Reserved

When my 4th and 5th grade students enter my classroom every Monday, they get a new seat–randomly chosen from a bag full of color-coded popsicle sticks.

For each color of popsicle stick there are several options for students to choose from. One student may rush for a seat near a friend, while another wants to be near the front of the room. Some prefer a standard classroom chair, while others hope for the coveted “red chair” (a cushy, $5 find at a garage sale several years ago).

At the beginning of each new school year, though, I count to make sure I have enough seats and carefully write out name plates.

There is something about reserving a seat that places value on the person in the chair.

As a young teenager, I received an invitation to a Christmas brunch. My hostess had gone to great lengths to decorate a themed table, and every place setting was painstakingly set with beautiful china. I had no trouble finding my seat, since my name was written there in an elegant script. Any doubt as to whether I was welcome was erased by the personalized gift I found in my chair.

There is something about reserving a seat that places value on the person in the chair.

Forgive me for belaboring the point, but the question lingering in my heart lately is this:

Does Jesus’ have a reserved seat in my life? If so, is the chair I’ve offered Him fit for a king? Even more, is it a throne–high and lifted up–worthy of the King of all Kings?

Somehow, my COVID quarantined life had more time and space in it. Or so it felt.

My favorite hour of the day was 3pm, when I would pour a cup of coffee and curl up with a blanket at the feet of Jesus. Most days, by 2:50pm I was setting aside school and housework and sending the kids off to quiet time, all in anticipation of some alone time with the One who is nearer to me than any other.

Flash forward a few months, and I’m fighting to “squeeze in” time with God, while the list of people and things demanding my time and attention grows longer still.

I read somewhere that people of Jewish faith save a seat for the prophet Elijah when they celebrate the Passover meal. The extra seat is called “Elijah’s Chair,” and there is even a glass of wine left untouched for him.

I’m not familiar with all of the details of this tradition, nor do I know when it began, but my run-away imagination can’t help but wonder if there was a seat for Elijah at any of the Passover meals that Jesus attended.

Elijah is recognized by many as the forerunner to the Messiah–one who prepares the way for the coming King. John the Baptist filled this role when Jesus came to Earth as a baby, and many believe that Elijah himself (who never died but instead “went up by a whirlwind into heaven”–II Kings 2:11) will fill the same roll when Jesus returns as triumphant King.

Imagine … saving a special seat for Elijah when Jesus Himself is in the room.

Imagine … saving a special seat for work and play, family and friends, this and that. While King Jesus is relegated to a lesser seat–squished into an undignified position at the end of the bench.

Let it not be so.

Oh God,

Have mercy on me. On us. Forgive us for ever giving You any seat but the very best. Forgive me for allowing the “stuff” of everday life to crowd You out. Help me learn to lay out the best china, preparing for Your arrival and honoring Your presence in my day and in my life. Jesus, I don’t know when You’ll return again to gather the people who belong to You. But I pray that if that day occurs while I’m still alive and breathing on this Earth, You’ll find me ready and waiting. May the best and most coveted seat in my life be always and only Yours.

Amen

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.”–
Matthew 13:44‭ (NLT)

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”–Psalms 22:3 (NLT)

God Speaks

For the last few weeks, I’ve been journaling during my prayer time. I pour out whatever is on my heart to God in writing and then get quiet and listen for His voice. Though I’ve never heard Him speak audibly, it is amazing how much God will say when you set aside time, get still, and expect to hear from Him.

Just as He walked in the garden with Adam & Eve and talked with Moses as a friend, God wants to speak to you and me. We were made for real relationship with our Creator. What is a relationship without two-way conversation?

I think many of us who have no problem believing that God hears us when we pray, struggle to believe that He would answer in a personal way. We need only look to the Bible for assurance that God does want to speak to His people:

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.”–Jeremiah 33:3

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”–John 10:27

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.”–John 16:13

Yes, God speaks…

… as we read His written Word.

… through a still, small voice.

… as we gaze in wonder at the world and the work of His hands.

… in countless ways, limited only by our reluctance to stop and listen. His creativity knows no bounds.

I know this to be true, and yet God found in me a stubborn and unwilling companion these past few days. You see, AJ had to be hospitalized. He was tested and re-tested for COVID-19. Both were negative, but he still spent two nights in the hospital due to a high fever and dehydration.

The process of getting him admitted was insane due to COVID precautions, and I was angry. Angry that my baby was hurting, angry at the state of the world we’re all living in right now, and angry to be sitting in yet another hospital room when “been there a hundred times before” is starting to become more literal than figurative.

So, I sort of gave God the silent treatment–even though I felt Him tugging at my heart, and even though I knew the only peace to be had would be found in Him. Part of me felt He should have arranged a better weekend itinerary for me. The other half was bent on being unhappy no matter what.

I discovered that persistence is a quality I can add to my list of things I love about God–right between gentleness and mercy. When others would have lost patience or been put off by my obstinance, He didn’t give up on me. He never has.

I’m thankful, because what He had to say was exactly what I needed, and for more than just the hospital stay. God didn’t land AJ in the hospital, but He sure did redeem that time by speaking truth and wisdom straight to my heart.

As much as I appreciate what God says, I am in awe of how He speaks.

As a teacher, I understand that there are many types of learners. If I want my students to grasp the message I am trying to communicate, I must consider their diverse learning styles. One student may sit and listen without even taking notes, while another would benefit from a visual aid, and still another needs a more hands-on approach.

God is a better communicator than I as a teacher could ever be, and He knows his audience well. I believe that He talks to each of us in the way He knows we’ll hear Him best.

God has gotten my attention through the special and the mundane: a vivid dream … an overflowing trash can … the plot of a popular TV show … an archaic word I’d never heard before that came up three times in the same week … a comment made by my seven-year-old … a doodle in my notebook that probably only He and I can decipher.

Most often, God speaks to me through language. A passage of scripture I memorized as a child. A song lyric or quote. A metaphor. I love words, and I love that He knows that about me.

This time, after I was finally ready to listen, He whispered a question:

“What makes you most proud of your dad?”

This was something He’d first asked me weeks before. That the question was repeated wasn’t strange. I’m accustomed to God saying the same thing more than once, especially if I need reminding or just haven’t quite gotten the point. What did surprise me was that the question was about my dad. At the time, I hadn’t seen or talked to him in awhile. Still, the instant the question reverberated in my heart, the answer came too:

I recalled a story my mom told me about how dad was pastoring a small West Texas church. It was time to appoint a new deacon, and dad had someone in mind–a man who genuinely loved God and was faithful to serve the church and its people. Though this man’s character made him an excellent candidate to be appointed as a deacon, others in the church sought to disqualify him because of the color of his skin. My dad stood up–both for the man and in the face of injustice. Church members responded by making sure my dad would not receive a salary, but my dad held his ground.

I remembered another story of a church member whose son had contracted AIDS. He was alone and dying in a hospital bed, and my dad planted himself by the man’s side when no one else would.

One more story–a scene I can replay in my mind through the eyes of a little girl. I went with dad as he left the house in the middle of the night to buy food for a woman who needed it. Allsups was the only place open, and I watched as he piled lunchables and other food on the counter and pulled out his wallet to pay.

Why God brought these moments to mind, I’m not completely sure. Maybe my dad needs to hear that his daughter is proud of him. Maybe his daughter needs to be reminded that in a world where opinions rage and politics are unpopular, God is still calling his people to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” which is to love God and “love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 6:2; Mark 12:28-31).”

Either way, I’m so grateful that God speaks.

Rushing to the Wound

Because of the genetic disorder and the complications it has caused, Olivia’s breathing is noisy sometimes. A while back I overheard another child making fun of her. It caught me off guard, because our experience has mostly been that people go out of their way to be kind. I vented and was soon met with a flood of inquiries–all from people who love Olivia and wanted to make sure I was OK.

In the grand scheme of things, the incident wasn’t that big of a deal. The child apologized, I hugged Olivia extra hard, and we moved on. It did serve as a reminder that I have a wound where Olivia is concerned. The wound is not gaping open or gushing blood, but once in awhile the bandaid gets ripped off, and I feel the pain anew.

A few days ago, I watched the video of George Floyd crying out for breath as the knee of a police officer bore down on his neck and three others stood by and watched. The inhumanity and injustice of it all is undeniable. Since then, I’ve been reading and watching–sharing other peoples’ words on social media as I struggled to find my own.

I still don’t have the right words, but to stay silent, to do nothing, to just keep scrolling, feels worse than wrong.

I’m white, and I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be a person of color in America today. I have my own pain, but it’s a flimsy context for trying to identify with the struggles of those who’ve walked a path so different from mine. I do know that I love Jesus, and His Word in Romans 12:15 tells me to “weep with those who weep.” That’s not possible unless the pain of another becomes my pain too. Though I can’t literally walk a mile in the shoes of the weeping, I can get close enough to hear the lament and watch the tears fall. I can listen long enough so that my heart breaks and my tears fall too.

As I’ve begun to read, watch and listen–not just to the news but to the voices of people who have long been voicing their pain–I’ve heard again the names of other black Americans who were killed without cause: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless more. I realize now that with each needless death, a bandaid was ripped away from a chronic wound.

In the case of my woundedness, the people around me have been quick to rush to the place of injury, eager to make it clear that Olivia is cherished and that I am not alone. The show of support has been full and immediate–no questioning, making excuses, or waiting to see how things will turn out.

Have I done this for my brothers and sisters of color? I am ashamed to say that I have not.

What I am not ashamed to say is that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I have witnessed the pain of another human being–a group of people even–and did not rush to the place of their wound. Not being racist is not enough. I have done very little to stop the bleeding, and that is not OK.

I don’t know all of the right things to do any more than I have the right words to say, but I hope that being willing to listen is a good place to begin. The thing is, real conversation inevitably brings up things that are hard or uncomfortable to talk about, even places where we don’t see eye to eye.

I commit to keep listening anyway, to keep weeping anyway.

I purpose to recognize woundedness and to be gentle with the tender places.

Father, Let my heart break for the things that break Yours. Help me weep with those who weep. Holy Spirit, only You can heal the wounds and restore broken places. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Make us one body, unified under the mighty name of Jesus Christ. It is in that name I pray.–Amen

For anyone out there who may be interested, here are a couple of links to videos by people who want to build bridges in the body of Christ:

Dr. Anita Phillps with Christine Caine:
https://www.facebook.com/theChristineCaine/videos/368461430777555/

Pastor John Gray with Pastor Steven Furtick:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7jTUfNyPkE&t=2677s

Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 14)

*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I started writing this series–thirteen days to be exact, and they have been some of the longest of my life. (You can probably say the same.) 

Though staying at home does make the days seem longer, I’m thankful for the extra time. To rest. To spend with family. To do the things I’m usually too busy for. And especially, to draw near to God. 

This is my last post, at least for now. It’s strange, though. This doesn’t feel like the end of anything. Maybe it’s because President Trump extended social distancing guidelines through the end of April. Honestly though, I think I’m sensing that God intends at least part of this new way of life to extend beyond the demise of COVID-19. 

Here in my small community and around the world, we are learning a new rhythm of rest, faith and family. I believe these things have a purpose beyond quarantines and sheltering in place.

Whatever comes next, we can trust that God has a plan and that it is good:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'”–Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

Our world  has changed drastically, but God never will:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow.”–James 1:17 (BSB)

God is good. He does good. He is good to me.

“You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees.”–Psalm 119:68 (NLT)

The way forward is in God’s hands. He has the wisdom. He knows the plan. He alone is perfectly faithful.

Today–at the end of two weeks dedicated to drawing closer to God, and at the beginning of whatever’s next–I’m choosing to hand over all the keys to the One I trust now more than ever. 

Lord, I offer you the keys to every room in my heart. Let each word of my story be dictated by You. May my life play the melody of your choosing. All the keys are Yours, God. You lead the way. 

Day 14:  Today, do an inventory of all of the rooms in your life–public or secret, wide open or locked up tight. Lay your whole ring of keys, however clunky, at the feet of Jesus. Trust Him to do what is best with all of it. As you have for the last two weeks, let God lead. This is not the end.

Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 13)

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*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

We had a young woman in our youth group years ago who was terrified to pray out loud.  We’ll call her Kimberly.

Kimberly’s relationship with God was genuine, and the fruit of her faith was evident in many ways:  her kindness toward others. The way she served people with her whole heart.

She was simply afraid to pray out loud. Lots of people are, and God hears them anyway. Still, we were taking students on a missions trip where they would be interacting with people of all ages. Praying for people would be part of their role, and we wanted Kimberly to be ready. So, we didn’t press the issue too hard, but we did try to encourage her to step out of her comfort zone.

There were others in the group who were more outgoing and much more quick to take a leadership role. Some of those were less willing to serve than Kimberly. Our whole team spent lots of time together in the weeks leading up to the trip, participating in Bible studies and local outreach projects to prepare for the missions trip. A fly on the wall, if he watched closely enough, would’ve noticed the best of each of us rubbing off on the others. I watched as Kimberly’s readiness to serve rippled into the attitudes of those around her.

On one occasion, we were at a local food bank, handing out groceries to those in need. I looked over to see Kimberly praying for an older woman, and tears sprang to my eyes. I didn’t hear the words of her prayer–whether they were eloquent or simple, passionate or restrained. But I knew the purity of the heart behind them and felt that the person whose name was being lifted up was blessed indeed.

If people, after spending extended time together, can inspire such growth in each other, how much more will time spent with God bring out His greatness in us?

I know that many feel weak and powerless because of the circumstances facing our world. COVID-19 is an invisible and often impartial enemy, and it is wreaking havoc on more than just healthcare systems and economies.

But God. Our God is King, and He reigns high over the novel coronavirus. Many of us have spent the last two weeks praying and seeking God. Digging deep into in His Word. Letting go of worry and lifting up worship instead.

We’ve been lingering in the presence of God, staring into deep pools of his goodness and mercy and grace.

We’ve been hanging out with the Lion of Judah, the roar of His power rattling our bones, reverberating in every cell of our bodies. Doesn’t it stand to reason that some of that boldness–a measure of that authority–is rubbing off on us?

I’m not talking about fighting with weapons of our own making, but we are called and set apart to rise up like a mighty army–taking enemy territory for the Kingdom of God!

We are:

  • “a chosen generation” (I Peter 2:9)
  • “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37)
  • equipped with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11)

God says:

  • “I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19)
  • “Greater is He who is in you that He who is in the world” (I John 4:4)

We are to:

“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10)

Because:

“…everyone born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith.” (I John 5:4)

It’s time to step out of our comfort zone, whatever that may be, and be the church of Jesus Christ!

Day 13:  How might God want His character to come boldly out of you? Today, make a move in faith! Don’t hesitate. Say, “Yes, Lord!” Whatever whole-hearted obedience looks like in this season of your life, take that first practical step. Then the next. And the next. 

God, You are the Lion of Judah, and I want Your boldness to come roaring out of me. Without You, I am nothing. But God, I recognize that I am NOT without You. Help me rise up in the authority that You created me to walk in. Worry, fear, and anxiety–in my own home and in those around me–have to give way to peace in Jesus’ name. I believe that You are doing something new in the middle of this chaos! I choose courage today. Let my voice proclaim Your goodness to the world around me. I pray that many who do not yet trust in You would do so in the coming days and weeks. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 12)

*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

Our 3-year-old chased a butterfly today. She suddenly stopped what she was doing, forgetting all else but the Monarch with wings of black and orange.

I wish I could cast aside the clamor of the world as easily as she does. Her eyes sparkle with a joy that comes from living entirely in the present moment. If Little Miss ever worries, I sure haven’t seen it. Why should she, when she depends on us, and not herself, for everything?

What a difference this childlike approach to life would make if applied to my relationship with God! There’s plenty of time and energy for chasing butterflies when you know that Someone greater is taking care of things.

I think this is one reason why Jesus pointed to children as the example for how to receive His Kingdom:

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”–Luke 18:17

I enjoy studying the historical context of the Bible and digging into word meanings in the original language. I like reading commentaries written by those who have studied Scripture much longer than I have. These and other tools are helpful, and I know God has used them in my life. But today, I want to come to the Bible like a child. Taking His Word at face value. Bringing no preconceived ideas. Bringing nothing at all but open, unguarded, uninhibited trust.

Father, I am 33 years old, but I am still Your child. You are so much more trustworthy than I as a parent could ever be. Help me to lay aside anything that would prevent me from receiving Your Word and Your Kingdom with childlike faith. Teach me to live here and now, in this present moment, trusting You so implicitly that there is no question You will take care of me. As I read the Bible today, let it be with all of the wonder of chasing a butterfly. Let joy bubble up in my soul as I pursue You, and You alone. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Day 12 (Bible Reading Exercise #3) : As you read the Bible today, imagine that you are ten years old and reading a chapter or verse for the first time. Pray, “Holy Spirit, I intentionally lay aside me and what I know so that I can focus on You and what You know. Help me to see and trust like a child.”

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Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 11)

*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

Continued from yesterday’s post

The Bible is both a book about hundreds of generations of people and a love letter from the Father to you and me. How amazing it is that Jesus made a way for us to be part of the Story of the ages!

Scripture is wisdom, direction, and hope for our lives. It holds the answers we need, and its promises belong to those who place their faith in Jesus.

Day 11 (Bible Reading Exercise #2): Today, remind yourself how very applicable the Bible is to you personally. Try inserting your name into one or more promises found in the Word of God.

For example:

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for [Holly], who can ever be against [her]? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for [Holly], won’t he also give [her] everything else? Who dares accuse [Holly], whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given [Holly] right standing with himself. Who then will condemn [her]? No one—for Christ Jesus died for [Holly] and was raised to life for [her], and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for [her]. Can anything ever separate [Holly] from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves [her] if [she has] trouble or calamity, or [is] persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is [Holly’s] through Christ, who loved [her]. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate [Holly] from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither [her] fears for today nor [her] worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate [Holly] from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate [Holly] from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus [her] Lord.”Romans 8:31‭-‬39 (NLT)

Father, Your Word is so precious to me! Thank You for the beautiful way that it works in my life. May my heart be changed by a fresh realization of Your love for me, spoken through the Bible. Open my ears to hear as You speak through Scripture directly to me. Help me to do more than listen. I want to obey and apply Your Word to my daily life, putting my full faith and trust in what You have said. In Jesus’ name Amen.

***If you would like to join me in drawing near to Jesus through a 14-day Unquarantine, scroll down to enter your email address under “FOLLOW BLOG VIA EMAIL.”***

Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 10)

*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

Today is AJ’s 2nd birthday, and let me tell you, he loved him some chocolate cake! He reminds me of the kid from the movie “Matilda,” lol! The funny thing is, AJ is just as happy eating mango kale baby food as he is cake. He likes what’s good for Him and what is sweet.

I want to be like AJ, at least when it comes to spiritual food. Jesus made it clear that life is more than what we experience with five senses and that our spirits need nourishment even more than our bodies do:

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”–Matthew 4:4 (ESV)

We need God’s Word like we need bread or water or air.

Almost any way we read the Bible is good, but if we’re not careful, it can become more an obligation than a delight. And a delight it should be! We can say with the Psalmist:

“I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”–Psalms 119:16 (ESV)

It may be black letters on a white page, but Scripture is full of color. Though most of its characters died thousands of years ago, the Word of God is full of life. The 66 books of the Bible include history, poetry, prophecy, parables, and more–almost any genre we could desire.

Even if it were just a book, the Bible is unique in having been penned by about 40 different people over thousands of years. But it’s not just a book. Those 40 people wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the living Word of God. His Spirit is still speaking through Scripture to us today.

We are wise to realize that the Bible is both kale and chocolate cake. It is necessary nourishment, full of the spiritual vitamins and minerals that we need to sustain us. That’s why it is best to form a daily discipline of Bible reading. (I personally think that consistency matters more than the amount we read.)

God’s Word is also a pleasure to be enjoyed, and we should approach it that way. Like a husband surprising His wife with an unexpected date or a teacher putting a creative twist on her lesson plans. It’s OK to shake up the routine a little!

For the next few posts, I want to focus on studying God’s Word–specifically through exercises that can help us step out of routine and engage with the Bible in a fresh way. I’m not talking about changing Scripture itself–it needs no change–but giving our attitude and expectations a needed jostle. Wherever we are in our journey with Scripture, we can always go deeper. I trust that that when you and I carve out extra time to read the Bible, we will get to know its Author even better.

Day 10 (Bible Reading Exercise #1): While it’s great to read chapters at a time, if this becomes a rut instead of a healthy habit, it might be time to slow down. Sometimes less is more. Try focusing on a single verse and pausing to chew on each individual word.

For example, my kids’ memory verse this week is:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”–Psalms 46:10 (ESV)

The little ones are only memorizing the first part of the verse. On my own, I paused with each word, asking the Holy Spirit what He wanted to show me today:

BE— be, just be … not do, just be

STILL,— still and quiet on the inside, no matter what’s happening on the outside; still enough to resist impulsive decisions based on fear, quiet enough to hear His voice … even the comma is asking for a pause, a breath

AND— and is a small but important word, because being still is not the end; it leads to something …

KNOW— knowing is what being still leads to; after I have been still, I will know for certain, know without question

THAT— that is like an arrow pointing to what I will know after I have been still

I AM— these two Words together hold power; when Jesus uttered them in the Garden of Gethsemene, the people fell to the ground, stripped of their own power to stand; my power (control) must give way to His power

GOD.— God, a title meant only for Him. He is God, and I am not. He is God, and fear is not. Sickness is not. The economy is not. He alone is God.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

God, Your Word is a treasure all of the time. It is life to me–when I realize that and when I don’t. Please forgive me for the times I have approached Bible reading with anything less than all of my attention, all of my energy, all of my anticipation. Thank you for nourishing me with Your Word even when I have come to it half-hearted or distracted. I do want my time with You to be fresh and new. Will You lead the way? Help me to follow with all of my heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

***If you would like to join me in drawing near to Jesus through a 14-day Unquarantine, scroll down to enter your email address under “FOLLOW BLOG VIA EMAIL.”***