Hiking Out Life Lessons

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” I John 5:4

“You have to go through the muck.” Behind me, Michelle was of course speaking about the spiritual parallels for the current situation we found ourselves in—specifically, my two dear friends and I were going through, well, the muck. Literally.

Our families recently visited Vermont for a long weekend, staying in a house together that sat nestled in a community filled with trees, dirt roads, and, to our joy, hiking trails. This particular morning all twelve of us decided (well, ok, the moms kinda made an executive decision) that we would spend an hour or two hiking the four-mile trail to the top of a mountain.

Within minutes the kids had disappeared, leaving the six adults in their dust. As the adults journeyed, we commented on the change in the terrain the further we walked. Slowly the wide path narrowed. Slowly the small rocks and graveled path grew large roots and sprung ginormous rocks right in the middle of the path. What was that about!? There was no sign posted that said, “Warning, this path will become dangerous.”

We made it pretty far successfully, but then the men decided they’d had enough and would meet us at the bottom. We were about a quarter-mile to the top—or so we had been told. As the three of us brave women continued, the path turned mucky. Hence, the beginning of our spiritual parallel inspirations.

“You have to go through the muck to get to the end, and the end is glorious.”

“We all fall down (ok, none of us actually fell, but admittedly, there were slippings and three pairs of wet feet), but we have to pick ourselves up and stay on the path.”

“Keep going because there’s a great reward at the end.”

“There will be roots that pop up and the rocks will make you stumble, but press on.”

The parallels were endless. Michelle and Jill began to spew them out one after another. It was just enough for me to keep up with them as I typed my notes into my phone (thank God for cell phones). This continued until we found ourselves making references to the straight and narrow path that was not very well traveled. Because, uh, well, that’s just where we realized we had landed. The first indication was the overgrown ferns that our legs swished through. But it wasn’t until the “no trespassing” signs posted to trees that we really knew we were on the wrong path—another spiritual parallel!

Fortunately, it was easy enough to retrace our steps, and, with the help of one of our teenagers (thank God again for cell phones), we made it back to where we had missed the turn-off. A little late, but after more climbing and huffing and puffing, we made it to the summit. Exhausted, we grabbed a quick selfie and rested on the rock, soaking in the breathtaking view of God’s creation.

View from the top 2

Does It Matter What We Think? I have a T-shirt that displays a mountain, and the words “You Claimed the Victory” are written across it. I got it for free last year at a Christian music festival to support a band (I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember who, but I am eternally grateful, for this is one of my faves). The shirt is a constant reminder of what happens when we persist through the muck. On that mountain, we persisted through the muck, the annoying flying bugs, the steep rocks that required support from nearby trees (I am so thankful those roots remained deep in the ground), and getting lost. But as we kept our mind on the reward, ignoring the wet feet and mucky pathway, our spirits remained high. We knew what awaited us at the end. We claimed the victory, and saw it! And let me tell you, it was worth every hardship.

What about you? Has God shown you a spiritual parallel somewhere in nature? Drop me a comment. I’d love to hear it!

A Life of Rocks

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

My son was helping me in the garden one morning, transplanting a very large, not-yet bloomed hydrangea. As he dug, the shovel would often clink against a rock. “I love New England,” he said, sarcastically, after one such clink. It’s true, our yard is full of rocks—large ones, medium ones, and small ones. As I dug up another smaller one, leaving the larger ones to my brawny son, the rocks in my garden took on a different meaning. My poor boy, I started to gush out everything God showed me about the rocks. Hoping it wasn’t just for him, my son replied, “You should put that in your blog.” I guess he didn’t think it was something he needed! Or maybe he did and thought others should hear it too. So, here it is.

Our lives are filled with “rocks.” The rocks symbolize the trials we encounter along the path. Just as the rocks in my garden varied in size and shape, so do our trials. Sometimes it seems I’m hit with something out of the blue and at the time it seems insurmountable, like my husband needing a kidney transplant. Those are the times we may need a little extra help. I wasn’t strong enough to pull some of the rocks out from underground, but thankfully my son was there to help me.

Sometimes the rocks can be flatter but cover a large area. Can you remember a time when you went through something that wasn’t terrible, but enough of a burden on you? How long did it last? In my experience, they can seem to last forever. It wasn’t life or death, manageable, but definitely not enjoyable.

On that day we worked in the garden, most of the rocks sat just slightly below the surface. A few times, however, we hit the deep ones. It took my son a lot of digging and hard work to scoop those out with the shovel. Most of the time they were large, too. We may encounter small bumps in the road of life but other times we might feel like something slams us so deep into our core that we wonder how in the world we’ll be able to heal.

life of rocks pic 2

Does It Matter What We Think? There’s no doubt about it, life is going to have its troubles. Just like my yard is going to have its rocks. My question for you is, how are you going to handle those rocks? Maybe you’re going to ask someone stronger and more capable to help you when you stumble upon a large boulder. Or maybe you’ll keep some where you found them, digging around them, pretending they aren’t there as you hide them under heaps of dirt. Jesus tells us we will face trials. But he then goes on to encourage us to take heart, because He has overcome the world. As long as we find our rest in Him, we can be assured that when we stumble upon the rocks of life, we can deal with them by removing them and continuing on, stronger, and more mature than before.

 

 

 

Photo by Josh Gordon on Unsplash

Overcoming Fear During Times of Trouble

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely…if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8

“The death toll has risen to …”. “Over a thousand new cases since yesterday.” “Stay home.”

How do you feel reading those statements? Yucky? Depressed? Anxious?

Me too. There’s a reason Paul encourages us to think about certain things. And not just think about them, but the New King James Version uses the word “meditate.” What does it mean to meditate? The Strong’s Dictionary defines it as, “to attend to, practice” or “be diligent in.” In other words, consistently practice, focusing all your attention on something.

When we practice something it’s so we can improve. When we study, we are diligently reading the material or practicing math problems. I can tell you it probably won’t be easy in the beginning. You might have to think about what you’re thinking. But over time, as we practice and purposefully think about the good things, those things that are praiseworthy, the feelings of fear and worry will be replaced with peace and joy, even as we continue to go through a difficult situation.

Blog pic lovely

Does It Matter What We Think? If I’ve learned one thing during this time, it’s how utterly important it is to take each and every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. When I allow myself to meditate on the statistics and what the media is bombarding us with, fear quickly pushes itself in. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

So, what can we think about when there’s a pandemic surrounding us? How can we meditate on good things when all we see are bad things? Here are a few suggestions. First of all, turn off the news. Stop Googling every ache and symptom you feel. Think about the goodness of God in your life. Are you healthy? Is your family healthy? Do you have a job or are you receiving an unemployment check? Do you have food on the table? If you said no to all of those, look outside and it won’t take long to find God’s love and mercy all around. Is the sun shining? Is the rain watering our earth? Are the trees budding and flowers beginning to bloom? Do you hear the birds singing? God created these for our enjoyment as well. If you still find it difficult to meditate on any of these things, call a friend or family member just to say hi. You will be amazed at how good it feels to let someone else know you’re thinking about them.

What are you doing to meditate on the good things? I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Photo by Alan Emery on Unsplash

You Are What You Think

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Proverbs 23:7

This month I really felt I needed to go back to the very beginning. Back to the reason why I started this blog in the first place. Read the verse above again. It’s not difficult to understand, the words are simple (don’t let the old “eth” scare you-the word is simply, “thinks”). Simple words, possibly a bit of a complex deeper meaning—or is it?

“I want a job that makes me feel like I’m doing something useful.” “My mother makes me feel like crap.” “My spouse makes me feel like crap.” “I’m just a nobody and don’t matter.” “I’m too shy.” “I’m too out-spoken.” Any of these hit a nerve? If not, can you think of one that does?

Today I want to tell you that we need to stop saying and thinking these things! Right now. Believe it or not, the damage they’re causing in you is more than you can imagine. It’s time we take charge of our feelings and emotions. After all, they’re our feelings, and our emotions. Not our boss’s, spouse’s, or anybody else’s. That means we have a say as to how to control them. Isn’t that great news?

If you’re like me, you might be thinking, if that person just stopped, I’d be fine. Or, if I just had a job that appreciated me, I’d be happy. Truth, honey? No, you wouldn’t. You’d find something else to complain about and to make you feel just as miserable.

There is only one thing that can change this around, and, believe it or not, it’s not our circumstances. It’s our thoughts.

mark-koch-KiRlN3jjVNU-unsplash

Does It Matter What We Think? The Bible says so. Members of the medical profession have also found it to be true. And I believe it. Problem is, sometimes—okay, often—it’s hard for me to do. It’s almost as if there’s something physically preventing me from thinking good thoughts. Are you with me?

That’s the enemy trying to keep us whining and complaining, feeling miserable about ourselves as we develop ulcers and headaches. I don’t know about you, but I’m done with letting the enemy rule my mind.

Do this with me, if you dare. I don’t normally do this in my blogs, but I’m going to provide a list of a few confessions for you below (all right, probably more than just a few). This will only work if you actually take the next step, but I want to help you. I want you to have victory over your thoughts, and live the way God created you to live happily and at peace even in the face of our mountains. Hebrews 10:23 encourages us to, “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (italics mine)

What do you need to do?

First, write down the pertinent ones for your life. Hang them or post them somewhere visible. You can also put them in your notes on your phone, just be careful because that’s not always as visible as somewhere like your bathroom mirror, car visor, or kitchen window. Also, find more promises in the Bible that relate to what’s going on in your life. Remember, this is just a small sample.

Second, speak them out loud—that’s what a confession is. Daily. Multiple times a day, in fact.

Third, sit back and watch your life turn around. The circumstances might not change, but your attitude and outlook on them will, and you will begin to find happiness, no matter what falls down around you. Simple, right? Here’s the list.

  1. I am strong and courageous. (Joshua 1:9)
  2. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14)
  3. Everything I lay my hand to prospers. (Deuteronomy 28:8)
  4. My spouse (name) loves me and praises me. Ephesians 5:28, Proverbs 31:28)
  5. The Lord is my shield and the lifter of my head. (Psalm 3:3)
  6. My heart is cheerful, which is good medicine. (proverbs 17:22)
  7. I have the peace Jesus gave me. I will not be afraid. (John 14:27)
  8. God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
  9. In God I live and move and exist. I am His child. (Acts 17:28)
  10. Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:18)
  11. I have a friend who stays with me closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)
  12. I am in perfect peace because I am focused on You, because I trust in You. (Isaiah 26:3)
  13. I am loved. God has inscribed me on the palms of His hands. (Isaiah 49:16)

That’s it!! I’d love to hear your testimony as you begin to be transformed by the renewing of your mind!

First Test of the New Year—Choose Obedience

When was the last time you picked up a used cigarette off the ground to throw in the trash? Too gross? Ok, how about a smashed soda can? Old twist tie? Piece of Styrofoam?

Within the first few days of the new year I had my first test. I was coming to the end of my run and I happened to look at the side of the road, (isn’t it funny how sometimes things “happen”?). A small piece of paper (or Kleenex) lay there staring up at me as I passed. That little voice inside my head started talking and told me to turn around and go back and pick it up. Ew gross. After inspecting it for grossness, it looked clean enough so I obeyed. I felt good. Until two seconds later, my eye caught another piece of garbage. “Pick it up.” This happened several more times, until finally, I attempted to maintain eye contact with the road far ahead of me, just in case there might be something more to grab. At this point, I already had a flattened soda can that acted as a tray for all my other “collectibles.” It didn’t work, as the voice, which I knew to be God’s, told me once more to look down and gather the rubbish.

Arriving at my driveway balancing the little sculpture, I hustled up the slight incline, focused intently on the garbage can. I had never been so happy to see that big, green can. After dumping the trash, anxious to wash my hands, that little voice spoke again. Really? I looked down and saw small pieces of broken wood and other bits that had for whatever reason missed the garbage can, which sat, I might add, only inches away. Okay, God, I understand. I’ll pick them up. All of them.

During my clean-up time God showed me something. He showed me that this test was to see if I would be able to take care of the small things in front of me, before giving me anything larger. He very clearly asked, “how can I trust you with people’s souls if I can’t trust you to take care of the garbage right in front of you.” Ouch.

Blog Choose Obedience Garbage pic

Does It Matter What We Think? God has a plan for me, just like He has a plan for each one of us. But are we willing to deal with the messy stuff of life in our everyday paths? Or, to put it the way Lucinda Secrest McDowell asks in her book Life-Giving Choices, “Is God worth our obedience, even in the toughest of times?” If the answer is no, or not sure, how can we be ready to fulfill all the other great things He has waiting for us?

After cleaning up my yard, I did a little celebration dance. Yep, I did. Why? Because I passed my first test of the new year and it felt so good. God is worth our obedience, even when cleaning up garbage. I encourage you today to join me and focus on being obedient—then wait and see God move!

Thankful For The Not-So-Thankful

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

I pulled the door shut and dropped my head against the seat. Taking a deep breath, I started the engine and sat for a moment, letting the cares of the day roll away like the waves at low tide. What was the problem? I wanted this. All of it. And yet, here I sat, complaining.

As I drove home, the Lord whispered into my heart a request for thanksgiving. Not just for anything, but specifically for that place I had just left in my dust. From past experience, I knew that I could either resist His request and continue feeling sorry for myself, which would do nobody good especially when I arrived home (you know that saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”), or give myself a quick pep talk and pull my thoughts out of the gutter. I chose the latter.

“Thank you so much, Lord, for this wonderful opportunity. Thank you for the time it has given me to grow and prepare for the next season you have waiting for me. Thank you for the things I will continue to learn from this experience. I know it will make me to be a better person, and for that reason I am grateful for this time.” Immediately my mood shifted and peace filled me.

There are times of sowing, and times of harvest. Times to travel through the wilderness, fully relying on God, waiting for Him to lead, and times of rest in the Promised Land of a situation. Blessings overflow and it’s easy for our joy to be full because of all we have at that time. Right now, God has brought me into the wilderness, for a time of “preparation.”

Any waiting time can be difficult. I remember my wedding day, anxiously awaiting the evening hours when I could finally walk down the aisle. I remember waiting forty weeks for both my children to arrive into this world. Why does it take that long till birth? Preparation. Doctors have spent countless hours preparing for their medical exams. I wonder how many hours law students actually spend studying to pass the bar. Life is filled with times of preparation in the wilderness and times of bounty. But what really matters is when God calls us to the wilderness, will we accept it with joy or with complaining?

Wilderness

Does It Matter What We Think? I know without a doubt God is preparing me for the next step. Don’t ask me what that next step is. I couldn’t tell you. Is it always fun? Nope. Do I ever want to cry? Heck yeah. Do I trust Him? For certain. And that’s what I will focus on. I trust the Lord with all my heart, and I can rest in the fact that He knows what’s best for me. If I waste time whining and complaining, anxiously longing for the blessings at the end, I will miss the journey. And you know what? I’ve come to realize that God actually wants us to enjoy the journey too. Let’s not waste another day wishing for something to come in the future. Live for today, filled with thanksgiving, and enjoy the journey by fully resting in Him. I can promise you it’s absolutely worth it!

A Warrior’s Hands

“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” Psalm 127:4

“Mom, check out this hotel.”
I stopped mid-step on my way by and admired my son’s handiwork. “Oh cool, is that a pool?” For the next five minutes I watched and listened as he took me on a virtual tour of his new hotel. My son is fourteen, not forty.  His hotel was created in Minecraft, not on a professional architectural website. Why would I care about something he made in a video game?

Because I believe it’s important to be an involved parent. Do I sit and play a video game for hours, or watch intently someone else play? Of course not! Then why did I interrupt my agenda, again, to express interest in his game? That’s exactly why—it’s his game. I want to take an interest in the same things my kids are interested in, whether it be a video game, who’s dating who, or even their social media.

Recently we encountered a little snafu with one of our kids and social media (I wasn’t even looking for it but thank God, He dropped it right in my lap). It had to do with certain followings and posts that others were posting. Let me tell you, this was almost the last thing I wanted to do that night, right up there with kissing a snake. But if I didn’t, who would? Thinking about the lasting effects on my kids if I don’t play an active, engaged role now is enough to motivate me into trying to be the best parent I can. Even if it means at the time, I seem like the worst parent.

After this social media incident, we had a long talk with our child. It was amazing. They agreed, understood, had not intended any harm but saw our perspective, and in fact the next day had already made changes to that account. I shudder to think if I hadn’t checked the feed, what kind of attractive garbage would still be filling that young soul.

archer shooting arrows

Does It Matter What We Think? I’ve been reminded to ask myself the question, “Am I focusing my thoughts more on the things that don’t matter, earthly things, or the eternal things like being a good steward of the treasures God gave me to care for until they’re ready to spread their wings and fly away?” (Okay, so I don’t think about it quite in those words, but you get my point). All too often I think we, as parents, want to give our kids privacy—to foster independence. And, we don’t want to be seen as the meddling parent. I want to encourage you, it’s not meddling! You’re doing something much more worthy and rewarding. You’re parenting! My kids expect random checks of their cell phones. I ask them questions about social media posts. And I expect open lines of communication in return. At the end of my short time of (hopefully) great influence, I want to be like the warrior in Psalms and shoot my bright arrows into a dark world, confident they will soar.

Alert and Ready

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

Sleep had almost overtaken me when I heard thumping directly below. If I didn’t know what it was, I’d wake Nick and send him to investigate. But I did know. I knew because I listen to the same thing every single night. Reese, my calico, would situate her plump little body just so on the couch, and stare at the wall above. Why, you ask? For cars to pass by the house. The beams from the headlights shone onto our wall (that happened to hold several pictures), causing shadows to dance. It was a hunter’s play yard. Right after our family climbed the stairs for bed, she’d settle in, although she’s also been known to do it at four o’clock in the morning.

The interesting thing about this is that she would wait for several minutes, just watching. I’m talking beyond twenty minutes, in one position, staring at a blank wall. Not just staring, but focused and alert with her eyes wide and her body poised. When was the last time you’ve sat focused and still for that long? Me too! When finally the car came, she was ready. She’d jump up, aiming her paws directly at the shadows, hence knocking my pictures all around so they look like a messed-up jigsaw puzzle in the morning. After the car would leave, she’d resume her alert position.

Once I discovered what she did, I found myself fascinated by it. She had no idea when a car would come this way, but she was ready. We are warned in the Bible several times to watch, to be on our guard, alert. In Matthew 26:41 Jesus Himself says, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This He said to his disciples when the fell asleep during His time of prayer in the garden. Peter warned the missionaries in the verse above, to be watchful. What were they watching for? The devil.

prowling lion

Does It Matter What We Think? “The flesh is weak.” The devil seeks people out to devour. How does he do this? Often it begins with our thoughts. He knows our flesh is weak. How easy is the temptation to gossip? Recently I’ve had the opportunity to gossip quite a bit, but I’ve had to pray (and pray) for God’s help. Sometimes we make excuses for our actions or we don’t see it for what it really is. Telling your boss a little white lie may seem harmless enough, but watch out. Those little white lies will eventually slip out easier and more frequently, in and outside of work. It’s hard, and people in Bible times knew that. That’s why they repeated the same message. I encourage you today to be alert, and be aware of those tiny places the enemy might sneak in without you even knowing and take over. Do you know already of an area you need to be watchful in? I’d love to hear!

Chasing Lasers

“For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

Our house is filled with laughter as we watch our cats tear around, chasing something that cannot ever be caught. I’m sure you’re no stranger to those videos of cats chasing a laser pointer—and chasing, and chasing, and chasing. We now have two of those crazy pointers in our house. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I purchased them specifically for our four feline family members. Welllll, ok, not really. It’s more like I purchased them for one kitty in particular. It’s my cat, Reese, and she’s gotten, well, let’s just say she’s “healthy.” So much so, that my son has nicknamed her obese Reese-much to my chagrin. I questioned whether it was because I named her after my favorite candy (you know, your name defines you and all that), but my family assured me it didn’t have anything to do with that. I’m blaming genetics.

I thought I’d get a couple of these lasers to help her get moving a bit and exercise. It didn’t take me long, however, to start to feel sorry for them. They run around the house from room to room, jumping over each other, scaling the fireplace bricks, knocking into whatever gets in their way, only to run out of steam and collapse to the floor panting. For what? They’re not like humans, purposefully engaging in a physical activity that results in collapsing to the floor, panting. So why do they chase the lasers? Same reason they chase their tails, and my toes when I wiggle them. The movement stimulates the predator instinct within. It doesn’t matter that what they chase they will never catch. It’s instinct.

Chasing lasers pic

Does It Matter What We Think? We may laugh at the cats (or dogs) when they spin in endless circles after that threatening tail, or when they tear after red beams. But we also have a fleshly instinct within us to chase those same lasers. I’m talking about the lasers of money, power, position, security, beauty, and any other false or empty desire that drives us to exert all our energy on things that leave us wanting. Colossians 3:2 encourages us to, “Set (our) mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” To set our mind really means to make up our mind. Take a minute and think, what do you set your mind on? Have you made up your mind to become the top executive at your company? Have you made up your mind to become the best-dressed person at school? These things are all temporary-they will pass away. What would happen if we take time to make up our minds that we are going to say encouraging things to our family and friends today? Or if we made up our minds to love ourselves just as we are because that’s how God made us? Let’s set our minds on what really matters, and not on lasers.

A Daily Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day. Yesterday my husband and I dropped both our children off at a camp to work for the summer. His gift hasn’t arrived in the mail yet. I am blogging as he reclines on the sofa, eyes glued to the TV. The room is silent except for the TV noise and the click of the computer keys. Yet it is still a good day for my hubby.

Sonora Louise Smart Dodd was only sixteen when her mother passed away, leaving her father alone to care for his children. She was the eldest of six, with five younger brothers. After hearing a sermon about Mother’s Day, she decided that fathers, and especially her own, needed to be recognized as well as mothers. She spent sixty-two years speaking all around the country, campaigning to make Father’s Day a recognizable holiday. Finally, in 1972, President Nixon signed it into being.

I can’t imagine what it took for Mr. Dodd to care for and raise six children on his own. He must have done something right, though, for Sonora to spend years and years advocating for a day of national recognition for her dad.

Last night hubby wondered aloud if the kids would think of him today and remember to call or text. Not because they’re selfish, uncaring kids, but because they’re hundreds of miles away and very busy. I assured him his mom would text him, and that I would be here with him too. Nice, but not the same.

First thing this morning a text came in from our daughter. Great job, honey! I meant to send a quick message to our son, but I forgot to. Late morning my husband received a phone call. I heard the joy in his voice as he talked to our son. Yay! Two for two!

Father's Day pic

Does It Matter What We Think? While Father’s Day is a holiday created to celebrate and recognize the work of our fathers, I can’t help but think of another Father, one who doesn’t have a specific date each year to celebrate Him. I am sure many people entertain God in their minds on Easter, Christmas, and maybe Thanksgiving as they say a brief prayer of thanks before digging in to their delicious feasts. But doesn’t He deserve more than that? The Bible tells us God has, “loved (us) with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3) And David sings in Psalm 139:13, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.” Wow, what a great love. How about you? I know for me, sometimes it’s difficult remembering to acknowledge my heavenly Father as often as I should. I don’t want it to be only once a year, or every few months, and I don’t think He wants that either. I want to offer praise and thanksgiving daily to a Father who loves me and you so dearly that He released His only son to die for us.