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This post is dedicated to my new friends from the RestoreMe Retreat in Sandy Cove, MD this past week (Hello!). I knew I already wrote you all an email, but I'm so excited about my experience that I wanted to invite all my other subscribers to share in my joy as well. (RestoreMe friends, meet my online friends. Y'all will get along great, I'm sure. And to my online girls, if you're curious about THAT EMAIL, CLICK HERE.)

This is me in a hat. It's a big deal, actually. You see, I had been so afraid of what other people might think (maybe I'm not young/cute/skinny/tan/put together enough for a hat) that I'd relegate my hat wearing to the beach alone. Until this retreat. I'd love for folks to look over a crowd, see a hat, and know it was me. So I wore the hat. And I'm so glad I did! Are there hats in your life, things that are good and beautiful and happy, that you're avoiding just because of what others may think? Babe. Wear the hat!

This fellow is Carlos. He was my standing buddy going onto the plane, and we were seatmates headed to Phoenix. Between my broken Spanish and his faulty English he showed me pictures of his daughters and grandchild, I talked of my family, and, because that was quite exhausting, we napped the rest of the way to landing. Upon arriving at our destination I was offered an open invitation to visit him with my family in Lima, Peru, at his house on the beach. Networking at its finest!

((Slightly random thought: I think it might be fun to travel just for the sake of collecting stories. Wouldn't it be amazing to interview a stranger on their way to or from somewhere worth flying for? Have you ever people watched, wondering who they are? What is the most interesting story you've gleaned in your travels?))

After landing in Maryland, getting picked up by buddies, and spending the night at a comfy hotel, we headed to North East. Yes, that's the name of the town. And what a darling place it was, too! I enjoyed AUTHENTIC seafood and great company for lunch and was enamored by the GORGEOUS drive through the lush greenry towards the Sandy Cove campus.

And then the retreat began! What a beautiful time it was to meet with precious women and see Jesus work on hurting hearts, breaking strongholds and offering peace, hope, and freedom.

In preparation for the retreat I was given the theme verse, and the titles for each session, led by Cindy Schirle. Oh, it is AMAZING to see how the Holy Spirit works! He wove her talks and my song selections so beautifully, and they dovetailed perfectly!

I was so blessed to see how the song I wrote for the retreat, "HIS SCARS DECLARE HIS LOVE" met the women in beautiful ways to speak God's truth into their wounds, reminding us all of His character and promises. (You are welcome to the piece as well; CLICK HERE.)

I must admit, though, it was a rather new experience for me, leading worship in Maryland! You may have noticed that I have a severe lack of melanin, and having grown up as the typical West Coast, tuna-cassarole Baptist kid in California, I hadn't had the opportunity to worship Jesus so LOUDLY in a corporate setting. And, boy, was it FUN! These gals know how to PRAISE!!!

And, whooboy, I felt like royalty! From the moment I was picked up from the airport, to my gorgeous hotel suite, to selling out of EVERY book I brought, to the graciousness of every woman I had the privilege to meet, it was wonderful.

I am so grateful for the First Place For Health folks who organized this annual event and invited me to join them, and for the blessing that organization has been to me through the years. FP4H was plopped on my path at the very same time Jesus was teaching my heart the very principal that FPFH teaches: Jesus first in all things.

Whether it's physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, Jesus must be first. Not just first OVER all things, but first IN all things. So when I eat, I am reminded that each bite is worship--either of my Lord or my Self. When I am active, that too is worship. Worship rests in my conversations, my texting, my planning, my errands, my sleep patterns, my thoughts towards others, and even in the way I view myself.

My friends, thank you. Thank you for being a part of how Jesus continues to teach me about who He is. It is an honor to share my joy in His character, His promises, and His amazing grace.

I have loved ones losing their sight and it is a deep ache to my heart. Putting myself in their position, I would grieve never seeing my children’s adult features, or being able to watch my husband’s smile lines melt into permanent creases. I would miss the light. I would grieve deeply saying goodbye to color. I am learning to weep with those who weep in a new way, and this piece “Goodbye to Light, to Color” is one of the ways I can mourn with my friends. Sometimes we don’t have the answers. Sometimes our friends don’t need to have the goodness and sovereignty of God shoved down their throats. Sometimes we just need to sit with them and cry burning, stomach-twisting tears, holding their hand, and feeling with their heart.

My friend Sierra has a garden. It has lived with her, longed with her, grieved with her, grown with her. And through her living and longing and grieving and growing Sierra has written poetry. And it is beautiful. You can find her work here. She has a knack for knowing how to bless my heart, and, as she has faithfully tended her own garden, I am all the more encouraged to tend my own. And so, dear Sierra, this poem is for you. It's long and laborious, and does not come with a whimsical doodle to accent pithy depth as your poetry does, but that's because it springs from a different garden. We know the same Dearest Gardener, but he calls forth different flowers in different times. Thank you for being faithful with your spot of earth. The bouquets that spill from your heart are a sweetness to my own.

As I walk by my neighbor’s house

I view her little yard.

A little fence wraps ‘round the space

But never is it barred.

It welcomes every traveler in

And sets their heart at home

It greets each aching soul with love

When tired and alone.

And in this garden, scattered free,

Are flowers of every kind.

Where whimsy dwells with order there

And both are intertwined.

Chaos holds her dear friend’s hand,

Sweet Rhythm to endorse

A scheduled sense of ebb and flow

As seasons run their course.

I see the twigs and branches bare,

Then view the fullest bloom,

And wonder how my gardener friend

Can bear the yearly gloom.

“My heart,” said she, in gentle song,

With smile of radiant joy,

“Finds sweet content in seasons all,

And can not be destroyed.

For every chill, each blast of heat

Will woo each eager flower.

Not forced to grow for my delight,

Not bent beneath my power,

But as the Dearest Gardener

Brings life in His own time.

His heart is seen in seasons all,

And proves this paradigm:

Though all we see is lonely death,

In heavy loam and brown,

Sweet life is always close at hand,

Though hidden underground.”

Now as the garden breathes and sighs

Through every season’s change

I see my own heart realize

A deeply sweet exchange

For all the fallow earth I held

And thought it all but dead,

I now can sense a resting hope,

Rich with life instead.

In perfect timing blooms will come

Though winter seems to thrive.

When guarded through each season

Each garden stays alive.

So now I tend my garden,

A fence around the yard,

With trellised archways or’ the gate,

Though never is it barred.

I wish to show each traveler

No matter what has been,

Their garden, too, though tired and worn,

Can always thrive again.

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