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Archive for the ‘Appreciation’ Category

 

In the town where I lived till age ten, great elm trees bordered a number of the residential streets. Their wide-reaching branches stretched across the pavement and met in the middle, creating a thick, verdant archway in the summertime.

As we walked or drove underneath, the view was dominated by tree trunks—sentries of the streets in two straight rows.

One stand-alone tree, tall and far spread, is an inspiration, as Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem attests. But a double row stretching to the horizon? That’s a wondrous sight you don’t forget—even after six decades.

Not long ago I came across an observation of Charles Spurgeon, based on just such a view. And immediately I thought of those stately elms of my hometown:

 

“We delight to look down a long avenue of trees.

It is pleasing to gaze from end to end of the long vista.

Even so look down the long aisles of your years,

at the green boughs of mercy overhead

and the strong pillars of loving-kindness

and faithfulness which bear up your joys.”

(Morning by Morning, p. 366).

 

 

What better time to look down those aisles of our years than this week of Thanksgiving?

Down my own personal road…

…I do see the green boughs of mercy—times when God treated me with grace and compassion that I did not deserve—even in small matters.

One example out of many:  the time I forgot to order new books for the women’s Bible study at church. (This was long before amazon.com and priority shipping.) An emergency run to the Christian bookstore was necessary.

While driving there, I prayed to find sufficient copies of a worthwhile study that we could complete in the necessary time frame: eight weeks.

I know, I know. Such specific requirements. But sure enough, God supplied exactly what was needed, in spite of my foolish forgetfulness.

 

(Women too!)

 

…I see the strong pillars of loving-kindness—times when God demonstrated his tender and compassionate affection.

Again, one example out of many: I spilled a bit of coffee on my computer and the mouse died. Steve tried the hair dryer trick, and miraculously, my mouse came back to life.

But Steve would be the first to tell you God gets the credit, first for bringing to his mind that solution, and because “every good and perfect gift comes from above”—even problem-solving power.

 

 

…I see the strong pillars of faithfulness—times when God demonstrated his firm and devoted support.

Just a list of categories is quite long. God offers protection and provision, equipping and encouragement, instruction and guidance, comfort and strength, forgiveness and restoration, support and deliverance, healing and blessing. Surely there are even more.

Often, God expresses his strong and loving support through his Word.

One morning while settling in for a quiet time, I opened my Bible first instead of the study guide. “Wake up,” I chided myself. “You don’t even know what scripture you’ll be studying today.”

I turned to the morning’s lesson and discovered my Bible was already open to the proper page, and the prescribed verse was right at the top. Before even reading the verse I felt a strong impression from God: “Nancy, this scripture is for you today.”

Now before I reveal the verse, let me explain that just a few days prior I’d received disturbing news. Hurt and discouragement were fighting against faith and hope in my spirit.

So imagine my astonishment when I read, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7).  An overflow of joy in my heart became tears in my eyes. He saw my distress and came alongside with encouragement and support.

 

 

No doubt you have stories of your own green boughs of mercy and strong pillars of loving-kindness and faithfulness, as you gaze down the long aisle of your years.

I’d love to hear one of your examples; I’m sure other readers would too.

Please share in the comment section below, and together we can praise our God for the wonders he has performed (Psalm 105:5a)!

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.strongtowns.org (Daniel Jeffries); http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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Some believe that indulging in memories is a waste of time, that past events have no meaning for the present. But nothing could be further from the truth— especially if we acknowledge God’s part in those events.

When we include God in our remembering:

  1. We gain a sense of perspective.

Even difficult times are part of God’s plan. Sometimes, with the gift of hindsight, we catch a glimpse of his purpose later.

For example, how many students have struggled through school, yet in adulthood flourished in careers well matched to their gifts? Most of them are actually thankful for the early challenges, because they learned perseverance and developed strength of character. Those late-bloomers are often compassionate and understanding toward other strugglers, because they remember the difficulties of those formative years.

 

 

  1. We acquire wisdom for today.

“Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.”

–John Maxwell

In my younger days I used to be a champion talker. But somewhere along the way I began to notice the listeners—caring folks who often demonstrated the gentle and quiet spirit Peter spoke of (1 Peter 3:3). They reminded me of my sweet grandmother.

I valued that demeanor and began to turn insight into a new experience of focused listening. (Please understand: practice hasn’t achieved perfection yet. But improvement? Yes.)

 

  1. We build a foundation of stability for today as we remember God’s grace and faithfulness in the past.

But memories easily fade. So some believers keep a book of remembrance or a praise journal, as a way to savor God’s faithfulness.

Just for fun, I randomly opened my loose leaf praise journal in search of an entry to share with you. Here’s what I wrote, December 23, 2003, about our older son, who was in college at the time:

 

 

(“Eric got a new job yesterday and it starts today! The owner of the bike shop has not paid Eric for ten days, but a friend offered him a job in their family’s fireplace shop at the same salary.”)

Entry after entry highlight God’s provision, protection, and guidance through the years. And each memory contributes to my foundation of stability.

 

  1. We foster gratitude in our hearts.

As you can see, the entry recorded above ends with: “Thank you, Lord, for answering our prayers and providing for Eric.”  Joy just naturally overflowed into appreciation.

On the opposing page I wrote, “I am overwhelmed, Lord, by this continuing string of blessings. You are SO good to us, always demonstrating your faithfulness and grace. May your praise continually be on my lips!”

Research has now proven a number of benefits of gratitude.*  But surely one of the best: it nurtures a contented soul.

 

 

  1. We can turn remembering into a beautiful act of worship. 

That’s exactly what scripture invites us to do: 

“Rejoice in all the good which the Lord your God has given to you and your house” (Deuteronomy 26:11).

Praise the name of the Lord your God, who has done wondrously with you” (Joel 2:26b).

“You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the works of your hands” (Psalm 92:4).

 

 

Such glorious cause and effect! Remembering God’s wonderful deeds of the past turns our hearts to worship, which causes a powerful, positive impact on the present.

 

  1. We can tell our stories of God’s miracles and mercies, to encourage the faith of others and refresh our own.

Scripture invites us to do that too: 

“I will tell of the kindness of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all he has done for us” (Isaiah 63:7).

.

 

So let’s begin here! Please share in the comment section below about a kindness, miracle, or mercy of God from your memory. And together we can praise the name of the Lord who has worked wonders for us!

 

* Another post details some of those benefits, “Happiness.”

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.nellis.af.mil; Nancy Ruegg (3); http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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(Cincinnati Music Hall)

 

Recently my daughter-in-love and granddaughter invited me to accompany them to “Sing Hallelujah, Cincinnati!”–an event at our city music hall.

Vocal groups and instrumentalists from the metropolitan area participated, presenting music around the theme, “Hallelujah.” The experience turned out to be much more than I expected.

First, a brass band came marching in from the back, playing a jazz rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”–New Orleans style. By the time they exited out a side door at the front, we weren’t just applauding, we were smiling.

The genial atmosphere created by Cincy Brass was further enhanced by the relaxed and friendly master of ceremonies, Mr. Dilworth. In his opening remarks, he explained the meaning of hallelujah: to express joy and to praise God. And that’s exactly what we did for the next hour or so.

 

 

First, Mr. Dilworth taught the audience a hallelujah song, one segment at a time. Then he challenged us with a descant part. The final effort combining tune and harmony turned out quite pleasing. We applauded again, for Mr. Dilworth’s talented direction and our surprisingly good performance. Now we were smiling even more broadly.

Perhaps Mr. Dilworth knows the research: “Singing corporately produces a chemical change in our bodies that contributes to a sense of bonding” (1).

For the rest of the evening, one choir and ensemble after another wowed us with a broad range of music, including classical, traditional, ethnic (Ukrainian and African), gospel, spiritual, bluegrass, and jazz.

 

 

What made the occasion distinctive, however, was the racial mix among performers and audience members. And as the evening unfolded, the music became a catalyst for unity among us—in spite of various ethnic groups and a wide variety of musical genre.

Even though all of the pieces sung and played could not possibly be everyone’s favored styles, the entire audience clapped (Some even gave a shout now and then!) in enthusiastic appreciation for all participants.

We were bonded together in a unity of gratitude.

Also among us flourished the unity of contentment. For one hour we sat companionably immersed in the mutual pleasure of music.  Any rough edges of tension that might cause strain in other circumstances were smoothed over on this occasion–by the hallelujahs of praise.

Finally, there was the unity of joy—evident in the continuous smiles and occasional laughter.

And where there is joy there is the presence of God (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

It’s probable not all participants and attendees were Christians. Most of the groups who performed would be categorized as secular.

But for this one evening, whether folks knew it or not, we drew close to God through grateful, contented, and joyful praise.   And as a glorious byproduct, found ourselves drawn closer to one another.

 

 

Note:

(1) Bob Kauflin (member of GLAD vocal band for thirty years), https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/words-of-wonder-what-happens-when-we-sing

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.jba.af.mil (Jordyn Fetter); http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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Numerous times in the Bible we’re reminded that the Lord is our strength. We’re promised that out of his infinite power he will supply the wherewithal to withstand any strain, force, or stress.

 

 

The question becomes, how do we avail ourselves of God’s glorious might?

The answer may lie in just three strategies: affirm, trust, and thank.

 

1) AFFIRM such scriptural realities as God’s sovereignty over all things, his power at work on our behalf, and his constant, loving presence to sustain us (1).

 

 

We can direct our thoughts toward the promises he’s made to help, guide, and protect (2). In fact, scripture contains dozens of promises that offer hope and encouragement for any situation, because:  “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 NIV).

 

 

Asserting biblical truth hour by hour, even moment by moment, results in spiritual strength, much as repetitive moves with weights build physical strength.

Also beneficial to affirm: what we’ve seen God do in the past. Has a surprise check arrived in the mail—almost to the penny of what was needed? Have you escaped a car collision by that much? Has the answer to a prayer far exceeded the request? God has granted such miracles in our family, too.

 

 

 

And that brings us to the second strategy, trust.

 

2) TRUST that the God of perfection will be true to his Word and keep his promises.

But when fretful thoughts do threaten, we can bring them before God with total honesty, just as King David did in the psalms (3). Next, we can return to the Affirm Strategy (above)—which David also embraced. Third, we simply do the next thing, refusing to worry about tomorrow.

 

 

And a trusting heart is a thankful heart.

 

3) THANK God at every opportunity. Even in the midst of trials, we can find joy:

  • In Him and all his glorious attributes
  • In his Word, where we find comfort and encouragement
  • In creation, with all his meticulous handiwork and grand displays
  • In the people around us, with their expressions of loving concern and help
  • Through the five senses, providing unlimited delight

And the joy of the Lord will be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

 

 

These three strategies–affirming, trusting, and thanking—will enable us to move through each day with grace and a light spirit, just as a deer gracefully and lightly clears obstacles and scales rocky peaks, because:

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, Lord, keep me mindful that no one is exempt from trouble in this sin-wracked world, but you rule supreme and will engineer good even from the worst of circumstances. Help me to be ever-conscious of the ways I can avail myself of your strength. And may I learn not just to withstand stressful times, but actually flourish in the midst of them.

 

 

Notes:

(1) 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; Isaiah 64:4; Deuteronomy 31:6

(2) Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 32:8 & 12:5b

(3) Psalm 10, 13, 31, and 102 offer examples of psalms that begin with lament and end with praise.

 

P.S. A personal update: Steve received his first chemo treatment this week to keep the cancer from growing and spreading to other organs as we wait for a liver transplant. The anti-cancer drug was applied directly to the tumors. We were warned he might experience pain, nausea, fever, and/or other side effects. But except for some discomfort and fatigue he has been fine. We continue to praise God for his faithfulness!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.christianqotes.info; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.brainyquote.com; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.brainquotes.org.)

 

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“Are you all set for your move to Chicago?” I heard Jessica* ask. She’s one of the hair stylists at the salon I go to. Her station is just on the other side of a partition from where my stylist Anna* works.

As I settled into Anna’s chair last Wednesday morning, I readily heard the conversation between Jessica and her client.

“Yes, we found the perfect house,” the woman was saying. “There are just two bedrooms, but…”

I knew that voice.

In late December my hair appointment had overlapped with the same client. That day she had expressed concern because none of the properties shown on realtor websites were fitting her and her husband’s criteria. She feared there would be no suitable homes to tour during their house hunt set for mid-February.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she confided. “I hate to think of moving into a rental and then moving again later.”

It seemed fitting to share our house-search experience.

“Excuse me,” I interrupted while peeking around the partition. “I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation and just wanted to tell you the same thing happened to us before we moved here three and a half years ago.  We discovered that if the perfect house becomes available too soon, it’s likely to be sold by the time you’re able to visit the area and view homes.

“Our perfect house came on the market just two weeks before we flew up here from Florida to house-hunt. The same will happen for you, I’m sure of it!”

She thanked me warmly, appreciative of the voice-of experience offering reassurance.

And now, at the end of March, I was quite certain that same woman (whom I had not seen since December) was in Jessica’s chair again, sharing the next chapter of her story.

I peeked around the partition just as I had before.  Instantly we recognized each other.

“You found the perfect house! Awesome!” I cried.

“Just like you said, “ she replied. “It came on the market a couple of weeks before our trip to Chicago.”

It wasn’t long before the two of us sported our coloring-chemicals and sat together so I could hear about her house. We chatted away like old friends.

A couple of times Diane* mentioned her husband’s illness but gave no specifics; I didn’t press for details. Later in the conversation it seemed appropriate to share Steve’s recent diagnosis of liver cancer. (You can read a short explanation at the end of last week’s post, “Haven of Peace.”)

“I don’t always talk about the details of my Ken’s* illness,” Diane confided, “but you need to know.” She paused. “Ken was diagnosed with brain cancer two years ago. The doctors only gave him twelve to fifteen months to live after the surgery, but it’s been two years and he’s still here!”

And together we praised God for his goodness.

I left the salon last Wednesday with my heart greatly uplifted. Ordinarily I would have sat at Anna’s station and read magazines or the book I always bring along.

But God is El Roi, the God Who Sees (Genesis 16:13). He saw my need for companionship that day.

He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord Will Provide (Genesis 22:14). He provided Diane to be his voice of encouragement, hope, and joy.

He is El Shaddai, God Almighty (Psalm 91:1). He rules over all—every situation, every difficulty, every illness—even cancer.  Sometimes he ordains miracles.   Diane’s husband and countless others are living proof.

 

 

He is Yahweh Nissi, The Lord Our Banner (Exodus 17:15-16).  He goes into the battle before us, leading the way toward victory in all circumstances—a victory of faith in the face of trouble (1 John 5:4).

He is Yahweh Rapha, The Lord Who Heals (Psalm 103:2-3). And if the healing is not realized on earth, it is guaranteed in heaven (Revelation 21:4).

 

*     *    *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

We praise you, O God,

for your knowledge that comforts,

your provision that reassures,

your power that enables,

your leadership that guides,

your healing that perfects.

You alone are the wellspring

of all that we need.

May we trust in you

with unwavering confidence

and rest in your transcendent peace.  

 

*Names changed.

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.minot.af.mil (Cassandra Jones, photographer); http://www.dailyverses.net.

 

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In spite of research, technology, and highly trained engineers, there are still appliances and products that leave us wondering, Who designed this thing?

For example:

 

 

Some of those motion sensor faucets do NOT work. They only detect motion in ¼” square of air space.  In addition, you must position your hands at a particular angle and you must move them at a precise rate of speed to get the water flowing.

Good luck.

WHO DESIGNED THIS THING?!

_________________________

 

 

Take a look down inside one of the drawers of our refrigerator. See that little niche deep in the left corner? All kinds of tiny bits find their way into those crevices; to get the bits out you need a Q-tip.

WHO DESIGNED THIS THING?!

Someone who’s never cleaned a refrigerator, I’ll bet.

_________________________

 

 

‘Ever make the mistake of washing your fresh fruit and vegetables before removing the stickers? If so, you’ve wasted precious moments (as I have) scraping off the stubborn adhesive. In these days of Gorilla Glue and Post-Its, you’d think they could create a glue that doesn’t turn gooey the second it gets wet.

WHO DESIGNED THIS THING?!

No doubt the top concern of “those sticker people” is what’s cheap–not what’s helpful to the consumer.

_________________________

 

 

And I just love hand lotion pumps.  They (purposely?) make the pump stem short so we’re left with two weeks worth of lotion in the bottom that won’t pump.

WHO DESIGNED THIS THING?!

I suppose they hope we’ll throw away the remaining amount to avoid the hassle of draining the container. Then we’ll purchase more often, which means more money for them. Clever.

_________________________

 

 

I know one Designer who doesn’t make poor decisions, careless mistakes, or selfish choices.  You know him too.

He’s the one who created caterpillars that can morph into butterflies by repurposing parts of the chrysalis into fragile wings.  Yet some species are capable of migrating thousands of miles  (1).

WHO BUT GOD COULD DESIGN SUCH A CREATURE?

_________________________

 

 

The Supreme Designer gave hens the ability to manufacture a hard shell around a flexible membrane containing a slippery yolk and liquid albumen. In addition to that feat, thousands of invisible pores perforate the shell so the baby chick can breathe.

Within a few days after the egg is laid, blood vessels develop from the growing chick. Two attach to the membrane under the shell; two attach to the yolk. By the fifth day, the chick is obtaining oxygen through the membrane vessels and nourishment through the yolk vessels.

Peel a hard-boiled egg and you’ll notice an empty space at the wider end. That pocket of air provides about six hours of oxygen while the chick pecks his way to life in the big world (2).

WHO BUT GOD COULD DESIGN SUCH A CREATURE?

_________________________

 

 

In 2007, scientists attached satellite transmitters to sixteen birds known for their long-distant flights: bar-tailed godwits. One little specimen called E7 flew from New Zealand to Alaska in three months—a trip of 9, 340 miles. That included a five-week stopover near the North Korean/Chinese border.

After nearly four months in Alaska, E7 began his journey back to New Zealand. He flew 7,145 miles in nine days, nonstop, averaging 34.8 mph. He didn’t eat, drink, or sleep that whole time. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, he flew alone and ended up where he started (3).

WHO BUT GOD COULD DESIGN SUCH A CREATURE?

_________________________

And those are just three examples, O God, of your incomparable work. I shake my head in wonder at the millions of plants, animals, and even one-celled creatures you have meticulously designed to function perfectly in perpetuity.

From nothingness you have created the universe and everything in it. Thank you for gifting us with eyes to see the beauty, minds to contemplate the wonder, and hearts to savor the miracles.  May we be ever attentive, appreciative, and worshipful in the presence of your creative genius.

 

 

What element in creation leaves you astounded?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

Notes:

(1) https://lifehopeandtruth.com/god/is-there-a-god/intelligent-design/evidence-for-intelligent-design/

(2) http://biblicaldiscipleship.org/content/marvelousgod%E2%80%99s-creation-8-childen-egg

(3) http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=12&article=2629

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.simple.wikipedia.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net.

 

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For one of his most stunning and delicate works of art, The Supreme Craftsman begins with the most innocuous of materials: dust and water.

His factory/workshop for these masterpieces is the upper atmosphere of Planet Earth where he sets into motion a miracle of formation and intricate design.

God endowed water vapor with the ability to cling, even to the tiniest of dust particles floating high into the atmosphere. And when the temperature drops below freezing, those wet, clinging molecules turn into ice crystals. Very quickly they form a hexagon shape, no more than .008 or .009 of an inch in diameter, and a snowflake is born.

Vapor continues to bond to the hexagons in different ways as temperature, wind velocity, and density of moisture vary—even within the same cloud.

Some snowflakes maintain a hexagon shape.

 

(Photo by Wilson Bentley)

 

Others develop arms, and from the arms grow lacy patterns or feathery extensions.

 

 

As the snowflake tumbles downward from the clouds, vapor continues to cling and ice crystals continue to form—up to 1,000 microscopic crystals, each impacted by differing conditions. One outcome is certain: the greater the humidity, the more complex the pattern.

 

 Another photo by Wilson Bentley, 1890)

 

Is it true what they say, that no two snowflakes are alike? Most meteorologists say yes, because the dust particles themselves come from countless different sources–from sand, soil, and volcanic ash to decayed plant and animal material.

Add to that the wide-ranging variations of weather conditions mentioned above, and it becomes apparent: an infinite combination of factors contributes to the infinite number of patterns.

 

 

 

 

But God isn’t finished yet.

The awe factor is increased as tiny snowflakes begin to gather:

  • in graceful drifts,

 

 

 

  • on every branch of the trees,

 

 

  • and in sparkling swaths across the landscape.

 

 

And a few lessons present themselves as well:

 

  1. If God cares about the formation of snowflakes, he surely cares about the formation of his children.

A practically minded person would take one look inside God’s snowflake-factory and shake his head. “Why bother with all these designs?” he might ask. “Such a waste when they’re just going to turn to slush and eventually evaporate!”

But our God is a true Artist at heart, paying attention to details and creating beauty where it isn’t even necessary.

How much more must he desire to create the beauty of his holiness within our spirits?

 

  1. By itself, one snowflake is a fragile entity. But think what an avalanche or glacier can do.

 

 

By himself, one person can accomplish little. But think what happens when human effort is multiplied.

We weren’t created for isolation; God intends for us to live in community with other believers. Together we can achieve great good. Groups of Christians have generously brought aid to those in need, built schools, hospitals, and orphanages, even accomplished the abolition of slavery—to name a few examples.

There is strength in numbers, whether it’s snowflakes or God’s people.

 

  1. The miracle of snow occurs in silence; the miraculous power of God works silently, too.

 

 

Hours before we catch snowflakes on our gloves, the Supreme Craftsman sets the conditions and engineers the circumstances for their creation. Silently the snow comes, and finally we hold in our hands a breath-taking miracle of dust and ice crystals.

Similarly, long before we take note of an answered prayer or unbidden blessing, The Supreme Craftsman sets the conditions and engineers the circumstances for their fulfillment.

Silently he comes. And suddenly we hold in our hands a breath-taking miracle of his power and love.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Maker of Miracles, just as your universe is full of wonder, so are our lives. We can’t begin to recount all the awesome works you have performed for our benefit. All we can do is sing for joy at the work of your hands!

 

(Psalm 40:5, 66:5, 92:4)

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr (James P. Mann); http://www.wikimedia.com (2); http://www.pixabay.com (Natalia Kollegova); http://www.pixnio.com; http://www.flickr.com (AMagill); http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.nws.noaa.gov; http://www.paxpixel.freegreatpcitures.com; http://www.flickr.com & Nancy Ruegg.)

 

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