Trust the Clouds Will Part

During our latest trip to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, my husband James, our friends, and I enjoyed several hikes. The first two days were clear and perfect. No matter where we went, we had good visibility and conditions (even though they were a bit chilly for this Florida girl).

The last two days were a complete reversal. We woke to cloudy, drizzly skies. The forecast kept changing, and we weren’t sure if the sun would come out or not. Regardless, we took two slippery waterfall hikes. (When in doubt, hike anyway.) The views were absolutely worth the effort!

By late afternoon, though, the clouds still hung heavy and low. We had one planned hike left, but Roan Mountain required the longest drive yet and had the highest elevation.

Since it was our last day, we took the chance. As we neared the parking area, we caught glimpses of blue sky through the clouds. For a few minutes, the misty clouds cleared, revealing breathtaking mountains and deep blue afternoon skies. Moments later, the clouds rolled back in, but we swung on our hiking backpacks and started the climb anyway, hopeful the clouds would continue to give way.

When we reached the first outlook, they did. Waiting there were several photographers, and one practically bounced out of his skin for joy. “I’ve been waiting here all afternoon,” he said. “It’s been nothing but clouds. But now, would you look at that view!”

We agreed. It was stunning and totally worth the risk.

When Clouds Don’t Part

Sometimes in life, we take a chance, and the clouds still stubbornly hug the sky. Okay, you know I’m not talking about weather anymore, right?

We put ourselves “out there,” only to be disappointed. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve submitted a book proposal or made a pitch, only to receive a rejection or silence that speaks louder than words. All the effort that went into crafting the proposal to specific submission requirements feels like a waste of time and energy.

Maybe you’ve trained months to make the team, only to miss the cut. Maybe you’ve studied hard for entrance exams or standardized testing, only to miss the mark by one point. Maybe you’ve carefully groomed yourself for a promotion or new position, only to have someone else pass you by.

Seriously, we’ve all been there and felt our hopes deflate like a hot air balloon. But does that mean we should stop pressing on, taking risks, and giving opportunity every chance we can?

Absolutely not.

What We Can’t See Behind the Clouds

Maybe the skies of your current situation seem extra gray, but just because we can’t see the sun shining doesn’t mean it isn’t. God’s Word makes clear He has a plan for His children, a plan designed to give us “hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

On that hike up Roan Mountain, we went through a thick forest, which felt spooky in the late afternoon. Only the faintest hints of light sprinkled through the woods, and I found myself walking extra fast to get through the forest.

Waiting for me on the other side was a clearing, and just beyond, a view that stole my breath. The clouds had parted again, revealing a spectacular mountain vista. Even more stunning was the sunset we savored on the return hike.

We would have missed the majesty of clouds parting for a sunset if we hadn’t taken the risk to hike the mountain. That said, my encouragement to you (and myself) today is simple:

Take the risk. Hike whatever mountain you’re facing. And trust that soon, the clouds will part.

No matter what, the adventure is worthwhile.

~ Kristen

When Is Choosing the Easy Path Okay?

The last few Saturdays have brought the faintest hint of fall in Florida, just enough to encourage my husband James and me to get back on our bikes and explore new off-road trails. Several months have passed since the last time I went mountain-biking, but I was feeling pretty confident I could handle easy “green” trails. (I use the term “mountain-biking” loosely, because there are no mountains in Florida.)

Croom Wildlife Management Area offers over sixty miles of trails and a few more advanced “blue” ones James wanted to try. We geared up, checked the air in our tires, and started out.

Only a few minutes in, I was starting to feel on edge. Compared to the trails we bike in the Tampa area, the elevation gain here was much more noticeable, and the trails seemed even more narrow. I struggled to get the speed I needed while still feeling in control of my bike.

James took the lead, and although he kept shouting tips at me, his skill level is light years more advanced than mine. What seemed like a gradual downhill to him felt like speeding off the side of a mountain to me.

However, I held things together until I rounded a tight downhill bend in a section of the blue, more difficult, trail.

“Peddle hard!” James shouted ahead of me. “Hill!”

I gave it my best, but my best wasn’t enough. I didn’t have enough momentum to get to the top and watched in terror as my bike started sliding backwards.

James jumped off his bike and grabbed my handlebars to slow my fall, but I landed in a heap of bushes with my bike on top of me, more scared than hurt.

After that shake-up, we came to a sign with two arrows. Next to one was the word “easy,” and next to the other was the word “hard.” I waited at the junction while James tackled the hard section and felt rather bummed that all I could clearly handle was “easy.”

That’s when I remembered there is a time for everything. A baby doesn’t go straight to walking. He crawls first. A girl doesn’t go from biking the smooth Suncoast Trail to off-road biking without a few falls.

Sometimes, we have to be content with easy tasks before we can dare to achieve harder things.

For an over-achiever and recovering perfectionist, that reality isn’t an easy pill to swallow. I like being challenged. I like cresting the hill toward success. I have to remind myself that some situations require me to choose the easy path, and that’s not a bad thing. It just prepares me for one day advancing where I want to be.

Be content with small beginnings

There’s a phrase in the book of Zechariah that offers encouragement on this topic. The context is the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, and the people are feeling discouraged. The rebuilding efforts appear as “nothing” compared to its “former glory” (Haggai 2:3 NKJV).

However, the prophet Zechariah poses a rhetorical question to the people: “For who has despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10a NKJV). In order to rebuild, they had to start somewhere. They had to start small.

I like what the Pulpit Commentary says: “Small as the present work was, it was a pledge of the full completion, and was therefore not to be despised. “

Whether we’re rebuilding or simply starting from scratch, we have to take baby steps. The first few steps might seem embarrassingly easy, yet we have to climb them first before we can get where we want to be.

Embrace the easy tasks and build from there

Despising “easy” tasks will only keep us from reaching our goals. We should never quit because we’re not ready for the advanced levels we want to achieve but welcome the practice needed to reach them.

The bottom line is that it’s okay–it’s necessary– to choose the easy trail until we’re ready for the harder one. The practice might seem unglamorous, but it’s the training we need to grow.

What “easy” tasks do you need to welcome today?

~ Kristen

How to Escape Tickle Sticks and Other Temptations

Short on time? Listen to the audio version of this post.

During a recent trip to the Florida Keys, my husband James taught me how to use a tickle stick and net to catch lobster. If you’ve never lobstered before, here’s how it works. You snorkel until you spot two long antennas peeking out of a hole in the ocean’s hard bottom. Then, you insert the tickle stick into the hole to annoy the lobster enough to expose itself. While distracting the lobster with the tickle stick, you swoop in behind it with the net. Lobsters swim backwards, so poking the lobster with the stick usually sends it directly into the net.

Although the tickle stick is dangerous only to lobsters, the experience reminded me how the Devil will often use temptations to get our focus away from where it should be. When we’re distracted,  we’re often unaware of the impending danger that even little wrong choices can present.

For illustration, let’s compare the wise lobster to the foolish one and see some parallels for our own decision-making.

Wise Lobsters Don’t Wait Around.

Not every lobster falls for the tickle stick distraction. Some of them, usually the seasoned veterans, immediately swim away once you get them out of their hole. They’ve either seen enough of their buddies get taken or escaped nets in the past to know that the tickle stick may be pretty and shiny, but it spells D-A-N-G-E-R.

In the Bible, Joseph also had the good sense to run away from pretty and “shiny” temptations. When his master’s wife threw herself at him, Joseph didn’t stop to admire her curves or painted face. He just ran.

In fact, he was in such a hurry to escape that the Bible says “he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside” (Genesis 39:12b NKJV).

Joseph wasn’t about to get caught in Mrs. Potiphar’s net. During an earlier temptation, Joseph had reprimanded her with these words: “There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he [Potiphar] kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 NKJV)

If something shiny is dangling before you today, step away from it. You might be avoiding imminent danger or at least gaining some much-needed perspective. Always stop and ask the question: Would God be pleased with this choice? If not, swim away like the wise lobster.

Foolish Lobsters Are Too Curious.

Based on my lobstering experience, wise lobsters seem to be the minority. The reason is simple: That tickle stick is too darn distracting. It’s metal, shiny, and swinging right in front of their beady eyes. Of course, they want to know what it is.

When Satan tries to distract us from living for God or making wise choices, he often employs a similar tactic. He swings something that looks too-good-to-be-true in front of our faces. After all, isn’t that what he did with Eve in the garden? He appealed to all three “lusts” that I John 2:16 warns about: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (NKJV).

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh), that it was pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and a tree desirable to make one wise (pride of life), she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:6 NKJV, parentheses added).

Satan snared her with a classic “tickle stick” approach, so Eve never saw the net coming.

Don’t Get Taken.

James and I netted ten “keepers” and celebrated with surf and turf for dinner with family. We thoroughly enjoyed our catch this year.

Unlike lobster, Satan’s snares produce nothing that brings true enjoyment. No amount of butter can make them better.

The way not to get taken is to run from temptation. Where should we run? Scripture provides the answer:

  • “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10 NKJV).
  • “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14 NKJV).

Lord, may we always run to you and pursue the good paths of peace. Help us stay close to you so that we can easily spot temptations that would lead us away from your plan for us.

~ Kristen

I’m grateful this post first appeared on DailyPS.com

 

 

 

 

Why Your Dreams Require Band-Aids

You have a dream, right? So do I. We probably have more than one, maybe even dozens. If your dream isn’t brand new and you’ve started taking steps to pursue it, you’ve likely discovered that the path to fulfillment is something like the field of poppies that Dorothy had to cross to reach the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.

Those poppies sure look pretty, but [spoiler], the wicked witch has poisoned them to keep Dorothy from reaching her goal. Hopefully none of us are picking our way through a field of poison poppies today, but if you’re like me, you might be buying some Band-Aids.

Case in point

My husband and I both love the outdoors, but the primary difference between us is that he was born with natural ability and I have to work for every ounce of strength and skill I have. One sport he introduced me to is surfing, and last year, I shared my preliminary experience with you. Since then, I’ve improved … a little.

Understand that my goal with this sport is not lofty. I don’t want to metal in a sporting event or even qualify to participate in one. I simply want to get upright long enough to enjoy the wave and then get off without injuring myself.

The size of our goal doesn’t matter as much as how willing we are to stick with it. In that regard, surfing and dreams in general have a few common qualities.

To succeed, you will fall.

Falling off a surfboard provides a physical sensation that equates well to the pain of failure. You don’t just fall off a surfboard and land gently in the water. Your board might nose dive, catapulting you over it. You might get sucked under the water and feel like you’re drowning.

However, the more you fall, the wiser you become. As you practice, you will keep falling, but experience will teach you that even when you feel like you’re going to drown, you should wait a few moments before surfacing, or your board might land on your head. Yes, ouch.

Pursuing dreams is similar. You might get rejected, turned down, booed, told “that’s impossible,” or any number of scenarios. If you don’t quit the first time, the second time, or the hundredth time you fall, you will eventually meet success or at least approach your goal more intelligently.

To succeed, you will scrape your knee.

Be prepared. Pride and self-interests often take a back seat when pursuing goals.

The last time we walked to the beach with surf boards in tow, I had one wish: Please, please let me not get hurt today. You see, last year, I took a hefty chunk of skin off my left knee that required a bigger Band-Aid than even the lifeguard could provide.

For the first hour, I was getting the hang of things. I welcomed smaller waves and kept getting up on the board for some decent rides. The only problem was that since my waves weren’t deep, I was riding them into much more shallow waters. All it took was one wrong fall, and I scraped the skin off my other knee.

So now they match. Kind of. I jokingly tell James that thanks to this sport, I will have prematurely ugly knees.

The bigger the dream, the bigger the fight

Yes, our dreams sometimes leave us feeling scraped up.  As Pete Wilson shares in his book What Keeps You Up at Night, “The bigger the dream, the bigger the fight you’ll face. In fact, the people throughout history who have been the most directly in the center of God’s will for their lives are the same people who have gone through the toughest trials.”

Wilson gives the example of Joseph, one of my favorite Bible characters. Talk about someone whose dream presented obstacles! He went from daddy’s favorite to a slave and a prisoner before God elevated him to Pharaoh’s right hand man. His life experience left more than scraped knees. But through all the setbacks and disappointments in his life, Joseph sought to honor God through his circumstances, and God remained with him.

Several times in Scripture, we find this idea of God being present with Joseph through every low point in his life (emphasis added below).

  • The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.” (Genesis 39:2 NKJV)
  • “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Genesis 39:21 NKJV)
  • “The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.” (Genesis 39:23 NKJV)
  • “And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.” (Acts 7:9-10 NKJV)

You know what these verses tell me? When we seek to honor God through our dreams, God is with us, too.

Surfing is but a picture.

Surfing is a personal dare I have yet to master, but it paints such a good picture for the obstacles we often face when going for the dreams God has placed on our hearts.

The bottom line is that we can’t give up on them, because God doesn’t give up on us. We have to keep buying the Band-Aids. One day, when we do succeed, all those falls will have been worthwhile as we feel God’s pleasure. Well done!

~ Kristen

I’m grateful this post first appeared on DailyPS.com.

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Uncommon Adventures: An Interview with Author Jessica Lippe

Please welcome author Jessica Lippe to the blog today! I’ve had the privilege of contributing to Jessica’s Christian e-zine for teenage girls, Girlz 4 Christ, and when she shared that she’d written a travel book for Christians, I wanted to learn more! As she told me, age doesn’t matter in travel, so whether you’re a young adult or young at heart, you can be encouraged by this book. Enjoy this interview and check out Uncommon Adventures, now available.

What prompted you to write this book, and why do you think it’s timely for Christians today?

Jessica: I’ve met other Christian travelers, but they seem to be few and far between. When Jesus told us to “go into all the world,” he certainly meant for at least some of us to take that literally. I think it can be hard for us to take on this commission due to lack resources to make it happen as well as lack of Christian community on the road. Uncommon Adventures isn’t the end-all solution to this, but I wanted to encourage more Christians to explore and point travelers to resources that can help fulfill their physical and spiritual needs.

What sets this guidebook apart for Christians?

Jessica: A lot of Christians struggle with their relationship with God during their vacation and other travels. While quick prayers for traveling mercies are common, being out of our element and busy with new things for some reason causes us to forget about the One who made this beautiful world to explore. I felt it was important to start out each chapter with a devotional piece.

My hope is that these devos create reminders and show that every element of travel is indeed spiritual. While we save up for a trip, we can remember that our treasure is where our heart also is. Each new restaurant or picnic we enjoy can be a reminder of the Last Supper. Whether we travel by train, plane, or automobile, we can be thankful that it was better than Balaam’s mode of transportation!

Share a little about your personal travel experience and how it inspired you to write this book.

Travel, writing, and my life with Christ have always been clumped together. Growing up, most of my travel was day and camping trips with my family and my church. As a teenager, I got involved with traveling around the Northwest with my church’s youth choir, and went on my first international mission trip with that same youth group. My first job was at a Christian camp I went to as a kid. Although I don’t keep an everyday diary, I started journaling daily on trips like these. Those journals turned out to be a great references when I started writing for devotionals and magazines at age 17.

After spending a few years working at Christian camps across the United States, I wanted to expand my passion for travel. Starting with a goal to spend three months exploring Europe, I’ve learned ways to travel effectively. After returning from my first trip to Europe and Asia and wanting to learn how to travel more, some of what I learned ended up being written down into a book!

Do you think travel can help grow your relationship with God? If so, how?

Absolutely! In reality, ALL of our life experiences can help grow our relationship with God. But I think travel is a particularly unique way to deepen this relationship. Of course, the exact outcome depends on the specifics of your trip as well as the ways God wants to work in you at this time. I worked full-time in camp ministry for several years, and still help regularly. Christian camps are a worldwide travel opportunity because they foster an environment to worship and hear from God. But I’ve also heard from God while staring at Niagara Falls on a solo trip. Meeting new people and experiencing new cultures broadens your understanding of what God has created. If you’re open to it, even a walk around your neighborhood is a form of travel that can help bring you closer to God.

What is one piece of advice you’d offer a reader who wants to travel but doesn’t think he can?

When someone tells me they can’t travel, I immediately ask why not. Oftentimes, they tell me excuses that amount to the fact that they’re afraid. One chapter from Uncommon Adventures specifically addresses the common fears people have about travel, and other fears and excuses are busted throughout the book.

A big excuse to not travel is money. This one makes me snicker because it’s often said by people who earn multiple times my salary. I’ve worked in ministry outside of church throughout my adult life, a career field famous for being well underpaid. Saving for travel is difficult, but because it’s a priority in my life, I’m willing to make the sacrifices to get there. For example, my home may only be 300 square feet, but that’s not important since I get to travel in Ireland, the United Kingdom, The Bahamas, and the United States this year. It’s not all sacrifices, though. Sometimes it just takes creativity. Two chapters of Uncommon Adventures focus on saving, and I post tons of budget ideas on my website, JessicaLippe.com.

About Jessica:

Jessica Lippe is a writer and adventurer. Her wanderlust has resulted with her living across the United States, including Oregon, Nebraska, and Ohio. She has journeyed through twenty-eight states, eleven countries, and four continents. Jessica’s favorite accomplished travel goal was backpacking across Europe. Visit her website at JessicaLippe.com

 

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How Can You Hear God’s Voice? Lessons from the Lake

How many of you want to hear God’s voice? That’s not a trick question. Any believer would give a wholehearted yes! By “hear,” I’m not referring to an audible voice but perhaps peace or clarity in a situation where we feel unsure or fearful. Maybe we’re struggling to see God’s hand or wanting to simply find the reassurance of His presence.

However, before we can hear God’s voice, we must first be prepared to listen. This first step is one we often forget and maybe why we often fail or become frustrated in our conversations with God. We’re too busy doing all the talking or perhaps just plain too busy for God to get a word in.

This summer, my family and I traveled to our family cabin in New Hampshire. One evening while we were kayaking Lake Winona, I broke away from the others who were fishing. There was a restlessness in my soul, and I wanted to talk to God about it. Through that solo kayak trip, I rediscovered some basic prerequisites for hearing God’s voice.

Be still.

As I paddled across the lake, I panted the prayer: Lord, I want to hear from you. Though emotionally I wanted to listen, I physically wasn’t still enough to do so.  My arms moved back and forth, pumping blood through my veins so hard I could barely concentrate on my own thoughts.

Of course, God could hear me. I just couldn’t hear Him. This experience showed me that my constant movement interfered with my ability to listen.

Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10a NKJV)

Scripture makes clear that stillness is one condition for knowing God. Yet how often do we forget this simple truth?

By nature, I’m a busy person. My husband has even commented that I’m “always moving.” Although in many ways, this ability to hustle is a blessing, I need to take time away from the busy back and forth of life.

I finally glided to a stop on the lake and was content to simply be there. That’s when I could soak in the sunset’s reflection on the water, relish the fresh mountain air around me, and take time to quiet my own thoughts. With my body stilled, I was getting ready to listen.

Unplug.

Next to stillness, we also need a quiet place to prepare our hearts to listen.

Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. (Psalm 4:4b NKJV)

On the lake, I could easily find that undisturbed serenity. However, on a day-to-day basis, we deal with constant “chatter” that makes it hard to meditate on God’s Word and take time for personal reflection.

Back in my parent’s childhood, the only items they had to unplug were things like toasters and power cords. Today, we have to unplug ourselves.

If we actually documented how much time we’re on our Smart Phones, I think the results would shock us. A survey from 2017 documented that millennials spend 223 minutes per day or approximately 3.7 hours on their mobile devices. Based on the upward-trending data from the previous years, that number has probably increased.

Not only are we dealing with a potential time-waster, we’re also dealing with all the distractions and drama that come along with our generation’s need for connectivity.

Yes, smart phones and social media have a purpose. As a writer, I’m keenly aware of the potential and grateful for the way I can connect with readers across time and space. However, the social online sphere can produce so much noise that it drowns out any chance for silence.

Take time to unplug, and don’t make apologies for doing so. A missed text won’t be the end of the world. It will still be there waiting for you to answer later.

Make room.

Clearing the schedule might be easy to do when you’re on vacation, but what about in real life? After all, real life can be messy and disruptive. We can’t predict the emergencies in our lives, and for some people, daily life feels like one crisis after the next.

Jesus was no stranger to crisis. Almost constantly, people were begging him for healing or for their needs to be met. When he wasn’t teaching or performing miracles, he was dealing with the Pharisees’ questions and their accusations.

Matthew 9 records one such busy day. On his way to heal a ruler’s daughter, he made time to heal an ill woman and then met a crowd full of expectations at the ruler’s house. They told him he was too late, and the girl was dead. I love Jesus’ response.

He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.

Did you catch what he told them? “Make room.” The mourners were pressing in from every side and He couldn’t even reach the ruler’s daughter. He had to disperse the crowd first, and then He healed her.

True, you may not have to deal with physical crowds, but you may deal with an overflowing inbox, social media notifications, and text strings longer than the Great Wall. Put those “crowds” outside so you can be alone with Jesus. You then make room to hear Him and watch Him work.

What distractions are pulling at you today, and how can you make room to listen for God’s voice in spite of them?

~ Kristen

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Your Heritage Can Start Today

This summer has been special for my brother and me, because for the first time, we were able to introduce our spouses to our family camp in New Hampshire. This place of our childhood holds so many memories and history we wanted to share with them. It’s also the same place that inspired the setting for Secrets Beyond Lake Winona’s Shore.

Going to camp always feels like stepping backward into time. There’s the small wooden cottage my great-grandfather built, the generations of chipmunks my grandfather taught to eat out of his shirt pocket, the memories of family reunions from years past, and the collection of family pictures on the walls.

My heritage. It includes a godly great-grandfather who rocked me (a once colicky, crying baby) to sleep with a smile on his face. He must have been a saint! It includes grandparents who boarded a ship to Colombia as missionaries and later returned to the States to pastor a Connecticut church. It continues through my parents and now me.

Today’s choices are tomorrow’s legacy.

Have you ever stopped to think that we’re making our own heritages today? People talk about “leaving a legacy.” That’s a heritage, a history that defines your story and mine. I’m grateful that God saw fit to give me “the heritage of those who fear [His] name” (Psalm 61:5b NKJV).

However, maybe you can’t say that about your family. Maybe you’re the first in your family to call Jesus your Lord and Savior.

If so, I have great news for you. You have the privilege of beginning a godly heritage. It’s your choice and mine. Even those blessed with a Christian family must choose for themselves what legacy they’ll leave behind.

Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, For they are the rejoicing of my heart. (Psalm 119:111 NKJV)

Does God’s Word make our hearts rejoice? Do we care about what He says? Do we seek to please Him with our daily choices? How we answer those questions will shape the course of our lives.

Our present will become someone else’s pictures.

Imagine a wall in a home, decades from now. Perhaps it’s your child’s or grandchildren’s home. There are pictures on the wall –pictures from your graduation and wedding, pictures of your children and family, pictures of places you’ve been and places you’ve served. What will the pictures you leave behind tell about your life?

I want mine to show a life well spent for Christ. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “Is anything offered to Christ ever wasted?”

The question is rhetorical, because the answer is no. God can use anything we give to Him. May we live with eternity in our hearts and with the awareness of God’s presence in our lives.

~ Kristen

I’m grateful this post first appeared on DailyPS.com.

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