A Spiritual Personality Test

Before there was Enneagram or Myers-Briggs, there was Jesus.

When a stickler for rule-keeping asked him (prosaically) about the most important rule of all, Jesus’ answer went so far above and beyond that it could easily answer a dozen (better) questions.

Let’s see.

  • What is God looking for from humans?
  • What is the key to eternal life?
  • What is the key to abundant life?
  • What, frankly, is the meaning of life?
  • What are the most essential aspects of the human condition? (Emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, and social—heart, soul, mind, strength, and neighborhood.)
  • Define worship.
  • What percentage of a person’s life does God require?
  • Where should we begin?

Here’s what Jesus actually said.

“Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” —Mark 12:28-31

I find that the more I think about this rubric, the more I see a grid for understanding how I’m wired, how each of us uniquely connects with God. All of us, I think, have a sort of spiritual personality that inclines us in one direction or another. If we conduct a “strengths finder” inventory of our devotional life, we can see how it plays out. Some of us, for example, lean towards the cerebral; some of us are more action-oriented. For everyone, it starts with the heart.

You may be aware of Richard Foster’s work on spiritual formation. His organization, Renovaré, put together a gold mine of a book called Devotional Classics, a collection of excerpts from 2,000 years of Christian thinkers. It’s interesting how Foster divides these sojourners into what he calls six “streams” of spiritual formation:

  1. The Prayer-Filled Life
  2. The Virtuous Life
  3. The Spirit-Empowered Life
  4. The Compassionate Life
  5. The Word-Centered Life
  6. The Sacramental Life

With Foster’s categories in mind, I took another look at the Great Commandment and saw a lot of overlap. While Foster peels off the Spirit-fueled life as one way of knowing God, I’d argue that the Holy Spirit empowers every way to worship. All of our avenues to knowing God (heart and soul, mind and strength, loving neighbors) depend upon the power of our Counselor, Comforter, Keeper.  Keeping Him always at the center, there are a lot of ways to worship. Where do we begin?

Worship, the prayer-centered life, a Godward orientation. This is the realm of heart and soul—longing, praising, singing. As I put it in Thirty Thousand Days,

Worship, boiled down, is love, quite different qualitatively from respect, or loyalty. Love usually begins with emotion but is sustained by choice, nurtured by tenderness and attention, and carefully guarded. But many, offering numb obedience, call it love, equating a tow-the-line mentality with devotion. It is true that God desires obedience (“to obey is better than sacrifice,” according to I Samuel 15:22), but also clear that he desires deeply our very hearts.

“Love me with all your heart” —Deuteronomy, Matthew, Mark, Luke

“Serve me with all your heart” —Deuteronomy, Joshua, I Samuel

“Trust me with all your heart” —Proverbs

“Seek me with all your heart” —Jeremiah

“Praise me with all your heart” —Psalms

“Follow me with all your heart” —I Kings

And finally, the right context for obedience, “Obey me with all your heart” —Deuteronomy, Psalms

Furthermore, we are instructed to have a heart that is soft toward God, yearns for God, pounds for God, is fully devoted, is stirred, steadfast, secure, and undivided. We are “above all else” to guard our hearts, to keep our hearts pure, to rend our hearts, to be glad and rejoice with all our hearts, and if we have strayed, to return to him with all our hearts, to treasure his word in our hearts, and to cultivate sincerity of heart.

An abundant life, then, is a life lit by love, a life lived fully from the heart.

Some of the writers who explore this intersection of heart and soul include Julian of Norwich, Frank Laubach, E.M. Bounds, and Brennan Manning—not necessarily a group known for their systematic theology, but for their amazing, emulate-able prayer lives.

Spirit-Filled Life-2

When you live from the heart, it flows upward, to God, but it also flows outward, to neighbors. I think the natural overlap of loving God and others is compassion. Our love of God is humbling, awe-struck; we see God’s love of humanity and join Him. A meek understanding of ourselves in light of God’s mercy gives us empathy and makes us, like Christ, gracious. A couple writers who exemplify this compassionate life are John Perkins and Rich Mullins, people whose heart-love for both God and neighbor shines.

Spirit-Filled Life-3

This vertical-horizontal life must be grounded in knowing God to be sustainable. After all, we cannot worship whom we do not know.  As A.W. Tozer said,

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God…

We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.

The time we spend studying God is one of the greatest predictors of our spiritual vitality and Christlikeness. Whether we naturally tend to relish intellectual pursuits or not, we can’t afford to skimp on time with Him. Too many Christians, I think, neglect this path of loving God, and as a result, too many churches stall out, only ever an inch deep. But God is endlessly fascinating, infinitely surprising, and quite pleased to reveal Himself to seekers. (See Psalm 25.)

Knowing God requires studying Him, asking questions, seeking answers. We press into Him, never satisfied, and listen with rapt attention. It is an act of mental devotion and spiritual discipline, loving God with both our mind and our strength. Primarily, it is Bible study—daily, sustained attention on His Word.

If you need inspiration, dive into Tozer, J.I. Packer, J.P. Moreland, Jen Wilkin. Check out the Bible Project’s through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, complete with fun videos explaining all 66 books of the Bible.

Spirit-Filled Life-4

Loving God with all of our strength is active. The mental side of action is study, while neighbor-oriented action sends us out on mission. When we apply strength to neighbor love, we live set apart—holy—lives. We live purposefully—seeking justice, speaking truth, proclaiming the gospel. Knowing that “we are not our own, we are bought at a price” gives incentive to worship sacrificially, setting aside, as Hebrews puts it, “the sin that so easily entangles” and running “with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1-3) It is the kind of radical, just life modeled by Martin Luther King, Jr. or poured out by any number of faithful missionaries, often at the expense of their lives.

Spirit-Filled Life-9

Passionately pursuing God heart and soul, loving your neighbor with all of your strength, living self-disciplined lives—all of this can take a toll. When weariness sets in, the first to go is strength. Inevitably, our time with the Lord suffers, our love for neighbor dries up, and finally, we lose heart. What’s left?

When Michael and I hit our most weary moment in ministry, we were given the gift of rest, an extended sabbatical away from our hectic day to day business. Even in that precious time away, we were initially so tired that I found it hard to pray, hard to read. But God used that quiet season to restore my heart, through Sabbath, stillness, and contemplation. Instead of doing, I was allowed simply to be. Instead of studying, I was permitted to listen, and to see.

This last pathway to worship is perhaps the least intuitive in our ADHD culture: the quiet interplay between mind and soul. Some of my favorite teachers here include Eugene Peterson, Annie Dillard, and C.S. Lewis, people who took the necessary time to be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46).

Spirit-Filled Life-7

What happens when we still our hearts, look up? It leads us right back to worship, and refills our hearts.

Maybe you can easily identify which way of worship comes most naturally to you, and which areas are more of a struggle. What would it look like to learn to love God in new ways?  The more we give God of ourselves, the more we are repaid (heaped up, pressed down, running over).

Who wouldn’t want more of Him?

Called and Keeping Place: Two Very Short Book Reviews

This month I simultaneously listened to Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home and paged through Ryan Pemberton’s Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again. It was a fascinating combo platter. Both Michel and Pemberton found themselves far from their places of origin and longing for home. Both explore the geographical cost of discipleship. Both use story to tease out theology. And both were terrific.

Having just returned from Oxford (Pemberton’s stomping ground) and having so recently published a book with the working title “Homesick” (ultimately Thirty Thousand Days), I couldn’t not read either of these books. Indeed, there were so many familiar moments in each one that a fly on the wall might have heard me yelp in recognition.

Here is a teaser for each, for those of you looking for your next good read. Be sure to check out the links to their respective websites, too.

keeping-place-11Keeping Place.  As one who is demonstrably preoccupied with Home and homesickness, I loved this book. Michel’s depth of historical study and the fascinating connections she makes between ideas and moments in time are so impressive. She writes like a scholar but not necessarily for scholars—she teases out universal themes and relates them to all of us. I listened to the audio version, so there is much I did not catch (a hazard of audio books), but I enjoyed it enough to covet a paper copy for my shelf, one to dog-ear and underline. From her early discussion of “nostalgia” (did you know homesickness was once considered a medical condition?) to her closing chapter on our forever Home, this is a great exploration of the human condition.

Called by Ryan J. PembertonCalled.  Fast paced, thought provoking, entertaining, and scattered throughout with great nuggets. Pemberton is a great storyteller, and a very likable protagonist. You have the feeling he and his wife would make great friends. There are plenty of Lewis stories for Narnia lovers, publishing misadventures for aspiring authors, and reflections on discerning God’s will for anyone. Another one to keep and refer back to (or re-read) in the future, whenever the idea of following God in crazy directions is daunting and the way forward is unclear.

Sojourner

Imagine you slept last night with the window cracked, and this morning as the sky grew light, you heard a persistent bird on a tree branch outside. It must have been a new bird in the neighborhood, because it was a tune you hadn’t heard, one haunting melody whistled again and again. Imagine you got up and showered, still with that simple tune floating around in your head, but as soon as you started the car and the radio came to life, there it was again: the exact same notes. Weird, right? But then imagine you arrived at work, and the person in the next cubicle was humming it. And then your neighbor’s phone. And a barista, whistling it three hours later. Twilight Zone, for sure.

Sometimes I have that sensation. Multiple conversations with different people revert back to the same theme. Online chatter swirls around it. Cultural events echo it once more.

Everything is connected.

This week my déjà vu comes in the haunting song of fractured identity. I hear it in individuals: in the broken heart of my young anorexic friend and the lament of an uprooted divorcé. I hear it across society: in the rampant gender wars, our pervasive dysphorias, the immigrant’s plight, and the perpetual segregation of our people. I hear it in the church—questions of vocation and purpose and roles. It’s everywhere.

Who am I? Who are you? How are we meant to live?

It seems to me so striking that our never-fully-answered howl goes up before a God who names himself simply, “I am.”

He alone is content with that plain statement, and does not wriggle under his own self-examination. He needs no qualifiers, no sentence-finishers. His name itself is complete. We get from two words a picture of God as content, confident, and wholly enough. He is not grasping, as we are, or ashamed, boastful or fractured. He just is.

God is so very different from us. We hate ourselves, compare ourselves, puff up, put down, distort, wear masks, deceive, exclude, reject, divide. Almost all of our national dysfunctions come down to our discontented, broken identity. Who are we? We have no idea.

I love that throughout the Bible God’s people identify themselves as “sojourners.” They are the wandering ones, far from home, but heading, always, to Zion. They’re quick on their feet, ready at a moment’s notice to pack it in and head out. They are the original RVers. Here are a people who might as well name themselves “Homesick,” whose primary attributes include longing and waiting. GoRVingLogo_11_203x153-2

They know: it is easier to cling to God when your hands are empty. It’s easier to be rich in love when you’re poor in spirit. It’s easier to resist the quicksand prejudices of culture when this world is not your home. They hold loosely; they travel light. And God, for His part, sojourns with them.

As Jen Pollock Michel points out, God’s first home among His people was not temple, but tabernacle. Think of it—God living in a Coleman tent. He gifts His people with His presence, a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night—and with them, He hits the road. He’s not afraid of wilderness; in fact, He almost seems to prefer it. (As any camper can tell you, in the wilderness you can really see the stars.)

Maybe the sojourner identity is the one great solution to our culture’s many woes. I am not, after all, Queen of the Castle. I am Child of the King. (And just like that, there go pettiness, scorn, self-centeredness and pride.)

I am Not Home Yet, therefore, I do not have more rights than you. (There go nativism, suspicion, hostility, and flotillas of homeless refugees.)

I am not Defined by my Past; I am Defined by my Father. Therefore, I don’t have to grovel like a worm, I can relax as Beloved. On the other hand, I am not In Search of a New and Better Self. I am Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. (And now we’re whole.)

Listen to the people around you speak. Do you hear that same tune piping over the loudspeaker of someone’s fractured heart?

“I’m the black sheep of my family.”

“I’m trying to find myself.”

“I just don’t fit anywhere.”

And then listen to David.

You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

 My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

 Your eyes saw my unformed body;

all the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!

How vast is the sum of them!

 Were I to count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with you….

Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

—Psalm 139

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Imposter Syndrome

In the early days, to admit that I wanted to be a writer was painfully embarrassing. “What are your hobbies?” someone would ask.

“Um, nothing really.” The asker’s eyebrows would freeze into question marks. But I hated being boring, so desperately I’d cast about for a better answer. “I used to jog, but I have bad knees.” His expression would start to glaze over. “I’ve thought about gardening,” I might stutter. But my husband wouldn’t let it lie.

“That’s not true! You’re a writer! She’s a writer,” he’d proclaim proudly. And the asker would smile and I would turn three shades of pink, throwback to the days when the cute little redheaded boy glanced in my direction.spaces-eclipses-nights

I’m not sure what was so awful about admitting a desire to write. It felt so presumptuous, like Dwight Schrute, Assistant to the Regional Manager. “And I have a purple belt in ka-ra-té.”

You would think the grip of self-consciousness would lessen, especially as writing became a daily thing. Wrote a novel? Check. Sold a story? Check. But for every accomplishment, a failure. Queried an agent—did she accept me? Um. No. But you sold that book you wrote, right? Um. Nope. Did that story actually appear in print? Yeah… no. And later, when I began to blog, the failures just felt more public—the lack of glory evident for all to see. When I sold a book, there was even further to fall.

moon-crescent-skyI know I’m not the only one. Ryan Pemberton, in his book, Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again, confesses the same agony, both as an aspiring author and as a grad student at Oxford. “Imposter syndrome,” he’s told it’s called, the irrational but consuming fear of being found out.

I don’t really belong here, and if I’m not careful, I’ll be exposed. Not a real writer. Not quite… enough.

The world of writing, publishing, platforms, and sales, is a world rigged to take the tuck right out of a person. You struggle to summon up courage to say all the things, to say them plain, to tell the truth. You labor to birth this helpless but lovable infant onto paper and send that baby out into the world, only to be rejected time and again. And then, at last, the book is accepted, the deal inked onto paper. And you just can’t help but hope against the odds for unholy vindication—maybe this will be the next great sensation. Maybe this one will put the naysayers to shame.natural-moon-sky

Ah, but you, wise readers, will have caught my fatal flaw there in the sentences above. All that self-pitying shame is really just the flip side of pride.

Is this something you struggle with, too? The “I’m not yet quite good enough but if I try I can be” line? People usually don’t say the complete sentence, I’ve noticed. We chop it in half and throw an ellipsis in: “I’m just not good enough…” But the dangling, unspoken assumption is that we can be. Probably. Someday.

wafe-ocean-seaMostly our strategy to combat this particular little lie is to tackle the first part. “You are enough,” we tell ourselves, kindness sparkling as we talk ourselves down from the ledge. But maybe we need to also confront the second half of the sentence. Fact is, we never will be—and we don’t have to. When a preschooler hands you a crayon family portrait, the point is not that he’s Michelangelo, it’s that you love his goofy stick figures just as they are.

We aren’t spectacular. We’re just spectacularly loved.

As Tim Keller wisely points out, humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves, it’s thinking of ourselves less. That’s not a strategy that plays well in a platform-driven, personality-parading, click-bait culture. We want to sparkle and shine. But what the world needs isn’t more of me, it’s more of Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

sky-moon-moonrise-nightHang on, you say, aren’t we supposed to shine? In fact, wasn’t it Jesus who said “you are the light of the world?” Absolutely. But maybe He wasn’t calling you to be the sun. Maybe He was calling you to be the moon.

So—writers, pastors, speakers, leaders, singers, shiners—how do we live that out? How do we drag our eyes away from our stats, our status, our successes and our failures? I think the answer is to look into the mirror less, to look up at the Son more. I think it’s to be faithful, plodding along in anonymity if necessary. I think we have to to gain strength for that steadfastness not by daydreaming about far-off days of glory to come, but by daydreaming about the glory of God right now, shining, as He does, quietly, softly, in our midst.full-moon-dark-night

Sara Groves sang it:

“I am the moon with no light of my own. Still you have made me to shine. And as I glow in this cold dark night, I know I can’t be a light unless I turn my face to you.”  You Are the Sun

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Prayer for the Short-Sighted

Thwart me, Lord, when I am determined to drive down dead-end alleys.

Thwart me when my pride goes before a shattering fall.

Thwart me when I’m dazzled by fools’ gold and mesmerized by shiny surfaces, when I pass up eternal to run hard after temporary.

Thwart me when I give you slapdash but you want my whole heart.

Thwart me when I mistake easy for good.

Thwart me when I mistake cutting for clever.

Thwart me when I grab for excuses—for my own bad behavior or for my unwillingness to forgive someone else’s.

Thwart me, Glorious One, when I glory-hog.

Teach me the patience to wait on Your better plan, and grant me faith in Your unfailing love. Help me not to trust the evidence of my eyes, but to anticipate a better outcome than I can see.

And thank You, God, for answering not only the prayers I beg in ignorance, but the prayers I didn’t know I needed.

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Confessions of a One Ball Bouncer

We used to work with an almost-empty-nester who was fond of saying she is a one ball bouncer. “I can’t juggle lots of things,” she would say, matter-of-fact. “I can do one thing well at a time.” I marveled at her insistence on this as I spun through my to-do lists. Baby bathed? Check. Hosting planned? Check. Events, service, work, school… the weeks piled up and overflowed. Time well spent? Check…ish.

Truthfully, though I attempted to juggle lots of balls, I dropped as many as I juggled. Sometimes disastrously. Like when I double-booked myself and stood someone up. When we couldn’t find matching clean clothes. When I dashed off an email forthwith and then realized a major faux pas in the first paragraph.

Meanwhile our friend smiled calmly and said no to things. A lot. This irritated me. I perceived her to have plenty of spare time while I, Bilbo-like, felt “like butter scraped over too much bread.” And yet she did lots of things really well—hospitality, homeschooling, multi-course meals. Her family was happy, her home serene. What seemed a luxury to me back then I now realize was her life-blood, and in fact, her life work.

Because of my own perennial struggle with procrastination and ADD, empty time in my day has a tendency to fill, not with meaningful moments, but with a lot of whirlwind. Instead of cleverly seizing available hours to catch up on emails or get ahead on housework, I tend to fritter. If time came to me whole, like an oak tree, it would leave my workshop in chips. In the same space, a thoughtful ancestor might have slowly carved out a canoe, smooth-planed and beautiful, and launched out to see the world.

Knowing my whirling tendencies, I try to pressurize my schedule. The more on the list, the more I’ll accomplish, I reason.

The more balls I’ll drop.

The more wood I’ll chip.

I want to learn the art of slowing time. How to sit still and listen, how to look away (from so many distractions) in order to see. I want to learn a radical contentment in the moment—to accept what’s given instead of grasping at more. I want to pare down—not that, not that, just this, this pair of eyes looking up at me, this opportunity to cheerfully give.

In Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry writes, “…you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: ‘Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.’ I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”

Hmm. I am not all the way capable of so much simplicity—just the one ball, gracefully bounced, just the one tree, sanded smooth. Still, those are the right instructions.

Take my one family, love them well.

Take my one kitchen, sing while I bake.

Take my life and let it be, ever, always, all for Thee.

We Have Lost More Than We Never Imagined

Imagine a child who has never lain back in the grass just to feel thin leaves whisper against his earlobe, never watched cloudplay to find a story told for him alone, never learned to hear the separate song of robin, sparrow, chickadee. How can he hear the separate song of loneliness, sung by the owl-eyed little girl, the skinny immigrant with his beautiful eyelashes, the old lady liver-spotted with near 100 years of secrets, stories, songs?

How can a poverty of imagination purchase empathy?

Imagine a child who has never lain on the bedroom floor with Peter Pan, Treasure Island, Hardy Boys, never plucked out a tune on unfamiliar instruments, never learned to look for shooting star.

How can he dream, who never dreams?

How can he plan for tomorrow, who lives in the never-quiet racket of today?flower-bird

How can a poverty of thought purchase purpose?

Imagine a child nourished on binge-watching, blinking neon games, portable noise. There is no end to thumping bass and chime of inbox, the unceasing prattle of friends (no more waiting, even, for a phone call).

There is no waiting, period. There is no delayed gratification, no longing, no patience needed. And we are surprised when impatience bears its ugly fruit.

Where do they come from, the children with their guns? Where is this carnage born? Is it a failure of legislation? Of health care? Of education? Of parenting?

Or is it simply that we have forgotten how to sit, quiet? It takes quiet to see—are you surprised? Sit in a nickel arcade and try to see your neighbor’s heart, try to see your own.

We have forgotten how to see what others see, forgotten how to slip into their shoes.

We have forgotten how to imagine, how to dream.

We have forgotten how to listen, how to wait.

We are always loud, forever moving. Why then are we surprised when there is no peace? We are paying for the sins of omission.

Without quiet, there is no thought.

Without thought, there is no thoughtfulness.

Without thoughtfulness, there is no empathy.

Without empathy, there is no remorse.

Without imagination, there is no vision.

Without vision, there is no reason for hope.

Without hope, there is no reason to live.

With nothing to lose, there are no inhibitions.

We sow the wind, and we shall reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7)

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

― Wendell Berry

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