Unquarantined:  Draw Near (Day 7)

Parents all over the world have been homeschooling their kids–some for years, some more recently due to COVID-19. Today was my first day, and it didn’t go at all how I planned.

It’s going to take some work and flexibility to figure out how best to homeschool my own kids while teaching 80 something 4th and 5th graders online. (I should pause and say that I’m so thankful to have a job I love and that it’s one I can continue to do while keeping my kids at home. I know not everyone has that luxury right now.)

Having said that … there are days that just make you feel like you come up short. Today was one of those for me. I needed more hours or more patience–probably the latter, honestly.

But there’s something that has always amazed me about God, and it gives me great hope in this time:

Whatever good thing is lacking in me is abundant in Him.

I was short on patience today, but my God is a deep well of patience. He’s offering me a big bucket, ready to draw up load after load.

Maybe I’m the only one feeling frustrated after a long day, hoping tomorrow I’ll find a way to get it together. Just in case you need to hear it, though:

Our God never runs out of patience, wisdom, or unconditional love. He’s got enough strength and peace to supply the whole world, and then some. There will never be a need to settle for lesser quality self-control. We won’t have to manufacture our own joy, simply because the storehouse “ran out.” His supply chain will never break down, and His deliveries will never be late.

Do you need hope? How about the grace to be gentle and kind toward your family? Jesus on the inside of you IS hope. He IS gentleness and kindness and every good thing you need.

So tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Wake up with an empty bucket–ready to draw water from the well of all that God is. He will live His goodness and mercy out through you and me. We just need to lay down our own attempts, which fall short anyway, and depend on Him instead.

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”–Galatians 5:22‭-‬23 (NLT)

God, there’s no way that I can do everything that I need to do right now without Your help. I need wisdom to discern what’s important in this season and what is not. Holy Spirit, I need Your fruits of patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control to flow out of me–especially in this time of uncertainty. Please help me to lay down my own efforts and allow everything You are to overwhelm my weakness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Day 7: Choose a characteristic of God that is needed in your life today. (You could look at the words in the image attached to this post or do a Google search on the “attributes of God.”) Once you’ve chosen a characteristic, find one or two Bible verses that relate to your choice. (Another Google search or the reference section in the back of your Bible might be helpful.) Now, pray, “Lord You are abounding in _________. Please fill my bucket full of Your _________ today.”

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Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 6)

This post will be short.

I’ve heard and read much about the current situation being a golden opportunity to step back from the chaos, still the busyness, and turn our attention back to God and family. I totally agree.

It’s amazing how hard it can be to actually do that. I’ve been in my house with my family, writing daily blog posts about drawing near to God, and still, I’m finding it so difficult to pull my mind away from the influx of information coming my way. Even when I purposely turn off the TV and put down my phone, my mind keeps spinning.

So, today my prayer is for the grace to be still.

“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 (NKJV)

God, I sense You drawing me to a quiet place, away from the noise, where I can hear Your voice unhindered. Please give me the courage, the discipline and the grace to follow You there. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Day 6: To the best of your ability, put away and turn off all distractions and sit in silence for 30 minutes. Have a cup of coffee or a Dr. Pepper, and ask God to quiet your soul. Expect Him to speak to Your heart.

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Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 5)

  • Do something kind and unexpected.
  • Ask, “What three things do I do that annoy you?” Then, work on the answers.
  • Buy a meaningful gift.
  • Call for no reason other than to check in.
  • Write a sweet note.
  • Choose to say nothing negative for 24 hours.

Robert and I have only just started reading, “The Love Dare”–a book inspired by the movie “Fireproof.” Every chapter ends with a dare meant to grow our marriage. (That second one was tough. Ha!)

Some of the dares have really pushed me out of my comfort zone. I think relationships–growing ones at least–tend to do that from time to time. One of my favorite things about my husband is that he inspires me to want to grow in every area of my life.

God is that way too. To walk in relationship with Him is inevitably going to mean a gentle nudge toward something bigger than yourself and beyond your own abilities. He is a faith-filled God, and He calls us to do things that we could never accomplish on our own.

On one hand, that is super exciting! Getting to partner with the King of Heaven in ways that further His Kingdom? Incredible.

On the other hand, words like insecure, unsure, and “Whoa Nellie!” come to mind. Still, God is … well, God, and sitting on the sidelines has never been part of having a relationship with Him.

We’re talking about the One who used Moses to split the Red Sea, Peter and John to minister healing to a lame man, and Paul to write two thirds of the New Testament. It is hard to imagine Him saying, “Yeah, just sit this one out if you’re not up to it.”

We are believers in Jesus. Believers believe! Not in ourselves but in our God who is so very capable of taking the smallness of what we have to offer Him and making it count big for all of eternity.

“Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men …”–Colossians 3:23 (BSB)

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”–Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

God, I’m so thankful that life with You is adventurous and that You are always leading me to the next step of faith. Help me to respond quickly and wholeheartedly to Your call, knowing that You will be there holding my hand every moment. I trust that You can accomplish infinitely more than I could ever think to ask. In Jesus name, Amen.

Day 5: Ask God how you can partner with Him in this season of your life to make an impact on the world He loves. Is He leading you to do something that intimidates you? Awesome! That’s what faith is for! God is only asking for simple, humble obedience. The results are up to Him.

It’s sometimes hard for me to put myself out there–especially in new ways. My step of faith for today was to make this video. Thankfully, my husband and mom joined me so I didn’t have to do it alone! I was also inspired by several friends who’ve stepped out of their comfort zones–using social media to connect during a time when so many people are stuck in their homes.

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Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 4)

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

“Should I hold this roll of toilet paper?”

Yes! You definitely should!”

The above is some stranger-than-normal dialogue that I had with one of my teacher friends at school today while a group of us (quite hilariously) tried to make a TikTok video for the enjoyment of our students, who are now learning from home.

During a more regular school day, I probably have a dozen quick conversations with my friend (she’s in the classroom next door). Sometimes it’s a clarifying question about what we’re supposed to be doing. Other times, it is to ask for advice or bounce ideas around. Often, we’re pausing to laugh at something funny a kid said or did. In any case, it’s just nice to be able converse with someone who is “walking the same hallways,” so to speak.

When I left school on this no-so-typical day, I stopped pick up AJ from another sweet friend who takes care of him during the week. I lingered in her living room, knowing that our face-to-face talks will probably be few and far between for awhile. Conversation over coffee is going to be hard to come by for the time being, I’m afraid. (Robert doesn’t drink coffee, and I’m not about to give it to any of my kids right now!)

When I started this 14-day blog series, it was out of a desire to deepen my relationship with God and also to do more than just survive COVID-19 inside the four walls of my house. I did not go into it knowing what the topic for each day would be, so I’ve just been taking things one day at a time. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I guess I assumed that I’d be writing about prayer eventually–after all, what better way is there to get to know someone than to talk with Him? That’s what prayer is. Talking with God.

To be honest, I’m not that great at conversational prayer. I feel way more comfortable praising and thanking God or praying His Word. Both of these are important aspects of prayer, but neither is quite as intimate as talking with God like you’d talk to a friend. You know, that relaxed chatter that effortlessly flows when you’re with someone you’ve known for what seems like forever.

I’m not sure why I struggle with this; it’s something God is walking me through. I’m starting to see that as much as I am a follower and a worshiper and a believer, God also wants to call me friend. The Bible gives us several examples of friendship between God and the people He’s created:

  • ” … the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”–Exodus 33:11 (NLT)
  • ” … ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.’ He was even called the friend of God.”–James 2:23 (NLT)
  • “I [Jesus] no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.”–John 15:15 (NLT)

I think that when I Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing” it is speaking about the kind of prayer that engages our heart throughout the day–like close friends who constantly find a way to connect. Even when they can’t talk, they’re making mental notes like “I’ll tell her that later” or “she’ll think that’s funny!

Communication isn’t always verbal, it isn’t even always language-based, but it is always cognizant of the presence of another. Energetic or still, audible or silent, speaking or listening–whatever its form, a good conversation places value on relationship. It says, “I want to know you and be known by you. I want to share all the parts of my life with you.”

How different would my life (and yours) be if the next time we got good news, we shared it with God first? Sure, He already knows, but good news is best celebrated with the ones we love most. Doesn’t our God fit into that category? Shouldn’t He be at the top of our contact list? How about those nagging thoughts that have previously seemed too inconsequential to bother God with? Does He care? Yes! King David wrote:

“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”–Psalm 56:8 (ESV)

If only my heart could be convinced that God truly cares about the biggest and smallest things in my life, the sorrowful and the funny, the spiritual and the mundane. If I could just remember how well He knows me–better than my oldest friend.

God, You are holy and You are my King. My mind can’t comprehend how You can be those things and also desire friendship with me. Still, Your Word says it is so, and I believe what You have said. I want us to have an un-guarded, walls down, tell You any and everything kind of relationship. I want You to be my first call when I have something to say and the One whose input I value the most. Will You show me the way?

Day 4: Today, make an effort to dialogue with God throughout the day about all things, big and small. Trust that He cares about the details of your life. As you reach for the phone to call, text, or e-mail, consider talking to God about it first.

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Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 3)

My students got to come to school this morning, if only for a day. We talked about online learning from home and why it is necessary. They are 4th and 5th graders–smart enough to understand a lot of what is going on and definitely old enough to feel the emotion of it all.

Today, the thing that stuck out to me most was how so many people–from the youngest students to the most seasoned teachers–are just looking for something normal, something stable to hang on to. I could see it in the eyes of kids, hear it in the voices of my peers, and sense it in my own heart.

Our elementary school is a home away from home for students and staff too. It is easy to take that kind of community for granted until you know you’re not going to have it for awhile.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is aching some on the inside for all the connection I know I’ll miss in the next couple of weeks. It’s strange how you can feel a little homeless even while confined to your house. Home is more than just immediate family. It is pushing tables together to accommodate aunts and uncles, cousins, and gammies. It is spontaneous trips with friends to the zoo and piling into the car for a Sonic run. It is circling up to pray or sitting with an open Bible, shoulder to shoulder with precious people of like faith.

These last few days, I’ve found my home again in worship. Looking back, every difficult season of my life has brought me here. To praise. To less of me and more of Him. I sing sometimes, but it’s more than just singing. Like pouring out yesterday’s coffee, it is emptying myself to be filled with something fresh. Like sinking into the most comfortable chair in the house, it is settling into the role I was created to fill. It is remembering and responding to and reciting the faithfulness of God.

Worship can look like a million different things, but it is marked by a heart turned toward Heaven, focused on Jesus. For me, right now, worship looks like crawling into bed with YouTube streaming on the TV. Robert is a night owl, so it’s just me and a playlist full of worship music. I’m singing sometimes and praying sometimes and sometimes just sitting still. After awhile, I realize it’s not just me, because God meant it when He said He would come to us.

Make me an earthen Altar. Sacrifice your Whole-Burnt-Offerings, your Peace-Offerings, your sheep, and your cattle on it. Every place where I cause my name to be honored in your worship, I’ll be there myself and bless you.”–Exodus 20:24 (MSG, emphasis mine)

Our God doesn’t require animal sacrifices any more. Jesus took care of that at the cross. What He asks for now is a living sacrifice–a life totally surrendered to Him (Roman’s 12:1). Worship prepares us to freely lay down all that we have and everything we are before our trustworthy King.

And when we build an altar–a place of offering–in our own hearts, God promises to meet us there. Oh, how I need God’s presence, with all of the peace and calm and steadiness He brings. It is worth whatever it may cost me in the way of personal surrender.

Worship feels like connection and community. Like stability. Like home.

Day 3: Create some space to worship God today, however that looks for you. Come to Him prepared to release whatever you’ve been holding onto in exchange for all that He offers. Expect to experience His presence and His peace.

God, You are so worthy of my worship. I choose to honor You today with my praise. And even though worship is not about me–You are so good to meet with me in the place of my offering. I want to experience Your peace and Your love more than ever before. Steady me with your presence. Thank you for being my home.

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Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 2)

I used to watch a show called “House.” It was a sitcom titled for its main character, Dr. Gregory House. Despite having an awful bedside manner, House was a genius diagnostician and always solved the medical puzzle by the end of the episode.

While flipping aimlessly through channels one day, I did a double take at an interview with Hugh Laurie, the actor who plays House. You see, Gregory House is a cranky American doctor, and Hugh Laurie was speaking with a British accent. I’d watched season after season of the show and never would’ve guessed that the actor wasn’t born and raised in the United States.

More than once, I’ve found myself wandering aimlessly through life, whole seasons passing me by, before I realized that my relationship with God needed a double take. I was hearing plenty of what others had to say about Jesus but lately, hadn’t taken the time to get to know Him firsthand.

Having a relationship with God that is based mostly on what others say about Him is a lot like relating to a fictional character. You’re familiar with the stories but hardly know the person behind them.

How do we get to know a God we cannot see? Through His Word.

“So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”–John 1:14 (NLT)

This passage reveals that Jesus IS the Word of God. From “Let there be light” in the first chapter of Genesis to “Surely I am coming soon” at the close of Revelation, the Bible is alive with the breath of God.

God’s Word is more than an autobiography. That alone would be incredible, but the Author invites us into His Great Story and we are changed as we encounter Him there.

Self described, the Bible is a lamp to guide us. It is bread for the hungry, water that cleanses, and a mirror to reveal the truth. The Word of God is a fire that ignites and purifies the soul. It is the mightiest of swords.

To delve into God’s Word is to search His heart.

Day 2: Along with refusing to dwell on anything negative today, find a Bible verse that speaks to you in this season. Feel free to use the one I chose (below), or better yet, ask God to lead you to the scripture that He has for you right now. He is faithful to answer! Write your verse on a notecard, the bathroom mirror, your phone’s lockscreen, or somewhere else you will see it often.

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!”–Psalms 27:13‭-‬14 (NKJV)

God,

You could have kept me at a distance, but instead You sent Your Son Jesus into my world to make a way for me to come to You. You could have held me at arms length, but instead You revealed who You are through Your Word and invited me into Your Story. As I meditate on Your Word today, I invite You to deal with the misconceptions that I have about who You really are. I want to know You firsthand.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

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Unquarantined: Draw Near

I went back to work today after an extended Spring Break. My little Livi stayed home with her nurse, “quarantined” in her bedroom, since her doctor considers her to be part of the at-risk population.

Along with the other teachers and staff of our local elementary school, I made plans for the return of my students later this week and also for online learning, should that become necessary.

Who knows what the next days and weeks will bring? I find myself praying:

“God, what would You have me do?”

This prayer is stirring in my heart–not specifically in regard to my family or job, but in a much broader sense:

“God, people in my circle and all around the world are uncertain, hurting, and scared. I know that You are the answer. What would you have ME do?”

Because Robert and I have spent the last seven years in and out of crisis situations with Olivia, I’m pretty sure I know what God would NOT have me do.

I know that His desire for me is not to succumb to fear, living out the moments of each day gripped by anxiety. I don’t want that either. Not now that I’ve experienced Jesus as my prevailing peace, my calm in the storm.

I know that God’s wisdom is a gift from heaven–one that He would not have me cast aside carelessly. Wisdom compels me to love my community and honor governing authorities by practicing social distancing and staying home whenever possible.

I’ve heard it said that the church (made up of people, not buildings) is a light that shines even brighter in dark times. I want to be part of that light. My soul is stirred:

“Oh God, let the light of Your Son in me not be hidden behind a wall of self-absorbtion or extinguished by the changing winds of fear. Let it be a beacon shining directly on Your heart, which pulses for humanity.

What about you? Social distancing and quarantines may restrict where we can go physically, but they also foster a near-perfect environment for drawing near to God.

The busyness of life has been put on pause. We are cut off from the usual string of endless distractions, and we have a Father who longs for us to turn our attention to Him. He wants us to know Him more deeply and to rest in the satisfaction of being known by Him.

I’m still listening for the complete answer to my prayer, “God, what would You have me do?” But on the inside, somehow, I know this is the place to start:

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”–James 4:8a (ESV)

“God, I’m here. Right now. In the space created by this pause, for however long it lasts. You have my attention. Yes, I will take care of my family, cherishing the blessing of this extra time with them. I will look for opportunities to care for my neighbors and community. I will show up for every day life and whatever it demands. All the while, I settle it in my heart today–the trajectory of my life is directed toward You. In this season, You are the treasure I seek. Give me grace to pursue You with all that I have and to follow where You lead.”

I commit to spend the next 14 days actively seeking to deepen my relationship with God. Friend, even as you practice social distancing, will you “unquarantine” with me? I pray that as we purposefully draw near to God, we will experience more freedom within the walls of our homes than we ever have outside of them.

Day 1: No matter what happens today, refuse to dwell on negativity and fear. Instead, each time you are faced with an opportunity to be swept up by negative emotions, choose to re-direct your thoughts to God and His great love for you.

God, I consciously make the decision to turn my eyes toward You today. As I go about the tasks that this day will require of me, I guard against fear, worry, and anxiety. I recognize and admit my human tendency to magnify anything negative, and I ask for the grace to magnify Your goodness instead. As I draw near today, please highlight the particular facet of Your goodness that I need to see today.

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Should I Be Worried?

I’ve spent entirely too much time on social media and news sites in the last few days. Like a bystander who just can’t seem to avert her eyes from the scene of a collision, I just keep going back for another glimpse at “Coronavirus versus the World as I Once Knew It.” I can sympathize, at least in part, with many of the viewpoints that are monopolizing my newsfeed:

• Those who show great concern for the well-being of the most vulnerable among us

• And … those who think fear is being unnecessarily spread by the media

• Those in leadership who are tasked with making decisions that will affect others (and who bear the weight of public opinion, no matter what they decide)

• And … those who, in response to decisions made by others, must figure out how to re-arrange to make life work

• Those who buy hand sanitizer, and non-perishables, and toilet paper, because everything seems out of control, and storing up supplies is one thing they can actually do

• And … those who fear that supermarket aisles will be empty when they need to buy formula for a baby or essentials for an elderly parent

• Those who worry that the virus will spread rapidly if events do not shut down and people do not stay home

• And … those who worry about the economy and the financial well-being of people whose jobs depend on society functioning as normally as possible

I sympathize with all of us, who are being inundated with an overwhelming stream of information that is difficult to sort through.

While scrolling through Facebook, where every other post on my feed references coronavirus, I noticed a question posted to a page that is tailored to moms of young children. The mama asked,

“Should I be worried?”

I’ve phrased the same thought in various ways over the last few days. Asking those who’ve lived longer than my 33 years, “Do you remember anything like this happening before?” Asking myself–as if to make sure I’m not going crazy–“Is this really happening?”

The question that comes to mind the most often–the one that has me reverting to Facebook and online news too often for my own good:

“What is going to happen?”

It bubbles to the surface of my heart less like a question and more like a foregone conclusion:

“I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Honestly, these words have felt like the theme of my life lately–long before coronavirus.

Because Olivia just turned eight years old, and genetic disease means her life looks nothing like anything I ever pictured.

I don’t know what is going to happen.

And I feel like I’m living it all over again. Her baby brother, my little AJ, is scheduled for an MRI soon.

I don’t know what is going to happen.

Our sweet seventeen year old is trying to be a teenager while carrying burdens not meant for her young shoulders. I am only a foster mom, and it isn’t in my power to cast off the weight.

I don’t know what is going to happen.

The little girls have been with us for almost a year. They might be with us longer, for forever even. Then again, we may have to say goodbye soon.

I don’t know what is going to happen.

This season of my life is requiring things I never thought would be asked of me. At times I feel so very weak. Roles that I used to fill with ease and grace feel cumbersome and clumsy.

I don’t know what is going to happen.

I’m beginning to discover something about that statement. Though probably born out of fear, if offered to Jesus, this very same sentence can be an expression of humble faith. It is the realization that I can never perceive enough, prepare enough, or be enough.

I simply do not know what is going to happen.

And while, yes, that can be a very scary place to be, it brings an unexpected freedom too. An unloading of everything that I am not at the feet of Jesus, who longs to be my all in all. Like curling up under a shade tree after trudging through the desert for far too long.

I do not know what is going to happen, but there is One who does.

No amount of planning and preparation on my part can guarantee an outcome, but the God who clothes fields of flowers and provides food for the smallest of sparrows cares deeply for me and mine.

In and of myself, I have very little power to slow the tide of disease or even retain my sanity through an indefinite quarantine with five children, should that be required. But I serve an Almighty God who holds the hearts of kings in His hands. He is my Healer, my Provider, my Protector, my Teacher, and my Friend. He “rescues the weak and needy (Psalm 82:4).” He hears my prayer, and though I do not always know when or where or how, He answers.

I rarely have dreams that I can remember once awake. I’ve only ever had a few that I thought actually meant something. Yet, night before last, I dreamed something important.

I was moving–almost being pushed through–a long house with lots of rooms. Each room was over-crowded with people pressing in on each other. Everyone was talking at once so that I could hardly distinguish a thing that was being said. Finally, I got to what I knew to be the final room. I opened the door to utter silence. Fewer people were in this room, and each was kneeling in prayer or had hands raised in worship. The contrast between the former rooms and the last was so stark that it brought tears to my eyes.

The dream reminded me that while there is a lot I don’t know (especially with regard to coronavirus), there are a few things that Jesus has made me certain of:

There is wisdom in informing ourselves and taking precautions based on the advice of knowledgable authorities. But we can’t expect this to bring us real peace. Peace that comes through what I can do is both limited and temporary. Peace that transcends circumstance comes from walking in step with the Prince of Peace. His name is Jesus.

There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by pressing through the chaos and noise to find a quiet place at the feet of Jesus. We will find Him to be a Good Shepherd (the best of guides), always willing to lead us beside still waters.

Often, Jesus teaches us to overflow with peace by turning our focus away from ourselves and outward to the needs of others. In serving my neighbor or a stranger, the churning of my own heart is calmed.

So, center your heart in the peace Jesus offers, and I will too. Let’s do it now, before voices of fear drive us to panic or thoughts of self-preservation cause us to forget the needs of others.

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”–Matthew 6:25‭-‬33 NLT

These words, so tenderly and powerfully spoken by Jesus, give me the strength to prioritize His voice over the pull of my Facebook feed and Amazon shopping cart.

Should you be worried? Should I? No. Our Heavenly Father knows all of our needs. He will certainly care for us.