Mustard Seed Faith (learning curve)

 Today’s post is a list of things I’m learning on my health journey series. If you are just now stopping in you may want to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 before continuing. 

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As you can well imagine, or maybe you know from your experiences, dealing with illness is not an easy thing.  There is a lot of uncertainty and waiting. I’m not going to lie or pretend to have it all together – it is scary to be faced with tests and a chronic diagnosis that has so many unknowns. Some days it backs me up against a wall, and I’m frozen, unable to move or think straight.

Faith is hard fought and trusting God’s plan feels shaky.

Even when I waver, I know God is God, and I know he is sovereign.  I know he walks ahead of me on the path seeing what I don’t see.  I know he is with me even when he seems far away.  And, I know that I need to keep moving forward doing the next thing.  I can’t get lost in what if’s and neither can I bury my head in the sand refusing to acknowledge the realities.  It is a fine line that requires the balance of a tightrope walker.

Faith is hard fought and trusting God’s plan feels shaky. 

But, faith as small as a mustard seed moves mountains and God’s plan is sure.

Slowly, but surely I’m learning to trust his plan. He has been teaching me ways to travel:

  1.  Pray hard.
  2.  Rely on Scripture.
  3. Realize I can’t, but God can.
  4. I’m invincible until God says otherwise (words from our friend BJ that he heard from his minister).
  5. I need to operate under the assumption that I am doing well until I hear otherwise (this does not mean bury my head in the sand, but I shouldn’t borrow trouble).
  6. Extend grace to myself and to others (none of us can do it all ).
  7. A perfectly clean house is overrated (don’t’ be slovenly, but don’t obsess – most people don’t go looking for dust bunnies).
  8. Practice thankfulness (don’t complain).
  9. Be intentional about relationships (I need to plan ahead and pace myself so that I don’t neglect family and friends.  They need me, and I need them).
  10. Make time for things that feed my soul (writing and puttering around my house making it beautiful).
  11. PRIORITIZE – it is essential that I learn to embrace what is most important and let go of the lesser things.

This list is a work in progress, but it is a good reminder to keep me focused on the big picture.  The Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD) is just one part of my life, and while I want to respect it, I don’t want it to be the boss of me.  I never want to forget that God is the author of my story.  Even in my mustard seed faith, his plan is sure.

Linking up with Emily and others over at Chatting at the Sky for What we Learned in January.  

Learning in grace,

Teresa

Road To A Diagnosis (health journey part 3)

Today’s post is part three in a four-part series about my recent health journey.  What started out as one post, morphed into an impromptu series.  If you want to read them in sequence you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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In the fall of 2014 I went through my usual fall depression, except several months later, the realization hit, that I hadn’t bounced back like usual. In fact, I was falling deeper into depression and my stress levels were at the screaming point.  I had an impending sense of doom.  I knew I felt horrible and had such extreme fatigue that many days getting out of bed was just too much. Crying seemed like a good option much of the time.  I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.  I felt guilty for all the things I wasn’t doing and all the people I thought I was letting down.  I was afraid to go to the doctor because I was afraid I’d find out I was going to die.  I didn’t want to die; I wanted to live.  But, I wanted to live well, not tired and cranky.

The stretch of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was especially stressful for me, and I ended up with lower back pain so severe I could barely get around.  When it didn’t go away, I knew I needed to see a doctor.  My husband went with me and between the two of us, we managed to tell him all the symptoms I had been having.  He immediately started ordering blood work and sent me for an MRI.  Thankfully my back got better, and the MRI only showed mild to moderate Osteoarthritis.  But, the blood work showed some possible Autoimmune issues, so I was sent to a Rheumatologist, thus beginning a several month journey that led to a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, and eventually Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD) in August of 2015.

I went into denial for a couple of months, and the depression continued.  On the one hand, it was a relief to know that all my symptoms had a reason, and I wasn’t a hypochondriac or lazy.   On the other hand, to know that your body is attacking you and a simple nap won’t cure you, is disconcerting to say the least.  About the time I was starting to make peace with the MCTD and decided that I should just stay away from researching the disease on the internet (too many scary possibilities), I started having more than my usual shortness of breath. Because of the MCTD, there was a possibility that I could be developing Pulmonary Hypertension. To me, this would almost be like hearing a death sentence as it can be very aggressive and depending on how far advanced can significantly shorten your lifespan.

My doctor felt that a CT scan of my lungs was in order as well as an echocardiogram and a pulmonary function test. The CT and the Echocardiogram were both relatively standard.  The CT showed a possible enlargement of my thyroid and a nodule, so I had to have an ultrasound, which showed that I did, in fact, have three nodules, one of which was larger than the standard and required a biopsy. The results came back benign, no sign of cancer.  I am very Thankful and praising God for that piece of good news.  He is good.  But, I need to say, if the diagnosis had been cancer, he would still be good.  I had already told him I’d still praise him if I had to go through cancer on top of everything else.  I’m just thankful that I don’t have to fight that journey.

The echocardiogram showed mild pulmonary hypertension so next on my journey was a visit to a cardiologist who seemed to think, based on my weight, that my findings were not too unusual.  He wants to follow-up in a year.  I am trusting that the numbers will be better in a year and not worse as that would not be good. There is also the possibility that the lung function is a result of the pneumonia I had back in 2011  and not the MCTD.  It is crucial going forward to keep watch as I don’t want worsening symptoms.  Also, the cardiologist seemed to think I should have a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea, so that is next on the medical to do list that seems to keep growing.  Have I mentioned yet that I am so over Doctor appointments?

The cardiologist also strongly suggested that I need to lose weight.  So, this year, with God’s help, I am going to do my best to eat healthier and exercise.  The exercise has been problematic, because every time I try to start walking, I end up with foot pain in one or the other.  I tend to have Plantar Fasciitis and Gout flare-ups (getting over one now).  I have signed up for the Silver Sneakers exercise class at the gym. I’m hoping that will be low impact and will get me into a routine. I would just like to note, that I am not quite the Silver Sneaker age yet, :) but I’ll be in good company.

When I saw my Rheumatologist in August she started mentioning medications, but I didn’t want to start new drugs, and she said we’d wait on the bloodwork.  When she called me a couple of weeks later to tell me that she was officially diagnosing MCTD, she wanted me to start on Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), which is an anti-malaria drug. It is supposed to build up my immune system and will help with the pain somewhat. It should also help lower my inflammation.  It is easily tolerated, but can cause damage to the retina, so I will have to have my eyes examined often to make sure there is no damage.  So far, it seems to be helping.  After a couple of months on the medication, I noticed that I was having a few more good energy days and less pain.  I go back in February to have everything tested again. So far, I’m not showing any major symptoms of the overlap diseases, other than the mild pulmonary hypertension, extreme fatigue, achy joints and a tendency for my fingers and toes to be cold and feel numb at times. The goal is to get the disease in remission. If we can accomplish that, then my chances of complications from the disease are lower. Prayer request.

The MCTD still wipes me out some days.  The achy joints and muscles that go with both the MCTD and Fibromyalgia slow me down. I’m learning that naps are sometimes necessary, and when my body has had enough, I have to respect that.  I can’t just push through the fatigue as that could cause a major flare-up and make my symptoms worse.  I never know until I wake up what kind of day it’s going to be.  I may have a good day and even feel energetic.  I may go to bed feeling pretty good, only to wake up in pain and so tired I can’t imagine getting up yet.

Some days the effort to get a shower is about all the energy I have. Many days the thought of preparing dinner and doing the dishes is more than I can handle, so we eat take-out way too often.   When I cook, I try to cook enough for leftovers or prepare soup we can eat on a few times.

I say no to a lot of things.  Not because I want to be anti-social (well a little of that could be my introversion) but because I simply do not always feel like getting out, or being around people.  I imagine cooking family dinners, or having friends over, but that doesn’t often happen because it takes too much energy.  At times I will be puttering around the house doing simple tasks such as laundry and poof, just like that, I’m done for the day.  I usually have two to three hours before the energy gives way.  If I time everything just right and get a nap, then some days I can have two energy spurts.

If I take care of myself and stay on a schedule, then I think it can all be very manageable.  However, in addition, to self-care, I’m also my Dad’s support for my mom who has Alzheimer’s.  If you know anything at all about Alzheimer’s, then you know that there is nothing routine.  Even in good health, my mom was not a person that could be predicted by her routine.  So, I have to allow for her needs, which means some days I take care of her, and I rest and everything else gets shoved aside. I realize that my priorities will have to change. I further realize that I can only travel this journey in God’s strength.  And, I need the prayer support of friends and family.

I share this with you because I needed to see it all in writing to know how I’m dealing with the process and possibly to make it real.  I share it so that those who know me and are around me can understand what I’m going through – you can read this and then we don’t have to talk about it so much.  JK, sort of :)

Maybe, too, it will help you understand the world of silent diseases a little better.  To most people I look well and I’m sure there are times I sit one out or don’t show up and it seems like I’m just lazy or anti-social. The truth is I may be in such deep fatigue or pain that I can’t fathom being on my feet another moment; it is possible that quiet and rest is the best thing for me.  I can’t plan ahead well and guarantee that I’ll be ok on any given day.  There have been many times I plan for an event and when it arrives it is just too overwhelming.  So, I tend to wing it most days and not plan too far ahead.

I am not complaining, although some days I do fall into that temptation. And although some days my faith wavers,  I am trusting God because I know he is faithful. He is the one who stands beside me, and he is the one who will sustain me.  He is my buckler.

Moving forward will be a learning curve and I’m sure there will be gifts to unwrap in the process.

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Moving forward in grace,

Teresa

Backstory (health journey part 2)

When I shared a little with you last week about my health journey, I wasn’t sure how much more to share or where to go next.  I know some people like more details.  I know that I need to see how it all fits together, so I write it down.  Everything I have written so far was too much for one post, and there is a summarizing or going forward element to all of this that I also need to share; therefore today’s post will be part two of four parts. Today goes back a few years to give you some backstory that some of you already know, but I’ve not written about it much.  In part three I’ll give you a little more specifics on my journey last year (which started late 2014).  Then, I’ll wrap up this impromptu series with part four, which I still need to write. If you don’t mind indulging this foray into my health, I think I need to process before I can move forward if that makes sense.  And I want to go forward.  To read part one first, click here.

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In 2011, I contracted double pneumonia that almost wiped me out.  I was in the hospital for nearly three weeks.  My understanding, after the fact, is that I’m blessed to be alive.  My kidneys were beginning to shut down, which resulted in a couple of dialysis treatments and my heart was going into Afib.  I was in ICU for the first week and don’t remember all the details, mostly just impressions. I ended up with plasma and blood transfusions.  I had a thoracentesis to draw fluid off my right lung.  I was too sick to pray for myself, but I kept getting reports that others were praying for me, and that was what sustained me.  I knew God was with me, and I wasn’t scared.  I felt safe like I was in good hands.

The fear came later after I was home. I was sent home on a bitterly cold night.  Rocky’s mom was with us and between the two of them – one pulling and the other pushing – they managed to get me up the steps from the parking lot and into our apartment.  It took me several days (ok weeks) to adjust to being home and trusting that I would be alright without around the clock care.

Rocky’s mom stayed with us a few days; my sister came after that, followed by my parents.  I remember the day my parents left, my dad knew I was apprehensive about being alone while Rocky was in classes.  He reminded me that God would be with me and that I had to be on my own sometime.  In other words, he was telling me the time was now, get on with it already (but in a nice way).  So, I did for the most part.  We still had a few people who sat with me on the evenings Rocky had to be away, but eventually, I got used to being by myself again.

And, finally, I made it back to work.  I didn’t want to go back to work.  Not because of my workplace – they were wonderful to me and very supportive- but because I was so drained.  I don’t think I realized until some time later just how much the pneumonia had slowed me down.  I’m sure I didn’t pull my full weight at work, but still, they were gracious and showed me Christian kindness.  Everybody pulled together to help me.

After the pneumonia, everything in my life became defined by pre or post pneumonia.  My whole life became measured by that event.  The year before the pneumonia I had been through surgery and had finally been feeling like I was back on track, and then the pneumonia hit.  After the pneumonia, I assumed that I’d feel like myself again soon enough.  But I didn’t.  I had good days, but they seemed few and far between. My tolerance for almost everything was on a short leash.  The simplest of things seemed more than I could handle.  And I was suffocated by fear.

Fear of everything.  I became more aware of death and getting older and how short life was.  I lived life waiting for the next bad thing to happen.  I remember in the winter of 2012 holding my breath hoping I wouldn’t succumb once again to pneumonia because I wasn’t sure I’d survive it a second time.  I started questioning my faith and my salvation and whether or not I’d done everything right to be accepted by God.  (Knowing full well that it is all about his grace and my faith).

Quite honestly, I believe I was under attack from the enemy, he was trying to push me to the depths of despair while I was in such a weakened state.  I prayed a lot and clung to the scriptures that had sustained me while I was sick.  I put on a brave face and tried my best to muddle through.  And, I must just say here, that God was and is faithful to me.  He has been my rock through everything.

I lasted about a year after returning to work. Then we moved.  I haven’t worked public work since.  The day I knew it was time to leave, was such a liberating day.  My job was our primary source of income while my husband was finishing school, but I knew God was telling me it was time, and I knew he would provide.

We moved back to my hometown to the little house we’d been fixing up next door to my parents.  My mother was battling Alzheimer’s, and my father was no longer driving due to Macular Degeneration; it was becoming more apparent that my parents needed me.

The first few months back home were filled with good days and some pretty bad days as we all adjusted to the new normal of living with Alzheimer’s.  It was very taxing mentally more so than physically.  I still had days that I felt wiped out and barely had the energy I needed for essential tasks.

My husband would shake his head that something as simple as basic housework or going to the grocery could make my whole body ache.  I couldn’t explain it.  The simple everyday things that most people do like cooking, dishes, laundry, scrubbing the toilet, running errands, etc. became overwhelming to me.  There were many times that I didn’t want to go out or attend events because the effort just seemed like too much.  I struggled with feelings of guilt, inadequacy and wondering if I was just lazy, or was I really that tired.

I had known for several years, long before the pneumonia, that I sometimes got tired easily and that I ached quite a lot.  I would have good energy days that everything seemed to flow. I managed most days to function.  But, if I had an especially tiring or busy day, or if we’d go on a trip, even just a day trip, I’d pay for it later.  It would sometimes take me several days to bounce back.

I had even suspected that I might have something going on with my autoimmune system, but for whatever reason, that route was never pursued.  I also had a lot of hormonal issues, so I chalked a lot of my tiredness to that.  No matter how tired, overwhelmed or depressed I became, it got better sooner or later.  So, I naturally assumed after the pneumonia that things would eventually get back to normal.  And, although I did see improvements and even had some excellent days,  almost four years later, I was still floundering, and I was still aware that I had not bounced back to my pre-pneumonia state of health.

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Come back tomorrow (or soonish) for the rest of the story?

Relying on grace,

Teresa

And I Pray Hard

This post has been hard for me to write and I’ve struggled with whether or not I even need to share. I’ve embarked on a health journey that will be an ongoing part of my story. Writing about it helps me see how I am processing and will hopefully give me perspective. Since you sometimes read what I write, you too are part of my story, so I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind if I shared with you.  The original post was too long, so I have broken it down. Today’s part is more general and reflective after living a  year of discovery that led to a diagnosis of a chronic autoimmune disease. The main take away is that God is faithful, even when I have questions; especially when I have questions.

And I Pray Hard

God is good, even when life is not.  I know that.  But yet, sometimes I wonder why he allows me to suffer.  I find myself wondering why I’m being punished.  I know that is not Biblically sound, so I try to banish that kind of thinking immediately.  Even though I know better,  I wait for the other shoe to drop.

I remind myself of all the good that God has bestowed on me and remember the times he has restored my health, but I still find myself wavering on a shaky tightrope between faith that he will heal and fretting that maybe I’ve run out of get-well tickets.  Again, I know that is faulty thinking.  I know better.  And I pray hard because I don’t want to give in to such fear.

Because it is fear brought on by attacks of the enemy who is constantly trying to defeat our walk of faith.   If he can convince us that God is out to get us then he can render us useless and a quivering heap on the floor, bound by fear, unable to fulfill God’s purpose for our life.

Even in those times when we need healing, and God chooses otherwise, he is still good, and we can still have faith in his promises.  He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.  He is faithful.  I know that, and I cling to that and do my best to head in the direction of hope.  And I pray hard, thanking God for his goodness even in the midst of my bad. 

Life for me last year was a very up and down journey that ranged from despair and depression to faith and hope and back again.  I’m sure over time I will be able to unwrap some beautiful gifts from the journey.  I do believe that in all that is hard, God works on our behalf and teaches us great truths.  When bad things happen to us, he doesn’t leave us to stumble in the dark.  He is right beside us, holding us under his feathers.  He knows life can be scary and uncertain, but he also knows that he is our only certainty.  I know that too.

The truth is we live in a fallen world that is rampant with sin and disease.  Sometimes, for reasons we may never know or understand, we fall prey to the fallen.  We know that bad things do happen to good people.  But God, in his great merciful love for us, holds us tight in those times and works on our behalf. We don’t always get the answer we are hoping for, but we always have the hope of our father.  In his time, he will make all things right.  Some of us may suffer this side of heaven, but he knows all about suffering, and he knows how to comfort.  And I pray hard because I need his mercy and comfort as I live in a fallen world.

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Praying hard for grace,

Teresa

5 Things 2015 Wanted Me To Know

100_4469.21. NOD TO THE NOT (it’s ok to pause)

It’s ok NOT to choose a word for the year.  I had chosen a word in previous years but at the beginning of 2015 it just wasn’t a priority.  I survived the year without a special focus word.

Taking a blogging break is ok.  I trusted that my loyal readers, those that are my community, would not forget about me and would be waiting to encourage me when I came back.  They didn’t, and they were.

2. THE WORDS WILL COME, GIVE THEM TIME (After all, you are a writer)

I rediscovered the joy of using a pencil on paper.  Nothing can compare to that sweet, scratchy sound.  I need to practice this art more often.

Even though the writing was meager in 2015 and not writing scared me a little, I learned to trust that, in God’s time, the words would flow again. Because I have to write.

I want my writing to make people feel as if they have come home.

Hope*ologie was great, but Hope*writers is even better. I need a writer(ly) community that says what I do matters.

3. PRACTICE CONSISTENCY AND OBEDIENCE (how hard can it be)

I’m not a morning person, and there is no shame in that.  Not being a morning person may sometimes mean that I do better with my quiet time in the evening rather than the morning.  One thing I’m learning about quiet time is that consistency is key.  Regular time in the word is beneficial no matter what time of day you engage.

Sacrificing for Lent is not the point.  Sacrifice is nothing without obedience.  Obedience is a daily submission to God’s will for my life.  Godly obedience is not the kind of obedience that sounds like a bunch of rules.  Rather, it is a willingness to give Him complete control  It is 365 days a year, including the forty days of Lent.

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4. EMBRACE  THERAPY, ACCEPTANCE, AND RESTORATION  (God is your buckler)

Binge watching 7th Heaven preached to me in lots of ways; it was my therapy for a large chunk of time during the first half of 2015.  One of my favorite posts in 2015 was What I Learned From Watching 7th Heaven.

Y’all, I fell in love with Southwestern Virginia.  We spent some lovely days visiting a friend and explored the back roads near her hometown.  It was restorative and gave me much Joy In My Father’s World. And, lots of pictures.

Back in 2013, I realized that I need to make peace with My mom having Alzheimer’s, but it wasn’t until sometime in 2015 that I was able to accept that it is what it is, and only God has all the answers.  Instead of wasting time grieving over what we’ve lost, I’m starting to embrace the path we are on and I’m beginning to realize that you can never truly lose someone, you just adjust to a new normal.

More than ever in 2015 the truth in Psalm 18:2 sustained me:

The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.

I  also relied on Psalm 91 and knowing that he covers me with his feathers; He is my buckler which according to Merriam-Webster means “one that shields and protects.”  I have discovered that I love the word buckler.

I also found strength from the support of my husband. He takes care of me and loves me well. I love doing life with him.

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5. ENJOY A SEASON OF STRENGTH AND QUIET (embrace the real you)

I’ve always loved Autumn, but this year I realized that the way I describe Autumn also describes me.  Makes perfect sense.

I see Fall as both a little bit spicy and practical.  It is no-nonsense, but serendipitous all at the same time.  It is a warm hug as well as a brusque nod in passing. It is a steadfast heart that loves without condition, but won’t be trampled.  It is chaotic and fragile, but stands strong in the storm.  It is a little rough around the edges, as well as gloriously beautiful in spirit.  Like me.

2015 taught me that by God’s grace I am stronger than I think.

October loves me – she sent me several postcards this year during the 31 Days Writing Challenge

November is a melancholy month when the skies are gray and somber, and the first real chill is in the air.  Lights come on earlier, and we settle in for quieter evenings. I’m ok with that. Because I’m a little bit melancholy.

Advent is a time of waiting for “Emmanuel, God with us“, or as my mother says, “I’m so happy, God is in the house.”  A welcome note of praise to celebrate the arrival of the Christ Child…

and then, we slipped quietly from one year into the next.

Growing in grace,

Teresa

Linking up with Emily for What I Learned in 2015

Welcome 2016!

The New Year lies before you like a fresh blanket of snow.  What kind of mark will you leave?

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It is a new year – welcome 2016!  I hope you dear friends will have a blessed year.  You may have noticed the name change.  I’ve been debating for some time about changing the name of the blog to my name instead of StoneLeaf and Co.  So, here it is.

Subscribers should still receive posts as usual.  If you are not a subscriber I would appreciate you subscribing to my blog so that you don’t miss out on new posts.  Your inbox is safe with me. No one has access to your email but me. You can subscribe right over there on the right.  Thanks!

I will be back sometime this week with an end of the year wrap-up post of sorts for 2015 – I like to do this to help me see where I’ve been.  So you won’t want to miss that (or maybe you will ).

Welcoming in grace,

Teresa

Praising Him Forever And Ever

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And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased’.              Luke 2:13-14

Throughout this season of Advent, we have been waiting for the arrival of the Christ child, watching to see how God is with us and preparing our hearts to receive him. His arrival is one of great celebration, a time of praise.

When the angels appeared to the shepherds, they sang “Gory to God in the highest”. The sky lit up with brightness, and the star led the way to the manger. I would imagine to those Shepherds alone in the quiet darkness that it was indeed a spectacular announcement. It certainly grabbed their attention and propelled them to go and worship the king.

They didn’t wait for a more convenient time; they went immediately to kneel at his feet in adoration and thanksgiving. They knew the moment was now. I think they also knew that the moment was for all eternity.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen… Luke 2:20

The moment we encounter Christ his glory comes down, and our praise goes up, and it is a praise for all time. Even when we don’t’ feel like praising.

If I’m totally honest, my emotions have been up and down during this Christmas season. They have ranged from despair to hope to peace to disgruntledness to just so-so. The constant has been that I know he doesn’t change. And, I know he is here with me in all of my many moods. So, even in the moments when the last thing I feel like doing is celebrating, I can still speak words of praise for his arrival. I can still be thankful he came, and I can still share his good news of hope with those around me.

Maybe your praise is celebratory with flashing lights, or maybe your praise is more a quiet reflection, but wherever you fall on the spectrum of praise, don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate the arrival of the Christ child; to remember why he came and to look forward to his coming again.

The king has arrived, he’s in the house, and his reign is forever and ever

My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, And all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever. Psalm 145:21

Praising in grace,

Teresa

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Today’s post is 4th in an Advent series, one for each week of Advent.  Wait, Watch, Prepare and Praise (today’s).