Never Alone

JESUS IS THE ONLY ONE

 

Alone again. That’s what she must have thought as she walked to the well all by herself that day.

But she wasn’t alone for long. Jesus was there. Yet, she didn’t know who He was and she couldn’t help but wonder why He was talking to her, a Samaritan woman.

When He spoke, she heard gentleness in His voice. 

Kindness and humility in His simple request for a drink.

In His eyes she saw acceptance, not judgment. Love, not hate.

Many of us know her as the Samaritan woman, but I like to call her Sam to make her feel more like the real woman she was. A woman who struggled with hurt, rejection, and loneliness.

Jesus was on His way to Galilee that day, but Scripture tells us “He had to go through Samaria” {John 4:4}. Yet theologians would tell us Jews considered Samaritans to be the scum of the earth and would do everything to avoid them by traveling around Samaria — but not Jesus.

He had to go through Samaria. Perhaps it be because He knew Sam would be there.

Women normally traveled together to the well, in the cool of the day, to avoid the heat of the sun since they carried heavy jars filled with water back to their homes. But Sam went by herself.

Many believe that instead of avoiding the scorching heat of the sun, she went to the well at noon to avoid the scorching pain of others’ rejection and judgment. Sam had been married five times, and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband.

When Jesus met her, Sam was running an errand, and running from those who knew of her failures, shame, and imperfections. Pursuing her with His perfect love, Jesus timed it so she would run into Him.

He initiated conversation and asked her for the one thing she had to offer, water. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Sam stopped and listened. She let Him speak words of assurance and acceptance into the broken, insecure, empty places of her heart.

Jesus intentionally pursued Sam in one of the loneliest parts of her day and in the same way, He is there in the midst of our sometimes lonely, imperfect lives. He is there when our disappointments and failures leave us empty and make us doubt our worth and purpose. (keep reading here)

I don’t know about you, but this summer I have had many days when I felt alone and just need to know someone sees me. Knows me. Pursues me. Jesus is showing me, He does. Let’s keep talking about this over on the inCourage blog, where I’m hosting today’s conversation and praying for friends like you in our online community. Join me there. 

Finding Spiritual Whitespace {guest post & book giveaway}

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Do you ever wish you could just slow down and discover who you’d be if your life wasn’t filled with so much rush? 

The other day my friend told me she felt lost: lost in the hurry of carpool and kids, deadlines and dirty laundry… and she was tired, and I shared with her some things I’ve been learning through my friend Bonne Gray’s beautiful book Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest.

In, Bonnie shares how “underneath all of the stress and expectations we put on ourselves, and the ones that others put on us, our souls long for space to breathe.” Bonnie calls it “soul rest: a place where we can rest, not in what we could be or what we should be, but just as we are. Jesus invites us to come to Him when we’re struggling and carrying heavy loads, so He can give us rest.”

bonnie-grayToday I’ve invited, Bonnie to share a peek into her heart and inside the pages of her beautiful book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace.

“I once felt lost and tired.

Even though no one could tell.  By looking at my life from the outside.

But, deep inside, in my secret heart of hearts, I’ve always wanted something I could never quite keep a hold of — not long enough to make it my everyday home.  For my soul and for the me that wanted to be free.

I’ve always wanted to know who I really could be — if I was free to rest.

Do you ever wish life could be different? That somehow you could just rest?

Underneath all the stress, the expectations we put on ourselves and the ones others put on us, we all long for space.

Space to breathe.

Space to just be me.

Where we can be real.

To take care of our hearts, with the grace and kindness we often pour out to others.

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We don’t want to be numb anymore.

Just doing.  Coping.  Surviving.

All the while, there is a part of us that longs to come alive.

The part of us who longs for beauty, even though the daily road feels rough.  Or even broken.

The part of us who remembers what it’s like to have desires is hungering for quiet. For rest.

Who wants to feel more intimately connected with God.

To our dreams.

To our stories.

To who we really are deep inside.

Who doesn’t want to hide.

Who longs to be known.

With others.

A Deeper Part

There’s a deeper part of us who longs to uncover the stories we’re living in our everyday lives — hidden — so that they can be shared.

We don’t want to journey alone.

We don’t have to.

What we all long for is deeper rest.

Refreshment.

Comfort.

Real conversation.

Encouragement.

Peace.

Beauty.

As is.

What we all long for is soul rest.

Soul rest is a kind of rest we can savor — not as we should be. Nor as we ought to be.

We can enjoy rest for our souls — as we are.

This ache for soul rest is something Jesus longs to touch.

It is an ache that Jesus himself must have also felt as He journeyed in-the-the-skin through the realities of daily life.

Jesus invites us to experience this rest — by offering us an invitation.

If we dare to take the journey.

“Are you tired? Worn out?

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.

For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Jesus’s invitation, Matthew 11:28-30

Will you dare to rest? Will you d
are to be real?

To whisper —

I am tired.

But, I still carry dreams. Desires. A story.

I want to be happy.

I miss the quiet.

I want to feel.

I want to let go of who I’ve been — so I can discover who I can be — when I take the time to rest.

I want to be present.

I want to love. And be loved.

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Jesus invites us on a new journey.

To pause.

To draw close.

To come into an intimate special space.

The rest we all long for really can be found.

Dare to take a new journey.

Create space in your life.

Feed your soul.

So you can care for what’s tender.

Because behind your most tired moments lie the deepest parts of who God made you — longing to be known and restored.

You’re loved.

You’re cherished.

You’re worth it.

The real you.

If you dared to rest — to uncover the real you God made — what would you want more of? What would you want less of? What can feed your soul today?”

FindingWhitespace_alt3DHow many of us find ourselves running on empty with no time for rest, no time for ourselves, and no time for God?  Bonnie Gray knows what that’s like. On the brink of fulfilling a lifelong dream, she saw her plans shatter into a journey through painful memories and anxiety. In her search for answers, she made an important discovery: we all need spiritual whitespace

Infused with biblical encouragement and thought-provoking prompts, Finding Spiritual Whitespace shows us how to create space in the everyday for God, refreshment, and faithright in the midst of our stress-frayed lives. And it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time in my life personally. I’ve loved reading this book {more than once}, and I know you will too!
Order a copy here.

Enter to WIN:
What is one way you could carve out time for whitespace and rest this summer? Let’s take time this summer to let our souls be breathe. Click “share your thoughts” and leave a comment under this blog post to enter. Two winners will be selected and announced next week. {if you are reading this via email, please click here to participate in the giveaway on my blog!}

 

Bonnie-familyBonnie Gray is contributor at Crosswalk.com, Relevant Magazine, and DaySpring (in)courage. A UCLA graduate, Bonnie has been missionary, ministry entrepreneur and Silicon Valley high-tech professional. Bonnie blogs at FaithBarista.com in Northern California with her husband Eric and their two sons.

Why Women Are Hungry for Love (and a Giveaway)

This summer I’ve had the beautiful privilege of getting to know Emily Wierenga and have thoroughly enjoyed the gift of her story told in her new book  Atlas GirlEmily is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including her memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books).

In celebration of Atlas Girl’s book release this week, I asked Emily to stop by and share some of her story with us {and she offered to give a few copies away too!}

Renee Swope

by Emily T Wierenga

I tried to starve away my curves when I was nine years old.

I had my mother’s pear-shaped body, and I thought if I stopped eating maybe I could become small enough to slip into the lives of the other girls at school, the ones the boys stared at. I would douse myself with Exclamation perfume and spend my allowance on brand-name clothes and cry myself to sleep because I was starving.

And even though it got so bad that I was dying at thirteen, and hospitalized at sixty pounds, my hair falling out and my braces showing through the skin of my cheeks, I don’t know that any of us women is much different.

I don’t know that any of us isn’t hungry like this for love.

I wanted my Dad to stop preaching at the pulpit about a God I couldn’t see or taste or touch or feel. I wanted him to come and hold me, play with me, read me stories again like he used to when I was little, the scruff of his beard on my cheek, but life has a way of stealing your loved ones away from you and so I starved myself instead.

And when a friend of mine died when I was eight I hurt so bad it felt like my soul turned inside-out.

Because no one had told me you could love so hard only to lose.

So I spent my life trying not to feel because it ached too much when I did.

And then I met Jesus.

I met him after years of thinking I already had. I met him after years of calling myself a feminist and relapsing back into anorexia when I got married, after years of battling infertility and addiction to sleeping pills and drinking too much wine and never eating enough because part of me always wanted to feel hungry.

Because full isn’t safe. Full means you might start to feel comfortable, and then you might get hurt because nothing good lasts forever.

But that’s where I was wrong.

Because God is good and He lasts forever, and I met Him one day when I was twenty eight and pregnant. I was standing in worship, closing my eyes, and I saw myself as a little girl in heaven. I was wearing a white dress and running to Jesus who looked a lot like a shepherd in one of those children’s paintings.

And Jesus picked up that little girl and he spun her around and then he held her close and said, “Emily Theresa Wierenga, do you know that I love you? I love your feet, I love your knees, I love your legs, I love your arms, I love your head, I love your hair, I love you.”

And sister? He’s saying this to you too. He sees you, the little girl in you—the one who once believed she could swing so high she could touch God, who now struggles to believe He even exists. And He loves you.

Jesus offers a kind of food that will never perish. A love that will never leave you hungry.

He provided the loaves and fishes for 5,000, with twelve baskets leftover. Some would call that a waste; I call it extravagance. He’s the Savior at the well, telling the woman about a kind of feast that will never end—with living water, and living bread. Food that will fill us up forever.

So, I’m eating again.

I’m eating, and I’m no longer scared of getting full.

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Emily lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. Her memoir, ATLAS GIRL, releases this week and she is graciously giving away 3 copies here! All you need to do is leave a comment under today’s post to enter the drawing! {If you’re reading this via email, click here and return to my blog to ENTER TO WIN.}

AtlasGirl.ReneeFrom the Back Cover

“Disillusioned and yearning for freedom, Emily Wierenga left home at age eighteen with no intention of ever returning. Broken down by organized religion, a childhood battle with anorexia, and her parents’ rigidity, she set out to find God somewhere else–anywhere else. Her travels took her across Canada, Central America, the United States, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. She had no idea that her faith was waiting for her the whole time–in the place she least expected it.

“Poignant and passionate, Atlas Girl is a very personal story of a universal yearning for home and the assurance that we are known, forgiven, and beloved. Readers will find in this memoir a true description of living faith as a two-way pursuit in a world fraught with distraction. Anyone who wrestles with the brokenness we find in the world will love this emotional journey into the arms of the God who heals all wounds.”

Click HERE  for a free excerpt from Atlas Girl. Emily is also giving away a FREE e-book to anyone who orders Atlas Girl this week. Just order HERE, and send a receipt to: atlasgirlbookreceipt@gmail.com, and you’ll receive A House That God Built: 7 Essentials to Writing Inspirational Memoir — an absolutely FREE e-book co-authored by Emily and editor/memoir teacher Mick Silva.

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ALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go to Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree.
The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel. Find our more and connect with Emily on her blog at www.emilywierenga.comor find her on Twitter and Facebook.

But remember, before you leave, be sure and ENTER TO WIN!
Just leave a comment below.

You’ll Never Be Perfect {and that’s a good thing}

I couldn’t silence the words used to describe how much I’d disappointed her.

An email filled with criticism had slipped into my inbox that week and it hurt my feelings … for days.

The shooting pain of failure, regret, and flaw-focused thinking struck like lightening through my heart.

That one email set off a storm of self-doubting emotions. It’s amazing what one person’s criticism can do.

When my children or someone criticizes me as a mom, I’ll start doubting myself as a mom. When someone criticizes me as a friend, it will doubt my ability to be a good friend. Ten people could say something nice to me or about me, but what I will remember most is that one person’s criticism. How about you?

After being tossed and turned by the winds of my people-pleasing tendencies, I finally called a friend to process my emotions and the harsh email. With wisdom she told me:

“Renee, you’ll never be perfect. And if you ever get to where you are, you will be all alone!” 

Boy, she was right!

I am not perfect.

I’ll never be perfect.

And if I ever get there, I will be all alone.

Sweet friend, I don’t know if you ever feel like a failure ~ completely imperfect and full of flaws – like I do sometimes. But here is what I do know ~

Jesus was the only perfect Person to walk this earth… yet He was constantly criticized.

But, guess what? Nowhere is it recorded in scriptures that Jesus ever doubted Himself. No matter what, He stayed secure in His purpose and confident in His calling.

That day, my friend spoke reality into my reeling feelings. And God used her wisdom to reminded me: Jesus depended solely on His Father’s approval. 

What His Father said {about Him} was all that mattered {to Him}. And that is what He wants for you, too.

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No matter what, God loves you and He is there for you… not to criticize you but to encourage you.

  • He is there in the midst of your sometimes lonely, imperfect life… when your disappointments and failures leave you empty and make you doubt your worth and purpose.
  • He is there when you’re going through the motions, aware of what needs to be done but afraid you won’t be able to do it all.
  • He is there when you’re criticizing yourself and questioning whether you have what it takes to be a godly woman.

He sees you. He notices all you do and He knows what you need. Today He is pursuing you with the gift of His perfect love — love that is patient and kind, love that keeps no record of your wrongs, love that won’t ever give up on you!

Swope_ConfHeartDevo_3DsmENTER TO WIN
Enter to WIN my new Confident Heart Summer Devotional gift pack! It includes a copy of my A Confident Heart Devotional, a beautiful prayer journal and a Starbucks gift card! 

Simply click “SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS” and do just that.
To enter to win, you must comment on my blog under this post. {All winners will be chosen from blog comments only.}

 


SomethingMore
Sometimes We Need More Than a Blog Post
Do you ever feel alone or unnoticed? Need a friend to walk with you and help you see how much you are loved, pursued and created for a purpose? If so, A Confident Heart may be just the book for you!

Looking for the perfect summer devotional? Each day my new A Confident Heart Devotional: 60 Days to Stop Doubting Yourself offers a personal, powerful and practical way to live in the security of God’s promises right where you are!

My Goodness: A Devotion & Prayer for {YOU}

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A sweet gift and guest post from my friend, Sheila Mangum:

It was well into the second quarter of the high school basketball game when the senior captain of the home team showed up late.

Just that morning his mother unexpectedly passed away from a sudden hemorrhage. She’d been in remission after a five-year fight with cervical cancer when she took the fatal turn.

Some of the team had been at the hospital with their grieving friend. Although they had an important game that night, the guys wanted to cancel it. Brokenhearted, the senior captain encouraged the team to play.

You can imagine everyone’s surprise when this young man came out to root for his team.

His coach asked him if he wanted to sit on the bench with his teammates.

“No,” he replied. “I want to play.”

Game rules prevented anyone not on the pre-game roster to play unless the opposing team was granted a technical foul that would give them two free throws. It was a tight game, but his coach willingly traded the points to comfort his player.

But that is not where the compassion stopped.

The other coach wasn’t interested in the free throws. He wanted to let the brokenhearted player just play. With no penalties. This coach and the referees argued over the rules until the referees won with, “Rules will not be broken.”

So, after a brief conversation with his coach, the visiting team’s senior captain took his place on the free throw line.

Giving his coach an understanding nod, he dribbled the ball and threw it two feet. The crowd stared in wonder as the ball rolled off the court. The second free throw landed at his feet. He had purposefully missed guaranteed points.

This gesture of sportsmanship ignited a standing ovation. Applause roared throughout the gym. The crowd witnessed a rare act of kindness birthed out of the goodness of the visiting coach and captain’s hearts.

We don’t often hear about people taking hold of opportunities to demonstrate such graciousness. But every day we can see God’s goodness if we simply take the time. Psalm 23:6 tells us that “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

Before the brokenhearted player even arrived at the game, God’s goodness followed him, ready to show up when he needed it most. Goodness tapped two coaches on the shoulders. Goodness whispered in the hearts of a group of teenagers.

God’s goodness is here for us as well. We find it in His daily care and love, especially in times of hardship. But we have to “get in the game” to see it. If we’re checked out of life, not spending time in prayer, or not actively seeking to recognize God’s goodness, we’ll miss it. True, His goodness might not always seem as evident as a team opting out of free points in a basketball game, but God’s goodness is all around us.

Could His kindness and love be the encouraging word or hug from a friend? Perhaps it’s peace that comes unexpectedly from God’s Word, a sermon, or prayer. Maybe it’s the conversation with the grocery store clerk that brought a smile to your face.

This young man who lost his mother probably had no idea how he was going to ease the pain that surrounded him. You may be wondering that very thing as well. This is why God promises, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

God wants to be closer to you than the pain. One way He does this is by following you with His goodness and showing up through the hands and hearts of others.

I cannot tell you who won the last Super Bowl. I don’t know who the Major League’s MVP is. There’s no way I can spout off the NBA lineup. What I can tell you about is the day God’s goodness followed a crushed young man into a gymnasium during a high school basketball game and made His goodness known. I can tell you he played the rest of the game, scoring ten points that led to his team’s victory.

But most importantly, I can tell you that God’s goodness is following you. Will you get in the game and look for it? God’s goodness is following you and wants to be closer to you than the pain. Lastly, will you be God’s hand of goodness to someone today

Sheila’s Prayer for You

Father,

I love you! You alone are God. (Deuteronomy 4:39)  Besides You there is no God and in that we rejoice. (Isaiah 44:6-7)  Thank you Father that Your goodness is following my friend. (Psalm 23:6) You daily look for ways to love on your children. (Psalm 143:8) You hourly direct their steps towards what is good and best for them. (Psalm 32:8) Every minute of the day is designed to envelop them in Your everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3) You think of my friend every second of the day! Your thoughts are too vast to count. (Psalm 139:17-18)  May they not miss a second of Your attention. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Thank you for promising to be closer than the pain crushing their heart. (Psalm 34:18) You are compassionate and You are completely Faithful to love them devotedly. (Lamentations 3:22-23) I ask You to continue placing miracles in their paths. (John 2:11) Open eyes to the marvelous ways Your goodness has shown up in their lives already. (Job 37:5) You are not a man that you would lie. (Numbers 23:19) Therefore, when You say Your goodness follows them it is completely true. May Your child be ever mindful of Your very near Presence today. (Exodus 33:15) May they prepare to be amazed. (1 Samuel 12:16)

Oh and Father, may You be blessed when they turn around, like the one leper, to thank you for turning their mourning into dancing. (Luke 17:15-19 and Psalm 30:11-12)

May it be so!

In the Mighty Name of Jesus we have prayed,
Amen and Amen

To AMEN the prayer,  leave an AMEN by clicking “Share Your Thoughts” below.

 

The Good Life

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“I feel completely numb,” she said. “I don’t want to be a mom or a wife anymore. I could walk out on my family today and not feel anything…but it would devastate them.  And I can’t do that because I care about them. I just don’t have anything left in me to give or feel. And I don’t know what to do…”

I was shocked. Not as much about what she told me, but because she was the second woman who had come to me with such a brave and raw confession that weekend during the women’s retreat where I was speaking.

Two women who felt numb and empty. Two women surviving but not really living.

I had shared similar story and struggles that morning during my keynote message. Shared how ten years earlier I sked God WHY? Why, after being a Christian for over a decade, was I so miserable?  

Jesus said He came to give us life to the full. And I needed to know how and when was He going to keep that promise to me. Because the only things that filled my life were obligations, stress and hurry.

Kids activities and church commitments, play dates and Bible studies, neighborhood ministry and me trying to leave a legacy. All good “Christian” things, so I assumed my commitments reflected Christ and hopefully pleased Him.

Surely it’s just a phase, I had told myself. Things will slow down and I’ll start enjoying my life eventually.But life wasn’t slowing down; and I wasn’t enjoying anything.

Drained by all my doing, I became numb, exhausted and depleted. And I couldn’t just keep going. My heart was checking out and it scared me. I needed to get honest with myself and with God about where I was and how I got there.

And when I started asking hard questions and listening to His heart and mine, God showed me something I needed to see : Most of my {undoing} was of my own doing.

My doing and doing and doing…

Instead of hugging my brave new friend who stood in front of me waiting to see what I would say now that she had spilled her guts,  I looked into her eyes and said “I understand. I’ve been there…”

Over the next hour we prayed and processed what was going on in her heart and in er world. And I shared what God had shown me ten years prior in the middle of my personal “I can’t do this anymore meltdown”…

Read the rest of my post by CLICKING HERE and join me at the (in)courage community blog where I’m hanging out today as the featured (in)courage contributor and conversation hostess.. I’d love to see you there and hear your thoughts!

You’ve Been Pre-Approved

What if this week, every time we look in the mirror and think … “Uggh, I need to ______ {lose weight, do something about these wrinkles, get rid of those dark circles under my eyes, etc.} you say this out loud:

“He calls me Beautiful.”

Because it’s true. He does!

You are chosen. Treasured. Redeemed. Loved. Cherished. Enough. You are Pre-Approved!!


PreApproved

What if we surrounded our hearts with truth seekers and truth-speakers, who told us these truths again and again? Friends who point us back to the One who calls us Beloved, Known and Valuable.

This week I’m  honored to be joining a community of women that do just that, everyday. Speaking courage, truth and Hope into the hearts of women around the world through their words, blog posts, community groups and more. Oh how I’d love for you to join (me) there as I join the contributing writers team of:

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Perhaps (in)courage is a place you already know? Or maybe it’s a community waiting for you? I’ll be sharing more in the weeks to come. But I hope you’ll hop on over this week, and find out more about (in)courage, see me with bed-head (in my favorite place on earth), and meet the other new writers here. BUT BEFORE YOU GO be sure to ENTER TO WIN (Sorry, the giveaway is over, but would still love to hear from you)!

loveIdolTo celebrate the (in)courage-ment, and the fact that this week will be different because we’re going to tell ourselves the truth every time we look in the mirror…  I’m giving away Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes, by my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee. Jennifer is also a newbie (in)courage writer along with several others and me who joined the (in)courage team today!

Jennifer wrote “Love Idol” for women like us—who’ve had “enough of the not-enoughs.” This book is her journey toward freedom from the approval-seeking-cycle where she invites us to a place where we can lay down every mirror, every tally sheet, every report card — everything that tells us we aren’t (____) enough.

ENTER TO WIN by  leaving a comment sharing one area of your life where you would love to see yourself as God sees you: loved and pre approved. (Sorry, the giveaway is over, but would still love to hear from you)

Let God Love {YOU} Contest Winners

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CONGRATULATIONS 

Krystal Bowman Kirk & Sharon @faithhopecherrytea

You are the winners of my
#LetGodLoveYou
Confident Heart Contest!

We’ve got your emails! And we’ll be in touch to get your mailing addresses so we can send you:

2 signed copies of my Confident Heart Devotional book

a $50 gift card to Amazon or Target (you choose)

and a Scripture Print from Emily Burger Designs!

THANK {{YOU}} to each and every one of you who participated on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, your blogs, etc. We had over 600 entries!! More than anything, I have loved watching you share God’s promises and the power of His love with your friends and family!

Let’s keep sharing His {LOVE}!
I’ve got more inspiration and giveaways coming this week!