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Thursday
Sep072017

Upgrade Your 'Roots' for a Harvest of Hope

Pam Farrel is a first-class encourager. I've seen her in action and enjoyed her encouragement myself! In this UPLIFT post, Pam encourages us to consider how we might reap a greater harvest of hope in our lives.

Pam says, "We all want to be blessed by God, right? But, do we desire to place ourselves in line to receive the blessing?"

I (Dawn) know that's true. So often I WANT the blessing, but I'm not intentional about preparing for it!

Pam continues . . .

I have decided I want to be like mint. Yes, that lovely tasting green leafy plant.

Its smell is unique and recognizable. Its taste is smooth, fresh, sweet, tasty and comforting.

Yes, if you love mint, your mouth is already watering with the thought of soothing, fresh mint in your tall glass of ice cold tea on a hot summer’s day; that sweet yumminess of mint chip ice cream at the end of a hard day’s labors, or that romantic kiss that happens right after a minty spray.

Yes, we love the impact and affect mint has. But how does mint get to be, well, mint?

Last spring, after the sale of our home, we went to live on our family’s vineyard. On that property is a beautiful garden. My sister-in-law loves mint, like I do, so she planted some in cement buckets buried in the ground.

But she did not know the power of mint!

That mint broke through those containers, spread throughout the entire garden and when it was beginning to break up the asphalt driveway, she knew we all had to take action! I volunteered to take on the challenge of mint removal.

Wow! I had no idea of the strength and power of the mint!

  • First, I tried to chop at the roots. Nope—iron clad!
  • Then I tried to yank at the roots. Forget that, not even weight-lifter could budge this hard cord mint!
  • Finally, I decided to try to out-smart the mint. I investigated the power of the mint. Here is the secret to its strength—the root system.

That cute little green plant you pick in bunches have roots that sink yards deep into the ground and are interwoven and braided into one another in every direction!  

I began to truly admire the tenacity of mint!

Upgrade Your Roots

Standing in the field of mint, in awe of the deep, intertwined root system holding the fragrant mint secure, my mind jumped to Psalm 1.

See, for the past two years, I have been submerged in the Psalms, writing  Discovering Hope in the Psalms: A Creative Biblical Experience.

Psalm 1 begins with that word we all hope for: “Blessed.” We long for the fruit of being blessed; and we desire to be a tree that “yields fruit” and “prospers.”

Verse two reveals the key that unlocks such blessing: “his [her] delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Sometimes the fruit people see in my life and family is like that sweet fragrant scent of mint. People often ask me how I have overcome traumatic family of origin issues or how my husband, Bill, and I have formed a lasting marriage and successfully raised children who love and serve God.

My response is always the same: “The power is in the Word.” It is not me, it is the roots God has grown in my life through HIS power!

As I studied Psalm 1, I pondered what it would mean to be a tree planted by streams of water with leaves that NEVER wither.

Following the research trail, I discovered that the “rivers/streams” mentioned are irrigation canals common in the Middle East. Fruit trees, especially the nutritious and delicious date palms, were planted near these waterways to ensure prosperity.

To grow my roots a little deeper, I continued doing word studies on “tree,” “planted,” “yields fruit,” and “prosper.”

  • I responded to God with prayer and praise.
  • I penned a poem in my own psalmist-like way.
  • I prayerfully savored the fruit of these studies on walks down my tree-lined driveway.
  • I sketched a tree with deep roots.
  • Into my Journaling Bible. In short, I sat in the shade of this Psalm 1 tree and reflected on my life.

Then, in God’s perfect timing, a tree on our property fell. It was not a strong wind or a raging storm that toppled it—no, it was a beetle that can do its damage only in drought conditions.

In California, we’ve been on strict water rationing because of a nearly decade-long drought.

The tree appeared healthy, but because of lack of water, it was dead inside.

It was a vivid reminder of what kind of tree I did NOT want to become! And the “living water” of the Word would be the difference!

So, friend, let’s do make it our goal to grasp that blessed life by growing roots that can stand strong no matter the storms life may send.

Or BE MINT, with roots interwoven with others who are also deeply rooted in the Word. Your deep roots will produce a sweet and fragrant life!

Turn on the soaker hose, pull out the sprinklers, and get out your watering can by reading, memorizing, worshipping, meditating on, and creatively responding to the verses God is placing along your path.

Daily study will deepen the roots of your life and help you find and hang on to hope.

And as for that field of mint on our family farm? We decided to let it stay since it is so deeply rooted there so I am thinking of writing a cookbook on 1001 Recipes for the Mighty Mint!

Pam Farrel is the author of 45 books, an international speaker, and relationship expert who seeks to breathe life into people’s most vital relationships through the ministry she runs with her husband, Love-Wise. Today’s blog is adapted from her newest book, Discovering Hope In the Psalms: A Creative Biblical Experience. (Co-authored with Bible teacher  Jean E Jones and artist, Karla Dornacher ) For more Bible study tips and tools to help your roots grow down deep in the Word and your hope to grow sky high, see www.DiscoveringHopeinthePsalms.com

Psalm 1 Graphic adapted, artwork courtesy of artist, Karla Dornacher; Mint photo from Pam Farrel.

Tuesday
Sep052017

Upgrade Your Fall by Falling into Him

Engaging and wise, Morgan Farr writes about biblical womanhood, homemaking and Christian living. She wants women to fall in love with the Lord. In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she helps us deal with things that feel out of our control.

“The season of fall is a beautiful thing,” Morgan says. “The falling feeling of failure isn’t.”

Oh, I (Dawn) know that feeling. It's like spiraling down a deep hole and wondering if I'll ever get to the surface again!

Morgan continues . . .

If you’ve been in the grocery stores recently you might have noticed that celebrating fall is in full swing.  Although the first day of fall isn’t until September 22, if you are anything like me you have probably already started decorating for the what is arguably the best season all year round. 

I recently moved from North Carolina where the spectacle of the changing seasons were just breathtaking.

There is something majestic about watching the sun break through the morning mist and sprinkle the multicolored leaves with golden light. When the show starts, I watch the leaves fall to the ground and I admire the patterns, colors, and shapes.

My boys are even picking up on the tradition, bringing me leaves with interesting marks or of notable size.  

Most people associate fall with gratitude, family, and just general warm feelings, and I think that is fabulous. Fall is definitely the time when I can see God everywhere I look. When the maroon, orange, and brown decorations come out I want to remember that the original idea behind these hues came from God. His conglomerate of rust tones and golden yellows are just a glimpse of His incredible power and provision.

As a military wife, I can tell you that I cling to the idea of God’s authority in all things.

Oftentimes this life comes with things beyond my control, things that make me feel like one of the leaves falling uncontrolled from the sky.  

This year I am going to fight against that falling feeling by remembering three things: 

1. I need a Christ-centered community to help with the falling feeling! 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says,

“Two people are better than one because together they have a good reward for their hard work. If one falls, the other can help his friend get up. But how tragic it is for the one who is all alone when he falls.There is no one to help him get up. Again, if two people lie down together, they can keep warm, but how can one person keep warm? Though one person may be overpowered by another, two people can resist one opponent. A triple-braided rope is not easily broken.”

We need to be in regular and constant community with fellow believers in order to help one another when that falling feeling comes around.

I am not talking about going to a brick and mortar ”church” building. I mean that we need an Ekklesia—a gathering of true believers dedicated to growing in Christ Jesus.

We need a community that will call one another out in our sins, pray for us in our tribulations, and encourage us in our daily walk.  

2. God is there when I feel that falling feeling!

“I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Psalm 118:13-14).

God knows when things are hard.

He understands the frustration of my two year old’s tantrums and the exhaustion of my one year old that won't sleep through the night. He knows when I feel like I am falling, failing, and need His help.

All I have to do is lean into Him. He will give me strength to endure the current trials and to stand firm before them.

3. God will pick me up when I do fall!

Psalm 145:14 says, “The LORD helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.”

Sometimes I will fall, that is the reality of living in a sinful and broken world. However, that isn’t the end.

Failure is not the end of the story.

Each year the trees shed the old leaves to make way for the new ones. God knows the load I carry, the burden that I am under. When I stumble, Christ can make something wonderful out of every fall. I only have to allow Him to do so.

The fall season is my favorite time of year because it helps me to remember to focus on the important things.

It's true. Oftentimes this life comes with things beyond our control. Fight against that "falling" feeling.

What can you do this year to help you remember God is there during your falling feelings? How can you help those around you when they feel like they are falling?

Morgan Farr is an Army wife currently stationed in San Diego, California. with her wonderful husband Brian and their two sons. Morgan is a homemaker who dedicates her free time to ministering to other military wives through Bible studies, food, and physical training. Morgan writes about her transition out of feminism and into biblical womanhood at The Forgiven Former Feminist and you can find her fitness training and nutrition programs at Farr Functional Fitness.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Graham-H, Pixabay.

Thursday
Aug312017

The In-law Connection: It's Your Move

Deb DeArmond helps people improve their interactions at work and at home. She specializes in family dynamics, and in this Relationship UPGRADE, she focuses on the "in-law connection."

“I’ve known outlaw in-laws who prey on one another," Deb says. "It shouldn't be so.”

Outlaw in-laws? Oh, my. I (Dawn) have seen that far too often, and even in the church! I always admired the relationship between Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Rutha good example of in-law connection. Deb has some wise counsel for us if that connection isn't strong.

Deb continues . . .

  • When my three sons were little, I knew there’d never be a woman good enough for them.
  • When they hit their teens, I feared I'd never find a woman to take them off my hands.

I need not have worried.

They brought three wonderful young women into the family, and I am thrilled. All love Jesus and each is dedicated to my son and their family.

God was clear:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife” (Genesis 2:24a NKJV).

A redhead, a brunette, and a blonde—as diverse in personality as in hair color.

Not only are the girls distinct in their personalities, mine is the fourth in the mix. And I’m glad to report we love one another deeply, and we’re grateful God brought us together.

Friends often ask, “You’re not just friendly, you’re family. How’d you do that?”

The answer’s simple: patience, perseverance, and a desire to please Jesus on the journey.

I had to learn how to develop my relationship with each of these gals as individuals. Because what worked with DIL (Daughter-in-Law) #1 would not necessarily work with #2 and #3. 

Sarah entered our lives as Jordan’s “friend” at 13 years old; they married at 19.

Heather was 16 when Cameron introduced her to us; they married four years later.

With both of these beauties, I had time on my side, and we developed our relationships as they grew up. I witnessed their transformation from girls to women.

Bryce and Penny had a short courtship: four months. At 28, she was grown up when I met her, so this was very different.

Penny’s a runner, an avid reader, and a gifted writer. I knew nothing about marathons or writing when we met. She’s not shy, but she’s a bit introverted.

I wanted to connect, but I wasn’t sure how.

I know women who feel disconnected from their daughters-in-law.

“It’s not bad, but it’s not good. Truthfully, it’s not anything,” said one woman. “There’s no bad blood, but there’s no connection. It’s like she forgets my son has a mother, until we’re together, and then it’s awkward.”

Another friend shared her experience,

“My son married a woman with three sisters and all are close to their mother. At holidays, they all chat together, finishing one another’s sentences, and I’m excluded. I’m sitting right there, but it’s like I’m invisible. It’s devastating.” 

I hoped Penny and I might be close. I loved her from the start. So, I asked God to help me develop our relationship.

Here’s what worked for me that might work for you, too!

1. Ask about Her Interests.

Ask her what she enjoys about running or homeschooling. People love to share their passions. It was Penny’s love of writing that prompted me to get serious about mine. It’s now something we share.

2. Invite Her Opinion.

Instead of planning the holidays yourself, invite her to help. She has an opinion, so ask her to share it. You might discover how creative she is, and sharing the responsibility takes pressure off you.

Some of the best conversations with my DILs are in the kitchen as we cooked together. The shared activity makes the chatter more comfortable. 

3. Tell Her What You Value About Her.

  • Is she a great mom? Tell her, specifically, why you think she’s a rock star.
  • Good cook? Compliment her meals, and ask for recipes!
  • Successful professional? Ask about her work and let her know you admire her accomplishments.

If it’s uncomfortable face to face, drop her a note, or brag on her (in front of her) to other family members.

4. Pray for Her

It’s impossible to pray genuinely for God’s favor and direction in her life, while constantly criticizing her.

Pray, genuinely, and see how your love for her (and your attitude) changes.

If your MIL (Mother-in-law) is the standoffish one, you could use the same tactics on her.

So, it’s your move. Why not start today?

Deb DeArmond is an expert in the fields of communication, relationship, and conflict resolution. Her book on in-law relationships, is entitled Related by Chance, Family by Choice! Deb’s books help readers create the life God meant marriage and family to be. Read more from Deb at Family Matters/Deb DeArmond.

Graphic adapted - Blog owner seeking source to credit.

Tuesday
Aug292017

Break Free from the Shackles of Comparison

Comparison is a prison, Dawn Wilson says in this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, but our Maker holds the key to release us from our shackles.

I used to excuse myself when I got caught up in comparisons, but not anymore. I’m recognizing comparison for what it is: an ugly prison that keeps me and others caught in its destructiveness—self-focused and paralyzed.

Anyone with a “performance addiction” understands the comparison prison. Behind the bars of that prison we are shackled to selfishness, pride, envy, jealousy, discontent, ingratitude and the constant quest for acceptance and affirmation. It’s a constant battle.

The prison walls of comparison have a thick wallpaper of “if only”s.

  • If only I looked like so-and-so.
  • If only I could speak like so-and-so.
  • If only I was as smart as so-and-so.
  • If only I had a house like so-and-so.
  • If only I had a loving husband like so-and-so.
  • If only I had obedient kids like so-and-so.
  • If only had so-and-so’s money… or travel expenses … or clothing allowance … or …

She sad truth is, so-and-so might even be in a prison of comparison herself, wanting what YOU have!

Locked in this dark prison, we are caught in a bitter cycle of “better or worse.”

It goes something like this:

“I’m better than that person” (and that’s pride). Or “I’m glad I’m not like that person” (and that’s also pride). We need a good dose of humility to conquer the pride of comparison.

Performance addiction and comparison addiction are cousins. In both, we use our own measuring stick to make judgements both about ourselves and others, and we ignore God’s perspective.

When we’re bound in the shackles of comparison, we live unhealthy, ungodly lives.

But the Lord holds the key to release us—the truth and power of the Gospel in Christ. He will unlock the shackles that bind us when we begin to recognize who we are and what we have in Him.

[I've found a book titled The ABC’s of Who God Says I Am by Kolleen Lucariello helpful. She explains in simple terms exactly who we are in Christ:  A for Accepted, B for Beloved, C for Changed, etc.]

After many years caught up in a performance mentality, I learned an important truth.

The Christian life isn’t a matter of working harder or trying to measure up to a faulty “image” we have for ourselves or of others.

Father God wants us to rest in His provision of grace and look only to Jesus, because His “image” is the only one that matters.

God unlocks the shackles when we embrace the truth of His grace in our lives, but we still have to learn to walk as free people. We need to walk in newness of life. Lies have distorted our thinking and we need the truth of Scripture to learn how to become holy, faith-filled saints.

It’s a process.

Here are a few things I’m doing to encourage change.

1. I Notice When I Tend to Struggle with Comparison.

Sometimes it’s a kind of event or a particular set of emotions that drive me. Sometimes it is a past issue I’m still struggling to overcome in Christ. Many times, the root is seeking the approval of man rather than desiring to please God.

What are your specific comparison “triggers”?

2. I See My Tendency to Compare for What It Is.

Paul was clear about comparisons when he wrote: “We do not have the audacity to put ourselves in the same class or compare ourselves with some who [supply testimonials to] commend themselves. When they measure themselves with themselves, they lack wisdom and behave like fools” (2 Corinthians 10:12, AMP).

The Message version of this verse warns against “comparing and grading and competing.”

Comparing is not necessarily a sin—though it can lead to sin—but it’s certainly not wise. I need to stop it! And if it does cross over into sin, I need to repent!

3. I Purposefully Fill My Mind and Heart with God’s Truth.

I read, reflect on, and saturate my mind and heart with the Gospel so the Lord can transform my behavior.

As I realize how much the Lord has done for me, how He has extended great grace and mercy, there is no room for comparisons.

4. I Keep on Reminding Myself of My True Identity.

I counsel my heart concerning the truth of who God says I am in Christ.

5. I Challenge My Pride with Christ-like Humility.

Pride sets me up for boasting. Or a judgmental spirit. The Lord wants me to be humble; so I am asking the Lord to break my pride and help me think with “sober judgement”, not judgmentalism.

Are you wondering if you need to be “broken”? It helped me to meditate on this list.

6. I Try to Remember Everything I Am and Have are from the Lord.

“…What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Without the Lord, I can do nothing; and when I remember no one else can do anything without Him either, it helps me think straight about foolish "comparing."

7. I Ask God to Open My Eyes to See People as He Does.

We are all created in His image. And every believer is “accepted in the Beloved.” Every child of God has strengths, gifts, weaknesses, and besetting (habitual) sins.

Comparing each other is like comparing apples and oranges.

God has made all of us unique for His purposes.

8. When Tempted to Compare, I Choose Gratitude Instead.

Sometimes it doesn’t just happen. I have to choose gratitude, cultivate it, and practice it every day.

9. I Practice the Godliness of Contentment.

Covetousness is a sin. The Lord wants me to practice contentment. When I focus on eternal things rather than temporal, I can more readily release my grip on earthly desires.

And I need to remember The Lord calls people in different ways. We can’t compare our lot with others’.

10. I Choose to Be Genuinely Happy for People.

Rather than focusing with envy or jealousy on their gifts, abilities, etc., I can pursue love and rejoice in them, what they have and their accomplishments.

Criticism that arises from envy (wanting what someone has) or jealousy (grudgingly wishing they didn’t have it) destroys relationships. Love and jealousy are mutually exclusive. James says envy comes from the pit and it causes disorder and wickedness.

“If I love neighbor as myself, there will be no reason at all for the least twinge of jealousy, because I will be just as happy that he has what I wanted as I would be if I had it.” – Elisabeth Elliott, The Music of His Promises.

That's my goal. I want to get to the point where I'm always rejoicing in and over the blessings of others.

I praise God He is helping me break free from the hideous shackles of comparison.

Do you struggle with comparisons? Which of my 10 “in process” choices might encourage spiritual growth in your life?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Jeremiah7 at Pixabay.

Thursday
Aug242017

An Unexpected Journey

Shonda Savage Whitworth offers hope to people whose lives have been impacted by incarceration. In this Ministry UPGRADE, she encourages us to consider how we might better minister to those who are imprisoned, and those who love them.

“I never imagined I’d be the mother of a convicted felon,” Shonda says. “My aspiration was for my boys to do well in school, earn a college degree, find gainful employment, marry a godly woman, and have children.

That was my (Dawn's) desire for my boys as well. Isn't that every mother's dream? But what happens when things don't go as we planned?

Shonda continues. . .

To the best of my knowledge, I trained up my children in the way they should go so that when they grew up they would not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

We celebrated the love of Christ as a family both in church and home. At young ages, both boys professed Christ as their Savior.

I checked off the boxes on my good mother checklist:

  • Christian education
  • Regular church attendance
  • Sports activities
  • Family vacations

After my oldest son, Stephen, graduated from high school, his poor choices landed him in prison.

Prior to Stephen’s arrest, I never thought about prisoners and their families and to my knowledge, I didn’t know of anyone who had an incarcerated family member.

My husband served over 20 years as a federal law enforcement agent. In our circles of influence, we opposed those who committed crimes.

My perspective was that those who associated with criminals and supported prisoners were also to blame. 

However, after my son’s arrest, my stance shifted.

Though I never condoned the behavior that led to my son’s incarceration, as a mother, my love for him remains unconditional. I realized my previous view was skewed.

With so many emotions overwhelming me at once—pain, grief, guilt, and shame—I turned to my church family for help.

I experienced disappointment on top of my shock when the overall church body did not know what to do.

Statistics show that there are 2.3 million Americans in the penal system.[1] Surely there was some type of Christian family support in place for those all those families who have incarcerated loved ones.

Yet, I found none.

After my shock progressed through the stages of grief and finally reaching the point of acceptance, the Lord led me to share my testimony openly. With fear and trepidation, I talked about my incarcerated son in small settings. In sharing, I found others who connected with me because of our similar experiences. I found myself engaging with more and more people.

As I reached out to others, I found three things that those in the church who have a family member in prison desire:

1. To be able to share their issues without judgment, criticism or condemnation.

In the early days of this tribulation a friend said, “Shonda, I don’t understand what you’re going through. But if you’ll explain it to me, I’ll process it with you.” 

When those in the church who don’t understand what a family of a prisoner goes through, but show an interest in walking through it with them, it releases them from the fear of judgment, criticism, condemnation.

2. To receive prayer support and encouraging words from others.

My local church agreed I should host a support group meeting for families of prisoners. Now we have a safe place to foster new personal relationships, pray for one another’s specific needs, and share encouraging words with each other. We seek the Lord and He shows us new things.

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3 ESV).

3. For the church to mail cards, notes, or books to their incarcerated family member.

When those in the church body mail a birthday card, holiday card, or send a book to an incarcerated family member, they are fulfilling Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body” (ESV).

When the family member on the inside receives encouragement from those on the outside, chances are greater for him to walk closely with the Lord. This reduces the risk of recidivism.

My life’s course took an unexpected journey.

Now it’s my heart’s desire is to walk alongside those whose lives have been impacted by incarceration. And to show them the hope we have in our Redeemer Christ Jesus who restores of broken lives.

Do you know someone who is incarcerated? How might you encourage and minister to that person and their family? How might your church better fulfill Hebrews 13:3?

Shonda Savage Whitworth is the founder and president of Fortress of Hope Ministries, Inc., offering hope to those whose lives have been impacted by incarceration. Shonda connects with others through her personal experiences and testimony of God’s faithfulness in her life. You can read more stories about Shonda’s unexpected prison family journey on her blog.

[1] https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2017.html#fn:1 (assessed July 28, 2017)

Graphic adapted, courtesy of MarcelloRabozzi-Pixabay.