy two books and suggest having “a book club for two” as a gift for a friend or mom/daughter. What could be a greater gift then spending time with a friend and learning together how much God loves you ………a love that will Never end ….a love that will Always Win!

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=amber+obrien+love.+always.+wins&crid=36D6AV6LKTO0C&sprefix=amber+Obrien+%2Cstripbooks%2C163&ref=nb_sb_ss_fb_1_13_ts-doa-p

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For My Sisters Who Are Grieving this Christmas/ How to help Our Grieving Sisters

   My experienced friends warned me that certain days of the year could pull a bereaved person down into a quicksand-like spiral as the memory of the past rubs salt into the still-wounded present. Holidays and anniversaries magnify the loss of a loved one, each event having the potential to drag under the people left behind. As a new Christmas season approached, I hoped that during the second anniversary of my baby girl Megan’s birth and death, I would resist both fighting the pull of grief and trying to speed through this potentially heartbreaking time. For as a victim in quicksand soon learns, both thrashing around and trying to rush through it could result in more loss. Continuing to fight causes the quicksand victim to further sink, just as I could further sink into my grief and self pity. Panicking and trying to speed the process of escape causes the victim to sink faster, just as I could push myself further into the pit of despair by not taking my time to acknowledge and face my grieving.

The Key with both quicksand and with grief is to move slowly, take small steps, and be willing to let others pull you out.

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     Two years before, I gave birth to a premature baby girl on December 23. The most intense forty days of my life followed her emergency birth as my husband and I watched our baby girl go on and off a respirator and survive bowel surgery, only to watch her take her final breath in my arms. Megan weighed just 2 pounds 4 ounces, but she was perfectly formed, a true gift from God. As she struggled for her life, we struggled against two major snowstorms to bring her my breast milk. I felt so torn between visiting the hospital and caring for my other two daughters, Mary Jo and Katie, at home.

As Megan took her final breath, however, I felt God’s complete peace and an awareness of his sovereignty. She shared forty days with us on earth, the number the early church fathers held as “the necessary period of cleansing or testing and strengthening which allows the fullness of wisdom to become a reality.” According to the Bible, Jesus spent forty hours in the tomb between good Friday and Easter morning, as well as forty days in the desert while being tempted. Noah and his family spent forty days on the ark. Moses fasted for forty days before he received the Ten Commandments, and the Israelites wandered for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Megan completed her forty days on earth and was now free from pain, praising God in her own Promised Land – Heaven.

The name Megan means “will achieve might and strength,” and I knew in my innermost depths her life was complete at forty days. While most days I could trust in God’s perfect wisdom for my family and me, as a sensitive and shortsighted human I still felt the loss of a loved one. Grieving is a healthy and necessary process whose emotions and tears should not be buried or ignored. I spent the following year writing in my journal and creating a scrap/photo album to include the photos, cards, and letters sent to commemorate Megan’s short life. A room was dedicated to her at my home church and Mary Jo, Katie, and I made frequent stops to hang bulletin boards and set up supplies. A year and a half later, a baby boy named Jacob blessed our family (Jacob means “the supplanter”). The waves of grief diminished as time and understanding increased. I turned to Jesus and His Holy Word for comfort and I felt my own faith strengthen. At times, I relished in the thought that I had a child in Heaven, for is that not our ultimate goal as parents?

However, as Christmas and Megan’s second birthday approached, my fears of how I would handle the days increased. Christmas was centered on a baby boy who was miraculously born. The absence of a miracle for Megan would seem greater with one less stocking to fill. On the other hand, if I filled a stocking as some bereaved parents do, I have one less child to unpack all the goodies. The sore empty wound that I still carried (and will always carry in a lesser degree until I am reunited with my baby) seemed such a contrast to the cheery hustle and bustle of Christmas. What could I do instead of planning her birthday party? What could I buy instead of party favors, cake and ice cream? Would anyone but me remember Megan’s birthday?

     Christmas surrounded me with its cinnamon smells, jingle bells, glitter and gold tinsel. Could it have been only two years before, alone in my cold sterile hospital room that I spent Christmas morning? I was supposed to be six months pregnant, I thought. Instead, my little baby girl struggled for life in intensive care. My staples stung from the emergency cesarean, a physical reminder of the stinging feeling of sitting alone in a hospital bed trying to imagine the reactions of my girls as they opened their gifts at home. Two years later, especially during anniversary remembrances, the sore emptiness of loss was ever present and I feared I would sink into the quicksand of self-pity and depression. “Lord, I can’t let Megan’s birthday take away the peace and Joy of Christmas from my other children. Help.”

     The Sunday before Christmas, we stopped by Megan’s grave after church. Before I opened the car door, I spotted something lying on her tombstone. I burst into tears of joy as I realized someone had left a tiny Christmas tree in Megan’s memory. Little ornaments of angels, Mary and Joseph, adorned the little tree. Attached was a card inside a plastic bag. Who could have been so kind? Who remembered Megan? With trembling hands, I ripped open the bag. As I read the card, my questions melted into understanding. Of course –  It was from Irene and Rich, friends of ours who had lost their own baby a year before mine to SIDS. “Merry Christmas, Megan,” the card read.  “Keep an extra eye out on your Mommy and Daddy, Mary Jo, Katie and Jacob this Christmas. You are forever in their hearts.”  

     I felt God’s love through the gift of that tree. As I thought about how Rich and Irene were able to comfort me because of their own loss, an idea sprouted. Now I had a plan as to how I was going to celebrate Megan’s birthday. My excitement grew as I planned our birthday surprise, and I no longer felt the quicksand pull of self-pity. On December 23rd, I bundled up my children and stopped first at a florist shop and selected a colorful bouquet with roses.

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Next, we stopped at a local bookstore. I did not know the owners personally, but I had briefly met their preteen daughter before she died in a bicycling accident years before. She had watched my older daughter at church, and so five-year-old Mary Jo handed the father our bouquet. “What’s this?” he asked. I nodded to the picture of his daughter behind the cash register.  The words sputtered out and my eyes blinked back tears. “This is in memory of your daughter.”

     Later that night, as I pulled into our driveway, I noticed a white rose with a note attached lying in our path. I recognized my friend Terry’s handwriting, but the message felt straight from heaven.  “Mommy, Thank you for giving me a ‘birth’ day.  Love, Megan.”

     Tears of gratitude and release flowed. Like a balm for my wound, the tears flowed as I again felt God’s love and understanding through a friend. More ideas began to spring up as if my tears provided the moisture necessary for germination. Many neighbors, relatives and  friends were approaching quicksand pools of their own, and I hoped to help pull some of them out. The strongest pull is love, I will tell them, and the only escape from a pool of quicksand is to receive God’s love and then to love-pull a friend out of their own.

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Love Kit

Dear Sweet Sister:

A Love kit consists of special verses created for a precious brother or sister to savor. What better gift to give a struggling or grieving sister or brother ? Or perhaps to celebrate a sister or brother during a joyful time? You can place these on index cards and attach the objects and place in a pretty bag. Perhaps place on sticks and put these in a flower pot or perhaps in a fresh baked pie as my video on the @sistersneedeachother facebook displays. Have fun! let me know of any verses and objects you add. You will be refreshed and blessed as you put a Love kit together.

Love kit

I lift up my eyes to the mountain. Where does my help come from? My help come from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip-He who watches over you will not slumber; Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Psalm 121-1. (wiggly eyes)

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Luke 12:6-7 (two pennies or yarn for hair)

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10. (glue sick)

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; Will Help You”.   Isaiah 41:13. ( life-savor candy )

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4. ( gray yarn)

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Luke 12:6-7 (two pennies or yarn for hair)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3 12-14  ( band aid)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. John 3: 16-17 ( a candy mint or peppermint life-savor- you are worth a mint)

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. James 4:8.    ( a magnet- plastic letter magnet)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:28-29. ( rubberband- be flexible while you wait)

He will cover you with His feathers; Under His wings you will find refuge;His faithfulness is a shield and rampart. Because you have made the LORD your dwelling—My refuge, the Most High—No evil will befall you,No plague will approach your tent. For He will command His angels concerning youTo guard you in all your ways. Psalm 91:1  ( feather)

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How to Rise Above the Winter Blahs by Amber O’Brien

Feeling a little blah? The secret to rising out of the winter-blah pit can be found in the fabulous peacock feather.

On one end of a peacock feather is a bare, white stick but the other end displays the delicate, stunning plumage of greens, blues and purples which the male peacock so proudly displays to attract a partner.

So, I have a very important question for you my sweet sister: How do you balance a peacock feather with one hand?

While at a recent business convention, a motivational juggler used peacock feathers as an object lesson and so I brought the beautiful feathers back and added a spiritual twist for the local sweet sister group.

First, we were told to look at the ugly white point and balance the feather in the palm of one of our hands. As the audience tried to balance the tall feather and looked down at the stark, ugly end, the feathers kept falling as did our attitudes.

But………. when we looked upward at the top of the gorgeous peacock feather, then balancing became so much easier and our smiles turned upward as well.

Soon laughter and joy could be heard throughout the room, as we soon learned that we could toss upward the feather from one hand to the other, if we just kept our eyes on the top of the fabulous feather.

The spiritual secret of the Peacock feather is also found in the book of Philippians. Paul is under house arrest after experiencing so many hardships within the church community and outside as well. He tells his brothers and sisters to Rejoice ! and then gives his secret for not being sucked under into despair:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal toward the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians Ch. 3:13-14

then Paul encourages his readers to focus on whatever is: “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. ” Phillipians 4:8-9

Who is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable? only the Great I Am – the one and only God who sits on His mighty throne.

So what or Who are you focusing on today?

Perhaps you are frozen and stuck looking back over past mistakes and regrets? Or the let down after the excitement of Christmas and New Year has you a little down? I recently heard from a sweet sister who shared she wasn’t excited about her birthday. Is the passage of time getting you down? Or like me when I was younger, is the rise and fall of monthly female hormones causing you to see only the negative? (My poor dear husband) or perhaps you are living with fear over the choices of a child or the medical failings of a loved one? God hears your heart cries and He does not want you, his precious daughter, living in the pit of fear, or shame or despair.

No matter the reason you are stuck in the weeds, there .is. a. way. out.

Focus on the character of God and the hope and promise we have in the days to come. In Philippians we read that : God will provide us the strength for whatever situation we may face.

1. “I can do All things through Christ who gives me strength”

phil 4:13

and then we are promised that God will provide just what we need:

2. “God will supply All of our needs according to the riches of His Glory in Christ Jesus. “

Phil. 4;19

While you are waiting to see how God will work this all out for good (Romans 8:28) , take out a pen and write out the beauty of God’s character. What adjectives describe God? Every morning I write out a word or more during my adoration time during my date with Jesus. I’ll start you off : God is so: faithful, forgiving, generous, good, powerful, loving, caring, In Control, merciful, kind, Just, Great, etc………..

Now: Write out 10 good things about yourself. Or 10 good things about the person you are frustrated with. (During those hormonal days I would write out 10 good things about me, my husband and my life.) Or how about 10 ways that God has been faithful in the past.

By the time you have reached number 10, I guarantee you will feel light as a feather with a renewed perception.

So back to my original question: How do you balance a peacock feather with one hand? or really, “How can you stay balanced with all the strife going on around you? “

  • Keep your Eyes upward and forward at the beauty and truth that exists only in our Lord and Savior.
  • Then record this beauty and truth with a pen.

Recording God’s love and continued care with a pen will raise you out of the pit of lost perception and soon the winter Blah’s will become full of springtime hope and victory.

What are 10 adjectives that describe God (Jesus)?

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3

On the third day, a Wedding took place in Cana. John 2:1

The best things in life need to be savored. Like a a fine dinner that one needs to chew slowly to truly appreciate the Chef’s choice of various spices and unique fresh vegetables meant to dance on the taste buds. In fact, one should ideally first relish the presentation of the meal with ones eyes before even beginning to eat. Imagine your favorite gourmet dessert and how it is best to slow down and then close ones eyes and linger over every bite so one can appreciate the sea salt that has been sprinkled in or the nuts that add just the right crunch.

Recently, the sweet sisters have been slowing down to savor the Gospel of John. Instead of watching a video or reading about another sisters take on a portion of scripture we are feasting on this finest of foods for ourselves.

We started with the story that begins Jesus’ ministry, when he changed ordinary water into the best wine and his disciples saw the glory of God and believed.

Gathered in a circle in my family room, we held our Gospel of John booklets and started reading the first 12 verses in chapter 2 and then I said, Let’s read it slowly through again. And then we started for a third time and carefully chewed on each verse and started to ask observational questions.

We carefully asked the observations questions for the inductive OICA study which includes: Observation, Interpretation, Correlation and application.

Observation: Who, What, Where, when, why and How.

Who: Jesus, his mother Mary, his first disciples, a bride and bridegroom, the servants, the master of the banquet Where: the town of Cana, just north of Nazareth (where Jesus was raised) When: on the third day.

but when the question of “why? needed an answer:

We. were. stumped.

We kept coming back to why did Jesus’ first miracle/ sign happened on “the third Day”. What is the significance? Why would this be significant to the first disciples who were guests at the wedding?

And then it happened. Sweet Sister Marni flipped to Genesis Chapter One and read to us what God did on the third day.

And God Said, “Let the waters under the earth be gathered into one place,and let dry land appear,” and it was so. Genesis 1: 9

On the third day, God (the Creator God) transformed water into dry land. And then “God saw that it was good”.

What an “Ah Ha !” Moment for us.

Only God could change water into dry land.

Only God could change water into wine.

What is God telling us through this first miracle/sign of Jesus’ ministry on earth?

Jesus IS God.

Jesus was there at Creation as God refers to himself as “US”

“Let US make God in OUR image, in OUR Likeness” Genesis 1:26

and as John continually declares in his prologue,

“ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God. John 1:1

And Oh sweet sisters, as I have delved deeper into this Special 3rd day of creation, I have discovered that God also created all the vegetation, and plants and trees that bear fruit and seed. Of course when I read about fruit and seeds, I thought of God’s sweet echo in the story of Cana of the wine that is made from grapes.

Grapes! Sweet grapes that were crushed to create wine.

Can’t you just see the gears turning in the heads of the disciples (present and future) when they see and taste that it is “the best wine” and they are reminded of how God on the third day “saw that it was good.” ?

Do you believe that Jesus is God?

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which He revealed His. Glory, and his disciples believed in Him.

(John. 2:11)

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Who Will Fill the Hole?

By Amber O’Brien    

I should have used my big girl voice

I should have said, “Will you please fill the hole?” as the family

Packed up their plastic toys and shovels.

For I knew what they did not; for  

A hole left open can lead to heartache.

Years before a woman on a nearby shore stumbled in the dark

And she fell into a neglected hole;

She couldn’t climb out and she soon fell asleep.

Early the next morning a sand -cleaning machine

 Pushed the sand over her and

She. Was. Buried. Alive.

The reporter urged the viewers “to please fill in the holes”

After scooping sand and sculpting sandcastles.

But, there are some gaps we cannot fill up

On. Our. Own.

I thought of my own regrets:

As a mother. As a friend.

A sister, daughter, wife

Would my regrets ever end?

So many pits, so many pangs of regret

How many people have fallen into the holes that I’ve continually dug

With clenched fists of selfish pride and fear?

 Or on the other hand,

How many people have hurt me and bore huge holes in my own heart?

 But I worsened my wounds with unforgiveness and

 Allowed the gaping holes to fester from self-pity.

 This huge hole left in the sand in front of me

represented all my failures and  

I sat anxiously in my beach chair pondering what to do.

I didn’t have a shovel,

Or the strength…………… for I now finally comprehended that

All these holes together form a Grand Canyon sized chasm that separates

me from holy heaven.

Who will fill the hole?

Downhearted and distressed,

I grievously sat gazing at the ginormous gulf

Paralyzed with despair.

Who Can fill the hole?

Then a lifeguard

Wearing a blood-red tank top

With a white cross sealed across his chest

Climbed down from his high white stand,

Kneeled in the sand and

With his open bare hands,

He gently and carefully pushed the sand from the rough edges

And Filled. In. The. Hole.

Above all, Love each other deeply, because Love covers a multitude of sins.

I Peter 4:8

Best.Day.Ever.

By Amber O’Brien

 Our brother died the other day

Our heavy hearts sore and severed

But how can we grieve

As those who don’t believe?

For he’s having his Best Day Ever.

he stands transfixed, healed now in Heaven

Praising the one who lives forever

So how can we grieve

As those who don’t believe ?

When he’s having his Best Day Ever.

he’s Praising Him in Paradise

Feasting on the Great Tree of Life

he’s rejoicing with the angels

 Beautiful in dazzling white.

  As God collects our precious tears

  We trust His Love that lasts forever

So while our hearts do grieve

    At the same time we do believe

    That  he’s having his  Best. Day. Ever !!

     (A Day that will last Forever and ever.)  amen