God in Every Season

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Today is my kind of day. It’s quiet. The smell of coffee is drifting through the house and I’m curled up in a warm, plush blanket listening to the rain fall outside. If there was a movie playing right about now and my cat was curled up in my lap, I think I could rule this moment as nothing short of perfection. All five of my senses are happy and fully satisfied right now. I’m completely peaceful.

Another Christmas has come and gone, and for someone who loves all that is associated with the holidays, I’ve already packed away our indoor decorations until next year. While I’ve enjoyed the hustle and bustle, carols, lights, gifts, and excitement, the joy of Christmas unfortunately can’t last forever. Change has to come; it’s time for a new season.

I’ve been thinking a lot about seasons lately. It’s no secret that for our family winter came and decided to enjoy an extended stay. For many months it’s been cold and bleak, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that we all wished we could fly away to somewhere warmer or hibernate until it all passed. The one thing I’ve learned during our winter, however, is while the sun may not be as bright or felt as close, it hasn’t changed its position. It’s still there, even when we can’t feel it.

The same is true with God. There have been many moments this past year when I couldn’t feel Him or see Him, but that doesn’t mean He moved. He never changes, no matter what is changing all around me. I’ve learned that in a way I never imagined. I’ve been forced to face this season of winter head on, and to trust God when He wasn’t necessarily “visible.” But looking back over this past year, I can see His fingerprints on everything. Because He doesn’t leave us when things and people around us die and leave us bare and vulnerable.

He is God in every season.

He’s God when winter ends and spring comes. When mourning is over and new life begins to bud and bloom. When the sun’s warmth can be felt again after a time of silence and extreme cold.

He’s the God of our summers. When the temperatures rise in life, and maybe for you that’s meant being held to the fire in an intense season of testing. The pressure builds and the heat increases to the point where it almost feels sweltering and unbearable. Right when you think it can’t get any hotter, fall comes and breaks the intensity a little. Spiritually, maybe that means you’ve passed the test and can relax and breathe. God didn’t move when the pressure was on. He remained steady, giving you endurance until “fall” came.

He’s God in “autumn,” the in-between season when life is good. You’ve passed your test and you can rest before winter comes. Leaves are changing and everything is crisp, cool and beautiful. You can’t imagine life being more perfect, even though fall is preparing for winter and spring. Everything is good and maybe it’s in our fall seasons when we depend on God the least because we feel we don’t need Him as much. That doesn’t mean He changes. He remains unmoved, even we our dependency waivers a little.

What I’m saying is that God can be trusted and He remains the same in every season of our lives. Just like the sun never changes its place, neither does our God. He is faithful no matter what is going on around us.

For our family, I believe for now our winter has ended and spring is here again. Our intense season of grief is changing to a time of celebration as we anticipate our sweet Caroline through adoption. I have no idea what she will be like, but I know that if she is sent to us by God, she will be the perfect gift because He is faithful. He’s been with us in every single, changing season. He’s proving His faithfulness through every step of our adoption.

I wonder which season you would say you’re in right now. I don’t you or the details of your life, but I pray today that you’ll believe with all your heart that while everything may be stripped away and laid bare around you, God never ever moves. If death or disease have come unannounced and God feels distant or silent, He’s not. If the heat is on and you’re being tested beyond what you can bear, trust His strength. And if everything in life is good and it doesn’t feel like you “need Him,” lean into Him even more. No matter what your season, He wants to be your God in it. How I pray you’ll let him.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens..” Ecc. 3:1

Amy

Even If

If I were to ask you right now to tell me your your greatest, most intense fear, what would you tell me?

I’m not talking about spiders, snakes, crowded places, or fear of heights. I’m talking about the fears that leave you paralyzed just thinking about them. The life-altering ones. The ones that make you instantly feel sick to your stomach. The fears that, if they came to pass, might change the life you always imagined for yourself.

I remember sitting in our ladies discipleship class one Sunday night as we listened to a teaching DVD by Beth Moore. Her words seemed to resonate with me that night, as she described her thoughts on this very thing– fear. I guess I was so intrigued by what she was saying because a large part of my life has been spent playing tug of war between faith and fear over one thing or another, mostly the life-altering fears. I’ll never forget what she said; it has stuck with me ever since. “If the thing you fear most were to happen, then what? Would you trust the Lord, even if?” (paraphrased)

At that time, I was four months pregnant with Collier and had no idea that just two months later, my greatest fear would become reality. Not only once, but a year later it would be a nightmare-turned-reality twice.

I’m not sure exactly how to word what I guess I had been thinking without saying up until that point, but it might go something like this: “Lord, I will trust you, but please don’t let anything horrible happen in my life. I know You’re strong and able, but I don’t want to go through anything hard. No losses, no tragedies, no disease. Just keep all the majorly difficult stuff away, and we’ll be good. Deal?”

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. God doesn’t shelter us from adversity. He doesn’t withhold hardship. He doesn’t keep all our greatest fears from happening (even though most of them probably won’t). He enters the fire with us.

I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It’s always been a favorite, but it has a deeper, more significant meaning to me now. These three young men were serving God faithfully, unashamed, wholeheartedly–and adversity came anyway. I love what they said; it’s such a bold declaration of faith!  “We know the one we serve CAN save us, but even if He doesn’t, we still choose to serve Him.” (paraphrase)

Did God save them from hardship? NO. What happens was even better–He entered the fire with them. I get chills every time I read this.  “Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?…Look! I see FOUR men walking around, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:24-25)

If that doesn’t get your heart pumping, you might want to check your pulse! Y’all, God doesn’t promise to remove your difficult circumstances or shelter you from them. He promises to walk with you in the midst of it!! He enters your pain and suffering with you.  His presence goes before you, behind you, and beside you. And in the midst of your trouble, He removes the ties that bind you so that you can walk unbound and unharmed. What a great and mighty God! My eyes are full of tears right now just thinking about it.

See, if He removed all of your difficulty, it would also remove the opportunities for Him to reveal His glory to a lost and dying world. What resulted from the the fiery furnace? People saw the glory of God and were changed. Those who were enemies of God put their trust in Him. And the three in the fire? They came out without even a hint of a smell of smoke!

ONLY GOD can do that. And He’s done it for me. My greatest fear wasn’t kept from me. It happened twice, and the Lord has been with me through it all. He has walked with me through the fire, and has brought glory to Himself in the worst of circumstances! Has it been enjoyable? No! But through it all, God has put his glory on display and accomplished more than I “could have ever asked or imagined (Eph 3:20).”

So even if Lord, I will trust you. If my greatest fears continue to become reality, I will praise you in the midst of the fire, because You’ll walk with me. Use me up and pour me out for the glory of Your name. You are worth it, even if.

Beauty From Ashes

Today, for the first time in months, I opened up the nursery door and left it open a little while.

I’ve lost count of how many days I’ve walked down the hallway, passing that door,  only to feel warm tears well up in my eyes and feel the same, familiar ache resurface in my heart. I’ve laid curled up on the nursery floor, weeping until my whole body became physically exhausted. Many nights, I’ve sat in the rocking chair in the dark, pouring my heart out to the Lord, asking Him to give me the strength to keep trusting Him when I don’t know how. I’ve mourned over a room that should have been filled with life, cries, and baby giggles, but instead has remained silent and empty for over a year. I’ve left the door closed, and sometimes locked, because for so many reasons it’s just been too hard.

But not today.  Coming through the window there is a beam of light shining after the rain has stopped, and instead of feeling sadness, there’s something new stirring. Hope. Joy. New life beginning to form again in a once dead place.

Our adoption journey to bring a baby girl home has begun! God is once again doing a new thing in our family, and in just a matter of time this once dead place in our home will burst baby cries again. The sound of baby giggles again. New life, again. To God alone be all the glory!

When I first started this blog, I immediately new what I wanted to name it. The title “Beauty for Ashes” comes from a verse in Isaiah that I have clung to with my life since July 25, 2017–the day we lost Collier. It says:

“To comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:3).”

This verse has given me hope on the hardest days. It’s comforted my heart and reminded me that God will not leave His children in despair. It’s spoken truth to my mind when the Enemy has tried to fill it with lies. It’s God’s promise to me that He will bring beauty from ashes. He will restore life to dead places. It’s what He does.

Have you ever wondered why the islands of Hawaii are so beautiful? It’s because they are surrounded by volcanoes. That sounds a little backwards, I know. When a volcano initially erupts, it destroys life. The heat from the ash and lava will kill any plants, animals or people that are in it’s deadly path. However, over time what results is the most rich, fertile soil for life to grow. Once the ash cools, some of the largest, most luscious plants can flourish, yielding some of the most beautiful landscape you’ve ever seen. The beauty of the Hawaiian islands is the result of deadly, volcanic ash. Beauty came from the ashes.

I cannot recount all the beautiful things that God has done in my life amidst all the ash. He has restored dead places of my heart. He has taught me to trust Him more fully. He has drawn me to the beauty of His character and how wonderful of a Savior He is. He has strengthened my faith and given me the power to endure the most trying year of my life. He has given me opportunities to share with others of His goodness. He has strengthened our family and shown my children He’s able to be trusted and worthy of worship. He has made me fall in love with who He is more than I ever have. When I think of all the beauty He’s grown from the ashes, I can’t help but be emotional. He is such a good, good God!!

I want you to know that God can do the same in your life. He truly does love you with an everlasting love, and He wants to restore the broken places of your life. He wants to bring beauty from the ash heap you’re sitting among, wondering what He could possibly do with your mess. Friend, if you’re sitting in the middle of ash, you’re in the perfect place for God to do something beautiful, for Him to restore life to dead places.

Today, I pray you’ll open any doors that have been too painful to unlock. I pray you’ll let the light shine in and allow Him to grow beauty from your ashes.

Amy

Bring the Rain

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Yesterday, my husband and I were looking through boxes trying to put our hands on a very important document. Unfortunately, that document is still M.I.A. right now, but in the process I came across a box of old photos. I’m not sure about you, but I love nostalgia, those walks down memory lane through pictures. Some were taken when we were dating, some from our wedding, and others from when the boys weren’t yet old enough to walk or talk. I might have gotten a little teary-eyed a time or two. What I kept thinking, however, was how much more simple life was then…

Life before the rain came.

If you would have told me when those pictures were taken that our lives would be in the place they are now, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Maybe I would have denied it, or maybe I would have become crippled with fear, not wanting to move forward into a future with a sign flashing, “Pain Up Ahead. Proceed with Caution.”

The truth is, whether we realized it or not, we have been preparing for these storms long before they came crashing in, unannounced. We were preparing for it back when those pictures were taken. Back when life was simple and much more carefree.

There is a passage in Luke that reminds me of this, and you probably are pretty familiar with it yourselves. You might recognize it more from the children’s song. It goes like this:

“The wise man built his house upon the rock.

The wise man built his house upon the rock.

The wise man built his house upon the rock.

And the rain came tumbling down.

Oh, the rain came down and the floods came up.

The rain came down and the floods came up.

The rain came down and the floods came up.

And the house on the rock stood firm.” 

I’m not patting ourselves on the back by claiming to be wise. What I am saying is that preparation for a storm begins long before it hits. Think about it, you can’t wait until the eye of a hurricane is hovering over your house and then start boarding your windows and collecting batteries, candles, water, and all the essentials to ride out the storm. Those things are done in advance.

Spiritually, it’s how we live in advance that determines how we weather the storm. It’s those early morning times with the Lord over cups and cups of coffee, before the rat race of the day begins. It’s those times of praying, pouring out your heart to the Lord. It’s the times when your prayers seem to bounce right off the ceiling and you wonder if it even matters that you voice them. But you do it anyway. It’s taking your kids to church when you doubt that all the effort just to get there is worth it. It’s loving people who are unloveable. It’s gritting your teeth through tough days, and pushing through while all you can manage to pray is “help!” It’s remaining faithful when you want to give up. It’s telling God everyday, “I trust you.”

Serving Jesus in the daily grind and the mundane. Doing what is right when it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Staying the course when everything is going right and it doesn’t feel like you “need” God as much (LIE!). These are the preparation days for the storms. Deciding to serve the Lord NOW before the storms come.

Those pictures were the simple, day-in, day-out times. Life was good. We didn’t know the pain of losing children. We hadn’t been beaten by tough winds and heavy rain. We hadn’t yet faced all the pain that has come into our lives this past year. But I’m thankful that we’ve been building our house upon the Rock this whole time. The rains have come and beat upon our house, but it’s still standing. We’re not the same people as the ones in those pictures. We’re stronger in many ways, and our desire is to trust God more fully than we ever have,  with hands and arms wide open. With unclinched fists.

There’s a reason God doesn’t show us the bumps, roadblocks, and detours up ahead. He doesn’t give us a forecast of furious storms brewing. We’re simply not strong enough to be entrusted with that knowledge. But He is, and He is calling you to a life of faithfulness now, in the calmness of your life. He’s the one who will carry you through the storm, who will strengthen you in the midst of it, and who will bring you out on the other side, stronger than you were before. Not only that, He can take the wreckage of your storm’s aftermath and paint a beautiful rainbow up against the darkest sky. He can use your storm, and He will use it to bring glory to Himself.

If God has received any glory, attention and honor through our journey so far–if even one person has been pointed to Jesus through our storms- then the pain is worth every second. That’s extremely difficult to say and hasn’t been easy to learn. But if pain is what it takes for people to know Him, then…

Jesus…..bring the rain. 

Let’s Be Honest

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The other day, I was having a conversation with a close friend. One of those good, heart-to-heart talks that all of us girls need from time to time–you know the ones. About halfway through, she gave me a sincere and humbling compliment. Her words were, “You don’t act like you have it all together, and that makes me feel like I can come to you with anything.”

Wow. Before you start accusing me of getting a big head, understand how undeserving I felt hearing that. Mostly because I know how many past times I’ve tried to “have it all together.” It’s exhausting, and since going through our losses, I’ve decided to give up trying. Why? Because I definitely do NOT have it all together, and I believe there is power in transparency and bearing each other’s burdens.

If you look through Scripture, you’ll find pages upon pages of imperfect people. One of my favorite passages is 2 Corinthians 11. If we were at a modern day anonymous meeting, these verses would be the point where Paul stands up, introduces himself to the group, and begins to explain his weaknesses.

“Hi, I’m Paul. I’ve been imprisoned, flogged, exposed to death, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked three times, constantly on the move, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger at sea, in danger from false brothers. I’ve gone without sleep, food, water, and have been cold and naked. I have been persecuted for the sake of the gospel. I have a thorn in my flesh that won’t go away. I’ve got problems.”

He’s not the only one…

Eve struggled with temptation and gave in (thanks, Eve).

Sarah was barren.

Leah wasn’t as pretty as her sister Rachel, and not as loved either.

Bathsheba had an affair with King David, and she lost her husband and her son who was conceived in adultery.

Esther was an orphan, raised by an uncle, and had the responsibility of saving her entire Jewish people at the risk of her own death.

Ruth and Naomi were both widowed.

Mary was a pregnant, unwed teenager.

There was the lady who bled for twelve years, the widow who lost her only son, the woman at the well who was searching for love and life, and Martha who worried too much about things that didn’t matter that much.

Those are just some of the women, and if I listed all the other examples of men and women who had stressful, life-altering problems, I could fill up the pages of a book. So why did God include all of these broken people from one cover of the Bible to the other? One reason, I believe, is to remind us that we are in good company. We all have our problems and we have a deep need for Him. Our weaknesses, stresses, and brokenness are constant reminders that we are never at a time that we do not need Him.

On our good days–we need Him.

On our bad days–we need Him.

On all our in-between days, we need Him just as much.

And we also need each other. Why do we spend so much time trying to convince others that we don’t have problems, knowing that couldn’t be more untrue? Take a few minutes to scroll through your newsfeed and you will find that most people only post the pictures that portray something happy. We try a new Pinterest cookie recipe and post a picture of perfectly delicious cookies, while the first batch we burned is behind us in the trash. It didn’t make it to the picture because it wasn’t perfect. Our kids are doing something cute? Let’s post it but delete the 100 takes before where everyone is crying or picking their noses.

Life isn’t picture-perfect. It’s messy, hard, and sometimes brutal. Everyday, people all over the world are given bad news, stressed about work, going through divorce, dealing with sickness, experiencing the pain of loss, and a myriad of other problems. No one has it all together. And no one is without a need for the Lord.

So let’s be honest. Instead of pretending, let’s take our masks off and be transparent. Let’s make ourselves approachable and available, willing to get our hands dirty by offering to uphold each other when life is messy. And while we’re being honest….

Hi, my name is Amy. I’m a perfectionist, worry too much sometimes about others’ opinions of me, and I sometimes struggle with believing I am enough. Everyday, I miss my babies, and because of my losses I can sometimes be crippled by anxiety. I need Jesus every single day of my life. If He doesn’t help me, I’ll fail. Without Him, there is nothing good about me. And finally, I do NOT have it all together.

That’s me being honest. Now it’s your turn.

Broken into Beautiful

Bro•ken|adjective|: violently separated into parts; shattered; damaged or altered; not working properly; interrupted; full of obstacles; disrupted by change.

Beau•ti•ful|adjective|: more lovely, magnificent

For those of you keeping up with this blog, you know that only 10 short months ago we buried our sweet third-born son, Collier, unexpectedly. Our family has felt broken, but God has been faithful to us in every moment since that day. As an added blessing, only three months into this first year of grieving, we discovered we were expecting again.  Not that having a new baby on the way replaced Collier, but it certainly gave us a little extra joy back into our home. We named him Matthew Isaac, which means “gift of God” and “laughter,” something I was certain the Lord had given to us in the midst of this season of loss– a season I sure was hoping was coming to a close.

Then came the phone call that let us know everything was not okay this time around either. Only 14 weeks into the pregnancy, we learned that our little Isaac had Trisomy 21, Down Syndrome. Was that the worst news we could have received? No, but suddenly everything changed as we prepared for life to be different, again. If I’m honest, we were not happy at first, but those feelings quickly vanished. We felt a deep, overwhelming peace from the Lord. We knew He was with us, and we wanted the baby HE wanted us to have. We accepted that this child He had given us might be different than what we were asking for, but that was okay because we trusted Him fully. We became completely engulfed in being parents to such a special little boy, who was proving over and over to live up to his name–a gift of joy, straight from God. Nobody on earth loved him, and all his 21 chromosomes, more than us!! After all, it was just a disability, not another dead heartbeat.

Until it was. On May 1st, my 33rd birthday, life took another drastic turn. My husband and I sat in a doctor’s office as we watched an ultrasound tech desperately try to find our son’s heartbeat, but there wasn’t one. The next day, I delivered and held another lifeless 26 week old baby in my arms that only a week prior had hardly ever stopped moving. I felt all the same feelings I had with Collier sweep back over me. I wept and questioned “why again, Lord?” We both felt the sting of death as we realized how much pain burying not one, but two children, in a 9 month time span brings.

So many tears and questions. My heart was shattered. Our family has been even more broken (even though we know our children are perfectly safe and waiting for us).

BUT GOD…

He’s not about to let our story end there.

If there’s one repeated lesson I keep learning it’s that He does His most important, beautiful work in our times of utter brokenness. When we are at the end of ourselves and have nothing to bring Him but what’s left of our hearts, He shines through.

Just one week ago, He graciously showed me this truth once again, at a time when I really needed Him to speak to me. I was sitting and listening as an adult leader shared the gospel with all the kids at our Vacation Bible School. In her hands was a tiny glow stick. Nothing special, or useful—at least not until it’s broken. As she spoke, it’s like God whispered to me while I held back tears- The light from the glow stick shines most brightly and beautifully only after being broken.

I’ll be honest, I don’t really like that this is how God works sometimes. In fact, I hate it. It hurts, and many times I wish I could throw the covers over my head and hide from it all. But instead, I have to keep choosing to run toward God. As much as it hurts, in my heart I want to keep saying “Lord, if I have to go through this again, please don’t waste it. Please take this messy life and make it beautiful, so that You shine brightly through all the cracks and broken pieces.”

It’s no coincidence that God used the same process with His own Son. At Jesus’ most intense moment of suffering and brokenness, God was most pleased with Him. Only after His body was bruised, broken, and beaten for us was the beautiful work of redemption completed. The pretty part couldn’t happen without the ugly part.

Am I trying to sound super spiritual, put together and with all the answers? No, no, and NO. In fact, these days I’m anything but those things, and I don’t see how multiple losses can turn out good. It doesn’t feel good. This place of submission I’m now resting in has only come after wrestling with God for weeks. And tomorrow, I’ll have to submit to this as His will for me all over again. And again, and again, and again.

All I’m saying is that God (thankfully) happens to specialize in using broken people for His glory. He doesn’t waste pain. He won’t waste my tears, sleepless nights, intense grief. He won’t waste yours either. Thank God that each day He’s taking broken pieces and making them beautiful, again. Thank God that I can fully keep entrusting my life into hands that perfectly redeem. Thank God that our family’s story doesn’t end messy and ugly–one day it will be perfectly beautiful again.

Until that day, I’m going to keep offering myself to Him over and over and over…. and you can pray for me.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

The God of Miracles

My tiny little miracle, Isaac.

(Above: My little Isaac, our tiniest miracle)

Have you ever prayed for a miracle?

Me too.

God is always faithful to answer those prayers, but it’s taken me some time to understand why He doesn’t always deliver like I want Him to at times. Sometimes not at ALL like I ask Him. Maybe even sometimes in ways that seem to be the polar opposite of what I ask.

Recently, I took some time and read through all four of the gospels. When I started, I really just wanted to soak up all I could about the person of Jesus. The way He lived, loved, obeyed, sacrificed…everything. Along the way, my eyes have been specifically drawn to all the miracles Jesus did and the motive behind all of them.

What was the motive? The soul.

Not the physical body.

Not to just say, “Hey, look what I can do!” (Even though He did draw attention and give glory to God.)

Every, single miracle mirrored a deeper, more substantial problem–a problem of the soul.

When Jesus gave the blind their sight, it pointed more toward eyes that are blind to the truth of the gospel. He wasn’t just concerned with vision, but the ability to see and understand The Lord for who He really is. So that they might believe.

When demons were cast out, Jesus demonstrated that He can free our souls from anything that holds us captive and enslaves us. Most importantly, sin. He wants to free the captive soul.

When the sick were healed, it was to bring glory to God and to point the lost world around Him (who were eye witnesses to these miracles) toward salvation. Not to be a downer, but every sick body ever healed still eventually died. That’s because Jesus’ end game is not the physical body, but the soul which will live forever.

Then there were the times He raised the dead to life. These are the ones that get me because this is the exact miracle I prayed for a few months ago when we begged for the miracle of a heart beat. This is the prayer that didn’t get answered like I wanted.

But God…He’s graciously shown me that He did answer that prayer. He did give our son the gift of life, just not here. His tiny life has made a global, eternal impact for the kingdom of God through this blog. Isn’t that ultimately better?

See, when Jesus raised the dead, people put their faith in Him. Their souls were raised from death to life, not just their bodies. Eventually, when those same bodies still experienced physical death, their souls still lived. That miracle is only possible because of Jesus’ work on the cross–the ultimate miracle. Allowing the soul to live eternally is a much greater gift of life than any temporary, physical resurrection on this earth. It doesn’t even compare.

Since I have studied this, I’ve thought back to some other prayers I’ve prayed before. Some miracles I’ve begged for in tears. I’ve realized they were all so short-sighted. Oh they were heart felt, and I wanted them. But the motive was all wrong. They were wanting a temporary fix to an eternal problem. They weren’t focused on the end-game, the soul.

If you ever doubt that God still does miracles, rest assured. He does them every day. Some you might be praying for may seem small and some a bigger deal, but God will always answer your prayer for them. Will the answer look a little different than what you’ve asked for? Maybe. Probably. But He will always answer with the end-game in mind–that you (or someone else) may believe in Him and your soul might be secure in Him.

Amy