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Christmas Thoughts and Prayers

 

The Christmas Star in the night sky, the shining of the Christmas light in the night – all this is the sign that light breaks into the darkness. Though we see about us the darkness of unrest, of family discord, of class struggle, of competitive jealousy and of national hatred, the light shall shine and drive it out.…Wherever the Christmas Child is born in a heart, wherever Jesus begins his earthly life anew – that is where the life of God’s love and of God’s peace dawns again.

 Emmy Arnold

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Christmas Memories...

These people we once knew are not just echoes of voices that have years since ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us still.

Frederick Buechner

 

It happens every Christmas. I get nostalgic.

 

Perhaps it’s the music.

 

Whenever those old familiar carols play, sweet memories come flooding over me...like the year that my family decided to surprise my grams and gramps in Pennsylvania with an unexpected Christmas visit.

 

I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Scurrying around the house like Christmas mice in the darkness of the early morning hours, packing the car with gifts, travel games and suitcases. It was such delicious fun! 

 

When the long stretches through Indiana and Ohio began to curb even a child's enthusiasm, we broke the monotony by singing. Dad taught us how to harmonize so we could sing in four parts; my sis sang the melody, I sang alto, mom baritone and dad sang bass. It was amazing how fast time flew by singing every Christmas carol and jingle you can think of!

 

By the time we reached the Pennsylvania border it was snowing. Heavily. Snowflakes as big as quarters fell from the sky. The tree branches were laden with snow, creating white arches over the road for us to pass under. I was sure we had enteredWinter Wonderland.

 

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When we finally reached my grandparents house, we tiptoed as quietly as we could up to the front door and began singing the Christmas songs we had practiced over the many miles. As soon as my gramps heard us, he made a beeline for the kitchen to load up a plate of Christmas goodies and opened the door fully expecting to see the neighbors out caroling.

 

I can still see the look on his face. Tears shimmered in his eyes...and our eyes too.

 

Whenever I hear those old familiar carols play, my mind wanders back toWinter Wonderland...to Pennsylvania...to the look on my sweet grandpa’s face...and tears shimmer in my eyes still.

 

Perhaps it is the music...

 

But, then again, it might be the scent of Christmas cookies wafting in the air.

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Flirting With Temptation: Esau

    Before you make a decision, ask yourself this question: will you regret the results or rejoice in them?

Rob Liano 

If only I would! If only I would stop and give thought to my decisions. Not all decisions, mind you. In many decisions I am quite strategic.

But, when it comes to the little decisions, you know, the spontaneous ones like “I’m hungry, and that ooey gooey brownie would help tide me over till supper” decision or “That shirt is as cute as a button, and if I don’t get it now, it may not be here the next time I come” decision? Those are the types of decisions that trip me up time-and-again.

 

 

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When I’m hungry or flirting with temptation in my favorite clothing shop, I fare rather poorly.

 

It’s hard to admit, but, I can be rather impulsive at times. Without careful thought or planning ahead, I can easily succumb to that irresistible urge.

 

It seems to me that Esau, a biblical character I have been spending a lot of time with lately, struggled with impulsivity too. Listen in to the following conversation he had with his twin brother, Jacob…

 

29-30 One day Jacob was cooking a stew. Esau came in from the field, starved. Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stew—I’m starved!”

31 Jacob said, “Make me a trade: my stew for your rights as the firstborn.”

32 Esau said, “I’m starving! What good is a birthright if I’m dead?”

33-34 Jacob said, “First, swear to me.” And he did it. On oath Esau traded away his rights as the firstborn. Jacob gave him bread and the stew of lentils. He ate and drank, got up and left. That’s how Esau shrugged off his rights as the firstborn.

Genesis 25:29-32

The Message

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Where Is God When Life Doesn't Make Sense? - John the Baptist

  "I talk to God but the sky is empty.”

Sylvia Plath

Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense.

 

Like when you finally reach a stage in life when you and your spouse can fly the coop and enjoy time just the two of you...then divorce papers are filed, or an illness strikes or you are left alone at a graveside without a chance to say goodbye.

 

Or when the child you have loved and nurtured turns against you, or turns to alcohol or drugs, or disappears without a trace.

 

Recently I’ve been talking to God about my second-born son. He has been struggling, too, but, not with anger or alcohol issues. He is my high achiever. He graduated from his college and master’s degree programs with a 4.0. He is incredibly diligent, meticulous, and detail-oriented, and if given a chance, would make a phenomenal employee. But, for two years he has struggled to land a job in his field. He has worked as a janitor, in an amp shop and with a professor to make ends meet.

 

After two years of beseeching the heavens, I told my hubby the other day that I feel as if my prayers have been bouncing off the ceiling.

 

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Running Restless

What do people really have after all their work and struggling here on earth? Throughout their life they have frustrations...even at night their hearts are restless.

Ecclesiastes 2:22-23

 

The mountains were hemmed in by fog. The light morning drizzle altered quickly to downpour. It was damp and dank. The sweet little red bistro table and chairs and the red geranium sitting on the deck alongside looked lonely as I gazed out at them longingly. If it had been just a bit warmer I would’ve ventured out to them, but there I stayed. In where it was warm and cozy.

 

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The fog and rain usually settled in at night in the Alps, with the sun making its reappearance in the morning. But not that day. That day it had its way with us...forcing us inside.

 

The paramount question one faces on a day like that is...will I yield myself truly to this involuntary confinement, or will my heart stir restless...agitated all the day long...seeking a way of escape?

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Rooftop Refuge: Seeking Solace

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord. How I long to be there, my soul faints to enter...

Psalm 84:1-2

On the roof, it's peaceful as can be and there the world below don’t bother me...

Carole King

 

It was hotter than blazes the five days we made Aix-en-Provence our home. I was sure I would melt into a puddle and be remembered no more. Especially after a day of exploring ancient Aix’s compact, often confusing and extremely congested streets, packed with visitors, like ourselves, converging there for a piece of its beauty and mystique. 

 

At day’s end we would slowly mount four flights of stairs to our little apartment up on the roof. Each step we took felt heavier than the last; doubts crept in that I would reach the top. But, fortunately, our sweet little abode had air conditioning, a rarity in France. And nothing felt quite so wonderful as stepping through that door.

 

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But, being cooped up in air conditioning all evening didn’t suit a romantic soul like mine, either. Gratefully, just outside our French doors was a little rooftop refuge, a perch at trees top, my very own balcony sanctuary.

 

So, after a nice cool shower, I’d slip out onto the porch in my jammies − with my journal and cup of tea in hand − just as the sun was slipping further west and the heat of the day lessened. What a gift it was sitting peacefully above the hubbub, listening contentedly to conversations, and watching all the comings and goings of folks as they dined in cafés and ambled their way through the narrow streets below.

 

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Those were sacred hours for me. Gifts of all sorts were bestowed there by God. From Holy Spirit whisperings on the wind, to rest for my aching, weary feet, to sweet birdsong, to the setting sun painting the sky in pale shades of pink, orange, yellow and purples just above tiled rooftops each evening − that no doubt inspired many an artist’s paintbrush down through the millennia.

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Holy Mystery: The Unexpected Voice of God

Who knows what God will say to me today or to you today or into the midst of what kind of unlikely moment he will choose to say it? Not knowing is what makes today a Holy Mystery...

Fredrick Buechner

 

Our twisting and turning journey through the French countryside, leading to what seemed like nowhere, on little roads that one car could barely maneuver on, had my hubby on edge. But, I had so longed to visit Hautecombe Abbaye...that we pressed on.

 

It was an hour-and-a-half drive from our hotel in Annecy, a drive that at one point had us clinging precariously to cliffs-edge high above Lac du Bourget. I could hardly draw breath I was so enraptured by the amazing panoramic views...my hubby, on the other hand, was holding his breath and clutching the wheel for dear life. His nerves frayed, I began praying that somehow, someway, this crazy little adventure of ours (mine!) would be worth the effort.

 

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Unfortunately, the road into the Abbaye narrowed significantly. When we met a few tour buses head on, it nearly put the kibosh on our expedition once and for all. But, with both vehicles riding the grassy edge and an inch or two to spare, we passed one another, then turned into the first parking area we could find so that Rey could loosen his tight-fisted clench on the steering wheel and finally breathe.

 

It wasn’t until we started for the Abbaye that we realized that we were in for a bit of walk. We had parked in the lot farthest out on the property. But, the walk did us good. Besides, when in France, walking is a way of life...part of the journey.

 

As we made our way closer to the old Basilica we were startled to hear voices singing “10,000 Reasons,” by Matt Redman...in English. It literally stopped us in our tracks. Tears still well up in my eyes just thinking about it. 

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Stumbling, Bumbling, Fumbling: Fundamentals of Growth

We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It is a powerful obstacle to growth. There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure all your life.

John W. Gardner

President of Carnegie Corp and Secretary of Health Education and Welfare under Lyndon B. Johnson

 

We started months in advance of our trip to France checking out French CD’s from the library. It had been 34 years since we had lived there and sadly, without constant use, much of our French had been forgotten. So, we listened to CD’s at home and in our cars, repeating the words and sentences like a couple of mina birds. My hubby practiced every chance he had with a French grad student at the U. And I pulled my old book “French for Le Snob: Adding Panache to Your Everyday Conversations” off the shelf and studied it like I was preparing for an exam.

 

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But, for all of my preparation, I still ended up stumbling, bumbling and fumbling my way through conversations.  

 

It wasn’t that I couldn’t understand what most folks were saying. My struggle occurred when I tried to enter into a discussion. The perfectionist in me would get so preoccupied trying to remember the past, present and future tenses of words and sentence structures that by the time I had my thoughts formulated, the topic had long passed and was onto another. That left me no other recourse but to smile and nod a lot, and rely on my hubby Rey, who has such adeptness to languages, to carry the conversation for me. 

 

But, it was frustrating. We women have at least 10,000 words a day we have to get off our chests. I knew I couldn’t keep this up forever.

 

So, I began praying, “O God, remember in Acts 2:4, 6-8 where the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages? And the people who heard them were mystified, surprised and amazed, saying, ‘Look, aren’t all these folks Galileans? How is it then that they can speak in our native tongues?’  Well, I'm just wondering if you would be willing to do that for me too?!” 

 

What I sensed God whispering to my heart instead was this, “I know that you think that a supernatural dose of French language skills is what you need most right now, but, what I long to do will stretch and grow you. So, instead of supernatural French skills, I would like to fill you with a fresh dose of supernatural love for these, my precious ones, here in France! My love can overcome any language barrier.”

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Roots - Wings

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It's that time of year again! Time for buying school supplies, filling backpacks and waving goodbye as the bus pulls away. But, for some, like our guest writer, Heidi Zwart, the school year also means leaving her firstborn son 1,000's of miles away at college.

May all you mama's and grand-mama's be blessed by her words and by God Himself as this another school year commences.  

Don’t blink. Time flies. It’ll be over before you know it. So many clichés. But now I’m living them. Why?

My first-born just left the nest.

I swear it was yesterday I embraced Drew while we sobbed together in our kitchen after announcing our move to the East Coast. It was 5 years ago.

The day before that, I smiled as he smiled back at me for the first time… with braces. It was 7 years ago.

And just before that, I walked him to the end of the street before he stepped onto that big yellow bus for Lincoln Elementary. It was 13 years ago.

And JUST the day before,  I labored for 27 hours for a long-awaited 10 pound, 1 ounce baby boy named Andrew, who forever changed my name to mom. It was 18 years ago.

Can anyone relate?

Looking back I feel incredible joy living right alongside sadness at the moments that we’ve left behind. Some will get hazy with the passing of time while others will remain firmly locked with crystal clarity.

A few years ago, during a moment of panic about the future, a friend shared wise words with me about preparing for, enjoying, and letting go of each moment in time. Her words have carried me through the past five years and will forever guide me into the future.

Simply put, letting go is a process and we are equipped for each step. If we look too far ahead, we get overwhelmed. The truth is, we never live life as fast as we do in our own mind. Our kids don’t go from kindergarten to marriage overnight.

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Can You Hear Me Now? Supplication

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A nun I know once told me she kept begging God to take her character defects away from her. After years of this prayer, God finally got back to her: I'm not going to take anything away from you, you have to give it to me.

Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers

I first crossed paths with them in the housewares department; a young dad pushing his two-year-old son in a cart with his four-year-old daughter skipping along close beside. He was obviously passing through this department on the way to his desired destination, judging by the hurried pace with which he was moving. 

As they whirred past, I overheard the little boy ask his dad if he would buy something for him, to which his father replied, “If you’re patient, I’ll stop and get some ice cream treats on our way home.”  

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I Have a Confession to Make: Confession

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Therefore, make it your habit to confess your sins to one another and to pray for one another, so you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective!

James 5:16 

As we walked through the large wooden doors into the Cathedral of the Divine Savior in Morelia, Mexico, a hushed awe fell over me. Light flooded the lofty hallways and sanctuary. A service was in progress as tardy parishioners trickled in, finding a seat in the back. I smiled thinking, “They are not unlike American parishioners, I see.”  

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Women of the Bible: A Responsive Heart - Lydia

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 Nothing is so infectious as example.

Francois de La Rochefoucauld 

Do you have role models in your life? People you look up to? People whose lives, work, attitude or actions encourage and challenge you to believe more fully and to live and love God and others more freely?

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Women of the Bible: God's Cheerleader - Elizabeth

Women of the Bible: God's Cheerleader - Elizabeth

After praying and pining for a child of her own, Elizabeth had long settled it in her heart, now that her childbearing years were far behind her, that she would never experience being a mother.

But, that didn’t stop others from speculation and gossip as to the why’s and wherefores. In that day childlessness was often attributed to sin of some sort on the part of the woman.

The pain-filled stares and the whispers were not lost on Elizabeth all those years. 

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A Lenten Meditation

 A little Easter heart preparation - by Macrina Wiederkehr from her book Seasons Of Your Heart

Wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body.

2nd Corinthians 4:10 

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For the Sake of Our Children

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Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the Kings horses and all the Kings men

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What is love?

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“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

“Dare to love and to be a real friend. The love you give and receive is a reality that will lead you closer and closer to God as well as those whom God has given you to love.”

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A Sanctuary

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You are God’s sanctuary and God’s Spirit lives in you.

1st Corinthians 3:19  

I love old churches and cathedrals. 

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Sketches

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A few years back I picked up a sketchbook and began what I call ‘chicken-scratching.’ My little doodles are nothing to write home about, but, I do so enjoy it. I have one little book filled with drawings of flowers and leaves. But, while staying up in the woods at the prayer cabin last November, I decided to try my hand at something a bit more difficult.

After trekking through the woods looking for just the right subjects to try my hand at, I shot a few photos and then headed back to the cabin to give it a go.  

Recently I showed my sketch to a friend of mine. She couldn’t make out what in the world it was. That made me laugh out loud! “I guess you’re not looking at the next van Gogh, then,” I said with a wink.  

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Waiting: A New Years Quiet Time Devotional

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Take some time to sit quietly. Allow your spirit to settle. Savor this opportunity to be still in God’s presence.

Have a journal and pen or pencil ready to jot down any thoughts that come to you during your time together.

Ask Him to hush any stray thoughts that may distract you from hearing His still small voice. And ask the Spirit to give you an open, responsive heart that you may hear all that He longs to say to you today. 

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A Conspiracy of Love

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The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years... Underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart.

George Matthew Adams, The Christmas Heart 

 “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.”

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Keeping Vigil: A Christmas Quiet Time Devotional

Keeping Vigil: A Christmas Quiet Time Devotional

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Before you get started, take a few minutes to quiet your spirit.

Close your eyes and take some slow, deep breaths. Imagine laying every burden and all of those holiday pressures at Jesus’s feet.

Be sure that you are in a comfortable position that allows your heart to be most attentive to His voice. Try to make that space as interruption-free as possible. It should be a set-apart place where you enter, as it were, the Holy of Holies to meet with your Savior.

Ask Jesus to clear away any stray thoughts that may distract you from truly meeting with Him - in order hear all of the things that He has on His heart to say to you today.

Open your journal and have your pen/pencil ready.

 

When you sense a readiness in your soul...read the passages below slowly.

 

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the one who looks for him. It is good that one should be quiet and wait patiently for the Lord’s salvation.

Lamentations 3:25-26

 

When eight days had passed, Jesus’ parents circumcised him and gave him the name Jesus. This was the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived.

When the time came for Mary and Joseph to do the things the Law of Moses taught about being pure, they brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a righteous man devoted to God, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. He was waiting in prayerful expectancy for the time when God would come to help Israel. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Messiah.

Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area; so, when Mary and Joseph arrived to present the baby Jesus to the Lord in obedience to the law, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, and said,

“Now, Lord, you can let me, your servant, die in peace as you promised. For I have seen with my own eyes how you will save your people. Now all people can see your plan. He is a light to show your way to the other nations and he will bring honor to your people Israel.”

Luke 2:21, 22, 25-32

Now Anna, a prophetess, was also there. She was very old, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow for 84 years. She never left the Temple, but continued to worship there night and day with times of fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for redemption in Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38

Whoever waits at my door and listens for me will be blessed.

Proverbs 8:34

  • Now, go back and read the passage again. As you do, be aware of any phrases that tug at your heart. You may want to write those phrases down.
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Gratitude: A Thanksgiving Quiet Time Devotional

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One of my favorite ways to spend time with the Savior is to sit quietly reading his love letter, the Bible, using the slow, meditative approach known as Lectio Divina. Lectio divina means divine or sacred reading in Latin. It is a quiet, prayerful practice where we invite the Holy Spirit to open the ears of our hearts in order to hear God's still small voice speaking to us through His Word. It is not a discipline meant to master the Word or to acquire new information or knowledge, it is what Henri Nouwen calls, reading the Bible on your knees...where we allow the Word to descend from our minds into our hearts and become a personal word to us

Using the lectio divina method, then, we will be reading the following Bible passage several times, each time with a different intent. 

Before you get started, however, take a few minutes to quiet your spirit.  

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Be The YOU God Made You To Be!

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I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made...

Psalm 139:13 

I wish that I was quick-thinking, or had a quick wit, or was just plain quick. I’m afraid I am a bit of a plodder. More turtle than hare. Slow, but, steady. Studious. Strategic. Prefer a good book to a big crowd. Always have...and at nearly 57 years of age...probably always will. 

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Listening to the Voice of Fear

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13 2Moses sent out men to explore the land of Canaan... 25after exploring the land for forty days, the men returned. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. 27This was their report: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. 28But...the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified!

30 Caleb tried to quiet the murmur amongst the people saying, “We must go...because we are more than able to do it!" 31But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go..." 32So they began spreading this bad report: The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. 33We even saw giants there.”

14 1Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. 2Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest...

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Passion

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Whatever you do, do it with all your heart for the Lord...

Colossians 3:23 

What are you really passionate about? How would you describe the feeling you have when you are living out your passion?  

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We Heart Matters Publishing gals care about women. Their joys. Their struggles. Their everyday, ordinary lives. We write from those very same places hoping to uplift, challenge and encourage your soul and deepen your faith.

The Heart Matters Gals

  • Julie

    Julie

    I’m turning 62 this year. I can hardly believe it myself. But, I’ve decided that I no longer want to live comfortably. I want to live with a spirit of adventure like I had in the past. To be unafraid of what’s new or different. I want to remain so open to the Spirit of the living God that his love compels me to go wherever he leads me.
  • LuAnn

    LuAnn

    I am passionate about people leaning into all that Jesus is. You. Me. Us. Journeying together with God. This is my greatest blessing. And now that my kiddos are out on their own, I’m learning to navigate my new normal. And I am finding there is life after little ones and teens after all!
  • Emilie

    Emilie

    I am currently finishing my degree in relational communications and plan to graduate in the spring of 2020!! I am thankful I have had time to grow, heal, appreciate a slower pace of living, and to invest more time into relationships with family, friends, and God. Through this process I am learning what I want to prioritize in my life and figuring out ways to make that happen. Most of all, I am figuring out that life is all about process, taking steps closer to where I want to be and celebrating the little victories but also accepting that there will be setbacks and disappointments along the way.
  • Sally

    Sally

    Sally Cranham is a singer and writer from the UK. She uses biblical narrative and her own experience to write deeply into the heart of the human condition. She currently works as a volunteer for SourceMN as their Arts Outreach Coordinator and has lived as a Residential Volunteer at Source’s anti-trafficking transitional annex alongside women who have come out of the life of prostitution.
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