What Alzheimer’s Can Never Take Away

Sweet, familiar faces greet me at the glass screen door. Through tender hugs and peering over beloved shoulders, I begin my search for her. It’s hard to believe this day is here. I’m amazed. Her kids weren’t sure she’d live to see this day. It’s been a rough road lately, I hear. But she’s entered into the hour of her 80th birthday.

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The last time I was here, she conversed with me. She won’t be able to today.

I see her. I take in her sweet details from a distance.

She’s so loved. Disease can take so much from a person. People can give up on you, and one can choose to give up on themselves and others, but from where I stand, Alzheimer’s can’t take away your loves. She is curled up on her side, on the couch, cuddled into her pillow and blanket. So much princess pink. Her loyal Maltese blends in to the white cotton pillowcase, taking up more pillow space than my aunt’s precious face is. The beloved caregiver beckons the help of my cousin, the daughter, and they ease her to standing at the walker. The caregiver cups my aunt’s face in her hands and kisses her forehead.

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She’s so strong, even in her weakness. Because she’s all heart–all heart that fought for grandkids, that survived cancer, that survived the loss of two beloved children, that survived the loss of a husband, that fought and survived so much more than I’ll ever be privy to. Her fragile fingers grip the walker rails. Because Alzheimer’s can’t take away a fighting spirit. Time after time, her kids wonder if she’s being escorted away into the arms of God, but to everyone’s surprise, He wonderfully escorts her wandering mind and body inch by inch to the table through the hands and feet of Christ. She takes a seat at the queen’s chair, the candles are lit, and everyone gathers around her with love, in love.

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She’s so tiny. Always has been. But a recent chest cold pummeled on top of Alzheimer’s leaves her frailer than ever. Her beautiful skin clings to her precious cheekbones. Yet a glow emits from her eyes, as her two remaining daughters sprinkle her face with kisses. She looks, in part, like a ten-year-old with her sweet braids. The room fills with the fragrance of a struck match and a rising melody, happy birthday over her. And the words we know so well since childhood seep from her lips … happy birthday to you. “She’s singing,” I say. “She’s always singing,” says her caregiver, smiling. She is. She sings hymns with her sisters–my mom, my other aunt. One voice begins and hers will blend, like always, because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your treasure. A tiny package containing years of stored-up infinite treasure. Childhood treasure. Leaning-on-the-everlasting-arms kind of treasure.

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She’s so determined. She sits there, wobbly. But she will see this through. Her daughter opens the presents before her, for her. Chocolate and more chocolate. Giggles disperse. I think back over my conversation with my cousin, when I’d inquired over what I could possibly get my aunt for her birthday. If time is short and space is limited, what can I give her? “Chocolate,” said her daughter, my cousin. “She can still eat chocolate?” I asked, surprised. After the week she’d had, being so sick … “She sure can.” Would you look at that? My cousin places a slice of cake before her, crackers and Coke. All her favorites. She parts her lips for one tiny bite after bite, one tiny sip after sip, because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your favorites. 

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She’s so … Heading home, I ponder my aunt in admiration. I can’t quite put my finger on the situation. My oldest says, “Mom, did you hear what Aunt Novie said when we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ … when we sang ‘and many more’?” My daughter giggles. I glance at her through the rearview mirror. “No. What?” I say. My daughter gasps for air, trying to compose herself. “She asked, ‘There’s going to be more?'” I laugh. That’s exactly right. Because Alzheimer’s can’t take away your humor.

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And that’s when I put my finger on it, really put my finger on it–when it seems one doesn’t have a lot to go on, one goes on what they’ve got. Illness can take away much, but some things found in this life can never be removed without authority–love, treasure, a fighting spirit, determination, humor, Coca-Cola, chocolate, and best of all, Jesus. 

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Do you know anyone suffering from a disease like Alzheimer’s? What can you add to the list that can never be taken away? 


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©Shelli Littleton

When The Yoke Seems A Little Runny

I take the bread, cupping my fingers over it and guarding it with my life. I glance down the pew at God’s sweet provision. With my head bowed, I take a long look inside …

Life can be excruciating. It can.

My grandfather answers the phone. “Yellow” … (his version of “hello”)

With excruciating fear, I say, “Pa-Paw, we’re thinking about adopting a baby …” I hadn’t been able to sleep. My gut churned. All the “what ifs” …

“I kindly adopted you, didn’t I.” My grandfather’s words wrap peace around me, like an old familiar song. If I could love this man like I do, who took me as his very own, maybe just maybe a child could love me, too.

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I play and replay that scene over in my mind when life is hard. I remember all the ways God came through for me, through fear, how my two daughters resemble me in the seen and unseen. From the perfectly placed freckles to the seemingly imperfectly placed …

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Because I go to my knees with fear these days. I tell my doctor that I’m not handling things well. Is this coping? She assures me that she’s there to help me, should I need it. Medication, she surely means.

The unease in my heart has kept me up many a night. My insides are doing abnormal things. “Or is this my new normal?” I ask myself. When my pulse races away, I count to ten over and over throughout the night. I pray continually. I chastise myself constantly. The Lord offers the light and steady yoke, and time after time, it seems I take on the weight of the heavy yoke and allow it to run away with me, spinning me around and solidifying my impending disaster, allowing the weight of it to press me to my knees.

And the guilt drives me deeper into the mud and mire.

Why? Where is the peace?

And just this morning, I beg God for answers. God, why? Why can’t I have peace in the midst of the storm? The storms that pummel me, one after another. Why can’t I sleep?

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“I kindly adopted you, didn’t I.” That’s what I hear spoken over my heart. And I think of that night after the Passover, in the garden, before Jesus went to the cross, the excruciating pain.

An angel from heaven appeared to him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Luke 22: 43-46

“Do you really think you are so different from me?” I hear spoken over me. “You love. Your heart is soft, not hard. You’re in pain, Shelli. You’re scared. You’re sweatin’ it out. But you keep kneeling and praying … kneeling and praying …. You are not crippled. You keep getting out of bed each morning, you keep taking step after step, you keep going a little further … with me.”

And as I sit in the midst of the flood, the guilt of how I should be handling things rolls in waves away from me, back out to the ocean.

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And relief, full of peace, splashes over me like new rain. Like Heaven sent.

“This is my body given for you …” I swallow hard and take the cup, wrapping my fingers securely around it, guarding the lifeblood with my life.

“Do this in remembrance of me …”

Do you ever feel like you are handling things all wrong? Does Jesus’ example comfort you, too? 

Much love and Happy Easter, y’all. 

Letting Go Of Your Child

It’s never easy. Letting go is never easy. Especially when you’ve had a needy kid. Life has always been a balancing act for me. One I fear I’ll never perfect. One kid is this way, and another is that way. One kid can eat anything; the other needs to proceed with caution. One has perfect balance; the other needs a hand. It’s just the way of it. But it’s also the life you carve out for yourself and your child when you’ve dealt with the big C. One kid is independent, but enduring surgery and chemotherapy takes a toll on the other … simple things can cause panic, weakness takes hold of the ankles.

Under that curly top lies a head of fear. Afraid of her own shadow.

I take her hand and often. If I can keep her from falling, I’ll do my best, I’ll be there, I’ll extend a hand. She often says, “I go where you go.”

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But time passes, and a kid growing up has a way of changing everything. She doesn’t reach out for my hand anymore.

I open the door for Him. “Come in.”

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I smile because I adore Him. He’s everything I’ve ever wanted for my daughter. Everything I’ve ever prayed for. Everything. I’ve known Him for so long, and I’ve just always loved Him. Something about Him. Even His name …

She doesn’t wait for me. She’s received Him with open arms, and she runs off with Him.

The chair scrapes the dining room floor, as she sits down to Bible study with Him. She’s always been nervous about reading out loud, but she reads aloud to Him. For Him. I’m so proud of her. She loves Him. She loves being in His presence. He brings out the braveness in her.

What do I do with myself? I try to find something to busy myself. This is so new. I’m not as needed as before. And I’m really feeling okay about this. I’ll go for a walk.

I open the sheep pen, and my feet hit the leaf covered dirt path. Hooves scramble behind me. I hear a different shuffling sound. She’s behind me with Him. The light radiates around her, and she’s glowing.

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It’s the sweetest sight I’ve ever seen. I laugh more than I should. I tear up more than I should.

I speed up. I don’t want to be a bother or interfere. This is good for her. I can’t help but look over, through the forest of trees, as the oaks are slipping on their sundresses. I grasp a small glimpse of her stroll … a shoe here, a pant leg there, color amidst the greenery.

He’s so tall and strong and kind and loving. He’s a gentleman. A real gentleman. I never thought I’d trust my daughter with another.  But here I am … trusting. Trusting more. If she trips, He’s right there. If she balances a log, He’s right there.

She’s more talkative than I’ve ever seen her. Where did the shy, quiet one go? She shares her dreams, her fears, her insecurities, her laughs … with Him.

All her late night conversations … Him.

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“Bye, Mom.” She closes the car door, and she’s off. The car travels through our windy driveway. She’s off with Him.

I wave my empty hand, blow a kiss, and watch the car till it’s out of sight. I look at my feet. The trees. The garden. The Rose of Sharon. And peace wraps around me like a shawl. I bow my head. Thank you, Father, for taking her hand and traveling this road with her. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter man in her life. You’re everything I’ve ever prayed for, since the day she was born. I’m thankful she knows you. 

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~~~

Are you having to let go of something? Someone? How has God helped you through this? What insight has the Lord given you?

 

When You Are Losing Your Vision

I fuss in the car. “No one can check to see if they have $7 to loan me?” I huff and puff. The girls remain quiet. “I’m going to have to stop for money. Where can I stop? Time is short. I should’ve done this earlier today …” I pull into the gas station, use the ATM machine, and hit the road again.

Arriving at the church, I’m greeted and hugged by my cousin, and I hand over the ticket money.

And I just feel …

I’m trying to make peace.

All 7 of us girls pile into a row of chairs.

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And the Lord waylays me.

Anthony Evans … front and center. “Come, Lord, like a rushing wind. We are desperate for your presence. Revive us by your Spirit within. We want to see you again … We remember all the great things you have done. We believe that greater things are yet to come. We remember all the great things you have done. We believe that greater things are yet to come.”

My hand lifts into the air. I remember, Lord.

Priscilla Shirer joins in singing with her brother. And then she begins praying over everyone. “Are you going through this …? Raise your hand.”

Fear presses into my wildly pumping heart. I don’t have a choice. I know. My loved ones know. My hand lifts into the air again. Hands reach for me, and prayers cover me. Tears flood my face and drip down to my heart.

“Are you going through this …?” My daughter looks straight at me. Afraid to raise her sweet hand, she sits there, vulnerable, begging and pleading with her eyes …

There is no greater honor than to pray over your child. I reach across my other daughter, take hold of my oldest daughter’s hand, and I present her unspoken requests to God …

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Priscilla asks us to get out our Bibles. I flip open the pages. I can’t see. I don’t have my cheaters.

I remember my daily Bible reading from earlier in the week …

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you doing this?” say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.”’

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’  They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

‘Hosanna!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’

‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts.” –Mark 11:1-11

The 3 things that stood out to me were … Go, Find, Untie

Priscilla says, “We all want others to think our lives are perfect. It’s all over Instagram … white couches, white carpet. Who lives like that?” She pauses. “Who fussed at their kids?”

The girls look at me. I look at them. Busted. Busted at the door. We laugh.

“We are dealing with our own leprosy,” she says. “But this is a place to be real. You weren’t cheated; you were chosen.”

My Bible lay open on my lap …. I’m blind to you, Lord. I’d left my broken cheaters at home. A nose-piece is missing, and they sit lopsided on my face. I look at my cousin beside me. Her eyesight is diminishing, as well. And she’d forgotten her Bible in the car. I pull out my phone, opening the large print before me … God’s beautiful Word before me, no matter the form …. I nudge my cousin’s arm.

We will remember.

Oh, Lord, I’m desperate for you.

I’ve come, Lord. I’ve found you. Untie me.

I’m throwing my cloak down for you. You are welcome in this place.

With all my life’s messy, I know I’m not cheated. I’m chosen.

And I want to fuss over you. I want to see you again.

Following The Star To Bethlehem


I love this time of year. The glow of the Christmas tree radiating throughout the darkened living room brightens and lightens my heart, especially in the early mornings. 

And my heart’s been heavy. 

I sit crisscross-applesauce by the tree and remove the star ornament. I lay it at my feet. The cat walks over and touches his nose to it, investigating this new thing. The amateur photographer in me snaps a quick picture.



Maybe I’ll post this picture on Instagram, I think to myself. I travel back to my closet and retrieve my Bible from my church bag. 

I’ll quote Scripture of the star that led the wise men to Jesus, I decide. Sitting down on the floor, all alone, I flip through my elderly Bible’s pages, turning straight to Luke. I search and search for the star. I read all of Luke 2. Everyone knows Luke 2 is the nativity scene. Where’s the star? Not in Luke?

Matthew? I flip to Matthew. 

There. There’s the star. The star’s in Matthew.

I smile and release my held breath.

My finger follows the wise men over the beautiful pages for every mention of the star.



And I wonder … why isn’t the star mentioned in Luke? Hmm. 

“Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2

As I followed the star to Bethlehem, I thoughtO Soul Within, maybe, just maybe God left the star out of Luke, placed the star in another location, so that one might search for it. On this day. 2016. So that one might search a little harder, a little farther, for The One, the Christ-child, the God-man. And come to worship Him.

Who else is searching for the star in this moment?

I tuck my knees under my chin and hug my legs. 

Shelli, when’s the last time you searched for the star? 

The star will always lead to Jesus. It will always bring one out of the east.

“After [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Matthew 2: 9-10

Oh, Lord, I never want to stop looking for the star … looking for you. I never want to stop placing you in my daily life, with purpose. I never want to bog down with anxiety and deny the joy and peace that is my birthright as your child. 

I’ve been bogged down, Lord. 



Thank you for going ahead of me. I want a Jeremiah 29 moment with you, Lord. For always. “‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD.” 

Thank you for giving me a reason to search for the star. To knock on the door. 

Make me wise. Make me search. Remind me to sit at your feet. Make me desire you. Help me to follow you.



See Him. 

This new thing, new every morning. Don’t miss it.

O Soul Within, see the glow. Feel it. The wonder of it all. Open your heart, your treasure, and lay those burdens down. But not just anywhere or to anyone … to The Onethe right one providing the right place. And receive the joy and peace.

“On coming to the house, [the Magi] saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their teasures and presented him with gifts …” Matthew 2:11-12

Merry Christmas
I love you.
Shelli





A Peek Inside Operation Christmas Child


“My friend invited us to go with their family to work with Operation Christmas Child.” My daughter thumbed through her text. “The day after Thanksgiving. May we go?”

“Yes.” 

Come Black Friday, we drove the hour trip into the Dallas area, met the family, and walked into a huge warehouse filled with plain brown shipping boxes, showcasing “Samaritan’s Purse.”




The warmth flooded the room, the smiles, the greetings from strangers. We ushered into a holding room and watched a film over our volunteer work. I placed my “chaperone” sticker and my name tag on my shirt. The kids received the “student” stickers.We followed a lady through the huge warehouse full of tables and workers. 

Shouts rang out.

“When a shipping box is completely packed with shoe-boxes, everyone shouts, competing to see who can shout the loudest,” the lady explained.

She led us to our very own worktable#13and opened one huge brown shipping box. We peeked over the edge to see it packed to the brim with green-and-red shoeboxes.

Everyone received their assigned job for the day. I took on the job of sorting through shoeboxesin other words, each packed box had to be unpackedensuring each individual shoebox was full and that there was nothing harmful in itno liquids, no weapons. My youngest daughter stood at my side sorting through boxes with me, with her older sister next to her, who helped tape the boxes we passed along.



I glanced up between boxes to see smiles on faces. I reached for a new box, and my daughter beat me to it. We laughed.

My feet stood right where they needed to be.

My fingers felt over my “chaperone” tag on my jacket. Me? Chaperone? No. Me? Student? Yes.

I yearned to exchange tags with my daughter, letting her wear the “chaperone” and letting me take on the “student.”




















Without my girls, without the invitation, my feet would not be planted on the Operation Christmas Child’s warehouse floor. My heart had not been invested in the past. Oh, I’d assembled boxes, but never with my whole heart. I would never have driven that hour in Dallas traffic, the day after Thanksgiving, on my own. Never.

My heart needed nudging, prompting. My hand needed holding, guiding, leading, encouraging.

We placed hands on the boxes before us and prayed over them.



Something strange happened. The brown turned to green-and-red. My heart began to feel invested, invested in the children whom I couldn’t even see, whom I’d never even meet. 

I stumbled across a shoebox that wasn’t packed properly. And I found myself getting defensive over each one I checked and packed. I felt slight aggravation at the unknown persons who’d assembled them poorly.

But who was I to grumble in my heart? I thought of all the shoeboxes I had thrown away that year. I reprimanded myself secretly. I hadn’t packed a shoebox in a few years, since the girls have gotten older, since they hadn’t prompted me to help make one. Since they hadn’t held my hand and led me there. 

Since my eyes weren’t fully seeing.

I reached into the bins full of toys before me, selected a few things, like a stuffed animal or a children’s Bible, and filled the shoebox. It only lacked one thingcandy. I wished for a bucket of candy so that I could add sweetness to the boxes that were lacking. 

My heart is invested.



I ran across a shoebox that clearly had been packed with an over-abundance of lovedolls, stuffed animals, candy. Someone did it right, and some child will be blessed by their hands. My heart clapped for those unknown persons.

I passed the finished shoebox along, and my daughter taped it shut. Friends packed the beautiful Christmas color into the plain ol’ shipping box, bringing it to life there in the warehouse, there in my heart. Shouts rang out, starting a contagion of shouts down the line. We’d filled another shipping box, ready to go overseas.

“Do you want to go to lunch?” the lady asked.

I turned to the girls. “Are y’all hungry? Do you want to take a lunch break?”

“No, let’s keep working,” they agreed.

I smiled. “Yes, let’s keep working. Our time’s too short. We can eat after.” We can eat anytime.

Why?

We took a peek inside, and now our hearts are fully invested.





We took a peek inside,
our stubborn hearts were tested,
and now we see in color,
our hearts fully invested.

~~


Thank you, Peek Family

**

Are you volunteering anywhere special this year? What is God teaching you?

When A Broken Heart Yearns For A Break


From my heart to yours this Thanksgiving



My daughter’s normal morning 3-day-a-week school routine begins.

“You awake?” I text to her from downstairs, under the covers, snug as a bug in a rug.

“Yup,” she texts back.

One foot slips out from under the covers, then the other. Un-snug as a bug out of a rug. Leaning over the bathroom counter, I get partially ready for the day, make-up and hair, then I’m off to scan the living room and kitchen to see if my daughter has left any school work there that she might need for the day. I grab a bottled water out of the garage fridge and a granola bar from the pantry for her.

My heart yearns for her success.

The door to her stairs/bedroom billows open and the rush begins. I open the garage door, hug and kiss her goodbye, shoving the water and granola bar into her backpack. She backs the car out, careful not to hit a tree. I wave goodbye and blow kisses to her … she stalls the car to wave and return my kisses. We realize it’s our last gaze at each other. 

That little black car zooms off down our driveway, kicking up leaves, beginning that 35-minute commute by busy, 18-wheeler interstate.



And I pray, like every dayLord, watch over her, protect her, get her home to me.

My heart yearns for her safety.

But this particular day, after some 5 minutes have passed, my phone buzzes with a call. It’s her.

“Hey.”

“Hey, Mom.” Her tone is urgent. “I left my driver’s license in your car. I’ll be home in two minutes. Will you get it for me?”

I run out to the car. There it is. I open the garage again.

My mind starts going wild. Will she be late for school now? Will she drive too fast to get there on time? She’s almost home … she said 2 minutes. I’ll save her time.

My heart yearns for every good and perfect thing for her.

With barely a moment’s thought, I take off down my long, wet driveway, barefoot, in my pajamas. I’ll meet here there at the end of the road. Lord, please don’t let me step on a stick or an acorn. As I near the end, I see her car between trees. 



She pulls into the driveway. She sees me running. Her expression? Priceless.

My heart yearns to make her smile.

“I can’t back out, Mom.”

“Yes, you can. I’ll help you.” I walk out into the middle of our county road in my pajamas, guiding her, motioning to her which way to turn her wheels. She does it. I knew she could do it. 

My heart yearns for her to be confident.

She zooms off again. My prayer goes up once again.

At the end of the day, she barrels through the door, crying. Wrapping her arms around me, she spills her precious heart. She barely missed being in an auto accident. I sink in despair over the details her precious eyes witnessed. My fractured heart looks heavenward, and my prayer shoots upthank you, Lord, for bringing her home to me.

My heart yearns for peace. 

For her. For me.

Every week, I hear her near misses or what she’s witnessed on the road. My heart can barely take it. 

My right eyelid’s been flickering like a fluorescent light for days now.

It’s all worry, y’all.

My daughter’s first semester of college has been the hardest change for me. If there is one downside to homeschooling that I’ve discovered, it’s that a mama’s heart is too sheltered. It’s the mama’s heart that’s cause for concern. And the heart stays invested regardless of your child’s age.

But she loves it. She loves every single thing about itthe school, her classes, the commute, time in her car, lunch out with friendswhich is all that matters. And I’m so thankful. 

But this mama thought she knew how to lean on God. This mama’s heart is learning to lean, lean on my Savior, more and more. 

After Thanksgiving, my daughter will only have about two weeks left of school, before she has a month break. I’m so grateful because

My broken heart yearns for a break. 



What has you concerned lately? And can you imagine our Father’s love over us?

~~~~


Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. And many thanks to all who entered the magazine subscription giveaway from the last post. Thank you for playing. I’m blowing kisses your way. I cherish you. 

And the winners are …

Cindy Hasko and Norma Brumbaugh Wieland

Woohoo! I pray you are blessed by the magazine all year long.