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Archive for the ‘God’s Grace’ Category

 

For some of us, seasonal weather changes produce dramatic contrast—from arctic blasts in January to tropical heat in July. For others, the seasonal shift is more subtle, marked by the dry season giving way to rain every day.

Our lives are characterized by seasons too. Sometimes we enjoy periods of joyful calm —when the household is running smoothly, the new job is a perfect fit and friendly coworkers help us learn the systems, the kids are settled in school and enjoying their friends and activities.

Other seasons provide uncomfortable challenge—when differences between family members or friends cause upheaval, a new boss makes too many uninformed changes, or a once-cooperative child becomes a surly teenager.

 

 

Such stresses can push us toward those irritating if-onlys and what-ifs. We may work overtime to try and fix the situation–try to fix ourselves too. If I just try harder, we think.

But when others are struggling through challenging seasons, we’re likely to offer them encouragement, hope, and grace. Why do we hesitate offering the same to ourselves?

The following graces offer a good place for us to start.

 

Gracious Waiting

 

 

Waiting for difficult circumstances to resolve is never easy. But we can relieve the discomfort by reminding ourselves:

  • “The stops of a good man are ordered by the Lord as well as his steps” (George Mueller). So let’s wait with expectation. Perhaps God is orchestrating change in preparation for a new work in our lives.
  • Embrace the positive aspects of this season—the growth of faith, the heightened awareness of God’s presence, the assurance that God’s plan will far exceed anything we could devise.
  • “To wait is not to sit with folded hands, but to learn to do what we are told” (Oswald Chambers). Perhaps our best course of action during a difficult season is just to do the next right thing in front of us, and leave the future in God’s capable hands.

 

Gracious Rest

 

 

Jesus provides the perfect example. Surely he felt the pressure of too much to do and not enough time to do it. There were always people clamoring for his attention—to heal an infirmity, solve a problem, or answer a question.

But Jesus took time to rest. He allowed himself the luxury of a nap on a boat, dinner with friends, and quiet hours in the Garden of Gethsemane. Once refreshed, he was able to minister all the more fervently.

Why should it be any different for us?

 

Gracious Affirmation

 

 

We can remind ourselves that: 1) God has brought us through tough times before; he will do it again, 2) no situation is without hope; no situation is without purpose, and 3) we are never left alone to fend for ourselves, because you and I are precious to him. Yes, we are.

Does that sound prideful? Consider this perspective:

Not long ago on Antiques Roadshow an appraiser analyzed a beautiful painting with all the characteristics of a famous master’s work. However, it turned out to be a near-perfect copy. Instead of being worth several million, it was only worth several thousand.

Paintings by the masters are highly valuable because of who created them. Similarly, each of us is a highly valuable, original masterpiece because of who made each of us (Ephesians 2:10 NLT, Galatians 5:26 MSG).

Let’s affirm his power and our worth every day—especially during seasons of challenge.

 

Gracious Contenting

 

 

That’s a new derivative of content for me, maybe for you too. It means to make content or satisfied. And what’s the best way to do that? By affirming our faith in God who “does all things well and makes all things work together for our ultimate good” (A. W. Pink).

Let’s content ourselves this moment that our Heavenly Father:

  • uses difficult situations to make us into better versions of ourselves (James 1:2-4)
  • takes us along the best and straightest paths (Proverbs 3:6)
  • carries us in his arms, close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11)
  • cares about the details of our lives (Matthew 10:29-31)
  • weaves blessing into every day—even the difficult ones (2 Corinthians 9:8)

Such statements usher in God’s graces of confidence, peace of mind, and joy of spirit.

The question now becomes: When seasons of challenge overtake us, will we invite God (with all his wisdom, compassion, understanding and more) to come alongside and make it a season of grace as well?

 

Photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com’ http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com.

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In the midst of my harried day

When I seem farthest from myself

A moment comes to me and beckons,

“Let us fly away.”

 

Shutting out the din

Of the never-ending to-do

I close my eyes and begin

To wander in thoughts sublime;

And gather flowers in my mind.

 

–Tara Afriat*

 

Such delightful imagery Tara creates with that last line. But I wonder, what sublime thoughts might be worthy of a bouquet in my mind?  So far, five varieties have occurred to me:

 

1. Humor offers blooms of joy.

 

 

Just recently my husband was hospitalized and underwent a number of tests. When an orderly came to accompany Steve to a procedure he announced, “One CT scan, coming up. Would you like fries with that?”

I’m thinking a new journal specifically for humor might be fun to keep (and savor later).

 

2. Quotes provide blooms of wisdom, encouragement, and beauty.

Isn’t it amazing how a few well-chosen words can suddenly enlighten our understanding or give us eyes to see what was invisible just moments before?

A recent addition in my quote journal offers wisdom, encouragement, and the potential for beauty:

 

 

“Make one person happy every day and in forty years

you’ll have made 14,600 human beings happy

for a little time at least.”

–Unknown

 

Such encouragement gives wise perspective to the impact of small kindnesses, doesn’t it?   And what fun to cause 14,600 beautiful smiles!

 

3. Observations become blooms of refreshment.

 

 

Another journal on my shelf is titled “A Celebration of Small Things.” Each day I record at least one observation worth noting, because:

 

“A grateful heart is one

that finds the countless blessings of God

in the seemingly mundane of

every day life.”

–Anonymous

 

Pages of entries over the last two years remind me of just how blessed I am. For example:

January 10, 2017: “The birds are singing a “Hallelujah Chorus” of their own this morning, in celebration of the sudden balmy temperatures—into the upper 50s!”

 

 

Review of such moments does refresh my attitude.

 

4. Kindness creates blooms of grace.

In 1987 I began a journal to document God’s grace. So far, the record of more than 1300 entries offers sublime flower-gathering in my mind. Again, one example:

1996/97 proved to be a particularly challenging year at the school where I taught. Frustration plagued many of us faculty members. In late September I confessed to my early morning prayer group my difficulty in letting go of annoyance, and Betty prayed for me.

Minutes later as I drove to school, my attention was drawn to bright sunbeams radiating from behind great billowing clouds. It seemed the windows of heaven had been opened, and the glory of God on his throne radiated from just beyond that cloud bank. I could almost hear him saying, “You’re going to be fine—I’m right here to help you!”

 

 

Betty’s kind prayer and that God-given sky-reminder provided perfect affirmation. And now, that entry and many like it remind me: My Heavenly Father has been ever-faithful in the past; I can trust him for the future.

 

5. Scripture provides blooms of truth.

Within the pages of the Bible we find a variety of flowers for the mind, including those mentioned here: wisdom, encouragement, beauty, refreshment, and grace. But the most important is truth. Absolute truth.

We live in a time when relative truth is embraced by many, but:

 

 

(“Truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it,

ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

–Winston Churchill)

 

The wise person seeks after truth—truth that revives the soul, gives joy to the heart, and provides insight for a well-lived life. That’s exactly what the Bible provides (Psalm 19:7-8).**

One psalmist who reveled in scripture wrote: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97).

And no wonder. The Bible is a continual source of flowers for the mind—of the very best, wisest, and most beautiful kind.

 

Where do you gather flowers of the mind? Share with us in the Comment section below!

__________________________________

 

*Quoted from Soul Retreats for Busy People, compiled by Lila Emspon

 

**If you’re not sure whether scripture is reliable truth or not, I recommend Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, or The Reason Why Faith Makes Sense by Mark Mittleberg. It is the honest person who invites God to reveal himself.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pexels.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.nps.gov;  http://www.pocketshare.speedofcreativity.org; http://www.azquotes.com.

 

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The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum

 

It’s a familiar story:

Crowds of people teemed the hillside—thousands of them. They had gathered hours before so Jesus could heal the sick and infirm. But soon the sun would set, and hunger gnawed at everyone’s belly.

One young boy offered his meager lunch, and with its contents Jesus provided an ample supper for the entire throng.

I can only imagine, Jesus breaking the pickled fish and barley rolls into pieces over and over, his hands hiding the actual multiplication. He must have worked fast too.

Let’s see…if 5,000 men were in attendance, and perhaps an additional 5,000 women and children, the total count may have approached 10,000 people.

And if each bread-and-fish meal required one second of Jesus’ time to create, he would have been producing food for two hours and forty-six minutes. (Math whizzes: please check my figuring.) In actuality, the process must have been much more rapid.

But even when everyone had eaten all they wanted, Jesus wasn’t finished yet.

“Gather all the leftovers,” he told his disciples. And they filled twelve baskets with broken pieces (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13).

 

 

Now why would Jesus create an overabundance? Such excessiveness seems without purpose. And why did he instruct the disciples to collect all those leftovers? The birds would have swooped in and quickly devoured the remains.

But Jesus had his reason. Like all the other miracles he performed, his objective was to make plain certain truths about himself and his Father.

Consider:

  • The sheer number of wonders proved he was the Messiah. No one before or since has achieved such a record number of miracles.
  • Jesus’ supernatural deeds for people of all walks of life demonstrated his love and compassion for everyone; a person’s nationality or social status didn’t matter.
  • The breadth of his power became clear as he turned water into wine, healed numerous kinds of diseases and infirmities, quieted the wind, caused nets to fill with fish, walked on water, and even raised the dead.

 

The Raising of Lazarus by Rembrandt

 

The miracle of multiplied bread and fish highlights God’s benevolence. And the leftovers in particular provide a memorable picture of God’s inexhaustible resources and overflowing grace, available to us through Jesus.

I wonder if the disciples were reminded of Psalm 31:19 as their baskets began to fill with roll fragments:

 

 

Such abundance none of them had ever seen before.  The fact that it was an abundance of bread is significant too, because the very next day Jesus called himself the Bread of Life (John 6:35).

 

 

Just as he had supernaturally provided an abundance of bread for a huge crowd, so he would supernaturally provide an abundance of life (John 10:10)a God-enhanced, satisfying, joy-filled life—to those who believe in him (John 11:25-26).

And what about those twelve baskets? Where might a band of wandering disciples find a dozen baskets on a Galilean hillside?

Historians can explain. Each man would have been carrying his own kophinos—a knapsack-type basket. It would have held food and necessary items for a journey, and also provided a place for acquired objects or supplies along the way.

The baskets might symbolize our hearts where the Bread of Life dwells. But unlike the disciples’ grapevine backpacks, our hearts are elastic, capable of stretching to hold more and more of the fullness of God.

And there is a wondrous and glorious abundance to be gathered.

 

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

I praise you, Father,

“We need not fear that we shall ever come to the end of your goodness or any experience for which you will have no blessing ready” (J. R. Miller).

You are our Almighty God, able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think. With you, amazing things are always ahead.  Hallelujah!  

(Luke 12:29-31; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 3:20)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org ( U.S. work public domain in the U.S. for unspecified reason but presumably because it was published in the U.S. before 1924.); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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Years ago Steve’s Aunt Louise gave us a little ceramic church music box.  With its drab gray walls, greenish-gray roof, and standard steeple, the church did not grab attention. But the arched windows on each side were filled with tiny chips of colored glass, and when lit from within the little church sparkled with glorious light.

Sometime when our three children were young, the church was broken by “Not Me.” Fortunately, the pieces were large and Steve was able to glue them back together.   When the light was turned on, the cracks didn’t even show.

But as the years passed, the glue began to discolor and turn dark. The poor little music box became a sad sight, and I was about to throw it away when our youngest son–probably in high school by this time–said, “Oh, Mom! You can’t get rid of the church! That’s been my favorite Christmas decoration since I was a little kid!”

So Jeremy saved the music box from destruction.

 

 

He finished college, married a sweet girl from our church, and moved twice more while attending seminary. Somewhere along the way the music box disappeared.

Each year as he and his wife Nancy decorated for Christmas, he’d remember fondly that little ceramic church and wonder what happened to it.

Seminary graduation came and went, four years at his first church appointment also passed. While settling into their second parsonage, Jeremy finally unpacked a carton labeled “Memorabilia” that had been sealed up since he left our home.

Buried at the bottom was a sealed shoebox. Jeremy sliced through the tape with his pocketknife, lifted the lid, and brought into the light a lumpy, tissue-wrapped object.

 

 

Within moments Jeremy held in his hands that precious, long-missing ceramic church. And joyful tears stung his eyes.

He quickly found a new bulb and plugged the cord into a nearby socket. The windows instantly filled with glorious rainbow light. Jeremy didn’t even notice the fissures or dark, crusty glue.

Isn’t it amazing to consider that, just as Jeremy loves that damaged music box, God loves us—scarred, and imperfect as we are? We too were just as lost as that little church—sealed up in a box of our own prideful independence.

 

 

But Jesus came looking for us. He brought us into his glorious Light, and filled us with the Light of his inviting, benevolent grace.*

Now, we have the privilege to shine with gleaming Light just like that little church—in spite of our scars.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

God of all grace, I thank you for rescuing me from mere existence in my self-made box, and bringing me into a rich, full life with you. Even though cracks and blemishes remain in my being, what you see is not what I have been but what I am becoming—holy and blameless and filled with Light—for that day when I see you as you are!

 

(John 10:10; Ephesians 1:4; John 8:12; 1 John 3:2)

 

 

 

*Often defined by using an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense

 

Scripture references: Luke 15:8-10; John 8:12; Colossians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 3:24; Matthew 5:14.

 

(Photo credits:  Jeremy Ruegg (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org (Ben Steed); http://www.verseaday.com.)

 

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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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“Oh, what a beautiful tree!” my mother-in-law exclaimed with enthusiasm. Her comment referred to a tall bush, planted near the house and visible outside our kitchen window. “What’s the name of it?” she asked.  Being from Ohio, Mom wasn’t familiar with some of the unique foliage of South Florida.

“That’s a sea grape,” I told her. “It’s actually a shrub, but they can grow quite tall.”

“Well, it’s lovely. Such big leaves!”

Now clearly there’s nothing remarkable about this conversation, until you know that Mom had asked the very same question with the very same enthusiasm every morning of her visit. And each morning I supplied the same answer.  Mom was in her late 80s, and her dementia was becoming more and more noticeable.

Mom’s fresh outlook each morning reminded me of Lamentations 3:22-23:

 

The faithful love of the LORD never ends!

His mercies never cease.

Great is his faithfulness;

his mercies begin afresh each morning (NLT).

 

 

Just as Mom brought new enthusiasm to each morning, so God brings new mercies for each day. Yes, the challenges we faced yesterday required wisdom, strength, and perseverance. But today we’ll need a fresh supply.   Praise God he never runs out of such gifts; he is always able to provide.

In the same way, God’s new mercies for today are not meant to be sufficient for tomorrow. In other words, we shouldn’t expect to feel ready this morning for the potential challenges of the future—much as we’d like to. (Who hasn’t wished to know now exactly how the next day or week will unfold, and how best to respond?)

Instead, our wise and loving Heavenly Father has chosen to lead us one day at a time, to protect us from being overwhelmed, easy prey to depression and paralyzed by fear.

No, our best course of action is to avail ourselves of God’s mercies for this one day. As for tomorrow, we can trust God to supply new mercies, more than sufficient for whatever we might face when the time comes.

 

 

 

I’m remembering Corrie ten Boom. (Maybe this post brought her to your mind, too.)

 

 

Corrie and her family suffered cruel hardships in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, as a result of helping Jews escape the Holocaust.

After the war, people would often say to Corrie, “I wish I had such great faith as yours. I could never live through the experiences you survived.”

Corrie would tell a story to explain.

When she was a child, Corrie happened to see a dead baby. A terrible fear gripped her that one of her family might also die. When Papa ten Boom came to tuck her in that night, she burst into tears.

“I need you!” she sobbed. “You can’t die!”

Her sister, Betsy, explained why Corrie was so afraid.

Papa asked, “When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”

“Just before we get on the train,” she responded.

“Exactly,” Papa replied. “And God knows when you’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need—just in time.”

Papa ten Boom was proven right. When Corrie needed supernatural strength, God did provide. We can rest assured that his mercies will be new and fresh each morning for each of us–just in time.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

I praise you, Lord God, that we can face each day with fresh enthusiasm, because for every trial, you have prepared great mercies of endurance, strength, and wisdom.

I thank you that in the midst of trouble, you also provide blessings: a more acute awareness of your presence, peace that defies explanation, family and friends to come alongside, miraculous provision, and delightful surprises to make us smile.

You are more than a sufficient God; you are an abundantly gracious God!

 

(Revised and reblogged from 5-28-15.  Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.com.)

 

 

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Micki and I first met at church, and within moments it became clear: this woman would make a great friend. Not only did she exude warmth and smile easily, she asked questions.   Good questions.  And then she listened intently to my answers.

Fast forward a few years from that initial encounter. God did bring Micki and me together, and we’ve been friends ever since—over ten years now.

To know Micki is to experience loving acceptance from her heart, hear godly wisdom from her spirit, and receive splashes of joy from her effervescent personality.

You would not know that this well-balanced and vibrant person has suffered much pain and loss.

With Micki’s permission I am sharing with you her story:

At one time or another during her youth, Micki lived in the same house with an alcoholic, a drug abuser, and a person suffering from mental illness.

In addition, she is an incest survivor and rape survivor.

“When you are abused by a person who should represent safety and security, and no one comes to rescue you, your entire world shifts,” Micki explains. “All the foundational undergirding and security a healthy child experiences is taken away. The world becomes terribly unsafe, with no one to trust or run to. And even though it is the abuser who is wrong, it is the child who feels dirty and bad.”

Those dreadful circumstances, however, were not the only tragedies to enter Micki’s life. She endured the trauma of teenage pregnancy and a doomed marriage as well.

“My first husband was a good and honorable man, but he was so wounded by his own childhood, he could not express love. For five years I was married to a man to whom I would say, ‘I love you’, and from whom would come silence. A man I hugged who couldn’t hug back. A man who regularly moved away from my touch.

“He never abused me, never fought with me, always provided for me, but his rejection was like a cancer, slowly eating away at my self-esteem. At that time I didn’t know he’d been wounded. I only knew he couldn’t stand to touch me, and the conclusion I drew was he must have discovered the truth—that I was dirty, unlovable and ugly.”

Micki recognized the damage in her life from living with an alcoholic, so she began attending Al-Anon, the sister organization of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Through that program, Micki was drawn to people with this light inside them—people who seemed happy despite their desperate circumstances—people who appeared to have a handle on that “Higher Power” the Al-Anon leaders taught about.

Of course, those people who radiated that Light were Christians, and in due time one of them led her to Jesus. She didn’t know it, but that was Micki’s first step toward wholeness.

Not long after she became a Christian, someone asked her, “Do you know how special you are to God?” She remembers sobbing because, how could ANYONE, much less GOD, think she was special?

Micki was so blinded by her past she could not fully grasp God’s personal love. But gently and tenderly over a number of years, he led her toward emotional and spiritual healing, that moment in time when she could finally accept God’s warm and gracious love.

Micki participated in her healing through enthusiastic Bible study. Where once she found scripture rather meaningless, the new Micki reveled in the instruction, inspiration, and encouragement she found within its pages.

Prayer became a lifeline as she navigated the rough waters of challenging family relationships and a stressful job.

Later, ministries at church became a source of great fulfillment. God has put her on a healing team and the planning team for women’s retreats, given her Bible study groups to lead and young women to mentor, as well as put her at the podium occasionally to speak. She has impacted hundreds of lives throughout the three decades since she said “yes” to Jesus.

As he so often does, God took the great brokenness of Micki’s life and created beautiful wholeness.

Then God took her wholeness, broke it open and poured it out, to multiply the beauty in others.

It’s what our God loves to do.

 

Micki and me, April 2018

 

 

 

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