Parables from the Hollow: Excavation

The Gardener surveys the plot of land. Determined. Envisioning. Face set to the work at hand, yet soft.

The small plot doesn’t look like much. Barren and covered in weeds and years of straw. It has long since forgotten what it was like to be beautiful and full of life. It’s comfortable in the quiet stillness of apathy.

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The Gardener lifts the tool. Strikes.

The soil shudders.

Strike. Pull. Scrape.

There are some coverings that are easily removed. Other roots go deep and have a strong grip around clumps of soil and rock.

The Gardener is persistent. Tugging. Clipping. Tugging.

On the surface, the fresh and constant falling of pine needles on the barren plot kept it looking somewhat put together. But the Gardener is no fool and knows what hides underneath. As the fresh needles are pulled back the hidden death below is revealed. Dark and damp and diseased decay. It clumps up and refuses to give up it’s place on the surface of the soil.

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The Gardener quietly continues. Scraping. Scraping. Scraping. The rhythm of the tools at work slowly reveals what’s underneath.

And then.

The Gardener smiles.

Fresh soil peeks up beneath the mold and black.

The Gardener is not finished yet. More scraping. More hauling. More removing of the old that sat undisturbed for far too long. Eventually the plot of land is able to breathe. The soil never realized how choked it was until it finally breathed the free air and felt the rays of the spring sun.

The Gardener steps back to admire the work completed. And prepares for the next phase of labor:

Planting.

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I was recently encouraged to get back into the habit of regularly writing. This new series was abruptly birthed this afternoon as I worked on a little patch of yard that sits in front of my office window. I felt the whisper of the Spirit as I worked and I’m excited to see what else He reveals as this area of soil and my own soul transforms over the coming weeks. 

Racism in America: Let’s Get to Work

Early Tuesday morning, a black actor named Jussie Smollett was attacked in Chicago by two men. They beat him, poured a chemical over his head and one of them put a rope around his neck as they screamed racial and homophobic slurs. Obviously details of the incident are still emerging and the men are not in police custody. But one thing I know for certain: racism is surely not dead in America. Updated to add: we’ve since learned that sadly, Jussie fabricated his own attack. This has grieved many, including myself, deeply. While this story turned out to be false, it in no way falsifies the hundreds of thousands of racist events that have happened and continue to happen across our nation. The fight for unity and healing still remains. 

Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the Messiah first to a Samaritan woman at a well. At first glance it seems like no biggie…but with some history and context it gets real interesting real quick. Samaritans were considered “half breeds” by the Jews. They married with non-Jews and were therefore considered un-pure. The two groups hated each other. Women in those days were seen as second-class humans. They were not given the same rights as men and had little say in how they were treated. A divorced woman was even worse—even though at the time a man could divorce a woman for no reason at all. The Samaritan woman had “all the things” going wrong for her. A Samaritan. A woman. And a multiple-times-divorced woman at that. Yet she was the first missionary. She was the one that Jesus chose to reveal His true identity and purpose to. Wow.

This is such a profound revelation because it reveals the Father’s heart for society as a whole. Who we may consider the lowest in society, He considers a treasure. His heart beats for racial and social equality. As His children (but honestly even, just as decent “civilized” human beings) our hearts should be after this as well.

Our society is in stark contrast to the mission of Jesus and kingdom of God. We are so far from what He would have us look like.

Don’t tell me racism is dead in America when black men are attacked on the street like Jussie.

Don’t tell me our society doesn’t still function off of racism and segregation when a part of town is considered “bad” based off of how many black people live there. Or a school is considered a “great school” because there are fewer black kids in attendance. Or when we still have “black churches” and “white churches” and “diversity” is when we have a single black singer on the praise team.

Don’t tell me we value other cultures when we joke about how Hispanics should all know English because “if you live here you better know how to speak our language.” Or when I can go to small southern cities and see Hispanic men and teens working the fields but not managing a restaurant.

Don’t tell me racism doesn’t exist when we would rather teach our kids to be colorblind than to actually immerse them in other cultures and people that definitely don’t look the same.

Gosh yes, we are all so different. Different histories. Different cultures. Sometimes even different languages. Different preferences. So many differences…..but those are to be explored, celebrated and adored. Not hidden, ignored or feared.

So okay yea, there’s racism in our country. Racism in our cities. Often….racism in our own individual hearts. But what can we do? The problem of racism can seem so large and awful that we can be quickly overwhelmed and frozen into inaction. Here are some suggestions….

-First, you educate yourself. Education breeds empathy, compassion and action. Be The Bridge is a great website to get started. I can’t tell you the invaluable resource this website has been to my own personal growth.

-Next, you look around. Who do you see gathering at your dinner table for parties? Who do hang out with on the weekends? Who do you sit next to at church? Who is in your small groups? Becoming anti-racist involves so much more than just tolerating people of different color in your personal space. It means developing real-life, authentic friendships. “Friendships” is intentionally plural here. Having one black friend is not enough.

-And then, you use your voice. This part can seem daunting but it’s not if you follow the steps. Because once you have the knowledge and you’ve developed relationships with people you love and now call family, it’s easy to stand up for them. It makes instances like Jussie’s attack turn your stomach and it makes you want to use your voice and privilege for the good of the ones you love.

I ordered these specifically for a reason. Just going out and getting a bunch of friends from different races is probably not wise if you are a person who believes racism is not a problem anymore. You’re going to do damage to others’ hearts. Using your voice without education just means you’ll probably say something foolish or flat-out wrong.

Yes, racism is alive and well in America and throughout the world. It’s a sin-issue that is as old as time and as evil as Satan. And yet. It is not an issue that we are powerless to change. We have a voice. We have a Love to share. We have answers and solutions and insight. So come on, let’s get to work.

The Year of Redemption

The night before Christmas Eve I was up really late. We were leaving for Camilla after our church’s Christmas Eve service that next morning and there was much to be accomplished. Between last-minute laundry and wrapping gifts and paying bills, I didn’t find myself turning out the lights until well after 1 a.m. As I walked past the playroom with our Christmas tree still lit up, I decided to pause and take a few moments to just sit and enjoy the last few hours of the Christmas season in my own home.

The house was finally still–all my striving complete for the night. I settled into a spot up against the wall and invited the Lord to meet me there. I took a break from social media starting in the fall of this year and I’ve sadly only posted three times this year on this little corner of the internet I call my own, but I’d like to take a moment as we celebrate the new year to open up and share some of my heart and the moments the Lord and I shared that late night in front of my Christmas tree.

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2017 has been a year that will go down in history for the Casterline family. We started off in our new little home that we closed on in November of 2016. I felt incredibly unsettled and unsure. A new neighborhood. A first-time home owner. Jackson was unsettled in our new place as well which only added to our daily frustrations. And it was in that rocky season that Roman lost his job. This sent us into an absolute tailspin as we desperately prayed for what we should do next.

Words cannot truly explain the internal anxiety and stress we both faced over the next several months as God began working out the next plan for our lives. Roman and I both felt as though we were being called into ministry. In the meantime he took a job he did not want so we would not lose our home. We spent nearly three months praying and fasting for clear direction from the Lord and He spoke to us during that time like never before. At the end of May, Roman quit his job to begin full-time fundraising as a U.S. missionary with Chi Alpha. {If you’d like more information about Chi Alpha and Roman’s role with this ministry, you can click here to go to Roman’s Chi Alpha page.}

As we settled into our new and strange routine of fundraising and preparing for a life of ministry, Roman’s mother had a sudden and serious medical emergency and we almost lost her. For the first two weeks of July she was in the hospital and we begged the Lord to heal her completely. All praise goes to the Lord because He answered that prayer and she has fully recovered.

August arrived and with that, Roman started his first semester with Chi Alpha serving on the Columbus State University campus. The first two months are quite busy as they minister to returning students and freshmen and try to make those connections before the students get sucked into secular college culture. All the while, he continued fundraising and I worked hard at my stay-at-home business to keep us floating financially.

Lots of travel. Bills. A teething toddler who has had a difficult time adjusting to sudden life changes. It’s no wonder I decided to drop off social media. My heart and mind needed as much rest as I could give it.

All of this I reviewed and discussed with the Lord that night in front of my Christmas tree. To be honest, I was emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted. It really started out as more complaining than a discussion. But then I asked Him to open my eyes and give me perspective, and He did just that.

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The day Roman lost his job and I cried out to the Lord, He spoke so clearly and said, “I can redeem even this.” He has. I never dreamed I would be introducing myself as a missionary’s wife. I never dreamed that we would be ministering to college students or disciplining freshmen or making a decision to leave the secular workplace to join full-time in Kingdom work. But we have. And it has been worth every ounce of the pain and hardship in getting here. We are already seeing amazing transformation in students’ lives and we are loving every second of missional living.

Roman’s mother? Yes, that was one of the scariest moments we’ve ever lived through. But the Lord carried us. He healed her body. He gave us peace during those two weeks that was indescribable yet almost tangible. He redeemed those two weeks we spent practically living at the hospital and He used it for His glory.

I have two separate friends that have each had two miscarriages this year. They both are ending 2017 with new life in their wombs and will meet their miracle babies in 2018. I have a close relative who has been far from the Lord for years. This year I saw him return to the Lord and I have watched God re-write and redeem the mistakes of his past.

I have known more financial hardships and I have seen the Lord provide in those hardships like never before.

I’ve seen character growth in my husband and in myself that only comes from walking through the valleys of life with the Lord.

I’ve seen God repeatedly show up in my friends’ lives and redeem hard situations this year. There are simply too many to list here.

Over and over and over, the Lord has redeemed situations that have felt impossible. And even that night in front of the Christmas tree as I sat down weary and somewhat sad, He redeemed that small moment by giving me His perspective. I went to sleep that night feeling peaceful and full and ready to celebrate the birth of my Savior with family and friends.

 

Dear ones, I know this has been a lengthy post. Perhaps I’ve shared too much or too little. Perhaps I haven’t been clear enough and you now have questions about something I’ve said. But if I could sit across from you and share all the events of my year in full detail and listen to all the events of your year as well, I would take your face in my hands and look in your eyes and say with full confidence, “whatever it is you’re facing right now, the Lord can redeem even this.”

Yes, even your failing marriage or your wayward child. Yes, even a death in the family or a job loss or a bankruptcy. Yes, even a health crisis or your crippling depression. He can and He will redeem all of it.

Believe me, you may not feel or see His redeeming work in the moment. There have been more times than I can count this year when I have literally shouted in my empty car “Where the heck are You, God?!? Did You forget me here???” I have prayed prayers like “I don’t even know if You are real anymore” and I have questioned literally every major life decision we have ever made and wondered if I even knew who I was anymore. Yet even when I couldn’t see it or feel it or touch it with my own hands, Jesus was redeeming everything. All of it. The anxiety. The finances. The job loss. The health crises.

 

I don’t know when or if I will ever get back on social media. I have quite enjoyed the silence and rest from it all. However I do hope in 2018 I can share more regularly here with all of you. I have missed this little space. But more than anything I pray that in my vulnerability and sharing in this post I can give someone a little hope as we ring in the new year. The Lord redeems, my friends. I think it’s His most favorite thing to do. He loves making things new. He loves to love us big. As you start this new year and reflect on the close of 2017, look for His redemption.

 

In my last post I wrote back in May, I called 2017 the year of the Free Fall. But now? Now 2017 is being labeled The Year of Redemption. It’s been a good year, folks. Happy New Year’s. I love you all!

 

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. -Isaiah 43:18-19

October 2017 XA Newsletter

LifeGroups

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Agent K, an ostrich rider, and Agent J at the XA Halloween party.

Community is Chi Alpha’s first core value. You can see evidence of this anywhere you see XA students.

We were not created to be alone; we have a God-given need for relationships. LifeGroups are the perfect opportunity to experience community and build relationships. More than just a Bible study, LifeGroups allow us to share both the joys and struggles of walking through life together. LifeGroups provide encouragement, support, and friendships that will last a lifetime.

Our LifeGroup has been so great this semester! We solidified the group as a family at Fall Breakaway and have only become closer as the semester progresses. We are discovering more about each other and more about what it looks like to follow Jesus.

Because of the community they feel in LifeGroup, students are more inclined to invite other students to join them. Q attended his first LifeGroup because a friend invited him. He has been a faithful LifeGroup member ever since and has even invited one of his friends. Now, they both are consistently coming to LifeGroup, our Monday night service, as well as other events.

Last week I started meeting with Q for our one-on-one discipleship. Q is one of four students I meet with every week. He is hungry for more of Jesus. He is asking all the right questions, participating in LifeGroup, and is not afraid to be vulnerable with me if it helps him become a better man, a better friend, and a better follower of Christ.

This is what Chi Alpha is about. This is what LifeGroups are about. Community. Discipleship.

Out of these LifeGroups come next year’s leaders, better disciplers, and future missionaries.

You have a direct impact on these students’ lives because your prayer and financial support allows me to meet with these students and disciple them as they grow in their faith. Thank you so much for your continued support and willingness to invest in these students.

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Once a month our LifeGroup meets off campus for something fun. Saturday, we had breakfast at IHOP.

Family Corner

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Chi Alpha had a truck at one of the local churches’ Fall Festival/Trunk or Treat. I was working the event, but Jackson enjoyed riding the train and eating “yuckers” (suckers). Sarah helped with the XA Halloween party and Jackson came too, dressed as a little blue monster. The students were outside dancing so I took Jackson and sat him in the center of the circle and told him to dance, which he did and it was hilariously cute! Jackson has become obsessed with all things trucks. And now that he is in a front-facing car seat he is sure to point out every truck, big truck, bus, tractor, and car we pass.

 

If you would like to make a one time donation to the ministry, please click Donate Now.

If you would like to become a monthly financial supporter, please click Faith Promise.

September 2017 XA Newsletter

Breakaway

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Luke and Hays were on their way to class while discussing how they had been praying about finding a group or club to get involved with. They did not want to join a fraternity and preferred the organization to be Christian based. This particular Thursday they took a different route to class which happened to take them right by our Chi Alpha contact table. As they approached, I yelled “free snowcones!” I asked for their names and which flavor they preferred. Before heading to class, they both filled out a contact card and I invited them to the toilet paper dodgeball event we were hosting later that evening.

Hays showed up that night to throw rolls of toilet paper at other people. He had a blast (and so did I). I was able to talk to him a little more and invited him to our LifeGroup. The next week, Hays and Luke both attended our LifeGroup. Since that first LifeGroup meeting, I have started to meet with each of them for one-on-one discipleship. I have loved getting to know them better, understand where they are in their walk with Christ, and how we can help each other grow closer to God.

Fall Breakaway is Chi Alpha’s fall retreat where we get to breakaway from school for a weekend to have a ton of fun, learn more about God, and to focus on growing closer as a family unit. All of Chi Alpha in Georgia attended and we had such an amazing time! Hays attended and had this to say about the weekend: “I am so blessed that I am a part of this awesome family. God really outdid Himself by leading me to such an amazing group of friends. I am so happy I got to grow in my faith surrounded by this new family of mine. XA Fall Breakaway was lifechanging and it spiritually rejuvenated me. It opened my eyes in ways I had never realized was possible. I took a step in my faith and I became even closer to being a man of God. This weekend will definitely be remembered as one of the most memorable experiences of my life.”

Hays is only a freshman but we have already had the conversation about him becoming a leader in Chi Alpha next year. Hays’ story is just one of many that we get to be a part of every single semester. God is doing some amazing things here at CSU and as a member of my support team, you are also a part of that story! Thank you so much for your continued support.

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Our LifeGroup sat by the lake during Fall Breakaway to discuss Joseph’s dreams and the dreams God has given us. We’re missing a few students who were unable to attend.

 

Family Corner

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Jackson had a doctor appointment to follow up on his weight since he was a little below the average growth curve. The doctor was very pleased that he had gained 3 pounds, grew 4 inches and his head grew an inch in diameter. He is now back on the average curve. During Fall Breakaway Jackson stayed with my parents who took him to the zoo for the first time; he had so much fun! He is talking so much now. He knows several animals and foods. He is infatuated with trucks and tractors. If you see him, ask for a high five or a fist bump, he loves it.

 

If you would like to make a one time donation to the ministry, please click Donate Now.

If you would like to become a monthly financial supporter, please click Faith Promise.

August 2017 XA Newsletter

It’s the beginning of the school year which means thousands of freshmen storm the campus [see photo 1 in slideshow below] and it’s the busiest time for us at Chi Alpha (XA): we host and participate in almost two dozen events on and around the main and downtown campuses during the first 3 weeks. This three-week period is known as Fall Kick-Off. The semester started with a 4.5-day leadership training where we learned how to be LifeGroup leaders and effective disciplers.

At freshmen move-in day [2], XA was the first to arrive and the last to leave, helping as many freshmen as possible move into their new dorms while getting to know them and telling them about the awesome upcoming events. The next day we went back to the freshmen dorms to pick up 45 freshmen for a Wal-Mart run so they could pick up any last-minute items they needed or forgot.

For Waterpalooza we met the students on campus with 500 water balloons and 3 dozen water guns. After two unsuccessful attempts at capture the flag, it was an all-out free-for-all decimating the stock of water balloons in a matter of minutes. Once they were gone, entire 5-gallon buckets of water started flying. The next night we had a game night [3] at the XA house (this house is a dream that our director has been working on for years). Dozens of new students showed up to play various board, card and action games. This was our first real opportunity to just hang out with the students and start making great connections. Many of the students we met that night came back to most, if not all, of the following events, which is amazing.

Our first three Monday night services, called The Plug [4], have been great! I am serving on the worship team, along with two other staff members, until we have students volunteer to take our place. We started our first sermon series entitled Who Is Mary? After each service we had a party. The first had a watermelon eating contest and ice cream floats, the second was Dive Into XA with a chocolate fountain and tables for the students to learn about the different LifeGroups, and the third was a bonfire at the XA house where students had the opportunity to ask Jordan (the CSU XA director) any question they wanted.

Ashley and I are co-leading the co-ed LifeGroup [5]. Our first two LifeGroup meetings were great! We can already tell that our group is going have great discussions and I believe they will feel the freedom to be intimate with one another so we can get to the good, deep stuff – the stuff we’re all struggling with – and grow closer to Christ together. There is one guy in our group that I am so excited about discipling. He has already shown great potential to be a leader in XA and he’s only a freshman!

Our first Worship Night [6] started off with the worship team (accompanied by Sarah on keys) playing a few songs, after which we spent time at several prayer and reflection stations around the room. To end the night, the worship team played two more songs. We had about 50 students come and participate. It was amazing to see the students be so intentional with their worship.

Before Kick-Off, I was depending on other’s experiences and testimonies as to what XA would be like. But now that I’ve made it through August, I can truly say that this job is amazing! I get to see students come to know Christ, grow deeper in their relationship with Him, and help them successfully navigate college life while living out the Great Commission. I am so excited and thankful that God has brought me on this incredible journey. I have already seen first-hand how God is working in amazing ways at CSU. Some of the student leaders I get to work with have amazing stories of how XA has changed, or saved, their lives. It’s incredible to be a part of a movement that can literally change the world. And don’t forget, you are a part of that as well! Your prayers and financial support make you a part of this team – you are helping make a difference at CSU. Thank you so much for your continued support!

I would also like to thank you for your prayers for my mom over the summer. She is a walking miracle which is no doubt due to the countless people praying for her. She is doing great! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

While mom was in the hospital, I took a break from fundraising to be with family. After mom returned home, I resumed fundraising until Kick-Off began. At the end of July, Sarah and I met with Jordan to discuss the best course of action for us, considering I was not yet fully funded. We decided that the best plan for my family, myself, and the ministry would be to continue fundraising and start the internship next school year. This will allow me to learn more about XA and the culture at CSU while doing the ministry aspect this year. This means I will be on campus part-time serving in XA: co-leading a LifeGroup, meeting students for one-on-ones, having LifeGroup events, and helping the worship team with The Plug. I am currently 45% funded and will continue to fundraise until I am fully funded, at which time I will be on campus full-time.

Thank you again for your continued support. I quite literally could not do this without you. I look forward to all the amazing stories I get to share with you in future newsletters.

If you would like to make a one time donation to the ministry, please click Donate Now.

If you would like to become a monthly financial supporter, please click Faith Promise.

 

 

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Free Fall.

There’s a secular band called Walk the Moon that I’ve found and I listen to their self-titled album on repeat some days. The opening line to one of my favorite songs is “I must’ve tumbled out of a plane ’cause I free fell all year.” And I smile every time I hear it because if there has ever been a lyric to describe my life right now, it’s that one.

Man. 2017 has been the year of the free fall. Or the year of the whiplash. I think both are pretty accurate descriptions.

I just read my last post that I wrote back at the beginning of 2017. I wrote about seasons and being present no matter what that season holds. It’s almost kind of eerie reading it now–knowing what I know. Because not three weeks after penning that post Roman lost his job. And in case you had forgotten…we had just closed on our house on November 30th.

I turn 27 years old this summer. I’d like to think that in my almost three decades of living, I’ve been through a lot. Married at 19. Working full-time while going to college full-time online. Ministry. Infertility. Moving to a new city on a whim because God said to. Jobs I loved. Jobs I hated. Motherhood. Extreme sleep deprivation. More ministry. A teething baby. Have I mentioned extreme sleep deprivation? And while each of those seasons and experiences brought their own set of difficulties {some obviously more than others} I can’t quite explain to you the sheer shock of January 25, 2017. Because this was more than a job: this is what we thought was a life-career…a life-calling. It was all we had worked to achieve in college. It was the reason we thought God had moved us away from friends and family. And. We. Had. Just. Bought. A. House.

See what I mean? The year of the free fall.

I don’t know if I will ever forget that moment when Roman called to tell me the news. I don’t think I will ever forget putting Jackson down for his nap and then escaping to our bathroom to fall apart. The memories of that burning hot shower with even hotter tears streaming down my face feels like it just happened yesterday. Curled up on my knees with my face almost to the ground and that sick knot in my stomach, crying out to the Lord with all that I could between sobs.

Yes, surely, I prayed quite a lot and quite fervently during infertility. But this was different. A different kind of pain. A different kind of helplessness. A different kind of crumbling. {And for any of you reading these words of mine going through a season like this–truly, my prayers are with you.}

Did you know that the Lord is faithful? I know, I know. We spout off these cute little cliche Christian phrases all the time, but I’m so ridiculously serious right now. Do you know it? Not just in your head but deep down in your soul? Are you standing on solid ground or a crumbling foundation?

There’s something else I remember from that day. Another vivid memory that permeates my consciousness. When I had cried almost all the tears I could cry and the hot water was starting to give out I asked the Lord, “What if this was all a mistake? What if we moved here when we weren’t supposed to? What if we bought this house when we shouldn’t have? What if this brings us to financial ruin?” Immediately He whispered back, “Even then, I can redeem anything. I can redeem even this.”

Did you know that the Lord is faithful? Not just in your head but deep down in your soul? When the pregnancy doesn’t come or the job gets lost or the family member dies or the car breaks down or the refrigerator breaks, are you standing on solid ground or a crumbling foundation? Can you stare at the free fall and shout into the atmosphere “My God is faithful!”

The Lord has done so much for us in this season. We had a community of friends and family rally around us in the weeks that followed. We never once missed a bill, never once did we go hungry. Sure, we’ve scaled back a ton. There have been no date nights or vacations or shopping. But our needs have been wonderfully, beautifully met, more than we ever deserved. We have heard from the Lord in this season like we never have before. He has placed a calling on our lives through this that rattles my brain when I stop to think about it, and I can’t wait to share more with you in the days to come.

But let me just say for now, His name is Faithful and True. And when He redeems and saves, it’s not just our souls but every situation we face in this life. He can and will redeem your infertility. He can and will redeem your sickness. He can and will redeem your job loss. He is always faithful to restore and He is always faithful to be present in the middle of it all. Will it always look like we think? No. But He always keeps His word and one day–whether in this life or in eternity–we will recognize His hand working in every season and trial.

So yea, 2017 has been the year of the free fall. But the Lord is my parachute and He always catches me, right in His perfect time.