Influence Others

I’m listening.

I have loved and believed in Jesus my whole life. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I actually started listening to him.

self

I got married, had 3 children in 5 years and Grandpa moved in. Life got loud and the whispering of Jesus’ calling on my life got quieter. It became clear for me to be a disciple, not just a believer, I was going to have to be very intentional in my choices. I didn’t just want to focus on the what-not-to-do’s but things I could do in my life to bring Glory to God. With this wreck of a heart I have, it sure wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. At times, it is difficult to hear God through the busyness of my life so I just started to study His life and the truth is, I found most of the answers right there in the Bible. I used that as an example. Do what He did. In the doing, it will become clear.

I started small and concentrated on the nudges I felt in my Spirit. When a memory of a long time friend came to mind and I’d actually follow through to let them know I was thinking of them. Often times it was at that exact moment that my friend needed encouragement. I would see the homeless guy on the corner and before I could hear the news story echo in my mind about the scam this can be, I’d allow myself to feel the tug on my heart from God to give. The new mom across the street seemed overwhelmed at times so I’d offer dinner and a few hours of babysitting. Those sweet little nudges are where I started. Taking the next big step with God’s lead changed my life.

In early 2009, I began to pray 3 specific prayers. 1.) Open my eyes to the needs of others around me. 2.) Break my heart for what breaks yours and give me the courage to act. 3.) What ever you ask, I will do.

Be careful what you ask for.

My husband and I after years of talking, gave God our yes in a mighty way. We began the process to adopt. It would take two years to complete so we had plenty of time to get our finances in order and prepare our home and family. Like most things, I gave him my qualifications. We would adopt from another country so we would not have the ‘messiness’ of dealing with a birth mother. We could adopt one child, a boy, because we had room with our son. And if He wanted this from us, He was going to have to fund it. We did not have a single dime in savings. It was already tight raising a family of 5 on one income. What would it be like with one more? We prayed for a much talked about promotion to happen for my husband. With our prerequisites in tow, we took the leap of faith.

God has a way of ensuring I depend on Him instead of my own accord so it should be no surprise to me that it didn’t take two years. An amazing couple donated the money for our home study. Within a month, through a series of events only God could arrange, our son arrived on our doorstep. And so did his sister. Yes, not one, but two toddlers. They were not from another country. They were from right here. I sat across from their momma and dove head first into the messiness of loving her, encouraging and empowering her to be their mother for a over a year. My husband didn’t get the promotion. He got a month’s lay off. It was the scariest, most difficult moments of our lives. It was filled with our new children’s grief and rough transitions and at times, downright ugliness. It was also filled with beauty, grace and the most wonderful outpouring of support and love from the body of Christ I’ve ever witnessed. I got to see my children welcome their new siblings with open arms and understanding and to share their life, their space and their parents. Watching my husband love our children, blessed me. Watching him love someone else’s child, blew me away. It grew us and stretched us. It still does, to be honest. But stepping out in faith, taking that risk in His name, gave me the most incredible view of God’s love for us. It was the Gospel in action.

fam

Taking that next step in your faith is beyond scary. Following those little nudges, taking those big leaps…all scary. Giving God our yes? Tough stuff. He rarely calls us to easy. But what He calls us to, He equips us for. It’s important to trust His sovereignty and remember He can see the big picture. Getting to know and love my children’s birth mom was a gift. Being able to look in their faces and tell them how hard I fought for their family brings me a peace I didn’t know I’d need. That experience also brought me a career calling and planted the seeds for me to fight for other families. Our budget? It hasn’t made sense on paper in almost a decade but we have always had what we need. That lay off of my husband’s gave him this opportunity of intense bonding time with our two new babies. It gave our family of 7 the chance to spend a month of quality time together and eased our transition immensely. It allowed this new mom of 5, ages 2, 3, 3, 6 and 8 to keep her sanity.

What we experienced during that time, was a series of God opening doors and us walking through them. It was affirmed again and again through others generosity, miraculous moments and timing only God could orchestrate, that we were indeed smack in the middle of His will for our life. Allowing God to use you, is the greatest feeling you will ever know.

If I hadn’t become very intentional about listening to God in the little moment’s of my day, I’m not sure I would have gone for His big ask when He brought it to me. I want to encourage you. When you sit in church and the video about the next mission trip makes you cry, that isn’t a coincidence or because you’re emotional. That is the spirit of God whispering. When you read about the food pantry and feel that little nudge in your heart, don’t be so quick to dismiss it. God is speaking to you. When you are walking past that older lady in the grocery parking lot loading her full cart in to her trunk and your feet hesitate and your mind quickly tells you that you are in a hurry to pick up the kids, that hesitation is the whisper of your spirit; God’s spirit in you. God will take your actions, when they are aligned with His and He will knock your socks off with blessings and opportunities.

There are books by famous theologians and great Christian leaders written on taking that next step of faith. I am just me. However, I think we’ve been programmed to believe that God wants big grand gestures from us. He wants us to move to China and give away all of our belongings. He expects us to save all of the orphans, bring clean water to the entire world. I think we picture obvious signs and this audible voice telling us what His purpose is for us. I think, most of the time, it is simpler than that. It may seem too simple, but for me, it is about learning to attune our heart to His. It is about learning to listen for those internal whispers. It is about studying who God is so I can reflect His life in mine. As we learn more about Him and His love for us, our love for Him grows. The fruit follows. The spirit of God is in each of us. We have to practice listening to it. It’s like putting on noise canceling headphones, blocking out the world and tuning in to the Holy Spirit. It is about obeying that voice and exercising that obedience in the little moments of our day, and before we know it, those little moments have added up to a life that reflects His; a life of worship.

 

 

 

~Jen Harris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FLAT Out Evangelism (F1rst Series)

Through our F1rst Series we have looked at the importance of daily/corporate worship and generosity. This week, we are focusing our attention on the importance of sharing our faith — or Evangelism as it’s known in Christianese 🙂 To help us unpack this important concept I have asked Derek Lynas, our Outreach Pastor, to lay out some practicals for sharing our faith. His approach is something we should all be incorporating in our daily lives of following Jesus – Tom Rich

Thoughts on Evangelism 101: You can’t save anyone. There- all the pressure is off! You can also throw out all the hidden agendas, people projects, and awkward conversations too! It’s our great God who does the saving! However, He has given us (you and me) both the privilege and responsibility of helping people discover a life changing relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. And that’s Good News! 🙂

So how do we do it? Where can we find an example? I don’t think we have to look any farther than the life and interactions of Jesus himself. He was the master of meeting people wherever they were at in life with a steady dose of truth and love. He noticed people like Zacchaeus who was literally up in a tree as hundreds of people pressed in around him as he walked through town. His heart broke for the rich young ruler as he rejected Jesus invitation toward a new life, but He loved him even still. He met the woman at the well right in the middle of her sinful life and told her the flat out truth that would set her free. Jesus could be found in places others wouldn’t have even thought about going and hanging out with people that others wouldn’t think of spending time with. He was a friend of sinners. And He still meets people right where they’re at in their lives with the power of His death, burial, & resurrection.

Ok, so Jesus was all that while on this earth, but what about someone other than the Son of God? How about Phillip, one of His followers? In Acts 8:25-36 there’s an amazing sequence of events that I believe can serve as a guide for us to walk with the people God puts in our path toward a life with Jesus. I call this approach FLATout evangelism because it’s not a “bait & switch” trick, it’s not a formula, and it’s not a step–by-step process. It’s more of a lifestyle that we have the opportunity to live. So here it is…

(F)OLLOW Jesus faithfully in your own life

If we’re not following Jesus faithfully in our own lives, we have no chance of helping someone else find Him in their life. Following Jesus everyday will also prepare us for the people He puts in our path, to notice them in the midst of all the busyness, and to sense the leading of the Holy Spirit in any moment.

(L)ISTEN to people’s hearts

Listening is possibly one of the most important things we can do when walking with someone toward Jesus. If we aren’t really listening, how can we ever expect to know where someone is in his or her life? We need to be actively listening to what’s going on in the lives of people God loves. It’s not thinking about what to say next and certainly not being judgmental merely because they’re not speaking our same language.

(A)SK relevant questions toward the relationship

If we’re listening well and following the leading of the Holy Spirit, we’ll know what questions to ask and our relationship will have a chance to go deeper. Asking relevant questions also shows the other person that you were actually listening to what they had to say.

(T)ELL people about life with Jesus

Simply showing Jesus to others isn’t enough if they’re going to begin a relationship with Him. We have to be able to tell them how to begin. Even the Ethiopian asked Philip “How can I know unless someone explains it to me?” (Acts 8:31)

Derek Lynas
Outreach Pastor

Taming the Tongue: Speaking and Teaching

Reading: James 3:2-6

It can be rather instructive to read how the Bible describes certain items in a sort of systematic overview. The tongue, for instance, is given all manner of descriptors throughout scripture. It is poisonous (James 3:8). It is a sharp razor and a plotter of destruction (Psalm 52:2). It can be perverse (Proverbs 10:31). It can be backbiting (Proverbs 25:23). While there are also positive connotations, many of the mentions of the mouth and tongue use descriptors such as profane, unclean, boastful, slanderous, and many more along these same lines. It becomes apparent very quickly the Bible is telling us that our speech can be a prime sign of sin.

There’s no doubt if we do not guard our speech as commanded throughout God’s Word, we can run into some serious trouble. James makes it clear in verse 2 that “we all stumble”, and that not being perfect, we all obviously are going to have issues with curbing our tongue.  In verses 3 and 4, James uses some of his outdoor imagery to compare the tongue to a horse’s bridle and ship’s rudder—two relatively small things that control a much larger object. So it is with our tongue and our body. The tongue might be tiny compared to the rest of the body, but the words it forms can control and ruin an entire life.

We see this again in verse 5, when James says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (ESV). Anyone who has ever seen a malicious rumor or “harmless” bit of gossip run rampant understands this to be a perfect analogy to what even a few words can do. The great Puritan writer Richard Baxter wrote “Words and actions are transient things, and being once past, are nothing; but the effect of them on an immortal soul may be endless”. Writing earlier, John Calvin suggested “since the tongue cannot be restrained, there must be some secret fire of hell hidden in it”. Just as a single smoldering matchstick may destroy an entire forest, one unkind word, one vicious volley, one bit of jealous gossip, can devastate relationships and endeavors that took years to build up.

There is another central aspect to these verses, one that cannot be overlooked. If we look at the verse immediately preceding this passage, James 3:1 states “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (ESV). Whether we’re teaching our children, our friends, our small group, we are going to be held to account for what we teach. It’s not by coincidence that this verse is followed by the stern requirements of watching what one says. We live in a world where many of the most popular preachers do not hold to the Bible on many teachings. The words that come out of their mouths are not scriptural, or perhaps worse, twist scripture to focus on health, wealth, and prosperity or treating God like some sort of cosmic genie for acquiring things or rationalizing away sin. The church today in general often substitutes speaking in catchphrases, “easy-believism”, and worldly self-help ideas in the place of firm, scripturally-based teaching and exegesis.

As James says later in this section, “My brothers, these things ought not be” (v. 10). Before we ever open our mouths in any sort of teaching capacity, we need to follow the New Testament example of the Bereans, who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). If we were explaining to someone on how to defuse a bomb or perform open-heart surgery, we’d make sure every word was correct. God’s Word deserves an even higher level of respect when we share it. It’s easy to slide into “church-isms”—little phrases we like to use in fellowship that are nowhere in the Bible. With no basis in scripture, these can range from the culturally common (no, we don’t turn into angels when we die) to the self-indulgent (“God just wants you to be happy”). We can take nothing for granted, but have to truly read our Bibles and align our speech and teaching with the instructions we find therein.

In verse 6, James states the tongue is “a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell” (ESV). In the Greek, “hell” in this passage refers to Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinom, where a large, filthy trash fire continually burned just outside the city of Jerusalem. It was used by Christ (Matthew 5:22, Mark 9:43) as a representation of the sort of eternal torment that awaits the unregenerate sinful. In fact, in one of those passages, Matthew 5:22, Christ stated that those who utter verbal abuse to others are “in danger of the fire of hell” (ESV). These are not softball images, but hard, challenging concepts. Words are carelessly thrown about in our culture. Verbal abuse is thought high comedy or an art form. The name of the Lord is uttered in vain by individuals of all walks of life, without a thought to what is being said. Nasty, angry, careless, sinful thoughts are shared on social media, 140 letters at a time, status update by status update, a modern-day Gehenna that never stops burning.

Friends, curbing our tongue, watching what we say, thinking before we speak, and not instructing without firm knowledge are counter-cultural. The stakes are high, as the Bible reinforces time and time again, from Exodus 20:7 to Ephesians 5:3-5. It’s not just a sort of vapid, moralistic “speak nicely, because that’s nice” sentiment. It’s understanding that what we say is heard before a Holy God, and that those words will have an impact not just on our spiritual life, but on the spiritual lives of those around us. It’s remembering back in 1:26, James calls the religion of someone who cannot curb their tongue “worthless”. Before we ever speak, let us “take captive every thought” (2 Cor. 10:5), and remember this is not optional. Christians are called to a standard that is not that of the world (Ephesians 5:1-2, Romans 12:2). It’s not just saying the right thing, or going through a verbal checklist, but understanding God’s grace and pure holiness, the need for repentance and forgiveness, and continuing to abide in Him through prayer, hearing and reading His word, and acknowledging Him as sovereign over all.

-Zachary Houghton

#714 PRAYER | WEEK 9 |NEIGHBORS (LOCAL)

We are now in the middle of week 9 of our #7:14 prayer initiative. This week, our prayer focus is on praying for our Neighbors. 

Neighbors.

You remember those people, they live next door to you, maybe leave their trash cans out too long, their kids ride their bikes through your grass, play their music too loud, ____________ (whatever your pet peeve is). We can probably list off a number of things about our neighbors that irks our lives, but I wonder if we know their story? I wonder if we know the things that they care about? I wonder if we even know their names?…..

We get so caught up in our schedules, our families, our jobs, our lives that we can rarely take time for others. Our neighbors are more like strangers to us! I am guilty of this, I pull in my garage, shut the door and say goodbye to the rest of the world. Somehow it has become a hassle when someone even knocks on my door. Surely, this is not how God has called us to live. So we all need to ask ourselves (me included!), what are we going to do to break this cycle that is solely focused on ourselves, and begin to think about how we can be a blessing to our neighbors?

God has placed our neighbors in our lives, and it is not an accident – it is for a purpose.  Reflect on our focusing text this week which comes from Matthew 5:14-16:

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

But in order for “our light to shine” we must first get to know them, and also let them get to know us. Developing relationships always involves some sort of risk, isn’t necessarily easy and can at times even be messy. But the only way our neighbors are going to move beyond being strangers is to take a risk, bless their lives, hear their stories and share yours.

Sharing your story is an essential aspect of loving our neighbors. Sharing our faith can feel awkward at times, and most of us get freaked out by the idea of evangelism. So we need to completely reframe our concept of evangelism if we are going to do it well. Our call isn’t to share with them that they “are sinners in the hands of an angry God.” That might have worked in Jonathan Edwards day, but our culture is different. No, our call is to share with them how Jesus has transformed our lives while also communicating His extravagant love for theirs. Here are a couple of things that have helped me learn to share my faith with another person.

1) Becoming Comfortable in Your Own Skin
Strangely enough, caring for our neighbors starts with our hearts first. We need to learn to be comfortable in our own skin. What I mean is that we need to have our identity in Christ rooted in our hearts. We need to develop a “God confidence” in who we are in Christ. We need to allow our faith to develop in such a way that spiritual conversations do not cause us to hyperventilate but naturally flow out of who we are: a follower of Jesus. We need to know in our bones that he has transformed our lives with his goodness. When we experience Jesus in this light, it becomes very natural to speak good things about him. (Shameless plug: Our Alpha Course will help you develop this. Next session kicks off Monday, October 27th 6:30pm in the WRCC Discovery Room.) 

“God Confidence” is not “God Arrogance.” We get a lot further with people when we lead with our weakness instead of presenting a false picture of ourselves as someone who has it all together. And frankly, they already know that you don’t have it all together. As D.T. Niles wisely said,“Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” So it’s from our need that we share our stories of how God rescued us and transformed our lives.

2) Your Neighbor is Part of God’s Good Creation; God Has a Hope and a Future for Them
We need to capture a fresh vision for the inherent worth of each person who walks the earth. They (we) are his children, created in his image, for his purpose and for his glory. Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” Here is a simple rule of thumb: If God touched it, it is good. In this text, we see that God’s breath and life imparts dignity and bestows worth. A good definition for dignity is our inherent value and worth as human beings; everyone is born with it.

Another way of thinking about this is that each person you come across, if you look closely, has the fingerprints of God on him or her. He has shaped and formed you and me and everyone we meet. So instead of disgracing the work that God has done, we extend grace and love that person, because they are worthy to receive love. So, do we primarily see others as sinners or as God’s children who simply need to be awakened to a life committed to Jesus’s message and mission?

3) You Have Been Sent Into the World
Simply put, God has called us to be his change agents in this world. He has done this work in your life, yes, to bless you, but just as important, so that you would be a blessing to others. So we need to move beyond thinking about this life of faith as simply waiting around “to get to heaven” and reimagine the ways God is wanting to use us to see his Kingdom come through your life. Your neighbors matter to God, therefore they must matter to you. 

So pray this week for your neighbors, ask for God to give you opportunities to connect, care and bless their lives. I have no doubt that He will answer each and everyone of those prayers.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

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God has called his people to pray! Our families, communities, and world are in need of healing and God makes a conditional promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we want to live out. God is calling us as his people to humble ourselves, pray, seek his face and turn from our wicked ways. Please join us by:

  • Praying daily at 7:14 a.m. & 7:14 p.m.
  • Fasting one time per week
  • Quieting your heart 10 minutes before service to pray
  • Joining us for corporate prayer at the church, Saturday 7:14 p.m. & Sunday 7:14 a.m.

Evangelism – BLEAAARRRGHHH!

What is your first reaction when it comes to talking about Jesus?

 or 

Does your mind race?
Do you get cold sweats?
Do you just clam up?

Or do you do a “drive-by theological throw-up session” where you spew out
every idea that you have ever heard about Jesus?

I think this is how most of us feel when we think about sharing our faith. We get so tangled up in not knowing what to say, how to say it, knowing when the time is “right.” We get so caught up in an internal dialogue: Am I gonna say the right thing? Will I offend them? I don’t know enough about the Bible to answer any of their questions, etc. We start to hyperventilate, and more often than not we choose to not do anything at all. 

We get so caught up thinking about ourselves, we forget that our first call is to love the person who is right in front of us.

I totally get it. Completely. Even as a pastor, fear boils up in my heart when I decide to bring Jesus into a conversation, especially around family members. There is something about them knowing the worst about me that makes me question how I can possibly tell them how to live their lives. But the question I need to ask myself is: Do I need to lead out of my strength or weakness?

Take heart – it is possible to overcome these feelings. Here are a couple of things that have helped me learn to share my faith with another person.

1) Becoming Comfortable in Your Own Skin
We need to learn to be comfortable in our own skin. What I mean is that we need to have our identity in Christ rooted in our hearts. We need to develop a “God confidence” in who we are in Christ. We need to allow our faith to develop in such a way that spiritual conversations do not cause us to hyperventilate but naturally flow out of who we are: a follower of Jesus. We need to know in our bones that he has transfomed our lives with his goodness. When we experience Jesus in this light, it becomes very natural to speak good things about him. (Shameless plug: “The Journey” will help you develop this. The open house is August 17th, 9 a.m. in the WRCC Discovery Room.) 

“God Confidence” is not “God Arrogance.” We get a lot further with people when we lead with our weakness instead of presenting a false picture of ourselves as someone who has it all together. And frankly, they already know that you don’t have it all together. As D.T. Niles wisely said, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” So it’s from our need that we share our stories of how God rescued us and transformed our lives.

2) This Person is Part of God’s Good Creation; God Has a Hope and a Future for Them 
We need to capture a fresh vision for the inherent worth of each person who walks the earth. They (we) are his children, created in his image, for his purpose and for his glory. Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” Here is a simple rule of thumb: If God touched it, it is good. In this text, we see that God’s breath and life imparts dignity and bestows worth. A good definition for dignity is our inherent value and worth as human beings; everyone is born with it.

Another way of thinking about this is that each person you come across, if you look closely, has the fingerprints of God on him or her. He has shaped and formed you and me and everyone we meet. So instead of disgracing the work that God has done, we extend grace and love that person, because they are worthy to receive love. So, do we primarily see others as sinners or as God’s children who simply need to be awakened to a life committed to Jesus’s message and mission?

3) You Have Been Sent Into the World 
Simply put, God has called us to be his change agents in this world. He has done this work in your life, yes, to bless you, but just as important, so that you would be a blessing to others. So we need to move beyond thinking about this life of faith as simply waiting around “to get to heaven” and reimagine the ways God is wanting to use us to see his Kingdom come through your life. Read the words of Henri Nouwen, and reimagine God’s call on your life to be his people in the Earth:

Think of yourself as having been sent into the world…
As long as you live in the world, yielding to its enormous pressures
to prove yourself to yourself and to others that you are somebody
and knowing from the beginning that you will lose in the end,
your life can scarcely be more than a long struggle for survival.

If, however, you really want to live in the world,
you cannot look to the world itself as the source of that life.
The world and its strategies may help you survive for a long time,
but they cannot help you live because the world is not the source even of its own life,
let alone yours.
Spiritually, you do not belong to the world.
And this is precisely why you are sent into the world.
Your family and your friends, your colleagues and your competitors
and all the people you may meet on your journey through life
are all searching for more than survival.
Your presence among them as the one who is sent
will allow them to catch a glimpse of the real life. 

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

Friday Meditation: Blessed to be a blessing

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Chapter 2 of The Story begins with one of the most important texts in the bible:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

I’m not sure how much experience you have with the term “predestination”, but it is a term that has bothered me over the years. I don’t like the idea of God choosing some and not others. It doesn’t seem fair. Why would God choose me as opposed to somebody else?

It was this text in the book of Genesis that helped me to realize that the definition of predestination is not “God chooses some and not others,” but instead “God chooses some to be a blessing to others.” We are all included in this crazy story, and it started because God chose a man and said “Be a blessing.”

This is what Paul refers to in Ephesians 1, when he tells the church that they have been predestined for adoption through Jesus Christ. This was the plan all along, that all peoples would be invited into this mystery, and that those whom God blesses would in turn pass their blessings on to others. It’s a chain reaction, one in which we are all called to play a part.

In a culture in which we place a heavy emphasis on our blessings, both attaining and celebrating them, it is important to remember that we have the same calling upon our lives that Abraham had upon his. Blessings are never bestowed for our use only; they are always meant to be shared. 

How has Jesus blessed you? Think about this today, and then think about how you can use these blessings to bless others.

And even if you are in a dark place, where blessings seem scarce, my husband and I have found that God uses even the broken things to bless the world.  Nothing is beyond redemption in this upside-down Kingdom of Heaven.

Rebecca

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Rebecca Rich is married to the Discipleship Pastor, Tom Rich. She adores her two cocker spaniels and can often be found reading a book or asking questions. She blogs about life and faith at Buried Hopes.