Holidays · Music · Rooted in Christ · Vignettes & Poetry

The Perfect Easter Morning – Some Day

On a perfect Easter morning, I imagine that I would wake up with the sun shining its rays through my window after a full night’s sleep. My Easter lily that sits on my kitchen table would have opened and bloomed already. I would have my paska bread already baked and awaiting the finally decorating stages. My children’s clothes would be neatly washed, dried, and ironed, and no stressful moments trying to get out the door to church.

On a perfect Easter morning, my friend’s 10 month old baby would still be alive. My dear elderly friend would greet me and the kids at church as she sat beside the coffee table with the warmest smile as if she had been waiting just for me. Its how she greeted everyone she knew. She would still be with us. I would have woken up with no anxiety, no depression. On a perfect Easter morning…

But its not a perfect world, which is why we needed a Savior. It is why we needed a Rescuer to purchase our freedom from sin and redeem us. It is why we needed a King to defeat death itself.

Resurrection Sunday is a day of rejoicing that our Savior rose from the dead. It is a day of rejoicing, and yet I still feel the darkness. I still feel the sadness of loss and grief. I still struggle with a depression that I can’t explain. It is a day of rejoicing and rejoice, I do, with all my heart. Every word that is sung, sung with passion. I sing the songs of my freedom, purchased for me by my Savior. I love Him more than ever before and I have loved Him that deeply since I was seven years old. I look to the sky and remind my four year old as we look out the window at the rising sun in the early morning, that Jesus is coming back one day.

The light in the darkness, the hope in the sorrow, the joy in the pain. The Lord walks with us in our weakness and His grace is sufficient. His light pierces our darkness. I tucked in the corners of our patchwork quilt as I made the bed this morning and sang,

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
Life is worth the living, just because He lives
-Kristin Chenoweth

I look forward to the day when Jesus returns, when there will be no more tears, where there will be no more suffering. While we remain, the Lord is present with us and we continue to speak truth and light into the darkness, and continue to seek His beauty, with eyes to see and ears to hear, we sing the songs of our freedom. That perfect Easter morning is coming and some day will be.

Some day my earthly house will fall,
I cannot tell how soon ’twill be,
But this I know, my All in All
Has now a place in heaven for me.

Some day the silver cord will break
And I no more as now shall sing,
But, oh, the joy when I awake
Within the Palace of the King.

Some day, when sets the golden sun
Beneath the rosy-tinted west,
My blessed Lord shall say “Well done!”
And I shall enter into rest.
Some day – till then I’ll watch and wait,
My lamp well-trimmed and burning bright,
That when my Savior opens the gate
My soul to Him may speed its flight.

-Fanny Crosby, Some Day

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But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
Luke 24:1-12

 

 

 

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Discipleship · Holidays · Music

Good Friday – Songs of Freedom

When I woke up this morning and the kids were all huddled around the tv watching Star Wars Rebels, awaiting the promised pancake breakfast I was about to prepare, I opened the blinds in our living room and watched as squirrels were feasting on the spilled birdseed I had set on the patio step and of course, forgot about as its been raining forever out here, and necessarily, everything that gets left on the porch gets forgotten about! As our woodland friends scattered, I opened the door and felt the sun immediately upon my face. I stood there, enveloped in golden sunshine, muddy garden off to the side of the patio, little green buds of hope on the branches and a mess of spilled birdseed to clean up. I wanted to linger, as I smiled and let the warmth minister to me. It is a beautiful concept to me to think on how God’s created order can bring health and healing, even in a fallen world. Everything is affected by the Fall, by sin, but the created order is still good, very good, and Jesus is coming back to make all things new.

It is Good Friday. We are Christians. We celebrate Good Friday in remembrance of our Lord’s sacrifice for us. This morning I shared with my kids a video clip from The Bible Project to explain, once again, the historical events of Holy Week and what that means for those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As I shared with my kids in our devotional time this morning, my son asked a very good question:

Why is it called “Good” Friday?

I read them this answer from one of my husband’s professors which was a contribution to his latest album by Gateway Hymns:

Why Good Friday?

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
(From In Memory of W.B. Yates by W.H. Auden)

It is good to celebrate Good Friday. Not because the events of Good Friday are good in themselves. No, we will receive no real comfort in the darkness of the tomb. We will find ourselves alone. It is good to celebrate Good Friday not because suffering is good, but because the Cross is inevitable. And the God who is good is nonetheless there in the dark.

We must practice getting to the bottom of darkness, because that is where we are all headed. In life, we are in death. We have need of knowing the darkness. Of getting acclimated to the arid landscape of our lives. So that we won’t be frightened. So that we will know that there—God is even and especially there.

It is in the midst of Friday that we must confess the goodness of God. It is in our imprisonment that we sing the song of freedom.

Dr. Robbie Griggs

As we remember the day of our Lord’s sacrifice, and prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday to remember and celebrate His historical resurrection, we sing the songs of our freedom.

He comes to make His blessings known
Far as the curse is found…
-Joy To The World

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Holidays · Music · Rooted in Christ

Holy Week – Gateway Hymns

The bare branches outside my window have waited a long winter for their spring dressing. It has been a cold winter and every day the cold lingers, we long for spring and we hope more deeply. Even though I can’t see all the evidence of spring yet, there are hopeful signs all around. The red cardinal and his brown feathered mate have been spotted by my kids as we’ve huddled inside from the rain, peering out the window. A little brown house finch has been perching on the branches from time to time and buds are growing on the trees. We wait for them to unfold their glory.

In a way, I am welcoming spring by faith, with a steadfast hope, knowing that this season will manifest itself in all its evidence soon enough, in time. I need the spring, and the beauty of new life. It has been a long winter.

In the span of several weeks, there has been great loss and sorrow. Supporting others in their losses, and now this past week, walking through the loss of a cherished friend, so dear to me. The Lord was so sweet in giving me one last moment with her several weeks ago. Special moments I treasure in my heart. Last week, I got to hold her hand one more time. Now she holds the hands of Jesus. We have walked a long winter.

This week, I am sharing the most recent album by Gateway Hymns as we celebrate Holy Week. We are desperately in need of life and hope! I will walk this Holy Week with these sorrows fresh in my heart, but with the joy that our Risen King has defeated death forever.

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Gateway Hymns – Good Friday

Gateway Hymns “is a project started by Craig Harris and Brent Johnson as a collaboration effort to supply music for the church.” Several other musicians and artists have contributed to this album. The most recent album, is simply called Good Friday. The five songs are written specifically in remembrance of Good Friday, the day Jesus, the Son of God was crucified, and on him was laid the sins of the world, as he paid the penalty for our sin, so that we don’t have to. The words are powerful, the melodies haunting, and the emotions reflective of the sorrow and pain of our Lord, crucified. The songs carry the listener through a journey from the Garden of Gethsemane to the anguish and lament after Christ’s crucifixion.

 

 

Discipleship · Holidays · Marriage · Rooted in Christ

Serving Together in Marriage {Deeply Rooted Magazine}

There are so many things I love about Valentine’s Day. Making our own Valentine’s cards and crafts, baking cupcakes or cookies with red hearts on top, sharing in our children’s joy and all their little Valentine’s cards and treats that they give and receive from friends, and just taking time to make the day a family and friends celebration of love, ultimately of God’s extravagant love for His people. These are some of the ways we love to celebrate.

As I think about Valentine’s Day, I also reflect on the love I share with my husband and how God has worked in and through our marriage. Today I am sharing some of my heart about marriage, ministry and serving together over on Deeply Rooted Magazine.

Marriage is a picture of Christ and His covenant relationship with the Church. It is an image of God’s intentions in His redemptive plan of salvation. The Church is Christ’s Bride here on Earth with a mission to go out into the world to share the gospel and disciple believers (Mark 16:15). Will not God who has designed marriage to reflect these things, strengthen our marriages when we serve in a way that portrays the function of this image? One way my husband and I have strengthened our marriage is by serving together. -Deeply Rooted Magazine

As I look back over the years, the miles we’ve traveled and the opportunities we’ve had to serve alongside one another for God’s glory, my heart is content with joy. This is God’s work that He prepared for us to enjoy together. The picture above is one memory I have of a trip we took to Papalote, Mexico a few years ago. My husband was to be teaching at a Bible Institute and we had the wonderful opportunity of hearing about the work God is doing in that part of the world. This painting, hanging in the home of a missionary couple held a real life story of God’s faithfulness in reaching the lost in a nearby village. Hearing and experiencing these stories of the gospel reaching the nations is a treasure we share together.

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One of the great outcomes of serving together is the shared joy of seeing fruit produced from mutual service in others’ lives. A shared experience of storing up spiritual treasures in Heaven brings an eternal perspective to the purpose of your marriage. Some of the greatest fruit we have seen serving together in ministry has been to witness lives changed, hearts comforted and people discipled. –Deeply Rooted Magazine

You can read the rest of this post at Deeply Rooted Magazine.

With the love of Christ,
Jen

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Birth Doula · Christmas · Holidays · Vignettes & Poetry

The Christmas Story – A Birth Doula’s Perspective

As a mother and a birth doula, I have come to appreciate and reflect on the birth of the Christ Child in a new and profound way. I imagine the reality of what that night might have been like for the young mother. The raw and very real human experience of giving birth makes the incarnation tangible, potent, and awe-inspiring when we see it for the real experience that it was. This is an artistic rendering of what I think that night might have been like for Mary, the mother of Jesus, according to my perspective as a birth doula.

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A quiet stillness hung low as night descended and stars rose high above the drifting grey clouds. The town was not silent, but filled with travelers to Judea. From various inns, one could hear laughter, conversation, and children exited and unable to sleep from long days of travel. Many more people had arrived into Bethlehem for the census. A young man, tired from walking, dirty, hungry and thirsty, anxiously looked at each home and inn along the road. He had to find a place for his betrothed, a young woman with child. Her contractions had begun earlier in the day. She was tired and famished as well. She was cold. With every pace of the donkey upon which she sat, she cringed as a new contraction began. His name was the common name of Joseph, and hers, Mary.

Joseph hung his head low as he held his clenched fist to the door of one more inn, whispered a prayer, and knocked.

“No room here. Our inn is full. Every inn is full. You won’t find anything at this time of night.” The innkeeper saw the desperation in Joseph’s face, a waver of a tear forming in his blighted eyes. The man looked past him to the woman bent over the donkey as she breathed deeply. “You can sleep in the stable, over there at the base of the hill. Its cold, but I’ll give you a couple of blankets and some swaddling cloths,” he said with a concerned tone in his voice and furrowed brows. When Joseph had been given the items, a relieved look of hope came over his face and he nodded as he walked away and led Mary and the donkey to the stable.

The sounds and smells of cattle, sheep, and donkeys, several of whom had carried guests from the inn, filled the stable. First, Joseph set to work to prepare a place for Mary to lay down while he tethered the donkey. A servant boy from the inn brought some fresh water for the couple. Mary couldn’t lay down for long. The contractions were coming consistently, stronger and closer together. She walked around the stable, sweat dripping from her face. Joseph held her and wiped her hair away from her face. She breathed deeply as another contraction came suddenly on, this one taking her breath away. Joseph reminded her to breathe deeply.

Hour after hour, it continued like this through the night. Sometimes standing, sometimes leaning against a fence post or in the arms of her betrothed. She was exhausted.

“Thank you, Joseph,” she would say through tears, in between contractions. He didn’t know how to help. Although there were probably midwives in the town, he didn’t know where to find one at this hour. He felt helpless and fearful, not only for the birth, but also because He knew this wasn’t an ordinary birth… He would be delivering the Savior of the world. He whispered a prayer again.

Mary, leaning into Joseph’s arms with every contraction, gripped his hands. For a few moments she rested, giving her the strength she would need in the next few minutes. As wave upon wave of contractions continued, she began to push as she listened to the signs her body was giving her that it was time. She knelt down, and delivered the baby. Carefully, Joseph, lifting up the naked baby, covered in vernix, rejoiced with tears in his eyes. Mary, with tears of joy, relief and gratitude lay back and looked towards the heavens. She laid down. Joseph wiped the baby’s face with one of the cloths, scooped his finger into his mouth to clear out his airway. The baby cried just for a moment. He laid the baby on Mary’s chest. Mary looked down upon the face of her newborn Son, and wonder filled her heart, tears chased down her cheeks. He had come.

“Jesus,” she whispered as his soft skin felt the warmth of her own and the sound of her heartbeat steadied his. Immanuel, God with us.

Mary was already asleep with the Baby Jesus nestled in her arms when Joseph, who had been cleaning up and preparing a small bed of hay in a feeding trough, blew out the clay oil lamp a little while later. He lay down beside Mary and wrapping his arms around her, He stroked Jesus’ head, the soft hair, the smooth skin, as he relished every breath Jesus took, and whispered, “Welcome, my Savior, and my God.” And he fell asleep.

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“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
Luke 2:7-19

As a doula, I write my clients’ birth stories, providing them a basic structure of the details of their child’s birth and their birth experience. I can only imagine what it was like for Mary to experience the birth of her Son, the Savior of the world. And just as I write this tonight, when the world lies silent around me on the eve of my Lord’s birth, I too, treasure up all these things and ponder them in my heart. For my Redeemer has come.

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Books · Discipleship · Holidays · Parenting

The Old Wooden Frame – The Center of Our Advent Season

Over the years of having children, we have used the same old wooden window frame to display our homemade family advent calendar. What started out as a piece of junk sitting outside of a friend’s garage, has become a discipleship tool in our home as we share, year after year, the coming of the Christ-child, the prophecy fulfilled. Something discarded and abandoned has become something set apart. Curiously, I wonder, whose house did this window frame once belong, who lived there and what was their story? And did they ever know that their old window pane would one day become a family heirloom that would, year after year, become something almost sacred as it housed the story of a baby’s birth from creation to His visitation? What wonder!

Back in the days when we lived in our first and only purchased home, on a half acre lot with chickens and a garden that was overwhelmingly large for what we could manage, I had painted this frame snow white and hung soft red ribbon. With folded pockets made of fancy Christmas paper and a library stamp for the dates, I enjoyed creating our own family advent tradition. And when its not an Advent calendar, that dear old wooden frame holds pages of our favorite hymns. Through the years I have used different family devotions for the readings and this year I’m doing something a little bit different.

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A year ago, I was trying to find a set of readings that would connect more easily with our kids. When I saw that Sally Lloyd Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible had a set of printable cards and matching stories and reading set up for an Advent devotional of sorts, I thought this would fit us so well. Our children have heard these stories since our eldest was a year old, its been used in all their Sunday school classes and we still read it to them to this day. Doing Advent with the Jesus Storybook Bible would be such a familiar way to continue to reach the hearts of our children with the gospel story through the advent season (there’s a series of readings for Lent too!)

One of the reasons why we love to do Advent readings as a family is because it is an intentional time of discipleship for our kids. Its a unique season of the year and the kids can’t wait for the frame to be transformed. Taking turns, the children pull out a reading to share with the family. And if I’m super organized (which I’m not always), I may have an activity in the pocket for each day to do as well (making a gingerbread house, christmas play doh, watching a Christmas movie, reading a Christmas book, drinking hot cocoa, driving around to see Christmas lights, etc). Its Dec 1, the first day of our readings and I don’t have activities on the board… yet. Real life in the midst of great ideals! I may or may not get to that list this year, and its okay.

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The daily reading through the gospel story is an intentional way of focusing our children’s eyes on the gospel, that their Creator loved them so much that He set in motion a rescue plan for their own souls. This is one way parents can be intentional this season in creating their own family traditions that mean so much to them and their children as they grow up. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it won’t be. Most years, we have missed many of the readings, sometimes opening up 2 or 3 of them at once or skipping ahead to the day we are on. The point is not to be perfect at it, but to be intentional.

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Today I set up the Advent calendar with my littlest excitedly bouncing around me wanting me to take a picture of the gingerbread house. As he settled down for his nap, I sat down with my Kindergartner to read library books by our hobbit-sized Christmas tree, filled with special ornaments we carry through the years, many now broken so its a little more sparse and enjoying the cozy Christmas quiet while the older two were finishing up at school. Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

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My encouragement is to find your own Advent tradition for your family that will become a special heirloom and memory for your children through the years. If you are not the creative type, there are many on Etsy and other markets that you can easily purchase. Your kids will not remember the days that you missed some readings, and they will not remember that it wasn’t perfect. They will just know that it was theirs and they learned about Jesus, and family, and tradition, and love. And by God’s grace, they will take that same message with them into their families when they are older. From generation to generation, let the mighty acts of God be proclaimed!

One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
and tell of your power,
to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
Psalm 145:4-13

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Christmas books are being pulled out of the library book basket daily while Mama recovers from a cold…

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Our real live hobbit-sized Christmas tree is up, and just perfect for this Tolkien-loving family. Decorated with our favorite decorations… the ones that haven’t broken yet, plus the homemade ones which I cherish!

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One of my favorite ornaments each year is this little guy…

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And a nativity scene that is just perfect for my littlest hobbit…

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Blessed Advent to you!
~Jen

Books · Holidays

Holy Week with the Jesus Storybook Bible

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Spring has emerged these last few weeks and what a flurry of activity has begun outside our patio doors. The cardinals, red-breasted robins, and chickadees are joining us again at our Woodland Hollow. Blossoms unfold and are whisked away by spring winds and rain. Chipmunks and squirrels once again climb the pole of my bird-feeder to steal away the seeds I’ve placed for the birds. And so, the battle between Mommy and the squirrels begins again as seed gets scattered, gluttonous squirrels get chased away, and Crisco gets smeared on the pole to hold them back for another day.

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Along with Spring, Holy Week has arrived; a holiday that calls for remembrance, solemnity, preparation, celebration and feasting! This is our favorite time of year and we love to celebrate in meaningful ways. We enjoy celebrating Lent, to focus our attention for a period of time on praying for something specific, perhaps fasting from something to bring my attention to more focused prayer, with readings and even kids’ activities. This is our ideal, although reality often looks a lot different. This did not happen this year. I had full intentions to go through a reading plan with the kids, but I didn’t even get to the point of printing it off my computer.

Sometimes life is like that. And perhaps for some of us, life is often like that!

If you are like me this year, with lack of energy, preparation, and time (for the Lord has placed many things on our plates this year), then may I be completely honest and share that we are starting our Lent reading plan today, on Day 37. That’s right! We missed the first 36 days and we are opening our Jesus Storybook Bible today to prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday using Sally Lloyd-Jones’ free lent reading plan.

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Sally Lloyd-Jones is the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. This year marks the 10th anniversary of this beloved story Bible that takes the truth of Scripture and presents Bible stories in a way that connects with children, and even adults! Our daughter was just a wee baby when I first heard of this book. When a friend shared that she, herself, was deeply impacted every time she read one of these stories to her children, I decided to check it out! Its been a part of our family now since our daughter’s first birthday. By the wear and tear of it, you can see how well loved it has been. In fact, this Easter, I decided to purchase a new copy for our family to enjoy!

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As well, for Lent and Easter, Sally lovingly put together this reading plan to help parents walk their children through this most meaningful season in the Church calendar using The Jesus Storybook Bible and the corresponding Scripture passages.

So if you are like me, and life is a little messy right now, literally and figuratively, why not just jump right in on Day 37 and share with your kids how Jesus jumped right into the messiness of a broken and sin-filled world to rescue them, and to show them that…

 “Nothing can ever – no, not ever! – separate us from the Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love of God he showed us in Jesus!”
~Sally Lloyd-Jones

Perhaps next year, the blossoms will stay a while longer on the bushes before the wind sweeps them away. Perhaps next Spring, the squirrels will be a bit more generous and leave more seed for the birds. And, perhaps, next year, we will start our Lent reading plan from the very beginning, on Day 1!

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~Jen