NovelSisters

watching, reading, and writing stories

Refurbishing Yourself

For the past 8 weeks my church has been going through a series called Life’s Healing Choices. It’s a step study based on taking an honest look at yourself and seeing what needs to change and how to start that process. And then today, we just started work on refurbishing our kitchen. I can see several similarities about the two processes, so why not write a blog about it?

The Kitchen (Before)

Anyway, before you can do anything, the first step is always realizing there is a problem. For our kitchen it was things like moldy old cork board, a sliding door that was coming out of it’s rail and chipped tile. But for yourself, it could be a whole mess of personal issues. For me I recognized my tenancy to want to be in control and not admit my problems. I tend to listen to other people’s problems and not talk about my own. There’s definitely some pride in there as well.

Our broken door

But that’s just the first step, then I have to realize I can’t fix all of this on my own. For our kitchen, we realized we needed someone else to make new cabinets, take out the old stuff, raise the ceiling, and put in new tile… among other things. And for my own heart, and habits, I needed to realize I couldn’t change myself with my own will power. I can stop a bad habit for a little while, but then I give up. And I can remind myself not to be prideful and then fall right back into pride when I feel like I’m doing it well. What I need is God’s power to help me and His truth to guide me and fill me.

One of the steps in the kitchen process was cleaning out of the stuff in the kitchen: the dishes, storage containers, food, pots, pans, decorations, etc. And one of the important steps in Life’s Healing Choices is making an inventory and actually writing out the hard stuff, like who has hurt you in the past, and how you’ve hurt others, and things you feel guilty for and need to admit. But when you finally finish emptying the kitchen, there’s a big weight removed, and the same thing happens with the inventory.

The cleaned out kitchen

Then when you finally reveal your deepest darkest secrets to God and another person, (tell someone everything that is on your inventory) there is freedom in that. And it’s sort of like how my house looks now. All of the old junk has been ripped out and we’re getting ready to start building it back up again. It may not be easy, and it definitely isn’t pretty, but you can’t get the new kitchen without taking out the old one, and you can’t be the person you want to be without confessing what is wrong with you and admitting it honestly.

Kitchen after Demolition

And then it moves on to the slow change. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just like it will take at least a month to build up our new kitchen, it will take time to change your habits and ways of thinking. One way I’m trying to start that is by meditating on God’s word before I go to sleep. I’d found myself being anxious or restless and not being able to sleep well, so I’m reviewing verses I’m trying to memorize right before I turn off the light.

I’m sure that’s not the only change I’ll have to make, but everyone has to start somewhere. So anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post and remember that no one can change on their own. We all need help from each other and from God. And it is a very long process, one that will continue throughout our lives. But in the end, it’ll be worth it.

Some of the guys helping us with the kitchen

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2016 and Reading

A lot happened this past year. And since it’s the last day I thought I should write a post about it. I know there have been a lot of political and world issues that occurred. Several of my friends on social media have commented on how bad this year was. Lots of people died, many things did not work out the way people thought they would. And yet, life continues and 2017 approaches. I’ve also been lucky enough to have some friends comment about the good things that happened in 2016. I think it’s good to remember there will always be positive things to focus on, even if there is a lot of negative stuff going on in the world.

That to say, my post isn’t going to be about all those political things. Instead I’m going to celebrate something that I got to do this year and also encourage others to do the same. So at the beginning of 2016 I noticed that a friend of mine had a goal to read 50 books in 2016. I thought that sounded like a cool idea. I already love reading, but having a goal would help me get through some of those books I had on my shelf that I’ve been meaning to read but just hadn’t gotten around to. So I joined in the challenge and also tried to read 50 books this year. It took some planning and I had to be intentional with my time, but I just finished my 50th book this afternoon! Yay! I didn’t read all of the books I thought I would and there are some I ended up reading that I didn’t even know existed at the beginning of the year. But overall, I’m glad I did it.

I saw an article the other day that said most adults once they are out of school, no longer read books. And it made me sad. I know that education forces people to read, but I had hoped that most people would still read just to enjoy and learn, not because a teacher requires them to. In fact that’s a big reason why I write. I want kids, when they are young to see reading as a fun thing, not just another school subject. Stories are powerful things and whether you’re reading or writing them, they stir your imagination and can help you look at the world in new ways.

So my little encouragement to you is to read something this next year. Maybe it’s not even a book, maybe there are newspapers, online articles, or magazines that you prefer. But take some time to read in 2017.

And as a Christian, I’ve found that reading other Christian’s books can really help me grow in my faith and maturity. A large portion of the books I read this year were written by Christians and helped me see God in new ways or get a better understanding of how I can live for Him now.

In case you want to read but you just need some recommendations (that’s usually how I end up reading a new book) here are a few books I read this past year that I would highly recommend.

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1. “Heaven” or “Happiness” both by Randy Alcorn
These books really helped change my perspective on how God wants us to live and what we can expect for our future.

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2. “The Gideon Trilogy” by Linda Buckley-Archer
This is a fun book series for younger readers that involves time travel, great characters and an awesome story. I really enjoyed reading this series and I highly recommend it.

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3. “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical” by Shane Claiborne
This book was very good to read and inspired me a lot, but it was also hard. I’m still wrestling through how God wants me to live differently in light of what this man has written. It was a very thought provoking book and I highly encourage any Christian to read it.

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4. “Keeper of the Lost Cities Series” by Shannon Messenger
I had not even heard of these books until this year and the series isn’t even finished. But boy are they fun to read. The action never stops in these high paced, interesting, and funny books. I’m sure they were written for middle school or even high school students, but I love these books. They are so engaging and I just can’t put them down.

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5. “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This is a classic for Christian reading, and I really enjoyed getting to finally read this book. I would recommend it to any Christian. Though it may challenge you, it will be good for you.

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Giving Tuesday

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Well today is Giving Tuesday, where lots of nonprofit organizations really push for donations. Several places have matched donations for today only, so if you give, the gift gets doubled. It’s funny to me how so many days surrounding the holiday season have come to have new titles: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and now Giving Tuesday. But of all the days, this one struck me. It might be because I’m currently working on a Lesson about Giving vs Getting for my middle school students, but I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are all about getting your Christmas shopping done early and saving money. It’s a great thing for a lot of people even though some shoppers can go a bit overboard with their enthusiasm. But Giving Tuesday focuses in on giving things that matter. That new TV would be great and whoever you’re buying it for will probably be very happy to receive it, but it isn’t a necessity. Most of the organizations promoting Giving Tuesday are seeking to give people around the world, things they really need: like food, clothes, clean water, education and the list goes on and on.

There are a million things on this planet that you could buy, for yourself or for others, but some things just keep their value longer. And I don’t just mean physical things. When we give to God, our gifts count for eternity and store up treasures in heaven. Treasures that never fade, or rust, or break, or get lost.

But for me, that is not the main reason I want to give to these non-profit organizations. It’s easy to have the mindset of what am I going to get out of this, even when we’re giving. I’ve done this plenty of times, like giving gifts to my siblings so that I could play with the game or take part in the gift myself. It was almost like I was really giving the gift to myself. So I don’t want to give because I’m thinking about a mound of treasure waiting for me in heaven. Especially when I’ve been learning that what God calls treasure or riches usually has to do with people and relationships, not more stuff.

You may have noticed the picture at the top of this post. It’s from a mission trip I took to Haiti about 4 years ago. While I was there, I got to hang out with some kids and I ended up making some little drawings for them of different animals. It wasn’t a huge gift, but they were so excited to get one. Their faces would light up and they’d laugh and dance around. And I got to see a glimpse of the joy of giving.

So, here’s the reason why I’ll be participating in Giving Tuesday:
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40

When I give to the poor, I’m giving to Jesus. And Jesus is the One who loved me when I was selfish and broken, who took my place on the cross and gave up his life for me. His love is more valuable than anything I own, and He’s given it to me freely. I want to love Him back, to give back to Him, to treat people the way He has treated me and show Him how grateful I am for his gift.

So, if you would like to join me, here’s a couple of the organizations that I’m giving to today:

Austin Disaster Relief Network

Giving Tuesday

 

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Jackie Robinson and Making a Difference

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The other night I got to see 42 the Jackie Robinson movie that was released a couple of years ago. I love historical films and seeing how people who stand up for what’s right can make a change in the lives around them. I was so impressed with the Christian elements in this story, especially when Jackie had to face verbal and sometimes physical abuse and constant threats but that by doing it, he brought racism into the light and showed it for what it was.

As the movie progressed it showed more and more people realizing their own racist views were wrong and they began to change and see the need for others to change as well. Racism was and still is a big problem in the world, but seeing how things were and how they are now, I’m excited to see improvement. And it gives me hope that other issues in our society these days can change as well.

But the way you bring about change is just as important as what you’re trying to change. Just because what you want to change is needed and important doesn’t mean you can go about it however you see fit and to the hurt of others. We need to face this world’s problems with a heavenly perspective and rely on Jesus’s strength. I’m still learning what that means practically.

Sometimes it might mean staying quiet and not fueling arguments. Jackie Robinson did that a lot, he had to resist the temptation to lash out and defend himself. Sometimes it means speaking up on someone else’s behalf like Jackie’s teammates started doing for him. And sometimes it’s pointing people back to what the truth is, as Branch Rickey did when he told the people around him what the Bible said about what they were doing. He wasn’t very popular, but sometimes that’s what is needed.

But over all these practical things, the biggest thing to remember is that change ultimately comes from God. We can have good intentions, say the right things, be a godly example to those around us and still nothing will change. What only God can fix is the root of every single problem in our world: the sinful heart. Without that change, any other change can’t happen or won’t last. So pray, pray, pray for God to work and follow where He leads, and one day Jesus will return and He will restore this world to perfection.

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Forgiveness

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I had to go back in my blog posts and make sure I hadn’t already covered this subject, and I was a bit surprised to find that it had never come up, or at least not in the titles of my blogs. Recently I’ve been thinking about forgiveness and since I don’t think I’ve even done a blog post about it, I guess it’s time to.

Well, I was reading this morning in Matthew 18 about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt by his master and then didn’t show forgiveness to his fellow servant who only owed him a small amount of money. When his master found out he got pretty upset and threw the unforgiving servant in prison. At the end of the parable Jesus says “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Now don’t get me wrong, just because I’m a Christian and know a lot of facts about Jesus and the Bible, doesn’t mean that actually doing what God says is easy. I try to obey God, including when it’s doing something hard, like forgiving someone. But there are times when it just feels impossible. What that person said or did just hurt so much, was so unfair, and my heart does not want to forgive. At those times, I have to ask for help. God forgave me, of everything I’ve ever done, the times I ignored Him, when I didn’t do what He specifically told me to do, when I was lazy or selfish or prideful or arrogant. And He is able to help me forgive others.

And I know when He asks me to forgive, it really is for my own good. Letting go of those hurts is hard, yes, but holding onto them is painful too. I’ve seen so many people lose relationships because they couldn’t forgive. Those hurts may feel like huge things to let go of, but what God has forgiven us of is even greater. And we didn’t deserve His forgiveness any more than our friends and relatives deserve ours.

So anyway, that’s what I’ve been learning recently, and I thought I’d share and encourage you to show forgiveness today.

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Dealing with Anxiety

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I have heard a lot about anxiety in my lifetime. People who have severe anxiety share their suggestions of ways to deal with it. There are countless books, articles and suggestions out there if you want help. But, well, I feel like I have a bit of a unique perspective, so I thought I’d share too. I can get anxious just like anyone. I’ve been nervous with speaking in front of a crowd, or being alone. I have my own worries and fears. But I don’t think it was ever serious. I never took medication, got counseling or anything like that. I was just a normal kid with normal problems. However, my sister went through and continues to deal with severe anxiety and panic attacks. Most of the advice out there is for people dealing with anxiety for themselves. But there isn’t as much advice for what to do if your friend, or relative, is struggling. What is actually helpful? And what just makes it worse? We all know good intentions don’t mean it’s what will actually help. So here are a few things I’ve learned.

5 Tips on Helping Someone with Anxiety

1. Don’t tell them what to do
Just because you read it in a book, doesn’t mean it will help. This goes for my own advice too. I may give a suggestion that was helpful in my sister’s situation, but wouldn’t help someone else. Don’t assume you understand someone else’s problem or can solve it for them. Often times they don’t want to hear any advice on what they should or shouldn’t be doing. Unless they ask, don’t tell them what to do.

2. Listen
One of the hardest parts of dealing with any problem, is feeling alone, like no one understands you. If you want to be a good friend, listen to what your friend says and believe them. There were so many times that my sister complained about her stomach hurting that many people thought she was making it up, or it was all in her head. But I believed her and told her I believed her. And knowing that at least one person doesn’t think you’re crazy can be such an encouragement.

3. Be present
This may be hard, especially if you live far away or are really busy, but it really shows you care. For my sister, I will give her a hug to show her I’m there with her (since I’m already around her a lot). Some people don’t like physical contact. But at least for my sister, giving her a hug, even one that lasts for a really long time, can help her calm down. It may look awkward to someone else who is watching, but I don’t care. I want my sister to know that I care for her when she’s hurting or scared, so I gave her a hug, or put my arm around her while we sit. I don’t have to say anything, just be there with her. Even if you don’t give hugs, find ways to be physically present with your friend. Go to their house if they can’t get out. Make the effort to be with them. And if you live too far away, maybe have a Skype chat.

4. Take away the pressure by being patient and letting go of expectations
We all feel pressure to do things, to live up to other’s expectations. These expectations can cause anxiety for anyone, and make things worse for someone who already deals with it constantly. Letting them know that they won’t disappoint you if they can’t come to the event, leave the house, or do the thing you wanted to do together can really relieve the anxiety. Countless times I’ve told my sister, “You don’t have to go. It’s not the end of the world.” Or “If we do this, it’ll be fun and if we don’t it’s okay. I’m fine either way.” I let her make the decision to do something if she’s ready to do it. And if she’s not, I don’t get upset. (This can be hard to do, and I don’t always do the best at it, but when I am patient, she does so much better)

5. Pray
This has been the biggest help for my sister. When she starts getting anxious she’ll ask me to pray. And I do, whether for her stomach to stop hurting or for God to give her peace. Sometimes I start praying and end up thanking God for her and how much He loves her and me. It helps me and my sister remember that even when we can’t do anything about the situation, He can.

 

So there’s my 5 tips. I hope they are helpful for you.

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God’s Not Dead 2 Review

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Yesterday I went to the theater with my good friend and we saw God’s Not Dead 2. This is the sequel to God’s Not Dead. I wasn’t sure exactly what this film would be covering and I was pleasantly surprised to see some of the previous film’s characters appear again in this movie. Though the main story line is new and there are several new characters in the film, it was enjoyable to see how people’s lives had continued since the previous story. Therefore I would suggest seeing the first movie before watching this one, though I think you could enjoy it either way.

Whereas the first movie is centered on a college campus and one student standing up to his professor about the existence of God, this film instead focuses on a high school teacher who answers a question about Jesus in her classroom and then faces the school board and a jury to decide if her action was in line with the law. The story, though fictionalized, reflects several real court cases around the United States and at the end of the film, these cases are referenced.

I don’t want to spoil the whole film for those that want to see it for themselves, but I’ll say that I enjoyed it. I really liked seeing the old familiar characters still growing in their new faith or applying the lessons they had learned from the previous film. It reminded me that real life isn’t like a Hollywood movie where everything works out in the end and there are no problems once the credits roll. These recurring characters have to explore their new found faith, decide what they really believe and if they will hold to their decision despite the consequences. However, I don’t think the “God’s Not Dead” tagline worked as well in this film. The prosecutor claiming that this court decision would prove that God was dead, didn’t seem to make much sense. And everyone claiming that God’s Not Dead near the end of the film, though fun to watch, didn’t seem very realistic either. I know this tagline comes because it is a sequel to the first film, but I just don’t think it fit in as well with this plot.

One last tidbit in case you are planning on seeing this movie: there is an end credit scene. I was lucky enough to stay till the end of the film so I did see it, but everyone else in the theater had left, so if you do go see this movie, stick around till the very end.

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Miracles From Heaven Review

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So I saw this movie last week and since I couldn’t think of any other topic to write about this week, I thought I’d review it. This is another in a long line of Christian based films that have come out in recent years. It is nice to have high quality films in theaters that have faith based messages and compelling stories. This particular movie is based on a true story of a girl in Texas with a horrible stomach issue that was slowly killing her. In the course of the film she undergoes several tests, treatments, and a lot of pain. She gets to the point of not wanting to live anymore and her family takes her home for the time she has left with them. And then she has an accident and falls inside a dead tree. Miraculously she does not have any serious injuries from the fall and is also cured from her disease.

It is a heart wrenching story and I admit I cried several times during the film. I have had family members and friends go through horrible heath problems and it’s so hard to feel like there is nothing you can do about it. But what I really loved about this film, is that is shows not only the big miracle of this girl being healed, but it also showed the little miracles or ways that love was shown throughout the film: A friend taking care of the remaining kids while the parents rushed off to the hospital, or a waitress taking off work so she can show the mother and daughter around her hometown and lift their spirits. All those little moments of caring for someone else more than yourself, was a little miracle, a little reminder that God cared.

And what excites me about this, is that we all can be a part of God’s miracles, of His work in this world. We can show love in those little ways by encouraging a friend, praying with them and for them, bringing over a hot meal, or even crying with them over what’s happened. God’s miracles are all around us and He wants to use us to do them. He invites us to be a part of what He’s doing. So I’d like to encourage you today to say “Yes!” to Him and obey when He asks you to do something. It may be as simple as opening the door for someone, or smiling and saying thank you to the cashier. It could be buying someone a meal or watching someone’s kids so they can have a night out. Whatever it may be, God can use your little acts of obedience and love to do amazing things that affect eternity.

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Why Do I Spend Time Alone with God?

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Growing up in a Christian household and in a Bible church, I have learned from a young age to have a “quiet time” with God. As I’ve grown up this time has gone through the phases or being a chore, a learning experience, a comfort, and a joy. It’s also changed as I’ve grown and matured. When I first started having a time by myself with God, I was focused on reading the Bible. That seemed to be the whole point. I was supposed to read God’s word in a quiet place and maybe make some notes about what I had read. It was similar to doing homework that my teachers had assigned.

But I clearly remember one year in high school I decided to read the whole Bible in one year. My Bible came with a handy little reading guide in the back, and I used it to read the whole thing. Well, when January 1st came I had done it, I had finished reading the whole thing. I got out my Bible again and my little sister asked me, “Why are you reading that? I thought you finished it.” And I realized that reading the Bible is a lot more than just reading a book. The point isn’t to read the whole thing and then put it back on the shelf. It helps me get to know God, it shows me what He’s like:His character and feelings. And it shows me what needs to change in my own life.

Well, on top of this reading of God’s Word, I had the clear impression that I was supposed to pray, or talk to God during my “quiet time.” Kind of like God’s Word was what He said to me, and prayer was my response to Him. So most of my time with God involved me reading, then righting down notes, and then writing out a prayer to God.

I found that after that year of reading the whole Bible, that if I ever took a day off from reading, life just seemed more difficult. I didn’t have a good attitude about things, and I didn’t feel right. I also remember a few specific times when I was really upset about something and decided to pull out my Bible to read, and found a sense of comfort and peace.

Thus I learned that a time alone with God wasn’t so much a requirement to being a Christian, but a way for me to handle all that life threw at me. No matter what crazy project I had to finish, or big decision that had to be made, or drama that was going on with a friend, I could tell God about it in my time alone with Him and know that He was listening. He cared, and as His Word promised again and again:  I was not alone, He was in control, and He was going to work everything out for the best.

This past month, I have been learning more about spending time alone with God. Our church has been practicing the discipline of Prayer and Solitude. I might have thought that my past years of learning meant that I wouldn’t get much out of this discipline, but it has been exciting for me to see how much joy and happiness is found in God’s presence. During this month I got to spend 10 days setting aside 30 minutes to just talk (out loud, which is not normal for me) to God about anything and everything. It was amazing how much more at peace I felt and how much closer to God I was after these times. Then early one morning I got to go to a park and just sit in God’s creation, marveling at all He had made and what it showed me about Him. During this time I also read His word without being in a rush or facing distractions. I had no where to be, no responsibilities to be mindful of, and I truly enjoyed just being with God.

In addition, this whole month I’ve been reading a book called “Happiness” by Randy Alcorn. This book has been almost a daily reminder of how much God loves me, how He wants me to enjoy Him and be happy in all that He has made and given me. It was truly a blessing to be reminded constantly that God wants me to be happy and can actually give me that true happiness in Himself. And spending time alone with Him is a big way of how I enter into that happiness.

So anyway, that’s what God has been teaching me recently, and I thought I’d share it. Maybe this can inspire you to spend some more time alone with God and enter into His happiness and joy.

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Christian Music

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So I was having a conversation with my sister in the car about what makes a song “Christian.” I mentioned that even though many songs have Christian themes in them, they aren’t all considered “Christian music” or won’t be played on Christian radio stations such as KLOVE. As we discussed it, we came up with three categories of songs.

First off there is the general category of Songs with Christian Themes. This is the broadest category and each of the categories I mention next would also fit into this one. Any song that has Christian themes, whether it’s from a Christian or secular band can fit into this category. All types of music: country, rock, pop and whatever else, would all be included. Any song that could be seen as having a Christian element is in. So songs like “Three Wooden Crosses” by Randy Travis or “Sinners Like Me” by Eric Church or even “I Will Wait” by Mumford and Sons could all be seen as having Christian themes. Though you probably wouldn’t ever sing these songs in a church, they still can glorify God and many people enjoy them.

The next category I would call Pop Christian Music. This includes music that you would hear on Christian radio stations and include artists like Toby Mac, Big Daddy Weave and For King and Country. These songs are intentionally uplifting and focus on God, though many of them can sound similar to other secular pop music. Though fun to listen to, there are many songs that you wouldn’t necessarily sing in church either, such as “Grace Wins” by Matthew West or “Made to Love” by Toby Mac. Some songs are just harder for an entire audience to join in singing with and have rhythms that are harder for a congregation to pick up on.

That brings us to the last category of Worship Music. This includes all of the rich history of church hymns along with the more recent popular music that can be sung in a congregational setting. Though each church may have it’s own preferences for music and not include some of these songs on what they want to play on a Sunday morning, many churches do use them. At my own church we’ve sung old hymns such as “Come Thou Fount” and “Amazing Grace” and newer songs like Hillsong’s “Oceans” and “Wholly Yours” by David Crowder Band.

But whatever you choose to listen to, it can all point you to the One worth praising, the One who made music in the first place and is worth singing about.

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