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Archive for the ‘Renewing the Mind’ Category

 

 

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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Saturday afternoon provided the perfect circumstances for a cozy sit by the fire.   The calendar was clear for the day and we could burrow into the quiet. Snow showers added to the tranquility as they gently outlined backyard trees in white.

 

 

The serenity of our sitting area is enhanced by the beloved hand-me-down decor: the clock, oil lamp and child-size rocker from my grandmother, lanterns that belonged to Steve’s Dad and grandfather, books of our parents’ youth, and a painting that once hung in the home of Steve’s parents.

 

 

Altogether, the golden firelight, familiar furnishings, and cozy comfort engender peace and contentment.

But as delightful as these moments are, this kind of tranquility is fleeting. At any moment the phone might ring and the caller share distressing news. Then we’ll hardly notice our snug surroundings as concerns and questions begin to demand our attention.

When that phone call comes, circumstantial peace will not be enough. But that’s the only kind this world can offer. What we really need at such times is a stillness of spirit that originates outside this world from the Master of Peace.

My peace I give you,” Jesus told his disciples. “I do not give you as the world gives.”

 

 

Remember when he spoke those words? The night before he died.  He well knew what was to come (1). The next day would be a maelstrom of suffering, climaxed by tortuous pain on a cross.

How could he speak of peace on the eve of such horror?

Because his heart was always directed Godward, resulting in radiant peace. Jesus faced rejection, false accusations, hateful treatment (from religious leaders no less), and even attempted stoning. And yet he remained unruffled.

“Christ’s life outwardly was one of the most troubled lives that was ever lived…But the inner life was a sea of glass. The great calm was always there” (2).

 

 

And this is the peace he offers us—a peace that includes tranquility, security, and prosperity of spirit in spite of circumstances. It is “a rare treasure, dazzling in delicate beauty yet strong enough to withstand all onslaughts” (3).

How do we avail ourselves of this treasure?

By reviewing the attributes and promises of our Prince of Peace–all day long.

“Great thoughts of Christ will pilot you into the haven of peace,” said Charles Spurgeon.

 

 

Perhaps we could word our great thoughts of Christ as a prayer:

You, Lord Jesus, are our Good Shepherd, always leading in the way we should go. You tenderly watch over us, meeting every need and protecting us from evil—including wild, fearful thoughts and emotions (4).  

You are full of love for us. Out of your kindness and compassion you see us through every dark valley of life. Though we may not always be aware, you are ever-present, ready to offer strength and support (5).

 

 

You have said, “Everything is possible for those who believe” (6). And we know that’s true because we’ve seen your miracles. You’ve healed incurable diseases; you’ve protected and provided in hopeless situations. You’ve enabled others to transition to heaven with impossible grace and joy.

For these reasons and many others, we place ourselves in your attentive, all-wise, all-powerful care.

You are our Mighty One, our Rock, our Haven of Peace.

 

 

______________________________

 

P.S. I started rough drafting this post last Saturday afternoon, while sitting by that fire. Uncertainty had already moved into our hearts after Steve’s blood work last week turned up questionable results. The doctor immediately called for a cat scan that took place on Friday. Monday he shared the results with us: liver cancer.

Steve is now on an obstacle-ridden road toward a liver transplant, and the future holds much greater uncertainty than we faced last week.

Do you suppose it’s just coincidence that I’ve been reading, thinking, and writing about peace for the last six days?

I don’t think so either.

 

Notes:

(1) Luke 22:15-16

(2) Henry Drummond

(3) Sarah Young

(4) John 10:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; John 10:11

(5) Ephesians 5:1-2; Luke 6:35; Matthew 28:20

(6) Mark 9:23

 

Photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.canva.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.org.

 

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‘Ever drive on a highway carved out of a mountainside or high hill where craggy cliffs border each side? Signs along the way warn drivers: Beware of falling rocks.

 

 

I wonder how much good those signs accomplish. Is it really possible to stop in time, should a rock come plummeting down the hillside right in front of your car?

When falling rocks do cause accidents, insurance companies usually categorizes the event as an “act of God.” It’s considered an unavoidable natural disaster that no amount of cautionary measures could have prevented.

Not that God would deliberately cause such an accident. Every good gift comes from him (James 1:17).  But he has set into motion certain natural consequences and laws that govern his creation. Erosion and gravity would be two examples at play in the case of falling rocks.

So what are we supposed to do when the road from Point A to Point B includes potential danger? (And doesn’t it always?)

 

 

For that matter, what are we supposed to do when the road of life includes potential danger? (Again, doesn’t it always?)

Many of us allow worry to niggle in our minds:

  • How many rocks do you suppose have fallen along this stretch already?
  • Does the Corps of Engineers check regularly for erosion?
  • Is that jutting rock up ahead breaking loose?
  • What’s up with that pile of rocks by the side of the road? That can’t be a good sign.

How do we steer clear of such thoughts? A good way to begin:

 

 

  1. Replace fearful thoughts with faith-filled thoughts.

“The only happy way to deal with [falling rocks and other such adversities] is the way of faith: faith in the purposes of God, in the presence of God, in the promises of God, and in the power of God” (Peter Marshall*).

  1. Affirm that God does indeed have loving purpose in it all. 

Even when rocks fall?

Yes, because God is sovereign (Psalm 103:19) and God is good (Psalm 145:9). Many saints through the ages have endured pain, suffering, and calamity, yet came to understand that God accomplished positive purpose(s) through it all.

 

 

Just one such saint out of many: Elizabeth Elliot.  Perhaps you already know the story. Her young husband, Jim, was one of five missionaries brutally murdered by Auca Indians in Ecuador, 1956. Their daughter was just ten months old. Yet Elizabeth was able to write this:

“I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.”

And no doubt, those two realities in Elizabeth’s life, the presence of God and the love of God, were precious treasures indeed.

In addition, hundreds of young men and women vowed to become missionaries as a result of the example and inspiration of those five young martyrs.  Most amazing of all, numerous members of the Auca tribe eventually became Christians, including the killers of Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries with him.  (You can read more of the incredible story here.)

 

  1. Decide like the Apostle Paul: the only thing that really matters is exalting Jesus (Philippians 1:19-21).

 

 

And exalting Jesus can be achieved in any circumstance.

 

  1. Understand that tests and challenges are “sheer gifts” (James 1:3 MSG).

Why? The testing of faith develops perseverance. And perseverance leads to maturity and strength of character (vs. 3-4).

I like the sound of that: maturity and strength of character. So when I’m the victim of falling rocks and start to give in to self-pity, worry, or complaining, please remind me of these principles.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Thank you, Father, for providing the way of faith on the treacherous road of life.  We can trust your purpose for all things, your presence in all situations, your scripture promises of hope and comfort, and your power to see us through.  Hallelujah!

 (Romans 8:28; Hebrews 13:5b; Psalm 145:13; Matthew 19:26b)

 

(1) Author, pastor, and chaplain of the United States Senate in the late 1940s.

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.pexels.com & Nancy Ruegg;  http://www.inspirationalchristians.org; http://www.pixabay.com & Nancy Ruegg.)

 

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Just twelve days to Christmas 2017. Are you too immersed in preparation? In all honesty, I’m scrambling a bit in order to accomplish the remaining items on the must-do list: finish the Christmas cards, wrap the gifts, clean the house before the first guests arrive on Saturday, etc.

And for me, with the scrambling comes that uncomfortable feeling I’ll never get everything done.

It’s so silly, I tell myself. In the final analysis will our friends and family care if their cards arrive after Christmas? Is it necessary the packages be just so? Will our guests mind if every surface of the house isn’t gleaming?

Of course not. But my OCD tendencies still want to press me toward those expectations.

So what can I do to calm my spirit? I’m thinking the answer is worship.  I can express to God my gratitude, praise, and adoration–even while writing cards, wrapping gifts, and cleaning the house.

 

 

Scripture assures me that, as I worship in God’s presence, I will experience:

 

  1. Peace.

 

 

  1. Joy.

You, [O God], will fill me with joy in your presence.”

Psalm 16:11b

  1. Rest.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Psalm 91:1

 

 

What a glorious gift worship is! Isn’t it just like our loving Father to bless us as we seek to bless him?

And so, while writing the Christmas cards, I am praising God for friends and extended family spread all over the country, and praying for them, too.

 

 

Heavenly Father, I praise you for (insert name).

Thank you for their influence in our lives,

Their support and affection.

Thank you for treasured memories of time spent together.

We may have lived apart for many years,

Yet the bonds of love hold firm because of you.

Bless them, I pray, with joy in each day,

Provision and protection too.

 

While wrapping the family’s gifts I can offer praise on behalf of the recipients.

 

 

Your goodness, O Lord, has impacted our family again and again.

Every member has his/her stories to tell of

Your wonders, interventions, and miracles.

I praise you for each loved one—

His/her gifts and personality traits,

The delight You give us in each other.

I praise you we are able to gather once more

In celebration of you, our indescribable gift.

.

While cleaning, I can focus on gratitude. What am I thankful for in each room?

 

 

I praise you, Father for our cozy home,

for the perfectly sized dining set you provided

And the hutch we found rather miraculously.

I praise you for the large windows

Across the back of the house,

giving us a grand view of the backyard trees.

And I praise you that with gratitude

Even housekeeping can be turned into joyful worship.

 

Throughout the day, whatever the task, I can meditate on the wonder of what Jesus our Savior has accomplished.

And marvel again that it all began with his humble birth in a stable-cave:

 

(Gerard von Honthorst, 1622)

 

“O Sovereign God!

You have humbled yourself in order to exalt us.

You became poor so that we might become rich.

You came to us so that we can come to you.

You took upon yourself our humanity

In order to raise us up into eternal life.

All this comes through your grace,

Free and unmerited;

All this through your beloved Son,

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

–Karl Barth

 

Come! Let us adore him—even as we work!

 

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

 

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A number of years ago and for the span of a decade, I commuted a half hour each way to and from the school where I taught.

Needless to say I saw all kinds of drivers: the speed demons and poke-alongs, the weavers and squeezers, the distracted and multi-taskers—each one an accident waiting to happen, each one confident that he or she was not.

One day a young man on a motorcycle whizzed by, darting between vehicles left and right in search of the fastest lane. This was not in near standstill traffic; it was on a stretch of Florida Turnpike where the speed limit is seventy.

Oh, Lord, I thought. Talk about an accident waiting to happen. That boy has no idea the danger he’s creating for himself and everyone else in his path.

 

 

A few minutes later I reached my exit and gasped aloud. Lying in the grass in the middle of the cloverleaf turn-off was that young motorcyclist, far separated from his twisted bike.

A few people were already hunched over him, perhaps from the nearby tollbooth area. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw his leg move.

Every now and then that scene comes to mind. I imagine that young man as he straddled his cycle that morning, anxious to be on his way for another exhilarating trip of engine revving, speed, and clever maneuvering.

No doubt a trip to the hospital never even crossed his mind.

The young often do live in a fantasy world of invincibility. And those of us with a bit more life-experience shake our heads at their carelessness.

But fast-lane living isn’t the singular domain of speeders and teenage boys on motorcycles.

Even a retired schoolteacher like me can forget: life is fragile.

 

 

Not that I drive recklessly or take foolish chances.

But I am very capable of rushing through a to-do list and missing an opportunity to provide joy in someone else’s life. I can breeze right past the blessings-of-the-moment because I’m focused on something down the road.

I can even forget the values I hold dear, including attentiveness to God and loving compassion for others.

It is downright foolish of me to live in a fantasy of invincibility, as if there will always be plenty of tomorrows for attentiveness and compassion, while cruising along in the fast lane of frenzied activity.

Instead, I’d rather cup my hands around each day and:

 

 

  • Find the wonder in the common. “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribable, magnificent world in itself” (Henry Miller).
  • Take note of the everyday miracles. “Looking is the beginning of seeing” (Sister Corita Kent).
  • Hug often. “Hugs are one of the reasons God gave us arms. So stretch out your arms to someone today…It will warm the heart of the giver and give light to the soul of the recipient” (Unknown).
  • Laugh easily. “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God” (Karl Barth).

 

 

  • Value every person. “The way we treat others is more about who we are, not who they are” (Unknown, emphasis added).
  • Forgive quickly. “Forgiveness isn’t about letting the other person off the hook. It’s about keeping the hooks of bitterness from getting into you” (Gabrielle Bernstein).
  • Avoid negativity. “Beautiful things happen when you distance yourself from negativity” (Unknown).
  • Choose joy. “True contentment is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it” (G. K. Chesterton).

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Lord God, I have so much to be thankful for, including this cloudy, cozy day and the welcome chill in the air. I thank you for this moment, complete with winking candle, hazelnut coffee, and soft music to keep me company as I write.

Thank you also for the designated purpose you ordain for each person.   Because I am still alive, you still have plans to fulfill through me, especially to bless others. And for that I am grateful as well.

Keep me mindful, I pray, that fast lane living is not only foolish, it is dangerous to my soul.

(1 Thessalonians 5:18; Psalm 37:23; Proverbs 19:21; Ephesians 2:10)

 

What will you cup your hands around today?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.wikimedia.com; http://www.lawofficer.com; http://www.medienwerkstatt-online.de; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.quotesvalley.com; Nancy Ruegg.)

 

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Wouldn’t that be nice—a deep sea of joy—for the days when the washer breaks down in the middle of a load, a tire goes flat on the way to an important meeting, and a jar of spaghetti sauce slips out of hand, splattering bright red ooze and shards of glass over much of the kitchen.

Yup. That’s what we need: a deep sea of joy. We could jump right in and be swallowed up in delightful mirth while everything else conspires to dump us into despair.

But according to that wise preacher of long ago, Charles Spurgeon, that’s exactly what we do have:

 

 

“Our God is a deep sea of joy.

My soul will dive therein

And be swallowed up

In the delights of his companionship.” *

 

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Such sweet relief. But how do we do that? How do we delight in the companionship of an invisible God?

Actually, the relationships we enjoy with our (visible) loved ones give us many cues.

 

 

For example, just last weekend we enjoyed three days at Red River Gorge, Kentucky, with our older son and his family. You might recall Eric and Hilja (Hill-ya) have two little girls, ages four and four months. Needless to say our activities at the gorge were limited. No zip-lining, horseback riding, or long treks through the forest. Not this trip.

But we still took great pleasure in interesting conversations on the deck (especially in the evening after the girls were asleep), a short, scenic woodland hike, superb dinners prepared by Eric, reminiscings through some family history, frequent laughter**, and simply basking in the joy of being together.

God offers us similar joys as we delight in him:

 

  • Conversation—in the form of “simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment” (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, 55).

 

  • Common interests, such as impacting the lives of others–opportunities to participate side by side with God in his work (John 15:5).

 

 

  • The splendor of creation–all the more magnificent as we revel in his artistry and genius (Psalm 33:6-9).

 

  • Celebration of who our God is and what he does (Psalm 145:7, 92:4).

 

  • Humorous moments–created by God just like everything else, so that with Sarah each of us can say, “God has brought me laughter” (Genesis 21:6).

 

  • His ever-present, ever-attentive companionship–itself a source of lavish joy (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

Oh, but there are still more ways to delight in God as we…

Trust.

Consistent contentment is possible as we affirm, “He is faithful in all he does” (Psalm 33:4).

Thank.

Honoring God with our gratitude is uplifting to us and pleasing to him (Philippians 4:6-7; Psalm 69:30-31).

Praise and sing.

If God delights in us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17), how much more should we delight in him with an expressive, lyrical heart?

 

 

Charles Spurgeon was right:

 

Our God offers a deep sea of joy–

if only we dive into his delights

frequently,

all day long.

 

 

*from Morning by Morning by Charles Spurgeon, updated by Whitaker House, 1984.

 

**Maybe it was only funny to us, but I have to share what four-year old Elena said after her first fishing excursion. She’d been warned to stay out of the greenery along the side of the road in case of poison ivy. Upon returning to the cabin she announced, “I stayed out of the weeds so I won’t get poisonitis.”

 

(Art & photo credits: http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpictures.com; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.uk.pinterest.com (2); http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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Many of us have endured lots of rain this spring, but the payoff has been worth it. On our little hillside, tightly compacted foliage now covers trees and shrubs. Hearty blades of grass press thickly together like subway travelers at rush hour. The whole landscape is so green, you’d think we lived on the Emerald Isle.

 

(Trees and shrubs behind our house.  ‘Wish the light was better,

but it’s another day of clouds and  rain.)

 

Close inspection reveals, however, that spring foliage comes in many more shades of green than emerald.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t green a glorious color? No matter the shade, there’s something about green that breathes restoration and life into our beings.

Researchers have studied the response of the body when a person is surrounded by a particular color. Green causes muscles to relax and blood vessels to dilate. Therefore, it has a calming effect and lowers stress.

The positive effects of green are even more pronounced when we get outdoors. Studies have shown that such capacities as short-term memory, mental energy, creativity and concentration all improve after time spent in nature. Even five minutes can produce positive effects.

 

 

Researchers are even discovering restorative responses in the body after a person has been outdoors. For example, inflammation decreases, nearsightedness is less pronounced, and the immune system improves.

What do you suppose accounts for all those benefits? Perhaps God intentionally designed his creation (at least in part) to provide restoration of body, soul, and spirit–for us.

 

 

The challenge is getting out there. Too often I’ve allowed indoor tasks and activities to take precedence over sitting on the deck or taking a walk.

And once situated on the deck or strolling in the neighborhood, I need to take note of my surroundings. If my mind is preoccupied with the to-do list or troubling concerns, restoration is not going to happen. I have to pay attention.

How?

Engage the senses.

 

 

  • Take note of the light dappling the foliage.
  • Listen to the breezes whisper among the evergreens.
  • Fill the lungs with pure air cleansed by flourishing, CO2-breathing trees.
  • Touch the cool, curled edges of the geranium leaves.

 

 

Experience the wonder.

  • Limbs and gentle winds join in an intermittent dance.
  • Leaves bob and sway.
  • Treetops enthusiastically participate; creek bed foliage plays the wallflower, quiet and still.
  • Sun glints through the woods, creating a spotlight effect on some branches. Others are draped in deep, green-black shadow.

 

 

And the most important step of all:

 

Express gratitude.

 

I thank you, Father, for the gift of greenery, the grandeur of stately trees, the delight of shapely leaves, the peaceful calm of an open field or forest temple.

 

 

I thank you for the lessons they teach—reminders to grow our roots deep into your love (Ephesians 3:17), to be watered by your Word (Psalm 1:2-3), and to live in the Light of your Son, Jesus (John 8:12).

 

 

It’s not just the infinite heavens that declare your glory and display your wisdom and power (Psalm 19:1). Even the minutest of plants offers evidence of your splendor and artistry.

 

 

The whole of nature is your living room, God, and I humbly thank you for the precious privilege of meeting you there.

 

  

(“Nature is God’s living room,” a Michael Hyatt creative expression.)

 

Photo credits:  www.pexels.com; Nancy Ruegg (3), http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.pexels.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pexels.com (2), http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; geograph.org.uk; http://www.maxpixels.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.pexels.com.

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