Be moved. Be changed. Love because you are loved.

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knight

Name Your Champion

When entering a tourney or jousting contest, a knight would often approach a fair maiden sitting in the crowd and ask to fight in her honor. The maiden would tie a token of her favor onto the knight’s lance, typically a ribbon, scarf, or one of her false sleeves (sometimes a brasserie or undergarment). The lady would use her family colors or embroider her own special wording or symbol of her devotion. The knight would tuck the token someplace safe, usually under his breastplate near his heart, before lowering his lance and barreling forward on his steed to unseat his opponent and win the maiden’s approval.

A knight who fights for his lady’s honor becomes her champion. Many historical romances have used the trope of a knight in shining armor, and for me, it never gets old. However, during the Middle Ages, Anglo-Norman law stated that a fight of arms would establish guilt or innocence of a crime, and those who couldn’t fight for themselves, the lame, weak, infirmed, or the elderly, could name a champion to fight in their stead.

We, too, have a champion, and His record is undefeated. He walked into the arena and picked us out of the crowd. He chose us, even though we are sinful, weak, and broken, and He asked to carry our honor. Deuteronomy 20:4 states, “For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

Jesus fought our battle and conquered death. He continues to wage a spiritual war against our enemies and will soon return in His glory to finish them off. All we must do is ask Him to be our champion—allow Him into our hearts to fight for us.

David and Goliath

We show Him a token of our favor, not by ribbons, scarves, or offerings, but by our faith. We may be the underdog, but because God champions us, we can stand tall and face our giants, knowing victory is the Lord’s.

“They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 1:19.

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My son flexing

Go Ahead and Flex

My son flexing at age 4

Three pull-ups. Some would see that as a challenge. While others would say, that’s not even a warmup. What’s next? My son’s New Years’ resolution was to do three pull-ups when he was ten years old. It took him two years to accomplish his goal, but now he’ll do fifteen to twenty rapid-fire as if they were nothing. 

Flexing doesn’t come easy. The body must first break down to build muscle. As the muscle fibers repair themselves, they heal back stronger. Faith can be the same way. When life throws a challenging crisis our way, our faith can flounder, doubts creep in, or in some way we break down, but then God lets us know He’s been by our side all along. Sometimes it’s easier to see how He sustained us after we’re through the worst. With experience, we can see His fingerprints on our lives, guiding us through difficulties. Our spiritual muscles grow, and we come out stronger in the end.

My son flexing at 16

“What if the circumstances you are asking God to change are the very circumstances God is using to change you?” – Mark Batterson

Like physical exercise, we, too, become stronger with each spiritual workout. As we develop the faith to climb over each hurdle, our recovery time will shorten. Problems that at one point seemed insurmountable will begin to appear smaller.

It doesn’t always mean the difficulty level will lessen. Significant challenges will still come. But when we look back on the struggles God has already pulled us through, we’ll know we can stand firm on the solid rock of Jesus and face fear, knowing that nothing in this universe or the next can separate us from God’s loving arms.

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heartshaped cloud

You Matter

Cloud-shaped heart

You matter to God.

You’re His child, and you’re on His mind constantly.

He’s concerned about you. His heart breaks for whatever struggles you’re going through. He knows your pain intimately and personally.

He’s witnessed your every deed and hears your every thought, and if we’re truthful, we’ll admit there have been some terrible ones, yet He loves us and cares for us despite our faults, failures, and shortcomings.

Because you matter to God.

Jesus took on our sins. He took on our failings, wicked thoughts, lies, cheating, stealing, jealousy, hatred, lust, adultery, and murder (in our thoughts and actions). He brought them all to the cross, so we could be washed clean by His blood.

Because He loves us.

“I will never leave you nor forsake you,” God promises in Joshua 1:5.

When there was an earthquake and the chains fell off Paul and Silas in prison, the jailer awoke and thought everyone had escaped. He drew his sword and was about to kill himself instead of facing his failure, but Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself. We’re still here.” God cared about the jailer who’d locked up Paul—the man God had orchestrated to write over half of the New Testament. If a miracle like chains falling off presented itself, the first thing most people would do is flee. I would have hightailed it out of there, but Paul and Silas stayed and risked being placed back in chains to offer a jailer a chance at eternal life because he mattered to God (Acts 16:25-30).

Matthew 10:29 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Jesus went out of his way to travel through Samaria. He had an important meeting with a woman at a well, except she didn’t know it yet. She drew water during the heat of the day and after the other women had returned to the village so she could escape their judgmental looks and snide remarks. We don’t know why she’d moved from husband to husband, but Jesus mentions she’s had five. She’d shouldered the shame of being rejected as a wife and loose morals for many years. Jesus traveled out of his way into lands where Jews wouldn’t traverse, because this Samaritan woman mattered to Him. He asked her for a drink of water, but His true mission was to offer her living water (John 4:4-26).

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1

You are God’s child and He rejoices over you. You may have struggles, but they are a reminder to lean on God and not your own understanding.

Because your life matters to God.

I will repeat it one more time to let the truth sink into your soul.

You are His child. His beloved.

You matter to God.

Heart-shaped cherry tree in bloom

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tire ruts

Get Out of That Rut!

Ever felt stuck in a rut? The idiom comes from the early pioneer days when covered wagon wheels would get stuck in the grooves or channels of a dirt road where prior wagons had passed. The wheels would get bogged down by the deeper holes or forced along a specific track.

Ruts can be an emotional state. As much as I look forward to summer relaxation and fun, there’s a part of me that has been on the go, driving kids to sports events, youth groups, and attending end-of-the-year school functions. My life has been what’s next, next, next for so long that when I can’t list off a few things that need to be done immediately, I start to feel edgy. I have to force myself not to create busy work. It takes a couple of weeks before I can relax and be okay without running around at Mach two with my hair on fire (to quote from Top Gun).

In his book, MaxOut, entrepreneur and business personality, Ed Mylett, talks about how we move to what is familiar to us – specifically with emotional states. The question is, what state is our status quo? Is it angered, stressed, fearful, anxious, worried, or depressed? Are we returning to harmful emotions because they’re familiar, like how dogs return to their vomit? How do we move toward the good emotions, like those derived from the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

youn girl thinking

God, in His goodness, gave us the answer in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” I know what you’re probably thinking (or at least I was). Easier said than done. True, but when we also look at how God made our brains, the genius of our creator is awe-inspiring.

We have a Reticular Activating System or RAS, where our brains focus on what is deemed essential and filter out most other stimuli. The RAS is why when you get a particular hairstyle or specific fingernail color, it pops up everywhere. Ring tones are a famous example; once you choose one, it sounds like everyone has the same one. This is because we’ve told our brains to look for this information and not let it slide by us.

If we concentrate on what is worrisome or stressful, our brains will filter for anxious stimuli. If we focus on what is excellent or praiseworthy, our brains will reward us with positive and encouraging stimuli. When we ruminate on our dreams and God’s purpose for our lives, opportunities, connections, and learning lessons will pop up on our radar.

Over time, by merely redirecting our thoughts, we can jump the rails of our negative rut and get on a life-giving path.

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man adjusting tie

Designed for Humble Confidence

Oh, Lord, it’s Hard to be Humble When you’re Perfect in Every Way is a song by country singer Mac Davis that my dad used to sing to my brother and me with a smile and a teasing glint in his eye. The lyrics are a satirical look at the life of being a rock star. If you listen to the words about enjoying looking in the mirror or how he’d have a girlfriend, but the women are in awe of him, you’d either shake your head or chuckle at the egotistical self-confidence.

While this song is a little extreme, the Bible tells us to have a humble spirit, but does that mean it’s wrong to hold self-confidence? James 4:10 says to “humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you,” and Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5).” (More on meekness from my past blog.) Can we be humble and confident at the same time?

The distinction between being egotistical and confident is that confidence is not about us. It’s about whose we are. Being self-assured isn’t a bad thing. It’s respecting yourself and who God made you to be. We are all uniquely and wonderfully made in God’s image with unique giftings and talents that God arranged for us to do good works. Knowing we were made for a purpose and loved by our creator should allow us to stand tall and walk with a swagger. Hebrews 4:16 (ESV) states, “Let us then with confidence draw near the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.”

Where self-confidence goes wrong is when we emphasize the word self. “For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. It’s not about our abilities. Confidence is about the work God is doing through us. The realization that we are fallible humans fulfilling God’s purpose gives us the confidence to admit when we’re wrong and adjust accordingly to get back on the right path.

confident woman

Confidence also communicates to those around us how we expect to be treated. Nothing riles up my mama bear instincts more than someone mistreating or disrespecting my boys. God feels the same way about His children. Matthew 18:6 warns evil doers to watch out, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Our God-given confidence and self-respect communicate to a bad boyfriend or girlfriend that we are a child of a mighty, all-powerful God and that they should fear His wrath.

Mac Davis’s song is a hoot, but we can walk tall knowing we’re God’s children, and it’s not as hard to be humble, knowing a perfect God made us.

Formidable Advice for Graduates

Graduates

Gowns have been ironed and pressed. Parties have been planned. Parents have purchased their tickets and reserved their seats. The commencement speakers have practiced their speeches. Four years plus have been working toward this one moment where students will rise and move that tassel from one side to the other. Graduation marks the crucial moment when a person is launched into their future filled with dreams, hopes, and advice.

At the Dudley household, we have a list of priorities, and it hangs on our wall, citing the following:

Dudley list of Priorities
  1. Love and obey God.
  2. Accept responsibility for your choices (or actions)
  3. Have a good self-image
  4. Have a positive mental attitude.
  5. Have a thankful spirit.

If I had to pick which of these priorities to pass along as advice to a recent graduate, it would be number one and two because, inevitably, the two are linked.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). He bore the weight of the responsibility of our sins and nailed them to the cross. Taking on this accountability is one of the reasons why He holds dominion over all the earth. Christ as the head of the church is not just a statement of authority but also a statement of responsibility. Jesus chose the responsibility of loving and protecting us. By sacrificing himself on the cross so that we no longer are crushed by the weight of our sins, He demonstrated His love and, in turn, earned the faith of His followers.

We will be recognized by our fruit. Matthew 7:16 says, “Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Jesus’s actions produced good fruit, and it has been attracting people to His goodness for centuries. Graduates should note and emulate his actions because Leaders will also be known by their fruit. Good leaders take responsibility for their actions and provide and protect those who are under their care. In doing so, they establish the respect and trust of those who follow their lead.

Both King Saul and King David sinned. Some might even believe King David’s sin was worse because he murdered a man to conceal that he’d committed adultery and got another man’s wife pregnant. The difference between the two Kings was that Saul blamed his problems on David and others, whereas David took responsibility for his actions and repented.

Headship works the same way. If the man follows Ephesians 5:25, he is to love his wife as Christ loves the church, and that’s saying something because Jesus died for his bride (the church). God isn’t asking all leaders to sacrifice their lives, but the man is asked to protect his family. A man who hides the fact he didn’t pay the electric bill and the power gets shut off because he spent the money on beer and lotto tickets loses his authority. In contrast, a man who puts his family’s needs before his own proves through accepting responsibility that he’s worthy of their respect and trust.

My advice to all recent grads: Go and get recognized by your good fruit and may God bless your efforts.

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.”  – Luke 6:45.

deserted island

Just a Few Miracles

deserted island

Try to find a fictional book that isn’t about relationships. Man-verses-nature stories, like Cast Away or The Martian, where the hero fights to survive in isolation, might come to mind. However, in both movies, the struggle was to return to their friends and loved ones and how they handled the absence of personal interaction. In Cast Away, Chuck Nolan (played by Tom Hanks) forms an attachment to a volleyball he calls Wilson because he’s so desperate for connection.

The need for relationships even trumps the need for survival, which is why Chuck sails out on a sketchy raft of his own making even though he’d learned to survive on a deserted island. It’s also why Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) risks death by puncturing his suit to propel himself toward the rescue spacecraft. God created us to be social beings, and we were made for relationships. Interconnection is part of the great commandment, Love the Lord with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourselves.

My friend, Kristen Carlson, pointed out to me in Mark 6:5 the extent to that Jesus treasured relationships. While Jesus’s healings and miracles wow us, they’re secondary compared to His true purpose. Mark 6:5 states, “And he [Jesus] could do no mighty work there [His hometown, Nazareth], except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” Healing sick people wasn’t the mighty work. The mighty work was drawing people to God and having a real relationship with him.  

The word except in the passage is like a shrug, so He just laid hands on a few sick and healed them. It reads as if mere healings were settling for something lesser. Jesus’s aim was on eternity, not on the here and now. It’s easy to focus on the ache and pain that plagues us at the moment and turn a blind eye to the malnourished souls that are perishing. 1 John 3:1 dares us to, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

Unlike Chuck Nolan’s wife in Cast Away, whose fiancée remarried, or Mark Watney’s crew teasing him about his stench, God spreads His arms wide, ready to lavish His love on his beloved children and welcome them home.

dad carrying son in his arms

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Girl stepping on camera lens

Rebellion Vs. Righteous Anger

Girl about to step on camera

My friend’s hands shook as she showed me the pages of the book Concussion that her son had been assigned to read as a sophomore in high school. She’d highlighted the pages (upon pages) of vulgar language that would deem a movie rated R. Although her son wouldn’t be old enough to get into an R-rated film, The school system assigned the reading of these offensive words as homework. No parental guidance letter, warning notice, or authorization signature form had been sent out. My friend asked for prayer before she confronted the school to protect her children’s minds and guard their hearts.

It’s easy to believe that evil happens somewhere else. It’s not in our town, neighborhood, or home. We’re stunned and often unprepared when something hits close to home. But the Bible warns us to be “sober and vigilant because our adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Being safe doesn’t mean isolating ourselves and hiding from what’s out there. It’s not pretending that life is hunky-dory or staying quiet and complying. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

We must Resist.
There is a difference between being rebellious and confronting out of righteous anger. Righteous anger doesn’t let the devil roam through our cities, schools, and homes. First, however, we must submit to and humble ourselves before God to know His will. Second, we are to resist, which often means taking action and confronting evil. Nehemiah told the people of Jerusalem, “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your friends, your families, and your homes!” (Nehemiah 5:14) Nehemiah had to confront Tobiah and Sanballat. These evil men had done everything in their power, including spreading lies, threatening, and an assassination attempt, to keep Nehemiah from rebuilding the walled gate to protect Jerusalem.

We don’t battle alone.
Chapter three of Nehemiah lists the families repairing the gates and sections of wall, these families were spread out, most working remotely on the areas near their homes, but they were working to accomplish the same goal. Nehemiah instructed them to continue fixing their section on the wall. But when the alarm sounded, they were to come running and defend each other. We don’t fight alone. God fights with us, and so does our spiritual family, not only in the physical realm but in the spiritual. 1 Peter 5:9 says, “Stand firm against him [the enemy] and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.”

Templar Knight

Keep your spiritual weapons handy.
It is not time to put down our weapons. We must keep putting on the full armor of God daily and stay vigilant. Covid exposed many issues and activated many people, but how quickly we can fall back into our complacency. Just like Nehemiah, we must have our weapons ready and with us at all times. Nehemiah 4:23 says they had them, “even when we went for water.” So too, must we continue to carry our spiritual weapons because our fight isn’t against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).

Call out the lies.
When Sanballat and Tobiah couldn’t stop Nehemiah from finishing the wall, they turned to intimidation and spreading lies. Sanballat wrote letters to the king, claiming Nehemiah was trying to overthrow the king’s authority and install himself as the sovereign ruler. Nehemiah didn’t back down, and he didn’t apologize so that he wouldn’t be trashed on social media (or by whatever means gossip traveled back then). He didn’t worry about appearances. His only concern was for how God felt, so Nehemiah spoke the truth and called Sanballot out, “You know you are lying. There is no truth in any part of your story.” (Nehemiah 6:8)

John Adams once wrote to his wife Abigail, “I must study politics and war so that our sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” We must confront evil now while we have a chance by a peaceable means. If we don’t, then we’re only kicking the can down the road and forcing our children to have to battle evil by another means in the future. Author of Living for Legacy,Brian Bullock, says, “Building a legacy isn’t for the weak.” It’s not easy confronting school systems, bad boyfriends (or girlfriends), or tyranny in our workplaces or government. It’s not always easy to stand up and speak the truth, but don’t let complacency take root.

We can take courage because Romans 8:31 states, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

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College students

What do You Want to do for the Rest of Your Life?

My oldest son is starting to look at colleges. Stacks of brochures arrive every day in our mailbox with smiling faces of young adults on the front, all of them stating they have state-of-the-art programs. The pressure to measure up increases as grades, essays, and S.A.T. scores threaten to limit your options or categorize kids into specific levels.

My son asked me a line of questions with an underlying theme, do I have what it takes to make it? I reassured him that he did. We’ve done our best to set him up for life, but for the first time, his future will be entirely up to him, which can make for some scary decisions for a seventeen-year-old.

Raising an Entrepreneur Cover

Margot Machol Bisnow, in her book Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers, and Change Makers, argues that parents often fear that if their kids pursue their passion, they won’t make enough money to live. Parents can’t help but have heart palpitations when their child or grandchild says, “when I grow up, I’m going to be a social influencer or play video games for a living.” Parents long for their children to pursue their passions but also make enough money to be productive bill-paying adults, not living in our basements. Bisnow states, “someone who loves something enough and works hard enough at it will find a way to turn it into a living… I [Bisnow] also believe they will never be great at something if they don’t work nonstop at it, and they will never work nonstop if they don’t love it.”

While I agree with what Bisnow says, I also believe that our passions can lead us astray. I went through a phase where I was passionate about the color purple, and almost everything in my wardrobe was a shade of that color, but thankfully, that passion faded. I can say the same about art and dance. While those skills and abilities were at one point my passion, they have made for better hobbies and would have quickly become a chore if tied to my income.

So how do we decide what we want to do with our lives? How do we help guide our children and train them up in the way they should go? (Proverbs 22:6)

Teach them to pursue God.

It’s that simple, yet complicated. Pursue God and He will show you your purpose. The word pursue is critical. It doesn’t mean tossing out a quick prayer; God, help me pick a major. To pursue means to chase after. I think of the woman who’d bled for twelve years who sought to be healed by Jesus. The streets had been crowded that day as Jesus was passing through. People were trying to get close, bumping him, rubbing elbows, but they weren’t the ones being healed. It was a woman who sought out Jesus with the faith that if she merely touched his cloak, she would be healed. It was only then that Jesus felt power leave him (Luke 8:43-48). It was her desperate pursuit that brought on the miracle.

When we walk in our purpose, it becomes a passion. There is joy in living out God’s will for our lives, but it doesn’t come without challenges. David still had to face a giant, but he ran out onto the field two meet Goliath. David was ready for battle, ready for his destiny, whereas Goliath walked. David also had to wait to become king. He started as the harp boy playing music to soothe King Saul. David had ups and downs winning battles but ran for his life when King Saul became jealous. After basically getting fired and evicted, David met his mighty men, who would then stand by him when he became king.

We, too, will have ups and downs, failures and triumphs. God puts us in different situations, sometimes to grow ourselves and sometimes to help others grow. We shouldn’t be afraid to start small with humble beginnings or fail. God has made us resilient. That’s why a righteous man can fall seven times and still get back up again. Whatever path we choose, we know that God will direct our steps if we pursue Him and His will for our lives. We can rest assured that He has plans for us and will give us hope and a future.

thumbs up

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icicles

Ice Doesn’t Melt at 31 Degrees

We had our first snow up in New England the day after Thanksgiving. There’s nothing like frosty weather to set us in the mood for Christmas. For some of us (usually those who still have shopping to do), the big day comes much too fast. For others, especially over-excited children, Christmas day can’t arrive fast enough. When my boys were younger, we always had to do a Christmas chain or advent calendar so they could see the days getting closer. Otherwise, I’d be plagued with, “How many more days?”

Waiting can be excruciating.

When I train any new greeters to the first impressions team at my church, I have them envision the father of the prodigal son watching the horizon, day in and day out, hoping to spy the silhouette of his son in the distance. Or I have them picture a mother who gets on her knees every morning and in earnest prays for her son or daughter to come back to the Lord. Every day they prayed, and each day they battled discouragement when nothing changed. However, this could be the day. The prodigal son could wake up and realize he doesn’t need to starve to death and can return home to his father’s house. This could be the day that a daughter, who had nowhere else to turn, remembers her friend who invited her to church. Today could be the day, and if you were the mother whose knees were worn from praying or the father whose eyes were strained from staring at the horizon, how would you want your son or daughter to be welcomed?

Waiting can be frustrating

dog waiting

Nothing happens to water until it reaches 32 degrees. Until that marker, ice won’t melt and water won’t freeze, but once the temperature hits that degree, things start to happen. Life can be a lot like water. We wait and we wait, and nothing seems to happen. I remember growing so frustrated in hoping for a book contract, questioning whether the desire I felt to write was actually God’s plan for my life. Discouraged was an understatement, but I kept putting my fingers to the keyboard. I’d written five and a half books (some of which will never leave my computer) before a publishing house reached out to me and then a second shortly after—all those years of hoping and waiting, and then wham, three books released in six months.

Waiting doesn’t mean forgotten

Joseph waited in a jail cell for a crime he didn’t commit, and after interpreting the baker and cupbearer’s dreams, he asked them to remember him so he could be freed. What happened after the baker and cupbearer were released from jail? Well, the baker was beheaded, but the cupbearer promptly forgot the man who’d helped him, so Joseph continued to wait in prison. It wasn’t until Pharaoh needed a dream interpreted that the cupbearer remembered Joseph and Joseph was brought before the king. In all that waiting, God never forgot about Joseph.

Waiting is a development period

Waiting can be a time for learning, developing, and understanding ourselves better. With me, I learned a lot about writing (what to do and what not to do) through those first books and by reading everything about the craft I could find. While waiting in the jail, Joseph was put in charge of managing the prisoners, which developed skills to help him later manage all of Egypt. He also grew in humility and wisdom. As a boy, Joseph hadn’t used discretion when telling his brothers about his dreams that they would someday bow down to him. Having three boys myself, I understand how such comments from a younger brother wouldn’t be well-received. God used this waiting period to teach Joseph and change his heart toward his brothers.

If you’re in a waiting period, God hasn’t forgotten about you or your prayers. Use the time to understand what God is trying to teach you, and don’t give up hope. Ice won’t melt at 31 degrees, but a lot can change with one degree.

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