Graduated? Or Just Entering Kindergarten?

Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash

Some time ago a friend said it seemed to him that when a person became a Christian they believed they had arrived, graduated from College, got the cap and gown, and now they knew it all. He admitted he just didn’t feel like he was ready to graduate yet.

As he was talking, I thought back to that time in my life when I became a Christian, and I couldn’t help but explain how it was for me. Contrary to thinking that I had graduated from College, I felt like I had finally entered Kindergarten. It felt like I had been held back for a long time, unable to learn, unable to see what was all around me. I felt like a small child who enters the world of learning for the first time and begins to discover the wonders of the world, the wonders of language, science and math, the wonders of interacting with other people.

I remember going for long walks along the Klondike River and marveling at what I was seeing. I had walked there many times before, and enjoyed it, but somehow everything seemed fresh, everything had more color, more life. I was seeing the world for the first time, not just as a beautiful place, but as a beautiful place created by a loving God, created specifically for those upon whom He wanted to shower that love. I wrote this short poem to try and express my feelings:

FIRST YUKON SPRING          

Green.
Green so fills my eyes
I sway
with spring
a song
alive and swelling
out of winter grey and white
the colour
in fields and ditches
dances
and I wonder
was there life
before this day?

Truly, there was no life before that day. Life had dried up and blown away long before, leaving me like a dry husk, alone and miserable.

But on that day, the day when I asked Jesus to forgive me and to be the centre of my life, the dry husk drank in the living water of Christ’s love and I came alive again.

I began to see there was something much more amazing than just the surface of things – there was mystery, infinite pattern, purpose and wisdom behind it all. Even the things I read had a depth to them I had not seen before. My interaction with people slowly became not just a game of relationships, but a meaningful exchange of lives.

1 Corinthians 1:5 says, “For in Him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge …” When a person accepts Christ, he is enriched in every way, because the source has been revealed. As we acknowledge the Source, turning to Him for understanding and knowledge, we become aware of the depth of His love as he grants us a measure of these things. He grants us a sense of wonder and awe that brings the world to life.

The excitement lies in realizing there will never be an end to it, never a point when we will know it all, until we come face to face with the One who has created it all. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says – “Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Graduated from college with nothing more to learn? Oh no, not even close, but rather, just entering Kindergarten with an infinite world of knowledge and understanding yet to be discovered.

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Soon, But Not Yet

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Unleavened bread and roasted grain. That was the first meal the Hebrew people ate in the promised land.

We in North America are used to embellishing our food with spices and sauces or condiments, anything that makes it more salty or sweet. It seems the goal is almost to disguise the real taste of the food. Take away the embellishments for a while and our taste buds begin to adjust. I realized this while canoeing on the Yukon River many years ago. We were paddling to Dawson City from Whitehorse, a trip that should have taken about ten days. It took us three weeks. We spent a lot of time sitting still, waiting for the wind and rain to stop, and we ran out of food.

Well, almost. We had some Red River cereal, which consists of a blend of cracked wheat, rye, and brown flaxseeds. More than a little bland for my North American pallet. But after a while, I started to notice that it did have a pleasing flavour, especially after a long cold day on the river.

The Hebrew people had been used to eating Manna. We don’t know what that tasted like, but I imagine it might have been a little like Red River cereal. Basic and bland. They grumbled about that manna. (see Numbers 11:5,6). It wasn’t at all what they had been used to in Egypt. And they had been promised milk and honey – a euphemism, I think, for rich foods of all kinds, spiced and made sweet and salty. I think the thought of it probably made the Israelites drool just a little as they ate their manna every morning, noon and night.

So why did they only eat unleavened bread and roasted grain on that first day in the promised land?

We have no way of knowing, but perhaps we can be allowed to speculate. Perhaps there was a lot left over after Passover. Perhaps they did not want to waste time and energy creating a lavish feast until they were more settled in the land. Perhaps they realized the time had not yet come for celebrating, for the promised land was not yet entirely theirs.

Or perhaps that meager meal was a wonderful feast to them, as that Red River cereal was to me after a long cold day on the Yukon River. Their feet were now on the land God had promised to them and soon, they would indeed feast upon its bounty. Soon, but not yet. First, there were wars to fight, barriers to overcome and much to learn about trusting their God.

I imagine that first meal was almost like the meal the apostles shared with Jesus just before He went to the cross. We call it the last supper, but perhaps it would be better to refer to it as the first supper. That too was a time of new beginnings, a time of a new relationship with their God, a time of promises being fulfilled.

But first, Jesus had to die. First, they had to remember all the things He had taught them. First, they had to trust and obey.

The Hebrews were, after all, no different than the disciples of Christ – a people promised much, not the least of which was an abundant life and a life lived forever with God.  We, too, are no different. We too have been promised these same things.

For now, we are eating unleavened bread and roasted grain. But someday soon, perhaps very soon, we will feast.

Luke 14:15 says – “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

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Marcia Lee Laycock is the author of five novels and four devotional books. Click the link to subscribe to her devotional column The Spur

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Beyond Circumstances

   God is still God

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Photo by the author, Marcia Lee Laycock

The group was gathered for one purpose, to pray for one circumstance. They had been praying earnestly for some time. As I listened to their words, ranging from praise and thanksgiving to pleas for help, I considered the situation we were praying about and did not feel very hopeful. When silence fell for a moment, I added my voice to those of the others, pleading for God to intervene, but even then I realized I did not have confidence that our prayers would be answered in the way we hoped. The end result of the situation, though it was unjust, seemed to be a foregone conclusion, one that could not be avoided. I went home that night with a heavy heart.

The next morning, before praying again about that same thing, I looked up a scripture verse that I’d heard quoted earlier in the week. It was in one of my favourite books in the Old Testament, the book of Isaiah, so I found the passage easily, then began to scan other parts of the book. I stopped at chapter 41, verse 10 – “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

I knew that verse had been written during a very difficult time in Israel’s history, a time of fear and uncertainty, a time when God’s people had become complacent and turned away from Him. Yet, that promise, that comfort.

Suddenly I had complete confidence in God, complete assurance that our prayers had been heard and answered, no matter what the outcome. Then I realized the outcome was not really the issue. The issue was the very character of God. Job recognized this as he suffered the loss of all he owned. He says – “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” Job knew no matter what happened, God was the same, God was there, God loved him. He knew all he had suffered was nothing compared to the joy of knowing God, the assurance of knowing God was showing Himself to him. Some of his last words in the book reveal that understanding – “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)

That is the basis of our confidence when we pray; not that the outcome is assured, that circumstances will change and always go our way, but that God is God and His primary concern is that we know Him. The issue then becomes what God wants to teach us, each one individually, through the circumstances and the experience of prayer. When we are assured of His character, His goodness, we can be assured that he wants one thing for us – the best thing – a closer relationship with Him.

I don’t know if the circumstances about which we were praying will change, if a “victory” will be won, in the way we desire it. But I know God will continue to reveal Himself, no matter what the outcome. I know He will continue to strengthen and guide and love each one involved. It is up to us to decide if we will continue to receive His love and grace and continue to know more of Him.

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In Such a Time as This

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It was a few weeks into the term in my pottery class and I was having trouble. I still wasn’t able to create a decent piece of work using the potter’s wheel. I was getting tense about it. Most of my classmates had by now managed the skill of throwing on the wheel and were producing perfect cylinders. My cylinders were not working. Either I tried to bring them up too quickly and their walls grew too thin, or a jerk of my hand would put them off centre and a wild wobble would result in nothing more than a pile of goo. Every time my instructor walked by, I got more nervous and tried harder. The harder I tried the more I failed.

Then one day my instructor came up behind me as I was attempting to centre the lump of clay. He was a big man with huge hands and he towered over me. I looked up, ashamed of my incompetence, but instead of a scowl, I saw him smile. “Relax,” he said. “Trying too hard just causes more failure.” He put his large hands on my shoulders and kneaded my tense muscles. “Now, take a deep breath and try again,” he said.

I positioned my hands on the clay but the lump continued to wobble. I slumped back on the chair and looked up again. “Will you show me?” I asked. My instructor nodded and told me to try again, then leaned over me and placed his hands over mine, guiding them gently until the lump was spinning at perfect centre. When our thumbs pushed down into the centre the lump gave way and formed a perfect donut shape. Then he took his hands away. “Gently,” he said, and stood back as I slowly drew the walls of the cylinder up. He laughed with delight when I clapped my hands at the finished product – a perfect cylinder. I had no trouble producing them from that time on.

I’ve thought about that day many times over the years, when I’ve become stressed about one situation or another. I’ve found myself there lately, with the whole world shutting down in the face of an unseen yet insidious virus. I have come close to allowing myself to get tied up in knots over the situation, forgetting that God is standing with me, waiting to guide me, waiting to give me the peace that seems so elusive.

Then I remember my pottery instructor’s large skilled hands and I remember to ask for God’s help.

It comforts me to know that even Jesus’ disciples sometimes failed to understand that, when they are with Jesus, there is no need to worry. There was that day they sailed across the Sea of Galilee, for instance. The wind began to rage, and it looked like their boat would sink. Jesus was sleeping through it all until they woke Him.

Their words show the depth of their fear and confusion –

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38, NIV).

Jesus stood up and commanded the wind and the waves to be still and they obeyed Him. Then he turned to his disciples and said –

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40, NIV).

Their response was to wonder, “Who is this?” At first I groaned when I read that. Didn’t they know by now? Didn’t they understand who He was? But, in pondering it, I think that is the perfect response. When we see the hand of God move, it is fitting to ask who He is, to seek Him in a deeper way and recognize His power and sovereignty. And to relax in it.

Yes, these times are hard, but I remember the words of Job. After he had gone through all the difficult times of sickness and loss, when God showed Himself, Job responded –

“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5, NIV).

I pray that, like Job, we will look up to Jesus, seek to know Him more, ask His help and acknowledge that whatever might come, if it gives us a clearer picture of Him, it is worth it.

****

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Yielding to God is the Only Way to Victory

By Marcia Lee Laycockwoman-1566154_1920

My frustration level was hitting the ceiling. I’d been emailing with a support person for several days but getting nowhere. The technical problem on my computer was still there, those nasty error messages still blinking at me every time I went into the platform designed to do a specific job. Every time I did, I could not understand how to fix it. The support person kept advising me to do the same thing, but that thing did not make sense, nor could I see how to make the change she advised. After many hours of trying, she finally suggested I contact the source and access their chat feature.

It kind of irked me that I had to seek help at all. I chided myself that I wasn’t smart enough to figure this out on my own. But I did so. The support person there was very sympathetic and asked for permission to go into the back end of my account and have a look. I reluctantly gave permission. I was reluctant because I like being in control of things and I feared what she might see in there. Had I made other mistakes? Was the whole thing just one big mess? She asked me to give her some time to do what needed to be done. I groaned. I wanted this fixed now, immediately if not sooner. But, again, reluctantly, I said yes, stressing that I was on a timeline. She assured me she would be in touch as soon as possible.

About an hour later my computer dinged. The email told me to contact that support person again. I went back into the chat forum and connected with her. She told me the problem was an easy one to fix and explained, with step by step instructions, how to do it. I went into my account, followed those instructions and voila! the error messages disappeared. I gave a whoop of victory. Then I went back into the chat forum and thanked that support person profusely.

That evening a friend reminded me of a scripture verse and when she quoted it, I had to smile. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).

How many times have I ignored those verses and tried to plow ahead on my own. How many times have I failed to acknowledge His sovereignty over my life? Just like that episode with having to seek the help of a technical expert, I am reluctant to admit that I need help and allow God to take control.

I pondered why. I had to acknowledge that I am reluctant to ask for help because I don’t want to appear incompetent. I had to admit that I desperately want to be in control of my own life, and I had to admit that sometimes I fear what God might see if he examined me too closely.

Just like that episode with my computer, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration and anguish if I had just swallowed my pride and gone to the source in the first place.

“Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the Lord your God …” (2 Chronicles 30:8, NKJV).

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Marcia Lee Laycock is the author of five novels and four devotional books. Click the link to subscribe to her devotional column The Spur

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Three Things

by Marcia Lee Laycock

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It’s somewhere in Africa. A young woman sits cross-legged on the ground, surrounded by tall grass. She has been told to sit very still. She can hear snuffling noises and now and then a grunt. When the massive head of a gorilla pokes out between the grasses, she is tempted to leap up and run. But she has been told that would be disastrous so she sits quietly. The gorilla approaches, moves around her, touches her hair, sniffs her shoulder. She remembers the instructions she was given: “No sudden movements. Don’t make eye contact.” She tries not to think of what those massive hands and arms could do to her. She tries to relax her shoulders. Slowly.

Another gorilla approaches, then another. They investigate her, sit close by, grooming one another before slowly ambling away. The young woman lets out her breath. The adrenalin coursing through her body makes her laugh out loud. She knows she has just won a great victory over fear.

I have spoken to many Christians lately who seem to be afraid. The world is changing around them and many of the changes go against their own beliefs and morals. Chaos seems to reign on all sides. They feel helpless, unable to control what is happening.

But Jesus has told us that He has “not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). It is these three that will help us overcome: power that comes from One who defeated death itself, love from One whose very nature is full of it, and a sound mind from One who has given us His own wisdom through His Holy Spirit.

Jesus Himself never fell prey to fear. He was willing to walk into the darkest of places, confront the darkest of enemies, because He knew that the One who was in Him was greater than all the world. We have the absolute assurance that that same One is in us, working through us and that nothing can stop His purposes from being accomplished on this earth.

God has promised to redeem His creation and one day all of it will be made whole again. There is the possibility of redemption of all that is ugly and evil and all that fights against God in this world, because of what happened on a cross at the base of a hill in a tiny country then called Palestine.

The good news is that He has given us a part to play in that redemption, given us work to do for His kingdom. That work cannot be done in a spirit of fear. 1 John 5:4 says – “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”

This is the work we have been given to do: “Go, therefore and make disciples… and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19,20).

May He find us faithful.

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

Of Tarnished Mirrors and Redemption

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photo from Pixabay

It was very early on a Saturday morning and I could hear my sister, Leisha, already rattling around in the kitchen, making coffee. By the time I got downstairs, she was pouring the hot liquid into a thermos. A map of the town was on the counter and a strip of newspaper lay beside it with things highlighted and circled.

My sister is a very organized garage sale enthusiast and having someone to go along with her that day seemed to spur her on. We set off with anticipation and it wasn’t long before her early-bird-gets-the-worm philosophy paid off. We were poking around in a large garage full of interesting stuff when I spotted a large oval mirror. It was covered in a thick layer of dirt but it looked like it was about the size and shape that Leisha had said she wanted for above the fireplace in their home. I called her attention to it. She pulled it out and her eyes lit up. Then the negotiating started with the owner. I was amazed at how low the price went and Leisha was beaming as she walked away with the deal of the day.

It was some time before I was able to visit again, and when I did, Leisha immediately called my attention to the space above the mantle on their fireplace. My jaw dropped. The old mirror we’d found in that garage was beveled and the frame was solid oak. My brother-in-law had done a great job restoring it. It looked beautiful.

The great thing about the mirror was that it made the room seem bigger and brighter, as mirrors are designed to do. The reflection of a warm fire always makes the room a comforting place to sit on a cool evening. I thought of the layers of dirt that had coated it and wondered how long it had been sitting in that old garage, covered in grim, neglected and forgotten, like a gem waiting to be discovered.

Then I realized that we are all, in a way, like that old mirror. We’ve been used and abused and are often layered with the effects of sin and the trials of life. How tremendously encouraging it is to know that God is in the business of finding the gems that are hidden. How heartening it is to know that He is skilled at restoring hearts, minds, and souls. How blessed it is to believe that He can remove every speck of tarnish, heal the brokenness and make us all into reflections of His love and mercy.

That’s the great thing about redemption – it reveals His image in us all. Just as that mirror became a thing of beauty that enhanced the room in which it was hung, we become the true essence of God’s creation, bringing His light and life to a hurting world. It is what we were all designed to do. We are all meant to be mirrors that reflect His grace, mercy, and love.

All we have to do is say yes to Jesus so that He can begin the cleansing, redeeming work in our lives. That’s the great thing about God. He turns no one away, refuses life to no one, ignores no one. Any who come to Him can expect to be renewed and made whole, restored to the original glory in which they were created.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20, NKJV).

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God Knows

Cemetary, Blackfalds

I scrolled through my computer files looking for just the right post to recycle. Since I wrote a devotional every week for over twenty years, there were many to choose from, so I prayed that God would help me pick the right one. I opened an article I wrote many years ago, after the death of a friends’ infant. It was called Hard Questions and was one of the pieces that had received a lot of feedback from readers and an award or two. It was also a piece that was read by the father of that tiny baby, a young man who thanked me for giving him something that was “part of the healing.”

I read it through and thought, yes, this one should be posted again.

“But not now.” I heard and kept scrolling.

That was a few months ago. A few days ago, I came across the same article and felt that nudge that said, “Yes.” So I copied the file, did a bit of editing, gave it a new title (When Babies Die and There Are No Answers), and sent it off to one of the ezines I write for on Medium.com. I received a notice that one of the editors, a woman I have known for many years, (I’ll call her Grace), had approved the piece for publication.

Two days later I received another note from another friend telling me that Grace’s three-year-old grand-daughter had died suddenly the day before. That would have been the day after she read and approved my devotional.

I wept all day. Perhaps because I have just recently become a grandmother myself, I felt my friend’s loss deeply. I was stunned at the timing and prayed that God would use those mere words to bring comfort.

That night I attended our weekly Bible study at our church. Ordinarily, the weekly Bible study is launched in September or October at the latest, but, for a variety of reasons, it was delayed. We have just begun to study the book of Job, a book full of loss and pain, yet a book that pictures the power of a sovereign God and, in the end, gives us all hope.

He knew. He knew when it was not time for that piece to be published again, and when the time was right. He knew when we should begin to study the book of Job and how it would bring me to that place, once again, of being able to say, with Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job1:21).

A Good Year to be Thankful

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It’s not hard to find things to be thankful for in our country. There’s the bounty of the land, the system of law and order that ensures peace, the potential for so much prosperity. All we have to do is stop and look around us to find many things for which to be thankful.

This year our family has had a few special things added to our list. First of all, the arrival of our first grandchild, Thea Wells. What a delight it has been to watch her grow and watch the delight her parents are taking in her. Then, the relatively gentle passing of my dear mother-in-law into the realms of glory. We are so thankful she did not suffer or linger long when the time came. The retirement of my husband after 30+ years in pastoral ministry. The retirement party held by our church was a special joy. Then the arrival of a refugee family, whom, after three years of interceding, we were able to receive safely into our home.

Yes, it’s been a momentous year with much to be thankful for. Perhaps the greatest blessing of all, we are aware of the One to whom that thanks is due.

I recently heard a man read a story in which he expressed his thankfulness, yet the entire tale centred around the fact that he rejected the One to whom he could have been giving his thanks. It made me sad to realize there was a huge lack in the joy he could have, if he knew his creator and provider. It is good and natural to be thankful but when we have no knowledge of God, that thankfulness is empty.

God is the provider of all that we can and should be thankful for, in the good times and the bad, in the days of blessing and the days of testing.

Abraham was shown the truth of this in the book of Genesis, chapter 22, when God asked him to take his only son, Isaac, up onto Mount Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. Though Abraham knew that Isaac was the “son of promise,” the son through whom all the promised blessings would come, he obeyed his God. He raised the knife above Isaac, but God stopped his hand and showed him the ram he was to offer instead.

Genesis 22:14 says, “Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (or Jehoveh Jireh, which means “the LORD will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

And James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

Because we know the God who provides we are able to take great joy in giving thanks. My prayer is that you may know the God from whom all blessings flow.

I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the LORD Most High (Psalm 7:17).

Happy Thanksgiving!

At the Top of the Ladder

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Finding Myself at the Top of the Ladder

By Marcia Lee Laycock

“Do you know where I am?”

“Where am I going now?”

I’ve been hearing these similar questions lately, asked with the same heart-wrenching look of confusion and a trace of fear. I’ve seen and heard people say these things before. I’ve seen them enter into the disturbing realm of dementia and thought, how sad when the elderly so often seem to revert to a child-like dependence.

It isn’t the first time this has hit close to home. One of the people who has asked me these kinds of questions was my own mother. Her descent into dementia was long and torturous. Just recently my dear mother-in-law veered onto that same path, but her time of fear and confusion was blessedly short.

It’s hard and it leaves you with a gnawing sense of helplessness that makes you want to scream or weep. Sometimes, paradoxically, it makes you want to laugh. When my mother attended an afternoon luncheon whose theme was tropical, she wondered if we could afford going on such a lovely cruise to Hawaii. We assured her it was all taken care of.

I have reached that stage of life where those who have always been the anchors are now in need of someone to hold onto and I am suddenly in confusion too. This is a new place for me, one I’m not sure I’m ready for, because, truth be told, there are times when I’m not sure I know where I am or where I am going. I feel inadequate to answer those questions.

I am reminded of a poem by Luci Shaw that expresses this feeling so eloquently:

“… There is no one above you

to compass the wideness of space. You

are the final clasp that buckles

earth to heaven. Somehow, you

must hold up the ladder, heavy with life.”

(from When Your Last Parent Dies; Writing the River by Luci Shaw)

 

Suddenly finding yourself at the top of the ladder of life can be terrifying. But there is, after all, someone to hold onto. We don’t have to hold up the ladder all by ourselves. And when we are asked those disturbing questions, we can answer with assurance and comfort. We can tell them it’s okay, because there is someone who knows where we all are and someone who knows where we all are going.

There’s an old hymn that says it well – “Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms, leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.” The arms of Jesus are waiting to hold us and waiting to point the way. The writer of Proverbs exhorts us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight” (Prov.3:5,6).

There is another very comforting thought about being at the top of this “ladder, heavy with life.”

The next step is into the arms of Jesus.