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Faith, Miracles and Babies

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What a joy and privilege it has been this year to be an eye witness to two miracles of our God in the form of babies–my sister and my dear friend Alair.

Caleb and Alair Mitchell have been married for 16 years and, though God has given them two amazing and beautiful boys through adoption–Nico and Nate, they have not been able to conceive biologically.  Caleb and the boys started praying for a baby sometime last winter, and I joined them in that prayer in April, around Alair’s birthday.

I was at a mutual friend’s house on a Sunday last June, and we got an unexpected knock at the door.  Caleb and Alair and the boys stood outside, and Alair was weeping holding a positive pregnancy test in her hand.  The JOY!!

As the Lord would have it, I got to be present, along with our friend Kim, for the birth of precious little Nora Jean in a bush hospital in Uganda, where Caleb and Alair serve as missionaries.  I had a front row seat to a miracle of grace!  Here are some pictures of this beautiful and miraculous experience:

A day after Alair found out she was pregnant, I had previously arranged a meeting between Alair and my sister Kara, who also struggled with infertility and was given a 3% chance to conceive naturally.  Kara was in the process of starting a ministry to other families walking through that same pain and struggle, which is what the reason for meeting with Alair.  Our family had started praying with Kara and Duce on our weekly family prayer call in April for the miracle of a baby, and we even had all the kids in our family lay hands on and pray for Kara and Duce’s miracle baby during our annual July 4th celebration!

Two weeks later, as I got back from a trip, there was a knock on my door at 10:30 at night.  I opened the door and saw no one, but there was a stork in my yard.  I was so confused until…Kara and Duce jumped out of my bushes and shared THEIR news!  Another miracle and MORE joy!!!

Just last week I got to witness the precious birth of this little boy born in faith and prayer.  Our little Race Sterling Bishop.  Words cannot describe my awe or my celebration in seeing our God’s design in the miracle of life or in tasting of this sweet answer to the faith-filled prayers of our entire family–from the 3 year old up to the almost 80 year old–in the person of this little boy.  Here are some pictures of God’s beautiful answer to our requests:

Miracles…some have already come and thankfulness is overflowing, and some are still on their way and are waited for in faith and hope.

Dancing On Ashes

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For any of you who have ever sat in a pit of darkness or despair, needing just a taste of faith or hope–a touch of Jesus, I write of my current journey for you…

A couple months ago, I had a “fire”–a time where something very precious and valuable was suddenly gone–burned up quickly and unexpectedly, taking my breath away.  It often still does.  This loss has shaken my core and my faith like nothing else ever has.

Since the “fire,” I’ve been sitting in ashes, trying to sort through remnants of things.  There are so many questions that have no answers.  I have cried out, sometimes hourly, asking the Lord to answer me, to rescue me, to fill me, to comfort me, to speak to me, and to hold me.  He has faithfully met me in so many different ways–friends/family, nature, His word, songs, notes–and yet, the questions have still plagued me.  I often smell like smoke, tasting the ashes along with the saltiness of many tears.

Recently, in a time of seeking Him with my sister, Jesus gave me a picture–an image in my mind…I was clothed in a white dress and I was sitting on a pile of ashes with a house burned down all around me.  Ashes…ashes everywhere.  As I lifted my face from sifting hopelessly through the ashes, I saw Jesus standing right in front of me with His hand outstretched.  He was asking me to dance…DANCE of all things.   Seriously??  Can He not see that things are a little messy right now…and dark…and hopeless and that the last thing I feel like doing is dancing??  He does see, and He’s still asking.  He wants me to dance…to dance on the ashes…with Him.

I cannot describe what the Lord did in my heart in that moment and the hope that flooded my soul…Immanuel.  He’s here.

He will not leave me here in the ashes.  He has a plan, and it includes DANCING!  There’s joy somewhere ahead.  I can’t quite see it yet, but it’s coming.  He says it is.  I just have to stand up, trust Him, take His hand and…dance.  What does that mean practically?  I don’t know exactly, but He’s teaching me.

As we started to dance, He picked up a handful of ashes and started to breathe on them, and when GOD breathes…there’s LIFE!!

My heart is different, even though my circumstances are not…yet.  Peace…Joy….

Following this picture, He brought the line of a song to my mind–“beauty will rise.”  Once I found it, I played the entire song, sobbing my way through.  I didn’t know the full lyrics to this song–only the one phrase that He had brought to my mind,   The words could not have been a more vivid portrayal of the picture He had just given:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJynET3b3PM
“Out of these ashes, beauty will rise and we will dance among the ruins and we will see him with our own eyes…”

I accept your outstretched hand, Jesus.  I choose faith.  I choose to dance with You among the ashes….Beauty will rise (Is 61:3).  You ARE the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)   Behold, You are making all things new (Rev. 21:5).  I believe, help me in my unbelief…

I’m still mid-journey at the moment, and though your journey may be very different from mine, how I pray that Jesus’ touch in my dark, lonely place, will multiply like loaves and fishes of faith and hope in the lives of some of you who may still be sitting in the midst of “ashes.” Others’ stories of faith are doing the same for me.

A Grace Disguised

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This book was suggested to me by at least three different people over the last 3 months, and on the third occasion, I decided that the Lord may be trying to give me a gift, so I picked it up!  Every page seemed to hold something for me, even though Jerry’s story includes greater losses than I can even fathom.  Several people told me it’s the best book on grief and loss they have ever read.  He deals with catastrophic loss including “terminal illness, disability, divorce, rape, emotional abuse, physical and sexual abuse, chronic unemployment, crushing disappointment, mental illness, and ultimately death.”  He says, “If normal, natural, reversible loss is like a broken limb, then catastrophic loss is like an amputation.”

Here are a few quotes from the book just to give you a taste of what you will receive in reading Jerry’s honest and transparent journey through grief and loss:

“It is not, therefore, the experience of loss that becomes the defining moment of our lives, for that is as inevitable as death, which is the last loss awaiting us all.  It is how we respond to loss that matters.  That response will largely determine the quality, the direction and the impact of our lives.”

“…[T]he quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise….  I chose to turn toward the pain, however falteringly, and to yield to the loss, though I had no idea at the time what that would mean.”

“If we face loss squarely and respond to it wisely, we will actually become healthier people, even as we draw closer to physical death.  We will find our souls healed, as they can only be healed through suffering.”

“Loss deprives us of control.  Cancer ravages, violence erupts, divorce devastates, unemployment frustrates, and death strikes–often with little warning.  Suddenly we are forced to face our limitations squarely.  Our expectations blow up in our face.  We wonder what has gone wrong.”

“People in denial refuse to see loss for what it is, something terrible that cannot be reversed.  They dodge pain rather than confront it.  But their unwillingness to face pain comes at a price.  Ultimately it diminishes the capacity of their souls to grow bigger in response to pain….  In the end denial leads to a greater loss.”

“Many people form addictions after they experience loss….  So they watch television every moment they can, work sixty hours a week, drink too much alcohol, go on a sexual rampage, eat constantly, or spend their money carelessly.  In so doing, they hold suffering at a distance.”

“Sorrow never entirely leaves the soul of those who have suffered a severe loss.  If anything, it may keep going deeper.  But this depth of sorrow is the sign of a healthy soul, not a sick soul. ”

“Loss forces us to see the dominant role our environment plays in determining our happiness.”

“The death that comes through loss of spouse, children, parents, health, job marriage, childhood or any other kind is not the worst kind of death there is.  Worse still is the death of spirit, the death that comes through guilt, regret, bitterness, hatred, immorality and despair.”

“Regret keeps the wounds of loss from healing, putting us in a perpetual state of guilt…. People with regrets can be redeemed, but they cannot reverse the loss that gave rise to the regrets.”

“Despite the fact that I had been a Christian for many years before the accident, since then God has become a living reality to me as never before.  My confidence in God is somehow quieter but stronger….  I have slowly learned where God belongs and have allowed him to assume that place–at the center of life rather than at the periphery.”

“Yet a worse state still, far exceeding even sorrow or guilt, is the absence of all feeling, for that means that the soul is dead.”

“Forgiving people give up the right to punish and instead wish wrongdoers well, whether they are starting a new marriage after a divorce or a new life after serving time in prison or a new relationship with God.  Forgiveness hopes that wrongdoers experience a good life, which is full of the mercy of God.”

“I knew I had to make peace with God’s sovereignty, reject God altogether, or settle for a lesser God who lacked the power or desire to prevent the accident.”

“No matter how deep the pit into which I descend, I keep finding God there.  He is not aloof from my suffering but draws near to me when I suffer.”

“The risk of further loss, therefore, poses a dilemma.  The problem of choosing to love again is that the choice to love means living under the constant threat of further loss.  But the problem of choosing not to love is that the choice to turn from love means imperiling the life of the soul, for the soul thrives in an environment of love.”

“Loss is a universal experience…But loss is also a solitary experience…But loss does not have to isolate us or make us feel lonely.  Though it is a solitary experience we must face alone, loss is also a common experience that can lead us to community.”

Flowers, Children and Promises

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In a season of winter, our hearts crave hope–hope that a new season is just around the corner.  That though weeping may last for a night, JOY will come in the morning.  Signs of spring.

Here are a few things that God is using to remind me to hope….

Flowers…the seemingly impossible task of a shoot making it’s way through winter-hardened ground to grow and bloom–seemingly hopeless ground brings forth life….

Children…there’s something about a child that brings joy and hope that not all is as dark as it may seem…that faith is possible…

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matt: 18:3

Promises…God’s promises make “spring” a surety.   Here are just a few that have spoken to me recently:

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” Psalm 84:5-7

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.   I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;therefore I will wait for him.’”  Lamentations 3:21-24

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”  Hebrews 10:23

The resurrection…Honestly, the best promise of spring we will ever have is that our Jesus who died on a Friday ROSE from the dead on a Sunday.

Spring came with His resurrected life, and it purchased for us a promise of a “spring” to come that will never, ever end.  The new season will be one where “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4) because “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:5.

Now that is SPRING!!

 

 

 

 

Partners–In Life and Ministry

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Little did I know when I started to work at our family foundation called Master Works Foundation in 1998 what the Lord was going to do in my life over the next 15 years with the people that I would meet during my time there.

I have had the privilege of serving, loving, being discipled by and partnering in ministry with the most amazing people that you would ever meet, and I met many of them through supernatural encounters that only God could have arranged while I was serving at Master Works. One of the hardest parts about leaving our family foundation 2 1/2 years ago was that I didn’t know what God was going to do with me in life and ministry, nor did I know if I would be able to continue serving with our partners that had now become both friends and family to me.

As the Lord started giving direction to my life and leading me toward En Gedi and my heart for affluent families and ministry leaders, one of the great joys for me is that many of the relationships that He blessed me with in the past have been carried into the future of what He has given me to do!

This late summer and fall were especially rich with visits and times with people that the Lord has given me to partner with in life and ministry. Theses dear friends come from all over the United States and all over the world.  I know that no matter where the Lord takes me in the future, what country I live in, or what He gives me to do, these are people that I will be connected with for life in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whether I see them consistently here on earth or at a reunion in heaven.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am for their lives, their hearts for Jesus and their friendship.  I am incredibly blessed!

I want to give you a glimpse of just a few of the faces I spent time with this fall as well as giving you a small window into the worlds and God-given places of these incredible friends and partners in the kingdom.

Chris De Wet and his family, a South African living in Alabama, president of Afmin, an organization that trains pastors throughout Africa

Steve and Sheri Sweatman (and their daughter) from Colorado, President of Mission Training International, training and equipping missionaries to serve worldwide

Cassie and Jenny Carstens of Capetown, South Africa, leading a discipleship movement and training people all over the world in sports ministry and community development

Kobus and Teresa Grobler and Family from Johannesburg, South Africa, leading Afmin in training pastors throughout all of Africa

John and Lorna Abrahmse from Johannesburg, South Africa, leading J-life ministries, a discipleship movement training up youth leaders throughout Africa

Jay and Vicki Dangers (along with 2 of their 6 children), living in Uganda and leading New Hope Uganda, bringing the Fatherhood of God to the Fatherless

The Mitchell family living in Uganda, serving with New Hope Uganda, and organization that brings the Fatherhood of God to the Fatherless

Next Generation Gathering, dear friends from all over the US who are investing financially in kingdom work around the world.

More dear Young Generation Gathering Friends from the US who invest in kingdom work throughout the world.

The Jonas Family from Utah, dear friends and partners in the Gospel in different parts of the world

Leaders and board members of Leadership Development International from Singapore, Australia, the US and Switzerland. LDI is an organization that trains and equips leaders in China, the Middle East and beyond

Josh and Kristi Patty and their family living in Slovenia, leading Josiah Venture in Slovenia, JV is a movement that serves the local church by equipping youth leaders in Eastern Europe

Dave and Connie Patty living in the Czech Republic, President of Josiah Venture, an organization that assists the local church in training youth leaders throughout Eastern Europe

Amy Ellenwood (Mel was gone that day!!) living in the Czech, Republic, leading Josiah Venture, and organization that assists the local church to train leaders throughout Eastern Europe.

Our logo and His crown…

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In the forming of the idea and entity of En Gedi, I had the privilege of being in a discovery and branding process with my dear friends at Kumveka, an organization whose vision is to see clear and compelling communication for every Christ-focused ministry.  What a blessing they have been to me, En Gedi and so many others!!

In the midst of the brand development we spent many different times seeking the Lord for direction and future focus.  After going through two iterations of En Gedi logos, I needed to make a decision and was very torn between my own thoughts, people’s feedback and just the finality of the decision.  In the midst of my confusion, Lori, Kumveka’s project manager and also a friend, encouraged me to seek the Lord for His heart on the logo.

Though some may not think He cares about things like logos, I’m here to tell you that our God who counts every hair on my head and knows when a sparrow falls, had an opinion about En Gedi’s logo.

Almost before my knees hit the ground in my room, I clearly heard the words “laurel wreath,” which was a phrase I heard early on in the process but paid little attention.  Then I knew.  This–pictured below–was His logo choice.

This mark had huge significance to me personally as my name is Laurie, a derivative of “laurel,” which means “Queen of Victory.”  In that season of uncertainty the Lord repeatedly spoke His identity over me–I’m His daughter, His princess of Victory.

This image clearly symbolized our mission with shepherds and kings–the crown shape speaking to the royalty of kings and the leaves and the water indicating the care of a shepherd for his sheep.  The purple image of water in the middle of the mark pointed to His call for me/us–to be a source of Living Water for shepherds and kings.

The Lord highlighted the most profound aspect of the logo recently during a morning run.  He reminded me clearly that He ALONE does, and will, wear a crown forever.  Though many, if not all of us, will have some crowns to lay at His feet, there is ONE king and ONE crown in eternity.  It belongs to Him–alone.

It’s all about Him.  En Gedi is all about Him.  My life is all about Him.  This world is all about Him.  One King.  One Crown.

“At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

The ultimate message of the En Gedi logo as well as En Gedi itself is that this journey, and indeed all journeys, begin and end with Him. 

It always has been and it always will be, forever, all about Him.

He Carries Me…

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Have you ever gotten back from a season of travel or just a time of high activity and then hit an emotional place that was just…HARD!  I mean, wondering who you are and what your purpose is in life anyway.  Who is God, and does He really still love me, and…and…and….

Well, those have been some of my days the last couple weeks as I have come off the last couple months of travel.  Just feeling raw and tired and experiencing the adrenaline let down of being home, in more of a routine and in my own bed.

Oh, it has been so wonderful to be home on one hand, and on the other, when you travel alot, community (or even family for some people) can seem a little disconnected, and it seems hard to find your “place” in some ways.

How I hate these times, or at least my flesh does.  Having said that, I know from personal experience that this very disequilibrium pushes me back into the arms of Jesus in a way that nothing else does.  It’s the only place I have to go.  After all, “He will be the sure foundation of your times, a rich store of salvation, wisdom and knowledge.  The fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.”  Is. 33:6.

Though that sounds easy hypothetically, the prevailing of that truth in my mind and heart represents a lot of battle and some gnashing of teeth :-).  In order to fight the emotional darkness, I have to spend significant time in Scripture, sleep a lot, listen to praise music/sermons (This time a sermon from Louie Giglio called Who You Really Are.  Incredible.) exercise, have times of conversation/processing/prayer with godly friends, eat well, and review His faithfulness in the past, thanking Him for His incredible blessings.  Then after many tears and lots of questions, He meets me there, and ushers in peace–oh, the blessing of that–the calm at the end of the storm.

In the end, it’s all about Him–intimacy with Him.  He often reminds me of that, even in the midst of the storm.  One of His recent statements to me is, “Our most intimate times are when it’s dark and I carry you.”  I don’t like the helpless feelings of needing to be carried, but it’s the reality of my need, whether I know it or not.

So, the conclusion of it all which I speak in faith–“my flesh and my heart may fail [which it so often does, even lately] but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…But as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”  Ps. 73:26, 28.

God Rocks!!

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This last month, I went on vacation with my family–my WHOLE family–minus a couple members.  We got in two vans with 15 people, 8 of them being children 11 and under, and headed west, covering thousands of miles.  We traveled through the Wisconsin Dells and the badlands of North Dakota, saw wild animals, visited the amazing Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse, waded in a river, reveled in the beauty of Yellowstone and the majesty of the Grand Tetons, ate lots of ice cream, and experienced the wild, wild west during Frontier Days in Cheyenne, WY.  As you can imagine, there were many grand adventures along the way, as we shared these amazing spots all together as a family.

There’s nothing like experiencing and thinking about God’s creation and gifts as seen through the eyes of children–the very thing He calls us to be in our faith.  I had a special time with my nieces and nephews almost every night of the trip which we called, “God Rocks.”  The kids picked up a rock every day, writing their name on it with their special colored marker, and each night we all shared our favorite thing that God had made or our favorite “gift” that He gave us from that day!  After each child shared, they put their rock in a special jar, and we all celebrated their contribution by shouting together (or whispering loudly, depending on where we were!  :-), God Rocks!!!   We would finish each night with the reading of a grand missionary adventure story and a group hug and prayer over these precious children, asking God to pour out His love on them so that they will love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.

 

Some of the “rocks” that were thrown in the jar were “stones of remembrance” for the toys that were purchased at Wall Drug Store :-), the feeding of the prairie dogs in North Dakota, the 5 or 6 rainbows we saw in the Grand Tetons, the fun time with cousins, the lightning storm watched with awe in Laramie, WY, the swimming at the water park, the hike through the badlands in 110 degree temperatures, the siting of an elk in the forest, and the experience of having bison come right near our windows.  These and many other “rocks” were celebrated by our 8 kids as we proclaimed together that “God Rocks!”

 

I love the process that Psalm 145 describes, “One generation will declare His works to another.  They will speak of his mighty acts and tell of the glorious splendor of His majesty.”   What an honor to have the opportunity to bring my awe of Jesus into a realm that our kids in the next generation can grasp, giving them a  at a young age of just a small portion of the personal nature I have feasted on in my 40 years.  How I pray that they will personally “taste and see that the Lord is good and that His love endures forever!”  I pray that for the next generation in your lives as well!!

Our Father, chocolate chip cookies, and a song

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Sometimes I just get blown away by the intimate care and details with which my Father cares for His children.  I shared one of my own stories about the roll of tape earlier this year, but when I see His care for other people, it has a way of stirring my soul in love for my Father as I see Him through the eyes of others.  He is intimately acquainted with our ways, and when no one else “gets” us, He does.

Earlier this year, I invited a couple of friends of mine to come to Fort Wayne and participate in a time of prayer to seek God for freedom in some areas.  As I was shopping for food and getting ready for their visit, I was inspired to make some AMAZING chocolate chip cookies that I had just had at my sister-in-law’s house the weekend before.  (Here is the recipe if you are interested)

I cannot tell you the last time that I made chocolate chip cookies, but I had a sudden urge and inspiration.  As I was at the grocery store, I also decided to get 8 o’clock bean coffee, as I heard my Uncle Steve’s voice in my head, telling me that this brand of coffee is “the best and only” for him!  (I almost always buy Starbucks coffee for my house!)

It was only later that I found out that my friend loved chocolate chip cookies, as they were a favorite for him growing up.  His mom died when he was in his 20’s, and chocolate chip cookies are a piece of “home” for him that he doesn’t have very often.  I also found out that he only drinks 8 o’clock bean coffee every morning at home, as it is also his favorite.  The prayer time he was about to enter into was a place of great vulnerability, requiring much courage, and the Father was caring for him in very intimate and special ways that only He knew, providing a sense of care, safety and home through coffee and cookies of all things.  What a joy to be a vessel of His care and love in such a simple way.   It led me to praise, as I know that the same Father that cared for Him cares for me with the same intimate knowledge.

I was just in the Czech Republic for the Josiah Venture spring conference where Dave Patty spoke on the Fatherhood of God and being “Found by your Father.”  During the conference there were chances for people to pray together, seeking the Father for healing and for a revelation of His presence.  I was asked to participate in a time of prayer with two men that I know well.  In looking diligently for a place to pray that was quiet and relatively undistracted, we ended up in a little sound booth at the back of the meeting room.  As we were praying, the words from a song came to mind in regards to one of the situations we were praying about.  The words were, “He rescues the souls of men, oh, he rescues the souls of men.”  Right after I shared with the two men those words, the printer in the sound booth started printing something, and it was pretty distracting, so we were trying our hardest to concentrate.  We figured someone probably needed the song sheets to get ready to lead worship that night, so Josh, one of two I was praying with, pulled the song sheets off the printer.

Would you believe it was THE SONG that I had just given them the words for.  We all sat there in awe with tears streaming down our faces as we experienced the Father’s care for his son who needed to hear those words wash over a very traumatic time in his life that had held him captive for years.  “Almighty Infinite Father, faithfully loving His own….”

I just arrived back in Texas late last night, and I have a couple days at my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Dallas before attending a conference this week.  This morning I woke up after a long flight from Czech and a short night’s sleep, and there, in my sister’s kitchen, was a teapot, English tea, and half and half waiting for me.  I almost cried when I saw it.  Jesus “prepared a place for me” to meet with him through the hands of my sister, as He knows that I love to have tea and chocolate with him every morning, spending time with Him in His word.  As I came to my room with the tea, I took out the chocolate that my friend Connie gave me as I was leaving the Czech Republic–the second part of His Father provision for me in the little things that no one else may notice.  I praise Him for my sister and Connie who serve as an expression of my Father to me.

Our Father knows.  He longs to connect with us in intimate and personal ways.  Paul prays in Ephesians that the “eyes of our heart will be enlightened to know Him more” so that we can know “the height, the depth, the width and the breadth of His love.”  Oh that we will have eyes to see our Father’s pursuit of us–His desire for  intimate connection and communion with His children that He loves.