Advent fills hearts with hope; Open your heart to be filled

Today the window above my desk is filled with beautiful snowflakes drifting down with a cedar tree in the background.  The visuals match the traditional images on so many Christmas cards.  

Yes, Advent is here and Christians begin the journey to the manger—all sounds familiar to those who have been raised in the church and celebrate the holiday focusing on the story shared in the gospels and prophesied for thousands of years.  

But what about Advent season for those who are unfamiliar with the Christian tradition of Advent and Christmas?  Are they excited about a season or just about what the secular world has decided is a holiday tradition?  Are their hearts filled with hope?

Admittedly this is a simple line of thought from one who has lived a lifetime wrapped in the Christian tradition; yet, I am wondering why I have discovered how much more exciting Christmas is for me this year versus all the other years.  I think it may be from discovering the true secret to Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace.

This is the first Advent in over a decade that I have not focused on creating a series of worship services that lead a congregation to Christmas day.  I thought I would really miss the process and the excitement that the work has entailed over the past 10 years.

But as I sit here watching the snowflakes swirling ever so gently around the house, I must admit that I am not missing the work that Advent has meant for these past years. Instead, I am experiencing Advent a bit differently.  I am sensing hope.  

Let’s consider what hope really is:

NOUN mass noun

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

  • 1.1count noun A person or thing that may help or save someone.
  • 1.2 Grounds for believing that something good may happen.

2  archaic A feeling of trust.


Want something to happen or be the case.

  • 1.1with infinitive Intend if possible to do something.

This definition comes from the Oxford dictionary on-line that is my go to dictionary because it also offers the origin of the word, too:

Late Old English hopa (noun), hopian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hoop (noun), hopen (verb), and German hoffen (verb).

Looking closely at the various entries for hope, I see the value of opening Advent with the emphasis on hope.  For four weeks, we create an atmosphere of expecting something huge to happen.  

For Christians, that big thing is the birth of Jesus Christ.  At least that is the design of the traditional Christian season.  Sadly, the secular world has invaded the spiritual world and the hope appears to be more for a day of gift giving.

If one can lessen the emphasis on gift giving as the “big thing” of Christmas, the desire or hope shifts from fancy packages under a Christmas tree to the givingof love from one person to another.

I was saddened to notice the second definition of hopeis listed as archaic:  a feeling of trust.  Advent should still focus on that definition.  

For thousands of years, the Israelites had waited, trusted, that God would provide a messiah to “fix” the mess they were in.  They had hope.  

Do we, in the 21stcentury still have hope?  

Advent is a time to re-evaluate that idea.  At times we all experience feeling lost, depressed, alone, guilty, stranded, and the list continues.  At those times, we lose hope.  Turn hope into the verb, not the noun.

The verb places each one of us in an active state:  we want something to happen or something to be.  The Israelites continued to hope.  As bad as things got, they trusted God to provide an answer to their demise. 

Do we, in the 21stcentury hope—actively hope?

Maybe I am not in a pulpit right now, but I am discovering hope again in a new light.  I am making subtle changes in how I celebrate the entire season and finding hopealive in surprising ways.

For instance, I was reading the lectionary reading for this week and discovered an emphasis on trust.  Psalms 25 opens

O Lord, I give my life to you.

     I trust in you, my God!  . . .

No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,

     But disgrace comes to those who try to deceive              others.

Living in a society filled with all kinds of distressing concerns—personal, health, financial, governmental, global—we need to trust in God.  We need hope that God is with us, that he hears us, that he wants what is best for us.  

The traditions that have developed around our secular celebrations during Advent and on Christmas Day may be well-intentioned, but is in God?

Evaluating the secular traditions through the filter of my Christian faith forces me to redefine the traditions.  My hopeis that the “reason for the season” is more important in my life than the hope that I find packages under the tree just for me.

This Advent, I want to emphasize how trusting in God provides me a hope that extends beyond the worldly scope of my life.  

My hope is the traditions that demonstrate love for one another creates a joy that expands beyond a package wrapped under a tree.

Read the scriptures for Advent’s first week and see if your heart opens, too, finding how those who trust in God have hope that leads to joy:

Lectionary readings for the week of December 2:

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Psalm 25:1-10
  • I Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • Luke 21:25-36

Dear God,

Give me the strength

     to trust in the ancient words of scripture.

Give me the determination 

     to keep Advent a time of expectation.

Open my heart to be filled with hope.

Guide me in celebrating the birth of your son

     with traditions to reflect your love.

Guide me in sharing the story of Jesus’ birth

     with words and actions to share your love.

Open my heart to be filled with trust.

Thank you for the words of the ancient faithful

     that help us open our hearts to trust.

Thank you for the work of the faithful

     who open our hearts in hope of Jesus’ birth.

In the name of you, the Father, 

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ,

In the name of the Holy Spirit, amen.

P.S. Friends, the snow is still falling outside my window.  What a joy it is as I experience the excitement of the season!  I hope your days are full of the joy we feel as Christmas Day nears.

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Happy Thanksgiving: Thoughts, tasks & thanks

Only two more days until Thanksgiving Day and my thoughts are a jumbled up mess.  Why?

Well, I could just start a list and it would get terribly long and complicated, but maybe I can give you a picture of what is flooding my brain.

First, I missed last week’s posting because I was focused on the annual weekend with my college friends. Therefore, last weekend my time was filled with all the planning and packing that it takes for such a weekend.

But, the tasks are part of the weekend and I am so thankful that I have such close friends who fill my life with joy and tears, with support and honesty, and with love.  The unconditional love that God gives each of us to experience, but also to provide for one another.  

Yet, returning from the weekend leads to more tasks—especially the laundry.  I could not believe how high the loads had piled up when everything was unpacked and added to what kept growing while I was gone. 

Laundry, you know, is one task that just does not seem manageable in any other way.  You still have to sort it, wash it, dry it, fold or hang it, and put it away.  And in the meantime, you are still wearing clothes that will soon continue the cycle.

Thank goodness I am equipped to do the task.

The laundry task is just one that faced me upon returning home.  While gone, I stopped at one of my favorite markets to restock my cooking supplies.  When I unloaded them, I realized I was facing another task—cleaning out the cabinet.

Thank goodness I am blessed to have a home with kitchen and cabinets, so I started.  I ended up having to clean out two cabinets in order to reorganize, clean and store all that I had purchased.  

As I do this, I cannot help but think how fortunate I am to be able to do this.  In doing the task, I found time to think about how thankful I am for my own home but also how difficult it must be not having all that I have.  Thanksgiving is easy for me, but what about those who struggle to have even the most basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.

Obviously one task leads to another and my thoughts just keep leap frogging from one thought to the next.  The chores I had to do after being gone for the long weekend continue, but now a shift from cleaning to planning ahead.  

Thanksgiving is a time filled with traditions—at least in our world.  There is the menu:  turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and gravy accompanied by all the special dishes family members bring in.  The tasks turn to cooking.

Yet the task of preparing a Thanksgiving meal is a time for reflection and prayer.  Each dish seems to come with a face that loves it.  So the time on task turns into prayer time for the face (individual).

The jumbled thoughts that accompany daily life tasks sometimes quiet down, but at other times it leads to screaming.  No one else hears it, but I do.  What screams? 

Naturally some screams are from the actual work that has to be done, but what about the screams from the past.  

I can’t help but think how the Psalms are filled with the trials and tribulations that frustrate even the ancients.  Yet, in the midst of daily tasks, God is with us.  The Psalms are also filled with words of thanksgiving and praise.  I turn to Psalm 100:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

How easy it is for our thoughts to become so jumbled as we do the daily tasks.  The work is necessary, and the thoughts that ramble through our minds in the midst of it can distract us.  But today, as Thanksgiving Day nears, I find the jumbled, leap-frogging thoughts tend to turn to words of thanksgiving—serving the Lord with gladness.

May your holiday thoughts and tasks find a way to lead your thoughts to words of thanksgiving.  God knows we struggle, but we need to take time to talk with him.  As we think of all we have for which we are thankful, we need to make sure we tell him thanks.

And, as we realize how much we have, let us all share words of supplication to God for those without even the basics of food, clothing and shelter.  He is with them, too, and we can do all we can for them including wrapping them in prayers.

Dear Gracious God,

In the midst of the mental fog, the myriad of tasks, and the traditions of a holiday, we thank you.

In the madness of travels and the joys of family reunions, we thank you for our kin.

At the table filled with turkey, dressing, and more, we feel blessed to have food, clothing and shelter for which we say thanks.

Yet we know many who have mental fog of addictions, of hunger, of pain, of loss, and more. 

so we lift them in our prayers.

We are aware that you call us to serve

one another in love today and everyday,

so we ask you to guide us is doing all that we can.

This week we echo the psalmist’s word

knowing that we are God’s children

and your love endures forever

and you are faithful to all generations.

We are blessed and we give thanks to you.

In the name of you the Father,

the son Jesus Christ,

and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

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Prepping for holiday baking

Over the weekend I stopped at a favorite baking source.  The Dutch Bakery in Tipton, Missouri carries so much more than most stores.  When holiday baking is around the corner, I knew it was time to restock–and did I ever!

Then I discovered a new spice store, Prezy’s Spices at Boone’s Landing in Chesterfield, Missouri.  More supplies came home with me.  Admittedly a few items were on my daughter’s shopping list, too, but obviously I am ready: 

Holiday baking supplies.

Picking up the supplies did not seem like such a big idea until I got home and started trying to put them away.  Prepping for holiday baking suddenly added a new task–cleaning out the cabinet.  You can see what I mean:

Prepping for baking means cleaning out the old for the new.
The only way to do it right is to empty it first.

Funny thing about tasks like this it that it seems to multiply.  After getting one emptied and restocked, I realized that some were too old to keep and others needed to be moved to a new location.  That meant cleaning a second cabinet out.  But, the end result is always worth the effort:

Everything put away, and now I am really ready for the baking season.

As much as I enjoy working in the kitchen and have fun trying out something new, the sense of accomplishment when a task is done is tremendous.  I wonder why we tend to put off and put off a task like this when the end result is so rewarding.

I admit the table still has a few things left on it for my daughter to look through, but I am ready for the holiday baking.

Holiday baking is a gift.  It smells delightful while something is cooking.  The taste is a delight–usually unless something interrupts and you fail to hear the timer go off or forget to keep stirring a pot that sticks easily.  

Then there is the delight when others get to enjoy that special recipe that reminds them of years past or a recipe made by a grandmother or mother who no longer is present.  These are the priceless rewards for the effort of holiday baking.  

So I am ready.  Bring on the holidays and prepare the taste buds.  Holiday baking begins now.

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Thinking out loud . . . Noah and the flood


The day after the mid-term elections and my focus is a mess.  Thankfully I no longer have to listen to campaign ads, and I was excited to see the new Sonic ads, the Christmas ads, and any ad that had no mention of the election.


I realize that this is not a typical reflective entry for my blog, but I cannot help but have a brain that is jumping all over the place with ideas.  I admit to being a news junkie (remember I do have a journalism degree), and I do analyze the ads and struggle not to be too political.


This morning, though, my brain feels almost like it fizzled out.  Certainly this is a common state for humans at different times in our week—or month or year.


Yesterday I was fully engaged and even worked on a project that has me reading the Biblical story of Noah and the flood.  Found in Genesis 6-11, the story fills the kids Bibles and Sunday school curriculum. It catches their attention.


But my project has me using John Wesley’s quadrilateral approach to studying the scripture.  First you read the scripture, next you evaluate the historical data that surrounds the scripture, and then turn to the human experience.  Once the data is collected, one thinks.  What does the story tell us?


The process is structured, and for me that is a good thing.  My brain wanders easily and I can be interrupted by who knows what causing me to fail completing the task.  So, I created a worksheet and began working through the story looking for the lesson that makes sense in today’s world.


The story tells us that God told Noah to build an ark, even providing the dimensions.  And Noah builds the ark despite no knowledge that a flood was imminent.  And Noah did build the ark despite all the ridicule of the community.


What does this tell us today?


First, I am reminded that God does speak to us.  Sadly we have a hard time hearing him.  If we were told to do something as odd as building this enormous ark, would we accept that as an honest message from God?


The story tells us that we must listen for God to speak with us.  In our world today, the flood is all the media that pour over us in so many different ways—billboards, print media, audio broadcasts via the airwaves and the visual plus audio of television and now the input through our electronic devices—phone, tablets, personal computers, and televisions.


We are experiencing a flood that can drown us much the same as a physical flood of water can drown us. We lose our individualism, even our independent mental acuity especially if one is addicted to media access.


But back to the story of Noah and the flood:  Put yourself in the story as a family member.  Noah built this enormous ark with the help of his family—surely.


The social structure at that time would imply that this project was not just Noah holding a hammer, picking up lumber, and creating this ark all by himself.  The reality is that Noah, as head of his family, would have enlisted his sons and all the servants and/or slaves that made up his household.


What does this tell us today?


As a family leader, we are responsible for others.  How we live our lives is how we teach others.   Noah’s story seems outrageous to us; yet, as a leader in his family, he modeled living an obedient servant of God.  The family dynamics was strong enough to build an ark and trust that God did tell Noah to get ready.  The family believed.


In today’s society, the head of a household struggles to teachfamilies about listening to God and following a lifestyle that incorporates faithfulness to God.  This is not easy, especially when the flood from social media brings so many outside influences into our homes—just like the evil that flooded the world around Noah and his family.


The symbolism of the flood cannot be ignored.  I am not going to argue whether or not the Biblical flood was real.  A search about floods reveals a wide range of horrific floods and lists the estimated deaths from them.  Floods destroy.


Yet, floods can be something other than water rising up from the land to cover roads, fields, homes, buildings, and more:


  • Floods can be tears that seem never ending.
  • Floods can be evil, as the Bible tells us God watched destroy the world.
  • Floods can be addictions that take over one’s independent will.
  • Floods can be the influx of ideas from the media.


Certainly the symbolism of the Biblical story can be developed into a lesson for us today. Discipline one’s life to read scripture, to study it, to meet with others doing the same, and then practice the lessons the stories teach us.


Noah’s story may seem outlandish, but the message—no, make that plural—message are there for today just as much as they were there for over 5,000 years.  Share the story so others can learn, too.


My project is not done. I have so much more to add; to learn. I continue to look at Noah’s story for more messages.  Today, though, the flood from the social media has exhausted me. I need to stop listening for a while and get back to my project so I can learn more what the Bible teaches us, and I can pay attention to what God is telling me.


Dear God, all knowing, patient and forgiving.


Speak to me through the words of scripture.

Speak to me through the Holy Spirit.


Give me the skill to defend myself from the floods.

Guide me in sharing the messages from scripture.


In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Ever crave a recipe from Mom?

For the past few weeks, I have craved Mom’s pimento cheese spread.  I had looked for the pimentos and could not find them so I would give up.  Then walking down the aisle I saw something new–Velveeta with sharp cheddar flavor!

Now I knew I had to make pimento cheese because that was a new flavor and I thought it could really top the taste chart for my family.  So, I searched again–and I found the pimentos hiding down low in an entirely different location, but sadly a store brand.  Still I was determined to make Mom’s pimento cheese spread.

I pulled out my recipe:


Sorry about the appearance, but this is a little spiral I keep of some very important recipes and I just can’t seem to give it up.  The vintage look of the page shows how much I return to these recipes over the years.

But, there it is.  Create a custard, add the cheese, melt it, and then add the pimentos.

Yes, I make some notes, and you can see that I learned the hard way about adding real cheddar cheese.  The flavor would be good, but it just does not work.  That is the reason why I was so excited to find the new flavor of Velvet.  I am going to have to add the 2018 note about it now.

Making pimento cheese always seemed like a major challenge, but not this time.  I pulled out the ingredients, turned on the stove, and in no time it was done.  And the flavor–wow!

And yes, I did add a few slices of American cheese to keep the spread a bit more stiff.  Still the spread works great on bread, toast, crackers, and celery (don’t try potato chips unless kettle cooked or wavy because it is too stiff for that to work).


The final product is so yummy and I know Mom would be proud.


I keep thinking how good this will be added to some sandwiches, too.  In Atlanta, I found a sandwich that included pimento cheese and never thought about adding it to a classic sandwich.

Maybe it is the time of year, but just the process of making this family treat certainly picked up my spirits.  Typically I move into November filled with dread, but making this treat brought a little special joy into my November 1 day.

As we enter into these last two months of the year, family connections color our moods.  Stopping once in a while to capture memories can be a positive, yet I am reminded how many in our world do not have the warm-fuzzy memories like mine.

Maybe sharing this recipe with others is one way I can help build new memories for others.  This is not too difficult, but one major warning–you must stir while it is thickening because it scorches very easily.  It also spits terribly if you have it too hot and it boils.

This time I was amazed how quickly it started thickening and when it started to spit, I turned it down to a low setting while I added the chunks of cheese and kept stirring while it melted.

And believe me, the aroma when you add in the chopped pimentos just lift one’s spirits!  I should have made a bowl of tomato soup, too.  That would have topped off my kitchen time.

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God’s time constantly amazes me


Consider this:  Every night I read a devotional that is published annually.  The writings must be done at least two years prior to my reading the entry.  Such is the publishing process.


Now, consider God’s timing. Over and over I am reminded that God’s time does not match my since of time.  There is no way to explain it, but my experience keeps telling me to just accept it.


On Saturday, October 27, 2018, the Jewish faithful joined together in worship at their synagogue in Pittsburg.  With no warning, the Sabbath was interrupted as hate spewed upon the faithful.


The senseless act of hate certainly is not part of God’s timing.  I am sure that the venom that lead this one individual to attack these faithful is not part of God’s plan; rather, it is an example of how human choice can become twisted by evil.


And as a Christian, I empathize with the pain that the Rabbi and his members, and the community of Pittsburg.  I do not know such hatred it my life nor do I ever want to.  But, as one who believes the classic line—love always wins—I hurt for those affected by this tragedy.


Why, then, do I find God’s sense of timing so amazing?


Back to my personal practice of reading the Guidepostdevotional each evening—remember these words must have been written two years ago:


Romans 12:18(NIV):  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.


As I read that introductory verse, I realized that God’s timing was in place again.  And I continued to read.  The devotional, which I am including here, was needed to help me understand how to manage the hatred of the day’s events, even though it was several states away:


“I grew up in a politically aware family.  Political arguments were a part of life in our household, especially between my liberal mom and my conservative dad.  We debated everything and were never afraid to say what we believed, loudly and proudly.  We subscribed to three daily newspapers and two news weeklies.  My parents never went to bed until after the 11:00 p.m. local newscast.


“Lately, though, our national discourse has grown increasingly rancorous, even toxic.  People are’nt just wrong or misguided—they’re evil and nefarious.  We vote our fears rather than our convictions.


How did we come to this?  It’s not altogether new.  Jesus joined the human race at one of its great boiling points.  Jerusalem was a hotbed of political strife.  Imperial Rome was an oppressive occupier of Jewish lands and ruled from afar with a merciless hand.  Herod and his family were ruthless and corrupt.  Revolution was in the air and violence was ever far. Nazareth was poor and overpopulated an crime-ridden.  The Zealots were already plotting insurrection. 


It was into this roiling political cauldron that Jesus deliberately came, had planned to come at this exact moment since the very beginning of time.  His message of peace for all humankind was a rank political contradiction.  His command to love one another was an historical absurdity.


Yet it was the message that endured through the ages, the gospel of love and not hate, of peace and not strife.  The word of Jesus still prevails, then as now.  I have to listen closely to hear the eternal message of a peace that surpasses all understanding.  (Written by Edward Grinnan)


Not only did God’s timing provide this devotional on a day that was racked with emotional pain, it is at the end of the week that political strife continues to build in our country.


God’s timing will never be understood within my human lifetime, I suspect; but I do think that God’s timing is a reality.  I struggle to turn over my sense of timing to God.  I struggle to accept blindly the power of God.  But, I continue to follow John Wesley’s acts of piety—worship, pray, study scripture, and partake in the sacraments.


The accompanying prayer with the devotional also deserves repeating:


God, Your peace is beyond human comprehension.  Teach us not to hate, but to disagree as brothers and sisters, not enemies. 


Thank you to Edward Grinnan, to Daily Guideposts 2018, and to God.  Your words are timeless and so needed at these difficult times.


None of us has any idea when another violent act will interrupt our lives, but God’s law remains the simplest, most comprehensive law:


37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”  –Matthew 22:37-40 (the Message)


And from the NRSV, Matthew 22:36-40


36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


The version one reads does not change the message.  One reads the words that speak to them.  For myself, I read several, and one I like is the NLT:


37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[e] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[f] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”


The message or the lesson or the direction that is provided in this passage never changes.  Love God.  Love one another.  If all our decisions are made and checked along these two premises, there would be no need for the violence, for the political strife, the man-defined boundaries between our neighbors.


Sadly, evil exists. And humans do have free will, free choice, and ability to make decisions for themselves.  All of us, then, are living in a world that hinges on the decisions of one and another.  We must make decisions the best we can, but I believe God’s laws are the filters through which I chose to make decisions.  I, too, join in Grinnan’s prayer:


God, Your peace is beyond human comprehension.  Teach us not to hate, but to disagree as brothers and sisters, not enemies.  – In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Stop and see the colors

Sunshine filled the day yesterday, and I drove down the highway watching the colors play along the way.

Today, it is grey.  The clouds cover the sun and there is no extra light to play in the trees; but sometimes grey days make great settings for pictures.

The dry, dry summer months ended with a rainy month.  So often a dry summer means no pretty trees when fall sits in, but somehow, someway, the colors in the trees is absolutely phenomenal right now!  And I mean right now, October 24-25 and maybe–if we are lucky–will last through the weekend.

Memory Garden


Today, though, I stopped to see the colors.

In fact, I took out the phone and took pictures of the colors.  When busy days hit during the summer, the cry is to “stop and smell the roses.”  A cliche, I know, but what an experience one will miss this Autumn if they do not stop and see the colors.


The tree at the memorial garden where stone kids


swing. . .

And then to go in close to look at those colors against the dark trunk brings a richer color to light. . .


As I looked around, I knew I had one more road to take; so I drove through the gates of the cemetery surrounded by woods.  More colors danced in the wind. . .







Back in the car, I turned around and started to leave–there stood the soldier flanked by the trees.  I backed up the car, got out, walked around, looking for a shot that caught my eye.  Finally, stepping into the door of the car and lifting up as high as I

could, the sight that caused me to stop was captured  . . .













But wait a moment, a slight shift and the light changed the sight again . . .












And I closed the car door, and drove on home.  Almost.  As made the turn into the subdivision, one more shot caused me to stop and see the colors, the trees reflecting in the lake . . .

Spring Ridge Lake










I stopped to see the colors, and on a bright blue sky, sunny day, the colors are even more alive.  Who knows, maybe tomorrow.  But today, I stopped to see the colors.

“Then God looked over what he had mad, and he saw that it was very good.”  

–Genesis 1:31 (NLT)

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