Category Archives: Character/Virtues

Blind Spots

dsc_0729By Judy Villanueva

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. (2Corinthians 4:7-11)

Chopping vegetables at the kitchen counter, family togetherness percolated throughout the house.  The football game in the living room, little ones running up and down the stairs, and my daughter and I in the kitchen talking over the cutting board.  She said, “I was thinking about family traits lately and in particular, about the stubbornness that runs on both sides of our family.”  “What?” I thought, “MY family? Stubborn?”  I heard very little else she said after that and while I watched her lips move, it dawned on me that God was asking if I’d like a little help to see one of my blind spots. Sheesh! Not really.  But if I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that saying yes to God always changes me for the better, even if it hurts a little — so I opened my eyes and said, ” I want to see.”

Blind-spots.  These “spots”, so to speak, are behaviors, plain to our family and friends but opaque to us.  They are often deeply rooted in our early development with origins that vary from birth order to trauma to temperament and a host of other things that make us, us — both beautiful and broken.  You can be quite certain that these are the areas in need of healing and love along with the skilled pressure of the Potter’s hands.  The problem with being shaped is that often what is needed to soften our rough edges is heat and following God into the fire, even if it is a refining one, burns.  Who wants to know that they are stubborn or lazy, self-absorbed, negative, blunt or prickly?

No doubt, being willing to know our blind-spots takes courage but it also powerfully positions us to be changed!

That is my great hope when I hear the knock that invites me to open my heart to a Light that will reveal my spots, blind and otherwise.  The image of a cracked pot with all-surpassing power bursting from its brokenness gives me a picture of what goes on when I bring all of myself to God — and make peace with who I am today.  Christ in me, spilling through the cracks and beaming from my broken places gives me courage to yield to the Potter who keeps pouring out His life and shaping His image in me.

What a realization that it’s not perfection that I must pursue but a life given and open, attentive, listening, and willing to follow my Savior into the fire that makes me His — broken and beautiful clay pot.

crackedpot2

“Thank you, Father, for holy nudges that alert me to things you want to change in me. Give me courage to know, confess and trust that you are always a good and excellent Potter.  I am  grateful that you know all of me, all the time and are faithful to hold me in the fire while you make me more like Jesus.  Amen.”

What about you?

Can you sense when God is speaking to you?

How do you feel when you become aware of a blind spot?  How do you respond?

What do you think and feel when you see the image of the broken pot filled with light?

(*Thank you Robert S. Mack for helping get this image out of my head and onto paper.  It is my daily prayer.)

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Worship  

Freely Give

DSC_0561By Judy Villanueva

“Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

“Yahuwah your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His Love, He will dance over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

When finally I took a breath, I lifted my eyes and was met by a knowing look on my mother’s face.  She had listened as I recounted a hurtful episode with a friend.  Normally, she would be the first one to encourage bringing conflict into the light but this time her expression told me that I wasn’t going to receive her normal counsel.  She said with care, “I know it hurts and you may want to draw back, but this is a good friend and trust me —- it’s better to go forward, forgive and be happy with whatever your friend can give you.”  I sat quietly letting her words sink in and, there, felt God’s gentle invitation to grace.  That day I chose to forgive and make peace with what the friendship was not, rejoice over what it was, and trust God for a good way forward.

I think my mother discerned that my expectations of my friend, while reasonable, were unrealistic.  The options were to either ask something of my friend that she could not give, withdraw from friendship, or adjust my expectations and trust God to provide.  The result was a floodgate that burst open!  No longer was Love held back by my unforgiving heart and its flow washed over and carried me to a place where grace grows.  I realized that the gift of grace is exactly what I receive from God every single minute of my life. He forgives me, believes in me, and celebrates who I am…even if who I am, is a creature in process, flawed and selfish. 

Here and now is where God loves me! 

Henri Nouwen once spoke of two necessary ingredients to all friendships:  forgiveness and celebration.  If it isn’t every day, then it is often, that we need to forgive and be forgiven by our friends. 

Without an open heart that is willing to share the grace freely received, we grieve the heart of God and sadly, block His flow of Love through our lives.

If we cannot forgive, we cannot celebrate and if we cannot celebrate we cannot join God in His exuberant dance over creation — that’s you and me!  His dance steps are full of grace and the tune that He sings over us is a melody of generous love…freely given!

“Thank you, Father, for the way you look at me!  What would I be without the grace I have received?  Fill me with your love and let it inspire a gracious dance in me.  Amen.”

What about you?

Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive?

Have you tasted the freedom of forgiving? Being forgiven?

Are you expecting things from your friend that they cannot give right now?  

What does it feel like to be celebrated by God and others?  Who are you celebrating?

Have you felt God invite you to grace lately? 

Freely receive the grace that pours over you and trade your grudges for grace.  God invites you to celebrate with Him!

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Worship

Do You Love me?

UP! aspens

By Judy Villanueva

“Do you love Me?”  (John 21:15)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Stuck in the bathroom, I attempted to muster the courage to go back out into the party. It was a gathering of people with whom I felt out of place and misunderstood. Granted, they were just feelings and likely not even true, but it is how I felt. Overwhelmed, I slipped into this awkward space to pray. “Lord, I thought I would do better today! I prepared beforehand. I prayed, read the Word, determined to love well, and yet, here I am, stuck in the bathroom feeling so defeated. Help me to be strong!” What I heard in reply surprised me. “I am here. It’s ok. Return to love in weakness. I am with you.” This felt strangely freeing, mostly because the only place I could love from, at that moment, was from weakness. So, I returned to the party and loved…weak and a bit scrambled up inside, but freed to love!

The only thing that keeps me from loving on any given day is me.

For sure, many things threaten to box me in and block God’s flow of love. I might be tired, irritable, or anxious. I might be constrained by the pressure of feeling insecure, less than, or judged. It might even be that the person in front of me is just plain unloving! Each and every time, I have a decision to make to either step back from loving or, to pause and ask for God’s help to move forward. When I am in these situations, my first taste of freedom often comes from simply deciding to love, and the next ones from giving myself fully to this decision. In other words, as I act on believing that God is able to empower me to love beyond my fatigue, insecurity or dread, grace begins to flow!

Here is the incredible thing about any decision to love. When we love, we bless and honor Jesus! We answer His question, “Do you love Me?” with a resounding “Yes! I love You, Jesus!” whenever we avail ourselves to be filled and poured out for another.

Can you imagine that it is possible to bless the heart of God when and as we love?

That is quite a notion!  And, thankfully, it counts even when we love imperfectly and in weakness. We must never forget what it means that the Spirit of God lives within us.  We walk around with access to an inexhaustible spring of deep and bountiful love! We may feel boxed in and scrambled up, but when we find our way out of our awkward spaces and cry out for help, we discover that wide and rich waters of love await us.  Come, drink and love Jesus!

“Lord, I bump into mini-crossroads every day where I am aware of my love-limitations. I am selfish and in need of Your well that is inexhaustible! I want You to hear my “Yes, I love you!” as I love others. I want to bless You! Fill me and free me to love. Amen.”

What about you?

Do you feel free to love others? Are you aware of what closes off your heart?

Have you considered that in loving others, you bless the heart of God?

What do you think Jesus meant by asking “Do you love Me?” How would you respond?

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Whatever is Lovely

tetonsdawnBy Judy Villanueva

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple. (Psalm 27:4)

It was completely silent, except for the sound of lake water sloshing against the sides of the metal fishing boat that held us.  I was stretched out reading while my husband sat patiently, rotating the reel, waiting for the tug that would mean we were having fish for dinner!  It was one of those extraordinary moments when one feels held within the beauty of God and, ushered into a great shalom!  Between the blue skies that watched over us and the hundreds of pines that surrounded us, it would have been difficult to imagine that we would ever be unsettled by anything ever again!  I remember stepping into that little boat with an anxious heart and returning to shore, at peace.  What is it about gazing at beauty that quiets the soul and bears witness to the reality of God—on the throne, in charge, alert, in love, and magnificently reigning over heaven and earth?

God is beautiful!  Massively, spectacularly, incomprehensibly beautiful!  It would be impossible to tell the story of His infinite beauty and yet, He has graced us with foretastes scattered throughout the earth!  We see hints on purple mountain peaks laced in snow, and in the array of colors splashed across the landscape on a spring morning.  We marvel under the magic of a night sky and catch our breath in the presence of the sun rising in firey splendor.  Beauty blesses our soul and speaks to us of God in ways that words cannot.

When all seems lost and despair has declared a victory, beauty always has the final word — and that word is hope!

Reflecting on the attributes of God is a worthwhile and faith-building practice.  Awakening to His beauty in this world anchors us to the reality of God…a good and beautiful God.

There is something in the human spirit that intuitively understands that beauty doesn’t just happen.  It reflects and points to its Maker!

To behold His beauty is to discover His heart, peek at His face, and hear His loving whispers.  There is revelation of God on flower petals, ocean waves, and glaciers — ladybugs, redwoods, and the Milky Way!  At the heart of beauty is a happy God and our soul is calmed in its presence.  It bears witness that He is real, on the throne, in charge, alert, in love, and magnificently reigning over heaven and earth!

“Thank You, Father, for this world and every inch of beauty within it!  Help me to notice and hear your voice through all of it.  I am so grateful for starlit skies and glassy lakes, for delicately colored flowers, rainbow trout and moose!  I praise you, most beautiful God!  Amen.” 

What about you? 

How does beauty impact you?  Does it?

When was the last time you were astounded by God’s beauty in creation?  How did it make you feel?

Is beholding beauty a familiar practice?

Do you know God as beautiful?

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Worship

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Loving Matters

photo-13By Judy Villanueva

1 John 4:7  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

I tiptoed into my children’s rooms, one at a time and kissed them goodnight.  With mixed feelings I stared at their beautiful sleeping faces, so sweet and peaceful.  All I could think of was how impatient I’d been that day when all three needed me at once, and how much I longed for quiet during the afternoon play hours.  Ugh!  Guilt.  How would these children survive me, such an imperfect mom?  I remember sitting with my dad one day, confessing my short-comings as a mom and asking for his wisdom.  His input was unexpected but so  life giving.  He said, “Just love them!  You’ll make lots of mistakes in parenting.  It’s impossible to get it perfect, but you can love them…and that makes all the difference.  Loving matters.”

The truth of these words has stayed with me over the years and guided me faithfully through many situations where I have felt inadequate.  Entering the prayer room,  counseling office, or even having breakfast with a friend,  I always wish I had more to offer in the way of wisdom and healing “know how”.  Do you ever feel that way?  Listening to stories feels very sacred and as tears flow and heartaches are shared my first reaction is always to want to bring immediate relief.  If I could, I would waive the wand to relieve suffering, but since I cannot I follow compassion to the cross and look up for help!

There in its shadow,  I hear God speak a familiar refrain. “Just love them.  I Am doing what you cannot but you can love…and loving matters!”

Let us love one another!  It will surely cost us our comfort and may be inconvenient.  Most of the time, it won’t feel like enough and every time our hearts will ache to do more, but loving matters and is  the closest some people ever get to the heart of God.  When we join another in their suffering, when we share a burden and offer love, we give and are given a priceless gift.

Loving, even when done imperfectly, touches pain with our presence and ushers people into the arms of God.

Agree to love!  Tap the Well that waits for us to drink up, be filled and poured out for others.  God is always doing what we cannot, but we can love…and loving matters!

“Thank you, God, for your love. How I need You and depend on Your presence to love well.  Give me courage to bear burdens and share suffering.  Fill me with Your love, fresh and mighty for each new day.  Amen.”

What about you?

Do you ever feel inadequate when face to face with another’s deep need?

Do you also need courage to bear burdens and share suffering?

Would you rather fix something or love someone?

Have you felt the power of love carry you into the arms of God?

“Let us love one another…for Love is from God!”

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Worship

Cultivating Joy!

lake louiseBy Judy Villanueva

Psalm 16:11
You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

We reached the top and stood facing a full view of the Rocky Mountains iced in snow! The wind was blowing and the air was a warm 63 degrees…spectacular! Have you ever felt joy sweeping you up through your senses? As we walked down the hill I savored the feeling of the sun on my face, the sight of my husband walking slightly ahead of me, and the sound of pines as they sifted the wind. It soothed my soul and placed my worries in a larger context, a joyful one held securely in the hands of God.  If I ever need convincing that God is kind and good I need look no further than how He designed us to share in the beauty and glory of all that He has made!

One of my favorite questions to ask a new friend is “What gives you joy?” “What delights your soul?” “What draws you into the goodness of God?” Problems and challenges seem to find their way to the forefront of our awareness because, like the prick of a needle, pain demands our attention and, unfortunately, can be rather hoggish about it.

Being present to joy amidst and alongside life’s struggles, however, helps us remember that God is good.

Witnessing His love and kindness through the joys that a day offers inspires hope and shifts our attention to the reality of God with us. He is with us!

When my daughter was little we used to play a game on vacations or wherever we happened to be when we bumped into beauty!  I would say, “Stop! Now, freeze this moment.  Take a mental picture and never forget…” the aspens we were hiking through or the lake we were sitting by or the feel of the wind blowing through us!

Cultivating joy is a powerful spiritual exercise, not to mention its potential to transform our perspectives and enlarge our capacities to see God in and above, before and behind all of life.

But, it requires our engagement and sometimes our willingness to confront old patterns of thinking. God has designed us to share His life and see His glory in the midst and alongside our real lives. He is present in warm winds, sweet fragrances, good friends and countless other secret plans to sweep us up with joy and help us along our way!

“Father, thank you for the gift and grace of our five senses and the way they allow us to take in beauty, sounds, flavors and the feel of Your love around us. Awaken me to the day’s invitations to joy and help me to tuck away your goodness and remember Your history of faithfulness to me. Amen.”


How about you?

What gives you joy?

What draws you into the goodness of God?

How might you cultivate joy today?

Can you receive His joy today, however it may come to you, in the midst and alongside your real life?

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Worship

Contentment

DSC_0316By Judy Villanueva

Philippians 4:11-12

 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

“As soon as God comes through for me and heals ‘this’ area of my life or provides ’that’ answer to prayer then, I’ll be content!  I’ll never doubt Him again and I’ll finally be happy!”  Sound familiar?  Tying contentment to circumstances can be a slippery slope.  If you are anything like me, my favorite solution to any and all angst usually involves getting what I think I need now.  But,   IF  I’ll make a little room for my discontentment to do its work, I just may find myself tripping over my truest and deepest longing, the one that is always reaching for God and touched by His presence!

The secret of contentment that Paul speaks of seems to be unraveled by the imperfect and discontented places of life.

They remind us that our souls ache to be filled!  I’ve often wondered if God didn’t create the five senses so that we can physically experience a foretaste of fullness.  Good food, sweet melodies, and inspiring vistas help us to know what it is to be satisfied.  Likewise, feeling hungry or empty, bored or lonely can motivate us to reach beyond the here and now for the ONE who is able satisfy our souls deep cry for love.   We were made for His presence  and in His company we find the secret of  contentment.

Today, as I shoveled snow off the driveway, I looked up and noticed I was being showered with the fluffiest, most beautiful snowflakes!  In this unexpected midlife moment, I felt like a child playing outside, caught up in the beauty and magic of what felt like a living snow globe!  I looked over at my husband, who was also helping to relocate millions of snowflakes, and felt Grace enfold me.  It drew me into an acute awareness of God’s goodness and seemed to sift out worry and offer me a cupful of joy! 

All of a sudden, I felt lucky and aware of what IS blessings my life, rather than what ISN’T.

I stood there with my face toward heaven and my arms stretched out, so as not to miss one ounce of the Grace that was falling all around me!

“Father, thank You that You want to be my place of deep and residing contentment.  Help me to follow my longings to Your heart that waits for me.  Thank you for always waiting and reaching for me.   Amen.”

What about you?

When did you last feel full and content?

Where and how are you now discontent?

What helps you feel close to God?

Have you experienced the secret of being content?

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To Live is Christ

DSC_0021By Judy Villanueva

For me, to live is Christ. (Philippians 1:21)

With my eyes closed, I soaked in the beauty of the worship ballad being sung over the congregation.  It was a sweet melody that offered an enfolding of love so scrumptious that I felt I could stand under it all day long.  Suddenly, a jarring noise from across the aisle pierced the song and shook me out of my blessed trance.  Feeling my peace disturbed, I glanced over in search of the source of these discordant notes and felt my breath catch as I found it!  There, across the aisle, was the most beautiful face lifted upwards and a little boy singing at the top of his lungs.  With one hand on his walker, he stood and belted out his perfect gift of worship with a smile that I believe lit the heart of God.  I wiped away tears, deeply touched and taught by this pure and holy offering of love.

The experience felt like a sacred moment where God was pointing to purity and saying, “Look!”  I’ve been praying lately about my fickle heart that, in one moment flows with love and, in the next, with self-interest and impatience.   I don’t like that.  It feels jangling and yet, reminds me of my great need for Christ and the fact that, while saved by grace, I am still a “creature in-process” of becoming holy.

The discord in my heart alerts me to the choices I have throughout the day to either turn to the Holy Spirit for help to live well or follow the impulses of my heart.

Without this tension, I’d likely become complacent and  step out of the flow of grace that is meant to wash, refine and carry me into the likeness of Christ.

I want to live, love and worship from a pure heart and truly mean it when I say, “For me, to live is Christ!”  Today, as I prayed for God’s help, I became aware that Jesus had drawn near and was, once again, pointing to something and saying, “Look!”  There was a hush in my soul as I turned my attention to my dearest friend who gently and lovingly drew my eyes to the cross.

There, beneath the echo of love’s purest song, I could feel my heart surrender and all preoccupation give way to joyous gratitude!

Can it be that simple?  In the shadow of the cross my heart is inspired, filled up and set free!  Love’s purest gift made a way once…and once and for all.

“Jesus, thank you for the cross and for belting out your purest gift of love so that I can be set free.  Help me remember that my job is one of receiving this gift and letting it empower me to live well.  Thank you for that little boy who gave me a picture of a heart freed to love!  Amen.”

What about you?

What does “To live is Christ” mean to you?

Do you want what you want?

Can you discern the discordant notes in your soul that are meant to help you feel  your need for Christ?

Have you felt the power of the cross wash over you?

Stand still and look up at your dearest friend…on the cross…pouring out love’s purest gift to set you free.

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Do You Love Me?

DSC_0561

By Judy Villanueva

John 21:15   “Do you love Me?”  

Stuck in the bathroom, I attempted to muster the courage to go back out into the party.  It was a gathering of people with whom I felt  out of place and misunderstood.  Granted, they were just feelings and likely not even true, but it is how I felt.  Overwhelmed, I slipped into this awkward space to pray.  “Lord, I thought I would do better today!   I prepared beforehand.  I prayed, read the Word, determined to love well, and yet, here I am, stuck in the bathroom feeling so defeated.  Help me to be strong!”  What I heard in reply surprised me.   “I am here.  It’s ok.  Return to love in weakness.  I am with you.”  This felt strangely freeing, mostly because the only place I could love from, at that moment, was from weakness.  So, I returned to the party and loved…weak and a bit scrambled up inside, but freed to love!

The only thing that keeps me from loving on any given day is me.

For sure, many things threaten to box me in and block God’s flow of love.  I might be tired, irritable, or anxious.  I might be constrained by the pressure of feeling insecure, less than, or judged.  It might even be that the person in front of me is  just plain unloving!  Each and every time, I have a decision to make to either step back from loving or, to pause and ask for God’s help to move forward.  When I am in these situations,  my first taste of freedom often comes from simply deciding to love, and the next ones from giving myself fully to this decision.  In other words, as I act on believing that God is able to empower me to love beyond my fatigue, insecurity or dread,  grace begins to flow!

Here is the incredible thing about any decision to love.  When we love,  we bless and honor Jesus!  We answer His question, “Do you love Me?” with a resounding “Yes! I love You, Jesus!” whenever we avail ourselves to be filled and poured out for another.

 Can you imagine that it is possible to bless the heart of God when and as we love?

That is quite a notion!    And, thankfully, it counts even when we love imperfectly and in weakness.  We must never forget what it means that the Spirit of God lives within us.  We walk around with  access to an inexhaustible spring of deep and bountiful love!  We may feel boxed in and scrambled up,  but when we find our way out of our awkward spaces and cry out for help, we discover that wide and rich waters of love await us.  Come, drink and love Jesus!

“Lord, I bump into mini-crossroads every day where I am aware of my love-limitations.  I am selfish and in need of Your well that is inexhaustible!  I want You to hear my “Yes, I love you!” as I love others.  I want to bless You!  Fill me and free me to love.  Amen.”

What about you?

Do you feel free to love others?  Are you aware of what closes off your heart?

Have you considered that in loving others, you bless the heart of God?  I

What do you think  Jesus meant by asking  “Do you love Me?”  How would you respond?
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Folding Socks

DSC_0621By Judy Villanueva

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1)

God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. (St.Augustine of Hippo)

Surrounded by of pile of socks, I hunt for two brown ones with stripes, matching grey argyles, and strain to decipher the subtle differences in the solid blues!  I suddenly feel a familiar pang that I recognize as my soul becoming restless.  Existential angst.  Does my existence have meaning?  Does folding socks matter to God or is there something more important that  I should be doing?  It alerts me to beware of what I think, pray and do next.  I’ve been here before and am learning that when my soul feels restless it wants to be fed (or medicated).  Feed it with a cookie, a trip to the mall, a tv show, a glass of wine or with frenetic doing that will offer distraction.  Instead, I decide to pray and bring my soul to Jesus.

My husband and I have been reading a book called “Soul Keeping” by John Ortberg and the last pages invite the reader to the deathbed of a remarkable man, Dallas Willard.  Reading out loud, we find ourselves overhearing the last words he whispered to God, “Thank you. Thank you.”  My brow furrows as I consider the implications of these words uttered in the midst of great suffering.  I feel curious to know more about him and hungry to learn how to live so that when I breathe my final breath, my soul will exhale in gratitude.  Dallas lived a life that cultivated a contented and grateful soul and when pressed hard, what flowed from the depths of him was gratefulness.

There is something about the finality of death that is focusing.   It seems to clear the clutter that gets in the way of living well.  At death, all chances to be kind end.  Any and all opportunities to love are over.  At life’s end, grudges feel ridiculous and time, too precious to waste on petty complaints.

In the clarity of death’s wake, worry about mattering yields to loving and being loved by God.

It invites a vision of generosity, grace and energy to bless others while there is time.  It is a reminder that a life lived well is fed and formed by God, and that last breaths are exhaled from whatever has been shaped over a lifetime.  Learning to love and be loved by God infuses all of life with meaning…it quiets the soul, plants seeds of gratitude and makes, even folding socks,  yet another moment of His grace.

“Father, help me to find meaning in Your arms and let it calm and fuel my soul for blessing others.  Help me to cultivate gratefulness and care for my soul so that in each day of my life I might give you glory, and upon my death, give thanks.  Amen.”

 What about you?

 Do you ever struggle with restlessness of soul?

What do you tend to feed your soul to calm it?  Food, tv,  shopping, or something else?

Have you discovered that meaning comes from being loved by God?  Have you felt the rest that happens in Him alone?

What do you think cultivating contentment and gratitude looks like?

Spend time with God.   It will feed and bless your soul.

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