This prayer in Ephesians 1 has been going through my mind today as relates to our church family. We have faced some real challenges over the last month. I anticipate these challenges to continue (and perhaps even be magnified) in coming weeks. However, that doesn’t change the promises of God… the wisdom, the enlightenment, the inheritance, the power He gives us as we depend on Him rather than forging ahead with our own desires, plans, and intentions.
This is my prayer for each member of our church family… a prayer that we can accurately represent Jesus Christ to those around us during this global pandemic fueled by fear and hopelessness. The church is to be a place of hope and peace — a refuge from the turmoil that surrounds us.
May each of you… have your hearts enlightened to KNOW what is the hope He has given us and to KNOW the riches of his glorious inheritance and KNOW the immeasurable greatness of His power toward believers!
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he [God the Father] put all things under his [Jesus] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 1:16–23 (ESV)
An excellent Facebook post worth reading!
This is a bit lengthy. Since every expert in the world is weighing in on the events, so will I. Remember, this is the view of a historian, and is intended as that. Hat tip to Christopher Witmer for getting me started on this.
As a historian I tend to see the present through the past. Nothing is ever the same as it was in the past, but there are often patterns, responses, and events that have a similar shape to those of history. As a follower of Jesus Christ, my world view as a historian is also shaped to think about my, and our, responses in the present. In fact, one could argue that there is “nothing new under the sun,” and that history gives answers on how to respond today. This is especially true of world-shaping events such as the Covid-19 crisis we are facing today.
The Scriptures give much credence to remembering the past. In the final words of Moses to the Israelites he repeatedly urges them to remember. Here is one such urging:
"Remember the days of old;
consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you,
your elders, and they will tell you."(Deut. 32:7)
The point in remembering is not for nostalgia; to remember the “good old days,” which in fact were not often that good! Rather, it is to consider how people lived, the mistakes they made, and more importantly how God moved in the events. To consider in order to repent and not give in to fear. To consider and remember that our God is alive.
So what can we learn from the current crisis facing our world. First of all, it is not unprecedented! I think I used that word myself at the beginning. There have been other infectious diseases that have drastically shaped the world. The repeated use of that word reflects how selfish many of us are. While this crisis is world-altering, and it is not likely we will ever return to the “normal” we had. But remember that normal is only our perceptions of how the world has worked for us. Will this impact the economy? Yes, it certainly will. Will we ever be the same? Not likely. And we shouldn’t either. Each such world-altering event is unique and will change the world.
We live in a much more interconnected global world than any previous generation or people ever have. This has created the scenario where information, goods, people, and diseases can travel very quickly. It does us no good to decry this fact. It is the present reality. However, this is not all bad. The same tools that were used to bring us news about this disease, and the virus itself, to our world, are also the tools used we are called to use to take the Gospel to the world.
I hear several major themes emitting from the scratchy voices of social media in our world today. While I recognize much good in articulating these themes, we must be careful or these themes will become the strident shouts that break the Christian world apart. I also realize that I run much risk by writing and disseminating this, since I too can be viewed as shouting. I am also quite aware that I am not a prophet, or the son of a prophet. I am a historian. What I am calling for is some historical integrity in viewing these events.
First, I hear people decrying the fact that the Government, state or federal has the right to shut down our economy, world and control our lives by forcing us to stay at home. While some of their decrees may seem draconian, they certainly are not against Scripture, nor have they asked us to not have church services. All they have asked from us is to not meet in large groups. We have always argued that the church is not the building, and that is correct. It is the people. People who choose to follow King Jesus. And those people are not restricted in being able to follow their King. Perhaps we made our gatherings places of idolatry. Where we feel good because we “get” the social interactions that we need. I am not against social interactions, but they do not replace following Jesus and being obedient to his call on our lives.
These edicts have forced many churches to look for alternate ways to share the Gospel and encourage the believers. From the Pope live casting to small church using audio-conferencing; the tools we have are enormous. And for many in the Christian world, these tools were not harnessed in good ways. In the span of one week, people who never could, or never would go to church, are able to hear the Gospel. The tools that the church feared and maligned are now the tools to spread the Gospel. If we have to take a break from meeting together, remember that we are still called to share the story of Jesus. It is our space to act! I return to the words of many early Anabaptists who encouraged the people to keep any law that did not violate their conscience as Christians. In this case the government is not asking us to stop having church. We are actually able to reach audiences using technology in ways we never could if church buildings were open.
Another idea that is floating around out there is that the social distancing laws rob us of our “personal freedoms.” What are personal freedoms anyway? While not perfect these laws are intended to stop the spread of a disease, which science shows actually works. When we react and suggest that our “personal freedoms” are more important then bringing life, we are acting in supreme selfishness. The Government is called, according to the Scriptures, to protect the citizenry from any evil. I think that disease can be put into that class. In fact, war against this disease seems to be a more present and direct enemy than ever was Saddam Hussain, or many other enemies that Christians argued should be eliminated.
In the Old Testament God clearly pointed to drastic physical distancing as the means to deal with infectious diseases. This distance was not intended to hurt the people, rather, to protect and preserve life. Not personal freedoms, but LIFE. Life is what we need to fight for. So many people in our world today (by that I mean in our network of Christian people), are upset because they are not able to do what they want; when they want to do them. Can we give up our “freedoms” for the sake of LIFE?
The second voice that I hear out there is those people who are saying that this is not as bad as the media is portraying it to be. After all the flu, abortion, drunk driving, speeding, texting while driving, etc kills more people than this virus ever will. Yes you are right. And we should speak as directly to those issues as we do to this. I also recognize that the media does inflate, deflate, and malign the events. We often do so ourselves. I find it fascinating that those same people who are arguing that the media is at fault here, are themselves wanting to have a voice to broadcast their version of the truth. Remember this, everyone (including me) has an agenda. It is in the collection of facts, from a variety of sources that truth in this situation is revealed. Neither CNN or Fox News (as representatives of the spectrum in the media) have the corner on the truth.
I have observed many people posting “articles” by “experts” on social media. We have an old saying in my mother tongue, “papier is ruhig.” Translated – Paper is willing, or receptive. Receptive to whatever medium used to inscribe it. We can broaden that and say that paper, the cameras, or any other sources of “broadcasting” are receptive. I can write anything on paper and look the expert. I can get up and act the expert. I am reminded of someone who once told me that the Amish are all a part of the Amish mafia, since this person had seen that on TV. I told the same person that Princess Diana was not actually killed in an auto accident. She asked how I knew that, I replied that I had seen it in the “National Enquirer.” She was a tad bit upset, but got the point. Some of the “experts” speaking to this issue should apply at the Enquirer. If you think I should be doing so, be kind enough to find an application for me.
This does not absolve us of responsibility in the present situation. If the loss of one life is avoidable we should sit up and take note. We often act as though we are invincible because we have had so much prosperity and opportunity. We have not seen widespread disease and death inside our worlds, which we often attribute to our good ways of living. This raises questions of idolatry and motives. If we are reacting to the stay at home orders (or to the media) because our worlds have been upset; we are idolatrous. Historically, most of God’s people have not had the level of prosperity or peace as we have had in modern times. Could it be that our lifestyle and perceived goodness and obedience has been our god, and we think we are above the diseases of this world? What will we do when we suddenly feel feverish, or begin to cough? Unless a miracle happens, we will be touched by the disease. How will our gods of work then? What about returning to the True God; the God who cares about life and truth. Take some time to read the words of God himself in this matter in Deut. 31:16-18
Above the din of social media, I am also hearing a third group of people voicing conspiracies ranging from “this is a left-wing media propagated disease” to “5G signal” theories. This reflects how poor students of history we really are. When the Bubonic Plague infected Europe much of Christianity was certain that the Jews were the reason that the infection was so deadly. They instituted pogroms and killed many of them. When in fact, the plague was spread by poor sanitary practices (including the lack of physical distance) and the prolific amount of rats and fleas in their world. The Jews were blamed for the plague because their rate of infection was much lower, and in some areas, nil. The reason; they were socially and physically isolated in most European cities from the rest of the Christian population. In addition, they practiced much higher sanitary rules due to their adherence to the Mosaic Law and the dietary and sanitary practices in place there. Could we learn from this?
This virus is taking the path that all such viruses do; the path of least resistance. When we fight against the necessary means to stop the spread, or look for someone, or some group to blame, how are we any different than Christendom was in the time of the plague. In fact, calling it the “China Flu,” or focusing on some unproven conspiracy, does exactly what should not happen; it divides and brings death to our world. Exactly what the God of history calls his people not to do. We are called to bring LIFE, to choose LIFE, to give LIFE, and yes even give our LIVES.
There is often much wisdom in the final words of any person when they are aware that their own life is over. Consider the last words of Moses who had led his people through the wilderness, much death, disease, failure, and loud complaining. He is speaking to a very young group of people when he says: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse, Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days.” (Deut. 30:19-20a)
Here is a message from Bro. Bill Mullet from Anabaptist Disciples of Christ!
We are truly in an uncharted wilderness. Picture a desert with no roads and no trails. There is no sign of what direction to go because there is nothing but an endless sea of sand dunes in every direction. What do we do?
Thirty days ago, I don’t believe any of us would have believed what could happen within a few short weeks. It was beyond anyone’s imagination. Because of the COVID-19 virus, things have changed – not just a little, but they have changed drastically. Who would have thought the Democratic primaries and upcoming presidential election would be largely silenced with no more boisterous political rallies and debates? I would never have considered the possibility of all sporting and entertainment events in the US would be cancelled within days. In some states, businesses have been told to shut down indefinitely with exceptions only for essentials such as food, gas, and healthcare. As of right now, more than 25% of the US population of roughly 350,000,000 in five states are being told to stay at home as much as possible for the next several weeks or indefinitely. If this could all happen within the last two to three weeks, what will we be facing in the next thirty days? We literally have no idea.
I don’t fault anyone about feeling anxious as we wait to see how COVID-19 impacts our personal lives, our communities, this country, and the world at large. Admitting when we are anxious and afraid is helpful. We need to be honest with ourselves and God about what is really going on in our hearts. At the same time, we don’t want to stay there — we don’t want to stay anxious and fearful about something over which we have no control. We need to surrender our anxious hearts to God and allow Him to carry those concerns for us.
During challenging times like this what we truly believe about God is revealed in our responses. Do we respond in fear? Anger? Trust? Anxiety? Faith? Paranoia? Peace?
The fact is we live in a fallen world. Sin is a far more deadly virus than COVID-19. Since the fall of Adam & Eve, we have lived in a physical world marred and deeply flawed by sin. As a result, most human endeavors are rooted in mankind following their pride and putting others down in order to get the desires of their own heart. Sin is rooted in selfishness. It is fueled by greed. Until Jesus returns and destroys Satan, the power of sin and darkness and despair will continue to reign on planet earth.
Because of the brokenness of the world we live in, there are and will continue to be natural disasters, tragic accidents, sickness, and disease. There is pain. There is suffering. As long as we live in time and space, these realities will continue all around us, and Christians are not exempt. This COVID-19 virus is just one example of this. It is equally contagious to believers and unbelievers. It is equally threatening our earthly lives and affecting our very way of life. The virus is inanimate. It is nondiscriminatory. It is an equal opportunity virus. This microscopic virus is creating upheaval around the globe – economically, socially, and medically – it is bringing the most powerful countries and economies to their knees.
Even though we live in a fallen world, God is good. In Psalm 119:68 the psalmist writes “You [God] are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” God is good. God does good. What does He have to teach us about Himself?
God is as good today as He was three weeks ago… three decades ago… three centuries ago… or three millennium ago. God is as good today as He was when He created sinless Adam and Eve and placed them in the perfect garden called Eden. He is the same today as He was in eternity past. And He is the same today as He will be in eternity to come. He is as good today as he was on the day he delivered the children of Israel from Egypt… when He miraculously parted the Red Sea… when He ultimately lead them into the promised land.
God’s goodness doesn’t fluctuate based on what is happening on planet earth at any given time. God was good during the most horrible genocides throughout history. He was good during the deadly plagues that killed millions. God was good when early Anabaptists were hunted like wild animals and cruelly put to death. He was good whenever Christians have been tortured and killed for their beliefs.
Our definition and perception of “good” is flawed by sin. The goodness of God is far superior to what we can grasp with our feeble and finite minds. It describes the character and heart of God.
The REALITY is God is good — regardless of our feelings. Let’s believe it. Let’s declare it. Let’s remember it. Let’s remind ourselves and others — GOD IS GOOD!
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we have hope. This is something no unbeliever can truly understand. We believers have changed our allegiance from kingdom of sin and Satan to God’s eternal kingdom. Our sins have been forgiven because of Jesus ultimate sacrifice – His cruel death on the cross and bodily resurrection from the dead. We have peace with God because we have been adopted into His family. We have hope – not fear and anxiety.
Titus 2:11–14 (ESV) For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Notice how Titus instructs us to live our lives in the present age. We are live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. This admonition is pertinent for today’s present realities. Why do we live our lives like that? Because we are waiting for our blessed hope – the appearing of Jesus Christ. We have something far greater to look forward to and for which to live.
We live in this sinful and unredeemed world like an ambassador in a hostile country. Our citizenship, our identity, our purpose, is not just here and now. It is for something far greater. We have the promise and hope of life eternal which is given to us with our salvation.
1 John 5:11–13 (ESV) And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
Death for the believer is simply a transition from living in time & space into eternity – we keep right on living.
What is God trying to teach us? Why is He allowing this virus to cause so much disruption? We don’t know the why and probably never will fully know on this side of eternity.
What is He trying to teach us? We don’t fully know presently and we may not know for some time. While we could speculate from multiple angles, I would like for us to consider one possibility. Remember the tower of Babel in Genesis 11?
Genesis 11:1, 4 (ESV) Now the whole earth had one language and the same words… Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
At this point in history, civilization had advanced to a point where they were had learned to accomplish significant endeavors. Because of their success, their confidence and their arrogance soared. They believed they were invincible.
Genesis 11:6–8 (ESV) And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
God understood the potential they had for evil and destruction. He acknowledged their competence when He stated that what they set their hearts to do they will accomplish. In fact, God says nothing was impossible for them to do. So, He intervened. God, in His goodness, created a disruption.
The people’s arrogance, their power, their self-confidence, their aspirations, their goals — they were in control and they were invincible (or so they thought).
God acknowledges potential for misusing their potential and He recognized that it was not healthy and would not lead to good outcomes. So God intervened by causing a disruption that caused them to see that they weren’t as powerful or invincible as they thought they were. It brought these people to their knees – it abruptly halted their massive construction project.
Perhaps God is calling our attention and focus back to Him rather than everything man has accomplished – and that includes what we have accomplished. We don’t know why God is allowing the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we do have a responsibility to respond in a manner that positively reflects the character of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What is an appropriate response?
Suddenly having our calendars cleared, fewer activities, and less busyness; lets cultivate habits that can intentionally deepen our spiritual lives in several ways.
Let’s cultivate a heart of humility and devout prayer. This virus has brought the world to a relative standstill (in comparison to several months ago). It has literally brought our prosperous economy to its knees – to a place of humiliation. Being on one’s knees is a vulnerable position. It’s not a comfortable position. It is not a posture we naturally choose.
But God calls us to the posture of humility willingly. We are to do so out of recognition for who God is and our own unworthiness before God.
One of the ways we demonstrate our humility lies in our desire and willingness to spend time in prayer, especially for each other in the body of Christ. In our church, we have prepared daily prayer reminder list of members and regular attendees — let’s fervently pray for each other regularly and systematically. We should also be praying for our government, business and church leaders as they have many difficult decisions to be made. As we humbly pray, we are acknowledging our own inadequacy, frailty, and inability to do anything in our own strength. It is recognizing that ultimately only God is in control.
This is also a time we should take time to carefully examine ourselves, make confession of sin, and walk in repentance. Use this time in which our pace has been slowed to humbly ask God to scrutinize our own life for areas of selfishness, pride, or wrong desires. When the Holy Spirit illuminates those dark places in our lives we have a choice: we can disregard the revelation or we can call it the sin it is and confess it to God as such. After we confess our sin, we must turn away from – repent – and purposely move closer to God.
With a less hectic lifestyle and more free time, this is also an excellent time to immerse ourselves is scripture. Take this time to carefully read and contemplate God’s Word. Read it slowly. Think about what you are reading. Re-read it. Digest it. Meditate on it. Intentionally memorizing scripture is one of the best ways to fill our hearts with God’s truth.
It is fascinating how many of the Psalms seem especially relevant at times like this. The Psalms express deep and honest emotions that connect with us when we are going through difficult and challenging times. Read and meditate on the Psalms.
Let’s not forget that this is a time when people around us are truly seeking truth. They are coming to the realization of their own helplessness and their lack of hope. This is the time to humbly share the hope, the peace, and the confidence we have in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Let’s watch for opportunities to express those realities to those who are searching for something more during this time.
We all have our anxious moments, but let’s help encourage each other to surrender those fears and instead intentionally choose to embrace with joy the hope and peace and confidence in Almighty God, the ruler of the universe.
Thanks to Marvin Yoder for graciously sharing. “I was scheduled to have SS devotions last Sunday. I’ve been thinking about Ps. 23 since it is the school memory passage this month. Here are some of the thoughts I was planning to share.”
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
The LORD (Yahweh/Jehovah)
- The God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.
- Met Jacob at Bethel when he was running for his life.
- Appeared to Moses in burning bush and led Israelites from Egypt and through the desert.
The Lord IS . . .
- Without beginning and without end; from eternity past to eternity future
- Self-existing one; the great I AM
- present tense; not was; not will be; right now where I am, when I need Him.
The Lord is MY shepherd.
- That’s personal; yours, too, of course
- Though there may be 100 sheep, He knows me by name.
The Lord is my SHEPHERD.
- He came in person of Jesus who said, “I am the good shepherd.”
- In Heb. 13:20 He is that great Shepherd of the sheep
I shall not want. “Want” = “to lack”
- Not everything I’d like, but everything I need (even during COVID 19).
- Makes me lie down in green pastures of the Word of God.
- Leads me beside still waters of peace in turbulent times.
- Restores my soul when discouraged or defeated.
- “Cast all your care upon Him.”
- Leads me in path of righteousness, i.e. right paths
- Prepares a table before me, avoiding the pitfalls of false teaching and deception.
- Anoints my head with oil, bringing spiritual and physical healing.
- Finally, walks with us through the valley of death.
Our safe house
The one we can count on to be right by our side
Through the day
He’s here with everything we need
When we need everything.
And refuse to give in to anxiety
Though all we can see
Our world is rocking
Waves of trouble
Hurricanes of sorrow
Crashing and tempest
Tumult and shaking
Oh, the comfort of His presence!
The Rock that cannot move
The River that cannot run dry
Streams of goodness
Deluge of grace
Not one second of all time will His people be separated from Him.
He is with us!
When disaster strikes
When the earth crumbles
When the stars fall
When the whole world topples
He’s with us!
Come, consider with me the great things God has done.
He spoke everything into existence
He confused language to frustrate human pride
He destroyed the wicked with a flood
And spared one righteous family
He chose Abraham
He brought His enslaved people out of Egypt
And ravaged Egypt in the process
He parted the waters of the Red Sea… and the Jordan
He commanded walls to fall down
He made the sun stand still
He chased enemy armies with hornets
Then He let His own people be ravaged for their waywardness
Yes, come, and consider even greater things He has done…
He entered our world…
Healing flowed like a river
Life erupted like a fountain
Languages converged into one again
The kingdom of the heavens came to earth
Men and women came to life
Their hearts beat with love
Their lips and hands and feet were bathed in righteousness
People of diverse nationalities and race
Laid down their weapons
And embraced as brothers and sisters in one family
Don’t say a word.
Meditate on this mega-story
Review each chapter.
Take in each line…
That God is God.
He will do His will.
He will finish His plan.
He will redeem His people.
He will restore all that is broken.
All nations will sing His praises!
All languages will shout the Hallelujah!
This God is our God!
The Lord Jehovah is with His people
The next day
Until time is no more…
And then the relationship is only begun!
I’ve been giving a bit of thought to the reasons that this disruption of our everyday lives feels so “big” to us. Aside from the obvious seriousness of living with the presence of a virus spreading across our world. I believe that the root of what is so off-putting to our modernist minds is our complete inability to control or fully understand the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Self-sufficiency and self-definition are two of the biggest “goods” encouraged by the culture around us, and right now, both of these things are absent from daily life.
Our self-sufficiency has been called into question as we’ve come to realize that if the delivery trucks don’t bring in the products we need, we won’t have access to them (TP anyone?). We recognize that the little things that we took for granted just weeks ago, aren’t as permanent as we once thought. This causes us to fear.
Self-definition is also unraveling before our eyes. The foundations, upon which people have built their identities, are missing. Sports are nowhere to be found, movie theaters and malls have closed, restaurants and bars are shut down, and most educational institutions have closed their doors. These are all things that people use to define themselves, to associate with a group, to feel a sense of purpose. Now, those things too, have gone from their lives.
As followers of Christ, we are instructed not to live in fear. More than that, we are equipped to follow that command.
We already know that we can’t go through life on our own, that we aren’t fully self-sufficient. We know that we are not promised an easy path through life, and we don’t know what we may encounter along that path. All we know is what’s at the end, and how we’re instructed to walk along the way. On this path, we’re gifted companionship: the church. A family, brothers and sisters in Christ, walking the same path together, encouraging each other, praying for wisdom to navigate well, and helping keep each other’s focus on the road ahead, rather than the darkness surrounding us.
In addition, we’ve also experienced a change in identity. The core of our being must no longer be defined by these externalities. It’s not that we don’t enjoy the good things we’ve been given, it’s just that we’ve come to a place of recognizing these things for what they are, gifts. We’re not to be defined by the world we live in, but by our citizenship to a Kingdom that is to come. In this change of allegiance, comes peace when our world is shaken.
If our purpose and identity comes from beyond ourselves, let’s show the world around us what that looks like! Rather than living fearfully, let’s live hopefully. Not being reckless, but serving our communities in consistent, small ways. Using the confidence that we are gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve as beacons of light to those around us. A friendly “Have a nice day!” to someone filling up next to you at the gas station, checking if your elderly neighbor needs help with anything, or reaching out to a friend who’s isolated during this time.
We’ve been given a gift. Let’s not keep it to ourselves. May we become the willing tools that God uses to redeem and transform this dark time into something beautiful!