In my last post, I mentioned that the world’s longest application included several expected interview questions. Another question that gave me pause alongside of “What are your strengths?” was the contrasting question, “What are your weaknesses?” Again, the older I get, the greater understanding I have of my weaknesses, but the rub of putting them on an application is twofold. 1) Narrowing down to only a few weaknesses [let’s be honest, there’s a lot of them] and 2) massaging them to sound like they’re not that bad.

michael scott

I’ve heard several pastors talk about how the Bible demonstrates repeatedly how God can and does work through people who are flawed. It’s absolutely true. He does it to demonstrate his power and sovereignty, not to mention build their/our faith. But there’s another divine reason we ought to own our weaknesses: it calls us to look outside of ourselves.

I think of Moses pleading with God to send someone else to speak to Pharaoh, since he gets tongue-tied and his words get tangled (Exodus 4:10). What does the Lord do? Sends Aaron, too.

Or Isaiah, recognizing his sin and filthy lips when confronted with the Lord’s holiness (Isaiah 6:5). What happens in response? He is cleansed and called.

Both of them needed help and were able to receive it in acknowledging their weaknesses. In Moses’s case, he needed a partner to walk beside him, even if just for the moral support. In Isaiah’s case, he needed forgiveness and cleansing so that he could be made right to do what the Lord wanted him to do.

When I see what I can’t do, I see where I need help. When I acknowledge and own those weaknesses, I can receive the help I need, whether it’s forgiveness, accountability, or the right team of people to fill in the gaps.

My prayer is that we’d have the courage to own our weaknesses, so that we might receive the help we need. May we have the joy of seeing God work in spite of our weaknesses and to grow us through them.

I filled out what could be the longest job application ever recently, which included several interview questions. One such question was “What are your top strengths?” In filling out my answers, I noticed a distinct hesitation to promote myself. I found this ironic because the older I get, the greater understanding I have of my strengths. I know exactly how to answer that question, but it feels so arrogant to answer without hesitation. It feels wrong to own my strengths.

I also re-read the story of Joseph from Genesis this week. I’ve mentioned it before, but it never ceases to amaze me that I can see new things in Bible stories, even after having read and studied them several times. This time, I honed on Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams. Joseph had been accurately interpreting dreams since he was a child, so this wasn’t going to be a challenge for him; however, his response to the Pharaoh’s request is surprising,

It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.” (Genesis 41:16, emphasis mine)

Here’s a man who could easily interpret dreams, yet he asserts it’s beyond his power. What?! Long gone is the boy who bragged that his bothers would one day bow down to him and in his place stood a man who recognized that his gift was just that, a gift. He acknowledged that any ability he had was ultimately given to him by God, so even though it looked like Joseph was talented, it was really the Lord who should be praised.

In Joseph’s response, I see the proper way to acknowledge our strengths. It’s not to own them, as in “Look at what I can do!” but instead to point back to the gift giver, as in “Look at what Jesus can do through me!” It’s not wrong to know and acknowledge your strengths. In fact, God wants us to use them for his glory.

May we own the gifts our creator has lavished upon us. Above all, in knowing and using our gifts, may we never forget that ultimately it is God’s power at work within us.

My son gets attached to certain movies or shows and will request to see them every day, multiple times a day. I now know what ad nauseam means. [Parents, can I get an “Amen”?] Lately, we’ve been watching Pinocchio. A LOT. The more I watch the movie, however, the more upsetting it is to me. See, the more I watch it, the more I realize that it exposes a common, distorted view of God.

In the beginning, the Blue Fairy grants Geppetto’s wish for Pinocchio to be a real boy because, as she tells him, “You’ve given so much happiness to others, you deserve to have your wish come true.” But she only grants the wish for life to a point. She tells Pinocchio, “Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish and someday you’ll be a real boy.” When he fails to tell the truth, she offers limited forgiveness, “I’ll forgive you this once…”

As I watch this movie, I hear the underlying messages. “You must be worthy of real life. Earn it with good behavior. Mercy is limited.” As I said, it’s upsetting because the longer I’ve been a Christ follower, the more I realize how pervasive this thinking in our churches, even if people would never say it out loud. I see it in me, when I’m ashamed of my own mistakes and struggles and afraid of what God will say when I turn back to him. When we believe these lies, we behave as if Jesus offers us just a little bit of forgiveness and new life and we have to earn the rest through good behavior. We get tangled up trying to be “good enough”.

It was only on viewing number 1,001 (give or take) that I realized there’s another picture of God in this movie: Geppetto. Geppetto is a father-figure who lovingly crafted Pinocchio. He loves the puppet dearly and longs for this wooden boy to be alive. He even pursues Pinocchio when the puppet ends up going astray because he loves his boy that much and can’t bear to lose him.

This is who God revealed himself to be through Jesus: our creator who longs for his children to have abundant, eternal life in close relationship with him. Geppetto’s flaw is that he didn’t have the power to transform Pinocchio. Thankfully, Jesus does. We can have real life through him. He stepped out of heaven and onto earth to pursue us because he couldn’t bear to lose his children. It cost him everything, but is a free gift for those who simply believe, no strings attached.

Why, that’s something worth singing about.

I’ve got no strings
To hold me down
To make me fret, or make me frown
I had strings
But now I’m free
There are no strings on me

P.S. Like this? Crossroads Church did a series called The Gospel According to Disney. You can listen to the two messages I preached on Tangled and The Incredibles (with my husband) on my Speaking page.

Hitting the Jackpot

As the lottery prize is now expected to reach 1.3 billion dollars this week, it seems everyone has lottery fever. Last week, when the prize was a mere $400 million, I joked about all of the things I’d do with my winnings. Last night, when the prize was almost $950 million, I couldn’t even bring myself to buy a ticket. As they say on one Price is Right game, “That’s too much!”

As I thought about which numbers I wanted to play, I had this gripping realization that if I were to win that much money, my life would be over. Sure, I’d never have to worry about an old car breaking down or rent or anything else like that, but that comes at a cost. Instant fame and access brings out the worst in many people, and I know that I’d be included. I’ve read several stories of people whose lives were ruined by winning the lottery through ugly divorces, family feuds, thieves, lawsuits, addictions, even kidnapping and death. That much money seems like security, but in reality it’s the exact opposite.

When the Lord ruled over Israel, they demanded a king “like the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5) because that seemed like it would offer them security. When the prophet Samuel warned them,

“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials.  He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants.  He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use.  He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.” (1 Samuel 8:11-18, emphases mine)

In essence, Samuel told them, “What you’re hoping for & demanding will cost you everything.” P.S. it totally did.

I struggle with the tendency to look at what other people have and want it, too. It seems like their lives are easier, so I assume it must be because of some external factor that I must achieve. When I dream of stuff that I need or dwell in a life that isn’t mine, I’m doing exactly what Israel did when they demanded a king; I’m rejecting the Lord as king. I’m putting my hope in something that will fade instead of the Lord who is eternal. Worse yet, I’m rejecting the idea that he is exceedingly better than anything else.

Does this mean I can’t play the lottery or make personal goals or do anything but stay exactly where I am right now? Absolutely not! What I mean to say is that if we’re hoping that achieving a goal or having a certain amount of money or some other external thing is going to fulfill our lives, we’re misguided. Worse yet, we often fail to see just what the cost will be to arrive where we think we need to be.

Whatever we have to have, has us.

My prayer is that of Agur in Proverbs,

“…Give me neither poverty nor riches!
Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.” (Proverbs 30:8b-9)

May our hope be in the Lord and may we be satisfied with his provision.

Every week, the moms group I attend puts out free day-old bread from a local bakery. I grabbed a whole-wheat baguette and before I knew it, the day old bread turned into rock-hard week-old bread, which is pretty useless to slice and eat as-is. Instead of throwing the bread away, I decided to make baked French toast for Christmas. The dried bread was perfect for soaking up the [super healthy] egg & half-and-half mixture, making the bread softer and even more flavorful than before.

As I cut the desiccated bread into cubes to make the French toast, I thought of Grandma Moses.

Grandma Moses spent most of her life creating art through embroidery and quilting. When she turned 76, she developed painful arthritis and could no longer sew. As an alternative, she began to paint. It is this skill for which she is garnered acclaim and has built a lasting legacy.

Grandma Moses’ story & my repurposed bread remind me that God can use even the last vestiges of our days in remarkable ways.

Take Abraham and Sarah, for instance. The Lord had promised Abraham descendants too great to number, yet as the years wore on he had only one son (a souvenir of “helping” God fulfill his promises) and Sarah remained childless. Even still, the promise the Lord made remained and the aged couple was reminded that they would have a child.

Then one of [their visitors] said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”

Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.”

But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh” (Genesis 18:10-15).

I get her laughter. I get her scoffing at the idea that her worn-out body could bear a child after all that time. I hear her frustration after waiting for years for the Lord to keep his promise. I understand the feeling like that ship has sailed; however, it wasn’t the end.

Sure enough, the story ends just as the Lord said it would, “The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would…Abraham was 100 years old [!] when Isaac was born” (Genesis 21:1-2, 5).

God kept his promise. Even when things were beyond hope from a human perspective, they were not beyond hope for the Lord.

As the year draws to a close, it’s tempting to write off the last few days/hours as done and rush forward to the next year, full of possibility and promise. On a larger scale, as we age or face complex, unexpected challenges it is all too easy for us to write the end of our story without realizing that the Lord does his most remarkable work when it seems we are well past our prime. That’s what makes it special and miraculous.

As I set my old bread cubes to soak overnight, I thought about how the quality which makes them useless for eating one way, makes them perfect for another. The same can be said for Grandma Moses’ arthritis. What made it impossible for her to sew paved the way for her career as a painter. Perhaps the things that make us feel most useless or beyond the redemption are the very things that the Lord will use to demonstrate once again that nothing is too hard for him.

Maybe this year has been difficult and life-changing for you. Maybe it seems that life hasn’t changed at all (and you wish it would). To that, I’d like to leave you with two of my favorite promises from the Lord to cling to in both times of upheaval and stagnation:

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28).

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6).

Even when it seems like it, it’s not the end because nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Delicious!

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Is It Christmas Yet?

“Is it Christmas yet?”

I found myself wondering that question this week, not with the usual excitement, but with weariness. I have a few more gifts to wrap, a few more cards to send, a few more things to ready for traveling, another viewing of Mickey’s Christmas special (thanks to my son). So what I really mean is, “Can’t Christmas already be here so I can put this busy season behind me?”

As I’ve struggled with ongoing sickness the past couple of months, Christmas is overwhelming, but not for the right reasons. It’s forced me to slow down and choose very carefully what I actually had the capacity to do. Frequently, I’ve overestimated myself and have been left feeling sad by the things I just don’t have the energy (or honestly, enough desire) to push through and do.

I want the shows and lights and concerts! I even want the yearly trip to see Disneyland all decorated for the season, giant crowds and all. This season feels so empty without all of the usual celebrations. When I look at the Christmas story, I read about the angels serenading the shepherds and think, “That’s what I want!”

“Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased’” (Luke 2:13, 14)

But as I reread the Christmas story this year, I noticed the shepherds’ response in the next verse, “When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’” (Luke 2:15).

They weren’t distracted by the heavenly concert. They didn’t stop to wait for an encore. They weren’t so busy taking selfies to post on Instagram that they missed half the show. They recognized the angels’ song was a response to the eternity-changing news delivered that night, “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:11).

The Lord had entered our world and his presence could be seen. Now that is something worth singing about and seeking out!

This news is still true today. My Savior, my King, my Lord is here. My world is much smaller this year, but Jesus still enters in to comfort and walk with me through this season. I don’t have to make ever bigger celebrations to find him; he found me.

His presence can still be seen in transformed lives (including mine) every day of the year. No matter what I’m “missing”, as long as I see him, I’m not missing the point of all the celebrations, which leads me to celebrate with joy in the ways I can.

I pray for more of that joy in this season for all of us. May each of us have a deep, personal sense of the reality that Jesus draws near to us.

 

 

Giving Fatigue

Now that it’s December, the holidays are in full swing! The number one sign they’ve begun for me is that requests for donations have gone up exponentially. My social media feeds are crowded with crowd-funding campaigns for needs with varying degrees of legitimacy. My mailbox is full of petitions to give year-end gifts and help the needy during the holiday season. Today has even been dubbed Giving Tuesday, a charitable counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, where people are encouraged to contribute to a favorite cause.

When faced with so many people asking me to give, I can feel myself begin to shut down (ignoring every request) and resent the requester. There’s just so much need and no way to possibly support it all. I feel guilty for what I can’t do. I know I’m totally not the only one who feels that way. There’s just so many places one could give that it becomes more difficult to discern where and how much one should give.

As I’ve worked through my own giving fatigue, I realized there are 3 things I can do to help process the many requests so that I both give cheerfully and pass on giving without guilt.

1. Pray.

Have I actually prayerfully considered whether God is calling me to give? This probably seems too obvious, but as giving fatigue set in for me, I realized that I haven’t actually talked to God about what, if anything, he was calling me to give. I just felt like I had to say “yes” without actually praying about it because that was the “right” thing to do.

It’s not.

The right thing to do is give where and how I’m actually called to give by the one to whom it all ultimately belongs anyway. Sometimes that will mean that I don’t give. Sometimes it means I will give more than I initially thought. Either way, in praying about where to give, I have peace that I’m using the resources with which I’ve been entrusted in the way God is asking.

2. Pause.

A second question to ask yourself, “Is Jesus calling me to give right now?” Especially if your finances are tight, pausing for a few days to pray that God provides a way to give is a legitimate thing. I’ve paused and had unexpected money show up that I knew was for a certain cause. I’ve also paused and saw Jesus work through other people, while he didn’t provide a way for me personally to give financially. Most of the time, we can wait for a week to commit to praying and see how God might make the way for our generosity. That pause also makes way for the third step in the discernment process.

3. Plan another way.

What if the cash doesn’t show up in the pause? Just because you don’t have money, doesn’t mean you have nothing to give. Ask yourself, “What is God calling me to give instead?” You might have gift certificates or credit cards points that can be converted to something useful. You might have time to watch someone’s kids or even sit and listen to them over a cup of coffee. You might have a skill that would bless them. You might even discover you have an expensive habit that you’re willing to sacrifice for a time to free up money to give to a worthy cause. I’m always amazed at the things God brings to mind that can be a blessing to others that aren’t dependent on my bank account.

Even in the absence of material things, committing to pray for a need is a huge blessing to the recipient. In doing so, you’re lifting them up to Jesus (who isn’t overwhelmed by their needs) and keeping them in mind. Long after others’ checks have cleared, you might be one of a few people who continue to pray and check in with them. You’re also opening yourself up to God showing you a way to support them long after the fact, when it’s desperately needed again.

This third step is much bigger than individual causes, too. Jesus calls me to view my finances as temporary and to invest in what is permanent. I need to plan for giving in general by living below my means because it’s yet just another way I invite God to work though me.

May we be cheerful givers in this and every season, hashtag or not. May we continually be in awe as we see the Lord’s mighty hand meet needs far beyond we could do on our own, most importantly the need for lives transformed through the Gospel. Amen.

As we enjoyed some overdue rain in California this week, I was reminded of God’s power. Likewise, as I watched a crowdsourcing campaign raise more than double its original goal to help a friend with medical expenses, I was reminded of God’s power.

Job talks of big, splashy reminders of God’s power: creating the sky and earth, day and night, both shaking the foundations of heaven and calming the sea, but the last line of his speech is the most remarkable.

These are just the beginning of all that he does,
    merely a whisper of his power.
    Who, then, can comprehend the thunder of his power?     

Job 26:14

Job says, “Those things aren’t even difficult for God! He didn’t even break a sweat. They’re only the tiniest hint of his power! Just imagine what it would be like if God really flexed his muscles!”

Of all the remarkable ways I’ve seen God at work this week, the most striking is attending an old friend’s installation to the elder board. I’ve known him for over 20 years now, from when we were both angsty teenagers to the (mostly) mature adults we’ve become. He is now a great choice to be a spiritual leader. Our long history gives me perspective to understand just how much Jesus has worked in his life since he became a Christ follower as a young adult. I can see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in his life and I’m reminded of God’s great power.

See, if we really want to see God’s power at work, we ought not look at flashy outward stuff (though it does cause me to stand in awe of him). Instead, if we really want to see his power, we ought to look at the redeemed heart.

As I’ve fought to change my life and behavior simply by sheer force of will, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not that simple. Like Paul, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” I’ve had to come to the end of trying harder and realize that changing myself is beyond my strength. Thank you, Lord, that it isn’t beyond yours.

Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 7:24,25

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of seeing the depth of your power this week in so many ways. May we depend on it and celebrate it as you continue to do the deep inner work in your followers’ lives.

Finding “The One”

The past several months, I have been searching for “The One”. It’s been a surprisingly difficult search. I was sure I knew who it was when I started, but certainty eludes me now. I have many moments where I think that it should be easier, the “right” answer more obvious. If only it were that simple. Of course, I’m talking about finding a new church community.

I’ve had several conversations with people lately about the difficulty of finding a new church home after a move, a falling out, or even just a transition that makes change necessary. In fact, I’m surprised how often people just give up. Well, I was surprised before I started this journey. It’s especially difficult when you go from having deep connections and a clear sense of where you fit to nebulous uncertainty.

As an encouragement to others who may be in the same boat, I’m going to share the principles that are guiding my family’s search. Perhaps they will help you, too, if you’re in a season of searching or encourage you to restart the search if you’ve given up on finding a church home.

  1. Know Your Deal Breakers. First and foremost, it helps to know what you believe is necessary for a church from a theological standpoint. Disagreements in such a core area are only going to be messy. Moving beyond that, it’s okay to have deal breakers that others might consider preferences. For instance, we left our previous church because it took over an hour to drive there during commute times (roughly 8 am to 8 pm in the Bay Area. I’m joking, but only sort of). It was just not conducive to community, so distance is a deal breaker for us. Knowing these things in advance helps to narrow your search. Revisit this list as you search because it may change as you attend different churches.
  2. Go back. A Lot. I heard recently that it takes 6-8 meetings to begin to feel comfortable with other people. So almost every place you go is going to feel awkward that first, second, third visit. Any church can have an off Sunday in preaching or music. By committing to going for at least a month (or longer), you can actually experience what attending the church will be like over time. You also move past your own discomfort and can more accurately understand whether it will ever feel like home.
  3. Classes, Conversations, and Coffee. Go to the newcomer stuff before you know whether you’ll stay. Depending on the size of the church, it could be a class, a lunch, or a meeting with the pastor. Even if you’re really unsure, meeting people and getting the chance to have conversations helps you to feel more comfortable and gain a better understanding of who this church and its leadership are. Plus, they usually have free food, so that’s a bonus.
  4. Keep Trying. If a community doesn’t fit, find another one to try. Yes, it’s exhausting and scary. Yes, it’s hard to go through months of awkwardness only to find that you need to start again. Yes, staying in your bed on Sunday looks more and more inviting with each failed attempt. But as I mentioned several posts ago, the Bible sees meeting together as a sine qua non of following Jesus. Being a Christ follower means being connected to a local body. It means using your gifts to edify others in the church as well as receiving the encouragement, instruction, and service of other believers. It means having others who spur you on to keep the faith and pray for you when times are difficult. You need them and they need you. As the church we’ve been attending says, “Church is better where you’re here.”

I realize in reviewing this list that I didn’t single out prayer, but it can’t be overstated how important prayer is for this process. Every step needs God’s guidance. The community to which you end up connected is going to have a huge impact on your faith, so it’s a matter to talk through with Jesus. Besides, as I reflect on people I’ve known in many different churches, several felt called to stay in a church they didn’t love because it was where family members were growing or because they had gifts that the church desperately needed. Without prayer, we may find a place we’re comfortable when that’s not God’s desire for us at all. Depend on God to show you where he wants you throughout this whole process. When we ask for wisdom, God gives it to us.

If you’re searching, I join you in praying for the right community as I ask that you’d pray for us as our process continues. May you find a place where you can thrive for Jesus’ sake.

Is there a step you’d add to this list?

A Song for the Dead of Night

Psalm 134

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

Oh, praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
you who serve at night in the house of the Lord.
Lift your hands toward the sanctuary,
and praise the Lord.

May the Lord, who made heaven and earth,
bless you from Jerusalem.

During times of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the temple was no doubt packed. Throngs of people from all over, come to make sacrifices and worship the Lord, filled the streets. Likewise, the priests, busy with their duties, and entrepreneurs, peddling their wares to out-of-town folks, filled the temple until it was a sea of people. Chaotic commotion was everywhere.

But then there’s this psalm written for the priests serving in the dead of night, the time of service few would see, no matter how busy it was during the day. Maybe the Levites were standing guard. Maybe they were tending the fire. Maybe they were simply cleaning and resetting for the next days’ events and sacrifices. None of those things seem particularly glamorous or exciting, but Psalm 134 sings of the sacredness of the overnight shift. It calls the priests to praise the Lord, even as their work goes unseen, perhaps unnoticed, for their work is still sacred and the Lord is worthy to be praised.

As I think about calling, I realize how difficult it is when your calling is unseen, seemingly too routine to be holy. As a mom, the only one who sees what I do most of the time is my son. I think of the endless stream of mundane stuff and it’s all too easy to forget the sacredness of this life. The Lord called me to this season. This is my vocation. In the midst of dirty diapers, chicken nuggets, laundry, and even those exhausted overnight shifts with a sick kid I am to praise the Lord. You have a sacred calling, too; we’re all called to worship the Lord in our work, no matter what it is we do.

The most important reason that we are to stop and praise the Lord in the lonely, quiet moments is because even when no one else sees, the Lord is watching. Nothing is hidden from his sight. He sees our work all the time, whether it’s pushing papers or a broom, cooking a family or for a thousand, comforting a sick baby or a grieving widow. He sees what no one else does and is blessed by our praise.

He sees you right now, no matter what time you’re reading this. This moment is one for worship. May you lift up praise in recognition of your sacred calling and his faithful presence in both the light of day and the dead of night. May the Lord who made heaven and earth bless you.