Stop, Look, Listen-There Are Angels Among Us

IMG_1720Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

A 16th century Englishman by the name of John Bradford spoke the words, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford” as he watched his fellow prisoners being led to their executions. Bradford was imprisoned in the Tower of London for his Protestant faith, opposed by Queen Mary I of England. I think about this phrase, “…but for the grace of God, go I…” a lot as it relates to homeless folks, as well as other who find themselves in dire situations.

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What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
Saint Augustine

Many of you have asked about Pamela since I posted the story entitled Joy Comes In The Morning, (click here on the title to read it) and I finally heard from her three weeks after the day we spent together in San Diego, March 15, 2015. I did get a text right after she arrived safely to Austin, Texas, but I had not heard from her since. Easter Weekend was extra special after I received the text below from Pamela.

Every beating heart has a story, and I am grateful for the opportunity Donny and I had to impact Pamela and help her turn her difficult life towards a more positive direction. As you read the above story entitled Joy Comes In The Morning, I believe you will agree that Pamela was an angel in my life that day, as well.

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 Who might be in your path today who needs a smile,

a positive affirmation or a touch?IMG_2274

YOU could be the angel in a life today.

Meet Me In St. Louis

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“I see trees of green, red roses, too. I hear babies crying, I watch them grow, they’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.” ( a weeping willow tree in Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri)

Easter 2015 was extra special for my husband and me as we flew to St. Louis, Missouri, to meet up with our son and his wife. As we enjoyed a short, relaxing flight, I read through a book our daughter, Leah gave me as a Christmas gift, making plans to continue this blog: pages from joan, while pausing here and there to ponder a book I have just recently started writing.

There is something about the window seat of an airplane, looking over the sea of clouds that gets my heart reminiscing, the lyrics of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”, going through my mind.

IMG_2461Having only lived in St. Louis for six months, Jessica and Walker have learned their new city well and as usual, were wonderful hosts for our visit. Before our children moved here, we had never visited St. Louis. We have always wanted to visit, hearing about this place from many good friends that grew up here, and now, it has become one of our favorite U.S. cities!

Did you know there are seven things you must do in St. Louis in April 2015:

(1) Get Your Indie Fix-a slew of shows from some much loved, arty musicians like OK Go, Sufjan Stevens, Sleater Kinney, and British pop-rock band The Kooks. (2) Support the SL art community at The Makers Ball on April 18. (3) Get the Giggles at Touhill for the Chicago-based improv group The Second City April 22-25. (4) Sample S.L. at the “A Tasteful Affair 27” on April 19 which benefits Food Outreach, a Downtown nonprofit providing nutrition services to St. Louisans living with HIV/AIDS or cancer. (5) GET active! Join the S.L. Marathon on April 12, running past some of the city’s best-loved locations, the Gateway Arch, Forest Park, Citygarden, and Anheuser-Busch brewery. (6) Catch the Spring Fashions on April 9 and April 26 at two runway shows featuring fashions from top stores. (7) GO GREEN! Join more than 35,000 members of the local community as they celebrate our amazing planet at the S.L. Earth Day Festival on April 26 at Forest Park. (note: ideas taken from ALIVE St. Louis, April 2015 issue)

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Walker and Jessica take a rest from paddling the ‘rents all around Forest Park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

On this visit, we stayed at nearby Chase Park Plaza, but next time, we will be staying at their new home, built in 1929, on Teasdale Avenue. It was so exciting to walk through the home that will be theirs come Mother’s Day Weekend 2015!

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The Page Home on Teasdale Avenue, St. Louis, MO
[pullquote]Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.[/pullquote]

We enjoyed dinner Friday night at the kids’ favorite BBQ spot: The Shaved Duck. Oh my, this was truly the most delectable BBQ we have had in some time!

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The Shaved Duck

Saturday, we awakened to a blue sky day and got ourselves started with a walk in the famous green space of the city: Forest Park, 1,371 acres of water, land and cultural museums, located in the western part of St. Louis, Missouri.

After walking for awhile, we hopped into a paddle boat and tooled around seeing the park from an entirely different

                      perspective.

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Leah and Walker with a bunny, Easter 1995

Perspective is a funny word to me as it has a lot to do with “choice”. Waking up on the Monday after visiting our married children, I am reminded of how fast time is traveling by. I remember once again, that as of June 21, 2014, both of our

children are now married. When I scrolled through Facebook yesterday, I saw so many cute babies and young families at annual Easter Egg Hunts. This perusing caused memories of our own two, on Easter Sundays gone by, to come flooding back. During this current season of my life, I am making a conscientious choice about my perspective. Synonyms for perspective include outlook, view, viewpoint, position, stance, attitude, frame of reference, approach, and interpretation. My husband and I are parents-in-law to two amazing kids, we are living in a home where the extra bedrooms are empty for the most part, and while we remain very close to Leah, Walker, and their spouses, they have now become their own “family unit”, just as it should be.

If I sound “sad” here in these side remarks about perspective, I really am not.

However, the passage of time does give one much to remember and to be grateful for.

Now, back to our 2015 St. Louis Easter Weekend, the Walker and Jess cooked for us Saturday night : yummy caprese paninis, home fries, and a bottle of red.  Following dinner , we hung out with their cat, Louis while playing Canasta. Dad and I finally ended up with a winning score, but with only 3 rounds played, this game is TBC. (to be continued!)IMG_2515

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Donny, Walker and Jessica on the steps of Memorial Presbyterian Church, Easter Sunday.

WE completed our Easter Visit in St. Louis in the most wonderful way. We worshipped together in the church Walker and Jess recently joined, Memorial Presbyterian Church on South Skinker Boulevard.

Until next time, SEE YA LATER, Walker, Jess and Lou!

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[pullquote]

Cherish your human connections – your relationships with friends and family.”

Barbara Bush

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 What is your perspective regarding the season of your life today?

Where Is He? He Is In Us

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Right now that word joy may choke you...For anyone, newly grieving, to take even this first step is as difficult as learning to walk for the first time. You are, in fact, back at the beginning of learning to live again, to function, to participate in life. You are learning to live the second part of your life, so be patient with yourself. Eugenia Price, Getting Through The Night

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As the family filed out of North Metro Church this past Thursday at Dr. Rick Gray’s Celebration of Life Service, the instrumental music played loudly “Crown Him With Many Crowns”. My girlfriend Sandy and I, and the rest of the  congregation stood reverently by.  Especially during unpredictable and devastating circumstances, many ask, “Where is God?” There is no doubt that Rick Gray and his family, along with our dear friends, The Reads, in Virginia, who have faced unimaginable tragedy in their son’s passing, believe in their gut that God is on His Throne.  As painful as loss is, we believe in a God who is not only aware of what has happened, but he is worthy of our honor and praise regardless of our circumstances. We recognize that it is not something we can see with our eyes, but it is a truth we have intentionally chosen to believe.

We call it Faith.

With Holy Week upon us, my Father-in-law is still in the hospital. We are hopeful he will make a full recovery, but we obviously do not know what the future holds in this precarious situation.  Donny’s Dad is a man of faith, believing in things he cannot see. This very personal faith gives him hope for his future, regardless of what his future might hold.

We do not stand alone in this belief. We belong to an enormous family of faith. My ADPi Sisters, a group of nine of us have been getting together for a weekend every single year since 1979. We all have Cookeville’s  Tennessee Tech University in common. We do life together. We laugh, we cry, we call, we email, we text, we celebrate, we mourn together, but most importantly, we share a common and rigorous faith in God.

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TTU ADPi Sisters, 1983 at Leslie’s in Knoxville, Tennessee
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TTU ADPi Sisters, 2015 at Kelly’s in Abingdon, Virginia

We stand shoulder-to-shoulder in our faith journeys, sharing prayer requests with each other year in and year out. For something different in 2015, we decided to read the same devotional week after week together: The Joshua Code.

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Together, we start a new chapter each Sunday.  Ironically, the reading following Taylor Read’s recent passing reminded us: of the promise in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This week’s reading is called, The Proof is in the Pudding.  According to this devo, the evidence in our personal faith in a God is three-fold: inward, upward and outward. Inward evidence (see Ephesians 5:19) is seen when we choose to have a “song in our heart” regardless of our situation. Upward evidence (see Ephesians 5:20) is seen when we continually choose to have an attitude of gratitude to our God. Outward evidence (see Ephesians 5:21) is seen in our service to those in our path.

Through the generations, many have asked the question”Where is God?” Two of these who have lived during my lifetime are C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel.

Christians can have doubts and they can have questions, and the unhealthy way to deal with that is to keep them inside where they fester and grow and can undermine our faith. The healthy way to deal with it is to talk about it and be honest about it. Lee Strobel
I do know plenty of atheists, agnostics and skeptics who have become Christians through the years. In fact, several of my friends were once strong atheists but are now committed followers of Jesus. Lee Strobel

C. S. Lewis, (1898-1963), author of Mere Christianity, among many other books, and best friends with J.R.R. Tolkien.,  fell away from faith in his youth, but returned at age 32 for the remainder of his days.

After his wife’s conversion, Lee Strobel, (1952-    ) one of the most well known atheist-turned-Christians and author of The Case For Christ, became a believer at the age of 29 after he did extensive research on the evidence for Jesus.

IN MY 56 YEARS HERE ON THIS EARTH, I HAVE CERTAINLY KNOWN SORROW, WITH BOTH OF MY PARENTS HAVING GONE ON AHEAD OF ME, ALONG WITH MANY MUCH-LOVED FRIENDS AND RELATIVES, INCLUDING A PRECIOUS NEPHEW, BRAD. I FIRST LEARNED OF MY FAVORITE BOOK ON GRIEF THROUGH THE PASSING OF  A GIRLFRIEND, JIL CAIN ON AUGUST 5, 2005, A GRACE DISGUISED: HOW THE SOUL GROWS THROUGH LOSS, BY, GERALD L. SITTSER.  I KNOW WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO HAVE THAT PHYSICAL ACHING, ANGUISH IN MY HEART AFTER HEARING OF THE PASSING OF SOMEONE I DEARLY LOVE, AND I BET YOU HAVE FELT THAT, TOO. I THINK GRIEF FEELS A LOT LIKE THE FRIDAY AND SATURDAY BEFORE THE FIRST EASTER SUNDAY. AS JESUS WAS BEING HUNG ON THE CROSS, SURELY HIS MOTHER, MARY, ALONG WITH HIS DISCIPLES, AND COUNTLESS OTHER FOLLOWERS HAD ACHING HEARTS AND WANTED TO LOSE ALL HOPE IN THEIR FUTURE. BUT THEN SUNDAY CAME! I AM LEARNING THAT THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE IN THOSE WHO GRIEVE WITH HOPE AND THOSE WHO GRIEVE WITHOUT IT. THE READ FAMILY CHOSE THE POWERFUL ANTHEM, LIFT UP THE CROSS, TO WALK OUT OF THEIR CHURCH TO. THIS SONG ILLUSTRATES HOW THEY WERE GRIEVING THE LOSS OF THEIR BELOVED SON, BROTHER, NEPHEW, AND GRANDSON  THIS IS RELATED TO A PERSONAL FAITH JOURNEY.

It is both ultimately and intimately between each created human and God.

Where are you and I in our journey today?

How is there inward, outward and

upward evidence of faith in our lives?

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Celebrating an anniversary with my parents. It makes my heart so happy and at peace knowing they are together today.

Despite the fact that I had been a Christian for many years before the accident, since then, God has become a living reality to me as never before. My confidence in God is somehow quieter but stronger. I feel little pressure to impress God or prove myself to him; yet I want to serve him with all my heart and strength. My life is full of bounty, even as I continue to feel the pain of loss. Grace is transforming me, and it is wonderful. I have slowly learned where God belongs and have allowed him to assume that place—at the center of life rather than at the periphery.” 

Gerald L. Sittser, author of A Grace Disguised

IMG_2328In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and Christian philosopher, Pascal had poor health especially after his 18th year and his death came just two months after his 39th birthday.

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Choose To Not Be Blue: Part Two

I have been pondering a great and devastating mystery this morning. The mystery of the unanticipated passing of a loved one. One thing I know for certain is that the abrupt and unexpected death of someone we love is earth-shattering. The event will make you numb and send you reeling into shock when it happens.

Woman mountain HikerI also know that there is a difference as wide as The Grand Canyon, between those who grieve with faith and hope and those who do not. We saw this illustrated within the walls of a Virginia home this past week. On Wednesday, my husband and I traveled over 600 miles round trip to the quaint, historical town of Abingdon to sit with best friends we have been close to for 38 years. Their son passed away on Saturday, March 7, 2015. Our hearts are aching and we are trusting that we can somehow be an encouragement in the days, weeks, and months ahead as we walk this unfamiliar path with them. When I planned my last post entitled, Choose Not To Be Blue, and now this Part Two post, the sudden death of this much-loved young man, Taylor Heston Read, had not yet happened. This post is not about our best friends’ son leaving us so suddenly—that subject is far too raw and heartbreaking just now. Our constant prayers for comfort lie with the bereaved, Paul, Kelly, Megan, five grandparents, and the countless others who knew and loved this kind and gentle soul. Thank you for joining us in this prayer. Rest In Peace, Taylor, and we will see you again.

Rather, I will share a story that is dear to my heart which in my view, demonstrates so well the important life lesson my Mama stressed to us as we were growing up: When you are feeling down and out, help someone.

The date was August 5, 2005, when my dear friend Jil drowned in an Alabama lake while her family was with her. They were delighting in the final hazy, lazy days of summer when she slipped away. Jil was 40 years old. Jil Cain was one of those humans who inspired others to laugh and love. Jil is still remembered and missed by multitudes of people, even nearly 10 years following her passing. Jil left a memorable legacy behind for her family and friends. A life-changing book was shared with me just after Jil’s passing: A Grace Disguised.

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Joan and Jil take a break during the Avon 3-Day 60 Mile Walk in support of Breast Cancer Research, October 2000, Atlanta, Georgia.

My memory bank holds many, many sweet images of Jil, one of which was our participation, along with my girlfriend Kathy, in an Avon 3-Day 60 mile Breast Cancer Walk together in 2000. With the help of my friend, Jules Furr, I was able to raise over $6,000.00 and I walked in memory of my teaching friend, Debbie Ledford who had died in late 1999 of cancer. Leah and Walker even held a dog-wash to raise funds.  : )  Throughout this weekend in 2000, Jil, Kathy and I were surrounded by survivors at every turn. The 60 mile journey was an incredibly inspiring experience. A stirring of the soul.

An experience that changed our lives forever.

Later in the month, soon after Jil had died, I was driving aimlessly down the road. Our children were at Wednesday night youth group, my husband was working, and I was falling into the depths of despondency as I grieved the loss of my 40-year-old girlfriend.

Suddenly, I remembered this important lesson that my mother had always told me. Mama had often modeled this lesson as well. Tragically, Hurricane Katrina and the broken levies had just flooded New Orléans. In the nearby Boots Ward Recreational Center, there was a Red Cross shelter, a safe haven for some of the Katrina evacuees. I drove straight to this center and found out that there was a volunteer position available for the following Monday, 6-10 a.m. I signed up and felt the sadness start to ease.

The following morning, I arrived at my appointed time, unaware that someone was about to be placed in my path who would change my life. I soon met Sarah L. Johnson, a Katrina evacuee who had resided in New Orléans her entire life. Sarah was 85 years old, had never married, and had no children. Funny, she said she had always wanted to visit Atlanta, but didn’t realize she would come like this. The story of how she got here is a story in and of itself. After the initial evacuation, though there was a power outage, Sarah and her fellow residents were returned to their apartments. When she heard banging on her door, she glanced out the window only to see water rushing into the streets and rising rapidly. We now know that the levies had broken down, but at that time, the residents had no idea what the rushing water was from. They were hurried to the roof of the building where they stayed overnight until a helicopter could pluck each one of them off the roof. When boarding the helicopter, in all the confusion, this 85-year-old woman lost her walker, her glasses, her shoes, and worst of all Sarah was separated from a friend who was holding all of her IDs for her.

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My new friend, Sarah, at the Red Cross shelter.
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My friend, Vicki, who also helped Sarah Johnson during her unexpected, unplanned trip to Georgia in 2005.

Sometimes our greatest disappointments are God’s appointments to be a blessing in someone else’s life.  A friendship soon developed with Sarah which would change my life for evermore.

When I first met Sarah, she was just waking up in the Red Cross Shelter. I helped Sarah with her laundry, got her breakfast. She talked with me about her strong faith in God and how surely God had a plan for her even in this crazy situation. Feeling more encouraged, at the end of my shift, I gave her a hug, thinking I’d never see her again this side of heaven.

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Cathy and Sara with Sarah Johnson, who joined us for our weekly Bible Study in my friend Sara’s home.

A few days later, I received a phone call from my friend, Vicki, who had worked at the same shelter, telling me that Sarah needed to see a cardiologist and could I help her to get in to see someone. I had the privilege of taking her to a doctor the very next day. Her heart was just fine and this was the beginning of a sweet friendship, one that I will forever cherish. After four weeks at the shelter, Sarah moved to a wonderful nearby assisted living facility where even though she was the only African American woman there, she was embraced by the other residents. She worshipped with us at our church and even gathered at my sister’s home for a huge family lunch! She shared her heart with me and told me why PSALM 27 was her mainstay scripture. Mama and I took her to the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta and she told Mama and me all about her personal and vivid memories of the Civil Rights Movement.

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Our daughter, Leah, with Sarah in Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle Jim’s home as we gathered after church for a Sunday lunch.

Later, Sarah was happily returned to New Orléans to her same first floor apartment. I believe that our God gave me this opportunity to serve and help Sarah during a time when my heart was broken over the loss of my precious friend Jil.

So if you are feeling down and going through a great disappointment today, look up and all around. Watch for the appointment that may be waiting around the corner for you to be an uplifting messenger to someone today.

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Sarah L. Johnson sings “How Great Thou Art” at Wellington Place Retirement Home before returning to New Orléans.

Jeremy Camp’s song: No More Tears brings tremendous comfort…

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My beautiful and loving friend, Kelly Marie Heald Read, gives me an encouraging hug on March 29, 2014, my day to be a Mother of the Bride. We’ve been holding each other up, leaning on each other in faith since 1976.

Choose To Not Be Blue Part One

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My big brother, John Wade meets some new friends in Sona Bota, Central Africa, 1951.

The day was sometime in March 1950 when the small family of three, including a seven-month-old son, were dropped off at the port in New York City and boarded a big ship to set sail for Western Europe, Belgium, leaving all that was familiar to them back in rural Kentucky. Language and other mission work training would be a part of the next year after their lengthy trip across the globe. Following training, they would continue their long, arduous journey south,  with Mama now expecting child number two, Mary Ann, as they started their medical missionary assignment in the heart of Africa. They would live there for nearly four years and have one more child, Amelia Kathryn, while serving the people in the Congo. I have often wondered what it would have felt like for their parents, their siblings, and friends to send them off so far away for such an extended amount of time. They were young, my Daddy, age 30, Mama, age 23, and my big brother, John Wade, barely walking by the time they began to plant their roots in the bush country. Though I know they were thankful for their dedication and decision to serve, I am quite certain there were days when their family back home, missing them, were blue about these circumstances. My sister Mary Ann and her family can relate to this as my niece, Amy lived for years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as a medical missionary from January 2003-January 2006.

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Mary Ann and Amy serve together in Rio de Janeiro 2005. Amy is now married to Stephen and they are parents to eight month old Noah Ray.

One of the most crucial life lessons my Mama taught me is simple: If you find yourself feeling sad, blue, or even a little depressed, help someone out. Even a smile can turn someone’s day around. You can make a difference in another soul’s day.

You can choose to not be blue.

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Melissa and Lauren at a going away gathering.

My friend, Melissa, and her family, had to make this intentional choice very recently when she helped her daughter, Lauren prepare for a mission assignment in South East Asia. Lauren and eight other young adults will be sharing The Gospel while serving in Thailand. The team, who will be working under the direction of Launch Global, arrived there just a few days ago to begin their work. Join me in praying for them. Their team members include: Lauren & Brady, Beth, Enoch, Lauren, Warren, Steven, Jenn, and Kimberly.

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This Freedom Bag was packed with LOVE by my friends, Melissa, Rachel, and Debbie. The reason for doing this was to help a young and hurting woman, but the outcome was two-fold: it also encouraged and brought JOY to the packers!

As nearly three dozen women came together in our home this past Thursday night to bring their Freedom Bags, Melissa shared with me how much this process of shopping and filling this bag had encouraged her as she had been reflecting on how far away her daughter is now living. Lovingly selecting a new shirt and pants, comb/brush, a soft throw, chapstick, socks, a journal, etc. and knowing these items would go directly into the hands of a young and violated woman brought Melissa joy beyond measure. Melissa made an intentional choice to get up, show up, and do something for another person and the result was exactly what my Mama taught me it would be: Melissa felt better and more accepting of her family’s current circumstances.

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Over 55 bags were packed and are ready to place directly into the hands of young women who have been imprisoned by the crime of human sex trafficking.

What will you do for someone else the next time you find yourself feeling blue?

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First cousins, Walker, Amy, Leah, and Ricky enjoy some sightseeing during a mission trip to Rio in 2005.
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Donny checks on a boy in the medical clinic, Rio de Janeiro, 2005.
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Leah and Walker serve with their cousin, Amy, a medical missionary to Rio 2003-2006.
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Worship Service in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, June 25, 2005.
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I loved hanging out with some of the little children in Rio, 2005.
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Leah visits with a Brazilian family and their puppy,along with team member, Brent, Summer 2005.
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Walker works as part of the Eye Clinic Team in Rio, Summer 2005.
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A few of the precious people we served during our week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 24-July 3, 2005.
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Our family at the famous Christ Statue in Rio

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”  Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Eight Ways To Share With Others

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My sisters and I love to share when we are together! Here is a Kentucky hanky that Mary Ann gave to Laura (’cause Laura Lea is the only sis born in KY!) and a picture of Kathy’s newest granddaughter, Noelle Victoria Findlan, born in September 2014.

In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
Khalil Gibran

Sharing just makes a person feel good. Robert Fulghum even included SHARE EVERYTHING as his number one thing to learn in life in his famous writing: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

My Mama taught me early, as the fifth child of a total of six, that sharing was a way to practice unselfishness. Mama showed us that when we share, we in turn, get an extra bonus and blessing in our days. I have found this to be so true as I have journeyed through my life.

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Mary Ann and Laura Lea decide on some items that are ready to pass on.
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Kathy and Mary Ann share some things they no longer wear.

(1) This past week, my three sisters and I met at our usual place, Cracker Barrel for our Sister Session. We try to make this happen every 2-3 months. When I am with my sisters, more than any other time, I feel like Mama is right beside us. It’s an opportunity to remember, to share our hearts and photos, update our family calendars, and laugh ’til we cry. We always share things with each other that we can no longer use…shoes, jewelry, clothing items, books and more. It is such a nice way to pass on things we love that we have no need for anymore, knowing that one of our sisters is going to get some use out of them. What’s in your closet that you still love, but just don’t use or wear anymore? Share them with a sister, daughter, niece, or a friend.

(2) Keep a “GIVE AWAY” box in your garage or basement and fill it throughout the week.

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Once it is full, deliver it to Must Ministries, Goodwill, or some other charitable organization and then start filling it again.

(3) Be on the lookout for ways to give back. Currently a lot of my girlfriends are joining me in the battle against human sex trafficking by preparing Freedom Bags for girls who will be rescued in 2015 in the Atlanta area.

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A Freedom Bag pulled together by our life-long friend, Karen.

To learn more, go to my earlier post entitled “What Is A Freedom Bag?”. Our friends, The Arntzens were recently touched by orphans in Cambodia and founded a ministry to aid them. Go to Saving Susan to learn more. There are so many needs in our world today. What mission is your heart being called to share a part of yourself with?

(4) Use your creativity to share with others. Our gifted sister-in-law, Jeanie, does this very well and this picture demonstrates just one example of how she shares in this way. IMG_1908 IMG_1911Before our Sister Session, Jeanie mailed a homemade bag for each one of us, complete with the African continent sewn on. Since our parents were missionaries in Belgian Congo in the 1950’s , this gift was extra special.

(5) Recently, we had a party and we asked our friends to bring non-perishable foods for our local homeless shelter’s pantry. Here is how much we were able to gather in just one night!

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(6) Share your story with trustworthy friends and family. This past weekend, we were with our two children and their new spouses. My husband and I took some time to share life experiences from our young adult years, our early days of marriage, and our parenting season, including mistakes that we had made along the way. Our Pastor Ike calls this a ‘courageous conversation’. Transparency and authenticity allows individuals in any relationship the chance to be true to themselves without the fear of judgment or criticism.

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Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” 

Brene Brown, Author/Founder of The Daring Way

(7) Share Birthdays! They are Parties in our Souls! A birthday is a perfect chance to honor a person in our lives, not for what they do, but for who they are and for what they mean to us. An opportunity to say to them:

“Thank you for being born and being among us!”

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Rita presents our dear friend, Jack with a cake for his special day.
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Our son, Walker blows out his candles and makes a wish on his day!

(8) With each new day, share a smile with at least one fellow human you meet who shows up in your path. Sure, you may not receive a smile in return, but you will know you have made your attempt to bring joy to someone else’s day.

In what ways will you and I

share in the days ahead?

What Is A Freedom Bag?

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Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go.

Mother Teresa

As a mother, I cannot quit thinking about the issue of human sex trafficking and I know, I just know, that there is something we can do to have a direct impact on this horrific issue. That is just how I roll these days. Each one, reach one, one day at a time. Learn, then listen for ways one can make a difference.Tea by the lake

After attending the Justice Conference in Atlanta on January 31, 2015, I decided one way we could positively encourage and help some victims of this crime is to put together Freedom Bags that are being collected by Operation Liberate. This is a huge undertaking, but my Mama taught me to dream big, so I am asking for as many of you as possible to come on board to join me in this huge project. more about Operation Liberate: “Doing What Is Required”, click here.

Since it may cost an estimated $150.00 to buy the bag and all O.L. is expecting to have included in each bag, this could be a great joint project between 2-4 girlfriends, mothers & daughters, a small group Bible Study, a Book Club, a Tennis Team, the ideas of ways to achieve this goal are limitless!!!!

Operation Liberate helps rescue women and girls with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They want to be able to bless each of these precious ones with a unique bag created with love and prayers to encourage these victims on their first step to recovery. Because of an upcoming large-scale rescue, Operation Liberate is trying to collect as many Freedom Bags as possible by March 15th.

If you are “IN,” please let me know, so that I can count you as a “YES.” Do not hesitate to contact me with your questions.

We are on a tight schedule as these bags need to be pulled together between now and my goal date of Thursday, March 5th.

The deadline for Operation Liberate is March 15th.

PLEASE SEE BELOW THE INFORMATION THAT WAS SENT OUT BY OPERATION LIBERATE:

“Thank you for your interest in helping Operation Liberate serve the many women and girls that the Lord is going to free in 2015!”  To give each girl a special, one-of-a-kind Freedom Bag, please only fill your bag with NEW, unused items. If you are unable to pack an entire back yourself, consider partnering with your small group or church.

As you assemble your bag, please pray over the girl who will receive it – she’ll be so encouraged to know that she was prayed for. If you have questions or would like to get others involved, email Rachel at operationliberate7@gmail.com. Thank you for sharing Jesus’ love with these precious ones!

Instructions for Packing a Freedom Bag – PLEASE READ CAREFULLY

Please select a NEW feminine tote, duffel bag, or backpack that is sturdy and roomy enough to serve as an overnight/weekend bag. Heavier items should go in the bottom. Clothing and blankets should be neatly folded. For smaller bags, clothing and blankets may fit better rolled. Toiletries that might leak should be packed in Ziploc bags. Utilize any pockets for smaller items, like lip balm or travel-size deodorant. Pack anything breakable, like sunglasses, last.

Print the following information on an index card and pin to the outside of the bag:

Woman (17+), teen (13-17), or child (under 13) & clothing size (XS, S, M, L, not numeric sizes)

If you’d like, sign the card “Hand-packed with love by [your first name]” or “With love from [church or ministry]”

Once your bag is assembled, please contact Rachel at operationliberate7@gmail.com to arrange a time for it to be dropped at Midtown Church BY MARCH 15th.

Fill your bag with the following NEW items

Toiletries:

Remember this is a gift intended to show the love of Christ, so treat it like you would a care package for your own child or best friend in their first semester away at college. PLEASE ONLY PACK FULL-SIZE TOILETRIES to guarantee that each survivor receives similar items.

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, & floss
  • Shampoo & conditioner
  • Gentle face wash
  • Body wash
  • Deodorant
  • Chapstick
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hair brush or comb
  • Feminine pads & tampons
  • Travel pack of Kleenex
  • Hard candy or gum

Clothing:

Please ensure that all items in your bag are the same size (small, size 2/4, etc. While we need mostly xs, s and medium, there is also a need for Large.)

  • Sweatpants
  • Sweatshirt or thermal tee
  • 1-2 pairs of socks
  • 1 pack of panties

Special touches:

PLEASE PLACE YOUR NOTE IN AN OUTSIDE POCKET OF THE BAG, as each note must be reviewed before being given to a survivor.

Every bag will include the Life Recovery Bible, which we believe is the most important element of the Freedom Bag. If you would like to cover the cost of the Bible for your bag, PLEASE INCLUDE A CHECK FOR $10 MADE OUT TO MIDTOWN CHURCH. YOUR CHECK SHOULD BE PLACED IN THE SAME POCKET AS YOUR NOTE.

  • Handwritten letter or prayer
  • Journal
  • Pens

Fun items:

Please include three or more of the following so each girl feels special and loved:

  • Nail polish
  • Lip gloss
  • Cross necklace
  • Small stuffed animal
  • Lightweight scarf
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair ties, clips, etc.
  • Colored pencils & sketchbook
  • Coloring book & crayons (can be great therapy even for adult women)
  • Slippers
  • Small, soft blanket or throw
  • Travel-size pillow
Click this link for a printable list for Freedom Bag Instructions.
If you have made it to the end of this long list of needs, I hope that means you have decided to make a difference in just one young hurting woman’s life.
Contact me today, and remember, this can be accomplished with a group if just one person will step up agreeing to be in charge of each bag, delegating needs to the rest of the group.
I can meet you anywhere in Metro Atlanta to pick up your Freedom Bag.

 Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”Starfish on the beach

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said,

“It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

We’ve Got Your Back A 40-Year Friendship

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Our first gathering following The Brown Wedding in 1978, Tullahoma, Tennessee.
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Kay Green marries Joe Brown on December 9, 1978

Some women pray for their daughters to marry good husbands. I pray that my girls will find girlfriends half as loyal and true as the Ya-Yas.
― Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

It all began in the mid-late 1970’s when 9 girls, Becky, Kay, Susan, Delores, Leslie, JoAnn, Debby, Kelly and Joan moved themselves and their belongings to Cookeville, Tennessee to attend Tennessee Tech University. Each girl was far from home and began a search for friends who could make the years spent at Tech more fun, rewarding and meaningful. All 9 girls chose to join Alpha Delta Pi Sorority and that was the beginning of what would become life-long friendships. They certainly did not realize at the time that their common beliefs and love for one another would continue to bring them together in celebration of their friendships for decades to come.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (Life Application Bible)

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Taylor’s baptismal shell, a note from Meg’s confirmation class, and a bar of soap with the verse: Philippians 4:13 etched on it. These items were found in the rubbish, surviving the house fire.
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Though this is a new storage box, all of the silver utensils that were wedding gifts back in 1982 came through the fire, along with pieces of fabric found folded together and made into a small (new) baby quilt.

On January 4, 2014, we 9 were together for our annual weekend sleepover when our friend, Kelly received a call from her husband telling her that their home in Abingdon, Virginia was burning to the ground. It was too late to make the 3 hour drive to Virginia, so we hunkered down with our dear friend and held onto each other. This scene, 9 of us in PJs, was symbolic of what our friendships had come to mean to each of us in the past 36 years. Much of our time spent together would be doing the usual things that girls do: share recipes, talk about everything under the sun, eat and then eat some more, showing family/travel pictures. But that night, it became more apparent to me than ever before how unique this group of girlfriends is. Everyone in this circle relies on their faith daily and we have come to depend on each other’s prayer support, too, as we have listed out specific requests year after year.  We’ve been through marriages, births, and deaths side-by-side, and we’ve always had each other’s back.

The next day, we drove Kelly to her hometown to join her husband and to survey the damage. From what we saw, we assumed all was lost, and mostly everything was lost. However, with the help of many friends, family members, and neighbors, a few things were recovered.

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Kelly and Paul’s home on Valley Street

Though their sweet dog, Belle perished in the house fire, all other LIFE was spared. There was much to be thankful for, even amidst such tragic circumstances. In the past year, Kelly and Paul have been a picture of grit and tenacity as they have moved forward and renovated an Abingdon, Virginia home that was built in the 1930’s. This past weekend, their home was the spot for our 37th reunion and as usual, we had a wondrous time together! The location of their new home has allowed them to enjoy this beautiful and historical community more than ever before. They are just a few steps from The Barter Theatre and a couple of blocks from The Virginia Creeper Trail, Whitetop Yoga, and the weekly Farmer’s Market!

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Dalton, Georgia gathering in 1985
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The Virginia Creeper Trail
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The Virginia Creeper Trail
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Abingdon, Virginia gathering in 2015
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after a yoga class at Whitetop Yoga in Abingdon, Virginia, January 2015

“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”
― Maya Angelou

These strong friendships have seen us through countless life experiences: job losses, deaths of parents, births/marriages of our children, and currently, the births of grandchildren. We often agree as we sing our ADPi prayer:

“Hear us sing in one accord,

Praises for thy gifts, O Lord, For thy gifts of daily bread,

For thy paths in which we’re led, From thy throne of Love on High,

List to Alpha Delta Pi, AMEN”,  

 the unity that the 9 of us share has made our lives so very rich!

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Kay and Joan in our matching pjs
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a quilt given to Kelly and Paul following their house fire

SPEAK LIFE Restore A Soul

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 It is always darkest just before the day dawneth.”

– Thomas Fuller-

It happened on a Sunday evening every three months, our Mama would pile us in the car with yummy lime sherbet punch and homemade cakes to head to the nearby Veterans Administration Hospital on Clairmont Road to serve the veterans who were staying there. Mom’s lady friends would bake the cakes and take them to the church nursery on Sunday morning. All of us kids were in charge of moving the cakes from the nursery to our vehicles, safely. As far as I know, I never dropped a single one. I still remember how the sick and injured men felt accepted, loved and embraced by our little ministry four times a year.

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The poster for our podium to go with our theme for the evening: GROW

SPEAK LIFE is a song I keep hearing on my XM station and I just don’t feel like this is a coincidence. This past Saturday night, a group of girlfriends with giving hearts gathered for a Restoration Celebration to honor a group of women who are recovering from addiction and difficult circumstances. The ladies were treated to a delicious and hearty buffet of food prepared by these girlfriends. They were also given a gift bag filled with useful things such as lotion, chapstick, an artist notecard, and a handmade pair of beautiful earrings designed by Trapp Tischner. An artist, Holly Irwin, who has shown her work for the past three years at dk Gallery, in Marietta, Georgia, told her story of adversity to the ladies. Holly’s Artist Statement, which she read to us, was especially meaningful to all who were there:

Painting the figure is personal because understanding the figure means understanding myself. It’s a journey that goes on. There is a girl within. She is me. She is a friend. She might even be you or someone you know. She could be any age but she will always be young. She feels that life can be simple and uncomplicated. She’s perfect just the way she is. Her soul lives in my work. Her life breathes in my paintings. It seems that I am always searching for her, searching for ways to paint her feelings and emotions. I always come back to her. This is why I paint the figure.

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COUNTRY SUMMER~Holly Irwin

I like to use texture just like our lives are layered and textured. I apply modeling paste, gel mediums, oil paint and acrylics with brushes, knives and rags to achieve depth and complexity. The finished effect of my mixed media paintings is an aged quality, like a fresco.

My work has been described as soulful and evocative. To me, they’re simply compositions from the heart.

Like the men in the VA Hospital back in the 1970’s, these ladies we spoke love to felt accepted, loved and embraced.

It seems that so many people feel invisible these days and a small deed done in love could be the very thing that turns their day around.

How can you and I speak life to someone in your path today?

 Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo BuscalgiaIMG_0256

From Broken To Beautiful

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Directives for 2015 and beyond…shared on “Uncommon: Media/News/Publishing” Facebook Page

It is New Year’s Day and I hope this day finds you with folks who are special to you, great television reception for some back-to-back football bowl contests, with delicious snacks and yummy homemade soup in front of a blazing fire. Following a mountain hike with dear friends, that is where I plan to spend most of my day today!

Make New Year’s goals. Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part. It is an affirmation that you’re interested in fully living life in the year to come.

                      –Melody Beattie

I’m sharing some thoughts and facts with you today regarding a difficult but important topic: sex trafficking in America. A friend recommended that I read Susan Norris’ short novel, Rescuing Hope, to prepare myself before diving into this discussion. While the book did break my heart, it’s also helping me to see that this is an issue that must be examined by all who have a beating heart. While I wish I could’ve chosen a bit of a lighter read over the recent holiday season, I’m glad I read this book and became more enlightened about the truth regarding sex trafficking in America as well as other parts of our world in 2014-2015.

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I am learning that not only do I want to “show up” for things in life, but I want to show up with an open heart and an open mind to receive all that might be wherever I am.

Be the CHANGE YOU want to see in the world.”

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to celebrate our friends Malorie and Gavin’s upcoming baby boy due in January 2015. Just like you would imagine, we shared wonderful food and lots of oohs and ahhs as the tiny baby toys and clothes were viewed. While we were there, a short, but inspiring story was shared by Malorie’s aunt, Joanne, about the necklace she was wearing…And this story really got me thinking about a serious, often overlooked demon in many U. S. communities and beyond:  the sex trafficking of young girls. Years ago, after her parents returned from a mission trip to India, Joanne’s granddaughter, Maya, at the young age of nine years old, was moved to make a plan to raise funds to go toward putting a stop to sex trafficking in India where her parents had served. Since 2008, Maya, with the help of her family, has managed to raise over $5,000.00 to go toward stopping this horrendous violence. Broken pieces of glass found on the beaches of Lake Erie are lovingly transformed into pendants, earrings, jewelry, and art.

A work of art from the heart of Maya, From Broken to Beautiful.
A work of art from the heart of Maya, From Broken to Beautiful.

GLASS that was once discarded has now been recovered and made beautiful just as the rescued girls, some younger than Maya, have been emancipated and redeemed through love. In addition, Maya designs and sells notecards to aid these girls.

One hundred percent of the funds raised goes toward stopping this crime in its tracks. Maya’s website is Freedom-Glass and the theme of Maya’s creation is From Broken to Beautiful, and for a small amount of $10.00, you can support her amazing efforts. WE can learn a lot and teach our children so much from this small story about a young girl who resides in the state of OHIO. Well done, Maya!

While I realize that this subject is not a happy one, I also believe that we cannot continue to ignore the truth that it is a reality in many, many young ladies’ life journey, even in our beloved city of Atlanta, Georgia. Out of Darkness in Atlanta is the anti-trafficking ministry of Atlanta Dream Center. Their mission is to reach, rescue, and restore all victims of commercial sexual exploitation so that these girls are made safe and the glory of God may be known.

The FBI reports that the average age that a girl is first recruited into prostitution or sex trafficking is 11-14. Her life expectancy from that point becomes seven years due to the risk of overdose, STDs, suicide, and homicide.

In case you find this hard to believe, read here a story (in Canada) and another story (in Southern California) of recent arrests for human sex trafficking. In addition, here is more information from the FBI dated 6/23/14.

There will be an opportunity for all of us who live in the greater Atlanta area to learn more current and accurate facts about this issue that is thriving in our communities. The Atlanta Justice Conference: DO Something*DO Justice will be held on January 31, 2015. Many will gather at Perimeter Church in Johns Creek, Georgia from 8:30-2:30 p.m. to confront the exploitation of the vulnerable in our midst. Keynote Speaker, Vernon Keenan, Director of the GBI, will open many minds to the realities of this issue in Atlanta and the goal is to help community members find a place in the battle against human sex trafficking. For more information, contact Perimeter Church.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has NO limit. The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.” Psalms 147:3-6

As we organize our calendars for 2015 and begin this new year, let’s consider what charity we might want to give some service or attention to. Whether it is volunteering to change the problem of human trafficking, giving cash to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, reading to children at a nearby grade school, keeping/filling a GIVE AWAY box (stored in your garage and donating regularly to Must Ministries or Goodwill) or delivering Meals on Wheels, we can make a difference wherever we are. Although I have never been one for New Year’s Resolutions, I do like the list of directives at the top of this post. Check out # 2 here on this list regarding finding the best volunteer opportunity that fits your passions.

READY or NOT, 2015 has arrived.

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