Remember?

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Some days you wake up and it’s only Wednesday when you need a Friday.

Don’t get me wrong, this has been a good week and I love my job and I will write more about how wonderful being here is another day, but today it is Wednesday.

Wednesdays are the worst, I told one housemate this morning, because it feels like there’s still so much week to go but you’ve been already going for a long time.

Wednesdays are worse still the day after meeting all of your students’ parents at an open house that went past your embarrassingly-early bedtime. And worse still when your poor housemate finds out she has typhoid (prayers for her, and that the rest of us don’t come down with it!) and you find yourself thinking that every hiccup is the first symptom of what is sure to be your death.

On Wednesdays, I have a terrible memory.

Thankfully, my sweet students do not. 

“Miss H, you said you would make a sign. With those words, for the saber ser? So we wouldn’t forget them. Perseverance and compassion and what was the other ones?”

God speaks through third graders every single day.

Because yesterday when we talked about saber ser and compassion, integrity, respect, and perseverance, one little boy in the front row raised his hand and said, “Miss H, you said perseverance is to keep going and never give up. Last year we used to sing a song like that, like ‘Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me.’ About how God’s love perseveres. Is that right?”

And God is saying, “Do you remember?”

Do you remember that night last year, with the snot and the humility? Do you remember hearing this song? You didn’t know then where you would be now, could not have imagined this life for yourself but I knew and I know and I will always remind you.

As I packed for my life here, tried to decide which pictures and letters and books were worth their weight (literally), I found this:Image

from a sisterhood retreat for my sorority the fall of my senior year of college.

I had forgotten all about it.

And God said “Do you remember?”

Do you remember writing these words?

“God, I am so afraid to listen to what you have for me because I don’t know what I want. I am so afraid to trust you to do something crazy like go overseas… Continue to lead me in your ways and truth and do not let me stray into selfish plans but show me how to wait well. Make me to know your ways (not mine), O Lord, teach me your paths. Lead me (I don’t know the way) in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation (trustworthy); for you I wait all the day long (I will wait even when I hear nothing).” 

Do you realize you knew nothing of Lincoln School, nothing of Guadalajara, not one thought in your mind of moving to Mexico and I was already knitting this together in your heart? Do you see that I remember because I can see the path that led you here and the path that will lead you home and nothing on that path is wasted? 

I forget because I doubt the significance of so much. 

I want to forget less, to remember more, to see the threads of purpose and connection from one end of my life to the other. And that’s why I need Church, why I am so grateful for church, both nearby and faraway, to support me and remind me.

Not just on Sunday, but on Wednesday too.

Enough.

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When I first arrived in Mexico, I received an email from a sweet friend. She told me she was praying for me, and then she said, “I think the good and difficult thing about anticipating something like this is you have no idea what is coming.  That is difficult because you can’t prep the way you’d probably like…but it’s good because God designed our lives to just deal with one day at a time, and trying to over-plan is usually too much for us anyway.”

I responded with a short email about how living in Mexico is good and hard so far, and things that I had been learning but conveniently sidestepped God’s part to play in my time here. I hadn’t spent much time considering God since I arrived and I was feeling a little overwhelmed. At the end of that day, I decided I should probably spend some time praying and reading my Bible and read this short prayer from the Valley of Vision:

Let me not be at my own disposal,
but rejoice that I am under the care of one
who is too wise to err,
too kind to injure,
too tender to crush.
 
Not only does this prayer ask to not be in control, it asks to rejoice in that. This is do-not-worry at a whole new level.
 
When God says that “Do not worry about tomorrow” it does not mean worry about tomorrow but fake confidence that it will be okay.
 
It does not mean recognize that there will be good things that happen sometime in the future way after what I’m worried about tomorrow.
 
It does not mean fake it til you feel it or find 100 things to be thankful for or bite your nails while you listen to Christian radio.
It means worry is sin. It means you can’t do what’s coming to you tomorrowIt means sufficient for the day is its own trouble. 
 
And it means I Am enough and I care for you better than you care for yourself. Not “I” as in Rachel, “I Am” as in Yahweh. And Yahweh is sufficient for the troubles of each day and each day that will ever come. 
 
Today in church, we read out loud together this brief commitment: 
 
La decision del compromiso: Conscientemente comprometo toda mi vida y voluntad al cuidado y control de Cristo.
The decision of commitment: I consciously commit all my life and will to the care and control of Christ.
 
I love this. All my life and will. My worries, my passions, my today, my tomorrow, my yesterday. Consciously- because surely this is an intentional and constant decision. And I can trust the care and control of Christ because he is enough. 
 
Psalm 139:8-10
 
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
 
So as I enter into this last week before school starts, this second full week in Mexico, this new tomorrow, my prayer is that I might not be at my own disposal, but rejoice in the care of Christ, all-sufficient. I pray that you, in your comfort or discomfort, in your worry or peace, would find that Christ is enough.

For My Name’s Sake

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Children Seated at Desks in Classroom

Children Seated at Desks in Classroom, University of Iowa Libraries, Flickr

“Stupid ****.”

I turned around slowly and surveyed the fourth graders seated at my table. They were staring at me with wide eyes, shocked at what had been said and holding their breath to see my reaction. I tried to gauge their faces, to guess who had said it. Finally, a controlled but angry whisper escaped my lips, “Who said that?”

No one volunteered. The girls looked at their shoes, the boys looked at each other, waiting to see who would be the first to point a finger. I thought for a moment and sat down, speaking slowly to emphasize each word, to make sure they understood.

“Do you know why I care who said that?

Do you know why there are consequences for calling someone a name like that?”

Fourteen little eyes looked up at me curiously, silently.

“First, there are consequences for that because I love whoever you said that about. I don’t know who said it or who they said it to, but I love each and every one of you, and it makes my heart hurt that you would ever call another person that ugly word, especially one of your classmates or friends.

“There are also consequences because I want you to know that I take that word very seriously. What if one of you went back to your teacher, or your parents, or another student and told them that someone said that in my class today and I didn’t do anything about it? They might think that I don’t think that rule about what words we can and cannot use at school is a big deal. They might think that I think the same thing about whoever you said that to. They might think that I use words like that myself. They would definitely think that I am not a very good teacher.

“None of those things are true, though. I think that rule is important, because in this classroom we use our words to love each other. I’ve already said that I love each of you, and I don’t use words like that, ever, because they do not show love for others.

“So there will be a consequence today, for whoever said that word. Because I need to protect my name, so that when people hear ‘Ms. Haltiwanger’ they don’t think any of those wrong things about me. Do you have any questions about why this is so important?

Then I’m going to ask again. Who said that?

——————————————————————————————————————————————

I taught English learners this year. They had a lot of trouble understanding why certain words they said were such a big deal to me or to their other teachers, and why there were such harsh consequences. I always tried to explain why I took the rule seriously, and if necessary, what the word implied so that they could understand for next time. Often they didn’t know what the word really meant or why it was a “bad word”. They were still learning this new language and the consequences didn’t seem, to them, to fit the crime.

I’ve written before about the second language experience as it relates to God. Before the fall, Adam and Eve communicated with God in his language, learning first how to communicate from him.

Since the fall, all humankind has struggled to believe that what God created us to be, what God desires for us, is truly what is best for us. We hear the language of sin and darkness and we struggle to ignore it, to keep it out of our vocabulary. But the struggle is not the end! In Christ, we are new creations. We are re-taught our old language and given opportunities to practice using it every day (see the rest of this post here).

I have struggled recently with understanding the harshness of the consequences God gives for sin. For the wages of sin is death… it seems like the punishment outweighs the crime.

As I explained to my students why there were consequences for using words like that, Ezekiel 20 came to mind:

But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. (Ezekiel 20:14)

God has to protect his own name from profanity in the sight of the nations. He needs to show that he takes sin seriously, that he loves those who have been sinned against, that he believes in the rules he has created and cares about people following them, that he is a good God.

It often seems to me that a God who punishes sin could not also be a good God, and I think it is complicated and confusing and I by no means understand how God can be good and compassionate and wrathful and just all at once. But a teacher who did not punish rule breaking would not be a good teacher, and a parent who did not punish disrespect would not be a good parent, and therefore it is inconsistent of me to expect that a good God would never punish or discipline his children.

I am still learning and questioning and searching, but thanks to some foul-mouthed fourth graders I am beginning to understand that there is good in God acting for his name’s sake, that indeed he would not be good without doing so.

thy presence fills immensity

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O Lord God, Who inhabitest eternity,Image

The heavens declare thy glory, 
The earth thy riches, 
The universe is thy temple; 
Thy presence fills immensity
Yet thou hast of thy pleasure created life, 
    and communicated happiness; 
Thou hast made me what I am, 
    and given me what I have; 
In thee I live and move and have my being; 
Thy providence has set the bounds of my habitation, 
    and wisely administers all my affairs. 
I thank thee for thy riches to me in Jesus, 
    for the unclouded revelation of him in thy Word, 
    where I behold his Person, character, grace, glory, 
    humiliation, sufferings, death, and resurrection

Give me to feel a need of his continual saviourhood
    and cry with Job, ‘I am vile’, 
    with Peter, ‘I perish’, 
    with the publican, ‘Be merciful to me, a sinner’.

Subdue in me the love of sin
Let me know the need of renovation as well as 
      of forgiveness, 
    in order to serve and enjoy thee forever.

I come to thee in the all-prevailing name of Jesus, 
    with nothing of my own to plead
    no works, no worthiness, no promises. 
I am often straying, 
    often knowingly opposing thy authority, 
    often abusing thy goodness; 
Much of my guilt arises from my religious privileges, 
    my low estimation of them, 
    my failure to use them to my advantage, 
But I am not careless of thy favour or regardless of 
    thy glory; 
Impress me deeply with a sense of thine 
    omnipresence, that thou art about my path, 
    my ways, my lying down, my end.

 

From The Valley of Vision

My Jesus makes all things new.

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Photo by discutant, flickr

 

there have been a lot of things to love about this year that is rapidly drawing to an end (two weeks left of school!). i have loved living in south nashville for the past year and discovering all the love that this part of town has to offer. i don’t know what the future holds and it’s a little sad to imagine never living in south nasty again. the thing i will most definitely miss most about this part of town is the ag center. it’s like my secret, private park, and she has become a good friend. during my run there this afternoon, i realized how much i have learned and loved this place.

i first met her in the hot july heat of moving to nashville. i met her full of snakes and mosquitoes and sweat, and i developed a happy friendship with her.

i watched the leaves change. i ate picnics on her lawns and read books while watching horses graze nearby. i sat at the banks of her creeks and i met with God on her trails. i went after school until it got dark too early and then i went every weekend. if it sounds idyllic, that’s because it is. if you were ever going to see a unicorn anywhere, it would be at ellington agricultural center.

and then winter came. i ran in the rain and in the cold and in the mud and the dead branches, but i ran less and less. i’m humiliated by how utterly i abandoned going outside, running, and meeting God on those trails, but i hibernated during the winter.

it was hard to wake up from that hibernation, but yesterday i finally went back for a run. to my delight, there are wildflowers growing on the hillsides and the irises in the iris garden have, for the first time since i have lived here, bloomed. on my run today i realized how much i have missed the presence of this sanctuary in my life. i have always felt God’s presence most when enjoying his creation, and this afternoon i found myself praying that he would keep others away from this place for just a little while longer, so that i could run through the woods in communion with my Father and without distractions. i sang and i ran and i talked and i embraced. and He came through- i saw almost no one else the whole time i was running.

the branches are so full of leaves and new life right now that they can’t support the weight. it’s like during the winter of no leaves they forgot how heavy this was, and they’re bending across the paths and bowing low to the ground. that’s how i felt running through those woods today- heavy with new life, new excitement, new adventures, new encouragement. it’s weighty and worth it, and i bow low in honor and thankfulness for the new life on my branches.

 

Come broken and weary
Come battered and bruised
My Jesus makes all things new
All things new

Come lost and abandoned
Come blown by the wind
He’ll bring you back home again
Home again

Rise up, O you sleeper, awake
The dawn is upon you
Rise up, O you sleeper, awake
He makes all things new
All things new

Come burning with shame
Come frozen with guilt
My Jesus, he loves you still
Loves you still

Rise up, O you sleeper, awake
The dawn is upon you
Rise up, O you sleeper, awake
He makes all things new
He makes all things new

The world was good
The world is fallen
The world will be redeemed

So hold on to the promise
The stories are true
That Jesus makes all things new
(The dawn is upon you)

Listen to the song here

And hold on to the promise: the stories are true, that Jesus makes all things new.

Easter Jesus

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John 20:11-16

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

I can imagine how Mary was feeling. She had given up everything to follow this man she believed to be the Messiah. Her identity was tied up in him, and he had been not only a teacher and religious leader, but a close friend and loved one. And now it looked like he must have been a raving madman, because he didn’t do what he said he would. He was supposed to change everything, and instead, he died.

I imagine that at first, Mary grieved because of the loss of a dear friend. She had loved Jesus, confided in him, trusted him, and he had left and she was mourning.

Then I imagine she grieved the loss of her faith, the loss of her understanding of the world. If Jesus wasn’t the only way, where should she center her life now? What should she do with all the things she had supposedly learned from him?

From there, I’m sure it was easy to feel angry and betrayed. Why had she walked away from her old life only to be let down? Now she was a target and the disciples had to be in hiding, all for a false prophet who had lied to them. How could he! If only she had never met Jesus, she would have been better off.

In the middle of all of these feelings, she wakes up early to visit the tomb. She still felt some loyalty and respect and love for Jesus. I imagine as she walked up to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved, she assumed someone else was in there working on putting some good smelling stuff down and finishing up the burial rites correctly. She might have felt a little nervous as she peeked around the corner into the tomb, but I am sure she felt confused and angry and frightened when she realized that no one was in there- including Jesus, who wasn’t supposed to be able to move anymore.

And then we arrive at this scene. Mary is confused and angry and scared, crying outside the tomb. And Jesus shows up in the middle of the mess he brought her into. Jesus shows up and asks why she’s crying.

Honestly, it’s always made me a little mad that Jesus greets her with, “Woman, why are you crying?” First, he certainly knows why she’s crying. This is just a cruel rhetorical question. But to add insult to injury, Mary is crying because Jesus has left her. She doesn’t just feel abandoned by Jesus or alone in the world, she isn’t just going through a “dry spell”, and most importantly this isn’t going to get better. Jesus has literally died and she watched it happen. He actually has left her and all of his followers in the middle of a really big mess. And he asks why she’s crying.

Mary, to her credit, says the ancient Hebrew equivalent of, “Look man, it’s been an emotional week and I’m not in the mood for chit chat. If you know where the guy who was buried in this tomb yesterday is now, I’ll go get him from wherever that is, no questions asked.” I imagine she was glaring at the “gardener” through her tears, daring him with her eyes to say anything else to her. I’ve heard people guess that perhaps she didn’t really look up at him, or that it was hard to see him, but I don’t think so. I think she stared at him hard and angry.

And then, the impossible. The gardener, whispering, taking a step closer, apology and sorrow in his eyes, says, “Mary”. He calls her name, and she can see. There is not a moment of hesitation, not a moment of “But I watched you die…”, no recorded disbelief, just a joyful realization. “Rabboni!”

Because when Jesus is gone, not just far away, but dead and gone, there is no hope, only confusion and anger and sorrow. But in a resurrected Jesus, an Easter Jesus, who calls out my name, even when it feels like he’s been gone for a long long time and I don’t know whether I feel confused or angry or sad anymore, when that Jesus calls out my name, there is joy and hope. Joy and hope and not even a moment of hesitation.

May the Easter Jesus who lives on today call out your name and restore your hope and joy in him.

happy st. patrick’s day!

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an irish poem, to celebrate.

Ode

By Arthur O’Shaughnessy

We are the music-makers,
  And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
  And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,          5
  On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
  Of the world for ever, it seems.
With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities,   10
  And out of a fabulous story
  We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
  Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure   15
  Can trample an empire down.
We, in the ages lying
  In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
  And Babel itself with our mirth;   20
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
  To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
  Or one that is coming to birth.

snot.

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i have been sick with a very stuffy nose for what feels like forever but what has in actuality been about a week and a half. and let me tell you, there are a couple of times when a stuffy nose can be really, excessively inconvenient.

first, at a faculty meeting before you really realize you’re getting sick. you will never feel so conspicuous as you do at a staff meeting sniffling like your life depends on it without a napkin, tissue, piece of cloth not attached to your shirtsleeves, or anything else that could possibly used to wipe your nose (until your wonderful coworker finds a tissue in the bottom of her purse). 

second, when you’ve taken too many decongestants and at the end of a long day of teaching when you’re wearing a white sweater you get a bloody nose all over the copies you were going to make for tomorrow. that’s how you know it’s time to go home, too.

third, when you’re praying with a group of people. there are not a lot of times in life when you intentionally sit with your head bowed forward for long periods of time, but praying is one of them and it turns your nose into a little faucet for all the snot that has been getting comfortable in your sinuses all day. and the main problem when you’re praying with a group is that it’s really quiet, so everyone hears your frequent sniffles and snorts. 

so eventually while you’re sitting there, if the prayer is going on long enough, you’ll decide that it’s probably better to just stop bowing your head and to sit up a little bit. and then maybe you’ll even tip your head back a little bit to try to stop this humiliating and ridiculous flow of snot.

and then while you’re staring at the ceiling (and the prayer is going on and on), maybe your mind will wander a little bit to why we even bow our heads in prayer in the first place. and you’ll think about bowing in general and that maybe it’s supposed to be a little more humiliating and ridiculous than we usually make it out to be. that maybe we’re supposed to pray with snot dripping down our faces because we are so much lower than that which we pray to. in fact, you might realize that you would still think more highly of yourself with snot running down your face standing in front of the whole church than you should ever think of yourself in front of a Holy God.

and then finally everyone will stop praying and you’ll feel guilty for not really praying and for thinking too highly of yourself and too little of God and confused and possibly more than anything else in desperate need of a tissue (thankfully you brought your own). and you’ll make your small talk and say your goodbyes and start to drive home and a song with a truth you don’t want to think about will come on, so you change the station, and the same song is on that station too, so you change the station, and the same song is on there too and maybe God can speak through music that makes you cringe.

Your love never fails it never gives up it never runs out on me.

even if i should be covered in more snot than i am compared to God and even if i’m guilty of more than i can admit and even if i’m confused and full of doubt…

this one thing remains.

i hope you realize how snot-filled you really are (just like the rest of us) and maybe see how this one thing that remains makes God even bigger and holier and lovelier than you thought before. maybe. and i hope even if you don’t realize it today, that you struggle with it. i’m trying to.

advent week one: hope and prophecy

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my dad asked today when my advent posts would start, so i guess it’s time to say something about this wonderful season 🙂 it’s already here- the first week of advent! in some traditions, this week signifies the hope and prophecies. they celebrate looking back at a time when people had faith in a messiah that they had only heard whispers about and would never meet in their lifetime. the faith they had is finally fully satisfied in the Christ who comes, but they believed well before he was ever conceived. they believed the promises of God before they became “yes” and “amen” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). 

there is so much to say about this expectant longing, and i have been going back and forth about what way to go. last year i shared songs that had advent themes, and this year i’ve decided i’m going to share children’s books that have advent themes. as an elementary school teacher in a public school, i unfortunately never have the opportunity to share with my students the revolutionary truth that this season is about God With Us, and that he loves them perfectly and unconditionally. i do, however, have a lot of great christmas children’s books, so i will share them all with you.

this week, i want to share a story that’s not solely a Christmas story (though Christmas is a feature). i do think it illustrates hope in something we can’t taste yet, in something that’s been promised but we can’t experience or imagine yet. The Tale of the Three Trees is one of my favorite children’s books (disclaimer: i will probably say that every week). in the story, three trees are growing on a hillside and each of them has dreams for what they hope will happen in their life. one tree hopes to be a treasure chest. one tree hopes to be a strong sailing ship, and one tree wishes to be the tallest tree in the world: she wants people to look at her and give glory to God.

as i’m sure you can imagine, the hopes of the three trees were not quite fulfilled in the way they had expected. each tree is chopped down in turn (especially disappointing for the third tree). the first tree is made into a feed box for animals, the second tree made into a small dinghy, and the third tree is simply cut into lumber. it seems that their hopes have been dashed. what they had expected could not possibly come to happen, and the third tree had only wanted to glorify God. why would he not fulfill that hope for her?

of course the story doesn’t end there. the first tree, now a manger, is blessed to hold a bigger treasure than it could have possibly contained in a treasure chest- Jesus. the second tree, now a small fishing boat, holds Jesus and his disciples when Jesus calms the storm, and has it’s hopes fulfilled by carrying the King of Kings. the third tree is carried on through an angry crowd and has Christ nailed to her to die. how much more glory was God given in that act than he would have been through the tallest tree in the world?

Jesus fulfilled all of the many prophecies that had been made about him, but remarkably he still didn’t fulfill what people had expected. the God-man was the perfect completion of everything humanity had hoped for, and still they seemed disappointed in him for not riding into human battle for them.

this Christmas, i pray that we would remember that all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. even if it seems like whatever you are going through cannot line up with what God has promised for you, he will fulfill his will to his greatest glory in all things. 

so light a candle. give thanks that our hope has been fulfilled tangibly in Emmanuel. and hope. God cannot but remember his promises. 

it’s coming.

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advent is coming, kids. see last year’s post (and subsequent series of posts) on why i love this season, or the year before’s post about what the season is all about (and why college students understand it better than anyone else- i thought i really knew something about the world, i guess 🙂 )

i have been preparing for advent and celebrating thanksgiving with some serious crafting and decorating in celebration of the beginning of the christmas season! i was going to spend this morning doing laundry and cleaning my house, but we have no hot water again, so instead i’m crafting and decorating more (and now showing off on here). here’s some of the fun that one black friday trip to michael’s and goodwill (excellent christmas decoration spot, fyi) brought!

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cute basket filled with cinnamon smelling mini pinecones

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i painted these blocks and i really like how they came out! i may move them into my classroom.

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i love this, but…

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someone else does not. seconds after this shot was taken, he jumped up and knocked the bow off, again.

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Image cute christmas pillow goodwill finds

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this was definitely the biggest project of the holiday. i painted all of this without a paint pen. be impressed. the cursive in the middle has the text of isaiah 9:2.

advent posts will be starting soon! in the meantime, stay thankful 🙂 happy thanksgiving, friends.