Lightening the Load

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I’m pushing a lighter load these days. I don’t mean that in the figurative sense. I mean, literally, I’m pushing a lighter load. This is because my oldest child recently went to full-day kindergarten, and now when I get the chance to sneak in a jog during the day, I push a single stroller rather than a double.
I’ll never forget the first time I ran with just one child in the stroller, after years of pushing two. I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to run. I felt like a cheetah; like an Olympian. (In all actuality, my very slow running upgraded to moderately slow running. Still, it was a definite speed upgrade.) 
It was such a remarkable moment for me, I took this rather unremarkable photo of a blurry kid being pushed along in a hand-me-down jogging stroller.


I’ve been looking at this photo from time to time, because it reminds me to keep my load in check. 
See, I have a tendency to weigh myself down with more than I need to push. I have a tendency to pile worry upon worry on my shoulders, then wonder why it’s so hard to keep moving forward. In this season of life when my literal load has lightened, I’m making a fierce commitment to keep my worries from weighing me down, slowing me down, and rendering me ineffective. 
The worries still pop up, perhaps more than ever before. Sending your kid to school for the first time brings a laundry list of potential worries, and our family is on the horizon of some big changes which I could certainly spend plenty of time worrying about. I have worries that pop up on behalf of loved ones, an endless list of what-if worries, and of course the typical mom worries that I’m doing some minuscule thing wrong and inadvertently messing up my kids for life. 
Yes, the worries still pop up. It’s just that I’m refusing to carry them. I’m saying no to pushing more than I need to push. I’m tossing those worries up in prayer, in a sort of one-way game of hot potato I’m playing with God. Over and over again, sometimes hundreds of times per day, those worries pop up and I’m tossing them up. May God give me the strength to keep doing it, and the wisdom to discern what’s mine to carry, and what’s His to hold.
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matt 6:27) 
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt 6:24) 
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil 4:6-7) 

The Season Between the Blooms

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The blue hydrangeas are starting to bloom out back!


These beauties were such a surprise gift to me, because they came out of nowhere. The first year we lived here, there were no blooms. To be honest, I didn’t even know there were supposed to be blooms. I was clueless about all things botanical. When I looked at the enormous mound of green leaves, I didn’t know I was looking at a hydrangea bush, so I couldn’t see what was missing.

I was shocked when they appeared the next year—out of nowhere it seemed—because they were just so beautiful. And there were so many of them.

I asked around about why they had suddenly bloomed, and I was told that some hydrangeas are cyclical. They’ll bloom for a certain number of seasons, and then they won’t bloom for a season. Then, it’s back to blooming again, and the cycle repeats. Perhaps the year without blooms had been an off-season. Others told me that while pruning is a good thing, certain types of hydrangeas won’t bloom for a while if you cut them back too far. So perhaps they’d been cut back too soon or too far and needed time to recover before they could bloom again.

Now, admittedly, I don’t know if either of these theories are scientific facts. I do know, though, that we are like this. We have blooming seasons—when everything seems to be blossoming and thriving and going so well. Then, we have our off-seasons too. Times when it seems like not much is happening; times when life isn’t quite like we thought it would be; times when the blooms are noticeably… absent.

I would like to encourage you, if you’re in a season between the blooms, that a lot of preparation needs to take place before a hydrangea bush can bloom. There’s a lot happening beyond what we can see just by looking at the stems and leaves. There’s growth happening. Photosynthesis and all that stuff. Like I said, I’m not a botanist. The point is, the blooms don’t just appear out of nowhere. They come at the right time, in the right conditions, when the time of preparation and growth is complete.

The season between the blooms is important. It’s perhaps the most important, actually. If you find your life between blooming seasons, let me encourage you to take your eyes off the noticeably absent blooms and instead, to lean into the preparation and growth that may be happening; to lean into the Lord as the One who makes all things grow and bloom.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns… I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. (Phil 1: 6, 9-10 NLT)

Note: Speaking of preparation seasons, I’m in one! I’m preparing for a lot of big changes on the horizon, if the Lord allows them. I’ll be taking the summer off from blogging in order to focus my time during this preparation season. Be sure to subscribe to receive an email notification when I return. Have a great summer – God bless you! (And if you have knowledge to share, feel free to teach me something about hydrangeas in the comments…)

 

I Choose Jell-O

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I’ve had this story in mind to share for a couple weeks now, but I’ve been putting it off, because sharing this story requires me to confess that sometimes I feed my kids Jell-O. I realize there’s very little nutritional value in Jell-O. It’s full of red dye number something-or-other and all sorts of terrible stuff. I think it might be gluten-free, or at least kind of gluten-free, for what it’s worth. Does that count for anything? 


No? Okay. Well, I tried.

 After three hundred “no’s” in the grocery store, once in a while you end up saying “yes” to Jell-O. You can’t win them all, I guess.

The plus side of being a mom who occasionally has Jell-O in the fridge, is this:

Sometimes, if you look closely enough, you see Jesus in your Jell-O.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking—gee, perhaps this lady has had too much Jell-O—but stay with me. This isn’t one of those situations where the face of Jesus appeared in a carton of Jell-O. I can explain. Really. Allow me to set the scene for you. 

One recent afternoon, I had to tell one of my children, “No.” The child in question saw this as a major transgression and proceeded to completely lose it. There was a full-on tantrum which lasted for—oh, I don’t know—eternity, it seemed. The tantrum went on way longer than the very minor situation warranted. We were at home, so I tried to keep my cool and let the tantrum play out, but it didn’t seem like it was slowing down anytime soon. At one point I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I bent down to the child and said, “You are letting this one small thing ruin your entire day. You can continue to be upset about it, and have a bad day. Or, you can calm down, eat a snack, and move on. I can’t make the choice for you. You have to choose if you’re going to let this ruin your day, or if you’re going to have a good day. Let me know what you decide.”

More screaming, more crying, and more pouting ensued. Then, after the longest time, there was an eery silence. I froze like a deer in the headlights, as if moving might make the tantrum erupt all over again. I’ll never forget the three little words I heard next.

“I choose Jell-O.” Hiccup.

 “What?” I asked, still leery and standing in my statue pose.

 Sniff. “For the snack. I choose Jell-O.”

Just like that, it was over. We had a quick little chat, then the kid ate some Jell-O and moved on to have a great day as if the whole ordeal never happened.

Again and again, I have these moments when my kids open my eyes to why Jesus said we must become like little children. This is for sure one of those moments.

 In this scenario, my child felt wronged—really wronged—when I said, “No.” This child was extremely angry with me. I’ll bet, when in the throes of the tantrum, this child thought they’d never forgive me; that they’d be angry with me forever. 

Then this little one saw the truth, and realized that staying angry was only going to be self-destructive. It was only going to waste an otherwise perfectly good day. So this little child chose Jell-O, and just like that, all was forgiven. It was over, and it hasn’t been brought up since. 

I wonder if my little one even remembers what started the tantrum in the first place. What seemed monumental in the moment is now water under the bridge.

As an adult, I have to admit I usually do remember why I feel wronged. I usually remember quite clearly why I’m angry. I tend to dwell on these transgressions for far too long. I have trouble making a deliberate choice to “choose Jell-O” and move on—and yet, that’s exactly what Jesus would have me to do with my anger.

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25)

Jesus would have me “choose Jell-O” whether or not it’s deserved. I am called to forgive, because I was given undeserved forgiveness.

 Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Jesus would have me choose Jell-O over, and over, and over again. There is no limit to how many times I’m called to forgive.

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

Jesus would have me choose Jell-O because choosing to hold on to anger will only serve to destroy me from the inside out. Choosing to stay angry will only waste my otherwise perfectly good days here on Earth. 

“…And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes.” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11)

Jesus would have me choose Jell-O even when it comes to dealing with my enemy.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you… (Luke 6:27)

Jesus would have me choose Jell-O because the biggest transgression I can imagine is still small in light of eternity.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)

“I choose Jell-O.” It seems so simple, but sometimes the simplest things are the hardest of all. It’s hard to choose forgiveness on a regular basis, over and over again. It’s hard to let go of anger when I’m offended by critical words; it’s hard to let go of bitterness when I feel unappreciated; it’s hard to take a posture of forgiveness when I’ve been wronged.

 It’s hard work choosing Jell-O.

It’s hard, but it’s so incredibly important.

Thank you, Lord, for looking past my shortcomings and giving me undeserved mercy. Forgive me for the times when I’ve withheld mercy from others. Help me to stay alert and to reject Satan’s attempts to drag me toward anger and bitterness. Help me to overcome my pride and forgive often and quickly, just as you’ve forgiven me. Help me to “choose Jell-O.” I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Happy #NoFilter Mother’s Day 

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It’s about to get real. 

This week I may or may not have opened my phone to find approximately thirty pictures of myself hanging out at the kitchen sink, resting my belly on the counter while washing dishes. Which, hypothetically, might look something like this:

Of course, this is just a highly-paid stunt double, posing for what such a photo *might* look like. You can’t prove this is me. That could be anyone’s belly.

Seriously though, it is me. Not pregnant. Just… lettin’ it all hang out. Taking a load off, if you will.

My mother was right. I have got to work on my posture. Or, better yet, I have got to hide my phone from my five-year-old, who is a little obsessed with photography. She seizes any opportunity to snap pictures of anything and everything. She’s a sneaky one, and oftentimes she’s so quiet I have no idea she’s turning an ordinary moment into a full-on photography session. I’ve deleted countless photos of chairs, rocks, flowers, toys, bugs. You name it, I’ve deleted it.

This belly-resting-on-the-counter photo is one in an infinite series of unflattering photos of myself, and it doesn’t even make the list of top ten worst photos. Not even close. For some reason, I seem to be her favorite photography subject. I’ll be honest, going through my phone and deleting her photos can be a real confidence killer sometimes. Her height and sneakiness make for some dangerously bad camera angles. 

Yet every once in a while—every once in one thousand photos—I’ll come across something like this, which she took when I was buckling her into her car seat:


Or this, which she took when we were playing in the driveway: 


Or this, which she took when I was doing her hair before church one morning:


Seeing these moments through her eyes makes me realize why she’s so intrigued with photographing me in my natural habitat. 

It’s because she thinks I’m beautiful. 

It’s because she doesn’t see a stretchy belly resting on the kitchen sink. She sees the pure comfort of being in the presence of her mama on a nothing-special kind of day. It’s because she doesn’t see the increasingly deep crow’s feet around my eyes. She sees the smiles which created them, and she’s especially fond of the smiles reserved for her. It’s because when she sees me get the box of hair dye which I now need to cover my grays, she watches me with great interest and talks about one day getting to be “fancy” just like mommy and cover her gray hairs, too. 

Kids think their moms are beautiful. They just do. I can remember thinking this about my own mom. Even in the early nineties, when she experimented with her hair and ended up with an orange perm (it was supposed to be blonde)… beautiful. I can remember sitting on her bed and watching her get dressed, seeing her fluff those orange curls and give herself a final check in the mirror before spraying on her perfume. I’m sure she might not have felt particularly beautiful some days, but I thought she was especially beautiful then. Even when she was in the last week of her battle with cancer and she sang the Doc McStuffins song with her grandchildren from her hospital bed, just so they’d feel a little better about being in such a scary place. Beautiful.

Why is it that we can so easily see beauty when we look at our own mothers, and yet be so very hard on ourselves?

In a world where we have instant access to everyone’s best moments, it is all too tempting to wonder if we’re measuring up. If we’re beautiful enough, patient enough, loving enough, fun enough, doing enough, there enough. 

Enough already! Enough with wondering if you’re enough. 

This Mother’s Day, I won’t get to see my own mother’s particular brand of beautiful, but—oh—I get to be that kind of beautiful to someone. Let me not waste or diminish it by lamenting over the belly-on-the-counter moments. Let me instead celebrate that even a moment like this is beautiful, and let me lean in close to the moms who are in the trenches with little ones this year and remind them that real-life happens without a filter.

I want to remind you, my fellow mama, that your #nofilter moments are so much more beautiful than you realize. That there is no one who could ever take your place in your child’s eyes. That there’s no one on the planet who could compare to you. That you’re beautiful. And that the moments which feel the least beautiful are probably the most beautiful moments of all. 

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to remind you that the Creator of the Universe sees you like that, too. 

You’re beautiful. 

Happy #NoFilter Mother’s Day!

You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way. Song of Songs 4:7 NLT 

To The Woman Who Wants To Quit

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“Mariah Carey lied to us,” I said.

She looked at me quizzically.

“You know, that song she sang about being a hero.”

“I can be your hero, baby?” she asked.

There was a pause in the conversation as we both proceeded to hum I can be your hero baby, then tried to remember who sang it. (I Googled it later—it was Enrique Iglesias.)

“Not that one,” I said. “The one about you being your own hero. It says if you just look hard enough inside of yourself, you’ll find a hero. I mean, it’s a great song and all. But it’s not true. We can’t be our own heroes.”

We were sitting in a diner just after the sun came up. She had her hands wrapped around a coffee mug that was an exact replica of the one I drank out of countless times when I sat with my mother in the early morning hours. The diner served coffee out of totally random mugs. Mine was a freebie from some sort of medical office. The fact that hers was a carbon copy of my favorite mug from my mother’s cabinet gave me an indescribable feeling of comfort. It was a small but distinct reminder that God knows us personally and can orchestrate the most intricate details in our lives.

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We didn’t know each other very well, but we were already talking as old friends. She’d asked me to meet with her because she was going through something unimaginably difficult. She was counting on something to change, and she’d just confessed that if things didn’t change, she wasn’t sure she had the strength to go on.

I empathized. And when I say I empathized, I don’t mean I nodded in understanding. I mean, I felt her pain—the real, raw pain of looking into the future and not knowing if you can physically withstand what you’re facing. I’ve felt like that before.

That’s how we got to talking about heroes. I reminded her that she wasn’t operating on her own strength to get through this unimaginably difficult thing. Her own strength wasn’t going to cut it. She needed to cling to something much larger than herself. She needed God to show up in a big way and be her hero. So we prayed, then and there, for God to do just that.

Her story is still unfolding, but I’ve had the joy of seeing her hero move a mountain for her already. I am hopefully expectant that He will continue to redeem her circumstances.

I’ve been thinking about our conversation a lot, and I keep thinking of it as I interact with all sorts of women in my life who are dealing with incredibly difficult things—women who are working the nightshift and being fully-engaged moms during the day; women who are fighting for their marriages and aren’t sure if there’s anything left to fight for; women who’ve been abused and abandoned and left to pick up the pieces; women who’ve been ripped apart by a painful loss but still go to work and drive soccer carpool like always; women who seem just fine on the outside, but are battling loneliness or anxiety or depression. I’ve been thinking about all of these women, who—if they’re being honest—probably have times when they feel like they don’t have the strength to go on; times when they just want to quit.

I’ve been wanting to sit down with each of these women and have a conversation with them. Because I think the woman who wants to quit desperately needs to hear something. So let me use this platform, today, to speak directly to the woman who wants to quit. Let’s have a pretend cup of coffee together so I can tell you these two things. (Hey, but if you want to have a real cup of coffee, you know where to find me!)

1. You’re not strong enough. I want to tell the woman who wants to quit that she needn’t struggle to be strong enough anymore. She needn’t try to be her own hero. Just so we’re clear, I’d say the same thing to the man who wants to quit. This isn’t a gender issue. It’s a human issue. This idea of needing strength outside of our own capacity is a very countercultural thing. We have this false sense of complete power and control over our environment. Maybe technology is feeding into this. I mean, according to a recent Hyundai commercial, you can literally unlock your car from space now. Admittedly, it’s pretty cool. But try stopping the wind and you’ll soon see there are limitations to what we can do with technology. The truth is, we aren’t all-powerful. When we find ourselves depleted of strength, we must look outside of ourselves. If I ran out of bread, I couldn’t find more bread by willing it to appear in my empty pantry. I’d need to go to the source. I’d need to run to the store and get more. (Or go outside and start harvesting wheat if I lived hundreds of years ago.) Speaking of living hundreds of years ago, here’s a very old writing that’s still highly relevant:

“As long as you rely entirely on yourself, you are bound to come to grief. You still have a most important lesson to learn: your own strength will no more help you to stand upright than propping yourself on a broken reed. You must not despair of me, You may hope and trust in me absolutely.”

A Letter from Jesus Christ, written by John of Landsburg, a sixteenth-century monk

2. Your story matters. I want to tell the woman who wants to quit that her story, even right now in the messiest part, matters very much. My friend at the diner is a beautiful example of this. Even as she’s been waiting for things in her life to get better, she has said “yes” to serving and helping others. That’s how I met her, in fact. We were serving together. I was amazed at how much God used this woman, even while she was hurting, to reach others through a selfless act of service. Right now, she is reaching others just by allowing me to share this story with you. You don’t have to be whole to make a big impact. You just have to be willing. Remember that we serve a God who fed five thousand people out of one little boy’s willingness to offer up his lunch. A little goes a long way.

To the woman who wants to quit: please don’t. Your story matters, and it’s still unfolding. Look to God as your hero, and then look for Him in the everyday details, because He cares for you very much. Right down to your coffee mug.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. – Psalms 46:1

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:13

Ugly-Side Up

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A while back I enjoyed a glorious mom’s night out at a local Board and Brush design studio. It was especially glorious because I got to use a power drill. See?


I appreciate a good power drill. I also appreciate anything which involves seeing a task through from start to finish, because not many things in my life feel neatly finished these days.

I caught a different perspective on beauty during this process. It was so counterintuitive, I couldn’t help but remember it. When arranging the boards to form a pallet, I learned to keep the wood ugly-side up. My natural inclination was to turn the boards over to hide any imperfections. I learned, though, that the ugly parts of the wood—the nicks and dents and scratches and knots—were what made for the most beautiful finished products. I was skeptical at first, but willing to give it a try, so I turned my boards ugly-side up before drilling them together to make the pallet. Sure enough, with some sanding, staining, and painting, all those “ugly” places on the wood served to enhance the beauty of my completed project.

This particular experience was months ago, but it came to mind again just the other day, when I found myself in a room surrounded by ugly-side up faces.

When I say I was surrounded by ugly-side up faces, I do not mean that these people were ugly. I’m not saying that at all. What I mean is, many of these people were not concerned with hiding the pain, anger, hurt, and brokenness on their faces. Nor should they have been. I’m being purposely vague about where I was and why I was there, because it doesn’t matter. I’ll get right to the part that does matter.

Though the room was packed, people weren’t looking at one another. Then a two-year-old entered the room, accompanied by his mother. He was lifted into a seat, and as the minutes passed, his little eyes filled with excitement. When he couldn’t contain himself any longer, he hopped down and began working the room. He walked right up to as many ugly-side up faces as time allowed, extending his hand and offering an enormous smile.

One by one, I watched these ugly-side up faces turn absolutely beautiful. There were smiles and laughs. People began looking around and talking to others near them. It was amazing to see how this little child completely changed the atmosphere in this place. He didn’t take away anyone’s problems. He didn’t have the power to do that. He just showed up and fearlessly offered love. In doing this simple thing, he made the faces in this room beautiful. He broke down walls. He made it look so easy.

I’ve been thinking about this kid ever since and kicking myself for not being more like him. I’ve been wondering what it would look like if I stopped avoiding ugly-side up faces and started boldly and genuinely and compassionately loving them instead.

There is a good chance we will all encounter at least one ugly-side up face today. (Again, can’t clarify this enough – not ugly people, but people who act and present themselves in angry, hurtful, and otherwise “ugly” ways.) Perhaps the ugly-side up face you encounter will belong to a stranger. Or, perhaps you come across a particular ugly-side up face day after day, and you’re finding it really hard to see beyond those ugly places.

What would be different if we saw every ugly-side up face not as something to fear, dismiss, or avoid, but as an opportunity to put in some effort to uncover something profoundly beautiful?

I suppose if this child has the ability to completely change the atmosphere, then we all do. Something to remember as we step out into the world this morning.

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. (Romans‬ ‭12:10‬)

The Weirdest Bill Ever

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I’ve developed a special cringe-face which I use solely for opening bills. This is a result of having both the electric and gas bills double recently. A while back, we signed a two-year contract with a market supplier for gas and electric. This saved a great deal of money for the first two years, but the rates skyrocketed when the contract ended. Hence the doubled bills. I had every intention of watching for this increase and switching suppliers before the rates hiked up, but I got distracted by things like cutting crusts off PBJ sandwiches, attempting to potty train, and trying to find a single matching pair of socks in the laundry pile. (Seriously, where are all the socks going?!)

Anyway. Now I have this special bill-opening-cringe-face, because—I realize this sounds dramatic—I’m a little traumatized by the doubled utility bills.

In February, we received a bill from a healthcare provider. I had a major cringe-face when opening this bill. Healthcare provider bills, in my experience, are basically horror movies in an envelope. Imagine my relief to find this bill was only for $23.00. I perused the bill (which included detailed insurance adjustments) shrugged, nodded, and sent in our check—no questions asked.

At this point, you’re thinking, Wow. This is a rather boring blog post. I can’t believe I’ve wasted three minutes of my life reading about your $23.00 medical bill.

But stay with me, we’re going somewhere slightly more interesting with this.

Several weeks later, we received another bill in the mail from this same healthcare provider. Lots of internal panic and cringing ensued, because I naturally assumed this bill was for upwards of one million dollars. (Like I said, I’m traumatized.)

So I opened it up, ever so carefully, and peeked into the envelope with only one eye open. I peeked just enough to kind of sort of see how many zeros we were talking here.

And I saw the weirdest thing.

There, in the envelope, was our original bill, along with our original check, and a letter. The letter read: According to our records, there is NO balance on your account and I am therefore returning your check to you.

Weird, right? At some point, their records obviously indicated a balance on our account. Hence the original bill. But all the sudden, no balance. No need for us to pay anything at all.

This never happens. Like, ever. I was skeptical. I was weirded-out, if you will. A flood of questions entered my mind.

What is this all about? What should I make of this? What’s the catch?

Then, I saw the craziest thing of all.

There, on our original bill, someone had crossed out the Amount Paid section. When they crossed it out, they ended up making a fish symbol. The same symbol that has come to represent Jesus. No joke. I can’t make this stuff up. Look:


I don’t know if the person who did this meant to do it or not. But I’m confident God meant for me to share this simple illustration with you.

As Easter approaches, I’m reminded that this is what Jesus did for each and every one of us. He made our debt disappear, separating it “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

I don’t know about you, but if I were left to pay my own debt to God, that would be one terrifying, cringeworthy bill. It would be something I could never, ever pay on my own.

Because of Jesus, there is no balance on my account. That’s truly something to celebrate.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteousness, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:8)

I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 44:22)