FamilyLife Today® Podcast

When Life Isn’t What You Hoped: Elizabeth Woodson

with Elizabeth Woodson | February 27, 2024
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Does life continue to knock you down--hard? Maybe there's a never-ending cycle of financial struggles, or every time you get close to someone, things fall apart. Whatever it is, Elizabeth Woodson offers gentle guidance through tough, disappointing realities. She provides a fresh perspective—one that embraces genuine joy amid searing setbacks and loss of control. Find peace, hope, and the strength to move forward.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Does life continue to knock you down–hard? Elizabeth Woodson offers gentle guidance and fresh perspective through tough, disappointing realities.

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When Life Isn’t What You Hoped: Elizabeth Woodson

With Elizabeth Woodson
February 27, 2024
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Elizabeth: We tell ourselves a lot of things that are not true! [Laughter]

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: One of them is, “They don’t want to hear this. They don’t want to be bothered with this.”

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: “I’m still talking about this. I haven’t gotten over it. They don’t want to be here for me.” And that’s not true. Your friends and your community love you. They want to hear; they want to be able to help. Sometimes, we need someone to give us a hug, and sometimes, we need someone to give us that hug and a hard word of, “Okay, sis! What are you going to do today?”

We rob ourselves of the beauty of that when we stay by ourselves.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: Dave: Going to bed last night, late, [with] a big day ahead of us [Laughter], I was literally so ready to go to sleep, and Ann says, “Hey,”—

Ann: —you were just crawling in bed.

Dave: Oh, I was literally—

Ann: —and I said, “Hey, you know, I heard the furnace, and I opened the door. It’s dripping water.”

Dave: I said, “No!” Sure enough, there was water dripping out through the filter into the pan, and you know, we’re in Florida. I didn’t know this about Florida, but you have to get a shop vac and suck out the drain line that goes outside [about] every two months.

They run so much, it gets stuck!

Ann: I don’t know, but I just closed the bedroom door, and I could hear banging; I could hear him outside.

Dave: I mean, I had to do it! I was [thinking], “We’re not going to have any AC all night.” I was out there at midnight, and I remember thinking, “I did not sign up for this! This is not the life I want! I do not want to do this! I could do this at 8:00 a.m. or 7:00 a.m.—”

Ann: —I’m so grateful that you did that!

Dave: —but I got it done, didn’t I?

Ann: You did! Think about this:

Dave: What?

Ann: Think about if you had to do that over and over and over, and after two weeks, you were still doing it.

Dave: Well, I probably will be in two weeks. That’s all I know! [Laughter] I mean, all of that to say, we’re talking about hardship today. That’s really not a hardship.

Ann: No!

Dave: I mean, getting a shop vac out took care of everything, and we were good in 20 minutes; although, I had to jump in the pool because I was full of sweat, and I couldn’t sleep.

Ann: We have Elizabeth Woodson back with us—

Dave: —you’re like, “Stop talking, Dave!”

Ann: I know! [Laughter] –in the studio. Elizabeth, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Elizabeth: Yes, thanks for having me!

Ann: Your book is called Embrace Your Life. And here’s the subtitle (it’s so good!): How to Find Joy When the Life You Have is not the Life You Hoped For. Every single person, at some point in their life, will feel like that; like, “I never expected this. I never wanted this.”

Dave: The subtitle—How to Find Joy; come on! How to Find Peace, or How to Be Okay. You picked the word “joy” in the middle of hardship! [Laughter] Okay, you’re laughing. I’m sure you thought about this for hours, days, and weeks.

Ann: If you didn’t hear yesterday, go back!

Dave: Yes.

Ann: Because we got into some really practical things, too.

Dave: But you’re taking it a little too far. Come on! Joy?

Ann: And you’re an author; you’re a speaker; you’re a communicator; you’re a Bible study writer. So, you’ve thought about this for a while.

Dave: Yes; so, why the word “joy?”

Elizabeth: Yes, I laughed, because that’s the last thing people want—

Dave: --right!

Elizabeth: —in a place of hardship. It’s like, “I don’t want joy! I don’t want to be happy!”

Ann: Exactly!

Elizabeth: But I think that is the key for us: to not lose ourselves when we’re in those places. To me, joy encompasses the other things. It encompasses hope; it encompasses the things we need to move forward.

So, to me, joy is this anchor. People who have joy in the midst of difficulty handle it differently than people who don’t.

Ann: And aren’t they attractive?

Elizabeth: They are.

Ann: When you talk to somebody whose life is falling apart, [or] they’ve lost someone they loved, there’s not a happiness; but there’s a trust and a contentment in their soul, and you’re like, “I need that.”

Elizabeth: Yes.

Ann: How do you get that?

Dave: You said the other day [you were] going to live with your grandparents, and they both died; were you able to find joy?

Elizabeth: Yes, on the way, I would say.

Dave: Right, right.

Elizabeth: Because everything, to me—and what I want people to know is that I’m not suggesting it’s something immediate—

Ann: You’re not a “quick fixer.”

Elizabeth: I’m not a quick fixer! After everything happens that is causing us disappointment, it’s [not], “Oh, you know!” or that I have this superficial joyful attitude. But what I knew was that my grandparents were with the Lord. So, for me, in my situation, there is this anchor to my faith in God [that] my joy’s attached to.

It’s like, “God, you’re going to be with me in this place. Thinking about all the wonderful memories I had with them—”

My one grandmother; she had cancer. So, at a certain point, cancer, I would say, is just mean.

Ann: It is mean!

Elizabeth: It’s mean!

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: And I don’t want you here, suffering.

Dave: Yes, yes.

Elizabeth: So, it’s knowing that my grandmother is healed and she’s with the Lord. It’s not easy; it’s not a quick fix; but I do believe the Lord brought me joy in that place that’s not this bubbly happiness, but it is this deep-seated contentment in the things of God.

To me, that’s where the joy comes from.

Dave: How is the journey to joy through the tunnel of lament?

Elizabeth: Yes.

Dave: Are there moments when we—hopefully, we get the joy; but we’re not there yet. Is it okay to just cry out and be mad or angry—

Ann: —yes, how would you—

Dave: —or complaining to God?

Ann: How would you even define lament? That, and anything else?

Elizabeth: I think it’s crying out to God.

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: And I think, many times, it’s crying out to God for things we believe He has not done that He said He was going to do.

What we have in Scripture, which I love, is the book of Psalms. The psalms—sometimes, you read through them, and you’re [thinking], “Man, that sounds a little wild!” [Laughter]

Dave: Yes, exactly.

Ann: No kidding! [Laughter] “He sounds depressed!”

Elizabeth: He sounds depressed. It’s like, “Are you talking to God like that?!”

Ann: Yes, angry—

Elizabeth: —angry; and saying, “God, You said You were going to be faithful to us.” So, Israel has real, covenantal promises that they are holding onto God for. What you see is that, the fact that they’re present there, to me, is an illustration from God that this is okay.

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: It is okay for you to be a little frustrated; it’s okay for you, even, to be a little angry. We do everything in honor of the sovereignty and bigness of God, but we’re honest with our emotions, because He already knows what we’re thinking anyway. [Laughter] So, we would just have the space to process that with Him. I think of lament—this crying out to God: “Lord, You haven’t met my expectations. You haven’t filled Your promises.” Psalm 13, to me, shows this really beautiful journey that David takes in that place of lament.

It starts with frustration, and it ends with worship. I don’t think it’s immediate; but I do think that shows us something about what it means to process big feelings with God.

Ann: You talk about people—how people are important, too, as we walk through lament or just hardship.

Dave: Embrace help.

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Ann: How do you do that?

Elizabeth: I think that, sometimes, it is the last thing you want to do, because sometimes, people can be unhelpful [Laughter] in those difficult places. People say some crazy stuff when bad things happen. We make promises that are not things that we’re in control of.

So, I get it! When people [say], “I don’t know if I want to tell people about what’s going on.” But what I have seen is, sometimes, just being present with someone—I don’t have to have all the answers, but I am just physically present; I bring a meal; I sit; and I just listen. Being able to share, without shame and judgment, what’s going on in your life; [being] able to express all those things, to me, is healthy, probably, for reasons that even science would tell us. If it’s not just bottled up inside of us, but I get to have someone who just grieves with me [through] something that was really bad.

You’re [saying], “We’re not going to sugarcoat this. We’re not going to put a bow on it. We serve a God who is grieved with this, too. He doesn’t want this world like this. That’s why He sent Jesus.’ So, I think there is power in that. I’ve seen a lot of lament happen in song.

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: Singing together; singing worship songs, or even, I think about the old hymns that I grew up on, or even Negro spirituals that I grew up on. We were singing about the hardships of life, but also singing about the true-ness of God. It’s the voices of the people around me that give me strength.

I think something happens there that I don’t have the full words to explain, but going through difficulty with other people gives us the strength that, to me, I believe, is grounded in who God is.

Dave: How do we go to people when we don’t want to?

Elizabeth: I think there’s an element of being courageous. Again, these aspects of community are hard to jump into when it’s non-existent in your life.

Ann: Good point.

Elizabeth: So, I think it’s easier—

Dave: —build that before!

Elizabeth: Build it before!

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: Even still, if we are part of a community of believers, where we can go to a minister or a leader and say, “I just need to talk with you.” We go to people who we know love us and care for us.

Elizabeth: We tell ourselves a lot of things that are not true! [Laughter]

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: One of them is, “They don’t want to hear this. They don’t want to be bothered with this.”

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: “I’m still talking about this. I haven’t gotten over it. They don’t want to be here for me.” And that’s not true. Your friends and your community love you. They want to hear; they want to be able to help. Sometimes, we need someone to give us a hug, and sometimes, we need someone to give us that hug and a hard word of, “Okay, sis! What are you going to do today? What step are you taking today?” Because they know us and know what we need.

We rob ourselves of the beauty of that when we stay by ourselves.

Dave: How do you embrace loss and embrace hope?

Elizabeth: Yes. [Laughter]

Ann: Good question.

Dave: It’s like they’re contradictory.

Elizabeth: Yes, yes.

Dave: I mean, first of all, I don’t want to embrace loss.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Dave: I almost want to deny it. “I lost a child.” “I lost my marriage.” “I lost my future,” or whatever. It’s like I just want to move on!

Elizabeth: Yes.

Dave: But, no! You’ve sort of got to embrace that; but at the same time, there’s hope. It’s like, “No, they don’t go together until later.”

Elizabeth: Yes.

Dave: But you’re saying—how do you do it together?

Elizabeth: Yes; in the book, I take that journey with Joshua, and Joshua has a really neat story. He comes into a pivotal moment of leadership after Moses dies.

I’m almost thinking, “How was that?!” Right? [Laughter]

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: You have served with this person for 40 years, and they’re not here anymore. What you have in Joshua 1 is, I feel like, God [taking] Joshua through these movements. How do they process? Israel grieves the death of Moses, but God gives all of these promises about Who He is and what He’s going to do for Joshua.

To me, it is hope and the loss; between those are me moving through these things of lamenting my pain, remembering what’s true about God, and really understanding that He says He will be with me forever. At that moment, you find God say to Joshua: “It’s time for you to move forward.”

And I think there’s a moment where the Lord does that for us. He says, “I’ve given you all the truth. It’s time for you to move forward into things, because there’s still life for you to live.” To me, that’s where the hope is found. It’s found in, “What do I have in Jesus?” But to me, it’s not immediate. For some folks, it’s immediate; but I think for many of us, it’s this process of time with the Word, time in prayer, living in community; and the flickering flames of hope start to emerge, and we can walk in that.

Ann: But I can imagine the listener thinking, “I have nobody. You don’t understand. I don’t know anybody. Even my family is estranged.” Where do they even start if they’re in the valley by themselves?

Elizabeth: I remember a situation during the pandemic, and it was one of those weepy days. I said, “Lord, I just really need You to show up for me.” At that moment—

Ann: So, you asked that? You prayed that?

Elizabeth: I prayed that: “Lord, I need You to show up.”

Ann: I’ll pray that same thing: “Lord, I need something today!!” [Laughter]

Elizabeth: “I need something today!” You do the “right now” answer: “I need it right now!”

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: And I had a friend, at that moment, text me. She said, “Hey, do you need prayer?”

Ann: Come on!

Elizabeth: “I just feel like the Holy Spirit put you on my heart. Is there anything you need prayer for?”

I’m a voice text person, so a voice text later—a whole paragraph! [Laughter] I was [thinking], “You should have just called her!” [Laughter] And I just shared, in that moment, what was going on; and she prayed for me. It was great.

But what was encouraging to me was that God reached out, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to someone else across the country.

Ann: Really? She was across the country?

Elizabeth: She was across the country, in a totally different state.

Dave: Wow!

Elizabeth: She was in D.C.; I was in Texas. She responded to the Holy Spirit, and she just reached out to me. So, what I believe is, when God says He is with us—He can bring somebody.

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: That’s who we are, His hands and feet. So, when God prompts—the Holy Spirit prompts—us to go talk to someone, and to be encouraging to someone, [we] don’t know what they need. So, even if you don’t have anyone, you have God. God can move anyone to come to you.

Ann: Oh, that’s good!

Dave: Yes, I think we forget Who God is in trial; in hardship. You have a whole section [saying] you’ve got to remember who you are and who God is.

Ann: Ooh, let’s talk about that.

Dave: Talk about that—

Ann: —who is God?

Dave: Yes, how do you—

Ann: —remind us.

Dave: Walk us through that.

Ann: Remind us.

Elizabeth: There are a couple attributes of His that I unpack in the book. The list is endless, but first, He’s sovereign, which means that He’s all-powerful, and nothing is outside of His control. So, I think about the lies we tell ourselves.

Ann: Yes! Like, “Well, then, why did He let this happen!?”

Elizabeth: Right; it’s a question of, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It’s a complicated question, but what we need to know is that bad things don’t happen because of God; bad things happen because of sin that we will do ourselves, or sin that we experience from other people. God doesn’t turn a blind eye to that. He is able, both now, to deal with it; but we know that He also deals with that in an ultimate way through Jesus. That’s what our Scriptures tell us.

The Scriptures say, “God’s arm is not too short.” [Isaiah 59:1] Nothing is impossible for Him! What will stifle us is believing He can’t do it. “He’s not going to do it. He’s not going to come through.”

I have too many stories of doors opening in my life, that had no handles on the outside. So, there was nothing I could have done to get that job, or to get that interview, or to get that opportunity. He worked something out, and His power, to me, encourages me in different seasons when I need to be reminded that He can do it. He’s sovereign!

Another one is His love for us. Scripture tells the story of how God created us out of the overflow of His love. [He] pursues humanity. And, ultimately, through the power of Jesus, [He] saves us for eternity. All of that so that we could experience—I like to call it—shalom. It’s wholeness; it is His perfection that we see a glimpse of in Genesis, and we see it in the ultimate sense in Revelation. God’s love for me is that deep, that He’s never going to let me go. Nothing that I could do is going to make Him kick me to the curb.

Those are two things, you know? There’s a sense of, “How do we deal with God being eternal?” All of these things: omnipotence; all of the “omnis,” we could talk about. [Laughter] To me, it’s that He is powerful enough to do anything, and His love means that He’s also compassionate. He cares. He cares about my sad moments, and He cares about me when I just—I always say—“walk with a limp.” You just [know], “I can’t be at full-speed, because I’m a little broken.”

Dave: Yes.

Elizabeth: His love is present with us in those moments, too.

Dave: Yes; and you’ve mentioned before, there has got to be a surrender to the sovereignty of God.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Dave: That doctrine, sometimes, is really hard to wrap my arms [around], to embrace. When everything’s good—yes, “God’s sovereign;” but when it isn’t, it’s, “Seriously?” It’s almost like you want to throw away the theology: “Come on! That’s a childhood belief, that He’s really all-powerful and in control; because these bad things keep happening.”

How do you hold onto that?

Elizabeth: For me, I’m a person who’s always going to come back to the stories of Scripture. What I’ve learned is: God is a lot more patient with us than we are with ourselves. He is more patient to change people slowly over time than situations quickly. That frustrates us to no end, but He is [patient]. And His plan—I don’t understand it. Scripture says, “His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:9]

And I don’t want to say that, sounding super-spiritual and sugary sweet. It legitimately is that God is changing things. Scripture shows me that; the way He changes things over time. Even in the things He doesn’t change now, Scripture points me to an eternity where all of those things will be shifted into goodness. As a believer, that’s the path I’m called to walk on. Life outside of that gets difficult, when I can’t embrace the timing of God.

Dave: I lost my little brother when I was seven. He was five; [he] had leukemia. A single mom; dad was already gone, so I was raised by just my mom. She tended to sort of not talk about it, like, “If you don’t talk about it, you don’t have to deal with it.” Yet, as I look back, she somehow embraced hope. You know, losing a child has got to be one of the hardest things ever. Recently, in a church that we started in Detroit 30 years ago, a family that is just a pillar of our community; their college-aged son was standing on a curb on the campus at Michigan State, and someone hit him and killed him and drove off.

This is what Gina, his mom, wrote (and it was read at the funeral)—she wrote this: “Early Sunday morning, on November 5th, the enemy of my soul, Satan, launched a violent attack against my family and community. Our camp is severely wounded. It was an act of war. Jesus warned us of this war in Ephesians 6:10-17. We are told to put on the full armor of God so that we can stand against the schemes of the devil. It explains who and what we are actually fighting against. It isn’t flesh and blood like we think, but the powerful, dark forces in the spiritual realm that we cannot see.”

“This Scripture also promises that after the battle, we will be standing firm. Jesus Himself says in John 16:33 that ‘in this life, you will have many trials and sorrows,’ but to ‘take heart, because He has overcome the world.’ I have placed my faith and trust in Jesus as my God and Savior, and I have been following Him for a very long time. He has been so good and faithful to me, even though hardship has come. I have no reason to believe that His everlasting love, goodness, greatness, and grace will ever run out in my life.”

“While I cannot explain the why’s and how’s of what has happened, I have learned enough to know that I can trust Jesus with my pain, and that He will use His resurrection power to bring beauty from the ashes. I will see the promised victory over this battle that God has prewarned me about, and I will be reunited with my sweet Sal again when God receives me in His timing. Until then, I will battle onward, knowing that I will never be alone, because Jesus is with me always. I am wounded and weak right now, but I will bring my hurt to the Great Physician and let Him prescribe my healing. I will accept the comfort of His Holy Spirit who He has promised. I will claim the peace that surpasses understanding, that is promised to those who are in Christ Jesus. I will commit to comfort others who are hurting with the same comfort I have received from Him. Jesus, let me see and feel you, close to the broken-hearted like You promised.”

I mean, that’s hard to say and write in the middle of that valley, within days of the death of her son. Any thoughts?

Elizabeth: Yes; to me, when I hear you read that, I hear where our hope is girded in.

Ann: Yes.

Elizabeth: There is this reality of a war that we’re in. The hard stuff that we experience is ultimately connected to the enemy and the things that seek to thwart the things of God. But she also connects to this reality that all those dark things have an end date on them. There’s an end date to our pain; there’s an end date to our sadness; there’s an end date to the grief. There’s not an end date to life with the Lord. She will be reunited with her son. Until then, we war on, knowing that the Great Physician will provide her the healing that she needs.

That’s just really powerful! The humanity of it, but [also] the perspective that we have based upon the truth of Scripture.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: It’s our foundation.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Ann: The Rock and the hope in Jesus.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Ann: I’m just wondering if you’ll pray. I’m sure there are so many people who just need prayer. They’re battling right now.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Father, we just thank You that we have the opportunity to speak to You. I pray for the listeners who are going through their own valley; a dark night of the soul; of things—the unimaginable has happened to them. I pray that You would be the Comforter. I pray that You would bring a balm to their soul. I pray that You would show up and bring them the comfort and support of tangible things, even in Your people; that You would have the people of God show up and provide them with the things that they need; that their hope would be grounded in You and they would see You do what you always do, which is provide, which is sustain; that their eyes would ultimately be on You. There’s an end date to all the hard things that we deal with in this life, but there’s never an end date to the life with You. That is what we find joy in! In Your Son’s holy Name, we pray.


Ann and Dave: Amen!

Shelby: There’s an end date to the hard things, but there’s never an end date to life with You. Wow! What a poignant and practical way to help you in the present, then give you hope for the future. I love how she ended that prayer!

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Elizabeth Woodson on FamilyLife Today.

Elizabeth has been with us for the last two days, and she has written a book called Embrace Your Life: How to Find Joy When the Life You Have is Not the Life You Hoped For. I think, to some degree, almost every person can relate with the subtitle of that book. We’re all in a position where we think to ourselves, “This is not really what I hoped for. This is not turning out the way I wanted it to.”

This book really addresses that gap between what your desires are, for what you hoped your life would be, and where you are, practically, in the here and now. So, this book is going to be our gift to you when you give today. You can get your copy now with any donation by going online to and clicking on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. Or you could give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

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You know, Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.” I think a lot of times, we aren’t able to see that the Christian journey is really the opposite of what we think. Now, what do I mean by that? It can feel like, when you’re walking with God, there are these little deaths that you experience all the time; but it’s really in those little deaths, leading us to life, while the road to destruction through sin—basically, if we make sinful choices—it feels like these little bursts of life, but it’s really leading to death.

I’ve found that these little deaths that God calls us to really lead us to life; to deeper communion with Him. One of those ways that things can hurt is by giving. Giving hurts sometimes. But in those potentially painful moments of our own generosity, we’re really seeing that it leads to life; not only by blessing the recipient of the gift, but by blessing the giver, too. In these moments of generosity, we are tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.

When you give to FamilyLife, not only are you able to experience tasting and seeing, but you’re also able to know that God is using your gift to bring Jesus into the homes of thousands of people. So, thank you for giving! And if you want to start giving, becoming a monthly partner with us, you can head over to

Now, coming up tomorrow, what is the actual impact of digital technology on personal relationships and parenting? Well, Silicon Valley pastor Jay Kim is here with Dave and Ann Wilson tomorrow, to talk about that and the underestimated value of being present with people. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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