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Sunday grace

Dear Jesus,

I want to be a good soldier in the army of my Lord.

Whether decked in full battle dress on the field or wearing the apron as I wash pots and pans in the mess hall.

Whether bending to listen to my littlest neighbor’s story or bending to help Sweet William put on shoes.

Whether with a full class of Truth seekers or alone in the morning quiet with the Father.

Whether at a filled church house or sitting at the kitchen table live-streaming a Sunday service.

I learned Onward Christian Soldiers as a child, and tears fill my eyes as I pray the prayer, “I want to be a good soldier,” because I am weak, with feeble hands and the knees that give way, struggling to go the distance some days. I don’t want to miss the purpose or what I’m meant to learn in this season. I pray for eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that is open to the still small Voice, however hushed it may be.

My morning Bible reading takes me to passages encouraging me to “be strong.” God spoke it to His children, the ones fearful yet willing to put on His armor for battle.

He commanded it to the Israeli nation about to cross the Jordon and to Joshua as he prepared to lead them.

He declared it to David as he was on the verge of becoming king, and He repeated it twice to Daniel upon receiving a future vision to much for him.

So the Father whispers it to me this morning. “Be strong, daughter.”

It isn’t my physical stamina that will sustain me nor any talents or gifts I’ve been given. Only in abiding in my Lord will I find the strength I need for this journey.

Stronger than I think possible. Stronger than my physical ability. Stronger because He is strong in me.

Jesus, I want to be a good soldier.

Sunday grace.

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
— Psalm 31:24

Sunday grace

I noticed the envelope in the mailbox, all bright and cheery, and it made me smile.

Young enough to be my daughter, she is a long-time friend, since a teenager, her with the enthusiasm for life that has not dwindled through the years. Together we shared Bible study, birthday parties, yard-sale treasure hunting, and cups of tea at the kitchen table. When she moved away, we kept in touch by letters. Hers were always so much fun, brimming with cute drawings, punctuated with her funny sayings, and filled with colorful stickers fitting her purpose. It was like a visit on stationery.

She is a mature young woman now with a husband, a daughter, and farm animals occupying her life. Letters are fewer between us. Finding one in my mailbox from this esteemed friend was a delight.

I always take my time, examining the envelope first, slowly opening it, and sitting down to read her missive. The contents are newsy and the words conversational, almost as if she were sitting across from me.

She and her husband feel the Lord’s leading in a new direction. I read of their journey thus far, anticipating a road of endurance requiring trust in the face of obstacles, one with an uncertain future. They believe this is their calling.

I breath prayers after I lay down the pages. This path will be hard, not for the faint of heart, but the faithful of heart. There will be mountains to climb, rocky and steep. There will be days when it seems their efforts are not enough. Knowing her, I expect she is fully aware, trusting in the God who leads us through uncharted waters with only Himself as the light. When the storms come, and they will come, she will learn to hold to an unchanging hand.

I send a message to her that I am just a phone call away and will be here if she sends out an SOS. I determine to begin a letter to my friend in the coming days, and I write their names on my prayer list.

The next morning Steven Curtis Chapman sings on the CD player, music lifting the atmosphere and turning our hearts heavenward and away from the burdens of life. As I help Sweet William prepare for the day, Steven is singing our song, I Will Be Here,” and the words ring true: “When the mirror tells us we’re older, I will hold you, and I will be here . . . I will be true to the promise I have made, to you and to the One who gave you to me. I will be here.

I remember the vows made, me in a white dress and him in a black tuxedo, making promises before God and the company gathered, not knowing what they would require of us. We both had on rose-colored glasses standing there in the church and for many months after. But eventually the rose fades and we see clearly that life is hard. God never turned loose of either of us, determined to pour out His grace and complete the work He planned.

Almost fifty years later, Sweet William and I cherish the vows we made to one another, knowing they have tested us, tried us, and kept us committed to one another in spite of ourselves. We were called to a hard obedience, a faithfulness only made possible by a faithful God infusing His strength in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I think of my friend starting a new journey into the unknown, and I recognize obedience will be required, when things are going well and when they are not. God will be there in it all, calling forth His strength in them when the task is beyond their own.

As Steven Curtis Chapman continues to sing, I hear a different song now, “A Moment Made for Worshipping.

When I’m feeling loved and happy, when I’m feeling all alone
When I’m failing to remember all the love that I’ve been shown
Every beat of my heart is another new place to start to know
This is a moment made for worshipping

And I wonder if the hard obedience, the moving forward when God calls us to follow, the days we press on by sheer grit, tenaciously believing God is with us in this . . . can this be counted as worship?

When we keep trying though we are weary . . .

When we get up after falling down yet again . . .

When we love by our actions because the feeling is faint . . .

When the tears flow down because we don’t understand the plan . . .

When we follow not knowing where He leads . . .

When we’re tempted to give up but know that only Christ Jesus has the words of Life . . .

The hard obedience, counted as worship. May it be so.

Sunday grace.

Sunday grace

This is the day the Lord has made .. . and I have some choices to make.

I can speak harshly without thinking or I can use words that build up.

I can criticize or I can look for the best in others.

I can complain or I can give thanks for the good gifts all around me.

I can feel sorry for myself or I can be glad I’m alive to serve another day.

I can count all I’m missing or I can count the abundance I’m given.

I can wallow in despair of my present situation or I can consider it all joy.

I can call my life too hard or I can call on the Lord for His strength.

I can weep alone or I can remember God sees my tears and is near the brokenhearted.

I can wonder if my body is going to hold up under the strain or I can pray for His strength made perfect in me.

I can feel powerless to change this situation or I can ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to work mightily in me.

I can believe the lies whispered in the dark or I can trust the Word of Jesus that lights the path ahead.

I can think I’ve drained all my human resources or I can recall words learned as a child, “my cup runneth over.”

I can give up or I can rest assured that His grace is sufficient for my every need.

I can remain in the cold winter of this trial or I can look toward the hope of spring.

This is the day the Lord has made, and I have some choices to make.

I will rejoice in the One who calls me to this journey, who promises His presence and power, who remains faithful even when I am not.

He is worthy of my worship.

Sunday grace.

Grace for today

Before daylight, the birds appear on the deck, cold and hungry. They come for the seed I scatter on these frigid days. They flit all happy, glad to find food, sometimes skittering across the icy deck railing.

For this simple effort, they reward me with joy in the midst of long, hard days.

Early mornings find me in my rocker by the fire, coffee in hand, while Sweet William sleeps a little longer. The stillness is solace, the Holy Word is food, and its ancient phrases become my petitions.

I wrap my prayer shawl around my shoulders, knitted for me by one of my young friends. It is a work of art, the white and blue yarns beautifully woven into a pattern of stripes and ending in fringes at each end. As I bow to pray, I pull the shawl over my head and enter my personal sanctuary of sorts, blocking out distractions to commune with my Lord.

I withhold nothing from Him for He knows my heart like no other. I confess, I ask, I give thanks, I weep before the One who knows where I am, the One who has allowed this path and plans to bring good from it. And I ask Him “how?”

There is a place of service that is not seen. No stages, no classroom podiums, no music studios, no gathering of people to say, “good job.” I’ve been given the privilege to participate in such projects. I did the best I could, accepted the accolades, and received my reward.

These days are different, confined to home, keeping company with Sweet William and Maisie and the physical therapist who comes twice a week. Friends and family provide meals, milk, fruit, and donuts. Regularly, a text pings with “I’m going to be out. Do you need anything?” Twice we’ve had our ramp cleared of snow and ice. Often someone messages, “I’m thinking of you, praying for you,” and I am overwhelmed by the kindness, these acts of service that are not documented except in my journal and Heaven’s records.

At my dear friend’s funeral recently, I was reminded how quiet service makes a difference in people’s lives. She was not a teacher or speaker, not a musician or singer. She was a tranquil servant, doing what she could wherever and whenever she could. She left her mark on many, though she probably didn’t realize how her life impacted them.

I want to be like her.

In the mundane, repetitive tasks of the days, the bone weariness and the aching knees, I pray for grace sufficient. I count on fresh mercies each morning. I trust the name of Immanuel – God with me, with us, on this journey. I beseech the Father to produce healthy fruit in me, the result of the Holy Spirit’s working out His purpose in and through me. I pray to cooperate with Him, “for it is God who works in me, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

I remember that Jesus washed feet. I can wash feet too.

Grace and peace.

Sunday grace

Precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints.
— Psalm 116: 15

I awaken to the thought, another sweet friend left this earth and made her way to the eternal home, the place Jesus promised He was preparing for us.

We make many acquaintances during a lifetime. Some deepen into friendships, kindred spirits and companions. There is the rare blessing when friends become family.

We met at church, our children small, and the relationship developed over years of gathering in the house of the Lord. Bonds of love grew as we united in worship, in learning the Bible together, and in experiencing the Holy Spirit in all His mystery. We played music together for hours upon end. No wonder Scripture admonishes us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Friendship blossomed.

Many years ago, I worked with a group of teens, and my friend’s youngest was part of the group. He was a character, funny, unpredictable, a challenge to the structure I was trying to provide. It was like herding cats, and I loved him. He became more than his teachers expected. We wrote letters while he was in the military. He is a strong and capable man today, and I’m proud to know him. He was my friend’s baby boy.

She and I talked about our children, our grandchildren, music lessons, weight watchers, and anything else that came to our minds. She was quiet and reserved in a group, but she laughed easily and opened up with a few close friends. This morning I remember her laughter and the happy expression on her face.

Friends who become family, these are the ones who come for the celebrations, pitch in when there is work to be done and stay until it’s finished. Friends who are family show up when tragedy strikes – the sudden hospitalization and unexpected diagnosis, the house fire that devastates, the illness that lingers long, and the news from across the world of a young life suddenly snuffed out. They come when only silent prayers are prayed, and they remain, their presence a comfort that needs no words.

My heart hurts this morning for the sister/friend missing from my life, for the richness of her loyalty, for the love she showed me. I grieve for her husband who faithfully walked with her and sat beside her bed until the final breath. I ache for her three strong sons, for their wives and for the grandchildren she dearly loved and delighted to talk about.

I read this commentary on Psalm 116:15: “ . . . the death of saints is an object of value; that God regards it as of importance; that it is connected with his great plans, and that there are great purposes to be accomplished by it. . . the death of a good man [or woman] is in itself of so much importance, and so connected with the glory of God and the accomplishment of his purposes, that he will not cause it to take place except in circumstances, at times, and in a manner, which will best secure those ends.”

God’s ways are not my ways. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I struggle to understand what He does. I cannot fathom the greatness of His plan that encompasses the whole of creation, of which I am a small part. I experience the goodness of His grace as well as the pain and suffering of a world marred and broken by sin.

I feel the loss this morning, the long days ahead of missing one so dear, the empty place she leaves in the hearts and lives of those she loved and who loved her.

Today we weep. Our Father knows our aching hearts. He sees the tears and does not disregard them. He offers Himself as Comforter. One day He will wipe away tears. Until then, He promises a hope, a future, a Home with Him that will outshine the stars. We wait for it.

Home. That’s where my friend is today. She will be waiting for us.


Grace for the journey

I never would have chosen this frozen road.

Life is a journey, and years ago I chose to make it my aim to enjoy the ride, wherever that takes me. I believe that even on the roughest roads, I might notice some wildflowers. Don’t call me an optimist, only one who fought for joy when the way was especially wearisome.

Sometimes the path is hard. And it is winter.

Sweet William and I have been in a season of difficulty. It is common to every person to weather the experience of winter, spring, summer and fall again and again through life. Spring brings hope of newness and refreshing while summer is hard work, planting and cultivation. We enjoy the abundant fruitfulness of an autumn only to find ourselves shivering in the icy winds of winter as the cycle repeats.

And it is winter. On some cold nights, I sat at the kitchen table alone and wept, my only prayer, “Jesus help.” There were no other words. The ever-pinging texts from friends and family, declaring their promise to pray, were lifelines of hope. Competent nursing staff and doctors coupled with kindness made the days a little brighter. Time was irrelevant as days slipped into weeks, leaving us asking, “How long, oh Lord?”

In the deep mid-winter, Sweet William and I found ourselves wandering and wondering. Important days of Christmas, then New Year, and our 49th wedding anniversary were not what we planned at all. Celebrations wait for warmer days.

Winter life can be lonely, dreary, and somber. Night falls too quickly and a chill penetrates the bones. We long for the sunshine, birds building nests, and waving at neighbors in the greening yard. I tell myself to keep moving through it, and look for the signs of spring.

There are lessons in a winter journey we cannot learn any other way. There’s a Presence in the wilderness we often overlook in the lush valleys of our busy lives when planting or harvesting are the focus. In the barren landscape when the quiet chill settles, the Voice I long to hear speaks, and I hear His whispers. He speaks hope, peace, love, and I’m assured of His faithfulness.

I would not have chosen this winter travel, but it gave me perspective. When we have no one, there is Someone with us. He, the One and only, knows the hurt of the heart, the confusion of the mind, the ache of the body. When darkness settles on the soul, He is the Light. When questions have no answers, He is Wisdom.

The days of January near the end, and I notice how the sun rises a little sooner. Sometimes the birds sing a little more fervently. Though winter seems long, there is beauty if I have eyes to see it. The snow came and made everything clean and bright. The frost sparkles on the deck railing in the pre-dawn. Ice on the lake across the road shimmers in sunlight.

I pray this:

Father of all I see and what is yet unknown to me, be Thou my vision. Give us grace for this journey. Infuse us with courage and strength to endure like good soldiers. As You are ever faithful to us, provide Your power through the Holy Spirit to be faithful to You. Teach us lessons of compassion, patience, kindness, and love over all. Warm us in Your Presence during this season, and let us not forget Your wonders of mercy when the weather changes and warm breezes blow. To everything there is a season, and You are everything we need in each of them. As your beloved child, I ask these things in the Name above all names, Jesus my Savior and Lord. Amen.

Tuesday thoughts

The first snow of the season welcomed the last month of an incredible year. Its beauty made our little part of the world look clean and pure, hopeful even.

Driving home in the early darkness the last several weeks, I notice houses decorated well before December 1. A week before Thanksgiving, one of my piano students excitedly told me that her family was decorating the Christmas tree that very night. Lights shine from windows and brightly decorated living rooms are showcased on social media.

Is it possible we all need a little Christmas, right this very minute, candles in the window and carols at the spinet?

We’ve endured difficult confinements, weekly changing regulations of how we live, do business and attend church and family gatherings. Teachers had to learn new ways to reach their students through computer screens while parents act as surrogate instructors and work from home too.

It has been challenging to say the least. I need peace on earth and goodwill toward all people. I need Christmas.

And then I think of the first Christmas, the very beginning of the reason for this season.

In a small village, a young girl found herself pregnant, and the angel-visited-and-now-I’m–with-child-story she told is outlandish. A virgin birth? Who can believe such a tale? Certainly not her parents, her neighbors or her betrothed. Her life was in danger since the man to whom she was pledged prepared to divorce her privately, taking no responsibility for this so-called miraculous conception. His honor was at stake, the reputation he had built and protected.

The place and the time of this old story were fraught with problems for the people of the living God in the land of Judah. Regulations changed without warning, harsh rulers cared little for man, woman or child. Taxes were unreasonable and only got worse. Scratching out a living just to survive was their way of life.

When Joseph took Mary as his wife, they traveled a long, hard journey on foot. They found no lodging upon arriving at Bethlehem. A dark, damp cave provided shelter. Possibly no midwife attended Mary, with Joseph her only help in birthing her first born.

Perhaps like me, these thousands of years later, they needed a little Christmas. And He came, tiny and helpless, crying for comfort and a mother’s milk. It seemed a strange way to save the world.

It still does. And yet it is the way of a loving God, come to the wanderers, the lost and dying, the confused and tired. He came to turn an upside down world right side up.

It doesn’t look like the world is right side up. The work is not completed. The children of the living God still struggle but with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Life is hard but not without hope. Death comes but with the promise of resurrection.

Jesus said there would be troubled times until He comes the second time. When He returns it will not be as helpless infant but as King of kings, Lord of lords. The Lion of the tribe of Judah will roar with power and authority. He will make all things right.

And we will sing Joy to the World, the Lord has come!

Monday grace

As it has been my habit to write a Thanksgiving Joy List in November, I wonder why I’ve not started sooner.

Making note of what we have to be grateful for isn’t my original idea. Ann Voscamp made it a mantra and a Bible study. I see Facebook posts doing the same. People give thanks in different ways. I like paper.

I drew a notebook from the shelf, took pen in hand, and I began to write:

This has been a crazy year, “wonky” as a friend says. The word seems appropriate. Coranvirus invaded the USA in March and the country shut down. I assumed a few weeks of being at home would not be hard. But it is mid November and the strangeness of social distance and restrictions on nearly everything is not my normal. Masks covering faces are common, a fashion statement even, and I want to see all of the smile, not half of it.

Politics got real ugly. Cities became volatile, chaos and destruction gone too far. Businesses run by real people are hurting. Riots took the focus off the point of protesters. People are divided. I doubt what I hear on the news because truth is relative to what someone wants me to believe. I don’t know what is true anymore.

Here at the Wright House, Sweet William is on a walker most of the time. His brother is very ill. I feel all of my 70 years. And my dear ones will not be coming home for Thanksgiving.

Yet, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is His Faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

Then I began to number the page and count.

  1. God is on His throne, high and lifted up, the train of His robe filling the temple.
  2. Kings rise and fall, but God remains, yesterday, today, and the forever of my tomorrows.
  3. Jesus, my Savior, came to bring His peace to the world, this household and my heart.
  4. The Holy Spirit indwells me, is my constant companion, comforter, teacher and guide. I am never alone.
  5. Sweet William, my husband of almost 49 years, with all our wounds and battle scars from all the storms and all the wars we’ve weathered, we are still together.
  6. – 10. Dear ones, though miles away . . . . . .

11. – 14 Extended family, cousins, their children and their children’s children . . . . . .
15. Piano students, music, the years of lessons that gave me the gift of playing the piano.
. . . . . . .
18. – 20. Friends: close in age who understand what it’s like; younger ones who are like daughters and sons of my heart; still younger ones who bring vigor and freshness and fun to us old folks, and for some reason want to spend time with us.
. . . . . . .
23. The little woods, its seasonal beauty, how it calms and refreshes me.
. . . . . . .
28. Maisie who makes us laugh, her gentle personality and liveliness, the way she loves us unconditionally with trusting eyes.
. . . . . . .
35. For toilet paper, hand sanitizer, alcohol, soap and water.
. . . . . . .
46. The gently used kitchen chairs bought at a yard sale.
. . . . . . .
51. White out.
. . . . . . .
54. The Farmers Market, fresh vegis, free-range eggs.
. . . . . . .
59. The library, so many books, friendly staff, curbside delivery, and Hoopla so I can listen while I work.
. . . . . . .
68. Surprise flowers growing where I did not plant them.
. . . . . . .
75. Next door neighbors who call us Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill, and their two boys, our littlest neighbors who bring a smile and sunshine on any cloudy day.
. . . . . . .
83. The light of a New Day, another beginning, fresh mercies.
84. Breathing in – deep breaths – and breathing out.
85. Indoor plumbing, hot showers, flushing toilets.
86. A new blue-grey roof.

The list goes on as I call to remembrance the mercy and grace of a God who gives good gifts even in a pandemic. The daily blessings remind me He has not left me, my loved ones, or this world unattended. He is working, always working.

I will keep writing this week, counting the big and small, the major and what seems insignificant. Because nothing is insignificant for a child of the most High God. He is involved in my life, the seconds, the days, the years.

He gives a full measure, pressed down, running over, not because I deserve it but because He is good. His love and kindness draw me to Him. I run to the mercy seat where He is enthroned and reigns eternal. His arms are open to me. I am welcomed into His embrace.

He is the life-giving fountain for this thirsty soul. He deserves my highest praise.

Give thanks with a grateful heart. Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.

Monday grace.

Monday grace

Honestly, sometimes I have no words.

Weeks pass and I struggle to put my thoughts down. My journal writing rambles as I try to make sense of the world and my own mind.

Concerns lay heavy. Prayer becomes like breathing. Life is hard while at the same time it is good and beautiful.

I cling to promises in Scripture, the pages of my Bible marked and familiar. I hold on for dear life, for myself and those I love. I know God is strong and He is faithful.

When the load feels especially heavy, I try to preach the truth to myself. It is a consistent effort. It’s easy to tell someone else what to do, and a major endeavor to do it myself. I plan to list daily blessings, there are so many, but sometimes I forget.

It is a season of change.

The trees in the yard are mostly bare from a rushing wind swirling leaves to the ground. Autumn is moving toward winter, the chill affecting tender plants and the landscape in the gardens. I reach for a warm scarf when I head outdoors.

Every season teaches and reminds me.

What can I learn from this present season of my life? That is the question I am asking myself. How can I be joyful? How can I serve faithfully? How can I love freely? How can I show kindness and patience? How can I be Jesus’ ambassador in the current climate?

Not by my own strength, that is for certain, for I am frail. I need a power beyond myself, a strength more that this body affords. And so my prayer becomes a request for the fullness of God to fill me, the Everlasting Father infusing the mortal and fallible, the weak being made strong.

It is an audacious request, yet I make it. I write the words of this weighty petition and place them before my hungry eyes. I want to see them with heart and mind, to remind myself to ask, to knock, to seek for the One and Only who fills my cup until it runs over.

” . . . that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” — Ephesians 3:19b NIV

“and you have been given fullness in Christ . . . “ — Colossians 2:10a NIV

All I need . . . I will find it in Jesus. Fill me, Lord.

For out of His fullness, the superabundance of His grace and truth, we have all received grace upon grace, spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, favor upon favor, and gift heaped upon gift. — John 1:16 AMP

Monday grace

The peak autumn colors have come and gone. Our hummingbird feeder hangs vacant. The grey days preview a coming change as frost touches tender annuals and golden leaves swirl to the ground. I recognize the feeling that can accompany overcast skies, and I fight the gloomy inclination. Seasons come, and seasons go.

Determined to choose joy, I turn on lights to dispel potential dreariness, light fragrant candles to engage the senses, and begin my Christmas list for friends and family. I try to imagine how I can enjoy the holidays while making them simpler.

As I turn the calendar day each morning, the passing of time mystifies me. Where are the days of October going? I heard someone say the last quarter of each year is about food, glorious food. I baked a pecan pie for Sweet William’s birthday and the Thanksgiving menu is already a vision dancing in my head.

I cut and cooked a cushaw, purchased at the farmers’ market, scraping pulp for pies and saving the seeds for next year’s planting. I make plans for the vining of the melon and cucurbita families. The weekend’s frost took out the unknown melon vine I planted too late. The morning glories that were glorious this summer also succumbed, leaving seeds for me to gather.

Last winter I made a list of smaller, doable jobs in the yard, and it proved to be productive. Instead of fighting my age, I’m learning to accept limitations and do tasks differently. I managed to pare down the gardens last year, making the yard not just manageable but enjoyable.

We celebrated Sweet William’s birthday three consecutive days last week, enjoying time with family and friends who brightened his days and make him feel loved. I’m a couple of years older than my dear husband, a fact that kept us apart while he dated the younger girls. He eventually got up the nerve to approach me, the “older woman,” and the rest is fifty years of history. I advised him to enjoy the last year of his sixties, because as a friend told me, they are not like the seventies. True, very true.

With only two weeks until the Presidential election, we watch the latest news developments. We voted last week, in person, and were proud to be Americans, gladly wearing our “I Voted” stickers. What an amazing country this is where God indeed shed His abundant grace.

I refuse the threatening anxiety about our country’s future. Studying Daniel for the last two months, the message is loud and clear that God is in charge. He knows the future because He planned it according to His perfect will and for His divine purpose. Daniel 2:21 says, “He changes the times and seasons; he removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding,” (CSB)

I want that kind of wisdom and knowledge, the ability to understand the words of this King of kings and Lord of lords. With determination, I rest in what He sustains, a firm foundation, proven again and again. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

His is the only direction and pathway. He is authentic reality. And He is the One and only who offers life everlasting, a gift through Jesus Christ.

I will take His way, believe His truth, and receive His life.