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Landscape Full of Life

I grew up in the Midwest, and I’ve always relished its simple beauties, from the wide, lazy rivers to the rippling rows of cornstalks to the forested valleys thick with woodland wildflowers. To me, the lush spring landscape outside my parents’ home in Iowa is as delightful as the mountains above my home in Washington. Mountains are majestic, but fertile valleys buzz with life. In Iowa, dragonflies float on the flower-sweetened breeze while songbirds twitter in the trees. A bullfrog croaks the bass notes, and crickets fill in the background. Radiant green covers the hillside from the treetops to the lawn, and rabbits, deer, and other critters scurry about. Everywhere you look, you see life, growth, and beauty!

Giant mountains, vast oceans, thundering waterfalls, and the starry night sky all impress me with God’s greatness. Even so, normal meadows and forests sometimes astound me the most. To me, they’re the best examples of God’s creative power, because they show His amazing ability to create life—in abundance! And just to think: He made it all from a dark, shapeless blob in space—and a few words.

Does your spiritual walk ever seem as desolate and lifeless as the earth before creation? If so, remember that the same God who spoke life onto our planet can infuse you with spiritual vigor. David believed it; that’s why he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Jesus can make your life as vibrant as a Midwestern hillside in the spring!

Just ask Him!

Blue Ski Slopes

As the chair lift reached the top, my skis touched the packed snow. I glided away, but soon found myself sprawled on the ground after an unexpected bump.

Standing up again, I skied over to the top of the slope and groaned. The easy slopes, marked with green signs, had been my friends, but making it down this blue-signed intermediate slope didn’t seem possible. I turned to Jessica. “I can’t ski this. It’s too steep.”

She didn’t hesitate. “Yes, you can.”

I frowned and looked down the slope, incredulous.

“You’re ready, Kezzia. You were flying down the green just a few minutes ago.”

I remembered the first time I went skiing. We had overestimated my capabilities, and I ended up walking down the slope. “Yes, but . . .”

“You can do it.” Jessica’s eyes held confidence. I glanced back at the hill, then back at her; and my trembling stilled. I trusted her—and if she believed I could do this, then I believed also. Digging my poles in, I started down.

I fell often on my way down the steep hill, but I didn’t mind. Through trusting and believing, my fear and doubts had disappeared. Even with the falls, the hill didn’t seem so challenging. I actually enjoyed it.

I’ve long struggled with fear and doubt, but I’m learning that they aren’t invincible. When I believe that God believes in who I can be, then I can believe in His dreams and trust Him with my life. There is no reason to fear the tests ahead. He will keep me!

Unfathomable Love

When I was expecting my second child, I didn’t know whether I would have a boy or a girl. But somehow I began thinking of my unborn child as “Teddy.” I’d tell my husband, “Teddy kicked a lot today,” or “Teddy has the hiccups,” or “Teddy must be sleeping.” I didn’t think of the baby as an indefinite “it.” Instead, he was “Teddy”—a cuddly, lovable, energetic little bundle I could hardly wait to meet.

I wasn’t surprised at all when my baby turned out to be a cuddly, lovable, energetic little boy. Of course we called him Teddy!

This experience helped me understand more about how Jesus feels about me. Even before I was born, He loved me and made plans for me. It’s amazing to realize that thousands of years ago, Jesus spoke of me by name, and made plans to rescue me from the clutches of sin. And then He actually came to this earth to redeem me! He died for me so that I wouldn’t have to pay the price for my own sins.

Jesus went way beyond the most intense love any mother has felt for her child. How can He love me so much? I don’t know, but I’ll be eternally grateful.

YD Connection

YD Staff, what do you appreciate most about God's mercy?

Will Evert: God’s unfathomable mercy means that I can wake up every day and know that God offers me mercy that will not only forgive, but fill me with grace to overcome any temptation that comes.

Janet Evert: My claim to God’s mercy is not my sin, but His goodness! What an infinite mystery that God longs to shower me with more mercy than I can comprehend!

Kezzia Keener: God does not just forgive us once and then declare us guilty for all infractions ever afterward. Rather, He is always ready to forgive, to make us new, and to draw us ever closer to Himself.

Tony Evert: When a king or a governor grants mercy, it seems random—some people get mercy and others don’t. God’s mercy is different. Knowing this helps me come with confidence to “the throne of grace” so that I can find mercy and grace in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Ted Evert: I appreciate God’s mercy because it has a special power to soften my heart as I behold the multitude of undeserved blessings God rains down on me.

Cheyenne Reiswig: It seems relatively easy to grant mercy to people who didn’t know any better. What’s amazing about God is that He mercifully forgives people who chose to be selfish, hurt someone, or do something wrong on purpose. I’ve done that at times, which tells me I don’t deserve His mercy. I’m so thankful He gives it anyway!

Jessica Pendleton: Because of God’s mercy, I have the opportunity to exchange my wicked, selfish heart for one just like His—one that loves truth, holiness, and mercy. By agreeing to this exchange, I can experience unbroken communion with the Prince of life. My life then becomes a beautiful tribute to the mercy of a kind, loving God.

Rafael Kopke: God in mercy went so far as to send Jesus as a man to die for my redemption. I can’t fully comprehend it, but what I appreciate is that He did it. He died my death so that I can live eternally.

Heidi Reinecke: I am so thankful that God’s mercy allows me to try again. When I have filled a day with failings, His mercy allows me to come to the throne of grace, be cleansed, and look forward to tomorrow, fresh with no mistakes in it.

Do you have a question for the YD staff to answer? If so, leave a comment below!

Staring Contest

When did you last win a staring contest? To be honest, I'm not usually successful at that game. I laugh too easily to keep my composure, while my brothers—and my husband—have a knack for keeping a straight face while creating all sorts of distractions. At the same time, they aren't bothered by any silly faces I make—if I manage to do so without cracking up, myself!

Several years ago, around a campfire, my youth group started talking about staring contests—and immediately a friend across the circle locked my gaze. Sunset had come and gone, and only the flames dancing between us lighted up the face of my opponent. Friends around us kept talking like normal, not seeming to notice the challenge, but still my antagonist stared back at me. Perhaps the darkness helped me keep my composure, for I held out long enough to be surprised at myself. Then embarrassment crept in at being so intently gazed at; and then—you guess it—bashfulness got the better of me. I looked away just long enough for my rival to declare victory.

Just as some people's stares can't be deflected, some people's peace can't be interrupted—because it comes straight from God. If you want to be like that, you'll have to give your sins and guilt to Jesus and let Him have your heart. In return, He'll fill you with His love and indomitable peace—enough to share with everyone around!

Sounds like a good deal, wouldn't you say?

Undeserved Mercy

In the early 1800s, Napoleon Bonaparte and his men fought battles all over Europe. Napoleon's troops, for the most part, were loyal; but one young soldier committed an act of treason. Napoleon decided to overlook it—but then the soldier was again disloyal. This time, Napoleon condemned him to death.

When the young man's mother heard the verdict, she journeyed many miles to plead with the great general. "Have mercy on my son," she begged.

Napoleon shook his head. "Impossible. He twice committed the same grievous offense. Justice demands his death."

The mother didn't give up. "Sire," she cried, "I am not pleading for justice, but for mercy!"

"He deserves no mercy." The general spoke with contempt.

"Ah, no, he most certainly does not," the mother agreed. "But it wouldn't be mercy, sire, if he deserved it!"

The mother's plea touched the general's heart. He called a secretary and signed the young man's pardon.

This little story touches my heart. I've been disloyal to God and His Kingdom more times than I can remember. But He is a God of mercy as well as a God of justice—and when I confess, He is ready to forgive.

I pray that I can show the same merciful spirit to my fellow offenders!