Standing on Brave Shoulders–Plus a Giveaway

Plus a Giveaway (1)

 

Candles filled the concert hall and God’s Spirit hung heavy, but this was no ordinary night of worship. God was calling us out, writing our destinies into existence.

Only 20 years old, I stood alongside the other graduates in a special commissioning service. Our ministry mentors were instructed to challenge us, calling us by a new name.

When my turn came, Paula paused to think. Finally, she scribbled out a word, folded the paper, and passed it to me.

I wanted to accept this new name, embrace it, but another claimed my life. Everyone could read the name “Timid” etched across my life.

How could I live the word “bold,” the word she prayed over me so brazenly?

Sometimes it takes years for God to fan our prayers into flame. I lost that piece of paper, but over the years, I clung to the hope it gave me.

It took a brave woman to call out the brave woman in me. In fact, it’s taken an army of brave women.

Courage begets courage, doesn’t it? We learn bravery by seeing it in action.

For instance, I needed to see my friend Fran Geiger Joslin run a publishing company, after starting it on a leap of faith.

I needed to watch Mary DeMuth live the message of her books, while daring to imagine and set in motion the Re-story Conference.

I needed to watch Heather Creekmore choose endurance and faithfully steward the message God has given her.

Seeing my friend Lea Ann Garfias choosing to be brave and launch her must-read book, Rocking Ordinary, helps me stare down fear and slay my own dragons.

We all need this kind of inspiration. That’s why I’m excited to tell you and hopefully give you a copy of the American Woman’s Bible (Thomas Nelson 2016), a study Bible that includes stories of the brave women who helped make America.

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I know I don’t need to tell you about the many bold woman who, fueled by faith, shaped our country. Their stories speak about gumption, hospitality, and sacrifice.

Their stories, past and present, remind me to be brave—how one act of bravery ripples out into the world, inciting more bravery.

On days when we don’t feel courageous, snapshots of godly woman like Ruth Bell Graham, Rosa Parks, and Eleanor Roosevelt, lend us tenacity and strength.

Henrietta Mears had it right when she said, “Faith is caught rather than taught.” This quote and many others from woman like Flannery O’Connor, Emily Dickinson, and Dorothy Day inspire readers and fill the pages of this Bible.

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Bold woman speak the truth to each other. We borrow and lend courage. We help each other live new names and new stories.

The Giveaway

I have two copies of the American Woman’s Bible  that I would love to give you, one hardback and one leather bound.

Here’s how to enter: If you haven’t already, like my author page on Facebook and let me know in the comments below. In a week, I’ll put all the names in a hat for a drawing and contact you if you won.

Would you consider sharing this post on social media, maybe even tagging a brave friend, too? Thanks for being brave!

3 Reasons You Might Need a Nap

_Sleep Drunk_

My son’s naptime reminds me of a scene from Honey I Blew Up the Kid.

Instead of a giant toddler ransacking Las Vegas, the only thing giant-sized in this house is my kid’s tantrums around noon.

I’m pretty sure the whole neighborhood recognizes the signs. Whining morphs into crying and eventually turns into full-blown screaming.

In these moments of desperation, we play a game called “horsey wants to run.” It calms him down.

Yesterday, I scooped him up on my back and galloped toward the bed. Between giggles he said, “I don’t want a nap.”

“But you need a nap,” I said in my horsey voice, neighing and then trotting up the stairs.

“But I don’t want a nap.”

Can I just come right out and say it? If you’re cranky or anxious today, you probably need a nap too.

Adults need proper rest but often refuse to sleep, not realizing how it affects us. We lumber on like cranky toddlers, wide-eyed at the next Netflix episode or strung out over late-night comedy.

If you fall into this category, here’s three reasons you need more sleep.

  1. Creativity flows from rest.

Americans suffer chronic sleep deprivation, averaging less than 7 hours a night. That’s bad news if you make a living as a creative thinker. Loads of studies link proper rest to creativity.

Turning in early at night allows me to rise before the sun. That way I can get things done.

Often we’re duped into thinking sleeping less leads to more productivity, but that’s not the case. Going to bed early can increase work performance.

  1. Tired Brains Can’t Focus

Creativity isn’t the only thing that hinges on quantity and quality of sleep. Our attention spans and memory improve with eight hours of Zzzz’s.

Sleepy people often show signs of ADD or ADHD. If you’re having trouble concentrating, go take a nap. This article can wait.

Almost everything can wait.

Think of it this way. So much of your quality of life depends on your concentration and memory. Is finishing that book or late-night TV really worth it?

3. Sleepiness makes you feel like you’re drunk.

Recently, I stayed up way too late, relishing every moment I could spend with a group of witty, like-minded people.

I made a mistake.

It was late, and as the night waxed into morning, my body cried out for sleep, but I ignored it. Maybe you’re ignoring some of the symptoms, too.

  1. Forgetfulness
  2. Incessant yawning
  3. Giddiness
  4. Speed blinking to keep your eyes open

After a few nights of this routine, one thought plagued me—I feel drunk. Though no wine or spirits flowed, I found myself babbling and laughing incessantly.

Turns out, I’m not alone. Studies show, missing sleep can make us feel and act inebriated. I call it “sleepy drunk.”

That week I babbled on into the wee hours, but struggled to keep my mind for wandering during the day. My emotions, too, were a wreck.

While we’ll all have late nights sometimes, make sure they’re the exception to the rule.

Sleep does our minds and bodies good.

That little morsel of wisdom is worth drinking to—as long we’re drinking coffee (and decaf after 1 p.m.).

I would love to hear from you! How does sleep affect the quality of your life?

 

Laugh or Cry—Just Live Your Crazy, Quirky Life

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“Just be. Do you know how to just be?” my mother asked as I jetted out the door.

“I’ll try,” I said, waving goodbye to my kids.

Truth is I’m not so good at “being.” I’m a doer who loves to keep moving. Perhaps you are too.

When busyness beats heavy on our lives, sometimes we need to push away and find a quiet place. For me that happened a couple weeks ago at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.

I even took the time to watch the Chewbacca Mom’s video. (I practically live under a rock, so you know that the entire internet saw this video.)

When I saw Candace Payne laughing hysterically, I didn’t need for the successful authors to explain personal branding to me. Candace’s video brought it all home. Just be yourself, your crazy, quirky self.

Just be.

For me, this means I need to lay aside people-pleasing.

Last week at church, I heard Matt Chandler preach this thought-provoking sermon, where he said all our idols stem from four basic sources:

  1. Comfort
  2. Control
  3. Approval
  4. Power

While I might struggle with all four, the approval idol holds a stranglehold on my life. It keeps me measuring up to other people’s standards. It ruins authenticity and shatters confidence.

Here’s the thing about idols. The devil doesn’t want us to see the ways our hearts crave and praise other things. He loves busyness because it masks our idolatry.

Those five days I spent at the writer’s conference gave me time to pause and listen to the silent driver behind so many of my decisions. So much of my fear is rooted in the idol of approval.

Finding some breathing room in the midst of life’s chaos also means we can reconnect with the One who conquered sin—the stunning One that heals and cleanses us of idolatry.

At the conference—besides running smack dab into my disease to please—I cried a lot. I even broke down crying in front of several well-known authors.

I cried tears of joy at the realization I’m not the only struggling writer. I broke down in frustration. I wept as I laid down the writing/approval idol.

I even teared up during pitches to agents and publishers, too. You know what? I don’t even care if everyone remembers me as “that weepy girl.”

It was real. Turns out just being requires honesty. Maybe Candace Payne has raucous laughter, and I have buckets of tears?

God wants to set us free moment by moment as we live and breathe in His presence.

What are some ways you can slow down and create some breathing room in your life?

How to Hit Home Runs in Real Life

Don't LoseFocus

I remember the heat, the red dirt of the field, and my coach feeding the yellow softball into the pitching machine.

And with an explosion of power and a WHACK—the ball soared over the center field fence.

Instant home run. Oh, how I wished that had happened during an actual game.

With raised brows—and grabbing a ball from the bucket—my coach simply said, “Let’s try it like that again.”

I never did. Sure I had great hits afterward, but I never hit the ball over the fence again.

Maybe I lacked the muscle, talent, or discipline. I don’t know.

A decade and a half later I’ve begun to see that hit as hundreds of variables colliding in just the right way—like an amateur golfer who hits his first hole-in-one.

The conditions lined up—the right pitch, speed, and wind. The perfect swing of the right bat meeting the ball at just the right spot, that “sweet spot.”

Life is like this, isn’t it? Sometimes circumstances line up, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity opens to us—a great job or running into the person you end up marrying.

On that day 15 years ago the only thing I really did right was to keep my eyes trained on the ball.

Focus.

Keep your eye on the ball. It’s simple advice that coaches hand out in T-Ball dugouts.

Though I haven’t touched a bat in years, I need this maxim now more than ever. Work, marriage, and motherhood grapple for my attention, and it’s easy to operate in emergency mode, where I lose myself to the day’s distractions.

Sometimes I convince myself that I control outcomes, but I know the only thing I really control is my level of focus.

Maybe your own dreams are sidelined, and it’s time to prioritize them again. Click To Tweet

We can work on our swing, sure, and improve our technique. But maintaining focus seems to trip up even the most practiced athlete.

Staying focused requires a mental fortitude, what my longtime coach and mother always called, “mental toughness.”

We must practice the art of training our eyes on the ball. But even still, every batter reaches a point where the ball falls out of their peripheral vision. Around mid-swing or so, batters must rely on muscle memory and . . . chance.

After every swing, there are only two outcomes—a hit or a strike. All we can do is try to connect with as many pitches that come our way, and know that God is in control of the outcomes.

And even if we strike out, we need to go down swinging. Because in the game of life, there’s always another pitch coming.

The Myth of “One Day”

The MythofMore

For years I thought I could finally relax, finally rest and feel satisfied once my world was in the order.

Once my house was cleaned . . .

Once the kids were in bed . . .

Once we could save a little money . . .

Once our careers really got of the ground . . .

Once I attained my ideals I thought the emptiness—the gnawing hollowness and discontentment would fade. I thought once I achieved “enough,” I’d be satisfied, but that day never arrived. Click To Tweet

I finally did get my house cleaned, and the kids in bed, and a little money saved. Our careers really began to fly, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something.

Meanwhile, I had dinner to cook and soccer practices to cart the kids to. We bought a house in the suburbs, the kind of neighborhood I never thought I’d live in, with a lake and manicured lawns. Time slipped by and I kept sensing the hollow feeling, that I was meant for more and made for more.

I totally misinterpreted this restlessness. I pushed myself to produce and do more. And boy did I have things to do with the diapers and dishes stacking up. And then, in what must have been an act of insanity, I volunteered my husband and I to take over the youth group at our church. In the flurry of activity and then a new baby, I kept coming up empty. I knew the answer was in Jesus. Of course I did.

But I was Eve staring at that piece of forbidden fruit, dissatisfied with the known. Always wanting more.

The Path to Lasting Satisfaction

That first sin crippled mankind’s ability to live loved by destroying mankind’s relationship with God. The world has never been the same.

I picture sin’s entrance into the world a bit like the movie The Wizard of Oz, only in reverse. When Dorothy reaches the way to Oz, the yellow brick road, her world transforms from black and white into a Technicolor dream. Sin, on the other hand, left humans in grainy black and white, the absence of God’s presence.

Sin’s devastation wreaked havoc on the union Adam and Eve shared with God. It ended their strolls their the garden. I can’t imagine the regret Adam lived with, the gaping absence of God’s nearness. The pain he must have suffered the remainder of his life. How do you live in harmony with all of nature, wielding the greenest thumb of all time, only to battle with the ground by the sweat of your brow?

To know Love himself, but then lose intimacy with him? To go from ultimate satisfaction, finding identity in God alone, but to have that ripped away only to face frustration and discontentment?

Imagine winning an all-inclusive vacation package, complete with decadent food, expensive drinks, and an opulent suite, only to be kicked out of the resort. A few days later, you sit hungry and alone, eating leftovers out of a restaurant’s trash can on the other side of the island. You remember the taste of the creme brulee, the bubbly feeling of champagne in your mouth.

When you’ve tasted perfection how do you return to bland food?

The ache for more that we all experience is the echo of eternity written on our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). Click To TweetPerfect Love continues to woo us—the dissatisfied and disappointed, the forbidden-fruit eaters, the fail-ers and the unfulfilled. We don’t pursue God without him first pursuing us. We love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). No one comes to the Father unless the Spirit first draws them (John 6:44). God invites us to seek fulfillment in him.

He longs to rescue us from eating out of the trash heap so we can be his guests at a never-ending feast.

Author’s note: The above is an excerpt from my work in progress, a book about chasing contentment in God.

Laundry, Motherhood, Prayer

IMG_0007.JPGAs a child I daydreamed of monasteries and monks and what it would be like to cloister away all day to pray and read.

I love solitude, and I thought monks—with all their praying—were as close to God as you could get.

Ok, maybe I was a weird kid. But even as a child I saw prayer’s importance.

In junior high I scrawled my prayer needs into a journal, faithfully tending that list. By high school praying had etched itself in me, carrying me through two years of ministry training and then college.

I never really struggled to pray—not until marriage and motherhood, when diapers and dishes swallowed up my time. After kids, the question, “Have I prayed today?” quickly turned into “Did I remember to brush my teeth?”

On these days I appreciate the simple prayers—what Anne Lamont calls the “three essential prayers, “Wow,” “Help,” and “Thanks.”

Motherhood showed me how I complicated prayer. I treated prayer like an end itself—like a spiritual barometer—not the bridge to know Jesus.

I no longer see prayer like a subject we can master. It’s not a game we win or lose.

Imagine if we charted and measured how much we talked to our spouses or our children?

God doesn’t watch us from on high with a stop watch, calculating how many minutes we devote, just like I don’t carefully measure the minutes my sons spend with me.

But I do take note when they choose to snuggle up next to me. I notice their small acts of gratitude and love. God, too, notices when his children trust him enough to come—not out of duty—but out of love. God doesn’t judge us by the clock, but he does test our hearts for faith.

Sometimes we forget that mountains don’t move because of heavy-duty lifting in the act of prayer, but the faith behind the prayer—faith in the Mountain Mover.

We earth-dwellers so often forget that without faith we will never please God (Heb. 11:6).

As humans this confounds us. I can picture myself in that fanatical crowd after Jesus feeds the five thousand. They can’t wait to find out what they must do to accomplish God-pleasing work. Jesus’ answer still catches me by surprise.

He didn’t tell them to go to the synagogue to pray for hours or send them away pledging a laundry list of good works.

Here’s how John’s Gospel records it, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’” (John 6:29).

Believing. The true work of God is not in doing, but believing.

Allow that truth to sneak into your heart and smuggle out the fear your prayers don’t matter or measure up. Allow the grace-healing power of belief to set you free so you can keep trusting and talking to the One who offers unending relationship.

And when we begin to remember that our prayer walk is really a love walk, we’ll run to prayer

Practical Prayer Help

  • Don’t wait for quiet to have a “quiet time.” Solitude may never come, but God can calm your nerves and anxious heart when the house pulses with the busyness of life.
  •  Plan it. Set your alarm and coffee pot. If you want to develop a workout routine, habit experts tell us to lay out our clothes the night before. In the same way remove some of the barriers to prayer. Get your spot ready, complete with Bible, blanket, pen, and notepad.
  • Carve out time. Make what Ann Voskamp calls “hard stops” to pray. I think of these as little mini vacations from work and kids—time to connect with God, if only for five minutes.
  • Get sleep. Sleep might as well be a spiritual disciple because without enough of it, all the other spiritual disciplines falter.
  • Walk. For me motionless prayer so often lapses into sleeping, so I pace around my house to keep myself awake and focused. If you’re able, quit the house for a prayer walk outside.

Birthing Dreams and Needing Someone to Believe in You

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They don’t call it the ring of fire for nothing.

The baby’s head was crowning, and my midwife could see his full head of curly brown hair.

“Push,” she said for the fifteenth time. The pain was immense. So was the fear, and as I sat fully dilated in tub of warm water, this wasn’t a great time to lose my faith in natural birth.

I was seconds away from holding my baby if I could just push a little harder…

But instead of pushing I wanted to give up. I questioned my ability to give birth to this kid, and the soundtrack in my head went a little like this:

You’re incapable.

You can’t do it.

They’re going to have to cut this baby out of you.

Almost as soon as I heard those thoughts, they were coming out of my mouth.

“Maybe I need a C-section. I don’t know if I can do this.”

Thankfully, my midwife and nurses believed in me, even when I didn’t. My husband and mother believed in me too.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, God believed in me.

“Push,” she said again. So I did, not the test-the-water, half-hearted pushing, but the real, let’s-get-this-baby-out kind of pushing.

I knew the difference then, and I know it now. Sometimes I want to dip my toe in the water and talk about doing hard things, but other times I do those hard things.

There’s pushing in fear, and then there’s pushing past fear.

Are up against something tough? Or maybe God made you mayor of Toughville? Don’t bow to fear. Don’t give way to panic.

When fear crops up, find friends to ground you. Find a community to believe in you.

A friend recently reminded me of the ugly, beautiful chaos of birth. She’s helping me stay grounded and give birth to my own little bundle of a book.

What dreams are you wanting to give birth to? What tough things do you need to push through?

Find a way to silence the self-doubt and the mental fortitude to bear down and push past the pain. I believe in you and so does God.

It’ll all be worth it.

How to Trade Work for Rest without Quitting Your Job

Photo by Christine Wagner, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Photo by Christine Wagner, Creative Commons, Flickr.

As a child reading Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, I always cheered for the Hare.

Slow and steady has never been my thing. I like pedal to metal. I’m a multitasking maven. Just keep the coffee brewing.

I never really saw a problem with the Hare’s approach to life until a few months ago when I started to write a book—and failed.

I decided I would crank out 1,000 or more words a day, and I did for several weeks. But this isn’t the type of book you can write quickly, especially for someone like me, who’s never written a book.

Now I see the hare’s problem—all the running made him so exhausted he decided to take a nap before crossing the finish line. I totally get it.

I know how exhaustion can lull a person to sleep even when they’re awake, leaving them sleepwalking through the motions of life—the motions of parenting and marriage.

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Last week the class I tutor at our homeschool co-op was assigned to narrate an Aesop Fable. When not one but two students chose to retell the classic parable and laud the tortoise for his leisure, I took it as a sign from God.

Maybe this book won’t unfold lickety-split. Maybe I need to slow down and seek rest.

So I have. I know if I’m going to finish this book, God will breathe it into my heart and provide the time to plant my bottom in the chair.

I’m done with trying to write it at a hare’s pace in my own strength, where my goals and good intentions can morph into the ugly two-headed monster of striving and selfish ambition.

I know one thing about trading my way for God’s way. When I do give up, it’s like a cheeky child turns back the hour hand on the clock.

I’ve found surrendering my time to God, multiplies my time.

Joy and peace flood our home—and overflow into my work. All of a sudden this writing life transforms from striving to the glorious exhale of rest.

The more I step and sway with the Spirit—learning His Divine rhythm and pace, the more I learn how to work from a posture of rest.

And this, my friends, changes everything.

Instead of the finish line consuming my thoughts, chewing up the in-between moments, I approach each task fully present. Laughter and concentration come easily, and so do a few jokes.

I think the tortoise knew all along he would cross the finish line—he never doubted it.

I, too, know this book will come, and I’m ok plodding through it slow and steady.

4 Steps to Accomplish Spiritual Goals

 

Delight

 

We’re all unfinished people. You. Me. We. We’re people who are becoming.

So I embrace this perennial season of hope and resolutions. I love how every one of us can begin a new chapter with our lives. We can end bad habits and begin new ones.

We can change. God can modify who we are.

I once thought God left this sanctifying work up to me. Like a fool, I behaved like I could alter my core spiritual DNA.

So I analyzed and scrutinized myself, and set out trying to fix what was broken.

If I came up short on love, I played the girl who loves like an actor. And during those years I smiled, a lot. But one day I realized this faux love wasn’t the agape I thought it was.

So I asked the God who defines himself as love to show me what loving people really looked like. He did.

I learned that I can’t accomplish anything apart from God. The spiritual growth we try and drum up in the flesh ends up looking like a Play-Doh “Gumby,” when God wants to create in us something akin to Michelangelo’s David.

If you’re New Year’s resolution is spiritual growth—Bible reading or prayer, don’t try to accomplish it on your own.

  • Start with God, and commit this goal to him only. Don’t make it about you. Make it about worship, not work.

 

  • Know that God can do in a year what it could take us 30 decades to do on our own. He’s that kind of Person, and he loves to do miracles for those who believe.

 

  • Just ask. “You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it” (James 4:2 NLT).

 

  • And keep asking. If you’re hoping for spiritual growth, it’s the will of God. Let’s take Jesus’ advice this year:

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8 NLT).

I would love to hear from you. What are you in the process of becoming?

I’m in the process of becoming a worshipper and not a worrier. I’m also learning the daily habit of writing. Life tastes sweeter when I string words together on a page.

What about you?

 

How to Kick the Worry Habit

Photo by Francesco via Creative Commons, Flickr

Photo by Francesco via Creative Commons, Flickr

I did something crazy last month—I decided to start my annual health kick one month early. Cutting sugar from my diet was my health decision du jour.

I passed up holiday cookie exchanges and even pumpkin cheesecake, a minor miracle in itself. I kicked my sweets habit pretty quickly. In a week or so the cravings vanished.

I lost a few pounds, but what I learned about worry and how it relates to sugar addiction proved more important.

A 2013 study showed Oreos more addictive than heroine or cocaine. I’ve never experimented with drugs, but I do have a 30-year sugar addiction.

Maybe I should blame Little Debbie snacks in my lunchbox, but I once lived for that sugary fix. It satisfied in the moment, but gut-punched me with a new craving once the sugar wore off.

While driving one morning, I saw the similarity between sugar addiction and the destructive habit of worry. If I give in to the temptation to fret in one area of my life, it’s not long before fretting becomes an hourly fixation.

I wondered if I could stop the cycle of worry the same way I had broken the sugar cycle?

While my car engine idled at a stoplight, I imagined Jesus sitting in the passenger seat. Somehow the holiday hustle that prods the joy right out of my heart began to cease.

Backseat arguments over toys couldn’t invade my peace. In that moment, I shared exhaustion with him. I somehow knew Jesus sat beside me sharing in my anxieties and daily frustrations.

He sat with me. Or maybe better said, I sat with him, united with him.

This picture of him wanting to be with me during all my unlovely moments changed my mood and allowed his love to flow through me.

I’ve enjoyed Brother-Lawrence style prayer before. Practicing the presence of God while peeling potatoes or cleaning my house has never been difficult.

The real challenge is dwelling with the Lord during the chaos.

How do I unite my worried mind to Peace in the middle of toddler tantrums? These days, friends, I don’t have Brother Lawrence’s solitude or a quiet monastery to hide away in seeking God.

But I do have Someone to run to. Or better said, I have Someone who runs to me.

When I stopped consuming sugar this month, I marveled at how much better food tasted. Vegetables opened on my palate in a new way. Sweet red peppers tasted like candy.

New flavors and nuances in coffee and wine popped on my taste buds. I couldn’t believe what I had missed.

The same rings true when we stop the cycle of worry. Life opens up as a feast for us to enjoy. When fear addles our minds, we miss the opportunity to see God everywhere.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words sum up the reality of abiding in Christ.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

As the new year begins, would you consider joining me to break the cycle of fear and worry in your life? Would you consider focusing your attention in a new way upon Christ and his finished work?

I’m looking forward to posting more about this journey. I hope you join me as we “turn our eyes upon Jesus.” And if I could sing on key, I would belt the rest of that old song to you.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”