My Little Duke

faith

Don't Be Rubbish! A plastic-free picnic with Tearfund.

Faith, Sustainable, charitySteph DukeComment

When my lovely friend Gemma got in touch about getting involved in a Tearfund campaign, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been a supporter of Tearfund from my early teens and when I heard that the event for the campaign involved a picnic that was plastic-free - I was in!

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We were treated to a sumptuous spread by Little Pink Kitchen and Phoebe devoured one too many strawberries for sure!! The table set-up was gorgeous and it was lovely to meet faces I’d only ever seen online; we were all like-minded and keen to hear more about Tearfund’s latest campaign.

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Tearfund’s NI Director, Ruth shared passionately about why Tearfund are stepping up and calling on 4 multinationals: Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever to reduce their plastic production.

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So why campaign at all?

Why take a stand and speak up?

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This is unacceptable and this cannot be allowed to continue.

Can you imagine what the figure might rise to in another 10 or 20 years time?

Will you join me and take a moment to read more about why this rubbish problem is something we should be tackling?

Our world has a rubbish problem, and it’s hitting people living in poverty the hardest. Today, 2 billion people in the world’s poorest countries are living and working among piles of waste because their rubbish isn’t collected. That’s one in four people on the planet drinking polluted water, breathing toxic air, battling sickness. This causes between 400,000 and a million deaths a year – and each day the waste mountains are growing. Globally, almost half of all plastic produced is used just once.

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Ruth shared the sobering story of a mother living in the slums in Pakistan. A mother who is doing her best - every single day - to protect her children from the dangers of exposed waste around their home. A mother who came home from one of her several jobs, to find her son, crying in agony because he’d been burned by an exposed chemical substance while out playing with his friends. Thankfully her son was ok, but can you imagine this mother’s fear? A fear that she lives with daily. And this shouldn’t be the case. Her other son suffers terribly with asthma, a direct result of inhalation of the burning of exposed waste near their home. In severe attacks, he has to be taken to hospital, an expensive and entirely unnecessary hardship.

I listened to Ruth, with my own daughter sitting next to me and I could have wept. I didn’t dare to imagine myself in that scenario, yet every day, mothers and families face dangerous and disastrous situations because of a problem that humans have caused.

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Multinational companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever are making this rubbish problem worse. They sell billions of products in single-use plastic packaging in poorer countries where waste isn’t collected. And they know full well that people will have no choice but to burn this rubbish – which also contributes to climate change – discard it in waterways, or live among it.

But there is hope. Tearfund are calling on Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever to take responsibility for their plastic waste in poorer countries by making four ‘Not Rubbish’ commitments:

  • Report – by 2020 on the number of units of single-use plastic products you sell

  • Reduce – commit to halve the number of these products by 2025

  • Recycle – by 2022, ensure one single-use plastic item is collected for every one you sell

  • Restore – work with waste pickers to provide employment with dignity

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If they each make and fulfil these four commitments, it could transform the lives of millions of people living in poverty.

Please sign the petition here.

THIS RUBBISH SITUATION CAN CHANGE, IF WE ACT TOGETHER.

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When we steward the earth’s precious resources wisely, we can all flourish. We can drink clean water. Breathe fresh air. Enjoy good health. Our rubbish can be reduced and reused – and this can bring good, safe jobs to the poorest communities.  

This can happen if we act. We can say to companies: ‘don’t be rubbish. Stop creating plastic waste mountains in poorer communities.’  

And we can look at our own lifestyles, too. We also have a plastic problem here in the UK. It’s estimated that we throw away almost 300 billion pieces of plastic each year – more than 4,000 pieces per person. Most of this isn’t recyclable.

In addition to signing the petition, you can also make your own Plastic Pledge to give up one type of single-use plastic for 40 days (or more!). I haven’t quite decided what we are giving up yet!!

Let’s join together - we can truly make a difference and change this rubbish situation.

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NB: Photography by David Kirkpatrick/Tearfund

Act Two.

Blogging, Motherhood, FaithSteph DukeComment
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God has been taking me on quite a journey over the last 18 months or so. The life I’m living right now looks completely different to the one that I imagined I’d be living. My life looks so different in fact, that I would have laughed out loud if someone had told me that at just 29 years of age, I would quit my full-time, permanent teaching job because God told me to! I would never have believed that I’d be working from home: blogging, creating paid content online and curating a motherhood journal. I couldn’t have ever even dreamed that I’d get to be the mum who walks her daughter to school every morning and picks her up again when school ends. Me hosting a women’s weekend retreat?! Not a chance! I would never have ever thought I could do something like that … yet God did. Praise God that He got my attention during a season of my life that was headed for disaster. My rollercoaster cart was running at high-speed round a well-worn track. It never stopped. All day, every day it was whizzing round and round, twisting and turning. And the wheels were starting to wear thin. Just as my cart was ready to come right off the tracks … God stepped in. 


For an awfully long time I lived my life trying to be everything to everyone. This was especially prevalent in my job as a teacher. I was on a constant mission of seeking approval. Deep down my heart was in the right place, but my actions flowed out of a wrong personal desire. If I’m totally honest, even though I called myself a Christian, I wasn’t seeking to glorify God. I was seeking to glorify myself. I played many roles as I performed Act One of my life. I was the Playwright in charge of penning the script. I was Director too, with the mindset that as long as I continually tried to control the unfolding of my pages, things would work out ok. How wrong I was. Finally I was also the Actor who was sometimes so worn out from all the writing and directing jobs I’d given myself, that I had no energy left to actually be present and act out the life I’d been striving so damn hard to create!  But thankfully God has rewritten the scenes in Act Two. I’ve come through a really tough process of learning how to hand over the reigns, how to submit control and let God be the master craftsman – exactly what He ought to always be. And I must clarify here that I am still learning. I’m not yet at the place of total daily submission. It’s not yet a learned behaviour. I am really trying though. My default mode is always to revert back to ‘control’. It’s my coping mechanism and my well-worn pathway. Yet now I know how dangerous it is to allow myself to live and operate out of that place. It doesn’t make it any easier for me to stop and hand stuff to God mind you, but I’m becoming more and more inclined to do so in this new season. 


So how did I get to this new season? If I can summarise it for you, it would look something like this. I ended up off work for a number of months because of a horrible incident involving a pupil at school. I’m grateful to God that I wasn’t hurt and that it wasn’t my fault. However, it jolted me out of my high-speed rollercoaster cart and forced me to sit a’while with God. In this quiet place - away from the hustle and away from the noise - suddenly it was just God and I. I tried to ignore His gentle whisper but I knew we really needed to talk. There was a lot of stuff that wasn’t (and still isn’t) right. When I finally (after several months) chose to listen … He changed my world. He gave me such a clear word about quitting my job that I felt I didn’t have a choice not to. I received this word when I was at my absolute lowest; down on my knees, crying out to God in desperation one afternoon. It was a day when I felt like I had no-one to talk to and no-where to turn. I felt trapped, isolated and frightened about my situation in school and could not cope being so out of control. I feared the past, the present and the future in those moments before God spoke. I shouted at Him “WHY!” and furiously questioned “What are you doing God?!” Yet as soon as I heard His voice, everything changed. There would be no going back. 


I allowed myself to crumble and fall to pieces on that floor, that day. And in His goodness and grace, God picked up each and every broken piece of me and began to put my puzzle back together again. He is in the business of doing that you know? Fixing broken things, broken people. He is still fixing me. Still moulding me into the person He sees me becoming. It’s all about perspective you see. God sees the big picture. We see but a mere fraction of our puzzle. We get so hung up on that tiny portion of our life when God is trying to lift our eyes off ourselves and our circumstances, and onto Him. When we focus on who He is … not on who we are or what we are doing, perspective changes.


I still lose perspective, even in this season. Despite knowing and trusting God’s plans and purposes for my life – I still lose perspective sometimes. I still try and get that old rollercoaster cart moving again. It’s habit you see. Those pathways are well travelled. The territory is too familiar.  But there is a big difference in me this season. Instead of seeking to glorify myself, my goal is to always bring glory to Him. If I mess up, I come right back to the foot of the cross every time and I start all over again. Before, I would never have stopped for a moment to even allow God near.  I would have convinced myself that I didn’t need Him around, that I was fine on my own, that I was totally ‘in control’. Now, if I catch myself attempting to take control I run straight to God and surrender myself to Him all over again. It frightens me how quickly old patterns can creep back in and how the enemy waits ready to pounce like a lion when we have a weak moment. So my challenge this season is to continue to allow God to work in me, no matter what the cost, no matter how hard it feels sometimes. There is so much ‘unknown’ about my life right now but I face it with certainty for I know and trust the hand that puts the pen to my paper and writes the pages of my play. Act Two … I’m ready for you! 


“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 v 11

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Lay a really good table.

Faith, TravelSteph Duke1 Comment

A few months ago I felt a burden on my heart to create a space for women to encounter God. It was a no-brainer where this space would be ... Hill House in Sligo. 

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This season has been one where I've been trying to be obedient to what I feel the Lord is leading me into. It hasn't been easy. I've felt conflict in my spirit over finances, my marriage, motherhood and my ability to be any sort of useful vessel for God to use. But God has been faithful. If he places something on my heart and confirms it over and over again, it's a very simple choice for me to make. Do it. 

So when I got in touch with a few girls about a Spiritual Retreat in Sligo, I shouldn't have been surprised at their responses.

Yes. Yes. YES. A million times YES.

This time, this space, this place where exactly what was needed, at exactly the right time for these women, and also for me.

I needed to be brave, to step up and to lead, regardless of my own feelings of inadequacy. I had absolutely no need to doubt because God so graciously confirmed this weekend in the most incredible ways. But as usual, I let my own fears run riot in my mind, instead of focusing on what I was called to do and just getting on with it. 

And the other girls, well ... it took such courage and commitment to agree to come away for the weekend (they didn't even know each other) that I wanted to ensure that they felt right at home. God's promise was to "provide peace" (Haggai 2 v 9) at the retreat and he had prepared a place especially for each of us. All we had to do was show up.  Typical me wanted to be Martha again, to do all the stuff! Yet in all my striving and panicking to ensure the girls were well-fed, pampered, relaxed, encouraged and equipped, I was reminded that any work or ministry for God must begin from a place of total surrender. Once I let go of "self" and handed everything to God, I had no need to strive, no need to panic. This was all God's idea. I needed to accept that anything I brought to the table was not in my own strength, but from a servant heart, completely reliant on God. With open hands and a compassionate heart I prepared for the retreat.  

I spent some time alone with God a few weeks beforehand on a solo retreat to Sligo and got lots of the biblical prep done then. Our focus verse was Romans 15 v 13. 

Lettering print by Megan @growingracelettering

Lettering print by Megan @growingracelettering

In His goodness, God connected the pieces of the puzzle together so beautifully during the weekend. The places we visited where timely reminders of Paul's prayer to all believers and God's presence was tangible wherever we went. God was interested in the tiniest details of this retreat and I could feel His guiding hand even as I planned the itinerary. Amazing. 

Practically, I was able to provide the girls with their own lake-view room, bedlinen and Neal's Yard treats to enjoy.

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The girls also received some stationery bits n' bobs too!

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On arrival at Hill House on the Friday afternoon we all took time to get settled, unpacked and grab a cuppa. The living space has a stunning view of Lake Loughanelteen - such a wonderful way to begin to rest and unwind. 

The view of the lake from the living area balcony

The view of the lake from the living area balcony

After a cuppa, the sun made an appearance so I took the girls for a quick tour of the space. Hill House is part of the larger West of Ireland Centre that belongs to my in-laws. The area spans 55 acres and is tucked safely away beneath the mountains - a truly unique place to escape and retreat away from the hustle and noise of our busy lives. Knowing the surroundings meant that the girls could take time to explore and enjoy the tranquil surroundings whenever they wanted to.

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We enjoyed some time chatting and relaxing before it was time for me to get the dinner on - Mango Chicken was on the menu! I am still super grateful that Denby Pottery very kindly gifted some dinnerware from their beautiful Studio Blue range. What an absolute treat! Laying a really good table was made easy with such stunning pieces. 

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There is something really special about good conversation around a table isn't there? We chatted, ate and chatted some more, so much so that time was nearly away from us and we had lots more planned for the evening! 

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Following dinner we enjoyed a brilliant brush lettering workshop by Megan from @growingracelettering. Megan expertly shared her talents and tips and we soon got into the swing of it. I may or may not have gotten quite competitive by the end!! This was such a lovely way to bring Friday evening towards a close. Megan regularly hosts lettering workshops if you live in Northern Ireland and fancy trying your hand at it. I was surprisingly hooked by the end! Check Meg out on her instagram for her next workshop dates. 

See my  IG  story highlights for some live video footage!

See my IG story highlights for some live video footage!

Zoe's  IG  story :) 

Zoe's IG story :) 

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By the time we had finished our lettering prints it was almost time for bed! I'd originally planned for some pampering for Friday night but saved that for Saturday evening instead. I was definitely optimistic about timings during the weekend! I'll know that for next time! 

Before bed we had a short group session and I shared a little of my heart behind the retreat and what we would focus on over the coming days. Then we concluded day one with worship, no better way to end what had been a beautiful day. 

On Saturday morning the girls could wake up and grab breakfast any time before 11am. It was home from home - just work away in the kitchen and make whatever took your fancy. We had pre-organised to each bring some groceries, so there were lots of breakfast options!  I was up early getting some prep in for our morning group session. Although I knew what I wanted to say, God kept downloading fresh truth that I wanted to make sure I articulated correctly to the girls. 

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That Denby bowl though! 

That Denby bowl though! 

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What a lovely breakfast enjoying the peace and the view! By this stage we were all feeling rested and relaxed. It was now time to get ready for another group session before heading out for the afternoon. Saturday's session started with a really beautiful time of worship, followed by a short teaching time. We learned about living in overflow and the importance of being a conduit for Christ - an open-ended vessel that allows God to continually flow in as we continually pour out. More importantly, we discovered that when we operate our life in overflow we can change the landscape around us. Thank you Charlotte for your wisdom in this.  

Zoe spotted this while out shopping on Saturday afternoon. I just love how God gives us visual reminders that He's near and He's interested in our everyday. We studied the dandelion and propagation just a few hours before! 

Zoe spotted this while out shopping on Saturday afternoon. I just love how God gives us visual reminders that He's near and He's interested in our everyday. We studied the dandelion and propagation just a few hours before! 

Then it was time for lunch! I took the girls into Sligo town to Kate's Kitchen to eat and then for a few hours shopping. I let them loose while I enjoyed a coffee and some prep time in my favourite bakery. 

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Kate's Kitchen, Sligo

Kate's Kitchen, Sligo

The retail therapy was followed by a trip to Glencar Waterfall. The whole Glencar area is breathtakingly beautiful. The landscape and scenery are just incredible - well, well worth a visit, and the waterfall itself is a hugely popular tourist spot. I've been numerous times now, but this time felt really special. Once again, there was a real sense that God was near - the air was cool and crisp and we stopped and savoured the moment.  

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Awh. These girls!

Awh. These girls!

There was only time for a quick stop back at Hill House to freshen up before heading out to another one of my favourite spots - Rosses Point. We enjoyed dinner at The Driftwood, followed by a beach walk, before returning home for a cuppa and some pampering! It was Neal's Yard mini facials and head massages all round!

Rosses Point

Rosses Point

Sunday morning was another slow morning. We were so relaxed by this point that we decided just to do our group session in our pyjamas! God began to tie everything so beautifully together and we spent time being ministered to, taking communion and praying together -  just worshipping at the feet of Jesus. It will be one of those special times of encounter that I don't think I'll ever forget. 

Still in our pyjamas at noon, we set off for our mountain walk! Yes, in our pjs! Having this scenery in the back yard of Hill House still blows me away. Views of 'The Sleeping Giant' on one side and Lough Gill on the other. From the top of the mountain you can even see the sea stretched out in the distance!

Zoe taking in the view of 'The Sleeping Giant' - half in Co. Leitrim, half in Co. Sligo

Zoe taking in the view of 'The Sleeping Giant' - half in Co. Leitrim, half in Co. Sligo

Stunning views of Lough Gill

Stunning views of Lough Gill

Jesus, sweet Jesus

Jesus, sweet Jesus

Our final stop before our retreat came to an end was Strandhill. The girls were especially excited to visit Shells Seaside Bakery, Cafe & Little Shop after hearing so much about it! It certainly did not disappoint. We made a quick stop after lunch at Hill House and Strandhill was absolutely buzzing ... there was jazz playing on the bandstand and the sun peeped out from behind the clouds just long enough for us to drink our coffee and watch the surfers. This felt like the perfect way to end our weekend!

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I'm still a little overwhelmed by the whole experience if I'm honest. I felt called to lay a really good table for God. To provide a space and a place that welcomed others to come and enter in to God's presence. The table (literal and metaphorical) was and is, representative of God's presence, a place of ENCOUNTER. And as I've typed this post I've been reminded once again that I'm back where I began ... back at the place of surrender. I bring NOTHING to the table, except all that has been given to me by God. Any of my giftings, abilities or passions have been mercifully given to me and I am THANKFUL. And I have never been more aware of stewarding them well.   

There has already been interest in another retreat ... at this stage I have two possibilities:

1. Come Undone (spiritual retreat)

2. Escape to the West (non-spiritual retreat)

The finer details (cost/date) are yet to be finalised but if you are interested in either retreat, or have any questions, please email me  on steph@mylittleduke.com. 

On a final note I must thank my wonderful in-laws for allowing us to use Hill House and the girls for bravely joining me on this West of Ireland adventure! There is a whole lot more Sligo to see ... we barely scratched the surface ... 

Notes from the Battlefield - Part 1: Hearts & Minds

Faith, BloggingSteph DukeComment

Feeling stirred in my spirit to share a few thoughts that I’m having at the moment and shed a little light on where I’m at. As always, my aim through this blog is to share some of my own personal journey with you in the hope that it might be a virtual “me too”, an encouragement, or just words that help you feel like you aren’t alone. More and more through my little space online, I’m also trying to point to Christ and the hope I’ve found in knowing and trusting Him. But also trying to reassure you that I don’t have it all figured out and every single day I’m having to CHOOSE to work hard on that relationship. It’s a battle that on some days … I lose.

It’s ironic that I used the song “It is Well” on some of my Instagram stories this morning, specifically the lyrics, “It is well with my soul”. My soul did not feel well this morning. Another classic example of why social media projects images and lives that just aren’t reality. Posting that story this morning was an attempt by me to try and make things well. (I’m an expert at ‘trying’ and ‘doing’ but not finding the real solution to the problem.) A Neal’s Yard diffuser and worship music is certainly a good attempt at making things well - don’t get me wrong – but what I needed was to open my bible and start a conversation with God. (He is ALWAYS the solution to my problem.) I needed to come and sit next to Jesus and just ‘be’. I needed to stop striving, doing and trying, and to just talk to Him. To tell Him that I’m overwhelmed by the tasks, and feel weary from overthinking the battlefield tactics. My soul wasn’t well because I knew I wasn’t right with God.

When I finally did choose to sit a’while with Jesus (after a mama meltdown and some tears) I read several timely reminders that I want to share with you. The first was this:

 

‘The world tells us fulfilling every desire in every moment is a sign of happiness and freedom, but I can say from experience that ignoring spiritual disciplines leads to chains, not freedom.’

She Reads Truth Bible notes p.1920

 

I’m just home from a busy but lovely week of holidaying with family and hosting my very first spiritual retreat. I feel a bit like I’d ‘escaped’ my battlefield for a week – let me explain.

Most of you know that since quitting my teaching job I’ve been navigating this new road. It’s a road I never expected to be on and one I feel unprepared for! I’d trained to be a teacher - I did the lesson plans and prepped the schemes of work. But marriage, motherhood, writing/curating/maintaining blogs, creating social media content, leading retreats … NONE of these do I feel prepared for. And that’s ok. It’s just the control-freak in me that drives me to try and achieve levels of perfectionism that aren’t healthy, and to try and tick all the boxes before I feel like I can perform a task.

But out on the battlefield there’s no time for that. There’s no time to look around at how everyone else is winning or losing. No time to make sure my ‘I’s  are dotted and ‘T’s crossed. There’s no time to focus on the futile or fickle things of this world – things like striving for personal-approval online or vanity. Time is running out. Life is too short to get all caught up in my head and forget to see the bigger picture … and God’s perspective.

Lately I’ve felt all bogged down in all kinds of stuff. As I push further into where I feel God calling me, I’ve noticed the battleground changing and the enemy attacking. As I step up a level, the level of attack increases and I’ve never felt quite so exposed. No more exposed than I do in my own mind. And at the moment it’s the place I feel I’m having to battle the most. I’ve said before that the enemy’s greatest tactic is to keep us distracted by ourselves. In our preoccupation, we aren’t advancing for the Kingdom.

We stall.

And the enemy loves that.

Once we are preoccupied, his work is done.

We do the rest.

In my mind I am my worst critic. I say things to myself that I’d never say to someone else. I’ll be your best supporter and encourager, but never as kind to myself. I analyse and criticise myself to such an extent that it starts to get ridiculous. I need to cut myself some slack. I’ve been on the most incredible journey over this past year discovering who I am in Christ. I’ve received some beautiful promises and prophetic words over my life. And what do I do? Instead of resting in God’s faithfulness, I focus on my own failings. Instead of walking in his love, I still try to walk my own way, listen to my own voice. This is why I keep letting the enemy win. Why is it so much easier for us to give in to doubt and fear, instead of resting in His love and hope? Why is it easier to be distracted instead of devoted?!

As I arrived home I felt really challenged about my own level of devotion. I spent last weekend speaking to some amazing women when I was really speaking to and challenging myself. Another timely reminder on devotion popped into my inbox this week from desiringgod.org:

 

“As soon as [we] wake, there is a war to keep [us] from the word of God. Fight! This is a daily, constant war for me (author). When I got married, and when I had children, the war got harder.”

 

As I read through this article I began to realise that the battle isn’t rooted in my mind, but it’s a battle that begins with my heart. Where do my true affections lie? What is my joy? The author continues:

 

“What are my affections in? If my affections are in my sleep, then I’m going to treasure sleep over the world. If they are in my time, then my time is going to be preeminent over the preeminent one. It’s helpful to identify things that are legitimately good things and opportunities for leisure that [we’ve] made an idol in many ways. What’s at stake is [us] and Jesus being good. If [we’re] not delighting in the word of God, then most likely [we’re] not delighting in God himself.”

 

The challenge is love: to love the Lord with ALL my heart, with ALL my soul, with ALL my strength. The battle isn’t lost when we wake up more interested in Instagram* than God’s word – it has just begun. My prayer for this week is that I will be too devoted to be distracted. I will fight hard. I will fight long. The victory is already mine, won at the cross, paid for in blood. When all seems lost and when I fail time and time again, I will NOT FORGET.  

* Link to an honest post about Instagram I wrote back in February.