The Promise of His Plan: Learning to Hope

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

– Jeremiah 29:11

If you read Jeremiah 29:11 in it’s full context, you’ll learn an interesting story. In Jeremiah 27, God told Jeremiah to make a yoke and fasten it on his neck with leather straps. Then He tells him to send a message calling the children of Israel to submit to the yoke of the King of Babylon. This was an uncomfortable demonstration for Jeremiah to make, and an uncomfortable message for him to deliver.

Later that year, a false prophet named Hananiah came and told the Israelites that God would remove the yoke from their necks. Hananiah told them that within two years God would bring back all of their treasures that were carried off to Babylon and would bring back the captives. His message was comforting to them, but it was simply not true. They were being comforted with a lie – something they would always be hoping for and never see come to pass.

Then in Jeremiah 29:11, God gives them a true promise. Jeremiah sends a letter to the people who had been exiled to Babylon, and in this letter he tells them, “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for it’s welfare will determine your welfare” (v. 5-7).

He is telling them to get comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.

Sometimes God’s promise doesn’t come in the form of a hopeful breaking of the yoke. Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes God’s promise doesn’t mean your yoke will be lifted in two years. Sometimes God’s promise means the slavery continues, the captives remain, and the treasures are not returned. Sometimes God’s promise requires 70 years of endurance. It may not be easy to understand, and it may not be easy to accept, but one thing you can be sure of is that God’s promise is TRUE. The truth may be harsh and hard to hear, but the hope is REAL. God doesn’t comfort us with lies, He comforts us with truth.

Comforted by Truth

Numbers 23:19 says, God is not man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act? Has He ever promised and not carried it through?”

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”

God doesn’t just speak truth, He is Truth.

In John 14:16-17, Jesus says the Holy Spirit is our Comforter, and He leads us into all truth. In verse 27, He says, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So, don’t be troubled or afraid.”

We have no reason to fear, no reason to doubt. What better to be comforted by than truth? Or better yet, who better to be comforted by than Truth?

So, when God says get comfortable, you can trust you’re going to be there for a while. When God says you’re going to be in slavery for another 70 years, then you’re going to be in slavery for another 70 years. But the beauty of it all is that God’s promise doesn’t end there.

Jeremiah 29:10-14 says,

“This is what the Lord says: You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days, when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you, says the Lord. I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and I will bring you home again to your own land.”

Comforted by Consistency

The changing seasons of life were not meant to leave us unchanged. They are meant to grow us, to strengthen us, and to transform us more into the image of Christ. But, as C.S. Lewis said, “Mere change is not growth.” He went on to say, “Growth is the synthesis of change and continuity, and where there is no continuity there is no growth.” In these changing seasons of life, we find continuity in the unchanging Word of God. We find our consistency in the God who’s love never fails and mercy never ends (Lamentations 3:22-23). He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8). He is our constant source of hope. Hebrews 6:17-19 says, “God bound Himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that He would never change His mind. So, God has given both His promise and His oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”

We can learn form the past because God has been faithful before, and we can hope for the future because God will be faithful forevermore. But we need to learn to live in the present – because God is faithful now. He is the great I AM. He is a here-and-now kind of God. We need to live in the present moment and enjoy His presence with us. Everything in the past has led us to where we are now, and where we are now will lead us where He has prepared for us to go next. The situation may not be comfortable now, but we can find our comfort in Him. The season may be changing, but we can find our consistency in Him.

We can learn to embrace the uncomfortable – because we discover strengths we never knew we had when we reach beyond the borders of our comfort zones.

We can learn to embrace change – because the greatest transformations occur through the most difficult trials and transitions.

We can learn to find contentment in the chaos when we put our hope and trust in God.

We need to follow the advice God gave in Jeremiah 29. We need to submit to the yoke of slavery. We need to settle down and get comfortable where we are now, because God has us here for a reason. We may not be where we want to be, but we are where we need to be. God always has our best interest at heart. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Submitting to the will of God may be uncomfortable at first, but that is only because it’s unfamiliar to us. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, so in Him we find all the comfort we will ever need. That’s why God told the Israelites to build homes, plant gardens, and start families. He wanted them to be comfortable. He wanted them to be blessed. God is in control, and in His sovereignty, He will lead us where we need to be. But we also have free-will, and in our freedom, we determine how things unfold once we get there. If we choose to dwell in the past and look back with longing for how things used to be, then we will always be miserable. Likewise, if we choose to be comforted with lies, then we will find ourselves watching and waiting for an immediate deliverance that will leave us disappointed time and time again.

Rejoicing in Time to Come

Ecclesiastes 3:10-13 says,

“I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet, God has made everything beautiful for it’s own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So, I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.”

God makes all things beautiful in time. He is working all things together for good, and we will rejoice in time to come, but for now we need to enjoy the moment we’ve been given. We serve a God who is big enough, and good enough, to make the uncomfortable comfortable. When you pray, He will listen. When you seek, He will be found. And, in time, He will fulfill all that He has promised.

Trust in His plan.

Trust in His promise.

In the Proverbs 31 description of a virtuous woman, verse 25 says, “Strength and honor are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come” (KJV). Other translations say, “…and she laughs without fear of the future.” She can laugh without fear of the future because she is confident that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. She is confident because her hope is steadfast and sure.

An Anchor for the Soul

Hebrews 6:19 says, “…Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”

In early Christian history, when Christians were largely persecuted for their faith, they were often forced to use metaphorical symbols to signify their beliefs. During this time, the epitaphs of many early Christians were engraved with the symbol of an anchor. Why an anchor? In the Greek language, the word anchor is “ankura” and the Greek phrase “en kurio” means “In the Lord” so the symbol was used to signify that those who had passed away now rested “in the Lord.”

Anchors are often made in the shape of a cross, and we have hope because of the cross. We are held secure because of the cross. We can rest in peace because of the cross. We have a hope that anchors our souls, because of the cross. Galatians 2:20 says, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live.” And Romans 8:24 says, “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope.” You can’t hope for something that you can see with your eyes and hold with your hands. That’s not hope – that’s knowledge. That’s assurance.

I’ve heard it said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Faith is not knowing. Faith is not seeing – and yet still believing. And yet, still holding on to hope. We can have moments of doubt, but still hold on to hope. We can have moments of fear, but still hold on to hope. We wouldn’t need hope for the future if we could see the future, because we would already know the future. A boat that is anchored down doesn’t not move. It may still sway with the wind and waves, but it always comes back to that central point where it s held secure. Where we come back to – that’s where our hope is.

The purpose an anchor is designed to fulfill is to secure the ship, especially in the midst of a storm, or to control a ship that is drifting. The earliest anchors were made of solid rock. Christ is our solid rock. He holds us steady, and keeps us secure. Another time we see a play on words in scripture is Matthew 16:17-20 when Jesus tells Peter, “You are Peter (Petros) and on this rock (Petra) I will build my church.” This is the same Peter who just chapters earlier in Matthew 14:22-33 had stepped out on the water to walk to Jesus and then started to sink when he saw the wind and waves. This is the same Peter who said he would go to prison or even die for Jesus, and then denied even knowing him three times that very same night (Luke 22:31-34). That is the kind of rock, the kind of faith, that our church is built on. The church, the collective body of Christians, is flawed and imperfect. This gives me hope, because I, too, am flawed and imperfect. We are all drifting vessels, but we have a solid foundation, a solid anchor to come back to. How many times throughout scripture does Jesus say, “O ye of little faith….”? But I love what Jesus says when he predicts Peter’s denial. He says, “I have pleaded in prayer for you, that your faith should not fail. So, when your have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers” (v. 31). That’s what hope looks like – not just the hope we have in Christ, but the hope Christ has in us. The hope we have as Christians is that Jesus doesn’t give up on us. He gives us second changes. He gives us new beginnings, and new opportunities to turn back to Him. When we fall, we can get back up again, because we have a loving Father ready to welcome us back in with open arms. Peter’s repentance came in John 21 when Jesus appeared with him on a beach after the resurrection. Three times Jesus asked him, “Do you love me?” to which Peter responded, “You know that I do” and Jesus say, “Feed my sheep.”

Do you love me?

Feed my sheep.

Have you repented?

Strengthen your brothers.

In that moment, at the last supper, when Jesus predicted Peter’s denial, Peter had no idea what those words meant. He couldn’t have imagined it. But afterwards, looking back – in that time between the denial and the repentance – I’m sure those words gave Peter hope. Even when our faith is weak, we can still hold on to hope.

When Peter was walking on the water and took his eyes off Jesus and started to sink, Jesus immediately reached down and lifted him back up. When Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus gave Him three opportunities to repent and turn back towards his purpose. We are never out of reach. We are never too far gone. We are never outside the grasp of God’s grace.

An Expected End

The King James Version of Jeremiah 29:11 in it’s entirety says, “For I know the thoughts I think toward you, saith the Lord. Thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” The “expected end” is what translates as “hope and future” in other versions. God’s promise is to be expected. We can rest in the assurance that what He has promised will come to pass. To expect from God is to hope in God. Psalm 62:5 (NIV) says, “Yes, my soul, finds rest in God; my hope comes from Him.” But that’s just it… we must remember that our hope and expectation comes from God. No one else.

I heard a quote once that said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache” and my immediate response upon hearing this was to agree. We expect things to turn out a certain way, and they never do. We expect people to act a certain way, and they never do. Expectations always tend to end up letting us down and leave us feeling disappointed. There’s another quote that says, “What messes us up the most in life, is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.” It’s so true. But the more I reflected on this idea of expectation being the root of all heartache, the more I realized, it’s not our expectations that lead to heartache – it’s who we’re expecting them from.

If we put our expectation in man, we will almost always end up heartbroken and disappointed. Mankind is flawed. We are sinful people. We can strive to live up to the expectations people set for us, but we will almost always fall short. We can make promises, and we can genuinely desire to change our ways and live up to the promises we make – but we are imperfect people. We will let ourselves down at times, and we will let those we love down at other times. Expectation will lead to heartache if we expect our plans of a “hope and a future” to come from anyone other than Jesus Christ. When we put our hope and trust in the Lord, and in the promises He has made for us, then we will never be heartbroken or disappointed. God cannot and will not fail us. God is love (1 John 4:8) and Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). Jesus is Truth (John 14:6) and He cannot lie to us. We have seen God’s goodness at work in our lives. We have heard His Word proclaimed, and we have felt the power of His presence. We know He is Love and cannot fail us, therefore we can trust Him. Ephesians 3:20 (KJV) assures us that He is able to exceeding abundantly above all we could ever ask or think. God has promised to prosper us, and not to harm us. He has promised to give us a hope and a future. We can rest assured that His promise will come to pass. He has been faithful before, and He will be faithful forevermore. In the changing seasons of our lives, we need to learn to patiently wait and eagerly anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promises. In the seasons of waiting, we need to learn to hold firmly to the hope that anchors our souls. Our hope comes only from God. Our expectation is only in Him.

The Power of our Thoughts

It’s hard to hold on to hope in a wilderness season that seems to never end. It’s hard to hold on to hope in a waiting season that’s promise seems like it may never come to pass. It’s hard to hold on to hope when everything around us is telling us to give up, to give in, to surrender, and to cripple under the weight of doubt, fear, and insecurity. I heard a message from Steven Furtick once where he said, “Hope is not a feeling, it’s a focus.” We won’t always feel hopeful, but we can focus our thoughts on hopeful things.

I never realized the power of our thoughts until one year when my church took part in a “fast from negative thinking.” This fast was based on the idea that change takes place from the inside out. It was based on the idea that we change the way we feel and the way we act when we change the way we think. Proverbs 23:7 tells us that as a man thinks, so he is. That is why I find the King James Version of Jeremiah 29:11 so interesting. It says, “For I know the thoughts I think toward you” rather than “For I know the plans I have for you.” In the same way our thoughts determine our actions, so God’s thoughts determine HIs actions – but God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God’s ways are higher than anything we could ever ask, think, or imagine. What we think is best is not always what God knows is best. God is our creator. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we need, and when we need it. He knows what it will take to make us who He needs us to be, and what it will take to get us where He needs us to go. Proverbs 16:9 (NLT) says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. Our thoughts and plans are sinful and self-centered at worst, and short-sighted at best. We will never be able to fully understand the vastness and depth of the thoughts God thinks towards us, not on this side of eternity anyway, but we can try.

I find it interesting that thoughts and plans are used synonymously between the different translations in this verse – our thoughts become our actions. That’s why it’s so important for us to set our minds on things above. Satan desperately wants to control our minds. That’s why he plants seeds of doubt, lies, and negativity. That’s why social media is such a powerful tool, because he uses it to influence our way of thinking. The algorithms are designed to keep our attention, to keep us distracted, to keep our mind off the things above. They are designed to predict our behavior, to know what we look at, what we’re drawn to, what captures and holds our attention, what keeps us distracted, and what keeps us divided.

The mind is a battlefield. It is is where Satan operates and does his greatest amount of damage. He tries to use our thoughts to defeat us and make us doubt the hope that awaits us when we surrender to God’s plan for us – but his best efforts fall short when we make the conscious decision to take our thoughts captive and set them on things above. The sinfulness of our flesh begins as a mindset, as a way of thinking. Satan does not have power over us, but when we listen to his lies and allow him to influence the way we think, then we are giving him control. When we give him control over our thoughts, then we are giving him power to steal our joy and rob us of what God has promised to us. We need to learn to take our thoughts captive and replace the lies of the enemy with the truth of God’s Word. When we do this, then we replace our fears and doubts with faith and trust. When we do this, we replace our insecurities and discouragement with hope and joy. We replace our anger and bitterness with peace and forgiveness. We cannot change our thought patterns nor break down mental strongholds by our own power, but only through the power of God’s Word and His Holy Spirit at work within us. When we begin to surrender our thoughts, and yield ourselves to the thoughts of God, then we will begin to see a change take place from the inside out.

“For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory. It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and He has identified us as His own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything He has promised to us.”

– 2 Corinthians 1:20-22

Reflection on a Decade

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As I reflect back on this past decade, I have so much hope for the road ahead, because I can clearly see how God has been working all things together for good. When I think back and remember who I was on January 1st 2010 – I see so much personal growth. On a day-to-day basis it’s easy to look at my life and be discontent. This isn’t the way I pictured it. I should be doing more. I should have accomplished more. There are so many goals I set for myself and never completed. But on January 1st 2010 I was a shy, high school senior, attending youth group each week, and trying to decide where I should go to college.  I was scared. I was full of hope. I was in a season of learning to navigate grief and loss. I had little knowledge about the world around me outside of my church, my town, and my family – let alone any knowledge or confidence of who I was and what my purpose in life was. Would I stay home and go to the college 20 minutes from my house? Or would I go to the school 1.5 hours away? It was the first major life decision I ever made. I remember going to the Gardner-Webb campus in February 2010 for a scholarship interview. I did not get the scholarship, but the experience confirmed that Gardner-Webb was where I needed to spend the next four years of my life. I didn’t take in the full picture of the cost. I didn’t anticipate that financial aid would slowly dwindle away each year, and I didn’t take into consideration the loans I would still be paying off 10 years later – I just knew there was a nudging in my heart for me to step outside of my comfort zone, to leave home for least 5 days a week and experience something new. And although I sometimes resent that 17-year-old girl for her choice when I am making those student loan payments each month, I am so proud of her decision to walk bravely scared into an unknown future, because that decision made me who I am today, and I am eternally grateful.

If it wasn’t for the grief and the loss, I might not have made that same decision. I wouldn’t have understood the brevity of life. I wouldn’t have appreciated the little moments that make big impacts. That year opened my eyes to so much. I learned about the power of brokenness and transparency among a community of believers. I learned about the power of worship. I learned about the beauty and history of scripture and the church. Until then, I had only ever accepted everything that was told to me as truth without reading and understanding the context for myself. It was the first time I started to see that there were people who believed differently than me, went to different types of churches than me – but still desperately loved and served Jesus. It was the first time I started to read through the Gospels and get to know Jesus for myself. It was on that college campus that Jesus became so much more real to me. His Kingdom was so much bigger. His love was so much deeper.  His presence was so much more real. His purpose was so much more passionate. His friendship was so much more personal.

It was in October of that year that I found myself on my knees alone in my dorm room floor with an open Bible and an open journal in front of me when I made the decision to start a blog. My expectations were not aligning with my reality, and I felt spiritually weak, but I met with God in the place of my pain. I put pen to paper to write what He was speaking to my heart, and then decided to share those words with the world. That first post was titled “Weakness in the Spirit: Where do I find my strength?” and I remember it vividly. Although I sometimes cringe when I go back and read some of those early writings, I am grateful for that lonely college freshman who decided to once again step out in faith and do something she had never done before. A few months later I posted a blog with lyrics to a song we had been singing on campus. The song was “Set a Fire” by United Pursuit and it was not well known at the time. My post showed up in the Google results when people searched for the lyrics. I started having comments come in from all over the country of people who had found my site after looking up the words of the song. People I had never met were telling me my writing encouraged them and gave them the kick-start they needed. They thanked me for my faithfulness and encouraged me to keep writing. I received comments telling me my blog provided the confirmation they needed. I received comments asking deep questions about whether or not I believed God could heal the sick, and if so, why did He heal some and not others. I never set out to reach the world, but somehow, I was making an impact on the lives of people I had never met, and I was doing it from within my dorm room. I found passion and purpose in writing. Over the years, that blog would receive over 45,000 views. Not much to some – but more than I could have ever imagined when I first started writing and hit the “post” button on that Tuesday night in my dorm room.

It was in my University 111 class during that freshman year that I took the Myers-Briggs test for the first time and discovered my personality type was an INFJ. The “I” stood for introvert. It was the first time my personality had a name. It was the first time I realized why I was the way I was. It was the first time I realized I was not alone in the world – I was rare, but I was not alone.

When I started college, I thought I would make lifelong friendships and maybe find my future husband while I was there, but that did not happen. I met some amazing people who significantly impacted my life, but college didn’t miraculously change my quiet, guarded, and reserved personality. I didn’t magically start opening up and allowing people to get to know me. In fact, it wasn’t until after I graduated college and moved back home that I first started to establish my closest friendships. I remember the early days of our friendship so clearly, because it was all so new to me. It was exactly what I had always hoped and prayed for – and they came into my life without me ever going out looking for them. They showed up uninvited during a time when God knew I needed them the most. They welcomed me in without me ever asking to be included. They climbed over walls I built to keep them out. They kept asking questions when I tried to shut down. They continually challenged me and never accepted my silence as an answer. They forced themselves into my introverted life, and my life has been changed for the better ever since.

Ten years ago, I would get anxious at even the thought of getting on a plane or a boat. My dad offered to take my sister and I on a big trip the year she graduated high school and I graduated college – but I couldn’t accept the offer. I was too afraid. It made me sick to my stomach to even think about being in the open sky or open water. I looked at the shortest flights and cruises I could find, but I couldn’t manage to choose where I would want to go. The fear was overwhelming and I couldn’t conquer it. I remember those tears so clearly. I was so disappointed in myself.

But since that day, I’ve stood at the top of the Gateway Arch. I’ve been on a riverboat cruise in the Mississippi River. I’ve been on two cruises to the Bahamas. I’ve flown to Washington DC on a spontaneous whim just to conquer my fear of flying. I stood at the Lincoln Memorial and witnessed a march for peace and civility. I visited the Holocaust Memorial, the Museum of Natural History, the National Art Gallery, the Bible Museum, and countless other historical landmarks and memorials. I flew to New Orleans, walked Bourbon Street, participated in a Second Line, and ate gumbo and beignets. I flew to Chicago, walked along the Riverwalk, ate deep dish pizza, and stepped out on the ledge at Willis Tower. It was as if one day my desire to see the world suddenly became bigger than my fear of how I would get there.

So, when I say this decade has been life-changing and life-giving, I mean it with all the sincerity in my heart. I am not who I was ten years ago. I am not without fear, but I am learning to let my faith be bigger than my fear. I am not without insecurity, but I am learning to stand securely on the promises of God. I am not without discouragement and disappointment from time to time, but I am learning to find peace, contentment, and joy in who I am and where I am at this point in my life.

In the past ten years I’ve graduated high school, college, and graduate school. I’ve established a career in human services, and I love the work I’m able to do and be a part of in the community. I’ve counseled, mentored, and coached people who just needed some extra support and encouragement. I’ve been counseled, mentored, and coached myself. I’ve become a homeowner. I’ve led Bible Studies. I’ve wrote blogs. I’ve completed training to become a licensed foster parent. I’ve watched people I love get married, have babies, and buy houses. I’ve seen God answer prayers, break generational strongholds, and show up in ways I never even thought to ask Him to. I’ve seen Him exceed my expectations time and time again. And I know this is only the beginning. He’s just getting started. There is still so much more beauty and adventure left to come.

In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about poverty, injustice, racial inequity, systematic oppression, abuse, neglect, and trauma. These are heavy topics. And compassion fatigue is real. It’s easy to burnout when the problems of this world are so overwhelming and you feel so powerless to change them. It’s easy to scroll through social media and pretend the social justice issues don’t exist simply because they aren’t impacting you directly. It’s easy to binge watch mindless tv shows to escape the harsh reality of the world for a brief period of time. But I can’t let those habits continue into this new decade. God has done a great work within me these past 10 years, and as I move into this new decade, I’m asking Him to do a great work through me. I want to be less passive and more active. I want to be less self-centered, and more kingdom-focused. I wanted to be less distracted and more attentive. I want to be less hidden and more present. I want people to see Jesus when they look at me, hear Jesus when they speak to me, and feel Jesus when they are near me. I want to be His hands and His feet. I don’t just want to be changed by Him; I want to be used for Him. I don’t have a perfect vision for what 2020 will bring, but that’s okay, because I’m walking by faith and not by sight.