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Archive for November, 2014

thanksgiving-table-with-food-4-1

Abundance: a word that easily comes to mind as we contemplate Thanksgiving Day.

Many dining room tables will be filled to overflowing with delectable offerings this afternoon. Most Americans will consume a plentiful amount of turkey, salads, vegetables, and pies. Food in abundance has become synonymous with Thanksgiving.

Very soon Steve and I will head over to our son’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving with family–for the first time in about ten years.  We and our three children, their spouses, and children have lived states apart for that long, and we’ve had to wait until Christmas each year for get-togethers.  (Sadly, not all of us will be able to gather today, but most.)  In June, Steve and I moved close to our older son, Eric, and his family, not far from his younger brother, Jeremy.

Friends of Eric and Hilja will also be joining us this afternoon, making for a full, heart-warming day. Even more than the abundant feasting, I look forward to the abundant togetherness—the camaraderie, affection, story-telling, reminiscing, and humor.

But abundance also describes the plentiful amount of blessings bestowed by another family member, our Heavenly Father.

His abundance includes:

Grace.

“Those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ(Rom. 5:17, Ryrie).

We were ruined by sin. But out of his loving forgiveness and acceptance, God offers the gift of eternal life through his Son, Jesus.

Mercy.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who with his ample mercy has given us new birth into a life of hope, due to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3, Berkely Version).

When God gives us what we do not deserve, that’s grace. When God does not give us what we do deserve, that’s mercy.   He is abundantly generous with both.

Peace and security.

 “I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security” (Jeremiah 33:6).

We can rest in calm assurance of God’s loving care and his provision of salvation.

Love and faithfulness.

“The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness(Exodus 34:6).

God expresses his love in countless ways.  He is faithful, never forgetting a promise.  And he never fails to provide for our needs.

Goodness.

“They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness” (Psalm 145:7).

All of God’s glorious attributes are generously poured out upon us day by day.

Holy Spirit.

“He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously” (Titus 3:5-6).

Empowerment, renewal, guidance, and comfort are just a few of the benefits our precious Holy Spirit provides.

Life

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, KJV).

 Not mere existence, but a rich, full, satisfying life, in relationship forever with The. King. Of. The. Universe.  Incredible.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

How is it possible, Lord, you would even want to open the storehouses of heaven to pour out this abundance upon us? How do we begin to thank you for such rich, abounding blessings? Words are pathetically inadequate.  All we can offer you is our lives—to live for the praise of your abundant glory. Help me to do so—today and always.

(Photo credit:  www.happyfathersday.com.)

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Mayflower_compact

 

They had been at sea for sixty-six days, enduring overcrowded conditions. Storms had caused damage to their ship and sea sickness plagued them all– passengers and crew alike. Meager provisions and no heat on chilly autumn days caused further discomfort.

So on November 9, 1620, when they finally saw the coastline of North America in the distance, the Pilgrims and others aboard the Mayflower must have cheered enthusiastically. Soon they could abandon the cramped, cold, and fetid ship and begin new lives in a new world.

But. All had not been peaceful and congenial among the passengers during the crossing. And when it became apparent the storms had blown them too far off course to land in the Virginia Colony as planned, relations deteriorated further.

Not all of the travelers were Pilgrims. Also aboard were merchants, craftsmen, skilled workers, and indentured servants. The Pilgrims called them “strangers.”

No sooner had the decision been made to anchor off Cape Cod, than an argument ensued. Several of the “strangers” pointed out that, since they were not going to be under the jurisdiction of the Virginia Company, they would “use their own libertie” and do as they pleased. “None had the power to command them, they said.” (Quoted words are from William Bradford’s records. He served as historian for the Pilgrims.)

To avoid anarchy, five men gathered in the cabin of the ship to create a basis for law and order. The result of their efforts: the Mayflower Compact.

The first words of the document give strong indication of the Pilgrims’ hearts.

In the name of God, Amen.

“Everything they did started with God” (The Founders’ Bible, p. 187).

Next, the Pilgrims stated their purpose for coming to America.

We, whose names are underwritten,…by the grace of God,…having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and country…

Several phrases indicate the Pilgrims’ desires for their new colony:

  • “For the glory of God” would be a guide for all manner of decisions.
  • “Advancement of the Christian faith” would encourage them to remain strong in Christian faith among themselves and to introduce others to Jesus.
  • “Honor of our King and country” indicates their loyalty to native England and its monarch, in spite of his untoward actions that caused their flight to America in the first place.

…[We] do solemnly and mutually in the presence God and of one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic…

The Mayflower Compact expressed their commitment to live together in a civil manner, in the sight of God.

[We] will enact…such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” 

Note:  there is no mention of a leader who would oversee the colony. The Pilgrims created a democratic, representative form of government, in covenant with one another, rather than by a monarchy or dictatorship.

It was the first document of its kind in the history of the world.

But the Mayflower Compact would only be as good as the commitment of Pilgrims and Strangers alike to abide by its guidelines.

Would the mutinous Strangers sign?

John Carver, church deacon and one of the organizers of the voyage, was the first to affix his signature. Other Pilgrims followed.

One book says there was a long pause. Then Captain Myles Standish stepped forward to sign. Standish had been hired by the Pilgrims to be their military captain; he was with them, but not one of them.

Soon other Strangers followed Standish’s example.  In total, forty-one signatures appeared on the document. One freeman, two hired men and seven servants declined.

At long last, Pilgrims, Strangers, and crew were able to disembark. And what did they choose to do first?

Pray.

According to Bradford, they “blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the fast and furious ocean..and a sea of troubles before.” Then he quoted scripture:

“Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good and His mercies endure forever.” (Psalm 106:1).

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

We, too, praise you, Lord, for your goodness and mercy upon America all these years.  As we celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, may we remember the solemn history behind this occasion.  Thank your for the supreme example and sacrifice of our Pilgrim forefathers–strong in faith, commitment, and perseverance.  May we follow their example, not only because you are faithful to the faithful (2 Samuel 22:26), but out of appreciation for what you, our loving God, have already done.

 

(Sources:  By These Words by Paul M. Angle; The Founders’ Bible, The Intellectual Devotional:  American History by David S. Kidder & Noah D. Oppenheim; The Rebirth of America,  http://www.learningtogive.org; http://www.humanities360.com; http://www.crf-usa.org; http://www.americanhistory.about.com; http://www.tparents.org; http://www.mrkash.com; http://www.mayflowerhistory.com; http://www.plimoth.org.)

 

Art credit:  www.washingtonmayflower.org.  

 

 

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Mixed-Messages

 

 

Perhaps you can help me answer a question.

I’m wondering why, in spite of the fact all of us Christians are using the same manual, the Bible, we don’t always agree on a course of action?

For example, some Bible teachers will advise us to persevere in pursuit of Christian character or the fulfillment of a dream that seems God-inspired. A favorite scripture to support their premise is Philippians 3:13-14.

“One thing I do:

Forgetting what is behind

and straining toward what is ahead,

I press on toward the goal to win the prize

for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

So we dig deep into our resolve, rise early in the morning to spend time in God’s Word, work hard with self-discipline and determination, pray fervently, and more.

BUT. Others will say, God never intended us to toil from early morning till late at night. They will say, “Learn to rest in God (Psalm 91:1). There is no need for nonstop activity. ‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still’” (Exodus 14:14).

So which is it? Press on or be still?

Here are a few more contradictions that have come to my attention:

  • Waiting in faith (Psalm 27:14), as opposed to stepping out in faith–like Abraham, when he left Haran and had no idea where he was going (Genesis 12:1-4).
  • Dreaming big, because all things are possible with God, and he can do far more than we could ask or think (Luke 1:37; Ephesians 3:20). On the other hand, God’s ways aren’t always our ways, so we need to be prepared.  Events may not unfold as we planned (Isaiah 55:8-9).
  • Trusting in God’s provision (1 Timothy 6:17b), or providing for ourselves as he expects (1 Thessalonians 4:11,12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10).
  • Trusting in God’s loving care to protect us (Psalm 91:9-11), or expecting trials and suffering (Philippians 1:29).
  • Remembering what God has done, including the transformation from old ways to new (Deuteronomy 6:12; Psalm 77:11-12), or forgetting the past and focusing on the goal ahead (Philippians 3:13-14).

How do we handle such mixed messages? Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Aim for balance.

Each set of contradictions above need not represent either/or choices. For example, we can be still and at peace in our spirits while pressing on to accomplish what God has impressed upon us to do. We can wait patiently for a prayer to be answered and step out in faith to follow God’s leading for that answer. We can dream big even as we pray, “My life is in your hands, Lord. Do with me as you will.”

Balance makes for blessing. — St. Augustine

  1. Realize that God has purpose in the contradictions.

For example, if every decision was clearly a black and white matter, there would be no need for his personal guidance. But his greatest desire is to be in relationship with us. So perhaps he allows a bit of ambiguity in our lives so we’ll choose to stay close to him.

  1. Embrace the adventure of contradiction!

We never know when God is going to step in and make something happen–something unusual and exciting! As we work to provide for our own needs, God may very well supply a miracle–far above and beyond our expectations. Even during a trying time, God will deliver showers of blessing, beginning with supernatural strength and peace that defies explanation.

No doubt there are other contradictions in scripture that you have noticed.   Perhaps you’ve given some thought as to their purpose, and how to deal with them.

So please. Share your insights below, and let’s learn from each other!

 

(Photo credit:  www.brandesign.co.za.)

 

 

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desert

 

Last Thursday we pondered these promises from Isaiah 58:11:

 “The Lord will guide you always,” and

“He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.”

 Today, more discoveries and encouragement await as we meditate upon the last two promises:

  • “[He] will strengthen your frame.”
  • “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

 

garden-waterfall-design

 

Do you long for strength within your frame, that is, inner strength? Perhaps you’re moving as fast as you can, but never quite reaching the end of the to-do list. And you’re bone-weary from the effort.

Perhaps the stresses of life—difficult relationships, a high-pressure job, financial obligations—are squeezing in hard.

Perhaps boredom or depression surround you in a gray shroud, and you haven’t the energy to fight against them.

“He will strengthen your frame.”

But God doesn’t wave a magic wand over us and suddenly turn weakness into strength. Usually he invites us to be part of the process.   And his solutions are radical.

For example, celebrate anything and everything (Philippians 4:4).

 

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Take joy in:

  • Your cozy robe to ward off the morning chill.
  • That cute tuft of hair sticking up on your toddler’s head.
  • A parking place opening up when and where you need it.
  • Licking the stamp just as the mail carrier pulls up in her truck.
  • An earring lost last week turns up between the counter and stove this week.

You see, joy and strength are closely related. Ezra told the people of Israel, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Those five examples above, and thousands like them, are gifts from your Heavenly Father. “Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).

In the same way we can build up physical strength with exercise, we can build up spiritual strength with praise—by expressing gratitude and joy for every good and perfect gift.

And now, the last promise of this verse describes in metaphor the result of living according to God’s design.

“You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

 

TotalChildCareVegetables7 

 

Visualize a flourishing garden, with rich, green plants overflowing with healthy, ripe produce.

Those can be descriptors of you and me.  We are:

  • Rich in God’s grace, which he has lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding (Ephesians 1:8).
  • Green and flourishing, because we spend time with the Master Gardener and allow him to cultivate our spirits (Psalm 1:2-3).
  • Healthy and prosperous of soul (v. 3). As we soak up God’s Word, we’ll produce actions and attitudes that honor God and bring us inner satisfaction.
  • Ripe and mature, lacking in nothing (James 1:3).

God offers us “a continual source of thirst-quenching, drought-ending, fruit-producing, spiritual hydration” (James MacDonald).

Doesn’t that sound refreshing?  Who could turn down such provision?

*     *     *     *     *     *    *     *     *     *

Thank you, Father, for the precious assurances of these promises: 

  • You are leading me along the path you preordained before time began.
  • Every day of this earthly journey I can count on you to supply my needs.
  • Every day you provide fresh strength. One way is through the exercise of praise.  
  • As I spend time in your presence, I will be transformed–like a garden replenished by hydration. In fact, I can grow into your likeness with ever-increasing glory!

 “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is too lofty for me to attain.” Yet I know it to be true because these are truths from your reliable Word.  My heart overflows with wonder and gratitude.

(Psalm 139:16; Philippians 4:19; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Psalm 139:6)

 

(Photo and art credits:  www.dayofgrace.me; http://www.anativegarden.blogspot.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.naturalearning.org.)

 

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blog-prayer-woman

 

How would you finish this prayer: 

“Oh, Lord, what I need most right now is ____________________.”

What word would you put in the blank?

Guidance?

Provision?

Strength?

Purpose?

One glorious Bible verse tucked into Isaiah presents four comforting promises that cover each of those needs:

 

Isaiah58.11 

“The Lord will guide you always;

He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

And will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden,

Like a spring whose waters never fail” (58:11).

Lots of truth packed into five short lines. Each phrase warrants careful consideration. For example:

 

1.  The Lord will guide you always.

 

He’s not a life coach, counselor, or psychologist. The almighty God of the universe promises to be your guide—free of charge! And he’s available 24/7. Think, too, of his astounding attributes that make him the perfect guide:

  • God is omniscient—He knows everything (Psalm 139:1-6), including every detail of your situation and the people involved.
  • God is righteous—Everything he does is good (Deuteronomy 32:4). He can be relied upon to lead you down a perfect path.
  • God is merciful—He responds in loving compassion (Psalm 116:5). He’s your understanding Father, your strongest ally.
  • God is truthful—All that he says can be trusted (Titus 1:2). He will not lead you astray.
  • God is faithful—He keeps his Word (Psalm 33:4). God does not lie or forget what he said. Neither does he change his mind.

Notice that first phrase says God will always be your guide. Not every once in a while when you’re really in a quandary, but always. You are never left alone to your own devices—unless that’s the way you want to live. God is a gentleman; he leaves the choice up to you.

 

2.  He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.

 

Not he might satisfy your needs if he feels like it. He will. 

No matter what the landscape of your life looks like, God will see that your needs are met.

Have you ever been surrounded by sun-scorched land, perhaps a desert or wilderness where no life is visible?

Steve and I visited Israel a number of years ago. One of our tour stops was in the Judean wilderness—a desolate and foreboding sight to behold. Not a single tuft of grass. No bushes or plants of any kind—not even cactus. Only two things are visible when standing in the midst of this desert: sky and pale gray-brown mountainous rock, as far as the eye can see.

 

judean_wilderness_west_of_jericho_ariel_tb_q010_03

 

Should you decide to live there, you’d have to bring with you everything necessary for survival: all your food, water, and clothing. For shelter, you might find a cave.

Ah! But what if there was Someone there ahead of you? Someone who already had at his disposal the supplies you required? And they would never run out? That’s the life-giving, unfailing provision of your Heavenly Father.

Let’s you and me rest in the assurance that the essentials—and even many delights!—will be generously supplied. If something is meant to be, he will take care of it—just as he’s been doing since each of us was born.

Think how he has led you through the wilderness of broken relationships and difficult circumstances. His grace has been sufficient for every challenge (2 Corinthians 12:9), right?

Now project that assurance into the future. Even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we have no need to fear. Our all-powerful God is with us (Psalm 23:4)–guiding and providing.

(Please remind me of that when I come to a wilderness-patch, will you?)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Heavenly Father, I praise you that day by day, moment by moment, you are delighted to guide us in perfect wisdom. You generously provide for our needs and lovingly care for us body, soul, and spirit. Thank you for your compassion, your faithfulness, and grace to see us through the wilderness valleys. “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God. My times are in your hands.’” (Psalm 31:14-15a).  

 

Please come back on Monday. We’ll meditate on the second half of Isaiah 58:11.

 

(Photo credits:  www.hischurchwomen.com; http://www.freerepublic.com; http://www.biblestudytools.com.)

 

 

 

 

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fall-foliage-2

Several weeks ago, in a post entitled, “Autumn Blaze,” I wrote about the glorious colors of fall foliage. The title was borrowed from a line of poetry by Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885): “The land is lit with autumn blaze.”

As most of you know, Steve and I lived in Florida for forty years. We retired in June to Ohio, so we could be near two of our three children and their families. In many ways our transition has been a homecoming because both of us grew up in the Midwest.

One of the things we missed most while living in the south was “autumn blaze.”  All through last summer I waited expectantly for October and the display of God’s rich tapestry among the trees.

But those of you who live in four-season states know only too well: the blaze is quickly snuffed out by northerly winds and chilly temperatures. By mid-November, many trees have already been stripped of every leaf.

And now those bare, bleak branches stand pitifully exposed, reaching uselessly toward the sun for warmth. The splendorous color is gone; dingy gray-brown bark is all we see. The trees stand lifeless. Hopeless.

If I’m not careful, such sad thoughts will lead me into the doldrums.

A better train of thought to follow? Reasons to appreciate this dormant stage of the trees. For example: When the leaves are gone, I can appreciate the delicate lace work of branches, hidden from view except in winter.   They too demonstrate the creative genius of our God.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, when numerous bare trees huddle together on a hillside, the individual branches are indistinguishable. Our younger son and daughter-in-law enjoy a hillside view from their kitchen window–in spring, summer, and early fall, that is. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, the trees were ablaze, dressed in autumn finery.

Now the scene is much different. Look out that window today and you’d be underwhelmed by the great swath of drab dullness. Time to close the curtains.

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But wait. What if we look at that sad scene and think HOPE. Because we know what’s in store.

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn” (Hal Borland).

Winter is a time of rest, recuperation, and preparation. When warmth and light return in the spring, new life will burst forth in all creation. Guaranteed.

Those lifeless branches can remind us of another HOPE. Because we know that the God who brings life to dead trees can redeem any situation. Guaranteed.

“Oh? What basis is there for such grand HOPE?” someone might ask.

  1. We base our HOPE on God’s love.

 Absolutely nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:39). And if he loves us, he will care for us. “With God on our side, how can we lose?” (v. 32, MSG).

HOPE in our loving God is not misguided.

  1. We base our HOPE on God’s character.

I love Psalm 145, the only one called “a psalm of praise,” in which David extols God’s character. Our Lord is great (v.3), gracious, good, and compassionate (vs. 8-9), glorious and mighty (v. 11), righteous and kind (v. 17).

These are not descriptors of a distant god who takes no interest in his creatures. Our God is a hands-on Heavenly Father who demonstrates all these glorious attributes–in our day-to-day lives. The Lord is always watching over us (v. 20).

HOPE in our powerful God is not just wishful thinking.

  1. We base our HOPE in God’s promises.

“The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made” (Psalm 145:13).

HOPE in our reliable God is not blind optimism.

Christian HOPE is the trusting expectation that God will keep his Word.

This may sound strange, but let’s look to the bare trees for encouragement. See them as glorious HOPE on display! And let’s live in cheerful expectation of God’s plan, purpose, and blessing for the future.

(Photo credits:  www.staticweb.maine.edu; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org; http://www.terragalleria.com.)

 

 

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Woman with piggy bank at rainy window

 

“Save for a rainy day,” financial experts advise.  And they’re right.  It is smart to have funds set aside in case of emergency.

But we would also be wise to save up for another kind of rainy day:

  • The day great disappointment shatters our joy
  • The day the doctor begins a consult by saying, “I’m terribly sorry, but…”
  • The day a loved one calls with disturbing news

What could we possibly save up that would help in such circumstances?

Consider: monetary deposits in a bank account insulate us against financial emergencies.

Similarly, we can make faith-statement deposits into our soul-accounts, to insulate us against life’s emergencies.  A healthy soul-account offers peace of mind, confidence, and a sense of well-being.

The most valuable faith statements are those straight from scripture, since the Bible is our source of truth.

Statements such as these are worthy starting points:

  • God is with me, even in the midst of trial.

“Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10).

  • God is my stronghold in time of trouble, offering help and deliverance.

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.  The Lord helps them and delivers them” (Psalm 37:39-40).

  • He will supply all my needs.

“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

 

Sometimes God makes deposits in our soul-accounts through other reading.  Here are a few examples I’ve collected:

  • “God makes good things out of the hard times.” – Erica Hale
  • “Difficulties are sent to make us grow. Move from complaining to proclaiming what God is doing through the problem. Remind yourself, for every Calvary, there is an Easter.” – Barbara Johnson
  • “When we understand that life is not about us, we learn to overlook the trivial and fix our gaze on the eternal. What is an offense compared to His love? What is a rejection compared to His unconditional acceptance? What is a momentary trial compared to an eternity with Him?” – Emmanuelle Gomez

 

Faith statement deposits also come through experiences, such as:

  • The spontaneous hug of a good friend who knows of our struggles. That’s God’s way of assuring us…

…We are not alone.

  • An answered prayer—and the answer is far beyond what we asked for. That’s God’s way of showing us…

…His love and blessing never fail, even in the midst of difficulty.

  • A transformed spirit through worship.  Worry becomes faith. Fear becomes courage. Depression becomes gladness. That proves…
  • …The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 4:8).

 

Faith-statements, deposited in our souls even before we have need of them, provide a deep, sweet sense of security.

When difficulties arise, and the time comes to make withdrawals, we can praise God for each truth. Praise will fill our hearts with song and drown out the voices of worry and fear.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Your faithfulness, O God, is unwavering and unfailing.   Oh, how I want to be faithful to you, especially during difficult circumstances.  You have provided the tools.  I praise you for the deposits your Spirit makes into my soul account, offering solace, perspective, strength, and wisdom.   Help me to avail myself of your gracious provision.  

 

(Photo credit:  www.dailyfinance.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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