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Archive for the ‘Renewing the Mind’ Category

 

 

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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Each spring, as the outdoor temperatures finally climb to comfortable levels, we can hardly resist opening wide the windows to allow fresh breezes and full sunshine into our homes.

We breathe deep the pure air and revel in the bright light–until we notice the smudges, dirt, and grime, undetected during the dim days of winter.  Suddenly we’re overtaken by the urge to polish the windows, Swiffer baseboards, reorganize closets, and capture dust bunnies under the beds. We embark on spring cleaning, full sweep ahead!

 

 

Any concerns of how to clean in the fastest, easiest ways can be researched online.   And even the APP Store can help. BrightNest offers organizing and cleaning tips, a personalized cleaning schedule, and reminders. Chore Monster will get the kids to help (so they say).

I can’t speak for you, but there’s another area in my life that needs cleaning. In addition to the dusting, scrubbing, and polishing throughout our home, a little spring-cleaning of my mind will be beneficial, to remove any melancholy, anxiety, fear, and other muck from my thoughts. There’s an A.P.P. for that, too:

A is for APPRECIATION. Nothing wipes away the grime of doldrums like gratitude, because gratitude leads to joy.

 

 

“What a beautiful thing, God, to give thanks,

to sing an anthem to you, the High God!

You make me so happy, God.

I saw your work and I shouted for joy.

How magnificent your work, God!”

–Psalm 92:1, 4 MSG

 

P is for PRAYER. Sweet up the swirling dust bunnies of worry with statements of trust, based on God’s reliable promises:

  • He will never leave us to struggle through trouble on our own (Deuteronomy 31:6).
  • He will always provide what we need (Matthew 6:25-27).
  • He is a God of infinite power and might, ruling over all people and all circumstances (Psalm 103:19)
  • He is a God of goodness and righteousness, love and compassion, grace and mercy (Psalm 145:7-9).

 

 

P is also for PRAISE.  Polish every day with worship, commending God for who he is and what he has done.

 

“To worship is to…purge the imagination by the beauty of God.”

–William Temple (1881-1944), Bishop of the Church of England

 

 

Notice this A.P.P. of Appreciation, Prayer, and Praise, is all about words that don’t even have to be spoken out loud. Is it really possible that mere words can cleanse away hurtful or disturbing thoughts?

Yes! Words are powerful (Proverbs 18:21). Even self-talk wields great influence, because thoughts produce emotions, emotions produce attitudes, and attitudes produce behavior.

For example:

  • Thoughts of Appreciation, Prayer, and Praise create a clean, positive atmosphere in our spirits.
  • That atmosphere allows the emotions of peace, joy, and contentment to shine.
  • From a contented heart come the positive behaviors of cheerfulness, perseverance, faith, and strength—to name a few.

But just as some spring-cleaning tasks require extra effort, ridding our minds of negative self-talk often requires extra effort as well. Our thoughts too easily get mired in complaining, anxiety, and fear.

 

 

How do we redirect our thinking? We take our negative thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5), trapping them like dust flecks in a Swiffer! Then we use our A.P.P (as described above) to add the luster of positivity.

There’s nothing like a good spring-cleaning to increase the pleasure we experience in our homes. And there’s nothing like a good cleansing of the mind to bring supreme pleasure to life.

 

 

“The Lord is a sun and shield;

The Lord bestows favor and honor;

No good thing does he withhold

From those whose walk is blameless.

O Lord Almighty,

Blessed is the man who trusts in you.”

–Psalm 84:11-12 NIV

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.ourdailyblossom.com; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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While waiting for the coffee to brew Monday morning, I peeked out the kitchen curtains. To the east, a glowing red band rimmed the horizon. Slightly to the west, a clear, dark sky provided backdrop for a gleaming crescent moon.

 

 

Thank you, Father, I prayed, for prompting me to look out the window just now. Your handiwork never ceases to thrill me.

I wondered what further delights God might present as the day progressed? I decided to begin a list, just for the fun of seeing how many moments I could record. The glowing horizon and bright crescent moon became #1.

#2.  A completed workout.   Thank you, Lord, for helping me eat a live frog–yet again!  (Yes, that’s a perfectly logical prayer for those who know what Mark Twain said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” For me, exercising is about as distasteful as eating a live frog!)

Moments later, as a bowl of oatmeal spun slow circles inside the microwave, I chose to window-gaze again. This time a squirrel caught my attention as he scampered along a treetop branch, then leapt across a wide chasm to the next tree.

 

 

How do squirrels jump like that without falling? Such astounding abilities you’ve given some of your creatures, Lord.  

#3 became:   A gravity-defying squirrel.

#4.   Oatmeal—with cinnamon, berries, walnuts, and milk. Thank you, Father, for the endless combinations of ingredients we can put together to make our taste buds happy! 

#5.   Coffee.  The most exquisite flavor to start the morning.

 

 

I was on a roll now as the praiseworthy moments continued:

#6.   A dropped contact found.

#7.   Sunshine pouring through the windows.

#8.   The drive to our son’s house along the edge of Mount Airy Forest. Spring is in evidence: bright green undergrowth portends the imminent leafing of trees.

 

 

#9.   Clear, rain-washed air–fresh and crisp. Just breathing is a supreme pleasure.

#10. Holding four-year old Elena’s soft little hand as we climb the stairs together.

#11.  Snuggling two-month old Maarit on my shoulder while taking her on another slow, bouncy tour of the living/dining, and kitchen area. Her bright eyes seem to study every object, any sign of movement, every play of light.

#12.  Reveling in Maarit’s smiles, each one a delightful surprise.

#13.  Making her laugh for the first time.

#14.  Watching Elena complete a 48-piece puzzle, with very little help.

#15.  Catching one of Maarit’s smiles on camera–well, almost.

 

 

#16.  Listening to a symphony of birds upon arrival home, as I walked from car to house.

#17.  Soaking up the warmth of sunshine on the deck while reading my Bible and journaling a bit.

#18.  Enjoying a refreshing salad, all the more delicious because Steve made it.

 

 

#19.  Receiving blessing and challenge while reading posts from bloggers I follow.  (See the list in the right column!)

#20. Resting with a pleasurable book.

 

    *    *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

It may not be practical to record such moments every day, but I can see great benefit from keeping a list now and then.

It’s grateful eyes that get to see God’s goodness and glory everywhere–all day long.

 

 

(“It is good to praise the Lord…

…to proclaim your love in the morning

and your faithfulness at night…

…For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord,

I sing for joy at the works of your hands.”

–Psalm 92:1-2, 4)

 

What commonplace moment brings you uncommon joy? Please share in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.farm7.staticflickr.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimediacommons; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of,” said the wealthy, well-known actor.

Of course, I thought. He’s loving the high life—for now—and maybe feels guilty that 97% of humanity will never live the dream he’s privileged to enjoy.

But what he said next shocked me.

They should do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that’s not the answer.”

Who made that startling statement? A man just about everybody in America recognizes on sight: Jim Carrey.

I wonder if Jim knew how close he came to echoing the words of King Solomon?

 

 

(“When I surveyed all that my hands had done

and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;

nothing was gained under the sun”–Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV.)

 

From ancient times to today, man has strived to find happiness by obtaining the next desired possession, experiencing the next enticing adventure, or pursuing the next enthralling relationship—even though any success is short-lived.

When will we learn?

Contentment results when we:

Want what we have.

 

(“The things you take for granted someone else is praying for.”

— Anonymous)

 

When our children were eight, eleven, and thirteen, my pastor-husband was appointed to a church in an area of South Florida known for its golf courses, beaches, and wealth.

That last characteristic was most challenging for our children. Many of their classmates arrived at school in expensive cars. They wore clothing with exclusive labels, owned all the latest gadgets, and traveled to exotic locations.

Though Eric, Heather, and Jeremy could see that consumerism did not guarantee happiness, they still struggled with the inequity.

The younger two, Jeremy and Heather, were thirteen and sixteen when they joined a crew of teens and sponsors for a one-week trip to the Dominican Republic.  Their responsibilities included painting at an orphanage and interacting with the children.

The next summer they repeated the trip. And as a result of witnessing true poverty, their outlook on life was dramatically transformed.

 

(Heather is the blonde on the left, in case you weren’t sure!)

 

Months later, Heather and I were riding together in our van and stopped at a red light. We weren’t even talking about those weeks spent at the orphanage. But a decked out sports car pulled up next to us and after a pause, Heather wistfully said, “The cost of that car would feed so many people in the Dominican.”

Such a dramatic shift of perspective had occurred in her heart.  Jeremy’s too.

However, over time contentment easily fades. We must:

Find the positives of each day.

I’ve started a new section in my quiet time notebook:  “A Celebration of Small Things.”  Maybe you’d like to join me?  Each evening I’m recording at least one thing that gives me a sense of contentment. The first entry on Monday was daffodils.

 

 

You see, last week a bitter cold snap here in Ohio ruined much of the early spring flora. Even the hardy daffodils lay bowed over to the ground.

However, they were not defeated! When the temperature rose above freezing again, most of their floral stems stood tall once more. Fluted cups remained open and delicately ruffled; petals fanned outward with only a slight curl at the tips.

I’m so very grateful a soupçon of spring has survived.

 

(“Sweet are the thoughts that savor of content.

The quiet mind is richer than a crown.”

– Robert Greene, English author, 1558-1592)

 

I’m discovering Robert Greene was right. Sweet thoughts do produce the treasure of a quiet mind.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

What a delight, Father, to give you thanks and praise for your abundant gifts—the beautiful, the pleasant, the heart-warming, the humorous. Every day is filled with blessing because of your love, compassion, and faithfulness.  My heart overflows with gratitude as I contemplate your goodness!

 

(Psalm 9:1-2, 103:8; Colossians 2:6-7)

 

 

What small thing causes your heart to overflow with thankfulness?  Share your choice in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.flickr.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.truevined.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.oldquotes.com; Myra Johnson at http://www.picturemythoughts.com.)

 

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If there were a Museum of Faith, and artifacts from earliest times still existed, the heroes of Hebrews 11:4-12 would surely be represented. On display we might find:

 

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  • Rocks from Abel’s altar, where God proclaimed him a righteous man.
  • Enoch’s walking stick, left behind when he strolled with God one day and ended up in heaven.
  • Part of Noah’s ark, which he spent at least 100 years building before God’s promise of rain (and protection for Noah’s family) was fulfilled.
  • Abraham’s tent, in which he lived while traveling to a place God had chosen, though Abraham did not know where he was going.
  • Isaac’s swaddling clothes, reminders of his miraculous birth to elderly parents, twenty-five years after God first promised his arrival.

 

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Then we come to verse 13.

 

“All these people were still living by faith when they died.

They did not receive the things promised;

they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,

admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth”

(NIV, italics added).

 

What was the writer of Hebrews referring to? What things did these heroes of faith not receive that God had promised?

They did not see fulfillment of the most important promises: the arrival of Jesus the Messiah, his glorious resurrection, and all the blessings and privileges he provides. (All the way back in the Garden of Eden, God foretold that One would come to defeat Satan—Genesis 3:15).

 

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If the great heroes of faith listed in Hebrews did not receive things promised, I’d be wise to prepare myself for the same.

What should I do when promises are not being fulfilled? Below are five possibilities:

 

  1. Consider that the roadblock might be me.

Many promises come with conditions. If I’m not willing to comply, how can I expect the promise to be fulfilled? Philippians 4:6-7 offers a good example. If I want to receive God’s promise of peace, I need to be praying with a grateful heart.

 

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  1. Consider that the time is not right.

More than a few biblical heroes endured long waits for their promises to come to pass: Abraham for his son, Joseph for his position of leadership, the Israelites for their promised land, David for his kingship, and devout Jews like Simeon and Anna for their Messiah—to name a few.

I must remember that God is always at work carrying out his plan (Isaiah 46:11b). My work is to trust, pray, and wait.

 

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  1. While trusting, praying, and waiting for one promise, I can celebrate those already kept.

 Dozens of promises have been fulfilled in my life already. At the appropriate time God has provided:

  • Wisdom for difficult decisions (James 1:5)
  • Peace in the midst of challenging circumstances (Philippians 4:6-7)
  • Provision in miraculous ways (Philippians 4:19)
  • Purpose (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Strength to push through weariness (1 Peter 4:10-11)
  • Help in all sorts of situations (Isaiah 41:13)

 

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Praise for what God has already done is a powerful weapon against discouragement.

  1. God’s ways aren’t my ways.

If God has not fulfilled a particular promise, he has good reason. What I desire may not be for my ultimate good or for the good of others.

Surely Paul had to wonder sometimes why God allowed him to be imprisoned in Rome for two years. Perhaps he recited from the psalms:

 

psalm_91-14-15_picture

 

“’Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him;

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name…

…I will deliver him and honor him.”’

–Psalm 91:14-15 NIV

 

Paul had every right to claim this promise. His love for Jesus was passionate, and he acknowledged his Savior’s name everywhere he went. But God did not rescue Paul. No angel came to deliver Paul, as had happened to Peter.

As a result, we are beneficiaries of Paul’s letters, containing priceless teaching from the heart of God: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon–all written from his prison cell in Rome.

 

  1. Fulfillment may come after I’m gone.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not see their descendants become as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5).  But the promise was kept centuries later, because there is no stopping the perfectly wise, precisely timed will of God.

 

romans-11-36

 

“From him and through him and for him are all things”

(including the fulfillment or unfulfillment of his promises).

“To him be the glory forever!”

–Romans 11:36 NIV (parenthetical comment added)

 

What helps you cope with unfulfilled promises from God?  Please share in the comment section below.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.biblewalks.com; http://www.pinterest (5); http://www.thefellowshipsite.org; http://www.dailyverses.net.)

 

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When I was a young girl, my family lived near Chicago in a three-bedroom, one bath home. One car parked in the driveway; there was no garage. My brother and I dreamed of owning an in-ground swimming pool but had to settle for the crowded, over-chlorinated conditions of the community pool.

 

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If someone had told me, “Nancy, when you grow up you will get married, have three children, and live in Florida for forty years. Every home will have two bathrooms and a garage. You’ll eventually own two cars, too. But, best of all, three of your homes will have a swimming pool in the backyard.”

 

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(Sometimes we enjoyed a bigger pool — the Gulf or Atlantic.)

 

I would have thought, Unbelievable! When all those heavenly things happen, then I’ll be happy and content.

Ah, but during those forty years in Florida I remember thinking on more than one occasion: If only this heat and humidity would let up. It’s like a furnace out there. Or, Why can’t these kids just get along with each other and give me some peace? Or, Houseguests are coming; gotta clean those bathrooms today. Ugh.

Contentment can be an elusive quality. No sooner do we possess one long-desired item, we discover another acquisition to wish for. No sooner have we achieved one level of success, we’re already reaching for the next—with a sideways glance at our neighbor who’s acquired or accomplished more than we have.

We know what scripture tells us: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

 

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Our spirits sense the truth of it and recognize the gain to be had when craving, grasping, and unrest give way to peace of mind and tranquility of spirit.

But how?

Contentment is a choice of perspective. I can choose to affirm and celebrate my:

  • Possessions.  I have more than enough.
  • Position.  I have experienced more than enough.
  • Personhood.  I am more than enough the way God made me, with my particular personality traits, gifts, and abilities.

Like Paul, I can learn to be content by choosing again and again the proper perspective (Philippians 4:11).

 

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However.

There is one area where contentment is not desirable: in the spiritual realm. I never want to become content with what I already know about God or be satisfied with the current level of intimacy between my Heavenly Father and me.

I want to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18).

 

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That’s an opportunity for a lifetime. Think of it: we never reach the end of his magnificence and influence. There is always greater knowledge to understand, more wonder to explore, more splendor and growth to experience.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Lord, God, may I not look right or left at what others have, or what others have accomplished, or what gifts and talents they display. Keep me mindful of my utmost desire: to know you more intimately, follow you more closely, and live in the contentment of your sufficiency for everything.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.ancestory.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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