The Currency of Zero


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“Did anything surprise you?” my husband asked.

“Not really,” I answered a little too quickly. “I know myself pretty well. I could have told you where I’d end up without answering all those questions.”

Pause. My husband wisely waits me out sometimes.

“Well, I guess one thing surprised me. For the past 21 years, I’ve been immersed in the area of my absolute weakness. Do you know I scored a zero – A ZERO! – in the Motivator category?”

“It’s what I do every day. Every single day. Motivate. Encourage. Find hope. Seek good.

“A zero. Not one single point. And this, this is where God chose to place me for the past 21 years? No wonder I’m exhausted!

For the past two decades, God has been chiseling away at my stubborn independence, sanding off my “I don’t really like other people” edges, teaching me to make eye contact when I’d rather just walk on by, encouraging me to step outside myself where I can be very content, and placing me in a household of ever increasing population.

And I’m not a people person. At all. I struggle with small talk. It actually makes me sweat. I can carry on a four-hour conversation about something that touches me deeply, but put me in a room where I need to converse casually and there is suddenly not a thought in my head. Not one. It’s embarrassing, my inability to chitchat, something I’ve struggled with all my life.

Enter five kids. And homeschooling. Add one mom who adores the quiet, the still, time alone to read, write and think in full sentences, and you get a glimpse of my life for the past two decades.

Deep and rich and good. Full and busy and peopled, spilling over with jackets and shoes and phones, laughter and tears and a crescendo of words, sometimes late, always worth it.

Yet for one who relishes time and space, solitude and quiet, who longs to retreat inside her own head, who all too often still has to remind herself to make eye contact with passers-by, to engage with the world at her doorstep, I’ve been stretched and chiseled and pruned by the Hand of God every single day of these past twenty-one years.

And isn’t that just like God?

To gather up the shards of our selfishness and pride and inconvenience? To choose, even when it stings, to winnow and sift?

To wrap His hands around our brokenness, our willfulness, our stubbornness and apply just the right amount of pressure to soften and mold?

To allow us the proper time to cure before sanding and glazing and firing?

To redeem the days, the shards, the years? Weaving the threads of His love into our hearts that we may one day be vessels fit for the King?

Brimful, spilling over, pouring out? To no credit of our own? But all to the glory of God?

Yup. That’s His Kingdom. Upside down and inside out.

Where the currency of zero is always precious tender.

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From A Spring-Fed Well


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Agape,
to love without borders,

unconditionally,
expecting nothing in return.

To love without prompt
from a spring-fed well,

regardless, in spite of,
right through the messy midst of,

saying with the heart,
“There is nothing you can do

to make me love you more,
and nothing you can do

to make me love you less.”
Agape,

looking past imperfections
to hope,

who we were created to be,
who we can become in Christ.

To love
all-in, full-out,

without exception or condition
or end,

boundless, infinite,
beyond all human comprehension.

Possible only
with God, through God,

in God,
because He first loved us.

We love only
because He is

Love.

Whatever love we have,
whatever love we give –

however imperfect or skewed,
or misrepresented,

however conditional or grudging,
is His love

flowing through these broken vessels
damaged in the Fall,

beautifully
redeemed by grace,

forgiven, restored,
purposed

to fulfill His unfathomable plan
for all Creation.

Simply…
To love like Jesus.

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A Motto and an Opportunity


MelanomaMotto
Click here for your free printable of the photo above.

Tonight I’m going to share something a little different — a t-shirt. Not just any t-shirt, but a battle cry, chosen by my Dad as his goal, his motto, his encouragement through twelve treatment cycles — fourteen days on, fourteen days off for a total of 168 days of treatment — for systemic melanoma in 2014.

Encouraged to write a goal, a reason, to persevere through a full year of Leukine therapy, my Dad spent a few weeks praying, and we prayed with him. Then one day it suddenly became clear to him in three phrases, one on the way down the stairs, one of the way back up, and one rounding the corner into the kitchen.

As we celebrated my Dad’s birthday a few days later, he placed a slip of paper in front of me, face-down. On it, his goal, weaving together family, friends and faith.

Breathe Deeply, Go Forward, Keep the Faith!

Breathe Deeply (and experience the immensity of God) from my blog, Go Forward, my brother’s motto, and Keep the Faith, a favorite saying of my Dad’s friend, Jim.

I instantly fell in love with my Dad’s goal and knew others might too. Good words from a good man, standing strong.

So here’s where I offer something different, these words on a printable, downloadable image, a gift from my heart to yours, and the opportunity to stand with my Dad across this great, big, wide world, and wear these words on a t-shirt.

Screenshot 2014-03-19 20.57.08

T-shirts can be ordered here from Ink to the People, a secure and reputable site, for $17.

For your free gift, a printable version of the photo at the top of this page, click here.

Blessings, Friends, from my heart to yours.

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Savor the Hard Stuff


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I woke this morning to a message from a friend, “Savor the hard stuff.

Not words she’d wanted to send. But words God had laid on her heart, clearly, unmistakably. Three times in thirty minutes. And on faith, she sent them to me.

“I LOVE you!” I immediately typed back, because she’d sent exactly the words I’d needed to hear.

Twice in two weeks, the phone had rung in the middle of the night, and I’d risen, pulled on jeans and fleecy socks, zipped my jacket against winter’s chill, and stepped out into the night.

As I slowly backed out of the garage on the first trip, snowflakes glittered in the headlights and crunched beneath the tires, and I thanked God aloud for heated seats.

The roads were empty for miles. Still and beautiful in the fresh falling snow. A world at rest. For I was alone on these usually busy roads, just me and a lone county salter, idle on the overpass, orange lights flashing.

Into the still, Matt Redman’s voice swelled in worship,

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
O my soul,
Worship His holy name.
Sing like never before,
O my soul,
I’ll worship Your holy name.

You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger.
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind.
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing,
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find…”

And I sang along, quietly, for this felt, somehow, like holy ground.

But not trip two. That night, those miles, I felt no peace.

Open your hands, I heard God speak to my heart.

“No, Lord,” I whispered, defenses rising, battle lines drawn.

Open your hands, I heard again, tenderly.

Nineteen years ago, I’d sat in pool of autumn sunlight, rocking this unborn son, and released him back to God. Eyes closed, sun warm, hands open, heart aching, I released my son to his Heavenly Father, thanking Him for every day my son stayed safely tucked inside me, for every beat of his tiny heart, for every lengthening contraction, every moment his stress lessened, for this was my son, and whether or not I ever held him in my arms, he would always be my son. Samuel Christopher. Asked of God. Bearing His image. Gift and priceless treasure.

What if I’m doing this for him?

Really??? How can this be for him? Any of this? I don’t even know how to pray anymore. What to ask. How to help. What to say.

Long-term illness is hard. There are no easy answers. No quick fixes. My son, who’d called in the middle of the night, wants nothing more than to be a “normal college student.”

But he’s been sick for five years. Came down with what we thought was the stomach flu on his brother’s birthday and never got well. And this inability to “leave that part of himself behind” when he moved to college is one more reminder of the constancy of chronic illness.

It goes with him wherever he goes. He can’t just leave it behind.

Open your hands.

Tears spilled as I tried to breathe, evenly, slowly, to still my racing heart as I pulled onto campus, winding along the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan on this velvety cold night lit by an opalescent moon.

I love this campus, Lord. They’re so understanding. And kind. But this? This is hard. I long to wrap my arms around my son and hold him close. Protect him. Do something, anything, to make this better.

Heal him, Lord! Make him well! Oh, Father, please, I know you can!

But what if I’m doing this for him?

I shook my head and wiped my tears, breathing deep, forcing calm.

“I’m here,” I texted, waiting in the quiet. Minutes later my son walked through the door in his leather jacket, backpack slung over his shoulder, hamper of clothes in one arm, box of meds in the other, and slumped into the front seat.

Hey, Honey,” I said, laying my hand his shoulder.

We pulled away in silence, enveloped by the night, as the first notes of Tenth Avenue North’s I’m Worn rose from the radio.

I’m Tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

This,” he whispered in frustration, gesturing toward the radio, tears spilling from his eyes. And mine.

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

(Chorus)
My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes

(Chorus)
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn
Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn

Open your hands, I heard again. Open your hands. And lay your Isaac down.

“Oh…” I swallowed, a sob rising in my throat. “And savor the hard stuff?”

Yes. Savor the hard stuff. Enter the deep. For that is where treasure lies. Where dross is drained away and love roots deep, where self withers and trust grows, and we learn to abide.

Chiseled, sanded, pruned. Grafted to the Vine. Polished and refined.

The hard stuff. Where we learn to open our hands, open our hearts, and lay our Isaacs down.

I don’t know what the future holds. I only know that today we traveled back to campus to begin the medical withdrawal process for our son for this semester of college. Today the tears fell, in every meeting, as we spoke to our son’s friends, as we began to pack up his room, as we drove along the bluff.

And today the words came hard as I opened my hands. Opened my heart.

And laid my Isaac down.

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A Gift for You


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A few weeks ago, Amy Breitmannand Tammy Hendricksmeyer of Outside the City Gate approached me and asked if I’d be interested providing photography for their first e-book, Pieces of Faith, A Mosaic of Sojourners.

Yes! Of course! Absolutely!” was my immediate reply from the rolling hills of Elkton, Oregon, where I was attending a weeklong photography workshop.

And what an honor it’s been! Tammy and Amy are, bar none, the most encouraging women I have ever worked with. They’ve stretched me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me every step of the way.

Today, Outside the City Gate is releasing this “labor of love, a collaboration of voices…not us standing in our Sunday-best, but writers and artists gathering the truthful pieces of ourselves, our stories, and giving them away. We offer them with the sincere hope that you might recognize some of your own story in the collection.”

A collection including work from:

Diane Bailey
Amy Breitmann
Tammy Hendricksmeyer
David Rupert
Duane Scott
Nacole Simmons
Beth Stiff
Kelli Woodford

“So we reach out today, to give ourselves ~ the raw and truthful words set against a backdrop of photos.”

May these words and images bless, encourage and refresh you, drawing you in, connecting each of us across the miles, each an integral part of the whole, each an irreplaceable piece of the mosaic, life and breath of the Body of Christ on this earth together.

To learn more and download your free copy of this beautiful collaboration, click here:

An Offering: From Writers, Dreamers, and Artists.

Sunday blessings to you, Friends!

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Whispers of Eternity


Masterpiece

To tender love
is to spill Christ,

however distorted,
shadowed, refracted

in these shards of clay,
whispers of eternity

oozing through fissure,
chink and gap,

staining Adam’s dust
in infinite array.

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Intentionality


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It was a gray, February day in Oregon. Rain fell softly. Fog slid between the trees and the foothills, rounding, smoothing, like a watercolor painting. A day steeped in emotion. And a wide slice of courage.

Heart pounding, I’d rehearsed the question, wondering if I was overstepping professional or workshop etiquette, wondering if I could ask my husband to ask for me. And simultaneously feeling ridiculous.

Oh, my gosh! How hard can this be? He can always say, “No.”

We met in the lodge later that day at the end of a long dining room table. A fire crackled in the fieldstone fireplace, respite from the icy drizzle glazing the world outside, and the aroma of grilled pears and rack of lamb emanated from the kitchen.

Hesitantly, I opened my laptop, and Jeremy, a respected photographer and studio owner in Pennsylvania, looked through a dozen or so of my images – in silence — before asking, “Do you want the long answer or the short?”

“Either,” I replied, no longer sure I was ready for Jeremy’s answer, yet acutely aware that I’d asked for it.

And suddenly, I realized that what I was actually seeking was validation, affirmation of my work, my vision, my art.

Maybe of me.

I don’t remember Jeremy’s exact words, though I wish I did. They were thoughtful and constructive. He pointed out what I did well. Then asked a question: “Are you intentional about your images?”

“You mean do I choose what I shoot and how?”

“No, why do you choose your subjects?”

“I’m not really sure,” I answered, searching for words. “I guess I pick up my camera to gain perspective, see something different, the way light reflects or colors refract or raindrops gather sunlight.”

“The next step is to be intentional. Do you ever ask God what He wants you to see in an image?”

“No,” I said, surprised. “Not ever. Never once have ever I thought to ask God what He wants me to see in an image.”

But I’m asking now.

Asking as I follow the long, thin ribbons of a cross-country skier along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Asking as a playful breeze shakes the dark pines’ winter white coats into heaps on the forest floor. Asking as I gather shards of colored glass and watch shadows dance in candlelight.

Asking, because isn’t that the heart of life in Christ?

Bringing every thought captive?

Every facet? Every moment? Every heartbeat? Every breath into the fullness of Christ?

Intentionally? On purpose?

Because isn’t that where we find life spilled over, poured out, abundant, love without borders, grace upon grace upon grace, Amen?

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Uphold You


UpholdYou

Encouragement from the One who created you,
who knew you before the beginning of time,
and loves you beyond all human understanding,

the God who gave up His life for yours,
to redeem you and every hour the locusts have eaten,
who forgives you again and again and again, forever,

who pours out grace upon grace upon grace
every moment, every step, every breath,
waiting with arms wide open to welcome each beloved child home.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~ Isaiah 41:10

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Celebration of Color


CelebrationOfColor

God is the artist of our souls,
breathing life into His own,

each a broken melody,
together, a harmonic whole
.

Sunday Blessings, Friends!

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Love Poured Out


LovePouredOut

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February 27, 2014 · 10:17 am

Love Isn’t Poor


LoveIsntPoor

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February 26, 2014 · 8:15 am

Immeasurable Love


WideLongHighDeepLove

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February 24, 2014 · 7:13 am

No Greater Love


LoveDeeply

Some moments touch our hearts. Some leave us in awe. Some are sweet and tender and refreshing, some intense and raw, some painful, and some so beautiful they are forever etched into the fiber of our souls.

A few years ago, I experienced such a moment. We’d been hiking for hours in the Colorado Rockies, my husband and I and our five kids, and lunch was long overdue, so we’d stopped at a local restaurant eager to eat. I ran in and checked to be sure they could accommodate our son’s special diet. “No problem,” the manager had assured me.

Fifteen minutes later, we began to order, and our son’s choices dwindled to a plain hamburger patty on a plate. No bun, no fries, no veggies. Just a plain beef burger on a plate. I watched Sam’s face, knowing he was hungry and felt guilty I hadn’t brought more food on the trail, hadn’t had packed anything extra in the van.

It was our first vacation after Sam got sick, and while he almost never complains, I could tell by the resigned slump of his shoulders that this was hard. He was tired and hungry. After taking his order, the waitress looked toward our oldest son, who simply said, “I’ll have what my brother’s having.”

“A plain burger, no bun, no fries, no veggies?” she asked.

“Yes,” he nodded.

One by one, our three daughters ordered identical plates.

And my mama heart burst in my chest.

I couldn’t speak, I could only nod and order one more plain burger on a plate. No bun. No fries. No veggies. For there could be no greater love.

On this, the Lords’ Day, let us love one another deeply from the heart…

Because it matters. Every. Single. Time.

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Filed under 28 Days of Love, Photos and Quotes

Love Bravely


LoveBravelyLove Bravely” quote above by Kevin Adams

For almost seven years, I’ve been writing down the moments of my life — the good, the hard, the funny, the profound — moments when the veil thins and I glimpse the holy, breathe in the eternal, humbled and awed and incredibly blessed.

I’ve been writing for most of my life. It’s how I think, process, begin to understand what I feel and why.

But it was Dottie Schimpf, pastor’s wife and parish nurse, who invited me to write an article every month for the church newsletter, North Shore Church News, in November, 2007, who unknowingly opened the first door of this journey.

Months later this blog was born through the mad, angst-quenching, technical skills of Ross Mongin, after a late night brainstorming session with my cousin Susan, who’d quietly registered the domain name before I could change my mind.

And the second door opened.

Along the way, I’ve been encouraged by organizations such as Christian Writers, The High Calling, and Tweetspeak Poetry. I’ve written for We Used to Be You and Servant Sisters, and had an article published in The Congregationalist Magazine.

I’ve shared my photography with The High Calling and a number of beautiful online communities. And recently, I’ve joined Outside the City Gate to provide photography for their new e-book, and with Beth at Simply Beth to provide images every few weeks for her Sunday community.

God began unlocking the last door at For the Love, where I’d unintentionally hijacked a conversation, realized, and apologized, and Kelly tenderly said, “No. Don’t apologize. Your story’s inspiring. Thank you!

Inspiring? I thought. I’d have used almost any word but inspiring.

Later that day, Erin had looked across the table during a breakout session and said, “You love words.”

Yes! I thought. Yes! Yes, I do love words.

Oh…

For almost two years, the words had clogged in my throat, the emotion a little too close, a little too raw. So I’d spilled into image what I’d been unable to pour into words.

I’d come to For the Love in part because I’d longed for validation as an artist. Longed to know if my photography was just a “great hobby” or might one day be good enough to sell. Uncharacteristically, and with all the courage I could muster, I’d asked Jeremy, owner of Jeremy Hess Photographers if he would take a look at my work, just a few pieces, and give me his honest opinion. He did. I wish I remembered his words. They spoke life and surprised me. In a good way.

Yet while I don’t remember Jeremy’s exact words, I do remember that moment, the encouragement, his challenge to grow in intentionality, to “ask God what He wants you to see in this image,” to become as proficient with each of my lenses as I am with my macro.

There at a photography workshop in the rolling hills of Oregon, I remembered how much I love words. And something broke loose. Maybe the words weren’t gone. Maybe the photography was more than a hobby. Maybe they were two pieces of the very same puzzle.

Light began to glint from all edges of the door.

Then last night, my friend Pamela, who’s been encouraging me to write a book for years, suggesting options, possibilities, and opportunities said, “You need to write your story. It’s powerful. You have so much peace. Your life is hard. I can’t even imagine. And yet you are so filled with peace. Why do you think we all want to spend time with you? The harder your life is, the harder you lean into Jesus, and it’s beautiful.”

I sat across the well-worn, wooden table from my friend in tears.

And the door swung wide.

For nearly seven years, I’ve been writing moments. Stringing them together. Word by word by word.

The story of our lives.

A book.

A journey. Led by God. With light enough for each new step.

Moment by moment by moment. Word by word by word.

Life through a macro lens.

This morning, my husband, who believes in me far more than I have ever believed in myself wrote, “I wanted to ask for your prayers and encouragement for Cindee as she sets out on a new adventure. Because of the encouragement from a few [at For the Love] like Kelly and Erin about her gift with “words,” and the encouragement of a friend back here at home, Cindee has decided to finally — I’ve been trying for quite some time, but unsuccessfully, to get her to — write a book…AMEN! Thank you to each one of you who shared your hearts, encouraged my beautiful wife, and gave her that extra bit of hope and love that she needed, and God so perfectly set in place.”

So…I’m writing a book.

Opening my heart and sharing the story of our lives. Weaving together the moments already written. Fleshing them out. Inviting you in. Living these next months intentionally, through all the lenses in my bag, and loving bravely!

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Filed under 28 Days of Love, Photos and Quotes

Truest Wisdom


LovingHeartTruestWisdom

When I’d first heard of the event, I knew I wanted to go. Maybe needed to go. Just because I knew a little bit of the artist’s story, enough to believe her life might speak to mine.

So I put a ticket on my birthday list.

Just one.

I wasn’t going to ask any of my friends if they were going. I just wanted to slip quietly into the back and let the evening happen.

Then I thought of my friend. We’d attended this event together every year since her husband died. Even that first year, just weeks after his death, tear-stained, arms wrapped around each other, holding on, getting through.

I wondered if she was going. Felt a little selfish for not asking.

So I sent her a message.

She was going. With a small group of friends and relatives. “We’d love to have you join us. We’re going out to dinner first.

“I think I’m at Children’s Hospital that day,” I messaged back. “Can I let you know?”

Absolutely.”

But the truth is that I didn’t want to go to dinner or be social or engage. I just wanted to sit quietly in the dark and breathe.

Tuesday evening, late, less than 24 hours before the event, a friend I hadn’t seen for a few of years sent me a Facebook message.

Hi, do you know of anyone with extra ticket for tomorrow night’s event?

“Why?” I wondered. “Was it sold out?”

Yup. Two weeks ago.

Immediately I thought of my ticket. My one ticket. All she needed. Yet somewhere deep inside I heard, “No, you need to go.

“Let me check,” I messaged back, “and I’ll let you know.”

In the morning, I contacted another friend, because if anyone would know of an extra ticket to any event, anywhere, it would definitely be her.

She immediately texted back, “Yes!

Moments earlier, in a staff meeting, a co-worker had mentioned that she had an extra ticket — one extra ticket — for the Laura Story event that night if anyone knew of someone who needed one. Wow!

Only God.

This whole unlikely group met in the lobby that evening – my beautiful widowed friend, her friends who’d gotten there early to hold our seats, the friend who’d asked for an extra ticket, the friend who’d found one…and me.

God had ensured I’d be there that night, if for no other reason than to facilitate this ticket exchange.

For while I was retrieving the ticket from one friend, my sweet widowed friend was discovering that the friend who’d asked for a ticket, also a young widow, was there…alone.

Oh…

God had brought us all together in that space at that time, on purpose, to lean close, grasp hands and cry together in the dark.

It’s hard to raise sick kids.

Hard to lose your person.

It was hard and lonely and dark that first week. So, so hard.

Grace.

Grace spilled raw as we slipped through the doors and into the dark. Gathered in, leaning close, voices rising, tears splashing in the candlelight.

Hope flickering into flame.

Love washing over weary souls, long and deep and high and wide.

Wrapped in the arms of community. Beautiful. Perfect. Unearned.

And without end.

We love because He first loved us. ~ 1 John 4:19

There could be no truer wisdom than that.

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Filed under 28 Days of Love, Photos and Quotes

The Color of Love


ColorOfLove

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February 18, 2014 · 8:29 am

Greatest Refreshment in Life


LoveGreatestRefreshment

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February 17, 2014 · 11:12 am

One Word Frees Us


OneWordFreesUs

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February 16, 2014 · 11:57 am

One Love, God’s Love


OneLove1000Imitations

One love. God’s love.

However imperfect or skewed or misrepresented,
however conditional or grudging
or undeserved,

whatever love we give,
whatever love we feel,
whatever love fills our souls

and seeps through the cracks
and shattered gaps
of these earthen vessels,

is one love,
God’s love,
holy and perfect,

forgiving, consuming,
restoring, redeeming,
purposed

before the beginning of time.
because God IS love,
and His love

is the one true love
in a sea of endless imitations.

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Because He is Love…


1John419

Happy Valentine’s Day, Friends!

You are loved,
just exactly as you are.

Always.

No exceptions.
Until the end of time.

Simply because you are His,
and He is love.

Wishing you a joy-filled,
wonder-filled,
Love-abundant day.

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